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Almaty's Fire: The B Sides

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Yuri had fallen asleep with his headphones on again. He was wearing his bulky, bright orange studio headphones and absolutely nothing else.

Otabek had just come in from a meeting with Viktor and it had felt like stepping on jagged stones the entire time. Bearable, but not pleasurable. He only knew limited pleasures since… well, since he’d decided.

He watched the expanse of Yuri’s chest rise and fall as he breathed, in out in out. He took off his boots and his jeans but left on his shirt and boxers. He touched the gold backing of his rose chain as he kneeled on the bed and loomed over. Yuri was dead asleep with his petal lips parted and his phone resting beside him. His left hand was thrown over his chest and resting in a unconscious curl. The inked number seven on his ring finger held a stark contrast against his pale skin.

It was quiet in their bedroom, their sanctuary. Sometimes Otabek felt like walking outside was asking for it. The bees buzzing in his brain, the effervescent thunderstorm. He had to learn to consciously steer his mind to the quiet so that he could bare all of it. When he was in their bed, when Yuri was there, he didn’t have to try. Yuri didn’t even need to be awake to quiet his mind, just his presence could do it.

Careful not to wake him, Otabek brushed his fingers against the line of Yuri’s thigh, ghosting up to the inked flowers on his side. He pressed his lips to the hidden thorns, a silent greeting.

Yuri didn’t stir.

Bemused, Otabek pressed the center button on Yuri’s phone to see what he’d been listening to.

Plastic stars. On loop.

He was listening to their song from their album, which was sitting comfortably at number seventeen of the rock charts. He’d fallen asleep listening to his own voice intertwined with Otabek’s, singing those awful lyrics he loved so much.

Plastic stars only shine so bright
I can’t promise you i’ll be alright
When I fall from the sky
Will you still be around
To watch me hit the ground

A critic had once described the song as a drug-addled lullaby and it made Otabek laugh. Yuri not so much. Still, he loved that song.

He took the headphones away and set them on the nightstand along with the phone. Like an old man reacting to the TV going off after falling asleep on the sofa, Yuri’s face screwed up and he rolled onto his side, right against Otabek’s chest. He smiled softly, running his fingers through soft yellow hair. It was starting to grow back in the way it used to be. It was almost as long as when they first met. Otabek pushed his way under the duvet and kissed Yuri’s forehead. He sang softly to make it seem as if Yuri still had his headphones on, only this was the acoustic version.

For a peaceful few moments, it worked and they were still. Sleep seemed within reach.

Then Yuri opened his eyes.

He looked up at Otabek and gave a tease of a smile, hand snaking around his neck. He paused the song with the press of his lips. It was the kind of kiss that didn’t ask any questions. Yuri didn’t want to know where he’d been or what kind of ideation had been plucking the strings inside his mind. They were in the dark and they were close together, and all Yuri wanted was the sound of the quiet between them.

If course, their quiet always ended with a lot of noise.

 

In the morning, Otabek woke up without an alarm blaring. He woke up to sunshine coating the hardwood floors and Yuri lying next to him, already awake and scrolling through his phone. He watched his husband’s profile and spotted the love bite on his collarbone from the night before.

“Husband,” he murmured to himself, half in wonder and half in disbelief.

Yuri looked over at him incredulously.

“You’re still on that?”

He laughed, “It’s been less than a week,I’m still in shock you agreed to it.” Yuri rolled his eyes and put his phone down. He cuddled up close to Otabek until they were touching noses.

“What is it going to take to get that word out of your system, hmm?”

He pondered seriously. “Maybe when I’m with my next husband it’ll lose its sentimental value.”

Yuri’s mouth fell open and he choked on a loud laugh. “Next husband,” he sneered and flashed his ring finger, “this ink doesn’t go away, asshole.”

Otabek took Yuri’s hand in his own and kissed over the tattoo in question, his eyes locked upward and sincere.

“Neither does the way I feel about you, tiger.”

Yuri groaned as if he was so disgusted, “Ugh, if you’re going to go all romantic like that you might as well fuck me or write a song about me.”

Otabek’s lip curled and he looked at his husband - his only husband - straight on.

“I’m pretty tired, i’ll get my next husband to do it for me”.

Defeated, Yuri buried his face in his pillows to stifle his laughter, but his smile couldn’t be hidden completely.

“Next husband my fucking ass,” he muttered, practically in a giggle.

 

They had their three days and then some. They had a full two weeks, enough time to let the dust settle after they told everyone. Well, after Serik told everyone, that is. There were calls and texts for sure, but no one showed up to the house. They figured they were being allowed some kind of marital bliss tour break. Everyone knew they’d been through hell the past year, and revelations of an elopement or not, they just wanted time to lay around in their own bed. Play guitar naked and take baths together. Live off of takeout and cooking skills surprisingly limited for grown men. Go through an entire bottle of lube in twenty four hours.

Everyone else seemed to have gotten the memo, except for the one person who deleted that memo.

On that fourteenth day, two weeks to the teeth, Erzhan showed up with a car. Yuri answered the door in one of Otabek’s shirts and his fuzzy striped socks, his hair in a bun on the wrong side of messy. His cheeks were still flushed.

“Honeymoon’s over,” the eldest Altin announced, “you two need to pack for your real honeymoon.”

Yuri started to close the door, but Holly stuck her boot in. “Just listen to the man with the private plane, pumpkin.”

With no options left, Yuri let them in and trailed to the kitchen to make coffee. Erzhan sat down on the sofa, Holly curled into his side. They were talking like they had picked up a conversation from the car and just kept rolling, stretched out comfortably like they lived there. Well, Holly did so only when convenient.

Yuri watched them through the pass-through as he went about securing all the necessary caffeine supplies they would need to deal with this particular couple at this particular time. It was eight in the morning, for fuck’s sake.

Otabek padded down the stairs and beelined for the kitchen, coming up behind Yuri and kissing his cheek.

“Did you know about this?” He asked with a pointed look, nodding over to their occupied sofa.

“No,” Otabek answered easily, but looked away, “not until Monday.”

“It’s Saturday.”

Otabek kissed his shoulder, the curve of his neck, and lingered for just a moment before pulling away to pour a cup of coffee. Yuri groaned, annoyed and caffeine dependent.

“Can you at least tell me where we’re going so I can bring the most offensive fashion?”

 

 

As it turned out, Yuri didn’t need clothes for the beach.

Erzhan had some sense after all. He didn’t send them to a tourist-trap beach or an island that didn’t mean anything to them. He sent them to Malibu.

Yuri worried that it would sour the good thing they had going, dig up old bones. If it did for Otabek, he didn’t show it. Yuri watched him sit in the shallow for an hour, letting the tide push and pull against him. He’d come back to bed, sun-warm and his hair salt-curled. He moved against Yuri the same way, the push and the pull.

Sometimes Yuri still watched him sleep, just to make sure he was there. Otabek would turn and half-wake just to curl his arm around Yuri’s waist and pull him in closer.

“I’m still here,” he would whisper in the dark.

“Yeah,” Yuri murmured, “me too.”

 

The paparazzi was a planned affair.

“I should wear cargo shorts,” Otabek had said as they got dressed one morning, “just to fuck with them.”

Yuri had laughed, “If you wear cargo shorts, I might never fuck you again.”

Otabek rolled his eyes and sat on the bed to start the long process of convincing leather pants to fit over his thighs.

 

They walked the stretch of Malibu pier for all of five minutes before they were spotted.

“How much do you think he paid them?” Yuri mused quietly, pretending to examine seashells at a tourist-trap gift shop.

“Not as much as he paid us to be here.”

They walk further along, hand in hand. The paps don’t run up to them and badger them with questions, they’re filming from afar. They were far enough away so they could still talk shit.

Otabek stopped him at random, pulling him in by his waist until their chests pressed against each other’s. He whispered, his lips brushing against the skin of Yuri’s neck.

“Want to give them the money shot so we can get the fuck out of here?”

Instead of smiling, Yuri pounced.

He knew how to arch his back for the camera, how to position his body so that his ass looked good from the camera’s angle. He knew how to pull Otabek in and kiss him in a way that fell between filthy and sexy. It was a stage kiss. It looked good to other people, made the fans roar when they were on stage.

Everyone wanted a piece of their mess. Everyone saw what they wanted to see, which was the retouched and edited versions of them. They saw the parts of their story that read like a tabloid epic, a fall from grace and a rise from the ashes all at the same time depending on which of them won the front cover. It was the truth, but it was also a lie.

No one wanted to know who they really were, not anymore. In real life, they were kind of boring without the drugs, even Yuri knew that. Still, he’d rather have Otabek alive and boring and taking him on forced romantic honeymoons than gone. No one wanted to know how hard it was and would always be. For better or worse.

“Think we gave them something to talk about?” Yuri murmured as he pulled away from the kiss, taking Otabek’s hand with their backs to the cameras.

“For at least fifteen minutes,” he smirked.

 

“You’re beautiful.”

They were wrapped up in white hotel sheets, the manufactured home-fresh smell somehow overpowering the scent of sex. Like in the movies, the sheet censored Otabek’s below-waist body. It left Yuri free to wander pathways of honey-coated skin and familiar inked patterns.

Otabek didn’t roll his eyes or push the comment away like Yuri did whenever it was said to him. In his defense, Yuri heard it from everyone all of the time. There was surely a magazine with an article about him running at any given moment that described him as if he were a faberge egg, beautiful and tempting to break. He was beautiful because he was fragile, or so it seemed.

Otabek’s fragility was different.

After years of touring and his recent commitment to working out, he was toned and strong in more ways than what was physically observable.

He was strong in his silence, his restraint.

He was strong when he found the words to the melody that had been tormenting his mind for days.

He was strong when they laid on their backs, staring up at stars that weren’t there, and talked about his greatest fears.

“If I fell again, would you be there?”

Yuri didn’t answer right away. He ran his palm along the marks Otabek had chosen for his skin, each line of ink representing a line of his story. Yuri figured it was his story, too.

He murmured against the shell of his ear and made a promise. He would never get tired of it, the vow he’d made. He would tell Otabek however many times he needed to hear it, in however many ways. He would promise it even if it was in vain.

“I would always come back.”