Actions

Work Header

Ripping Stitches (Mending Seams)

Chapter Text

Otabek is not okay.

Yuri is so wrapped up in the bliss of their budding relationship that he doesn’t notice the little tells right away. Otabek shifts restlessly when he’s been still for too long (I was in a weird position). Tiny tension lines gather at the corners of his eyes (I’m concentrating). He spends hardly any time on his phone or tablet anymore; instead he asks Yuri to read out tweets and Instagram comments and funny Facebook posts while they cuddle on his bed in the evenings (I like hearing your voice). Terse phone conversations when he thinks Yuri won’t notice, his reluctance to set foot on the ice, and the way Yuri sometimes catches him looking around like he’s not quite sure of his surroundings (Damage control - Dad’s been driving everyone crazy since he started working at home; my PT’s paranoid and made me promise not to push myself when she isn’t around to fix me; I was just wondering where Potya went).

Sometimes when they kiss, his breath hitches and it has nothing to do with desire.

His explanations are always reasonable and make perfect sense. When he doesn’t have one, they still somehow end up on a completely different subject, leaving Yuri to realize later that he never got an answer.

Otabek is a very skilled liar; it takes almost a week for the excuses to pile high enough that Yuri can’t ignore them anymore. That’s when Otabek switches to flat out denial, and things go downhill very quickly.

***

Otabek never realized just how hard it is to lie to someone when they are right there next to you instead of more that 4500 km away. He’d known, of course, in an abstract manner. There’s a big difference between skype and text and phone calls, and having someone see you first thing in the morning when your leg feels like it’s breaking apart at the seams. Or when the light striking blonde hair turns everything fuzzy and refracted, so bright he has to shut his eyes so he can fight his way through brain fog to remember where he is and who he’s with. It’s hard to hide when morning kisses and a knee accidentally knocking against his makes red hot flares of pain shoot from his hip to his toes.

Still, he thinks he’d done pretty well the first week. The giddy novelty of Yuri’s affections overrode a lot of the minor aches and annoyances. It made it easy to pretend that the big things weren’t so bad. Then the worried, skeptical looks started. Easy acceptance of his excuses was replaced by long, pregnant pauses. Yuri isn't stupid. He's more observant than people give him credit for, and he knows Otabek better than anyone. He’s not sure why he thought he’d be able to hide it from him long enough to get through the visit.

He’ll have to have to come clean, eventually, about his knee if nothing else. Everything is going to change and Otabek isn’t ready.

When planning the trip, two weeks seemed like a good timeframe. He bought his departing ticket immediately but somehow he never got around to getting the return ticket. Too expensive, wrong day, too early, too late, too many layovers. There was no rush, he’d rationalized. It’s not like he had any burning need to get home, and besides, the freedom to stay as long as he wanted was appealing. The decision comes back to bite him now, as he finds himself contemplating what emergencies would convincingly allow him to leave a few days early. Confrontation is brewing in Yuri’s eyes. Otabek doesn’t want to be around when the clouds break open.

Looking at flights makes his eyes prickle with frustration and guilt, anger and a bone deep sadness; he thinks his stupid stomach must be aiming to join the circus, if the acrobats it performs on an hourly basis are any indication. He still finds himself checking travel sites every time he gets That Look.

He knows things are about to reach a head when even Katsuki and Victor start to notice. He’s not exactly surprised by their assessing gazes. Not when the cool, crisp air of the rink and the sound of skates cutting through ice makes his throat close up and his heart race. When the nausea builds and builds until he thinks he might actually throw up, he uses any excuse he can to escape. His exits are not exactly subtle when the urge to get away, get outside where he can breathe, is overwhelming. It takes too long for his body to stop quaking and let him go back inside so he can put himself through it all again.

He sits on a bench just outside the rink, wishing for a cigarette even though he doesn’t smoke. Maybe he should start; it would give him a good excuse for his frequent breaks. Yuri would probably withhold kisses though, and his mom would be quietly, agonizingly, disappointed. Otabek’s honestly not sure which reaction would be worse. He distracts himself with his phone instead. It’s still open to the page of outgoing flights; he might as well add another acrobat to the stomach circus.

He jumps when someone drops down next to him and locks his phone reflexively. Very subtle, Altin. Not at all suspicious.

Victor sprawls on the bench next to him, legs carelessly stretched out before him as he watches the street traffic. Otabek waits, tense, for him to say something, but when it becomes obvious that Victor’s not going to break the silence, he snaps.

“Did you need something?” The question comes out sharper than he intended and Otabek hides a wince. That’s going to do wonders for his facade of health and happiness.

Victor looks at him, eyes fathomless and so blue they made his own eyes hurt. His expression is inscrutable. Otabek breaks first, looks down and digs his fist into the boulder sized knots in his thigh before he realizes what he’s doing and drops his hand to the bench instead.

The silence grows thin and tight around them. Otabek wants to scream, but all the oxygen has disappeared. When Victor finally speaks, Otabek jolts and gasps in a lungful of air; he’d been holding his breath.

“You and Yuri should come over for dinner tonight,” Victor says. His voice betrays no clues as to what he’s thinking.

“Okay,” Otabek says slowly, still thrown off kilter. Yuri eats with them at least a couple times a week and has an open invitation to drop by whenever he wants. They probably would have come over tonight anyway, even without Victor’s request, so there has to be something more to this. The unnecessary invitation puts Otabek on edge, wary of the monsters that hide behind Victor’s shiny surfaces.

Victor smiles at him, doing that weird heart shaped thing Yuri always rants about. “My Yuura’s making blini. His are the best, even if he isn’t Russian. Yurio always complains about that, but we all know they’re one of his favorites. You should really try them before you leave.”

That’s Victor speak for I saw what you were looking at. The breach of privacy needles at Otabek, makes him grind his teeth, but he refuses to let Victor know he’d found a weak spot. He schools his face into a neutral position and says, “That would be nice.”

Victor’s smile turns into something a little more authentic; he nods as he stands, apparently done. He claps a hand on Otabek’s shoulder. “Good. I have something for you, too. I can give it to you tonight.” Otabek is immediately suspicious.

“We don’t need any more condoms,” he says.

Victor laughs, delighted. “That wasn’t what I was talking about.” He pauses. “But if you do need anything, we are more than happy to help. You just have to ask.” He’s not talking about sex supplies; Otabek’s breath stutters and acid curdles bitterly his stomach, but he just blinks slowly at the older man and nods.

“Sure,” he says, instead of what he really wants to, which is mind your own business, asshole. He thinks Victor hears the words underneath anyways. He turns and heads back to the rink, waving one hand over his shoulder.

“See you tonight, Otabek.”

He thinks about not saying anything to Yuri, claiming he’d forgotten the offer, but when he finally forces himself back inside, Yuri is already talking about blini and Otabek is stuck. One look at Victor makes it pretty clear that he'd anticipated that Otabek might try to wriggle out of tonight and had taken steps to ensure he couldn't.

Otabek pushes down his irritation and resigns himself to whatever it is Victor is planning.

***

Yuri leaves with Katsuki directly from the rink to help him make the now infamous katsudon pirozhkis. This gives Otabek a solid two hours to go back to Lilia’s and collapse on the guest bed for a nap. It’s almost enough to dull the stress headache that has been building behind his eyes ever since Victor strong armed them (him) into coming over. He makes sure to set his phone’s alarm early enough to give him plenty of time to do his PT stretches and tape his knee with kinesio-tape so he can switch to a lighter, neoprene brace instead of the steel reinforced one he’s supposed to wear. The two together gave him nearly as much support, and when he slips his jeans on, it's much less noticeable. Almost like the injury isn't there, if you don't look too closely.

He pauses, considering his leg with narrow eyes. Invisibility might be more noticeable right now. If he arrives looking like he’s brace-free, that will bring more questions, not less. He heaves a sigh and pulls the jeans and brace off so he can switch to a pair of skinny jeans that will fit under the smaller brace.

Lying convincingly is a delicate, exhausting balance. He’s been slipping lately. His brain turns into a foggy, hazy sometimes. It makes it hard to navigate the web of small details and little lies he’s tangled in. It doesn’t help that Yuri talks in his sleep, and while it’s amusing to have dream inspired conversations with his sleeping boyfriend and then tell him about it later, Yuri also has a habit of flopping around in bed like a fish. Otabek adores his boyfriend, but he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since he got here.

A car honks outside and Otabek startles. He presses a hand to his chest, like that could somehow calm his racing heart. How long has he been sitting here, lost in his own thoughts? He curses, glances at his phone, and curses again. He’s going to have to take a cab the entire way there, instead of part way like he’d planned, so he could arrive on foot.

He pretends not to notice the sharp-eyed look Lilia gives him over her book as he awkwardly promises to be home by Yuri’s curfew and waves goodbye. She kind of scares him, if he’s being honest. He’s about 95% sure that she regularly practices the art of being terrifying, but Yuri seems to be immune so he pretends he is too.

It’s a work in progress.

***

The Katsuki-Nikiforov household is warm and bright when he arrives. He nearly forgets to knock instead of going straight in like Yuri always does; the first time he’d been over, he’d nearly bowled over by Makkachin. For a dog so advanced in age, she’s surprisingly boisterous.

Yuri opens the door, hand firmly entangled in Makkachin’s collar. A smile lights up his face when he sees Otabek; Otabek bites his lip to hold back one of his own. Yuri is wearing a red-checkered apron with ruffles around the edges and “Kiss the Cook” blazoned in English across the chest. His hair is pulled back in his customary horrendously messy braid, but he’s added haphazardly placed barrettes to hold all his flyaways out of his face. His sister Aylin is four, but she's still better at styling her hair than his seventeen year old boyfriend. It’s equal parts pathetic and adorable.

“What?” Yuri snaps when Otabek stares for too long. He crosses his arms over his chest and juts his chin out like he’s daring him to comment. Otabek releases his lip and follows the apron’s instructions while Makkachin dances around their feet. He peppers Yuri’s flushed cheeks and nose with tiny kisses until he makes an annoyed sound and squishes Otabek’s face between his hands. He directs Otabek’s lips to his own mouth. Makkachin barks like the world’s happiest fangirl.

“Ewww,” Katsuki whines in a high pitched, nasally imitation of Yuri. “You guys are so gross! I’m gonna barf.”

Yuri breaks the kiss off with an eye roll. “Payback’s a bitch, Katsudon,” he says. He doesn’t even try to hide how smug he sounds. He presses one last peck against Otabek’s lips, then steps back to let him by. Katsuki waves distractedly as a timer goes off in the kitchen.

“Make yourself at home,” he calls over his shoulder as he disappears into the kitchen. “Victor should be home soon. He just ran out to grab us some sake.”

Otabek makes a face. “Sake with pirozhkis?” he asks dubiously. Yuri shrugs and flops down on the couch.

“Katsudon pirozhkis,” he reminds him as Otabek sits down next to him and draws Yuri’s bare feet into his lap. “It’s weird, but it works. He better get the plum kind, though. The normal stuff is...oh. Right there,” he interrupts himself abruptly as Otabek digs a thumb into a knot in the arch of his foot. He hisses and slides a little further down on the couch, eyes slipping shut as Otabek smooths one hand over a particularly nasty looking bruise along the top. Otabek presses his lips together disapprovingly. Yuri hasn’t been taking proper care of his feet.

“Shut up, I know,” Yuri gripes. He hasn’t even bothered to open his eyes, knows what Otabek’s thinking even without looking. “I’ll patch ‘em up later, promise. In the meantime, you can just keep right on doing that.” He wiggles his battered toes pointedly. Otabek shakes his head, lips twitching up into a small smile.

“Yes, sir,” he murmurs dryly as he digs his thumbs back in. Yuri goes unusually still. Otabek glances over, curious.

Yuri is watching him with heavy lidded eyes and a small, private smile on his lips. It's a sharp contrast to the deep flush on his face. One hand rests dangerously low on his belly, especially considering their current surroundings. “Hmm. I think I like the sound of that,” he says in a low voice. He cocks an eyebrow in challenge as his pinky finger slips into the small space between the hem of his tee shirt and his leggings.

Warmth blooms on Otabek’s cheeks. It trickles down through his chest to curl and expand through his stomach and lower. His throat clicks, dry, as he swallows. “Yeah?” he rasps.

“Like the sound of what?”

Victor’s stupid grin and giant forehead obstruct Otabek’s view. Yuri yelps, gangly limbs flailing, and Otabek just barely escapes a foot to the jaw. Yuri tips off the couch and lands with a thump. Victor looks between them with wide eyes; if he's aiming for innocent, he's missed by a mile. “What? Did I interrupt something?”

Otabek gives the older man an impassive look. “No,” he says mildly. I’m going to strangle you with Makkachin’s leash, he thinks. Yuri has to know some good places to hide a body; they can even turn it into a date.

“I beg to fucking differ,” Yuri complains from the floor. “What the hell, Victor?”

Victor straightens with a laugh. He doesn’t bother to pretend he’s not being a total dick. Otabek twists to watch him as he heads in the direction of the kitchen and dining room, hoisting a bottle in the air. “Pryanichek, I come bearing booze,” he singsongs.

Katsuki appears in the doorway with a platter of steaming pastries. “That’s nice, luchik,” he answers, saccharine. “If you could spare a moment between torturing the kids to set the table, I’d appreciate it.”

“Work, work, work,” Victor complains with a pout, but takes the platter from his husband with the hand not holding the sake bottle. “When do we get to play?”

Katsuki leans in and sets a hand against Victor’s neck. He looks up through his lashes, coy. “We will play plenty. Later.” He pats his chest once, twice, then pushes him away with one finger to the forehead. He disappears back into the kitchen amid Victor’s pathetic whimpers.

“You can wipe that drool off your face now,” Yuri says acerbically. Otabek looks back at him, only to see that he’s glaring at him, not Victor. Otabek shrugs, unrepentant. Katsuki is hot when he channels his inner eros and there’s not a person alive - gay, straight, or otherwise - who would disagree. Yuri rolls his eyes and holds a hand out imperiously. He wiggles his fingers impatiently when Otabek doesn’t immediately jump to his feet to pull him up. With an eyeroll of his own, he hoists Yuri up off the ground, catching him by the waist before he can pull away and pressing their foreheads together.

“Don’t worry, Yuriyim, you’re cuter,” he murmurs against his lips. Yuri jerks his head back, affronted.

“Hotter,” he corrects petulantly. Otabek hums. “And sexier,” he insists, a strange mix of confident, vulnerable, and genuinely annoyed.

Otabek smiles. “Especially when you’re pissed,” he agrees. Yuri’s mouth drops open, indignant. He slaps a hand against Otabek’s chest, but his cheeks are flushed when he buries his face in Otabek’s shoulder.

“You’re such an asshole,” Yuri mutters into the crook of his neck. Otabek chuckles and pulls him closer.

Something cold and slimy presses against the back of his neck. Otabek yelps, instinctively bringing one elbow back. He hits something warm and soft that makes a satisfying wheeze when he connects. He looks over his shoulder; Victor is bent over, one hand holding a glass of ice water and the other clutching his solar plexus. Yuri, still cuddled in Otabek’s arms, laughs hysterically. The sound is infectious.

Katsuki watches them all with crossed arms and an unimpressed look. When Victor whines pathetically, he just shakes his head. “Nope, no sympathy. You deserved that. I just came out to remind you all that pirozhkis taste best when they’re actually hot. Do with that what you will.” He spins on one heel and leaves the room without bothering to see if any of them follow.

***

Dinner goes...surprisingly well. Otabek stays quiet for most of it, content just to watch the three interact. They are so comfortable together, passing dishes and refilling sake cups unprompted, weaving in and out of conversations full of inside jokes with ease. Katsuki rolls his eyes whenever Victor plays up the father angle. Victor laughs, open mouthed and delighted. Yuri growls and yells and throws utensils. He also flushes with pleasure and smiles when he thinks no one is watching.

They may joke and tease, but it’s undeniable that they are family. Otabek thinks maybe he should feel left out; he doesn’t know what or who they’re talking about half the time and has nothing to add to the conversation. Every time he starts to feel like an outsider, though, Yuri will glance at him and smile, soft and private. Katsuki will lean over and quietly explain what they are talking about. Victor will turn to him and loudly ask him to back him up on why he’s definitely right about whatever they are talking about, or ask him for his own opinion.

They don’t make a big deal of it when he has to take a moment to organize his thoughts before speaking, or when he falls quiet again a few minutes later, preferring to listen. It’s...nice.

Eventually, everyone is pleasantly full and the table falls quiet. Otabek rests his hands on his stomach, eyes closed. He's trying not to think about the amount of calories he just ate, or how exactly he's going to be able to work them off when Katsuki says, “Sooo…” Otabek draws into himself, waiting for the other shoe to drop, because it always drops with these two, but thankfully he just continues with, “who wants to get creamed in Mario Kart?”

Yuri slaps both hands on the table and stands. “You wish, Katsu! You’re going to be sobbing like a little bitch when I’m done with you.” He looks over at Otabek with a smirk. “Don’t worry, Beka, I’ll still go easy on you.”

Otabek tenses. Video games are hell for him now; even if the rapidly changing graphics didn’t make his eyes blur and his stomach pitch and sway, the raging headache from staring at the TV screen is torture.

“I’m actually pretty comfortable right here for now,” he says. He pats his stomach and tilts his head back so he can smile up at Yuri. “Still digesting.”

Yuri looks disappointed, but he nods anyway. “Suit yourself.” He hesitates for a moment, then leans over and gives him a quick peck on the lips. Victor and Katsuki coo obnoxiously. Yuri flips them off and defiantly kisses him again, harder this time.

Otabek smirks against his lips and buries a hand in Yuri’s hair. He deepens the the kiss, guiding him with the grip on his braid. He surreptitiously loosens it enough that the atrocity will hopefully unravel, because why not kill two birds with one stone? Not that this is what he’s thinking about as he sweeps his tongue against Yuri’s. Yuri whimpers, quiet but audible.

“Okay, well now I’m just uncomfortable,” Katsuki complains, annoyed and amused in equal measures. Otabek pulls back, sliding his hand down Yuri’s jaw so he can brush his thumb over his spit slick lower lip. Otabek doesn’t normally like public displays, but messing with the Wonder Couple is always worth the embarrassment. Yuri blinks, dazed, then blinks again and grins.

“You’re such an asshole,” Yuri murmurs, just loud enough for Otabek to hear as he nuzzles affectionately against his temple.

Otabek grins smugly at Victor, who has pointedly crossed his arms and is looking at the wall like it had personally affronted him. Mission successful. He places a gentle kiss against the soft, vulnerable spot just under Yuri’s ear that never fails to make him shudder. “I am,” he agrees. “You love it.”

Yuri stills, and Otabek realizes that it's the first time either of them has used that word. He hadn’t meant it in that context, but it’s still enough to give them both pause. He waits anxiously for Yuri's reaction. Yuri pulls back, but it's only to grin widely, giddy as he nods. “I do.”

Champagne bubbles pop and fizz in Otabek's chest.

Yuri tightens his grip around Otabek’s shoulders briefly before he lets go and straightens. He clears his throat and schools his face back into his customary scowl. “Okay, Piggy, get ready to get your ass beat.”

Katsuki simpers, hands clasped under his chin. “Aww, I’m flattered, Yurio. I didn’t think it was my ass you were interested in.” Yuri makes an outraged noise and leaps for the older man, but Katsuki dodges and darts out of the dining room. Yuri chases, hollering threats. Otabek watches them fondly. When he turns back around, however, he finds that Victor is watching him with an unreadable expression. The warm feeling abruptly dissipates. Otabek crosses his arms and sticks his jaw out mulishly, daring him to say something.

Victor smiles calmly. “Tea?” he asks.

“You don’t want to join them?” Otabek returns, keeping his voice carefully apathetic.

Victor shakes his head with a pained grimace. “Absolutely not, and neither do you. The last time I tried, I ended up with a black eye.”

Otabek raises both eyebrows, surprised. He leans back in his chair. “Yuri hit you?”

Victor snorts. “My Yuuri did. Well, elbowed me. Accidentally.” He makes quotation marks when he says accidentally, like a total loser. “He takes his video games very seriously.”

Otabek digests this new information, trying to fit it into his world view. “Huh.” He shakes his head, bemused. “Got anything decaf?”

Victor nods. “Mint or chamomile?”

“Chamomile, please.” Maybe he’ll manage a few hours of sleep before Yuri smacks him in the face with an arm.

Victor returns a few minutes later with two steaming cups. He passes one over and Otabek takes a sip. It’s bitter; Victor steeped it too long. Otabek takes another sip anyways. They sit quietly, listening to the boisterous sounds coming from the living room. He waits for it to get awkward, but it doesn’t. Instead, the atmosphere stays oddly comfortable, silence easy in a way he never would have expected while in Victor’s presence.

He’s nearly done with his tea when he shifts awkwardly in his seat. Pain flares up his leg and into his hip. Idiot. He should have just swallowed his pride and worn the brace like he was supposed to.

Victor makes a small sound and snaps his fingers like he’s suddenly remembered something. “Oh! I have something for you,” he says. He sets down his mug and holds up a finger. “One second.” He disappears, then comes back a few moments later. “Here.”

He holds out a small baggie, shaking it a little when Otabek doesn’t immediately take it. Otabek stares at it through narrowed eyes before reluctantly taking it and holding it up in front of his face. “This is a joint,” he says flatly.

“Your observational skills are impressive.”

Otabek bites at his cheek. “You’re giving me pot.” He’s starting to think he’s stepped into an alternate dimension.

“For medicinal purposes,” Victor says with a shrug. “It's better than relying on Vicodin.” Otabek stares at the joint in his hand numbly. His mind keeps buffering, unable to process the situation. He’s stayed as far from opioids as possible unless absolutely necessary. He’s seen too many lives ruined. He’s never considered...alternate options though, despite having friends back home who get high on a regular basis.

“If you need more, let me know.” Victor hesitates, glancing through the entryway. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to my Yuura though. He’s never had any serious injuries, so he’s not quite as...open minded...as those who have.”

Screams of rage and laughter burst out of the living room. Victor rolls his eyes. “I married a child,” he mutters, but he doesn’t look very annoyed. He stands, pausing a moment as he passes to lay a heavy hand on Otabek’s shoulder. “Don’t leave just yet,” he says quietly. “Yuri will never forgive you.” He's not talking about tonight. Every muscle in Otabek’s body clenches tight as the words punch a hole through his sternum. It leaves him gasping for air, like a fish pulled from the water and pinned to the cutting board. He is gutted.

Otabek’s hands tremble as he pushes himself up from the dining room table, fist clenched around the joint. He makes excuses and escapes as fast as he can out the side door that leads to their little garden. Of the gazes that follow him out, Victor’s is the heaviest, but Yuri’s is the one that squeezes what air is left out of his lungs. He doesn’t breath until the burn of smoke forces them open again.

Chapter Text

Yuri sits on the living room floor, playing a vicious game of Mario Kart with Katsuki. He’s in first place right now, but the Katsudon fights dirty, so there’s no guarantee he’ll stay there for very long. If Katsuki ever manages to channel this kind of cutthroat mindset into his skating, not a single one of them will stand a chance.

Luckily, his underhanded tactics never stretch beyond video gaming. Of course, this doesn't help Yuri at all when Katsuki casually asks, “So have you guys had sex yet?” and shoots a turtle shell at Yuri as he sputters and goes dizzy with how fast blood rushes to his face.

Yuri curses furiously as he tries to dodge, but he had hesitated a little too long and ends up careening off to the side. Katsuki cackles and pulls ahead, crossing the finish line before Yuri can course correct. Katsuki throws his arms up and cheers.

Yuri throws down his controller in frustration. “God damn it!”

Katsuki laughs. “Careful, you wouldn’t want to break that and have to buy me a new one. Again.”

“I’ll break you ,” Yuri growls, and tackles him.

Yuri fights hard and vicious, but he still somehow ends up with Katsuki sitting on his stomach, legs pinned down by his stupidly strong calves while the asshole traps his wrists with one hand and messes up his hair with the other. His braid makes a pathetic last stand, but dies with a whimper anyway. Otabek will be pleased.

“Get your fat ass off me!” Yuri screeches as he tries futilely to get away. Katsuki digs his fingers into Yuri’s side, drawing furious giggles out of him.

“Insulting me isn’t a very good way to get me to let you go,” Katsuki says over Yuri’s impotent howls of laughter. “Maybe you should try asking nicely.”

“Must you two act like children?” Victor drawls from the dining room, where he and Otabek had holed up like cowards instead of joining the war like real men.

Katsuki halts his torture. “Look who’s talking,” he says at the same time Yuri spits out,

You’re a child!” They look at each other, then burst out into laughter. Katsuki rolls off and sprawls next to him. Victor’s unimpressed face peers over the back of the couch. It sets them off into another bout of giggles. Victor throws his hands up in exasperation, nearly hitting Otabek in the face when he steps up next to him. Otabek just barely manages to dodge, pale and distracted.

“I’m going outside for a second. I need to make a call,” he says as he practically bolts for the side door. Yuri sits up with a frown.

“You don’t have to, we’ll shut up,” he says. Otabek gives him a strained smile, hand already turning the knob.

“It’s fine, the fresh air will be nice. I’ll be back in a minute.” Yuri briefly contemplates offering to go with him, but knows he’ll just be waved off. Otabek shuts the door firmly behind him, leaving an awkward silence in his wake. Just like he always does when he inexplicably flees.

“Soooo,” Victor starts.

“Shut up,” Yuri snaps. Katsuki watches the side of his face, brow furrowed as he worries at his lip.

“Yura,” he says hesitantly. Yuri hates him a little bit.

“I don’t want to talk about it!” His voice rings over the Mario Kart Start screen music. He grits his teeth and glares at the wall as the seconds tick by. His skin shrinks two sizes under their heavy stares, pulled taut like an overfilled balloon. Even Victor is unusually silent and still, face unreadable. His eyes flick down to Yuri’s lap and he makes a small sound.

“Yuri,” Katsuki says sharply. He pries Yuri’s hand away from his wrist, where he’s gripping so tightly his bones feel like they're grinding together. Yuri resists for half a second before his brain snaps back to reality. He allows Katsuki examine his wrist. It throbs, welling blood where his nails have broken the skin.Yuri watches, lightheaded and full of helium, ready to float away the second he’s no longer tethered by Katsuki’s grip.

Katsuki tsks disapprovingly. “You need to talk to someone,” he says. “Vitya, can you grab me the first aid kit?”

Yuri twists his arm out of Katsuki’s hold and scrambles to his feet. “It’s fine,” he says. He shoves his hands in his pockets to hide the fine trembling he can't seem to control. “I think we’re gonna go now. See you tomorrow.” Victor looks like he’s about to argue, but Katsuki quells him with a glance. He pushes himself up and wipes his hands on his pants.

“Okay. Call if you need anything.” The sentence is loaded with meaning that Yuri ignores.

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks for dinner, Katsu.”

 

***

 

Yuri escapes out the side door, and runs straight into Otabek. He’s sitting on the small stoop and looking out over the pathetic little plot of weeds and dying flowers that Victor proudly calls a garden.

Yuri sniffs. “Are...are you smoking marijuana?” he asks incredulously. Otabek lazily tilts his head back so he can look at Yuri, who’s still standing over him. His pupils are restricted, even in the dim twilight. He hums noncommittally. “Jesus Christ, Beka, what the hell? That’s illegal!”

Otabek shrugs, lips subtly curling upwards like he’s amused by Yuri’s exasperation. “Barely. They decriminalized it,” he murmurs. His voice is smoke roughened and low.

Yuri’s starting to think his boyfriend has been replaced by a pod person. It's the only possible solution that makes sense, because this is not the Otabek he knows.

“It’s still illegal,” he manages to grit out. “And what about the ISU? If you test positive, you're screwed.”

Something flickers over Otabek’s face, but disappears so quickly Yuri doesn't have time to parse its meaning. “It helps with headaches,” he says in a quiet monotone and brings the joint back up to his lips. Otabek’s still looking up at him as he blows the smoke out, throat long and exposed. Vulnerable. He looks one harsh word from shattering, even as his expression dares Yuri to argue.Yuri falters, out of his depth.

Otabek raises his arm in offering. Yuri glares at him derisively, but Otabek doesn't withdraw the challenge. He gives a frustrated growl and snatches it out of his hand, along with the proffered lighter. He brings the joint up to his lips before he can think too hard and inhales deep.

Yuri immediately starts to cough as the smoke sears his throat and lungs. Otabek chuckles and pushes himself awkwardly to his feet, taking back the joint. He lights it again and proceeds to rub Yuri's inexperience in his face by taking another hit with barely more than a grimace. “Oh, fuck you,” Yuri wheezes when his lungs finally give up their rebellion. Otabek snorts. Yuri steals the joint back and takes another hit defiantly.

Bad idea. His lungs are seizing up. He may never breath right again.

“That is vile ,” he manages to choke out, happily relinquishing the joint this time.  Otabek stubs it out against the side of the house like an asshole, but he also rubs comforting circles over Yuri's back, so he’s forgiven. It's not like it's his wall.

God, his lungs are still burning. “Why would anyone do this to themselves?” he whines. Otabek huffs out a wry breath and bumps him lightly with his shoulder. He radiates quiet exhaustion.

“They have their reasons,” he says. Otabek looks down at the joint still pinched between his fingers. He shrugs and re-lights it for one last drag before he stubs it out again and pulls out a small baggie. He seals the the rest of it inside and slips it into his back pocket.

“Well, it stinks like ass.” Yuri smacks his lips. “Tastes like it too.” The light-headed, floaty feeling from a few minutes ago is back, and he wonders vaguely why pain and pot feel the same.

“It really does,” Otabek agrees mildly. “Vaping’s better, but beggars can’t be choosers.” Yuri worries why Otabek knows this, but it's quickly forgotten when he wraps his arm around Yuri and nuzzles his neck for a second before pulling away. “So did you come out to get me, or are we leaving?” he asks. Yuri doesn’t immediately respond, distracted by the way his fingers are tingling and the world seems to move just a millisecond slower than his eyes. “Yura?” He blinks. How much time just passed? Hours? A few seconds? He’s honestly not sure, and it's disconcerting.

“Uh, leaving,” he mumbles. Otabek takes his chin and turns his head so he can peer at him. His lips curl up into a smirk.

“Yuriyim, are you high off two hits?” Is he? He’s not sure. He’s never been high before, so how would he know? “You are, aren’t you? Lightweight.” Yuri snaps back to his body and scowls.

“Shut up, asshole,” he grumbles. “You’re a lightweight.”

Otabek shakes his head, smiling affectionately, and gives Yuri a light peck on the lips. It tastes gross. Yuri tries to lick it away, but his lips are numb. “Don’t worry, I think it’s cute.”

“You’re a cute,” he says grouchily, then, “Wait, no. What?” Otabek laughs. He's laughing a lot right now. That's definitely a side effect, so Otabek must be high too.

Yuri likes Otabek's laugh; it feels like he hasn't heard it in ages. Still, it’s Yuri he's laughing at right now, so he feels obligated to shove at his shoulder. Otabek stumbles sideways. Yuri curses and awkwardly steadies him. “Shit, sorry.” Otabek takes a slow, deep breath.

“It’s fine. Let’s go back.” The skin around his eyes is pulled taut. Yuri is such an asshole.

“ ‘Kay,” he mumbles, subdued. He huddles under Otabek’s arm as they pass through the gate that leads out of the garden. It’s colder than he thought it would be when he followed Katsuki home, but Otabek burns like a furnace, like a lit joint, like the smoke in his lungs. And yeah, okay, he might be a little high. God, he really is a lightweight. “You’re a terrible influence,” he declares.

“The worst,” Otabek agrees pleasantly. He pulls Yuri closer when he shivers. Yuri melts into him, content, even if Otabek is leaning on him a little too heavily for comfort.

They turn onto Lilia’s street an eon or a nanosecond later; Yuri tries to corral his brain long enough to come up with a plan to get past her without her smelling the pot on them, but he’s distracted by another thought. “Oh my god, Beka, please tell me you didn’t bring a joint on the plane with you!”

Otabek huffs out a sharp breath. “I’m not an idiot,” he says. He sounds vaguely offended. “I know a guy.”

“You know a guy,” Yuri repeats flatly. “In St. Petersburg.”

“In St. Petersburg. So do you.” Yuri whips his head around to look at him. Otabek stares at him expectantly, like he just assumes Yuri’s going to know who he’s talking about. When Yuri just blinks at him, he continues. “We were just at his house? I wasn’t just carrying it around all day.” Yuri’s mind flits immediately to Katsuki, but no, they’d been together for most of the night and besides, based on his reactions when drunk, he'd probably be a holy terror when high. Which meant…

“No way! Victor ?” Otabek shrugs with an enigmatic smile. If Yuri’s brain had a little robot inside it, it would be flashing ‘does not compute’ right now. Does he really know anybody anymore?

“Do I even know anybody anymore?”

Otabek sighs and pulls Yuri a little more firmly against him. “I don’t think anybody really knows anyone,” he says. His voice is pensive, a little melancholy. Yuri slides his eyes sideways, but whatever Otabek is thinking, it doesn’t show on his face.

Yuri looks away as Lilia’s house comes into view. His whole body feels heavy, weighed down, and it's not just from Otabek’s extra weight against his shoulders. “Yeah,” he murmurs. “Guess not.”

Chapter Text

Otabek is on the floor in his room, stretching towards the toes of his good leg, when Yuri comes in. He doesn’t knock, but Otabek’s family has absolutely no concept of privacy, so it barely phases him. He pauses what he’s doing to enjoy the sight of Yuri in his leggings. It’s a beautiful thing.

“Eyes up here, pervert.” Otabek takes his time, letting his eyes slowly rake up his form until he meets his eyes. Yuri crosses his arms and leans one shoulder against the doorway; he’s probably trying to look casual and sexy, but the pleased grin and flush on his cheeks ruin the image.

I love this boy , Otabek realizes. He thinks he probably has for a while, but it’s still the first time he’s acknowledged it. Something clicks into place, and the constant, hollow feeling that aches behind his rib cage eases slightly.

“Are you okay?” Yuri asks, looking at him oddly. “Because that grin is kind of disturbing.”

Otabek shakes his head fondly and releases his stretch. “I’m just happy,” he says softly.

Yuri melts. He crosses the room, straddles Otabek’s stretched out leg and drops to his knees.  He takes Otabek’s face between his hands and kisses him gently. “I’m glad,” he whispers like a secret against his lips. He pulls back quickly and drops his hands to fidget with the hem of his shirt, looking a little embarrassed. Intimacy is a language he’s still learning. “Um, so anyways, I have ballet ‘til 11:00. Do you want to meet me at the rink after? Around noon?” Otabek hesitates and Yuri tenses almost immediately. “Unless you didn’t want to?”

Otabek runs reassuring hands up and down Yuri’s arms. “It’s just, I’ve got a PT appointment and I don’t know how long it will last. Or how tired I’ll be after,” he explains.

Yuri relaxes. “Oh.” He frowns, confused. “Wait, why now? I thought Amina gave you a routine to follow while you were here?”

Otabek bites his lip, nervous. His two week vacation is almost up; they are very carefully not speaking about his departure. “I, uh.”  Great, he’s stuttering. If Yuri hadn’t been worried before, he sure is now. “I just, I was thinking. I still haven’t bought my return ticket and -”

“You haven’t?” Yuri interrupts.

“Uh, no? I mean, I know I was only supposed to be staying for a couple weeks, but. Well.”

A slow, hopeful grin blooms on Yuri’s face, and some of the anxiety souring Otabek’s stomach goes away. “Are you saying you want to stay longer?” he asks.

He does. He really does. Otabek can see the wall he’s careening towards at top speed. He knows it’s going to hurt when he crashes, but he cares less and less as the reality of leaving Yuri veers closer. He takes one of Yuri’s hands and plays with his fingers just to have something to do while he talks.

“If it’s okay? I talked to my medical team, and they were fine with it.” Sort of. His doctor hadn’t specifically stated it was against medical advice, at least. “Amina gave me a recommendation for a friend she went to school with and said she would forward my records and everything so I could get back on a regular program. So, if you wanted, and if Lilia and Yakov are okay with it…” he trails off. He does not say, it’s not like I have much to go back to . That’s too maudlin, even for him.

“Beka. Beks. Otabek Altin, you adorable, ridiculous idiot,” Yuri admonishes, squishing Otabek’s cheeks with each word. “Of course I want you to stay! Did you seriously think I’d say no?”

Otabek shrugs. Things had been...tense...the last couple days. He wouldn't be surprised if his welcome was wearing thin. Yuri shakes his head, eyebrows drawn down. He slips his hands down to cup Otabek’s nape, thumbs sweeping gentle arcs over his jaw. It’s at complete odds with the fire in his eyes. “You’re staying,” he says fiercely. “As long as you want.”

Otabek suppresses a shudder when his fingers brush against his scalp, just missing the c-shaped scar that starts at his temple and curves behind his ear. He doesn’t need to give Yuri yet another thing to worry about. He lets out a slow breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding and drops his head to Yuri’s shoulder. “We should probably run it by Lilia, first,” he points out wryly. Yuri snorts and pulls out of the embrace.

“Are you kidding me? Lilia loves you. There’s no way she would say no.” Otabek stares at him blankly. That’s news to him; he’d been operating under the impression that she merely tolerated him for the sake of her favorite student. Yuri laughs at his perplexed look. “Seriously, I overheard her telling Yakov that you were a very polite young man. That’s practically a love confession.”

“If you say so,” he says dubiously.

Yuri pats him condescendingly on the head and stands up. “Just trust me when I say it won’t be an issue. I’ll talk to her and Yakov today. See you later?”

Otabek nods and gives him a thumbs up. Yuri huffs a laugh and returns it. With one last kiss, he grabs the duffle bag he’d dropped by the door earlier. “Stop staring at my ass,” he singsongs as he skips out the door.

It is a very nice ass. Otabek regrets nothing.

 

***

 

The sports medicine complex where his new physical therapist works is a state of the art, sleek building made of steel and glass and intimidation. He hasn’t even made it through the door, but he already misses Amina and her cozy, lived-in office. He nearly tells the Uber driver to turn around and just take him home, but Otabek Altin is not a coward. He takes a deep breath and walks in.

The help desk gives him a map. An actual map; they have to highlight the route to get to the right office. This just gets better and better. Luckily, he finds it easily and when he walks in, the receptionist immediately puts him at ease. She reminds him of his apa when she pats his hand comfortingly as she hands him paperwork to fill out.

“Don’t worry, you are in good hands,” she says with a warm smile as he hands it back to her. He nods, trying not to fall into his default blank expression. He’s been told it sends the wrong impression. Whatever she sees on his face, it doesn’t seem to matter because she just keeps smiling and pats his hand again.

He’s called back and set up in a small cubicle almost immediately, which is good for his nerves. A tall, austere looking woman with slicked back blonde hair shakes his hand firmly. “My name is Lada,” she says in a no nonsense voice. It makes him want to address her as ma’am, even though she’s probably only a few years older than him.

She is the polar opposite of Amina, who is small and curvy, with dark hair and warm eyes that trick you into thinking she is sweet, until she opens her mouth and makes it clear that she has no fucks to give for your excuses. He can’t help but wonder how they became friends.

“Otabek Altin,” he remembers to introduce himself after an awkward pause.

She raises one thin eyebrow at him. “Oh, I know. Minka told me all about you.”

That...is not very reassuring. “Uh.”

Lada smiles and rolls her eyes; her school marm exterior abruptly crumbles into something a little more human. “Relax, it was good stuff. Mostly.” Otabek blows out a breath and his shoulders drop. “Let’s get started, yes?”

She runs him through the normal battery of evaluations, and they don’t get even halfway through before he knows this isn’t going to end with good news. He doesn’t need her pursed lips to know that he’s regressed over the last few weeks; he can see and feel it himself. He hunches in on himself, waiting for the inevitable lecture.

Lada sighs heavily and leaves the cubicle. She returns a moment later with an ice pack and holds it out to him silently. He takes it meekly and sets it on his knee as she sits down on the rolling chair next to the patient table he’s perched on.

“I can see you already know what I’m going to say, so I’m not going to waste my breath.” Otabek looks up, surprised. Lada smiles wryly at him. “I know Minka likes to shout her clients into submission, but I don’t see the point. All I need to know is whether you want to fix this.”

Otabek is thrown by the question. “Of course I do.” Who wouldn’t want to get better? Lada just raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“Really? Because based on the amount of swelling and inflammation in that knee, I’m not sure I believe you.” He cringes internally. “You’ve obviously been overworking it. Skating?” She waits for him to nod sheepishly. “Walking a lot too, I’m guessing.” He nods again and folds his good leg up to his chest so he has something to hold on to. Lada purses her lips sternly, looking at him like she knows she holds his fate in her hands and hasn’t decided what to do with it yet. His chest tightens. He is so screwed.

“Breathe, Otabek,” she reminds him calmly, then continues once he sucks in a deep breath and lets it out again. “Look, I’m not going to lie to you, and I’m not going to coddle you either. You have a history of noncompliance. No.” She holds up a hand when he opens his mouth to deny it. “You went back to skating too early after your first injury four years ago, and you were overdoing it this time too until Minka laid down the law. Another PT might let you make excuses about being on vacation, but I think we both know that’s not what’s going on here.” She taps her pen against the clipboard she holds, waiting for him to respond. When he stays mute, she sighs. “I’m going to be perfectly blunt. I don’t work with patients who are non-compliant, or ones who aren’t willing to face the reality of their situation.”

Face reality. Right. Otabek has had enough of reality, thanks. He looks down at his bad knee and clutches his good one tighter. His jaw aches with how hard he’s clenching it. “Okay,” he says tightly. “Thanks anyway.” He lets go of the choke hold on his leg and stands up, handing her the ice pack. She doesn’t take it.

“Did I say you could take that off yet?”

He falters. “Um. No, ma’am?”

“Sit back down.” He sits. He almost expects her to follow up with a ‘good boy’, but all she does is sigh and say, “You seem like a good kid and Minka likes you, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that you’re in denial. Whether you’re lying to yourself or to others, or both, it doesn’t matter. Nothing I can do will help you right now. So.” She plants her hands on her knees and leans forward. “When you are ready - really ready - I want you to come back.” She slaps her knees for emphasis and stands.  She holds out a hand expectantly. He shakes it numbly, head buzzing. She clasps her other hand on his shoulder. “And Otabek?”

“What.”

Lada smiles at him and it’s painfully nice. He barely hears her when she says, “Just keep breathing, alright?”

 

***

 

When Otabek gets back to Lilia’s, his head is a hornet’s nest and someone has stuffed his lungs with fiberglass. He needs a distraction from the disaster that was his PT appointment. The rink, his sanctum since he was five years old, isn’t an option now; even he’s not stupid enough to subject himself or his knee to that. Yuri won’t be home for hours, and he refuses to bother him while he’s training, so burying himself under the weight of Yuri’s affection is out as well.

Frustrated, he kicks off his shoes and switches his contacts for glasses, then decides to go for broke; he exchanges the workout shorts he’d worn to the appointment for his favorite, well worn, pajama pants.

He pulls his phone out of the pocket of his discarded shorts and sits down on the edge of the bed, cradling it with hands that hang limply between his knees. He stares at it blankly for a while, occasionally waking the screen up. The lock screen is a picture taken just after his first surgery. His siblings are puppy piled around him as he sits propped up on his bed with his leg awkwardly stretched out in front of him, pale and sweaty and grinning goofily. His older brother, Nurasyl, has one arm slung around his shoulder and is giving him a noogie while his younger brother, Temir, poses like a classic pin up girl at his feet. Aylin, the beloved baby of the family, stands on chubby, uncertain legs against his side. She clings to his arm and hides her face in his shoulder because she’s still in her camera-phobic stage. His parents perch on either side of the bed, each holding one of his hands. His father is half blocked by a blurry head of blond hair, because Otabek had the gall of briefly owning an android phone and Yuri couldn’t figure out the timer.

He barely remembers taking the picture, still flying high on painkillers, or the five more it took for Yuri to get properly into the shot, sprawled over Temir and looking painfully pale in the midst of his family. Yuri hates that he chose their first attempt rather than one of the successful ones, but this one is his favorite. It makes him smile and lessens the dull ache that accompanies the memory.

Otabek sighs and unlocks his phone. It’s nearing dinnertime in Almaty. His mother will be in the kitchen and his father at her side, busy with prep. They always cook together, even though his father is more or less useless at anything other than cutting things up. Otabek’s earliest memories are sitting at the ancient family table, scarred and pitted by generations of Altins eating and playing and living. His parents voices were a low, comforting background as he colored endless drawings of Batman doing battle with Godzilla or Mothra or whatever monster of the week he was hooked on this time. They always wore ice skates, because he was a weird little kid whose obsession with the ice permeated everything.

Aylin inherited his throne last year, but her monsters wear tutus and ballet shoes and are vanquished by blond-headed stick figures with cat ears. Temir will sit at her side doing college level math just for fun because even at fourteen, he’s smarter than the rest of their family combined. Nurasyl might be there or he might not, but if he is, then his girlfriend Rayana will be with him, as she always is these days. They will be playing footsie under the table and everyone will pretend they don’t see it. There will be any number of grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews who rotate in and out as schedules allow. It will not be quiet.

Otabek is Facetiming his mother before he even realizes what he’s doing. His father is the one who actually picks up the call, however.

“Bekam!” he says in a boisterous voice. His father’s volume control is broken and only has two settings: a borderline shout, and a comforting murmur that is reserved only for his wife, and occasionally his children in times of distress. “Your mom’s hands are full of dough right now. She’s making manti , the pumpkin ones, your favorite. Yuri likes them too, right? I wonder if we could mail them somehow…” He trails off, contemplating the logistics of sending pastries through international mail. Otabek huffs out a small laugh, feeling better already. He scoots back on the bed so he can rest his back against the wall

“Hi äke ,” he says with a small smile. “How are you?”

“Good, good!” He looks away from the screen. “Beka’s on the phone,” he announces, “everyone say hi.” He turns the phone around as a round of greetings fills the kitchen. The view in the phone screen matches his imagination almost exactly; everyone is gathered around the table, waving at him. Through the phone, he hears his mother’s placid voice.

“Umid, I’d like to see my son, please.”

“Right, right, of course.” The view changes again and his mother’s round face and serene expression fill the screen.

Botam , how are you?” she asks. Otabek’s smile wavers and weakens slightly. The question is harder to answer when it comes from his mother.

If his father is loud and in your face, then his mother is the polar opposite: she is the eye of the hurricane that is their family, a calming and steady influence who is rarely overtly expressive. Otabek is the only child to take after her. They have always been close because of it.

Otabek shores up his smile, tries to make it a little less brittle. “I’m fine, anam ,” he says quietly. “I just miss everyone.” She studies his face, hums softly. She turns away for a second, hands moving off camera briefly before she holds one out demandingly.

“My phone, please. I’d like to speak with Beka somewhere a little less hectic.”

Otabek hates how perceptive she is sometimes.

Lies. Consciously or not, you chose her to call for a reason , his brain cheerfully calls him on his bullshit.

His father hands the phone over easily. “Of course. I can take over here.”

His mother’s lips twitch into the smallest of grimaces. “ Ya Rab , please do not let my husband burn down our home,” she says quietly enough that Otabek is probably the only one who hears it. He laughs. His mother rolls her eyes and smiles conspiratorially at him as she leaves the kitchen behind.

She waits until she is comfortably seated in her study to speak again. “Now, tell me how you really are.”

Otabek sighs and props the phone up against his pillow so he can run both hands through his hair. A headache is looming behind his eyes. “Really, anam , I’m okay. It’s just been a long day. I wanted to see my family.” He pushes his glasses up so he can rub at the bridge of his nose.

His mother makes a contemplative sound, tapping her fingers rhythmically against her lips. “Shut your eyes, Beka, I can see how much pain you are in.” They both know that she isn’t talking about the headache that comes with staring at his phone too long, but it’s nice that she is willing to pretend, for his sake. He nods and curls up on his side. He adjusts the phone so she can still see him, even if a part of him doesn’t want to be seen.

“You’re staying there, aren’t you?” she says evenly. Otabek grunts in surprise and opens his eyes, then shuts them again when she tuts at him disapprovingly.

“What...how did you...” he stutters, thrown by how easily she had guessed. She gives a long sigh.

“Oh, botam , you forget that we are the same, you and I,” she says. Her voice is a little sad, a lot fond. “I’ve done enough running in my lifetime to recognize when my boy is doing the same.”

The words hit him like a brick; someone has shoved it down his throat and now it sits hard and heavy where his heart should be.

“I’m not…” he can’t squeeze the words out, but she has never hesitated to call him on his lies anyways, so it hardly matters. “I’m sorry,” he says instead.

She shushes him gently. “Don’t be. I’m glad that you chose Yuri as your safe haven. You two are good for each other.” Otabek wishes he could be as sure of his choice as she is; lately it seems like every attempt to stitch his world back together only ends up weakening a seam somewhere else. He’s running out of thread.

Unbidden, he finds himself thinking of the bundles and bundles of yarn stashed under Yuri’s bed, all of it as vibrant as the boy who owns them. He thinks of a teddy bear, made for him but taken back by Yuri for safekeeping. The memories chip away at the heaviness in his chest. He opens his eyes and smiles at his mother, small, but genuine.

“Thank you, anam .”

“Of course, Beka. I am always here for you, in whatever way you need me.”

He rubs his eyes again, beyond tired. “I should probably go. I’m going to try and get some rest before Yuri gets back. Tell everyone I love them?”

“I will.” She stands up. “ Jaqsı uyıqtañız, botam . Tell Yuri hello for us.”

Otabek nods and hangs up. He lays in his curled up position, eyes growing heavy, but he ends up getting up after a few minutes and going into Yuri’s room. He takes OtaBear from his prized position on Yuri’s bedside table and flops down on the bed with a sigh. Potya grumbles as she is disrupted. He apologizes to her as he tucks the stuffed animal under his chin and curls up around it, taking care to prop his bad knee with an extra pillow first.

He’s asleep before Potya even has a chance to settle, warm and purring, against his back. He doesn’t move again until the shutter sound from Yuri’s phone wakes him.

 

Chapter Text

It’s been a week since Otabek started going to PT again, conveniently always at the same time as Yuri’s rink time. Yuri pretends he doesn’t know Otabek is scheduling it that way on purpose, because truthfully, it’s probably better that way. Even Team Diabetes makes sure to emphasize the need for personal time.

Also, Yakov was getting less and less worried about hiding his impatience for distractions. Like right now, for instance.

“Yura, if you don’t get off that phone and back on the ice, I will take an ice skate to it!”

Yuri flaps a hand at him, not taking his eyes off his Pinterest feed. If OtaBear had been love at first sight, then YuraCat is like one of those annoying RomComs where the leads just keep missing each other. He keeps finding patterns that are almost perfect, but not quite. He’s starting to think he’s going to have to pull a Frankenstein and cobble together a couple different patterns.

“YURI!”

“Okay, okay, jeez! Calm your tits, old man.” Next to him, Mila snorts and chokes on a mouthful of water. She snatches up her phone and takes a picture over his shoulder.

“Hashtag calm...your...tits,” she narrates as she types, and a moment later he gets a notification from Instagram. He smirks at her as he opens the app, and then laughs when he sees her post. The picture shows half of his face and part of his shoulder, looking smug with a raised eyebrow. Behind him, Yakov is positively apoplectic. He likes the post and high fives her for good measure.

Not that she deserves it, because she fails to warn him that Yakov is right behind him; instead, she skates off with an innocent look just as a wrinkly, liver spotted hand snatches his phone out of his grasp. “Thanks a lot, traitor!” he yells after her. She spins and sticks her tongue out before picking up speed for a triple loop. Yuri turns to face the music.

Luckily, Yakov hasn’t followed through on his threat against Yuri’s phone, but he is tucking it into a pocket, where Yuri knows it will stay until the end of practice. Yuri debates arguing, but he doesn’t actually want Yakov to stroke out, so instead he straightens his spine and puts on his best you know I’m your favorite student face.

“So what are we working on now?” he asks innocently, then continues before Yakov can speak. “I want to start practicing quad flips again. My balance is almost normal again and my salchow is practically back to 100%.”

Yakov seems to take the bait, because he crosses his arms and looks unimpressed. “Uh huh. And what’s the ratio for your quad loop again?” Yuri deflates a little.

“A little less than 100%,” he grumbles. Yakov nods.

“We will talk again when your loop is at 75%, and not before,” he says firmly. Yuri heaves an exasperated sigh, but takes off back towards the center of the rink. He’s trying to do a little better at listening and obeying his coach. It’s a sign of maturity, according to Otabek; rolling his eyes at Otabek, however, apparently is not. Whatever, baby steps.

Yuri works on his quad loop for a little less than an hour before Yakov gets tired of watching him fuck up his landing every third jump and switches him to spins. This is only slightly less aggravating, because he’s still working to regain his half Biellmann, but he’ll be damned if he lets a few measly centimeters take his signature move from him.

By the time practice is done, he’s stuck in that weird middle ground between satisfied and discontent. He’s making progress, but nowhere near as much as he’d like.

“Be happy your growth spurt decided to happen during the off season,” Victor says for approximately the ten billionth time. He gives what is probably meant to be a comforting pat on Yuri’s back while he’s busy untying his skates in the locker room. All it does is make him grunt when the too heavy weight smacks against him and shoves him forward. He flails his arm backwards and manages to catch Victor in the gut. He grins and pokes viciously at the extra bit of padding that’s accumulated around his waist now that he’s officially retired.

“Looks like someone else is having a ‘growth spurt’,” he taunts. Victor fakes affront, patting at his own belly.

“Excuse me, my Yuura appreciates that I have a little more...what was the term Christophe used last time?”

“Cushion for the pushin’,” Katsuki says flatly as he sits down next to Yuri. Yuri gags and Katsuki nods in commiseration. Victor seems oblivious to how disgusting he is; he claps his hands and nods excitedly.

“Yes! That. My Yuura appreciates my cushion,” Katsuki rolls his eyes but he’s also smiling fondly. Then Victor decides he likes the taste of his own shoe. “Just like I appreciate my Yuura’s cushion too.”

“What the hell?” Yuri snaps, at the same time Katsuki says in a frigid voice,

“Excuse me?”

“What? It’s the off season, pryanichek, you’re allowed to gain a bit of weight. It’s cute!”

Watching Victor fumble as he tries to figure out what he did wrong is endlessly amusing. Yuri sits back to watch the show. Yuuri ‘I’m So Done With Your Shit’ Katsuki is a gift to mankind. He quietly pulls out the phone Yakov had returned to him and hits record.

“Oh, so I’m allowed, then?” Katsuki asks sweetly as he stands up. Victor actually goes pale and backs up a step. “As long as it’s cute, right?”

Yuri grins. He’d only planned to show the video to Otabek. Maybe Mila if she was nice, but it’s definitely going up on Youtube now. He can already see the title; Bloodshed on Ice: Quiet Japanese Skater Absolutely Murders Oblivious Husband.

“I...yes?” Victor tries uncertainly. “I just meant...you’re cute no matter what size you are, solnyshko.”

“And?” Katsuki prompts, crossing his arms.

“And...I love you?”

Katsuki steps over the bench and grabs Victor’s tie, reeling him in. The fact that he manages to look both graceful and bad ass while wearing only one skate is exactly why his presentation scores beat everyone else’s out of the water. He whispers something in Victor’s ear. Whatever it is makes him turn bright red, expression equal parts turned on and terrified. Yuri ends the recording with a disgusted sigh. There goes his viral video. He goes back to his skates and firmly ignores whatever Not Safe For Work Or Life scene is going on behind his back; it’s another attempt at maturity he’s trying out. It has nothing to do with the fact that being with Otabek gives him a better understanding of PDA.

Apparently Yakov is not on the same page. “Oh for God’s sake, you two. Whatever happened to professionalism?”

“It left the building a long time ago,” Yuri says. “Just like I’m about to.” He shoves his feet into his shoes; he’ll soak and patch them up when he gets somewhere a little less X-rated.  He snatches up his skates and duffel bag and flees for the exit.

“Yura,” Yakov calls. Yuri sighs and turns around. Victor and Katsuki have disentangled and the three of them are looking at him in a way that makes his stomach twist and his fingers surreptitiously pinch at the soft inner skin of his elbow. “Before you go, we want to talk to you for a moment.”

Yuri grits his teeth and squares his shoulders. “If this is about Otabek staying, then I don’t care if you don’t want him here. Lilia’s fine with it, and she’s the only one of you that has a say in it.”

“What?” Katsuki asks, brow furrowed in confusion. “Why wouldn’t we want him here?” Yakov looks like he could come up with a few reasons, but wisely refrains from listing them.

“That’s not what this is about,” he says gruffly. “Come, we can talk in my office.” He turns on his heel and marches out. Victor follows, face placid and unreadable. Yuri tenses and lets go of his arm, feeling sick and suddenly acutely aware of every accidental bruise and scratch on his skin. He sets his stuff down and yanks his Russia team jacket out of his duffel, throwing it on like armor. He’d bought an extra size up when he grew out of his old one and he’s thankful for it now, because it means he can huddle down into it and pull the sleeves protectively over his fists.

“It’s going to be fine, Yura,” Katsuki says softly, touching his shoulder. He has the gall to look concerned. Yuri shrugs him off angrily.

“Shut up,” he growls and shoves past, ignoring the surprised and slightly hurt look on his face. He stomps into Yakov’s office, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall obstinately when Yakov gestures at one of the chairs that sit in front of his desk. The old man sighs and mutters something Yuri can’t quite make out, but makes Victor chuckle. Yuri sees red and has to take some deep breaths before he can release the stranglehold he has on his own biceps. “Just tell me what the fuck I’m in here for already, I don’t have all day,” he snaps as Katsuki slips in and shuts the door behind him. Both Yakov and Victor look at him, looking just as surprised by his outburst as Katsuki had a few moments ago. Yuri watches them, suddenly uncertain. He tries to modulate his tone and temper. “What do you want?”

“I want to talk to you about next season,” Yakov says. That is not at all what Yuri was expecting him to say, but it’s almost worse. He pushes off the wall and drops his arms to his sides.

“I’m not taking the season off,” he says, and hates how his voice wavers. How desperate he sounds. He clenches his fists tightly. “I know my skating is shitty right now but I’m pretty sure I’m done growing for a while and I’ve got plenty of time to get back to normal. I’ll stop screwing around at practice, I swear, just...” he stammers to a stop as Katsuki wraps an arm around his shoulders and tugs him tight up against his side.

“Oh, Yura,” he says quietly, “That’s not -” He’s interrupted by Yakov, who sounds genuinely confused.

“What are you talking about, boy? Who said anything about you taking a season off?” When Yuri just gapes at him wordlessly, trying to string a sentence together, he huffs out a peeved grunt. “You’re an idiot. Of course you will get back to form in time, as long as you stop letting that Kazakh boy distract you.” He gives a very pointed look.

“Your skill and readiness aren’t in question here,” Victor says. “Who you’ll be training under is.” Yuri’s brain grinds to a halt.

“What?” he asks, looking at Yakov. The old man sighs and sits back in his chair, suddenly looking every second of his 72 years.

“With Mila planning on training in Italy for a while with those Crispino idiots, and Georgi retiring last year, I’ve decided it’s time for me to retire as well,” he says, voice abnormally gentle. “The cold is growing hard on my bones, and my daughter has been saying for years that I’m welcome in their home in Greece. The grandchildren keep asking why they don’t get to see me as much as their other grandparents.” He pauses and looks at the small picture frame he keeps on the desk. “They miss me.”

Yuri’s eyes fill with tears. “But I’ll miss you,” he says, voice breaking. He scrubs harshly at his eyes, angry at himself for being so stupidly emotional. Katsuki squeezes him a little tighter but he struggles free. “So what, everyone else is bailing, so you might as well too? You’re just going to leave me without a coach?” He doesn't ask, am I not enough to stay for?  

Yakov stands and moves out from behind the desk. “Of course not. I would never leave you alone,” he says gruffly and pulls Yuri into a firm hug. Yuri sags into the embrace; no one ever gives him proper credit, but Yakov knows his skaters. He hears the things they can’t say. Yuri lets himself be held for a few moments before he takes a fortifying breath and pulls back.

“So then who…” he trails off as his eyes catch on Victor, who is smiling hopefully at him. He shakes his head emphatically. “No. Oh, hell no, you want Victor to coach me?”

The smile slips off Victor’s face. What’s left behind is the smooth, empty mask he’s perfected. “That’s one option,” Victor says in a clinical, detached tone. “I’m sure there are other coaches who would be interested in taking you, if you’d prefer. We can start contacting them now, to ensure the transition goes smoothly.” The idea makes his stomach drop, as does the sharp, reproachful look Katsuki gives him as he moves to his husband’s side and takes his hand. He feels like a child whose parents are disappointed in him, and he hates it.

“I. I just...how is this supposed to work?” he backtracks quickly. He gestures between himself and the couple. “I mean, the Katsudon’s not planning on retiring too, is he?” He thinks he might just have a breakdown right here if he is; Yuri is not good with change and right now he’s clinging to every shred of normalcy he’s got left.

“Not even close, kiddo,” Katsuki says with a smirk. “I still have to show all you babies how it’s done.” Yuri lets out a small breath and tries on some bravado.

“You sure about that? I don’t want you breaking a hip or anything.” Yuri looks pointedly at Victor, who had, in fact, broken a hip.  Victor pouts. Katsuki rolls his eyes. Yuri sobers up quickly and clarifies what he’d been asking. “What I meant was, how is this going to work when you’re already training him?” He points to Katsuki.

Victor huffs and crosses his arms. “I think I can manage to coach two people at once. After all, I managed to coach and compete at the same time, didn’t I?”

Not well, Yuri thinks, but for once is polite enough not to say. Katsuki, on the other hand, has no such compunction as he echoes Yuri’s thought, unimpressed. Yuri winces at the savagery; he must still be annoyed about the cushion comment.

Victor gives them all an exasperated look. “Fine, maybe not that, but I did a decent job at Hot Springs on Ice, didn’t I?”

Yuri...will give him that. He had made sure to divide his time pretty equally between them, and even his fifteen year old self had been able to see that. Still...

“Sure, for one event, maybe. But everyone knows that he’s always going to come first for you.” Yuri looks down at his hands, an unhappy twist to his mouth. “I don’t want a coach who looks at me and sees silver.”

To his surprise, Victor actually seems to think about that instead of automatically reassuring him; he gazes at the ground with crossed arms, a tiny furrow between his brow. “I don’t want that either,” he finally says. “But I don’t think you would be.” He looks at Yakov. “We could always try a trial run?” he suggests. Yakov nods, looking thoughtful. Victor turns back to Yuri. “We can see how things go, and if anyone isn’t happy, we can look into other options. And meanwhile, you’ll still have Yakov coaching you as well.”

Yuri isn’t sure he likes the idea, but it’s not like he has many better choices. Yakov is going to retire whether he likes it or not; at least this will allow him a transition period. And an out, if Victor ends up being a terrible coach. He lets out a loud sigh.

“Fine. But if you suck, you have to help me find someone better, and you can’t bitch about it either, got it?” Victor grins, the truly happy one Yuri usually only sees directed at Katsuki. He flushes; it feels weird to have it focused on him.

“Deal!” Victor holds out his hand. Yuri reluctantly takes it and lets him pump his hand up and down enthusiastically. Yakov clears his throat.

“Great, so it’s all worked out. Now get the hell out of my office.”

Chapter Text

Yuri hits the ice hard and skids several meters before his momentum peters out. His arm is scraped to hell because he’s an idiot; it was only a triple so he’d assumed he had it in the bag. His landing ratio had improved dramatically with Victor’s tricks. Even his quads are successful more often than not.

What he hadn’t factored in was Otabek, in a rare appearance at the rink, bending over the boards to grab his water bottle right as Yuri launched himself into the jump.

Distracted by his boyfriend’s ass; God, he’s veering rapidly towards Victor levels of idiocy. This is pathetic. He is pathetic. He is…

Currently watching as the object of his distraction races clumsily across the ice, yelling his name in a panic stricken voice. Shit. In retrospect, laying sprawled out, unmoving, on the ice after a nasty fall is probably not the best course of action when you have a boyfriend still recovering (badly) from a nastier fall. Yuri is officially the worst person ever.

Yuri sits up just as Otabek skids to a stop next to him. Yuri hisses. “Jesus, Beka, your knee!” Yuri reaches for his leg, but Otabek’s hands clamp against the sides of his head and redirect Yuri’s gaze.

Otabek’s gone pale. No, he’s gray. Clammy. His eyes are wide and he’s shaking and he’s breathing like he’d run fifteen kilometers, not fifteen meters. “Yura,” he gasps out, “Yura, are you…”

Yuri grabs hold of both his wrists, trying to anchor him. “I’m fine, I’m okay. Beka, it’s okay, seriously. I’m not hurt, I promise!” Yakov, Victor and Katsuki are making their way over in a slightly more sedate manner, but he can see their worried frowns. Mila has her hands to her mouth, half way onto the ice even in her street shoes.

“You’re bleeding.” Yuri’s pretty sure Otabek hadn’t even heard him. His eyes are fixated on the trickle of blood running down Yuri’s forearm. He grabs Yuri’s arm and turns it over. It looks a lot worse than it is; it wouldn’t even make it into Yuri’s top 20 worst injuries, but if you went by Otabek’s face, Yuri is thirty seconds from bleeding out.

Okay, reality check time. Yuri pulls his arm free. He forcibly tilts Otabek’s head up and makes eye contact. “Beka, look at me. I. Am. Fine. For fuck’s sake, snap out of it!”

The others have reached them; Victor frowns disapprovingly at him. “Yelling at him isn’t going to help, Yuri,” he snaps, and fuck you very much, Victor, it’s helped just fine because Otabek blinks rapidly, then refocuses.

“You’re okay,” he rasps.

“I am. I really am. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” Otabek lets out a harsh breath and lets go of Yuri so he can scrub trembling hands over his face roughly.

“Yeah, okay,” he mutters into his palms. Yuri bites his lip. Tears prickle at his eyes; they have nothing to do with the bruises on his hip or scrapes on his arm.

Victor crouches down next to Otabek and places a gentle hand on his shoulder. Otabek flinches away from the touch, but settles a moment later. Yuri is inexplicably furious; he clenches his fists against the ice. A second later, a hand pries his clenched fist open and weaves their fingers together with a squeeze. Motherfucking Katsuki being a mom again, as if that’s what he needs right now.

He clutches Katsuki’s hand a little tighter.

“Otabek, can I take a look at your knee?” Victor says. Otabek scrapes his hair back and drops his hands.

“What?” he asks, then shakes his head as if to clear it. “Oh, yeah. It’s fine.” He’s looking anywhere but Yuri and his tone is detached and far away. Victor nods.

“I’m sure it is, but I’d like to look anyway.” Otabek gestures carelessly at his legs where they’re spread akimbo in front of him. Victor prods at the injured one gently.

“Yura.” Yuri startles; he’d forgotten that Yakov was there. He looks up at his coach. His arms are crossed over his barrel chest. “Take the rest of the day off the ice, go check in with the medical department.

“What?” Yuri asks, confused. “But I’m fine. Otabek’s the one who needs to go see the doctor.”

Otabek finally looks at him, but it’s just to glare. “I’m fine too,” he snaps, then hisses as Victor pokes at a sore spot and glares at him instead. Victor doesn’t even pretend he didn’t do it on purpose.

Yakov rolls his eyes. “Sure.You’re fine, he’s fine, we’re all just fine here. You still aren’t getting back on my ice until you’ve been cleared by the professionals. Either of you,” he says pointedly to Otabek.

“You’re not my coach,” Otabek mutters obstinately. Yakov growls.

“If you have a problem with my rules, then you can go ahead and get off my ice entirely.” Otabek shrinks in on himself a bit. Yuri forgets how intimidating Yakov can be to those who aren’t used to him. The Russian team has long become immune to him, and Yakov has always treated Katsuki like the favored son. Of course he does; it’s Katsuki. Seeing Otabek nod meekly and look away is a complete mind trip. Yakov skates away, muttering about idiot skaters and retirement as he goes to harass Mila for a while. Yuri presses his lips together tightly and stares at the ice resolutely.

“Here, let’s get you up,” Victor says. He doesn’t even give Otabek a chance to try on his own, just wraps one of Otabek’s arms over his shoulder and hauls him to his feet as if he weren’t 67kg of pure muscle, even after a year off. Otabek groans a little, but he still manages to skate off the ice mostly on his own, which makes Yuri feel slightly less like an inconsiderate asshole.

“You too, Yuri,” Katsuki says next to him. “You need to get your arm cleaned up.” Yuri tries to pull his hand away, but Katsuki is every bit as freakishly strong as his stupid husband, so instead he just ends up back on his feet and still holding Katsuki’s hand like a little baby. Thankfully, once they’re up, Katsuki lets go and skates back toward the exit.

Yuri is confused, but gratified when Katsuki leads him to the locker room instead of the med unit. He hesitates at the door. Katsuki raises an exasperated eyebrow at him. “I know you’re not stupid enough to pretend you aren’t badly injured if you actually are,” he says as he waves him into the bathroom so they can clean out the scrapes on his arm.

Katsuki stays quiet as he bandages up Yuri’s arm, then pats him on the shoulder when Yuri assures him the rest can be taken care of with some ice and ibuprofen. “Go home,” he says. “I’ll tell Yakov you were cleared.”

Yuri doesn’t want to go home. He wants to skate. He wants to make sure Otabek is alright. He also wants to make sure Otabek doesn’t hate him. Not that he has any real reason to hate him. It’s not like Yuri meant to fall, and he’s certainly not the first skater to chill on the ice feeling sorry for himself afterwards. Georgi does it at least once a day, and he’s been retired for over a year now. The younger skaters he teaches must be learning such bad habits.

Yuri opens his mouth to argue, but Katsuki cuts him off with a sharp look. “Go. Home. Yura. Or I won’t vouch for you to Yakov.”

Yuri bites his tongue against the flood of curse words bubbling up. Katsuki doesn’t make idle threats and Yuri would much rather spend the afternoon at home than in the med unit watching Otabek ignore him. At least at home, he has his crochet supplies.

“Fine,” he grumbles as he throws his things into his duffle. “Tell Beka…” he trails off. What exactly does he want to say anyways? Does he even want to say anything at all?

Katsuki smiles warmly. “Sure, I can do that,” he says.

“Thanks, Katsu,” he mutters. He slings his duffle over his shoulder and books it out of the rink. He is in serious need of some stress crocheting.

***

Yuri has made it halfway through YuraCat’s torso when there's a quiet, hesitant knock on his door. Yuri startles, knocked out of the zone by the sound. He blinks rapidly as his eyes adjust to looking somewhere other than the next stitch, the next loop on his hook.

“Yeah?” he calls, expecting Lilia. He’s surprised when instead, Otabek’s head pops through the opening. He looks sheepish, a little unsure. Yuri frowns. “What're you doing? You never knock.”

Otabek comes the rest of the way into the room. “I wasn't sure if you wanted me here or if you’d rather be alone,” he says softly. Yuri rolls his eyes and throws his hook at Otabek. Otabek ducks out of the way. “Hey!” he snaps sharply. “Don’t throw stuff at me. If you don’t want me in here then say so.”

Yuri winces and scrambles off his bed and over to Otabek. “I’m sorry, that’s not what I…” he wraps his arms tentatively around Otabek’s shoulders, unsure if his touch will be welcomed. He doesn’t pull away, so that’s something. “You were being dumb. I’m the one who messed up.” Otabek stays stiff for another few moments before melting into Yuri’s embrace. He mutters something into Yuri’s shoulder. “What?”

Otabek pulls away. “Can we just call it even and move on?” he asks.

“Yeah. Yeah, sounds good.”

Otabek looks over Yuri’s shoulder. “What are you making?” he asks. Yuri takes the subject change for what it is. He stoops to grab his hook and gestures Otabek over to the bed.

“YuraCat,” he says excitedly as he flops down on the bed. He holds out the half done torso. Otabek perks up as he takes it. As he examines it, Yuri examines him. He’s holding himself a little stiffly, but less than Yuri would have expected considering how hard he’d hit the ice earlier.

Otabek fingers the abandoned working loop and uses it to dangle the body in front of his face. “Um. Looking good?”  he says dubiously.

Yuri crosses his arms. “What’s with that face?” he demands petulantly.

“Nothing,” Otabek says hurriedly, handing back the torso when Yuri gestures imperiously. “I just assumed YuraCat was going to have arms and legs.”

Yuri laughs. “Those get sewn on later, dork. You make each part separately, then stuff them and put them all together at the end.”

“Huh, like Frankenstein,” Otabek says, watching as Yuri inserts his hook where he’d left off.

“Pretty much.” Yuri looks up at him pointedly. “So are you planning on standing there all day?”

Otabek smirks. “Nope.” He flops down on the bed and wriggles up until he’s sprawled over Yuri’s lap. Yuri laughs, holding his work out of the way as Otabek nuzzles him like Potya does when she wants to be pet. Yuri obliges him and scratches his back with his nails. Otabek practically purrs.

“You know, I used to think you were the coolest person I’d ever met,” Yuri says fondly.

“And you were correct,” Otabek tells him. He flips onto his back. “Hey, you should teach me how to crochet.”

Yuri raises an eyebrow. “You want to learn?”

Otabek shrugs and shuffles up a little higher so he’s leaning back against Yuri’s chest, cradled between his knees. “Sure. It seems...relaxing.”

Yuri grins, imagining passing on the skill just like his babulya had. He hugs Otabek briefly from behind before leaning over the edge of the bed to grab his basket of supplies. Otabek grumbles a little as he’s jostled, but quickly settles again once Yuri hands him a hook and ball of yarn.

“It’s really relaxing,” he says excitedly. “You’re gonna love it.”

***

Otabek does not, in fact, love it. Otabek finds it incredibly boring. He doesn’t say so, but it’s pretty obvious when he stops making crochet chains and starts playing with Yuri’s working yarn instead. Yuri gives it up for lost when he passes out in Yuri’s lap not long after.

And they say Yuri is the one who acts like a cat.

 

 

Chapter Text

Otabek lays on the ground, doing sit ups and feeling pretty good. His current mood is likely due to the ‘special’ brownie Victor had discreetly handed him a few days after the fiasco at the rink, but Otabek enjoys it nonetheless.

(“You should probably keep this somewhere others won’t accidentally find it,” Victor had warned. The words had brought terror to Otabek’s heart at the thought of Lilia somehow finding and eating it until he remembered that A: Lilia would rather eat rat droppings than a brownie, and B: Victor undoubtedly meant Yuri. Since the horse is already out of the gate on that one, the only thing to fear now is Victor finding out about it.)

He feels strong for the first time in a long while; his abdominal muscles burn pleasantly with the exercise and oxygen flows freely in and out of his lungs, bubbling effervescent through his veins. He feels Yuri’s eyes on him, heavy and warm, from where he sprawls stomach down on the guest bed. Otabek lets his lips curl into a tiny smirk even as he huffs out, “Eyes on your work, Yuriyim.”

Yuri groans and drops his head to lay on his laptop, unheeding or uncaring of the fact that his cheek is probably adding a long stream of gibberish to the essay he’s supposed to be writing. He whines and kicks his feet petulantly; Potya hisses and bolts off the bed. Yuri raises his head, making a small, guilty sound as he watches the cat disappear out the door. “Oops,” he says weakly.

“Yura, essay,” Otabek reminds him gently. Yuri scowls. He pulls his knees up under him and jabs one finger at the delete button sulkily.

“This is stupid. Give me math, give me science, give me motherfucking history or something, I don’t care. But when am I ever gonna need to analyze and dissect War and Peace in real life?” Otabek collapses out of his last sit up, focusing on breathing slow and deep.

“You never know,” he says to the ceiling, even though he can’t think of a single reason for needing to know it either, other than the fact that it's undoubtedly on the state final exams Yuri needs to take to graduate.

Yuri points a finger at Otabek. “That is a bullshit answer, and you know it, Altin.”

Otabek grins lazily and shrugs, carpet scraping pleasantly across his shoulder blades. Sweat is starting to sting his eyes, so he pulls the hem of his tank top up and wipes his face with it. Yuri makes a strangled noise. Otabek smiles under the cover of fabric. “Writing literature essays is the best way to learn how to bullshit effectively,” he counters. Game, set, match.

Warm thighs press against his flanks. He lowers the shirt from his face and purses his lips as he raises one unimpressed eyebrow. Yuri grins and sets both hands on Otabek’s stomach, just below his sternum. His fingers are freezing, but they feel good against his overheated skin.

“This isn’t studying,” Otabek says tells him. He feels the need to at least point it out. Yuri bites his lip and widens his eyes. If he think it makes him look innocent, he is very, very mistaken.

“Sure it is,” he argues. “I’m studying anatomy.” His fingers fan out over Otabek’s ribs; Otabek’s stomach clenches and he bites his lips. The light touch tickles, but hell if he’s going to let Yuri in on that particular weakness.

“Yura.”

“What?” His hands travel down. “See? These are the Rectus Abdominis…” Otabek drops his hands over his, pressing them flat and halting their downward slide. Yuri grins smugly and flips his hands over so he can wrap long fingers around Otabek’s wrists. He lifts and presses them against the floor over his head. Otabek could easily pull away, but his stomach is starting to burn for reasons other than exercise, so he just curls his fingers against his palms and waits.

Yuri’s hair spills over his shoulders in curtains as he leans over. Otabek’s nose twitches involuntarily as a strand lands in his face. He puffs out a breath to move it away. It could just be the brownie, but Otabek’s chest suddenly feels full to bursting with simple joy. His brain is wiped blank, filled with nothing but Yuri.

Yuri’s smile slowly fades into wide-eyed awe. He lets go of one wrist to trace gently over Otabek’s mouth. Otabek blinks; he hadn’t even noticed he was smiling, but his cheeks are aching. It feels strange, unnatural after months of frowning, but it feels good. It feels amazing, actually. “Fucking gorgeous,” Yuri whispers, thumb stilling against his bottom lip, pressing lightly.

Otabek giggles. Startled, he claps his free hand over his mouth. It doesn’t help. Yuri rears back as another giggle burbles up from his throat and it’s all over after that. He laughs helplessly while Yuri stares down at him with crossed arms, bemused. His whole body jerks up and down a little as the movement from Otabek’s laughter jostles him; it just makes everything even funnier somehow. A smile slowly creeps over Yuri’s lips as he shakes his head.

“I take it back,” he says wryly. “You’re fucking adorable, is what you are. And super high, aren’t you?”

“Brownies,” Otabek agrees breathlessly. He widens his eyes. “Edibles are weird.” It’s suddenly very important that Yuri knows this. He should have listened when Victor warned him to wait at least an hour or two before deciding whether to eat the second half.

" You’re weird,” Yuri grumbles, but he sounds more amused than angry as he rolls off and flops down beside him. Otabek makes a tiny, bereft noise at the loss of his warmth.

“Noooo,” he whines, making grabby hands. “Come back.” Yuri huffs out a laugh.

“Oh, I am absolutely recording this and sending it to Mila,” he says, sitting up and reaching for his phone, laying forgotten on the bed. “I won't apologize for whatever she does with it.”

Otabek lurches up to wrap his arms around Yuri’s middle and yank him back down. Yuri topples backwards with a shriek. His bony elbow cracks down hard against Otabek’s kneecap, and suddenly his world is nothing more than the high pitched ring in his ears, the wash of red over his vision, and the pain searing every nerve ending in his body. He thinks he blacks out for a second, or an eon. When he comes back around, Yuri’s voice is echoey and strange, panicked. His face is the color of cottage cheese and speckled with black sparks, distant and small at the far end of the tunnel his sight has narrowed down to.

The bubble around Otabek pops, and suddenly everything is too loud, too bright, too much . The world crashes back down around him in waves of agony. His lungs seize. He is drowning.

Yuri’s cold fingers clutch at his jaw and shoulder hard enough to bruise; his voice hooks under Otabek’s rib cage and reels him, gasping and choking, back to shore.

“-ka! Beka, come on, answer me!”

He’s going to be sick. He gulps back bile while his stomach lurches and his lungs spasm. It takes him a minute to realize that the thin whining sound in his ears is coming from him . He cuts it short, swallows it back down where it belongs. Slowly, he pulls himself back together, one stuttering breath at a time. The pain dulls to an iron hot burn in his knee; it throbs and pulses in time with his heartbeat. “‘M fine,” he finally manages with his first full inhale. He peels his eyes open and meets Yuri’s frantic ones. “It’s okay, I’m okay.”

If he says it enough, it might even come true. It seems to work; he’s more or less numb from the hip down now. He pats the hand on his cheek with shaking fingers. “I’m okay,” he repeats with a little more confidence.

Yuri chokes back a sob and jerks his hand from under Otabek’s. He raises it like he’s going to hit him, then pulls back and brings it to his mouth instead. He squeezes his eyes shut and bites down on the fleshy part of his thumb, violently quelling any other sounds that might dare to escape. Otabek furrows his brow and reaches up, weakly trying to tug his arm away. “Hey, stop. I’m fine, I swear.” Yuri yanks out of his hold and scrambles to his feet.

“Fuck you,” he manages, voice high and tight and trembling with rage. He runs his hands his roughly through his hair; a small streak of red smudges against his temple. “Just. Fuck you, Otabek. Fuck you.” He snatches up his forgotten phone and laptop and storms out of the room.

The silence is loud in the empty room. Somewhere down the hall, a door slams. Otabek’s knee spasms sharply. He turns his head, finds his own phone laying just out of reach of his fingertips. “Fuck me,” he agrees on a quiet sigh. With a pained groan, he rolls onto his stomach and manages to drag the phone towards him. He takes a second to breath a few short, hiccupping lungfuls of air against his bicep, then pulls up Victor’s contact info.

 

 

***

 

Yuri feels bad for yelling at Otabek almost immediately after slamming his door, but not badly enough to go apologize just yet. If he does, he’s liable to blow up again anyway. He needs a chance to cool down, and a distraction to help him do it. He casts around his room for ideas, briefly considering pulling out babulya’s blanket. He quickly discards the idea. He has too much energy coursing through him to sit still.

His eyes catch on Victor’s balance board. Might as well be productive while he sulks. He shoves a pair of Converse on his feet, then pulls it out of its corner and sets it down in the center of his room. He has to kick clothes out of the way to do so. He should probably clean his room instead, but the idea is laughable. After all, he wouldn’t want to deprive Lilia of her monthly tradition of threatening to throw all his belongings away if he doesn’t pick them up.

Yuri sets up his phone to record, then steps onto the board carefully. He’s worked through the majority of the list of exercises he’d been given, but he’s determined to outdo Victor’s stupid tricks; getting video proof will make it easier to rub it in the Idiot’s face later.

Once he’s balanced with one foot in the center, he slowly lifts one leg into a standing split; he wobbles a bit, but steadies quickly. He’s managed this part before; it’s the next step he hasn’t mastered quite yet. He takes a few deep breaths, preparing himself, and then with one last inhale, pushes himself up en pointe. He wobbles madly and his legs burn and tremble with the strain, but he doesn’t fall. He grins wildly, excitement coursing through him. Lilia is going to murder him. He can’t wait to show Otabek.

He pitches forward as he realizes what he’d just thought and just barely manages to save himself from face planting. He rubs angrily at his ankle; it hurts, but he can tell it's just twisted a little bit. Thank God, too, because Lilia really would kill him if he’d seriously hurt himself. He probably wouldn't even stop her. He’s not even supposed to be en pointe in the studio without proper ballet shoes and supervision, much less in street shoes while on a balance board. I need to seriously reevaluate my life choices , he thinks morosely.

His mind automatically jumps to what Otabek would say. Yuri growls. He’s about ready to punch himself in the face; so much for distracting himself. Thoroughly frustrated, he cinches his shoe a little tighter to use an impromptu brace and limps into the kitchen to grab an ice pack. It hasn't started to swell, but better safe than sorry. Lilia is in the kitchen, preparing a perfectly portioned lunch for herself. She throws him a pointed look and he shrinks in on himself a little.

“Please don’t lecture me,” he says in a small voice. If she does, he'll have to confess; lying to Lilia is an impossible endeavor.

“Will it affect your lessons tomorrow?” she asks sharply. He shakes his head vigorously. She sniffs haughtily and turns away.

“Then I see no need to impress upon you the folly of performing foolish actions that could lead to injury, simply because you are currently fighting with your...friend.”

Lilia firmly subscribes to the it’s not a problem if I don’t know about it school of thought, probably because she doesn’t want to deal with enforcing rules of propriety. Yuri is endlessly grateful. He likes sleeping in the same bed as Otabek. It's like sleeping with a living, breathing heater.

“Yes, madame,” he says politely before fleeing back to his room as quickly as he can hobble. Leave it to Lilia to insert a lecture into her statement that she won’t lecture.

All is quiet in Otabek’s room as he passes it. He forces himself not to give into the urge to knock or just barge right back in. Instead, he quietly shuts his own door, then slides down to the floor with a groan. He arranges the ice pack over his ankle and sighs, slumping forward.

Yuri’s eyes catch on the basket dedicated to his crochet works-in-progress. He scoots on his butt over to it and pulls it out from under his bed. He plucks the half-finished body of YuraCat out of the basket and stares at it blankly.

It’s wrong. It’s too small, and it’s lumpy and the stitches aren’t even and what the hell was he even thinking, making it with such ugly gray yarn? Was he high? On what planet would a stuffed incarnation of himself be gray ?

Frustration wells up from deep inside him and his lips twist up into a snarl; he grabs his working thread and yanks hard, then yanks again. With every stitch that unravels, he feels a little lighter, a little more untethered. From what, he doesn’t know, but by the time he’s done and sitting surrounded by a pile of crimped yarn, he feels emptied out and clean, calm. He gathers the yarn up and stuffs it all into the basket, then shoves it under the bed. It’s time for a reset, he decides.

His eyes fall on OtaBear. He smiles weakly and picks it up off his bedside table so he can cuddle it to his chest. He crawls up onto his bed, Otabear under one arm and the ice pack in his other hand, and settles with his back against the wall.

Yuri plays with OtaBear’s arms as he contemplates colors. Starting over from scratch means his options are wide open. He fiddles with the lapel of OtaBear’s jacket. The obvious answer is a wild cat, like a tiger, or cheetah, but how do you even do that? Crocheting that kind of pattern is waaaaay beyond him, even with the experience he gained working on OtaBear. Maybe a lion? he muses.

He hugs OtaBear to his chest. He was easy; bears are brown. It was just a matter of finding the right brown (he's a little embarrassed at just how long he’d spent at the craft store comparing ten billion skeins of the same fucking color, but it mattered, okay?)

If I were a cat, what color would I be? he wonders as he stares unfocused at the far wall. Maybe he could do Potya’s colors? But no, then it would be a PotyaCat, not a YuraCat. Yuri groans and flops down onto his back, running his fingers roughly through his hair. His fingers snarl and tug sharply at knots because he's a lazy slob and decided to throw it all up into a messy bun the last couple days instead of brushing it. His hand stings as a strand gets tangled and caught on it. He pulls it away, unbothered by the hairs he yanks out with it.

He holds the hand above his head and examines the bite mark gouged into the base of his thumb, curving in two lines around his knuckle.

He's vaguely concerned that he’d been aware of what he was doing this time as he’d bitten down. Hazily, only as an afterthought, but the knowledge was ultimately unimportant because at the time, the pain was secondary to the need to stuff his mouth with something, anything, to curb the flow of angry shouts and epitaphs that he knew wouldn't help the situation. Look at me, growing physically and emotionally.

He hates growing up. It hurts.

Most of the marks are fine. They’re already bruising, but it's no big deal aside from figuring out how to hide it. There are two along the underside, nestled right up against the bony knob of his knuckle, that had broken skin, though. They’ve already scabbed up, livid and ugly; two slightly crooked lines because there was no way he and dedulya could have afforded braces, even if he'd wanted them in the first place.  He smirks humorlessly. Good thing he wasn't like that snaggletoothed vampire wannabe Minami. He could have actually done some damage.

Yuri drops his hand and sits up, decision made. He’s pale as fucking snow, so YuraCat should be too. He doesn't have any white yarn though, and definitely not the soft kind that is an absolute necessity. He shoves himself off his bed and wraps his ankle quickly before throwing his Converse back on. The craft store sounds like the best place ever right now. He can lose himself in multitudes of white yarn.

Yuri pauses in the hallway, debating, as he stares at Otabek’s room. It's still quiet in there. He probably passed out in a pot induced coma.

Feeling a little vindictive, he bangs on the door. “I'm going out,” he says loudly before walking away without waiting for an answer.

At the store, he picks up some purple yarn as well, thinking of the jacket they'd bought and he’d skated in what seemed like ages ago. At the last minute, he grabs a little square of leopard print fabric as well because why the hell not. His walk home is spent wondering how hard it would be to crochet some sunglasses. Yuri pulls up short when he notices that the window leading to Otabek’s room is dark. Is he still sleeping?

He's not. He's gone, without so much as a note or text to give a clue where he was. Yuri's stomach sinks. He’d really screwed up this time.

Fucking fantastic.

Chapter Text

Otabek hates the doctor Victor set him up with. Dr. Vasilev doesn’t look very impressed with Otabek either.

“You say this is because someone knocked into it,” he says as he prods and manipulates Otabek’s leg with absolutely zero regards for his patient’s comfort. Otabek grits his teeth and breathes through the pain.

“Yes,” he says, but doesn’t elaborate. Dr. Vasilev steps back and crosses his arms. Otabek pulls the stupid gown they’d insisted on around him a little more securely, mostly because he really doesn’t want to look at that haughty, egotistical face any more than he has to. His temper is already shortened due to pain and coming down from the marijuana high.

“I’m not sure if you think I’m incompetent, or if you’re stupid enough to believe you can get away with lying, but either way, I don’t appreciate it. Or have the time for it.”

Otabek swallows down the multitude of insults threatening to escape and grounds out, “I’m not lying. A friend of mine accidentally fell on me and hit it with his elbow.”

“Ah,” Dr. Vasilev drawls, expression arranged as if coming to a sudden realization. “So you’re the kind of stupid that believes a little knock to the knee can lead to this kind of damage.”

Otabek snaps. “Look, I don’t know why you think you can talk to your patients like this, but -”

“I can talk to my patients however I please because I’m the best damn orthopedic surgeon in the country, and arguably on this continent,” Dr. Vasilev interrupts. “Certainly better than whoever it was that did your previous surgeries.” Every word drips with contempt. Otabek has to count to ten not to start screaming. Dr. Omarov is one of the best surgeons in Kazakhstan; he doesn’t deserve this asshole’s derision. Dr. Vasilev continues while Otabek struggles not to hit him. “Besides, you are not my patient. You are here because my daughter is enamored with Victor Nikiforov, and he’s agreed to give her skating lessons.”

Otabek presses his lips together tightly. He hadn’t known about the deal Victor had made. Now he feels pissed off and guilty.

He hops off the table and grabs his sweatpants. “Glad to see we’re in agreement,” he says tightly. Getting his pants on is going to be a bitch while standing, but he’s sure as hell not getting back on that exam table. “I wouldn’t let you touch me if you were the last surgeon on earth.”

“Sit back down,” Dr. Vasilev tells him, “Before you do damage that can’t be fixed.” He has the gall to roll his eyes, as if Otabek were nothing more than a child throwing a temper tantrum. He’s not wrong, a tiny, rational part of him says. He tells it to shut up. He can’t quite keep his grunt of pain inside as he bends his injured knee to guide it into his pants leg.

“Young man, I told you to sit back down.” Otabek pauses. The man almost sounded...concerned under all the annoyance.

Unfortunately, pausing turns out to be his undoing; bending over disrupts his delicate balance, which wasn’t exactly great at the best of times anymore. He topples forward.

Hands grab him by the shoulders and steady him. Otabek breathes out a pathetically relieved sigh. That would have hurt. He lets the other man guide him back onto the examining table, too wrung out to argue anymore.

Dr. Vasilev studies him with a bemused look. “It’s almost like you’re trying to do everything possible to make things worse,” he says, sounding vaguely fascinated in the way that people tend to when looking at a puzzle. Otabek stares at him dully. He’s not trying to do anything, which is probably the problem to begin with.

The doctor watches him a few moments longer before shaking his head. He bends down and untangles Otabek’s pants before guiding his feet in properly. The gesture is both mortifying and confusing. He can’t fathom this man ever deigning to kneel for anyone.

Dr. Vasilev stands and brushes off his own pants while Otabek pulls his up. “Regardless of whatever psychological wars you’re fighting, I will not have have a patient walking out of my practice like this. I have a reputation to think of. A nurse will be in shortly with a better brace and some crutches. I’m also going to prescribe a topical NSAID for the inflammation and a cane to transition to in a week or so.” He raises a brow. “Use. Them.”

“Thought I wasn’t a patient,” Otabek feels the need to say. It comes out half-hearted at best. Dr. Vasilev shrugs, mind clearly already on his next appointment.

“I like a challenge,” he says flippantly. “Have reception set up an appointment in three months for re-evaluation.”

“Wait,” Otabek says as the doctor heads for the door.

Dr. Vasilev smirks. “You’re welcome.”

Otabek rolls his eyes. Narcissistic asshole. “Could I get a lidocaine cream too?” Dr. Vasilev snorts like Otabek had just told him a funny joke.

“Like I’m going to prescribe you something that will numb you up and help you ignore your problems even more.” He leaves.

“Dick,” Otabek hisses; he flushes as the nurse come in. She just smiles. He gets the feeling he’s probably not the first person she’s heard disparage her boss.

Otabek leaves the office with an appointment he doesn’t intend to keep, a pair of crutches he plans to ditch in a bathroom stall, and a lump in his throat that refuses to leave.

 

***

 

Victor is waiting for him outside the building (the same as Lada’s office, which can't be a coincidence). He’s idling in his ridiculous pink convertible and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel along to some horrible Russian synth pop song. Apparently suffering through a lecture by the most egotistical doctor he’d ever met isn’t enough to absolve him of his sins.

Otabek sighs, but hobbles over. Victor turns the volume down as Otabek carefully slides in. He waits, but Victor doesn't put the car in drive. Instead, he stares impassively at the side of his face while Otabek stares unerringly ahead. “So,” Victor starts after a full minute of stalemate.

“Buttons,” Otabek mumbles under his breath. Victor gives him a weird look.

“Are you still high?” he asks. Otabek shakes his head, lips curving into a smile he doesn't feel.

“On your underwear,” he finishes in English. The weird look takes on an edge of concern. “It was something my host in America always said when people ended their sentences with so,” he elaborates, before Victor gets any funny ideas about psych evals. “So buttons on your underwear. And no, I'm not high. Can we go?”

Victor looks at him for a moment longer, then shakes his head. “How long are you planning on not talking about this?” he asks. His voice is annoyingly soft; Otabek’s fist twitches.

“Talk about what?”

Victor heave a heavy, disappointed sigh. It makes Otabek feel very small. “You're ruining your relationship with Yuri,” he says bluntly. Otabek slouches down in his seat, even though it hurts his lower back and puts his knee at a painful angle. He keeps his gaze straight ahead and clenches one hand on the door’s armrest because otherwise he will end up with his arms wrapped around his stomach. He knows enough armchair psychology to recognize that doing so would be to signal vulnerability. Otabek does not want to be the gazelle to Victor’s lion; he can't give him the opportunity to pounce. Instead, he focuses on breathing steadily in through his nose, out through his mouth. He smiles inwardly, grim.

Yuri taught him how to breathe. Now he’s the reason he can’t.

Victor’s waiting for an answer, an acknowledgement of how badly he’s fucking things up. “Lilia hates it when people are late for dinner,” he says instead. He slides a meaningful glance at the gear shift, then up to Victor, eyebrows raised pointedly. Victor stares him dead in the eyes and slowly, deliberately, turns the ignition off and pockets the keys. Otabek contemplates calling an Uber, but he’s tired. So, so fucking tired and he just...can’t. He closes his eyes and drops his head back against the headrest.

Victor goes for the throat. “How bad?”

Razor teeth close around his windpipe. “Bad,” he wheezes out.

“Worse now?”

Otabek swallows against the pressure. “No.”

Victor hums thoughtfully. Digs his claws into Otabek’s soft underbelly. “Because it can't get much worse?” he guesses. Otabek can't speak, but Victor doesn't need him to.

He clamps down.

“It's over, isn't it?”

Eviscerates him.

“Your career.”

And tears out his throat.

Otabek chokes on blood and stops breathing entirely.

 

***

 

Victor was born without that piece of common sense that knows when to stop, to pull back, to quit pushing. His mother would say he was born without common sense at all.

Still, sometimes it works for him. He doubts he would have his husband and love of his life if he’d listened to those telling him to leave it be, to leave him alone. He wouldn't be a skating legend; hell, he wouldn't be a skater at all. Despite what he lets the world think, he is not a prodigy. He was not born with a pair of skates on his tiny baby feet, did not skip straight from crawling to jumping doubles. Everything he has comes from his inability to read the signs, the warnings, the situation. To know when to stop.

Then there are times when he finds himself skidding straight into disaster because no one ever installed the breaks. One final season that ended in hip surgery and a husband who wouldn't speak to him for a week. The complete annihilation of all family ties because he couldn't accept that his parents would never accept him (on the other hand he cannot, will not, feel regret because when he stood numbly watching the wreckage of his life catch fire, Yuuri was there to put out the flames and promise him that the injuries would heal).

Today, he tears a boy to pieces, and has no idea on which side the coin will fall.

 

***

 

Victor sees the moment Otabek goes from blank faced, pale, and breathing just a little too fast to not breathing at all. He sucks in a sharp breath of his own, wishing desperately that Yuuri was here. He would have known when to make him stop pushing, would have been able to override the voice in Victor’s head whispering, just a little more, you’re so close to breaking through all the barriers and denial the poor kid has wrapped himself in.

Most importantly, Yuuri would know what to do right now.

“Otabek?” he says, carefully keeping a tight grip on his own panic. “Otabek, you need to breathe.” He’s not listening; he’s not even here. Someone has put Otabek on pause, staring straight ahead and clenching the armrest with whitened knuckles. His face is turning red though, and it’s been at least a full minute since he’s drawn his last breath, and shit. Victor’s just gone and killed the kid, hasn’t he? Yuri’s going to kill him.

He grits his teeth, tries to think what Yuuri would do. He reaches out, hesitates a second, then sets a light hand on Otabek’s shoulder. “Come on, kid. I need you to take a breath right now. Please?” The plea seems to kick Otabek back into the land of the living. He gasps in one breath, then another. He starts to shake. “There you go, good, good, but you need to breathe out too. Can you do that for me?” Otabek hitches in one last, weak breath, and his lungs apparently reach maximum capacity because he blows it out in one explosive go. Then he starts to hyperventilate.

God damn it.

This, at least, he knows how to handle. He’s gone through more than one of Yuuri’s hyperventilation episodes. “Alright, you’re doing well. Now I just need you to slow it down a bit. In through your nose and out of your mouth. I know you know this. I’m going to count for you, okay?” Otabek is hunched in on himself, hands twisted together against his chest as if praying. He’s staring at Victor like a savior, eyes wide and wild. Boy have you put your faith in the wrong person.

“I think I’m dying,” Otabek wheezes.

“You aren’t. You’re just having a panic attack.” Victor moves his hand to Otabek’s back and rubs it gently. He’s pretty sure he’s supposed to ask if it’s okay to touch, but he’s also pretty sure the kid isn’t comprehending enough to answer. The touch doesn’t seem to be making things worse, so he’s going to go with it. “You’re going to be fine, but I need you to listen to me and follow my directions. Can you do that?” Otabek stares at him a moment longer and then nods minutely. Victor will take what he can get. “Thank you. Now, in through your nose for four, hold for seven, and out through your mouth for eight. Ready? One. Two. Three. Four. Now hold. One, two…”

Victor continues to count in a low, soothing voice over and over, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Otabek looks about two seconds from passing out. On to plan B. “Keep breathing, okay? We’re just going to get some blood to your head, keep you from fainting.” He presses firmly on Otabek’s back, guides him so his head is between his legs. “One, two, three…”

After what seems like an eon, Otabek’s breathing evens out and his shaking subsides to the occasional small tremor. Victor keeps rubbing circles over his back until the muscles go loose and pliant. Otabek lets out a long sigh and shifts; Victor drops his hand and lets him sit back up. He’s still way too pale and his hairline and shirt are wet with sweat, but he looks ten thousand times better than he had a few minutes ago.

“Okay?” Victor asks. Otabek lets out a hoarse, bitter laugh.

“Not even close,” he rasps. He brings his good knee to his chest and wraps his arms around it tightly as he drops his head down. “I am so embarrassed right now,” he mutters, grinding his forehead against his knee.

Victor blinks. “Why?” he asks, genuinely confused. Otabek raises his head and gives him a look that clearly asks, are you kidding me? Victor rubs one hand over the back of his neck, feeling sheepish. “I’m the one who pushed too hard. I’m the one who should be embarrassed.”

Otabek drops his leg back to the floor and slumps down into his seat.  He looks down and wraps his arms tightly around his middle. He looks so small all of a sudden.

“I’m sorry,” Victor says, putting every ounce of sincerity as he can into his voice.

Otabek sighs and straightens again. He digs one fist into his thigh with a wince. “You can make it up to me with a few more of those brownies,” he half jokes with a small, fragile looking smile.

Victor feels really, really bad, but… “No.” An indescribable emotion flashes over Otabek’s face before it drops back into its normal inscrutable expression. “I’m sorry, but until I know you aren’t just using it as a way to escape your problems, I’m not comfortable with giving you more.”

Otabek draws in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He turns his head away and stares out the side window, shoulders tense and jaw clenched so hard Victor worries for his teeth. “I’d appreciate it if you would take me back, then.”

Victor bites his lip and closes his eyes. They’re right back to where they started, all progress wiped clean, but he’s still confident this is the right decision. “Sure,” he relents. He starts the car and drives slowly back to Lilia’s, silence thick and awkward between them.

Otabek undoes his seatbelt before they’re even stopped, but when he goes for the door, Victor impulsively hits the automatic door lock. Otabek throws him a dirty look and unlocks it manually. Victor hits the lock again.

Victor.” Otabek whips around and Victor thinks he’s about to get punched. He still can’t keep himself from giving one last push.

“You need to talk to someone,” he says firmly, gripping the wheel tightly.

“Let. Me. Out.”

Victor pulls out his trump card. “Yuri does too. But he won’t do it unless someone proves to him that it doesn’t make him weak to get help.” It’s not entirely untrue; thankfully Yuuri has promised to handle that particular situation.

Otabek grits his teeth, but drops his head after a moment and rubs at his eyes. He looks utterly defeated. “I know what you’re trying to pull, and you’re a horrible person for doing it.”

Victor’s grin is wide and carefree and completely fake. “I know. It haunts me at night.” He unlocks the door.

Otabek mutters something that sounds like, “You need help,” but Victor ignores it.

“I’ll see you at dinner tomorrow. And make sure to ice that knee!”

Otabek flips him off as he gets out of the car and Victor’s smile gets a little more sincere. The kid’s been hanging out with Yuri too much.

Victor stays until Otabek’s made his way slowly up the steps, wondering idly where he’d stashed the crutches Victor knows had to be given to him. The door opens before Otabek even reaches for it and Yuri flies into his arms. Victor hears him growl out, “Where the hell have you been? You just disappeared on me, you asshole!”

Otabek tightens his arms around Yuri. “Sorry. I went to see a doctor.”

Yuri pulls back, eyes wide and worried. “And?”

Otabek smiles and presses a kiss to his forehead. “Just bruised, don’t worry. Can we go in now? I’m starving.”

Whatever Yuri grumbles after that, it makes Otabek laugh. Yuri eyes Victor suspiciously over his shoulder as he ushers Otabek inside. Victor sighs, thoroughly tired of teenagers. He is desperately in need of the warm comfort of his husband’s arms; the sooner the better.

 

 

Chapter Text

Otabek stops dead in Yuri’s doorway. One hand still holds a towel to his head, paused in the middle of scrubbing it through his hair after a shower. “Yura,” he says carefully, not quite sure he’s seeing things right. “Why are you crocheting a circus tent?”

Yuri scowls, hands pausing mid--stitch. “It’s not a tent,” he snaps.

Otabek holds his hands up, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to...um…” He’s not sure how to finish that sentence. Offend you? Upset you? Flip your Mr. Hyde switch?

His brain may be scrambled, but he hadn’t killed enough brain cells to actually say any of those. He lets the sentence hang, dropping the towel around his neck while he waits. It doesn’t take long; Yuri drops his hook and groans, dragging his fingers roughly through his hair.

“Sorry,” he mutters. He gathers up some of the crocheted fabric that drapes over his lap and the bed to fall in waterfalls of blue yarn over a good portion of the floor. “Just...I don’t like it when people joke about this.”

Otabek frowns, concerned. “Okay, I won’t,” he promises. “Is it okay if I come in?”

Yuri rolls his eyes and gathers up more of the fabric, freeing up space on the bed. “Idiot,” he mutters as Otabek carefully picks his way across the floor, careful not to step on the patchwork…

Oh. He is an idiot. “So this is a blanket, right?” he asks once he’s settled on the bed at Yuri’s side.

“Yes,” Yuri answers tersely, shoulders tense before he visibly relaxes them. His face is hidden by a curtain of unkempt hair. Otabek wants to sweep it behind his ear, but Yuri huffs and blows it out his face before he can. “It was my babulya’s. It was the last thing she was working on before she died.”

“Oh.” Of course. This isn’t the first time he’s heard about Babulya’s blanket; Yuri had mentioned it on more than one occasion in the faux, offhand manner he adopts when talking about something he really cares about. This is the first time he’s ever seen the blanket, though. He studies it with new eyes.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the way Yuri has added to it, but Otabek can still follow his progress through the years by the degree of skill in the stitches. Slightly to the left of center is a patch of particularly faded and fuzzy blues, done in an impeccable wave pattern; it’s surrounded by clumsy rows of crochet, edges getting bigger and smaller until it evens out after a few feet. There are different types of patterns and stitches littered throughout, like Yuri had gotten bored with whatever current one he’d been on and decided to switch it up.

“It’s pretty,” he finally says, because it truly is. “I like it.”

All the tension goes out of Yuri’s body. He slumps over and buries his face in Otabek’s neck. “It’s been a really bad day,” he mutters. Otabek wraps an arm around his shoulders and pulls him closer. He kisses the top of his head, then his lips when Yuri tilts his head up.

“Wanna talk about it?” Otabek asks when they’ve parted. Yuri makes a face.

“Not even a little,” he says, but almost immediately launches into a rant anyway. “Victor is a literal demon as a coach. We’re just barely into the off season and he’s acting like we’re a week away from the Grand Prix. I’d feel bad for Katsuki, having to suffer through it all these years, but he won’t get off my ass either! I’m so sick of his stupid older brother bullshit. It’s like he’s actually starting to believe it, or something. I don’t need a brother, and I sure as hell don’t need a father.”

Otabek has a pretty good idea what Katsuki had been getting on his case about, especially when Yuri clenches the hand he’d bitten a few days ago and hides it under the blanket. Yuri is a lot of things, but surreptitious is not one of them. He looks away, bright red and shame-faced, as Otabek draws it back out to examine; the marks are vivid red and surrounded by bruising. He remembers Victor’s words, and feels like a hypocrite when he brings it up and kisses the marks gently. “He’s worried about you,” he says.

Yuri yanks his hand away. He glares at Otabek and throws a very pointed glance at his knee. Point taken. He changes tack. “What kind of stitch is this?” he asks, fingering one particular patch. It kind of looks like bubble wrap or a bunch of puff balls.

Yuri points a finger in his face. “Otabek Umiduly Altin, I see through you,” he declares,but doesn’t pursue it. “It’s called a ball stitch,” he says, poking at one of the balls. He reaches over and points at some more rows down by his feet. “This one is a basket weave.” Unsurprising, given that’s exactly what it looks like.

Otabek gathers fabric up until he can reach a patch that looks like a hot mess, if he’s honest.  He smirks as he asks, “And this one?”

Yuri sticks his tongue out. “I’ll have you know, that’s exactly how it’s meant to look,” he says archly. “It’s a sedge stitch. Look it up if you don’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” Otabek laughs. Yuri hmphs, but he can’t hide the smile edging up the corners of his lips.

“You wanna see my favorite?” he asks after a moment. Otabek nods. Yuri crawls down the bed, searching, before hauling a large swath up from the floor. Otabek can tell it’s his favorite because that particular patch is larger than any of the others. It’s also very obvious why it’s his favorite. “This is called the cat stitch,” he says proudly. It looks like rows upon rows of little cats. Otabek runs a finger along them.

“You are amazing,” he tells Yuri, completely sincere. The other boy flushes deep, deep red and sputters helplessly for a moment before smacking Otabek on the arm.

“Stop being such a sap,” he growls. “You’re ruining all your cool guy cred!”

Otabek snorts and shifts so he can lay down, pulling one corner of the blanket over top of him. “I can wear my leather jacket while cuddling you,” he offers. Yuri rolls his eyes.

“No, I guess not,” he says with a put upon sigh. “Between the jacket and the blanket, you’d get all gross and sweaty.” He flicks a strand of wet hair off Otabek’s forehead. “And you did just take a shower, after all.” Otabek butts his head against Yuri’s thigh, then winces. He digs underneath his ribs and pulls Yuri’s crochet hook out. He hands it to him with a dry look. Yuri takes it with a prim little, “Thank you.” He shuffles around until he finds the last stitch he’d been working on, but instead of inserting his hook, he pulls his working thread through and ties it off. He grabs a plastic bag out from under his bed and pulls out a big skein of white yarn. It looks impossibly soft; Otabek reaches out to feel it as Yuri arranges the blanket more securely over them.

“New project?” Otabek asks. Yuri takes it back from him and rips the paper sleeve off. He drops it carelessly over the side of the bed, because he is an unrepentant slob.

“Mmn,” Yuri hums as he unravels several meters worth of yarn. “YuraCat.”

Otabek cocks his head. “I thought you already started him?”

Yuri shrugs as he pulls up a pattern on his phone. “I didn’t like it, so I’m starting again,” he says. He looks up and raises one eyebrow. “This means you’re going to have to be extra careful with him, because I’m putting in twice the work. I’m trusting you here, Altin.” Warmth bubbles through Otabek, fizzing like soda. He hides his smile in Yuri’s thigh.

“I’m glad,” he whispers, then a little louder, “I promise I’ll take good care of him.”

“Good,” Yuri sniffs. “I don’t want to have to take him away from you too.” He runs a hand through Otabek’s hair. “Are you going to sleep?” It’s only 9:30. He shouldn’t be going to bed yet, but...

He really just wants to sleep.

“No.” He groans and pushes himself up. “I have some ideas for a new mix running around my head. I think I’ll write them down before I forget.” It’s not entirely true, but it’s not a lie either. He always has song ideas floating through his head; he’s just never bothered to write them down before. There was no point when he could just create the song itself instead. The idea of spending that much time on the computer is daunting, though, and even if he wanted to, his laptop and all his equipment is back in his apartment in Almaty.

Still, he’s not quite ready to give his music up, can’t bear the thought of losing another part of himself. “Do you have a notebook I could borrow?” he asks as he stands and stretches his back. Yuri gives him a weird look.

“Like, a paper notebook?” he asks.

“No. A plastic one,” Otabek deadpans. Yuri rolls his eyes.

“I just meant that you have your tablet, but whatever. Lilia has at least a thousand of them lying around. She’s got some weird kink for office supplies or something, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure she’ll let you use one if you ask.”

Because asking Lilia for anything is exactly what Otabek wants to do right now. Maybe he should just go to sleep after all.

Whatever expression Yuri sees on his face makes him roll his eyes. “Baby,” he sneers, but gets up and exits the room.

“Thank you,” Otabek calls after him, smiling as grumbled curses float down the hall. He buries himself under the blanket again. The faded patch of the original blanket ends up right near his shoulder, just in front of his eyes. “Your grandson is a good person,” he whispers to it. “I’ll take care of him, I promise.”

He hopes she hears.

Chapter Text

Yuri can see Otabek limping out of the corner of his eye, but every time he looks over at him, he’s walking normally again. Finally, Yuri can’t take it anymore. He spins around and glares. “For fuck’s sake, Beka, if you need to limp, then limp already! Or better yet, say ‘Hey Yuri, my very best friend and boyfriend who cares for my health and well being, my knee’s bothering me a bit so do you mind if we take a break?’”

Otabek raises his eyebrows, hiding a smile behind pursed lips. “Well, that’s kind of a mouthful, so…” He gives Yuri a wink.

Yuri’s brain immediately dives into the gutter with twelve-year-old glee but he willfully wrenches it back out. Anger helps. “Stop it,” he snaps. Otabek looks confused, but it’s a shifty sort of confused. “Stop doing that, deflecting and distracting. It’s bullshit, and I’m so fucking sick of it, Beka!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Otabek says flatly, mask impenetrable. That’s the look he gives everyone else, not Yuri. It’s the look that asks, why are you wasting my time and can you please go away now? Yuri’s heart lurches, stalls, then starts up double time as Otabek turns and heads down the path leading into the park they’d passed instead of continuing towards the rink.

Fury blooms on Yuri’s cheeks and in his chest. “Oh, sure, walk away,” he spits after him. “Too bad that limp kills the dramatic exit.”

Otabek halts and slowly turns to face him. “Hey Yuri, my very best friend and boyfriend who-”

Stop it! ” Yuri shouts. Tiny pricks of pain bloom in Yuri’s fists as his fingernails dig in, but he doesn’t care. “Jesus fucking Christ, Beka, you are the only person I know who somehow manages to say less when you talk than when you don’t.”

Otabek looks down; his hand curls in the jean fabric just above his brace. “What do you want me to say, Yuri?” The first threads of emotion weave through his voice.  “That I need a break?”

The use of his given name hurts, but he refuses to let it get to him.

“Um, yes!” Yuri gestures emphatically, closing the distance between them. “Is it really that hard to just tell the truth?”

Otabek's head snaps up; fury does a poor job of hiding the despair that has lurked in his eyes for weeks now. “Fine,” he says, ugly and mean. “I need a break. What else would you like to hear? That it’s not worth saying anything because if we stopped every time I could use a break, we would never get anywhere?” Yuri shrinks in on himself and takes a step back when Otabek snaps his fingers and then points. “Wait, I know. You want me to tell you that I’m not okay. That my entire life is ruined and there is nothing I can do about it, and most of the time I don’t even see the point of trying. Does it make you happy that you’re the only good thing in my life right now? And I’m so fucking scared to lose you, but I’m going to anyway because I...”

Otabek’s gone paper white, sweaty and trembling as his voice grows more and more winded with every word.

“B...Beka?” Yuri reaches out a hesitant hand.

“I need to sit down,” he gasps as he grinds one palm against his sternum. 

Oh, shit.

Yuri wraps an arm around him and guides him over to a bench just a few yards ahead. They sit down and Otabek immediately puts his head between his knees. He clasps his hands behind his neck, taking deep, shuddering breaths. Yuri recognizes the pattern and it hits him like a sucker punch: this is a panic attack, and it’s not Otabek’s first.

Something ugly twists in Yuri’s stomach. He is a horrible boyfriend. He angrily dashes wetness from his eyes. Falling apart is not an option right now. He takes a deep breath of his own and forces himself to focus on one thing at a time. Otabek needs his help.

A calm clarity that Yuri usually only ever feels on the ice settles into his bones. “What do you need right now?” he asks softly, drawing on the hours of research he’d done after witnessing one of Katsuki's panic attacks for the first time.

“I don’t know,” Otabek says, voice impossibly small.

“It’s okay, that’s fine. Is it alright if I touch you?” Otabek’s breath hitches sharply and suddenly Yuri’s lap is full as he pitches to the side. He digs his forehead into Yuri’s thigh and clutches one leg like it’s the only thing keeping him from shattering to a million tiny pieces.  Yuri curls over him and clutches back, murmuring comforting nonsense and throwing his strongest death glares at anyone who dares to look for too long.

Eons pass before Otabek’s shaking subsides and he shudders out a sigh, shifting restlessly. Yuri sits up and Otabek follows with a grimace. His eyes are red, but dry. He scrubs at his face, then at his knee. “I’m sor-”

“Don’t,” Yuri says sharply, then winces as Otabek curls in on himself. He is so bad at this. Yuri wraps a hand around Otabek’s forearm and squeezes gently. “No, I just meant...please don't say that. It's not your fault.”

Apparently that was the right thing to say, because the tension in Otabek’s shoulders slowly melts away. He looks exhausted, all dark circles and pale skin and sweat dampened hair.

“I know what you meant,” he says softly. He looks down at his lap and worries at the edge of his brace. He turns over the arm Yuri is still holding and weaves their fingers together. They sit quietly together, watching pigeons wander around the grass doing...bird things. Yuri has at least twenty things he desperately wants to say but he knows that if he does, Otabek will clam right back up.

Otabek finally speaks, voice hoarse and just barely audible. “My second surgery didn’t go as well as we’d hoped.” Second , Yuri thinks dully. Last he knew, Otabek’s doctor had said he wouldn’t even need a second surgery.

“When?” Yuri asks. He clutches at the edge of the bench with his free hand and scrapes paint flakes off the weathered wood with his fingernails.

“Couple months ago. Dr. Omarov wants to do a third surgery. I told him we could talk when I got back.”

“Why didn’t you say?” Yuri asks. He works hard to keep his voice level and free of accusation.

Otabek shakes his head, lips twisted unhappily. He digs his fist into the side of his thigh roughly. “Because he started talking total knee replacement literally hours after the anesthesia wore off. And Amina kept throwing around comments about ‘managing expectations’ and ‘realistic goals’. I’m not stupid. I know what that means. I just…” he sighs heavily, and lets go of Yuri’s hand so he can run fingers through his hair, scraping it out of his face. Yuri wordlessly pulls the hairband Otabek keeps around his wrist off and hands it to him. Otabek huffs out a small laugh and pulls his hair back into a short, stubby ponytail. It highlights his scar, but Yuri doesn’t say anything.

Otabek collapses back against the bench and stares blankly up at the branches above them. “I just didn’t want to think about it, okay? You make it easy to escape for a while.” He pauses. “Made.” He sounds like he’s bitter but trying to hide it. Yuri makes a face, but refuses to feel bad. Otabek’s denial is what got them here.

He ignores the voice in his head whispering about pots and kettles. It sounds annoyingly like Victor, which makes it easier.

“So you lied.”

“So I lied,” Otabek agrees dully.

The sit in awkward silence. Yuri worries at his lip, thinking hard. Finally, he nods firmly. “Okay.”

Otabek looks at him, confused, like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Okay?”

Yuri slumps over so he can rest his head against Otabek’s arm. “Yeah, okay. I mean, if you ever lie to me again, I’ll lock you in a room with no food and a hungry Potya for a week, but…” He shrugs, picks up Otabek’s hand, running fingers along the creases of his palm. “I get it. I’d probably do the same thing.” Otabek runs his thumb over the bite mark still visible on Yuri’s hand. Yuri pulls away and tucks his hand under his thigh, flushing. He’s grateful when Otabek just presses his cheek against Yuri’s head instead of calling him out like he probably wants to.

“Good thing you’ve got Katsuki and Nikiforov when you need to vent, then.” Yuri opens his mouth, then shuts it again. Otabek pulls back and smirks at him, raised eyebrow full of fragile bravado. “Uh huh, yeah. I know all about that. Katsuki is really, really terrible at keeping secrets. You should probably stop confiding in him.”

Yuri lets out an indignant squawk. “That son of a - since when do you two talk? I thought Victor was your new BFF.” The fact that Otabek willingly subjects himself to the idiot will never ceases to baffle Yuri.

Otabek makes a face. “I would not classify Nikiforov as a friend. More like that annoying aunt who can't keep out of your business. But I like Katsuki.” Yuri rolls his eyes. Everyone likes Katsuki, it’s unnatural. “Who would’ve guessed that he’s such a sarcastic little asshole,” he continues slyly. “It’s a trait I’m drawn to, apparently.” He bumps Yuri’s shoulder gently. Yuri snorts inelegantly, but he bumps back.

They sit on the bench for a little while longer, quietly leaning against each other. Finally, Otabek groans and straightens. “My head hurts. Actually, my everything hurts. Can we just go back to Lilia’s?” The admission is painfully vulnerable. Yuri thinks about the ice time he’s missing, about the angry lecture he’s going to get from Yakov.

“Sure. I need some quality time with my balance board anyways.”

Otabek grins. “Can I watch?”

Yuri bounces up off the bench and pulls Otabek up with him. “Holy shit, yes! I’ve got the coolest thing to show you. I can’t believe I forgot!” Otabek laughs and slings an arm over Yuri’s shoulder before pressing a kiss to his temple. They head back home, and if Otabek leans a little more weight on him than normal, well, Yuri is more than happy to carry it.

 

***

 

“Hey Beka?”

Otabek cuddles Yuri a little closer and wraps them more firmly into the burrito he’s made of Babulya’s blanket. He hums instead of answering, chest rumbling under Yuri’s ear. Yuri props himself up on one elbow, fiddling with the collar of Otabek’s shirt.

Otabek buries his fingers in Yuri’s hair and scratches his scalp gently. Yuri would purr if he could. “Yuriyim?” Otabek murmurs drowsily, as if he’d been dozing.

“Huh? Oh, right.” He leans his head away reluctantly. “Can we make a deal?” Otabek opens his eyes, awake now and guarded. “I can be your safe haven. I won’t bring it up again unless you want to. But.” The wary look deepens. “I need you to promise you’ll talk to someone. It doesn’t need to be a shrink or anything,” he rushes, seeing Otabek starting to close off. “Katsuki or Victor, maybe, or...or Yakov even, he’s weirdly good at listening. Just. Someone.”

“Potya?” Otabek jokes weakly, looking uneasy.

“Makkachin is a better listener,” Yuri says, taking the bait. “But don’t tell anyone I said that.” Otabek chuckles; Yuri cups his cheek and runs his thumb over the thin, bruised skin under one eye. “And sure. As long as there’s a human in the room too.” Otabek shuts his eyes tightly and for a moment Yuri thinks he’s going to try to deflect again. Then he lets out a shaky breath and nuzzles into Yuri’s hand.

“Okay,” he whispers.

Chapter Text

The first thing Otabek does is suck it up and make another appointment with Lada (he’s not quite ready to face the whole ‘talk to someone’ thing quite yet). Yuri wants to go with him, but he firmly nixes that idea; he'd prefer if Yuri never found out that he’s been lying about his PT sessions for well over a week now.

“Maybe next time,” he hedges as he sits on the bench in the front foyer and slips his shoes on. He has to beg Lada not to say anything first. Wallahi, this is the last lie. “Lada’s pretty no-nonsense. I don't think she’ll want any distractions. And you know you'd distract me,” he continues quickly when it looks like Yuri is about to argue. He raises his eyebrows and gives him a pointed once over, something that never fails to get Yuri to simultaneously blaze red to the roots and preen smugly.

“Fine,” Yuri says with a heavy sigh. He steps in between Otabek’s knees and clasps his hands loosely around his neck; Otabek settles his hands on his hips. “But only if I can go to your doctor’s appointment.”

Otabek’s stomach drops. “My doctor is back in Almaty,” he says slowly. A doctor’s appointment means leaving St. Petersburg. Means leaving Yuri. Another thing he’s been trying not to think about.

Yuri falters as he seems to come to the same conclusion. He bites his lip uncertainly. “But you do need to see a doctor, right?” He fiddles with the collar of Otabek’s shirt, refusing to look him in the eye.

He does. Assuming Lada does take him on as a patient in the short term, physical therapy will still only do so much; Dr. Vasiliev had been extremely clear about that. The fact that he’s a sanctimonious asshole doesn’t negate the fact that he’s right.

Otabek pulls Yuri’s hand away from his collar with a sigh. If he’s going to attempt this whole acknowledge and confront your problems thing, then he has to face this too. “I should,” he says, as he plays with Yuri’s fingers, then says more firmly, “I do.”

Yuri’s lips crumple for a moment before he straightens his shoulders and nods decisively. “Okay, then. You make an appointment, I’ll figure out flights.”

Otabek frowns. “Yura,” he says. Yuri plows through as if he hadn’t spoken.

“And I’ll have to talk to Yakov and Lilia about setting up a regimen for while we’re there. Victor too, I suppose.”

“Yura.”

“He’s not going to be very happy, but fuck Victor, right? I wonder how hard it would be to book ice time at the Almaty Arena? What am I saying, I’m Yuri Plisetsky. And I’m dating the Hero of Kazakhstan. That second one will probably get me further, though.”

“Yuri!”

Yuri’s lips thin. “What?” he challenges.

Otabek bites his lip and unclasps Yuri’s hands from his neck so he can hold them between his own, hoping to soften the blow. “Yuriyim, you can’t run off to Kazakhstan just because you want to stay with me. You still have a career to think about.” He struggles to keep the bitterness out of his voice; he’s only partly successful. Yuri flinches and yanks his hand away. He scowls fiercely.

“Like hell I can’t,” he snaps. “It’s off season, I can do what I want.”

Otabek holds back a frustrated sound, stomach clenching uncomfortably. He needs to remain calm because Yuri obviously isn’t going to. “Come on, Yura, we need to be realistic about this. I don’t know how long I’ll need to stay, but it will probably be for a while. Longer than the off season.”

“A vacation, then. For the first couple weeks at least. Am I not allowed to have a fucking vacation?” Otabek recognizes the mulish set of Yuri’s shoulders. Otabek presses his lips together as annoyance curls through him. He clenches his hands and looks down at his knees.

“Don’t be childish about this,” he says tightly. Low blow, Altin. He doesn’t take it back.

“Why not?” Yuri sneers, “You’re treating me like one. I can make my own decisions.” He pauses, bravado faltering. “Unless you just don’t want me there.” Otabek sucks in a breath, but doesn’t say anything. “Beka?” Yuri’s voice wavers. The silence stretches like a canyon between them.

“I just...I don’t think it would be a good idea,” he finally says. Yuri recoils as if Otabek had smacked him; he might as well have, the damage is just as bad. Otabek opens his mouth to explain that it’s not that he doesn’t want Yuri there. He’s just scared that he’s going to fall back into the endless hole of depression he’d wallowed in for most of the last year. He doesn’t want Yuri to see him like that, but more importantly, he doesn’t want to risk dragging him down with him. Yuri is already showing cracks from the pressure he’s under. He doesn’t need more.

Otabek tries a different approach. “Come on, you remember how ready we were to murder each other the last time I was recovering from surgery. I don’t want to have to kill my boyfriend.” The joke falls flat.

Yuri worries at his bottom lip; his teeth snag against a dry piece and rip it off, along with the healthy skin underneath. Blood wells up. “Yura!” He stands quickly and reaches for his mouth. Yuri bats his hands away, then dashes blood away as he backs up.

“Wouldn’t want my blood on your hands,” he taunts, voice harsh and rough. “See you...whenever, I guess.” He slams out the front door, leaving Otabek to stare emptily at the space he had occupied just moments before. He closes his eyes, then brings shaking hands up to grind his palms against them until he sees stars behind his eyelids.

“Care to tell me why you are loitering in my foyer?” Otabek jumps and spins around with a yelp. His knee gives out and he just barely manages to regain his feet with the help of Lilia’s surprisingly strong grip.

“M-Madam Baranovskaya,” he stutters, heart pounding. He hadn’t even heard her come up behind him. “What? I, uh.”

Lilia raises one unimpressed eyebrow and lets go of him. She brushes imaginary lint off his shoulders (or maybe real lint, who knows), and straightens his shirt. “You didn’t answer my question,” she said primly, tilting her head to stare down her nose at him. “Why are you standing around in my foyer like a lost little puppy?”

“Sorry,” he manages through a rapidly tightening throat. “I was just, uh.” He gives up on trying to explain and instead says, “I’ll be leaving soon. I’m going back home.” Lilia’s eyes widen; he’s managed to surprise her. He’d feel accomplished, except there’s no room in his chest for it.

“I was under the impression that you would be staying a while.”

Otabek looks down, wishing he hadn’t pulled his hair back in a ponytail so he could hide behind it like Yuri always does. “Uh, yeah. Plans changed, so…”

Lilia looks at him for a long moment; Otabek feels like a bug under a microscope. Whatever she sees doesn’t seem to make her very happy because she lets out an aggrieved sigh and mutters something that sounds like teenagers . “I’m sorry to hear that,” she says. “I’ve quite enjoyed your presence.” Otabek blinks, shocked. “When will you be leaving then?”

Before Yuri got back, with any luck. “I’m not sure,” he says, trying to think through the fog that’s settled over his mind. “Today though, probably.” Maybe it would be better if he just didn’t think at all.

Lilia raises her eyebrows. “So soon? Did something happen?”

Yes. “No. I just need to get back to my doctor, get serious about the whole rehab thing.”

“Hmm.” She crosses her arms and nods. “Very well. Will you be needing a ride?”

Otabek shakes his head emphatically. “No, no that’s okay. Thank you though. For everything.”

Lilia’s features soften. “Of course. You are welcome here anytime.” Otabek’s eyes prickle and he nods; he doesn’t think he could speak even if he wanted to. A hand settles gently on his shoulder. “ Anytime, ” she stresses. “Regardless of what my idiot student says or believes. Understand?”

He nods again. “I understand. Thank you.”

“Good. Now,” she drops her hand again and turns away. “Let me know when you are ready leave. I will drive you to the airport.” Otabek opens his mouth to assure her again that it’s not needed, but she throws him a sharp look over her shoulder. “I will drive you to the airport.” He nods meekly.

“Thank you.”

“In the meantime, I’ll find you a cane to borrow. You’ll need it, walking through those airports.” He watches in awe as she disappears, heels clicking against the marble tile. She truly is a terrifying woman. No wonder Yuri idolizes her. He grimaces as Yuri’s face just before leaving edges in on his thoughts.

He rubs at his eyes again, bone tired. He needs to needs to pack. And to book a flight. And to call Lada and cancel the appointment he'd practically begged for, fuck. The crush of it all makes him want to curl up and cry.

He wants his family. He wants to go home.

Look's like he's going to get exactly what he wants.

 

***

 

Lilia doesn't know when her house became The Home for Lost Souls and Idiot Boys, but she’s committed now. She doesn’t do anything halfway either, so when Yuri skids into the library with a panicked look and asks, “Where’s Beka?” she curbs her sigh and closes her book over one finger so she can give him her full attention.

“The airport,” she tells him, “though I expect he’s likely in the air by now.” Potya, sprawled belly up over her lap, pats Lilia’s free hand with a paw and murrs impatiently; she resumes petting.

Yuri goes pale. “What?” he rasps. Lilia frowns.

“Didn’t he tell you?” she asks, confused. It was obvious they were fighting, but she had assumed it was typical teenage sturm und drang coupled with their mildly concerning codependency. Yuri’s reaction suggests otherwise.

“No,” he says in a hollow voice as he wraps his arms around his waist. He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head as if trying to clear it. Lilia sits forward in alarm as he rakes fingernails along the bend of one elbow.

“Yuri Plisetsky, you stop that right this instant or I will drag you in for a psychological evaluation right now,” she snaps.

Yuri gasps and snaps his arms behind his back, as if that will stop her from seeing the angry red lines down his arm. Or the scab on his bottom lip, or the bruises on his upper arms and myriad other small injuries, for that matter. “Shit. Um.”

“Language,” she admonishes.

“Sorry,” he says in a small voice. He drops his arms to his sides, apparently coming to the conclusion that trying to hide is pointless. “I’m not...I didn’t realize I was doing it.” The way he refuses to meet her eyes suggests otherwise.

Lilia runs her eyes over his body, cataloging every injury that can’t be explained away by training. The number is startling; each of them seem insignificant on their own, but together they paint a rather alarming picture. Her lips thin, disappointment coursing through her. Not at him, but at herself for dismissing the signs. She sets Potya on the floor and her book on the table as she stands. Yuri shrinks in on himself; Lilia’s heart clenches painfully.

“Yurotchka,” she says softly, cupping his face so she can tilt it up. “I apologize, I should have been paying more attention.”

Yuri jerks his head out of her hands and glares. “I’m fine,” he snarls in a voice she rarely hears directed at her. She raises one eyebrow, unimpressed.

“Fine the way Otabek is fine?” she says sharply. Yuri flinches hard and looks down. She sighs deeply and pushes a stray lock of hair behind his ear. “You’ve been under a lot of stress recently. Do you think you’re the first athlete to develop unhealthy coping skills? It doesn’t make you weak.” Yuri’s lips twist unhappily, clearly not believing her. The self recrimination and disgust painted over his face is so familiar it hurts.

Stubborn boy. Very well, then. She backs up a few steps and hikes the hem of her skirt up on one side, ignoring Yuri’s sputters as she unhooks one garter and pulls the stocking down her thigh. His protests die out as he stares at the skin revealed. She looks down as well, unabashed.

Rows of tally mark scars marched neatly across her thigh from the very top to halfway down. The last row has only seven lines. Once she is sure he’s had significant time to take them in, she fixes her garter and drops her skirt back down.

He looks positively horrified, gaze jumping from her leg to her face and back again. She clears her throat; she has long since learned not to let her scars bother her, but it still makes her uncomfortable to show them to others. Yuri’s eyes snap back up to hers. “I never had an unintentional stage. My self harm was deliberate from the start.” Yuri blanches at her bluntness. “I kept track of every wrong move, every mistake, for years.” She pauses to make sure he understands. “There are more on my stomach, but those were to keep track of dieting mistakes.”

“Oh,” he says faintly. Lilia sits back down in her armchair and pats the seat of the other one. He sits down tentatively, back perfectly straight and hands clasped in his lap. “I didn’t know.”

“It’s not something I feel the need to advertise, and I didn’t want to risk giving you ideas. You remind me far too much of myself at times. Though,” she offers him a self deprecating smile, “I’ll admit I was more focused on your eating habits, considering your concerns about your body changing and growing; I suppose that blinded me to the signs of other issues.”

Yuri looks thoughtful. “So that’s why you always pay such close attention to my eating habits.” He huffs out a rueful laugh. “I always figured you just didn’t want me getting fat like Katsudon.” He runs fingers through the loose strands falling out of his ponytail and winces as they catch on a snarl. Lilia tsks.

“Go get your brush,” she tells him.

He nods sheepishly and does as he’s told. He hands her the brush and folds himself into a compact figure at her feet, hugging his knees tight. “You know, I think Beka might actually be worse than you when it comes to my hair.” He’s quiet, subdued in spite of his attempt at levity. Lilia hums as she pulls out his hair tie and finger combs through it to get the worst of the tangles out. He grip on his knees loosens and he slumps back against her legs. She decides not to lecture him on posture.

“That’s because he has eyes,” she tells him as she picks up the brush and starts with the ends. “The way you treat your hair is appalling. Sometimes I think you do it on purpose.”

Yuri is suspiciously quiet. Lilia narrows her eyes, brush stilling. “You do, don’t you.”

He snickers and crosses his legs so Potya can take up residence in his lap. “It feels good,” he defends as he buries his fingers in the cat’s fur. She purrs contentedly. “See? Potya understands.”

Lilia tugs on a lock fondly before starting up again. They sit in comfortable silence as she works the brush through his hair for much longer than she normally would, soothing them both. It’s gotten long, falling halfway down his shoulder blades. She’d like to say he was growing it on purpose, but knows her boy better than that; he hasn’t been to a hairdresser since the last time she’d dragged him there, and that was over a year ago. Warmth spreads through her chest and she shakes her head, privately amused.

Once his hair falls in a silky golden waterfall down his back, she gathers up some strands on one side and weaves them into braids following his hairline, then does the same on the other side. When she speaks, it’s in a quiet voice, so as not to disturb the atmosphere. “I’d like to arrange an appointment for you with a therapist I know. I’ve referred students to her in the past. She’s very experienced with the unique stressors that come with professional sports.”

Yuri’s shoulders tense. Then he takes a deliberate breath and relaxes them. “Is this going to be like the anger management therapist?” he asks tonelessly. She gathers up the braids, along with some strands at his crown and begins a french fishtail braid, weaving the smaller ones in as she goes.

“You’re nearly eighteen, Yurotchka. I can’t force you into therapy. But I hope you’ll consider it.” She ties off the end of the braid. “Besides, it would be rather hypocritical to ask Otabek get help when you won’t do it yourself.”

Yuri twists and glares at her. Lilia stares back; she is not adverse to a bit of light manipulation. He turns away again, patting at his new hairstyle as he grumbles, “Whatever. I guess you can set something up.” She swats his hand away and he yelps indignantly, but it’s more for show.

“Good. I’ll arrange it so it fits into your schedule.” He doesn’t get up right away. She waits patiently for him to bring up whatever it is that’s still bothering him. She has a pretty good idea of what it might be.

He slumps back against her legs again a few moments later, playing with the ends of the braid. “Beka didn’t want me to go to Almaty with him,” he says in a small voice. “I yelled at him, but I didn’t think he’d just…” he trails off with a sniffle, tilting his head back and blinking rapidly in an effort to keep tears from falling. “What if he doesn’t come back? What if he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore?”

Lord above, save me from teenage angst.

“Don’t be dramatic, Yurotchka. You had a fight. About something he was right about, mind you.” He glares at her again, then deflates. She clasps his shoulder warmly. “All couples argue,” she reassures him. “You’ll find your way through and be all the stronger for it. Besides, that boy is so besotted with you it borders on unhealthy, and vice versa. Just call him tomorrow and apologize.”

Yuri nods, sniffing, but he looks a little less like a broken doll and a little more like her beautiful monster. “Okay,” he says, determined. “Okay.”

She pats him firmly on the shoulder and nudges him to get up. “Good. Now, if we’re done here, I’d like to get started with dinner. You will help me.”

Yuri whines. “Lilia, can’t I go take some pictures first, before my hair gets all messed up from cooking?” He gives her what he no doubt believes is an innocent look. “I want to get proof of your masterpiece.”

She folds her arms, unimpressed. “There is nothing about tilapia and couscous that will put your hairstyle in danger.” She turns her back on his crestfallen look. “The light in my bathroom is especially flattering at this time of day, if someone were to take a few pictures while washing up,” she relents. Yuri makes an excited sound and lopes past her, narrowly avoiding clipping the doorway with one gangly arm. Lilia allows herself a small smile.

“Teenagers,” she murmurs to Potya. The cat meows agreeably. “Right. Well, come along then, Potya. Our boy will inevitably drop half the food he touches, and someone will need to clean it up.”

Chapter Text

Otabek spends the flight home numb. Dizzy, light-headed, and spaced out like he’d eaten three of Victor’s brownies. He stays that way until he hobbles, cane in hand, through customs and sees his mother waiting for him. He stops short, and everything in the last twenty four hours crashes down on him like a wave threatening to drown him. She draws him into her arms; he clutches at her as something like a sob breaks through the barriers in his chest, but his eyes stay tight and hot and dry as the Sahara. He’s painfully aware that they are in public, the crowd parting like water around a boulder, but she just hushes him gently.

“Anam.” His voice breaks.

“Oh, künim,” she says, hooking her chin over his shoulder and pulling him in closer. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.” When she squeezes her arms around him tight enough to constrict his lungs, it’s almost enough to make him believe her.

 

***

 

Aylin breaks free from his father’s grip on her shoulders the second Otabek walks in the front door. She bolts for him, shouting “Ağa!” at the top of her four year old lungs. He braces, expecting her to slam into him, but she stops just a foot shy. She smiles up at him, gap toothed,  as she clasps her hands behind her back and rocks back and forth her heels. He smiles helplessly back at her.

“You lost a tooth,” he exclaims with a cheerfulness he almost feels. She bares her teeth and pokes her tongue through the hole.

“Yup! Anam says I’m the youngest out of all of us to lose a tooth, and the tooth fairy gave me 600 tenge!”

He gasps in mock outrage. “Lucky. I only ever got 300 tenge.”

Aylin has already moved on to the next subject in true little kid fashion, eyes focused on the cane in his hand. “Ağa, why do you have a cane like Apa?”

“Ayim,” his mom reprimands, but Otabek shakes his head with a small smile. He sits down at the kitchen table and rests the cane against it. He makes grabby hands at her and lifts her onto his lap so he can hug her close. He buries his nose in her hair and inhales the scent of her baby shampoo; she must have been out running around earlier, because she also smells like sweat and dirt.

“Ağa?” she asks. Otabek blinks and shakes his head to clear it.

“Do you remember when I hurt my knee?” he asks. He’s not entirely sure she does. She’s very young, after all. She nods her head, though, so he continues. “Well, to get better, I need to treat it as carefully as possible, so I don’t hurt it again.” Never mind the fact that he’d been using the cane less than a day, and mostly because he’s scared of Lilia’s disapproval.

Aylin thinks about that for a second, brow furrowed over her dark eyes. Otabek hides a smile; she’s so serious, especially for her age. Yuri had remarked once that she reminded him of Otabek, with her thick eyebrows and solemn expression. I had no idea a three year old could even have a resting bitch face, he’d said, amused, and Otabek had laughed.

Otabek’s heart falters, chest compressing with the memory. He shoves thoughts of Yuri away as Aylin says, “But you didn’t need it before you left.” Otabek huffs out a small sound and drops his forehead to the crown of her head for a moment.

“I did, I just wasn’t using it,” he tells her gently. She looks confused. He combs his fingers through her hair as he says, “Sometimes people don’t do things, even when they know they should, because they’re scared.”

“You’re scared of a cane?” Otabek takes a deep breath, trying to figure out how to explain it in a way that she might understand. It turns out he doesn’t have to. She looks at him, eyes wide. “Because it means you’re hurt for good?”

He snorts. That’s one way to put it. “Yes. Because I was too afraid to admit that I might be hurt for good. But now I know that I definitely won’t get better if I don’t do what my doctor tells me. And my doctor said to use the cane, so I am.”

The somber, thoughtful look on her face stays for a moment longer before she gives a determined nod. She grabs the cane and and shoves it at him until he takes it with a smile. “Then you should do what will make you better. I’ll help, I’ll make sure you do everything they say, okay?”

Otabek laughs in spite of himself. “Okay, Ayim. I won’t let you down.” He holds out a pinkie and she links it with hers with a very serious frown.

“Okay. Will you play superheros with me?” she asks, apparently done with the conversation. Before he can reply, his mom lays a hand on his shoulder.

“In a moment, Ayim. I’d like to speak with Bekam first.” Aylin nods and hops off his lap.

“I’ll get my superheros,” she yells as she runs out of the kitchen. Otabek smiles down at his lap. His mom squeezes his shoulder and he looks up at her.

“It takes a strong man to admit when he needs help, and when he has been too stubborn to accept it,” she says gently. His heart squeezes and he has to blink back sudden tears. She pulls his head against her stomach and pets his hair. “I’m very proud of you. Botam.

He lets out a short laugh and turns his face into her, focusing on breathing slow and deep. She runs her fingers through his hair until he feels a little steadier and is able to pull away. She smiles at him as she draws her hand down to his cheek, then pats it just a little too hard. “Now, get out of my kitchen and go play with your sister. She’s been driving us crazy ever since we told her you would be back.” Otabek nods and stands; she hands him the cane, which he takes ruefully.

“Ağa!” Aylin screams from the living room. “Come on, you can be Dr. X, his legs don’t work either!” Otabek draws a hand over his eyes and laughs until the tears leave his eyes.

 

***

 

Temir announces himself by flopping his big giraffe body over Otabek’s where he’s laying sprawled on the floor coloring with Aylin. “Finally realized you and Yuri aren’t literally joined at the hip, huh?

Otabek grunts as all the air is squeezed out of him. He jabs his elbow back in an attempt to get him off. “For fu…” he glances up at Aylin, who’s staring with big brown eyes, “...for god’s sake, get off me you giant freak!” Temir cackles and wraps his arms around Otabek’s neck before blowing a raspberry against his ear. 

Otabek squawks and wriggles furiously, trying to escape. Aylin, the traitor, just giggles hysterically and makes no move to help. “You’ve spent too long in Russia if you’re using phrases like that,” Temir taunts, “What would Anam say if she heard her good Muslim son talking like that?” He blows another raspberry.

“She’d say it’s just a phrase and has nothing to do with religion,” their mom says behind them. “She’d also tell you to get off your brother before you hurt him.” Temir makes a small sound in his throat and his weight disappears as he scrambles up to his hands and knees. Otabek takes the opportunity and strikes, hooking his good leg over one of Temir’s and yanking his arm out from under him as he flips. Temir topples next to him with a screech; Otabek presses the advantage and pins him with his upper body. He grabs for Temir’s wrists, but his brother’s stupidly long arms manage to get a hold of Otabek’s instead, stretching his arms wide so he has no leverage.

“Get him, Ayim!” Temir yells. Otabek giggles and writhes helplessly as Aylin joins the fray and digs her little fingers into all of his vulnerable parts.

“Children!”

Every parent has a tell that signals when they are done with your shit, and every kid with an ounce of intelligence learns what it is at an early age. Their mother’s is a sharp, quiet bark; it’s not a yell, but might as well be.

The three of them freeze, then rush to separate. “Sorry, Anam,” they say in unison, heads bowed contritely. Their mother pins them with her unimpressed gaze and crossed arms.

“Aylin, your floor is covered in toys. I want them cleaned up before your grandparents get here. Temir, homework.” His siblings scurry off to do as they are told, leaving him the lone soldier under his mother’s unforgiving eyes. He tries to look as innocent as he can, even though he knows from experience that it only works on his dad. “As for you, Otabek,” she levels a chastising look on him. He hunches in on himself with a wince. “You know better. You’re supposed to be a good example for your younger siblings.”

“Sorry, Anam,” he says again in a small voice. “I’m okay, though, promise.” She rolls her eyes at him, muttering in exasperation.

“Go put your things in your room, it’s all made up for you.” Otabek frowns as he stands and brushes himself off.

“I thought...I mean, my apartment,” he starts, confused.

His mom gives him a hint of a smile and drops her arms. “We thought it might be nice if you stayed here for a bit,” she said. “You don’t have to, of course.”

For just a moment, he’s angry that they apparently don’t trust him to stay alone in his apartment. Then he stops to actually think about it and realizes they have every right to be concerned. He hadn’t exactly been the picture of perfect mental health when he’d left for Russia. Besides, when he thinks about his dark, empty apartment, the bottom drops out of his stomach. “Yeah, okay,” he relents. Tension he hadn’t even realized his mom was holding drops out of her shoulders and her smile widens as she nods.

“If you want to get a shower, now’s the time to do it.” He does need a shower. He also wants a nap, but he doesn’t think that’s going to happen. He grabs his bags from the corner of the living room, where he’d dropped them after being waylaid by Aylin. He could probably get away with fifteen minutes or so, just enough to let his eyes rest.

Otabek stops dead, carry-on bag halfway to his shoulder. He turns to his mom. “Did you say that Apa and Ata are coming over?” She nods, her smile turning just a little bit smug.

Anam,” he whines.

“Hush,” she tells him, without sympathy. “You’ve been gone for over a month, your grandmother is going through withdrawals. Be glad your uncle and his brood are on vacation.”

Otabek groans and resigns himself to a night of being guilt tripped about spending so much time away from home and dodging questions about that nice blonde boy of yours.

His room looks the same as it had the last time he’d stayed at home, decorated in blues and greens and browns. He can’t help but smile at the collage of newspaper and internet articles about Yuri that his fourteen-year-old self had plastered to the wall over his desk. He’d completely forgotten to take it down the first time Yuri had come to visit, and the other boy had refused to let him take it down. His stomach warms with echoes of the awkward mix of embarrassment and pleasure he’d felt at seeing Yuri’s delight as he pored over each carefully collected article. His smile dims and the feeling disappears when he remembers how they’d left things. They need to talk, but he’s too tired to deal with it right now.

He heaves his suitcase onto his bed and distracts himself with unpacking.

Chapter Text

Yuri tosses and turns for two hours before he gives up the ghost and shoves his covers aside with a frustrated sigh. He brings his hands up to run through his hair, but stops short when his fingers encounter the silk turban Lilia had wrapped his head in to protect his elaborate hairstyle. She will flat out kill him if he manages to ruin it less than twelve hours later.

He pulls Potya into his lap instead. She gives a disgruntled meow but settles quickly into a purr when he rakes his fingers through her fur in a slow, steady rhythm completely at odds with his racing thoughts. He has no clue what he’s going to say when he calls Otabek tomorrow. A small, petty part of him doesn’t even want to call, still angry that Otabek just left, no call, no text, not even a note to let him know that hey, he’s leaving immediately so goodbye, good luck, and sayonara.

The anger is nothing compared to the hurt that comes from knowing that Otabek doesn’t want him around. And sure, his last visit to Almaty hadn’t been perfect, but they’d been doing pretty good here. And yes, he had a good point that Yuri needed to focus on his career, but so had Yuri when he’d said it was the off season and he could afford to take a small break, especially if he booked ice time at the Almaty Arena.

They’re going to fight. It’s practically an inevitability, and that knowledge makes his stomach twist and turn until he feels like throwing up, his skin itching until he wants to scratch it off.

Yuri makes a frustrated sound and scritches Potya’s ears instead. He needs to get his mind off of this, because the more he thinks about it, the worse the urge gets. He moves Potya off his lap and reaches under the bed for Babulya’s blanket.

He gets a quarter of the way through a row but the emotions roiling inside him haven’t subsided. By the time he’s halfway through, his throat is tight and his eyes are prickling. He tosses down his hook with a strangled, frustrated sound. Potya pounces on it and Yuri laughs weakly. He watches her play for a few minutes, occasionally joining in.

He has ice time scheduled with Victor at seven, but the rink technically opens at six and as far as he knows, he’s the first one scheduled. He checks his phone; it’s just past four now, which means he’s got at least another hour and a half of waiting. Except…

He knows for a fact that Katsuki knows the pass code for the back door; he’d used it one time to let them in when the owner was running late. Yuri has no idea how he’d managed to charm it out of the crotchety old man when everyone else who tried was shut down cold, but he’s fairly certain black magic was involved.

He could text Katsuki, but he really didn’t want to risk the wrath of a rudely awakened Katsudon. He gets bitchy, even by Yuri’s standards. Besides, there is no way the older man will let him skate alone, the hypocrite.

He had watched intently as Katsuki typed it in that one time, though, and had taken note of the pattern even though he hadn’t seen the numbers. There is a possibility he can remember it and maybe recreate it.

Maybes and possibilities are enough for Yuri. He gets dressed quickly and grabs his gear bag while ordering an Uber.

Surprisingly, it only takes Yuri three tries to get the combo right, which is good because he isn’t sure if it’s connected to an alarm system. Getting caught trying to break in is the last thing he needs. As it is, he’ll need to duck out before the owner arrives so he can pretend he’d just gotten there early. Still, it’s worth the trouble if it will distract him, even for a few hours, from the phone call looming in his near future.

His plans are foiled by the presence of someone already on the half-lit ice. Katsuki is gliding in slow, deliberate figures across the ice. Even in the low light, Yuri can see the furrow between his brows and the sharp downward turn of his mouth.

Yuri hesitates by the entrance to the ice, biting his lip. Everyone knows Katsuki goes to the rink or the dance studio when he’s anxious or needs to think. Hell, that’s where Yuri got the idea from in the first place. It just figures they would both need distracting at the same time.

Frustration rises in Yuri’s throat; there’s no way he’ll be able to practice jumps now. But as he watches Katsuki switch seamlessly between a figure eight and a serpentine figure, then trace out a three turn that ends in a camel spin, something in Yuri settles. He steps out onto the ice as Katsuki transitions gracefully into a sit spin. He stops a few meters away until the other man pulls out of the spin, then clears his throat loudly.

Katsuki startles and nearly faceplants; Yuri snickers while he regains his balance. Katsuki glares. “How did you get in here?” he snaps.

Yuri raises an eyebrow; that was a lot sharper than he’d been expecting. He stutters, then recovers and crosses his arms. “You left the back door open,” he lies.

Katsuki frowns. “Did I?” he asks, not sounding very convinced. “And you just happened to be around to take advantage of it?” Yuri shrugs innocently and clasps his hand behind his back as he etches a circle around the man. “Yura,” he warns, spinning to keep Yuri in his sight.

“So why are you here?” Yuri deflects. “You and Victor get in a lover’s quarrel?” He widens his circle, turns it into a figure eight of his own. It’s been forever since he’d done compulsory figures of his own volition. He finds it oddly comforting.

“Did you and Otabek?” Katsuki counters harshly.

Yuri scratches to a halt. “Fuck you,” he says, voice low to hide how it trembles. In rage, of course. Katsuki winces and runs a weary hand over his face.

“I’m sorry. That was…” he trails off, shaking his head. “I’m going to guess that’s a yes, though?”

Yuri doesn’t want to talk about it. “Just leave me alone,” he says over his shoulder as he skates away. There’s plenty of room for both of them on the ice, there’s absolutely no reason they need to interact.

He half expects Katsuki to follow him, push him to open up, but to his surprise the other man turns away and goes back to skating. It leaves Yuri off kilter. Whatever is bothering Katsuki must be more serious than Yuri had thought, but whatever. It’s none of his business.

He lasts all of fifteen minutes before the strange atmosphere gets to him and he skates back over. He quietly mirrors Katsuki’s moves, keeping a few meters between them. Katsuki raises an eyebrow but says nothing, simply exaggerates and telegraphs his movements a little to make it easier for Yuri to follow along. He doesn’t really need it, has studied Katsuki’s skating to an almost embarrassing degree and can easily anticipate what he’s going to do next. The gesture is nice though.

They skate in tandem for who knows how long; wide, lazy loops and figures, twizzles back and forth, Ina Bauers into spread eagles, singles and doubles thrown in seemingly at random. It’s easy, mindless, and exactly what Yuri needs, if not what he’d planned when coming here. After a while, Katsuki holds out a hand and Yuri takes it; they’d screwed around with pair skating before, mostly right after Team Diabetes had gone and done their stupid pair expo and nearly overshadowed Yuri’s own amazing expo. Yuri insisted on learning so he could teach Otabek; he refused to be outdone.

Besides, making Victor jealous was a perk both he and Katsuki had enjoyed immensely.

Hand in hand, they stroke in unison, gaining speed.  “Camel spin into layback and sit spin?” Katsuki asks.

Catchfoot layback and sit spin. Into a full layback lift?” Yuri ups the ante.

Katsuki rolls his eyes. “You can do a full layback if you want, but I’m only doing a half lift. I am not lifting you over my head at five in the morning, not while I’m, uh…” Katsuki stutters for a moment. “Not without a healthy dose of caffeine in my veins first.” Yuri narrows his eyes. He’s pretty sure that’s not what Katsuki was originally going to say.

“Chicken,” Yuri taunts instead of asking, but nods to show his agreement to the combo. Katsuki doesn’t deign to respond, just sets them up. They spin in a circle, then tug on clasped hands to pull each other close. Yuri moves into a camel spin, catching Katsuki’s leg as he does the same while facing the opposite direction. He counts three rotations before he arches back into the catchfoot layback as Katsuki swings his free leg forward and goes into a sit spin. I should have stretched more, Yuri thinks as he feels muscles pull taut, but it’s too late now. He crouches down to Katsuki’s level, the other man’s hold on his low back keeping him balanced in a position he wouldn’t be able to achieve without Katsuki’s weight as a counterbalance. It’s a little wobbly and probably too slow to get in the full number of rotations they would have needed in competition, but still not too bad, considering it’d been months since they’d last skated together like this.

“Still sure about the lift?” Katsuki asks, voice a little strained from the effort, but there’s a hint of challenge in there too. Yuri would glare at him if he could, but he’s currently bent in half and Katsuki wouldn’t be able to see it anyways.

“As long as you are, old man.”

Yuri feels Katsuki’s amused snort more than hears it and finds himself grinning as he drops his skate and they transition out into a normal spin to gain a little more speed. Then Katsuki’s hands are on his waist and he’s kicking off the ice as the other man lifts him up.

It’s a strange sort of weightlessness, spinning in the air but still tethered to the ice by the hands holding him. There’s the same giddy, heart-in-throat adrenaline as being mid quad, but it’s mixed in with the competing feeling of security in Katsuki’s grip, and the terrifying knowledge that his body and movements are not entirely under his own control. There are very few people he trusts to keep him safe, and the fact that Yuuri motherfuckin’ Katsuki is one of them is honestly kind of mind boggling if he thinks about it too hard.

He realizes, mid-air, that he’s never going to be able to do this with the one person he really wants to. His form falters and his vision goes blurry and distorted; Katsuki immediately pulls out of his spin and lowers Yuri back to the ice. They spin once or twice more before slowing to a gentle stop. Katsuki’s hands are still on his waist, holding him steady while Yuri stares down at the ice. “Yura?” he asks. The concern in his voice is the last straw. Yuri blinks, and the tears he’d been trying to hold back overflow and escape down his cheeks. He wipes them off furiously and sniffs hard.

“Beka left.” His voice breaks; Yuri wants to shoot something. He clears his throat and levels his best glare. “I do not want to talk about it, and if you try to make me, I’ll roast you like the piggy you are.”

Katsuki looks torn between amusement and worry, but unlike Victor, he knows when to back off. He shakes his head as he digs his toepick in and turns in place absently, cutting a small circle into the ice. His lips turn down unhappily and he pushes off, gliding backwards. Yuri frowns and follows slowly. He desperately wants to ask what’s wrong, but it would be beyond hypocritical. They skate quietly for a while longer until Katsuki skids to a halt with a spray of ice. He scrubs his hands through his hair roughly, before holding it back from his forehead and puffing out his cheeks in frustration.

“Come on, we’re getting blini,” he says abruptly and skates away before Yuri can reply.

“What? Katsudon.” Yuri takes off after him. “Victor’s gonna be here in, like, fifteen minutes to start practice!” The owner had appeared at some point while they were skating and started opening the place up without bothering them because apparently as long as you were with Yuri “Everyone Loves Me” Katsuki, a little B&E was no big deal.

Katsuki tromps through the rink into the locker room and rips off his skates. “You’ve already done your warmup, you can take a short break for breakfast before you start your session. Victor can go sit on a skate if he has a problem with it.”

“...Okay.” Never let it be said that Yuri is stupid; he knows when not to argue. Besides, blini sound delicious right about now.

Chapter Text

Yuri and Katsuki end up being the only ones sitting in Teremok, which makes sense since it’s more of a fast food blini place than a restaurant. Yuri chooses the krasnoy ikroy blini so he can at least pretend he’s following his diet. Red caviar is protein, right? So it’s practically healthy. Katsuki just sets his jaw mulishly and orders both the chocomok dark chocolate blini and the cherry varenye. They eat quietly, watching the steady stream of people stopping in for a quick breakfast before work. It takes Yuri every ounce of self control he has not to comment as Katsuki practically inhales his food.

“Eating our emotions, are we?” Okay, it takes more self control than he has, apparently. At least he tried.

Katsuki flushes dark red, but he just glares and deliberately takes a huge bite without breaking eye contact. He has chocolate all over his mouth. “Shut up,” he mumbles through a full mouth. “I’ve got...munchies, okay?”

Yuri stares, fork frozen halfway to his mouth. “I’m sorry, what?”

Katsuki frowns, wipes his mouth carefully, and enunciates as if Yuri understanding him was the problem. “I said I have the munchies. Apparently Victor likes to leave pot brownies just lying around. I ate one last night without realizing.”

Yuri can’t help it; he snorts, then covers his mouth with his hands to hide his giggles. “Oh my god, you…” he has to stop because Katsuki’s disgruntled face is fucking hilarious.

“Shut. Up,” Katsuki grits out. “It’s not funny!”

Yuri clears his throat and attempts to stifle his laughter. “To be fair, you probably shouldn’t have been eating brownies in the first place.” He stills as something occurs to him. “Wait, you pair skated with me while high? You lifted me while high? What the hell, Katsuki?”

Katsuki is profoundly unamused. “I'm sober now. And you are completely missing the point.” He leans forward to hiss, “Victor is using marijuana!” Yuri frowns and pushes the rest of his krasnoy ikroy away. Katsuki grabs his plate and starts in on it without even asking. Yuri wants to protest, but he’ll forgive him just this once. He and Beka had practically demolished Lilia’s fridge the night they’d gotten high together. Binging on health food is supremely unsatisfying.

“What’s the big deal?” he asks, completely disregarding his own shocked reaction after witnessing Beka smoking for the first time. “He uses it for pain. I mean, he practically shattered his hip, and it’s better than Vicodin, right?”

“Of course it’s better than Vicodin! That’s not the point!”

Yuri leans back in his seat, eyes raised in surprise at Katsuki’s vehemence. “Then...what is the point? I mean, you trained in America. You went to college in America. Aren’t they all potheads over there?”

Katsuki’s look could freeze fire. “The point,” he says slowly, “is that he kept it from me. And because of that, I ended up drugged against my will.”

Oh. Oh . “Oh.”

Katsuki shakes his head, upset and frustrated. “He wouldn’t even apologize for not telling me. He tried to excuse it by saying he didn’t think I’d understand. That he didn’t want to deal with me judging him.” Katsuki sounds absolutely disgusted. Yuri winces; had the idiot actually phrased it like that? Way to be a complete douchebag, Victor. “As if I would care that he’s using it. It’s not like Phichit was friends with a grower and sold for him when he needed extra cash, or anything. I don’t care about that. What I care about is that he doesn’t trust me.” His voice breaks and he hunches in on himself. “He thinks I wouldn’t support him. That I...I don’t know. Can’t handle it, I guess. Too naive.”

Okay, where is this coming from? If Victor actually said that, Yuri would kill him with his bare hands. But more likely, Katsuki’s inner demons are coming out to play. Yuri’s going to have to tread gently here.

“I don’t think anyone thinks that you’re naive,” he says carefully. It’s not entirely true; Katsuki has a certain air of innocence about him that makes it hard to remember sometimes that he’s a grown man with plenty of experience with the real world. Katsuki flicks his eyes up momentarily before focusing on the plate in front of him. He pushes bits of of leftover caviar around with his fork. Yuri spins his own in front of him. “I think, maybe, Vitya was scared? That you would think less of him, if you knew.”

Yuri’s just bullshitting, to be honest, but it makes sense with what Yuri knows about Victor. The man can’t stand to show any kind of weakness, to let anyone know that he’s anything less than perfect, even now. Yuri had always thought Katsuki had managed to wriggle his way inside that blank, china doll exterior, but maybe he was wrong. The idea that the Perfect Couple’s perfect relationship might just be one more shiny facade rattles him to the core.

His entire blueprint for healthy relationships is based on them. Well, them and his grandparents, but still.

“Why would I think less of him?” Katsuki asks plaintively. He shakes his head. “And anyways, that still means he doesn’t trust me.” Yuri has no idea what to say to that. It’s not like it isn’t true. Katsuki looks up suddenly, eyes narrowed. “Why aren’t you surprised by all this?”

Shit. Yuri slumps down in his seat a little. “Uh. Beka uses it too, sometimes,” he hedges. “For his knee, you know?” Katsuki’s eyes narrow even further.

“And where does Beka get it?” he asks coolly. Double shit. Yuri slumps a little further and wonders if he slipped under the table, if he could somehow manage to sneak out of the restaurant.

“I...don’t know?” Maybe the bathroom. There might be a window there he can escape through. He slides his chair back and clutches his stomach. “You know, I think the caviar is getting to my stom-”

“Sit. Down.” Yuri sits. “He got it from Victor, didn’t he?” Yuri watches a man in a business suit and tennis shoes deliberate over the menu board. “Yuri. ” Damn it, he does not want to be in the middle of this. He shrugs noncommittally. “And you didn’t bother to mention it either?”

“Beka said not to,” he says in a small voice.

Katsuki curses in Japanese and shoves back from the table with a screech of chair on tile, white faced and furious. “Great. Just fucking great.” He storms out. Yuri curses, snatches Katuski’s phone off the table where he’d forgotten it, and dashes after him.

“Yuuri!” he calls after the other man. Katsuki whirls around and stalks back towards him.

“What about you?” he snarls. “Did he give some to you too? For pain?”

Okay, the sarcasm is uncalled for. Yuri straightens his back and crosses his arms defiantly. “I thought you said you didn’t care?” he mocks. Katsuki flushes; his eyes flick sideways. Yuri suddenly becomes painfully aware of their audience. Most people are giving them a wide berth, pointedly looking away, but there’s a girl around his age not far away, and she has her phone out and pointed towards them. Fucking fantastic. That’s exactly what they need, a potential drug scandal. He glares at her; he’s going to snatch the stupid thing out of her hand and stomp on it.

Katsuki grabs him by the arm and reels him in. “You do that, and the story will be all over social media, with or without the video,” he murmurs. The girl has realized she’s been made; she takes a step back with wide eyes. “Let me handle this.”

Katsuki slings a brotherly arm around his shoulders and waves at her with a disingenuous smile. “Ohayōgozaimasu!” he calls out as he drags Yuri towards her. “Dobroye utro, good morning!” She looks around herself, like she’s not sure he’s talking to her. Or like she’s looking for an escape route.

“Add another language in there, why don’t you?” Yuri mutters out the side of his mouth. Katsuki’s smile is sweet as sugar but his eyes betray him. He is pissed. Yuri shuts up and pastes on a smile of his own.

Do...dobroye utro,” she stutters, clutching her phone protectively to her chest. Her case sports a cartoon poodle wearing ice skates; one of Katsuki’s fans then. Great, that means Yuri will only have to do the minimal amount of playing nice. “Um, I didn’t...I wasn’t going to…” She’s completely and utterly flustered. Yuri can’t blame her; Katsuki’s smile is dazzling. Someone’s been taking lessons from Victor on proper fan interaction. She covers her scarlet face with her hands. “I’m so sorry. I’m just such a huge fan!”

“It’s okay,” Katsuki says in halting, heavily accented Russian. Yuri narrows his eyes at him. His Russian hasn’t been that bad since the night a few weeks after moving to St. Petersburg when he’d drunkenly, but fluently, admitted to learning the language as a kid so he could someday talk to Victor. Yuri had left early that night, traumatized by Victor’s response.

Katsuki’s eyes widen. “Kawaii !” he exclaims, dropping his arm from Yuri’s shoulders and pointing excitedly at the girl’s phone. “Your phone case, I like. Where is it, I want!” The girl blinks down at her phone, then up at Katsuki.

“I...oh.” She starts to pull the case off her phone with shaking fingers. “Here.” Katsuki shakes his head and stills her hands. She gives a faint eep.

“Oh, no, no, that’s not…I’m sorry, I meant…” He looks imploringly at Yuri, head tilted like Makkachin. Yuri rolls his eyes and crosses his arms, but plays along.

“He means that he wants to know where you got the case from so he can get one,” He begrudgingly translates Katsuki’s appalling Russian, “Not that he wants to jack your shit.” The girl colors even further as she glances at Yuri, embarrassed. Katsuki pinches his side surreptitiously; Yuri jumps and stifles a yelp. He rubs at his side resentfully as Katsuki scratches the back of his head with a rueful smile.

“Yes, I’m sorry. My Russian is...not so good yet.” The girl practically jumps to reassure him, and Yuri spends the next few minutes watching Katsuki use his bashful demeanor and adorable smile, along with an endearing mix of broken Russian and random Japanese terms, to charm the hell out of the girl. He can’t help but be impressed. Also, a little disturbed; the guy is an A+ conman. Is this how he gets everyone to love him?

In the end, she’s practically falling all over herself to delete the video, especially after Katsuki takes several selfies with her and promises to follow her on Instagram.

“I’m sorry you saw fight. My Vitya, he has a Makkachin doll he hugs when he hurts. He don’t want me to know about it, but I don’t know why.” Katsuki continues to elaborate for no good damn reason while she navigates her photo and video app. “Then I find out Yuri-kun knows about it and does not say anything either. So I feel bad, you know?” The girl throws Yuri a dirty look, fingers pausing on her phone.

“I would too,” she tells Katsuki with a sympathetic nod. Yuri huffs out an exasperated sigh.

“Really, Katsuki?” he snaps. “I don’t think this is any of her business.”

“I think maybe what I said before sounds bad,” Katsuki replies sharply. “Because I don’t speak well. So I want her to understand.”

Oh. Well, at least Yuri finally knows the reason behind the travesty that is Katsuki’s butchered Russian. He still doesn’t think telling her all this is necessary. Keep It Simple, Stupid, Yuri thinks viciously.

Katsuki apparently never learned the K.I.S.S. method of lying, because he turns back to the girl and continues. “See, Vitya gave Yuri-kun his Makkachin doll. I did not know Yuri-kun was hurt, either.” He looks Yuri up and down; his unimpressed glare is not faked at all. “He does not look in pain, no?”

“He looks perfectly fine to me,” she agrees.

Yuri clenches his jaw. “Okay, first of all, Victor gave it to my friend, not me. I only played with it once, and that was for fun. Sorry, not sorry. It’s just a stupid toy. Not to mention, Victor doesn’t even know I know about it. It’s not my fault you decided to storm out and throw a temper tantrum in public before I could say anything. And second of all, screw the both of you with your assumptions and moral judgements. Just because someone looks like they’re fine doesn’t mean that they are. You of all people should know that.” He looks at Katsuki, who at least as the good grace to look ashamed. “I might not be in physical pain right now, but I am really fucking upset because I had a fight with my best friend yesterday and he decided to fuck off back home before we could talk our problems through like adults.”

Katsuki winces at the pointed jab. The girl coughs uncomfortably and Yuri curses inwardly. He’d forgotten about her in his upset. He slumps and rubs at his eyes wearily. It is far too early for this much shit to hit the fan. “All I wanted to do today was just...skate until it was late enough to call him and apologize. Or whatever.” The girl’s look softens, and Katsuki looks kind of like he’d just kicked a puppy. Yuri would do a mental fist pump if he could find the energy; Katsuki’s not the only one who knows how to gain sympathy points. “And yet, here I am, practically begging some stranger to delete a stupid video of you throwing a shit fit because you somehow missed that Vitya’s still working on becoming a real boy.”

Okay, so maybe he should spend a little more time perfecting his technique. He backpedals quickly. “I just mean that Victor was trying to do the right thing, but sometimes it gets lost in translation and he ends up making everything worse. He’s kind of a dumbass when it comes to normal people things because in his little world, his actions make perfect sense. You’re gonna have to explain it to him, be his Jiminy Cricket or some shit. Otherwise he’s never going to understand why you’re upset.”

Katsuki drops his eyes to the ground, looking pensive. “Oookay,” the girl says slowly, looking between them. She’s not dumb; it’s pretty obvious they aren’t talking about some stupid stuffed animal. “Well, the video’s gone, and I promise not to say anything about...all this, sooo…”

Katsuki gives her a fragile looking smile that doesn’t seemed feigned. “Thank you,” he says, dropping the terrible accent. “We’d appreciate that.”

She smiles back encouragingly at him. “Um, for what it’s worth, I’m sure you guys will get through this. You’re practically perfect for each other, so don’t give up!” She looks at Yuri, slightly less encouraging. “I hope you and your friend,” Ugh, he can practically hear the quotation marks, “figure it out too.” She smirks and flicks her stupid, mousy brown hair over her shoulder. “At least I hope so. You seem like you’re probably a lot less bitchy when Otabek’s around.” She practically skips away from them.

Yuri stares after her, indignant. “Excuse me ? Who the hell are you calling bitchy, you little-” He’s stopped from chasing her down by Katsuki’s hand on his shoulder.

“Easy there, Tiger,” Katsuki says. Yuri grumbles, but subsides, sticking his hands sullenly in the pockets of his jacket. His hand encounters something hard.

“Oh, hey, you left this on the table like a dumbass.” He hands Katsuki back his phone; the screen is lit up with tons of notifications. He has a feeling his probably is too. Victor has exactly zero chill, and he’s probably convinced they’ve been kidnapped or run away together. Katsuki glances at it and sighs heavily as he covers his eyes with his hand. He slides it down his face tiredly.

“I guess we should go back,” he says. He couldn’t sound less enthused if he tried. Yuri understands on a molecular level.

“Yup.” They stare at each other.

“Wanna get more blini?” Katsuki tries. “I’ll pay, as an apology for yelling at you?” Yuri blows out an exasperated breath.

“Fuck no. Jesus, Piggy are you trying to put yourself into a sugar coma?” Katsuki hunches his shoulders and gives him a dirty look.

“If it meant I wouldn’t have to talk to Victor,” he mutters just barely loud enough to hear. Yuri rolls his eyes and sets his hands on Katsuki’s shoulders so he can turn him around and march him back in the direction of the rink. Katsuki slaps his hands away but keeps walking anyway.

“I don’t know how the hell I ever thought you were the responsible adult in your relationship,” Yuri tells him as he falls in step. Katsuki looks at him.

“I am the responsible adult in my relationship,” he says, forlorn. “Last week, I caught Victor trying to throw out the heating blanket because he didn’t know how to wash it.”

Yuri shudders. “That. Is terrifying.”

“Right? Who just throws a blanket away?” Katsuki gesticulates wildly. Yuri shakes his head.

“No, I mean, who washes an electric blanket? Do you want  to get electrocuted?”

The look of utter disgust and despair on Katsuki’s face is, without a doubt, the high point of his day.

Chapter Text

Over lunch, Otabek casually mentions that he’s thinking about subletting his apartment for a while. “The stairs, you know?” He plays with his cup of tea, spinning it around and around in his hands so he doesn’t have to look up. “Amina didn’t like me living there anyway.” He looks up.

His mom smiles and pats his hand. “There’s plenty of room in the storage unit, if you need.” Otabek blinks, surprised, and nods wordlessly.

“Yeah, that would be good,” he says, throat tight. When Temir gets home from school, he just shrugs and offers to help him move things over from his apartment. Otabek accepts the offer gratefully.

As he slowly makes his way up his apartment building’s staircase with his cane, he shakes his head a little at just how deeply in denial he’d been. He can see it now in hindsight, how he’d spent close to a year struggling up and down these steps simply because he was too stubborn to admit that maybe he should be looking for a ground floor apartment. In the months before flying to Russia, he’d rarely left the apartment unless it was to go to doctor appointments or see Amina. He’d ignored the increasingly worried looks and comments from his family too; he's amazed not one of them had snapped. He would have.

“I'm sorry,” he tells Temir when he comes back in to grab a box of books Otabek had just taped shut. Temir cocks his head and furrows his brow. “For everything over the last year. I know I was pretty…” he’s not sure how to finish that sentence.

He watches comprehension dawn on Temir’s face before it shutters and goes blank. He closes his eyes and takes a slow breath before opening them and fixing an intense stare on Otabek. “Fucked up?” he suggests. Otabek frowns at the coarse language, but Temir isn't done. “Selfish? Self absorbed? Pathetic? I love you, but yeah, you were.”

Otabek winces. “Ouch,” he says weakly.

A muscle in Temir’s jaw twitches. His hands are clenched at his side. So much for no one in the family snapping. Temir takes another deep breath and relaxes his shoulders. “Look, I know I can't say I know what you were going through. I don't. I hope I never will. But I'm not going to sit here and pretend like everything was fine. Do you have any idea how much you hurt anam and äke by pulling away? How much you hurt the rest of us?” Temir grows more agitated by the minute. “No, you don't, because you were too wrapped up in your own stupid self pity and suffering, which you caused, by the way. You think we didn't know you weren't following Dr. Omarov or Amina’s instructions? We aren't idiots, any of us.”

“I know you aren't,” Otabek says in a raspy voice, feeling about two inches tall. Temir makes a sharp cutting motion with his hand.

“No. You don't get to talk, I'm not done yet.” Otabek nods mutely. Temir blows out a sharp breath and wraps his arms tightly around himself.

“Did you know that Nurasyl and Rayana put off their engagement because of how stressful things were? Aylin cried all the time because she couldn't understand why her ağa never wanted to see her anymore. Äke and anam were fighting all the time. They didn't want us to know, but I could hear it through the walls at night. Äke wanted to confront you, but anam kept saying that you needed to work through it before you could accept help.” Temir takes a shuddering breath, eyes too bright. “I nearly failed my physics class.” Otabek feels like he’s been punched straight in the solar plexus. “I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't think. ” He rubs harshly at his eyes with one fist. “But you didn't know any of this, because you weren't there .”

Otabek can't breathe. Or maybe he’s breathing too much, he's not sure. But his heart is racing a hundred miles an hour and cold sweat is breaking out on his face, his underarms, down his back and behind his knees.

Don't fucking do this, he thinks angrily at himself, at his body. Don't you dare go and have a panic attack just because someone’s finally telling you the truth. Don't pile this on him too.

His body doesn't listen; instead it trembles like it's trying to break apart and his lungs are useless, he's useless. This isn’t fair!

Distantly, he’s aware of Temir, hears the sudden change in his voice from anger to worry, then panic. “Beka? Beka, what's wrong?”

“I'm sorry,” he gasps out with air he doesn't have. “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I -” he can't choke out any more. He doesn't even know which transgression he's apologizing for, anyways, the panic attack, or ruining his family. Being a terrible brother, definitely.

“Beks, what’s happening?” Temir is at his side, eyes wide and scared. Otabek is such an asshole; his stomach bottoms out under the weight of his self loathing.

He has to swallow several times to unstick his tongue from the Sahara his mouth has become. “I. Panic attack. I need…” he doesn't know what he needs. Or rather, he does; he needs to be okay, but he has no idea how to get there, and the fact that he doesn't know is making everything worse. “Phone,” he barks out, because he knows someone who will know. Temir scrambles to get it from the nightstand where it was plugged in, softly playing music through Bluetooth speakers.

“Here,” Temir says, shoving it at Otabek’s chest. Otabek shakes his head. His hands are trembling too much to navigate the screen. He presses a fist against his sternum in a feeble attempt to keep his heart inside.

“Call Yuri,” he says, pushing the phone back towards Temir. He draws his knees to his chest to have something to grip onto. Pain flares in his leg, but oddly enough it seems to help, grounds him in something that isn’t the spiraling madness of his mind. He drops his head to his knees and focuses on breathing, on counting.

“He’s not answering,” Temir says hesitantly.

“Victor,” Otabek shoots back, raising his head. He's almost able to fake a smile as he adds, “It's under Tweedle Dum.”

Temir snorts in spite of himself. They watch the phone ring, watch as it goes to voicemail. Otabek’s breathing ratchets up again.

“What about…” Temir starts hesitantly, swallows, then continues. “What about, uh, Japanese Yuuri?”

You mean the one who deals with anxiety and panic attacks all the time and taught Yuri and Victor what to do ? he thinks, wanting to punch himself in the face for being so stupid. He nods.

“I'm guessing he’s Tweedle Dee?” Temir asks, but is already making the call.

Yuuri, thank everything holy, picks up. “Otabek?” he answers, confused.

Temir hits speakerphone and holds the phone between them and looks up at Otabek. He shakes his head, unable to make his vocal cords obey. Temir nods and speaks instead.

“Hey, uh, this is actually Otabek’s brother. Temir.” He adds his name like an afterthought.

There’s a pause over the line, then, “Hi Temir. What’s going on?” Yuuri clearly is working hard to project an image of calm, competent adult; he's good at it, something Otabek is grateful for as he watches Temir’s shoulders drop minutely.

“Um. Sorry to bother you.” Otabek tries to smile. Their parents had tried to emphasize politeness in every aspect. Out of all of them, Temir had internalized it the most. “I tried to call Yuri and Victor but they didn't pick up.”

“They're at the rink,” Yuuri says, which makes sense. “Is everything okay?”

“Not really?” Temir flicks his eyes up at Otabek and frowns. “Beka’s kinda...having a panic attack? I don’t know what to do.” Otabek can’t stand how vulnerable his brother sounds. He did that, all because he can’t keep his shit together.

Another short pause, in which the sounds of movement echoes hollowly over the speakers. “Okay. That’s okay, Temir. Otabek?” He startles at his name. “Is it okay if I Facetime you?”

Otabek swallows, wets his lips, and rasps out, “Yeah.” He drops his head back down to his knees. Soon enough, the tones of a Facetime call fill the room.

“Otabek?” He raises his head just enough so his eyes peek over his knees. Temir folds his legs awkwardly so he’s sitting cross-legged and holds the phone up so he can see Yuuri’s face taking up most of the screen. He’s smiling, brown eyes calm and kind, if slightly pixelated.  Something settles in him just a bit, even if his symptoms don’t abate. “Hello.” Even his voice is calm; it’s unnatural.

“H...hey.”

Yuuri takes a deep breath and Otabek unconsciously finds himself emulating it. “You’re gonna be okay, alright?” Otabek nods minutely. “Good. Let’s start with some breathing exercises…”

It feels like it takes a hundred centuries, but his body eventually calms down, leaving him exhausted and limp. Yuuri hangs up after assuring him that he can call any time he needs or wants. He also promises to send some links for managing anxiety and an app for him to download. It’s overwhelming, but also kind of comforting.

Otabek lets his legs straighten with a wince and leans back against his bed. He lets his head drop back and stares at the ceiling blankly as the silence turns awkward.

“I’m sorry,” Temir finally says. Otabek raises his head. Temir is staring down at his lap, fiddling with the hem of his jeans.

“Why?” Otabek asks, baffled. Temir looks up with a frown.

“Uh, because I made you…” He gestures expansively at Otabek.

Otabek sits up straight, then leans forward and grabs Temir’s wrist. “Ini, that was not your fault.” It’s suddenly the most important thing in the world that his little brother understands this. He doesn’t seem convinced, eyes focused on his wrist so he doesn’t have to look up. Otabek changes tactics and punches him on the arm instead.

Temir looks up, incredulous. “Ow! Beka, what the hell ?” He rubs angrily at his arm, scowling. Otabek grins and raises an eyebrow. Temir smacks him in the chest with the back of his hand. “Asshole.”

“Language, ini,” Otabek taunts. “What would anam and äke say if they heard their precious little boy spewing such filth?” Temir rolls his eyes.

“Please, äke has the filthiest mouth ever, and I’ve heard anam drop the f-bomb way more often than she would admit.” Otabek has to concede him that. Their dad would give Yuri a run for his money.

Levity somewhat restored, Otabek leans back again. “Seriously though. It’s not your fault, or mine.” That last part is really hard to get out and he’s not entirely sure he believes it, no matter how many people have told him or how much research Yuri had read out for him. “It’s a... a physiological reaction. Sometimes it’s triggered by whatever’s going on at the time, but sometimes it just...happens. For no good reason.” Temir opens his mouth, but Otabek talks over him. “And no, it’s not the situation itself, it’s what’s going on up here.” He taps his temple and smiles wryly. “I’ve got a few wires crossed. But I’m going to start working on it.”

Look at him, admitting he has a problem. What progress.

Temir looks at him with narrowed eyes, that big genius brain of his no doubt going a hundred miles an hour. “Literally and figuratively,” he finally says. Otabek stares at him blankly. “Because of the head trauma?” Temir clarifies. Otabek raises a hand to the C-shaped scar that curves from his temple and hooks behind his ear. Temir frowns. “Beka, emotional volatility is one of the hallmarks of traumatic brain injuries. You know that, right?”

Otabek doesn’t like it when words like brain and injury are used in the same sentence, especially when that sentence involves him. He drops the hand still tracing the ridges of scar tissue and makes himself roll his eyes. “I know we can’t all be as smart as you, but that doesn’t mean I’m brain damaged,” he snaps.

Temir’s face shifts into classic Altin stubborn mule. They’re probably mirror images right now. “No, the brain damage means you’re brain damaged,” he snaps back, then immediately looks contrite. “I just meant…”

“I know what you meant,” Otabek says. He’s too emotionally wrung out for this. “It was just a concussion, Ini. A bad one, yeah, and I know I’ve been kind of weird, and my eyesight is…” he gestures at the glasses he’s wearing. “But it was still just a concussion. And not even the first one I’ve had. You’re blowing this out of proportion.”

Temir drops his head in his hand and mutters something about American football players, but when he looks back up at Otabek, it’s with an awful gentleness he still remembers from when his dad took him aside at five years old and explained why his friend Askar wouldn’t be coming over to play. “Beka, they don’t do craniotomies for concussions. Your brain was bleeding.”

Otabek closes his eyes. He knows that. He’s seen his records, seen the words trauma induced subdural hematoma , right there next to grade 3 concussion and grade 3 ACL avulsion . He just…

Doesn’t want to know that. Much less acknowledge it.

“Have I really been that bad?” he asks softly. “I mean, I know I’m not very good at dealing with things, but I didn’t think I was acting that differently.”

Temir is quiet. “I did a lot of research,” he finally says, and Otabek can’t hold back his snort because of course his nerdy little brother would throw himself headfirst into what Otabek was trying to escape. “Shut up,” Temir grumbles good naturedly. “You aren’t that bad, not really. Not when you could have…” Temir shakes his head hard. They all know what he ‘could have’. “And you’re way better than you were. But you should probably go back to see the neurologist, you know? Get their opinion or whatever.”

“Yeah, probably,” Otabek  says, subdued. Temir moves so that they are sitting side by side, shoulders leaning against each other. “Do you really think the panic attacks could be from the -” he gestures at his head. “Not because I’m an emotional basket case?”

“You’ve always been a basket case, Beka,” Temir teases. Otabek bumps his shoulder hard in retaliation. “And you need some serious therapy. But how many panic attacks have you had since the accident? And how many did you have before it?” Otabek’s silence is telling. “Exactly. You’re the one who said it was a physiological reaction. Are you really that surprised that at least part of it might have a physiological source ?”

Otabek stays quiet, mulling it over in his head. He’s going to need to see if he can find the contact information for the neurologist he’d seen after the accident. He wonders if Temir will want to come with him.

“Earth to Beka, do you copy?” Temir waves a hand in front of his face and Otabek snaps out of his thoughts. He huffs out a wry laugh and scratches the back of his head.

“Yeah, sorry.” He leans a little harder against Temir’s side. “You’re a really smart kid, you know that?

Temir flushes, pleased, even as he says, “I know,” in a smug voice. Otabek rolls his eyes, but lets him have the win.

Otabek takes a deep, fortifying breath and takes stock of his body. He feels weighed down, limbs heavy with exhaustion like after a particularly brutal practice. His mind is dull and empty, carved out and suspended next to him just out of reach. Dissociation, his mind whispers. Probably not a good thing, but he doubts he would have made it through that conversation without another panic attack otherwise.

In spite of that, his hands won’t stop trembling and his chest hitches every few breaths like his diaphragm is punching his lungs. He looks at the debris of his former life scattered around him, boxes neatly labelled and half packed.

Temir sees him looking around helplessly. “Let’s keep packing,” he suggests. “I know you get weird about disorganization.”

“Yuri’s room makes me want to cry,” Otabek admits with a shaky laugh. Temir throws his head back and laughs.

“Why does that not surprise me?” Temir stands and dusts himself off, then grabs an armful of clothes out of the closet and lobs them at Otabek. Otabek just barely brings his arms up in time to fend off a face full of fabric. He gives Temir a dirty look but takes it for the distraction it’s meant to be.

Otabek focuses on his hands, on the precise folds of his his shirts. He sorts them according to color before putting them in boxes. Temir doesn’t comment on his unusual levels of fastidiousness. Concentrating on the minute details distracts and calms him. Temir just hands him more things to pack when he runs out, then goes back to his own piles. The quiet is only interrupted by Temir’s occasional inquiry as to which category something should  go in: storage or home.

Later, when they are busy wrapping plates with packing paper at the kitchen table, Otabek finally feels steady enough to pick up their previous conversation.

“I’m sorry,” he says to the plate he’s wrapping. Temir cocks his head inquisitively. “For not being there. For being so caught up in my own issues that I couldn’t recognize how much it was affecting everyone.” He’s got a lot of apologies in his future, ones he didn’t even know he had to make until now.

Temir’s eyes widen in surprise for a moment before he slumps with a sigh. He looks far more weary than any fifteen year old should. “It’s okay,” he says. “Well, no, it’s not, but I know you were dealing with a lot and again, head trauma. I just...I was angry. And scared. I just wanted my ağa back, but nothing any of us did seemed to help. And then you go off to Russia and Yuri, and you come back, and you aren’t really better again, but you’re getting there, and I just don’t understand why we couldn’t do that for you, but he could. Why we couldn’t help.” Temir’s voice wavers dangerously for the first time in this emotional shit show. He picks at a piece of packing paper, tearing off small bits while furiously blinking away tears.

Otabek’s heart clenches in his chest. He pulls Temir in roughly and hugs him tight. It’s awkward because they’re sitting side by side in chairs, but Temir clings to him regardless, shuddering. “You did, I promise, you helped more than you know. I think I would have given up completely without you guys. I’m so sorry I never told you that.”

Temir snorts wetly and pulls back, face ruddy as he wipes at his eyes. “Yeah, well, like anam always says: use your words, Beka.”

Otabek laughs, and the somber mood is broken for good this time. “I will, promise. And for what it’s worth, it wasn’t just Yuri. It took a lot more than him to finally get my head out of my own ass.”

Temir raises his eyebrows and smirks impishly. “Huh, and here I was starting to think that his ass must be magic.”

Heat floods Otabek’s face. “That’s not, I mean. We’re not...we haven’t…” He gives up as Temir cackles and falls off his chair, clutching his stomach.“Oh, shut up, brat. Can we please finish packing this stuff? I want to get out of here.”

Still chuckling, Temir sits back in his chair and reaches for a glass “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I still don’t see why Nurasyl doesn’t have to help. It’s not fair.”

“Because he’s a boring adult and has a day job,” he says, going back to the plates. Temir makes a face. “Yeah, I know. But don’t worry, we’re gonna make him do the heavy lifting when we move everything to the storage facility.”

“Deal.” They shake on it.

 

***

 

It isn’t too hard to decide what’s going to come with him and what’s going into storage. There’s only one thing, in fact, that has him biting his lip as he wavers back and forth.

“Well?” Nurasyl asks, sweaty and annoyed from lugging boxes out to the truck. “We don’t have all day. Where’s it going, Beks?”

He closes his eyes for a second. “With me,” he says hesitantly, then more firmly, “With me.”

“Fine, great, decision made.” Otabek watches, stomach roiling with unnamed emotions, as Nurasyl picks up the mixing console and disappears out the door. “Come on, Beks, get a move on,” he yells from somewhere down the corridor. “I’m starving and anam said she was making apa’s laghman tonight.”

Otabek takes a deep, steadying breath and looks around the empty apartment one last time. Then he leaves, locking the door behind him. “Alright already! Calm your tits!

Nurasyl squawks indignantly. Otabek grins.

Chapter Text

Yuri takes a fortifying breath, then Facetimes Otabek. He bites his nails as he waits for the call to connect. He’s just about given up and resigned himself to having to call again later when the call connects.

“Yura!” The cheerful visage of Otabek’s dad fills the screen. “How are you?”

Yuri will never get used to the complete lack of privacy or regard for personal belongings that Otabek’s family has. Otabek too, for that matter; sometimes he goes on autopilot and forgets that normal people don’t operate like that. Yuri’s adjustment period had been...intense.

Yuri dredges up a smile. “Hi Mr. Altin,” he says with a little wave. “I’m…” a mess “doing well. Um, qalıñız qalay ?” His Kazakh pronunciation is terrible, but he’s trying.

Otabek’s dad visibly suppresses a smile. “ Jaqsı. I am fine. How many times do I have to tell you that you don’t need to call me Mr. Altin,” Otabek’s dad tsks. He points a finger at Yuri. “You are family now.”

“Sorry, Umid,” he corrects himself awkwardly. It’s still feels strange to call an adult other than Lilia Victor by their first name. It fills him with a weird pleasure all the same.

“I assume you called for Beka,” Umid says. He smiles impishly. “Unless you’d prefer to chat with an old man.”

Yuri knows he’s being teased, but he’s still not sure how to answer without offending. “I, um…”

Umid laughs and shakes his head. “Relax, I will get Beka for you.”

Yuri grins sheepishly. Someday he will learn how to interact with Otabek’s family without turning into an awkward idiot, but today is not that day. “Thank you.”

Umid knocks on Otabek’s door, then opens it without waiting for an answer. “ Botam, Yuri is on the phone for you.” Umid looks back at the phone. “It was nice speaking with you again, Yuri. Don’t be a stranger.” He says something in Kazakh as he hands the phone over. Otabek rolls his eyes as he takes it.

“Äke,” he chides, but he sounds amused. Umid laughs and the door clicks closed again.

“What did he say?” Yuri asks as soon as Otabek looks at the phone. One corner of Otabek’s mouth quirks up.

“He told me to tell you to brush your hair once in a while. And that you need a trim.”

Yuri flushes, combing one hand self consciously through his hair and immediately hits a snarl. He scowls. “Obsessed, all of you,” he grumbles. Otabek chuckles, rubbing at one eye as he shakes his head.

“So…” he trails off, unsure, and Yuri is suddenly reminded of the reason for this call.

“I’m sorry,” they both blurt at the same time. Yuri laughs awkwardly.

“You don’t have to-,” he starts, while Otabek says,

“No, I-”

Otabek puts a hand over his mouth, eyes glinting with amusement. It’s a good look; Yuri misses it. “You don’t have to apologize,” he tells Otabek. “I overreacted, just like I always do, and I’m sorry.” His eyes narrow. “You could have told me you decided to leave immediately, though.”

“I thought you wanted me to,” Otabek says, brutally frank. Yuri stares at him, mouth slack.

“You - why would I want you to leave?” he asks, mystified. Otabek blinks rapidly.

“Because you told me you’d see me whenever,” he says. His brow furrows. “I thought that meant...” he drops his head and rubs at his forehead ruefully. “But I guess that doesn’t really make much sense, does it.”

Yuri grits his teeth. How are they so bad at communication? “No, it doesn’t. Beka, how could you think I would just kick you out?”

Otabek looks small, suddenly. It hurts. “I don’t. I don’t know. Things get,” he sighs, obviously frustrated with himself. “Sometimes I think I don’t... think right anymore.”

Yuri swallows hard. It’s the first time Otabek has so much as mentioned the head injury, much less that it might still be affecting him, so of course Yuri has no clue what to say to him. He bites his thumbnail and winces when it gets a little too close to the quick. Otabek speaks again before he can figure out something that won’t sound like a cheap platitude.

“So yeah, I should apologize. For not trusting you. And for leaving like that. I ran away, just like I always do.” The self recrimination makes Yuri want to simultaneously punch him and hug him until he stops being so hard on himself. But at the same time, he’s not wrong about the running away thing. Yuri thinks hard, trying to figure out the diplomatic way to say so.

What would Katsuki say? He brings his thumb back up to his mouth, then drops it again. He slips off his bed and onto the floor, then opens his legs into a split. The burn along the insides of his thighs helps him focus, and it’s better than gnawing a finger off. Otabek cocks his head and gives him a weird look, but doesn’t comment.

Yuri leans forward until he can rest his chin on his hands against the floor, deepening the stretch. “Okay look, I have something to say, so I’m just going to apologize in advance because I know I’m going to screw this up, and I want you to know that I -” love you “don’t mean to hurt you or make you feel bad, okay?”

Otabek snorts. “Yura, I’m aware that you aren’t very good at pulling your punches. I like that about you, even if it’s not much fun to be on the receiving end. If you don’t mind, I’m going to set the phone down and close my eyes before you start swinging, though.”

“Okay,” Yuri says quietly, feeling both pleased and supremely guilty. Otabek shifts around and then Yuri is treated to a view of the ceiling.

“Alright, have at.”

Yuri decides to just go for it. “You’re right, you run away. A lot. And it’s not good, for you or us. And I’m not saying I’m blameless, here. I was hurt and you were right, I was behaving like a kid.” Wow, that was hard to admit. “But...Beka, you can’t just run away every time we fight. It doesn’t help anything, and it’s not fair. Especially when you do it without saying anything.”

“I know,” Otabek’s disembodied voice is quiet and entirely without inflection.

Yuri swallows back a frustrated sound. “That includes running away mentally and emotionally, Otabek.” Silence stretches too long and Yuri is sure that he’s lost him. He drops his head and grinds his forehead against the floorboards

“I know, okay?” Otabek’s voice, when it comes, is anything but empty. “I know it’s not good, or right, or healthy. But I don’t...” Otabek’s swallow is audible, even through the phone. “I don’t know how to stop. Everything is just...too much. So I shut down or run away, because if I don’t, I overload and it’s the worst... fucking …” Otabek’s breathing is speeding up. “You have no idea what it’s like, okay? I hate it, and I don’t know what to do or how to deal with it, and you promised me you wouldn’t make me talk about things.”

Shit, shit, shit. “I’m sorry, you’re right.” He knew he was going to fuck this up. Something Katsuki said earlier comes back to him suddenly. Yuri sits up. “Beka, we can stay on the phone and talk about something else, or nothing at all, if that will help. But if you need to hang up, that’s okay. Whatever you need.”

“I don’t want to run away,” Otabek says in a small, winded voice.

"It’s not running away if you come back once you’ve calmed down.” There’s moment of quiet, then the screen goes black. Yuri lets out a shaky breath and pulls his legs back in, wincing as his hips protest after staying in the position for too long. He draws his knees up and rests his forearms on them, settling in to wait. He really hopes this was the right thing to do.

Exactly twenty-three minutes later, when Yuri is on his tenth cycle of push up-sit-up-plank-burpee, his phone lights up with Otabek’s picture. Yuri collapses out of his plank position and reaches for it with aching arms. “Hey,” he says, taking deep, steady breaths so he doesn’t pant in Otabek’s ear.

“Hey,” Otabek replies, subdued.

“Feel any better?”

“A little, yeah.” Otabek laughs, mirthless. “I’m getting really tired of panic attacks, though.”

Yuri swallows hard, stomach dropping. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s, hanging up helped. You helped.”

Yuri rolls onto his back and decides not to mention that he wouldn’t have had to hang up if Yuri could have learned to keep his mouth shut for once. “It was something Katsuki said. That sometimes it’s good to take a break from an argument and decompress.”

They don’t speak for a little while, but it’s not awkward or uncomfortable.

“Temir thinks some of it has to do with the concussion,” Otabek says eventually. Yuri’s eyes widen and he sits up.  “I guess he did a lot of research after the accident? He assumed I already knew that was part of the problem, but ironically, one of the symptoms is not recognizing the changes. I’ve, um, I’ve got an appointment with a neurologist. Soon.”

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Yuri says quickly.

“No, it’s. I’m okay right now. It’s...there’s a lot of information, because it’s Temir and he’s a geek like that. I told him I don’t really want to know unless I need to, because it’s kind of overwhelming, you know? But Temir reminding me about it helped calm me down, so I thought maybe you should know too. Since it’s probably going to happen again.” He’s talking too fast and Yuri rarely hears him say so much at once, but he sounds surprisingly okay, considering half an hour ago he’d been on the brink of a panic attack. A little detached, maybe. Clinical, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Yuri has questions. A lot of them, in fact, but there’s no way he’s asking Otabek about it. “Would it be okay if I talked to him?” he asks hesitantly. “Temir, I mean.” Otabek is silent for a moment and Yuri panics. “Never mind, it’s not a big deal.”

Otabek laughs a little. “No, it’s okay, I was just shaking my head. Temir’s probably already emailed you ten thousand links; he stole all your contact info out of my phone before I called you.”

Of course. Yuri prepares himself for a future full of listening to Temir nerdsplain the ins and outs of brain injuries. “Oh, okay, that works.” Quiet falls once more.

“It’s not that I don’t want you here,” Otabek starts. Yuri sighs and collapses back to the floor.

“I know. Believe it or not, I’m capable of reasonable thought. Eventually. Once I’ve cooled down. Sometimes.” Otabek laughs and Yuri smiles. “Shut up. I also have a good memory,” he continues. “I know we were at each other’s throats last time. I just. I worry a little bit about what that says about the future of our relationship.”

“My mom holes up in their bedroom anytime she gets sick,” Otabek tells him. Yuri blinks.

“Okay, Captain Non Sequitur. Good to know?”

The eye roll is palpable. “Okay, Captain Impatience, mind letting me finish?”

Yuri tugs a hank of hair out of the messy ponytail he’d put it in while exercising and drapes it over his mouth to hide his grin, even if Otabek can’t see it. “I suppose I’ll allow it,” he says archly.

“Of course, how magnanimous of you.”

“I know, right?”

“As I was saying, my mom holes up whenever she gets sick. She just wants to be left alone, you know? But my dad’s the exact opposite. When he gets sick, he craves human comfort and loves it when people do nice things and help him out.”

“Why do I feel like what you’re actually saying is that he’s a big baby?” Yuri asks, amused.

“Because I’m saying that he’s a big baby. Stop interrupting. They used to drive each other crazy because they treated each other like they wanted to be treated. Mom felt smothered, Dad felt abandoned.”

“I feel like I know where this is going, and I resent the implication that I’m a baby by proxy, Altin.”

“Yura, the last time you got sick, you called me and demanded I bring you borscht and the soft tissues because your nose was about to fall off.”

“So?” Yuri asks, affronted. “You would too if you were stuck with the cheap ass sandpaper Lilia buys.”

“It was midnight, and I was in Almaty at the time.”

Yuri is quiet for a moment. “Fine. But you can’t just hole up, Beka. This isn’t a cold. And if you hadn’t noticed, it didn’t work out so well for you last time.”

“I’m not saying that,” Otabek says. He sounds annoyed. “You’re paying attention to the wrong part. One of my parents getting sick doesn’t automatically mean World War III anymore because they compromised. When it’s mom, dad checks in with her but doesn’t try to do everything for her. When it’s dad, mom asks him what he needs and he tries to keep the requests to a minimum.” He pauses. “Well, to her. The rest of us, on the other hand…”

Yuri wraps the length of hair he’d been playing with around his finger. “So what you’re saying is that if I wait for you to tell me what you need, you’ll get me borscht and tissues when I need them?”

“What I’m saying is that I will do my best not to shut you out, and you will refrain from asking me to do things that make no sense or are a bad idea.”

Yuri huffs, but it’s mostly for show. “Fine, but I reserve the right to wake the Idiot Couple up to demand supplies.”

“Yuriyim, you are welcome to call me and I will pester them for you. I’m just not going get them myself.”

Yuri hears the sound of an opening door, then rapidfire Kazakh. He catches the word for dinner, something that was either older brother or grandmother, and that same word Umid had called Otabek before: Botam. Otabek gives a long suffering sigh. “I have to go. Talk later?”

Yuri smiles. “Yeah. One more thing, though?” Otabek makes a questioning noise. “What does Botam mean?”

“I will go to my grave before answering that,” Otabek says flatly. “Good night, Yura.”

Yuri snorts. “Good night, Beka.”

As soon as he hangs up, he pulls up Temir’s contact info.

 

 ***

 

18:24 Me: information I must have. A) everything you have about concussions and B) what Botam means

18:24 Beka’s Baby Bro: A) already in your mailbox and B) baby camel

18:24 Beka’s Baby Bro: I’ll let you guess why we call him that

18:25 Me: (cry laughing emoji) you are my favorite

18:25 Me: don’t tell the others

18:25 Beka’s Baby Bro: only if you never tell him I’m the one who told you

18:25 Me: deal

Chapter Text

Otabek spends the majority of his time in Almaty with his family. He plays the hapless victim for Aylin to heroically rescue. He pretends to help Temir with his homework and Temir pretends he needs it. He goes to lunch with Nurasyl and Rayana and spends hours on their floor with a pillow under his knee, pinning and cutting patterns while Rayana creates amazing, one of a kind clothing for the small shop she runs. She pays him with a new lining for his leather jacket, sky blue with Kazakhstan’s sun and steppe eagle lovingly embroidered by hand in gold thread. She also presents him with a delightfully tacky tank top comprised entirely out of animal prints that have been cut into cat shapes and stitched together. Otabek groans, but takes it with an exasperated grin. Yuri loves it, because of course he does.

When he’s not with his siblings, he sits at the kitchen table and lets his dad explain whatever technical guide he’s currently writing to check that it makes sense. He tags along to his band practices, listens to his dad rock out with half an ear awhile idly tuning the band leader’s guitar collection. Eventually the clang and clatter of his father’s endless energy threatens to overwhelm him, so he retreats to his mother’s study. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don’t, but her presence is a soothing balm to his tattered nerves.

He lets his aunts and uncles tease and dote and use him shamelessly as a free babysitting service, helps his grandmother with the household chores that have become difficult for her arthritic hands, and trades tips with his grandfather on getting around with a cane.

He does not see his friends, though he talks to them occasionally. Their awkward avoidance of anything to do with his injuries or the way he ghosted them is too much to handle most days. He does suck it up and go back to Amina. He endures her disappointment and angry lectures and threats to drop him the first time he’s so much as five minutes late for an appointment. He apologizes and promises to do better, and then does.

He sleeps a lot, breathes through his panic and schedules his doctor appointments, and talks to Yuri every day.

He settles into a life committed to Recovery. Most days, he’s even okay with it.

***

 

Otabek pre-games with a frankly nauseating amount of painkillers and switches to his glasses before sprawling out on his floor in front of his laptop. He plugs in the small mixing console that had been his parents’ sixteenth birthday present and places his tablet close by for note taking. Then he takes a deep breath as he opens up his mixing software.

He’s thought long and hard about what project he wants to work on as his first foray back into mixing tracks, but in the end it’s an easy choice. A friend of his had contacted him just before that cursed Worlds with a request to remix a final project from one of her classes at the Kazakh National Academy of Music. She wanted it a little less orchestral and much more club worthy. Madina was a legitimate musical genius, able to play nearly a dozen instruments, but when it came to music and mixing software, she could care less about learning the ins and outs.

“Because that’s your job,” she always laughs when he asks. “I give you the pieces, you put the puzzle together.”

Otabek likes puzzles; he likes to take things apart and he likes putting them back together even more. Something about taking a bunch of small bits discordant parts and fitting them together into one cohesive whole settles his mind and body. His love infiltrates his whole life: music, skating programs, electronics, mechanics. People.

Yuri is his favorite puzzle, one he hopes he never solves.

Right now, the puzzle before him is Madina’s music. He’d done much of the prep work before his accident, tearing her composition apart and reducing it to individual elements to be named, color coded, and sorted to make them easier to reassemble. He has a system, highly organized and so familiar he could navigate it blindfolded. Good thing, considering he might have to do just that.

He knows that he’d had some sort of plan for where he wanted to go with it, but either time or brain damage has taken that from him, so the first thing he does is plug his headphones in, roll onto his back, and listen to the original file. It’s fun, full of campy melodies, violins and fiddles, organs and accordions, vocal rhythms that make his fingers twitch in time. It reminds him of Halloween in America and Canada, of carnival fun houses and dancing skeletons. It makes him smile.

He listens again, and again, and half a dozen times more. He teases out individual threads and rearranges them in his head, mentally adding and subtracting new sound components and beats. His hands dance in the air over him, adjusting imaginary levels. He is stupidly, pathetically grateful he can still do this, in his mind if nothing else. Whether he can do it physically remains to be seen. With a sigh, he rolls back onto his stomach and wakes up the laptop display.

By closing his eyes as much as possible, he manages to make it nearly an hour before he can’t ignore the pounding in his head or nausea roiling in his stomach and creeping up his throat. He drops his head down between his shoulders and takes slow, deep breaths through his nose, swallows down sick anxiety. He’s nearly done sifting through his library of sound files and adding the ones he wants to the project. If he can make it through that, he can focus on the mixing console instead of the screen, which should help. Switching back and forth between the computer screen and tablet strains and burns his eyes, making things worse, so he shuts down the tablet. Notes aren’t essential.

Just a little longer, he tells himself. Come on, Altin, you can make it through ten more minutes. He takes a few more minutes to breathe and settle his stomach before looking back up. He doesn’t bother closing his eyes this time; everything takes twice as long and his eyes have to refocus every time he opens them again anyways, which kind of defeats the point.

He gets through the ten minutes and to the last file, but by that time his headache is blinding, his vision is doubling and blurring no matter how many times he blinks, and he legitimately thinks he might throw up. He shoves his laptop away and buries his head in his arms, bile and frustration taking up the spaces where air should flow. This isn’t going to work; it used to take him an average of five hours to finish up a project. Remixing something this simple should take less than that. But it also used to take him less than twenty minutes to choose his sound samples, not an hour. There was a point where he’d known what each sound file was by name and color alone, could pick and choose what he wanted without having to listen to each one. Now, he second guessed even the ones he used all the time, memories hazy and indistinct.

Damn it. Damn it! His lips twist and his eyes well up; for once, he stops trying to hold them back. He’s heard somewhere that crying is meant to be cathartic, but all it does is stuff up his nose and make his head and stomach worse. Ironically, that just makes him cry harder until it’s all he can do to keep his gasping breaths quiet enough to hopefully keep anyone from hearing and witnessing how pathetic he’s become. At least it's not a panic attack, he thinks dully, which brings about another round of tears because fuck his life.

In the end, it doesn’t matter, because in this house, knocking is optional and waiting for permission to enter is a foreign concept.

“Beka, your ata and apa are bringing lunch over, what do you want from…” Otabek cuts himself off mid-sob, holds his breath and hopes to Allah that for once in his life his father will leave things be. “Bekam?”

Wishful thinking. He’d have better luck hoping for the sun not to rise.

Otabek grits his teeth. He wants to scream at him to get out, just leave him alone. Instead he focuses all he has on trying not to sound like he’d been crying for who knows how long as he says, “I’m fine, Äke.” He fails. Miserably.

His dad sighs heavily and a moment later sits down next to him. “ Kunim, I know I can be pretty oblivious, but I’m not that bad.” A hand cups the back of his head gently, thumb brushing against the thick scar. Otabek can’t help it; he jerks away from the touch violently. It makes his stomach rebel and his eyes throb. His dad pulls his hand back quickly, apologizing, and that makes his chest hitch painfully. Good job, Otabek, way to make him feel guilty. He shifts a little closer and leans his head against his knee in apology.

His dad rests his hand tentatively between Otabek’s shoulder blades and when he doesn’t pull away again, starts to rub small circles over his back. It simultaneously soothes him and puts tears back in his eyes. He holds his breath against the rising pressure. “Breathe, kunim, it’ll be okay.” Otabek squeezes his eyes shut as tight as he can and presses his temple harder against his dad’s knee. No, it won’t , he thinks miserably. This time he can’t contain the sound that tears its way out of his chest.

Everything from the last year crests and crashes over him; he chokes on ugly sobs while his father shushes him gently and rubs his back, rests his head against Otabek’s and croons quiet lullabies. At some point, the door opens again and his dad raises his head briefly. Some sort of silent communication must happen, because a moment later the door shuts again and his dad’s forehead presses cool against his temple as the singing returns. “Alla aytay, jonim bolam, quloq solgin, alla. Shirin allam tinglab, asta uxlab qolgin, alla…

Let me tell you a lullaby my little boy, listen

Listen to the sweet lullaby, fall asleep slowly

Otabek laughs wetly. “The last time you sang this to me, I was seven and complained that I was too old for lullabies,” he says hoarsely.

“And I’ll tell you the same thing I did back then: you are never too old for lullabies.”

He sniffs and opens his eyes; they’re sore and puffy, and between that and the clogged nose, he feels absolutely disgusting. His glasses are all wet and smeary and his head is stuffed full of cotton and landmines. The rest of him is empty, carved out. Clean. Maybe there was something to the whole catharsis thing after all.

He realizes with a sort of dull sort of surprise that this is the first time he’s cried since the accident. The first time he’s actually let himself feel . No wonder he’s having panic attacks. There’s only so much you can pack down inside before your stitches burst and your stuffing spills out for everyone to see.

He thinks of Otabear, perfectly filled and softly comforting.

Otabek rolls onto his back with a wince and stares at the ceiling. Apparently his whole body has decided to get in on the fun. He flexes his knee carefully, trying to work some of the stiffness out.

His dad pats his shoulder. “Want to talk about it?”

Otabek shakes his head. “I can’t…”  Do any of the things I love anymore. Talk about it. Handle a pep talk right now. Think. All of the above. He’s still too raw, split wide and seeping blood, dreams, and sorrow; he’s not ready for his father’s clumsy attempts to stitch him back up. “I can’t.”

His dad cards his fingers through Otabek’s hair and shrugs. “Okay,” he says easily, and Otabek loves him endlessly for it. He loves his anam too, but it’s hard for her not to psychoanalyze her family like she does her patients.

Otabek sniffs again; it sounds disgusting and only increases the pressure in his head. His dad makes a face and digs a handkerchief out of his back pocket. Otabek makes his own face. There is no way he’s touching his dad’s snot rag. He pushes himself off the floor and sits on the bed so he can grab the box of tissues on his nightstand. When he looks up after blowing his nose, his dad is smirking and looking pointedly at the box of tissues and bottle of lotion next to it. Otabek goes bright red. “Shut up,” he says, mortified.

His dad tips his head back and laughs, loud and boisterous. It’s infectious and makes Otabek smile, but it also makes his headache worse. He rests his elbows on his knees and rubs his temples. His father’s laugh peters out and turns into a sigh. He joins Otabek on the bed, resting his back against the headboard and setting the pillow on his crossed legs. He gestures to it. “Lay down, Bekam.” Otabek doesn’t hesitate to comply. His dad gives the best scalp massages, courtesy of years in his family’s barber shop in Namangan before falling in love with the woman who ‘stole him away’, as his father’s family likes to grumble.

He gives a happy sigh as his dad plucks Otabek’s glasses off and then works his fingers into his hair. He’s being very careful not to touch the scar. “It’s okay,” Otabek tells him quietly without opening his eyes. “It’s not like it still hurts or anything.”

“I wasn’t sure,” his dad admits as he moves his hand further to the side obligingly. It feels amazing against the skin pulled taut around the scar. “We’d noticed you were growing your hair out before you left. We thought maybe you were trying to protect it. Or hide it, maybe.”

Otabek frowns. Hair hadn’t even entered the equation, too much trouble even though he’d been doing it himself for years, thanks to his dad’s insistence that all his children be able to cut and style their own hair. He hadn’t cared until just before going to Russia, when he realized just how messy it looked. And then Yuri had mentioned that he liked it longer…

Growing it out completely might help camouflage the scar. He hates the looks he sometimes gets, especially from acquaintances; eyes that flicker to it and then quickly away as if he won’t notice the morbid curiosity or worse, pity in their eyes.

Something in him rebels at the thought of losing yet another part of himself. He likes his hairstyle, damn it. There’s a reason he’s kept it more or less the same for years; not even J.J. showing up with the same cut like a complete tool had made him consider changing it.

His dad sighs. Thumbs run across his forehead, smoothing out the wrinkles between his brows and soothing the tension there before moving on to his temples. “You really are just like your mother. You and Inzhu both get so lost in your head, it’s a wonder you ever find your way out.”

“Anam once told me that you’re the ball of thread that guides her back.”

His dad snorts. “Did she?” He sounds amused. Otabek opens his eyes just a bit; his dad is shaking his head, smiling fondly. “Well, she does love her Greek mythology.” Otabek hums an agreement. “And you, kunim ? Have you found your ball of thread yet?” The way he says it makes Otabek open his eyes more fully and give him a wary look. They haven’t talked about this; both his parents are very religious, but of the two, his father has always been the more traditional one. He’d never had to worry about his mother’s reaction to his sexuality; the sex talk he got from her was far more clinical than the one he got from his dad, and far more progressive.

His dad taps him lightly on the forehead. “Stop undoing all my good work,” he chides. Otabek closes his eyes and tries to make himself relax, but it’s impossible. His dad grumbles for a moment in Uzbek, mostly indecipherable to Otabek’s rusty ears. He recognizes the term idiot child, though, having heard it many times over the years. He tugs on Otabek’s ear sharply before going back to his scalp massage with renewed vigor. “I told you, I know I can be oblivious sometimes, but not as much as you all seem to think. It’s kind of insulting, to be honest.”

“Äke,” he starts, voice catching roughly in his throat. “I…”

He tugs Otabek’s ear again. “Hush, Bekam. Some things don’t need to be spoken aloud.” Otabek snaps his mouth shut, throat tight and chest aching. He closes his eyes again and nods. It’s not the worst response, all things considered. Better than many of the scenarios he’d dreamed up upon realizing he needed to add men to the list of things he found attractive. He takes a few deep breaths and forces his shoulders to relax.

His father’s fingers eventually gentle and slow until he’s more or less just absently petting Otabek’s hair.  His headache is still very much present, but nowhere near as bad as it had been, thanks to his father’s ministrations. Otabek drowses, drifting in the hazy space between waking and sleep; he makes a small sound when the pillow shifts under his head as his dad slips out from under him, but settles again when a blanket is draped over him.

“Sleep, kunim. There is nothing we can't figure out when you wake.”

 

***

 

When Otabek shuffles into the kitchen a few hours later, his dad is at the table squinting at Otabek’s laptop, the soundboard and notebooks scattered around him. “Äke?” he asks, rubbing at one eye blearily.

His dad waves him over without looking away from the computer. “There’s a plate of food for you in the oven.” Otabek grunts and changes trajectory. “So I’ve been reading tutorials,” his dad says as Otabek sits down next to him with his food. He looks up as Otabek shoves some manti in his mouth. “You are really amazing, you know that?” Otabek pauses mid chew and makes a curious noise. His dad makes a face. “Well, not when you’re acting like you were raised by wolves. I know you know what a napkin is.” Otabek swallows his mouthful and wipes yoghurt off his mouth with the back of his hand. His dad rolls his eyes and hands him a napkin from the holder in the middle of the kitchen. Otabek takes it with a grin.

“I mean it, though,” his dad continues. “I had no idea there was so much that went into mixing. I looked at some of your music files, I hope you don’t mind.” Otabek shakes his head, bemused. “They’re really good, botam, so layered and nuanced.” His dad puts a hand on Otabek’s and leans forward earnestly. “I’m so proud of you.”

Otabek flushes and looks down at his plate. “Thanks,” he says in a hoarse voice. The pleasure from his dad’s compliment wars with grief. It just figures that his parents would take interest in his work just when his music career is effectively over.

His dad flicks him on the forehead. “Äke,” Otabek whines, clapping a hand to his head. His dad crosses his arms and looks singularly unimpressed with his son.

“Stop looking like your world is ending,” he says. Apparently he’s used up his daily allotment of sympathy. “I haven’t been sitting here reading tutorials for nothing, botam. I have an idea.” His dad slides a sheaf of paper over to him.

Otabek takes it and looks it over as he resumes eating. His dad has printed out all the notes from Otabek’s tablet in large font. He has a copy as well, along with a notebook of what Otabek assumes are his own notes. Otabek raises his hand to wipe his mouth again but a sharp noise from his dad has him reaching for his napkin with a sheepish wrinkle of his nose.

“I think I’ve got this program figured out well enough to act as your eyes and hands,” his dad says. He passes over another set of papers, screenshots of the program showing the progress Otabek had already made. “Do you think you can guide me?”

Otabek looks at him, then back down at the papers. “I think so,” he says slowly, mind racing as he goes over each angle. He still remembers the program well enough that he probably doesn’t even need the screenshots, but the amount of thought and planning his dad put into this endeavor fills Otabek with warmth. “Thank you, this is…” He swallows hard.

His dad ruffles Otabek’s hair. “Love you too, Bekam.” He claps his hands and then cracks his knuckles. “So are we doing this or not?”

Otabek nods, determined. “Yes.”

 

***

 

In the end it takes twice as long as it would have before his accident, Otabek still ends up with a headache, and his dad looks exhausted. It’s worth it for his delighted laugh when Otabek shows him Madina’s excited reaction video. Still, when she asks him if this means he’s back in the game, he tells her no.

The admission hurts, but not as much as he thought it would.

 

***

 

21:13 Me: Skeletons

21:19 Yuriyim: !!!

21:19 Yuriyim: did you make this?

21:23 Me: me and Äke, yeah

21:23 Yuriyim: it’s really good, Beka

21:24 Me: thanks

Chapter Text

Yuri sounds off as he says, “Potya found half a brownie you left behind.”

Otabek inhales sharply. “Ya Allah, I'm so sorry. Did she eat it?” He can't remember if marijuana is bad for animals. He knows chocolate is though. Did he just kill his boyfriend’s cat?

“Nope. But I did.” Yuri’s grin is big and sloppy.

Otabek stares at him. Then he groans and drops his head into his hands. “Yura, no,” he says to his desk.

“Yura, yes,” Yuri replies. “You're right, though. Edibles are weird.”

“How long ago did you eat it?” Otabek asks, curious. Yuri seems pretty out of it, so it had to have been at least a couple hours ago.

“Hmm.” Yuri puts a finger to his mouth and adopts a goofy looking expression Otabek thinks is meant to display contemplation. Or maybe he’s just doing a spot on imitation of Victor. “Forty-five minutes ago?” He says it like a question. He giggles, snorts, looks surprised at the sound, and then giggles again. “Oh my God, I think I'm really high.”

Otabek shakes his head ruefully and drops his chin in his hand. “Oh, dear Yurionok, you’re just getting started. You're nowhere near the peak.”

Yuri gasps and looks horrified. “What? No!”

Otabek snickers. “Strap in, zhanym, it’s going to be a wild ride.”

 

***

 

Ostanovite mir, ja xoču sojti,” Yuri mumbles pathetically. Otabek laughs and glances over at the FaceTime display. Yuri is face down in his pillow, one bloodshot eye and half his mouth visible. No wonder his words are muffled.

“Sorry zhanym, but the world generally doesn’t stop just because you want to get off.”

“Don’t laugh at me,” Yuri whines. He grinds his forehead into the pillow and kicks his legs before collapsing boneless back onto the bed. “And don’t call me Yurionok.”

Otabek blinks. “I...didn’t? I called you zhanym.” Yuri flops over onto his back.

“Not now, before. JJ calls me a kitten, and fuck JJ.” Yuri’s face twists into a comical look of horror. “Oh my god, Beka. Beka.” He grabs his phone and holds it so close to his face Otabek can see up his nose. Otabek takes that as a good excuse to look away; he promised to stay on the phone until Yuri got through to the other side of his high, but he didn’t sign up for boyfriend boogers. Besides, he’s getting twinges of pain behind his eyes despite only glancing at the screen every few minutes. “Beka.

Yura,” Otabek says in the same tone, though slightly more fond and much less horrified.

Out of the corner of his eye, Otabek sees Yuri lean even closer so all that’s visible is his eyes. Red veins highlight the green; they don’t look much like a soldier’s right now. He whispers, “Beka, have you ever fucked JJ ?”

Otabek jerks back, then grabs the phone to give Yuri his full attention. “What? Where did that even come from?”

Yuri gasps and jams one finger against his screen. “Oh. My god. You didn’t deny it!”

Otabek rolls his eyes and looks away. “I have never had sex with JJ,” he tells the ceiling.

Yuri is silent for approximately five seconds. “Otabek Umiduly Altin, I don’t know up from down right now but I know you. And that was way too specific.”

Otabek sighs heavily and throws an arm over his eyes. This is not a conversation he ever wanted to have. “We may have fooled around a few times,” he admits with the air of a man who knows he’s doomed.

Yuri shrieks and tosses his phone like it’s turned into a giant tarantula. It lands in a pile of clothing, which is good for the phone’s sake, but leaves Otabek with audio only. It’s mostly shouts of outrage with the occasional moan of disgust and declarations that he will never feel clean again. Otabek can’t help it; he laughs.

He hears scrabbling sounds and then the image on his screen swings wildly. Otabek closes his  eyes quickly. “Don’t laugh at me, Beka, this is serious! I have secondhand JJ on me. How could you do this to me?”

Otabek snickers helplessly. “Sorry,” he manages through the fingers he’s clasped over his mouth. “Do you smell like Old Spice now? Axe? Do you want to take a shower?” Yuri’s reply is incoherent.

“I can’t believe you,” Yuri says once he finally calms down enough to become verbal again. “Did you fool around with Leo too? Is this a thing you do?” Otabek stays silent. “You did. Oh my god, it’s totally a thing you do!”

“Are you slut shaming me, Yura?” Otabek asks.

“What? No! I would never...exploring your sexuality is perfectly normal and, uh.” Otabek starts to snicker again. “Oh, you asshole. That’s it, we’re done. Over, finished, kaput.”

“Oh no, whatever shall I do,” Otabek says flatly. “Guess I’ll have to go back to JJ.” Yuri stares at him blankly. “Yura? Hello? Have I broken you?”

“This isn’t fair. I’m too high for this,” Yuri groans.

“I guess we can revisit the topic later,” Otabek allows. Yuri’s face scrunches adorably.

“Or never. Never would be a good time for me.”

“Of course, Yurionok. Anything you want.”

“Aw, thanks Botam, you’re so sweet.” 

Otabek makes a displeased face, but he has to admit, “Okay, that was deserved.”

“Yes, yes it was.”

They fall silent, aside from the occasional disgusted murmur of JJ.

“How’re you feeling?” Otabek eventually asks. Yuri, now sprawled out on his floor, looks thoughtful.

“Spongey,” he decides. Otabek blinks.

“Spongey?”

Yuri nods firmly. “Spongey. Time is spongey too. We are sponge bros. Which is good because everything is wavy and I think I’m under the sea.” He raises one arm in the air and grasps at something only he can see. Otabek frowns. If he’s hallucinating, that’s not a good sign.

“Yura, what are you seeing right now?” Yuri flops his head towards his phone, which is propped up against something.

“Your gross JJ infected face,” he grouches. “I can’t believe something so horrible can be so pretty.”

Otabek sighs. “Is this going to be a thing now?”

“Your fault. You’re the one who had a thing with JJ in the first place. I’m not very impressed with the Leo thing either, if I’m honest.”

Otabek blows out an exasperated breath. He minimizes Yuri and ignores his annoyed sounds as he taps through his photo roll. “Here,” he says, once he’d found what he was looking for. Yuri’s phone pings with a text. Yuri opens it with a grumble. “That’s Maria. She’s in the women’s singles category and she’s the one I dated briefly, not Leo.” Yuri is quiet for a long moment. Unease swirls in Otabek’s stomach. Dating is very different than fooling around, even if it had only been for a few weeks. “Yura?”

“I will happily take second-hand Maria cooties,” Yuri says dreamily. “Beka, she’s so hot! How’d you manage to pull that one off?”

“Hey!” Otabek says. He’s a little offended. He glares at Yuri. The jerk snorts.

“Please, I’ve seen pictures from your Junior days. You grew up well, but it was a rough ride, buddy.”

Otabek hmphs, but has to concede the point. “She had braces and frizzy hair when we met,” he tells Yuri. Yuri grins at him.

“You were obsessed with her hair too, weren’t you?”

“It looks good now, right?”

“You are ridiculous,” Yuri tells him, impossibly fond. Warmth suffuses Otabek’s chest.

“All I’m saying is that you too could benefit from some leave-in conditioner. Or a brush, I’m not picky.”

“Don’t go getting too ambitious, Altin. Baby steps.”

Baby steps, Otabek thinks. “I guess I can do that.”

 

***

 

Watashi wa niwatori no kokuō desu,” Yuri says, startling Otabek out of a half doze.

“What?” he mumbles, rubbing his eyes.

Watashi wa niwatori no kokuō desu,” Yuri repeats in a reverent whisper. He’s staring intently at a small feather in his palm; it must have come from one of his pillows. Otabek sighs.

“Still high, then?”

Yuri blows on the feather gently and watches as it floats gently through the air. He pumps a fist in the air. “Watashi wa niwatori no kokuō desu! ” he shouts.

Otabek drops his head back onto his pillow. “Yup. Still high.”

 

***

 

Yuri passes out around one o’clock in the morning. Otabek resolves to never lose track of his edibles again.

 

***

 

Otabek is scared. Most people wouldn’t notice; Nurasyl’s little brother is a master at hiding his thoughts and feelings. He doesn’t fidget, his breathing is slow and controlled, and he holds himself loose and relaxed in his chair in the neurologist’s waiting room. The elderly lady in the chair across from them would never notice the unfocused emptiness that dulls Otabek’s eyes as he methodically fills out paperwork, or the way his breathing is a little too controlled, as if he’s counting each inhale. The receptionist would never know that the lack of tension in his shoulders is, in itself, a type of tension.

Otabek is good at hiding, but not as good as he thinks he is. His brother is scared, and Nurasyl doesn’t know how to make it better.

He turns a page in his magazine and slumps in his seat. If it happens to press his shoulder against Otabek’s, well, he’s too comfortable to move away now. The pressure increases for a moment and Otabek lets out a small sigh.

When Otabek is called back by a friendly looking nurse, Nurasyl goes with him without a word. This is why he’s here, to be a second set of ears. “I’m worried about not remembering everything,” Otabek had explained, voice frank. “Äke’s too excitable and Temir will geek out. And you know how Anam is.” Too understanding and prone to psychoanalyzing. Yeah, Nurasyl knows exactly how she is.

Nurasyl pulls out his phone when the doctor introduces himself. “Do you mind if I record this?” he asks, holding it up. Otabek gives him an odd look and Nurasyl shrugs. “It’s a trick Rayana taught me. It helps her catch anything she might have missed because of the brain fog from her fibromyalgia.”

“Smart,” Dr. Niyazov says as he sits down in front of his computer. “And yes, that’s fine.” Nurasyl hits record and leans against the wall next to Otabek. Dr. Niyazov gets right to the point. “I’ve compared the MRIs that were taken after your accident and the one from last week, and I’m happy to report that I don’t see anything out of the ordinary, considering your injuries.” Nurasyl lets out a quiet breath; he hadn’t realized just how much tension he’d been holding until it’s gone. Otabek, on the other hand, seems to coil in tighter on himself.

“Considering my injuries?” he asks in a monotone. Dr. Niyazov turns to look at them, but focuses on Otabek.

“You had quite the knock on your head, to put it lightly,” he says. “I’m actually surprised the damage isn’t worse, considering.” That’s a little less reassuring than nothing out of the ordinary. “Now, would you like the good news or the bad news first?”

When Otabek doesn’t answer, Nurasyl says, “Might as well get the bad out of the way first, right?” Otabek nods, the movement barely perceptible.

“Good idea,” Dr. Niyazov says with a warm smile. He twirls his finger around the back of his head. “Your contusion and the subsequent hematoma were directly over the occipital lobe. This is where your visual cortex is. It was the pressure on your optic nerves from the hematoma that created the problems with your sight. Unfortunately, I don’t see much change between MRIs in this area, and at this point we aren’t likely to.”

Nurasyl winces. Otabek withdraws without so much as moving a muscle. Nurasyl shifts a little closer to him. They aren’t quite touching, but they don’t need to be. Otabek’s shoulders drop a fraction.

Dr. Niyazov continues, oblivious. He taps further down, at the base of his skull. “If you had hit a little lower, you could have damaged the cerebellum, which is what helps you move, or even the medulla oblongata, which is what keeps you alive. At the very least, you likely would have caused damage to the spinal column and possibly been paralyzed. You are a very lucky young man, though I understand it might not feel like it right now.”

“Was that the good news?” Otabek asks, staring down at his hands held limply in his lap. Dr. Niyazov shakes his head, still smiling.

“It’s good news, but not the good news.” Otabek looks up. “The good news is that most of your symptoms aren’t stemming from the occipital lobe, but from the frontal, and that is healing quite nicely. The headaches, mood changes and memory issues should continue to diminish, though you’ll need to be patient.”

Dr. Niyazov clicks through the files on his computer as Nurasyl asks, “If he was hit in the back of the head, why are his symptoms coming from the front?”

“Contrecoup injury,” Otabek says. He turns to Nurasyl and for the first time all day, he’s not completely dead behind the eyes. “My head hit here, but my brain hit here,” he says, touching the back of his head before tapping his forehead. Dr. Niyazov snaps his fingers and points at Otabek with a grin and a nod. “They explained it when it first happened. But it’s not getting better.” Otabek turns back to the doctor. “I’m having panic attacks pretty much every day at this point.” He looks down again and rubs his thigh with one fist. “I don’t feel like myself.”

Nurasyl bites his lip; Otabek wasn’t exactly a stranger to anxiety even before his accident and he’d already come clean about the recent panic attacks, but he’d failed to mention how often he was having them. Idiot. Now is not the time to yell at him for continuing to hide things, though, so Nurasyl just puts a hand on his shoulder. Otabek leans into it gratefully.

Dr. Niyazov, all smiles up until now, sobers. “It’s not unusual for patients who have been through a traumatic event to experience psychological effects that aren’t strictly due to the injury itself,” he says carefully. “It’s very common in athletes and the more their post injury life is affected, the more likely it is.”

Otabek snorts. “So what you’re basically saying is that I’m not coping well.”

One corner of Dr. Niyazov’s lips quirk upwards. “Basically,” he agrees. “The injury and your reaction to it feed off each other and make things worse. But like I said, as your brain continues to heal, things should get a little easier. I can refer you to a psychiatric neurologist and a therapist who works with athletes, but in the meantime I can write you a short term prescription for Xanax.” Otabek shakes his head.

“No, it’s fine, our mother’s psychiatrist,” he says. Nurasyl notices that Otabek doesn’t mention that their mother had already offered to write him a prescription but he had refused. Nurasyl doesn’t say anything either.

Dr. Niyazov shrugs. “Okay. I’ll still give you the name of the therapist. I highly suggest you give him a call.” He taps away at his computer for a moment. “I’m also going to write you a referral to an optical physical therapist and an optometrist. Ocular rehab should help mitigate some of the problems with your eyesight. I’m surprised your previous neurologist didn’t already do so.”

There’s a telling silence. Nurasyl narrows his eyes at Otabek. Dr. Niyazov either doesn’t notice or decides not to comment. He stands and shakes Otabek’s hand. “You can pick your referrals up at the front desk. It was a pleasure to meet you, Otabek. If you notice any worsening of your symptoms, please come back in,” he claps his other hand on Otabek’s shoulder and leans in with a smirk, “but I’d prefer to I never see you again, personally.”

Otabek barks out a surprised laugh. “Ditto.”

“Thanks, doc,” Nurasyl says as he also shakes the man’s hand. He waits until the doctor is out of the room to turn on his brother. “You didn’t go to your follow up, did you?” Otabek winces, sheepish. It’s all the answer Nurasyl needs. “Beka!”

“I know, I know,” he whines. “I’m an idiot. Please don’t yell at me.” Nurasyl rolls his eyes at his stubborn dumbass of a brother.

“You’re a damn adult, Beka. Besides, when has yelling at you ever worked? Botam.” He scrubs a hand over Otabek’s head, laughing as Otabek bats Nurasyl’s hand away with a scowl.

“Don’t call me that,” he grouches. Nurasyl hands him his cane.

“Why? Because only our dear old anam and äke are allowed? Or are you just annoyed because it’s true?”

“Thank you,” Otabek says abruptly, completely derailing Nurasyl’s plans to tease him relentlessly. “For coming.”

Nurasyl groans and yanks Otabek in with one arm. “Anything for my itty bitty baby brother,” he croons. Otabek growls and tries to escape the headlock Nurasyl has him in.

“Shut up, I’m not that small,” he grouses. “Not all of us can be giant hulking animals, Bulan.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over my giant hulking greatness.” Nurasyl lets go, but slings an arm over his shoulder. “Come on, let’s get out of here before we get kicked out. I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some baursak.”

Chapter Text

Yuri sits in the therapist waiting room, filling out paperwork and taking deep breaths in an attempt to quell the nausea that has plagued him since last night. It’s not working, but he keeps trying anyway, because what else is he going to do?

The questionnaire he was given is unlike any that he’s had to fill out before. Questions like ‘do you ever feel anxious’, ‘do you feel you are depressed’, and ‘do you ever have thoughts of suicide and if yes, have you ever considered following though?’ are obvious. ‘Have you ever heard or seen things others cannot’ and ‘have you ever had thoughts of harming others’ and ‘on average, how many hours do you sleep at night’, he expects. Others take him by surprise. ‘Have you ever felt the need to compulsively gamble, shop, or make major decisions on short notice?’; ‘do you ever have feelings of grandiosity?’; ‘do you feel pressure to be perfect, and if so, do you feel this pressure comes from you, others, or both?’.

He stares at that last one, pencil hovering. His stomach does a flip as he bites nervously at a fingernail.

“Answer truthfully, Yurotchka,” Lilia says gently but firmly. She flips to the next page of her magazine without looking up. He blows a piece of hair out of his face, but dutifully circles both and moves on quickly.

The next section is specific to athletes, which he hadn’t expected. Then again, Lilia had mentioned this therapist often works with dancers and athletes.

Do you feel your self worth is tied to your chosen career?

Who doesn’t, he thinks bitterly. Devoting your entire life to your sport is a basic requirement; people like Katsuki who actually bother with things like college are the exception, not the rule, especially in Russia. He circles yes .

If your career were to end abruptly for any reason, do you feel that you have healthy ways of coping?

Hell no. He doesn’t even have healthy coping skills now. This is one matter that Yuri empathizes with Otabek completely. The last question is a fill in the blank:

What do you hope to accomplish by participating in therapy?

He hesitates again, staring at the words. Pain blooms in his finger; he’d bitten it to the quick and beyond. He curls his hand into a fist. Find a better way to deal with stress, he writes in neat block writing. It seems obvious and not very creative, but he doesn’t know what else to write.

With that done, he reluctantly goes back to the one question he’d skipped.

Have you ever had thoughts of harming yourself, and if yes, have you carried through on these thoughts?

Answer truthfully, he thinks. He circles yes for both, then adds next to it, but not usually on purpose.

Yuri exhales sharply. He hands the questionnaire back to the receptionist instead of crumpling it up and running out of the office like he wants to, then goes back to his chair, all without taking his eyes off the ground. Lilia offers him her magazine. “There’s a very interesting article in here about the best things to do in St. Petersburg.”

“Your definition of interesting and mine are very different,” he tells her, but takes the magazine anyway. Maybe he can get some ideas for places to take Otabek whenever he comes back.

Yuri is so absorbed in the article that he startles when his name is called. Heart pounding, he looks up. A woman with dark hair and eyes stands in the doorway leading back to what he presumes is the therapist’s office. “Yuri Plisetsky?” she says again.

Yuri jumps to his feet. “Here,” he says, then feels like an idiot. He hands the magazine back to Lilia.

The woman smiles warmly at him. “Nice to meet you,” she says, holding out a hand. His hands are cold and clammy and gross, but he takes hers anyway. If she notices, her demeanor doesn’t betray it. “Come on back. I am Yana Petrov. You may call me Yana. May I call you Yuri?” Yuri shrugs, distracted.

You’re the therapist?” he blurts out. “You’re, like, twenty !”

Yuri,” Lilia says sharply, but Yana throws her head back and laughs.

“Thirty-two, actually, but I’ll take the compliment. Are you coming or not?” she asks, raising one eyebrow at him. Yuri hadn’t meant it as a compliment; there’s no way she’s old enough to be a therapist. “Unless you’d prefer to have your session out here.” Yuri scowls, but reluctantly follows her through the door.

He’d expected a hallway or something, but instead the door leads directly into an office. Rich wooden walls and bookshelves contrast with giant windows covered by airy curtains. There is no desk; there is a couch, along with a couple of armchairs, all of which look well worn and like they could swallow you up in their pillowy cushions. He stands awkwardly in the middle of the room. Is he supposed to lay on the couch? Sit on it? On one of the arm chairs? Which one? One of them must be hers. He bites his cheek.

“Don’t think so hard,” Yana tells him as she passes him. “Sit wherever. Or stand. Whatever floats your boat.” She follows her own advice and sits in the far armchair. She drags a lapdesk out from under it, then pulls her legs up to sit cross legged and sets it on her lap. She takes a big gulp from an energy drink sitting on the side table next to her before busying herself with a file he can only assume is his. This...is not what he was expecting. She is not what he was expecting.

Yuri lets go of his cheek when he tastes blood. He sits in the other armchair and stares her down challengingly. She holds his gaze placidly; Yuri looks away first. “So, Yuri, I wanted to ask you a few things about your questionnaire, but first, do you have any questions for me?”

“Yeah,” he says as he crosses his arms. “Where’d you graduate from? Did you graduate?” He’s being defensive. He doesn’t want to be, but it’s his default when scared and panicking.

Yana looks amused. “I did, in fact, graduate. With my very own doctorate and everything, from St. Petersburg State Institute of Psychology and Social Work.” She waves her hands in a ‘tada’ gesture. “You’d be surprised how often I get that, though. My whole family looks way younger than they are. I’ve been told I’ll appreciate it someday.” She doesn’t look very convinced.Yuri cracks a small smile in spite of himself. “Any other questions?”

Hundreds. He can’t remember any of them. He shrugs and looks out the window. “Okay, how about I go through some I tend to get a lot?” He shrugs again, but relief floods through him. “Alright.” She holds up one finger. “No, you don’t have to lay on the couch. I’m not Freud, and I don’t practice psychoanalysis. That being said, if you would like to lay on the couch, go right ahead.” Yuri shakes his head vehemently. Yana smirks. “Yeah, that’s how most people feel.” She holds up a second finger. “What I do practice is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.”

Yuri can’t help it, he snorts. Yana looks exasperated but fond as she holds up a third finger. “Yes, I am aware of what else CBT stands for, and now I know you do too, so that’s fun.” Yuri colors, but she holds up a fourth finger and moves on before he can feel too embarrassed. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is exactly what it sounds like. We will focus on helping you to develop healthy coping strategies by working to change dysfunctional behaviors and cognitive patterns. No, I do not always speak in psychobabble and I will explain exactly what that entails later. Yes, this is how I act all the time and if you were hoping for a more traditional therapeutic experience, I have several colleagues I can refer you to, no problem. That being said, yes, I am still going to ask you ‘how does that make you feel’. It’s a good question and I’m not going to avoid it just because it’s cliche.” Five, six, and seven fingers. “Yes, I’m going to take notes. No, nothing you say here will leave this room with one caveat - if I think you are a danger to yourself or others, I am obligated to inform the proper authorities. That sounds scary, but it’s not, and I don’t want you to hold anything back because you think I’m going to lock you away or anything.”

Yuri goes hot and then cold as his heart kicks up a notch. He pulls his knees up and fiddles with his jacket sleeves, pulling them over his fists. Yana leans forward, expression serious. “Self harm does not necessarily mean that you are a danger to yourself.”

Yuri slumps, a puppet with his strings cut. He takes a shaky breath and nods. Yana sits back again. “Therapy isn’t easy, and I’m not going to pretend it is. It’s hard work, fighting your own brain. I’m here to help guide and challenge you, but you’re the one doing the heavy lifting. Think of this like physical therapy for your mind. Make sense?”

It does. It sounds similar to some of the things he’d learned in anger management, just...more in depth. Yuri knows hard work. He can do hard work. “What’s question number ten?” he asks, voice raspy. Yana grins and points with the one finger she hadn’t held up.

“You just asked it, my friend.” Yuri rolls his eyes. “So did I miss anything?” Yuri shakes his head wordlessly. “Great. Now, I’d like to ask you a few questions. I will wait as long as you need to figure out the answer, so do us both a favor and try not to lie or omit things because you aren’t ready, okay?”

Yuri’s not entirely sure he’ll be able to squeeze anything out past the boulder in his throat, but he’s going to do his damndest. He nods, and she begins.

Chapter Text

“Victor, I swear to God if you tell me my free leg is sloppy one more time, I’m going to put my fist through your face!”

“Such violence, Yura,” Victor tuts. Yuri grinds his teeth. “I thought you had outgrown this phase.”

“Then quit begging for an encore,” Yuri mutters. He huffs out a breath and unclenches his fists. “I’m taking a break,” he decides abruptly. His throat is dry enough to click every time he swallows anyway. He gulps down water, squeezing the bottle in lieu of Victor’s throat.

“Easy there, tiger. You don’t want all that liquid sloshing around in your stomach do you?” Yuri screams without actually opening his mouth. He whips around and draws his arm back, but at the last second he tightens his grip instead of lobbing the bottle at Victor’s head. Victor’s flinch is enough to satisfy him anyways.

“Vitya, darling,” Katsudon calls sweetly from across the rink where he’s putting together the beginnings of a step sequence, “If you don’t stop antagonizing Yura, I’m going to put my fist through your face.” Yuri smirks; Katsuki has mostly forgiven Victor for The Great Brownie Incident (which Yuri now empathizes with completely), but there’s still a bit of tension there. The amount of snark coming out of Katsudon’s mouth the last few weeks has been a blessing.

“I’m surrounded by violent people, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this,” Victor pouts. Yuri rolls his eyes and takes one more sip of water because as annoying as he is, he’s not wrong. The only thing worse than skating after a heavy meal is skating after drinking too much water. Watching Mila channel a loose firehose during a sit spin was a hilarious but effective cautionary tale.

Victor’s right about a lot of things, unfortunately. He’s not very good at explaining things but unlike Yakov, he gets out on the ice and shows Yuri what he means when the words won’t come. Yuri is, and always has been a visual learner.

Yuri reluctantly trudges back out on the ice. “I hate you,” he mutters, then louder, “You know exactly what you’ve done to deserve this. Now quit telling me my leg is sloppy and show me how to fix it.”

Victor watches him thoughtfully, eyes narrowed. “I think it’s time for cool down,” he decides.

Yuri raises his brows in outrage. “I think the fuck not,” he says sharply. “I’ve still got half an hour of ice time left!”

Victor snorts. “And you were here an hour early.” He taps his temple. “I see all, I know all.”

“Katsudon tells all,” Yuri grouches. Sleep had come slow and piecemeal last night as a strange, formless ache plagued him. “Fine. I could use the extra time at Lilia’s anyway.”

Victor smiles enigmatically, but turns away. “Pryanichek, your free leg is looking a little sloppy too,” he calls out as he skates off. Yuri stares after him. Does he have a death wish? he wonders idly.

Yuri works his way through his cool down quickly, eager to get to Lilia’s. Victor comes into the locker room just as he’s throwing his things in his bag. “Don’t put your things away just yet,” he says. Yuri freezes.

“Why?” he says slowly, wary of Victor’s smile.

“I spoke with Georgi while you were cooling down. He’s agreed to let you assist him with his 4-6 year class.”

Yuri stares at him blankly. “I have dance practice,” he says. Victor is flighty, but even he isn’t this forgetful. Not when it comes to training.

“I spoke with Lilia as well, and she’s agreed you could benefit from a change in your routine. For the next few weeks, you’ll be with Georgi on Thursdays once you’re done with me. Your Friday conditioning session will be switched out for studio time.”

Rage bubbles in Yuri’s chest. “You can’t just...just go around changing my schedule like that,” he snaps. “You aren’t my coach yet!”

“Good thing I also okayed it with Yakov, then,” he says flatly, smile long gone.

Something ugly rises up in Yuri’s throat. “Fuck you,” he spits. “Fuck you. I’m out of here.” He snatches up his gear bag. They can’t just screw around with his life like this without even running it past him. It’s not right. It’s not fair.

“Yuri,” Victor snaps, sharper than Yuri has heard him in a long time. It stops him in his tracks. “Has it ever occurred to you that I’m not just meddling in your life for the fun of it? That I might actually have a reason behind my actions, and that your ‘real’ coaches have a reason for agreeing to these changes?” Victor stares him down. “You need to trust that we have your best interests at heart.”

“And how is babysitting Georgi and a bunch of brats in my best interest?” Yuri growls. He itches all over, fingers twitching with the need to scratch. He crosses his arms over his chest instead. Victor’s look softens just the slightest bit.

“You need a break, Yuri. Something that isn’t just training or Otabek. You’re going to implode at this rate.” Victor pauses, then continues determinedly. “You already are.”

Yuri flushes with embarrassment and backs up a step. It’s the first time anyone other than Lilia has directly addressed his little ‘problem’, though he knows they are all aware at this point; even if they hadn’t already seen it firsthand, he’s sacrificing rink time for his weekly therapy appointments. “I’m not going to implode,” he mutters to the ground, digging at it with one toe.

“Really?” Victor asks dryly. “Because I did. And I can’t help but think that Otabek would be disappointed if you chopped all this off in a fit of rage.” He flicks an errant strand of hair over Yuri’s shoulder. Yuri slaps his hand away crossly, then slumps back against the lockers and drops his gear bag.

“You didn’t ask me,” Yuri says quietly. “You didn’t ask .” Victor’s eyes widen in dawning comprehension.

“You’re right,” he says, and wait, what? “I’m sorry. I forget sometimes that you aren’t fifteen anymore and deserve to have a say in your training regimen. It won’t happen again.”

I deserved to have a say when I was fifteen, too, Yuri thinks, but it’s not worth arguing over at this point. “So what exactly does assisting Georgi entail?” he asks, resigned.

Victor grins. “Hope you like kids, Yurotchka. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with them.”

Yuri regrets everything.

 

***

 

People never expect it, but Yuri actually loves kids. They’re cute, and have a refreshing bluntness Yuri can appreciate.

Well. He appreciates it as long as it’s not turned on him.

“If you’re a pro, how come you’re over here with us?”

Yuri glares down at the little snothead staring at him with furrowed brows and pursed lips, utterly unimpressed. “I’m taking a break,” he says through gritted teeth.

The kid snorts. “Yuuri Katsuki doesn’t take breaks,” he declares loudly. Yuri can’t help it, he laughs. Katsudon’s name is hilarious when it’s being lisped out by a six year old missing both front teeth.

“You have no idea,” Yuri tells him. He uncrosses his arms and shakes his head. “Look, do you want help or not? Because if not, I’m more than happy to go back to the main group and teach the rest of Georgi’s brats how to skate backwards.”

“I already know how to skate backwards. I can spin too,” the boy says, looking down at his battered skates. He hesitates for a moment like he’s not sure he wants to continue before he heaves a huge, dramatic sigh. “I get dizzy, though.” His eyes are fierce when he looks back up at Yuri. “I’m still better than all those babies.”

Jesus, it’s like looking in a mirror, Yuri thinks in horror. Is this what Yakov had to put up with? He has so many apologies to make.

Yuri crouches down so he’s eye level with the boy. “Look kid, why do you think Georgi has you over here with me instead of back with the group? You are better, which is why you’re getting some extra attention. That doesn’t mean you get to be a shithead about it.” The kid’s eyes go wide and Yuri realizes belatedly that calling a child a shithead to their face is probably not Approved Coaching Behavior. Whatever. Yuri isn’t a coach.

Luckily, the kid breaks into a huge grin, like being cursed at is the best thing to ever happen to him. Weirdo. “Can you teach me how to do that Biellmann spin?” he asks excitedly.  “Anya says boys don’t do them, but she doesn’t know anything because you do them all the time. She’s just jealous because my splits are better than hers.” Ha! You do know who I am, Yuri thinks smugly. “Oh, and I wanna do jumps, can you teach me jumps?”

Yuri chuckles at the boy’s enthusiasm. The sullen, defiant kid from a few moments ago is completely wiped out. Who knew a couple swear words could make such a difference? “How ‘bout we work on you not falling on your ass when doing normal spins before moving on to Biellmanns and triple flips?”

The kid rolls his eyes and heaves a sigh. “Fiiiine.” Yuri rolls his own eyes and stands. Apparently Georgi has been teaching his students the art of being dramatic as well.

“Cool. Great. What’s your name again?”

The kid looks deeply offended and it’s probably the funniest thing Yuri has seen in weeks. He can’t wait to tell Otabek. “Luka,” he says stiffly. Yuri nods and skates backwards towards the middle of the rink.

“Alright Luka, let’s see you spin.”

 

***

 

“--such a brat! He talks back constantly and he keeps trying to do things he’s not ready for and I just want to beat him over the head sometimes, but, like, he’s really good? Like, really good. Two lessons and we’re already working on a one-foot spin because as soon as I showed him how to keep from getting dizzy, he nailed the two-foot. I caught him trying to do a sit spin, though, like an idiot, but -- Beka, why are you laughing?”

Otabek reigns in his chuckles. It’s been a long time since he’s been treated to a patented Yuri rant, and the passion on his boyfriend’s face makes it hard not to smile. “Sorry,” he manages. “Just...doesn’t this all sound a little familiar?” Yuri stares at him blankly. “Like a certain someone who decided doing quads in his Juniors competition was a good idea, maybe?”

Yuri drops Yuracat’s half-finished head to cross his arms and scowl. “I am a way better skater than him,” he says, then tugs at his ponytail and grumbles, “but he’s pretty close. Or he will be.” Yuri sighs heavily and flops back on his bed. “This is karma, isn’t it? The universe is getting back at me for all the times I’ve tortured Yakov.”

Otabek laughs again as he pushes his glasses up to scratch one eye. “Most definitely,” he agrees. Yuri doesn’t answer, which is never a good thing. He looks back at the computer screen.

Yuri is back to sitting cross-legged, hugging a disgruntled Potya. He’s leaning forward and staring at the screen through narrowed eyes. “Are those new glasses?”

Otabek’s cheeks go hot. He pulls his glasses off so he can look at them himself. “Oh, uh, yeah. I went to see a neuro-optometrist and they changed my prescription.” He puts them on and looks back at the screen, where Yuri is watching him with raised eyebrows. Otabek realizes his hand has drifted up to the side of his head; he drops it and plays with his sheet instead. “They’re prismed. I guess the focus problems for people with brain injuries are different than for normal people so you need a different type type of glasses.” Otabek is proud of himself, he only stuttered a little over the words brain injury . “They seem to be working, though. A little.”

“I thought you might be looking at the screen more, but I wasn’t sure,” Yuri says with a smile. It’s true; headaches are still inevitable, but at least it takes a little longer now.

“Yeah,” he says as he scrubs a hand through his hair. Then he groans and turns on his back so he can stare at the ceiling. “They keep doing this thing where they shine lights in my eyes, I hate it. And I have physical therapy specifically for my vision. I didn’t even know that was a thing.” He rolls over so Yuri can see his pain. “They gave me homework, Yura. For my eyes. Eyework. My entire world is PT.” He’s whining, he can tell by the grimace on Yuri’s face. Luckily, Otabek could care less. Love means listening to your significant other whine on occasion. Yuri picks at his cuticles and bites his lip. Potya crawls off his lap and settles on his pillow instead. Otabek frowns; that’s not his I’m totally listening, I swear face. “Yuriyim?”

Yuri snaps the rubberband he’s started wearing on his wrist lately. “I have homework too,” he blurts.

Otabek blinks. “School does tend to involve homework, yes,” he says slowly, confused. Yuri rolls his eyes and snaps the rubberband again. Otabek narrows his eyes at it. Yuri’s been doing that a lot lately.

“No, I meant,” snap “like, a different kind of homework.” Snap snap. “Therapeutic homework.” He sighs and sits on his hands. “From my therapist. For my therapy. Therapeutic therapy. Of the therapeutic sort.”

“So what you’re saying is that you’re in therapy,” Otabek interrupts. Yuri grimaces, eyes a little wild.

“Sorry, I can’t seem to stop saying it. It’s a weird word, isn’t it? Therapy. Therrrrappy.”

“Yura,” Otabek says gently. Yuri clamps his mouth shut and plays with the rubber band, though he doesn’t snap it again. Otabek points to his own wrist. “Coping technique?” he guesses. He knew the action seemed familiar; one of the girls he skated with in America did something similar.

Yuri nods, eyes on his wrist. He rubs at the red spot there. “It’s supposed to make me aware of my impulses. Divert them towards less destructive avenues.” He sounds like he’s quoting someone. The therapist, probably. “It’s not a permanent solution, but it’s a good stopgap, you know?”

“So is that the homework?” Otabek asks. “Because I’m pretty sure mine is worse, then.”  Otabek keeps his voice casual and light. Making a big deal out of something is never the way to go with Yuri, it only activates his defenses. Yuri sticks his tongue out and picks YuraCat’s head back up.

“No, smartass. Yana’s making me keep a journal and like, do affirmations and shit. It’s dumb and annoying, but…” he trails off with a shrug. He wraps yarn around his hook with single-minded focus.

“But it’s working?”

“I don’t know. Maybe? I’m taking it one day at a time,” he says. He makes finger quotes, hands tangled in yarn. Otabek snorts. “Oh, shut up. I’m learning to live in this moment instead of worrying about the next and to accept that change is inevitable and it’s okay to be afraid of it and that I am deserving of love, even when I’m not perfect.” Yuri tries to make it a joke, but vulnerability threads it’s way through every syllable.

“Yeah, you are,” Otabek says, completely serious. Yuri bites his lip and flushes all the way down to his shirt collar. “About time you learned that.”

“Thanks,” he says quietly. His smile slides into a smirk. “Botam.

Otabek groans loudly and rolls onto his side away from his laptop. “Nope. We’re done. I’m breaking up with you, goodbye.”

Yuri cackles in delight. “Aw, don’t be so stubborn, botam.” Otabek aims two middle fingers over his head, but his lips are edging towards a smile. He flips back over and aims an innocent smile at his boyfriend.

“You’re right, I forgive you. Yurionok.” Yuri sputters and Otabek laughs.

“You’re an asshole,” Yuri finally manages. “I know I was high, but I remember well enough to know I told you I hate the whole kitten thing.”

“You did. Do you also remember how annoying I find the whole camel thing?” Yuri scowls, but Otabek knows he’s got him there.

“Fine.” Yuri draws out the word into multiple syllables like the drama queen he accuses Victor of being. “I suppose it’s okay if you use it. On occasion. And only because I have no intention of giving up yours.”

Otabek pretends to think about it. “I agree to those conditions,” he allows. Yuri points a finger at him.

“And I swear to god, if you ever use it in front of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum--”

Wallah, never,” Otabek interrupts in horror. “And same to you.”

Yuri snorts and covers his mouth. “Deal,” he says through his fingers. Whatever else he’s going to say is interrupted as Aylin crashes into Otabek’s room with a shout.

“Beka, Beka save me!” she shrieks, launching onto the bed. Otabek grabs for his laptop before it bounces off the bed. Temir storms in after her with a dark look.

“Come here brat, Beka can’t save you now.” Aylin shrieks again and leaps to use Otabek as a shield.

“What,” Otabek says in a flat voice.

“She colored all over my homework.” Temir points an accusing finger at her. Aylin ducks down behind Otabek’s back.

“I thought they were coloring sheets,” she whines.

“They were my anatomy worksheets!”

“I don’t know what they’re saying, but it sounds important,” Yuri chokes out through laughter. “I’ll let you go.”

“No, please,” Otabek begs, but Yuri has already hung up, leaving Otabek to his fate.

Chapter Text

After Dr. Omarov is done examining his knee, Otabek swings his legs over the edge of the doctor’s table. He grips the table with both hands and watches as the older man pulls up the images from his most recent MRI.

“It looks like there was a minor tear in the repaired ACL tendon, but it does look like it’s healing. There’s a lot of inflammation, and some scar tissue that wasn’t in the last MRI.” He spins on his chair to face Otabek. “You said you had an incident while in Russia?”

Otabek nods. “My, uh,” his face turns warm but he continues, “my boyfriend accidentally knocked into it.” He raises his chin, daring the older man to comment but Dr. Omarov only raises an eyebrow.

“Knocked into it, hmm?” he says dryly.

“He’s very clumsy,” Otabek deadpans. “Growth spurt.”

“So that’s what the kids are calling it these days?” he asks dryly. Otabek turns bright red, but the easy acceptance calms his racing heart; Dr. Omarov continues blithely. “The doctor you saw doesn’t seem to have sent their notes over yet. Who did you say you went to? I can have one of the secretaries contact their office.” He turns back around to type something into his notes.

Of course he hadn’t sent them. Asshole. “Dr. Vasiliev,” he says, pulling out his phone. “Let me find the phone number.” The ticking of the keyboard stops. Otabek looks up. Dr. Omarov is staring at him over his shoulder, a strange look on his face.

“Dr. Grigory Vasilev?” he asks slowly.

Oh good. Just how much of a dick do you have to be to have a reputation in another country? He sighs heavily. “Yeah.”

Dr. Omarov turns all the way around to stare at him. “And this was an emergency visit?”

Okay, this is getting a little weird. “Um. Yes?” Dr. Omarov huffs out a sound and runs a hand over his bald spot.

“How on earth did you manage to get an emergency appointment with Grigory Vasilev?” He sounds utterly perplexed. Otabek frowns and shrugs.

“He’s the doctor of a friend of mine,” he says slowly. “No offense, but you’re acting kind of strange. What’s going on?”

The doctor looks back at his computer for a second, then at Otabek with a wry smile. “Dr. Vasilev is one of the top experts in the field. He’s written dozens of articles and developed three separate knee reconstruction techniques that have been hailed as medical breakthroughs. The man is a legend.”

Otabek stares at him. “The man is an egotistical asshole,” he blurts out, then winces. His mom would kill him if she heard him cursing in front of a doctor. To his surprise, Dr. Omarov just laughs.

“You’d be hard pressed to find anyone at the top of their field who isn’t,” he says, amused. Otabek thinks of Victor, and reluctantly has to agree. “Did he happen to offer to take you on as a patient?”

Otabek has a feeling he knows where this is going. “He had a ton of stipulations, but yes.”

“Then what on earth are you doing here, boy?”

Otabek makes a sound of frustration and runs his hands through his hair. “Did you miss the part about him being an egotistical as- uh, jerk? I don’t want him to be my doctor. I like you.”

Dr. Omarov mutters, shaking his head, then turns a fatherly look on him and clasps his hands between his hands. “Otabek. This isn’t about liking someone, it’s about choosing the best possible medical care available to you.” He leans back as Otabek scowls. “I’m good at what I do.. I’m great at it, in fact, and I will be happy to do your surgery if that’s what you choose. But in my professional opinion, I think you should seriously consider Dr. Vasilev as your orthopedic surgeon.” He leans forward and raises his eyebrows. “And in my personal opinion, I think you’d be an idiot not to take his offer just because you don’t like him.”

Otabek stares at him. “Are you supposed to be saying that?” Dr. Omarov just shrugs. He types a few more sentences into his notes, then stands.

“I’d like to wait until we have the notes from your visit before we proceed. We’ll schedule a follow up in...say, two weeks?” Otabek nods, still frowning. “Good. In the meantime, I want you to continue with your PT.” He claps a hand on Otabek’s shoulder. “Give it some thought. If you decide to stay under my care, we’ll discuss where to go from here. If you decide to go back to Russia, just let the girls up front know.” He pauses, then holds out a hand. Otabek numbly shakes it. He gets the feeling that Dr. Omarov is not expecting to see him again in two weeks.

Part of him wants to show up anyways, just to prove his assumptions wrong. The other part that sounds suspiciously like Lilia tells him that he’s being an obstinate idiot who is putting his pride over his recovery. He sighs heavily. “It was nice working with you, Dr. Omarov.”

“You too, Otabek. Best of luck in your recovery.” He exits.

Well, fuck, Otabek thinks as he grabs his stupid cane. This is going to suck. At least he’ll be seeing Yuri again sooner than he’d thought.

Silver linings, right?

 

***

 

Otabek frets for days about how to tell his family that he’s returning to Russia less than two months after coming back home. When he finally builds up the nerve, however, his angst is rewarded with five identical Altin Family stares. Even Aylin looks unimpressed; being the recipient of a five year old’s disdain is not a high point of his life. “Botam,” his mother says with ill hidden amusement. “This is not news. When will you be leaving, then?”

“Uh, next Thursday, I think,” he says, still thrown. He’ll need to be back by that Friday if he wants to make his appointment with Dr. Vasilev and as much as he would like to stay longer, he’d been informed that rescheduling would extend his wait time by almost six months.

Finally, his family reacts. Aylin throws her hands up with a whoop of joy while the rest of his family groans. “I win!” she yells happily and holds out a hand. “Pay up, poopheads.”

“Aylin!” his dad barks. Aylin hunches in her chair as she apologizes, but she still looks unbearably smug.

“You guys bet on me?” he complains, deeply offended. He crosses his arms petulantly over his chest as his family replies with a mix of shrugs, apologetic smiles and eye rolls. Grumbles too, but those are mostly aimed at his traitorous little sister. He turns a hurt look on her. “Really, Ayim? You have that little faith in your brother?”

“Are you kidding?” Temir says bitterly as he digs in his pockets. None of them actually carry any money, so his little show is for Otabek. “She’s the only one who guessed less than three months.”

Aylin shrugs. “Yuri’s there,” she says with a shrewd look no child should possess. “Besides, you have an appointment on your calendar for Dr. A-hole.”

Otabek drops his head into his hands as Temir points at her. “You dirty cheat!”

“Nuh uh! No one said I couldn’t look!”

Temir looks like he’s going to argue, but their mother holds up a hand. “She’s right. There were no rules about making educated guesses. It’s not her fault no one else thought of it.”

Their father pinches Aylin’s cheek. “Our little girl is so smart,” he coos. “Reading well above her age and successfully conning her family. I’m so proud of our little gazele.”

“Wow, what an endearing family moment,” Otabek deadpans. Nurasyl pats him on the head condescendingly.

“If it makes you feel better, I guessed six and half months.”

“Gee, thanks,” he snipes, then sobers up a little. “It’s not that I want to leave, but…”

His mother puts a hand over his and squeezes gently. “We know, künim. You need to do what is best for you and your health.” His father and siblings make sounds of affirmation and support.

“Of course, we will need to throw a farewell party,” his father announces with a clap of his hands and happy smile.

Otabek looks at the table to hide the wetness at the corners of his eyes. He loves his family. “That’s not...you don’t have to -”

“Party!” Aylin cheers as she leaps from her seat and starts to dance.

Well, he can’t exactly argue with that.

 

***

 

The ecstatic look on Yuri’s face when Otabek tells him that he will be back soon quells what’s left of Otabek’s doubt.

 

***

 

Otabek’s going away party is small, but boisterous. His entire family shows up, even the ones living in Uzbekistan. His cheeks are bruised from grandmother pinches and aching from smiles; his ribs are sore, not from the pressure of lungs under assault but from hugs just this side of too tight. His stomach aches from eating too much of the feast they’d taken all day to prepare, not anxiety. His knee twinges from what little amount of dancing they’d allowed before lovingly but firmly pushing him into an armchair. His head rings with laughter and the bright flash of cameras.

He hurts all over, and he has never been happier.

Chapter Text

The morning of his departure, he helps his mother and father make breakfast. Of course, by help he means falling asleep over coffee strong enough to kill an ox, and by breakfast he means leftovers from his party. The quiet warmth of the kitchen in the calm early morning half-light eases his nerves. His mother and father dance around each other, communicating in sleepy gestures and half sentences; his father hums under his breath and his mother hip bumps him gently or presses her cheek to his arm whenever they come together. Otabek wants that. Someday, he hopes to have it with Yuri.

The moment is broken when his siblings stumble into the room with sleep crusty eyes and stifled yawns. Aylin is still in her pink ruffled nightgown; she bumps into a chair because her eyes are still closed. She manages to pull it out and climb onto it before letting out a jaw cracking yawn, pillowing her head on her arms and, for all intents and purposes, falling back asleep. Otabek huffs out a quiet chuckle and combs through her downy hair affectionately. Nurasyl plops down in the seat next to Otabek and steals the coffee right out of his hand. Temir drapes himself over Otabek’s head and shoulders; he’s probably drooling in his hair right now.

His family are not morning people.

Their mother sets a platter in the middle of the table and flaps a hand at them. “Pathetic, all of you,” she says. “Temir, stop using your brother as a bed and set the table.”

Temir whines and grinds his nose into Otabek’s hair. Otabek makes a disgusted noise and shoves his head up with a hand to the forehead. Temir licks Otabek’s palm in retaliation. “Why me?” Temir moans, but stands up straight and does as their mother says.

Once everyone has finished piling their plates with food, Otabek raises his hands. Bismillah, he thinks as his family does the same. He’s too tired for the full du’a this morning. He and his siblings slowly start to wake over breakfast and soon the room fills with chatter. Otabek stays quiet, soaking every moment he can with his family. He hasn’t even left and he’s already homesick.

His mother follows him to his room when he goes to retrieve his suitcases. He gives her a questioning look. She holds out a pill bottle. Otabek pulls back and grimaces reflexively. “Anam,” he starts, shaking his head, but she holds her other hand up to stop him.

“You don’t have to use them,” she says quietly, “but I want you to have them if you need them, okay?” Otabek takes the pill bottle reluctantly. It’s a low dose benzodiazepine, to be taken as needed. Otabek’s stomach flips uneasily. She must have seen something on his face, because she makes a disappointed noise. “ Botam, you know better than this. There’s no shame in -”

He cuts her off, even though he knows how rude it is. “I know, it’s not that. But I can’t, I..” he trails off. That’s not true, he realizes suddenly. His line of reasoning had automatically factored the ISU and the difficulty he’d seen Katsuki go through to get his own prescription approved. That isn’t an issue now. He swallows down the well of grief that rises up and rattles the bottle with a shaky smile. “You’re right. Thank you, Anam.”

His mother draws him into a hug and kisses his forehead lightly, then grabs his suitcases despite his protests.

His siblings are lying in wait for him in the living room, along with Rayana, who must have come in while Otabek was in his room. Aylin is trying to hide something behind her back, but it’s taller than she is, so he can see the top few inches of ugly paper and bad wrapping. Otabek raises one eyebrow.

“I got you something Ini,” she says, bouncing on her toes and practically vibrating with excitement. “I searched all day through Apa and Ata’s attic for it!” Behind her, Temir rolls his eyes and nudges her pointedly. “Temiyim and Nuryim helped a little,” she admits. She holds the gift out.

It’s not hard to tell what it is; there aren’t many ways to wrap a cane without making it very obvious, but he still pretends for Aylin’s sake. His surprise becomes genuine once he’s torn the paper off, however.

The cane is beautiful, made of some sort of rich red wood, speckled with darker grains. The handle is black, also wood, he thinks, with copper accents. It looks expensive. Otabek looks back up at his siblings, speechless. “The one you’re using now is pretty crappy, so we figured you could use something a little nicer,” Temir explains, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “We asked Ata where to buy a nice one, but he said if we could dig it out, that you should have this one. It belonged to his father’s father.”

Otabek bites his lip and swallows hard. “Thank you,” he says, voice hoarse. He hugs Aylin, and then the rest of them tightly. “I love it.”

“Beka,” his dad says with a hint of regret. “We need to go if we want to get you to the airport on time.”

A lump in his throat threatens to choke him as he hugs everyone again. His father is the only one coming to the airport with him; his mother has a client soon, Nurasyl has work, and Rayana has already conscripted Temir and Aylin as unpaid labor to finish up a large order.

His dad keeps up a running dialogue on the ride to the airport, occasionally interspersed with passionate singing when a song comes on the radio he likes. Otabek laughs and joins in, the melancholy of saying goodbye receding under his father’s cheerful onslaught. It’s not until they are outside of security that the atmosphere sobers. His dad holds him by the shoulders and smiles warmly before pulling Otabek in for a hug.

“I’m proud of you, Bekam,” he says, uncharacteristically quiet. He pulls back so he can look Otabek in the face. “You’re a good boy.” He hesitates a moment, a strange look passing over his face. “So is Yuri. You tell him we expect to see him soon. He’s stuck with us now, just like Rayana is.”

The lump in Otabek’s throat makes a reappearance as he yanks his father in tight. His dad laughs and pats him on the back. “Okay, okay, enough. You don’t want to miss your flight.” Otabek releases him with one final squeeze, scrubbing his hands over his face roughly. His dad looks away, but smiles despite the vague discomfort he projects. “Don’t forget to call when you get there.”

Otabek nods and gathers up his carry on. “I will. Love you Äke.”

“Love you too, Botam.”

 

***

 

Otabek arrives in St. Petersberg at 11:23 am. By 11:41, his ribs are being crushed by the steel bands of Yuri's arms. Otabek hugs back just as hard, burying his face in Yuri's neck. "You've grown again," he mutters against the warm skin under his lips and feels Yuri shiver at the feeling.

"I know," Yuri moans, without pulling away. "Do you have any idea how much time I've had to put in with the balance board again?"

Otabek frowns. "No, actually," he says, "You never said anything." His stomach hollows uneasily.

Yuri seems to notice because he pulls back enough to look at Otabek with reproach. "Nope, nuh-uh, not gonna happen. Whatever is going on in that twisty little brain of yours, you need to reign it in. I didn't say anything because it wasn't that big of a deal, not because I didn't want you to know or thought you couldn't handle it." Otabek swallows hard and looks away, guilt twisting hard in his chest. Yuri's cold hands clap against Otabek's cheeks and holds his head so he has to look. "I mean it, Beka. It's annoying, but nothing like it was before. I know how to handle it now." He holds up his wrist and points at the rubber band. In spite of what he said, the skin underneath is smooth and pale.

Otabek smiles weakly. "Yana's lessons are starting to sink in, huh? Must be nice for her to not be constantly beating her head against the wall anymore." Yuri huffs and shoves him away carefully.

"Shut up, asshole. So are you okay?" Formless unease still curls in his chest, but it's back to the minor, nagging level that never seems to leave completely. He nods. Something in Yuri's shoulders eases and he grins. "Good, because Katsu and Victor refused to let me Uber it out here and are waiting outside in that pepto bismol atrocity." Otabek makes a face. He could happily live his entire life without ever getting back in that car. It's nice of them to come, though.

"Think we could sneak out another exit?" Yuri tilts his head and looks like he's actually considering it. "I was kidding, Yuriyim."

"I know," Yuri says, but doesn't look like he believes it. Otabek pulls him close and presses a kiss to his temple. It's good to be back.

 

***

 

There is something very satisfying watching Victor schlep Otabek's heavy ass suitcases up the steps of Lilia's building while the rest of them blithely sip on the smoothies Lilia greeted them with and catch up. Yuri slurps up the last of his own smoothie and tunes back into the conversation when Lilia says, "Otabek, that is a very nice cane. Much nicer than the one I gave you." Otabek flushes and starts to apologize for not bringing hers back but she waves him off impatiently. "I don't care. I was just wondering where you got it from. It looks quite old."

Otabek glances over where he had propped against the couch next to him and Yuri watches him carefully. He'd noticed the new cane earlier but hadn't wanted to draw attention to it. Otabek still gets quiet and withdrawn whenever anyone brings up anything to do with his injuries. Otabek just smiles faintly though, and runs a thumb over the smooth metal handle. "It is. It was my great great grandfather's. My siblings managed to dig it out from the attic and gave it to me as a parting gift."

Yuri lets out a small breath of relief. Next to him, Katsuki leans into Yuri's side quietly, a comforting line of warmth against his arm. Yuri leans into it for a moment before pulling away again. "It's beautiful," Katsuki says. "That was really nice of them."

"Yeah," Otabek says. His voice holds a hint of a rasp, brows pulled down. Yuri reaches past him to grab the cane.

"Does it have a sword? Because it looks like it has a sword and that would be seriously cool." Otabek snorts, whatever mood he'd fallen into briefly successfully banished.

"Do you seriously think I would bring a sword cane on a plane?" he asks as he takes it back. "That'd go over really well." Yuri just shrugs and settles back into the couch with crossed arms.

"Whatever. You still lose cool points."

Otabek raises an eyebrow. "I'm going to tell them all that you said that," he says.

Yuri sits up sharply. "You wouldn't dare."

"Aylin might cry. It'll break her heart to know her hero insulted the gift she gave her ini." Yuri's heart drops, crestfallen as he imagines her face.

"Otabek, kindly stop teasing my protégé," Lilia interrupts. Otabek laughs. It's a beautiful thing and goes a long way towards Yuri forgiving him.

"Don't worry, Ayim's hero worship will remain safe. For now." Otabek tugs on a lock of Yuri's hair, eyes crinkling happily as he smiles. Yuri is helpless to do anything but smile back.

"I'm finished bringing Otabek's bags into in his room now. On my own. Just in case anyone cares," Victor interrupts the moment petulantly. Yuri rolls his eyes. Next to him, Katsuki snorts into his smoothie glass. "Great. Well, if there's nothing else, then this pack horse is ready to go home."

Otabek stands and, to the surprise of everyone, pulls Victor into a hug. "Thank you. For everything."

Victor looks shocked, hands hovering at his sides, before his face breaks out into that ridiculous heart-shaped grin and he pulls Otabek in enthusiastically. "Aww, at least someone appreciates my hard work." His smile melts back into something soft and genuine. "You're welcome. Anything you need, Otabek. Any time."

Otabek breaks away, looking awkwardly at the floor, but nods. What was that? Yuri mouths at him. Otabek just shrugs and schools his face into its normal impassive countenance. Katsuki smooths over the moment by standing and hooking an arm through Victor's, pulling him close. "Vitya's right, we should probably be headed home. Lilia, thank you for the smoothies. Otabek, Yuri, welcome back dinner tomorrow? Whatever you'd like."

"I want katsudon," Yuri says in reply as Otabek drops back onto the couch. Katsuki rolls his eyes and looks pointedly at Otabek.

"Text me when you decide, Otabek."

Otabek smirks. "Okay. Thanks, Yuuri." Yuri narrows his eyes. It looks like he's going to have to persuade Otabek to choose katsudon. He has a few ideas as to how.

Lilia excuses herself not long after they leave. Yuri glances sideways at Otabek, who is fidgeting. He sighs. "So how much is it killing you to know your bags are sitting there waiting to be unpacked?" he asks, amused.

"So much," Otabek breathes. Yuri laughs and pulls him up, handing him the cane. "Come on then, weirdo. Let's go."