Yuri likes how people guess his age right after he shaves his head. He likes how it feels when Otabek rubs his hands over the stubble on the back of Yuri’s neck.
He’d liked the feeling of Katsuki’s hands, firm but gentle, wrapped around his skull as he’d passed the clippers over Yuri’s head in smooth, practiced strokes.
Viktor had stood there in the doorway of their hotel bathroom, which was identical to the doorway to Yuri’s hotel bathroom, fluttering back and forth and wringing his hands the whole time. Yuri knows that Viktor had been dying to ask him why he wanted his his head shaved, since he was a gossipy old man. He hadn’t. Neither had Katsuki.
Yuri was grateful, and also kind of mad that he had any reason to be grateful for those two losers.
He skates. He wins. The back of his neck is exposed. Interviewers ask him how he got the scar over his ear (ill-conceived pair skating shenanigans, all Mila’s fault). His voice is getting deeper, his shoulders filling out.
It’s not until a few months after he shaves his head, when he shoots up to one-hundred-eighty-five centimeters, that he realizes he misses the quiet thrill he hadn’t even noticed he’d felt when waitresses in restaurants had called him “ma’am.”
“So strong,” Mila says, sneaking up on Yuri while he’s changing in the locker rooms. “I miss my little Yurio!”
Mila picking up on that stupid nickname is the scourge of Yurio’s life.
“I’ve always been strong,” Yuri snarls. “Hag. And I’m not little anymore, so maybe call me by my actual name?”
“Sweet Yura,” Mila says, and ruffles his hair before darting off, cackling.
He pulls his shirt over his head and sighs, the sound echoing in the locker room the way all sounds echo in locker rooms.
He’s still flexible, but not the way he was when he was shorter and skinnier. Yakov is already planning routines for next season, ones that showcase his newly acquired air of masculinity. Lilia says he must take advantage of his strength without sacrificing the grace his body remembers.
It’s startling to watch videos of his practices and see angles where he’d seen straight lines, broad shoulders where he’d seen a waist that had made him think sometimes, in a cool quick flash, girl . It’s odd. The way people who have near death experiences see themselves floating above bodies that don’t quite belong to them anymore.
No one calls him a princess at Skate Canada, not even JJ, that fucking asshole whose ankle has, apparently, recovered enough for him to sweep in and pull two points ahead of Yuri for the gold.
An article titled “From Fairy to Prince: Yuri Plisetsky’s Shocking Transformation!” is being passed around on twitter. He catches Mila giggling with Sara Crispino on Skype over some Buzzfeed post peppered with pictures of his abs. He’s noticed a lot more drooling-face emojis in his instagram comments. At least three of them are usually courtesy of Otabek, whose awful sense of humor is being thrust upon Yuri more and more every day.
“Smitten,” Georgi says, very sadly, when Yuri laughs at Otabek’s reply to his WHAT THE FUCK WHY ARE YOU LEAVING NASTY EMOJIS IN MY INSTAGRAM COMMENTS text.
“We’re breaking up because he’s the worst,” Yuri says, leaving his phone on the boards before Yakov catches him texting during practice.
“Young love never lasts,” Georgi says darkly before skating off. He’s retiring at the end of the season and he keeps crying during practice.
It’s odd, now, to be corrected for what he was once encouraged to do.
“Bend your wrists a little less,” Lilia calls. “You’re holding a sword, not a drooping flower.”
“That step sequence needs more strength,” Yakov bellows across the rink. “Impress the ice with your footfalls!”
And it’s good. They know he’s not a child anymore. He’s an adult, with a boyfriend and an apartment with his own goddamn kitchen where he can eat potato chips straight out of the bag without Yakov coming up and lecturing him about calories and dehydration and god knows what else.
Yuri thinks of Viktor’s first few years in the senior division: the willowy girlish grace, ponytail tossed over his shoulder. That had given way to sleek, masculine costumes that emphasized the breadth of his shoulders, the hair that highlighted his sharp jaw. The time for childish androgyny is past, Yuri knows. He has to reinvent himself over and over again if he wants to compete.
The season passes in a glorious blur: gold, GPF gold, smashing JJ’s fucking face into the floor drunk in a bar in Zurich.
Yuri can’t even remember what JJ had said the next morning. Otabek is Concerned, to put it lightly.
“I’ve never seen you that mad,” he says, in that not mild so much as monotone way of his, when he brings Yuri a Gatorade and a warm washcloth.
“Fuck him,” Yuri says, and rolls over to press his face into the wonderful fluffy hotel pillow.
“I’ve seen you pretty mad,” Otabek says. He’s pointedly mild now. Only Otabek could achieve that.
“Fuck you, too,” Yuri says.
Otabek hands him the Gatorade, and Yuri drinks it, glaring over the wide rim of the bottle.
Gold, more gold, his heart pounding at the end of his routines like a butterfly trapped in a cocoon, sightseeing with Otabek in Berlin and making out with him in the bathroom at the ISU banquet, and then the blessed off-season and two weeks in Almaty with Otabek and then a week at what Phichit and Chris have begun referring to as “the love nest” in the group chat that Yuri is, unfortunately, part of. “The love nest” is the small house in Hatsetsu where Viktor and Katsuki are apparently spending 100 percent of their time mooning over each other, making weird cakes that come out very flat or collapsed in the center, planning their wedding, or sending weird pictures of lumps and beer bottles washed up on the beach (Viktor) or the poodle (Yuuri) to the group chat, along with pictures of the previously-mentioned mooning, cakes, and wedding plans.
In the week between the end of the season and his flight to Almaty, Yuri eats lunch with his grandpa every day, and occasionally dinner, too. His grandpa lets him take Hell-cat to his apartment until he flies out, and Yuri brushes her until she gets fed up and scratches him. He starts packing early. He’s not nervous. He just doesn’t want to forget anything.
He brings his favorite clothes and his nicest shoes, including his skates, which are Knife Shoes and therefore the nicest of his nicest shoes. He lingers over his makeup bag, which has been sitting by the sink in his bathroom, glitter-dusted and unused, since he got home. Usually by the end of the season he’s tired of the feel of foundation caked on his face and sick of applying liquid eyeliner. He hadn’t used his liquid eyeliner this season, had never even touched his highlighter. He wiggles his eyeshadow palette out of the bag and snaps it open. He’s always liked the red, even if Yakov said it made him look consumptive, whatever the fuck that meant. He rubs the tip of his finger into the red and smears some on his eyelids. It looks kind of shitty. Mila always yells at him if he doesn’t use a brush.
Good thing that she’s off in Italy cavorting with her girlfriend (and possibly unwillingly with Sara’s freak brother as well) and can’t go full grandma on him, because he likes it. He smears the eyeshadow on his other eyelid, too, looks critically at himself in the mirror.
He’s not going to look like a little kid playing with his mom’s makeup in front of Otabek. He’ll leave the makeup bag at home.
He also isn’t taking the eyeshadow off until tonight.
“You aren’t getting sick, are you, Yuratchka?” His grandpa says that evening, while Yuri’s sitting at the old nicked kitchen table working his way through the pirozhkis his grandpa had made for him.
“You just need a new lightbulb, Grandpa,” Yuri mutters around a mouthful of food.
His grandpa chuckles. “Maybe I do,” he says. “Now eat up, there’s more where that came from. God knows they won’t give you good food on that airplane tomorrow.”
“Grandpa, it’s the worst," Yuri says. Some glitter’s migrated to his eyelashes, he can see it when he blinks. He doesn’t mind.
Otabek picks him up at the airport in more ways than one.
Yuri’s wandering around the baggage claim, straining to see his suitcase, when someone taps him on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, do you have a boyfriend, by any chance?”
“Beka!” Yuri says, as Otabek sweeps him off his feet and nearly drops him on his head. “Don’t kill me or Yakov will kill you!” he snarls, as Otabek rushes to shove him upright again. “You’re shorter, let me carry you.”
“Fine,” Otabek says, and Yuri does. He’s solid and real in Yuri’s arms. His leather jacket smells like gasoline fumes and his hair’s grimy.
Yuri wishes his muscles would never get tired so he could hold Otabek forever.
“I think I just saw your suitcase,” Otabek says.
“Are you sure?” Yuri says.
“How many leopard patterned suitcases do you think were on your flight, Yura?” Otabek says, the dry way he always talks when he’s amused.
“I’ll drop you,” Yuri threatens.
Otabek clutches at Yuri’s arms, the way Hell-cat does sometimes. It’s cute.
Almaty is larger than Yuri had imagined it. Down in the streets, it looks like most cities do, but the glimpses of mountains ringing around them makes it feel as though the two of them are cupped in a large and gentle hand.
Yuri doesn’t know much about motorcycles, but he thinks that Otabek’s is very nice, sleek and black-and-chrome. Otabek gets to work strapping Yuri’s suitcase to it, which is a long, arduous, and hilarious process. Yuri doesn’t lift a finger to help him, just takes lots of pictures of Otabek sweating and sends them to the group chat.
NICE Phichit texts back.
Chris sends a string of thumbs-up emojis and also an emoji that’s making a face that Yuri really doesn’t want to think about.
“Climb aboard?” Otabek says, revving the motor like an asshole.
“You know doing that doesn’t make you look cool, it just makes people hate you?” Yuri says.
“And I thought that was your modus operandi,” Otabek says.
“Don’t get smart or I’ll get on a plane and go home,” Yuri says. He climbs on the back of the motorcycle anyways, wraps his fingers around Otabek’s biceps.
“Okay,” Otabek says, and they’re off. The wond feels cool and good after spending the day immersed in hot stale airplane hair. Yuri's shirt flaps behind him as Otabek gets on the highway, sun beating down onto th concrete. Yuri misses the way his long hair had fluttered around his face and in his mouth, in a weird way.
They go out sightseeing a lot. Yuri decides that it’s his goal to shove Otabek into every fountain in the damn city.
“Yurio, there’s 125 of them according to Wikipedia,” Katsudon says, frowning at his phone with his eyebrows pulled together in concern.
"I know," Yuri says.
Viktor cackles somewhere out of view of the laptop camera.
“I think you’re supposed to say that when I’m not listening,” Otabek says.
They also spend time lying around Otabek’s apartment, napping, watching TV, or on their phones. It’s nice, to feel comfortable slouching around on the furniture with his shirt riding up around someone.
Yuri still follows a lot of hair and makeup accounts on Instagram, which amuses Otabek almost as much as the fact that Yuri follows a lot of male models as well.
“That one’s cute,” Otabek says, looking over Yuri’s shoulder while they lie sprawled over each other in Otabek's bed, the fan angled to blow cool air their way. “And that braid would look good on you. If you still had hair.”
“I didn’t know you were such a jerk when I started dating you,” Yuri growls, and likes both the male model and the fancy braid.
“You could probably do modeling,” Otabek says. “You’ve had enough hairstyles.”
“ You’ve had the same hairstyle for a million years,” Yuri says.
“It suits me,” Otabek says, turning back to his own phone.
“Whatever,” Yuri says, and plants a clumsy kiss on Otabek’s cheek. Male pattern baldness would probably suit Otabek, Yuri thinks. Is this what it’s like to be Yuuri Katsuki? Just suddenly finding balding men attractive?
“I was going to say that you could also do modeling because you’re so pretty,” Otabek says.
People called Yuri pretty a lot when he was younger, and by pretty they meant a child, and by a child they meant no competition. Yuri learned to snarl when people called him pretty.
Here, dry heat hangs over the city. His boyfriend’s head on his chest leaves a patch of sweat bleeding into Yuri’s shirt. The word pretty runs through his stomach like cool water, sends goosebumps up his arm like the air from the fan does when it oscillates his way. It fits in between Yuri’s eyes like a piece in a puzzle.
“Kiss me, then,” Yuri says. Otabek directs his serious gaze away from his phone and towards Yuri’s lips, and Yuri wraps his arms around Otabek’s neck, the brightness of the room making the insides of his eyelids red when he closes them.
Yuri doesn’t cry at the airport in Almaty. He’s eighteen, and he doesn’t cry in airports anymore like a kid who’s never been away from their parents before.
“Call me when you get there, yeah, Yura?” Otabek says. His voice is low and rough, like maybe he’s trying not to cry, too.
Yuri just nods into Otabek’s shoulder, swiping at his eyes with his knuckles. No kid shit, they're adults, not soppy and weird like Viktor and Katsudon, who are also supposedly adults.
“Love you, Yura,” Otabek says, his voice all crackly in Yuri’s ear, and oh , they haven’t said that yet, Otabek’s leather jacket is warm from the sun under Yuri’s fingers, and Yuri bites down, hard, on his lip, because he isn’t going to cry.
“ Beka, ” Yuri says, trying to make the nickname come out clear, but it wavers. He squeezes Otabek so tight, picks him up off his feet a little, kisses the closest skin he can find, which happens to be on the side of Otabek’s neck. “I’ll come back before the season starts again, yeah?”
“Maybe I’ll come visit you,” Otabek says.
“My grandpa does miss you,” Yuri says. “Hell-cat, too.” His throat feels normal, now, his eyes aren’t stinging anymore.
They stand for a few minutes, the toes of their shoes pressed together, holding each other by the forearms.
“You’ll miss your flight,” Otabek says.
“Imagine Viktor if I missed my flight. Oh my god,” Yuri says.
“I think Katsuki is the one who’d scold you,” Otabek says.
“Oh my god,” Yuri says. “You’re right. And he’d make it seem like he wasn’t scolding me, too.”
Otabek laughs, the one that’s so quiet that Yuri wouldn’t know he was laughing if he didn’t see the crinkles around his eyes.
Yuri thinks of that laugh intermittently for the rest of the day. He’s stiff and irritable by the time he reaches Hatsetsu.
“Boyfriend withdrawal?” Viktor says as soon as Yuri slides into the backseat.
“Oh my god, I’m getting out of the car if you’re driving,” Yuri says.
“Relax, I’ll switch with Yuuri after he gets your suitcase in the trunk,” Viktor says. “You rode on Otabek’s motorcycle, though, so I don’t know why you’re still skittish about driving with me, in the Prius —“
“It’s because you think speed limits are a suggestion, maybe,” Katsuki says, poking his head thru the driver’s side window and making a shooing motion with his hands at Viktor.
“I’ve been getting better about that,” Viktor says, sliding into the passenger’s side seat obediently.
“You’ve been trying, I guess,” Katsuki says, putting the car in drive.
Katsuki is an aggressively cautious driver, the type who slams on his brakes as soon as a light turns yellow. He’s quiet while he drives, mostly, but he hold his own in the banter that Yuri and Viktor toss back and forth while they make their way towards The Love Nest. The sun glints off the water, sharp and gold. Yuri thinks he would like to live in the mountains someday.
“Hey, Yuuri, do you think we need a sign that says the Love Nest, now?” Viktor says.
“As long as you don’t put any weird statues in the yard,” Katsuki says.
“That was just a suggestion,” Viktor says.
“Katsudon, was he going to buy a clown or a gnome?” Yuri snickers.
“Someone Catholic?” Katsuki says. “I still don’t get it.”
“I have a rosary in the glove compartment,” Viktor says. “Lilia would be very proud.”
“Lilia isn’t religious,” Yuri says.
“I think that was my fault,” Viktor says.
Viktor and Katsudon’s place is really nice. It’s not far from Yu-topia. It’s also not far from the beach. It’s tidy inside, because Viktor and Katsudon are both meticulous about that (Yuri caught Katuski straightening out Yuri’s shoes in a neat row where he’d left them scattered sideways on the mat by the front door). Viktor’s apartment in St. Petersberg had always been tidy, too. But this place is sunny and homey in a way that Viktor’s apartment never was: an eclectic collection of coffee mugs in the cabinets, a quilt folded over the back of the couch, shells drying on a towel on the coffee table. Yuri picks up a spiraly conch-looking one and gets a prick on the thumb from the sharp point on the end for his trouble.
He thinks of Otabek’s sunny apartment, about how in the clear of the summer Yuri could see all the way over the city to the mountains, and he misses him more than anything.
“Aren’t they nice?” Viktor says.
“It bit me,” Yuri says.
“There's nothing in there to bite you, they’re empty! I always toss the live ones back!” Viktor says indignantly.
“We cleaned up the guest room for you, Yurio,” Katsuki says. “I’ll show you where it is. We made cookies, too, if you want any! And you can use this bathroom, the shower can be a little weird, just jiggle the handle.”
“You’re such a good hostess,” Viktor says, with wonder.
“Barf,” Yuri says, but he follows Katsuki anyways.
The cookies are less of a disaster than Yuri had anticipated. Actually, they’re not that bad at all. He eats five.
“It’s the off season,” he says, when Viktor snickers.
“He’s a growing boy,” Katsudon says, swatting Viktor’s arm.
“I’m eighteen,” Yuri glowers. “The doctor said I’m not going to grow anymore.”
“Good,” Katsuki shoots back quickly. “You’re tall enough. If you grow anymore, you’re going to have to duck to get through the door.”
Viktor screeches like a velociraptor into a laugh, and Katsuki jumps.
Yuri hasn’t been in Hatsetsu since he was fifteen. He’s starting to feel fifteen all over again.
“It could be worse,” Otabek says. “You could feel twelve.”
Yuri knows now, after seeing the apartment, that Otabek must be sitting at the little table tucked away in the corner of his kitchen. He can tell by the slice of countertop he can see behind Otabek.
He wishes that he at Otabek’s place skyping the pair of losers, who are currently off cooing at children, aka “teaching,” at the Ice Castle, instead of the other way around.
“I guess,” Yuri mumbles. “They’re just all over each other, all the time, and I feel like such a dumb kid. They’re getting married . Viktor’s getting married! I honestly thought he would have killed himself trying to boil water by now, and he’s getting married?”
“I’m assuming Yuuri doesn’t let him cook?” Otabek says.
“He can make cookies, now, Otabek,” Yuri says.
Otabek raises an eyebrow, ever-so-slightly, at that.
“They’re always staring into each other’s eyes and saying weird shit,” Yuri continues. “And they’re probably like, oh, yeah, Yuri, with his totally real boyfriend in Canada, or whatever, and they think I’m like, twelve.”
“They’ve met me,” Otabek says. “I follow them on Instagram. They follow me, too. And I don’t live in Canada anymore.”
Yuri really wishes he was with Otabek right now, and that Otabek would run his hands over Yuri’s head and tell him he looked pretty, the way he had at Kok Tobe, when they’d stood at night and looked over the lights of the city below them. Yuri wonders if he should’ve said I love you then, but he hadn’t known how to get the words out.
He just goes “hmmmph,” instead, and says, “just block them both and be free to enjoy your life again.”
“I can’t. Sometimes you’re in their pictures and I need all the good boyfriend pictures I can get,” Otabek says. “I screenshot them all and send them to my mom.”
“Freak,” Yuri says. His grandpa has a picture of Otabek and Yuri in his wallet.
“Look at the one Viktor just posted,” Otabek says. “You look nice.”
“Nice?” Yuri says. “I’m your boyfriend. You can do a little better than that.”
“Radiant. Tired. Beautiful. Pretty?” Otabek says.
Pretty. It feels like sinking into a soft couch.
“You’re not bad, yourself,” Yuri says.
Otabek rolls his eyes.
Viktor has light purple polish on his nails. Yuuri’s are an iridescent royal blue.
“Yurio! Want me to do yours?” Viktor says, dangling his hand in front of Yuri while they eat dinner. “We have sparkly ones!”
“Get your fingers out of my bowl, old man,” Yuri scowls.
Katsuki jabs Viktor not-so-subtly with his elbow, knocking the noodles off Viktor’s chopsticks. “We should play some video games, Yurio. I haven’t had someone to play them with in a while, Viktor’s terrible.”
“Hey!” Viktor says.
“Best fiancé,” Katsuki says, patting Viktor’s hand. “worst gamer.”
Viktor grins at Katsuki, mollified.
Yuri rolls his eyes.
“I’ve seen Otabek tweet about playing Overwatch,” Katsuki says. “Do you think he’d like to play?”
“Yeah,” Yuri says. “Yeah, I think he’d really like that.” He’s still mad. He couldn’t even say why. He gets why Viktor sometimes looks at Katsudon all sappy, though. Katsuki’s okay sometimes.
Predictably, it all takes about two days to come to a head.
They’re sitting on the couch in the living room, Viktor cleaning sand off of his stupid shell collection. Katsuki and Yuri have been roped into helping. The shells are cool, and they feel good in Yuri’s hand, not that he’d ever admit that. He wonders if Viktor would notice if he pocketed one to send to Otabek.
Katsuki’s phone dings on the coffee table.
“Oh!” Katsuki says. “He says he’ll do it!”
“Who’ll do what, katsudon?” Yuri demands.
“Phichit! He said he’ll be my best man!” The glow from Katsuki’s phone reflects off his glasses owlishly as he types out a reply.
“You asked him via text? Lame!” Yuri says.
Katsuki blinks. “I guess. I’m usually pretty lame, if you haven’t already noticed.”
“ I sent Chris a letter. On paper,” Viktor says smugly. “I put glitter in the envelope.”
“You’re lucky he didn’t refuse on the spot,” Katsuki says.
“Ben had to talk him down,” Viktor says. “I think he reminded Chris that I’m going to be his best man.”
“That’s not going to be a disaster or anything,” Yuri mutters.
“Maybe Yurio can be the flower girl, if we can cram him into a dress!” Viktor says, smirking, and something in Yuri hurts when the words hit him, sharp and hot.
“Yurio?” Katsuki says, all soft and concerned, and Yuri sees both of them in a haze of red.
“I’m not a fucking eight year old,” Yuri snaps, and makes for the guest room.
Viktor knocks on the door about ten minutes later, when Yuri is lying on the top of his bedspread with his earbuds in blasting My Chemical Romance into his eardrums. The reason Yuri knows that it is Viktor immediately is that he can hear the knock even with his earbuds in.
“Don’t bang my fucking door down!” Yuri yells. He takes one earbud out. “Come in, I guess!”
“Your door?” Viktor says, gleefully poking his head around the doorjamb.
“Shut up,” Yuri says.
Viktor’s grin slides off his face and he gets all serious around the eyes. “I’m sorry, Yurio.” he says. “I know you’re an adult now. It was a joke, and not a very good one. On a number of levels.”
Yuri looks at Viktor. Viktor looks back at Yuri. He isn’t doing that stupid smile, the one he used to do where he closed his eyes like he expected everyone to say, it’s all fine, it’s all okay! His jaw’s set softly and his eyes look down at Yuri like he expects that Yuri might toss something at his head.
“So Katsuki taught you how to apologize, huh,” Yuri says.
Viktor smiles, the stupid smile that he does all the time now where he gets all soppy and his dimples show. “Yeah. I guess he did.”
The music is loud enough to hurt. He likes the way it scrapes inside his brain. It’s like scrubbing off dirt. “Viktor,” he says. Words feel big and scratchy in his throat. “What if…”
Viktor gets a look on his face like someone just asked him to do a quad without warmup. Yuri feels nauseous, not because of the look, but because of the look, and because of how the words feel so big in his throat.
“What if I wanted to wear a dress,” he blurts.
“For our wedding?” Viktor says.
“Stupid! Not everything’s about you!” Yuri says, but he’s not mad. It’s Viktor. Viktor is Viktor. The big words spit, sore, out of Yuri’s mouth, and Viktor is Viktor. “Just...at all.”
Viktor puts his hands on his hips. “I think dresses are very pretty and you’d like them. They feel nice to wear.”
“What if I wanted to grow my hair out again?” Yuri says.
“I’m afraid Yuuri can’t do that for you the way he managed your hair last time,” Viktor says.
Yuri looks down at his legs stretching over the bedspread. Yuri’s pretty sure Viktor wears mascara every day. Yuuri has a collection of lip glosses in a box on top of his dresser. Yuri has a bag full of heavy skating makeup by his bathroom sink.
“Will you choreograph a routine for me next season?” Yuri says.
Viktor’s mouth makes a dumb little o. He bounces on the tips of his toes. “Yurio,” he says. “I’d love to! As long as it’s fine with Yakov, of course,” he add hastily. “What do you want to do? What direction do you want to go in? I’m assuming you want to play with gender? I can do that!”
When Yuri was fifteen, Viktor had said, you’re doing agape! Yuri permits himself a small sideways smile.
Viktor plops down on the foot of the bed, already tapping something into the youtube search bar on his phone.
“What are you doing?” Yuri says.
“I heard this great sonata the other day,” Viktor says absently. “Hey,” he starts, snapping out of his focus on his phone like he just remembered something. “Would you like to try on a dress? I have a few.”
Yuri hesitates. “I don’t know?” He says. It’s a lot. “I guess...I guess I’d just like to grow my hair out again.”
Viktor nods. “You should, if you’d like to. You’ve got that nice jawline to show off, yeah?”
“Nicer than yours,” Yuri shoots back. He misses braiding his hair before going out. He misses the weight of it. “I just--” It sounds stupid to say out loud, but he remembers the banquet, how Otabek had looked at him like he was grown-up for the first time.
Viktor waits, heels propped onto the edge of the mattress.
“Otabek has short hair,” Yuri says. The reasons jumble up, misterable. This is the best he can offer.
“Yurio, he’d date you if you had a mop on your head,” Viktor says. “He looks at you like you’re a turtle carrying the world on your shell.”
“Don’t say weird shit,” Yuri says.
“Fine,” Viktor sighs. “I wouldn’t worry about it, Yurio.”
“Just because Katsuki will still make smootchy faces at you when you’re old and bald doesn’t mean that it’s that easy for everyone!” Yuri snaps.
“Has Otabek said anything to you?” Viktor says, face getting all worried with his eyebrows shoved together. "That would make you think that he would be unhappy if you altered your appearance without his permission?"
“Don’t get all concerned, he’d never,” Yuri says. “I just. I’ve always had short hair, the whole time we’ve been dating. And when he knew me, and I had long hair, I was just a little kid.”
“Oh,” Viktor says. "Well, you can be an adult with long hair. I was."
“ Also, ” Yuri says, pressing determinedly forward as he's learned to do in the face of Viktor's subconscious talent of bringng conversations around to himself, “he told me he loved me.”
Viktor frowns. “What’s wrong with that?”
“I didn’t say it back! We were at the airport, and the air was dry and shit, and my eyes were watering, and I didn’t want people to think I was crying or something like that!” Yuri says.
“I can find videos of you crying on the internet,” Viktor says.
“That’s just because I was a kid then,” Yuri says.
“Well,” Viktor says, “if you loves you, then he will think that your long hair’s very cute. And if you love him, then you should practice saying it in the mirror, and then find a place to tell him alone so you can cry all you want.”
“I bet you cried buckets when Katsudon said he loved you,” Yuri says, because Viktor’s always crying and saying romantic things to Katsuki with his nose all stuffed up.
“So did he,” Viktor says, with a satisfied smile.
Viktor goes for a walk on the beach afterwards, wearing honest-to-god sandals. Yuri snickers while Viktor looks for Makkachin’s leash.
“Sandals,” Yuri says. "Oh my god."
Viktor has his earbuds in, but he must hear, anyways, because he sticks his tongue out at Yuri before he presses a kiss to Katsuki's cheek and lets Makkachin pull him out the backdoor into the humid salt-scented dusk.
“Since he’s switching his cooking night to start working on choreographing your program--” Katsuki says.
“He’s going for a walk on the stupid beach!” Yuri protests.
“You’re going to help me with dinner,” Katsuki finishes.
“I’ll help if you let me chop things,” Yuri says.
“Of course,” Katsuki says, and Yuri takes the biggest butcher knife he can find from their knife drawer.
They work in silence for a few minutes, Katsuki measuring rice, Yuri chopping carrots.
“Viktor spilled everything, didn’t he,” Yuri says.
“Well,” Katsuki says, and smiles sheepishly.
“I wouldn’t have told him if I wanted it to be a secret,” Yuri says. “That moron couldn’t keep his mouth shut to save his life.”
“You’re not wrong,” Katsuki says. Yuri sticks the point of the knife into a carrot, enjoys the cracking sound as it splits down the middle. “You know that I liked to explore femininity in my programs, even when I was older.” Katsuki says, leaning against the countertop.
“Yeah, but you’re,” Yuri looks Katsuki up and down, considering. “Little.”
“A one-hundred-eighty-five centimeter prima ballerina would look ridiculous,” Yuri says.
“You still have your flexibility. Maybe not as much as you did, but you could certainly get enough movement in your hips and torso to mimic a female ballerina still,” Katsuki says. “It’s not much different. Just a few changes. A different costume. Different thoughts.”
Yuri pops a slice of carrot in his mouth and crunches down. It’s bitter and sweet. “Did you like it?”
“Skating?” Katsuki says.
“Like. Thinking of yourself as a girl, or,” Yuri shrugs, pops another slice of carrot into his mouth, trying to look nonchalant. “Whatever.”
Katsuki tilts his head to the side the way he does when he’s thinking. “I did. I still do, sometimes, when I’m practicing. It’s fun, it feels nice. But I don’t think like that much off the ice. It just never came naturally outside of performing, I guess.”
Yuri thinks. Performance, practice, Lilia shooting him the sharp look at the breakfast table that meant to sit straight up in his chair. It all blurred together. He eats another slice of carrot.
“Those are for dinner!” Katsuki scolds.
“Okay, grandpa,” Yuri says, rolling his eyes. Katsuki smiles and goes back to the rice.
He wipes carrot slices off the blade of the knife with the side of his finger and goes back to chopping. He thinks of that thrill in his chest when strangers had assumed he was his grandpa’s granddaughter. He’d thought maybe he was just mad. He’d thought it must be a special kind of anger reserved for just that kind of situation, then, because he knew the way that anger usually felt in his teeth and his face and his hands.
He imagines seeing nail polish on his fingers, remembers painting his nails with White-Out or black sharpies when he was bored in school until one of his teachers had caught him at it.
He imagines the word she paired up with his name. Lilia saying yes, that’s my beautiful danseuse .
He looks down and realizes his knuckles are white on the handle of the knife.
“You have a lot of time to figure it out, Yuri,” Katsuki says, attending to the rice without even looking over his shoulder at Yuri. “There’s more time in the world than it seems like there is. Especially when you’re free to choose as you’d like.”
Yuri has sponsorships. He is a three time GPF gold medalist. He will be an Olympian this time next year. He is a force to be reckoned with. He can choose.
“Now, when you’re finished with the carrots, can you fetch the chicken out of the fridge?”
“ Fine ,” Yuri says.
“Thanks!” Katsuki says, all chirpy and sweet.
Yuri sticks out his tongue at the Katsudon’s back.
Viktor and Katsuki cry at the airport. Nothing huge, their eyes just get all glassy and red and their voices get wobbly.
“Oh my god, ” Yuri says anyways. “This is so embarrassing.”
“Yurio, we’ll miss you!” Viktor says. Viktor and Katsuki have one arm each around Yuri and one around each other. They’re squishing Yuri’s face in the space between their shoulders so hard that Yuri can’t even protest.
“Come back before the wedding?” Katsuki says. “Viktor, you’re killing him. Not so tight!”
“I guess I’ll have to now that I’m your groomsman or whatever the fuck,” Yuri says. “The offer to be the ringbearer if you can’t train Makkachin to carry them in time still stands, by the way.”
“We’ll only accept if you wear cat ears,” Viktor says. Katsuki snickers.
“Bye!” Yuri says loudly, and pretends to walk away.
“Yurio!” Viktor says.
“Come back here, please!” Katsuki says.
Yuri sighs, really big so they know that he’s happy that they don’t want him to go.
“Here,” Katsuki says, fishing something out of his pocket and pressing it into Yuri’s hand. It’s a small container of nice black nail polish, sealed in a plastic bag so Yuri can put it in his suitcase without worrying about it leaking. “I thought you might like this.”
Yuri closes his fist around the nice sleek curve of it. “Thank you,” he says.
“No problem,” Katsuki says, shaking his head, and before he can really think about it Yuri tosses his arms around him.
Yuuri wraps his arms around Yuri’s ribs and squeezes, rocks him back and forth. “Oof! You’re so tall, like hugging a tree!”
“You’re so little, like hugging…” Yuri considers. “A bush?”
“A bush, ” Viktor snorts, and Yuri releases Katsuki to sweep Viktor in a hug when he’s not expecting it.
“Ah, you’re right, Yuuri, he’s kind of hard to get your arms around,” Viktor says, staggering a little for added drama.
“That’s right,” Yuri says. “Drive home safe, moron.”
“I think that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” Viktor says.
“Who’s going to finish choreographing my program if you drive your stupid ass off a cliff?” Yuri says.
“It looks amazing already, you'd be fine!” Viktor says.
“Now go catch your plane, Yurio,” Katsuki says. “Tell your grandpa we say hello.”
“Tell Yakov we say hello, and also that we’re having an open bar at the wedding,” Viktor says.
Yuri collapses onto his own bed when he gets back to his apartment. His comforter smells dusty and his fridge is empty, but that can wait. He sleeps until about five in the afternoon, and then he wakes up and calls his grandpa.
“I’m renting Hell-cat for the week to cuddle with Otabek,” Yuri says. “He loves cats.”
“The fee,” Yuri’s grandpa says, with faux-sternness, “will be a visit from two young charming people, paid to this old man.”
“Of course,” Yuri says.
“I will make double the pirozhkis,” Yuri’s grandpa says.
“We’ll haunt your kitchen,” Yuri says.
He calls Otabek next. “Beka,” he says as soon as Otabek picks up. “I’m hungry.”
“Get food?” Otabek suggests.
“Thanks,” Yuri says. “Helpful.”
“You’re welcome,” Otabek says.
Yuri stares at his familiar ceiling. “I’ve been thinking about growing my hair out,” he says.
“I should start practicing my braids on Aidana, then, right?” Otabek says.
“Yes,” Yuri says. “I’ll need to see some kind of proof that you’re qualified before I’ll let you braid it.”
“Will Aidana’s word be enough?”
“I was thinking pictures,” Yuri says, “but she’s smart and I’d trust her.”
They’re quiet for a minute. Yuri’s comforter feels slightly damp. He misses Otabek.
“You’d look beautiful with long hair,” Otabek says, solemnly.
Yuri wiggles onto his side, lays his phone on the pillow next to him. He remembers the warmth of Otabek’s breath when Yuri had laid his hand between them on the pillow.
“I miss Almaty,” Yuri says.
“I miss you,” Otabek says.
“I miss you, too,” Yuri says, running his hand over the warm spot his phone leaves on his pillowcase.
He calls Viktor first thing the next morning, rumpled from a sleepless night. He doesn’t pick up, which is typical. Yuri calls Katsuki.
“Hey, Yurio! Feels good to be home, I bet,” Katsuki says.
“I’m jetlagged,” Yuri says.
“I’m sorry,” Katsuki says.
“Where’s Viktor?” Yuri says.
There’s a rustle on Katsuki’s end, like he’s pinning his phone between his ear and his shoulder. “He’s at home. I’m at Ice Castle right now, I could try to call him but he probably left his phone in the kitchen or something--”
“He’s useless anyways,” Yuri says.
“He’s pretty, though,” Katsuki says. “That’s a joke, he’s very useful. He even vacuumed yesterday. Anyways, what did you need him to do?”
“I don’t know how to tell Yakov that I want to do a different short program,” Yuri blurts. He’s hopped on planes and turned triples into quads and left Yakov red in the face and gritting his teeth, but it’s usually more spur-of-the-moment. This requires planning, and Yuri needs a script.
“Just tell Yakov that you need to go in a different direction,” Katsuki says. “I’m sure he won’t object if he knows Viktor’s choreographing, since you’ve always done well with Viktor’s programs in the past.”
Yuri chews on his lip. “What if he says no?”
“Yurio,” Katsuki says. “Viktor would, I think, tell you to say something about how retaining your previous style and exploring it deeper would be more surprising and thrilling to your audience than slapping on something you are uninterested in.”
“What would you say?” Yuri says.
Katsuki hesitates. There’s more static down the line. “I guess I’d say--you’re not Viktor. You have your own reasons for wanting to change your short program. Tell those to Yakov.”
“Oh my god,” Yuri says. It sounds like about the worst thing he can imagine.
Katsuki laughs. Yuri hates him.
“I really, really, really hate you sometimes, Katsudon.”
“Aw! Only sometimes?” Katsuki says.
“ Bye, ” Yuri says, and hangs up.
He drags himself to practice, shows up late with a protein shake.
Yakov’s standing as he always does, stiff and bundled in his coat with his arms crossed.
“You’re late,” he says, gruff, as soon as he catches sight of Yuri.
“I stretched already,” Yuri says.
“Good. Get out there and warm up, and then we’ll start on your short program,” Yakov says.
“Wait,” Yuri says. “Yakov, I have to tell you something.”
Yakov’s eyes immediately flick to Yuri’s ring finger.
“Just because I spent the week with them doesn’t mean I’m that stupid!” Yuri says.
“I regret giving you any ideas now,” Yakov says.
Yuri stomps his foot to distract Yakov from any blushing that might be happening. “I’m not some lovesick idiot! It’s about my program!”
“That’s almost worse,” Yakov says. “You want to change it, don’t you.”
“Viktor’s choreographing it, and I started working on it in Hatsetsu, even, and I think that--” Yuri starts.
“Okay,” Yakov says.
“And I want--” Yuri stops. “Wait. What?”
“I said,” Yakov says, with pointed slowness, “okay.”
“Huh?” Yuri says.
Yakov huffs out a terrible sound, half sigh and half snort. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from coaching you, Yuri Plisetsky, it’s that if you want to do something bad enough, you’ll succeed. You can change your short program, on one condition.”
“What is it?” Yuri says. He’s pretty sure Mila’s going to jump out with a camera and yell PUNKED any second now.
“That you’re not bored, that Viktor didn’t talk you into this, that you didn’t knock your head on a rock and forget your old choreography, or any of the stupid reasons that students have used to try to convince me to let them switch programs in the past.”
“I wouldn’t let Viktor talk me into ordering food at a restaurant, let alone--” Yuri starts, but Yakov holds up a finger.
“If you really want to skate this program as bad as you want to win, you can switch,” Yakov says.
Yuri’s already started thinking of the costume he’ll wear. When he skates this program, he feels like his skin is the perfect shape and size. “I want to,” Yuri says.
“Done, then,” Yakov says. “Now get on that ice and show me sometime before midnight, maybe?” By the time he finishes the sentence he's practically bellowing.
Yuri picks Otabek up at the airport wearing Katsuki’s black nail polish. His hair is a feathery fringe on his forehead, in one of the millions of awkward stages of the growing-out process. It looks dumb, probably. Otabek’s face breaks into a grin when he sees Yuri anyways.
“So, do you have a boyfriend?” Yuri teases.
“I do, actually. He’s very good-looking,” Otabek says. He takes Yuri’s hand, twisting their fingers together. “Your fingers look very long when you have on nail polish,” he says.
Yuri hopes he’s not blushing. They’re in an airport. It’s almost as bad as crying.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a cool motorcycle, so we’re going to have to take a cab,” Yuri says. “It will be a lot easier to haul your suitcase, though.”
Otabek shrugs. “Not everyone can be as cool as me.”
“As much of a loser as you, you mean,” Yuri says.
Otabek shrugs again.
As soon as Yuri manhandles Otabek’s suitcase inside, Otabek insisting that he could take it if Yuri wanted and Yuri stubbornly refusing, he takes Otabek’s hand and leads him towards his bedroom. The door drifts shut behind them.
“I still have my shoes on,” Otabek says.
“Viktor said to practice this in the mirror,” Yuri says, which he wasn’t supposed to say and now he kind of wants to jump off of his balcony.
Otabek is raising both eyebrows, which is rare and alarming.
“Oh my god,” Yuri mutters. There is a Viktor-shaped elephant in the room now, which is only second to the real thing in terms of being disruptive and mood-killing. Otabek takes Yuri’s other hand, and now they’re a matching pair. He swings them back and forth, patient. Yuri looks at the scar in Otabek’s eyebrow, his eyelashes and the way he smiles down at their fingers fit next to each other. Otabek raises one of Yuri’s hands to his mouth, lays Yuri’s knuckles against his cheek.
“It’s easier in the mirror,” Yuri says, despairing.
“What is?” Otabek says.
“Telling you that I love you,” Yuri says.
“I love you too,” Otabek says.
“It’s not that I don’t!” Yuri says. “I just. It’s hard to say when you’re here and you’re looking at me like--”
“Like what?” Otabek says.
Like I’m a turtle carrying the world on my shell? “Like you don’t hate me,” Yuri mutters.
Otabek steers him onto the bed and sits him down. “Do you want to take it from the top?” He says.
“Beka,” Yuri groans.
“I love you,” Otabek says.
Yuri covers his eyes with his hands. “I love you too,” he says, breathless, and then he feels Otabek knock his forehead into Yuri’s.
“I realized,” Otabek says, “after I said it, that I was going to make you cry in the airport, and I felt bad about it.”
“I didn’t cry in the airport, ” Yuri says.
“Sure,” Otabek says, and he starts laughing his soundless wonderful laugh, and Yuri starts laughing so hard that he has to collapse onto the mattress.
Otabek collapses next to him, and they laugh and laugh until their sides hurt.
“I love you,” Yuri says.
“I love you, too,” Otabek says, and they grin at each other. Otabek’s hair is flopping around weirdly. It’s cute.
“Kiss me, then,” Yuri says.
“Yuri,” Otabek says the next day, when they’re sprawled on the couch, half-napping, Hell-cat sitting on their legs and the TV playing an action movie on mute. “Does it bother you when I call you handsome?”
“Huh?” Yuri says. “Why would that bother me? I call you handsome all the time.”
“Thanks,” Otabek says. “Just checking, though.”
“Why’d you have to check?” Yuri says. He’s still, to borrow a phrase from Yakov, ‘absolutely baffled.’ Whatever the fuck that means.
“I wasn’t sure. I mean, you are wearing a dress right now,” Otabek points out.
Yuri looks down at his legs. It’s easy to forget: this dress is comfortable, loose and knit. Paired with leggings, it doesn’t feel much different than wearing a t-shirt. “Oh,” he says.
“I wouldn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable,” Otabek says.
Yuri hasn’t really thought about it. He tests the word out. Handsome. He thinks of Otabek. The word seems far away. “I guess I don’t really know?” he says.
“Would you like me to hold off until you figure out?” Otabek says.
Yuri doesn’t know whether to nod or shake his head. It all comes out as a shiver. “Everything’s really. New?” he says. Maybe new’s not the right word, but it’s close enough, he thinks. He hopes.
Otabek fits his fingers into the spaces between Yuri’s ribs. Yuri can feel his nose poke against Yuri’s shoulder. “Promise you’ll talk to me and tell me if I say something wrong?” Otabek says.
“I promise,” Yuri says. Hell-cat’s soft purring, the distant sounds of the street below. “Otabek,” Yuri says.
“Umm-hmm?” Otabek hums.
“Do you think that you could maybe try,” Yuri twists his hands into the knit fabric of the dress. It’s worn soft. Otabek’s quiet, waiting for him to finish. “Maybe try calling me she? Sometimes? Not all the time,” he adds. “Maybe just. Every so often.”
“Of course," Otabek says, very serious like Yuri just handed him a kitten or a baby or something very breakable and important.
Yuri rolls over to shove his face into Otabek's chest and smiles against the cotton of Otabek's t-shirt.
“Otabek, there are three-hundred-forty-two bridges in St. Petersberg,” Viktor says, reading off his phone. “You know what you have to do.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you!” Yuri yells.
“Hey, Chris pushed me off one of the bridges before, and I was fine!” Viktor says.
“Katsudon, tell me you’re hearing this and you have no intention of letting Chris and Viktor do any kind of bachelor party shenanigans,” Yuri says.
“Are you sure you didn’t just fall off the bridge, honey?” Katsuki says, peering into the view of the camera before settling on the couch in the background.
“I definitely felt a push,” Viktor says.
“Listen, pushing someone into a fountain is very different from pushing them off a bridge,” Yuri says.
“Like I said,” Viktor shrugs. “I was fine.”
“Well, we can’t all be Viktor fucking Nikiforov, man of steel,” Yuri says.
“Hey, Yuuri, man of steel! I like that!” Viktor says, turning around in his chair excitedly.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Katsuki says dryly.
“Don’t enable him, Katsudon!” Yuri shouts.
“I prefer to call it indulging,” Katsuki calls back.
Yuri rolls his eyes. Otabek looks kind of charmed.
“Aren’t they awful?” Yuri says. “I hope you’re thinking about how awful they are right now.”
“They’re nice,” Otabek says.
“See, they’re sucking you in!” Yuri says. “Next thing I know you’re going to be calling me a marshmallow and crying because I complimented your hair or something.”
“Well, if you’re just going to trashtalk us, I’ll let you go,” Viktor says. “Besides, Yakov will fly over here and have my head if I make you late.”
“Pfft,” Yuri says. “I’m late all the time.”
“According to my sources--” Viktor says.
“Mila,” Katsuki says.
“They requested anonymity,” Viktor says. “They also said that since Otabek’s arrival you’ve been ten minutes early for every practice.”
“I like to be on time,” Otabek says.
Yuri shrugs. It’s true.
“Yakov’s in love,” Viktor says, pretending to swoon. “You’re everything he ever wanted, Otabek!”
After practice, they go for a walk. Everyone’s strung tight as a wire with the start of the season drawing close and inevitable, but Yuri’s calmer than he’s ever been before the start of a season. Maybe it’s Otabek. Maybe it’s the way skating his program makes his heart pound just right, the way that when he watches the videos of his practices he expects exactly what he sees in the shapes he makes.
They wander through the White Nights, hands linked. The air’s hot and smells like car exhaust but the breeze off the water’s cool. The sky looks like a spot of oil on pavement, blues and pinks and golds.
Yuri likes knowing that they make a good-looking couple: Otabek’s leather jacket boxy and unadorned, Yuri’s cut short and midriff-baring and covered in unnecessary zippers, Otabek with the same undercut he’s always had, which admittedly does make his jawline look fucking devastating, Yuri with his hair just shy of chin-length, half-tied back in a way that Otabek seems to find extremely attractive.
Knowing that his nails are painted and his eyeliner makes his eyes look sharp and cat-like settles right in his chest, too, next to the way Otabek had said she about him during the skype call with Katsuki and Viktor. Yuri’s due early at the rink tomorrow, and then by tomorrow night Otabek will be packing all the things that scattered surprisingly fast around Yuri’s apartment, his razor and his toothbrush and his paperbacks and his socks. Yuri already can already feel the strangeness of sprawling out on his bed, the only one in it. But there’s the season, hotels and cities to explore with Otabek by his side, late night skype calls while Yakov bangs on his door and shouts “ you’d better in bed or so help me!” and Viktor and Katsuki buying stuffed cats to pelt him with and the weight of a gold medal in his hand, and when that is over he will still have this.
There’s more in the world than Yuri had ever thought.
Yuri swings their hand between them, and Otabek smiles, that small impossible smile that Yuri hadn’t noticed for so long and has only just unearthed. Yuri's feet will be ugly with blisters, and he will practice longer and harder than ever in the leadup to the Olympics. He will fall asleep during skype calls. He will collapse in his bed at night and fall asleep with his leggings and jacket and shoes on. The season, and the next season. He will go back to Almaty. Otabek will be better at braiding than ever. That will all be then.
For now, they cross another bridge, heading to get ice cream, the light dusk-brilliant for them.