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The further into summer they got, the more restless and distracted Viktor became. Yuri noticed this gradually, initially mistaking Viktor’s thoughtful expression for routine-related scrutiny that made him push even harder. After some weeks, however, the furrow of Viktor’s brow was joined by compulsive checking of his phone, accompanied by agitated and worried sighing, and the only time Viktor didn’t display these symptoms was when he was on the phone with Katsudon, ‘just checking in’.

St. Petersburg was in the grips of a relentless heatwave, Yuri was trying to train for the next season, and his new coach Viktor Nikiforov was, in Yuri’s estimation, a hormonal mess, even more so than his expectant mate Yuuri.

“We’re counting down now,” Viktor explained to a crowd of sympathetic looking sycophants by the rink side one afternoon. “The due date is exactly four weeks today, so we’re getting really close, and –”

“Hey, Viktor!” Yuri snapped angrily from the ice. “We gonna practise or what?!”

Viktor looked over at him, blinked slowly, then smiled. “Sure!”

Yuri muttered curses under his breath.

He expected Viktor Nikiforov to focus on his career with the same dedication that Viktor had given the pig. With the less annoying half of the Katsuki-Nikiforov combo having retired after last year’s Grand Prix Final, Yuri had still only secured silver at the Euros, and while he had expected to be crowned World Champion, he hadn’t been. Gold medals kept eluding him and it was pissing him off.

The new season would start in a couple of months, and he was full of anger and energy because the World Championship needed to be his – he was nineteen already, and while he held Russian National golds and two European golds, in the global competitions he’d been outshined by Yuuri Katsuki consistently. And at the Worlds Emil Nekola had somehow whipped himself up from the mess of his career and won gold! Emil Nekola, a fucking World Champion! It was a crime!

Yuri was goddamn angry about it and a switch of coaches was a good move. Both he and Yakov had known it was only a matter of time, and when Viktor became available in the wake of his omega’s retirement, everything seemed to fall into place. But Viktor was distracted: he was still coming to the rink, gym, and dance studio, but Yuri could tell it wasn’t where Viktor wanted to be.

As such, he wasn’t surprised when one afternoon Viktor said that they should call it a day when it was barely four o’clock. Yuri huffed in frustration: he felt like he still had more energy left in him.

He nevertheless showered and changed, and Viktor gave him a drive home like he always did. “We were reading an online article on jump-starting labour,” Viktor told him, conversationally, as they navigated the late afternoon traffic, “and there is some real science behind orgasms helping to induce labour, and the baby’s considered full-term now, and Yuuri is finding this late stage of pregnancy uncomfortable, so we thought we could see if maybe –”

“Please, for the love of god. Shut. Up,” he groaned. Yuuri was currently the size of a small car, looking like he was ready to pop. Did Viktor have no boundaries at all?!

Viktor laughed, happily. “Oh come on, I know you’re not innocent about these things anymore.”

Yuri froze up a little, eyes darting to Viktor on the driver’s seat. What did Viktor know? Fair enough, he was nineteen – innocent he was not and neither should anyone think so! But had Viktor heard rumours about…?

“Besides,” Viktor carried on, “one day when you’ve found your omega this information will come in handy.”

Ah. Clueless as usual.

Viktor kept babbling – about childbirth – and by the time they drove up Yuri’s street in central St. Petersburg, Viktor was saying, “Personally, I like Nagisa and Asa, but Yuuri doesn’t seem crazy about either, but I guess we have to wait to see her to know what we should call her, but I was also considering naming her –”

“This is my house, thanksfortheridebye.” He slammed the car door shut after him and stomped to his building, pressing the code to get in.

By the lift he bumped into the two teenage girls of the family living on the fourth floor, and upon seeing him both girls burst into a fit of giggles. “Evening, Mr. Plisetsky,” one of them purred – how old was she? Fifteen, sixteen?

He grunted something and got into the lift. He knew that Yuri Plitsetsky, the Figure Skater, having moved into the building a few months earlier was all that the residents were still talking about. He’d upgraded: a large, open floor studio all to himself. He was still adjusting to it: most of his friends lived in shared student flats in the cheaper parts of town. He, however, had a place all to himself, centrally located, and he’d goddamn worked for it, too.

On his way up, he examined his reflection in the mirrored wall of the lift: his blond hair was on a bun, he had a faded denim jacket thrown over a black tank top, and his green eyes were sharp. He was tall, lean, and muscular, a faint shade of stubble on him. His alpha scent had become more distinct and settled in his late teens – it was now a part of him, and it’d helped people working for ISU stop treating him like a goddamn child.

Viktor was right in not treating him like some innocent kid either – he wasn’t one. So maybe he should be happy that Viktor was being disgusting and ribald if it meant that Viktor saw him for the adult alpha he undoubtedly now was. They needed to be equals if Viktor was to help him win World Championship gold.

Even so, he thought as the lift got to the top floor, he almost missed Yakov right then. At least Yakov never overshared about his sex life. (Hopefully because Yakov hadn’t had one since the 70s.)

His mind still lingered on the teasing teenage girls: one of them was a beta, but the other one hadn’t presented yet from what Yuri could tell. God, to think he’d won the Grand Prix Final at that age! Fifteen was ridiculously young, was a child. He understood it now, four and a half years on, from the wise heights of nineteen.

Inside his apartment he called out to Potya, who immediately patted over and began purring at his feet. He picked her up, heading into the living room. How the hell would he ever get Viktor to focus, he wondered – Lord knew it would only get worse when the baby actually arrived. He wanted to call Beka to bitch about it, but Beka would be at his grandmother’s ninetieth birthday right then. Inconsiderate timing on the grandmother’s part.

With a sigh, he flopped down onto the couch, Potya curling up into a fluffy ball in his lap. He got out his phone and checked Instagram, scrolling over pictures of JJ’s twins’ birthday party, Chris’s holiday shots of the Bahamas, all of the men he’d competed against when younger now retired and doing something else. At least Leo and Seung-Gil seemed to be hard at work, he thought approvingly. Otabek had put up a picture of a protein shake some five hours ago, and Yuri rolled his eyes.

He then refreshed the feed, and on top came a new picture from v-nikiforov. The picture was of Katsudon in the nursery (former guest room of their flat), by the chest of drawers with one of the drawers open, looking like he’d been in the middle of going through it. Yuuri had messy hair and was wearing a simple navy top, and he was clearly very heavily pregnant. The caption read: Came home to find him colour-coordinating the baby’s socks! #dreammate #onemonthtogo #weresoexcitedtomeetyou

Yuri gagged a little. Colour coordinating a sock drawer? Jesus! How could Viktor not see that Yuuri was losing his shit, stuck in the house just waiting for the baby to get there already?

He paused slightly, pondering. He sent Viktor a text: Bring Yuuri to the rink tomorrow. He could critique the routine.

He then reached for the PS5 controller and picked up the game where he’d left it the other day. Ten minutes later his phone chimed: Yuuri says he’d love to!

Yuri rolled his eyes to himself: of course Yuuri would fucking love to.

He still had Instagram open and noticed that otabek-altin had commented on Viktor’s picture, presumably from the midst of his family gathering: v. happy for you.

Yuri frowned. Didn’t Beka have better things to do? And for fucking what were the congrats for – Viktor having managed to knock up the World Champion and thus stolen one of the best skaters of their generation from the ice? Otabek could be such an alpha at times, and this was coming from another alpha. The baby wasn’t even there yet!

‘v. happy.’ In the picture, Yuuri looked ready to burst. Was that what made Otabek very happy?

Yuri shoved the phone away, grabbed the PS controller, and began shooting at people with renewed vigour.

* * *

The unnecessary PDA was a pain, but Yuri was pleased to note that Viktor was much more focused on coaching when Yuuri was sat in the bleachers watching, and so Yuri began to encourage Yuuri to come along whenever he wished to. Viktor, being the predictably wired up alpha, thought it was a great idea to have Yuuri be wherever he was, and so Yuuri now was often at the rink, belly getting bigger each day (if possible). Viktor was clearly enjoying showing off his heavily pregnant mate: this is my mate, and he’s having my child, I did this, see how virile I am!

People often said that omegas glowed when pregnant and all that crap – in Yuri’s view, it looked like Viktor was the one glowing, or perhaps he was just gloating. It was hard to tell.

Either way, it got boring fast, but – and Yuri wouldn’t admit this to anyone – he liked having Yuuri around. Sure, Yuuri was a two-time World Champion, a three-time Grand Prix gold medallist, so it certainly wasn’t unreasonable to suppose that Yuuri’s comments on his skating could be useful. Yuuri had also been his rinkmate since he’d moved to St Petersburg several years earlier, even if for most of that time they’d been rivals. Yuri knew that Yuuri, certainly, considered them to be friends.

And he wasn’t disputing that, either. Yuuri wasn’t the most awful or useless person he knew. Yuuri cooked him katsudon sometimes, and every now and then they’d go shopping together, and he’d spent quite a lot of time at the Katsuki-Nikiforov residence over the years.

So of course he liked having Yuuri around, but he slowly realised that it was something more than that. He liked having Yuuri waddling around the rink because there was something calming about a pregnant omega. It was nice, was what he meant, although the pregnancy had completely ruined Yuuri’s figure. Yuri could only thank his lucky stars that he would never have to worry about ruining his athletic figure for reproduction.

But as Yuuri huffed around the arena, back curved under the weight of the bump, chatting to people and as graceful as an elephant, Yuri somehow felt less pissy about the giggling Yuri’s Angels that tried sneaking in sometimes, less annoyed with an overly hormonal Viktor in daddy-to-be mode, and more patient with himself when practising his new routines.

Pregnant omegas were nice. They often were thought to calm down others, and alphas in particular. Yuuri was heavily pregnant, obviously claimed and glowing, and it was just sort of nice.

Was that what Otabek had meant, too, he wondered.

D-Day was slowly approaching (as Yuri thought of it), but Yuuri was at the rink almost daily. Viktor was much happier for it, and the two of them still gave Yuri a lift home in the evenings, too, so they arrived and left together.

One afternoon after practice Yuuri complained about aching feet when they were ready to go home, and Viktor vowed to go get their car from a few blocks away and bring it right to the main doors to save Yuuri from walking. Yuuri thanked him, sitting on one of the bottom bleachers, rubbing his swollen belly and looking rather uncomfortable.

Viktor hurried out energetically, saying he’d be back in a flash.

Yuri watched Viktor running off, chuckled to himself, and couldn’t help but remark, “He likes being given tasks, huh?” Alphas were hardly meant to be that docile!

But Yuuri just smiled to himself, hand continuously rubbing small circles on the sizable bump. “He likes to feel involved,” Yuuri said affectionately. The bond mark on Katsudon’s neck was visible, a healthy red from a recent bite. Viktor clearly liked feeling involved. “Everything’s ready, so there’s not much for him to do now. I try to give him things to do, I guess.”

Yuri knew exactly how many days were left – Viktor reminded him of this constantly: that morning it had been eleven days. For Yuuri’s sake, he hoped that the baby would be a bit early as the man rarely looked comfortable anymore. There he was: former World Champion, not having even stepped onto ice in the last two months, the size of Pluto. Yuri couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like to go from competing to that.

Yuuri winced, hand freezing on his belly. “Ow.

He flinched, panic flashing through his mind, ears pricking up and shoulders tensing. “Fuck, are you –”

Yuuri pursed his mouth. “It’s fine, she’s just been kicking all day.”

He relaxed, the alarm bell of LABOUR LABOUR toning down. Just some kicking – that was fine, he was pretty sure. The rink was mostly empty now, a few kids on the ice still but certainly no one was there who looked like they would have known anything about delivering babies.

“Maybe she’ll be a kickboxer,” he suggested.

“She’s certainly trying,” Yuuri admitted and looked around restlessly. “Where’s Viktor when you need him?” Yuuri gazed down at the bump. “He calms her down, claims she recognises his voice, but I’m not sure if that’s possible. He does help her settle down, though. God, she hasn’t even been born yet, and she’s a complete daddy’s girl. That Nikiforov is going to spoil her rotten, I just know it. I’ll have to make sure he doesn’t go overboard with it, I guess.” But even this Yuuri said fondly, with a soft smile on his lips. He winced again, scrunching up his nose. “Yuri, would you mind?”

“Wha –”

Yuuri tugged him to sit down on the bench beside him, grabbed his wrist, and then placed Yuri’s hand on the bump. He recoiled, but Yuuri was having none of it. “Just give it a minute – she’ll think you’re Viktor.”

Yuri doubted it, unsure what to do about the warm feel of Yuuri’s bump beneath his palm, but he froze when he felt the kicks. Oh. He stilled. “Oh.

He’d never gone anywhere near Yuuri’s bump, nor had he had any interest to – he didn’t have a death wish, for starters. But sat in the bleachers with Yuuri, with his hand on the bump, he was taken aback, realising that Yuuri wasn’t waddling about for nothing: there was a person in there. Jesus fuck.

Sat this close to each other, he caught Yuuri’s scent, which was mixed heavily with Viktor’s, and in the scent was also something soft that reminded him of chamomile or cotton or something that let his brain know that the man next to him was pregnant, had he somehow been able to miss it. Not only did the sight of Yuuri please him, also his scent did: calming and reassuring.

Yuuri was right, too: the kicking subsided, but the omega still held Yuri’s hand firmly on his belly. “She’s so used to Viktor’s touch that she gets unhappy without it.” Yuuri inhaled deeply, the baby bump rising and then falling. “Let’s give her another minute. Hopefully she’ll fall asleep.”

“Okay,” he said quietly and was glad that no one was there to hear how submissive he sounded. He’d been laughing at Viktor’s docility only moments earlier – he didn’t appear to be much better. It was hard, however, to deny a pregnant omega such a simple request – he was built to respond to the needs of omegas in such a state, after all. Did Yuuri look hungry, he wondered. He could go to the vending machine in the hall if necessary. Did he maybe want a drink? Was he warm enough?

“I’ve really enjoyed coming to your practices,” Yuuri then said like they weren’t sat there with Yuri fondling the baby bump at all, and as Yuuri began to chat about the routines, Yuri responded in kind, talking about Viktor definitely knowing his shit, so he wasn’t complaining.

That was how Viktor found them some minutes later: sat on the bleachers, with Yuri’s hand on top of the bump. Viktor froze some distance away from them, the excited and pleased look on his face freezing and then melting away in astonishment. The astonishment didn’t last long either: something sharp and cold overtook Viktor’s features.

Katsudon, who had been mid-sentence, frowned at Yuri freezing up, but then followed his gaze to Viktor. Viktor’s jaw was now set tight, nostrils flaring, eyes flying between his mate and Yuri in quick succession, hands curling into fists. Yuri moved to pull his hand away, but the sudden movement made Viktor snarl, and in that second Yuri became aware that Viktor was still taller than him, more muscular than him, and an alpha protecting a pregnant mate. Fuck. Yuri froze and was very, very still.

Katsudon’s frown morphed into a worried expression, and he hauled himself up to stand with surprising agility for someone in his state. Viktor met him halfway, eyes not leaving Yuri for even an instant, not even when Yuuri was clasping his mate’s hands, which slowly uncurled from the fists they’d formed. “Viktor, hey,” Yuuri murmured softly. “Look at me, Viktor. Viktor.”

Viktor’s death stare left Yuri, reluctantly, to look at his mate, and his expression softened at the sight of Katsudon smiling up at him. Yuri exhaled in relief – he’d been expecting Viktor to bounce on him.

“He was just helping me calm the baby down,” Yuuri said, but Viktor continued to look dismayed.

“That’s not his job,” Viktor argued. The ‘it’s mine’ didn’t need to be voiced.

“It was only for a few minutes,” Yuuri soothed, but Viktor flinched.

“Minutes?!”

“Seconds,” Yuuri cooed, and Yuri was impressed to see how well Katsudon was actually able to handle his upset alpha. Viktor’s jaw was still clenched, but he seemed unable to resist Yuuri batting his eyelashes at him. “Did you get the car for me?” Yuuri then asked, perhaps deciding that it was most practical to direct the discussion elsewhere for his irrational husband.

“Yes,” Viktor said, tone still a little icy.

“Good, let’s go home then,” Yuuri said. “Hmm? Can you take me home?”

Viktor exhaled deeply. “Yes. Yes, please.” Yuuri stepped into Viktor’s embrace, and Viktor held Yuuri to him tightly. From his spot on the bench, Yuri was surprised to realise that what he had just seen wasn’t simply the alpha possessiveness he’d anticipated: yes, the possessive trait was there, but for a few seconds there Viktor had actually been… afraid. Huh.

“Yurio, come on,” Katsudon beckoned him, and when he hesitated, the omega sighed. “Stop being ridiculous, just come on.”

“Whatever,” Yuri muttered defensively, but he avoided Viktor’s gaze. Which one of them would win in a fist fight, he pondered, the headlines appearing before his eyes: Plisetsky and Nikiforov face off in baby bump drama – watch the shocking video!

Viktor had slipped an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders possessively, and he kissed Yuuri’s hair as they went, and then Viktor looked over to Yuri as if to press the point that the omega was spoken for, as was the baby, and Viktor would fight until death for them, and that Yuri had done something despicable to Viktor personally.

Viktor was taciturn during the car ride – pouting might have been a good word for it – while Yuuri talked about whether the quad Lutz would serve better in the second half of Yurio’s program after all. Yuri sat in the backseat, made agreeing noises, and kept texting Beka: Viktor caught me with my hand on Yuuri’s baby bump. Man is upset.

Otabek instantaneously replied with: Wrong move.

I didn’t want to touch it!, he tried to defend himself. Yuuri made me!

Everyone thought that omegas were the irrational, emotional ones: not true. Alphas could be so goddamn sensitive about their mates and their territories, and Viktor was acting like his mate had been violated and offended. Yuri would never let his emotions make him vulnerable the way Viktor let himself be, he thought, no matter how bonded he’d feel to someone.

It’s not like I wanted to steal the stupid baby, he then added to Beka, although the memory of the baby kicking against his palm was fresh on his mind. For the first time he thought it’d be pretty cool to meet her, eventually.

Rational or not, Viktor probably can’t stand other alphas around Yuuri right now, Beka chastised.

Yeah, I guess, he typed back. God, he hadn’t had to deal with this with Yakov at all! Lilia was a no-nonsense, practical alpha, and Yakov a stubborn beta. They were divorced and unmated, and way past having any children. Their hormones and instincts had never made Yuri’s life difficult.

This goddamn Katsuki-Nikiforov combo, on the other hand…

You almost home? Beka asked.

Yuri felt his heart flutter ever so slightly, but then he pushed the feeling down. Yea, he confirmed. Be with you in a few.

Otabek didn’t reply; he didn’t need to. Yuri hesitated, briefly, pondering if he should send a simple heart across. He then put his phone away and looked out of the window. A heart? No. Come on, why would he do that?

Viktor kept driving, visibly tensed up still. Yuri had no doubt in his mind that Yuuri was getting scented from head to toe when those two got home: it’d calm Viktor down.

All yours, really, he thought, as Yuuri was still discussing the jumps of Yuri’s program.

Honestly, Viktor: he’s all yours.

* * *

Viktor was icy with him for a few more days before Yuri snapped that they’d never work as a team if Viktor kept being pratty with him: he had no interest in crowding his omega or unborn child, and Viktor was being obtuse. “I need you to be my coach, not snarl at me like I’m your rival,” he complained.

He was surprised that Viktor genuinely apologised. “I might have overreacted,” Viktor sighed before looking thoughtful. “I just feel so protective of them, you know? And Yuuri hasn’t let other alphas that close to him since he got pregnant. I know he feels comfortable around you, though.” Then Viktor went into a long speech on the revolutionising force of having children and how much he loved Yuuri, and Yuri wished he’d never brought it up.

Still, it cleared the air between them.

Yuuri didn’t return to the rink, however, as he was now more comfortable at home, mostly bed-ridden and apparently negotiating with the bump, begging her to get a move on already. Viktor was back to checking his phone constantly, counting days, and being fidgety and nervous.

In the end, the baby was two days overdue, which gave Yuri enough time for snide remarks that maybe Viktor was failing to give his omega all those orgasms he’d been boasting about. When Viktor went into detail of how that could not be true, and that making love with a heavily pregnant omega was all about gentleness, Yuri told him to shut the fuck up and wondered if he’d been happier when Viktor had considered him a threat.

Viktor finally got the call one morning, just as Yuri was warming up. Viktor’s phone rang, which had a Pavlov’s bell effect on Viktor, who frantically skated to where he’d discarded his training jacket on the rink wall. “Yes, honey? Ye – You. Now. Right now? You sure. Are you – Oh god, yes, okay, yes, I’m, uh huh, just hang on, darling, I’m –”

All of this as Viktor bee-lined out of the rink without a word to anyone, not even to Yuri who called after him angrily, and Yuri wondered if Viktor even stopped to change his skates into shoes or if Viktor wore them all the way to the hospital.

It was Saturday, height of summer, the city was boiling, and the ice rink was quiet. Yuri wondered what the hell he was expected to do now, but he kept working on his new routines in solitude.

When he paused to get some water and check his phone, he had a missed call from Alexei – one of his old school friends. In his view, school had been holding him back: he’d finished two summers ago and now could do figure skating full-time. His school friends were mostly in universities now, and his grandpa had asked if maybe Yuri should apply too, even if for part-time studies. He’d scoffed at that: why would he when now he could practise full-time, at last?

He’d never been very good at making friends, although there’d been people in his sport-orientated high school who he hadn’t completely hated. Apart from a girl three years younger than him, though, no one else was a figure skater – those people couldn’t understand where he was coming from, or the world in which he lived. It was small wonder that most young figure skaters had best friends that they only met at competitions during the competitive season: only they understood each other. Still, he’d accrued a few ‘friends’ at school eventually, people to bitch about teachers with, people to sneak into clubs with. These days, now that they were all old enough, they mostly met up at clubs and house parties. People liked inviting him – he was kind of famous.

He called Alexei back, expecting to be invited to some gathering or other. He wasn’t wrong: Alexei said that a bunch of them were heading to Tauride Gardens to sunbathe – beers and BBQ – since the day was turning out to be one of the hottest that summer. “I wanted to check if you’d want to join – Oleg said there’d be no point, and I know you’re probably practising. But hey, I wanted to check!”

“You know what?” he said. “I think I’m due a personal day.”

After all, Viktor clearly was taking a personal day too.

Alexei sounded surprised but pleased. “Do you want me to pick you up?” he offered, and Yuri headed for the showers.

Not much later, Yuri and a group of others lay on towels and picnic blankets in the warm sun, surrounded by the lively park. A few of them were smoking weed, but the only indulgence that Yuri granted himself was beer. Alexei had brought his guitar and a Frisbee. It was a pleasant affair, his few school friends there, and some had brought new acquaintances from their university courses too.

Oleg oversaw the barbecue, and as he brought over some pork to Yuri, he said, “I thought you’d be busy training today, Mr. Silver.”

Mr. Silver, Oleg always called him. Not Gold, because he was always on the silver podium. He gritted his teeth – it was not proper to bitch slap an omega, but Oleg was this close to asking for it.

“Viktor’s taking a personal day, so I thought I’d do the same,” he shrugged. “His mate’s in labour or some shit.”

“That hot Japanese guy? The one who retired?”

“Yeah,” he said. He took another sip of his beer and checked his phone – it’d been three hours, now, since Viktor ran off. How long did this shit take?

Alexei flopped down to sit next to him on the grass with a “Sup, man! How you been?” Alexei had probably been the first person in his St. Petersburg school that Yuri had decided that he didn’t completely hate – Alexei had played bandy in school, so they both shared a love of skating and being on the ice. They’d both presented as alphas, too: there were some things that a young alpha just couldn’t share with a beta or an omega. Even to this day they sometimes went to see rock bands play, or Alexei came around for video games – sometimes Yuri dragged him to the ice rink, too.

They talked for a while before Alexei got distracted. As an alpha, Alexei had always been predatorial (read: horny) and had grown up rather good-looking, and so the two aspects matched well. Yet Alexei had never had a proper girlfriend or boyfriend, but neither had Yuri, really. Yuri maintained that his standards were too high and he was too busy for something as ridiculous as a relationship – Alexei maintained that he was too hormonal for monogamy.

And so Yuri shouldn’t have been surprised when Alexei began nudging his knee. “Look who’s here,” Alexei whispered conspiratorially, nodding at people approaching their little group by the lake. There was Sofia, their old friend from school, but truthfully Yuri knew who Alexei really meant: Lucian, the gorgeous beta from the Fine Arts Academy where he was doing modern dance with great renown. Alexei had been drooling over Lucian, half-Russian and half-French, ever since Sofia started at the Academy the year prior and had introduced them to Lucian. Lucian had the body of a dancer, strong, toned and muscular. Lucian had also spent his childhood doing ballet, so Yuri had semi-bonded with Lucian over that while Alexei had gone into alpha mode and informed Lucian that he was considering taking on boxing or wrestling or BOTH. It’d been rather pathetic, really.

Alexei now puffed out his chest. “Should I go say hello? Man, he’s fucking fine. He’s just a beta, but the scent of him makes my mouth water, I swear.” Lucian was undeniably good-looking, with soft brown eyes and chestnut coloured hair to his shoulders – Alexei’s type, definitely. Alexei sighed. “I think he took more to you than me, to be honest.”

“Well I’m not interested,” he shrugged.

Alexei frowned. “How can you not be interested in that?”

“I’m just not,” he said. Alexei frowned and began asking if he had lost his sense of smell or his eyesight or both, because here was an absolutely stunning beta, who was single too, according to Sofia, but Yuri promptly excused himself to make a phone call.

He walked down to the lake, phone pressed to his ear. Beka answered almost straightaway with, “Is it happening?” They’d only Skyped the night before, so it was unlikely Yuri had any other news.

“Looks like it, yeah,” he confirmed. “Viktor rushed off, anyway, but it’s been like four hours now, and I haven’t heard anything. How long does this shit take?”

Otabek chuckled – a rare thing to hear, and Yuri relaxed a little. “My dad was in labour for twenty-three hours when they had me.”

“Twenty – Jesus,” he exhaled. “That’s insane.”

He walked along the lakeside, talking to Beka for a good while. What about, he wasn’t sure: the weather in St. Petersburg versus the weather in Almaty that day, the beer he was drinking, Alexei’s off-key singing in the background. “Anyway,” he said, eyeing his group of friends and seeing Lucian looking his way. When their eyes met, Lucian smiled and gave him a small wave. Yuri frowned – what the hell did he want? “I should get back.”

“Hmm,” Otabek hummed. “You know it’ll be fine, right? People give birth every day. Every second, actually.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he said, “like I give a shit.” He briefly worried on his bottom lip. He hadn’t seen Beka in over two months now. He missed his scent, a little. God, that was stupid. Surely that was stupid? He added, “I think Viktor’s taking paternity leave, so I’ll be training alone for a while.”

“You think he’ll take a break?”

He snorted. “Of course he will – he’s such a sap, Beka, you should hear how he goes on about Yuuri.”

“They’re in love,” Otabek pointed out.

Yuri paused, a lump in his throat. His heart was beating faster, the way Beka had said the simple statement unnerving him. “I guess. But Christ, if Viktor weren’t so fucking talented, I’d switch coaches in a second. Anyway.” He paused slightly. “We could train together for a bit, maybe.”

He tried to make it sound casual and unprompted, and not like something he’d meditated on for some weeks now.

Besides, they’d kept mentioning it over the past couple of months – ever since the Worlds, really – that they should find time to train together, but one of them had always been too busy to travel. Otabek’s deadlines for his university courses were all finishing soon, however, and Yuri needed a training buddy, so Yuri was pleased to hear the reply of “Yeah, I think we could – when?”

“Well, whenever is good for you to come to St. Petersburg. Viktor’s probably not joining me for a month, at least.” He paused. “What do you think?”

“I’ll have to check on a couple of commitments, but sure. I mean, I’d like to.”

Yuri knew that was a yes.

“My new place has got a guest room, too,” he said, awkwardly shoehorning this bit of information into the conversation.

Otabek said he’d have to talk to his coach, but a few hours later he texted to say that he had the green light and would look at flights. And why wouldn’t he? The summer previous Yuri had gone to Almaty for two weeks, and the summer before that Beka had come to St. Petersburg. It was semi-tradition now for them to train side-by-side for a couple of weeks every summer. Why should this summer be any different just because now they had… It didn’t make a difference, was his point.

Beka would book tickets to train with him, and Yuri was pleased.

He still kept checking his phone, and people noticed this as the day turned to evening, the park a little dimmer. Lucian asked, “Are you waiting for some ripe omega to go into heat?”

“No,” he snarled, and Lucian only patted his pretty eyelashes at him and then winked.

Sofia said, “Yuri’s probably just waiting to hear from his skating BFF, as usual.”

“None of your business,” he snapped moodily.

Sofia always made fun of him for never having had a boyfriend or girlfriend in all this time either, while Yuri was pretty sure she’d dated half of SKA. “The only person I see you hang out with other than us or that married couple is that alpha from Kazakhstan,” she’d tease him, “and you do know he’s not an omega, right? Or have you lost your sense of smell?”

He always snapped something back at her and directed the conversation elsewhere. They didn’t get it, those others.

Eventually they packed up and left the park as night came, but most of them headed out to go clubbing. you know it’s a wednesday, right? Otabek texted him. But Yuri didn’t want to go home and wait, and Alexei was a hilarious drunk and on the prowl for an omega which would probably be rather amusing to watch, and Lucian obviously outdanced them all as horny alphas leered over him, while Sofia was signing her heart out, and even Oleg seemed tolerable after some shots of vodka at the bar. They danced to the electronic thump of techno, the club was sweaty and packed and noisy, and he ended up in selfies with people he had never seen before, but who recognised him.

text me when you’re home, Otabek had sent at some point after midnight, followed up with even if it’s late. Yuri’s stomach curled with heat when he read the messages, although they checked up on each other regularly. He knew he did the same when Beka was DJing.

Sofia grabbed his arm impatiently. “You gonna stand there texting or you gonna dance?!”

He chose to dance.

He finally got to bed at five in the morning and he sent a quick (drunken) message of home now m gonto bed. He then thought of several other messages he could send, like it’s been months, why does not seeing you hurt like this, you smell so good all the time, no one gets me like you, miss how you taste –

But he didn’t send any of that drunken gibberish, but dropped the phone and curled up under the covers, the world spinning a little. When his phone beeped shortly after, he reached over, arm heavy with alcohol, to open the message: Our daughter was born at 3:34 this morning, 3.3kg, 52cm! Yuuri and Shiori are both doing well! Pictures to follow!!

He rubbed at his eyes and read it again. Shiori?

“That’s a stupid name,” he told his phone, finally felt worry subside in his chest, rolled over and fell asleep.

* * *

Pictures did follow, and in abundance. Viktor practically broke the internet with a picture of a black-haired, pink-cheeked, chubby little ET in Yuuri’s arms, with Yuuri’s head dipped down to gaze at her lovingly. The picture looked peaceful, and Yuuri was smiling softly at the baby, and it even had goddamn sunlight coming up from behind them through the hospital room window, and the caption only read ‘Shiori Viktorovna Katsuki-Nikiforova’. And the internet, well, broke.

There weren’t forms long enough for that poor child’s full name, Yuri thought, but as Beka pointed out the future would be electronic. And if Instagram thought they were being spammed (three pictures in the first week), this was nothing to the WhatsApp and Snapchat pictures Viktor was religiously sending to his friends. Update: babies slept a lot. Update: Shiori had tiny toes. Update: she also had tiny fingers. Update: she had even tinier fingernails. Stop the goddamn press and calm your shit, Viktor.

By the looks of it, however, parenting came easy to Yuuri and Viktor, so Yuri thought little of it when he found himself two streets from their apartment some weeks later and decided to go pick up a pair of his skates that he knew Viktor had. An elderly gentleman was just walking out of the building as he approached it, so he slid inside and took the lift up to the third floor, as he was so used to doing. It was odd, truthfully, for him not to see Yuuri and Viktor in so long.

He rang the doorbell habitually, pulling his earphones out of his ears, the sound of Beka’s most recent mixtape fading. Nothing happened, and he rang the doorbell again. They couldn’t be out, could they? He pressed the bell repeatedly and aggressively. Come on, lazy –

The door swung inwards, and an out of breath Yuuri appeared as if he’d run to the door. Yuri took an instinctive step back. Katsuki looked like shit: his hair was greasy and in disarray, like he hadn’t showered in a few days. His clothes were wrinkly – a ratty old t-shirt and sweatpants – and he had questionable looking stains on them, while his glasses were dirty and crooked on his nose, and his eyes were bright and alert to the point of looking deranged, reddened with shadows under his eyes. He also smelled different – not like himself, and not like Viktor, but someone… something…

The biggest change was that Yuuri’s balloon baby bump was no longer visible under his shirt. There was still a belly there, but it seemed to have deflated: instead of looking full-term, Yuuri’s belly looked like it was only starting to grow.

“The noise,” Yuuri said, looking panicked. He motioned upwards, and Yuri frowned – the doorbell? Yuuri grabbed his arm and ushered him in, whispering fervently. “She just fell asleep, so we must be very, very quiet! She hasn’t slept all night, and we only just managed it!”

Yuri let himself be led into the living room, usually neat and pristine because Viktor described their interior design style as ‘minimalistic with a Nordic influence’, but what Yuri saw was hardly this: the living room was full of pink balloons and bouquets shoved in vases and mugs, gift-wrapped presents dropped on the coffee table and on the floor, bottles of formula here and there in various stages of half-empty or half-full, murky cups of coffee that had gone cold days ago, baby wipes balled up and thrown into a corner, and cards congratulating them scattered on every surface available. Fuck, Yuri thought, had they had a baby or was this some kind of a post-apocalyptic nightmare?

In the middle of this mess was Viktor Nikiforov, looking equally exhausted and unwashed, on the couch, limbless. “What the hell happened?!” Yuri queried in disbelief.

“Yurio!” Viktor smiled good naturedly at him. “Ah, this? Well, she’s a bit of a handful, turns out.”

Yuuri sat down next to his alpha, slowly enough for Yuri to realise that Yuuri must still be recovering from labour. “She’s a monster,” Yuuri said as Viktor instinctively pulled the omega closer.

“She’s a wonderful monster,” Viktor corrected pedantically.

“She’s our monster,” Yuuri conceded, and then they both smiled. Hormones were some powerful shit, Yuri realised.

“You came to see her?” Viktor then asked, sounding so eager that Yuri found himself unable to say that hell no, he was not there for their baby.

“Viktor, she just fell asleep,” Yuuri grumbled under his breath and looked towards the nursery door in what appeared to be terror. A baby monitor sat on the coffee table in the midst of all the crap people had sent them.

“We won’t wake her,” Viktor faux whispered, “we’ll be so quiet.”

Yuuri sighed. “Well go ahead, but I’m not putting her to sleep if she wakes up. You’re on your own, Daddy Nikiforov.” Yuuri shook his head as Viktor stood up, and then added, “Fool.” Viktor only smiled at Yuuri lovingly, and Yuuri flushed a little red, clearly trying not to smile. “Yurio, you want coffee? I need coffee. Coffee?”

“Sure,” he said, but Viktor was already leading him away.

Outside the nursery door, Viktor motioned for him to be perfectly quiet and then gently pushed the door inwards. Yuri had seen the nursery in several stages of renovation: the walls were a soft yellow now and they’d bought a white rocking chair that Viktor had spotted in a British baby magazine, and the changing table had been shipped over from Japan, if Yuri remembered correctly. It was a cute nursery, full of cuddly toys already, white clouds painted on the walls to cut the yellow here and there.

The cot at the back of the room, just right of the window, was white. Through the slots, Yuri saw that it was no longer empty: it had something in it.

He’d seen the baby already – god, he’d seen her a million times. People had been texting Yuri for details after the baby went viral, Chris asking if he’d seen her yet, Leo enquiring when they’d get pictures of Yuri holding her!

He was over it: just a fucking baby. Why was everyone losing their shit? Surely the baby wasn’t a surprise after seeing Yuuri Katsuki double in size!

Yet, as Viktor guided him over, his stomach knotted up in anticipation. They stopped at the crib: there, under a duck egg blue blanket, in a white onesie, slept a ten-day-old Shiori Katsuki-Nikiforova. She had a tuff of black hair and chubby cheeks, her small mouth forming an O as she breathed. She had weighty little arms, and one chunky little leg was sticking out – strong-looking, good, she’d need strong legs for the ice. She was making the tiniest sleeping noises Yuri had ever heard anyone make.

Next to him, Viktor Nikiforov had the smuggest, widest grin of any man in existence. “That’s our little girl,” he whispered. Through his exhaustion, Viktor managed to look and sound overwhelmingly happy.

Yuri hesitated briefly before lifting a hand to pat Viktor’s shoulder in manly approval. “Good work,” he said. He counted ten fingers, which was the perfect amount of fingers. Shiori wrinkled her nose in her sleep, her face turning into a little frown, and Yuri’s chest tightened. Hey, that was some pretty good work. Jesus.

They snuck out again.

He’d only come to pick up his skates and tell Viktor he’d be training with Beka for the next couple of weeks, but he couldn’t leave Viktor and Yuuri as they were. Yuuri had managed to get the coffee going and was trying to find clean mugs when they got to the kitchen. Finding anything from the piles of dirty dishes with bits of food stuck to them seemed unlikely. “That’s it!” he huffed and sent both parents to get cleaned up. Yes, he’d guard the baby monitor and come get them if Shiori woke up. As much as a peep, fine, fine!

Yuuri and Viktor gratefully went to freshen up, and when Yuri couldn’t find clean mugs for their coffees, he began tidying the entire kitchen. A lot of the bouquets were wilting on the counter, windowsills and coffee table: so much for the sentiment, he grabbed a bin liner and went through the kitchen and living room, mercilessly binning flowers, torn wrapping paper, picking up baby wipes that were covered in drool or vomit or poo or all three. Absolutely disgusting! How could anyone live like this?! How the hell was he the grown up around here, tidying up after this mess?! Viktor and Yuuri hadn’t even opened half of the presents people had sent!

By the time Viktor and Yuuri re-emerged, showered and changed, Yuri was furiously scrubbing the already gleaming kitchen island. “You both disgust me,” he stated matter-of-factly and then gave them coffees. The parents drank gratefully, sitting on the bar stools. Again, Yuri caught Yuuri’s face briefly flinch with discomfort when sitting down. Well, it was no easy task to carry that for months and then get it out into the world.

“You need to open all of these presents, too,” he chastised. “Then you can see what you want to keep and clear up some space.”

“Ungh,” Viktor groaned dramatically, flopping his head down onto Yuuri’s shoulder. Useless!

So Yuri raided the presents, too, binning the gift wraps and asking them firmly what they wanted or didn’t want to keep. There was a soft parcel and he tore it open and – froze, face to face with a teddy that was identical to Otabek’s kiss-and-cry toy Bulat, named after a Kazakh wrestler Beka had admired as a kid. This version of Bulat with the thick teddy eyebrows, however, was new.

Yuuri was peering at him from the kitchen and said, “Aww, is that from Otabek? Well, we’ll keep that one, of course.”

A card was taped to the gift wrap, and Yuri nervously read it. The handwriting was familiar: Congratulations on your beautiful daughter. You will make wonderful parents. – Otabek

He frowned. Beka had said nothing about sending Viktor and Yuuri a present. He clutched the card in his palm, feeling his throat close up. Beka had consistently commented on every single one of Shiori’s social media appearances so far, too – it was polite, Yuri had figured, and beyond what good manners could ask for. But this too?

Viktor looked around the kitchen and living room and exhaled. “God, this looks so much tidier. Thank you, Yurio, this really means so much to us. We’ve been just completely winded by how hard and exhausting this actually is, and –”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” he said, no longer listening. Bulat’s twin stared at him with dead eyes. “Reminds me, Beka is coming here for a couple of weeks.”

Viktor appeared happy with the news. “For training? I almost forgot you guys do that in the summers.”

They trained together during the seasons these days too, having managed to get in a week together between Four Continents and the Worlds. Yuuri asked how long Otabek would be staying and that they should come by for dinner. Yuri wondered what Otabek would make of the mess that this place was – and then realised that, actually, it might be good for Otabek to see the chaos that social media didn’t show.

“Is he staying with you?” Viktor asked, and Yuri shrugged and made a noncommittal noise that meant ‘yes’. “No partying too hard. It might have been chaotic here, but I still saw those pictures of you going around.”

His impromptu club night had ended on social media – Lucian, the beta from the dancing academy, was a social media addict. Ten pictures of the night had ended up on his public account, a few of them featuring a drunkenly excited Yuri. (Yuri had still looked hot in them, though.) Of course Yuri’s Angels had found the pictures and spread them all over the internet, speculating who the people in the pictures were and who this dancer Lucian was. Pointless gossip.

“Keep to the training schedule,” Viktor chastised. “No keeping each other up all night with Otabek, is that clear?” Viktor said in full coach mode, and Yuri felt blood drain from his face.

“Wha – He’s staying in the guest room!”

“Yes, of course,” Viktor agreed blankly. Then both Yuuri and Viktor frowned, and they shared one of those silent looks of communication only mated couples could. “Why would –”

The baby monitor came alive, and they heard Shiori make a small baby noise: just a tiny, little sleepy coo. They all froze.

Nothing else followed.

They relaxed.

Then she started to cry.

Yuri grabbed his skates and bid goodbye promptly.

* * *

It was another couple of weeks before Beka arrived, on a late evening flight from Almaty. Yuri had been messing about all day, too worked up to focus on any one thing for long, let alone practise. He’d bought them beers and had gone out to get some pirozhki from a nearby bakery that afternoon. He’d cleaned his apartment and re-arranged his medal cabinet in the living room to display everything in its full glory, and he’d taken some cushions from the couch to the guest room to make it look nicer. He wanted the house to be ready, but he didn’t really know why he felt like something was missing. Besides, Beka wasn’t the type to care much.

Once he had turned seventeen he had refused to keep living with Lilia and Yakov. He’d found a small apartment close to the practice rink that he could afford, and he’d spent the last years of school there. Two summers ago, Otabek had slept on an air mattress on the floor and he’d never complained, so Otabek was unlikely to complain about his spacious new apartment now. Still, Yuri had stuffed the fridge and bought new hand towels, because it was important for Otabek to see how Yuri could provide for – for his friends, his guests.

In the arrivals hall of the airport, he fidgeted and then told himself not to. Whatever, he told himself repeatedly. People were gushing over loved ones returning and arriving, and he stood amongst them, and his hands felt empty like – like maybe he wanted to present Beka with a gift upon arrival, which was stupid, so he stuffed his hands into his jean pockets.

He’d waited forever, he was sure: all of April, all of May, all of June… Weeks and months, and no amount of Skyping was the same as actually being in the same room, breathing in the same air. All of that waiting was finally being rewarded, and he was thrilled that the day had finally arrived.

And when Beka finally appeared, pulling a large suitcase, Yuri gritted his teeth, suppressed the urge to just launch on Beka, and remained where he was. They nodded in greeting and gave each other a brief, one-armed hug. Beka still smelled the same: like pine and petrol, like an alpha, like so uniquely him that Yuri would have recognised the scent anywhere. He wanted to bury his face in the scent because he’d missed and ached, and Beka smelled even better when Yuri could rub his own scent on him, to make him smell like –

“Glad you’re here,” he conceded, and Beka smiled a little. A pulsing swirl of warmth had started to gather in his belly: it’d been too long since the last time. It’d never been a problem before, waiting for so long. But now…

And it sounded stupid, he knew, but as their eyes met he was sure that Beka felt the same: like they’d both been a bit irritable not having seen each other, a bit on the edge, and like they’d both waited for this moment with an unspoken spark curled up in their guts.

Beka smiled – mostly tight lipped, the way he did, and Yuri nodded towards the exit.

He asked about the flight, and Beka complained that he hadn’t been able to get any sleep – he’d had a DJ gig in Almaty the night before, so he was running on very little sleep.

They got into a taxi, still talking, and Yuri chatted about his new place, as if Beka hadn’t seen it on Skype numerous times already. It was a Friday, so they could just hang out for the weekend and then hit the rink on Monday. Yuuri and Viktor had invited them for dinner at some point, and then the weekend after it was Sofia’s birthday so they could go to her party and, well, hang out. Beka said he might rent a motorbike to save them public transport for all their comings and goings. Yuri snorted, and Otabek raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t you think I’m too old – and big – to be sharing a bike with you?” he pointed out.

Otabek looked him up and down slowly. “I think you’ll fit just fine.”

It was deadpan and matter-of-fact, but Yuri’s guts twisted a little bit anyway. The back of the taxi felt confined, and Yuri looked out of the window at the buildings flashing by. His hand fell between them idly, on the unused middle seat. Beka’s forefinger grazed the back of his hand, and then looped around his pinkie. The heat that radiated from the touch made its way from his hand to his guts, groin and toes. When they stopped at a light and the driver turned to ask Yuri the number of his building, they both shifted in their seats, and the touch was gone.

They’d been best friends for years. So what if last summer, when Yuri was in Almaty, they’d ended up in bed – and not sleeping in one because they’d shared beds aplenty, but they’d ended up fucking, from start to finish, the whole nine yards, used condoms disposed of afterwards. It hadn’t even been a bed, frankly – they’d fucked on Beka’s living room couch.

It hadn’t been his first time, and not even his second. (Okay, it’d been his third.) They’d been watching The Wolf of Wall Street in Beka’s living room, and Yuri had been sprawled partly on top of Beka because that was normal for them. He’d been there for a week and a half already and only had a few days left. Otabek’s hand had, somehow, got lost in his hair, and when he’d looked at Beka in question, Beka’s mouth had caught his attention, and – and it’d been gut instinct, somehow, to kiss him. Like it was the simplest thing.

Then Beka’s hands, his stupid hands, and the smell of him, and Yuri had felt starved, absolutely starved, and they’d ended up having sex then and there, and Beka was stupidly calm about it all, like he’d been expecting it to happen.

And it was good. Otabek was good. Yuri had never had sex with another alpha before, but he liked it: rough, determined, handsy. They should do it again sometime, he’d told Otabek as he’d picked up his clothes from the floor. “What would you call it? A helping hand?” he’d asked. “A helping fuck!”

“Something like that,” Otabek had agreed, still on the couch, naked as the day he was born, perhaps averting his eyes a little. Yuri had bid goodnight and gone to bed, but he hadn’t been able to fall asleep until several hours later, skin still alight and burning: the feel of beard rash on his chin, memories of Beka’s hands on his hips, a sore ache on his backside from where they’d joined together.

He’d gone to St. Petersburg a few days later, and he’d realised that neither one of them would probably ever mention it again. They didn’t even talk for a whole two weeks afterwards, and Yuri had stared at his phone constantly, willing Beka to call to – to apologise or to have phone sex or something, but Beka didn’t, and it pissed him the fuck off and he couldn’t eat or sleep. Yakov gave him a hard time for having lost focus. Then Yuri had sent Beka a gif of a cat falling from a table, Beka had responded with a thumbs up, and somehow things had been back to normal from there.

The next time they met, at Trophee de France, they’d ended up in bed before the day of the SP, even, and Yuri had accepted it as something they just sort of did now, in between training together, watching movies, him dragging Beka shopping, and them doing press rounds and competing. Sometimes, in the middle of that all, they just… visited each other’s hotel rooms and had sex. It’d happened again at the Grand Prix Final (where Yuuri competed when pregnant, now famously), and again when they’d trained together in Moscow in February, and most recently at the Worlds: in various hotel rooms on two different continents so far. A bonus they’d added to their friendship, and it hadn’t changed how often they texted and Skyped each other. They were still best friends – they just happened to be friends that also fucked.

No one knew about it, of course. Yakov had suspected that there was something new going on between them by the time Worlds had rolled around, but the old beta had tactfully kept it to himself. Fans had certainly been making suggestive comments about them for years, but always in jest: they were alphas, after all, and so the online remarks of Otabek hovering around him like a possessive alpha around an omega were intended to be funny. Yuri had considered telling Yuuri, once, but was glad he’d kept his mouth shut, because Yuuri would automatically tell Viktor, and he didn’t really want Viktor to know.

Besides, there was nothing to tell. He was sexually active – well stop the press and gather Yuri’s Angels, that was not a big thing or anyone’s business. And yes, he had casual sex with another alpha – what of it? Yuri didn’t have to conform to society’s narrow little ideas, where all alphas had to lust after omegas, and a true alpha could never be satisfied unless they’d got themselves an omega to mate, or a beta at the very least. Those ideas were archaic – yet nearly everyone subscribed to them.

So no, no one knew: only they did. And as Beka arrived with a suitcase to stay with him for a couple of weeks, to spend completely unsupervised time with him, with no one there to spy on them, no nosy fans or competitors hovering, or thin hotel room walls encasing them – well, it was no wonder Yuri had been nervous and excited all day.

When they got to Yuri’s apartment, Potya instantly knew who Otabek was and was purring at his feet within seconds – whore – and Otabek picked her up as Yuri showed him the place. It was well over two times bigger than the last one, though not as spacious as Viktor and Yuuri’s apartment. Still, he’d finally cashed in his winnings from the previous years. He tried to show around like he wasn’t bragging, but he found himself slipping into an excited tone when he said, “And the bathroom has underfloor heating! You’ll never be cold here.”

Otabek stood in the bathroom doorway, leaning against it, Potya in his arms. He was smiling, brown eyes dark and knowing. Yuri stood between the sink and the bath, the excitement turning into something darker. When was the last time they’d seen each other like this, face to face? At the Worlds some three months earlier, when Emil had won, Yuri’d gotten silver, Kenjirou bronze, and Otabek had come fourth. They’d left the banquet early, and Beka had patiently listened to him slagging off Emil for most of the night until Otabek had asked, “You going to complain about this forever?”

“Well, what else is there to do?” he’d asked – purely rhetorically, but their eyes had met. Otabek had shrugged a ‘well…’ That had been that. (Again.)

He wasn’t sure if he was the only alpha Beka had ever slept with. He’d never asked and he didn’t want to know. He himself had done the full array now: an omega, a beta, an alpha – all men. His preference for men hadn’t surprised him in the slightest. Hell, he’d received offers from women too throughout the years – skating groupies were real, after all, but he’d known what he preferred at a relatively young age.

But now he was nervous, although they’d been at it for almost a year. He wanted Beka to approve of his new place, and he hoped it’d meet the other’s standards, and that Beka would approve of the cushions he’d placed in the guest room, the ones that heavily carried Yuri’s scent, and –

Otabek was smiling in the doorway, Potya in his arms. “Your new place is great,” he said, and Yuri felt a weight roll off his heart.

“Yeah, I know,” he shrugged, swallowing down the bright grin that was bubbling beneath the surface. A year ago he might have been nervous an unsure about it, like some overeager omega enamoured by a virile alpha, but no longer. Alphas knew better than anyone that sex was hormones, not emotions. “You hungry? Want a beer, watch a movie, or…?”

Or.

Beka raised an eyebrow, and Yuri gave up (why fight, really?), stepped up to him, fisted Beka’s shirt, and Potya got dropped fast, the cat hissing angrily, as he pulled Beka into a kiss. And Beka responded, hungrily, strong hands coming to circle his waist, and he tasted like spearmint gum he must’ve chewed on the plane, and Yuri began pulling him out of the bathroom and towards his bedroom. “How tired are you?” he asked in between a kiss.

Beka pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. “Not that tired,” he said, shirtless, his six pack well-toned – more so than Yuri remembered, even. Beka cupped the back of his neck, pulling him back into a kiss.

“Good,” he said with a mischievous grin pressed to Beka’s lips, Beka’s large hand warm against the nape of his neck. He dragged Beka the rest of the way.

Having sex with another alpha was heady: forget needy omegas panting away submissively. This was none of that. Instead they’d end up bruised from fights for dominance until one of them gave in. This time Otabek did, but with an air of satisfied surrender like he wasn’t complaining. Beka might have even looked a little satisfied with himself, now naked on the bed, beneath Yuri, which only made Yuri manhandle him more roughly, pulling him down the bed, spreading Beka’s legs wide. His mouth was rough on Beka, kissing and biting around his navel, his lower stomach, fingertips pressing in hard enough to leave marks. Beka’s hands twisted in his messy hair, almost pulling on his scalp, and it made everything in him throb with want. Beka pulled him up, their cocks brushing together, both of them painfully hard, Yuri was unsurprised to note.

Beka kissed him – attacked his mouth, hands still twisting in his hair. “You been thinking about this?” Beka asked, their kisses needy. There wasn’t much dirty talk in bed usually, and Yuri felt the tips of his earlobes burn with heat.

“Maybe,” he grunted.

“Maybe?” Beka asked, a hand snaking down to skim over the length of his very, very hard cock.

“Fine, yes,” he admitted, the heavy scent of their pheromones getting the best of him. He kissed Beka, wet and hungry, Beka’s stupidly talented tongue sending a wave of lust straight down his spine. “You?”

Beka groaned. “God yes.”

“Yes?” he confirmed, sounding a little breathless, which he hated, but it felt so good to hear Beka say it. Because no matter how often they texted and Skyped, they had never talked about this – not one dirty text or picture had passed between them, and he wasn’t about to start if Beka wasn’t, and so sometimes he wondered if the heat between them was only passing, only in his guts and chest and under his skin. But Beka was burning up, it felt like – god yes, Beka had said, confessed, groaned, and a burst of something other than lust – joy? – flickered in Yuri’s chest. He sucked Beka’s bottom lip into his mouth, biting down just a little too hard.

Sex between two alphas was also more shameless in its execution, Yuri thought, than fucking an omega or beta was. It wasn’t long before they were mid-fuck and panting, both of them sweat slick, with him deep in Otabek. He watched his own latex-covered cock disappearing into the other’s body, Otabek’s legs spread wide, ankles in the vice-like grips of Yuri’s hands and up in the air. He had such a good view of Beka being fucked like this: the other’s stomach, chest and cheeks flushed, dark Kazakh eyes burning with want, Beka’s heavy cock leaking onto his stomach, Beka’s hand stroking it wantonly to the rhythm that Yuri’s hips dictated.

Otabek was laying on the bed luxuriously, a half smile on his lips letting Yuri know just how much he was enjoying getting fucked like this. It made Yuri snarl and fuck in harder, and Beka threw his head back, fisting his own cock, grunting low in his throat. Beka’s neck was pale and inviting, and Yuri pictured it covered in angry, red bite marks, how fucking sexy would that look, so sexy, and so hot. Beka felt good, so fucking good, and Yuri was getting off on watching his cock pound into him, hard and swollen, and Beka took it so damn well, just lay there with his legs spread wide, obscene, filthy, taking everything Yuri gave him, no matter how. Fucking. Hard. He –

Yuri might have come first that round, toppling on top of Beka from the force of his orgasm, but they were nineteen and twenty-one: they had pretty good recovery periods. And so the night went on, bleeding from one encounter to the next. They finally ran out of steam around two in the morning, at the point where even Yuri thought they were being a bit excessive even if their dicks disagreed.

This was new, that was all, he reflected: ever since their first time on Beka’s couch, they’d always been surrounded by coaches, fellow skaters, fans, ISU officials. They were always too tired from competing, or didn’t want to tire themselves out before competing, or one of them had to go do interviews, or Yakov was sleeping in the room next door, or, or –

But now there was no one around to stop them or intrude on them.

He could get used to that, he thought, with Otabek already asleep next to him.

Chapter Text

It took Yuri all of one day to decide that on the whole he liked having Otabek stay with him. Otabek was easy as guests went: not fussy, only took short, efficient showers, and didn’t complain about Yuri’s tendency to leave stuff lying around everywhere. Beka didn’t interrupt him once during his rant/masterplan of taking down Emil Nekola next season, not even when he admitted he’d had dreams of punching Emil in the face, in the middle of an amusement park full of rides that were all broken, and he’d tried googling the symbolism with unsatisfying results. They spent the day in pyjamas, watched a movie, had stale pirozhkis for a late breakfast, played Mario Kart, listened to some music, had sex in the middle of the afternoon, stopped to eat ice cream, then Yuri straddled Beka and rode his cock for the better part of an hour, then they made out for what felt like five minutes but was, in fact, an hour and a half, and then they showered, YouTubed skating programs and brainstormed routines, and before he knew it the day was nearly done.

As far as guests went it was pretty alright.

He was on a bit of a high, so he decided to drag Otabek to a rock club that he’d discovered it in the winter. They got a little drunk and danced with each other, Beka mumbling hot, drunken nonsense into his ear on the dancefloor – and maybe it was suggestive, the two of them close up like that, and really Yuri should have worried about someone spotting them, but it was an underground club and he doubted anyone knew who they were. Otabek at least didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.

The two of them stumbled back home at the relatively early hour of three am, Yuri’s arm draped around Beka’s shoulders, while Beka laughed into his neck. He felt like the king of St. Petersburg right then – or maybe the Czar of Russia.

Beka took a selfie of them in the lift up to his apartment, and Yuri’s long hair was messy, and Beka had engulfed him in a hug from behind, and Yuri’s top had slipped off his left shoulder a little, and Beka looked smug. Look who I found, Beka captioned it, despite Yuri’s protests that fans would freak out.

“I can’t believe you posted that,” he murmured into Beka’s chest in the morning, as they slept off their hangovers. “We look so…”

“So...?” Beka prompted.

Yuri tried to find the words. All over each other? Drunk? Sexy?

They were snug under the covers, Otabek pressed to his side, their legs entwined. They were wonderfully, gloriously naked, too, but after the alcohol fuelled sex of the night before (clumsy and unrefined, but very eager to give it a go), they were more than sated. Otabek was sleepy still, the scent of him heady and comforting.

He gently pushed Beka onto his back, moving on top of him, and Beka resisted him none. He buried his face in the crook of Beka’s neck, inhaling, and then pushed there with his head, over the other’s scent glands. He ran his wrists over Beka’s sides in small circles without thought, rubbing himself into the other’s skin. The reaction from Beka was good: the other sighed, content, and Beka’s cock hardened slightly but did not grow fully. He kissed along Beka’s collar bone, then moved to the other, and again moved to rub his own scent into the other’s neck.

His mind was buzzing, full of ideas: oh to cover Beka from head to toe…

He should straddle Otabek and jerk off, come on the other’s belly and chest, and rub his seed into the other’s skin, have the other submissively let him and then bare his neck… Yes, good. And then he should kiss Otabek right where his mouth then was, on Otabek’s smooth, pale neck, and he should bite down and bite hard, and if Otabek writhed he should overpower him and not let go. He should cover the other’s entire neck and throat in smaller, gentler marks after that, decorate him with one bruise after the next…

His mouth parted over a pulse point, the taste of Beka so good. He ran his tongue along the other’s skin, where he tasted of a drowsy morning, last night’s sweat and sex, and Beka’s own taste and smell. He licked there again, needing, and Otabek shivered beneath him.

Beka’s hands came to rest on his hips, seeming suddenly very awake. “What are you doing?”

Yuri blinked to himself, mind foggy. Good question. What was he doing?

“Nnghh,” he tried to say, and Beka chuckled, reverberating against him. He sounded amused.

“I’m gonna go for a shower,” Beka said, “and cool off a bit.” Beka pressed a quick kiss somewhere over his ear, before slipping from beneath him.

Yuri lay sprawled on the bed, breathing in deep once Otabek was gone, the air now feeling lighter and purer. The dark swirling desire in him was clearing, and he frowned at himself. He hadn’t genuinely considered marking Otabek, had he?

But a yearning rose in his belly at the thought of biting down and marking, a yearning that said wouldn’t that be nice.

He heard the shower running, undoing all the thorough scenting he’d done.

The coffee was nearly done by the time he realised that yes, he had been about to slip into a full-on scenting of Beka, unabashed and greedy, the kind of scenting you did in the lead up to marking, and he felt heat rise to his cheeks before he bit on his bottom lip and forced the thought out of his head. He was nineteen – he wasn’t a blushing kid anymore, and fuck anyone who had ever thought that. His alpha instincts were maturing as he did – it happened to everyone.

But at the same time he didn’t appear to be in control of his alpha urges just yet. Alexei, Lilia, Viktor, Otabek – those other alphas, they didn’t seem to struggle at all. (Okay, except Viktor: that man was a hormonal mess all the time. How Viktor even managed to function was beyond him.) But he had been pushing and whining against Otabek like a newly presented alpha who didn’t know what to do with himself – pathetic! No wonder Beka had laughed at his attempts to scent him, his gentle suggestive nudge at marking.

Annoyed at himself, he sulked the rest of the morning, and when Otabek raised an enquiring eyebrow, he said nothing. Otabek then said that the clothes he’d packed mostly needed a wash, and could he borrow a shirt while they washed them, and so Yuri found himself less grumpy when Otabek sat on his couch eating cereal in one of Yuri’s t-shirts that had a big tiger on the front.

The collar slipped down one shoulder, revealing a bruise Yuri’s mouth had left on Otabek’s collarbone.

Yes. He was definitely less grumpy after that.

* * *

As the new week began, they stopped fucking around – figuratively. They woke up at six thirty in the mornings, and while Yuri resented the early hour, the morning light by Neva made for good selfies, and he and Otabek looked good in their running gear, posing by the river in the morning light, cheeks a little rosy from exertion. He slipped an arm around Beka’s shoulders to squeeze him in and tagged it with #trainingbuddies. It got seven thousand likes in less than two hours. One comment said: more like #BOYFRIENDS, am i rite?? If Otabek saw those comments, he never mentioned them. Besides, the selfie was far less scandalous than the post-club selfie Otabek had posted.

(Afterwards, however, when he glanced at the picture, he got a slight thrill from the commanding arm he had around Otabek. Possessive.)

They were eager to show each other their new routines, and Beka was curious to see what Viktor had been choreographing for him. “What’s your theme for the year again?” Beka asked after Yuri had shown him the Free Skate thus far planned, to a piece of opera chosen by Viktor. The music was a bit safe in his view, but the skate was difficult as anything, full of complicated technical elements, and the choreography would definitely make a handful of Yuri’s Angels sob over how graceful he was. All in all: it was a winner.

He shrugged at Beka’s question, Beka on the ice with him, looking at him curiously. “Growth,” he said dismissively, and Beka frowned. “Viktor’s idea. I think Katsudon’s baby bump inspired him.”

“What kind of growth?”

Yuri shrugged – who cared? Viktor had blabbed on about it, of course: professional growth, reaching new heights, but also emotional growth, depth, and “sides to yourself, Yurio, that you might not even realise are there!” He was supposed to convey this growth, and the fight to grow, in his routines.

Which he would, fine, no problem – he told Beka as much and was rewarded with, “A quad axel?! You really think you can land it in competition?”

He shrugged, faux-modest. “I’ve been more and more consistent with it, so yes.”

Beka whistled and skated a circle around him, blades scraping the ice.

Beka showed him his own short program – he’d been very secretive about his new routines, keeping Yuri and the rest of the world in the dark. Yuri was used to classical pieces from Beka, a bit boring but always popular with the judges, so he was more than surprised when a haunting indie-pop song came on with a few echoing piano notes before aggressive drums kicked in. Beka began to move – the drums were like a heartbeat, the music relentlessly intense, the lyrics full of an alpha’s unapologetic, animalistic hunger for a mate. Yuri had seen bits of the routine, of course, in little video clips of practiced jumps and choreography, but he’d never known the music that accompanied it, and he’d never seen the short program from start to finish. Beka’s hands threaded through his hair, neck rolling, eyes closed, his body conveying the raw sexual desire of the song.

Yuri realised only when the program came to an end that his mouth was, perhaps, hanging open. Forget Chris Giacometti’s swinging omega hips full of suggestion – Beka’s heaving chest as he finished oozed an alpha’s presence. “What do you think?” Beka asked, out of breath.

“I, ah – Uh, uhm. I. I- I mean. Shit, Beka, that’s sexy,” he said honestly. His brain probably should have appreciated the quad-triple combo, 4Lz and 3A, and all the other superb technical elements, but right then he was only struck by how fucking hot that had been. That performance would get everyone riled up. It wasn’t often that people used their secondary genders in performances in such an obvious, suggestive way – it would even be a bit controversial.

Yuri’s brain was still flatlining as Beka skated to where he was. “How the hell can you follow that up?” he pondered aloud, more to himself than Otabek.

Otabek’s brown eyes were full of heat, just as the song had promised. “I’ll shake it up a bit with my free skate,” he said, and Yuri resisted the urge to push closer to him to inhale the scent of him, all riled up.

“Oh?” His voice almost cracked – his heart was still beating fast. “Can I see that, then?”

It was almost funny how the confident, prowling alpha of the short program vanished before his eyes. Otabek blinked, heat rose to his cheeks, and he averted his gaze and began fussing with his sleeves. “Oh, uh. It’s not quite finished yet. I guess.” Yuri said he didn’t mind, but he sensed Beka’s reluctance and so he let it go. He’d see it soon enough, anyway.

And so they downed protein shakes before hitting the gym, and together they stayed late at the rink, practising quad loops after everyone else had gone home, and Yuri kept wondering if he, too, should sex it up a little. For years Yakov had persisted that Yuri mustn’t provoke the audience with underage hormones, but he was nineteen now, Yakov was no longer in charge, and he had sexual prowess dammit. He’d talk to Viktor about it, he thought.

He was so engrossed in their new daily routine that when Alexei called him to ask if they were still on for their weekly night of video games and bitching about their friends, Yuri had forgotten all about it. Alexei said he’d be there shortly, which had Yuri eyeing up his place with a sudden new insight. Otabek, who was cooking them chicken with quinoa salad, only asked if he was expected to have food for Alexei too. Otabek stood there with the apron on, while by the door their shoes formed a little mixed pile. Yuri’s bed was unmade and Otabek’s pyjamas were thrown atop the duvet, Beka’s suitcase was in his bedroom, their toothbrushes were in the same holder on the bathroom sink, and Yuri himself had attached a ‘to buy’ post-it to the fridge door, which read, simply: protein bars and condoms.

He fidgeted, holding the phone. If Alexei saw this…

Beka was still looking at him with an arched eyebrow, concerned with the amount of food he should prepare. Yuri said, “Errrr, he usually brings snacks,” and then, “We need to tidy up.”

“I didn’t take him for a guest you’d tidy up for,” Otabek said, turning the chicken breasts over on the frying pan.

“Alexei doesn’t care, but I just don’t want him to get the wrong idea,” he explained. “Hey, can you go move your stuff to the guest room? You can move it back once he’s gone.”

Beka turned to look at him. “Sorry?” He sounded ticked off, using the kind of tone that Katsudon used on Viktor sometimes that made Viktor blink owlishly and start whining about what he’d done to annoy his beloved.

“You’re right, you’re in the middle of cooking. I’ll do it,” he offered, already on his way.

Otabek was frowning but said nothing as Yuri moved his stuff to the unused guest room. He pulled the covers off and ruffled the pillows to give the illusion that the guest bed had been slept in. He picked up the torn away flecks of foil from condom packaging from the bedroom floor and tried to make the bed look less fucked in, and he opened the window to air out the scent of them. He then picked up all of Beka’s clothes and carried them to the guest room.

He was still tidying up and pushing incriminating evidence in the laundry basket (why was there come on the pillow case? Which one of them had managed it?) when Alexei arrived with beers and his usual good cheer. He hoped he’d done enough de-Otabeking to make it look like Beka was visiting him, not cohabiting with him. Alexei was well aware that Otabek was his best friend – he didn’t want Alexei to misunderstand that arrangement and start any rumours.

Although Otabek had met Alexei before, Otabek was still rather quiet during dinner (okay, maybe Beka was nearly almost quiet with most people). Alexei laughed that he was thankful he didn’t have to stick to an athlete’s diet, having wolfed a burger before heading over.

“So how long are you in town for? Hey, we should go out before you leave,” Alexei said to Otabek, grinning, as they sat at the kitchen table. “Three young alphas prowling the hottest clubs – what do you say? Huh?”

Otabek stared at Alexei blankly, which was an obvious ‘no’ to those fluent in Otabek. But Yuri cut in with “Yeah, maybe. We’re coming to Sofia’s party next weekend, at least.”

“Oh, but that’s a house party! It’s not the same.” Alexei reached over to give Beka’s shoulder a friendly slap. “Come on! I saw that Instagram picture of you guys out last weekend, I feel like I’m missing out! When was the last time you got laid, anyway?”

Beka’s mouth pursed in displeasure, and Yuri made a point not to look at him. (Last night, in the shower. Quick and horny. Tiles cold. Water hot. Their hands, burning. Beka had carried him back to the bedroom, water dripping all over, their mouths attached and messy. Second round there.) Truthfully, they had proven completely incapable of keeping their hands to themselves from the night Otabek got there – Yuri had squeezed more sex into five days and counting than he’d had, cumulatively, in his life.

But Alexei’s question was purely rhetorical as he added, “I’ll be your wingman! That way you don’t have to come home with this fucker.” He was motioning at Yuri, who felt rather offended.

“I don’t need a wingman,” Beka said sourly.

Alexei laughed. “Confident, eh? The omegas will love that.”

“No,” Beka said, “I’m just not very interested.”

Alexei gaped. “What, you neither? Jesus, what’s with you two, living like monks?!”

Yuri cut in with, “Well, maybe we could go out, check out some babes. I mean, why not?”

Alexei grinned. “Damn right! We’re still young and free!”

Beka’s mouth was tightly pursed. “Sure,” he said, “whatever.” But somehow it sounded a bit like ‘fuck you’.

Yuri did not look Beka’s way for the rest of dinner and was still avoiding the other’s gaze when they settled in the living room for video games.

He only had two controllers, but Otabek said he didn’t feel like playing so the two could go right ahead. Alexei noticed nothing, and Yuri let himself focus on the Mario Karts while Otabek sat on the armchair, reading the Gogol novel he’d brought with him. Even though they were doing different things, Yuri could not help but feel like Beka was purposefully ignoring him, as indeed he was ignoring his friend.

They hadn’t been playing for that long when the current race was interrupted by the buzzer. Puzzled, as he wasn’t expecting anyone, he went to the door and was told by the voice that there was a delivery for him. He buzzed the man in as he tried to remember what the hell he’d ordered – leopard print Docs? New hoodies? – before he realised that it must be the delivery of fan letters and gifts that his agent had threatened she’d send over.

The three boxes were large, but thankfully light. He signed for the delivery and Alexei helped him carry them in. People sent him stuff all the time, and once every few months he was sent a selection of gifts from his agent. Secretly, he rather enjoyed it.

Otabek quirked an eyebrow at the three boxes, but Yuri was used to it: he was young, hot, and an alpha, and he had a handful of sponsorship deals, not only in Russia but internationally as well. The Japanese, for instance, fucking adored him because he’d picked up conversational Japanese over the years, mainly thanks to Katsudon and Viktor’s attempts to learn each other’s languages, and so he did some commercials for a Japanese sportswear company that kept him on billboards and on Japanese TV. Beka was one of the most famous athletes in Kazakhstan and gorgeous to boot, but his off-ice promo deals weren’t on the same level as Yuri’s were, and as such Otabek’s flow of presents and fan letters wasn’t the same either.

“I guess I’ll take a look,” Yuri said, dismissively, but he was pleased: Alexei looked envious, and Otabek would surely be impressed.

Beka put his book away, Mario Kart on hold, as he and Alexei sat on the couch and skimmed through the mail. Some letters had pre-typed responses that some intern at the agency had put together– Yuri read them quickly: I am sure you will make a great skater one day and make Portugal proud and I am happy to hear you’ve named your cat after me, Julia, and at the bottom was a space where he scribbled his own name and put the signed responses in the agency envelope that a courier would pick up from him in a couple of days. Many letters were from kids who loved skating, but some were from middle aged and sixty-year-old enthusiasts who said he was like the son they’d never had. Some were, uh, admirers.

“Holy crap, listen to this,” Alexei laughed. “‘My name is Kath, I am from Romania and I am seventeen. I’ve recently presented as an omega and think you’re the most beautiful alpha alive! I dream of us meeting one day and bonding.’ Is she for real?! Hey, look, she sent a picture! Damn. Not bad – check out that rack!”

Yuri rolled his eyes. “No thanks.”

Alexei was showing the picture to Otabek, who only grunted. Many letters came with presents: cat plushies, tiger plushies, a snow leopard… He and Alexei were opening parcels, each gift as unimaginative as the next.

“Children’s hospital with these, then?” Beka asked, and Yuri nodded, reading a letter from an eight-year-old boy who said that although Yuri hadn’t won world gold yet, he would definitely do so soon, the boy was sure of it! He was the best skater EVER! At the bottom was a drawing of the young boy and Yuri, both at a rink, holding hands and skating. Yuri ducked his face down so that Otabek and Alexei wouldn’t see him smile.

This activity was not as fun for Alexei as the video games, so he said he’d head back home. Before doing so, however, Alexei grabbed one last gift that was at the bottom of the second box.

“This one’s keen,” Alexei said with a grin, now holding a parcel on which the sender had drawn numerous hearts. Yuri was sure that Alexei was picking out the embarrassing ones on purpose. Alexei opened the parcel and tipped it downwards, but it wasn’t a tiger or a puma that fell out: it was a black scarf, perhaps silk, perhaps not, but it was a scarf regardless, and it was drenched in the smell of an omega in heat.

All three of them jerked backwards when the scent hit them: how could it not? Sealed inside the parcel, the scent had remained fresh and strong, fertile and explicit. It was someone’s sex and their skin and fluids and sweat; the most intimate thing for anyone to smell on another person. It promised mating and breeding, and the scent was enticing and maddening.

Even Alexei for all his boasting was so surprised that he dropped the garment, and it fell on the floor.

They all stared, the scent demanding a reaction. Potya, who had been sleeping on the floor near the open window, beat them all to it: she awoke, jumped up, and hissed angrily at them and the invading scent, fur pricked up. She then scrambled out of the living room, unnerved. Yuri was still trying to process the scent of some omega’s sex, when Beka beat him to it.

“What the fuck?!” Beka barked, standing up abruptly, his eyes on the scarf lying politely at Alexei and Yuri’s feet. The omega must have rubbed it all over themselves – over their scent glands, over their wet hole… and then put it in a tightly sealed parcel and sent it to Yuri Plisetsky. “Who the fuck sends you shit like that?!” Beka snarled. It wasn’t often that Beka swore.

“Oh my god…” Alexei breathed and then burst out laughing, thrilled like a young child over something naughty. “Dude, it’s a scent gift!”

Before Yuri could respond at all, Beka had grabbed the offending object from the floor, marched to the window and defenestrated the garment.

“Beka!” he almost gasped. “You can’t just throw that out onto the street!”

“Well it’s not fucking staying in here!” Beka growled while Alexei was doubling over with laughter. Beka snatched the parcel from Alexei that carried the omega’s scent clearly now that it’d been opened. The air felt thick with sex, Yuri’s skin prickling in innate response. The scent was an obvious, desperate ‘fuck me’ that any alpha couldn’t help but be affected by. “No note or return address?!” Beka’s fist curled around the empty parcel. “Who the fuck is that sick?!”

“Beka,” he said, breathing in deep to clear his head, and then he couldn’t help but laugh, Alexei’s hysterics somewhat contagious. Beka stopped in his tracks, appearing astonished. “You’ve just thrown some omega’s heat scarf out into the street, and you’re chastising them?!”

“What else did you want me to do with it?!” Beka snapped back, affronted.

Alexei was still laughing, but Yuri managed to come to a halt. “Wash it down the drain or some shit. That’s what I’ve done with the others.”

Beka’s mouth opened and closed in a gold fish imitation. “Others…?”

“Oh, god!” Alexei finally cut in, seemingly able to catch his breath again. “Yuri, you’re being courted! By an envelope! Oh my god!” Alexei elbowed him in the ribs, shaking with laugher. “I bet they’re a middle-aged supermarket cashier from Vladivostok!”

“Don’t be gross!” he objected.

Beka growled angrily and chucked the parcel out of the window too, seemingly not caring which unfortunate mother of five would find the offending objects on the pavement on her way home. The omega’s scent clearly wasn’t winning Otabek over – many mated alphas flatly rejected any mating calls by anyone other than their mate, but considering that this didn’t apply to the three of them, Yuri was a little impressed by how determinedly Otabek could rise above the scent.

“You’ve found your mate,” Alexei sing-sang, teasing, and Yuri felt himself flush and muttered for his friend to just shut the hell up already. “Well I’m not helping you with the rest! No way am I touching this shit,” Alexei said, still shaking his head. “Figure skating is nuts! Jeeeee-sus!”

Yuri was undecided if he was amused or even a little offended that Alexei thought it was so hilarious that some anonymous fan somewhere out there had such hots for him. He hadn’t decided when he showed Alexei to the door, hoping Alexei would keep this to himself, but most likely all of their friends would know very soon. Eh, maybe that wasn’t that bad – it’d make him sound pretty badass, he figured.

Back in the living room, Beka still hadn’t sat back down. Yuri suggested that they go through the rest to get it out of the way, at least. Beka stared at the boxes, brows furrowed. “You’ve had scent gifts sent to you before.”

It wasn’t a question.

He shrugged. Yes, fine, that was not the first inappropriate item of clothing someone had sent him. It happened to everyone, didn’t it? He didn’t mean that it happened often – once a year, maybe. He’d received his first, uh, scent gift when he’d only been sixteen, a pair of lacey women’s underwear covered in an alpha’s heavy scent and musk that came with a note of ‘I hope you present as an omega so I can breed you’, and Yakov had lost his shit, too, the way Beka had done. After he’d presented as an alpha, however, he’d been approached by a few betas and omegas, usually through gifts of used underwear, so a scarf was rather polite, really. He told Beka as much as the other stood still, shoulders tense.

“You’ve never told me,” Otabek said accusingly. “You tell me everything,” he then added, now seemingly unsure. “Don’t you?”

“Jeez, I didn’t realise you’d want to hear about people sending me their underwear. Look, it’s no big deal,” he said with a wave of his hand. “A lot of pervs out there – what else is new?” He made to move back to the couch with, “Can we just go through these and –”

“What the hell do they expect you to do with their scent gifts?” Beka hissed through his teeth. He was worked up: his alpha pheromones were rich in the air.

“Masturbate to them, I guess,” he said indifferently, and Beka’s nostrils flared.

“You like it,” Beka accused. “The scent gifts. From these…”

He stopped, annoyed. “No, it’s gross! Of course I think it’s gross, and if you’re thinking it turns me on, it really doesn’t.”

Beka’s lips were pursed and he eyed Yuri’s crotch shamelessly, as if trying to find a disgraceful scarf boner. There wasn’t one: yes, the heat scent had smelled enticing, and a primitive instinct in his brain let him know that he should go fuck the source, but the rest of him was ambivalent at best. For him it was invasive, someone forcing their own intimacy into his space, and he didn’t like it. The scent didn’t tempt him to the owner of the scarf: he didn’t even know them, and the needy scent was completely foreign to him.

This being said, he’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel a little riled up.

He tried to get a read on Beka, but it seemed hard to do: the other was angry and upset, that part he got, but couldn’t Otabek just laugh it off already the way he and Alexei did? It was the only thing to do, wasn’t it? These people were sad and lonely and desperate, surely.

“Beka…”

“I don’t get what’s funny about it,” Otabek said curtly. “It’s offensive and it’s rude.”

The omega’s heat still lingered in the air between them, potent yet fading. Yuri felt anger curling up in him. “It’s not that serious! For Christ’s sake, it was just –”

“I’d beat those people to the ground if I found them!” Beka snapped and took in a deep, uneven breath, hands curled. “But… you did say you wanted to check out some babes. Guess they’re just making it easier.”

He didn’t appreciate the heavy sarcasm in Beka’s tone. “You don’t need to be such a dick about this, and I don’t need you treating me like a goddamn kid either!”

The one thing – out of many – that had always set Otabek apart from others was that he never treated Yuri like a child. All the rest of them did: Lilia, Viktor, Yuuri, Yakov, Mila, JJ – all of them, ever since his first year as a senior. But never Otabek. Otabek treated him like an equal, never claiming his routine ideas were childish or that he was too young for ‘more mature’ adult conversations at banquets or that he couldn’t skate a program or wear an outfit that was ‘unsuitable for someone your age’. And he certainly didn’t want Otabek to think he couldn’t handle a few overeager omegas somewhere out there – he more than could.

“I’m not treating you like a kid!” Beka argued back, however, voice rising.

“You fucking are, and –”

Beka stepped over to him and kissed him, hard, arms wrapping around him tightly. And it was Beka, kissing him, so of course he kissed back. Beka vibrated against him, a tremble Yuri recognised from an adrenalin filled skate, and Beka’s hand slipped to his hair, twisting hard around the strands. Beka’s alpha scent was always strong up close like this, but right then it was heavy and thick, almost aggressive. It went straight down to Yuri’s cock.

The kiss broke, and they breathed the air between them, Yuri inexplicably out of breath. Beka pushed closer to him, their bodies flushed. “Trust me,” the other breathed quietly, but with a sharp edge to his words. “I know we’re all grown up.”

Yuri’s stomach dropped, and he licked his lips, heat curling up in him. “Show me,” he said, and Beka stilled for a second before he grunted in primitive alpha approval. Fuck, that was kind of hot.

Then Beka was pushing him backwards to the couch where Beka used the hand twisted in his hair to push him downwards – Yuri faltered, confused for a second, before he let himself be pushed down to his knees. His breath left him.

Beka sat on the couch, thick fingers in his hair. Yuri’s hands slid along the tops of the other’s thighs, and Beka leaned back, letting Yuri settle between his knees. Beka’s gaze wasn’t playful: it was determined and dark, and Yuri felt just a little short of breath when, one-handed, Beka unbuttoned his jeans and slid the zipper down. The briefs underneath were white, a familiar bulge in them already.

Otabek leaned down, tilting Yuri’s head up for a deep kiss. “Is this what you want?” Beka asked him, and he nodded, shakily. “Okay,” Beka breathed. “Okay. Show me what no one else gets to see.”

His nails dug into the denim covering Beka’s muscled thighs. He tugged at Beka’s jeans, the other lifting his hips to help slide the jeans down to mid-thigh. Being no stranger to this – not anymore, certainly – Yuri duck his head down and mouthed over Beka’s cock, tongue pressing against the white cotton of the underwear. He almost whined at the first contact.

Otabek’s hand came to tangle in his hair, and the pressure of the palm against his head made heat build up in him. He mouthed Beka’s cock through the fabric eagerly. He loved doing this, and he only vaguely hoped that Otabek didn’t realise quite how much he loved it. But there was something filthy and grounding about sucking cock: primitive and senseless. But most of all it was what it did to Beka that he loved, how breathless and flushed Beka got when he sucked on his length. He ran his tongue over the hardening cock, enjoying the scent of Beka’s sex – the omegan scarf quite forgotten. This scent he knew, intimately, and wanted more of it.

His teeth scraped the white fabric, catching some between his teeth and pulling back, glancing up at Beka before releasing it, the fabric snapping back. Beka’s breath sputtered.

“Who said you were allowed to tease like that?” Otabek asked, a hand coming to brush at his mouth, Beka’s thumb pressing to his lips. He automatically sucked the thumb into his mouth, humming in pleasure. Otabek snarled, pulled back and lifted his hips enough to pull the briefs down. Beka’s cock sprang free, flushed and thick, and Yuri couldn’t take his eyes off it.

Impolite, he still thought, when Beka grunted, both hands twisting in Yuri’s hair, and pushed his head down to the crown with, “Open up.” There was no pausing to let Yuri lick and tease, slowly, from the shaft to the tip, to let him push back the foreskin, tongue teasing as he did so. No, none of that – which was a shame because Yuri loved the entire show of it.

Open,” Beka repeated, heavy and rough, and as Yuri took Beka in, there was something to the presence of Beka that spoke of his earlier anger with the scarf. Beka was too restless, too demanding – too much of an alpha than he usually was, just then.

But he took Beka in greedily, the taste of him familiar and hot on his tongue. Beka’s hands were nestled in his hair, holding him close but not controlling his movements. He began to suck, his mouth moving up and down on the hardened length. Beka sighed in pleasure above him: “Ah, now you’re being good.”

Yuri’s guts twisted with pleasure, and he closed his eyes, breathing in deep through his nose. He knew without looking that Beka’s attention was on him, on his knees between Beka’s spread thighs, his lips stretched wide around the other’s cock. The hold Beka had on his hair was just enough to let him know there was no pulling away – the only thing to do was to take Beka in deeper, a little at a time. He groaned with want, sliding his mouth up to the top, lips curling around the wetted head.

He stopped to catch his breath, licking over the slit without thought – only wanting, then needing more when he tasted Beka’s pre-come on his tongue. He twisted a hand at the base of Beka’s cock, covering the dark curls of hair there. The other was on Beka’s thigh, nails digging in. He licked at the crown again, the skin warm and smooth. A string of saliva stretched between the head of Beka’s flushed cock and his lower lip – such a pretty pink, so smooth, so soft… His tongue twirled around the head, his tongue rubbing the slit and tasting more pre-come. God, so good, he could stay down here for hours

Fuck,” Beka breathed, head rolling back, which Yuri was rather pleased with as he slipped his mouth back over Beka’s cock. To think they’d known each other for years without doing this to each other – what a waste, such a complete and utter waste to go without a cock like this… “You’re such a good cocksucker,” Beka said. “So eager to please.”

Of course he was – he’d do anything for Otabek, absolutely anything… Protect him, feed him, clothe him, pleasure him. All Otabek had to do was ask – god, the drive to give Otabek anything at all was so strong. And if Yuri’s own erection throbbing in his jeans was any indication, then yes he was eager, but he was displeased that Beka still had the cognitive abilities to speak. But Beka surprised him, then, by tightening the hold he had on his hair – his scalp burned a little, and he stilled. “You look so good, Yura,” Beka voiced, tone deep. “So good on your knees for me…”

Beka pushed his head back down, and as his mouth slipped over the heated flesh, with Beka now fully in control of the bobbing of his head, Beka added, “That’s it, come on. Show me how much you want it.”

And all he could think of was yes, yes, Beka pushing his head down, the length going deep into his mouth, and he fought back a gag reflex – and managed it, mind over matter like a pro – but he couldn’t stop the reflex to swallow around Beka’s cock, and Beka hissed above him, haltering briefly in the rhythm he was dictating for Yuri. Yuri relaxed into it the best he could, the other’s taste addicting. Beneath his palm at the base, Beka’s knot was swelling ever so slightly. Beka would keep the knot there, too – no point in knotting a hand or a mouth, of course, and they’d never – well, they’d never explored that, yet anyway. You didn’t knot just anyone: being joined together like that, locked together, unable to control the waves of orgasm, rendering any alpha effectively helpless until the knot went down? Yuri had only ever experienced it once, when he’d been seventeen and the omega had asked him to, and it’d rattled him to the point that he hadn’t tried it again.

It was different, though, with Beka: the pulsating swell under Yuri’s palm spoke of Beka being close, of being comfortable and confident and so turned on that he couldn’t help the knot from swelling a little, even if it wouldn’t swell to full size. It made Yuri move his mouth faster, pushing against the length with his tongue, wanting to taste.

Soon it was getting sloppy: saliva and pre-come smeared Beka’s cock and Yuri’s fist curled at the base, making the glide easy but messy. Beka was fucking Yuri’s mouth on himself but restrained his own hips until it appeared to get too much – Beka groaned and began fucking into his mouth, holding his head still and letting his hips snap upwards, and beneath his palm at the base he felt the slow swell of Beka’s knot, and it was so hot it was stupid, and he wanted, needed –

“Hang on,” Beka breathed, stopping and letting go of him. Yuri pulled back, cock slipping out of his mouth, dazed and horny. He licked his lips – he tasted like Beka. Beka looked dishevelled and flushed, clothed except for tugged down jeans and underwear, cock shiny with Yuri’s spit. Yuri wondered how he looked, there on his knees. He took deep, uneven breaths, wiping at his mouth and swollen lips to the back of his hand. He paused, confused, as Beka got out his phone. He’s checking his emails, he thought, stupidly, baffled. But this assumption was wrong.

Beka turned the back of the phone down and towards him, and Yuri’s stomach dropped. Otabek wanted to take a picture. Beka reached down to him, guiding Yuri back to his cock, and he wondered if it was possible to blush halfway through a blowjob.

“Make it worth filming,” Beka then said, and Yuri didn’t know he could get harder than he was, but somehow he did. He still flinched, surprised, and he looked up at Beka, who was holding a phone aimed at him, ready to film. He swallowed, audibly, before the dark want in Beka’s gaze won. He slipped his mouth over Beka again, obediently.

His blood was rushing in his ears, his skin alight and burning as he went back to sucking Beka off. He didn’t dare look at first, just focused on blowing Beka, his lips meeting the ring of his fist with each bob. And god it sounded good, the wet noises that his mouth made, the way Beka breathed hard, and groaned and muttered “yeah, god”. Beka’s base swelled more under his palm, the beginnings of a knot there, indicating Beka was close.

What do I look like? he wondered, groaning with a mouth full of cock. He pictured them elsewhere: at an ice rink, the gym, a competition, Beka typing away on his phone, tweeting or taking a selfie with someone, calling goddamn relatives – and on the phone was footage of Yuri down on his knees, sucking Beka off. Why was that so fucking hot, why did he want Beka to come on his face and call him his slut, and –

Beka started sounding even closer to climax, so he finally looked up, strands of blond hair blurring his vision. Beka was still holding his phone, aimed at him on his knees, mouth full of cock. He would have flushed if he hadn’t been burning up already, and he stared at the phone (and behind it, Beka), unblinking, as he let his mouth slide down the wide, wetted length. It was called a blowjob for a reason: his jaw ached, his throat felt sore – it was work. But none of it mattered with Beka groaning, hips shifting, cock throbbing, teetering on the edge… And he’d be damned if they didn’t capture the moment Yuri made Beka lose control like no one else could because this was Yuri’s, all his, and Otabek didn’t let himself be undone like this by anyone else.

He pulled back up nearly all the way, the crown of Beka’s cock resting against his lips. He gave the tip a slow, circular lick.

Yura…” Beka breathed, one hand coming down to brush stray hairs away from his face, before the fingers slid up the side of his cheek to his hair, twisting hard. Beka pushed his head down again.

Beka’s movements were reckless, and Yuri sucked on his cock hard before letting Beka roll up into his open mouth, sliding in deep. He was trying to coax it out of Beka now, hungrily, and with one hand he squeezed Beka’s knee for balance, the other covering the swollen base, and he moved faster, Beka’s hand pushing his head down and down and down, and his scalp burned, his mouth was so full, his eyes watered, and Beka gasped, fucked his mouth with abandon, and then pulled Yuri’s head up so hard that his scalp throbbed. Yuri immediately opened his mouth wide, staring up at Beka and the phone, his hand leaving the base as Beka’s hand took over his cock, working it fast, breathing erratic, and Yuri hungrily pressed the flat of his tongue against the slit shimmering with pearly white and –

Salty come hit his tongue, his lips, some shot up against the bridge of his nose and the side of his face, catching hair, before he enclosed his mouth around the wet head, sucking and swallowing. Come drippled down his chin, and the taste of Beka drove him so mad that he wanted Beka to come again, immediately, and keep coming undone for him. Beka was trembling as the climax finished: thighs, stomach, hand holding the camera. Yuri looked up, licking his lips slowly.

Fuck,” Beka breathed and dropped the phone onto the couch. “Fuck, fuck.”

Yuri smiled to himself, kissing the head of the still flushed cock and gathering the traces of come there. He pushed Beka’s now limp hand away and jerked Beka off, and was granted with a little more come pushing from the slit, which he licked away hungrily. He fucking loved the way Beka tasted – he loved his scent, the taste of his saliva, the smell of his sweat, the musk of his come, all animal instinct and his.

He nuzzled the side of Beka’s cock, tongue tracing the length, and with one hand undid his own jeans and slid a hand into his underwear, around his own hard cock. He kept kissing Beka’s length, breathing him in, tasting him, as he fisted himself. “You taste so good,” he confessed, tracing droplets of come with his mouth, down to Beka’s pubic hair.

“You’re filth,” Otabek breathed.

“Mmmm,” he agreed, happily, and Beka reached down to cradle the side of his face before pushing two fingers into his mouth. He sucked on them instantly, just as he’d sucked Beka’s cock, and that was it: knowing Beka was watching him, the taste of his come, of his skin, the two thick fingers in his mouth, his own frantic fist – he came with a cry muffled by Beka’s hand, something inside him almost snapping in two.

“Is that better?” Beka asked him, cooing almost. “Is that what you need?”

He nodded, hazily. His body thrummed with release, his head resting against Beka’s thigh as the other pulled his fingers back, and Yuri tried to catch his breath. Beka slid soft but wet fingers through his hair, over the scalp that hurt from having had hair pulled.

He then slumped on the floor, spent, pulling his hand out of his soiled underwear. God, he had one come-covered hand, and Beka’s semen in his hair and – ah, on his face. He wiped at his nose and mouth blindly.

Beka was looking at him, cock still out but now softening, face flushed red, gaze unfocused. “So pretty,” Beka murmured, and Yuri felt heat curl up in his guts. Praise went a long way with omegas and most betas, but that was not to say alphas weren’t immune to being acknowledged by a mate. And god, Beka looked so pretty then too – and the view was for Yuri alone. “God, c’mere,” Otabek said, arms snaking under his armpits and hauling him off the floor and onto the couch. Beka’s mouth was on his before he could say anything, and Beka gently pushed him to lie down, moving on top of him. Their legs entwined, and Beka touched him all over, hands running from his shoulders down his sides.

“Fuck, it’s all on your phone,” Yuri said when he’d recovered some and then laughed against Beka’s mouth.

“Mmm, it is. You’ve no idea how good you looked,” Otabek murmured, voice deep, and Yuri wanted to lie there and make out with him forever, or just have more sex, and then make out more – it was pretty cyclical, what he wanted.

“Yeah?” he asked, huskily. Had they looked good together? “Send it to me.”

“Ah, maybe. If you’re good,” Beka said with a grin, and Yuri was scandalised that he might not be given the video of him blowing Otabek, seeing Otabek come undone by his mouth and lips… He was about to protest, but Beka placed chaste kisses on his face, muttering, “Maybe I’ll send it to you one day next week… or next month. When you’re at the rink… or the dance studio… or at a friend’s house… I’ll send it to you when you least expect it.”

“Oh my god, you’re the worst human being,” he protested, grinning, and Beka pressed their foreheads together as they lay on the couch, slotted against one another in a way only they knew how. The air was thick with the scent of two alphas’ sex, salty and heady and hot – they suited each other, Yuri thought.

“Hmm, maybe I’ll… maybe I’ll put it on DVD. Send it to you, maybe with a scent gift. Make you watch the video as you breathe in a hand towel I’ve soiled for you,” Otabek said quietly, and Yuri’s stomach dropped. A scent gift? From Beka?

He was surprised he didn’t get hard again right there and then. He gulped and exhaled shakily. “If you did that, I guess I’d have to send you one back. Only to be polite.”

Otabek stiffened above him, a tremble running through him. “Yeah,” he said, voice now rather husky. Yuuri remembered the presents then, the scarf, them yelling at each other – when did they ever yell at each other? And how furious Beka had been. Otabek seemed to remember the same thing. “I’m sorry if I –”

“Forget about it,” he said. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. “It’s fine.”

Otabek held his breath for a beat or two before exhaling. “Okay.”

They eventually tidied themselves up, Yuri rinsing his come-covered hair in the bathroom sink and throwing his soiled underwear into the laundry basket. He went commando for the rest of the evening, happily, but he didn’t open the third box of letters and presents, just in case he’d upset Otabek, who now pleasantly carried the scent of Yuri on him, just as he knew he smelled like Otabek.

The thought of anyone else’s scent ruining what Yuri was slowly beginning to consider as the desired scent for his apartment irked him.

It was good as it was.

* * *

The next morning, they pushed themselves to get up at six with the promise of finishing off early in the afternoon to get the weekend started. They were both sleepy and grumpy, and even the ride to the rink through the still sleeping town wasn’t enough to wake Yuri up. He kept his arms wrapped tight around Otabek, letting his eyes slip shut. He wondered if he could sleep like this, on the bike, with the scent of the other alpha keeping him calm.

They parked outside the rink, and Yuri rolled his shoulders as he got off the bike, trying to wake up more. They were heading for the doors when Otabek froze and asked, “Shit, where’s the gym bag?”

“The bag with all our stuff?” he clarified. They soon established that the bag they’d pre-packed the night before was, very clearly, still at Yuri’s flat. Yuri also maintained that this was Beka’s fault, not his.

“Ah, I’ll go get it,” Beka sighed. “You go in and get started.”

Although they had agreed not to talk about their argument – fight? Tiff? Disagreement? – Yuri felt like they weren’t quite the same as they’d been the day before. Something lingered: it was soft, velvety. Nervous. “You sure? You’ll need –”

He was getting his keys out, but Beka cut him off with, “I got the spare, remember?”

Yuri blinked. He’d given Beka the spare the other day, true – for convenience.

Otabek was rushing. “I better hurry before the morning traffic kicks in.”

And then.

Then Otabek did the most infuriating thing.

There Yuri was, minding his own business, six forty in the morning, standing outside the ice rink, sleep still in his eyes, hair hastily brushed and tied onto a messy bun, in jogging pants, a white tank top, an old denim jacket on, the taste of instant coffee still in his mouth and mixing with spearmint toothpaste, and Otabek leaned in and kissed him.

Otabek kissed him.

It was absentminded, and Beka had half a frown still on his face, clearly annoyed about the bag. It was quick and dry, yet firm. Beka’s lips against his were gone before Yuri could even think to respond.

“Half an hour, tops!” Beka called out, already walking back to where they’d parked.

And Yuri stood there, blinking after his friend. Heat was rising to his cheeks – he knew this instinctively. They’d kissed a dozen times – they’d kissed a hundred times by now, messily on their way to the bed, and wetly and wildly mid-sex, and slowly in the post-orgasm glow, coming down. They’d kissed in hotel rooms, at Yuri’s apartment, out of sight and out of mind… Hell, there was video of him blowing Beka now too!

But that was – that had been…

And then it hit him, how public that had been. Anyone at all could have seen them! He looked around in paranoia, for Yuri’s Angels who showed up at the rink daily, trying to get in, or for Yakov or Mila or Viktor, for someone to have witnessed him getting snogged by the top figure skater of Kazakhstan like that was no big deal.

But it wasn’t even seven o’clock yet, and there was no one around.

He knew he had turned bright red, a nervous bubbling in his belly, and he muttered curses under his breath as he marched to the main doors, telling himself to just forget about it. The burn of his cheeks had trickled downwards, into his chest and guts. He swiped his VIP card at the doors, and they clicked open for him. His mind kept reeling as he changed in the locker rooms, pulling training clothes out of his locker and stuffing in the ones from home, the ones that smelled like a mixture of two alphas. He forced himself not to think about Otabek’s remark of sending him a scent gift – the way you courted a mate – and his response that he’d send one back, jerking off on a t-shirt or something, for the other to rub the shirt on his skin, to breathe it in and touch himself, for Otabek to smell his alpha and submit

Fuck.

Yuri blinked. He grabbed his skates and headed for the rink.

Otabek hadn’t even thought about kissing him – he’d done it automatically, as a quick goodbye. In broad daylight. Thoughtlessly. With the same kind of familiarity that he’d looked at Yuri with when he was slumped by the couch after they’d both come and Otabek said, “So pretty.” In a way that had Yuri wanting to curl up into Otabek until the end of time.

For the life of him Yuri couldn’t figure out if it was infuriating or thrilling. It was unnerving, whatever it was. Christ, what was Otabek thinking, kissing him like that?! And –

As he crossed the lounge area where the vending machines were, he stopped in his path.

Or, rather, his path was obstructed: on the floor in front of him was a black, portable baby car seat. How did he know this? Because there was a baby in it.

“What the…?” he managed, looking around quickly to see where the fuck this baby had emerged from. And not just any baby! Oh no. This baby, staring at him blankly but with a hint of ‘Who are you? What’s going on?’, looked rather fucking Japanese. How many Japanese-descent babies were there in St. Petersburg, who might be found at the ice rink used by certain former World Champions? How many babies had brown beanies with poodle-ears attached, a jumpsuit with a text of Ice Ice Baby and possessed an embroidered blanket with ‘Ш. В. К-Н.’ stitched to it in fancy, curved letters?

Precisely.

Exasperated, he yelled out, “You’ve left your fucking baby!” But the lounge area was empty, he heard no footsteps anywhere, and Shiori kept staring at him with benign dumbness from the car seat like maybe he was her daddy now.

“Jesus Christ,” he snarled, but he picked up the car seat gently. He couldn’t just leave her there, could he? He hurried his steps to the rink – carefully, because the car seat was awkward to carry – expecting to find the completely irresponsible parents on the ice, but upon entering he found the rink empty. “Viktor!” he bellowed loudly. “Katsudon! Come collect your spawn!”

His voice echoed in the arena. He looked down at Shiori, who was looking up at him, one of her tiny fists now in her mouth, drool dripping. Fuck, fuck, fuck! What did he do?!

He put the car seat down carefully and as he went to get his phone out of his pocket to call Viktor, he said, “I’m gonna murder your parents, Shiori.”

Shiori said nothing, mouth trying to close around her fist unsuccessfully. If Viktor didn’t pick up, he’d have to google what to do with a baby.

Just then the doors of the rink swung open on the far side, and in a blur of silver and black two men ran in. Yuri heard, “– god, Viktor, how can you not be sure?!” and a “She must’ve crawled –” “She can’t crawl!”

“Oi!” he cut in sharply, voice echoing in the rink, and the two panicking figures froze. “Parents of the Week One and Two, over here!” He watched with an air of satisfaction as Yuuri and Viktor bolted around the rink to where he was, looking distraught even when they reached him and saw that their child was no longer missing.

Yuuri was quick to unbuckle Shiori and scoop her up in his arms, shushing, “Oh darling, Papa’s here, oh thank god –”

“Is she okay?” Viktor was rushing out, and Yuuri was nodding, saying, “Yes, I think so, I – Oh sweetheart, Daddy and Papa are so sorry!” And then Yuuri began murmuring in rapid Japanese that Yuri couldn’t catch, while Viktor kept pressing his hands gently on Shiori as if to make sure she was still whole, before Viktor pulled Yuuri into a hug so that he had his arms around both his mate and his child. Yuuri burrowed into his chest for comfort.

“See, I told you she was fine,” Viktor said but sounded shaky.

“You said she might have been kidnapped!” Yuuri protested. “Because bad guys wanted our skating money!”

“Yuuri, I was panicking,” Viktor protested.

Viktor then gently took Shiori from Yuuri, pressing her tight to his chest, while Yuuri fussed over her, the poodle beanie sliding off, and Yuuri smoothed down her tuff of black hair, saying, “Daddy and Papa are so sorry, we’ll never leave you again! Oh, Viktor, look at her,” and Viktor agreed with, “I know, I know. Oh, Daddy’s little angel, we love you so much. Daddy’s so sorry he ever put you down, Daddy won’t ever do that again.”

Yuri watched this display and then cut in with, “Yeah, so, I found her abandoned by the vending machines.”

The parents looked at each other, guiltily. It became apparent that there had been only one of Yuuri’s favourite chocolate bars left in the vending machines and the two had rushed to their car to retrieve some change. It had only occurred to them some minutes later that they no longer had their child with them. For all intents and purposes, it sounded like they had been away from Shiori for a whole of two or three minutes – long enough to spiral them into a panic, especially when she hadn’t been where they thought they’d left her.

But in Yuri’s estimation no harm had been done as Shiori was the same clueless baby she’d always been. He told the parents as much.

“At least she was with Uncle Yurio,” Yuuri then mused and flashed a grateful smile at him, even as he remained guilty looking. Yuri flinched – Uncle what now?

It was only as the parents began to calm down that it occurred to them that they were all at the rink before it officially opened. Just as Yuri asked what exactly were the two of them doing at the rink this early in the morning, Viktor seemed to remember that he was a coach, and not just any coach, but Yuri’s coach. The parents’ version was that Shiori had woken up early that morning and hadn’t gone back to bed. They’d left the house just to get her to settle down because she liked being in the car. Yuuri had driven around aimlessly, but when they’d spotted the rink it had seemed like a logical destination. Besides, Yuuri missed the ice ardently. After the ice machines had finished after six, Viktor and Yuuri had taken the ice for a while.

“It’s nice to see you here this early,” Viktor then said approvingly, Shiori still cradled to his chest. He then looked around. “Where’s Otabek?”

In the debacle, Yuri had temporarily forgotten about Otabek and – and what had happened at the car park. He recalled it now and forced himself not to flush red. He mumbled that Otabek was picking up stuff they’d left home – err, his apartment, he meant, his apartment. He’d stretched in the locker room and was now intending to run through his free skate.

“Well, since we’re here,” Yuuri said with a smile, “maybe you could show us how it’s developing?”

“Great idea!” Viktor enthused. Shiori had fallen asleep in his arms, but it appeared that Viktor had no intention of letting his child go anytime soon. Yuuri hovered around too, and the two cooed over Shiori’s sleeping form as Yuri rolled his eyes and got onto the ice.

He was only thirty seconds into the free skate, choreographed by Viktor, when the older man called out to him to stop as it was all wrong. Shiori changed hands, and soon Viktor was on the ice with him, skates on, and he was being subjected to a thorough grilling on his flow and footwork. Irritated as he was, Viktor’s advice was helping him figure out difficult parts of the routine. Besides, if it wasn’t perfect, wasn’t that Viktor’s fault for taking time off?

“I don’t think you’re connecting to the theme of the piece,” Viktor complained, looking at him with that annoying, thoughtful expression of his, one finger on his lips in Viktor’s signature ‘I’m thinking’ pose. “Right, from the top!”

He was sucked into the practice session to such an extent that he did not notice Otabek arriving until he clearly had been there for quite some time, talking to Yuuri at the side of the rink and being shown Shiori by a very enthusiastic father.

Viktor followed his gaze and his face lit up. “Otabek, hello! Oh, isn’t she gorgeous?” Viktor enthused, Yuri’s inferior performance apparently forgotten as they both skated over.

Otabek and Viktor exchanged quick pleasantries, Otabek extending his congratulations to Viktor, too, and Viktor thanking for the teddy Otabek had sent. Yuri let the three others chat, brooding over Viktor’s undue criticism. Beka had changed into his workout clothes and had his skates on, and Yuuri asked if they could get a sneak peek to Otabek’s new routines. Beka obliged, Yuri now standing off the ice with the nightmare couple, as Beka had a go at his short program. Yuri played the short program version of the song from his phone by plugging it into the rink’s sound system. Viktor and Yuuri’s reaction to the powerful, erotic short skate was much like Yuri’s own had been: astonishment.

When Beka came to a stop, both Viktor and Yuuri seemed rather speechless. Otabek was out of breath, but looked pleased, the flush on his cheeks reminding Yuri of many rather intimate moments they’d shared together. The technical score would be high, no doubt, and Beka would score plenty for composition, too. Viktor and Yuuri both praised the performance and Yuuri politely inquired who had, uh, choreographed such a piece. Coming from Mr. Eros, it didn’t seem proper to be prudish.

“The omegas will be queuing up for sure,” Yuuri admitted to a slightly embarrassed Beka – his performance persona, overly sexy and domineering, was different from his usual self.

“God, I haven’t seen anything that bold on ice for years!” Viktor was musing as Beka put blade guards on and got off the ice. “It’s so – so raw, almost, the want and lust you convey. As an alpha, I certainly relate to that – that animalistic need you feel for your omega, almost. I just wonder how judges who are betas and omegas will react to that honest possessive drive.”

“What about the free skate?” Yuuri queried with the exact same concern Yuri had had: how did you follow that up? Otabek gave the same answer he’d given Yuri, that the FS wasn’t quite finished yet and he and his coach were still working it through.

“What’s your theme for the year?” Viktor then asked – Otabek had Viktor Nikiforov’s attention, which was usually a good sign. “Desire? Lust? Sex?”

“Uh,” Beka began, but then his features steadied. “Love.”

“Hmmm,” Viktor mused in his annoying coach voice. Yuri thought that the ‘themes’ were mostly pretentious PR anyway: he himself got good presentation scores even if he didn’t believe in the theme of his programs. When he’d read the press release on Otabek’s theme some months earlier, he’d messaged the other with: love?? Really? Katsudon already did that years ago. When Beka finally texted back, the day after, it’d been about something else, so they’d never discussed it really. Love was generic, yet emotive, but Yuri found it dull still.

Yuri was nevertheless getting annoyed at all the talk about Beka and his sex appeal and omegas throwing themselves at him, but thankfully Shiori came to the rescue by yawning, and Viktor and Yuuri immediately lost interest in anything other than fawning over her adorableness. Yuri saw brief hesitation cross Otabek’s features before he asked, “Could I hold her?”

All three of them blinked, and while Yuuri broke into a warm smile, Viktor clearly processed if this other alpha intended to snag the infant. Yuuri was already gently giving Shiori to Otabek, however, who welcomed her with sure hands. Otabek held Shiori confidently close to his chest, with one hand cradling the back of the baby’s head protectively, the way Yuri had seen people do.

“She reminds me of my cousins,” Otabek said, staring at the baby with warmth in his eyes. Otabek had seventeen cousins: Yuri remembered all of their names, from Daniyal to Aliya. Otabek was one of the older ones and had babysat a fair deal when younger.

“She likes you,” Viktor mused, but Yuri could tell that Viktor sounded a bit jealous.

“She’s lovely,” Beka told the already obnoxiously beaming parents. Beka now turned to him. “You want to hold her?”

“Eh?!” He eyed Shiori suspiciously – so tiny, so fragile looking. “No –”

But it was too late because Beka was passing him a baby, and he had to accept that, didn’t he? Viktor certainly wouldn’t appreciate him dropping her.

He suddenly had an armful of the baby. She was heavier than she looked. “Uhhh, uhhmm?” he voiced, panicking, but Beka was there, guiding him to hold her like he had done, resting her along the length of his forearm. Shiori ogled at him, and she smelled like baby powder, formula, and Viktor and Yuuri, her fat little fists swinging as she settled into his arms. She pursed her mouth into a small pout, it looked like.

“Group selfie?” Viktor enthused, and the rest gathered around him, Viktor holding his phone at arm’s length to squeeze them all in. Yuri made a strangled noise because he couldn’t coordinate holding a baby and posing for the phone, and Beka placed a hand on his waist and pressed in close, and Yuri smelled the scent of Beka’s sweat, clean and raw, and Viktor was crowding his personal space as usual, and Yuuri was holding up two fingers in a V sign for the picture, and Yuri wanted to swat them all away except for Beka, and –

“Oh, this turned out great!” Viktor said, already tapping away on his phone as they dispersed. Beka took pity on him and held out his arms, and he quickly gave Shiori back. Shiori let out a small cry, but Beka placed her to rest against his chest and shoulder, gently tapping her back and bouncing her a little.

Yuuri looked on with approval and said, “You’re a natural.”

“Thanks. Got a lot of practice,” Beka reasoned.

Viktor beamed. “You’ll make a good dad one day.”

Well considering the Katsuki-Nikiforovs were leaving their baby in random places, the bar was clearly set low, Yuri thought, almost chuckling – but the chuckle died before it could start when Otabek only nodded with that serious pan-faced expression of his. “I hope so.”

Yuri startled.

I hope so, he’d just said.

Beka handed the baby back to Yuuri, who put her back in the carrier and carefully tucked her in. Yuuri seemed to hesitate before saying, “We also heard about the thing, by the way.”

He blinked. “What?”

The first thing he could think of was the fifteen second clip of the blowjob footage Beka had sent him that morning. Out of a whole two minutes! Beka now said he’d maybe send him a bit at a time, the tease, but had the video gone viral somehow?! Was he on the internet sucking cock?!

“The scent gift,” Yuuri explained, shaking his head. Ah – that. Everyone knew, practically: once Alexei had told their friends, it hadn’t taken long for the story to reach the rink where everyone knew everyone’s business. A handful of friends had teasingly texted Yuri about his mystery omega admirer, too. “That was very rude of them,” Yuuri said disapprovingly. “But it happens, I hope you know, to us, uh, all.” Yuuri had flared a little red, and next to him Viktor suddenly looked very rigid and angry.

Yuuri clearly had triggered a painful memory for Viktor, who snarled, “It shouldn’t happen. They knew you were mated, for god’s sake, and they still –” Viktor sounded rather furious, and Yuri wondered what alpha out there was brave or stupid enough to try and court Viktor Nikiforov’s omega. Viktor looked cross. “The arrogance! Trying to seduce my mate!”

“You alphas just can’t stand any rivalry once you’ve found your mate,” Yuuri said sympathetically.

Beka cut in with, “You should have a word with Yuri’s agent, Viktor. They need to be stricter in their screening procedures.”

Viktor muttered, “Yes, I suppose so,” sounding distracted like he was now caught up in a bad memory.

“I’ll have a word with them myself,” Yuri protested, not appreciating being talked about like he wasn’t even there. “And it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

A dark look crossed Beka’s face, but he said nothing.

The parents started to leave, stating they both needed sleep and breakfast while Shiori got some shut eye. Viktor promised to be back to training soon – another week, maybe, and reminded Yuri of his upcoming dance lessons with Lilia, too. “You’ll be fine with Otabek for another week, won’t you?”

“Yes, god,” he huffed. He was nineteen! Nineteen!

Viktor carried the baby seat in one hand, the other arm around Yuuri’s shoulders, while Yuuri had slung an arm around Viktor’s waist. What they talked about as they headed out, he had no idea, but Viktor pressed a quick kiss to Yuuri’s hair, as fast and thoughtless as – as the one Beka had given him that morning.

Otabek was looking after the family intently. Yuri had liked Beka’s short program when he’d first seen it: provocative, in-your-face, sexy and smouldering. A mating call, almost, from a youthful alpha to a desired mate. Yuri had known it’d make fangirls and boys swoon, but now he realised that maybe it really was just that: a mating call. That the picture of Viktor now leaving with his omega and child was what Otabek was after, and Yuri was just some young alpha who apparently couldn’t fend for himself.

What the hell was Otabek doing, then, smooching him in public and in private? And saying stupid shit like maybe he should send Yuri a scent gift – the way you did when you were courting a mate, and making Yuri fantasise about something as ridiculous as sending Otabek a scent gift in return? Yuri felt anger bubbling in his stomach.

“She’s gotten lucky with them,” Beka mused.

“How so?” he asked, hoping Beka would drop it already. From what he could see Shiori was facing a lifetime of embarrassment.

“They’re in love with her and each other,” Beka reasoned, “I dunno, I think she’s gonna have a pretty happy life.”

Yuri couldn’t stop his hands from curling into fists, his jaw clenching.

Otabek noticed – of course he did. “You alright?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Yuri?”

Beka knew him too fucking well. He shook his head. “Let’s just skate, okay? We’re not here to goddamn chat, are we?” And, before he could help himself, “Also, Beka?”

Otabek looked at him with inquiring eyes. “Hmm?”

“You can’t kiss me in public,” he said. “Not even if there’s no one around.”

Otabek’s expression didn’t change. Yuri wondered if Otabek even knew when such a kiss had occurred – Otabek had done it so naturally, somehow.

The silence seemed to stretch between them, icy and thin. “Sure, Yuri,” Beka then said. “My mistake.”

Mistake? Yuri nearly flinched, but then he only nodded and started taking his skate guards off. Beka mimicked him, and they did not talk of it again.

Chapter Text

The picture that ended up online was just as awful as Yuri had feared: Viktor, Katsudon, Otabek and he were squeezed together with Shiori resting in his arms. v-nikiforov: Shiori made new friends at the rink this morning! #UncleYurio #UncleOtakek #Olympian2038

The comment section was a mess: too much alpha UNF in one shot!!; Katsuki please come back to figure skating!; Shiori is so adorable omg; Yuri Plisetsky holding a baby, all my omega fantasies have come true?!!; ITALY LOVES YOU VIKTOR; #UncleOtabek?? I cannot even; All other #squadgoals can go home because this. Is. PERFECTION; all my fave skaters in one shot! So cute!

Yuri forced himself to forget about baby-mad comments as their weekend began. They hadn’t really made plans, and Yuri had hoped for them to continue the care-free, sex-fuelled existence of the weekend before. But while they shared the bed on Friday night, Otabek stayed firmly on his side and was up before him on Saturday.

He found Otabek in the kitchen, where the other was already dressed and finishing breakfast. “I was thinking of going on a day trip,” Otabek said.

“Oh,” he returned. “Where we going?” Otabek looked at him, and Yuri realised through his morning grogginess that the other may have meant a trip without him. The thought felt like a bucket of icy water thrown on him, but he was not a quitter – never had been and did not intend to start now. “I can be ready in twenty.”

The drive to Shlisselburg took them an hour and a half, but Beka maintained that any UNESCO site was worth a visit, and that really Yuri should have been by now since it wasn’t that far away. Yuri argued that once you’d been to one medieval castle, you’d been to them all, and he wasn’t sure if these differing views were just their way of keeping an unspoken argument going. He didn’t like it, either way.

“But this is a fortress, not a castle,” Beka pointed out, reading a plaque in one of the dimly lit towers of the settlement. Yuri was bored – they’d been there for an hour already! And he knew Otabek knew he was bored, and he suspected that Otabek was taking even longer because of it. Everyone else there was over the age of fifty! Sure, the fortress was in the middle of a lake, and them taking the boat to it had been kind of fun, but mostly the trip felt like a punishment.

He peered out from the narrow slits that served as windows, giving out to the lake that surrounded them. Beka said, “Hmm, says here that in 1323 they signed a treaty that – Yuri, are you listening?”

He wasn’t – he was taking selfies, pleased with one where in the background Otabek was reading the plaque and he had dramatically placed two fingers to his temple in a ‘shoot me’ gesture. He uploaded it with Boooooorrreeeed #stuckwithanerd, and it was up before Otabek had managed to fish the phone out of his hands. Beka stared at the screen, frowning, and Yuri realised that they were going to argue about this, but then Beka smirked. “Oh, this means war.”

“Eh?!” he asked, baffled.

But war it was: the rest of the day they kept trying to snap pictures of each other for social media shaming. Here’s Yuri panicking he has 28% battery life left #millenials #sadlife, which he countered with Beka just bought this fridge magnet of the fortress for himself #notadrill #sendhelp #24%sucker, which Beka topped with Yuri lost his sunglasses– retraced our steps for half an hour to find them #dramaqueen #GucciGate2021, at which point Yuri gritted his teeth and exclaimed, “I am not a drama queen!”

And Otabek smiled at him – finally, for the first time all day. Why were they fighting again?

“Besides, these glasses were expensive,” he said in his defence, placing them carefully on his head. He’d left them on the small, narrow windowsills of the window-slits in one of the towers where he’d taken them off for selfies. The room was at the far end of the fortification, with a dodgy, crooked doorway as the only way into the octagonal room. Two German tourists, both in their seventies, exited into the corridor, mumbling to themselves approvingly as they examined the stonework. “More to the point,” Yuri said, “I look really hot in these.”

“Eh,” Otabek shrugged, “maybe a seven out of ten. Eight on a good day.”

Yuri looked at his friend, scandalised, and Otabek broke into a rare grin. “You’re an asshole,” Yuri said but ended up grinning too. As Otabek smirked, Yuri dared a quick glance at the door through which the other tourists had disappeared, before he stepped closer to Beka and kissed him, letting fingers brush the short hairs at the nape of Otabek’s neck, pressing their smiles together firmly. Contentment curled up in his chest at the smell and taste of the other. Their lips made a soft smack sound as Yuri pulled back.

Beka stood still, exhaling. “What was that for?”

“Not for anything,” he said, but it was a lie: instinct. Otabek giving him that cheeky grin of his, eyes playful – what else could he do but kiss him?

But Otabek turned away from him, grumbling, “I thought we weren’t doing that.”

Yuri rolled his eyes. “I do what I like.”. He bumped his shoulder against Beka’s and left the room, the other’s footsteps following, but as they entered the corridor, Beka’s hand enclosed around his wrist. He turned around in question, and Beka slipped an arm around his waist, pressed him against the lumpy stone wall, and kissed him hard and deep, with an intensity that sent heat fluttering inside his guts. He kissed back, Beka’s hand lifting to touch his cheek, thumb pressing to his chin. It was a kiss that had Yuri’s toes tingling, his mind sparkling, his insides heating up. Beka nudged at his mouth, and Yuri sighed in pleasure, opening up and meeting the other’s tongue with his own, warmth trickling down his spine. The kiss was desperate, somehow, and when Beka pulled back, Yuri nearly fell forward trying to follow his mouth.

He licked his lips, out of breath. “And what was that for?”

Otabek stared at him without the usual tranquillity to his gaze – no, there was fire there, now. “For this,” Beka said, taking his hand and placing it on his chest, over a heart that was beating fast. Otabek kept staring at him, and Yuuri felt a trickle of panic run down his spine, a sensation he knew he’d felt before but now, with Otabek in his space, eyes hot but still soft, maybe, Yuri thought, maybe it wasn’t worth panicking about.

“I –” he began, unsure as to what he was even going to say, when at the end of the battlement passageway some tourists appeared, now heading their way. Yuri pulled his hand back and Otabek stepped away from him, and Yuri felt heat on his cheeks and was happy they were in relative darkness. “Come on,” he said, grabbing Otabek’s hand and dragging him back outside. To his own surprise, he didn’t let go when they emerged on the fortress grounds. Who knew them here, anyway? And who’d have time to come sniff them both out as alphas?

Otabek was smiling the smallest of smiles, corner of his mouth upturned. His bad mood seemed gone, and he had the mercy to concede that they could take the ferry back now. Yuri kept babbling about the weather, out of all stupid things, but he’d never held anyone’s hand before, and it was making him self-conscious. He was relieved when they got to the ferry and had to let go to find their tickets.

Still, Yuri couldn’t help the urge of standing in Beka’s space on the boat, feeling a magnetic pull that he was too weak to fight. Otabek was looking up the fastest route back on his phone, talking about petrol consumption, thumbing the phone with one hand, and it was the most fascinating piece of conversation he’d heard all day, it felt like. Yuri was unsettled, not sure what to make of his own hunger for Otabek. Had it been the kiss? God, it’d been a good kiss. And Otabek smirked at him like he knew. Bastard.

In the car park, they put helmets on and Yuri settled on the bike behind Otabek. “Pose,” Beka ordered, holding his phone at arm’s length, and Yuri raised a questioning eyebrow at the camera for the selfie. Beka tapped on his phone and then turned the bike on for the ride home. Yuri held onto him, and the hot day felt cooler as they drove back towards St. Petersburg.

Yuri didn’t check his phone until later, when they were back and Beka was having a shower while he lounged on the couch, Potya purring in his lap. There they were, both with their helmets on, visors open, Yuri sat behind Beka on the bike: Great day out #explore #wanderlust. The post was boring, they didn’t look that great, and Beka hadn’t even carried on the joke, but his stomach lurched and he couldn’t help the smile that emerged on his lips. One comment insisted that they could not even!!

When Beka came out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his well-toned waist, he asked, “What are you smiling about?”

It was teasing and warm, and Yuri found it hard to swallow as he quickly put his phone away and said, “Nothing.”

His heart was thudding in his chest, and he felt young and stupid, which irritated him. It was just Otabek, and they may have been fucking around, but so did plenty of other people without it ever meaning anything, and besides, he’d known the other for years and years now. His presence was hardly something to get worked up about.

Otabek re-emerged in a t-shirt and pyjama bottoms and asked, “You want a foot rub?”

He perked up. The answer was yes – yes he did.

And so Yuri sprawled on the couch, limbless, feet in Beka’s lap, while Beka patiently massaged the aches of practice away with a focused look on his face. Beka was a good masseuse and they had done this before during competitions – Beka never seemed to mind, and Yuri loved it. If anything, he was relieved that Otabek seemed to be back to normal and wasn’t glaring at him anymore, and he told himself that the tension between them – sexual? But they were fucking, so – was purely in his imagination.

Yuri wasn’t as tired right then as he often was after practice, so he talked to Beka about his theory of how and why avocados were overrated, the other nodding and humming, and Beka was so pretty sat there in his pyjamas, hair still shower wet – had he always been this pretty? – and so soft-looking somehow, and Yuri idly thought that he should always make sure Otabek was safe and clothed and fed, and then he went on Facebook to find that cat meme that Otabek just had to see, and as he did so he did a double take.

“Oh,” he commented, and Otabek hummed in question.

Facebook was showing him an update of Chris Giacometti has bonded with Sebastian Guillot, which had four hundred likes and loves already from the pair’s unnecessary number of friends. Facebook asked if he’d like to view the couple’s friendship history or congratulate them.

“Chris and his boyfriend have bonded,” he said, not able to keep the surprise out of his tone. Chris had retired a year earlier and was finally finishing an abandoned journalism degree and had also begun commentating for a sports channel in France, last he’d heard. Bonding was probably good for an overtly sexual omega like Chris – maybe it’d help him rein it in a little.

Otabek briefly stopped the administrations to Yuri’s feet, but Yuri wriggled his toes demandingly, and Otabek resumed the massage. “Well, they’ve been together for years,” Beka noted.

“And what else is retirement for, I guess,” Yuri agreed, and when he checked Instagram there was Chris already in a shirtless poolside selfie, twinkling green eyes full of mischief, head tilted to the side to show a fresh bond mark where his neck met his shoulder. Hours old, maybe? Pretty shameless. At least Katsudon had sheepishly kept hiding his bond mark under turtlenecks and scarfs for the first month or so, no matter how dramatically Viktor had pouted – cultural differences, as the Japanese thought it uncouth to show off a fresh mark. The media had gone crazy trying to establish whether Yuuri Katsuki had been marked or had just developed a fixation for scarfs. The Swiss, apparently, had no chill at all when it came to these things. Chris and Sebastian were now probably planning a wedding – most people did. Some paperwork and a ceremony ensured, after all, that the two people were actually aware of the commitment they were entering.

“You know my friends Dana and Arina bonded last month,” Beka said, thumbs pressing to the centre of his left foot with practiced movements. “They just showed up to a party with marks on their necks. They’ve, um, only been together six months, so we were a bit surprised, but… when you know, you know, they said. They’d been, uh… friends for a long time, and… they’re both betas, you’ve met –”

“Ungh, the old man’s obnoxious,” he interrupted. v-nikiforov had commented to Chris’s Instagram shot with: OMG! Congrats from our lil Shiori! Yuri rolled his eyes – the news was about Chris, but Viktor still managed to make it about their little bundle of joy. Jesus! He showed it to Otabek, who read the comment but then just shrugged. “Not everything’s about the baby,” Yuri pointed out.

“True, but right now most things are about the baby – for Viktor and Yuuri.”

“Even so! Next thing we know Chris is gonna be knocked up,” he realised. JJ had done it too – retired (due to an injury, mind, rather than his age like Chris), married, and sired those godawful baby twins within a matter of months.

“That’d be nice.”

He lowered his phone to look at Beka in disbelief. “Nice? Chris Giacometti knocked up?”

Beka stared at the feet in his lap and shrugged. “You know what I mean. Chris always smelled, you know. Uh.” Was that a blush on Beka’s cheeks?! “Fertile, I guess. His, er, hips… I mean, you know, he just seems like an omega who would make a good parent.”

The worst part of it was that Yuri did know: Chris swayed his hips like a mating call, and even Yuri wasn’t blind to the primitive insinuation of child-bearing physique, not that he ever would have been interested in a grizzly Swiss omega ten years his senior. Still, he had noticed that Chris looked and smelled rather like most alphas’ wet dreams, but he’d certainly never admitted it to anyone, and right then he was rather pissed off that Otabek had taken time to notice Chris’s omega appeal as well. Was Beka jealous that Chris had been claimed at last? Chris was much too old for him!

“Well, I’m sure he’ll be married and pregnant before the year is out,” he grumbled and pulled his feet from Beka’s lap.

“I’m not done,” Beka said, making a move to grab Yuri’s ankle.

“You are,” he said without preamble. Otabek looked surprised, but Yuri averted his gaze, a sour taste suddenly filling his mouth. The entire day seemed to vanish right then: from their disgruntled silence to them finally laughing it off at the fortress, flirtatious glances passing between them, and the annoyingly intense kiss, and their few minutes of hand-holding, and Yuri somehow knowing they were okay again without them having to talk about it. He was back to square one. “I’m going to bed.”

“Yuri, it’s nine thirty,” Beka called after him and was ignored.

Once under the covers, he moodily stared at the wall. He was angry, but he wasn’t sure why. No, he did know! Because Beka could be such a fucking alpha at times, even if Yuri himself said so – it pissed him right off. Beka had a crush on Chris of all people because of his – his omegan scent and round ass? So predictable, so boring.

Stupid fucking teddy bear that Beka had sent Viktor and Katsudon, and stupid Shiori and the way Beka had held her with a soft smile, and stupid fucking Facebook notification with its bonded Chris that ruined a perfectly good evening, and stupid fucking Viktor saying that Otabek would make a great dad to some omega’s spawn one day, and stupid Otabek for saying, “I hope so.”

He was still awake when the door was pushed open shortly after midnight, but no one stepped in. Alarmed by the thought that Beka might be going to the guest room to sleep, he said, “You gonna come in or what?”

A pause followed during which Yuri held his breath, and then Beka’s footsteps entered.

Beka slipped under the covers, but made no move to move closer, and neither did Yuri want him to. Not really.

But he still woke up to Beka using his chest as a pillow, and in the morning bleariness, with Beka’s musky scent close to him, he thought mine. All mine.

He got out of bed before Otabek could wake up to him staring at him in slight wonder.

* * *

Lilia kept Yuri at the dance studio for a gruelling six hours, berating him every step of the way. “What is that Nikiforov doing with you? Your posture is awful!” she complained. “Does Viktor make sure you warm up properly? And do you stretch every night?”

“He’s still on paternity leave,” he began to explain.

Lilia threw up her hands. “This is why Yakov and I never had children! They are a distraction!”

Yuri knew her well enough not to argue. Both Lilia and Viktor agreed that nothing could be more beneficial for him than a core of strict ballet instruction, and so he still saw Lilia regularly. After having lived with her, too, she was like the tough grandmother he had never asked for – and when she was brutally hard on him, he knew (deep down, somewhere, beneath his attitude and annoyance) that he would thank her later when he saw his presentation score.

Right then, however, he would rather have been with Otabek at the gym, from where Otabek posted a selfie of flexing a bicep in front of a mirror with #nopainogain. Yuri rolled his eyes, even if his gaze lingered – Beka looked good. He also thought he recognised a black-haired man in the background, but his back was to the mirror so he wasn’t sure.

When Lilia finally let him go, he ached in places that had not ached in weeks. He showered quickly, pulled on sweat pants and a tank top that covered a bruise Beka had left on his stomach, his still wet hair quickly tied up to a bun. He was rolling his shoulders, dangling his training bag on one shoulder, and hoping to get a massage out of Beka later, as he made his way out of the dance complex. He was heading for the stairs when he heard his name called.

He turned to see Sofia’s friend Lucian beaming at him with all of his half-French dancer’s charm, catching up with him quickly.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Lucian beamed, and then added, “I just finished a pole dancing class. Extracurricular but very fun.” Lucian looked just about as glorious in the post-class glow as Yuri did – face flushed with exertion. Even so, the man had an inviting smile on his lips, and Yuri had to give Lucian points for confidence. He wondered if Viktor and Yuuri were aware of the pole dancing classes – sounded like their kind of thing, the freaks.

Lucian quizzed him as they headed out together: had he been with Lilia? Was she as tough as everyone said she was? How often did he have classes with her? Why hadn’t he come out with them the weekend before?

“I was hanging out with my friend,” he said as they crossed the lobby.

“Oh, that hot Kazakh alpha from your Instagram?” Lucian asked, and Yuri had to suppress a low snarl that almost escaped his throat, unbeckoned. But even as he managed to control himself, he felt hairs at the back of his neck prick up. He figured he should have known Lucian was following his social media accounts (he was not following Lucian back), but he did not appreciate the comments on Beka’s looks. “I saw that you guys went clubbing a while back – you should have joined us!” But Yuri disagreed: he’d wanted Beka all to himself. “Does he have one of those sexy Kazakh accents?”

“He’s the best figure skater in Kazakhstan,” he said in response, annoyed, even if he wholly thought that Otabek’s accent was bone-melting. “He’s a world champion medallist.”

Lucian smiled. “Yes, but is he single?”

Yuri nearly walked into the revolving doors of the building, his abrupt stop indicating to Lucian a gentlemanly ‘no, you go first’, which he did. Yuri followed him out, mouth pursed tight. He knew Beka’s dating history well – of course he did. Shortly after they’d become friends, Beka had started dating a school friend of his, Azat, an annoyingly smiley omega whose appeal Yuri had never understood. Azat had loved house and techno and raving, however, which Beka also enjoyed, even if otherwise he seemed too basic for someone like Beka. They’d dated for a year and a half until Otabek had called it quits, citing his busy schedule. Azat had been dating someone else a few months later, but if Beka had been upset about it, he’d kept it to himself.

That had been a few years ago: Beka hadn’t had a relationship since, although skating groupies had certainly tried, and at every banquet someone threw themselves at Otabek. (Like Mila, for instance – Yuri had nearly ripped her head off for that, the first time she’d tried. She’d laughed it off, the hag.) But Otabek was like Yuri: dedicated to the craft of their sport, with no time or interest to be chasing after omegas or betas.

Besides, some video footage on Beka’s phone showed that they were more than capable of making sure all of their needs were met without having to start dating. Who needed an omega to court when they could just fuck each other without all the faff or courting otherwise involved.

But technically… technically Otabek Altin was single. Otabek Altin was currently also outside the dance studios, leaning against his rental motorbike and waiting for him, just like he’d promised. He was wearing black jeans, a black tank top, and sunglasses. The day was sunny but breezy, and a few strands of hair moved across Beka’s forehead, black as ink, his undercut recently trimmed. He was gorgeous. He nodded as a hello from where he was waiting. Yes, he was single, and Yuri felt anger swirling in his guts.

“I think he’s seeing someone,” Yuri heard himself say to Lucian, who was gazing over at Otabek curiously. “Someone back home,” he heard himself add.

“What a shame,” Lucian said but then shrugged. “Well, at least there’s still you.”

“Eh?!” he exclaimed, but Lucian laughed, already heading down the street with a “see you later!”

Yuri stared after him, torn: was he annoyed that Lucian was being pushy about Beka or that Lucian wasn’t even trying to hide his flirting anymore? He skulked over to Beka, happy to see him after a day spent apart. He’d missed him – that was ridiculous, surely, that he’d missed Beka, so he only greeted the other with a nod. Was it somehow ridiculous that he felt Beka’s absence more sharply now than he had a few days earlier? Yuri wanted them alone, naked, and not necessarily having sex, but just… close. He wanted them close, all the time lately, he wanted his scent to linger on Beka’s skin, and he kept thinking of the bruises his hands had left on Otabek’s hips, and pleasure curled up in him when he did so, and just the sight of Beka had his heart drumming faster. Beka offered him his helmet, and he automatically took it.

Beka’s gaze remained fixed somewhere over his shoulder. “What did he want?”

“Who? Oh, that guy. Nothing.”

“Must’ve been something,” Otabek argued, and Yuri shrugged – he’d be damned if he’d say that Lucian had been asking about Otabek’s love life. Beka seemed to hesitate before adding, “He’s a friend of yours, right? He was in those clubbing pictures from last month.”

“Wha – You saw those?” he asked in wonder, thinking back to the shots that Yuri’s Angels had unearthed from Lucian’s Instagram from the night Shiori was born.

Otabek frowned and looked away. “In passing. What’s his name again?”

“Lucian,” he said, starting to feel unnerved. Was Otabek interested? Wanting to change the subject, he said, “Hey, was Piggy at the gym today? I thought I saw him in one of your pictures.”

“Oh yeah, he was,” Beka confirmed, now putting his helmet on. “Apparently he’s trying to get back to his pre-pregnancy weight. Reminds me, I promised Yuuri we’d babysit for them this week.” Beka straddled the bike and patted behind himself in a ‘come on’ motion.

Yuri was still staring at him. “You what?”

* * *

In his future biography, entitled Going for the Gold: the Yuri Plisetsky Story, he had no doubt that the time he babysat Shiori Katsuki-Nikiforova would come across as an endearing, brief interlude mentioned in a half-sentence somewhere, but the ordeal felt much, much longer than that.

The reality was this: Viktor and Yuuri were utterly irresponsible parents who had a wedding to attend, but were considering not going for the sake of their one-month-old daughter. Otabek Altin, the Hero of Kazakhstan, had swooped in and said the parents must go! Viktor’s old school friend Vladimir (of whom Yuri had never even fucking heard of) would only marry his second wife once! Yuuri and Viktor had hesitated, but Otabek had been quite insistent – he had plenty of experience with babies, after all, thanks to rearing several younger cousins. “Besides, Yuri will help me.”

And so Yuri found himself witness to a pro-longed farce on Friday morning (a Friday wedding – really?) as Yuuri and Viktor fussed with their suits, tried to find the right ties with Viktor insisting that the two of them match, and then they fretted over Shiori, nervously double and tripled checking that Yuri and Otabek had their numbers, and reminded them that they could come home in half an hour in case of an emergency, just call, and them all agreeing that Yuri and Beka would send them an update on Shiori once an hour, and Yuuri apologising that they’d never gotten around to inviting Otabek for dinner.

“Oh god,” two-time world gold medallist Yuuri Katsuki, the Ace of Japan, moaned, looking more distraught than Yuri had ever seen him in competition. “Will Shiori definitely be okay?”

She was a month old! She understood nothing. Yuri could genuinely put her in a cardboard box for five hours and she’d be none the worse off for it (probably). But Beka continued to reassure the father that his daughter would be just fine.

Yuuri kept fretting, now to Viktor. “I haven’t been anywhere in months, and my Russian is rusty again. You’ll have to translate the speeches for me. I hate everyone laughing along when I don’t understand!”

“Of course I will,” Viktor said, fixing his husband’s cufflinks, torn between nervousness over leaving their kid and puppy-like enthusiasm of having a date with his husband. “I’ll whisper into your ear all day, darling.”

Vitya,” Yuuri chastised, but Viktor only looked pleased with himself. “God, are you sure Shiori will be okay?”

Yuri was getting annoyed at this stage, arms crossed as he watched the parents. “She’ll be fine – just leave already!”

For the umpteenth time, Viktor said, “We have to stay at least until the first dance and cake, but we’ll rush home straight after.”

“Take your time,” Otabek said.

Yuri tried to appreciate that the parents had never left their child with anyone else before (apart from, hello, the vending machine), but all Shiori did was drool, sleep and poop, so Yuri hardly thought that he was faced with an insurmountable challenge.

He was wrong.

Asleep, with her tuff of black hair and chubby cheeks, Viktor’s nose and Yuuri’s round face, Shiori looked precious and innocent. Awake, she was a goddamn hell monster.

The first two hours were fine. The baby slept, he and Beka made lunch, and he forced Beka to partake in a ‘Which Disney princess are you?’ Buzzfeed quiz (for the record, Otabek was Cinderella, and he was Tiana – he was happy with his because at least Tiana understood the value of hard work). But then Shiori woke up and, somehow, seemed to realise that her parents weren’t present.

That was when the crying began.

She wailed, she sobbed, she screeched. Who knew something so tiny could have such a big set of lungs?!

Beka tried to soothe her, gently cradling her in his arms as they stood in the nursery, Yuri covering his ears and shouting, “She’s as big of a drama queen as Viktor is, for god’s sake!”

“Indoor voices, Yuri!” Beka chastised him, trying to coo at Shiori who clearly did not want to be cooed at. Her little mouth was wide open in an angry wail, the air in her lungs barely enough to keep the volume going, but she managed it. They tried to offer her the dummy, but she had no interest in suckling it.

This carried on for well over half an hour, during which they took panicked turns in holding her and trying to calm her down. Yuri said they should just call Yuuri and Viktor and say that the charade was over, their demon spawn wouldn’t shut the hell up and was not fit for the world, but Beka told him to hold the baby, rushed out of the nursery, and came back having pulled on a grey sweatshirt that Yuri was pretty sure belonged to Katsudon as it looked too small for Otabek.

“Right, give her back,” Beka said, and Yuri was rather surprised when it worked: Beka held Shiori close, rocking her slowly, and as Shiori was snuggled into the scent of Yuuri, foolish baby that she was, she went quiet at last. She even let out a small “blermph” noise that seemed to say “I am content with this, peasants.”

“Mmm,” Beka said thoughtfully, “she’s a clever one, recognising their scents already. That’s pretty advanced for someone her age. We shouldn’t take it personally.”

“I wasn’t,” he insisted.

Shiori kept her beady eyes on Beka, who gently brushed one of her chubby cheeks with his forefinger. “Aw, I bet she’s confused that I smell like her Papa but I look and sound different. Is that what it is, little one? Huh?” He bounced her carefully. “Goodness, look at you! You’re such a lovely little girl, aren’t you? Yes, you are!” Beka insisted warmly, and Yuri felt heat prickling down his neck. Beka smiled at him. “You know, I really love how babies smell. Don’t you?”

He fidgeted. To him, the baby only smelled like Viktor, and under that Yuuri. It made sense: like any alpha, Viktor wanted to make sure that his claim of his child was clear to all. Truthfully, Shiori was the only baby he’d ever held so it was hard to compare her scent to any others. All of his four cousins were older than him, and none of his friends had (thankfully) started breeding yet. Babies. What the hell did you do with them anyway? Shiori had been around for over a month but she couldn’t even walk or talk yet. Useless! What was she waiting around for?! How long did that stuff take?!

Beka then sniffed the air and rolled his eyes. “Shiori, was that you? It was, wasn’t it?” Beka sighed. “She needs a change. Hold her for a minute.”

And before he could protest, he was holding a baby that had pooped herself. Shiori stared at him, confused, and he gripped her from her sides, dangling her in the air in front of him, rather disgusted. Her little legs hung in the air, and she just blinked at him, gaze void of comprehension, and she better not dripple on him or there’d be hell to pay! He didn’t care how fucking cute she was!

Beka took her back once he had found what he needed from the drawers of the changing table, carefully laying Shiori down on the top, talking to her gently. As Beka began to work on the buttons of the jumpsuit, Yuri said he’d be in the living room. How embarrassing to be a baby! Everyone saw you naked! And wiped your butt! Did Otabek not realise he was volunteering to deal with another person’s shit?

Yuri was torn between disgust, bewilderment and annoyance, until the annoyance won out. Beka was clearly enjoying every second of this damned babysitting nightmare.

He curled up on the couch, a disappointed throb in his guts. There were times when he’d let himself think that he and Otabek – but no, never mind. Never mind.

Beka eventually joined him, saying that Shiori was now successfully asleep. Yuri knew this: the baby monitor had transmitted Beka’s attempts at singing Shiori asleep in Kazakh, and he hadn’t found it endearing at all, god no, it’d been annoying as hell. Beka had left Yuuri’s shirt with her for comfort, too, and was now back in his own t-shirt.

“Crisis averted?” Yuri asked, and Beka agreed. “You washed your hands?”

“She’s just a baby,” Beka exclaimed with a roll of his eyes. “But yes, I did. By the state of your house I wouldn’t take you for a germaphobe.”

“Oi!” he protested, and Beka flashed a cheeky grin at him, but Yuri found it hard to smile back this time.

The TV offered them a soap opera where Stanislav was declaring that he could not be the father of Anya’s child because he was, in fact, an omega, and Yuri wondered where the time had gone – not that day because the day was long, but he meant the last couple of weeks. Beka was leaving in just two days when he’d only just gotten there. Beka also now smelled like the baby, and Yuri frowned.

“I never knew you liked kids so much,” he admitted.

“Yeah, I guess I do. Don’t you?”

“Er…”

His phone chimed, as did Beka’s. Being offered a distraction, he looked at the alert from Instagram. v-nikiforov had uploaded a shot of himself and Yuuri at the wedding, in their suits and matching ties. Someone else had taken the shot: Viktor had an arm around Yuuri’s waist, pulling him close with an alpha’s clear gesture of possession, and Yuuri was beaming at the camera with a champagne flute in his hand. Drinking already? That did not bode well… But the two of them looked happy, even if he gritted his teeth angrily at the text of: In the mood for love! #summerwedding #vladandmaria (Thanks @otabek-altin and @yuri_plisetsky for babysitting!)

“Great, now Yuri’s Angels will be badgering me for more pictures with Shiori,” he complained angrily, even if he was grateful there was none of that uncle – Aaahh, there it was, in the comments, from username yurisfuturehubby: #UncleYurio is my absolute fave!

“So what?” Beka asked easily from beside him while on TV Stanislav explained that his identical twin brother was a beta and the likely real father. “She’s a cute baby, and you’re cute holding her.” Beka was already putting his phone away, but Yuri rose up to the challenge.

“I don’t like babies. I don’t like children.”

Otabek turned to look at him, seemingly amused. “Okay, if you believe that.”

“I do,” he said. He wanted to add: I don’t want children, but somehow the words got stuck in his throat.

“You just haven’t been around babies much,” Otabek said, seeming to think he needed reassurance. “Once you get used to Shiori more, you’ll see. And you will, I mean. Viktor’s not a person who excels in keeping his private and professional lives separate, at least not since Yuuri came along.” Beka looked towards the nursery door briefly – the baby monitor on the coffee table remained quiet.

“And you want kids,” he stated. It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah – four or five should do,” Beka grinned, then he grabbed the remote and said they should find something else to watch, but Yuri said nothing. Beka wanted the same things that Viktor wouldn’t shut the fuck up about: a pregnant mate curled to his side, some pretty omega with childrearing hips, probably preceded by a traditional Kazakh mosque wedding…

It was fine. Whatever. Beka could do whatever the hell he wanted.

Beka quirked an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“Nothing,” he said and ignored the questioning look the other gave him.

They took a picture of a sleeping Shiori on the hour, sent it to the parents (and received heart-eyed emojis from Viktor in response), made coffee, and talked figure skating by the kitchen table. Otabek made a half-hearted attempt at footsie, which Yuri promptly shut down with a sharp glare. Otabek shrugged, but smiled anyway.

Shiori woke up and appeared to be hungry, and they found another worn jumper in the bedroom – this time Viktor’s, striped white and blue – and Beka pulled it on before holding Shiori gently in his lap, feeding her from the bottle. Her mouth latched on hungrily, and she looked happy enough being fed. Beka burped her afterwards, resting her against his upper body, a cloth from the nursery over his shoulder to protect the jumper. He rocked her, hand cradling her head, and Beka made it look so easy, he really did. Worse than that, Beka looked like a natural. Well, why wouldn’t he? A baby of his own – or five – was what he wanted in life.

Yuri sent another update to Yuuri and Viktor with Still alive. For now.

He felt out of place at Yuuri and Viktor’s apartment, while Otabek appeared to be right at home. When had Yuri been pushed outside?

Yuri had never thought about having a family. He was still young – a hormonal and nesting omega like Yuuri and a matured alpha clearly intent on breeding like Viktor belonged to a world far away from him. He’d never thought about it, because any kind of scenario of him starting a family took place away from figure skating. People like JJ and Chris were proof of that: retire, and then do the family stuff. Katsudon was proof of it: retire because of the family stuff.

And Yuri could not picture his life without skating. As such, he could not picture a family, or wanting to breed an omega, or being a father.

Why could Otabek see it – himself with a family – when Yuri did not even know where to begin? Was figure skating something Otabek was just killing time with until his life could ‘properly’ begin, like one of those fuckers who won one medal and retired, who didn’t live and breathe for their sport?!

The last thought was petty, he knew. Beka loved their sport. Beka was one of the most dedicated people he knew!

But Yuri could not help the lump in his throat, nor could he swallow it down.

Viktor and Yuuri came back earlier than they’d said, but in rather a state: their suits were wrinkly, jackets unbuttoned, and they were all over each other. Yuuri insisted he’d only had three flutes of champagne, but Viktor said, “No, honey, you had three different kinds of champagne, and rather lots of each.”

Yuuri’s eyes went wide. “Aaah, that explains it! Mmm, it was so bubbly. I haven’t had a drink in ages, you know, because I was pregnant – did you know I was pregnant?”

“Yes, darling, I did notice,” Viktor beamed, awfully handsy with his mate. “And you looked absolutely breath-taking when you were.”

Yuri figured they should leave before Yuuri ended up pregnant again.

They gathered their things and put on their shoes while the parents checked up on the sleeping baby, Yuuri enthusing when they came out the nursery: “ – and, like, how is she real, do you ever think about this? Do you? I mean, isn’t it amazing she is real?”

“If there were Olympics for babies, she’d win,” Viktor said seriously.

Yuuri got excited. “Oh, do you think there are? Because she would win! She absolutely would!”

Yuri could only shake his head and roll his eyes.

They said goodnight, and Otabek drove them home. Once there, Otabek started fussing with Instagram, wanting to post a selfie he’d taken of him holding Shiori. “Yuuri and Viktor said it’d be fine,” Beka said, trying to choose a filter. “God, she’s so cute in this. Or is this one better?”

And Yuri felt a bitterness unfamiliar to him settling in his chest as he realised that Otabek may have been there now, sitting on the edge of his bed, but that, ten, five, hell, maybe two years down the line, Otabek had no intention of being there anymore.

That they were heading down two different paths.

That thought had never occurred to Yuri before, either, and he found it hard to fall asleep.

* * *

Otabek didn’t want to go to the party, and he had half-convinced Yuri not to go either: yes, it was Sofia’s birthday and she’d be mad if he didn’t show, but it was also Beka’s last night in St. Petersburg, and wouldn’t it be nicer to just stay in?

He tried to weigh the odds against one another. Saying goodbye to Otabek had always kind of sucked, but it’d never hurt before, really. It’d been wistful, or a bit sad, but as Saturday afternoon rolled around, and they officially reached the timer of twenty-four hours until Beka’s flight home, for them not to see each other until – until Skate Canada in November, an anguished knot began to gnaw at Yuri’s insides, just a little at first. But it was as if a parasite had crawled into his guts because the anguish grew as the hours ticked by.

So at first it was very tempting not to go to the party, but to lounge on the living room couch with Beka, Potya napping on Beka’s lap, and Beka head in his lap, his hands absently brushing through Beka’s hair as they talked quietly about whatever was on their minds. And it was so tempting to stay that way because that was how the two of them had been, for years now, and Yuri didn’t want it change. Not then, not ever.

But then Oleg called and said, “I’ll be at your place in twenty minutes. Sofia’s orders – she told me to come get you.”

“Hang on,” he said, wanting to pass it through Beka, but then he stopped. He didn’t want Oleg to think he needed to pass things through Otabek to make decisions. Besides, they could stay in, alone, and with every passing moment the dread of Beka leaving would grow bigger, the parasite replacing the lightness that had followed him around for the weeks Otabek had been there. Or if they went out, then maybe – maybe it’d be easier, they’d have distractions, and he wouldn’t have to think about it. Making up his mind, he said, “God, fine, we’ll make an appearance.”

“We?” Oleg echoed over the line.

“Otabek and me,” he said in a ‘duh’ voice, glancing down at Beka.

It was only after the call had finished that he realised Oleg was on his way. Oleg could be a bit dim, but he wasn’t unobservant. “We should meet Oleg downstairs,” he said, “so we don’t have to move your stuff again.” It’d been annoying enough when Alexei had come by.

“Why did we move it again?” Beka asked.

“To make sure Alexei didn’t get the wrong idea.”

“And what’s the wrong idea?” Beka asked, tone flat, still petting the purring cat.

“That we’re sharing the bed,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Honestly, Beka, what do you think?”

“But isn’t that sort of the right idea?”

Yuri felt irritation ball up in him. What kind of a fucking game was this? “Look, Alexei would not have known how to keep his mouth shut, alright? I mean, everyone found out about the scent gift in two minutes flat – Christ, it was probably on the group WhatsApp before he left the building, and Oleg’s not much better. So let’s just meet him down there.”

Oleg and Otabek had met, somewhere, some time, briefly. The two exchanged hellos when they met by the doors, and Oleg started hyping up the party but insisted that they should go have a few drinks on the way first. Oleg was on scent neutralisers and as such did not smell like an omega, and for this Yuri was grateful, even though he knew Oleg was generally interested in alpha women, usually, and not men. Still, Otabek didn’t seem particularly picky with his omega interests if Chris Giacometti would do…

Soon they were in a bar, with a bartender pouring vodka and cranberry juice mixes for Yuri and Oleg, while Otabek had a beer. Now that Oleg was there, Yuri was getting into a party mood himself. This was a good idea! No point in moping around the house, the two of them, waiting for tomorrow to snatch Otabek away. And maybe this was the last time he and Otabek were like this when they were alone together. Maybe Otabek would soon find an omega or a beta for himself, and then he’d awkwardly tell Yuri ‘so listen, uh, I’ve met someone’, and Yuri would say fine, that was fine, and the alpha in him would growl and snarl and howl, but he’d say fine, and the thought of it made being with Otabek hurt.

So it was best not to think about it, about Otabek and him. Once they sat down with their drinks, Yuri raised his and said, “Well, here’s to tonight!”

“Right on,” Oleg laughed, and to his surprise Beka responded with, “Let’s get drunk, then.”

Oleg laughed. “That’s the spirit!”

Yuri stalled before shrugging it off. First Beka didn’t want to go, then he did… God, could he just make up his mind?

They got to the party late because Oleg had insisted on further liquid encouragement, so they stopped in two more bars along the way. Otabek had refused the shots, while Yuri and Oleg had started the night strong. If he was forced to go to Sofia’s, he might as well enjoy it, he figured. And in less than twenty-four hours, much less than that, he’d be home alone, just him and Potya, and the thought seemed maddening, so he kept drinking.

Sofia’s flat was full of guests when they got there – people in the kitchen, living room, balcony, chattering voices everywhere. It was a student flatshare in a student neighbourhood, so the spaces were crammed and the liquor was cheap. Sofia shared with two betas from the Fine Arts Academy, and the art on the walls looked like it’d been made by one of them, too. Oleg was screening the place for their friends, while Yuri took Beka to the birthday girl to say hello, to prove that they were indeed there, and that she could stop being dramatic about him bailing on her now.

“Well you can’t blame me for thinking you wouldn’t show,” Sofia complained, a glass of wine in her hand. “I have barely heard from you since your friend got here! Did the ground swallow you whole?”

“We’ve been busy,” he said defensively. He tugged Beka from the elbow. “Beka, let’s mingle.”

There wasn’t much ‘mingling’ at this party, however: people were doing shots of vodka in the kitchen, while in the living room others had pushed the couch back to create a small dance floor. The gnawing was still in his guts, having moved up under his chest, but he found that focusing on the party helped with it. He didn’t have to think about Otabek leaving if he was chatting to people, downing his drink, talking bullshit.

So he did.

Lucian was there, friendly as he came over, but Yuri couldn’t help but grit his teeth when Lucian introduced himself to Otabek. “Yuri was right,” Lucian beamed, “you do have a sexy accent.”

Otabek looked uncharacteristically flustered, and Yuri wanted to step between the beta and Otabek and growl. He controlled himself, however, and said, “Well, you sometimes sound a bit French – also quite cute.”

And, magically, he had Lucian’s full attention. Good. He’d be damned if he’d stand there watching Lucian flirting with Otabek. He’d be damned if he let those two hit it off! There were lines and borders one should not cross.

Five minutes into their conversation, Lucian said, “I am definitely more flexible than you,” to which Yuri replied, “Oh, you think? Bring it, bitch.”

This was a rude thing to say, of course, but the game was on. Oleg cleared space in the kitchen, calling out that it was a dancer versus skater show down, and Lucian dramatically tossed his brown curls to the side before lowering himself to a forward split. Someone ‘ooh’ed – Yuri scoffed.

“Are we going to make this hard, at least?” he asked, pulling a chair in front of him, lowering himself down to a forward split, and then lifting his front leg up onto the chair in an oversplit. He earned some applause for that. Then Lucian mimicked him when someone brought over a chair, and Yuri shrugged, still in his oversplit, and bent backwards until the back of his head touched the back of his knee. Without having done a proper warm up, he knew he’d ache the next day – but he’d been challenged, and no one, no one, was more flexible than he was.

“He’s like a human serpent,” someone voiced, awed.

“Okay,” Lucian admitted, “that one you can do, but what about this?”

Yuri was unsure of how long the kitchen gymnastics lasted for – especially since Oleg turned it into a drinking competition, with shots taken between each new pose. By the time he had established himself as more flexible than the beta, he was very drunk and also realised that he didn’t know where Otabek was. He’d assumed Otabek had been in the audience, cheering him on – he wasn’t.

Beka was in the living room, sitting on the couch with Sofia, of all people, and the two appeared deep in conversation. When he tried to interrupt, he was dismissed by Sofia with, “Not now, Yuri, we’re talking Central Asian politics.” God, Sofia did one politics course at university and she thought herself to be a special correspondent!

“Beka?” he asked, a bit hazily. Beka was holding a beer, but Yuri could tell that he was still sober. That made one of them.

“We’re in the middle of something,” Beka said in monotone. Yuri took a faltering step back: the ‘get away’ couldn’t have been clearer. Beka wouldn’t even look at him! Was this how it started? Was this it?! Otabek sat there, murmuring who knew what to a pretty beta like Sofia. Give it a few more hours, and Yuri would have been long forgotten.

“Okay, fine,” he spat, and Beka’s fingers curled tightly around the beer bottle. It was Beka’s last night, and if Beka didn’t want to hang out with him, then fine! Alexei was there, anyway, dragging him to the kitchen where all the action was, supposedly. He drank some more, furious. In the middle of something? Central Asian politics?!

Some ten of them were sat around the kitchen table now, an empty wine bottle in the middle of it. It was pointing at him. “Truth or dare, Mr. Silver?” Oleg nearly howled in mischievous laughter. Silver. Silver! He’d fucking show them! He said truth.

Oleg said, “How many figure skaters have you slept with?”

He scoffed. “Two. Do I spin it now?” His mind was back in the living room, with Beka and Sofia. He wasn’t sure what time it was anymore – eleven? Midnight? Was it already the day when Beka would leave? It was mid-August. How many months until November, until Skate Canada? Almost three full months. Three whole…

“Truth or dare?” someone asked him again, and he said another truth. “You ever fucked a fan?”

“No!” he said, disgusted, and some people laughed.

Alexei said, “Not even your omega friend from Vladivostok?”

“Fuck off!” he growled. “What’s this obsession with my sex life, anyway? God.” He spun the bottle, and it landed on Lucian. “Ah, truth or dare?”

“Dare,” the other purred.

Someone kicked his leg under the table. He looked at the culprit and saw Alexei staring at him. “Errr, kiss Alexei?” he offered, and Alexei broke into a grin. No one could blame Yuri for not being a good friend. Lucian leaned over and pecked Alexei on the cheek.

“What, is that it?” Alexei asked.

“Yuri only told me to kiss you – I did.” People laughed, and Alexei pouted. Lucian spun the bottle, and it landed back on Yuri again because Lucian grabbed it mid-spin, clearly cheating. People let out scandalised ‘ooooh’s. “Truth or dare?”

“Tru –” he began to say, but Lucian shook his head. “Fine, whatever. Dare.” Revenge time, he assumed.

“I dare you to kiss me,” Lucian grinned, and someone wolf whistled in the background. “With tongue,” Lucian added. God, it was exactly like skating camp when he’d been thirteen! The kitchen was full of people, some more appearing at the doorway.

He huffed. “Come here, then.”

Lucian made a big show of it – standing up and stretching, feline steps around the table. Yuri tilted his head up to meet Lucian’s lips, but Lucian sat on his lap, arms twisting around his shoulders, bottom resting on the tops of his thighs, and Yuri had to steady Lucian by slipping arms around his waist, and the beta smelled like himself and whisky, which was all he got to register before their mouths met. More whistling and laughing from the room, but Lucian was kissing him deeply, without a care in the world, all wet tongue and hot touch. Yuri kissed back, mind foggy – that was good, that was nice. Lucian tilted his head, not breaking the kiss but deepening it further, and someone (Alexei?) called out a disgruntled “Oh, come on!” as their tongues moved together, Lucian’s hands in his hair.

The kiss only broke when they needed to come up for air. Lucian was a good kisser – no denying that. A few people clapped – somewhere a door slammed shut. Yuri wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Happy now?”

“Getting there,” Lucian winked and got out of his lap. People were teasing them, and Yuri only rolled his eyes. Exactly like skating camp! He finished his beer, washing the beta’s taste away, but then realised he was at that level of drunk where he needed water.

He let someone else take his place, managed to pour himself water from the tap, and was sipping on his glass as he went back to the living room to collect Beka from Sofia’s politics and tell him he was ready to go home now. Enough of this party, these people – he wanted to be home, in bed, just the two of them.

He spotted neither Otabek or Sofia, but then caught sight of the latter out on the balcony, smoking with a few others. “Where’s Otabek?” he asked her from the doorway, and she turned to look at him, amused.

“Left. How’s Lucian?”

“Wh – What do you mean he left. Left where?”

“That’s all he said! ‘I’m leaving’,” she intoned with quotation marks in the air. “Stormed out, more like. He’s really grumpy, you know that? You want a smoke?”

But he didn’t, no. His brain tried to sort itself out: why would Beka leave without saying anything? He tried calling him, but there was no reply. He texted where are you? and followed it with ??? When this did not elicit a response, he tried calling again – this time straight to voicemail. Had Beka… switched off his phone?

He circled around one more time to make sure they weren’t simply missing each other, but the apartment wasn’t that big. He got himself a taxi home, trying to sober up some. He recapped the events in his head: they’d arrived together, he’d been drinking a lot, there’d been the flex-off, Beka had – talked to Sofia for a long time, he’d drunk some more, then the silly games, and then no Beka?

But Otabek never just left like that, not without telling him. If Otabek wasn’t at home, then Yuri was out of ideas, and St. Petersburg was a city of millions – who knew where Otabek would be, if he’d gone out. How was Yuri ever supposed to find him? And what kind of an alpha was he, not able to locate Otabek?!

He’d have to pack for Beka if the other was still out, he thought to himself as he fumbled with his keys outside the apartment.

He stilled walking in. First: relief. Beka was there, he could smell him. Second: the opposite of relief, as the air felt thick enough to be cut with a knife. He walked in further, slowly.

Otabek was standing by the couch, on which his suitcase lay, open and full, a mess of clothes in it. The other had been in the middle of packing, clearly. Otabek met his gaze, but his chest was heaving with uneven, fast breaths. It was one in the morning, the TV off screen told him.

“What are you doing?” Yuri asked, putting his keys down on the sidetable. The scent of the other alpha was almost overpowering, so strong that for a second Yuri thought that Beka had gone into a rut – but if that were the case, Beka would not be able to stand there, eerily quiet and calm. “You can pack in the morning,” he then said. There’d be plenty of time – why pack in the middle of the night?

He slid off his shoes, his balance wavering slightly, but he managed to stay upright. “You should’ve come grab me, if you wanted to leave,” he then offered. Beka said something – too quietly. “What?”

“I said I did,” Beka repeated, louder. “I did come for you. You seemed busy.”

“I wasn’t,” he said with a shake of the head, unable to suppress a yawn that fought through. “God, I need some water before we crash, and –”

It was only then that he noticed Beka’s hands: the knuckles were bloodied. He sobered up a little. “Did you get into a fight?” he asked in awe – that’d explain the heavy scent of alpha hormones in the air. He smelled the iron of blood too, then, and flinched: wounded. Otabek was wounded. He rushed over and grasped an injured hand, but Otabek recoiled from his touch. Recoiled! “Did you get mugged?!”

“No.”

“Then who the hell did you fight? Someone at the party?!”

Whose ass did Yuri have to kick to the fucking curb?!

Otabek seemed to hesitate, but his jaw remained clenched, his shoulders tense. “A wall,” he said, avoiding Yuri’s gaze.

“A… a wall…? What do you mean a wall?!” he gaped, uncomprehending. Did he have to go beat someone up or not? “Christ, we have to clean you up! What the hell were you –“

Beka let out a strangled snarl, composure seeming to break. Yuri shut up, surprised, and took a step back.

Otabek’s breaths were shallow, voice low and dangerous, as he asked, “Did you fuck him? Or just set a date for later?”

Yuri frowned. “…What? Who?!”

Dark fury seemed to cross Otabek’s features, his brown eyes appearing nearly black, and Yuri found himself shoved backwards, angrily, until his back hit the living room wall. Otabek was breathing fast now, both hands having grabbed the front of Yuri’s shirt. It was hard to swallow. “Don’t stand there and pretend you don’t know!”

But Yuri didn’t, he honestly didn’t!

“Is that what you do?” Otabek now growled. “You go to these parties, get drunk, and hook up with others? Is that what you do?” Beka shoved him back against the wall for good measure, each word hard and sharp, full of fury.

With Beka’s hands around his shirt, the injured knuckles were close, the skin bloodied and bruised. Yuri was torn between worry and indignation. “What? No, I –”

“All this time,” Beka kept going, spitting out each syllable as if it was painful, “have you been fucking others as well as me?”

“What others?!” he barked, his mind trying to catch up, but the puzzle pieces weren’t fitting together particularly well. “Would you let go of me?! What are you even mad about, what did I –”

Have you?

“Fuck no!” he barked and shoved Otabek back, but he only succeeded in making Otabek retreat one step, the other’s hold on him firm.

Beka swallowed, audibly, the clench of his fists on Yuri’s shirt loosening a little. One hand now moved up to the side of his face, and Beka stared into his eyes, searching for something. “Are you telling me the truth?”

There had been some lonely nights, but it had never crossed his mind to go looking for release with someone else. “Yes, I –”

Beka kissed him, which was good because words were difficult and came out wrong and got in the way. Beka kissed him desperately, like he was never going to let Yuri come up for air. His breath left him, arousal stirred, Beka’s scent almost overpowering.

He kissed back, yearning. This was so much simpler than talking, than figuring out who Beka was angry about, than trying to understand why Beka had had a go at a wall. God, this was better than talking, than thinking: what, some fifteen hours now until Beka’s flight? Fifteen hours, and he wished he wasn’t drunk, and he wished that Otabek wouldn’t seem so mad, or ask such banal fucking questions, when of course not, why would he; and he wished Otabek could stay, and he’d fortify his apartment, not let anyone else in ever, and then no one could tempt Otabek away, and Beka would forget about all that stupid shit like breeding and settling down, and Otabek would stay with him –

Kissing was easier than processing any of that.

Beka lifted him up like he weighed nothing, hands sliding under his behind, holding him up, and his legs circled Beka’s waist for leverage. He wrapped arms around Beka’s shoulders, melting into the kiss, letting the other carry him across the living room. He kissed back deeply, a burning need in his guts, and no matter how he tried to get air in between the kisses, he felt dizzy, one hand slipping into the short undercut of Beka’s hair – god, he loved the feel of it, like home, like something of his very own –

He landed on his bed when Beka dropped him, the mattress bouncing beneath him. The lights weren’t on, but the light of the summer moon was breaking in through the window. Beka was silhouetted by the bed, the shape of him dark but familiar, heaving. Yuri could smell the other’s arousal.

Beka grabbed his ankles and pulled him to the edge, before unzipping him and pulling his jeans off, the underwear too, movements rushed and rough. And then Beka was on top of him, mouth biting, sucking on his lower lip, and he groaned in appreciation. But when he tried to meet Otabek, to reciprocate – touch, caress, welcome him – Beka snatched his wrists and held them above his head. The kiss broke and they stared at each other in the dark. He felt the rapid thud of Beka’s heart against his chest, the other’s touch hot and rough in a way that felt unfamiliar, but was maddeningly erotic.

Beka held his wrists together in one hand, the other coming down to circle around his throat, applying just a little pressure – the sensation went straight to his groin, warmth curling up. “Don’t you ever kiss someone else again. Do you understand?”

Kiss? Someone else?

“Yes,” he breathed, a thrill running through him. Who had he kissed? When? All he knew was that Beka being mad about it had to be a good thing. “Beka,” he sighed, content and turned on as the other let his wrists go to pull his shirt over his head. He was now naked with Beka still dressed, and he tried to reach out to pull Beka into a kiss, but Beka moved down to bite at his chest – hard, bruising, and all Yuri could think of was how badly he wanted to be fucked right then.

Beka bit down by his belly button, and he buried his hands in Beka’s hair, thinking soft, god so soft, want his mouth, his hands, his cock – all of it, on me, in me… Beka’s hands snaked between his thighs and pushed them apart, and Yuri obeyed, letting himself be splayed out. The way Beka kissed him, even if rough, was so full of want that Yuri was drowning in it. Beka wasn’t going to give this up for some well-mannered omega, was he?

Otabek moved back up him, pressing down so that they were groin to groin, denim pressed to bare skin – both of them hard and wanting. Then two fingers were pressed to his lips with a husky command of “Suck.” Beka was looking down on him, lips swollen and red.

He opened his mouth willingly, keeping up eye contact as he took in two of Beka’s fingers, letting his tongue roll in between the digits. This hand – Beka’s right – was bruised more badly than the left, but Beka seemed indifferent to the damage. After, Yuri thought hazily, sucking on the fingers as if he would on Otabek’s cock, after they were sated he’d tend to Otabek and patch him up carefully.

Beka pulled the fingers out, hauled Yuri further down the bed, pushed his legs apart even further, and Yuri didn’t understand how Otabek could move so fast, and then he whined, back arching, as two fingers pushed into him. It was pathetic how much he wanted it, how much he enjoyed being manhandled by the other.

“Mmm, Beka…” he groaned, horny out of his mind. Beka crooked his fingers, the tips pressing against his prostate with practiced movements. His hips jerked, first away from the direct contact that sent sparks up and down his spine, and then back down to the touch against him, filling him with hot burning want. “Please,” he breathed and thought that he wasn’t too proud to beg. Not when it came to this one thing – and it was fine: had the tables been turned, he knew how to make Otabek beg, too.

Beka bit down on the V of his hips, over the hipbone where it hurt, and kept fucking him open with two fingers. Yuri’s cock throbbed, the mixture of pain and pleasure making his toes curl. God, he’d be bruised tomorrow, covered in marks that were the shape of Beka’s teeth…

Then the fingers were gone, all too soon and after teasing him only a little, leaving him needing more. Beka grabbed his waist and twisted him to the side, and he slipped around, now facing the mattress, moving onto his hands and knees. Beka reached for the night stand and got out lube from the top drawer, and Beka’s shirt joined his on the floor before he heard the zipper go down. He was trying to catch up, feeling soberer now than he had in hours, but still far from being clear-headed. His chest and stomach ached from the love bites, while his hole was neither wet or stretched enough to take Otabek yet.

But on that thought he felt cold sticky liquid drop onto his entrance, being pressed inside by two fingers. He bit his bottom lip, pushing his hips up to offer himself the best he could, chasing the point of connection – but again the fingers were gone, too soon, and then the familiar, blunt press of Beka’s cock was there, hot and unyielding. Not slow – forget slow. Beka pushed inside the second he’d aligned them up, and Yuri wondered how he could forget how big the other alpha was, how huge he was to take.

The slide wasn’t easy – it was rough, and Beka had to try twice before Yuri’s body cave in.

Ah,” he managed, his breath leaving him. Beka pushed in all the way, and everything throbbed.

Yuri’s head dropped down between his shoulders, his body on overdrive and trembling. The other was warm inside him, huge, and so hard, and they felt so good together, so –

Beka pulled back and thrust in again, harder. Yuri whimpered. “Give me a –”

Minute, he wanted to say, or slur, but Beka began fucking him, pounding into him hard. It wasn’t as wet as he’d have liked: the friction burned, a rough, scratchy scorch that had his toes curling of how good the pain felt. Tomorrow, he’d regret this tomorrow. Right then he wanted Beka to fuck him into the mattress just as they were: hard and fast, demanding.

Beka’s hand twisted in his hair, pulling his head back. It burned, his eyes watered, but he breathed through it, wanting. His fingers twisted in the sheets, the hard slam slam slam of their bodies filling the room. He groaned, whined, moaned, and Beka let out a stuttering breath of his own. “So good,” Yuri admitted, breathless.

“Yeah,” Beka rasped, pushing into him.

Beka let go of his hair, the strands messy, all over the place, and Beka’s hand moved to curl around his throat, nails digging in, applying pressure. The other hand was on his hip, holding him in place. His heart was thumping in his chest, sending soaring blood into his ears, and his mouth was dry, tasting of stale alcohol, and something sweeter like – fuck, Lucian? Had he kissed Lucian? Jesus, how drunk had he been?

Beka dropped down to press himself to Yuri’s back, and his presence felt overpowering, Beka’s larger body covering his, hand still on Yuri’s throat. Beka dropped absentminded kisses on his shoulders, now fucking him more slowly. Yuri’s cock throbbed, surrendering to the other’s movements. Otabek moved to his neck, teeth briefly catching skin over his scent gland before rubbing him there with his nose, and their scents mixed, creating a heady concoction that Yuri was slowly realising he didn’t want to do without. Beka caught his ear lobe, sucking, the rhythm of his thrusts slow and almost teasing. “I’m gonna knot you,” Beka then breathed to his ear, hips moving with determination, fucking deep into him with each slide.

Beka,” he breathed, his insides lurching – so hot, when did he get so hot –

Beka pulled out, hands disappearing from Yuri’s overheated body. It burned where they’d been joined, but the emptiness felt worse. He was so hard his cock was throbbing, and he fisted himself now, the skin of his cock hot, the tip leaking with pre-come.

“Turn around,” came a determined command, so he obeyed, his hands and knees grateful. He dropped onto his back, feeling fucked and sweaty, now eye to eye with Beka again. He choked on his breath at the sight of Beka, who was flushed, sweat at his hairline, on his reddened chest and on each well-defined muscle of his abs. Beka’s cock was swollen and glistening with lube, protruding upwards from his body. There was dark desire on Beka’s face, determination so strong that it almost looked foreign. Beka grabbed the backs of his knees, pulled him closer and pushed his legs upwards and over his belly.

But something was amiss, something – Beka wasn’t wearing a condom, he realised, and hadn’t been using one earlier either. His teeth felt numb – could your teeth go numb from sex? – his throat almost closing up. He was getting fucked raw, and it was so stupidly hot that it didn’t even occur to him to protest. (An extremely mortifying and to-the-point safe sex talk from Yakov when Yuri had presented echoed faintly on the edge of his mind and was ignored.)

He was still trying to get his bearings when Beka moved back over him and pushed back in – freshly lubricated, the slide easier. Yuri trembled, but welcomed the intrusion. Beka grabbed his hips with both hands, Yuri’s legs coming to rest on his shoulders, and Beka continued fucking into him hard, and it was only then that Yuri realised Beka hadn’t been trying to make dirty talk: Beka’s knot was there, pressing against him, swollen at the base.

He found his voice somehow. “Shit, are you really – Oh, oh, oh,” he breathed, trying to catch up.

“I know you can take it,” Beka breathed, pushing in hard. Beka was grinding into him, doing a circular motion with his hips, pushing the expanding knot inside.

He whimpered – whimpered, honestly – because to him it felt like he could not take it. He lacked the natural stretch and slick of omegas, who were built to take this. Maybe he needed to be stretched more, a little at a time, maybe – “I don’t think I –”

Yes,” Beka commanded – it was clearly a command. “I need you to take it,” Beka then breathed, and the edge of desperation to his words felt unfamiliar.

Yearning – maybe it was yearning. Whatever it was, Yuri felt it echoed inside him. “Fuck, okay,” he breathed, the air thick with their pheromones. “God, it’s so big,” he murmured, half in awe, half in hesitation. He bit back another whimper, but he couldn’t help the instinct to pull away from the unrelenting pressure. Beka’s grip of his hips turned firm, ironlike, to keep him where he was. He stilled, sputtering on his breath.

Beka pushed his legs from his shoulders until they wound up around Beka’s waist. Beka moved down to loom over him, groaning, pushing small thrusts into him, a little more patient now. “I know you can take it,” Otabek groaned, and if Otabek said so it must be true, he thought, it must be. His finger nails dug into the muscles of Otabek’s back for leverage, his legs wrapped tight around Beka’s waist. His muscles had no choice but to slowly give way, and there were stars behind his eyes, his mouth open in a silent groan, as the knot began to push into him. His body trembled, and Beka grunted, pushed in hard, and –

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he swore, his hole clenching around the knot now inside and growing, and Beka trembled against him and ground into him, once, twice –

Beka came, the knot swelling fully as he did so, the other’s groan washing hot air against the crook of his neck. Yuri trembled, gasping for air, and it was the only thing to do: he arched his neck, exposing it for Otabek, and there was an instant growl – his heart skipped a beat, wildly.

Beka grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head back, making Yuri arch his neck further, and then Yuri was being bitten where his shoulder and neck met, hard teeth biting down into the flesh, and nothing made sense anymore. He came, instantly – without touching himself, spilling seed between their two bodies, crying out in mind-numbing pleasure. Yuri shivered, feverish, as Beka marked him with his mouth.

It hurt, fuck did it hurt, but he couldn’t stop shaking. Beka continued to climax, filling him up, cock pulsating inside him, and Yuri could only moan as he was filled up and marked. His brain was no longer heavy with alcohol – it was clouded by hormones, breeding, mating, marking, bonding – all of it, his, mine, yes, if they just –

Beka kept filling him up, coming inside him and marking him, mouth relentless, bruising, breaking skin, and the air was thick with their scents, both of them, but somehow the scent was new – saltier, headier and richer. Yuri slumped against the mattress, arms dropping from where he was sure he’d marked Beka’s back with his nails. All fight in him was gone, toes tingling, fingers shaking, hair messily over his eyes. Beka’s hands found his and pushed them over his head and into the mattress, pinning him down. Their fingers laced together, and Yuri hazily licked his lips, breathing unevenly, both of their stomachs smearing with his semen. Beka did not let go of his neck but kept working the mark with his teeth, and every inch of Yuri’s skin felt oversensitive and responsive.

Beka,” he breathed, shivering, the knot inside him pulsating as they were locked in place. “Oh fucking fuck.” It'd only been a matter of time, a voice in his head said, through the fog. This had been coming, and he’d known it, deep down.

Beka’s body, so full of tension and energy before, was slowly softening and laxing above him, easing into the time that the knotting would take. Yuri slipped his hands from Beka’s and wrapped them around the other’s upper half, a hand on the back of Beka’s head, holding the other to his neck. He couldn’t keep coming the way omegas could, which helped milk the alpha’s seed. He’d ejaculated, it was over, and Otabek had to fend for himself. Even so he was still high, and every renewed pressure applied to the crook of his neck by Beka’s teeth clouded his mind with yes yes yes.

It lasted forever, he was sure of it, but when he next came to himself, Beka had let go of him and was breathing over a pulsating sore on his skin. The heat from the bite radiated all through his body, tingling from the bottom of his spine to the base of his skull. Beka’s cock was also done: they were still joined, but the pressure of the connection was less than before. Come was beginning to leak out. Yuri had never in his life felt more thoroughly fucked, in a number of meanings.

Otabek placed slow, wet kisses over the mark, licking and humming, sounding content, before he exhaled, exhausted and spent. Otabek then lifted himself up enough for them to look at each other, and Yuri nearly gulped from how Otabek did not look like himself: his pupils were dilated, dark, like he’d taken some intense drugs that had brought out the alpha in him. Otabek’s lips were swollen and puffy from having worked a mark into him. Yuri craned his neck, letting the other see the mark. It was instinct: he knew Beka would want to see the mark, to have that reassurance, because that was what he would want of his mate had their roles been reversed. Otabek grunted approval before pushing hair away from Yuri’s face with a shaky hand.

Beka pulled out, having to force it a little because the knot was still coming down, but he slipped out, and Yuri felt sharp pain radiating up his lower back. Come was rolling down between his cheeks, the scent of it salty and musky between them. Good, all of that was good.

Otabek draped over him, sweaty and warm, pulling him firmly into his arms. Yuri stretched his legs, happy to finally do so, and then relaxed limbless against Otabek. He’d never felt as tired in his life – Otabek’s breaths were deep and even, but tellingly slowing down, pulling Yuri with them.

Yuri could feel himself slipping into sleep, but he whispered a quiet, “Beka…?”

But either Beka was already asleep and didn’t hear him or he was content to remain silent, and as Yuri teetered on sleep, he swore he felt the echo of a second heart beat in his chest, a sudden awareness of someone else that he had never felt before in his life.

A bond taking root, twirling itself around the very core of him, twining from his toes to the tips of his fingers and then back to his chest, until the pulse of that sensation matched the rhythm of Otabek’s heart beats perfectly.

* * *

The first thing he became aware of was a sore throbbing on his neck. It felt like a rash he wanted to get at, except that any attempt to touch it was painful from how sore the skin was and, after that, a pleasing warmth pulsed through him from the spot.

He didn’t know what this mysterious half annoyance was at first, so he had to wake up to investigate. As he stirred, he realised he was hungover, sore, come-covered, and marked.

Marked.

He blinked once, then twice, and lifted his head to stare at his bedroom in sudden recollection.

Next to him, Otabek slept, mouth a little wide as he breathed evenly, chest rising and falling steadily, deep asleep still. A wave of affection washed over him at the sight. Mate. His mate.

Yuri swallowed and glanced down at himself, the previous night returning to his memory in full force: his chest and stomach, from what he could see, were covered in bruises and bite marks. And, although he could not see it, he knew the biggest bruise of all was in the crook of his neck, and the bond – the bond was there, under his skin, but he didn’t even know how to put it into words. It was an awareness of Otabek that went beyond sight and touch. It was, he realised, that sixth sense Viktor always had of knowing that Yuuri had walked into the room or entered the rink at the far side, out of his line of vision. He could close his eyes and still see Beka, somehow – sense him.

Beka had marked him. Beka had marked him.

Yuri looked around the bedroom, stunned. Then he grinned. God, this would make people lose their shit.

His gaze dropped back onto Otabek’s sleeping form. The other had sheets wrapped around his waist and was sleeping on his back, stomach flat and muscles well-toned, chest broad, nipples a darker shade than the rest of him, beautiful, stunning, his.

As far as mates went, Yuri thought he’d ended up with a rather excellent specimen. Did he have food in the kitchen? He had to feed Otabek, who’d be worn out after knotting and marking him, and maybe buy him some socks, Beka never really had enough, and he needed them to never leave his bed either, but to stay there forever, tracing this bond with their fingers, figuring out how it worked.

But it was bright outside, traffic sounds floating up from the street, and Yuri may have been a little dazed but he still knew what day it was. He reached over Beka to get at his jeans on the floor, fishing his phone out. Beka groaned beneath him, and he said, “Sorry babe,” without feeling particularly sorry at all. It wiped an alpha out, knotting – people always warned young alphas about the dangers of the act: don’t knot anyone you wouldn’t trust not to kill you in your sleep afterwards, and so forth. Yuri had been beat for days the only time he’d ever done it. Marking? Marking only added to the toll of the task.

He lay down next to Beka, thumbing the screen of his phone. He had plenty of notifications, but he only wanted to check what time it was: eleven already? God, they had passed out well and truly.

“What time is it?” Beka’s voice came groggily from beside him, clearly thinking the same thing.

“Eleven. We’ve slept in, huh?” he said, feeling giddy despite the hangover, despite the pain and the ache, and despite Beka’s flight leaving in only a matter of hours. That prospect no longer seemed daunting: there was a mark on his neck that joined them together, still fresh, only hours old. A mark that, no matter where Otabek was, and where he was, linked them to each other.

A bond.

“Sleep a bit longer if you want,” he offered. “I need a shower.”

Beka murmured something sleepily, nonsensical, eyes still closed. Yuri got out of bed and barely held back a hiss. Everything hurt: a sharp burn radiated from his behind, down his thighs and up his back. And his legs were absolutely covered in dried come, which – which was kind of sexy, fair enough. The limping was a little less sexy, but give it a day and he’d be fine.

He showered thoroughly, soaping his groin and the backs of his legs with care, washing the signs of knotting away, which saddened him a little. He should have dragged Otabek into the shower with him and make Otabek do this for him – desire curled up in him at the thought. He showered faster – he wanted to be back in the bedroom, straddling Otabek, smirking down at the other. He’d pull his hair over one shoulder, letting the mark be exposed. He pictured Otabek staring at it with that serious look of his, Otabek’s hands wandering. Fuck, Yuri was going to scent the shit out of him.

In the bathroom mirror, he observed himself, fascinated. He kept his head tilted to the side: a reddened, dark bruise showed where Beka had bitten down. There’d been a little dried blood that the water had washed away, and now the skin was swollen and throbbing. He’d never imagined himself with a mark, not even before he presented, and certainly not after. Most people saw a mark and assumed you were an omega or a beta, belonging to an alpha – how many alphas let another alpha mark them, after all? Well, some did, so fuck you.

God, he’d have to give Beka one of these, he thought, fingers tracing the bruise carefully, feeling over the indents of Beka’s teeth, admiring the hues of purple, red and blue. It was gorgeous. Did they have enough time then for him to mark Beka? Because it’d be nice to send Otabek away with a mark of his own, and it’d probably make the bond stronger too, except that they’d have to do it properly and he’d have to knot Beka for it, and they definitely didn’t have time for that, and fine, maybe he could wait a couple of months to return the favour. In a hotel room after Skate Canada…

He sauntered out of the bathroom, towel around his waist, a little unsteady on his feet, but still thrilled. He came to a stop at the bedroom door. Beka was up, wearing boxers, and the sheets of the night before were balled up on the floor, while new, crisp sheets were already on the bed where they’d bonded only hours earlier.

“It was a bit of a mess,” Beka said, staring at the bed. Not looking up to know he’d returned. The bond in action, Yuri marvelled. “Hope you don’t mind.”

He did mind. He’d fully intended to sleep in that mess for at least a couple of days. Probably a week.

“Are you hurt?” Beka then asked, his voice sounding as if coming from somewhere very far away. Truthfully: yes. He hurt all over, but it was worth it, so very worth it, and so he only shook his head. “Are you sure?”

“I’m fine,” he said with a roll of his eyes, although at that moment he wanted to shake his head, say that it did hurt, which he knew would stir concern in Otabek, and they could get back to bed and scent each other for an hour, or a day. But something stopped him – something in the tension in Otabek’s shoulders. Nerves? Well, this was new for him too.

“Do you mind if I go for a shower?” Otabek asked, which was a stupid question and he said as much. Otabek moved past him to the door, and Yuri expected to be greeted with a kiss, then, but Beka only slipped past, eyes downcast.

He frowned, eyeing the bed. He didn’t like that, those new sheets that smelled nothing like the two of them. He didn’t like it at all.

He fixed breakfast and fed Potya while the shower ran. He gulped water for his hangover, but took no painkillers because he didn’t want to dull the throb of the mark or the ache from having taken Beka’s knot. He tried recalling the events of the night before, which now made more sense than then: Otabek had seen Lucian in his lap, kissing him, during that stupid game. Fair enough, he wouldn’t have liked that himself either. But it’d all come to good, hadn’t it? A bond. Ha! Yakov would lose his shit when he found out, and he couldn’t wait.

He knew it was unusual, and people would talk because they were both alphas, but Otabek didn’t seem to mind anymore. And if Otabek didn’t mind, then Yuri supposed he didn’t mind either.

Beka was now in the living room, moving about, and Yuri wondered why he was taking so long. He felt restless, not liking the distance. Was this what Viktor felt like when Yuuri wasn’t around? Maybe he’d been too harsh on the old man. He sat by the kitchen table, sipping coffee and scrolling down Twitter on his phone, trying to be patient. When was it appropriate to take mark selfies? He didn’t intend to upload them like Chris had, but wanted some for himself.

As he pondered this, he got tired of waiting, leaving his unfinished coffee on the table. He walked out to the living room and found Otabek sat on the couch, next to his suitcase that was now zipped shut.

Otabek was dressed. He had his jacket on. He had shoes on. His hair hadn’t even dried yet.

Otabek looked up when Yuri entered and their eyes met for the first time all morning. There was no trace of a smile on his lips.

Yuri froze to the spot, and dread, like ivy, seemed to snare itself around his insides. In an instant, he felt small.

Beka opened his mouth, clearly looking for words. “I… I guess we should talk.”

Yuri breathed in, air feeling thin. “About?” he forced himself to say, but it came out in a whisper. His tongue was thick, his mouth dry. He wasn’t an idiot: he could piece it together himself. He didn’t need Beka to say anything, not a fucking thing.

“It’s best if we…” Beka began, and Yuri felt it coming like an inconsolable weight pressing down against his breast. “If we stop.” Beka paused then, as if to let Yuri say something. He said nothing. Otabek swallowed, audibly, each word hesitant. “I’m sorry that it… got so out of control. That I…” Again: a pause. Yuri did not fill it, and Otabek shook his head, pain on his features. “There’s a lot I want to say, that I wish I could explain. But finding the words is…”

He knew what the words were. He’d known for days, if not weeks, and here Otabek was, trying to spit them out.

“I know what you want to say,” he returned, trying to keep his voice from breaking: that this, the two of them, was nothing but some fun after all. That Otabek didn’t want to bond an alpha, that Otabek wanted what Yuuri and Viktor had, and that… that Otabek regretted marking him. It’d been a mistake, of course it’d been nothing but a mistake made in the heat of sex – things had gotten out of control, Otabek had just said it. And all of it had let Yuri hope, all of it had let him want, and he hated that hope now, despised how it’d radiated through him. “It’s not an excuse,” he managed to say, and why did he sound so young to his own ears then.

Otabek flinched. “I know,” he said, and then began to rush out, “Yuri, I’m sor –”

“Damned if I care!” he cut the other off.

“I’m the one who messed up,” Otabek said hurriedly, now standing up, and Yuri didn’t want to hear it, couldn’t stand for it. “Already last summer, when you were visiting me, I knew you weren’t ready, and I still –”

“Save it for someone who gives a shit!” he snarled. He was Beka’s height these days: he stared him in the eye, unflinching. Beka’s eyes moved from his face to his neck, to the mark, which was an angry bruised red. Beka swallowed slowly, Adam’s apple bobbing, and then he jerked, as if about to step towards him, but then stopped himself. He stopped himself. Yuri trembled with anger. “You want to go? Then fucking go. Get the fuck out of here!”

And he slid past Beka, past the fucking hastily stuffed suitcase – coward, liar, omega-chasing fucking coward! – ignoring the pleading “Yuri, wait!”, and he stormed into the bathroom, slamming the door shut, locking it, and then he paced, felt bile in the back of his throat, he shivered, shook –

He stalled: silence.

He exhaled, shivering, the world blurring in his eyes.

And then, after a minute, the front door closed, the sound of it unmistakable.

Gone.

He’d actually gone.

Yuri grabbed the first thing in reach: the toothbrush holder, white ceramic, and he hurled it against the wall where it broke into a dozen pieces. He grabbed the soap dish next, and it hit the mirror above the sink, and the mirror splintered, broken veins cutting through the glass that had been showing a reflection of his mark not much earlier. And he yelled, or did he sob – he choked on it regardless.

He slid down the shower cubicle, convulsing and trembling as he tried to breathe, eyes on the door, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible: that on the other side there was no one else.

That Otabek had rejected him, left him, just when he’d wanted him most.

Ha. Guess the bond was useful for that too: he could sense, inexplicably, that Otabek wasn’t there anymore. He felt the other’s absence in his bones.

He pulled his knees up, burying his face in them. He kept shaking: he wanted to smash up the entire place, to hurt someone, to pull apart, to tear at, bit by bit, to destroy. His hands curled into fists, a growl rumbling at the back of his throat, ready to fight.

But not for a second, not even a single one, did the bruise on his neck let itself be unknown, but rather it radiated through him, taunting him, mocking him, and tainting him with the shame of an abandoned alpha’s mark.

Chapter Text

In the end, Emil Nekola saved him, and Yuri could definitely see the irony in that. Emil pulled him out of something dark and gripping that had been dragging him underwater – and he realised that he was hardly resisting.

But before this happened, he was lost. He’d always said it: if you ran out of inspiration as a skater, you were as good as dead. And now, for the first time in his life, he realised that he was on the verge of such death.

Viktor had returned from paternity leave with renewed energy, but was nevertheless so self-absorbed in his and Yuuri’s little family cocoon that he hardly noticed anything to be amiss. Okay, fine, Viktor had noticed that Yuri sucked and dramatically blamed himself for taking time off at the wrong time and then worked Yuri twice as hard. And Yuri welcomed it, Viktor’s relentless, “Once more, from the top!” and “I need that quad higher, Yurio!” and “No, go again, with more poise. Again!”

If for a second he’d thought that fatherhood had made Viktor Nikiforov soft, he was wrong. Viktor was obsessed with perfection, and on most evenings Yuri went home exhausted, fully knowing why the Katsuki-Nikiforovs combined possessed seven of the last ten world gold medals dished out. He was still grateful for the amount of work: when his head hit his pillow, he was asleep in seconds, with no thoughts crossing his mind. On some nights, however, he awoke for no apparent reason, alarmed, hand reaching out across the bed: missing. Otabek was missing. And when those nights occurred and he realised his mistake, he snarled at himself, rolled over, and tried to go back asleep, ignoring the gnawing of the bond that persisted even then.

Neither did Viktor notice that Yuri showed up at the rink, trained, practised, bled himself dry, and yes, he was in warrior mode, but at the end of it all he still felt aimless. Uninspired.

There was no chance of him winning like this.

The truth of the matter was that no amount of training or perfectly executed quad loops changed the fact that Otabek had not called since he’d walked out that morning. Or texted, or Skyped, or WhatsApped, or Snapchatted, or tweeted, or any of the million goddamn ways he could get a hold of Yuri. Nothing. The lack of communication reminded Yuri of the year before, when they’d first slept together and parted awkwardly, a silence ensuing until Yuri had managed to break it with a quick cat gif. Stupid: no internet meme could fix it this time. No, this time the mess was a whole lot worse.

But he also knew that he could not message the other like some desperate, hungry, love-stricken omega, with crocodile tears and tales of abandonment. The silence between them felt final: Otabek had walked out on him. What more was there to say?

He only wished that Beka had had the fucking guts to call it quits before they’d bonded. Why bother marking Yuri if Otabek was planning to go the entire time? It had been an asshole thing to do, leaving Yuri with a goddamn bond mark that bothered him day and night. Fucking asshole. He only hoped that Otabek felt the starving bond too, even without a mark. Alphas usually did.

Hiding the mark was a constant problem now: he’d worn turtlenecks and scarfs in the late summer like a moron, and had only recently started using mark patches that pharmacies sold to humiliated post-break-up betas or heat-frenzy omegas. The packaging promised ultra-thin patches that blended to any skin tone, and sure enough wearing one made the mark invisible on his neck, the patch blending with his skin flawlessly. Sweat, however, could make a patch peel off, and practising was sweaty business, so precaution was needed – Viktor asked if he wasn’t too hot practising in a turtleneck, and he said no. Lilia asked if he really must wear that stupid scarf during their ballet lessons, and he said yes.

Keeping a bond mark hidden, as an alpha, wasn’t an issue he’d ever pictured himself having. A normal bruise would have faded by now, but not this one. Not a bond mark. He tried not to think about it the best he could, but he was underperforming and worrying his team.

So when the video of Emil’s quad axel appeared some three weeks after Otabek had left, he was alerted to the fact that he could not simply go through the motions and expect to win. Emil uploaded the video on his Instagram: him landing a pretty perfect looking quad axel in practice. The text read: Ready for competition! ;)

Was Emil planning to be the first person to land a quad axel in competition?! That was his record to break! He’d been practising all fucking off-season for it! The smug, overrated Czech piece of shit! He would not let anyone take that away from him!

He told Viktor as much when he called him, half past midnight on a Tuesday, but as he’d anticipated Shiori was keeping Viktor and Yuuri up anyway. Viktor was unsure about introducing the quad axel that season. “I know you’re landing it in practice quite consistently, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk to –”

“This isn’t a discussion,” Yuri snarled, “I’m adding it to the short program.” With that, he hung up on his coach.

He would beat Emil at the Grand Prix, and the Euros, and the Worlds! He would land a quad axel in the fucking qualifiers and Emil could eat the fucking scraped off ice that he’d leave behind. He’d beat Emil, and Leo, and Seung-Gil, and Otabek.

He’d goddamn destroy Otabek and show him that mark or no mark, Yuri Plisetsky was finally going to win.

Viktor tried talking him out of the quad axel, but Yuri ignored him on that account. He did, however, start listening to Viktor’s advice on needing to connect with the music and the stories, and with a renewed sense of purpose he began staying at the rink late into the night, practising the routines alone. He was improving under Viktor’s guidance, but neither were happy with the speed of the progress. Viktor kept blabbing that Yuri wasn’t allowing himself to express enough emotion, which made Yuri frustrated and angry, resulting in him showing even less of the right kinds of emotions.

With no one to watch him at night, he tried to think of the theme of growth, he tried to think of Viktor’s words on how the programs were about vulnerability and maturity, but to him the two seemed opposite states. His quad axel, however, was superb, and gradually he felt something other than lost and bitter. He kept changing the short program to decide where the quad axel would best serve him. Would he have the energy to pull it off in the second half?

After one such night of gruelling solo practice afterhours, he lay on the ice, exhausted. He breathed unevenly, trying to catch his breath, his eyes on the metal beams of the ceiling. His feet ached, his thighs were numb, and there was sweat on his brow. The large glass windows of the rink were letting in the dream-like off-dark of a northern summer night, getting darker each day: September was upon them, leaves were turning yellow and brown, and the scorching hot summer was nothing more than a memory.

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. The ice was cold against his lower back, shoulder blades, and the back of his head. The skates were heavy on his feet.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket to see if there were any messages for him, and while there were – Yuri’s Angels harassing him on Instagram, Mila tagging him in some stupid tweet – they weren’t the ones he was hoping to get. He let the phone drop on his chest, hand clutching it. A lingering pain made his chest feel tight.

He’d never gone this long without talking to Otabek since they’d become friends. They spoke all the time, every day – via texts and pictures and tags, and calls on top, to the point that Yuri knew the contents of Beka’s fridge in Almaty from three time zones away. Right then, however, he wasn’t even sure what country Otabek was in – he only assumed Beka was home. The absence of the other felt harrowing, and it was hard to tell where the frantic bond trying to reach out to an absent mate ended and where a longing for his best friend began. Both were missing. He’d lost a lot in one swoop.

He let his cheek press against the cold ice. “Surely you’re used to losing by now,” he whispered, the words lost in the quiet air of the rink. Mr. Silver. Someone else always winning. Didn’t matter if it was a gold metal or his best friend or, hell, a mate of one night.

He sat up, skates scraping the ice. He checked his phone again, refreshing Instagram: nothing. Otabek had gone to Kazakhstan, and apart from the Instagram shot of his coffee a week later, the other man might as well have been dead. And no, he told the frantic part of his brain, Otabek wasn’t actually dead. His non-mate was fine, probably enjoying his mate-free life, even if uncomfortable over having marked another alpha so thoughtlessly.

Yuri had been there: he knew the bonding hadn’t been planned and that it’d been done in the heat of the moment, but god, it’d felt so right, and so good, and now –

Goddammit. He hated this part: the part that still cared.

If he could have, he’d ripped off the fucking mark from his neck to finally make the bond break. He hated it.

It was eleven o’clock at night, and sat there on the ice, he decided to make a call.

He pressed the phone to his ear, waited for an answer, and then exhaled, relieved. “Hey, Grandpa.” It came out like a sigh, but his grandfather’s tone was familiar and comforting. Yuri soon found himself on the defence: “No, nothing’s wrong, just calling to see how you are. An echo? Oh, I’m still at the rink, yeah. No, it’s – It’s not that late, really. No, I – Yeah, I’ve got a lot to be practising, that’s all. Yeah.” He rubbed at his face with his free hand. “Did you go fishing at the weekend? Oh, where?” He stared across the ice, the cold of the rink numbing his behind. Sometimes, when he felt like he was overheating, this helped. The ache in him uncurled slightly. “How big was the pike? Fuck, that’s – Sorry, sorry, I don’t mean to swear. That’s a big pike. You eaten it yet?”

He let his fingers trace the surface of the ice idly, and he hummed to indicate yes, and he hummed to indicate no.

“Yuratchka,” his grandfather said, eventually. “Whatever it is that’s bothering you, you’ll figure it out. You know that, don’t you? You’ll be okay.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, but his eyes felt wet, and he wiped at his face. He knew it. He just didn’t quite believe it. “Thanks, Grandpa.”

The old man grunted, and Yuri bid goodnight.

He’d be okay. He breathed in, breathed out.

He’d be okay.

But when?

As he pondered this, one of the doors to the rink opened, and he turned his head to see who’d come to the rink at this hour. He was surprised to recognise the black-haired figure of Yuuri, now walking to the rink-side in training clothes, heavily leaning to one side of his body like he was carrying something heavy. Yuuri slowed down at the sight of him and then his frown faded into a pleased smile and a wave. “Yurio! I thought everyone had gone home! What are you still doing here?”

Yuri got up quickly because he’d been caught sat on his ass in the middle of the rink like a loser. “Practising,” he called back, unnerved. He did a mental check that yes, he had put on a patch earlier that covered the mark. He pressed his hand to it now, absently, to make sure it hadn’t peeled off. It felt fine. He skated over to Yuuri. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you retired?”

“Sometimes,” Yuuri said thoughtfully, and as Yuri got to the boards he saw that the other was carrying a car seat with Shiori in it.

He and Yuuri had practised together a few times since Yuuri had started working on his professional programs for the winter, and so far this had brought witness to a useful few days at the rink. Yuri wasn’t an idiot: he welcomed the feedback of a two-time world champion, and Yuuri knew his short and long program inside and out – every bit as well he and Viktor did. Yuri couldn’t help but note that Yuuri’s show skates weren’t that far off from competitive routines, even now. The jumps had lost their power, however, and Yuuri frequently complained that his joints and legs just weren’t the same anymore, not after Shiori, and his hips had somehow repositioned themselves in a way Yuuri could not figure out. There was no question of Yuuri being able to return to figure skating and compete at the top like he had before.

Meanwhile Viktor had flown off to New York earlier that week to perform at ice shows he’d signed up to do before Yuuri ever got pregnant, and Viktor had made a massive drama over leaving his mate and child for an entire week. Boo-hoo. If a trip to New York was Viktor’s only problem, he could consider himself lucky.

Yuuri now told him that Shiori would not settle down to sleep, maybe because she missed Viktor and the comfort of his scent, so Yuuri had decided to come to the rink instead. Yuuri had a theory that she slept better in the relative cool of the ice rink than she did in the warm nursery. “Besides, I think the rink reminds her of her Daddy!” Yuuri said with a dreamy smile, and Yuri wanted to barf.

As Yuuri explained this, Yuri eyed Shiori, wrapped up under blankets. She had her poodle beanie hat on again and was whining after the yellow dummy she’d just spit out. Yuuri gently gave it to her again, but she pushed it out and resumed crying. “Papa’s little sweetheart is being a bit stubborn today!” Yuuri sighed in defeat. Shiori’s arms swung in the air, demanding attention, and Yuri glared at her. Babies were more trouble than they were worth, in his view.

Yuuri fussed with Shiori but still shot a side glance his way. “How long have you been here today then?”

“I dunno, since noon.”

“Practising that quad axel?” Yuuri blinked. “It’s nearly midnight! You know you can’t practise for so long! It’s bad for your feet!”

But Yuri didn’t care: he was determined to win this season, determined to take down anyone who was foolish enough to get in his way.

“Look, I have to nail these programs,” he said, and he was about to go into a long speech on how he hated Emil, but then his phone beeped to signal a new message. His heart lurched the way it always did for that one half-second before he inevitably saw that the text was not from Otabek. No, it was Alexei: a few of us getting WRECKED tonight. Wanna come??

It was Wednesday. He’d been out a lot the past month and had shown up at the rink hungover more than once. Viktor had caught on and had given him a good talking to, but Yuri knew for a fact that Yakov had struggled with a younger, party-animal Viktor too back in the day, so Viktor could shove it. He should not go out on a Wednesday… He knew he wouldn’t be back until three or four…

But even so, he didn’t like going home where his mind wandered, and the mark ached, and he kept pacing around trying to find something, someone, because when he was at home it felt like someone was missing, and he hated it, hated all of it! And he’d stare at his phone, so angry that it didn’t ring, and what the fuck was Otabek doing right then anyway that was more important than calling him?! And if Otabek did call, Yuri would hang the fuck up on him because he didn’t want some lousy excuse or apology, like Otabek had the right to somehow feel bad about screwing Yuri over. Fuck him. Fuck him!

So he typed in when and where?, humming over Yuuri preaching at him for overworking his body to show he was sort of listening. Alexei sent him the details almost immediately. He’d rather go out and have fun than stay in the house like some broken goddamn thing. Beka had asked him if he had a habit of going out, getting trashed and fucking around – so what if he did? He was, at least, doing two out of those three things.

Shiori was making a fuss, so Yuuri picked her up and started rocking her to get her to settle down. Shiori was having one of it, and Yuuri looked stressed. “The doctor said this might happen,” he complained. “I’m back on suppressants and it changes how I smell. It unsettles some babies, before they get used to it, and now Viktor’s gone too to upset her more.”

Yuri got off the ice and sat on one of the bleachers to take his skates off. “Back on suppressants, are you? Good. Certainly don’t need any more ‘oops’ babies,” he said and motioned at Shiori.

Yuuri blinked at him and then flushed, embarrassment crossing his face. Well, it was just true: everyone knew that Shiori hadn’t been planned! Yuuri’s hands around the baby tightened, the omega holding her closer to his chest, shoulders tensing, and even Yuri could see that it was a protective gesture of an omega whose paternal instinct was kicking in should Yuri turn out to be hostile. He suddenly felt like a dick.

“Aah, what I mean is,” he then said, searching for the right words, “is that Viktor’s still got baby fever, I’m pretty sure.”

Again, true: Viktor kept mourning that with each day Shiori wasn’t as tiny and teensy-weensy as she had been the day before, even as he enthused about her growth.

At the mention of Viktor, Yuuri looked briefly happier and then gloomier again. Right: Viktor was in New York for another few days.

“Viktor does love babies,” Yuuri then said, a bit dreamily like any omega would of his baby-alpha. Yuri felt his throat closing up, disappointed bile pooling in his guts as he proceeded to get his skates off. “Three more days until Viktor comes home! God, how can time drag like this?” Yuuri asked with a frustrated sigh, constantly bouncing the irate baby expertly. And then Yuuri asked, perhaps to change the subject that was making him sad, “How’s Otabek holding up now? Healed well, I hope?”

Yuri froze despite himself, before swallowing down the lump in his throat. “Yeah,” was his curt reply. He didn’t want to say that he had no idea – questions would follow. As far as everyone knew, he was speaking to Otabek every day, just like he’d always used to.

But at least Yuri wasn’t the only one bruised: some fan had spotted Otabek back in Almaty with his damaged knuckles perhaps a week after the other had left St. Petersburg, and the internet had blown up about what had happened to the point that Beka had posted that stupid picture of his goddamn Starbucks coffee cup with a text that said he’d fallen off his motorbike and scraped his hands, but he was perfectly fine otherwise and training as usual. The internet had calmed down after that, although people had been asking Yuri about this supposed minor motorcycle accident, and he had to take on the lie.

Bullshit. What fucking bullshit. Who had known Altin was capable of such goddamn deceit?

Yuri thought of Otabek in his St. Petersburg living room, one in the morning, cold anger in his eyes: a wall, he’d said. Beka had had a go at a wall. And Yuri hadn’t understood, but then morning had come, and for a brief few minutes he’d let himself entertain the thought that it had been jealousy, that Otabek had truly wanted him, until Beka had realised his mistake and legged it. Because of you, he thought at Shiori gurgling in Yuuri’s arms. Because Beka wanted this: an omega bouncing and soothing a restless baby. Because Yuri had been experimentation, and now it was done.

Well if Beka thought that an abandoned mark was all that it took to knock Yuri down, he was sorely mistaken. Yuri didn’t need Beka, not even if the bond ached and hurt and longed for him – that was hormones, nothing else. Beka could fuck off for all he cared.

He angrily kicked off his skates.

Yuuri eyed him with a hint of worry. “You going home now then?”

“Ah, no, I’m going out with some friends,” he said. As if on cue, Alexei called, and Yuri picked up with a quick “Hey, you on your way?”

Alexei’s voice echoed from the other line, sounding rather drunk already. “Yeah, man! ETA in twenty. This club is so cool, dude, it’s just opened. There is no way we’re not gonna be cock-deep in omegas tonight!” And then Alexei laughed loudly, and Yuri to his embarrassment realised that Yuuri could overhear Alexei’s voice. Yuri cleared his throat awkwardly and turned away from Yuuri and Shiori, agreeing to meet Alexei in the car park of the rink shortly.

After he’d hung up, Yuuri was looking at him with a paternal arched eyebrow of ‘explain yourself’ that Yuri rather hated. “What friends are these?” Yuuri enquired, Shiori still in his arms. Goddamn, Yuuri seemed all set for Shiori’s wild teenage years.

“Alexei and the lot, you know,” he said vaguely.

Yuuri looked like he wanted to comment on that too – it was a Wednesday, and late already – but then the other said nothing.

“Well,” Yuuri said slowly, “have fun, then. But maybe we could have dinner later this week?”

“Uh, I don’t really –”

“I’ll make katsudon if you like!”

“– yes. Okay. I could do that.”

Yuuri beamed at him. “Oh, great! I’m still trying to get fit, so I shouldn’t really, but it always picks me up if I’m down.” And the omega clearly was a bit down with Viktor across the ocean.

Yuri excused himself for a quick shower, and by the time he’d changed into jeans and a t-shirt, his sweaty training clothes left to stink in the locker, Yuuri was on the ice, skating without any music.

Yuri stopped by the rink to watch: it was still a privilege, getting to watch Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov skate. He looked effortless and graceful, decades of training having perfected his movements. Viktor kept nagging at him about being more graceful and saying he needed to be more vulnerable in his programs. He wondered, sometimes, if Viktor wished he’d been instructing Yuuri instead.

Probably.

Shiori’s baby carrier was now firmly set on one of the bleachers. A baby monitor had been placed inside it, and Yuri knew that the monitor was connected to Yuuri’s phone, ready to beep if Shiori started waking up. Yuri was unsure what magic the father had performed, but Shiori’s chest was now rising and falling to her sleepy breaths, one of the dog-ears of the poodle beanie having moved over her face. She was beautiful. Yuri knew that she was. He fidgeted before he leaned down to brush the dog-ear aside, carefully. Her skin was soft like silk, her cheeks plump and warm.

On the ice, Yuuri was absorbed in his program, a certain ache and longing to it, and Yuri could leave without being noticed. Alexei was already waiting outside, loud and boisterous, drunker than Yuri had expected. “Come on, come on! Let’s go check out some babes!”

Again, Yuuri checked that the mark patch was firmly in place with a casual rub of his neck, before he forced himself to smile. Did Beka think he was sitting at home and pining? Forget it. Forget him!

He refused to be defeated.

And so, half an hour later, he had a vodka mixer in his hand and was in a loud bar, sandwiched between a few friends, and was laughing loudly, determined to be just like anyone else. After the fifth drink, he forgot to check his phone for nearly two hours. It was the best record he had so far.

* * *

A few nights later Yuri found himself in the kitchen of the Katsuki-Nikiforov household, somewhat impatiently waiting to be served katsudon. Yuuri seemed to be glad of the company, the absence of his mate clearly taking its toll on him. Viktor wasn’t due back for another day, and Yuuri was chattering about the new handtowels in the bathroom – boring domestic stuff that usually Viktor would have been at the receiving end of. Yuri refused to find it sweet.

Thankfully the conversation soon turned to skating: Yuri’s routines, his diet, his strength exercises, and his costumes for the upcoming season. Yuri wanted to make adjustments to the outfits: he needed to cover up his neck, but was citing this as sudden inspiration. As they brainstormed changes together, Yuri realised that the pig was almost more excited about the upcoming season than he was.

Shiori had been asleep when he’d gotten there, but after the baby monitor alerted them to her having woken up, Yuri found himself bottle-feeding the baby. Yuuri thanked him profusely as he did so, dashing around the kitchen to make katsudon and ensure that the formula was the right temperature for Shiori. The baby was sucking on the rubber nipple greedily, so Yuri didn’t think she was fussed about it being too hot or cold.

After having babysat Shiori with Ota– with… After he’d babysat Shiori, he meant, once before, he knew what he was doing now, vaguely. He kept a secure arm around her, and Shiori didn’t seem to mind his scent either, which was a nice change. He stared down at the baby in his arms, the baby sucking the bottle with bliss on her face. Yuuri was whisking mirin and sake for the sauce and pondered how many sequins was too many for one outfit.

Shiori pushed away the bottle once she’d had enough and gurgled at him. When he raised an eyebrow at her, she kicked her feet, gurgled again, and ogled at him in pure delight, mouth turning upwards. She could do that now – smile. Viktor’s Instagram had gone nuts over #ShioriSmiles a couple of weeks earlier.

“What’s so funny?” he asked her, and Shiori smiled wider, thrilled. The joke was lost on him, but he couldn’t help but smile back at her. Just a little.

“Oh, did you have fun the other night?” Yuuri then asked, somewhat forcedly, from where he stood by the cooker. Yuri looked up at his friend and said it’d been okay. Yuuri hummed and cracked eggs into the frying pan, then put a lid on, with two bowls of steaming rice at the ready on the side.

They put Shiori down on the baby blanket in the living room while they ate. She was safely visible from the kitchen, content to be gazing up at the star and moon shapes dangling above her from the toy apparatus. Otabek’s gift teddy was also on the blanket, and Yuuri said Shiori was very fond of it. Yuri only nodded in acknowledgment.

Yuuri found them some beers from the back of the fridge, smiling that Viktor loved the imported Japanese beers Viktor had gotten used to in Hasetsu, and as they ate Yuuri began reminiscing of his and Viktor’s first year together back in Japan. Yuri listened absently: he didn’t have energy to change the topic, and he was focused on stuffing his face with katsudon.

“Yurio,” Yuuri then began as their bowls and beer bottles were nearly empty, eyes nailed to the table between them. A flush was on his cheeks that hadn’t been there earlier – but the other looked determined. Yuri raised an eyebrow, and the pig shifted a little in his seat. “I know it’s – not my place, but I’d feel negligent if I…”

“If what?” he asked. Some training trip or a diet suggestion? He knew whatever Viktor bitched at him about would be fed right back to his mate.

“If I didn’t talk to you about safe sex,” Yuuri then said, and Yuri nearly choked on his beer, his stomach plummeting. The other rushed out, “I know you’re all grown up now! I know! But I suppose I – I didn’t realise the sort of parties you go to, and I just – just want to say that you need to be careful!”

Yuri blinked, mortified. “Oh my god.”

“Especially with omegas near heat, you just can’t be –”

“Shut up, shut up!” he intervened, but as embarrassed as Yuuri looked, he kept going, talking to Yuri’s food bowl rather than make eye contact.

“– and you know, uh, condoms still are the safest way to ensure –”

“I’m not sleeping with anyone!” he almost yelled, desperate for the other to shut the hell up already! The other quieted, and he insisted, “Alexei likes to talk big, but honestly, we’re not going around town impregnating omegas. Honest. And even if I was, I know enough to take precautions, for god’s sake.”

Yuuri blinked, nervously, and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Oh. Well.” He seemed to consider this. “Being a virgin’s nothing to be ashamed –”

“I’m not a virgin!” Yuri hissed, mortified. “I’m nineteen!”

“I was a virgin at nineteen.”

“Yeah, no shit,” he said, and Yuuri flushed all kinds of red.

“Well, uh,” Yuuri mumbled, then frowned. “Can I ask if there’s… someone you like, maybe?”

“All people are assholes,” he countered with venom.

“O-Okay,” Yuuri said. “Sure. Okay… Um, well just know that… if you ever need to talk or, uh, if you have questions… Viktor and I would be happy to answer –”

“I have the internet. I don’t need your advice,” he argued, but he had an alpha’s mark on his neck, and he wasn’t even twenty yet, and his entire being ached and longed after the mate that it had acknowledged itself to have for one glorious night, and he had dreams of marking Otabek, of sinking his teeth into the other’s flesh, feeling fulfilled at last, and he’d wake up hard and aching and sick. He didn’t need advice. Fuck advice. They’d passed that point.

He looked back down at the rest of his dinner, and forking off some rice, he mumbled, “Can we just please not talk about this? Like ever.”

Yuuri was thankfully back to eating, too. “Okay. If that’s what you want.” Yuuri sounded rather relieved.

Thankfully Yuuri did not bring it up again either. After they’d awkwardly talked about the weather for a bit, they spent the rest of the night without mortifying interruptions, with Yuuri listening to his ideas for costume alterations, which Yuri showed by sketching them out on some paper while Yuuri bounced an enthusiastic Shiori in his lap. Even after Shiori had been put to bed (four times before success), Yuuri asked if maybe they could watch a movie or something, with hesitant but hopeful eyes. “I’ll let you choose?”

And Yuri realised, then, just how lonely the omega must have been without Viktor. Those two never spent any time apart.

And what was worse was that he got it now: the throbbing emptiness of having your mate be away. The way you could hardly sleep without them. If he’d marked someone and regretted it, and then that person was pining after him like that, what would it be in his eyes if not pathetic?

He didn’t want to be pathetic. He wanted to be strong.

So he stayed for Katsudon’s sake and not his. He browsed their Netflix account and then settled on The King and the Skater II, and while he thought the movie was shit, Yuuri was instantly reminiscing how he and Phichit used to watch it in Detroit all the time.

When Yuuri excused himself for a bathroom break, Yuri paused the movie, sighing. He felt out of place there, ever since Shiori, he realised. He was intruding now whereas before he hadn’t thought twice about barging in unannounced at the Katsuki-Nikiforovs. Maybe they’d always been a family with just the two of them, but now, with three, Yuuri and Viktor had disappeared down the rabbit hole. And Yuri wasn’t a part of their family anymore.

He caught himself pulling on the mark patch at his neck, absently and irately, and he got his phone out to keep himself occupied. He’d perhaps checked his phone some half an hour before: in that time, Otabek had posted a new picture on Instagram.

Yuri bolted to sit upright, hand suddenly squeezing the device, eyes nailed to the screen. It was the first sign of life in over two weeks.

The picture was a regram, the little icon in the corner stating that the picture was reposted from the account of @azatk2000. It was a picture of five people with arms around each other’s shoulders, posing for the camera as they stood in a club of some kind. Yuri only recognised two of them. Otabek stood on the far left, in black jeans, black tank top, headphones around his neck, and his arm was around the shoulders of a man around their age, who had olive coloured skin, black hair, almond eyes and a beautiful smile. Yuri had not seen the man in years, yet he knew him instantly.

It was Azat, Otabek’s ex-boyfriend. Azat, the omega Otabek had dated for over a year when Yuri had been sixteen or so. Azat, the overly cheerful omega, whom Yuri had met once but had not liked. The caption read something in Kazakh that Yuri couldn’t read except for рахмет, which even he knew meant thanks, followed by #birthdaymadness and #allnightlong!!, and before he knew what he was doing, he was scrolling up and down the account of @azatk2000, who had three thousand pictures up, of which a handful were clearly of a recent birthday party. Otabek was only featured in the one he’d already seen.

Yuri’s hands were shaking.

He had spent hours trying to think of what Otabek was up to, what he was doing, but all of his little scenarios had just been blown out of the water.

Otabek wasn’t supposed to be in clubs. Otabek wasn’t supposed to be hanging out with his ex-fucking-boyfriend. Yuri wasn’t sure what he’d envisioned, but it hadn’t been this.

The location of the party was tagged, so he clicked on it and found more pictures from the club, including two pictures taken from the dance floor that had Otabek behind the DJ booth, and then he found one where Otabek was in the background, talking to Azat and some other guy, and Otabek had an arm around Azat’s shoulders in that shot too.

Beka had an arm around him.

No. No, no, it could not… Azat was dating some guy they’d all gone to school with, wasn’t he? Last time Yuri had checked anyway, but the information was at least a year old. Azat’s Instagram had a smooching picture of Azat and his supposed alpha boyfriend from two months earlier but nothing since, so maybe the two had split up and – and. And maybe Otabek was courting Azat now. Or maybe they were back together already.

“Yurio, are you alright?” came a concerned question, alerting him to Yuuri’s return. Yuuri was looking at him with worry.

“I, uh. I-I forgot to feed Potya,” he managed to say before he bolted up to stand. “I have to go.”

“Now?” Yuuri questioned, but he was already gathering his stuff. “Is something –”

“Thanks for dinner,” he said, eyes downcast. He was worried that if he actually looked at Yuuri, he might start to cry, and he was not a fucking crier, goddammit. He was still squeezing his phone when he rushed out, taking the stairs rather than waiting for the lift.

Everything seemed to be imploding, but none of it made the pictures of Otabek with Azat go away. No wonder he hadn’t heard from Beka, no wonder Beka had legged it.

Yuri stormed down the stairs of the building, his steps echoing in the stairwell. He was struggling to breathe, and for the first time he thought he could see the appeal of hitting the shit out of a wall. Anything was better than the pain in his chest.

When he emerged onto the street, he nearly walked into a taxi that had pulled onto the pavement right outside. The backseat door was open and seemingly full of balloons while a bored looking driver was emptying a boot full of shopping bags, placing them next to two large suitcases on the pavement. From the back of the car, first a Winnie the Pooh balloon appeared, followed by Piglet, and after them Viktor Nikiforov emerged in a flash of silver hair, holding onto the strings of the balloons in one hand, and holding a bouquet of squashed red roses in the other. Yuri came to a stop, unsettled. Viktor was clearly in his element and was grinning widely, thanking the driver who looked rather fed up as he took the payment from Viktor.

Viktor was smiling brightly when he spotted Yuri frozen on the steps. “Oh, hello! Visiting, were you?” But this was clearly a rhetorical question. The car took off as Viktor scrutinised his suitcases and shopping bags, clearly wondering how to get them all with him when he only had two hands.

Yuri barely managed to suppress a growl at the back of his throat. “Shouldn’t you be in New York?”

Viktor beamed, proudly. “I should! But I managed to dodge some commitments to come back a day early! Does Yuuri suspect anything?”

“No.”

“Marvellous! God, you know,” Viktor now said, trying to pick up some of the bags, “New York was so fabulous for kid’s fashion, you won’t believe the clothes I got for Shiori. If there is a cuter baby in all of Russia after we’ve dressed her in these, I will eat these roses!” The old man was buzzing with excitement – ready to be reunited with his mate and child. “Yuuri will probably say I splurged again, but –”

“Save it for someone who gives a shit,” he snapped, and Viktor was successfully silenced. He was fuming, having had enough. “Not everyone wants to see your little docile omega and doting alpha relationship, alright? Makes me goddamn sick!”

He stormed off, the bitter taste of bile at the back of his throat, but he sensed Viktor staring at his receding back, standing on the street with two gigantic balloons and a slightly squashed rose bouquet, a stupefied look on his face.

* * *

Yuri was well aware that it was petty – he would have been the first to admit it. But that wasn’t to say that it wasn’t sort of brilliant, too, at the same time.

He lingered in the lobby of the dance complex after his session with Lilia, checking the time from his phone every now and then. The pole dance lesson had finished ten minutes ago – he’d checked the schedule online – so what was taking so long?

He’d hardly been able to sleep since Otabek’s group shot with Azat, having considered buying flights to Almaty and corner Otabek to ask what the fuck was that about, but all of those scenarios ended up with the two of them making love and Yuri marking Beka in turn, and he wanted to gag at the thought of it – fucking bonding hormones! So he hadn’t booked flights at all. He was staying put, but he could still fight back in his own way.

He’d tried making sense of the picture of Otabek and Azat, but with little success: fury was what remained. How dare Otabek go running to his ex-boyfriend when Yuri still had Otabek’s mark on his neck? How dare Otabek mark him, knot him, fucking bond with him, and then run back to Azat?! Yuri was going to fucking kill Otabek Altin, he was going to tear him apart! How could he be sat there with Otabek Altin’s bond mark on his neck when Otabek was clubbing with his ex-boyfriend?! The mark hadn’t even faded yet, and Beka had found someone else?!

But if Otabek thought Yuri was mourning, he was about to be shown otherwise.

A higher power must have realised how impatient he was because at that moment Lucian appeared, coming down the stairs into the lobby with some friend of his that Yuri hadn’t met. They hadn’t spotted him yet, and so he had a second to ponder if this really was the smart thing to do – but fuck it, he thought bitterly, and marched over. No reason to play coy, after all, and as Lucian saw him and broke into a knowing smile, he blurted out, “So you wanna go out or something?”

It occurred to him at that moment that he’d never actually asked anyone out before, but he tried to stand tall and look menacing. That was how you asked people out, right? By being menacing?

Lucian looked surprised, but his friend, a blonde girl, was smirking. Lucian nearly flushed, which Yuri had not expected from someone who acted so cocky all the time. “You’re asking me out?” Lucian clarified.

“Yeah, obviously. Let’s go get drinks.”

Lucian seemed to get his bearings, the surprise fading and a grin emerging on his face instead, like he’d expected this ever since they’d smooched at Sofia’s party. “Okay, sure! When would you like to go?”

“Uh, now?” he said and rolled his eyes.

Lucian was stunned again, looking at his friend and then at Yuri in disbelief. “Now?

But before the hour was done the two of them were in a bar that Yuri had picked out, and Yuri tried to relax now that his plan was underway. Yuri got a beer while Lucian bought his own drink, saying that he wasn’t the kind of beta who let alphas buy him drinks as down payment for sex. Yuri lifted an eyebrow at this comment, but Lucian only leaned against the bar counter, jutting out his ass just so. “Let’s not pretend it’s not on the table, at least,” Lucian said with a wink. And, well. When Lucian thrust out his ass in those skinny jeans like that, it was obvious that it had to be on the table – or near-ish the table.

They sat in the corner of the dingy rock bar, Lucian crossing one long leg over the other, sipping his drink with a playful smile, and Yuri couldn’t help but think that Otabek would have liked the bar: Guns ‘n Roses were playing, they had faded black leather chairs, and a burly, tattooed bartender.

Lucian was explaining how a dancewear company had sent him free stuff to review on his social media, and Yuri asked if they sponsored him, confused. “No, they just saw my Insta and thought I was cool,” Lucian explained, casually mentioning his number of followers. Nowhere near as many as Yuri’s of course, but certainly high for someone who wasn’t actually famous.

But Yuri was pleased that he hadn’t had to force the topic to come up, so he said he really should follow Lucian on Instagram, shouldn’t he? And oh there Lucian’s profile now was on Yuri’s phone screen, showing Lucian in selfies with his many friends. It looked like quite a collection, Yuri noted.

“Well I must add a picture of us, too!” Lucian said, like a dream, and Yuri wrapped an arm around Lucian’s shoulders tightly as they posed for the picture, Lucian tossing his brown curls, and Yuri giving his best smirk for the camera. They looked good together – even he could see that.

They took a couple of shots, and Yuri tried to look suggestive, or possessive, or both, or something.

“What should I tag this?” Lucian pondered, working his phone. Yuri’s Angels would find that picture in approximately 0.5 seconds, he knew. Yuri had some suggestions for tags, like #fuckyouBeka and #fuckyouagain, but he kept these to himself. Lucian delivered even better than he’d hoped: drinks with this hottie! ;) @yuri_plisetsky #midweekcocktails #uptonogood

He knew Otabek might never see the picture without help, but why not regram it like Otabek had done with Azat’s picture? Why not show himself canoodling with Lucian for all the world to goddamn see? Because that was apparently cool now, that was apparently a completely cool and acceptable thing to fucking do.

So he did, to give Yuri’s Angels something to talk about. Job accomplished. He suggested another round of drinks – he needed to celebrate.

Considering how flirtatious Lucian had been with him in the past, Yuri was surprised that the other wasn’t sat in his lap and offering his services after their fourth drinks. Instead Lucian was asking about his new routines, being friendly, sure, but not overly friendly. Yuri figured maybe neither of them had ever thought they’d get as far as a date.

He found himself bitching about Viktor, unexpectedly. “He keeps saying I’m not expressing the music, but he chose it! I mean, sure, I liked the piece to start with, but he keeps saying I’m not connecting, and what the hell does he want me to do with that? Send me to some goddamn temple to meditate again?”

“Oh, I meditate every day,” Lucian confined, and Yuri suppressed a roll of his eyes. Of course Lucian did. “Can I hear the music?”

The noise in the rock bar was too loud, so they went outside. Yuri got out his headphones and let Lucian listen to the piece from his iPhone. “Hmmm, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Lucian mused. Yuri had mostly forgotten they were supposed to be on a date – a sexy, flirtatious date that everyone in Kazakhstan should know about. “Very fragile and pristine, too, though there is a strength to it. The theme was growth? This is a perfect choice! I can absolutely see you skating to this.”

“Yeah, me too,” he admitted. It wasn’t the music’s fault – Viktor had chosen it specifically for Yuri, and it would serve him well. “But I’m not projecting the right emotions of growth.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m too aggressive, Viktor keeps saying, and apparently that’s not how you grow.”

“Oh no, you can’t be aggressive to this,” Lucian chastised him. “It’s so sensual and light. Hey, do you – do you want to show me, maybe?”

Yuri blinked at him, unsure. He hadn’t planned much beyond his revenge plan to get a pretty boy on his arm for all of the internet – and Otabek – to see. He’d achieved that now, and he knew Otabek had disliked Lucian, for whatever reason, so the plan had seemed even better. But had he intended to fake a headache or actually fuck Lucian after that? He’d never decided.

But he certainly hadn’t expected to head to Lucian’s 24/7 gym downtown, where sure the classrooms were empty at ten o’clock at night, and Lucian sweet-talked the staff into letting them use one. Lucian had his training bag with him still, so he changed into his loose training clothes while Yuri linked his phone to the speakers. There wasn’t much fluidity to him when he was wearing jeans, but he and Viktor had developed the routine both on and off ice, and Yuri could show the main parts of the routine without his skates, too. Now he was teaching his SP to Lucian, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, brown curls tied up on a bun and cheeks getting flushed.

“And here you jump?” Lucian asked, a little out of breath.

“Quad loop, triple toe,” he said, demonstrating the jumps then and there, without the height and momentum that the ice gave him, but with enough rotations still.

Lucian was smiling at him – bedroom eyes? – clearly impressed. Lucian tried doing a triple, but nearly fell over, laughing. Yuri had to steady him, and Lucian looped arms around his shoulders, stepping right into his space. Yuri wished they’d had more to drink – he wasn’t quite drunk enough to repeat the truth or dare yet. “Aren’t you getting a little hot?” Lucian asked him, blinking slowly, dark lashes long.

“Y-Yeah,” he admitted.

“Mmm, me too,” Lucian grinned at him before letting him go. Yuri wondered if Lucian intend for them to fuck in the gym’s empty class room. There was CCTV here! That’d end up all over the internet, he was sure of it.

But Lucian was back to figuring out the routine by himself, so Yuri cleared his throat and continued showing the program. “From here, I slide into an Ina Bauer –”

“A what?”

“It’s an element. You do it like so,” he said, stretching out his arms and bending backwards, demonstrating, and Lucian mimicked him. “Good, and your legs are spread wide, too. Uh huh, and then you bend backwards – lower than that… lower…”

“Shit!” Lucian yelped and fell onto the floor in a flail of arms. He didn’t bother getting up, just lay on the floor laughing, a little drunk. When Yuri went over to offer a hand, Lucian grabbed his wrist and pulled him down forcefully, and Yuri had no choice except to land on Lucian, his body pressing against the other’s. Lucian giggled, thrilled, and Yuri rolled his eyes.

Lucian was warm, the beat of his heart vibrating against Yuri’s chest. Yuri steadied himself, the other’s heat radiating against him. This wasn’t so innocent after all. Lucian’s eyes landed on his lips, and Yuri’s skin felt hotter.

He hadn’t decided what to do when Lucian leaned up to kiss him, and he kissed back automatically. It wasn’t like the kiss they’d shared before. Lucian sighed under him, letting out a small moan that was disarmingly sexual. Yuri almost felt relieved: one rejection didn’t mean that others didn’t want him – dozens of people wanted him! Dozens of incredibly handsome people like Lucian!

And so what if this wasn’t perfect: the dizzying desire would kick in later: the burning, maddening want that he felt when Otabek as much as looked at him; the fire when they kissed and touched, the dream-like pyre of their fucking when they felt like one, and Yuri never wanted them to part but to simply come undone in each other’s arms. All of that passion would come later, and so he deepened the kiss, searching for it. Lucian’s hands were in his hair, and Yuri caressed Lucian’s sides, the other lithe and thin beneath him. He’d get into this soon: Lucian was gorgeous, so why was he finding it so hard to concentrate? If Beka was moving on, so could he, and –

Lucian froze, kiss breaking, and Yuri pulled back. They stared at each other, a little out of breath. There was a frown on Lucian’s face. “Why do you – Or. You smell different.”

“I do?” he asked, one palm against the studio floor, balancing himself above Lucian. He could smell arousal between them – Lucian’s and, after that, the fainter smell of his own.

“You almost smell like…” Lucian began, but Yuri thought he smelled like he always did, didn’t he? Lucian’s words faded away, and Lucian then looked at him in disbelief. “You smell like you’re mated.” And although Yuri didn’t say anything, he felt blood drain from his face in horror, and this seemed to be admission because Lucian gasped. “You are?!”

“I –”

Lucian shoved him off, and Yuri landed on his ass on the studio floor, stunned. Bonds affected the chemical makeup of people – scents changed. But usually only strong long-term bonds resulted in it, and Beka’s mark, though on his neck, now felt fleeting at best.

“What kind of a sick game is this?!” Lucian barked, full of anger, and then he was up on his feet, and Yuri followed, thrown off. Yuri tried to speak again, but Lucian was having none of it. “I don’t know what kind of a game you’re playing, but you were wrong if you thought I’d fuck someone who’s already got a mate!” Lucian grabbed a jumper from his training bag and was now throwing it on. He was visibly angry. “God, you cheating, lying piece of shit!”

“Hey, that’s not –”

“All goddamn night, chatting me up and flirting! Where’s your mate, huh? And don’t give me any bullshit that he gives a blank card because you’re a horny alpha and that’s just what alphas do!”

Yuri didn’t know what to say: he didn’t know where his mate was. There was no blank card. There were no rules at all! Would Lucian appreciate being told he’d only wanted to make his non-mate jealous?

Lucian snapped, “What the hell are you doing courting me for?!”

“We broke up!” he blurted out in the face of Lucian’s anger. The other stilled, surprised. Yuri tried to catch his breath. “Or we- We weren’t really even together, and we bonded in, ah, the heat of the moment, and – and it didn’t work, and I haven’t even spoken to him in a month, so. So yeah, I was trying to fuck you.” He shrugged, unsure what else to say. “Sue me.”

Not his most articulate defence to date, sure.

Lucian glared at him. “And that makes this okay? That you two are having a fight?”

“It’s not a fight,” he said. “It’s over.” He swallowed hard, a sudden emptiness spreading in his chest. “He… He walked out on me, if you must know.”

He wasn’t sure if pity crossed Lucian’s face or not, but the other shook his head, lifting his training bag onto one shoulder. “That may be so, but he’s still your mate, and even I could smell it on you once close enough. A bond is a bond, and it’s sacred. And if you’re waiting for the bond to break, you’ll keep waiting a long time. Stop making others miserable, alright, and just go to him.”

“He doesn’t want me,” he repeated – what was so hard to get?

“He let you mark him, didn’t he?” Lucian sighed as if Yuri was being obtuse on purpose. Yuri didn’t correct him: he’d been the one marked. Not for a second had he considered pushing Beka off, but he’d kept Beka there, to his neck, letting the other work in the mark as an orgasmic haze clouded his mind. Yuri had let him, ultimately. “And since he let you, he’s clearly in love with you,” Lucian concluded.

Yuri everted his gaze. Maybe. Maybe he had been. What use was it now?

Lucian scoffed and headed for the door, but Yuri called out, “Hey, you can’t tell anyone!” The other stopped in his steps, and Yuri swallowed thickly around his tongue. He tried to find the words. “My fans, they’d – and the press, and the ISU, and all of them would… People don’t know, I mean, that I’ve… But it was a mistake, and…”

Lucian shook his head. “Fucking alphas… Sure, whatever. I won’t tell anyone. But this is gonna catch up with you eventually, I can promise you that.” Lucian laughed emptily. “I guess I’ll file this under yet another disaster of a date, huh? Goodnight, Yuri.”

Yuri said nothing, just watched the other leave. His phone was still playing the music to his free skate on repeat, skittering across the air poignantly and softly. In the mirrored wall of the studio he saw himself, loose blank tank top leaving his neck and shoulders partially exposed, and there in the meat of his shoulder and neck, under a patch was the mark, in the shape of Otabek’s mouth. A unique signature that only Otabek’s mate would get the privilege to know.

And in the moment when it’d been made, Yuri had wanted it.

Was Lucian right? Was he kidding himself thinking he could just wait for the bond to fade enough to break?

In any case, he’d got what he wanted: a suggestive picture on Instagram. It seemed so petty now.

He turned off the music and gathered his things. He hadn’t expected Lucian’s reaction to be what it was, except that if he had to guess at all, Lucian had probably been unwittingly seduced by an already mated alpha in the past. Why else such vitriol?

He checked his phone: over a thousand Instagram comments already, people flat out asking if the man in the regram was Yuri’s boyfriend, and people replying to each other their stalking results: He’s a beta and studies modern dance in St. Petersburg! H-O-T!

So there it was: the internet thought he was a playboy and hooking up with the city’s finest. Just what he’d wanted.

His thumb hovered over the screen briefly, and then he scrolled down on his own profile to an older post: him and Otabek in the lift to Yuri’s apartment, when Otabek had first come to visit him. The two of them a little drunk, a little handsy, grinning at the camera. Happy. Yuri’s heart seemed to double in size just recalling it.

It was a nice reminder that something had been there, between him and Otabek, once.

It was almost a comfort.

* * *

In the end, Lucian was right: it did catch up with Yuri, but not in a way he ever would have expected. His mind was elsewhere – in Helsinki, to be precise. He’d had no intention of going to Finlandia Trophy or any of the challenger series events, but rather start the year straight in the GP qualifiers with Rostelecom Cup. Now, however, he was changing his mind, mere two days after his internet debut with Lucian.

Yakov, of all people, was behind this change of heart, when one afternoon he and Viktor were on the ice together and Yakov motioned them over. They dutifully skated to him because even if he and Viktor didn’t admit it, Yakov had bossed both of them around for so many years that it was hard to ignore him even now. “It is good,” Yakov said of his program, and Viktor smiled winningly while Yuri felt relieved. “Are you competing at Finlandia Trophy, too?”

“What do you mean, ‘too’?” Yuri asked, and that was how he found out that Otabek Altin had that very morning announced that he’d compete at Helsinki in only a few weeks’ time.

“Isn’t it a bit last minute to be registering for challengers?” Viktor asked. “Otabek’s left that very late.”

But while Viktor explained to Yakov why they hadn’t thought any of the challenger series would benefit Yuri at this point, Yuri for the first time considered the proximity of Helsinki to St. Petersburg, practically next door he realised, and he found himself clutching the rink boards just to steady himself.

He knew it was ridiculous: it wasn’t as if Otabek was coming to Russia, or even to the same time zone. Helsinki was still hours away – three hours, if you took the train, or a mere hour if you flew, as he soon googled. But it was so much closer to Yuri than Almaty was, so much more palpable, that it felt as if Otabek had just sauntered into the rink itself. Yuri couldn’t stand the thought of Beka so close.

And maybe it was this perpetual distraction of knowing that in only a few weeks Otabek would be so close to him – so close that all he needed was the valid visa in his passport and a taxi ride to the airport or, hell, the train station – that led to his downfall the following afternoon.

That, and Lilia’s torture of him.

How was it his fault that Lilia was working him to death, sweat gleaming on his forehead as he listened to her instructions. “Are you thinking of your brisé?” Lilia challenged him. “You can’t be, seeing how awful it is! Again!”

So he obeyed, back slick with sweat. When they paused for a drink, he downed his water bottle in nearly one go, Lilia staring at him with arms crossed and critiquing his posture. And then she froze, her eyes seeming to have fixated on his Adam’s apple.

“What?” Yuri asked, irritated – and then Lilia reached over to him, long fingers trailing to the side of his neck, and in one sharp yank the mark patch, loosened by sweat, was in Lilia’s hand.

Lilia stared at the patch in her hand. Yuri stared at it. Then they stared at each other, and Lilia’s gaze moved down to his neck.

Lilia’s eyes went wide and she took a shocked step back. Yuri’s heart plummeted down to his guts. Oh no. Oh please –

“Yuri Plisetsky,” Lilia hissed with such venom that he felt himself shrink in front of the older alpha. “You have explaining to do.”

And this was how Yuri found himself sat on one of the plush loveseats of Lilia’s apartment, where he’d been told to stay and not move, ready to be schooled. Lilia had all but ushered him out of the dance studio, after telling him to cover himself up, for god’s sake, there were people everywhere!

As they’d waited for the taxi and Yuri had attempted to open his mouth, Lilia had barked, “Do you think you are my first, hmm? Talented omega dancers knocked up at seventeen, careers ruined; alphas running out on dance companies after a whiff of some tail, unlikely to be hired again; betas ruining everything by sleeping with the promiscuous alpha choreographer, leaving the production a mess. No, Yuri, you are not the first.”

She’d refused to speak to him after that, and Yuri knew he was fucked.

Lilia had made herself a cup of tea as they waited for company. She sat on her baroque antique armchair, sipping her drink and eyeing Yuri with her intelligent yet cold green eyes. Was she mad? Disappointed? Shocked? He couldn’t even tell.

Yuri didn’t struggle: resistance was futile when it came to Lilia. He just wished that she’d punished him on her own terms, like that time he got a nipple pierced when he was seventeen and she said fine, he could keep it if he came to the dance studio for the seven AM class every day. No problem, he’d snarled! Yuri had taken the piercing out four days later, when he’d woken up at eleven, still exhausted and aching.

But now they sat in silence, waiting. Yuri’s tank top was loose. No scarf, no turtleneck. No patch to cover the mark. Lilia’s mouth pursed whenever her eyes landed on it.

To be honest, Yuri was almost relieved when Viktor finally showed up, but of course Viktor couldn’t show up alone – oh no, he had Shiori strapped to his chest and Yuuri in tow. Lilia’s maid let them in, and the guests arrived to the sitting room in a rush with Viktor saying, “Well, we’re here! What on earth could be this urgent that you couldn’t tell me on the –” A pause. “Oh. Oh, shit.”

And then Viktor and Yuuri both stood there, gawking at him.

The mark, a month and a half old now, was finally showing signs of fading, but there was no hiding it when uncovered like this. Yuri probably would not be left with a permanent mark – someone like Katsudon would have a scar if he and Viktor ever broke up, as Viktor had kept the mark there for years now. Yuri, however, had only been bitten once, and Otabek hadn’t worked the mark into the deep tissue of his neck with just one go. Yuri wouldn’t need plastic surgery for a skin transplant, the way some bitter omegas and betas did when they broke up with their alphas.

Right then, however, he wished he’d called up a plastic surgeon first thing.

“Yurio,” Viktor then said, trying to sound calm – but it was one of the rare times there was no smile on Viktor’s face. “Anything you’d care to share?”

But Yuri thought it was all fairly obvious, so he said nothing. Beside Viktor, Yuuri was staring at him, eyes wide as saucers. “How recent is that?!” he squawked, but they all knew it couldn’t have been there for very long yet. Yuri doubted anyone realised he’d had it for weeks, however. “You’re mated? T-To another alpha?” Yuuri looked to Viktor in horror. “How did we not know?!”

Lilia stood up and, to his surprise, started yelling at Viktor instead of him. “Well, are you happy with yourself, Viktor? I hand him over to your guidance, and six months later I have this!” Lilia was bellowing and motioning at Yuri on the sofa. “This! An alpha of nineteen bonded to another alpha! A nineteen-year-old! What kind of coaching is this?!”

“Well, I – I didn’t know he had a boyfriend,” Viktor finally managed, seemingly gobsmacked. Viktor stared at Yuri from over Lilia’s shoulder. “An alpha boyfriend…” And Viktor sounded lost as he said it, frowning. Yuri felt heat rise to his face in spite of himself, from humiliation and anger alike: usually he hated people talking about him like he wasn’t even there, like he was some kid – but faced with Lilia’s wrath, he felt like a kid. Viktor seemed to be at a loss too.

“But who’s your mate?” Yuuri now asked.

Finally, a questioned directed at him. He gritted his teeth. “No one.”

“No one?” Viktor repeated, sounding both annoyed and amused. “Is that really your answer? You expect us to believe some alpha tripped on you?”

“He must have a secret boyfriend,” Yuuri said in sudden realisation and might even have looked a little impressed that Yuri had ever pulled off such a thing.

“A secret alpha boyfriend,” Viktor amended, which appeared to puzzle him. Alphas were hardly known for their subtlety when finding mates: they were in your face and possessive, hovering around, scenting, trying to claim their chosen partner. “I’d say it’s madness for you to date an alpha considering how pugnacious you are, but someone must have taken the bait,” Viktor commented.

Yuri couldn’t help but defend himself: “I’m an adult and my private life is –”

“You’re nineteen!” Viktor argued back, so loudly that he almost woke up Shiori. Viktor startled, then angrily whispered, “You’re a teenager, not an adult, and if you think you can handle a bond, I assure you you’ll be surprised. I don’t have to tell you how stupid you’ve been, how reckless, and how angry we are that you tried to hide this from us! Mating is – is…! And don’t even get me started on the unprotected sex you’ve clearly been having!”

Yuri had already survived one safe sex talk from Katsudon, and he really didn’t want to repeat this from Viktor.

But Viktor wasn’t done: “What were you thinking?! Lying to me – your coach! I need to know everything that goes on in your life – privacy doesn’t exist here, and this level of deception is –”

“All summer all you’ve cared about is Yuuri and that baby!” he snapped. “Is it deception if you just haven’t cared enough to look?!”

Viktor quieted, looking from Yuri to Shiori asleep against his chest. It looked like such a thought had never even crossed his mind.

Next to him, Katsudon tried to put on the biggest of smiles. “W-Well! Uh, whose idea was bonding – yours or his? It seems sudden, somewhat, uhm… Do, er, your families approve? You can’t marry in Russia, of course, but you probably want to move in together?”

There were too many questions flying at him, but as he made to stand up, Lilia boomed, “Yuri Plisetsky, don’t you dare!” He froze, feeling skittish, and sat back down. Viktor looked more shocked now than he had upon arrival. Lilia said, “You can cancel the congratulations, no matter how feisty he’s being. He was covering the mark with a patch.”

The mood changed instantly: Yuuri’s face went from benign shock to sorry in a nano-second. Viktor’s mouth dropped open further, one hand coming up to curl around Shiori sleeping against his chest. Yes, he’d covered it with a patch: any alpha would be hell bent to let their mate cover a mark long-term, especially a new one. No, alphas wanted it to be shown off as the declaration of ownership it was. Alphas were proud of the marks they left on their chosen mate, and if Yuri had been able to hide his mark from everyone so easily all this time, then – then clearly the alpha who’d left it wasn’t around to object to the lack of publicity.

Clearly the alpha had marked him and run.

Viktor took in a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yuri,” Viktor said, now very gently. “Did the alpha… force himself –”

“No,” he interjected. “No, no one forced themselves on me. God, it’s nothing like that.” The others looked relieved. “Okay, look,” he snapped, “I had a- a thing with this guy, and… And then it just didn’t work out. It’s not a big deal.”

Yuuri stared at him, astonished. “Not a big…? You marked each other! Yurio, you must care about each other a great deal!” Lucian had said more or less the same, and Yuri hated it. Then, for some inexplicable reason, the omega looked sad. “Please tell me that’s not some ‘for a laugh’ mark. You should know how serious that is.” Yuuri then adopted Lilia’s arms-crossed, disappointed-frown stance.

He’d disappointed everyone. He knew that. He hadn’t been supposed to fuck up by bonding with another alpha at the age of nineteen. God, it’d be a PR nightmare if it ever got out. He was grateful, he supposed, that at least he wasn’t being questioned on how he’d ended up sleeping with a fellow alpha instead of a beta or omega, although the surprise was on everyone’s faces.

Lilia was somehow madder at his coach than at Yuri – a small grace for which Yuri was nevertheless grateful. She now snarled at Viktor. “See, this is how self-involved you have been! You should have noticed the boy was in love! He and the other alpha would have been all over each other!”

Viktor looked unsure of himself. “But I… I haven’t noticed anything.”

“Oh my god!” Yuuri then breathed, so dramatically that they all turned to look at him. “Of course! God, of course we know who his mate is!”

Yuri tensed up, his heart feeling like it might break. He didn’t want Beka to get dragged into this, for Lilia and Viktor to call him up and demand an explanation like Yuri was some child – the thought was mortifying, and Beka would probably laugh at them, at him.

Viktor stared at his husband. “Who?!”

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Yuuri said with urgency. “What alpha could possibly be so irresponsible as to mark Yurio and then run off?” When this question ended up rhetorical, Yuuri clarified, “It’s that friend of his, Alexei!”

“Alexei?!” Yuri and Viktor both repeated in unison: Viktor in realisation, and Yuri because now he was genuinely offended. Alexei?! Gross!

But the more he then denied that his mate absolutely was not Alexei, the more doubtful the others looked that he was telling the truth. He was again ignored: Yuuri recited the overheard phone conversation of Alexei’s promiscuous claims of fucking all of St. Petersburg, and Viktor agreed that Alexei had never been a good influence on Yuri, and this was the result. Yuri denied once more that it was Alexei, and Viktor said, “Please, who else could it possibly be? Apart from Lilia and myself, there is no alpha you spend as much time with.”

“There is Otabek Altin,” Lilia said thoughtfully, but Yuuri and Viktor both laughed.

“As if Otabek would ever be this thoughtless!” Viktor said, and Yuuri nodded in agreement. Yuri felt defeated: what could he say to that? It was out of character for Otabek: all of it was, the affair, the bond, the punching of the wall. A year-long madness that was now done. Viktor had moved onto questioning whether or not Yuri would be emotionally ready for the new season if he was suffering from a fading bond, but Yuri insisted that he was. Yuuri, always trying to be kind, asked if Yuri was absolutely sure he didn’t want to try and get back together with Alexei – they disapproved of Alexei, but if Yuri really did love him – and he told them to shut up about love already, it was making him gag.

“It’s over,” he said. He kept saying this to everyone, it seemed: to himself, to Lucian, now to Lilia, Yuuri and Viktor. When would he believe it, too? “He and I, with… with us both being alphas, things got – kinda intense, and uh. It was an accident. I know it was foolish,” he said at last. “But the bond will break eventually, and that’ll be that. I just want to win this season. That’s all I want.”

Viktor had one arm around Shiori still asleep against his chest, the forefinger of his free hand pressed to his lips as he appeared deep in thought. “I was talking to Yakov earlier, about perhaps us testing your routines in competition before the GP starts. And now I see that the best thing for you is to get your mind off of this mess – to get out of town, away from Alexei, and get back into competing,” Viktor said. “So how about we go to Finlandia Trophy? You’d be a late entry, but I have friends at the Finnish Figure Skating Association.”

Yuuri added, “He’s the reigning world bronze medallist, they’d be fools to say no!”

Lilia hummed in approval. “Yes, get the boy out of town. Put some distance between him and this Alexei – the bond will break faster that way, I am sure.”

“And Otabek will be there!” Katsudon enthused. “Yurio needs the right kind of friends right now, not this party crowd here that’s clearly been a bad influence.”

“Yes, perfect!” Viktor smiled, finally. “Yurio, what do you think?”

And Yuri sat on the couch silently, heart thudding fast in his chest as all three looked at him. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, let’s do that.” He exhaled shakily, and the mark seemed to ache then, more than it usually did. “Can I go now?”

And maybe he looked sorry or humiliated or defeated, but whatever the reason, they let him go.

People often said that you felt better after the truth was out, but he didn’t. He left Lilia’s apartment exhausted, but there was an electric drum cascading up and down his body, yearning. Finlandia Trophy. Otabek would be there.

He kept his head down on the walk home, now in clothes that hid the mark once more. He put on headphones and listened to the radio, anything to distract him from his thoughts. The goddamn radio – who listened to that anymore? But he didn’t have a mixtape for September. Otabek hadn’t sent him the monthly mixtape at the start of that month, for the first time since they’d met.

And so he listened to the radio.

Yuri knew one thing for sure: he would destroy Beka at the challenger event. He’d destroy him, or anything else that would be at hand.

* * *

Yuri had always wanted Viktor to take him more seriously, and he finally had his wish. The dynamic between them changed: Viktor wasn’t aloof like he usually was, but rather came to the gym the next day with an air of solemn urgency. They didn’t go inside either – instead Viktor asked if he could buy them coffees, and Yuri followed the other to a café across the street.

They sat in the corner with their cups, eight in the morning. Commuters and office workers rushed in to get their to-go cups, and outside rain was falling steadily. Viktor looked tired, eyes on his cup. Yuri was wearing a turtleneck again, and Viktor’s eyes strayed to his neck more than once.

“I’ve failed you,” Viktor then announced, and Yuri blinked at him. “You were right: I’ve been so focused on my family that I haven’t given you the attention you deserve. I’m sorry.”

Yuri blinked. “Oh.” Was this the first time in history Viktor Nikiforov actually apologised for something?

Viktor sighed, brushing his bangs aside before looking out of the window. “I’ve only ever coached Yuuri, and that’s very different from coaching you. I haven’t made that transition as successfully as I’d like. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised that you don’t quite trust me.”

Yuri sipped his coffee, considering this. He placed the cup back on the table and said, “I do trust you when it comes to the routines. But while Yuuri might have told you everything, I am entitled to a private life and privacy in things that don’t affect my skating.”

Viktor pursed his lips, still not looking at him. “And you think this hasn’t affected your skating?” he asked pointedly, and Yuri could only shift in his seat uncomfortably. “You know, two alphas, that… that can be tricky, Yurio. We’re so possessive and we’re not very, ah. Very finessed when it comes to taking things slow, uhm.” Viktor looked out of his comfort zone, but then he gave Yuri a smile so kind and soft Yuri didn’t know what to do with it. “But you can’t help who you love, I know that too. So even if this one didn’t work out, if you find someone else down the line, another alpha, then you can tell me and Yuuri. Okay? You can tell us. I mean, you certainly wouldn’t be the only same-secondary gender couple we know. As long as you’re happy, Yurio. That’s what we care about. Not the who or what of it.”

Yuri found himself squeezing the cup so hard his knuckles were white. He nodded, unable to say anything. He ducked his head and blinked furiously, and maybe he really still was just a teenager, even if he felt so much older than most of his peers. Maybe sometimes he still was growing rather than grown. He nodded again, wiping at his eyes quickly. Viktor was kind once more and said nothing, and together they proceeded to drink the coffees until Yuri felt more like himself again.

When the silence stretched, Yuri asked a question he’d been wanted to ask for a while now – since Beka had left. “Hey, so… so how did you know Yuuri was the one for you? Out of all others, I guess.”

Viktor blinked at him, but when he broke into a smile, it was warm and loving. “When I saw him skate my routine,” Viktor said matter-of-factly. “I mean, after the banquet I was already quite smitten, but that was infatuation. But when he skated my routine, I felt something else. It was… it was as if he was speaking a language that I’d been trying to speak all my life, but I’d never managed it. Yet, there he was, speaking it. And I finally understood it, like a… a language made just for the two of us.”

A connection: inexplicable, undeniable.

“That’s when I first realised that I’d found my mate,” Viktor admitted, now smiling fondly at the memory. “He had to be mine, I thought. Or hoped.”

Yuri hesitated. “And there was no one else you considered? No one you’d dated before him, or something.”

“No,” Viktor said, like the thought was absurd. “No, I knew then that no one else would do. He was the only one I wanted to carry my mark… It was instinct, really.”

“Okay,” he almost whispered. Instinct. No hesitation, no second guessing: you just packed up your shit and moved to Japan, by the looks of it, when you were that sure. Not the opposite: not run away to another country, and not court your ex instead.

It wasn’t the answer he’d wanted, and Viktor seemed to realise it. Viktor sighed. “Was it really Alexei? When you left yesterday I still wasn’t sure. Yuuri is convinced he’s right but I told him that, uh. Well, he isn’t the most perceptive person when it comes to romance.”

Yuri snorted, thinking of how Viktor fawned all over the clueless omega for months before Yuuri at all realised he was being aggressively courted by an overenthusiastic alpha. Everyone else knew, but Yuuri had been oblivious. But when he said nothing, Viktor added, “Okay, you don’t have to tell me. But I hope one day you will, if you want to, or if anything happens with this alpha that I should know about. How’s that?”

“Sounds fair,” he shrugged.

“Okay, good.” Viktor flashed a smile at him. “For now, we have to focus on Helsinki, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “And hey, thanks. For apologising. And for the talk, I guess.”

Viktor nodded. “Sure. Sort of our fault we didn’t realise how much you’ve grown in the last couple of years, huh?”

They finished their coffees and as they walked back over to the gym to start their off-ice training, Viktor added, “Hey, uh, you don’t mind Yuuri and Shiori coming to Helsinki, do you?”

Yuri stared at his coach in disbelief and then gave up with a roll of his eyes, but things between them seemed to slide back to normal. At least Viktor was no longer looking at him like some broken thing.

Viktor naturally intended for Shiori and Yuuri to accompany them to the major competitions of the year, mainly because Viktor openly confessed he wasn’t sure how he’d manage without his husband and child for extended periods of time. Viktor now thought that a long weekend in Helsinki was a good way to test how easy or difficult it would be to travel with their baby. Yuri only said fine, as long as Viktor was there for him and not changing Shiori in the nearest toilet when Yuri was competing, and Viktor assured him that that wouldn’t be the case.

But when they all met at the airport some weeks later for a morning flight to Helsinki, the amount of luggage the Katsuki-Nikiforovs had seemed ridiculous. Viktor and Yuuri fussed trying to recall how to get the buggy to collapse so they could stow it away, and Shiori was crying because the airport was loud and strange, and Yuri only wanted to get to the hotel already, goddammit.

Thankfully Shiori wailed only half of the one hour flight.

Upon arrival, he found October in Helsinki to be gloomy and grey, some trees still hanging onto yellowed leaves, others bare. Their hotel was the same as the one they’d stayed at for the World Championships some years earlier, when Yuuri had still been competing. Yuri’s view was nearly the same too, from what he could recall: his window looked out across a busy street into a park with a small lake beyond it.

Viktor and Yuuri had gone to settle in with an agreement that he and Viktor would meet in the morning for a final day of practice before the weekend’s competition began. Now he was sat on a hotel bed in another country with nothing to do except wonder feverishly if Otabek was there yet too.

God, the knowledge that he was in the same city, and most likely the same building, as Otabek was maddening. Otabek also must have known that Yuri was there – all figure skating media outlets had been excited to see the New Yuri Plisetsky, now coached by Viktor Nikiforov, competing at Finlandia Trophy. Yes, Beka definitely knew he was there.

What floor was Beka’s room on? This one? Which room? Yuri paced back and forth in his own modern yet dull hotel room, unable to calm down. Wasn’t his bond supposed to alert him to Beka’s presence magically? What fucking use was it when he felt nothing?

Maybe Otabek hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe he’d get there tomorrow.

Yuri couldn’t stand to stay put so he got out his running gear and headed out to calm down. No Yuri’s Angels in the lobby yet – he hadn’t advertised his travelling schedule on social media for the sole purpose of keeping his fan base in the dark. They’d find him soon enough, anyway.

It was late afternoon but the day was already getting darker, and the chilled air had a bite to it. His cheeks soon tingled from the brutal wind coming across the lake he was running around, joining locals on the wide footpath. He circled the lake once, which only took him fifteen minutes at his pace, so he went straight into a second loop. He didn’t gaze at the city to appreciate its beauty, merely glared at a father whose toddler, babbling nonsense Finnish, waddled onto his path because the father was too busy texting. He went for a third loop of the lake.

After the third round, he finally felt tired, his limbs heavy and stiffening. He stopped where two paths intersected, the other leading uphill and back towards the streets and the hotel. He was out of breath, having worked up a sweat. It was dark now, honking sounding from where cars stood in rush hour traffic.

He walked on, although he wanted to go back to the hotel. Birch trees decorated the lake shore, fallen leaves rustled under his feet. He wanted to go back and shower, he thought, as he walked the wrong way. Why was he going the wrong way? He rounded a tree and slammed straight into someone walking up from the shoreline, stepping on someone’s feet, heads nearly knocking together.

As both stepped back to apologise, Yuri’s voice died in his throat. Beka stood there staring at him in surprise, in the winter coat he’d bought in South Korea the previous year, the black one Yuri had chosen for him. Beka stood there, dark eyes, black hair, reddened cheeks, chiselled jaw. Beka was taken aback at the sight of him.

The adrenalin rush that now pumped through his system was dizzying, Yuri’s heart in his throat, his stomach doing a somersault, blood soaring in his ears. He could smell Beka, that familiar scent now between them that signalled mine, out of all things, but it also shouted mate.

“Yuri,” Beka said, and the single word made him want to give up and cry, which infuriated him. Otabek’s eyes moved from his face to his neck, but the running top had a high collar. Yuri’s hands trembled – Otabek was beautiful, so beautiful. But then the beauty broke when guilt washed over Otabek’s face, gaze averting.

Shame. Of course Otabek was ashamed of him.

Yuri stepped right up to Otabek, who startled and stood back, but the tree behind them blocked Beka’s escape. Beka swallowed – slowly – but then remained where he was. Otabek was on lower ground, and Yuri leered over him slightly. The bond mark felt like it was burning, and one instinct told Yuri to bare his neck and let Otabek bite – soothe the mark, strengthen it, make the ache go away; and another signal told him to grab Beka by the collar and mark his neck then and there, in the park, with people around them; and a third instinct told him to just kiss him – god, just kiss him! Otabek looked up at him through dark lashes, cheeks tinged red, fast breath rising in the air. And Yuri didn’t know which instinct to follow.

His hands came up to grab a hold of Beka’s coat, Beka’s eyes dropped to his lips, and Yuri felt weak.

He shoved Beka backwards against the tree. “When I heard,” Yuri growled, and Beka swallowed audibly, staying still, submitting – so infuriating! – “that you’d be competing here, I had to come.”

“You did?” Otabek asked faintly.

Yuri snarled. “You’re almost twenty-two and haven’t been on the world podium in three years. Your career’s pathetic, Otabek – why the hell are you even trying anymore? That’s what I’m here to show you.”

Otabek blinked at him, but said nothing. Otabek’s arms stayed by his sides, and Yuri’s hands around his coat were greedy and desperate – he let go and stepped back. Otabek let out a breath he must have been holding, and Yuri felt dizzy. His senses were overwhelmed with the scent of Otabek, yearning. “I’m going to destroy you,” he vowed, taking a second step back. Otabek looked bewildered. “I will – that’s a promise.”

He turned around and Otabek called out, “Yuri, please wait!”

There was something so soft and gentle to the simple request that Yuri felt himself quiver, his hands curling into fists. But he didn’t wait – he marched out of the park, trying to regulate his breathing. Otabek was wise enough not to follow, and Yuri was left unsure if that was what he’d wanted.

But all those things he struggled to say, he’d leave for the ice. His mission to destroy Otabek wouldn’t happen in the park by the hotel – no, he’d leave it for the ice.

It was the only battlefield he knew, and he only hoped that he was as ready for it as he needed to be.

Chapter Text

Yuri’s first morning in Helsinki was spent doing press with Viktor, answering repeated questions on his goals for the next year, the programs, working with Viktor, how was that different, and Olympics were looming too – would he bring an Olympic medal to Russia? After they were finally done, Viktor went to look after Shiori so that Yuuri could go be interviewed by the Japanese press, who were going nuts over Yuuri even being at the event. It was the first semi-public engagement from Katsudon since his retirement, so it was no wonder people were eager to see him.

It was late afternoon by the time he and Viktor got to the rink west of the city. The ice rink wasn’t the same huge arena where the Worlds had taken place some years earlier – this was smaller, fitting perhaps some four thousand people, if even that. One of the organisers enthusiastically yet nervously came to greet him and Viktor, explaining that they weren’t used to such high profile skaters at their event. “We often get the one big name,” she mused, “but three of last year’s Grand Prix finalists are competing this weekend! We are so tremendously excited!”

She showed them the locker rooms, the off-ice training area, and at the end sheepishly asked him and Viktor for their autographs and a group selfie. Viktor signed her staff pass that hung around her neck and gave her a wink. She nearly swooned.

A handful of people were practising on the ice when they showed up, Otabek amongst them. He knew it the second he entered the rink itself, the seats around them empty, organisers and coaches milling about, but out of all these people one pulled at him like a silent command. Otabek was on the ice, coming to a halt and head turning their way in surprise.

Stupid bond. Stupid, starving thing.

Yuri focused on unzipping his jacket as Viktor chattered next to him idly. “Oh, there’s Ilkka!” Viktor enthused, waving at someone. “Let’s go say hi!”

By the time Yuri was handing Viktor his skate guards, Otabek was getting off the ice on the other side of the rink. Viktor spotted him and waved. “Yurio, it’s Otabek!”

“Uh huh,” he said, rolling his shoulders, eyes downcast.

“He’s not coming over?” Viktor said, puzzled, like a man most unused to people not rushing over to him when he beckoned.

“He’s busy,” Yuri said, “as am I.” He got onto the ice, and while Viktor looked confused, he was also a man who knew competitions were to be taken seriously – even a start of the year challenger event. Otabek left the rink, and Yuri was glad for it as it helped him focus. His hands, at least, stopped trembling.

They spent a few hours practising, Viktor signing autographs and taking selfies with other skaters a couple of times. Yuri landed a quad axel halfway through, and the people still left stopped to applaud and cheer, Viktor rather forgotten. Good. Viktor had had his time – now it was Yuri’s turn. He had this competition in the bag.

Viktor called Katsudon from the taxi back to the hotel, asking what he and Shiori had been up to like it was a conversation that couldn’t wait. “Tell her I miss her,” Viktor cooed and, “Hope you’re ready for tonight, darling.” Yuuri replied something to which Viktor beamed, “Oh, well I wasn’t exactly talking about your outfit, Yuuri.”

Yuri kicked Viktor’s ankle. “Stop being gross,” he snapped, but Viktor only beamed twice as hard.

Viktor had given him some bullshit story of how when they’d last been to Helsinki for the Worlds, he and Yuuri had gone out to eat at a very memorable high-end restaurant by the sea – such a fond memory for the two of them – and how much it would mean for him if he could take Yuuri there again, some years later, now that Yuuri was no longer competing and they had Shiori. Apart from one wedding invite, he and Yuuri hadn’t had any date nights or nights off since Shiori was born, and Viktor wanted to show his mate how much he appreciated him, and –

Yuri had said fine, goddammit, he’d babysit Shiori, but the two better eat fast. It was the night before the short program: it wasn’t like he’d intended to go anywhere, anyway. Besides, by now Shiori knew who he was because she usually gave him big smiles. Well, why shouldn’t she? Stuck with nerve-wreck Katsuki and moron Nikiforov, Yuri was probably the only positive influence in her young life.

Viktor and Yuuri dropped Shiori off at six, pushing her pram into Yuri’s hotel room. They had both dressed up, ironed ties and shirts, smart jackets, and Shiori was thankfully asleep. They gave Yuri a rattle, nappies, two bottles of formula, and said they wouldn’t be out for very long. Viktor smooched Shiori, who thankfully didn’t wake up, and then grabbed his mate’s hand with a bright ‘bye!’. Yuuri kept looking over his shoulder at the pram, worried as always.

The first two hours of babysitting were fine: rumours of his quad axel were rife, and he browsed the enthusiastic internet discussion with narcissistic interest. Then Shiori woke up, so he picked her up and laid her on his chest, one arm around her as he lay on the bed, and with the other kept browsing Twitter, explaining to her his step sequence in great detail. She was a pretty good listener. Yuri realised he was glad for the company: usually he hung out with Otabek if they were at the same competition, and last year, whenever they had been in hotels together, they’d made out and watched movies and had sex, and Yuri was glad he had something other to do right then than think about Otabek being somewhere in the same building with him. Shiori had her uses.

But when he was about to change into pyjamas and he went through his toiletries bag, he realised he hadn’t packed any mark patches. It hadn’t crossed his mind. Fuck. Fucking fuck! The only patch he had left was the one on his neck right then. He need more for the weekend.

Google told him that the nearest 24/7 pharmacy was a ten-minute walk away, and Yuri looked at Shiori gurgling on the bed, blinking at him benignly. “Right, we’re going out,” he told her. He went in search of her poodle hat and outdoor clothes, and she was soon dressed up for the chilly evening.

“I’m gonna get you a cat beanie,” he told her as he pushed the pram out of his room and towards the lift. “And maybe a tiger striped jumpsuit.” By the time they got to the hotel lobby, he’d ordered her a knitted baby hat with cat ears from Etsy. He’d worried that some of Yuri’s Angels would be waiting for him, but it was nearly nine and even they had gone home. Yuri was able to head out undetected.

He wasn’t used to pushing the pram around but it wasn’t rocket science. As they made their way to the pharmacy, however, it did occur to Yuri that it was the first time he’d been out and about with Shiori, and as a large truck hurried past them, Yuri thought it was pretty terrifying to push a baby down busy streets. Trucks should be outlawed at the very least.

They were thankfully undisturbed, apart from one granny who started cooing at Shiori when they were waiting for the lights to change. She asked him something in a language he didn’t speak, but she seemed to realise this and said, “How old?”

“Oh. Uh, four months?” he ventured. Something like that?

“So nice,” the lady said approvingly, and just at the right moment Shiori gurgled, and the woman pressed a hand to her heart with a smile. Shiori might have looked more like Katsudon, but goddamn if she didn’t bat her eyelashes like Nikiforov.

Yuri didn’t want to reflect on how it looked, him buying mark patches late on a Friday evening from the only pharmacy in the centre still open, with a pram and a baby too, and with a curt nod to the cashier as he avoided eye contact. How had his life come to this? But at least he’d been able to buy some – he’d worried about finding patches in a country where the branding or availability might be different.

With the patches securely in his coat pocket, he talked to Shiori on the way back to take his mind off how humiliating it all was. His breath rose in the air, the city around them dark, some people heading out for a Friday night. “If you’re going to drink gin,” he advised Shiori, “then either Hendricks or nothing. You got that? As for vodka, always Russian. I don’t know what shit they have in Japan, but it’s not going to be as good. You got it?”

But Shiori appeared asleep under her blankets now, head tilted to the side slightly, mouth open as she drew in deep breaths. She wasn’t so bad, to be honest. Hell, she was more tolerable than Yuuri or Viktor.

He snuck back into the hotel, heading straight for the lifts. A few people were checking in at the desk, and Yuri dug out his key to see what number he was again. No one would even have noticed them missing – good. Yuri didn’t need any gossip about late night pharmacy trips.

But when the lift arrived, the doors opening, he froze. Two men were already in the lift going up, with flushed cheeks and wet hair, loose clothes, and Yuri thought they must have been returning from the gym and pool area that the hotel had in the basement. One of the men was Otabek. The other was younger, blond hair, emo haircut, freckles on his face, now gaping at the sight of Yuri.

An electric current ran through him when his eyes met with Otabek’s, the other’s proximity taking him aback. His pulse picked up instantly. They’d only seen each other from afar at the rink – this was different, and he found it hard to swallow.

The blond boy said, “Going up?” He sounded hopeful.

“Uh, yeah,” he managed, and the two moved to the side as he got into the lift with them. He instantly regretted this decision – he should’ve waited for the next one!

The doors closed, and Yuri glared at his companions. The kid Otabek was with was looking at him excitedly, and Otabek broke the silence with, “Yuri, you remember Justin Mahoney of Canada. Started in the seniors last year, was in the Grand Prix final with us.”

He stared at the sixteen, seventeen-year-old. “Sure,” he said, only really remembering one fact about the kid. “Came last, right?”

But Justin wasn’t put off – he only beamed, full of Canadian optimism. “Not all of us can win the Grand Prix on their first go like you!” If this was flattery, it was nothing he hadn’t heard before. Otabek smelled like his stupid pine-scented shampoo that Yuri would have recognised anywhere, and how he’d missed it, yearned for it, how –

Justin looked into the pram and got even more excited. “Oh gosh, is that…? Is that Viktor Nikiforov and Yuuri Katsuki’s baby?!” Justin stepped closer and peered at Shiori. “It is! I recognise her from Viktor’s Instagram! Why do you have her? Are- Are Viktor and Yuuri somewhere close by?!”

Christ, a fan boy.

Justin kept gushing. “Imagine that, having Katsuki and Nikiforov as your parents! My goodness, she’s cute!”

And then Justin had his phone out and was aiming it at Shiori, pushing it right up to her sleeping face. “What are you doing?!” Yuri snarled and, without thinking, slammed the phone out of Justin’s grip. The phone hit the floor, clattering, and Justin blinked at him in utter surprise. Otabek tensed up, alert. “Get away from her!” he snapped, taking a step to place himself between Justin and Shiori.

“I was just, er,” Justin attempted as Shiori began to cry, awakened by the commotion.

“Christ, now she’s upset!”

Shiori’s cries grew in strength, and Justin rushed to pick up his phone, glancing at the pram and reaching out with a helpful, “Do you want me to –”

But Yuri couldn’t stand seeing Justin reach out to Shiori, and he growled, loudly. It was a warning to back off, his teeth bared. Justin blinked, paled, and stepped back. Yuri couldn’t smell anything on him – he probably hadn’t presented yet, so Yuri was left unsure if this was a future omega eager to coddle a child, or a future alpha threatening Yuri’s child, or a beta who might be somewhere in between – it didn’t matter. Strangers were not allowed near Shiori – he’d be damned if he let anyone have the chance of hurting her.

“She doesn’t know you,” he spat and picked up Shiori into his arms. Shiori kept crying, but seemed content to bury her wailing into Yuri’s shoulder. He held her firmly, feeling calmer once she was in his arms. Who did Justin think he was?!

Justin was now blushing. “Uh, sorry. Uhm.”

The lift stopped at their floor, and Justin inched out of the lift, eyes downcast in submission, but Yuri growled at him anyway. The kid practically ran away, mumbling that he was sorry as he fled. The weight of Shiori in his arms was familiar, her scent which had only seemed like a mix of Viktor and Yuuri at first had its own quality to it now, and Yuri would have recognised it from a thousand babies at least. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, shushing her, even as his eyes never left the direction to which Justin had disappeared. What an asshole!

“Yura?” a familiar voice asked, gently.

Yuri’s eyes snapped back to Otabek, who was now holding the lift doors open with one hand, the other hesitating mid-air as if he’d been about to reach over to calm Shiori, or perhaps him. Yuri held Shiori tighter to his chest, the baby still crying. “She doesn’t know you either,” he said, but somehow this had less bite in it. Otabek looked at him with concern, but there was warmth in his eyes too, and Yuri hated it.

The lift doors attempted closing, but Beka kept them open. Yuri kept holding Shiori as he grabbed the pram with his free hand and pulled it out of the lift, but the pram got stuck on something, and he yanked at it in anger. Beka said, “Let me –”

“I’ve got it!” he snapped back, yanking the pram twice as hard until it toppled into the hotel corridor. It looked wonky. “Did it fucking break?” he asked, still bouncing Shiori as he wheeled the pram around. “Shit!”

Otabek stepped into the corridor and the lift doors shut. Otabek picked up a wheel from the carpet, examining it in his hand. Yuri muttered curses to himself – the pram was a goddamn piece of shit!

Otabek dropped the loose wheel into the pram and then lifted the entire thing, awkwardly holding it to his side. “Lead the way,” Otabek said, motioning with his hand, and Yuri couldn’t really argue when Shiori was crying against him. He huffed and headed down the corridor, trying to soothe Shiori as he went, painfully aware that Otabek was walking behind him. He reached into his pocket for the key card, and Shiori’s cries had thankfully turned into sniffles.

As he pushed the door inwards, he said, “You should teach that friend of yours some manners.” Viktor might have been posting pictures of Shiori weekly, but that was Viktor’s right. Who the hell was Justin to try and snap shots of someone else’s child?

“He’s just a kid,” Beka said in defence. “He was star-struck.”

“By Shiori?” he scoffed. “If anyone thinks I’ll let my child be harassed, they have another –”

“No, star-struck by you. And Viktor and Yuuri, I guess.” The door clicked shut behind them. “Wait, did you say my child?”

“No – fuck off,” he snapped. Beka put the broken pram down beneath the TV mounted to the wall. Yuri refused to look at Beka as he slowly lowered Shiori onto his bed. He wiped her cheeks and patted her arms and legs just to make sure she was in one piece before pulling the beanie hat off her. Her black hair stood up, making her look stupid. She blinked up at him, her chubby cheeks rosy, oblivious as anything but okay. The worry in his chest loosened a little.

Yuri stood up straight and pulled his coat off. “Well, thanks,” he said, aware that Beka was staring at him quietly. He finally dared to look at him. “Well?” he prompted when Otabek didn’t move. “Shouldn’t you go skype your boyfriend or some shit?”

“Boyfriend?” Beka repeated, faintly.

“Yeah, boyfriend. Azat, or whatever the hell his name is.”

“Az – He hasn’t been my boyfriend in years.”

“So?” he snapped. “Looked cosy enough to me.”

“He’s got a boyfriend…” Beka said, but sounded confused. It was only then that Yuri realised Otabek was looking at his bare neck with a frown.

He felt humiliated as it clicked. He motioned at his neck and dismissively said, “I’m wearing a patch.”

Otabek’s frown deepened, almost gloomy. Yuri didn’t want to talk about it, but he was pretty sure Otabek had just said Azat wasn’t his boyfriend, and he had thought about it too obsessively to just let that go.

“Didn’t it work out, then?” he asked, turning back to Shiori and unzipping her red winter bodysuit that made her look like a tiny Michelin man. He began to fish her arms and legs out. “Or did you dump Azat for some other omega already?”

“Of course not,” Otabek said, like he was offended. What had those pictures been, then? Just some friendliness that had made Yuri sick to his stomach? Maybe. God, maybe. “Yuri, can you – Can you stop moving for a second? I’m not – I’m not good at this, I –”

“God, what?!” he snapped, turning to Otabek again.

Otabek’s mouth was still open, caught in an unfinished sentence. Then he said, in a pained rush, “I’m sorry I forced my mark on you.”

An apology, just like Yuri had thought – shame and regret, and Yuri was nothing but a mistake Beka had made at the end of it.

But he recalled the two of them tangled up in each other, Beka’s breath hot on his neck, their bodies joined together, sweat, heat, lust – and him pressing Beka’s head closer to his neck to keep him there as Otabek worked on the mark onto his skin, his entire body shaking and trembling in the pleasure of it. Forced? He repeated this thought, unfamiliar to him: “Forced?”

Beka nodded, and the guilt was so clear on him. “I- I never asked, and we’d never talked about it, and – and you’d been drinking and I was upset, and – and I really messed up,” Beka rushed out. He swallowed. “I hurt you.”

Yuri pursed his mouth. “It was nothing I couldn’t handle.”

But Beka shook his head, jaw clenched. “I lost control, and in the morning, you were… god, you were bruised and you were limping, and I – I can’t stand that I hurt you.” Yuri hadn’t often seen Otabek this worked up. “I would never… But I did.” Otabek sounded oddly bitter and shook his head. “There is no excuse for me losing control like that. An alpha should be able to – a good alpha should –”

“Do I look hurt to you?” he challenged, straightening up to his full height. The competitive season had begun: he was muscled and toned, body full of strength. Was he some weak thing? Hell no! And he didn’t need Otabek to tell him how he’d fucked up and how much he regretted it. “It’ll break,” he then said, and Otabek flinched. “The bond, it’ll go away. And then we can both move on with our lives and just forget about all this.”

Otabek breathed in deeply. “Yes,” he said, voice empty and hollow.

Something bothered him: the guilt. It was disproportionate. It was too much. It was misplaced. Beka wanted to feel bad? Good! But he should do so for the right reasons, not bullshit ones.

“But you didn’t exactly force yourself on me, as you put it.”

Beka’s whole being changed from closed off to an alert state, eyes becoming alive. Yuri bit on his bottom lip and avoided his gaze.

Legging it, stringing him along, being an asshole – Beka should feel guilty about all of those things. But hell, bonding wasn’t a pleasant business – it was dirty and sweaty and often bloody, and yes, it hurt, and yes, it took time to recover. They all learned that in sex ed, for god’s sake. But now all Yuri could really remember was how good it had felt and how much he’d enjoyed it in the moment. If Beka thought Yuri couldn’t have fought him off, then Beka was mistaken – Yuri would have kneed him in the balls and left him doubled over in two seconds flat if he’d wanted to.

But he hadn’t.

Shiori was fussing on the bed, and Yuri was about to go to her when a knock sounded on the door. He glanced at Otabek before passing him, his mind always annoyingly aware of Otabek’s proximity to him, the familiar, comforting scent of him. His fingers itched just to touch him.

He opened the door to find a hotel bathrobe-clad Viktor standing in the corridor with mussed sex hair and a proud grin on his face. Yuri groaned, turning away from him with a “Don’t tell me.”

Viktor followed him in. “Well we skipped dessert, that’s all! How’s my little – oh, Otabek! Hello! Have you been helping Yuri babysit?”

Yuri didn’t know what was worse: that Viktor smelled of sex and didn’t care, or that Viktor now walked into the tense atmosphere of the room where he and Otabek struggled to even look at each other. Luckily for him, Viktor beelined straight to Shiori, picking her up and cooing endearments. “My beautiful little angel, Daddy missed you!” Viktor avowed, smooching her. “Look at how utterly perfect you are!”

Yuri observed this and said, “The pram broke, by the way.”

“Hmm?” Viktor asked, bouncing Shiori in his arms gently and taking in the pram. “Oh. How’d that happen?”

“Well it was a shit pram.”

“Hardly – I only buy the best for her!”

“It broke, what the fuck do you want me to say?” he asked irately. “Otabek will help you back,” he added. “He was just leaving anyway.”

And Viktor – happy, content, brain probably foggy with sex – gross – just beamed, giving Yuri a quick thanks for his efforts. Otabek looked like he didn’t want to leave, but Yuri raised a daring eyebrow at him – well? Anything else you want to say? Apart from, of course, how Otabek regretted ever having been involved with Yuri, and how Otabek felt bad, and all those shitty little things that made Yuri feel worthless and unwanted. Add insult to injury, then – anything else?

Otabek looked like he had more to say, but he could do little else except grab the pram and quietly push it out of the room. Viktor was already asking Beka about his short program, and Yuri quickly shut the door on them, twisted the lock and put the chain across. He then pressed his forehead against the door and tried to breathe.

Otabek’s scent was everywhere in the room. Home. Home. Why did it smell like home to him?

He got cologne from his bag and sprayed it around angrily until the scent was gone. Then he slumped to sit on the bed, breathing heavily. The mark ached. His chest ached.

God. God, how was he supposed to survive this tournament?

* * *

The order for the players was chosen by lot, and Yuri found himself the fourth out of fourteen competitors. Otabek ended up thirteenth, and Yuri didn’t like the thought of having to wait so long to find out how the two of them would fair – it was obvious, after all, that one of them would win the competition. A handful of the other skaters were Finnish who were used to winning local competitions but could not compete internationally, a few Swedish skaters were there too, one Danish, one American skater, many of them young and eager to see if they had what it took.

But performing routines in the safety of your local rink, under the eyes of your coach and friends, was very different than the tense rhythm of a competition. Yuri knew that landing a quad axel was more difficult in even a mediocre competition than at his home rink, but he’d told Viktor it was better to test it here than wait for the Rostelecom Cup.

The rink was full after the women’s short program that morning, and people were waving flags in support – plenty of Russian flags, he was unsurprised to note, some with ‘Davai Yuri!’ written on them, and one with ‘Ice Tiger of Russia’, which he was particularly pleased with. He’d take his trophy to Potya, he thought.

There were also Kazakh flags in the audience – it was Yuri’s favourite flag, if he was being honest. The soft blue and the yellow sun were far more beautiful than the stripes and crosses of most other countries.

He saw the flags as his group warmed up on the ice. He threw in a few quad Salchows for the very appreciative audience, but then stopped as he didn’t want to tire himself out. His costume was black and skin tight, glittering as the light hit it. The collar was high, hiding the mark well – he didn’t have to wear a patch as his neck was securely covered.

Katsudon was somewhere backstage, watching the live feed in one of the viewing areas. Otabek might be there too, as they were in different groups, but Yuri didn’t let himself think about Beka watching him. As the warm-up came to an end, he left the ice, Viktor dutifully handing him his skate guards and then passing him a bottle of water. They went backstage to the waiting area as the first skater took to the ice.

Yuri found his headphones and shut out the rest of the world, drowning everyone out. No one approached him – Viktor was eyeing him, arms crossed, fierce concentration on his face. This was a trial for them, too, as coach and pupil. Yuri scoffed – pupil. He rolled his neck and shoulders, breathing evenly.

When his turn came, he glided onto the ice to enthusiastic applause. The Danish skater before him was in the kiss and cry, cheering his 56.34 score – nothing at all.

He moved to his starting position, making eye contact with Viktor one final time. Viktor nodded at him, mouth pursed. Viktor knew he would try the quad axel – everyone knew. He gave one last thought to Nekola and felt defiant.

The music Viktor had chosen for him was relentless – the fast-paced, determined piano began to ring out, Chopin’s melodic and ominous piece filling up the rink. The program was difficult as hell: there were no slower sections, no breathers. There was nowhere to hide. He landed his 4Lz and 4S3T with precision and skill, the soar of his blood in his ears. It was a very Nikiforov program – dramatic yet calculated, pushing the limits of what was possible.

According to Viktor, the short program was about the painful whirlwind of growth, the pressures one faced, the struggle not to break under the pressure. This latter part he at least understood: he could not break. He had to do this – be the first! Break a record!

He was exhausted yet determined as he moved from one end of the rink to the other, gaining speed, eyes over his shoulder nailed to the spot where he would take off for the axel, and – only a second, spinning across the air – he landed, but it was a triple, and he nearly fell on the landing, over-rotating, and had to catch himself with a steadying hand on the ice. The reaction was mixed: clapping on one hand, disappointed awing on the other. God fucking dammit!

He moved to the middle of the rink for a sit spin, coming up from it and transitioning into a scratch spin, the music demanding and the final notes echoing.

And then it was over, people applauding and throwing gifts onto the ice. Yuri broke away from the final pose and muttered, “Goddammit!” to himself. He’d been landing the quad axel perfectly for weeks now! For weeks! And then he froze in competition?!

He bowed in all directions and waved, but he knew he looked annoyed as anything. He skated over to Viktor, who had an ‘I told you so’ expression on his face, but who clapped his shoulder anyway as he got off the ice. “That’s a good place to keep developing from,” Viktor told him, and Yuri only felt madder.

They moved to the kiss and cry, and Yuri wiped sweat from his brow, his body aching. Viktor said, “You didn’t give the axel enough height, that’s all.”

“There was plenty of height!” he snapped and then let his shoulders slump. He knew they were on camera – not the best time to be arguing with Viktor ‘I Am Always Right’ Nikiforov. How did Katsudon stand it?! Apart from the wobbly axel, he’d nailed the rest of his program, full of difficult elements that put his technical score ahead of everyone else – Yuri getting perhaps the best score of the day wasn’t what he was mad about.

The PA boomed something in Finnish, including ‘Yuri Plisetsky’, and after a pause the number appeared on the big screens of the rink and on the screen in front of them: 98.56. It was a very high score, he couldn’t dispute that, but his personal best was twenty points more than that.

Yuri pursed his mouth, and Viktor nodded like he thought it was a semi-acceptable score for now. Viktor said, “We’ll break the hundred soon enough. Just got to do a few tweaks.”

Backstage, Russian reporters were ready with their cameras to interview him, and Yuri met them morosely. “What an exciting new program you’ve just debuted! And what a score!” the first one enthused, but Yuri shrugged. The man gaped at him. “Are you not happy with the performance? A staggering 98 points at the start of the season!”

The microphone was shoved towards his face. “The program’s gone better in practice. I expected to break a hundred today.”

“Ambitious!” the commentator laughed. “So what happened with that quad axel we’d been promised? It didn’t seem to materialise. Were you forcing yourself to do something that many have said is impossible?”

That word kept haunting him as they met Katsudon and Shiori in the viewing room: forcing. Had he been forcing himself? He could go to the ice right then and do five quad axels in a row! But that was their sport: you only got one shot at it. No repeats.

Yuuri and Viktor were busy analysing the performance, and as Yuri wasn’t particularly interested in any of the other skaters whose turns were coming up, he headed for a shower and a change. By the time he returned to the viewing area, the last group was on. “Otabek’s up next!” Katsudon said helpfully. Viktor was holding Shiori, who was busy trying to chew on her fist. Yuri sat down next to them. There was a dozen or so people in the seated viewing area, officials and a few other skaters with members of their team. Yuri opened his bottle of water and stared at the screen. The Canadian kid was on the ice – and doing a hell of a lot better than most of the others, so no wonder he’d made it to the GPF the year before. Still, he scored 81.95, not posing a threat to Yuri.

Yuri took in a deep breath when the camera switched to show Otabek, now circling the ice. He’d seen the costume designs, of course: for the short program, Otabek wore black trousers and a top that started out red but turned to white with long white sleeves. There was a deep V cut, exposing bare chest – sexy, but the red hinted at dark blood. Yuri didn’t like the thought of fangirls and boys swooning over Beka. But if Beka had a mark on his neck, it would easily be visible in an outfit like that – he glanced over at Viktor and Yuuri. It must have been a thrill for Viktor whenever Yuuri performed for thousands and every single person in the audience could see the omega was claimed. Currently, Yuuri was wiping drool from Shiori’s chin with a cloth as Viktor held her up to him, both parents baby-talking at her with “Look, sweetie, Uncle Beka is about to start!” and “How do you manage dribble like this, Shiori?” It was hard to believe the bespectacled man in an oversized jumper with formula stains on it had almost sent the world into a rut with his Eros routine.

Beka now began, piano notes echoing in the stadium to signal the start of the song before the insistent drums kicked in. They had all seen the routine before, of course – the audience hadn’t. And it was all still there: an alpha’s hunt for a mate, the hunger and the desire – a hurricane if there ever was one. Beka stepped out of his quad toeloop, but nailed his jump combination and his spins. Yuri held onto the water bottle for dear life, unable to look away from the screen: the performance was mesmerising. God, Otabek had perfected so many of the rough parts since Yuri had last seen this, and it was as if a new force, more desperate and intense, was now behind the routine.

He’d been holding his breath, he realised, as it came to an end. The audience were beside themselves. People around them were clapping and gushing.

“Very good,” Viktor said approvingly – with more approval than he had had for Yuri’s performance. “His technical score won’t be as high as yours, but he’ll score higher for interpretation for sure.”

That was Nikiforov for ‘your interpretation was awful’. Yuri knew that he and Viktor would spend that evening scrutinising the detailed judges’ scores to assess areas of improvement. They both knew, however, that Yuri was failing to sell the story of the program – still. Otabek had no such problem.

In the kiss and cry, Otabek held his teddy up to the camera and waved, though there was no smile on his face. He was flushed and sweaty, and deadly serious. “Shiori, look!” Yuuri said, pointing. “Look, you’ve got a teddy just like that!”

Beka’s score was 96.45. Yuri would be in first place for the second day, unless the last skater, some Lithuanian never-heard, could beat him – and the guy couldn’t, scoring in the 60s.

Yuri had expected the highest score of the day, but he wasn’t feeling happy about it. No quad axel. No hundred plus score.

He checked the Twitter reaction: one fan eloquently said Breed me Otabek!!! with a dozen heart eyes. Someone else asked Has there been anything that sexy since Katsuki’s Eros routine?! It was Beka who had stolen the show – not him. Beka with his shameless declaration that he was an alpha on a hunt. Most tweets directed at Yuri were commenting on the short program, but a few asked after his relationship status. One said Hope u know whats going on back in Russia!!

At first Yuri couldn’t fathom where these questions were coming from, but before they could return to the hotel, he went to the rink lobby where Yuri’s Angels had crowded, waiting to take selfies with him. One of the Angels asked, “What did you think of Otabek’s short program? I nearly fainted!” Another one asked, “Yuri, are you still seeing that dancer from your Instagram?” Direct as anything, but he knew what to say – no comment. That was the most suggestive answer of all.

But to his surprise the girl then whipped out her phone and said, “Have you seen this?!”

It was Lucian’s Instagram page, which had been updated that morning by the looks of it. The picture was of a man asleep in a bed – Lucian’s bed, he imagined – with his head turned away to hide his identity, but he looked tanned and toned and had a good jawline and black hair. The text read Morning <3 #sleepyhead #lovebirds

He should have figured that a guy like Lucian wouldn’t take too long to find someone. He held back a sigh, wondering how to play this one. “Yeah, sure I’ve seen it,” he said, shrugging it off. He couldn’t let the Angels think he’d been snubbed, could he? Trust his fans to have found that in a matter of hours too.

“Who was Beka courting with that short program? Do you know?” a boy now asked, at least directing the conversation away from Lucian. And it hadn’t occurred to Yuri before, but the boy was right: the routine was on-ice courting if there ever had been such a thing.

He managed to get away from the fan meeting by citing his busy schedule, but once in the backstage areas of the rink, he walked sluggishly. All that effort he’d put into the rumours of him and Lucian, debunked in one post! Frustrating as anything. And who was Beka’s routine aimed at? It seemed many wanted to know which omega had caused Beka to create such a powerful, yearning routine around them. Yuri pondered it now too, anger swirling in him. Otabek had said he wasn’t seeing Azat, and Yuri saw no reason why Otabek would lie, even if he hadn’t forgotten about the incriminating pictures.

But it was only a matter of time, if the routine was to be believed. And Yuri didn’t even have his fake-rumoured Instagram-boyfriend anymore! God, he felt like a loser.

Stupid Beka’s short program, sending everyone into a frenzy. There was desperation in the skate, and Otabek looked like an alpha willing to do anything to capture the heart of his beloved, to fight anyone, to get on his knees just to have them – and then consume and own and drown the other in his desire for them. An alpha offering blind devotion and worship.

Otabek’s routine was the conversation piece for Viktor and Yuuri that evening, too, who mused that the judges seemed to have welcomed the program, daring as it was. They went to the hotel restaurant on the ground floor for dinner, and Viktor doubled the meal as a long program strategy meeting. Yuuri asked him if he didn’t want to call Otabek and invite him too, but he ended up saying that Beka already had plans.

The restaurant was half full, and Viktor fed Shiori from the bottle and simultaneously went over the order of jumps and contingency plans in case one of them failed. Yuri was barely listening, eating his food on automatic – he was exhausted after the short program, the whole competition seeming to take an unusually hard toll on him. Was it the strain of the greedy bond? Having Otabek so close was more torturous than having him in Almaty. Just the sight of Otabek filled him with need and yearning – and Otabek had skated so well, so beautifully.

Yeah, sure Beka had. Reflecting his desire for whoever he wished to be courting.

He felt a headache coming on, his temples throbbing. He eyed Shiori tiredly. “Can I?” he asked. Viktor stopped mid-sentence, surprised, but Yuri rounded the table to take Shiori from Viktor, and then returned to his seat. He took the bottle too and guided it back to Shiori’s mouth, chuckling as she went right back to drinking more. Cute.

“I hope you’ve let that quad axel go now,” Viktor chided. “I know it’s improved a lot since summer, but it’s not ready yet. I doubt Nekola can land it either – he’s the weaker jumper out of you two. Maybe next season, you never know. You can keep improving it.”

From next to Viktor, Yuuri cut in with, “How was the quad axel this summer? I think I was too busy being heavily pregnant to notice.”

Yuri fished out his phone and passed it to Yuuri, barely taking his eyes off of Shiori. “I’ve got recordings of all jumps there,” he said. Truthfully, he hadn’t made up his mind about the quad axel. Beka was only a few points behind him, so the free skate would make or break them. Still, this competition was only practice for them before they faced their real competitors.

Viktor kept preaching about his jumping philosophies, slowly picking at his food, and Yuri mostly thought that getting to feed Shiori was the most relaxing thing he’d got to do that day. He brushed black hair from her forehead and wondered when the Etsy cat hat would arrive so he could save her from Yuuri and Viktor’s poor fashion sense. Yuuri was humming and uh-huhing as he watched his collection of recorded jumps, and Viktor was still babbling away when Yuuri’s humming was broken off by a sharp and loud, “Aarrgghgh!”

Katsudon flung Yuri’s phone onto the table like he’d been burned by it, and the phone landed between them and their plates and cutlery, facing upwards. A video of Yuri giving a blowjob played on the screen. Yuri saw himself, crystal clear even if upside down, lowering his mouth onto a thick cock while staring straight up at the camera, and a strained and turned on voice breathed, “Yura,” a hand appearing to caress the side of his face, and he heard himself needily moan around a mouthful of cock, slurping, and –

Shiori’s baby bottle dropped to the floor as Yuri rushed to grab the phone while still clutching Shiori to his chest, but Viktor snatched the phone from the table just as his fingers clumsily brushed it.

“Give it back!” he barked instantly, loose hair falling over his face. The couple at two tables over were looking at them with scandalised eyes – had they heard the porno soundtrack?

“I saw nothing!” Yuuri now yelped, sounding panicked and waving his hands around. “Absolutely nothing!”

“Give it back!” Yuri insisted, now slipping into Russian as horror spread in his guts, but Viktor only shook his head and clicked his tongue.

“In a minute,” Viktor returned in Russian, glancing down at the screen of the phone – at least the clip that Otabek had sent him had come to an end.

Yuuri gasped. “Don’t look at it, Viktor! Put it away!” Yuuri was frantically looking around the restaurant to see who’d heard or noticed – Yuri didn’t dare to even do that much.

“Darling, we’ve all filmed some home videos, haven’t we? I’m hardly judging,” Viktor said lithely, now back in English, but he had a calculated look on his face as his husband looked even more mortified than he had a second earlier. “Yurio, now you may call me crazy,” Viktor then said, frowning, “but was that – or, rather, is this. Is this Otabek you seem to be, ah, pleasuring?”

Yuri felt his entire face burn from how embarrassed he was. Katsudon blinked in surprise. “Otabek?”

“I recognised the voice. Didn’t you?” Viktor asked, tapping the phone’s screen. “You can see the swell of a knot right here, so it’s clearly an alpha –”

“People can hear you!” Yuuri whined – how was it possible for Katsudon to look redder than Yuri probably was? Yuri wasn’t sure if he could even look either of them in the eye again, knowing they’d seen him mid-fellatio. Shiori was fussing, unhappy because she’d still been feeding. Katsudon got up to fetch the dropped milk bottle and then took Shiori from him, burying his embarrassed face in her hair.

Viktor waited until Yuuri was sat back down next to him, then raised an inquiring eyebrow. “Well?”

“It’s none of your business,” Yuri said, but his cheeks were burning. Viktor finally extended the phone back to him, and he snatched it instantly, pocketing the phone with a nervous glance around them, not even daring to look at the screen that had now dimmed. No one was staring their way in an obvious way.

Yuuri held Shiori to his chest as he mumbled to Viktor, under his breath, “If it is Otabek, then it’s clearly something Yurio needs to discuss with Alexei, and –”

“Alexei?” Viktor echoed and shook his head. “We’ve just debunked that! His mate’s been Otabek all along.” When Katsudon looked like he was about to object, Viktor said, almost fondly, “Spotting romance is not a strength of yours, and I mean that kindly! I do! Think about it, Yuuri. Alphas get possessive over mates, so filming – filming that is power play. Just another way of laying a claim on your mate.”

Yuri’s stomach dropped – he’d never thought of the video like that. It’d just been something hot and sexy for them to do, and he’d jerked off to the video more times than he’d be willing to admit. Otabek sounded so far gone and helpless and at his mercy – god, if that didn’t rile him up.

Katsudon looked down to Shiori in his arms, then looked back to his husband and faintly said, “So you’re saying th- that when we were busy having a baby, Yuri and Otabek were…?”

“Just getting busy,” Viktor supplied, and Yuri cringed. Did Viktor have to? Yuri was perfectly capable of storming out of the restaurant, he’d have them know! Viktor was now looking at him again. “They’ve been at this for a while, I’d imagine?”

This question was directed at him. He hesitated, but then mumbled, “For a while, yeah.” What else could he do but admit it? They’d seen plenty of evidence. But when this clearly wasn’t a satisfactory answer, he sighed in frustration. “We were hooking up for a year or something.”

Viktor appeared not to have anticipated this answer. He crossed his arms and looked annoyed. “As your coach, I’m very disappointed you didn’t tell me sooner that your mate was one of your competitors.”

Meanwhile, Yuuri looked crestfallen. “Is that how self-absorbed we’ve been? You’ve been dating a whole year without us noticing!”

“We weren’t dating!” he corrected and nervously looked around them. Was anyone listening in on this? How many people there were coaches or competitor’s parents, who might know them and recognise names of people they were discussing? He lowered his voice. “We were just, uh.” Well, they had seen what they’d ‘just’ been doing. “But it didn’t work out, and now it’s over. That’s it.”

Viktor looked unimpressed. “But why did you let us think it was Alexei?” This question wasn’t unfair, but he wasn’t sure what to say. “At least with Otabek we can – understand better how you two might end up, ah, getting involved? You’ve always been so close, and neither of you have ever shown much interest in omegas, now that I think about it…”

“Well I still don’t understand!” Yuuri complained, sounding distraught. He turned to his husband. “Otabek wouldn’t mark Yurio and then walk out on him! Alexei, maybe, but not Otabek. For goodness sake, Otabek adores Yurio! Otabek must –”

“What do you know about it?” Yuri challenged, angered. Did Katsudon honestly think Yuri hadn’t told himself those same ‘but Otabek wouldn’t do this or that’ lies too? “And –”

“How were your meals?” a cheerful waiter asked them, having appeared out of nowhere, and they all shut up in unison, blinking at the man’s sudden arrival. Viktor quickly said it all had been simply wonderful and could they perhaps pay now. The man gathered dishes, commented on how adorable Shiori was, and Yuuri and Viktor said pleased thank yous as the man left. Even then the two parents couldn’t help themselves!

Viktor got out his credit card and casually said, “Well, this explains why you were so willing to come here, at least. And why Otabek signed up, too – being an hour’s flight from your mate feels a lot better than a four-hour flight.”

“It’s five,” he corrected, not being able to help himself. Both men stared at him. He glared. “It’s five hours. To Almaty. Whatever.” Katsudon gave him such a look of pity that Yuri couldn’t help but feel pitiful. He motioned at his neck briefly, though he was wearing a patch. “Look, this doesn't change anything. It won’t affect my performance tomorrow.”

Viktor frowned. “For once that wasn’t my main concern. Beka must have had a reason to leave after – Ah, yes, the bill. I’ll pay by card, thank you.”

Yuri brooded as they paid, and then he followed the parents back to the lifts. As soon as the doors closed on them, Viktor opened his mouth again, and Yuri said, “Don’t try and give me advice over something you don’t understand! You two have your perfect relationship, so you don’t get what it’s like to have things fall apart or to – to have a mate you can’t talk to, or –”

“We’re not perfect,” Yuuri echoed, looking thoroughly confused. Yuuri looked to Viktor for support, who nodded – almost synchronised. Not perfect? Ha! Yuuri said, “Just last month we had a big fight and I slept in the nursery for two nights before we made up.”

Although this surprised Yuri, he scoffed. “Yeah, what did you fight about? What to name your gazillion children?!”

Yuuri half-smiled. “Sort of? Yes, I guess. I went back on suppressants, but I forgot to tell Viktor about it.” Yuri remembered this – Yuuri had told him about going back on them while Viktor was in New York.

Viktor shook his head. “And I, well, I thought it meant Yuuri didn’t want more children with me, and I reacted, uh, badly.”

“How the fuck is that the logical conclusion?” he snapped. “Your mate’s an omega! Does it sound nice not to be on suppressants, not knowing when your next heat is gonna hit? Jesus Christ, Shiori’s only been here a few months and you’re whining over more children?”

Viktor was looking at him in surprise, then looked to his mate. “Okay, did Yurio eavesdrop on our fight? Because I swear –”

Yuuri was petting Shiori’s hair gently. “It’s called being sensible, Vitya. And we’re not getting pregnant again before this one can even roll onto her stomach, are we?”

Viktor sounded defensive as the doors opened to their floor. “Okay, that sounds sensible now, but at the time –”

“How hormonal are you?!” Yuri demanded. “Of course you’ll have more children! Just look at you fawning over this one!”

“Yes, fine, we’ve covered all of that,” Viktor said, sounding irate but then a little pleased. They headed down the corridor. “But the point is that – that we all mess up. Yuuri and I do, too. I mean, it’s nice if you think we’re perfect, but we have to work every day to be on the same page, even after years of a strong bond between us. And although we’re mates, sometimes we still do or say things that are… hurtful or, or just the wrong thing to do. And you say you’ve been intimate with Otabek for a year? That’s nothing yet. You’ve bonded, so you both most feel strongly about each other.”

Yuuri was nodding in full agreement. “Maybe you should just talk to him? He really cares about you, I know it. When he was in the viewing area today, watching your short program, he couldn’t look away! He was so impressed by you, said you were stunning on the ice.”

“He did?” he asked faintly. He hadn’t known. What had Otabek said? What had –

They rounded a corner and at the end of the corridor, roughly where Yuri’s room was, stood Otabek. They all slowed down to a still, and Yuri felt his ears burn with embarrassment. Next to him, Katsudon flared bright red once more. Viktor mumbled, “I’m gonna get jealous soon, Yuuri.”

“Sorry, sorry!” Yuuri muttered, flustered, as Otabek looked their way, eyes dark and serious. “I just, erm. His erm. I-It made an impression,” Yuuri stuttered, and a look of annoyance crossed Viktor’s face.

“It didn’t look bigger than –”

“Can you not?” Yuri seethed, trying to be quiet. “There are people here. More importantly, I’m here.”

Neither did he like the thought of Katsudon – or anyone – looking at Otabek and thinking of his breathy moans, or his girth, or any other intimate detail Yuri thought was no one’s business but theirs.

Shiori was fast asleep in the sling wrapped around Yuuri’s chest, thankfully oblivious to the embarrassment that was her parents. Otabek was now walking their way, and Yuri would have said ‘act normal!’ if he could have done so without Beka hearing.

“Evening, Otabek,” Viktor said cheerfully. It sounded fake as fuck. Christ, Viktor had been such a bitch when he’d found out Yuri had a mate, and an alpha at that. Now that Viktor knew it was Otabek, Viktor was no longer mad, but simply seemed to blame Yuri for having fucked it up? Asshole! “Yuuri and I were just on our way to –”

“As was I,” Yuri cut in angrily.

“Oh, no rush, take your time!” Viktor said, snaking an arm around his mate’s shoulders. “Come on, darling.”

Otabek looked confused, but nodded at the two in stoic parting. Katsudon couldn’t even look Otabek in the eye, a rosy blush marking his cheeks. Viktor guided Yuuri away fast towards their room, but then both men looked over their shoulders to see what they were doing. Yuri hated everyone, and he refused to think about Otabek watching his program and praising it, or Otabek having been waiting for him by his room then.

“What do you want?” he asked. Viktor and Yuuri disappeared around another corner towards their room. He exhaled, but stayed tense. The headache was killing him.

“I just came to see if you were okay. I thought you might be upset, maybe –”

“Why the hell would I be upset?” he snapped. “I beat you today. I’m great, even!”

Otabek frowned. “No, that’s not what I – I was talking about the picture. On Instagram? Or maybe you haven’t seen it…”

What hadn’t he seen? But then it clicked.

“Lucian?” he asked. Was Otabek there to see if he was upset over Lucian’s Instagram post?! But Otabek stared at him with such serious solemnity that Yuri realised he’d guessed right. “How the hell do you even know about that?”

“I just do,” Otabek said, and Yuri couldn’t read him at all.

“I’m not upset! I give zero fucks what he does.”

“But I thought…” Otabek said, and Yuri figured that Otabek had thought what many others had. His ploy had been successful after all. Where was the fanfare? The sense of victory? He’d wanted Otabek to know that he wasn’t licking his wounds but had moved on.

“You thought wrong.”

He moved to leave but Otabek rushed out, “I just thought it was serious, with you and Lucian.”

“What, because we made out a couple of times?” he asked, tone full of sarcasm. Beka’s mouth pursed, nostrils flaring. “We were just friends.”

To his surprise, Otabek scoffed. “We were just friends,” Otabek pointed out with enough bitterness that Yuri got the implication of all the things they’d done that were hardly friend territory.

Yuri swallowed. “Yes, but – we were. We were different.”

“Were we?” Otabek asked, tone challenging. “How?”

“We just were,” he insisted, unsure how he’d ended up on the back foot when he’d done nothing wrong! Beka was the one who’d fucked it all up – why did Yuuri and Viktor now seem to think he had messed this up? He wasn’t sure how to explain it to Beka or anyone – they’d been much closer. They’d been best friends. And then they’d been lovers, and after the initial stumble in that transition, Yuri had partly wondered what had taken them so long to explore that part of their relationship. It’d been different. It just had.

He looked away, feeling a little choked up. “Anyway, I’ll see you in the morning.”

And his skin prickled, and he felt nauseous, and the headache seemed to worsen, as he walked away from Beka. He expected the other to grab a hold of his arm, to keep him there. To refuse to let him go – to offer that blind devotion that had been the core of the short program some hours earlier.

But Beka didn’t, and Yuri slammed the door shut as soon as he could.

* * *

As Yuri had the highest short program score, he was skating last on the second day. Otabek would go on right before him, and the showdown would be between them, as everyone had guessed.

The one good thing from Viktor and Yuuri having seen video of him sucking cock, if such a thing had to be found, was that it’d helped him forget about his messed up quad axel. However, as they returned to the rink the next day, Yuri was reminded of it once more, but he couldn’t attempt it in the free skate without risking losing to Otabek, and he probably wouldn’t have the energy to do it in a free skate, anyway.

God, if Nekola beat him to it after all…

He’d worn black for the short program, but his outfit for the free skate was light in colour, the trousers white and his top hues of soft blue. Again, he’d asked the top to be altered for a high, stiff collar.

Yuuri wished him best of luck before parting for the viewing area, and Viktor and he were guided to the waiting area where the others of his group were already. Otabek, of course, was there, his trainer with him, and Viktor looked a little worried.

“Don’t worry about it,” Yuri said stubbornly. His long hair was tied to a tight bun – he couldn’t say Lilia had never taught him anything. Viktor said nothing, although a frown remained.

They were called out to the rink for the warm up, the highest total score of the day at that point being 224.99. Viktor took his jacket and skate guards, and Yuri followed the others onto the ice. He hadn’t seen Otabek’s long program outfit before: it was a white shirt with long sleeves and buttons at the front, with gold patterns marking both sides. The trousers were smart and black, and Yuri was reminded of a groom on his way to a wedding, somehow.

Yuri moved across the ice, amongst the five other skaters of his group. Yesterday had been easier: he hadn’t had to share the ice with Otabek. He hadn’t had his brain constantly mapping out how close or far away Otabek was at any given moment.

He moved into a triple axel, landing it with ease. Four minutes of warm-up left. He skated over to Viktor, easy to spot in his signature brown trench coat. He took a sip of water as Viktor suggested a few more quads to loosen his joints a little. He nodded, circling the rink once, and then turned his back to his direction of movement, preparing himself for a jump – but instead his back thumped straight into someone behind him, and he spiralled onto the ice, landing flat on his ass. The audience gasped, and as he stopped spinning Yuri looked up to see Otabek sprawled face first on the ice five feet from him. Was it his fault? Hadn’t he been looking?

He was up first – he might get a bruise on his behind, but felt otherwise uninjured. He rushed to Beka, offering his hand. “I didn’t mean to,” he said, instantly. Beka grabbed his outstretched hand and he pulled the other to stand. “Shit, you okay? That wasn’t on purpose, I –”

“I know. I’m fine,” Beka said, but was rolling his wrist experimentally like he might have hit it against the ice too hard. Sprain? Fracture? Broken bone?! Something tugged at Yuri’s hand – it was Beka’s hand trying to free itself, as he was still stubbornly holding it. Surprised at himself, he let it go – his fingers tingled with warmth, and heat had risen to Beka’s cheeks. They hadn’t touched since…

Beka rubbed at his wrist and said, “I think it’s okay.”

“Cool. Okay. Sorry,” he repeated, feeling like an ass. Skating into another skater like some amateur! They were being watched by everyone, so he said sorry again and skated away, quad practice forgotten. He brushed off ice from his trousers.

As the first of their group began, he and Viktor headed backstage to the waiting area. Viktor glanced at Otabek and asked, “What happened?”

“I wasn’t looking,” Yuri said. He felt like an idiot.

“Neither of you were,” Viktor mused. “Almost as if – and you can call me crazy – but almost as if there was a- a bond, or something, trying to push you together.”

“Shut up,” he ordered. He didn’t want to admit he’d thought so too.

“What’s he skating to today?”

“I don’t know, some instrumental piece.” Otabek had refused to let him see the free skate, no matter how he’d asked.

“Well, he looks nervous.”

It was true: Beka did. He was mumbling to himself, eyes nailed to his feet. He was moving around the waiting area and going through the routine by the looks of it. Yuri cast his gaze away and got his headphones out. He closed his eyes and tried to block everyone out – especially Otabek.

Yet he jerked and opened his eyes when Otabek was led out by one of the organisers twenty minutes later. He’d instantly felt the other’s presence vanishing. How was he going to survive the Grand Prix, let alone the Worlds, with Otabek around? He wasn’t sure.

They were alone in the waiting area now, and Viktor was reminding him to be graceful and soft during his performance. “And trust your training,” Viktor said. “When you go into those hard jumps and transitions, you need to trust your training. Okay?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, and an official came to get them. They re-emerged from behind a curtain back to the rink. Otabek was on the ice, still circling before taking his starting position. They stood back, Viktor with his arms crossed, eyes nailed on Otabek. The audience waited.

Yuri wasn’t sure what, exactly, he’d expected, but it wasn’t the soft, gentle sound of the piano, calmly entering the rink. Beka began to move, delicately, which almost seemed an oxymoron for a strong alpha like him. The piece was beautiful and melodic, wistful. There was a story to the skate – there was a story, and Yuri stared. Someone – Otabek – was skating for something precious and important, something that wasn’t meant for the thousands of people staring at him right then. The piece was undeniably romantic, and Otabek’s jumps were woven into it flawlessly. Yuri wasn’t sure he’d ever seen such vulnerability in any of Beka’s programs – or in Beka, full stop. It was as if Beka had an invisible partner on the ice with whom and to whom he was skating. Most of all, the piece was hopeful. Shy, yes, but still asking, in the most tentative of ways.

Yuri couldn’t even swallow. He’d never seen anything as beautiful. And out of all things he was reminded of the stupid fort Otabek had dragged them to, and the few minutes they’d held hands, and Otabek had had this small, warm smile on his lips and in his eyes, tender and raw. Yuri remembered the feel of Beka’s lips against his, soft and familiar.

By the time Beka’s skate finished, Yuri felt dizzy.

The audience was going wild, roses thrown onto the ice by the dozens. Yuri startled, having quite forgotten anyone else was there, and he looked up to the stands – one woman was crying. Viktor said, “Goodness, who choreographed that for him? It’s a masterpiece…!”

Yuri couldn’t deny that. He hadn’t expected that at all, and it took him and Viktor both a second to remember that he was supposed to skate next.

But he felt out of balance and unsettled as he got onto the ice. His heart was thumping in his chest – not out of nerves, but from watching Otabek. Why hadn’t Beka just said something? If that was how he felt, why hadn’t he just said so?!

Beka’s score was excellent – 200.13. Broke the 200 mark, in a challenger series! At the start of the season!

But why wouldn’t he? The performance had been so calm and collected, surprising everyone. The short program had been eclectic and wild, sexy and daring. Possessive, dark. Then Otabek came out and gave them the softest, gentlest, most achingly loving skate anyone had ever seen. How could that even be the same person? The same alpha?

Yuri was still trying to understand that when his own skate began. His music was a soft piece of violin and piano, the music light and full of spring. What was it supposed to represent again? The hope of a new beginning, but the fear of the unknown too? Yuri wasn’t thinking about that at all as he went for his first jump, his quad turning into a double. Goddammit! Focus, focus! What part was he at now? How could he come back from that?

At least he got the combination right, but it felt more muscle memory than concentration. He couldn’t focus at all!

Why was Otabek finally managing to say all those- all those things, when Yuri still didn’t even know where to start? Ina Bauer… Can’t fuck that up, thank god. And then a Salchow – and he fell, his entire ass hitting the ice. He got up instantly, but the audience was murmuring in surprise. God, he’d fucked up! This was a mess!

His skating turned angry, his frustration boiling over. A camel spin – he could do that, at least, but he’d lost too many points to beat Otabek now. And even then Otabek’s program haunted him, unwilling to let him go.

God, well what did it matter? What did he have to lose now? He gained momentum skating fast from one side of the rink to the other, hoping to make this embarrassing four and then some minutes on the ice count for something. He let his right leg swing forward while pushing himself up, up, up with his left, spinning fast in the air, and then he landed, steady, gliding on the ice still. A quad fucking axel!

The audience cheered enthusiastically, and Yuri knew it wouldn’t save his overall score, but there! There! The very first quad axel landed in competition – four and a half rotations executed cleanly. And as the program came to an end, he stilled in the middle of the ice, exhausted – he’d failed, miserably, but he’d landed the axel. He’d landed it.

Viktor greeted him with, “Well that was a mixed bag.” Viktor was unhappy, but so was Yuri. “That axel didn’t save the program, you know. If anything, it was hazardous of you to try it.”

“But I did it! The first person ever to do so!” he insisted.

Viktor pursed his lips as they headed to the kiss and cry. “Figure skating is a lot more than jumps, you know.”

His mess of a performance awarded him a score of 173.45 – he couldn’t recall the last time he’d bombed as badly. Otabek won by a luxurious two dozen and then some points and Yuri, by the grace of everyone else there being far less skilled than they, still managed silver with a two-point lead ahead of Justin the Canadian kid. He barely had time to recover from his failure, even if the axel now meant he’d broken a whole new record, when podiums and a red carpet were pushed onto the ice for the medal ceremony.

What was it that he’d sworn to Otabek just a few nights earlier? That he’d destroy him?

Justin was called out to take his bronze, after which Yuri’s name was announced. He returned to the ice, a loser, humiliated. People were cheering for him madly, but his performance had been a catastrophe! He was finding it difficult to even enjoy the axel.

He was standing on the silver podium when Otabek was called out, and Otabek got on the ice, black and white, victorious. He got onto the middle from Justin’s side, and was then stood to Yuri’s immediate left, one head taller than him. Yuri kept his eyes ahead of himself – Mr. Silver. Always Mr. Silver.

He ached, right under his ribcage. He blamed Beka and his free skate, which was still playing itself in his head whenever he closed his eyes. They were handed bouquets and medals by the head of the FFSA, and anger bubbled under his skin. He refused to look at Otabek.

Then the photographers were there, motioning for them all to join Beka on the top podium. Justin hopped on happily, and Yuri stepped up, reluctantly. He held out his silver medal, no smile on his face. Beka smelled of sweat and musk, familiar, cosy, like home, like his mate. No. Not his. Someone else’s.

A photographer motioned them to step in some more, and Otabek’s arm came to wrap around his shoulders, but it was stiff and tentative, unsure. Otabek felt nervous next to him. On Beka’s other side, Justin said, “This is so cool, guys! And that free skate! Wow!”

Yuri didn’t have to ask to know it wasn’t his free skate that had impressed Justin. Beka stared at the cameras with no smile on his face, looking regal and determined. Then he asked, “What did you think?”

He? Of Beka’s free skate? “It wasn’t awful,” he said. It was one of the most beautiful skates he’d ever seen. “I’m sure you’ll…” He took a deep breath, stepping away as the photographers were finally done. Beka’s arm dropped from his shoulders. Yuri felt its loss heavily. “I’m sure you’ll make a good alpha to someone one day.”

“Oh,” Otabek said, voice rough. “Right.”

“Viktor and Yuuri are waiting for me,” he rushed out because he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stand there, next to his semi-mate.

He stepped off the podiums before being told so and skated off the ice without further ado. No waving, no bowing, none of that.

Viktor was waiting for him, pushing silver bangs from his eyes and looking like he was about to protest when he get off the ice, but Yuri only said, “Let’s get out of here.”

* * *

The airport was quiet on the Sunday morning, and Yuri listened to music as he waited at the gate with Viktor and Yuuri. Yuri was ready to go home to Potya and leave the disaster of the competition behind him. Ha! To be the first man to land a quad axel and still consider himself a failure. That was something…

Viktor had Shiori asleep in the sling, holding a kindle in one hand, and with one arm around Katsudon, who was tapping on CandyCrush furiously on his phone. They weren’t boarding for another hour, but Mister ‘What if We’re Late?’ Katsuki over there had insisted on getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

“I’m gonna go browse the shops,” Yuri announced, and the two others only nodded, neither looking up from their tasks.

In his defence, he did browse the tax-free shops first, selling tacky reindeer and Santa gifts. Then he spotted a bar and remembered that airports lived in different hours than the rest of the world – never mind it was ten in the morning. He was IDed for his beer before he sat by the windowed wall that faced the runways, airplanes queuing for take-off. His body was tired and drained from the weekend’s competition, and he had a nasty bruise on his left and right buttock from where he had first skated into Otabek, and then fallen during his performance. What a joke. He had an awful headache that had intensified since they’d left the hotel, and Yuri was pretty sure it was connected to the distance he was now putting between himself and Otabek, one step at a time. His body was in withdrawal from the sheer proximity of Beka. God, the sooner this bond broke the better!

There were a few others at the bar – some middle-aged geezer with a wandering hand, talking to a desperate divorcee type of woman with a faded dye job. He got his phone out – social media, a gift, a curse… He’d browsed people’s comments more than once.

The event had been livestreamed online, and people had taken screen caps and recordings enthusiastically. Yuri landed the quad axel! A true champion! but as someone pointed out, A champion? That free skate was a disaster! Plisetsky’s on his way out, but another defended him with: Altin crashing into him during the warm up clearly threw him off! Altin’s fault, and someone else: More like Yuri crashed into Otabek, THE HERO OF KAZAKHSTAN!!! SABOTAGE! And a peacemaker: They’re best friends off-ice, guys, it was hardly intentional!, who was countered with best friends? did u see them on the podium??? didn’t look friendly to me!

God, he thought – it could only get better from here, couldn’t it?

He checked the hashtag for the competition, and felt a familiar, bitter taste in his mouth as he read: Can we talk about that FS and the miracle that is Otabek Altin? Sexiest alpha alive! #marryme #legitcried #finlandiatrophy

A shiver ran through him, then, and he looked up towards the souvenir shop to see Otabek Altin stood there with a backpack hanging off one shoulder, having stopped to look directly at him, somewhat surprised. Right. Right, of course – of course Otabek was flying out that morning too.

Yuri held his gaze stubbornly, even as his heart was beginning to race. He was sick of losing all the time – he could win a staring contest.

He wished the airport had been bigger, or busier, but it wasn’t.

After clear hesitation, Otabek walked over to him, and Yuri put his phone back into his jean pocket. “Hi,” Beka said, softly, and Yuri nodded. “You, ah, flying out?”

“What the fuck do you think?” he asked, motioning around the terminal.

Otabek’s cheeks tinged with a slight red, and Yuri could smell him, shampoo from the hotel, and he wanted to bury himself in the scent of it, rub himself against it, make it his own. His hands felt sweaty from Beka’s mere presence. The bond, the stupid fucking bond! Pulling them together, leading them to each other – the invisible thread constantly pulling at them.

“May I?” Beka asked and motioned at the seat opposite Yuri. He seemed nervous. What for? He’d won. It was Yuri who had made an ass of himself. Yuri nevertheless couldn’t think of a reason to say no, and Beka sat down, but he didn’t seem to know what else to say. Yuri felt better, however, just from having Beka near: the tightness in his chest loosened, breathing was easier. The headache mellowed out.

“Congrats seem in place,” Yuri then said when the silence began to piss him off.

“It was okay,” Otabek said, modestly.

Yuri gritted his teeth. “Okay? It was goddamn great.” He paused. “I shouldn’t have said your career’s pathetic. It’s not.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Beka said, and silence stretched between them. After a beat Otabek added, “You did well, too.”

He scoffed. “Well? I might have landed that axel, but the rest of it was a shit show. Anyway,” he said, taking a gulp from his bottle, “I’m surprised you took the time to watch.” This wasn’t an innocent comment: Katsudon had said that Beka had watched the short program and praised it.

“Of course I watched you,” Beka said with a frown. “Just because we’re not –” And Beka moved as if to motion between them, but then he dropped his hands to his knees. “I… I still really care about you.”

Cared about him?! God!

“You’re in love,” Yuri then barked because he couldn’t stand it a second longer. He’d had a meltdown during his free skate over just how much he couldn’t stand it. Otabek paled, going awfully still. Yuri had him right where he wanted him, and he leaned closer to Otabek and spat out, “When I saw you skate yesterday, I understood the routine, I got what you were saying. All that crap about skating being a- a special language that only a few people can speak, well I could speak it just fine. I got it. That entire program was a- a love song or a serenade, and it wasn’t pretend, it wasn’t some character. It was you, and that’s why you never let me see that program because you were keeping that from me.” He stopped at last to catch his breath, and then he repeated the accusation: “You’re in love.” The bond was aching. “Since when?”

Otabek’s mouth opened, nothing coming out at first. Then, carefully: “Since the start.”

“The start…?” he repeated, and Otabek nodded, biting on his bottom lip. The start of what? “You could’ve just told me.”

Otabek now wrung his hands, eyes on his knees. It was unusual for Otabek to look so unsure of himself. Where was the confident, love-struck alpha of his routines?! “I didn’t know how to…”

“Didn’t know?” he repeated, annoyed more than hurt. “Just say the words! Fuck, is it that hard?” he snapped, and Beka looked at him with his stupid dark brown eyes, soft, beautiful. “Did you think I couldn’t handle it?!”

He could fucking handle it!

“No, I – I just wasn’t sure how I’d handle it if my feelings weren’t returned,” Otabek said. “And it seemed better to live in, in hope than… have no hope.” There was sadness to his voice, and whatever Otabek had gone through – this entire saga Yuri had been oblivious to – had clearly hurt him. Yuri hated the thought of it. Beka pressed on with, “It’s hard for- for me say what I… feel, the words are – I don’t know how. I never know how to – and I get nervous, n-nothing comes out right, and the programs, both of them, I was trying to show because it’s… easier. For me. To show on the ice instead of… of words.” Otabek was making little sense, flustered – and still speaking a lot for someone usually so quiet. “I’ve been trying to express, uh, or think of how to – ever since last summer, when you were in Almaty, and we- we finally made love, I –”

“Well you have my blessing,” he snapped angrily, and Beka stopped his monologue, frowning. “That’s what you want, isn’t it? For me to say it’s okay? Then fine – it’s okay! Since you’re so madly in love with whoever the hell it is, I hope you and him run off into the goddamn sunset and have all the kids that you want, but –”

“What are you on about?” Beka interrupted, sharply. “Who are you on about?”

“– won’t be pining over you, and that’s all I have to fucking say!” he said, too loudly – the bartender was looking their way with a frown, and Yuri could only hope that the man didn’t speak Russian. He sat up straighter and hissed, “Just go and do your little on-ice love confessions somewhere else, alright?”

But as he stood up to stand, so did Otabek, blocking his way. Otabek was staring at him in astonishment. “But… it’s you I’m skating for. It’s you I’m in love with.”

Yuri froze to the very spot where he stood. He blinked. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to breathe, or move, either. So he stared.

Otabek appeared bewildered. “You don’t know that?”

He swallowed. “No.”

“All this time, you haven’t known that?!”

“…No?”

And to his surprise, Otabek looked angry. “So all – all last year, us sleeping together, texting and calling each other ten times a day, all that – that stuff, you didn’t think I… was in love?” Beka repeated, like the thought astonished him. “Me giving you foot rubs and us scenting each other, you just – what, thought it was bros being bros?!” Beka questioned, his voice rising in a way it very, very rarely did. “All that stuff is what mates do!” Beka pointed out angrily, and yes, okay, it sort of was. “And you kept saying it was nothing, all the time, and I kept waiting and waiting for you to change your mind, and – and acknowledge what was really happening between us!”

Yuri didn’t appreciate this attack one little bit. He snapped, “Well maybe you should have said you were in love with me!”

“How could I?! It was so obvious but you didn’t want to know! God, it was right there in front of you, but you always shut me down if I tried to bring it up, you rejected –”

“Rejected…?!” he cut in, because if they were going to have a shouting match, he would not be outdone! He didn’t care where they were, who was around them – he pulled down the collar of his stupid goddamn turtleneck and exposed the red bite mark on his skin. Otabek stilled at the sight of it, eyes going wide, something dark appearing in them. The other was visibly shaken. “Look! Look!” he hissed, and then let go of the collar, hiding the mark once more. He stepped closer to Otabek and snarled, “You marked me and packed your bags! You want to talk to me about rejection?!”

Otabek’s angry outburst was over. In one swift move, Yuri had won.

Otabek looked apologetic, deflated. “That was my mistake.”

“Yeah, I goddamn know!” Yuri snapped. “You’re the one who left – not me! You’re the one who walked out! What kind of an alpha marks someone and then just walks away?!”

Otabek looked uncertain. “Yuri, I left because I – I was ashamed, and humiliated and… I thought that I was investing so much into something that, for you, was just… sex.” Otabek sighed, hand coming to brush his temple like he was fighting off a headache. “And when we… You say I didn’t force the mark on you, but I was jealous and mad and – and I marked you without asking, I knotted you out of- out of greed, and I was out of control, and I- I left because I couldn’t stomach that I did those things to you, when I never want to see you hurt.” And Beka’s words, soft, gentle, were like the free skate of the day before. They were vulnerable and raw. Yuri had no idea there was such a side to Beka until that moment. Beka sounded regretful. “I’ve imagined marking you, us marking each other, so many times, and then I – I did it out of spite, out of jealousy. It wasn’t like I’d imagined at all… All of these- these feelings of wanting to make you mine just finally spilled over, and it was instinct and desperation mixed together, but that will never be an excuse.”

Yuri was so busy digesting this that he couldn’t say anything, leaving Beka to conclude: “You deserved better.”

Yuri realised he was shaking, the shock of Beka having kept this from him for a- a year! More than that! Now cursing through him. “You could have just told me,” he said in a strained voice. What could he do with this declaration?!

“I didn’t think you were ready,” Otabek said, softly, which fed the wrath balling up in him.

“You don’t get to decide what I’m ready for!” he snarled. “You’re an asshole! I fucked up the entire competition because of you!”

He then stormed past Otabek, who reached out to him, but he dodged the outstretched hand. “Do I look like I want to talk to you right now?!” he growled and was pleased when Otabek shrank back.

He headed back to his gate, furious. What an asshole! What a goddamn fucking asshole! Otabek Fucking Too Cool to Use Words Altin! Piece of shit with his free skate that read like a marriage proposal, and his ‘thought about us marking each other so many times’, and his fucking casual ‘oh of course I’ve been in love with you all this time’! And Yuri wasn’t ready! He wasn’t ready?! How could he have known either way when Otabek never gave him that chance?!

People were boarding now, and Yuuri spotted him and waved him over. They had priority boarding thanks to the baby, and Yuri got out his passport, fuming, and grabbed his jacket that Yuuri had kindly picked up for him. Piece of shit country – get him the hell out of here and away from Otabek! Selfish fucking prick!

“You okay?” Yuuri asked, and he snapped, “Mind your own goddamn business!”

Yuuri sighed. “Viktor, when does puberty end?”

“Never with some,” Viktor noted coolly.

He was thankfully sat on the other side of the aisle from the Katsuki-Nikiforovs, and he slumped down in his seat and glared out of the window. God, he was so mad! How could he end up with a mate so obtuse?! Otabek’s fucking ‘you deserve better’ bullshit made him want to gag, as did Otabek looking at him like he was some precious goddamn thing to him – Yuri would goddamn fight Otabek if it came down to it, that asshole! Why was Yuri in love with someone who was so inept and so arrogant and so –

Oh.

Oh, shit.

He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. His heart was beating fast in his chest, drumming, warm and electric and buzzing and light and somehow full of joy that, if it could have spoken, would have amounted to an excited and frantic !!!!!!!!

Well, fuck.

The plane was departing. Could he jump off it? Demand to be let out? They did in movies all the time! He –

“Sir, sit down and buckle your seatbelt,” a stern stewardess told him, only in her thirties but channelling Lilia so strongly that Yuri sat back down. His mind kept reeling, and there wasn’t even any wi-fi on the flight! Useless! Useless!

Otabek was in love with him? He’d skated for him? Yuri felt choked up, unsure what to do with that, but the thought of it filled him with joy.

When they got off the plane, Yuri felt like he was about to explode. “I need a tickets desk,” he announced to Yuuri and Viktor the second they were in the terminal, looking at the signage. “I need you guys to feed Potya, too. Keys! Here, take my keys.”

Katsudon took them, looking very confused. Yuri looked at a departures board – Almaty. Leaving in an hour and a half. “Fuck! Can you guys take my bags?” he asked, looking around frantically to see which way he should go.

“Yurio?” Katsudon asked, appearing thoroughly confused, but Viktor was giving him a knowing smirk.

“I need you back at the rink next Monday,” Viktor said.

“What’s happening?” Yuuri demanded. “Why do I have your keys?”

“Sometimes you need to rush to the other side of the world for your mate,” Viktor said, pressing a kiss to Katsudon’s hair. “Trust me, it works.”

But Yuri really didn’t have time for those two at all because he needed to find someone who would sell him a ticket! He finally spotted the right sign and began to ran, snaking through people, and lost sight of his friends in the process.

* * *

There were several things Yuri hadn’t really taken into account, like how he didn’t have a charger and his phone died on him soon after he boarded the plane, and how he didn’t have a change of clothes on him, or even a bottle of water, and nothing, really, apart from a now dead phone, his passport, wallet and clothes. The Aeroflot in-flight magazine had an article on Uzbekistan that he read three times, and it was a long flight to Almaty and he had absolutely nothing to do except to fret.

When he landed, he checked the arrivals board, but he had no idea via what route Otabek had headed back. If Beka even had! Fuck, what if Beka had gone somewhere else entirely?! All he knew was that there were no direct flights from Helsinki to Almaty, so Otabek must have had a layover somewhere.

He got out tenge from a cash machine and grabbed a taxi, rushing as much as he could. By now the morning of Helsinki had turned into night in Almaty, the sun having long since set. He had been to Almaty a handful of times by then, but in the dark all the streets looked the same to him. He knew Otabek’s street, however, and was able to point out the right building to the driver. He knew the code for the downstairs door, too – 9911 – which happened to be his short program score in his first Worlds, so how could he forget? Beka’s building was a modern build, seventeen floors and along one of the big roads of downtown Almaty, and Beka lived on the twelfth floor.

In the lift mirror, he caught a glimpse of himself – dishevelled, hair on a messy bun, but looking alert and perhaps a little insane.

What if Beka wasn’t in, what if he wasn’t here, and Yuri’s phone wasn’t even working, goddammit! He knocked on Beka’s door, then pressed the bell, then knocked again, aggressively, thousands of miles from home. And then the door swung inwards, and Beka was stood in front of him, in pyjamas, shower fresh, and Beka’s mouth dropped open at the sight of him.

Yuri stared – he’d had five hours on the plane, but he hadn’t thought of what to say. All he knew was that his mate was the most absolutely, stunningly beautiful thing he’d ever seen, now standing there in an old, faded t-shirt and pyjama bottoms, and Yuri’s stomach lurched, and his heart swelled up, and he lost his breath. He said, “You’re a piece of shit!”

“Wha…?” Otabek managed, looking down the corridor as if trying to comprehend where Yuri had appeared from.

Yuri pushed straight past him into the apartment and into to the living room, where two of Beka’s suitcases stood, still unopened. Beka shut the door and followed him, still staring at him in astonishment.

Yuri was nervous. He was never nervous! God, this whole thing was awful! “I can’t know your fucking feelings, Beka, if you don’t have the fucking guts to tell me what they are in the first place!” he barked.

“And you couldn’t… text me that…?” Otabek asked.

“No! My battery died!”

He then realised that hadn’t really been Beka’s point. He took in a deep breath – he hated this! This… laying it all out there, this whole taking a chance thing, letting someone get close to him, even if meant he got hurt. He hated it, but it was Otabek. It was Otabek.

“I thought you dumped me because you realised you were wasting time with another alpha,” he said, not yelling anymore, speaking to Beka’s bare feet. “I thought that you didn’t want me, and that’s why you left. And that you- you came back here and started courting Azat because you’d realised he was who you wanted –”

“What?” Otabek cut in. “I’ve seen Azat once this summer. He asked me to DJ his birthday party, and they wanted me to promote the club on my Instagram, and – I broke up with Azat because I had feelings for you, so how could you think I was courting him? Right after we’d bonded?!”

He halted. “But you- you and Azat broke up years ago.”

“Yes,” Otabek said, simply. “We did.”

Yuri felt breathless: since the start, Otabek had said. Otabek had- had felt this way for years?! But feeling like this sucked! How could he have endured this?!

He shook his head. “But ever since- since Shiori showed up, you haven’t shut up about babies and having kids and how you can’t wait to be a dad and dump me for the first Chris-shaped omega that comes along! Whenever you – Whenever you talk about the future, I’m not in it!”

Beka was frowning. “Yuri, I’m twenty-one. I don’t intend to start a family for another, I don’t know, decade? Not for a really long time, and – and when I’ve thought about a family of my own, I always thought we’d adopt or something. I mean, I know Russia and Kazakhstan don’t allow alpha couples to adopt, but we can live somewhere that does,” Beka said, very much babbling nervously now. “I don’t know. I didn’t mean to make you think that I –”

Yuri was staring at him. “You’ve thought about us adopting children.”

Beka’s cheeks flared red, but then he only nodded. “I’ve daydreamed about stuff like that, yeah. But if you didn’t want children, then we –”

“I don’t know!” he snapped. “Maybe? I mean, Shiori’s alright. She’ll be cool once that hat I ordered arrives. Hell, I don’t know yet!” Yuri sighed and worried on his bottom lip, unnerved. His eyes landed on the couch by the TV – the scene of the crime from last summer. The two of them, right there: hands, mouths, limbs, unrefined, clumsy, eager… Another infuriating thought crossed his mind: Beka had said at the airport that they’d made love then. And messy as it had been, that feeling had been there. That possibility. That chance. He shuddered just thinking about it.

“I don’t know, I guess I freaked out when we first slept together,” he admitted and knew he was a year overdue on the admission. He’d freaked out. He’d hardly looked at Beka the morning after. He’d been knocked off balance, flustered, unsure. “I didn’t know how to… process what I, uh. Felt.” The F word. He pushed on, “It was kind of scary.”

“Something like that can be, sure. But it doesn’t have to be,” Beka said, softly. There was such wistful hope to his tone that Yuri was surprised he didn’t crumble.

Didn’t it have to be scary? Yuri thought that what he felt was the most terrifying thing he’d ever considered acting upon. How could anyone stand being this vulnerable in front of another person?! To let them in and trust them not to wreak havoc and trust them not to leave? Madness! Insanity!

But then Beka stood there, looking so soft and earnest and like something of Yuri’s very own, and he swallowed audibly and said, “It never didn’t not mean something, you and me. Us. It – It meant a lot.”

Beka stepped closer to him carefully. “Why?”

“Because of- of stuff! Because…!” he said, frustrated, and Beka was giving him these hopeful goddamn moon eyes, and he barked, “Okay, fine! Fine! Because I love you, I guess! I mean at least sometimes I do! Not right now – right now I’m mad at you for being a dick!” he snapped, but Otabek had broken into a blindingly wide grin that Yuri was sure he’d never seen before in his life. “Don’t fucking smile, you asshole!”

“Yuri, I – What’s this for?” he asked because Yuri had slipped off his jacket and had shoved it into Beka’s arms.

“It’s a scent gift, what do you think?! I’m courting you now!” He pushed the jacket further into Beka’s arms meaningfully. “Take it!”

Otabek blinked. “Yura, you don’t need to court me.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” he snapped back, rather desperately. “Do you accept it or not?”

Otabek clutched the jacket in his hands. “Of course.”

He was relieved, but tried to hide it. “Good. First smart thing you’ve done all day.” And then he stepped closer to Otabek, snaked an arm around his waist, and pulled him into a kiss. Finally. God, finally!

Beka sighed against him, still holding the jacket, and Yuri was going to be such a good alpha for him, he was going to alpha the shit out of this man, just he wait, and –

The touch of their lips was light, barely there, but it cut straight through him, leaving him weak and open, but the realisation of it wasn’t as terrifying as before. Otabek was solid in his arms. He could do this – Yuri could do this.

“I, ah. I maxed out my credit card to pay for the flight here, so I’m kind of stuck.” Otabek’s scent was heady even after a recent shower, and Yuri’s heart was starting to race.

Otabek’s forehead brushed against his. “Oh?”

“Yeah, I – I might have to spend the night.”

“Thank god,” Beka breathed, and then they were kissing, stumbling across the living room, pulling at each other’s clothes. Yuri was completely lost, dizzy, and happy. They made it into the bedroom, and Yuri tried to keep his lips attached to Beka’s as he hopped to take his shoes off, which clattered as he threw them away. Beka smiled against his mouth.

“God, c’mere,” he breathed, wrapping his arms around Beka’s waist. Something in him growled, dark and needy, and he’d never wanted anything as badly in his life.

“You want this, right?” Beka asked him breathlessly. “It’s not just the bond telling you what to –”

He pulled his shirt over his head. “I want this,” he affirmed and captured Beka’s mouth in another kiss.

Otabek fell onto his back on the bed and Yuri climbed on top of him. Beka’s hand pressed to his chest, skittering up to his neck where it brushed over the mark. Beka’s hand pressed to his chest, skittering up to his neck where it brushed over the mark, covered by a patch. Yuri swallowed before reaching for the patch, finding a corner to loosen and then peeling it off. There. Visible and reddened, for the two of them to see. Beka had gone awfully still beneath him, but then reached up to trace the mark with his fingers. Yuri shuddered, head rolling to the side. Beka’s touch felt like water after a never-ending drought, and although the mark had only been there for a while – and hidden for nearly all of it – Yuri had a hard time imagining himself without it anymore.

“Do you… Do you like it?” Otabek asked, fingers tracing it, tone equally dark and hopeful. Yuri almost growled at the back of his throat, twisting his head so that he was able to kiss the middle of Beka’s palm. He nodded, struggling to find the words.

“Do you?” he asked in turn, pressing the heel of his other hand directly over the tenting erection in Beka’s pyjama bottoms.

Beka’s breath hitched, gaze dark. “Yes.” Fuck, Yuri wanted to roll them over and let Beka sink his teeth into his neck all over again – but they still hadn’t really talked about bonding, and right then this – being close, touching, kissing – this proximity soothed the ache in him. Otabek seemed to feel the same as he said, “Maybe we should… see how this goes, and. And if later you want me to rework the mark, and. And you’d like to mark me, then we can… talk about that. In the future.”

Always the sensible one out of the two of them.

“Okay,” he agreed hastily. When they were ready. Lilia and Katsudon and Viktor hadn’t been entirely wrong in their preaching when they’d said what a big decision mating was. He shuddered under Beka’s touch. “Yes, okay,” he agreed. They could do the bonding properly when they felt ready. There were other ways to claim each other until then – scenting, gifts, the simple act of holding hands, even. “Yes,” he repeated, capturing Beka’s mouth in a kiss.

Slow. Definitely.

They could totally take it slow, he thought, as they began to undress each other, their movements filled with desperate longing and burning ache. He could absolutely be sensible about this.

* * *

“Soooo…” Viktor said, drawling out the word. “You thought. What. Matching tattoos was sort of lowkey?”

“Shut up,” he said, regretting having asked Viktor to pick him up from the airport, but he hadn’t had his keys. St. Petersburg was rainy and all too far away from Almaty, and he wasn’t in the best of moods. His phone buzzed: Miss you more. He smiled reading the text and typed back: Doubt it.

Viktor drummed the wheel of the car, waiting for the lights to change. “I suppose you thought plastering it all over social media was lowkey too.”

“Hypocrite,” he said in turn. Besides, the tattoos were cool: he had half a tiger’s paw tattooed to his wrist, the size of a bottle cap – nothing big. And so what if Beka had the other half of the paw tattooed to his wrist, as of yesterday, and the two halves made a whole when they put their wrists next to each other. Yuri thought it was the coolest tattoo idea anyone had ever had, and he hadn’t thought twice about posting a picture of their wrists, the black ink still gleaming, with a message of We’re together. #dealwithit. The comment section had gone crazy and the news had spread across the internet like wildfire.

It wasn’t in his nature to not announce who was his. He was kind of a jealous person, he’d come to realise: he needed people to know that he’d claimed Otabek. Fine, not officially yet – there was no mark on Otabek’s neck, and Beka hadn’t bit him again either, although the temptation had been there. Beka wanted to “do it right”, and Yuri could wait. The bond that was between them was soothed by them being together, and that was enough for now. His grandfather had been mystified by his call that he was dating another alpha, and his family was processing the news. Probably wise not to add them having mated on top of that just yet. Otabek’s fathers, however, had apparently known for years that their son was in love with him. Would have been nice for someone to let him in on that little fact, too.

But he wasn’t mad about it. He glanced down to his wrist – the half of a paw there, soothing the sense of ownership swirling in him. He belonged to someone. Someone belonged to him. And not just anyone: Otabek.

“People have been calling me for comments all day,” Viktor then said. “You could’ve given me a bit of warning.”

“Hypocrite,” he only repeated. Did he need to remind Viktor of the several media storms he’d cooked up with his antics with Yuuri?

“Well, I only said that we’re very happy for you two, of course.”

Yuri knew their relationship would be questioned by many, but there was no way around it. He didn’t want anyone else. He was relatively sure he’d never wanted anyone else to begin with. Viktor sounded kind, and that felt a lot better than their initial shock and blame that he’d gotten involved with another alpha. But when he was with Otabek, none of that mattered – Yuri was his, stubbornly. And one day he’d mark Beka properly, claim him for all to see. Viktor sounded supportive, and Yuri clutched at his phone. He didn’t have the words to say how much it meant, after everything.

“Otabek’s coming to stay next week. For a… a while.”

“He’s moving to St. Petersburg?” Viktor clarified, and Yuri neither confirmed or denied this. “No time wasted there, huh?”

“Says the man who moved to Japan with no warning!” he snapped defensively, and Viktor chuckled. He didn’t want to be away from Otabek. Being away was stupid. Not being with him every day was stupid. They both thought so. “Hey, why are you stopping here?”

“Hmm?” Viktor asked, turning the wheel, glancing over his shoulder as he parked the car. “Oh, we figured you’d be hungry. Yuuri’s made dinner, and I’m sure Shiori will be happy to see you too. It’s not the same without you here, really.”

He perked up, even after the long flight. “Cool, whatever.” In the lift up, he texted, Having dinner with V&Y. Skype later?

Shiori was on her playmat in the living room when they got in, and after he’d given Yuuri a quick hug, he went to pick her up. She broke into a smile when he asked her how she’d been, and she made nonsensical baby sounds that were nevertheless enthusiastic. “Did you miss your uncle?” he asked her next, and she gurgled. He took it to be a yes. “Let’s pose for Uncle Beka, okay?” He snapped a quick picture of the two of them and sent it off with I could be convinced to have one of these.

Don’t tempt me, Beka wrote back instantly. I just might start drafting adoption papers.

Yuuri called out, “Dinner’s ready! Come tell us about Almaty!”

He pondered what, exactly, he could share that wasn’t private. Then he took in a deep breath and texted, with his free hand, Love you.

There. That wasn’t scary. That wasn’t scary at all.

His phone buzzed. Love you too, with a little heart emoji. He scoffed. What a sap.

But he smiled, and even then he couldn’t help feeling a little relieved. Shiori was still in his arms as he went to the kitchen, where Yuuri was stirring a katsu curry sauce, and Viktor was hugging him from behind, chin hooked on Yuuri’s shoulder and arms around his middle, saying, “I’m not clingy, you’re clingy.” And Katsudon huffed but was smiling, and for once Yuri’s first reaction wasn’t to gag and tell them to cut it out.

Beka had been right about some things: this, what the two of them were doing and what numerous people did, he supposed, all the time, all over the world – this, the thing that they were heading into, deeper and deeper, was scary as anything, but. It didn’t have to be.

It didn’t have to be.

Still, his second reaction was to remark, “You’re being gross! Stop it!”

“How nice that you’re back home,” Viktor said, and Yuri huffed in indignation.

 

fin.