“Welcome home,” Yuri says and it’s only Otabek’s low center of gravity that keeps him from stumbling as Yuri pushes him backwards through the door of their new apartment. Otabek can’t see any of it because Yuri is kissing him, hands up inside Otabek’s jacket, and Otabek can’t keep his eyes open. When Yuri finally lets him go, pressing the key into his palm, Otabek sees his own face in the mirror by the door, mouth turning up, so happy that it frightens him.
September in Saint Petersburg is a welcome relief after the Hasetsu summer. Otabek wakes up early and goes running alone under the street lamps. It's the best way to learn the city, no GPS unless he's well and truly lost, just the pavement beneath him. Each day he spirals out a little further in the crisp morning air until he knows their neighborhood, not by heart, but with the soles of his shoes.
He gets back in time to make the tea and put a mug on Yuri’s bedside table, thirty seconds before Yuri's phone alarm goes off. Otabek stands across the room, sipping his own tea, and watches Yuri go through each stage of waking up: denial, rage, more rage, and caffeine acquisition. After Yuri curses him out for perving on him while he's sleeping, Otabek sits beside him on the bed, pushes Yuri's bedhead back from his face, and kisses him.
“Fuck you,” Yuri says most days, but he always kisses Otabek back, slow and lingering, morning breath and all.
As they head to the rink together in the gray dawn light, Otabek feels the contentment rumble through him like the sound of a double-bass, one long low drawn note that will never end.
Time seems to pass in waves, huge rushing floods interspersed with lulls of calm. Before he knows it the competition season is over - the skating bruises, medals, stories, and Instagram feeds seemingly the only proof that they were there at all.
In the time between training and competitions, they learn how to exist together - not just as two people in the same space but together. It’s easier than he thought it would be, given Yuri’s flair for drama, his own tendency towards moodiness, and how stubborn they can both be. It’s like their rougher edges fit together perfectly, showing a smooth and seamless surface.
That summer they intersperse off-season training with travel: Moscow, Tokyo, Portugal. Sometimes they go to visit family or friends and other times it’s just a place they want to go together. Each time they return to St. Petersburg he finds himself looking forward to the sight of the Winter Palace, excited to get back to their apartment and their bed and to pet the cat - to go home. Otabek dares to hope that this time it will stick. Surely, in this place, with this person, things will finally work out.
The rich gold of summer turns into the brassy copper of autumn and suddenly it’s been a year. Marking off training deadlines with his coach, Otabek can see the competition season unfold before him: Grand Prix qualifiers, Grand prix final, Four Continents, Worlds. Now he knows what it’s like to skate an event and not dread the expo, the banquet, the inevitable goodbye tucked away in a corner of the airport or hotel. He’ll have the high of performing and the weight of a medal around his neck unmarred by the knowledge that it’ll be back to Skype dates and text messages for potentially months. He thinks about the warm glow he feels when Yuri falls asleep slumped against his side on a plane, all of his habitual grace abandoned in an attempt to get comfortable, the rush of meeting Yuri’s fiercely triumphant eyes across the ice when one of them nails an element they’ve been struggling with, the lazy heat of making out in bed on a rare morning off. He gathers all of these things and holds on to them - he’s not going to let go.
It takes so long to happen, he'd stopped thinking it would happen at all. But one January morning, Otabek feels his feet drag with more than the cold. He stops on the bridge, looking out at the river and watching his breath roll out over the edge to join the rising mist.
This is Yuri's favourite place, although he'd never say something so sentimental. But when they're walking to the rink together or to the mediocre but convenient restaurant that they always seem to end up at, Yuri always pauses here, right where Otabek is standing now. Hands on the railing, eyes on the water, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
It's a lovely spot, a lovely view. But Otabek can't help the itch he gets inside, the faint pressure on his soul, because St Petersburg is starting to be done. When he turns and starts to run, he carries the feeling with him like a tiny stone inside his shoe.
He's late home and Yuri is already up, scowling over his phone at the kitchen table. "Put cat food on the shopping list," he says and stabs at the screen.
Otabek puts cat food on the shopping list. Then he pulls Yuri's face up and kisses him, a serious, late-for-practice kiss, his cold fingers warming on Yuri's cheek.
Yuri drops his phone and they kiss their way back to the bedroom, onto the bed, kicking the crumpled sheets off onto the floor. They gasp together, Otabek's forehead tight against Yuri's shoulder, and Otabek relaxes because this – Yuri and Otabek – this isn't done.
When they head to practice together, Yuri stops on the bridge, one hand on the railing, the other on Otabek's shoulder, the corners of his mouth turning up.
It's not going to happen, Otabek tells himself. Not this time.
But when they walk away, he feels that stone inside his shoe.
Otabek had traveled with the team to the European Championships last year. It had been a point of contention between Otabek and his last coach that he attended Yuri’s events when they didn’t overlap. They missed a few, of course, it didn’t always work out with their training schedule, but they tried.
This season a quirk of scheduling means that Euros and Four Continents are practically on top of each other. There’s no way around it. Yuri has been irritable for weeks, snapping from surly to clingy with a speed that makes Otabek’s head spin. He considers reminding Yuri that they both had years of successful skating history before they were together but doesn’t want to find himself murdered in his sleep. He does his best to smooth Yuri’s ruffled edges and makes sure to keep his building excitement about Four Continents to himself.
Yuri would certainly understand that he was looking forward to the competition itself, there are very few things Yuri loves more than competing. But Otabek isn’t sure how to explain the pressure to get out, get away without Yuri thinking he’s running away from them.
So Yuri will go to Minsk and he’ll go to Colorado Springs and they’ll be fine. Otabek has never been to Colorado and he’s looking forward to seeing the city; Leo and Phichit will be staying an extra day or two so he’ll have company.
In Minsk, Yuri stumbles out of his trickiest combo in his free and misses gold by a couple of points. It’s the evening after Yuri’s free skate and the morning before Otabek’s - there’s enough time for a quick video chat before warm-ups. Yuri gives him a play by play of his event and Otabek can hear the happiness warring with exhaustion in his voice.
“I wish you were here.”
Otabek won’t lie and say he does too so he tells Yuri a different true thing. “I wish I were with you, Yura.”
“Kick ass, Altin.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Some blogger has gotten their hands on a picture of him at the banquet - glass of champagne in hand, cheeks flushed and laughing, leaning into Leo’s shoulder to look at the pictures of his latest misadventure with Guanghong. They posted it between the official photo of him and Leo on the podium, wearing gold and silver respectively, proud and happy, and a paparazzi snap of them and Phichit shopping downtown along with a thousand words of ridiculous speculative gossip.
He doesn’t hear about it until he gets off the plane, his phone pinging with multiple messages from friends when he turns it back on. Otabek winces when he clicks the link and the first comment under the post is “was wondering when he’d finally get sick of Plisetsky.”
There’s nothing from Yuri after their usual exchange about traveling safely. Sudden anxiety settles over his shoulders, merging with the weight of returning to St. Petersburg, the post-competition lull pressing him down.
Yuri is home and banging around in the kitchen when he arrives. He drops his bags in the bedroom before returning to hover in the kitchen doorway.
“I saw that you had a fantastic time in Colorado. Congratulations.” Yuri’s voice is sharp, cold as fresh ice, and Otabek is suddenly so tired.
“Congratulations to you too,” he keeps his voice quiet and even and the tense line of Yuri’s shoulders falls just a little.
“You already said that on the phone.”
Otabek takes a chance and crosses the room, pressing up against the length of Yuri’s back and sliding his arms around him. “I think it bears repeating,” he says, voice muffled by the golden mass of Yuri’s hair.
“You too. You were amazing.” A small sigh, he feels Yuri curl in on himself. “Looked like you had fun too, you didn’t need me there at all.”
Ah, there it is.
“We’re professionals, neither of us needs the other one to be there.” He drops a kiss on Yuri’s shoulder, holds him a little tighter. “But I did want you. I always want you, Yura.”
Yuri makes a soft, pained noise and turns in his arms, slumps down to bury his face in Otabek’s neck. Otabek cups his cheek and guides him into a kiss and when they part the ice has melted from Yuri’s eyes.
“Well I’m here, and you’re here, and we’re home,” Yuri sighs before leaning down to kiss him again. Otabek closes his eyes against the pang in his heart and wishes they were anywhere else.
Otabek starts going to the gym to use the treadmill. He closes his eyes as he runs, music throbbing in his headphones, trading the sameness of the streets for the sameness of the gym. It doesn't matter, he tells himself. He has what he wants now.
It's too far to go all the way home again, so he doesn't see Yuri in the mornings now until they're at the rink, tying their skates.
When Otabek puts his hand on Yuri's shoulder, Yuri leans over and kisses his cheek. "I brought you breakfast," Yuri says that first day.
"I ate on the way over," Otabek says.
The next day, Otabek doesn't eat on the way over. But Yuri doesn't offer anything besides the kiss.
They walk home together, pulling their equipment bags behind them. When Yuri stops on the bridge, Otabek closes his eyes and pictures Yuri on the ice instead in Milan, in Helsinki, his hair flashing behind him as he jumps, rotates, flies through the air.
"Pay some fucking attention." Yuri tugs at Otabek's arm. They walk home hand in hand.
Between Four Continents and Worlds, the tension between them stretches until Otabek thinks even breathing might snap it; on the other side of Worlds looms a whole off-season trapped in St. Petersburg. He runs for longer and longer each day, but even when his body is exhausted, he's still restless.
“What’s your deal?” Yuri snaps over dinner. Otabek goes to do the dishes as if he hasn’t heard. The problem won’t exist if he doesn’t let it. “Fine! Forget it!” Yuri stomps out of the kitchen, slams the bedroom door.
Yuri doesn't speak to him for nearly a week. It's easy to find ways to avoid each other, going to the rink at different times, Otabek picking up late DJ gigs, Yuri spending more and more time with Victor and Yuuri. Otabek is glad, or maybe jealous, that Yuri has people he can turn to, people more stable than Otabek is.
But Yuri can't sustain a fight endlessly, especially not when Otabek is entirely passive in the face of it, knowing Yuri will wear himself out. It ends in a round of rough morning sex, Otabek pinned under Yuri's weight, both of them taking out their frustrations on each other until Yuri rolls off of him, breathing raggedly.
"Just tell me what we're fighting about," Yuri says, miserable.
"We're not fighting." Otabek wants to reach across the small space between them but doesn't know if he should. Yuri makes a harsh noise and curls up tighter on himself.
"Of course you aren't. But you don't want to be here."
"Yes." It's a relief to say it, to admit that Otabek has been climbing the walls for weeks, the itch under his skin maddening.
"Is it the apartment?" Yuri looks around their bedroom, the view out their window, the closet with their things spilling out. "Is it too small? Or—"
"It's the not the apartment," Otabek interrupts, realizing his mistake a second too late when Yuri's eyes harden to glass. Yuri tenses to get up and Otabek grabs for his wrist. "Wait."
"Let go," Yuri growls.
"Wait." The sharp bones of Yuri's wrist dig into his fingers. Yuri is a dragonfly on his fingertip, wings stretched for flight. "Listen," he pleads, not sure Yuri can through his anger. "Yura. It's not you. It's the place. It’s being here."
"St. Petersburg?" Yuri's brow furrows.
"It's everyplace," Otabek admits. He's never said the words out loud before; he doesn't like the way they sound. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him and why even Yuri can’t fix it. "You know I've trained a lot of places."
"I thought it was about coaching." Yuri's hand falls in his lap, Otabek's fingers sliding down to squeeze Yuri's. “You never talked about it.”
"I can't stay in one place. Not anyplace. After a while…" Otabek trails off under Yuri's stare. He doesn't think he's explaining it right. “I like it here. So much. For a while I thought maybe this would be different, but it’s not. I still love Toronto and Chicago too, but I just can’t...stay.”
Yuri chews his bottom lip. “You were with people in those places too, right?” Otabek nods. Yuri pulls his hand back. “So when you’ve had enough, you just end it. Then you leave.”
“No.” Otabek’s voice sticks in his throat with how backwards Yuri has it. “It’s the other way. I leave, so relationships end. I’m not tired of you, it’s nothing like that.”
“Except how you’re leaving!” Yuri’s expression wavers between furious and brokenhearted, making Otabek’s chest ache. “It’s exactly like that. Isn’t it?”
Yuri stares down at Otabek, lost, and Otabek wants desperately to make it stop. The first time this happened and things went all wrong, Otabek promised he wouldn’t ask such selfish things from someone he loves again, but with Yuri looking at him like that, his resolve crumbles. When Otabek thinks about exploring the next city, in his mind’s eye, he isn’t alone.
He takes a deep breath. “It...doesn’t have to be. I’m leaving here. I don’t have to leave you?” Yuri blinks at him, uncomprehending. “If you were with me, I’d...I’d like that.”
“With you where?” Yuri asks. Otabek shrugs; he doesn’t know yet. Yuri turns and swings his legs off the bed. “I’m going to shower.”
That’s where Yuri hides when he wants to think, so Otabek leaves him be. For a while he listens to the water, staring at the ceiling and thinking about what he’ll pack, what he’ll give away. Eventually he gets up to make breakfast, trying not to think about anything besides tea or eggs.
Yuri pads into the kitchen eventually, damp hair twisted into a knot, loose strands dripping water down his neck. Otabek pushes a mug across the table towards him, but Yuri stands in the doorway, arms crossed.
“You didn’t even ask me,” he says. His jaw is clenched, hurt transparent. “If you really wanted me--”
“I want you,” Otabek interrupts, out of his chair and across the room before he knows what he’s doing, arms drawing Yuri tight to him. Yuri struggles, but Otabek’s grip is firm. “I didn’t want to hear the answer if I asked you to choose between me and your home.”
Yuri snorts into Otabek’s hair. “St. Petersburg isn’t home. Even Moscow hasn’t been for years...this won’t be home without you either.”
Otabek squeezes his eyes shut, terrified to hope. He wants to grip Yuri tighter, wants to let go and see what happens. Both choices feel wrong.
“Don’t leave me behind.” Yuri’s voice is scared too. “Just ask.”
“Please--” Otabek’s voice cracks; he presses his face into Yuri’s neck, breath catching when Yuri’s hands dig into his shoulders. “Yura?”
“Yes, obviously,” Yuri answers. Relief floods over Otabek like ice water, hugging Yuri’s waist tighter until Yuri’s feet come off the floor.
It’ll be different this time, even if Otabek can’t change himself. No matter where he ends up, he already knows where home is.
Otabek’s been to Marseilles before, but not really. Only in airports or on competition ice. Yuri says it doesn’t count if the only selfies are in the hotel bathroom.
The streets are surprisingly quiet this early in the morning, the pink of dawn still lingering. The two of them haven’t slept enough, too anxious for their short skates this afternoon, and Otabek is in a barely open cafe, watching fondly as Yuri tries to order coffee in the shitty French he’s learned from Victor accidentally.
They burn their tongues on it sitting at a table on the sidewalk, the breeze tugging strands of Yuri’s hair out from his hood. The air smells of baking bread and the nearby sea. Yuri is staring at nothing, chin resting on his hand, still half-asleep; he’s slow to turn when Otabek nudges his foot.
“What about here?” Otabek asks. He watches the confusion on Yuri’s face melt into understanding, watches Yuri look around, looking on purpose this time, taking in the street, the sky, Otabek across from him.
“I can sort of see it,” Yuri answers.
Otabek smiles against the rim of his coffee cup. He can’t see it any other way.