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But I’m Not There Yet

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He almost speaks to Yuri Plisetsky when he is thirteen, at the training camp, watching the effortless way Yuri’s body moved to the instructor’s demands. It’s a stark contrast to how Otabek is coping in the novice class — he’s sweating and panting, all his muscles ache, he is trying so hard, and he is still not good enough.

He almost speaks to Yuri, when he catches Yuri’s eyes.

Almost says, “Teach me.”

And, “Help me.”

And, “Tell me how to be just as good as you.”

But Yuri’s eyes are hard, and they don’t linger on Otabek. Yuri Plisetsky isn’t here to have fun, or to waste his time helping Otabek improve himself; he is made for far better things.

Otabek doesn’t let himself dwell on the moment, throws himself into becoming better, but yet, it sticks with him.

Otabek doesn’t have Yuri Plisetsky by his side to teach or help him become better, but he realises as the months go by that with that single look he got from Yuri, he was told how to become just as good — with fierce determination, and a no-nonsense attitude.

He sets about being just like that.

He follows Yuri’s career.

Yuri is good, Otabek’s seen as much for himself, has known that fact for years now, but he still feels pride for Yuri when he clinches medal after medal, and wins competitions after competitions.

Otabek is nowhere near as good as Yuri, but he keeps watching Yuri, and he keeps trying.

Determination and hard work isn’t failing Yuri, and it shouldn’t fail Otabek too.

He just has to keep trying.

When Otabek is seventeen, and back home in Almaty for a brief break after Worlds, Aziza comes into his room, thrusts her phone in his face, and says, “Please let me be in charge of your Instagram account. It’s the worst, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.”

Otabek takes the proffered phone, and glances at the BuzzFeed article she has open on it.

Top 10 Figure Skaters The Internet Loves

“Really, Ziza?” he says as dryly as he is able to.

“You’re briefly mentioned in the last paragraph for having the most boring online presence,” she tells him. “You have two photos on your Instagram account, and they’re both press photos.”

“I like my privacy,” he tells her.

“Even so!” she says, gesturing wildly with her hands. “At least post a couple of photos of your morning coffee, your medals, anything.”

Otabek rolls his eyes.

Social media has never really been his thing. For one, he doesn’t see the point to it, and two, he doesn’t have the time for it. Besides, his life consists of waking up, skating, and then going to bed. He doesn’t think the Internet would be entertained by him.

“Are you not going to read the article?” she asks, flopping onto his bed. “Look at who ranked second, just after Phichit Chulanont.”

Otabek reluctantly scrolls down, and oh.

#2 - Yuri Plisetsky

In the embedded Instagram photo just under that subheading, a very grumpy Yuri is cuddling a very grumpy-looking cat. The caption reads: I found the cat version of me at the shelter today. #iknowisaidnomorecats #canyoublameme

Beside him, Aziza says, “Do you need me to help you follow him? Like a few photos? Start a conversation?”

Otabek turns to her, alarmed. “Please don’t,” he blurts out.

Aziza snorts. “I won’t if you let me post a selfie of us on your account,” she tells him.

He sighs, and relents, knowing that there is no way to talk Aziza out of something she really wants. And what she wants, apparently, is to have him blow a kiss to the camera.

Absolutely not.”

Aziza lets out a long-suffering exhale. “You are so boring,” she tells him. “At least smile.”

He does.

The photo is posted with the caption: My favourite part of coming home is spending time with my favourite sister.

From the living room, his elder sister, Damira, shrieks, “What do you mean she’s your favourite sister? Am I dead to you, Beka?”

Aziza cackles, and Otabek can’t stop the grin from unfurling on his face.

Yuri’s Instagram account is a fountain of information.

Otabek learns the name of Yuri’s cat from the BuzzFeed article from an Instagram video. In it, Yuri tries out several names on the cat, each name said with more desperation than the other, before Katsuki Yuuri comes into frame, says Donburi, and the cat meows in apparent approval.

I was wrong about this cat being just like me #suchbetrayal #traitorcat, the caption reads.

Otabek plays the video several times, enthralled by the small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it smile that appears on Yuri’s face at the end of the video.

He also learns where the ongoing meme that Yuri has been adopted by the Katsuki-Nikiforov pair comes from — Yuri is almost always with them.

There are several videos of Nikiforov and Katsuki kissing in all sorts of places while Yuri is in the foreground making a face at the camera, and proclaiming, “Disgusting.”

One of the captions read, YOU’RE SO OLD, CAN’T YOU STOP IT @v-nikiforov @yuri-katsuki. Another reads, SOMEONE SAVE ME, I’M GOING TO VOMIT ALL OVER MY NEW SHOES.

Said new shoes —a pair of truly hideous Heelys with lion prints of them— were also posted on Instagram.

Wow,” Otabek says in reaction to the shoes, in the privacy of his own room.

It’s not a good wow, not even in the least, but bad fashion sense or not, it still doesn’t detract from how much Otabek likes Yuri.

He continues scrolling.

The next time he almost talks to Yuri is in Barcelona, just a few months after Otabek turns eighteen.

He’s on his bike when he spots Yuri, seemingly hiding from his fans, and for a second, he thinks about going to Yuri, of asking him to hop on.

He almost does it, even, but decides against it after a logical assessment of the situation. They’re competing in the GPF together, but Otabek is still virtually a stranger to Yuri. They aren’t friends, and he doesn’t want to appear creepy, so after a moment’s thought, he rides off to the gaggle of fangirls searching for Yuri.

“If you’re looking for Yuri, I saw him head that way,” he tells them, directing them away from the alley Yuri is hiding in.

He suffers through taking a few photos with Yuri’s overenthusiastic fans before he leaves. When he rides past the alley, Yuri is already gone, has already safely made his escape, and Otabek allows himself a small moment to feel proud that he’s done something good for Yuri.

Otabek doesn’t place on the podium that year in the finals, but he’s no stranger to the concept of working harder.

He skips the gala in favour of returning home.

Right about that time, maybe a few days after the GPF in Barcelona, Yuri develops a taste for music.

He seemingly picks up guitar and ukelele skills out of nowhere, and starts playing short Instagram covers that Otabek can’t help but to play on loop, captivated by Yuri's elegant fingers strumming the guitar, and the soft smile Yuri always has on his face after he finishes without making any mistakes.

The songs are mostly sad. Yuri sings about lost love and missed opportunities, and Otabek-

Otabek can relate. Relates too well, even.

It’s also the first time beyond photos of cats and outfits out the day and straight-faced selfies that Otabek gets a new insight to Yuri Plisetsky, and he finds himself glad for it.

He wants to know Yuri, all of Yuri. He wants to know why Yuri is suddenly singing sad songs. Most of all, he wants to know who would —who could— break Yuri’s heart.

If Otabek were the keeper of Yuri’s heart, he would never do anything to make Yuri feel that way.

But they are not friends, and Otabek has no place asking questions like these. He has to content himself with these occasional snippets into Yuri’s life, and learn to not yearn for more.

It’s not easy, but, by now, Otabek is a champion at trying.

At Worlds the next year, Otabek breaks his personal best total score, and wins his first bronze at an international tournament.

He’s gotten so used to not winning, and having to try harder next time, that he doesn’t really know how to react to this victory, and so he ends up going through the award ceremony mostly in a daze.

Yuri gold medals the event, but that comes as no surprise to anyone, especially with the Katsuki-Nikiforov pair taking a year off skating together to celebrate their union.

(“Honeymooning,” Yuri growls on Instagram, “for an entire year. What the fuck?”

"Maybe more." Victor beams. “We would take you with us, but-”

“GO THE FUCK TO THE AIRPORT ALREADY, OLD MAN!” Yuri yells, but he’s blushing, just a tad, and that lends itself to the hypothesis that Yuri isn’t as displeased about the situation as he makes himself out to be.)

What is a surprise is that Otabek is on the podium, next to Yuri.

God, they’re going to be in photos together.

Otabek is going to buy all the newspapers tomorrow.

“Congratulations,” Yuri says to him, after the photographers are done, and they’re skating their way off the ice.

Otabek almost stumbles and falls flat on his face.

He should say something. Thank you would work, and so would congratulations on your gold medal as well, but the only words that come to him are I saw that Donburi was sick, is he doing better?

He bites his tongue, swallows the words, and settles for nodding in acknowledgement at Yuri.

Otabek replays the moment in his head when he gets back to the hotel, and hates himself so much for it. Even looking at his bronze medal doesn’t help him to feel any better.

He doesn’t get to collecting the newspaper articles like he originally intended to.

Yuri’s Instagram account gains five new additions over the night.

The first is a victory selfie, the second a selfie with Phichit where they’ve exchanged their gold and silver medals and appear to be mimicking each other (Yuri is pouting at the camera, and Phichit is uncharacteristically stoic in the photo), the third is a photo of his dinner that night (katsudon; it’s always either katsudon or pirozkhis or katsudon pirozkhis when he wins first place), the fourth is a photo of Mila Babicheva making a face behind Yakov’s back, and the last is a video.

Otabek taps at it to start it playing.

“Having a crush is so unpleasant,” Yuri whines. “He probably doesn’t even know me. Ah, no, he probably does, but like in a ‘that’s Yuri Plisetsky, this is how much he scored for his free skate, I think his skating is overrated and truly awful, which is why I’m never fucking looking at him when he skates’ sort of way.” He lets out a breath, and Otabek’s heart aches just looking at the way Yuri’s shoulders slump a little. “Fuck it, having a crush is the worst thing ever. Fuck Victor and the Katsudon for saying otherwise. They’re both lying liars, and I hate them both.”

The caption on the video is three angry cat faces.

Otabek wins silver at the next Worlds.

Yuri doesn’t congratulate him this time, but Otabek still nods at him when he catches Yuri’s eye.

He may not have the courage to talk to Yuri, but he can be polite and civil, he’s good at that.

If he’s on the podium together with Yuri at the next event they share, he’s going to throw a thumbs up into the mix.

Baby steps. He’s good at that, too.

Yuri posts a thirty-second cover of What Am I Feeling? that night, and Otabek falls asleep to that.

At one point, just some time after Otabek celebrates his twentieth birthday with his family over Skype, Yuri plays an original song.

By this time, he’s already moved on from playing Instagram covers to actually opening a YouTube channel, and Otabek has never been so glad for full length videos that last more than sixty seconds.

“This isn’t really done yet,” Yuri says, in the video. “I’m not even sure why I’m uploading this. Maybe you guys will have some ideas on what is missing?” He pulls his hair back into a messy ponytail, and scowls at the wayward strand of hair that escapes, although he makes no effort to retie his hair. “I don’t know. I just- Wanted someone to hear this, I suppose, since the person this is meant for is never going to.”

Yuri snorts. “Ha, I’m turning into Victor and Katsudon. Murder me,” he says, and then he starts playing the opening notes to the song.

The song is, again, sad.

Otabek wants so badly to find this person who keeps making Yuri feel like this and shake them until they stop making Yuri sad.

On screen, Yuri strums a sad, soulful melody, and sings softly about wishing he had the courage to say something, just anything, instead of just imagining conversations they could have had.

“But I’m just not there yet,” Yuri sings, and Otabek’s breath catches because he has honestly never related to a song more than he does this one.

It’s strange to think that Yuri could be feeling so vulnerable, so raw, and so broken, in the same way that Otabek feels on a daily basis just thinking about Yuri.

The music stops rather abruptly.

“That’s really all I’ve got so far,” Yuri says. “I know, I know, it’s shit.”

Otabek finds himself shaking his head even though he knows that Yuri can’t see him.

“I just…” Yuri sighs. “I’ve just been feeling like shit. This whole crush business is exhausting, but Victor, Katsudon, and even fucking Google have all attested that this isn’t something I can just turn off. So ha, I’m stuck feeling like shit. On the bright side, it means more time for me to finish writing this song?”

At that year’s GPF, Yuri, again, wins gold.

Otabek spends the entire award ceremony psyching himself up to flash the thumbs up he promised himself that he would give Yuri, and he does do it, because he isn’t big on breaking promises to himself.

He only hopes that his face isn’t bright red.

Yuri’s lips curve up just the slightest, and he returns Otabek’s gesture. He doesn’t speak to Otabek, though, and they head for opposite directions after they leave the ice.

The moment in itself feels more significant than the silver medal hanging off his chest, and Aziza apparently thinks so, because she sends him about a billion photos of them giving each other thumbs up to him over iMessage, followed by a stream of exclamation marks.

Otabek saves every single photo.

Otabek doesn’t really understand Yuri’s next Instagram video, but given that it’s just twenty-seven seconds of just “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”, he feels like it’s justified that he doesn’t know what to make of it.

The caption doesn’t help either.

#thefuck #thefUCK #THEFUCK #lordgivemestrength

The next year, Katsuki Yuuri and Victor Nikiforov return to the skating scene, and it becomes harder to place in the top three.

Otabek just takes it in stride. He knows that he isn’t as skilled as they are, and having them around just shows that he needs to train harder, to be stronger, to do better.

No, not winning isn’t what fazes him, what throws him off his routine is how Yuuri and Victor keep trying to talk to him.

“Say, Otabek, we’re going out for dinner with some of the other skaters tonight, would you like to join us?” Yuuri asks when they’re in Gangneung for the 4CC.

Victor, who is also in Gangneung even though he's not competing, says, “We’re going to celebrate the end of the 4CC with the other skaters, Otabek! Come and join us! It’ll be fun, I promise!”

Otabek politely begs off both times, telling them that he is too tired to be good company, and both times, Victor “The Living Legend of Modern Figure Skating” Nikiforov turns his best puppy dog eyes on Otabek in an attempt to change his mind while Yuuri stands by him and looks embarrassed on his behalf.

Yuri, who also tags along to Gangneung ("Once again, I'm not here to support Katsudon, it's a vacation that is just coincidentally happening in the same place."), is missing from both these occasions, and yet it’s thinking about Yuri that makes Otabek decline both times.

Otabek’s already established that he’s rubbish with words around Yuri, and it was hard enough to get them to the stage where they exchange polite smiles when they see each other; Otabek would like to not jeopardise that careful balance they’re maintaining now.

At Worlds, Victor and Yuuri run into him while they’re out sight-seeing, and herd him into a restaurant so that they can have a meal together.

Otabek spends half the meal worried that Yuri would show up, and that Otabek would embarrass himself, until he sees Yuri’s newest Instagram post (a grumpy selfie captioned “I hate it when @yuri-katsuki babies me #FluNotPlague”), and finally loosens up.

“We should take a photo!” Victor suggest, at the end of the meal. “For Yurio!”

“He’s sick,” Yuuri explains, and Otabek barely catches himself from saying I know in reply to that. “But he’ll appreciate that we’re thinking about him.”

Victor raises up his phone, and there’s really no polite way that Otabek can say no, so he smiles for the photo, and puts some effort into making sure that his smile doesn’t come out as stiff as it does when he’s taking photos with his fans.

Victor observes the photo, then nods. “It’s a good one,” he declares. And then he looks at Otabek, and says, “You should hang out with us more often.”

Yuuri nods. “We’ll bring Yurio along the next time, so he doesn’t feel left out.”

Otabek smiles at them, and hopes that they don’t say anything about the fact that he isn’t making any promises.

Yuri posts a photo that night.

It’s of a selfie of him, Yuuri, and Victor, only he’s drawn two red crosses over their faces.

The caption reads: #disowned.

Below the photo, Phichit comments, “You guys are my favourite skating family.

To which, Yuri replies, “YOU ARE DISOWNED TOO.

AWW!! Does that mean I was part of the family? YURIO, I LOVE YOU!!” Phichit writes.

NO. ARGHHHHH.

Otabek smiles at the exchange, and spares just a moment to wonder what it would be like if he was part of that skating family too.

A few months after that, Yuri finishes his original song.

Otabek spends an hour listening to it on repeat, and then downloads the song into his phone so that he can keep listening to it on the way to practise. He listens to it every spare moment he has, until the words are as familiar as his own national anthem, until he can picture the look in Yuri’s eyes as he sings the song so clearly in his mind.

This goes on for a few days, until his coach sighs, and asks him why he’s so distracted.

“I want to change my short program,” he blurts out, and it isn’t until he’s vocalised the words that he knows for sure that it’s what he wants to do.

Now?” Otabek’s coach says, and Otabek can tell that he’s surprised, rightfully so since Otabek’s not the kind of athlete to pull stunts like these. “When it’s so close to the GPF? Your short program scores for NHK and Skate America were good.”

Otabek nods. “I want to skate to another song,” he says.

His coach regards him, and stays silent for a long moment, assessing Otabek.

“You won’t regret taking the risk?” he asks.

Otabek shakes his head. “I want to do it, please.”

Otabek resolutely doesn’t try to search for Yuri in the crowd as he goes on the ice.

All he needs to focus on right now is to do justice to Yuri’s song, to put so many years of feelings for Yuri into this skate, and if Yuri doesn’t…reciprocate, doesn’t appreciate it, then at least Otabek would know.

No more missed opportunities, he thinks to himself, and he gets into position.

The music plays, and Otabek skates to Yuri’s voice.

The applause is thunderous when he finishes, and a quick look at the audience tells him that Yuri’s overenthusiastic fans are losing it over Otabek’s skate.

He’s been avoiding thinking about what would happen after his short program that it never occurred to him that, with his short program, he’s basically…confessed his love to Yuri Plisetsky. Over international television. In one of the biggest skating championships in the world.

He goes bright red, and forces himself to stop thinking. All he has to do is to get off the ice, and make his way to the kiss and cry. He can panic after, in the safety of his own hotel room.

When they announce his score, he blinks at it.

“Huh,” Otabek’s coach says from beside him. “The change paid off. This is your highest presentation score yet!”

Otabek cracks a smile. It’s a personal best score, and he’s in second place now, just a few points behind Yuri, even though with both Victor and Yuuri coming up right after him, he mightn’t stay in second place for long. It doesn’t matter, though; he’s made improvements, and he genuinely enjoyed the skate, that’s all that counts.

He’s happy with everything.

His elevated mood lasts only until Yuri finds him, as he’s leaving to go to the lockers.

“That last toe loop was a little sloppy,” Yuri points out, falling into pace with Otabek.

Otabek nods, and tries to slow his racing heart. “I agree,” he says. And then, because he really should, he says, “I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologising?” Yuri asks.

“I should have asked,” Otabek says, and slows his steps. “For permission to use the song. And… I should have performed better, if I was going to use your song.”

Yuri nods. “Why did you skate to that song?”

Otabek has practiced for this scenario so many times back at home in front of a mirror, but all his well-practised words escape him now. He should’ve expected this to happen.

“You’ve…been an inspiration to me for years now,” he ends up saying. “I just wanted to pay homage to you.”

“Bullshit.” Yuri snorts. “If you wanted to pay me homage, you could’ve skated to one of my routines. Why did you skate to that song in particular?”

“I…” Otabek trails off, and doesn’t know what to say.

“Never mind, next question,” Yuri says. “How did you even find that song, you’re not on social media much. You have, like, three photos on Instagram, and I’m not even going to talk about how ridiculous your Twitter account is.”

“I go through your Instagram and YouTube accounts sometimes,” Otabek says quietly, because this much should be obvious to Yuri already. “And I like that song. I like all your videos.”

Yuri stares at him for a long moment, and Otabek isn’t sure if he’s hallucinating the slight blush on Yuri’s face.

“You’ve seen all my YouTube videos, then?” Yuri asks.

Otabek nods.

“So you know about this crush I’ve been having for the last few years?”

Otabek nods again.

Yuri’s lips curve up a little. “Have you read about the discourse on the issue?”

“Some people seem to think that you’re just doing this for attention, and that your crush doesn’t really exist, because they don’t think that anyone could remain so apathetic towards you,” Otabek says, and then spares a moment to wonder if it’s too much, if he should’ve just pretended that his interest in Yuri was mostly casual.

“And what do you think about it?” Yuri arches an eyebrow. “Do you also think he doesn’t exist?”

Otabek shakes his head. “I think he’s very real,” he says quietly. “You always sound so…heartfelt.”

Yuri smiles. “You’re right. And I think the fans were right too, in part,” he tells Otabek. “My crush is real, but I think I was wrong when I decided that he was uninterested in me.”

“Oh,” Otabek says, and tries to squash the disappointment inside him down. “Congratulations?”

Yuri stares at him. “Have you not figured it out?” he asks.

“Figured…what out?”

Yuri sighs. “Do you want to know a fun fact about the song?”

Yuri is talking about But I’m Not There Yet (“This is a trash name, but the song is trash, so fuck it, that’s the only name it’s getting.”), and Otabek isn’t sure how they’re back to talking about this again when they were just talking about Yuri’s crush.

He nods, all the same, because when it comes down to it, he wants to hear everything Yuri wants to tell him.

“I wrote it about you,” Yuri says, and Otabek swears he stops breathing. Yuri lets out a nervous laugh. “God, fuck. They were all about you. All the trashy covers, and all the talk about how having a crush sucks, they were all about you, how the fuck did you not realise?”

Otabek’s eyes are wide, and his brain has apparently stopped functioning. “I… You… What.”

“I was being so obvious,” Yuri laments. “Pretty much everyone we skate with low-key knows that I have a thing for you, the fans have written very good deduction pieces about my crush on you that are completely accurate, Victor and Katsudon have been trying to set us up this entire year, and I was basically embarrassed about it every step of the way, how did you not realise?”

“I didn’t think you even knew who I was,” Otabek confesses.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Yuri says. And then, “So? Do you like me back? Or am I going to have to take a hammer to my head and hope for amnesia so I don’t have to be embarrassed about how this whole thing is going down?”

“I basically confessed my feelings for you on international TV,” Otabek points out. “If anyone is going to be embarrassed, it should be me.”

Otabek.”

“And you were wrong,” Otabek continues, ignoring Yuri. “I’m always watching you skate. Sometimes after the event is over, I go home and replay all your skates. I love watching you skate.”

Yuri goes pink. “Oh.”

Otabek smiles, feels it stretch across his face. “Would you like to go to dinner with me tonight?” he asks. “On a date?”

Otabek’s fourth addition to his Instagram account is a short video of Yuri humming a cheery, happy tune.

“I’m going to name this song Otabek,” he tells Otabek. “And I’m going to sing about how useless you are with social media.”

“I can’t be that useless at it,” Otabek says dryly. “I mean, I got a boyfriend out of it.”

Yuri goes red, and wrestles the phone of out his hands.

Aziza calls Otabek a few minutes after he posts the video, and screams.