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My soul is an empty carousel at sunset.

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Texting with Otabek, when it first happens, is fortunately not something anyone bothers to comment on.

While Yuri is not as much of a social media addict as he could be, when he is not on the ice he is instead glued to his phone, like any self-respecting teenager should be.

And it's not like Yuri has never texted with people before. There's Yuuko, and some other skaters still in the Junior division, classmates from Russia, even though he never exactly considered any of them his friends. It's just that, with Otabek, Yuri is actually smiling down on his phone.

“Oh, Yuri, you're smiling?” Mila had asked once, curiously cocking her eyebrow at him.

“Funny cat video,” he had told her, making to hold out his phone to her, “Do you wanna-?”

Luckily, she had immediately made herself scarce then. Everyone knew that once Yuri started pulling out the cat videos he didn't stop until he ran out of battery.

Otabek himself doesn't really have any social media, expect for a Twitter account that he only really uses for official announcements and occasionally thanking fans for their support.

So, for the most part, their interactions are blissfully private and Yuri finds he is not quite used to that. He is used to screeching fans, prodding reporters, and people who are more interested in his personal affairs than in his skating. He does not fool himself into thinking that he is a celebrity, that anyone outside of the skating world really knows his name. But he's been in magazines before, he's had strangers asks him for autographs when he was just waiting for the bus, and sometimes all of that makes him feel a little exposed. A little overwhelmed.

So texting with Otabek is a nice reprieve. It's getting off the ice after a long day to find a curt description of what progress Otabek made during his training. It's waking up to a plain good morning or a photograph of a stray cat, taken at dawn in a different country. It's curling up in his bed late and night and typing till his fingers are sore and Otabek, who would not exactly be considered talkative by most people, matching him word for word.

It's easy, really, to keep going like this, to bridge the intervals between competitions when they can actually see each other in person.

 

Your step sequences are improving, is what Yuri reads over dinner one night and he chuckles to himself because Otabek is just like that, open with his praise, but still with the blunt implication that Yuri's step sequences before have left something to be desired.

Thanks, he texts back and then admits, Katsudon has been teaching me.

He's been doing that for months now, Otabek says, But you're only listening now.

Whatever, Yuri types and rolls his eyes. But then he frowns, How do you even know?

I saw your video on Instagram.

Yuri blinks.

You have Instagram?? he wants to know because this is news to him and he needs to follow Otabek right now, immediately.

I don't, Otabek says, Shaha does. She showed me.

Shaha is Otabek's rinkmate and the equivalent of what Mila is to Yuri. That is, older, annoying, and allegedly more world wise.

You should get Instagram, Yuri insists, Then you can post stuff, too.

Otabek is a bit of a wild card, in that regard. Many skaters constantly gives updates on their progress, post videos with snippets of their routines, to keep fans invested and rivals on their toes. Otabek just blows everyone away when competitions roll around and no one ever quite knows what to expect of him, especially since he is tight-lipped in interviews, too, both when it comes to his career and his personal life.

Maybe, Otabek concedes and Yuri does not bother to pressure him. After all, as long as they keep texting privately, they don't need Twitter or Instagram or any of that other crap.

 

In late Fall, when the last of the leaves are still feebly clinging to the branches of the otherwise barren trees, Yuri is paid a nice sum of money for doing a perfume commercial. It's an androgynous fragrance, crisp and clear like a winter morning, aptly named Frost Flower. They weave his hair into an intricate braid, dress him in faux furs, and paint silvery white snow flakes along his cheeks and temples, until he looks as though he had stepped straight out of a fairy tale.

For the TV version they have him skate a fragment of last season's free program, but the billboards all over the city simply show either show full-body shots of him in an enchanted forest or closeups of his face half turned away, all clavicle and cheekbone and startlingly cold eyes.

And although Yuri cannot help but think how Victor, with his already ethereal coloring and forest sprite image as a teenager, would have worked much better for this concept, he actually kind of likes it. Likes the new sources of money this business deal might lead to, likes the good press he gets for it, likes proving that he can do something beyond skating.

A week after the first release of the commercial, Otabek sends him a link. It's a side-by-side comparison of Yuri in the Frost Flower ad and Elsa from Disney's Frozen. The similarities are striking.

With anyone else, Yuri would be mortally offended, but instead he just find himself laughing into his pillow instead.

Does that mean Victor and Katsudon are Anna and Kristoff? he asks, waiting for Otabek's reply.

I will neither confirm nor deny that statement, Otabek writes back and then there is a pause during which he types, backspaces, and then types again.

You look nice, is what he finally sends, In the commercial.

Yuri snorts to himself. Yeah, make-up and hair took over two hours.

Another pause. Then, You always look nice.

Yuri opens his mouth, stares at his phone. Closes his mouth.

It's not like Yuri doesn't know he looks nice. People tell him so all the time and he has working eyes, goddammit. But somehow Otabek complimenting him so offhandedly yet so profoundly, is different. Is confusing. So confusing, in fact, that Yuri doesn't know how to reply, takes too long to say anything without making it feel even more awkward than it already is.

It's late, Otabek volunteers eventually, And we have training tomorrow.

Yeah, Yuri accepts the easy escape, Night, I guess.

Good night, Yuri.

 

When December rolls around, there's a gala in London, some charity event for children with chronic illnesses. Otabek is there as well, so they perform as they always do, just without the pressure of competition, and afterwards Yuri makes polite small-talk with sponsors and gives interviews about how he is planning to spend the holidays and about how well the pre-Christmas sales of Frost Flower are going, and when Yuri finally gets away he feels a bit lost.

Even now there are lot of children in wheelchairs around, kids with chemo-bald heads or some other, less visible ailment that keeps chipping away at their innocence, and Yuri feels his throat close up. Unlike Victor, he's not good with fans, with most people in general, and he's not sure whether he can put up a facade of fake cheer for these kids.

How can he talk to them about skating when some of them can't even walk, cannot breathe without pain?

But then, somewhere deep in the crowd and mindless of the other well-dressed adults around them, he spots Otabek talking to a group of children, crouched down in front of them and twisting his hands through the air, part enthusiasm, part language barrier.

He's wearing a dapper suit and those stupid Christmas antlers on his head, and before Yuri can stop himself he is giggling.

Otabek glances over, catches his gaze, and then he is already walking over and taking him by the hand to pull him closer to the children.

“I was just telling them about how you won the Grand Prix last week,” he says.

“I only made bronze,” Yuri scowls because Victor got silver and fucking Yuuri got gold with meant the bastards were going to get married. So Yuri forces a grimace of disgust and disappointment on his face, even though he is hyper-aware of how Otabek has not let go of his hand yet.

The children, most of whom will never stand a chance at winning any sort of sports event, however, look delighted at talking to an actual celebrity, their eyes wide and wondering, and when one of them shyly hands him a Santa hat he doesn't even protest too much.

Someone ends up taking a photo of them, with Otabek half-covered in children that all try to climb him and Yuri cradling a tiny five-year-old girl to his chest and smothering his laughter in her hair, and later, when the picture has gone viral and it shows up on Yuri's twitter feed, he realizes that he hasn't had this much fun in ages.

 

Kill me, Yuri types, Please.

Murder from afar is not only still illegal but also rather complicated, Otabek replies instantly, I hear hitmen are hard to come by. May I offer my aid through other means?

Wtf, did you swallow a dictionary?

I just had coffee, Otabek says but quickly changes the topic, What's bothering you?

Victor. Katsudon. Wedding plans. Need I say more?

Do they expect you to play flower girl?

They might as well, Yuri punches his pillow into a better shape, Victor asked me to be his best man.

There's a long pause during which Otabek seems to be contemplating his answer.

That's a great honor, is what he writes eventually, I'm happy for you.

It's not an honor! It's inconvenient. I already have to watch them suck face all the time.

I was under the impression that you want them to be together, Otabek objects, And I think Victor asking you instead one of his older friends means a lot.

Admittedly, Yuri had been surprised when Victor asked him instead of Chris or even Yakov. He and Victor are... he's not sure what they are. Closer than they were two years ago, certainly. With some weird tether there between them that has only been strengthened because of Katsudon's presence.

Sometimes Yuri thinks that, if it weren't for Yuuri, he and Victor might have had a big fallout at some point. That Yuri would have pushed and bragged and shown off, and Victor would have deflected it all with sharp smiles and sharper words. They could have self-destructed, but they didn't. Maybe Victor thinks the same.

I guess..., he relents, But I still don't like it.

When will they get married?
Soon, Yuri replies and smirks a little, Which is good because that means it won't take long till they get a divorce.

You're like a cat who deliberately makes eye contact and then pushes an expensive vase right off the table, Otabek notes.

Thanks, Yuri says, I try my best.

 

Victor and Yuuri have a spring wedding in Barcelona because they are predictably romantic like that.

Phichit is appointed Yuuri's best man and turns out to be the wedding planner from hell, organizing everything from the menu over the flowers to the music.

He asks for Yuri's opinion now and then and Yuri can helpfully chip in with comments like 'No lemon shortcake, I hate lemon shortcake' or 'Not blue roses, they symbolize hopeless yearning, how would that work for a wedding, did you even watch Victor's routine back then, and no, not red roses either, that's so fucking boring, get gerbera, at least those haven't been ruined by fucking poetry'.

They are discussing the guest list and seating arrangements which is, luckily, pretty easy because the grooms have a lot of common friends and most of them are skaters anyway.

Do you have a plus one? Phichit asks, just as Yuri types, Did you invite Otabek, too?

Okay, Phichit sends back and then asks whether they can seat the Crispino siblings at a table with other men without having Michele descend into another of his jealous fits.

Stick them with Emil and Mila, Yuri advises, They'll act as a buffer.

Yuri is, frankly, a little baffled by how he actually knows these things. He's never much paid attention to other skaters before, apart from them being potential threats, and of course the personal baggage his rink mates dragged onto the ice, ranging from Mila's flighty affairs over Georgi's messy break-up to Victor's sudden infatuation with Katsudon. Even Yakov and Lilia sometimes have these awkward moments when their gazes lock on to each other, a little too long, and so many words unspoken between them but still understood.

It makes Yuri understand that, even if Yuuri and Victor were to break up at some point in the future, if they don't work out and won't have a present together anymore – they will always have a past and no one can take that from them, neither years nor drunken stupors.

And Yuri can... respect that. He cannot relate but he can acknowledge it. But that doesn't mean he'll stop trash-talking them.

His own duties at the actual wedding are fortunately limited to keeping the ring safe and refusing to get infected by Victor's nervous excitement. The idiot looks ready to burst out of his skin before anything even happens, so Yuri plays memento mori by reminding him how stupid he is and how the pig is stupid, too, they are all stupid, hopefully this will all be over soon.

Victor, of course, doesn't let it drag him down because that's just who is is. He also looks rather handsome because that's just what he does. He's wearing a classy black tuxedo and a bow tie that just barely manages to imitate the blue of his eyes.

To minimize the culture clash on all sides, they had agreed on the facsimile of a Western wedding and before the ceremony starts Victor is all easy smiles and posing for pictures. But then the lights dim a little, the music shifts, and Yuuri is being led down the aisle by his father, and Victor is breathless and digging halfmoons into the palms of his clenched fists.

Toshiya has tears glistening in his eyes and Yuuri first tries to smile at people left and right, but then he only has eyes for Victor, blushing like crazy, clutching a colorful bouquet of gerbera to his chest.

His suit, Yuri notes is pearl gray, much like Victors hair and he almost gags with the realization that they are color-coordinated. He doesn't, though, because even he can admit that this moment is special, when Yuuri hugs his mother, giddily grinning when he hands Phitchit his bouquet, and then he is already turning around again, properly coming face to face with Victor.

“Hi,” he breathes and he is glowing.

“Hi,” Victor answers, just as speechless which is a big fucking shame considering they'll have to speak their vows in a bit.

The officiant begins the ceremony and Yuri doesn't catch much of it, doesn't even really listen to the no doubt sappy vows, instead much too busy just watching the two idiots. He thinks this might be the first time he has allowed himself to simply look, look because right now everyone is looking and it's not awkward, it's how things are meant to be, all eyes on them, bearing witness.

They are in love and they are radiant and when Victor takes the ring from Yuri his hands are shaking, but his voice is not. He is sure, he is sure, and that is something that Yuri hadn't quite been able to wrap his head around yet.

They kiss and it's a quieter thing than that first kiss back in Russia. This time there are no surprised gasps, no stunned commentators, no fall on the ice. There's a little laughter as Victor ducks down and Yuuri angles his head and for a moment they are just blowing raspberries at each others' lips until they seem to remember that this is their wedding kiss and they only get one chance at this, and then they've got their arms around each other, kissing and kissing, and Chris is cat-calling somewhere and then everyone start clapping and laughing along.

At the reception, when Yuri has run away from Minako who's trying to get him to try the booze, it turns out that his duties as the best man are not over yet.

”Okay, Yurio, listen,” Phichit begins intently, as he sidles up with Yuri and Otabek, “Yuuri and Victor will begin their wedding waltz alone, but then we'll join in to show that the dance floor is open to everyone now. Do you have a partner?”

“Er, what?”

“I'll be dancing with Mari,” Phichit explains, “Who's your partner?”

“I don't even know how to waltz,” Yuri points out gruffly.

Phichit's mouth falls open, “You don't- You're the best man.”

“I can do a fucking pirouette if you want me to, but I don't know how to waltz,” Yuri grits out.

“I do,” Otabek cuts and Yuri gives him a blank look.

“What?”

“I know how to waltz,” Otabek shrugs, “I can lead you, if you'd like.”

“Perfect!” Phichit exclaims and pats him on the shoulder, “Now, please excuse me, Yuuri's father is already starting to look tipsy and we don't want a repeat of the infamous banquet, do we?”

And then he is off in a flurry, and Yuri is left alone with Otabek and the knowledge that they will be dancing the waltz together in a little while.

“Sorry,” Otabek says quietly, “That was a bit straightforward of me, I shouldn't have-”

“It's alright,” Yuri cuts him off, “I was just surprised.”

And Yuri is surprised, by Otabek's plain anthracite-colored suit that he's worn to a number of official events already, by the new piercing adorning his ear, by the way he holds his hands folded in front of him and casually looks around.

Yuri himself often feels so electric in the presence of other people, so tense with static that he thinks he might just shock everyone who touches him. Otabek, on the other hand, always looks a little stiff when he's not on the ice. He's like a puppet that needs a bit of prodding and pulling until he dances, all smooth wood underneath.

Yuri chuckles.

“What?” Otabek asks.

“Just realized you remind me of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.”

Otabek's face darkens.

“I'm never doing ballet ever again,” he says.

So they waltz instead.

Yuri is not used to dancing with a partner, but Otabek is good at leading so all Yuri has to do is allow his body to react to the subtle cues.

“Have you ever thought of pair skating?” Yuri asks because it's easy to imagine, Otabek lifting a pretty girl, spinning her across the ice.

“Dropped a rink mate once,” Otabek grunts, “Haven't tried it since.”

Yuri snorts, “Did she hurt herself?”

“She, um, kinda fell on my face. Crotch first.”

It takes Yuri a moment to parse through that, to develop a mental image that goes with that story, and when he does he can't help but grin.

“Were you traumatized?” he asks with feigned sympathy.

“Very,” Otabek nods gravely, “I still have nightmares.”

Luckily, other people are dancing now as well and the music is pretty loud, so no one notices when Yuri throws his head back to laugh.

It takes three more songs and three more dances until Mila finally butts in to steal Yuri away. He grumbles a little, grumbles a lot when she starts leading him as well, but she doesn't say much of anything, just gives him this strangely fond smile that he can't quite pinpoint but that really makes her look like a big sister.

“Old hag,” he huffs, tossing his hair as she twirls him around.

“Precious baby,” she returns, “Growing up so quickly.”

He's not sure what she means by that, but he's having fun anyway, so he just sticks out his tongue at her and keeps dancing.

 

They stay in town for another day because it's a much deserved break and otherwise it would not have been worth flying out to far.

Barcelona is beautiful, even more so than it was in winter, and Otabek and Yuri ditch the rest of the group to go exploring on their own, unfamiliar Spanish in their ears as they weave through the cobblestone roads.

A woman on a motorbike roars past them and Yuri startles, comes to a sudden halt.

“This is where we first met,” he realizes with a blink, “I mean, met again.”

Otabek stops, glances back at him, “We met in the lobby of the hotel.”

“No, I mean, just... here. Barcelona. This is were we met.”

Has it really been one and a half years already? Thinking that is probably a sign that Yuri is growing up, but time flies.

Otabek frowns a little, “You didn't notice that before?”

“No, I was just..,” he trails off, doesn't quite know how to phrase it. He doesn't want to talk about how significant this is, about how much it means to him, and how bad he feels that he didn't realize it sooner.

“I was preoccupied with the wedding, I guess,” is what he settles on eventually and Otabek smiles a little.

“You did a good job,” he says, “And you only threatened Victor once.”

“Twice,” Yuri admits petulantly, “I think you were on the toilet the second time around.”

“And here I was going to buy you ice cream as a reward-”

“Buy me ice cream anyway!”

They eat ice cream and walk around the city to do the sight-seeing they missed out on last time and Yuri buys entirely too expensive shoes and then they eat dinner and end up in Yuri's hotel room, showing each other their favorite cartoons, shoes kicked off by the door and an emergency supply of chocolate unearthed from Yuri's suitcase.

All too quickly, Yuri can feel himself growing tired, though. He's an early riser, because of training, which means that last night's dancing totally threw him off his schedule. He dozes off in between, forces his eyes open again, and the last time he does that the bedside lamp has been turned off and the laptop set aside, so he just goes right back to sleep.

In the middle of the night, however he suddenly wakes up again, thirsty, and realizes that he is still slumped against Otabek's shoulder, a crick in his neck.

He croaks, massages his aching vertebrae and rolls off the bed to slip out of his day clothes and into his pajama instead. When he crawls back onto the mattress, however, Otabek stirs as well, pushing himself up.

“I should go back to my room,” he says, his voice quiet but sounding very awake.

“Fuck that,” Yuri says sleepily and tugs at his wrist, “It's three in the fucking morning, might as well stay.”

Carefully, Otabek lowers himself back on the mattress.

“Okay,” he says and they go back to sleep.

 

Yuri wakes slowly, gradually, with the morning sun already having conquered the room. He stretches and groans a little and when he blinks his eyes open, Otabek is already looking back at him.

They didn't exactly end up cuddling, but Yuri holds his own hands cradled close to his chest, the tip of his nose pressed against Otabek's bare shoulder. It smells better than piroshki, better than Frost Flower, just warm and musky and surprisingly familiar with how rarely they see each other.

“Hey,” Otabek says, quietly.

“Hey,” Yuri whispers back.

They have flights to catch and people to say goodbye to, each other to say goodbye to, but only later, much later, and the day can wait a little longer.

 

Yuri catches a summer cold that he ignores for too long and intense physical exertion in low temperatures does not exactly make it better, so eventually he finds himself forced to take the week off with strict instructions from Yakov to not return to the rink until he feels better.

He's pretty much stuck at home, trying to make the most of it by catching up to various series and re-watching old performances and stalking various people's profiles.

Otabek still doesn't have Instagram or even fucking Facebook, but Yuri at least managed to get him to install Skype a while ago. He has also given lengthy complaints about the current status of his health, so it is actually no surprise when Otabek sends him the request for a video call.

Yuri immediately hits the accept button, belatedly remembering that he is a complete mess. He took a shower this morning, but he still feels gross with sickness, his hair piled in a messy bun on top of his head, his nose red, and his shivering body wrapped in his rattiest sweater, a big fluffy blanket and a hot water bottle. The combination of all of that has also attracted his Siberian Forest cat Taisia who is now draped over his lap.

For a moment, Yuri flounders, tries to sit up straight at least to get the webcam to catch his face at a better angle, but right now he doesn't think he has a good angle at all.

“Hello,” Otabek says and then wordlessly watches as Yuri almost falls off the sofa, cat and laptop and everything included.

“Hey,” Yuri returns finally, hating how his voice is still weak and cracked. This is like puberty all over again.

“Feeling better?” Otabek asks and Yuri scowls a little.

“Do I look better?”

For a moment, Otabek is silent again.

“You don't look bad,” is what he finally says.

“Beka, I've got, like, an ocean of snot clogging my nostrils right now,” Yuri points out, “A very nasty viscous ocean.”

To prove this he pulls another tissue from the box on the coffee table and noisily blows his nose, for all the good that it does. When he goes back to glaring back at the screen, Otabek is smiling a little.

“Good thing I got something for that,” he says and Yuri frowns.

“What, nasal spray?”

“My mother's soup,” Otabek explains instead and when he tilts his laptop a bit there is a bowl of steaming hot something in front of him.

Yuri laughs, even if it hurts his throat.

“You made soup for me?” he asks and Otabek nods.

“You need to get better. This will help.”

“I'd really love some,” Yuri says and in this moment he hates how many miles are always separating them.

He pushes Taisia off his lap then, shrugs off his blanket and carries his laptop over to the kitchenette. He made some canned soup earlier and there are still leftovers, so he puts them into the microwave to heat them up again. It will never compare to whatever Otabek actually cooked for him, but it's better than nothing.

“Bon appetit,” he says sarcastically, perching down on one of the chairs, spoon poised at his lips. He's placed the laptop at the other end of the table, in a poor imitation of how it might be if Otabek were actually in the room with him.

“To your health,” Otabek returns, without any sarcasm at all, and lifts his own bowl with both hands.

They spent the next hour talking, until Yuri's coughing starts up again, and then it's just Otabek telling him about his day, about his family and his rink mates and his new routine. Yuri thinks this might be the most he's ever heard Otabek speak at all, wonders whether that should make him feel special. Wonders whether the warmth in his belly has anything to do with the shitty chicken noodle soup at all.

 

Yuri's theme this year is Evolution and he steps on the ice like a phoenix made of fire and ice, leaving burning cities in his wake.

He finds that, after Victor's and Yuuri's retirement, there are new challenges to face, challenges apart from making the podium. There are other skaters now who bring a new spin with them. There is the stigma of always being compared to Victor, from his looks to his style to his talent. There is the odd tilt the reporter's questions suddenly take, questions that have little to do with skating.

“Are you seeing anyone?” a red-haired lady asks at a press conference after a competition and Yuri frowns, blinks, finding himself reminded of Mila.

“Do I look like I have time for that?” he asks and there is a round of polite laughter, “I am wholly focused on my career. I don't need anyone distracting me from that.”

Otabek is seated next to him, a silver medal around his neck and his hands folded in front of him, and it's not surprise when the same question is passed on to him.

“And you, Otabek? Do you have a special someone?”
Otabek hesitates, enough that the reporters perk up a little. Yuri glances over, too, because usually Otabek always deflects these kind of questions, volunteering very little about himself.

“I'm happy where I am at the moment,” he says eventually and his medal glints in agreement.

They go out for drinks later, even if it's only hot chocolate because Yuri is still underage.

He's turned the reporter's question over and over in his head, getting more miffed the longer he thinks about it.

“I just don't get why they care about that shit,” he complains, angrily licking the whipped cream off his spoon, “Shouldn't they focus on sports related stuff??”

“People are more interested if they feel a personal connection,” Otabek shrugs, “Simple psychology.”

“But still! Why do they ask me this crap? I mean, I get it with Victor, he always seemed like a flirt, and then when Katsudon came around and they dragged their love story out for everyone to see, of course people ask questions, but when I skate I skate, I don't need any of that other mess.”

He's talked himself up into a frenzy now, plucking apart his cheap paper serviette, only looking up when he hears Otabek's quiet chuckles.

What?” he demands.

“The thing is they know that you are a prodigy but they still think that you are a normal teenager,” Otabek explains, “They don't get you.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You're seventeen,” Otabek says, “Now it's socially acceptable for you them to ask you about those things.”

“It's- it's not acceptable. It's plain annoying and invasive.”

That's what it feels like anyway. Like ants crawling across his body, trying to get underneath his skin. He feels pressured in a way he has never experienced when it comes to skating.

When there was a jump he couldn't land, he'd say he was working on it and he'd be able to do it next time, and then he always did.

When they ask whether he is seeing someone there is just this... void. This thing he doesn't know how to handle. Doesn't want to handle.

At least, when Victor and Katsudon were still around, their loveydoveyness always managed to steal the spotlight in that regard. Suddenly magazines title Yuri as the most eligible bachelor of the skating world which is ridiculous because there are still people like Phichit who skip around like fucking rainbow unicorns, trying to spread the love.

Just watch me skate, he thinks and wonders whether this is the kind of exhaustion that first made Victor take a sabbatical in Japan.

 

In November, Otabek gets into an accident. It's not a skating-relating accident, but a motorcycle accident, at least that's what Google Translate spits out when Yuri sees the official tweet from Otabek's home rink.

There's just that, no other information, nothing about potential injury or injury, and Yuri feels sick with uncertainty.

He bites his nails and doesn't know what to do, nervously pacing along the bleachers. Yakov yells at him to get back on the ice, but he deflates when he sees Yuri's face and goes to hail down Victor instead.

Victor climbs the bleacher in long, unhurried strides, his pose relaxed, but his face his drawn. He must know that Yuri would not be acting this way if it wasn't something serious.

“Yuri,” he begins in soothing Russian. With Katsudon around he usually speak English or some broken Japanese, so Yuri appreciates the gesture. “Is it your grandfather?”

Yuri startles at that but of course that's the most obvious conclusion. He shakes his head, hair flying everywhere.

“It's Beka,” he says, he shoulders hunching in with what he vaguely understands must be something like a sob, “He got into an accident.”
Victor draws up short.
“How bad is it?” he asks and for a moment Yuri hates him a little because he knows Victor's first thought was directed at Otabek's career, not at Otabek himself.

“I don't know,” Yuri moan helplessly, “They didn't really say anything.”
“They?” Victor echoes, “So he didn't talk to you directly? Is he in surgery?”
“I don't know,” Yuri repeats, “How would I know-?”

“Have you tried calling him?”

“You're not supposed to use cellphones in a hospital, they always say that in movies,” Yuri bites out, but Victor just- laughs.

“If he were in a bad condition, he wouldn't be able to pick up anyway,” he points out, “So you might as well try.”

The truth of that blindsides Yuri, like hitting the end of a stairway when you were expecting there to be another step. He whips up his phone so quickly it nearly slips from his hand, but then he is already hitting speed dial again and anxiously listening for the waiting signal.

Then someone picks up.

“Yuri?” Otabek asks and the breath Yuri lets out is definitely a sob now.

“Beka,” he manages to say anyway, “Are you alright?”

“I- what, of course I am?” Otabek seems to be switching his phone from one hand to the other, pressing it closer to his ear, “Why are you upset?”

“You had an accident,” Yuri tells him and the entire bizarre situation would be hilarious if he didn't feel so hollowed out, “Twitter said-”

“What? No,” Otabek says emphatically, “Some idiot ran into my bike. My parked bike. It's got scratches now and I just had gotten a new paint job.”

Otabek sound slightly hassled, too, now, because he loves that bike, because it was his reward for winning his first senior level medal, but Yuri thought he was dead in a ditch somewhere and that just does not compare.

“So you're alive?” he deadpans, pursing his lips.

“Of course I am, Yuri, I-”

“Great,” Yuri hisses, “I hope you enjoy it.”

He hangs up then, tosses his phone back into his gym bag, stalks past Victor and returns to the ice. Yakov looks like he would gladly give him some more time off, but Yuri just glares and ignores him, and then he skates his heart out so it can't hurt anymore.

 

Otabek calls him that night, when it's already very late for the both of them. For a moment, Yuri contemplates simply feigning sleep, but his phone flashes, demanding attention, and Yuri knows now what it feels like to not know what's happening at the other end.

So he picks up, closes his eyes in the dark and doesn't say anything.

Otabek is silent as well, maybe in surprise that his call was answered at all, maybe expecting Yuri to just keep yelling.

For once, though, Yuri feels like yelling is not going to make him feel better.

Finally, Otabek seems to gather his courage.

“Are you still angry?” he asks and in that moment he sounds like a little boy asking for forgiveness.

Yuri blows out a breath, rolls over in his bed and runs a hand over his face.

“I wasn't angry, okay?” he explains because he can admit that when it's Beka, “I was worried.”

“Oh,” Otabek says, just a small noise, all on its own. Then, “I'm sorry.”

“Not your fault,” Yuri says, rolls over onto his belly now, half-smushes his face in the pillow, “I over-reacted.”

“I would have, too,” Otabek says, “If I thought you got hurt.”

“Hmm,” Yuri hums, dragging Taisia closer so he can snuggle her instead, “Just so you know, if you ever manage to die in a bike accident, I'm gonna kill you.”

Otabek laughs, just a little, and Yuri tries to imagine him, with a scratched up bike and no pet to cuddle, all alone in his small apartment.

“Alright,” Otabek says fondly, “Alright.”

They don't talk any more that night, but they stay on the phone anyway, until Yuri falls asleep and his battery runs out.

 

He gets an offer to do a new perfume commercial for the same brand. In his opinion it smells just like Frost Flower, but this one is supposedly more mature or something. So they simply call it Glacier instead, dunk Yuri into a pool of water, surrounded by dry ice, but otherwise half-naked and with hair plastered to his face.

He goes from fairy to siren, and on YouTube the video is riddled with lewd comments. Yuri doesn't bother to look at it again.

Instead he looks at himself in the mirror, fists a hand in his long hair, and doesn't find a fault. He likes his body, likes how the slenderness of youth is smoothly transitioning into a lithe adult figure, without the lanky awkwardness that even Victor had spotted around that age.

And Yuri understands, objectively, why people think he is pretty. He understands why he has fans that don't really care all that much for skating, understands why strangers on the street sometimes send him assessing looks, understands why it's easy to sell his image that way.

People have this idea of him and he'll deliver what's expected, to a certain extent. But he does not understand why he would ever want to go beyond that, go deeper than just scratching the surface.

He feels slightly sick sometimes when he thinks of foreign hands on him, not when he can barely even stand their eyes. It's okay, though. It doesn't matter.

He'll keep skating, keep surprising them, until they forget that he might be made for anything else.

 

He wins the Grand Prix, Otabek on one side and fucking JJ on the other, so he makes a point of leaning down and throwing an arm around Beka's shoulder, posing for the cameras because gold and bronze look great together.

People are always so surprised by their friendship, as though they need a moment to remember. It makes sense, though, considering Otabek's lack of social media and their joint effort of keeping private things private. So the only proof there is of them is the occasional candid taken when they spent time away from the ice, but even that was only possible a couple of times per year, whenever there was time after a competition.

If Yuri really thinks about it, they've probably only seen each other in person maybe a dozen times since that first proper meeting in Barcelona. That's not a lot, that's not a lot at all, but it does not feel that way, and instead makes every little moment feel more precious.

They go out celebrating in a group that night, and Yuri can even abide JJ joining them, trying not to get too riled up. When Yuuri and Victor start making eyes at each other and rubbing the tips of their noses, it all gets a little too much and Yuri takes it as a cue to drag Otabek away.

They end up at a restaurant, tucked away in a corner because they didn't think to order a table beforehand. Yuri's the youngest of the group and he can never quite forget that fact. They order alcohol and groan about adult stuff as though he does not know a thing or two about having to pay bills.

He deliberately sit on the far end of the bench, squished in between the wall and Otabek, pulling out his phone while they wait for their door. He's stuffed one of his earbuds into Otabek's ear to show him a song he's been listening to on repeat, wondering whether he should use it for next year's program and Otabek leans closer as they watch the music video together.

“It's a good song,” Otabek agrees but there is something off about the way he says it.

“You don't like it,” Yuri says, feeling strangely disappointed.

“I do,” Otabek says, “But do you think it's really your style?”

“It's fast, it's fun,” Yuri points out, “It's totally my style.”

“It's very, ah, sexy.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Yuri demands, and the disappointment is swerving into indignation now.

“Yuri,” Otabek say placatingly, “You're not very comfortable with sexy.”

Yuri practically rips the headphones away, wrangles them around his phone before he violently stuffs it into the pocket of his jacket.

“I can do sexy,” he growls, eyes on the tabletop, “I can be hella sexy.”

“Of course you can,” Otabek agrees, “But can you do it for an entire season, when your heart is supposed to be in it?”

Yuri's lungs are very empty then. He's done sexy. He's done the Glacier commercial and copied the step sequences from the Eros routine. He can totally blow everyone away with it.

Their drinks arrive and Yuri noisily sucks at the straw of his coke. He still steals French fries from Beka's plate, as a twisted mixture of on-going war effort and peace offering, and Beka just lets him, even going so far as to ordering a dessert that he knows Yuri will enjoy as well.

No one bothers them. The others know how rarely he and Otabek see each other, how there will be weeks until they get to hang out again, so no one tries to drag them into the conversations around them. Otabek is not good at small-talk anyway, even if he always politely listens, and this group is mostly made up of the Russians anyway who already see too much of each other.

“My poor boo,” Mila says the next day at the airport, slinging her arm around Yuri's shoulders, “It'll get better.”

“What?” Yuri asks, halfheartedly trying to shrug her off, “What the heck are you talking about?”

“You'll get there,” she says, nudging her head against his temple like Taisia always does, “You'll get there.”

 

Yuri poses in front of his wardrobe mirror, tilting his phone until he gets the angle right. It takes a few attempts until he gets a result that he is happy with and then he doesn't allow himself to hesitate but simply sends the photo to Otabek.

Sexy enough? He captions it and then waits for the reactions.

It takes a while. Otabek keeps typing and erasing everything again, and Yuri feels kind of please by that, as though this has already proven a point.

Yuri, is what he finally gets, That is, technically, child pornography. You're underage.

Yuri just rolls his eyes.

Give me a break. This is not any worse than the fucking perfume ad that's plastered all over town.

And it really isn't. It's just Yuri, in nothing but sweatpants, tugging the hemline down the v of his hips with his thumb, a cocky grin on his face. It's the same pose that every other idiot on Mila's dating apps strikes, only that Yuri is not desperately trying to get laid.

Is this still because of what I said last week? Otabek asks as though his words had not shaken the foundations of Yuri's self-confidence. Yuri had been so sure of that song and his understanding of it, and Otabek had gone and smashed right through it.

Gee, what makes you think that? Yuri texts back, feeling himself get pissed off again, because he had thought that he would get the upper hand with it, but of course Otabek can't be played quite that easily.

You're better than that, Yuri, he writes, You don't need tacky pin-up pictures to leave an impression.

Yuri bites his lower lip. Then he twirls around and throws himself down on his bed.

His hair tumbles over the pillows and he tilts his head back, arching his neck. He fumbles around with his phone again, sets it to selfie mode, and then he lowers his eyes, coyly glancing at the camera.

He quickly snaps several pictures in a row and when he checks them they all seem okay. His lips are slightly parted in the last one. He sends it to Otabek.

Better?

He doesn't give himself time to hesitate then, switches the camera around again and places a palm flat on the expanse of his abs. Snaps a photograph, sends it off, no caption this time.

His phone beeps.

Yuri, Otabek warns, but Yuri is not done yet.

He bucks his hips off the bed, fingertips just tantalizingly dipping underneath the waistband, the contrast of muscle and bone in sharp relief against the warm bedroom light.

This time, Otabek does not answer. Yuri waits for a few minutes, but then gets antsy and goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth. He glancing at his phone but it stay infuriatingly silent.

Yuri's not quite sure what to do then, so he just goes to bed and tries to fall asleep very quickly, very furiously, but of course that only makes things worse and he lies awake for a very long time.

 

I'm sorry about yesterday, he texts after a long day of messing up his jumps and having to endure the twin disappointment of Yakov and Victor.

Yuri nearly hiccups with relief when his phone vibrates in his hand.

It's okay, Otabek writes and that's not a lot to work with.

No, it's not, Yuri tells him because he spent hours contemplating how to word this apology, I made you uncomfortable.

Otabek does not deny that one and Yuri swallows.

I just wanted to prove that I can be sexy, and that's merely a justification, not a proper apology, but he still feels like it ought to be there.

Of course you can, Yuri, Otabek says, But you don't have to.

Yuri hesitates.

What if I want to, though?

Then you figure out how it works for you. You don't have to copy other people.

I couldn't think of anything else.

Here, Otabek says, This one is sexy.

He attaches a picture and it takes a while to load, but when it does Yuri has to laugh.

That's me on your bike, he points out, though the memory is a fond one, Otabek allowing him to play around with it, even though he wasn't allowed to drive yet, You just like your bike.

I like how your hair looks, Otabek counters, And the leather jacket you wore and the way your legs stretch to the ground.

Nope, doesn't count, Yuri writes, but his mouth is dry. It must be the bike, he tells himself. Otabek looks good on the bike, too, the way his hands hold on to the handlebars and how he always leans down a little whenever he speeds up. He has a broad back and Yuri has sat behind him so many times it's easy to imagine now.

This one then, Otabek says and there is another. It's one of Yuri during training, his face flushed and his hair in a messy ponytail. He got his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, wiping a forearm across his damp brow.

Yuri has no idea when it was even taken and how Otabek would have gotten his hands on it, but he suspects Mila's Instagram feed and Shaha's playing messenger bird.

I'm sweating like a pig there! he writes back in indignation.

I feel that, no matter what I tell you, you will not believe me.

This is stupid, Yuri types angrily. Because he is angry, not embarrassed. I don't know why I even did this.

For a moment, there is nothing. But then there is a surprise.

If it makes you feel better, Otabek tells him, Here is one of me.

And then he sends a picture. It's of Otabek, leaning against his kitchen counter. He's wearing sweatpants, too, but his chest is bare and glistening as though he had just worked out. In one hand he is holding a protein drink and in the other...

Otabek, is that a selfie stick?

...I regret ever wanting to be friends with you.

Yuri laughs. Looks at the picture some more. His cheeks are warm and he blames it on the secondhand embarrassment.

The selfie is stupid because it is pretty much the same as the first one Yuri had sent. And it's... kind of sweet, too, that Otabek did this for him. To cheer him up. To make him feel less... less.

Thanks, Yuri tells him, Just... thanks.

If this photo ever ends up anywhere on the internet, I will roundhouse kick you with my skates on, Otabek threatens.

And here people thought Yuri had a bad influence on others.

 

Yuri is taking a short break, sitting on the bleachers and sharing a mandarin with Georgi, when his phone vibrates. It's a message from Otabek, a video that takes ages to load, and Yuri doesn't think much of it when he hits play, because they send each other outtakes of their training all the time.

But there is Otabek, in a dark tank top and gloves, backward speeding across the ice to gain momentum, and it does not look very impressive, but then his arms lift up, his right leg comes up behind him a little, and suddenly he is soaring through the air.

Yuri chokes on his mandarin.

A backflip. Otabek Altin just did a motherfucking backflip on the ice. Holy shit.

Yuri doesn't know how he even hits the call button, his hands are shaking so badly.

“Yuri,” Otabek greets but before he can even properly do so, Yuri is up on his feet and stalking along the bleachers.

“You crazy motherfucker!” he yells down the line, vaguely aware of how his voice carries across the rink, “You stupid crazy motherfucker! How did you- What- Oh my God!”

He doesn't think he's ever been this giddy. His fingertips tingle.

“I thought you might like it,” Otabek admits. There is a just the faintest hint of pride in his voice, despite the fact that he is always so incredibly modest, so humble, so good.

Yuri sucks in a couple of shallow breath, but none of the oxygen actually seems to go to his brain.

“Are you going to use that in competition?” he asks, hoping against hope,

“I'm not allowed,” Otabek says plainly, as was to be expected, “I just did it for fun.”

“For fun,” Yuri echoes. Everything is a little off-kilter. He knows people have done this before. But to see Otabek do it is so... so... breathtaking.

“You're crazy. You're crazy,” he repeats and hides his mouth behind his hand. He can't stop smiling. “I wish you were here right now. I want to- I want-”

He doesn't know what he wants. He wants to hug Otabek and punch him and bite him, like Taisia sometimes does with him when she is feeling playful and affectionate. He wants to skate with Otabek, wants to see the backflip live, wants to be taught to do the same. He wants Beka.

“I'm gonna show this to everyone,” he promises, “Victor is gonna eat his fucking skates, he- Can I upload this to Instagram?”

“Of course,” Otabek agrees easily, “I just wanted you to be the first to see it. It's the first attempt I really nailed.”

So Yuri spends the next twenty minutes just running around and showing the video to literally everyone he can get a hold of, hungrily awaiting their reactions.

Mila's and Georgi's eyes nearly boggle out of their heads when they see and Yuuri's jaw seems to unhinge. He shows it to the newbies as well, the younger kids who always watch him from a distance. He knows their names, but he rarely bothers talking to them so they seem a little skittish when he skates over to them, brandishing his phone.

“Who is that?” one of the girls asks in awe when he has played the video three times already.

“That's Otabek Altin,” Yuri brags, “He's the Kazakh champion.”

“If you ever try this, I will strangle you with your own hair,” Yavok tells him when he sees how Yuri's eyes glow, “So get that idea out of your head.”

“It's a risky move,” Victor muses, “But bold. He's not going to use it, is he?”

“He's not allowed,” Yuri sighs. Otabek could get gold with this, if the rest of his routine holds up. It's a shame, really, because this is the kind of thing that will blow everyone away, judges and audience and people who don't even know anything about skating.

When Yuri is back home he replays the video, against and again, the coiled strength in Otabek's body just before the jump, the way his back arches, his arms outstretched, then he twists through the air, a moment of caught breath as it looks as though his knee might buckle, as though he might face-plant or at least touchdown on the ice, but then he catches himself, regains his balance, smoothly transitions into a step sequence.

Yuri's been been jealous of other skaters before. He's been impressed and inspired, but he's never felt like his body was set aflame in the span of only thirty seconds. He hopes that, one day, he'll be standing on the podium below Beka.

 

There's a competition in Berlin and they both medal, even without backflips, but then again the other skaters were a bit faint this time. Yuri steps off the ice, off the podium, and still has nervous energy to kill.

They have a celebratory dinner at the hotel restaurant but, when Otabek accompanies him to his room afterwards, Yuri already knows that a quiet night in just won't do it today.

He paces around, the music on his phone turned up, and then he starts digging through his suitcase.

“Let's go out,” he tells Beka, “I'm bored.”

“We just went out,” Otabek notes, but then amends, “Where would you like to go?”

Yuri pulls two shirts free, compares the colors.

“I'm of age now,” he remembers because it's only been a few weeks.

“I know,” Otabek says.

“I can go clubbing now.”

“Do you want to go clubbing?”

“I don't know? Maybe?” He's never been, after all, so he can't really know.

“We could go,” Otabek says, “The legal drinking age in Germany is eighteen.”

“Do you like clubbing?” Yuri asks because he does not want to merely drag him along, but Otabek just gives a non-committal shrug.

“Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't,” he says, “Really depends on the circumstances, so it's always hit or miss.”

That's as much enthusiasm as one can expect from Otabek and that kind of settles it. Yuri puts on dark skinny jeans and a lose crop top, braiding the hair at the side of his head, just to get it out of the way, and then they go hit the local clubs.

In Berlin, no one even blinks at hearing them speak in accented English, and no one seems to recognize their faces either, so Yuri struts around with a peculiar kind of confidence because for just one night he does not care about his reputation.

They find a club that seems well frequented, the tail-end of the music spilling out through the entrance. The bouncer take a moment longer to check their foreign IDs but then easily wave them through.

Yuri is excited. The floor is sticky underneath is feet and the sudden noise takes some getting used to, but this is his first time in a real actual night club and it's definitely more thrilling than the banquets after the Grand Prix, strip performances by Katsudon included.

They find the bar and eye the display from afar. Some words are in German, but the rest are of the drinks are the same as they would be in English. Yuri still doesn't know what most of them really are.

“What do you want to drink?” Otabek asks and Yuri shrugs because he has no idea what he would like. He might be Russian but Lilya sure as hell never let him get anywhere close to alcohol.

Otabek weaves his way over to the bar, communicating with one of the bartenders in a way that is more gestures than words, and Yuri just waits by the wall, letting the bass thrum through him.

It's an odd feeling, one he has never experienced to this extreme, but he thinks he might kind of enjoy it. It's like the music is inside of him and there's something thrilling about that, something the dancer in his revels in.

“Hey,” someone says off to his side and when Yuri looks over there is a guy standing there, offering him a smile, “Kann ich dir was zu trinken kaufen?”

Yuri frowns, makes a abortive gesture.

“I don't speak German,” he says and the guy's eyes light up in understanding.

“Oh, right,” he says, easily switching to English, though his accent is obvious, “Where are you from? Russia? Poland?”

So maybe Yuri's accent is kind of obvious, too.

“Russia,” Yuri nods and doesn't volunteer anything more.

“Right,” the guys nods, “You got friends here? Vacation?”

“Work,” Yuri answers curtly. Having to raise his voice is already making his throat itch. He could really use that drink now.

“Can I buy you a drink then?” he the guys asks, “As a welcome present?”

It takes Yuri a moment to realize that that must have been his original question, that he is here to very bluntly hit on Yuri, only that Yuri was a bit slow on the uptake and let himself get involved in the conversation.

“Yuri,” Otabek says in that moment and then he is there, pressing a cool glass into Yuri's hands.

“Beka,” Yuri says in relief. From the corner of his eye he can see how the German guy gives Otabek a cautious once-over.

Otabek, with his muscle shirt, heavy boots, pierced ears and undercut, must look quite intimidating if one does not know that he likes to try his mother's recipes at home and religiously watches all Disney movies in order of their release date.

But Beka just cocks an eyebrow and the other guy lifts a hand in defeat.

“My bad,” he says and disappears back into the crowd.

“Thanks,” Yuri tells Otabek grudgingly, even though he totally could have handled in on his own, but Otabek just nods and lifts his drink to his lips, so Yuri takes that as his cue to try his own.

The taste is not bad, kind of sweet and fruity and more like juice than alcohol, which probably means that, if he has more than one, he'll totally not notice it going to his head.

They stand and drink in silence, watching the people around them and getting a feel for the clientele. It's a pretty homogeneous crowd, mostly people under the age of twenty-five. Yuri gets the feeling that many of them are on drugs and the athlete in him instinctively recoils at that thought.

He finishes his drink and immediately feels a little awkward. He sets his empty glass aside and then doesn't know what to do with his hands, crossing his arms in front of his chest instead.

The easy confidence from before it... not gone, per se, but dampened. Like he overestimated himself.

Otabek downs the rest of his own drink and then he puts a hand to Yuri's shoulder and leans down to say something but it gets lost in the thrum of the beat.

“What?” Yuri yells back, automatically tilting closer because the music has picked up and is even louder than before.

Otabek's breath is warm against the shell of his ear when he repeats himself, “Do you want to dance?”

The question, for some reason, is surprising. Otabek does not seem like the dancing kind of guy, which is a stupid thought because he is a skater after all and a damn good one at that, not to mention that he and Yuri have actually danced before. But waltzing at a wedding, practically held at gunpoint by one Phichit Chulanont, is different from the weird mix of hopping around and head-banging that the rest of the people here seem to be doing.

“Sure,” Yuri shrugs and they make for the dance floor, trying to find a free spot. Strobe lights flash overhead and Yuri blinks against them. There's fake smoke, too, and a pole somewhere in a corner. He makes a mental not to not go anywhere near it.

Quickly it turns out that the club is too crowded to allow for any sort of actual dancing and Yuri finds himself already annoyed by that. People jostle him from all sides, someone jabs their elbow into his back. He rears his head to yell at them, but he can't actually figure out who did it, so he just pulls a grimace and faces forward again, only to find that Otabek is watching him with a slightly amused expression.

“What?” Yuri snarls, but Otabek just shakes his head, though the corners of his mouth are still curved upward, barely even noticeable in the erratic light.

Dancing, here, consists of mostly bouncing in place, trying not to kick anyone. The DJ, at least, knows what he is doing, and soon enough even more people crowd onto the dance floor. Yuri is pushed father toward Otabek till their knees bump into each other.

“This is shit,” Yuri mutters under his breath. There's no way Otabek could actually have heard him say that, but he must be thinking the same.

He moves in closer, his arm sneaking around Yuri, palm planted against the small of Yuri's back, half on top of his shirt fabric, half on his cool skin, guiding his movements until they are in tune.

With anyone else, Yuri might complain about the audacity, but Otabek's hand is merely a grounding presence. It's not stifling or demanding. It's just there, easy to slip away from, easier to lean into.

Gradually, the sway of Yuri's hips gains more certainty until their movements align, occasionally brushing up against each other.

Due to their height difference, though, their knees still knock together and it's also kind of difficult to keep his balance, so Yuri does what's logical, what's instinctual, what's fucking perfect for this moment, and he puts one hand to Otabek's shoulder, steadying himself. Otabek's thigh is between his own now and he finds himself grinding against that, too.

His cheeks are burning. He hadn't quite realized it before, had blamed it on the overall overheated atmosphere of the club and the people, but now that Yuri tries to concentrate he thinks that his entire body might have been set aflame.

There is the bright flush on his face that is terribly aware of, even though he knows that no one else would be able to see. The sweat damp in his boots, the leather chafing against his bare ankles. The warmth of Otabek's skin against his. The strange heat that slowly unfurls somewhere low and deep inside of him.

Otabek is curving around him in kind, as though shielding them from the reality outside of this moment and for a little while nothing but this exists, nothing but them and the deep music.

Soon enough, however, the rhythm of the song morphs into something more upbeat and suddenly everyone around them is jumping up and down, belting out the lyrics. The moment breaks.

“I-,” Yuri says, tugging at the fabric of Otabek's shirt, and Otabek has to turn his head all the way to the side to properly look at him because Yuri's temple is practically cushioned against his shoulder.

Otabek's gaze is open, but not quite expectant, and never pressuring. He just looks and waits for Yuri to speak.

Yuri flounders. His eyes are wide, his heartbeat echoing loudly in his hollow rib cage, off-rhythm to the bass that seems to reverberate through the rest of his skeleton. It's as though, somewhere along the way, parts of him misaligned. The edges weren't even grinding against each other, but completely disconnected, and suddenly the words escape him.

“I need to take a piss,” he says ineloquently.

It's stupid and crude and nowhere near the truth, but Otabek just nods, takes a step back, extricating himself from whatever they had gotten caught up in, and Yuri doesn't understand why he feels like that time he accidentally knocked one of his grandfather's iconic paintings off the wall, damaging the gold leaf halo of the Virgin Mary.

Otabek gestures at him to follow and then makes his way through the crowd. He's tall enough that people easily part for him, and Yuri just follows on his heel, watching as Otabek motions toward the bar, indicating that he will wait there, and then Yuri is already tripping away, searching for a toilet.

He does take a piss, but afterwards he splashes water on his face and stares at his reflection in the mirror. His hair is just slightly mussed up, mostly from sweat and moving around, but he thinks his face looks odd. Sort of vulnerable.

He licks his lips. Hesitates. Comes to a decision.

It's easy to leave the club unnoticed. There are a lot of people around and he just ducks past the bar to the exit. The streets are still alive but the night air stings on his overheated skin.

He checks his phone, notes how they'd been in the club for little under an hours. It's barely past midnight. He stuffs his phone away again, digs his hands into his pockets, and stalks back to the hotel.

He's just stepping into the lobby when his phone rings. He closes his eyes, already knowing who it must be, but he answers anyway.

“Beka,” he says.

For a long moment, Otabek is silent. Everything at his end is silent. He must have left the club as well.

“You're alright, then?” he asks and Yuri swallows.

“Yeah,” he says, “Yeah, sorry, I just... had to get out of there.”

He knows that it makes him sound like an asshole. First dragging his friend to the club but then abandoning him there without a warning, not even bothering to at least send a text message.

“Are you at the hotel now?”

“Yeah,” he clears his throat, “I just got there.”

“Good,” Otabek says, “Sleep well, Yuri.”

“You, too,” Yuri says and hangs up.

He tugs at the end of his braid while he waits in the elevator, concentrating on the mild sting in his scalp, worrying at his lower lip. He doesn't want to go to bed yet. His head is too full. He needs... he needs...

The thought is subtle, almost intuitive, but it kind of makes sense. Their flight back to Russia is at three in the afternoon, after all. He might be lucky.

“Yuri,” Yuuri says in surprise when he opens the door to his and Victor's hotel room, “I thought you went out.”

“And then I came back,” Yuri drawls, but Yuuri just expectantly looks at him and he realizes that he should probably give an explanation to why he came here specifically.

“Can we talk?” he bursts out before he has even allowed the words to leave his mouth.

Yuuri looks surprised, but quickly shakes it off.

“Of course,” he agrees with a smile, “Let me just...”

He ducks back into the room. There are quiet voices in Japanese and when Yuuri returns he has slipped into his shoes and a sweater.

“Did I wake you?” Yuri asks gruffly. It didn't look like it but it still makes him feel odd, thinking that he might have disturbed their night together.

“No no,” Yuuri waves him off, “We were just watching silly videos online.”

Yuri snorts, shakes his head, turns down the hallway. He doesn't even know where he wants to go, just that he needs to walk around some more.

They walk in silence and Yuuri does not pressure him for answers which is good because Yuri thinks he would just snap at him. He just needs a moment to gather himself.

“How did you know that your disgusting puppy love had turned into the real thing?” he asks finally, and it's not a question he's ever really considered before.
Yuuri, however, does not seem caught off guard by it.

“It didn't happen all at once,” he muses, a soft smile playing around his lips, “It was a gradual shift. At first, he seemed so perfect to me, so much larger than life somehow. But bit by bit I understood that he was just human. He messed up sometimes and I would get annoyed by him. But... I wanted him there anyway. Or rather, I wanted him there because of that, with all his flaws and silly jokes and bad habits.”

He contemplates his own words, gives a little bob of his head, “I think when we fall in love it's always with an idea first. But when we stick around long enough to see the real person, that is when we actually learn to love them.”

Yuri frowns. He understands that, mostly, but he still feels like there is something missing.

“But how is that... how is that different from being friends?” he wants to know, “Just because you wanted to fuck him?”

“Oh dear,” Yuuri says, “That was there before I even really met Victor. I only truly fell for him later.”

Yuri cannot help but stare a little. He knows that for many people sex is just this random thing that you do. He just hadn't quite expected the same from these two.

“But why?” he asks, a little strangled, yet Yuuri only chuckles.

“Have you seen my husband?” he asks and there is just the faintest hint of a blush on his cheeks.

Definitely tmi. But then again, Yuri had kind of been asking for it.

“It isn't... like that,” he says, scuffing his heel against the shiny floor of the hallway, “For me, I mean.”

Yuri hadn't thought much of Otabek, at first. At the Gran Prix, going up against Yuuri and JJ and Chris, that one skater from Kazakhstan had not even figured on his radar. But then, Otabek had surprised him, time and time again.

It hadn't been like with Yuuri and Viktor who had drawn fantasies of each other before they even really met. Otabek had stepped into Yuri's life, fully-fledged and without pretenses and he had seen Yuri for who he was.

“How old are you now, Yuri?” Yuuri asks gently, which is weird because he must obviously know.

“Eighteen,” Yuri answers anyway, wondering where this is going.

“Have you ever been in love?”

Yuri startles. Everything in him rebels at that question. But he had been the one to make this call, so he should probably play along.

“No.”

“Have you ever had a crush?”

“No.”

Yuuri, impossibly, sounds neither impatient nor condescending. “Have you ever thought of yourself with someone else?”

“Like what?”

“Dating,” Yuuri says, “Kissing. Or more.”

He leaves it vague, but somehow that makes it even worse.

“No!”

“Huh,” Yuuri says, sounding slightly surprised, “I guess Viktor was right.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Back when we did the skate-off,” Yuuri explains, “He gave you Agape because he thought you were too young to fully understand Eros.”

“That was three years ago,” Yuri growls, “Not to mention that he wanted to give you Eros because of your shitty pole dance performance.”

Yuuri laughs, probably somewhat embarrassed. “That was part of it, yes,” he admits, “But he also thought that you only had a, hm, rudimentary understanding of eros.”

“I get sex just fine, thanks.”

“No no,” Yuuri amends, “It's like... I was always terrible at maths. I just never really understood it. But I taught myself to just copy the specific steps and got the right answer anyway. Me understanding it didn't matter as long as the teacher was satisfied and I got a decent grade. That's how eros is for you. A science that seems to make sense to anyone but you. You're just... going through the motions.”

Yuri swallows.

“I just... don't get it,” he says, “I don't get why Mila is always dating someone knew. Or why Chris is so... so that. Everyone is laughing at this dumb joke and I'm the only who doesn't get the punchline.”

Yuuri hums thoughtfully, “Do you get Viktor and me? I mean, us being together?”

“I didn't, in the beginning,” Yuri admits, “I thought he just wanted to see you pole-dancing again and that you were infatuated with his fame. When he gave you Eros that just proved that.”

“And then?”

“Then you went and fucking married,” Yuri sniffs, “So I guess you are in love or something.”

“And that is something you can understand?”

“Don't get me wrong,” Yuri insists, “I still think you guys are disgusting. But... I guess I can see why you are good for each other.”

Yuuri is smiling now. “And you and Otabek?” he asks, “Are you good for each other, too?”

Yuri opens his mouth. Stills.

“Who the fuck said this is about Otabek?” he grumbles.

“Hypothetically,” Yuuri says, “Do you think you'd be good?”

“We're friends.”

“As are Viktor and I,” Yuuri says, “Admittedly, I think a relationship only works if you are friends first.”

“... I danced with him,” Yuri says, “At the club just now.”

“And?”

“And I liked it, okay?” he hisses, “Do I need to draw you a picture or something?”

“So you know that you liked it but you are scared because you've never liked or wanted something like that before.”

“I'm not scared, you idiot,” Yuri crosses his arms in front of his chest, “I'm annoyed. This shit is just distracting me from more important things.”

Yuuri laughs a little. “I know you probably don't agree, and maybe no one else would either – but I think the two of us are kind of alike. For such a long time I was so focused on skating that I barely did anything else. I had Phichit and my studies and I thought that was enough. Everyone else was always hassling me to go out and socialize. But that just wasn't my thing. And I got so contrary about it, too. I didn't let myself enjoy the things others seemed to like so much. I don't know what I wanted to prove to myself. That I could make it to the top on my own, maybe. But... I didn't. Not back then.”

Yuri stares down at his shoe laces as they walk. He doesn't know where else to look.

“We don't jump up the mountain in one go,” Yuuri tells him, “We climb it. That takes time. And that takes the help of others. Accepting help is no failure on your part, Yuri.”

“I didn't want spiritual life advice,” Yuri growls, “I wanted to know whether it was a good idea to grind up against one of the few people I actually like.”

“Worked for me,” Yuuri says and shrugs.

 

Otabek's flight is at noon which means he has to leave the hotel earlier. Yuri realizes this only when he steps out of the shower and checks the time, noting how he lost he slept in a little too late.

He barely dried off and wrangled himself into some clothes, when his phone vibrates with a message from Otabek.

Have a safe journey, it merely reads, no lingering awkwardness from the night before, no hard feelings, and yet this is not how they can let this chapter end. So Yuri dashes out of his hotel room and practically vaults down the stairs to the third floor where he quickly locates Otabek's door and knocks on it with a rapid fist.

When Otabek opens, he does not even blink.

“I was just packing,” he says, stepping aside to let Yuri enter, and then walking back over to the bed, folding one last shirt, placing it in the suitcase which he then closes and zips up.

Otabek glances back over his shoulder.

“Your hair is still wet,” he notices, “Do you want a towel? Or the hairdryer?”

“I'm fine,” Yuri says, even though his hair is dripping cold water down the back of his shirt.

Otabek walks over to the en suite bathroom and returns with a clean towel, the hotel's name stitched into the corner. He spreads the towel and places it on Yuri's head, but he doesn't ruffle him, just goes back and lifts the suitcase off the bed and onto the floor.

“Thanks,” Yuri says quietly and dabs the towel at his hair.

“Are you driving home next week?” Otabek asks and it seems so random that Yuri blinks.

“Huh? Why?”

“It's your grandfather's birthday, isn't it?”

“Oh,” Yuri says, dumbfounded. He hadn't even thought of that. “It is. I don't know. Maybe.”

“You should,” Otabek says, “He already couldn't see you for your birthday.”

Otabek just knows so much. In fact, Otabek knows everything about Yuri.

He knows how poor Yuri's family always was and how he has had to financially support them with his skating since he was a kid. He knows how his mother left to work in another city, how she met a man there and married him, but never came back to get Yuri. How she has other children now who don't win gold medals or model for perfume commercials but still get to see her every day. How his grandma died when he was away at a junior competition. How grandpa gave him Taisia when he first moved away to train under Yakov, so he wouldn't be as alone because he was always bad at making friends. How Yuri nearly bombed Nationals last year when his grandfather was at the hospital, but he couldn't allow himself to be anything but perfect because he might need the prize money to pay for surgery.

Otabek knows all this, knows things that no one else knows, not to this extent. Other people have fragments of Yuri, handfuls of colored shards of glass. Otabek has a cathedral lined with tessellated windows.

Otabek glances at his wrist watch.

“I should probably go,” he says, “My coach is waiting in the lobby.”

Yuri's mouth opens. He had come here to say goodbye but now he suddenly feels wholly unprepared for it. His conversation with Katsudon last night was meant to settle things, but it only stirred up more dust, and Yuri is confused.

“See you next time,” Otabek says, stepping over, halting between Yuri and the door, as though next time were not weeks and weeks away at the next competition and only if both of them made the podium. Only as long as they were the best.

Otabek lifts his arms in an almost hesitant gesture. They always hug each other goodbye, nowadays. They hadn't, in the beginning, but sometime between sharing a bed and texting each other every day it had become the natural conclusion to their rare meetings.

Yuri... doesn't necessarily dive forward, just fits himself into the ample space that Otabek opens up for him, and he doesn't feel as angular as he does when other people touch him, doesn't feel crooked or jagged or broken.

“Beka,” Yuri says with his nose pressed against Otabek's collarbone, “Beka.”

Otabek tilts his head down to look at him, just when Yuri tilts his head up, and that works kind of nicely then because, when Yuri pushes himself up on his tiptoes, Otabek is already there.

Yuri never thought his first kiss would be with Otabek in a hotel room in Berlin, but maybe that's just because he's never bothered to envision his first kiss at all.

But it kind of makes sense, he thinks, for it to happen far away from home, with only minutes to spare before the next flight. For it to happen with Beka.

Otabek kisses simply, easily, just a press of their lips together, as though he is trying to give Yuri time to get used to it. Yuri who did his first quad in a junior competition, against Yakov's explicit instructions. Yuri who won the Grand Prix at fifteen. Yuri who has soldiered through his life and tried to not need anyone else.

Yuri gasps and opens his mouth and the inside of his lips are wet against Otabek's. Otabek dips his tongue into Yuri's mouth, just the tip of it, and it's soft and warm and not gross at all. So Yuri sighs against him, thaws a little, thinks he could do this for a very long time.

Otabek presses another, shorter kiss to his lips and pulls back.

“I really need to catch my flight,” he says, regretful. His forehead is touching Yuri's.

“Is this the part where we still really need to talk like grownups?” Yuri asks.

“Yeah,” Otabek nods slightly, “Yeah, it is. But I'll call you tonight.”

“Okay,” Yuri says, “Okay.”

And it is.

 

Coda.

They are waiting to board the plane and Yuri is still playing around with his phone because they've got hours of boredom ahead of them.

He browses through Instagram. Comes up short.

OfficialOAltin has liked one of his photos.

Otabek has Instagram. After three fucking years Otabek Altin has finally gotten an Instagram account.

The photo is an innocuous one, taken after the award ceremony last night, when they had still been posing for pictures. Yuri has his tongue out, winking at the cameras. Otabek is leaning forward so that they can hold up their medals next to each other. He is smiling.

“Ah, young love,” Georgi sighs from somewhere behind him and Yuri splutters, glaring back over his shoulder.

Georgi, however, is actually watching Victor and Yuuri who are squabbling for the neck pillow Yuuri just bought in one of the airport shops.

“Get your own,” Yuuri complains, sounding genuinely cross.

“But you love me, Yuuri!” Victor tries to convince him.

“There are limits, Victor!” Yuuri claims and jabs him with his elbow.

Everyone just looks on as Victor sinks down to the floor, a hand pressed to his chest as though mortally wounded.

Against his will, Yuri finds a smile tugging at his lips. He still doesn't understand it, not completely. But he thinks he might get there.

 


 

 

 

 

In one kiss, you'll know all I haven't said.

- Pablo Neruda