Otabek hears about the photo exhibit from JJ. He ignores JJ's explanation of how he found out about it through the convenience of getting ready for his set, and because he only recognises a few of the names that come rapid-fire out of JJ's mouth. Someone's husband is the photographer.
"Why am I invited?" Otabek asks anyway, over the music that's loud even in the back room. "I don't know them."
"Who cares?" JJ shrugs. "All you do is work. It's time to get some culture in you!"
Otabek doesn't point out that someone's amateur photography isn't the sort of culture he's interested in, but he knows JJ so he also knows when there's a change of getting out of something and when there isn't. This is one of those isn'ts. "When is it?"
"Sunday. Wear something artsy." JJ makes jazz hands and Otabek feels a scowl and a headache coming on.
So on Sunday Otabek is fashionably late, wearing just normal clothes: jeans and a button-up, which he actually buttons up. Black, because that's artsy, right? He's late because he doesn't want to be noticed. He's just there to provide JJ some false sense of helping out. That's what the invitation had sounded like.
The exhibit is titled Eros & Agape, which Otabek learns from the leaflet he's handed at the door. He studies it without really taking in any of the information, hoping to pull off the look of someone who's there to appreciate the art and not mingle. Love, reads the leaflet, in its various forms. Viktor Nikiforov of the London Royal Ballet, director and choreographer, documents love on stage.
The words blur together and Otabek stuffs the leaflet into his pocket. He doesn't see JJ anywhere in his immediate vicinity and bites back the bile in his throat. This is the stupidest thing he's done since coming to London to study and he's made sure to do all the stupid shit possible so far.
To avoid mingling, and because the exit is blocked by another group of people arriving, Otabek walks into the photo gallery, walls arranged and lit to show off Nikiforov's work.
The first part—Eros—seems greatly hyperbolic. The subject of the pictures is a dark-haired dancer. He's fit in the way all ballet professionals are, caught unmoving in the pictures like a butterfly on display. The eroticism, Otabek supposes as he advances through the barrage of photographs, must come from the bond between the dancer and the photographer. There are moments of tenderness and even intimacy which Otabek doesn't bear looking at too long. But there's neatness and focus, which to him says the subject of the photographs was a willing participant.
He moves on quickly from the last set of pictures, unwilling to be a part of and rejecting the affection he recognises.
The second part—Agape—is just as abstract. Colour and movement and furious green eyes. Most of the pictures look to have been taken in the spur of the moment and the subject is not happy, but always moving. In several of the pictures he has his hand held out towards the camera like he hadn't wanted it to happen, and in some he's centred and in focus and in the middle of dancing. Otabek stops in front of a firebird leap, the green-eyed monster up in the air, head tossed back and one leg bent so his toes almost touch his head. And the green-eyed monster inside Otabek growling from having been woken up.
"What're you looking at, asshole?"
"The pictures," Otabek says. He doesn't really want to talk.
"You're looking at me," the voice asserts from behind him.
Otabek turns. "Agape," he says, unthinking. Long neck carrying a face that is now familiar from the pictures. Tall and thin like steel wire.
"Oh my God," says Agape. "Fucking Viktor. He's so pretentious. I'm Yuri." He doesn't look half as embarrassed as his words make it seem. He doesn't tilt his face down but looks down at Otabek through his lashes.
"Otabek," Otabek says and offers his hand. Yuri takes it, shakes it and lets go, pulling both his arms up in a stretch. He glances over his shoulder, as if expecting someone to come over, but no one does. There's plenty of people, circulating, moving around the exhibit in small groups.
"Do you wanna look at the rest?" Yuri asks, gesturing at all the photos of himself. "I haven't seen them yet either."
Otabek thinks about noping the fuck out of there. It'll be too weird to look at the photos— such intimacy—with the person from the photos. But Yuri doesn't care, he moves on.
"Come on, Otabek," he calls out, saying the name with the same inflection he'd used on asshole earlier.
Otabek has a new and sudden appreciation for Nikiforov's photography skills. Yuri is true to the pictures of him. He doesn't understand the connection of Agape, but Yuri has the same chaotic energy both in real life and the photos. It's in the loose blonde hair, the lips that curl in annoyance and the way his glittered shirt reflects lights into Otabek's eyes.
In the pictures that he now views side by side with Otabek, Yuri, is caught unaware, petting a cat, considering his feet, having a drink of water, waiting in the wings of the Royal Opera House for his time to go back on stage, but he's purposeful. Determined. And suddenly familiar when Otabek looks at his profile.
"I thought I recognised you so I came over, but I don't know who you are," Yuri says right then. He's facing forward, at a picture of himself that's little more than blurred bokeh sparkles of light and him in the centre, eyes closed and arms raised and wearing headphones.
"We've actually met," Otabek says, now certain of it, and startled by the fact. "Almost ten years ago, in Saint Petersburg. In ballet class."
"Really? Holy shit. I don't remember at all." Yuri eyes him, up and down, trying to decide something. "So you're a dancer, too?"
"No. Not anymore." Otabek resists the urge to look down at himself, both literally and figuratively. He juts out his chin and refuses to add more despite Yuri's expectant silence. Ballet ceased to be for him not that long after Saint Petersburg.
Yuri tilts his head, still trying to decide, a curtain of hair falling over one of his eyes. "Then what do you do?" he finally asks. Otabek knows he's trying to remember him, but he won't. He'd been mediocre at best in that class. Nothing to remember.
He sticks to what's most acceptable. "I came here to study," he says.
Yuri's lips curl again, not into a smile, but not dismissively. He's already turning away when a shorter, black-haired man steps under his arm. Otabek is startled again because he recognises this face, too, only from a wildly different context.
"What do you want?" Yuri says and steps away from the smiling man. He's wearing winged eyeliner.
"Yuuri said to look in on you," is the reply.
"Yuuri can fucking come see me himself if he's got something on his mind," Yuri grunts. "Fuck off, Phichit."
The name confirms it. Otabek's seen Phichit in Leo's Instagram. It's an unsettling melding of worlds, although it comes with the memory of Leo telling him over their motorbikes he's been flirting with a ballet dancer. Otabek had ignored it at the time, although Leo had opened his Instagram and words like adorable had been thrown about.
"Hi," Phichit says and holds out his hand for Otabek. "I don't know you. I'm Phichit."
Otabek shakes his hand while Yuri rolls his eyes and moves down the line of pictures. "Otabek," he says, eyes following Yuri.
"Oh, you're with him," Phichit grins. "I'll tell Yuuri not to worry," he calls after Yuri, who this time rolls his whole head in annoyed dismissal.
"What do you study?" Yuri asks when Otabek catches up to him, slightly unsure.
"Music," Otabek says. Yuri is staring furiously at another picture of himself. "But I pay my bills by being a DJ and sometimes a mechanic," he volunteers.
"My grandpa was a mechanic," Yuri says without offering further explanation. Then he turns and walks to the next picture. It's the last one. He groans.
It's a picture of three people, blown wide and high. It's in black and white, with a pale-haired man in the middle, holding Yuri on one side and the other dancer from the pictures on the other. The other two look happy, smiling at the camera, and Yuri looks like he's in the middle of saying something rude.
"So pretentious," Yuri sighs and rubs his face.
"Oh," Otabek says, realising what the pictures are telling him. What the name of the exhibit was saying all along. Love between three people. He's not sure how relationships like that work in practice, and he remembers how attending this thing was such a bad idea. "You… When did you meet them?"
"Like ten million years ago." Yuri turns his back to the picture and surveys the people in the gallery, mouth in a small pout. "I knew Vitya back in Russia. He got me this job here when my grandpa died two years ago. And then I ended up living with them, too. God, I need my own place."
Otabek nods and keeps his curiosity to himself. He doesn't offer his condolences, not that Yuri seems to be expecting them anyway. Otabek never knew his grandfather so it'd be borderline intrusive. It's already unreal he knows Yuri from before. And he feels like a fool for being so taken with Yuri earlier. He's spoken for, after all. And it isn't in him to ask someone he's just met—sort of—just what the particulars of his polyamorous relationship are.
"Viktor!" Yuri yells then, gesturing at the tall, pale man who rises from the garden of brunettes around him like a lily. The tone he uses sounds like he’s swearing. "Vitya, what the fuck is this?" he doesn't bother being quiet and polite as he gestures at the big picture.
"Do you like it?" Viktor calls back, smiling just like he does in his photo.
"No!" Yuri says impatiently. "You're such an ostentatious prick!"
"Thank you, kitten!" Viktor laughs and turns away.
The tacked on kitten confirms Otabek's suspicions, but Yuri makes a loud sound of despair and annoyance and disgust and all in all conveys such emotion without words that Otabek is impressed. Yuri turns to him.
"See?" he says as if Otabek is supposed to understand something. He pulls his fingers through his hair restlessly, and his skin-tight tiger shirt shows the lines of his tense muscles all too well. Otabek hates ballet dancers.
"I guess," Otabek finally concedes. "Relationships can be difficult." It's the kind of bullshit you tell people you've just met.
"He thinks he's my dad," Yuri groans and moves away, leaving Otabek to wonder just what kind of dynamics are at play there. He doesn't catch up to Yuri until Yuri turns to look at him and finds he hasn't followed. "Come on."
Maybe Viktor is Yuri's sugar daddy. "If he provides for you," he starts, only to be cut off by Yuri's death grip on his bicep.
"Provides for me? What the fuck? I earn my own goddamn money and pay rent. He provides shit. I just live in their spare room because rents in London are killer."
Otabek knows that all too well. Which is why his living situation involves JJ, although no longer as a roommate. "You don't want to be around them all the time then?" he hazards while Yuri pulls him through the gallery, cleaving little cliques of people apart by ignoring them entirely. Otabek catches JJ's eye and waves at him.
"Ugh, did you just acknowledge Leroy?" Yuri gags and lets go of Otabek, but their momentum carries them outside the gallery. It's not entirely pleasant out there, surprisingly crisp, but Otabek has long sleeves and Yuri seems impervious.
"He's my friend," Otabek says when they stop. A few people are smoking outside the door, lit by nearby street lamps and shop signs.
"I thought you had good taste," Yuri complains. He bounces on his feet, rising onto his toes and back, a movement which definitely brings out his ass in the skinny jeans he has on. He has no basis for assuming anything about Otabek's tastes, but it's nice to hear.
"Well, I'm an eternal disappointment," Otabek says. He's got a pretty good track record of disappointing everyone eventually. He's either too little or too much. But a disappointment, nonetheless.
Yuri's restless walk takes them down the street a little and Otabek makes some some quick calculations, coming to the conclusion Yuri must be at least eighteen now, maybe nineteen. He hates himself more than ballet dancers. And Yuri is like some steel honey trap.
Yuri snorts, not denying the disappointment. "What do you do?" he asks. "As a mechanic?"
"Fix motorbikes mostly," Otabek says.
Yuri stops and gives him that look again, down his nose, from slitted eyes through his eyelashes. "So you have a motorbike?"
It's a bit of a leap of logic, but Otabek confirms it with a nod.
"You drive it over?"
Otabek nods again. Yuri is still bouncing like he might take off at any second. "What do you want?"
"A ride?" Yuri suggests hopefully.
Otabek rolls his head and shoulders in a gesture of absolutely nothing. He beckons for Yuri to follow with his head and takes him around the corner where he'd managed to squeeze his bike in. Road taxes and parking almost make the bike worth not having in London.
"Here," he says, coming to a stop by it. "You can sit on it."
Yuri groans but goes to sit on it anyway, looking genuinely pleased to be miming the motions of driving the bike for a bit. "Can you take me on an actual ride later?" he asks.
"What would your dad say?" Otabek watches him, hands in his pockets.
"Oh, fuck you," Yuri laughs at his bad joke. The reaction makes Otabek stand up straighter, tilting his hip to the side a little to make his shape stand out. His brain catches up to the attraction a second later, confirming the reason why he's even talking to Yuri anymore.
"He wouldn't mind you going off with someone else?" Otabek asks. Maybe it's an open, polyamorous relationship. There's all kinds.
Yuri stops twisting the handles of the bike and looks at Otabek. "Who? Viktor? Why would he mind?" Then his lip curls and he shoots up off the bike. "Hey, what the fuck? You think I'm with- with him? He's married!"
Otabek shrugs. "The photos," he says. "And you live with them."
Yuri's face and body go through a strange off-sync dance of emotions, then finally settles on drawn-out queasiness, pacing around the bike to mime throwing up in the gutter. "Thanks for that mental image," he says, straightening up and tossing his hair. "I just live there." He pauses, eyes Otabek. "I guess you couldn't have known, but fuck, what an assumption to make."
"I don't read people well," Otabek admits.
Yuri kicks some empty paper cups off the pavement and into the street, narrowly avoiding hitting a cab. "They're super gross and super monogamous." He throws a look at Otabek. "And even if they weren't, I am not into idiots like that." He jabs his finger towards the open doors of the gallery where light and noise spill out.
Otabek very pointedly doesn't ask what kind of idiots he's into. He's made enough of a bad first impression already. Yuri's back pocket buzzes and he pulls out a gigantic phone that's decked with a sparkly case and cat ears.
"Fucking Yuuri. I have to go back in," he sighs, then pushes his phone at Otabek. "Number," he demands.
Otabek takes the phone and taps in his number, then wordlessly hands it back to Yuri. It feels like a dismissal, but he figures he's done his duty and is free to go home now.
Yuri tests the number and grins when Otabek's phone beeps. "Okay," he says, already walking away, backwards. "You owe me a ride, asshole. I'm gonna collect."
Otabek lifts his hand in a little wave of goodbye and watches Yuri bounce back in.
"I saw you leave with the Princess last night, but then he came right back in. I know he's your type and all, but that was some fast work," JJ tells Otabek the next day in the club. It's not yet opening time, and Otabek's trying to fix the sound system.
"The Princess?" he asks, ignoring JJ's comment about his type.
"Princess Plisetsky. The Ice fucking Tsarina," JJ clarifies, leaning more than keeping up the ladder that Otabek's perched on.
"I'm still not following," Otabek says.
"Yuri Plisetsky!" JJ sighs. "Didn't you even ask his name?"
"No," Otabek says obstinately because he hadn't. Yuri had told him.
JJ's sigh fills the rafters. "You're unbelievable. So what'd you do?"
"Nothing," Otabek says and drops a screw which bounces off his knee and then plinks somewhere far down on the floor. JJ looks after it but doesn't bother to retrieve it.
"C'mon! I'm trying to live vicariously through you," JJ wheedles.
"Marriage not treating you right?" Otabek looks at the mess of wires in defeat. Combustion engines are easy, this is bullshit.
JJ is quiet for a bit. "No, it's amazing actually," he finally says and when Otabek glances down, JJ is grinning to himself, looking off into the distance. "Bella's amazing." Then he snaps his head up. "But I still wanna know."
The fact notwithstanding that Yuri is Otabek's type so far that he might actually be the stereotype, Otabek doesn't have anything to say. "We just talked."
"Mon Dieu," JJ sighs. "You are the worst, Bex."
At least it settles JJ down until Otabek descends the ladder. "Let's try it."
"Oh, hey," JJ says as he goes over to the sound system computer. "Did I tell you? The papers went through. As of next week I'm gonna be the co-owner of this fine establishment."
Otabek shakes his head. He'd known that was going to happen—most probably—but he still doesn't think it's a good idea. Although maybe Isabella is going to do the actual work and JJ is going to be a glorified doorman. Otabek can only hope. JJ puts on a random song and the sound works, sort of. There's a buzz and they both listen to it with varying degrees of dissatisfaction.
"It'll do," JJ says then and Otabek goes to collect the ladder. "I thought you were better at this shit."
"This... shit," Otabek repeats and looks at JJ. "You know mechanical engineering and electrical engineering are totally different things, right?"
"Well," JJ shrugs. He doesn't know. Otabek carries the ladder into the back, then comes to collect the tool box. With no help from his new co-employer. "Did you at least get the Princess' number?"
Otabek doesn't share the fact that he had. "Why are you so interested?" Then it hits him. "Why are you trying to set me up?"
"He's your type!" JJ defends. "And it was Bella's idea."
"Can you two stop? Just stop." Otabek tries to distract himself and JJ with work, although JJ definitely doesn't seem to be in the mood for work. Then his phone buzzes and there's a text.
Y< im good for that ride tonite 🐈
Otabek puts it away for now. It's only the afternoon. "What do you know about him?" he asks instead and JJ perks up, coming over to the bar to watch Otabek fiddle with the beer taps. One of them has been loose.
"Who? The Ice Princess?"
"Yeah, I guess. Why do you call him that?"
"Oh, I-" JJ starts, then rubs his chin. "I don't know. He's from Russia, you know, so he must like it cold."
Impeccable logic. Otabek sighs, but gets under the bar to work on the loose tap. "Can you hold up the light?"
"Sure." JJ comes around and crouches into the small space with Otabek. They've shared tighter spots. "He just looks so prim, every time I see him. Until he opens his mouth."
"You see him a lot?" Otabek attempts nonchalance. It usually works. He's just got that kind of a face and energy. It’s mostly because he can’t be bothered to care about the majority of things or people. Too much effort involved.
JJ snorts. "Jealous? Just a few times. Thought you liked 'em blond and sparky so I... finagled you into the exhibit last night."
Otabek kicks him, but makes it look like he's just shifting to get to a better position. He knows JJ is aware of his horrible track record when it comes to dating. Although dating might be a grandiose term for one-night stands and only vaguely satisfying trips to public toilets in various bars with various hand-owners. It's easier to manage expectations when there are none, on his time, his moods, or his abilities. Or his history.
"I don't shit where I eat," Otabek says. Flat and crude is sometimes the only way into JJ's head.
"You don't even move in the same circles," JJ dismisses. "So how's it shitting where you eat? Even if you-" he stops. He knows. Otabek's history of half-hearted attempts and quick endings, and the strong preference to hopefully never to meet anyone he's slept with ever again.
"Why the Ice Princess?" Otabek says then. Still not sure where the nickname comes from.
"You know, 'cause no one can get close to him," JJ says as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. "I guess maybe Viktor and Yuuri can, maybe Phichit..."
"So that's not no one."
"You know what I mean!" The light bobs in JJ's frustrated hand but it's okay, Otabek's only pretending to do the work.
"You're way more invested in this than I am," Otabek points out. And because of that, because he's a stubborn bastard and because people wanting him to do something—or someone—makes him dig in his heels and do the opposite.
"Ah... Yeah." JJ deflates. "I was just trying to be a good friend or whatever. Forget it. Do you think you'll get that tap working properly? Seung-gil told me it's been like that for weeks."
Otabek bites back the hire a professional, you cheap Quebecois bastard and does his best. JJ, while sometimes blind to personal boundaries, is generally just a loud-mouthed good guy. As far as Otabek knows him, which is fairly well by now, he knows that's the place where this whole thing stems from. It isn't welcome, but it isn't unforgivable, either.
Otabek isn't working that night, but he also doesn't respond to Yuri's text. He puts on his noise-cancelling headphones and gets in a few hours of studying and mixing when the club opens. And he just about decks Yuri with his laptop when Yuri puts his hand on his shoulder.
"What the fuck," Otabek says, breathless with the sudden fright, and rips off his headphones.
"Did I surprise you?" Yuri asks, backing away. "Sorry. I got your address from Phichit and Leroy let me in. You didn't answer my text."
"Usually that's an indication of no interest," Otabek grunts. He hasn't even showered, and is just in sweats because it's comfier to study like that. Why is it that people see his privacy as something to be invaded?
"You owe me a ride," Yuri states, and walks around the flat. "Wow, this place is so shitty. I love it."
It is shitty, but it's Otabek's, for a price, so he bristles somewhat. Then decides it's stupid to be affronted on behalf of a building. "I'm not taking you for a ride," he says instead. He doesn't want to be interested. It's a bad time, mid-October, for bike rides. His whole life is a bad time for taking people like Yuri on bike rides. People who are too fucking attractive for their own good.
Yuri just snorts. His hair is collected into a braided bun, but one that's worked itself almost loose. It leaves his neck bare, and makes the line of his back look longer until it melds with the curve of his ass. Otabek looks his fill until Yuri turns to him again.
"No interest, huh?" he says. "You're lying, but okay."
Otabek declines any comment. He's lying. But also, he tells himself, he doesn't have the time. He has to study. The club is falling apart. Maybe if it was just another one-night stand, or just a good hour in bed, that'd be fine, but he doesn't even want to suggest it to someone like Yuri. That is, someone so far out of his league it might as well be the Challenger Deep.
"Leave," he says. "I'm not going to take you on a ride." On his bike or anywhere else.
Yuri looks like he doesn't know what to do with the no. Otabek wonders if this is what makes him a good dancer. His emotions are so clear on his face and on his body. The surprise and the flash of anger and then the pout.
"Could've just texted me no, then," he says, harsh. "Or not given me your number at all. Or, you know," he says, getting louder. "Not ogled me all last night."
"I was 'ogling' the photography," Otabek says.
"Yeah, right," Yuri snorts. He's still not leaving.
And honestly Otabek's more than little annoyed by how JJ and Yuri both have read him. It annoys him to be so transparent about anything. Being known makes him vulnerable.
Yuri turns, but not to leave. He picks up Otabek's headphones and inspects them, looks at his school books, the barely furnished flat. "It's easy to take a good photo if you've got a good subject," he says flippantly, untruthfully.
Otabek sits back down on his bed where he'd been studying. Maybe if he just ripped the headphones from Yuri and put them back on and ignored him, Yuri would leave. He seems like the type. Otabek's type. The one that thrives on attention and worship and adoration, of which Otabek always ends up giving too much or too little. He knows better now.
He should know better now.
"Can you give me fifteen minutes?" Otabek asks. "And some privacy?"
Yuri raises his eyebrows, having picked up a magazine from the stack by Otabek's bed. They're just bike magazines. There isn't much privacy in a one-room flat so Yuri heads for the door. "Guess I'll just wait in the stairwell, huh?" he says, but before he closes the door he sticks his head back in. "I'll time you."
Otabek, already pulling up his ratty t-shirt, just gives him a look. When Yuri disappears, Otabek undresses, has a shower that's not really more than a turn and a plié under the spray while he brushes his teeth, then gets dressed again, in more substantial jeans and leather jacket for biking.
Yuri is lounging in the stairwell like he'd said, idly flicking away pictures on his phone. "Oh, one minute to spare," he says, appreciative, as Otabek steps out, trying to lock his door with two helmets under his arms.
Otabek shoves the other helmet at Yuri and goes down the stairs to the familiar beat of music from the club. It's early still, so the pavement outside isn't littered with people smoking yet. The building encloses a small yard where Otabek usually stashes his bike and he brings Yuri there.
"Do I have to?" Yuri eyes the helmet mournfully and Otabek answers with a question of his own.
"You sure that'll keep you warm?" He nods at Yuri's clingy jeans and leopard pattern hoodie covered with a tiny jacket.
"I dunno," Yuri says. "Not ridden a motorbike before."
Otabek turns away. It's just as well Yuri'll be sitting behind him and not in front of him. Otabek can't help the physical response even if he doesn't intend to do anything about it. It's just not worth it. The circles—despite JJ's opinion on the subject—they move in are small enough to become uncomfortable if there's bad blood over unfulfilled expectations.
Otabek slicks his still wet hair back with a hand and pulls on his helmet. At least it's a nice evening. Not wet. Just cloudy and dark, which is of little consequence in a city as big and as lit up as London. He mounts the bike, waits for Yuri to follow, which he does with grace and a little huff, then waits longer for Yuri to actually wear the fucking helmet. Which he does, without grace and a loud huff.
"Why's the bike so big?" Yuri asks, leaning forward and loosely threading his arms around Otabek's middle.
So he can be charged the exorbitant road tax and insurance rates. "It's a touring bike."
"What does that mean?"
"It's for taking long trips."
Otabek starts the engine instead. Of course not in London. There's barely any driving that's possible in London, but it's good enough for someone who's never been on a bike. In the summer, when it comes and if Otabek has enough money, he's taking his touring bike down to Folkestone and through the channel tunnel to France and he's going to tour. Southern Europe definitely, maybe even farther east. Maybe he'll even go back to Almaty.
He pulls out of the yard and Yuri's arms are tighter around him, his helmet knocking against Otabek's as he tries to look over his shoulder. It isn't a very comfortable ride, over all the speed bumps and stopping what feels like every five seconds to wait out a red light. Yuri is tense and Otabek—despite the weight of the bike itself—isn't used to the change in balance. He's never really offered that many rides to any of his, well, rides.
They come back after circling for half an hour, even a length of motorway which allowed Otabek to speed up a little—despite eternal road works and lowered max speeds—and actually enjoy himself for a bit. He's not sure Yuri enjoys the speed, from the arms clenched around him, but Otabek decides not to care. Yuri had never specified a destination or a speed for Otabek to follow. He also feels the shivers that start going through the lithe body behind him. Maybe fear, but cold is more likely.
Back in the little yard, beside the potted heather, and the music from the club filling the air like so much cigarette smoke from the multiplied amount of smokers on the kerb, Yuri shoves the helmet back at Otabek. His braided bun is hanging loose and his cheeks are red and splotchy. His hands are red, too, and he still shivers.
"Thanks," Yuri croaks and Otabek enjoys his moment of schadenfreude.
"Do you want to come back up?" Otabek asks, feeling more mellow about invaders to his personal space now. Especially this one.
"No," Yuri says and shoves his hands under his arms. "That was horrible," he says then, reproachfully.
"What'd you expect?" Otabek says, putting the helmets down so he can dig out his keys.
"I don't know," Yuri admits darkly, eyebrows drawn over furious green eyes. He looks, for a moment, in the glow of the lamp over the door, crown of hair coming apart, like one of the photographs from the exhibit. Otabek stops to stare. They'd been amazing pictures, whether or not Yuri's assertion that a good subject alone is enough to make a good picture stands.
"Really, do you want to come up?" Otabek repeats his offer, nodding towards the door. He doesn't, as a rule, ask again, because no is no and he doesn't have the time or interest for people playing hard-to-get. But he isn't a monster and Yuri is freezing on the spot.
Yuri just frowns at him. "I know when I'm not wanted," he says and Otabek clenches down on his reaction to laugh in his face. He recognises the determinedly contrary vein that runs in Yuri. He has a matching one.
So he nods, collects his helmets and heads in. And once behind a locked door, he rubs the cramp out of his useless leg and jerks off, frustrated and fast. The existence of someone like Yuri proves his long-held hypothesis of personal hells. This must be his.
Otabek studies on his birthday, ignoring JJ's calls and the off-handed invitations from people in his class to attend Halloween parties. End of term exams loom. His final project needs work. Then it's November, one of the least attractive months, and he doesn't ride his bike much. He tells himself there's no time and the weather doesn't really permit.
He still works his odd jobs whenever required to keep a roof over his head and whenever he can to earn some extra. JJ seems to have dropped the issue with Yuri and Isabella doesn't bring it up either. She does bring up the loose beer tap in the club, informing him that it's now also leaky and Otabek does his best.
He still has practical and theoretical music classes, music industry studies, and out of personal interest, composition and mathematics. He barely takes his headphones off, at home or at work. Through November he notices that the circles he moves in have gotten smaller, or converged, because he sees Yuri at the club more than once. Usually with Phichit and once with a tall, blonde man with a very deep v-neck shirt and some serious moves on the dance floor.
From his vantage point in the DJ booth Otabek thinks he sees Yuri make fun of the man instead of being impressed by his undulations when they dance together. Otabek doesn't approach Yuri, and Yuri doesn't approach him. It's possible Yuri doesn't know it's where Otabek works, but unlikely. They both know JJ, after all. Another mystery and another nail in the coffin.
Otabek visits his favourite bar to get someone else's hand on his dick when he can, usually after seeing Yuri in the crowd. The memory of Yuri straddling his bike and laughing outside the photo exhibit comes up every time, like a timestamped confirmation of Otabek's time of death.
The one other DJ Otabek doesn't find boring at the club is Emil, and Otabek sometimes comes down to listen to his set, although he doesn't join the dancers. On one such night Phichit appears at his elbow at the bar, smiling wide.
"Hi!" he says, like they're friends. His eyelids and brows sparkle with glitter under the lights. There's no point in trying to talk over the music so Otabek nods.
"Here," Phichit mouths and holds out an envelope.
Otabek eyes the envelope, then frowns at Phichit, lifting his shoulders in a questioning shrug. Phichit presses into his side, and speaks into his ear, just audible.
"Tickets," Phichit says. "Ballet. Firebird. Come watch. Last showing this year." He pulls back and nods several times, searching for Otabek's reply in his face. He presses the envelope against Otabek's chest, forcing him to take it. Then he cups his hand around his mouth to speak again. "Because, you know, it's Nutcracker season now. Not as fun." He shakes his head to prove his point.
Otabek nods and gives him a thumbs-up and Phichit grins.
"Dance?" Phichit mouths at him, but Otabek shakes his head. Phichit shrugs and leaves his side, winding through the crowd expertly.
The tickets bear no particular distinguishing marks when Otabek glances at them. There's two. He thinks about giving them to JJ and Isabella because he knows who the tickets are from, even if there's no message attached, even if they've been delivered by Phichit. The problem is Otabek excels at torturing himself over things he can't change or have.
He ends up going to see the ballet with Leo because he's cool enough to not push for information, and because he's not completely ignorant of the art. He doesn't mind Otabek's quietness, which is often taken for stoicness, or patience, or just some sort of strength of character, when it's none of those. He's just a bastard-coated brooder, hard-headed, and according to his mother, also hard-hearted.
He doesn't go backstage or any of that after the performance. He texts Yuri the next day.
O> thx for the tix firebird
Y< c ome see r ite of s pring nxt season
Y< im the principal
Otabek finds himself replying instead of concentrating on his work.
O> some1 likes stravinsky
Y< its viktor 😒
Y< hes directing & did the choreo
Y< but he does give me the good roles
Y< when hes not giving them to yuuri
Otabek doesn't know what to say to that so he does the next best thing and says nothing. He spends a good while with his hand on his dick that evening, listening to the ever-present beat from the club, and trying to decide if that gleaming and coiled steel wire body would bend to him. If the risk of loss of self would be worth it.
Otabek likes his gratification to be quick and prompt. Among his other amazing qualities he's also kind of impatient. Most people don't realise because it only shows after prolonged contact and Otabek doesn't do prolonged contact. So far the fact that JJ is still talking to him after almost four years and that Leo takes him out for beers now and then is the most prolonged of any contact Otabek has had since coming to London.
Maybe it's because Otabek doesn't want to sleep with either of them, and because JJ is cheery where Otabek is surly and not needy at all, and Leo is so mellow that nothing bothers him. The one Otabek actually likes is Isabella. She's clever, but not overbearing, and brings out the best in JJ. Even JJ acknowledges she's the brains behind the whole Yang-Leroy powerhouse.
"Cheer up, big guy," she tells him when he's under the bar again, trying to figure out the situation with the tap. She often tells him that and absolutely never expects him to follow the suggestion.
"You need to get someone to look at this," Otabek sighs, dropping the wrench. He hadn't been doing anything except knocking it against the tubes anyway. "Someone else than me."
"All right," she agrees. "I guess it's time. Thanks for trying, Bex."
"No problem," he answers. It's just before opening time so he doesn't want to drag it out. "Just don't use it tonight."
"I'll let everyone know." She scoots up off the floor. "Hey, we're closed," she says then, while Otabek is still on the floor placing the tools back into the box. It's one of his better qualities, cleaning up after himself.
"So? I'm looking for Otabek," comes the response to Isabella's comment in a familiar Russian accent.
"Oh, Yuri, right?" she says, leaning onto the bar. Otabek just stays kneeling on the ground, wondering if he wants to get up or not, unshowered and unslept. "I'm Isabella."
"You're married to Leroy," Yuri says, his voice coming closer. It sounds like he thinks Isabella's committed a cardinal sin, marrying someone like JJ. Otabek snorts, because he kind of thinks the same. He'd even told JJ as much.
("She's out of your league," he said, unkind. But JJ had shrugged it aside. "I know, Bex. I'm still going for it." JJ is much more courageous.)
After that there's no point in hiding. "Hey, Yuri," he says, rising from behind the bar like some greasy birth of Aphrodite. Yuri on the other hand looks like he's Rossetti's Lady Lilith, with waves of hair over one shoulder and neck on display despite the weather. "Do you want to come up?"
"Yeah, okay," Yuri agrees, giving Isabella a look as she waves at them. They leave through the back and climb the stairs to Otabek's flat.
Otabek washes his hands and his face for good measure, glad that he'd at least worn his semi-decent pair of trakkies and a shirt with no holes on it. Yuri's jacket has metal studs on the shoulders and down the lapels and his jeans are moulded to his legs. Maybe if Otabek was a visual arts guy like Leo instead of a performing arts student he might've been able to compare Yuri to something else instead of a 19th century painting he'd seen a poxy poster of once.
"What do you want?" Otabek asks when he comes out of the bathroom. Yuri is on Otabek's bed, leaning against the wall, legs crossed and reading one his bike magazines.
"I gotta want something when I come over?" Yuri says, not looking up.
"Yeah, kinda." Otabek flips the electric kettle on. He's got instant coffee and Earl Grey.
"I'm just bored," Yuri mutters. "Wanna come to dinner?"
Otabek stops rinsing is only other cup and turns to look at Yuri. "On a date?"
"No, just dinner at my- with Vitya and Yuuri."
"Dinner with your dads? I don't think we're there yet." Otabek has put two and two together, after cyberstalking Yuri through the Royal Opera House website. He's 18, and he lives with Viktor and Yuuri, who are married. He’s a first soloist. He was one of the firebirds in Firebird, but not the firebird.
Yuri sweeps his hair over his other shoulder and slouches deeper behind the magazine. "Ha ha. You came to see me dance."
"Yeah," Otabek agrees and decides on tea for both of them. Cat-and-mouse games aren't for him. He goes over with the two cups and sits on the only chair he has, placing the other cup on the nightstand by Yuri's elbow. "Do you want to fuck?"
Yuri drops the magazine onto his chest and glares at Otabek. The line of his body has gone tense. "No." His eyes narrow and the ridges of a frown appear on his forehead. "You would've had better luck asking that at the exhibit."
Otabek scalds his tongue in his tea, but doesn't show it. Maybe he winces because Yuri lifts his chin and stares at him.
"'Cause now you're just dressed like a greasy hobo," Yuri says. He swings his legs off the bed and stands up. "Anyway, thanks for asking. Could've just told me to leave."
Otabek wants to point out asking him to leave hadn't worked before. And that his question had been a genuine one, if admittedly badly timed. The near-instant dismissal still stings, even if he'd known it was inevitable. He knows, objectively, that he's not supposed to just come out and ask someone if they want to fuck, unless it's on Grindr, but subjectively he thinks its bullshit that people don't just say what they want. He sips his tea, more for show than out of any desire for tea. The other cup sits forgotten by the bed.
"You could've just messaged me," he says. "About the dinner, which-"
"No, I take it back, don't come to dinner," Yuri interrupts to withdraw his invitation with a sniff. He is the beautiful picture of affront. "You don't fucking deserve a nice dinner."
Otabek also knows, from experience, that people will leave if he stares at them long enough. He does it because it hurts. Because it physically hurts right now, all along his left knee and hip from digging around under the bar earlier, and because he doesn't want to think he's missed his chance. There are no chances if he pushes people away.
Yuri takes the stare longer than most, then his mouth goes flat and tight.
"You're an asshole," he says and turns on his heel. With his back turned and retreating, Otabek has the opportunity to let his eyes wander. Yuri slams the door.
Both cups of tea are soon forgotten. Maybe Yuri had actually wanted him to go for dinner.
When Otabek has some free time later that week he goes to a pub with Leo. Leo's American and he wears it like some sort of a badge of honour. It works for him because he's so easy to get along with. It's like he's a regular everywhere.
The pub is nice and quiet and Otabek is too tired to even mind one of the ballet dancers, Guāng Hóng, tagging along. Either there are a lot more ballet dancers around than normal, or he's suffering from the Baader-Meinhof effect of noticing them a lot more.
Otabek puts away several pints of bitter, while both his companions nurse theirs. Leo isn't one to judge, which makes him an ideal pub crawling partner, and Otabek doesn't have enough energy to give a shit about what the ballet dancer thinks. His opinion of ballet is once again negative.
He has nightmares of it.
He has oscillated from one extreme to the other regarding ballet his whole life. He loved it, but he wasn't good enough. He hated it because he wasn't good enough. He loved it because it was a challenge. He hated it after the accident.
Guāng Hóng is playing with the rim of his pint glass, turned towards Leo as if Otabek isn't even there. Leo is talking about his motorbike, an ancient Triumph Rocket, easy and friendly. "Bex taught me all I know," he says, which reminds Otabek that he hasn't become invisible.
The pub is fairly quiet, so it's a good place for talking. Otabek grunts and finishes his beer again, thinking about getting another. But he has classes and his composition homework is rubbish. Guāng Hóng doesn't even look at him.
"Didn't you?" Leo tries to draw Otabek into the conversation.
Otabek gets up instead, sliding out of the booth. "Gotta go," he says shortly, having realised Leo had definitely invited him for drinks to make Guāng Hóng think it was casual and not a date. Otabek doesn't want to be involved in that.
Outside in the late November drizzle he pulls up his collar and winds a scarf around his neck. He's a bit buzzed and wants to get laid. All of it makes him think of Yuri, so he does his best to find someone, anyone on Grindr to hook up with. Except before he even reaches the Underground he's texted Yuri.
O> coffee or smth?
O> my treat for being an asshole
He honestly doesn't know why Yuri replies at all.
Y< convince me 😾
O> i promise not to be an asshole?
Otabek grimaces at himself in the dark train window. Smooth.
Y< yeah like thats gonna be possible 🖕
Yuri has a point. So Otabek types out a promise he can't keep.
O> u can be the asshole this time
O> ill just take it
The pause is long enough for him to almost consider it a lost cause. Almost, because he keeps his phone in his hand, glancing at it as if it'd be possible to miss a message when they're set to dampen the volume of his music on arrival. He still ignores Leo's text asking if he's all right, out of the frustration that its arrival makes him jump.
Yuri's reply comes when he's walking home through the drizzle of rain and billboard lights.
Y< now ur talkin
Y< fucking a++
Y< monday 😾
Otabek stops under the awning of a sandwich shop to read the words, while his heart catches up to the beat of the music in his ears. He's pretty good at not showing things on his face or on his body so people can think he's unaffected or cold, but he still hasn't mastered the skill of hiding things from himself. He gives Yuri a one emoji salute in acceptance of the enthusiasm for payback and the day.
People think Otabek prefers it quiet, but he just doesn't want to share the noise in his head. Not until it makes sense. A beautiful sound requires hollow wood. He'd learned it from his mother, and falls back on the idea when mixing or composing. The saying is about stringed instruments, but emptiness is needed to create something worthwhile even when it comes to humans.
Yuri makes the noise grow and make less sense. To become empty again, how long will it take?
Yuri has such long legs. It's confusing because objectively JJ is taller than him, but Otabek doesn't remember a single time he's looked at JJ's legs and considered their length. But he watches Yuri walk ahead of him into the restaurant—not too fancy, and Russian—and stares at his ass. Yuri’s legs are probably a bridge between heaven and hell.
Otabek gave up his faith years ago, when he gave up everything else, too.
"Shit, Russian?" Yuri says as the realisation hits.
"Problem?" Otabek asks. He figured it wouldn't be, given Yuri's provenance.
"No, I just," Yuri starts as they sit down. It's not a fancy place so it's free seating, and there's space even at dinner time. At least on Mondays. "I would've worn something different."
Otabek doesn't know what to say to a comment like that, and picks up the menu. So far he's seen Yuri dress similarly each time, skinny jeans, hoodies, jackets. Sometimes trainers on his feet, hi-tops, combat boots this time, worn and fixed with black duct tape. It's cold enough for Yuri to have wound what seems like three metres of scarf around his neck.
"At home," Yuri starts again, looking around with a frown as he unfolds himself from the scarf. "I mean, with Yuuri and Vitya, when I eat with them, it's almost always Japanese stuff. Yuuri cooks." He says it all as though it should mean something to Otabek. Of course it doesn't, and he doesn't know how to catch onto it, turn it into a conversation.
Yuri slouches, leaning his chin on his hand, and chews on the end of his little finger, eyes flitting about the restaurant. He's pensive and unenergetic. Otabek still doesn't understand how someone can be so vulnerable as to show their feelings on their face.
"You're not very good at this," Yuri says then, not looking at him.
Otabek shrugs. "I don't take people to dinner," he mutters, grudging, but Yuri doesn't seem to be interested in the why.
"Well, it's mostly bullshit, isn't it?" Yuri leans back, taking his finger out of the corner of his mouth when their drinks come. Water and beer. "Socialising."
And yet, here we are, Otabek thinks. "You would've preferred a different apology."
"I would've preferred it if you were less of an asshole to begin with," Yuri mutters. He meets Otabek's eyes, straight on, and his expression is surprised, as though he's used to people looking away. Most people would, Otabek knows, when someone stares at them like that. He does it enough himself. He did it to Yuri last time.
"Do you have Instagram?" Yuri asks.
"Fuck you. You owe me." This time Yuri's eyes are sharp and he leans forward. His phone is suddenly in his hand, thumb poised over it like a snake ready to strike.
Otabek's Instagram is private, true, but not because the contents are explicit or anything. So he gives Yuri his info and lets Yuri look into his life as their food arrives. Yuri doesn't even touch his pelmeni for a long time, just scrolling.
"So those mags by your bed were porn," Yuri says when he emerges from Otabek's Instagram history of motorbike pictures. "You this into bikes, huh?"
Otabek's mouth is full so he doesn't say anything. Nods.
"And… land customs offices," Yuri adds, frowning, flipping his phone so he can show Otabek some of the offending pictures.
"I’m not an EU citizen or from a Schengen country," Otabek says. This, at least, he can explain. "So I get stopped a lot when I travel between countries on my bike." It’s just a stupid hobby now, taking pictures of the places where he gets checked. "That one’s between Italy and Switzerland. Last summer."
"Huh," Yuri says, nonplussed, then spears a pelmeni on his fork, dunks it in sour cream, and eats it whole. "If you ask me to fuck you again, I will literally strangle you with my legs."
As threats go, it's instantly successful in that it provokes an immediate response from Otabek. Just not one of fear. Surprise and yes. He swallows his food, has a sip of his beer. Stares back at Yuri. "What a way to go," he mutters.
It makes Yuri snort and spray bits of his food from his mouth as he bursts into laughter. It's so stupid, Otabek's words are stupid, but Yuri laughs anyway, tension slipping down and away from his shoulders like a blanket he can just leave behind. Dancers, Otabek thinks, half envious, half condescending. Animals do the same thing. Shake away stress and pain, and go on.
Yuri's face, sharp like a fox's, could be called beautiful if it wasn't constantly being twisted by his emotions. Otabek finds it fascinating to follow. There probably isn't one bit of hollow wood in Yuri, but somehow there's still beautiful sound.
"Hey, asshole," Yuri says, stuffing his mouth with more food, lips smeared with sauce. "What's with the face?" He gestures at his own face with an open hand and fingers spread apart like taking away a mask.
"Waiting for you to punish me," Otabek replies. It gets another twist of Yuri's face, a crooked tilt of his mouth and eyes that narrow, adopting that same distant, down-the-nose look Otabek is already familiar with. It's base fun, making Yuri's face move like that. "You going to strangle me with your legs or not?"
Yuri snorts again. "No. Not yet." Then his face is shrouded with overtones of accusation. "You're not Russian."
"Yeah," Otabek agrees because indeed he's not. He has no idea where this is coming from, but since he's not being asked a question, he doesn't offer any information, and eats some more instead.
"Not Russian," Yuri repeats, louder. "Not a dancer. But a DJ, student, and mechanic. Thinks motorbikes are sexy," Yuri lists, making it a challenge. "Dresses like a hobo, but keeps his fucking asshole undercut impeccable. Came to see me dance."
"Came to see the Royal Ballet perform," Otabek corrects, although Yuri's right. About all of his points.
Yuri snorts. "Thinks I don't see him staring at my ass. Has stupid jokes."
"18-year-old Russian, laughs at my stupid jokes," Otabek counters. "Has bad taste in dinner company."
"That's all you have on me?" Yuri demands with utter disgust.
"I dress like a hobo?" Otabek sidesteps Yuri's question. He likes to dress so he's comfortable.
"Ugh," Yuri grunts but refuses to elaborate. He pushes his plate away and chews on his thumb this time, giving Otabek the full force of his disappointed contemplation.
Otabek drinks the last of his beer and decides to go for something that's bothered him a while. "Why does JJ call you Princess?"
Yuri's reaction is visceral and instant disgust. "Fucking Leroy. I don't fucking know, because he's an idiot? He can go ride a dick!" Quite a few of the restaurant's patrons give them a look at Yuri's more colourful Russian.
"He also called you Ice Tsarina."
"Oh. Oh, how nice of him to be culturally fucking appropriate." Yuri still leans over the table towards Otabek, as if looking for Otabek to join in his hatred for JJ. "Guess Ice Communist Dictator was too gender-neutral for him."
Otabek finds himself snorting and coughing at that, and is almost as surprised by it as he is by the skewed grin it brings to Yuri's face. Even if being female was some sort of terrible thing, and being called one an insult, Otabek can't see why someone with such obvious masculine beauty could even qualify.
"I'll give JJ your regards," Otabek says, voice rough from coughing.
"Don't bother." Yuri rolls his eyes. "I don't need a middleman in telling him to fuck off." His phone comes out again after it makes a muted ping. "Or a protector," he adds, giving Otabek a very heavy look.
Is it flirting? How the fuck would Otabek know? He lets Yuri pull him into a selfie although he turns his face away, he pays for food, he looks at pictures of cats Yuri shows him on his cat-shaped phone when they walk out. Yuri has to lean down a little and Otabek stares at him instead of the pictures—and if Yuri notices, he says nothing. He's used to eyes on him. His hair is in two tight French braids down the back of his head, he stretches above Otabek like a young ash tree, and Otabek wants to carry him up to his flat and eat him out for dessert.
He doesn't. Yuri goes on the Underground with a wave.
"It's a modern miracle," JJ says and spreads his arms to greet Otabek when he drags himself to the club after morning classes. "Social media is a-buzz!"
Otabek turns to Isabella in mute appeal. She's going through paperwork at the bar. Otabek doesn't know how she can juggle JJ, basically running the club and her own classes.
"Give it a break, Jack," she says. "The poor boy doesn't use social media."
Otabek, the poor boy, looks at JJ again.
"You went on a date!" JJ says and comes forwards to shake his hand. "You're becoming a man!"
Isabella snorts. Otabek crushes JJ's hand in his until JJ yanks away.
"Not a date," Otabek growls. He figures they mean Yuri and not the guy he'd found on Grindr afterwards. "Not a thing."
"You went out," JJ insists, then sighs. "Fine. Whatever. Look, I get it. It wasn't a date when I asked Bella to get coffee and help me figure out accounting."
Otabek circles the bar and gets himself a drink. He'd discovered alcohol late in his life. Relatively speaking. JJ comes after him, leans on the bar and eyes his wife.
"You know," he says, softer. "Her Chinese name is Méi Huā. It means plum blossom. I just found out." He takes the bottle away from Otabek when he goes to pour himself another. "Don't you want a plum blossom of your own?"
JJ doesn't understand that not everyone is like him. Not lucky, not easygoing, and definitely not able to do anything else with a blossom than crush the petals. Otabek takes a moment to breathe the ridiculously dramatic image out of his head.
"Leave him alone," Isabella says. "And come do your job."
"Yeah," JJ says and mimes having his eyes on Otabek as he goes over to his wife and leans on her, chin on her shoulder to see what she's working on. Otabek sneaks another drink, then goes upstairs.
Yuri has left a comment on one of his pictures. He takes them when there's a nice bike at the garage where he works. Or if he spots one in the wild. this 1 looks like a cat[angry cat], says the comment. Otabek can't quite see it, but he pursues the comment to Yuri's Instagram, follows him on the spot, and then spends a good hour in the land of things Yuri finds worthy of immortalising.
Yuri has a cat. Yuri has a lot of pictures where he has something in his mouth: hairpins and ties, chopsticks, his fingers, straws. Yuri has videos of nothing, of his feet, talking to his cat, sunrises from windows of moving trains, leaves caught in gusts of wind, water, doing make-up for a show. There's a selfie with a frowning, bitter-looking man, and it takes Otabek by surprise to realise he's looking at himself from a different angle than usual.
He scrolls through the comments and finds enough familiar names, including JJ's, to realise how and why the social media is a-buzz. He takes his grievance to private messages.
O> u posted my face
Yuri can't be very far from his phone because he answers after ten minutes.
Y< i cant believe theres some 1
Y< whos a bigger asshole than i am
Y< its pretty amazing 😾
Y< & u sure r dedicated to it
No apology, no guilt. To be fair, Otabek hadn't said Yuri couldn't post the selfie.
O> people think we went on a date
It's the weakest objection known to man and Otabek regrets it immediately after hitting send. The three dots dance on the bottom of the screen for a while, then disappear without a reply. Otabek looks up at his distorted reflection in the window above his desk. Amazing. But before Otabek can continue his useless crusade against himself, Yuri rings him
"Listen, asshole," he says, sounding out of breath. "I'm really tired and I still have tonight's performance to do so I'd like to get this out of the way now. I actually had a good time with you, and okay, I posted one fucking picture, but people thinking it's a date or something isn't my fucking fault. God," he heaves the last word out either like a prayer or a curse. Often very similar. "I mean, it's probably Phichit spreading lies. He's been asking about you."
Otabek simmers at the other end of the call, squeezing his phone, shoulder and arm tense. "Private," he grunts. He doesn't explain. It's pointless. He hates people. He hates himself.
"Oh my God," Yuri groans. "You're gonna owe me again if you keep this up. Come to dinner on Sunday. And send me some of your music."
The demands just keep coming, overriding Otabek's privacy. "No," he growls.
The call ends with Yuri's quiet ugh at the other end.
Otabek drops his phone again, pulls his laptop closer, curls around the safe warmth it provides. It took him moving to another country and turning his back on Mecca to get privacy. Not even beautiful Russians have the right to disturb that.
Leo and Guāng Hóng become a thing in the time that Otabek takes to sequester himself away from the little bit of world he lives in. He emerges after exams, feeling like his fingers and ears, and brain should bleed from the concetration. Then he attends a work meeting for the club's new website which Leo is building.
"Do not force play music on the site," is all he says during the two hours of his wasted time. Leo agrees by bobbing his head up and down before he goes back to design.
Otabek learns about Guāng Hóng because he hears Leo answer his phone and talk to him after the meeting. And JJ is there to congratulate Leo on bagging a hot piece of Chinese ass just like him.
"I'm not actually Chinese," Isabella tells him fondly. "I'm British, you idiot. My mother is Chinese."
"You're beautiful," JJ says and scoops her up.
Leo shakes his head and smiles, then looks at Otabek. "Want to go for a pint?" he says. "There's a nice pub by the Opera House and... I like to wait there."
Otabek nods. It's mid-December. Nutcracker-season, Phichit had called it. It's also cold on the streets, a little less so in the Underground, and more or less dark when they get to the pub. There's jolly Christmas lights and branches of spruce in the windows and lots of alcohol-induced cheer. They get their pints and loiter at the bar because there's nowhere to sit.
"You and Yuri, then," Leo starts awkwardly, then raises his hand defensively when Otabek turns to frown at him. It's been weeks since he'd talked to Yuri.
"Sorry," Leo says. "Sorry. It's just that Guāng Hóng keeps complaining that Yuri's being even more difficult than usual. I thought that maybe-"
"Nothing to do with me." Otabek shrugs and empties his pint to try and forestall further conversation. Leo's explained to him he met most of the dancers when the Royal Opera House updated their website and he was responsible for dealing with the dancer biographies. Apparently Viktor had done the photographs.
"Right," Leo drops it. "What'd you think of the website design? Can I have a link to your SoundCloud for it? JJ wants to do something with featured artists."
"Design was fine. And no."
Leo sighs, but smiles. "Okay. No pressure, man." He knows better than to tell Otabek to lighten up. "Hey, to end of term." He raises his glass and Otabek clinks his new one into it.
"Yeah," he agrees.
"The long way round to summer," Leo continues, but he's jostled forward by a pair of hands going around his middle and he spills some of his drink.
"Leo!" Guāng Hóng says, peering over the shoulder of his slightly taller boyfriend. Otabek half turns, leaning one arm on the bar, and realises Guāng Hóng didn't come alone. Phichit is there, as is Yuuri, two women Otabek doesn't recognise, and behind them, taller than the rest, Yuri.
Otabek turns back and grabs his pint as Leo gets engulfed by the dancers. He's damn well going to finish what he's paid for, despite the stress of people and spring-green eyes. He coughs only a little when Yuri leans down next to him, having elbowed a space.
"Do you do Christmas?" Yuri asks, close enough for his breath to go over Otabek's cheek and ear. He smells of sweat, he's still in his practice leggings under his coat, and his hair is up, two braids crossing each other across the top of his head. "Whatever. Vitya's fucking millionth birthday is on the 25th. I'm inviting you. I need someone there who won't suck up to him so I won't go fucking insane."
Then Yuri takes Otabek's pint and guzzles it down right in front of him, possibly in the most erotic display of dominance Otabek has ever seen. When Yuri puts the pint down Otabek already has his arm around Yuri's waist, pulling him closer. Yuri acquiesces, but only momentarily, then brushes him off.
The noise from the Christmas-happy customers of the pub returns in a wave as Yuri pulls away and Otabek recoils in shock, cringing. He fishes out his earbuds and puts them in, no music, just to block it. Yuri doesn't look back when Yuuri takes his arm and they leave, the other dancers with them, except for Guāng Hóng. Leo taps Otabek's arm and mimes leaving with his boyfriend. Otabek stays behind for several more pints.
JJ combined with Isabella is probably the closest thing to an actual friend Otabek has. JJ was a music student, too, until he transferred to acting midway through year two. He was the first person Otabek got to know after moving to London, and he's grateful, even if JJ is sometimes grating to be around.
Isabella happened during that first year, too, and the wedding had been just last summer. Otabek was there, as the DJ, but also as a guest. They've taken him in.
Now Otabek is at their kitchen counter, watching JJ cook.
"Do you remember," JJ starts, stirring the sauce.
"Yes." Otabek doesn't let him finish. They only met a few years ago, the odds are Otabek remembers.
"The time we," JJ continues, unaffected.
Otabek buries his face in his arms on the counter and waits to die.
"Did that pub crawl?" JJ finishes after tasting his sauce.
"Yes," Otabek grunts. How could he forget? His teen years had been bereft of alcohol; he'd been so drunk he doesn't actually remember the pub part at all, just the aftermath. Being sick, but kind of victorious.
"You look worse now," JJ says. "Exams hit you that hard?"
Otabek covers his head with his hands, clutching at his own hair. It needs a trim. At least the winter break gives him time to concentrate on earning some money. The garage doesn't close, but quite a few of its workers want holidays for Christmas so Otabek will have as much to do as he wants. The club will host a few seasonal parties, as well.
JJ's hand lands on the back of Otabek's head and gives him a pat. "I know you, Bex. You work hard, you stay up late, you spiral into an abyss of existential dread and self hate and then keep on spiralling." He moves away to finish fixing the food. "You know it'd work really well on goth chicks."
Otabek doesn't ask. JJ's probably tried it, but Otabek can't imagine self-loathing as a seduction technique. Which, he admits, is ironic, considering the amount of self-loathing he carries around on a regular basis.
"But I know that's not your target audience." JJ clatters about with plates, pushing one under Otabek's arms until he lifts his head and accepts it. "So how about you take the time and exercise?"
"Okay, dad," Otabek groans. He swims, likes to float, really, ever since his physical therapy. Tries to get to the gym and keep his knee and hip in working order.
JJ grins and finger guns him. "There you go, sport!" he laughs. "Cheered up, JJ style!"
Isabella appears, hair in a bun and no make-up, dressed in sweats. "I smelled food," she says. "And heard Jack being an ass. You okay, Bex?"
Otabek gives her a thumbs-up and pushes the plate farther away so he can cross his arms on the counter and lean his chin on them. It's Christmas dinner a week early, despite the fact that Otabek has never celebrated Christmas, but they insist on giving him this year after year.
They let him be after dinner when he puts his earbuds in and leave him to brood in the corner of their sofa, just top up his wine glass now and then while watching Love, Actually. Otabek goes back to his flat when it's too late and against a wall of sleet. He watches videos of compass jellyfish with music in his ears and curled up under two blankets.
He's pretty sure people like Yuri gravitate towards strength, not weakness. He's broken because he let himself break and that's the epitome of weakness. Maybe the circumstances didn't help, but he could've not let them define himself. He has dreams where his skin is flayed off his flesh and he hears the crack of bones.
It's blessedly cold on Christmas Day. Cold takes Otabek elsewhere, it's just unpleasant enough to be a distraction, even without sleet or wind. The air prickles in his nose and catches in his throat if he inhales fast enough. But the holiday lights are kind of nice. He doesn't take his bike because that would be suicide and he's not that far gone, and the walk from the nearest bus stop chills him enough.
He's not sure of the address, but it doesn't matter. Yuri is in the middle of the suburban street, between all the semi-detached houses, parked cars, Christmas decorations and streetlights reflecting off the wet asphalt. He's wearing a long and loose knit jumper with glitter threads and sequins in it, but the same skinny jeans. The heels of his trainers flash with coloured lights as he shifts his weight around.
"Took your fucking time," he says by way of greeting. His hair is down and swept to the side again, tucked into the voluptuous collar of his shirt.
"Public transport," Otabek replies.
"Whatever." Yuri shrugs. "All the idiots have congregated. It's so thick in there you could skim stupidity off the top like a soup." Otabek follows him towards a house, then stops.
"Is this Aladdin's flying carpet?" The words are out of his mouth before he stops to think, as soon as he sees the convertible on the driveway. It's pink, ugly pink, with a purple top and gold rims and handles. Yuri calling Viktor ostentatious finally makes sense.
"Ha!" Yuri says sharply, then cackles. "Vitya's got no fucking taste, right? Thank fucking God Yuuri konmaried the shit out of this place last summer. Oh my God, it was magical. Look." He shoves his phone under Otabek's nose with a video already playing.
There's grass and sunshine, summer, there's Yuri's bare feet, and legs, just as bare, and then he points the camera at Viktor, standing by the same driveway. Viktor's hugging himself tightly, one arm up so he can cover his mouth.
"Yuuri," he says weakly, voice thin through the speaker. "Is that necessary?"
Yuuri's there, struggling with a massive silver and white shag carpet. "It's ugly! It's going!"
Yuri laughs, both the one holding the camera, and the one close to Otabek's side now. It disorients Otabek and he doesn't know if it's summer or winter.
"Yuuri, darling," Viktor says again, then rushes out of the picture. "Not the lamp!" Yuri pans his camera around, showing the wreckage Yuuri has already wrought, kitschy furniture littered around the front of the house.
Yuri cackles again, the real one, who now has Otabek by his elbow. "It was like inverse Christmas, but better. Come on."
The heat is like a wall that stops Otabek in the doorway of the house and leaves him tingling. The second wall is noise. There's rows and rows of shoes in the hall, and a few leftover pairs of slippers. He stares at them and toes off his boots, copying Yuri.
"It's a Japanese thing," Yuri's saying as he grabs a personalised pair of slippers from a shelf. They're purple and have cat faces and ears. "No shoes in the house."
Yuri slips forwards, towards the noise and the heat from the big sitting room. But there's people everywhere, some that Otabek recognises, but most not. Everywhere is lovely, understated, dark wooden floors and lighter furnishings. It's not so much Christmas as a winter pastiche. Very non-denominational, very crisp. But then, it's not supposed to be a Christmas party.
Otabek's circuitous route takes him through the kitchen, which opens up towards the sitting and eating areas. Yuuri is there, pouring tea with all the grace of a dancer and a person who takes enjoyment in things like pouring tea. It's quite nice to watch, almost as good as the compass jellyfish, and Otabek stays in the corner for a while until Phichit notices him.
"Otabek." Phichit pulls him over to the tea service. "You've met Yuuri, right?"
Otabek shrugs. It's too noisy and he doesn't want to raise his voice. There's even music somewhere there, lending rhythm to the bubble and boil of talking.
"Hello," Yuuri greets him and smiles. "I think I've seen you. You're friends with Yuri, or something?"
Otabek nods. Or something. Yuuri hands him a cup of tea. "Enjoy." It's as much a command as it is a request. It doesn't take much to realise Yuuri has purposefully sequestered himself in the kitchen and limited his exposure to people, by staying in the safe zone between the kitchen island and the appliances.
Then Yuri elbows Phichit away and pushes Otabek back into the corner. "You didn't bring a present, did you?"
Otabek shakes his head. He doesn't know what a man like Viktor would even want.
"Good!" Yuri says. He has no trouble raising his voice over the ambient level of the noise. "He doesn't deserve it!"
Otabek mouths thanks at Yuuri as Yuri pulls him into the worst of it. He spots the tall man he'd seen accompanying Yuri at the club once. His button-up is unbuttoned to a ridiculous degree and he's gesturing wildly as he explains something to Viktor. They laugh. Someone tries to dance. The red-headed girl he'd seen at the pub pushes over to them.
"Yurashka, dance with me," she says in Russian, taking Yuri's arm. Then over her shoulder. "Hey, turn the music up!"
"Dance battle!" someone exclaims and there's a cheer around the room. Otabek gets pushed back, and he stands by the wall, next to a Christmas tree bedecked in crystal and light. Yuuri and Phichit appear from the kitchen, and soon there's an empty space in the middle of the room, just filled with the heat and the rising volume of the music. Viktor gets showed forwards.
"Oh dear!" he says loudly, affecting modesty, but once he catches onto the beat there's none of it left. The way he dances fills the room, and he's soon joined by the tall man, and then Yuuri. They all laugh and fall into step. When Yuri comes back he's lost his sweater and is in a t-shirt, although one that has kittens shooting laser beams out of their eyes, and he dances with the red-head, circling in an energetic pas de deux, heels and toes, a traditional Russian folk pair dance.
They go round and round until the tall one removes his shirt. There's more cheering and even applause. Otabek is pressing his shoulderblades so hard into the wall he thinks they must leave an indentation. He holds the cup of tea with both hands, every muscle tense so he doesn't shake. His knees hurt with the memory of dancing, the joy of movement.
Yuri is red-faced and his hair is a tangle when he comes back. The red-head is still on his arm, laughing. "Mila," Yuri says, gesturing at her. "Otabek."
"Hello, sweetie," Mila says loudly, in English. She lets go of Yuri and turns back to watch the dancing. Yuuri is now sandwiched between Viktor and the tall man and laughing so hard his face is red. Or maybe it's embarrassment.
Yuri mouths something that Otabek doesn't catch, and grabs Otabek's sleeve. He nods his head, demanding that Otabek comes with him.
There is a door under the stairs, and behind the door are stairs down. It's darker and much cooler there, especially after Yuri slams the door shut after them. Most of the noise is cut off, too.
A snake of dim red LEDs go down the stairs and makes it easy to descend even without any lights on. A system for someone who often comes back in the dark. The corridor opens up at the bottom, but he LEDs keep going along the bottom of the wall on the right, painting out a small studio apartment. From the darkness of a doorway blinks a pair of glowing eyes.
Yuri goes forwards, surefooted. "Potya," he says and the cat comes out of the dark, chirping. "So this is my place," Yuri says after the cat is in his arms. The LED strip illuminates a space that's probably a little smaller than Otabek's tiny flat.
"It's really like a guest bedroom-suite-thing." Yuri gestures with his free arm. "But until I find something better, they," the word is combined with a thumb towards the ceiling, "let me stay."
If Otabek's space is characterised by the lack of everything, Yuri's is the opposite. A tiny sofa—more of a loveseat—is piled high with cushions, the kitchenette is piled high with dishes, the shelves are full of books that spill out onto the floor, the wardrobe is open and colourful pieces of cloth litter the bed and bury a chair. The only other source of light is a full-body mirror that has a string of fairy lights around it.
"And this is my cat," Yuri says, turning so the cat can judge Otabek with narrowed eyes. "She's a monster."
"Like you, then," Otabek says and realises at once he's still holding the teacup.
Yuri snorts and lets the cat go. She sits primly and stares, the tip of her tail moving like a fishing lure, but Otabek isn't fooled. He's no fish, no catch. The ceiling above them thunders as people keep dancing.
"The dancing started early this year," Yuri says and throws himself on the small sofa. It leaves Otabek no place to sit, but he moves over to the sink and places the cup of tea on the counter next to it. "You looked like you were gonna puke."
Otabek grunts. He'd felt like he might for a while. He goes to the bookshelf to look at the books because he doesn't want to look at Yuri. He wants to possess that easy grace, wants it for himself, wants to wrap himself in the beauty of it and pretend. The back of his neck prickles with the weight of Yuri's gaze.
"Why don't you dance anymore, Beka?"
Otabek masks his physical reaction by taking a book out of the shelf at random and flipping through it. He doesn't know which is worse—or better—the question or the pet name. He's good with Bex, even the Tazza and Bezza he inevitably gets called by his British classmates, but not Beka. It's too close to home. But he fails to say anything about it because of that same ring of familiarity.
"I wasn't very good," Otabek says when he finds his voice again. Yuri makes some sort of noise on the sofa and turns on the telly.
"Too bad, I was gonna ask you to go dancing with me."
"No," Otabek says and puts the book back.
"Too bad," Yuri repeats. "And I think you're lying."
Otabek shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans, the nicest ones he owns, and turns to look at Yuri, who's too long for the sofa and his limbs fall over the arms at both ends. If it's a lie, it's a lie of omission. But Yuri's attention isn't even on him, it's on the television, skimming the front page shows.
Is he or isn't he more interesting than Netflix? Otabek hunches his shoulders and locks eyes with the cat instead. She's settled on a shirt on the floor, still staring at him. She's right, he's an intruder. Intruding on a space and life not meant for him, even when invited.
"Beka," Yuri says, not loud but demanding. "Sit your ass down and amuse me so I can forget the shitshow upstairs." He curls up so there's space for Otabek on the end of the sofa and points at it.
"Why? Are we going to become friends?" The words are bitter.
Yuri turns to look at him with eyes that glow almost like the cat's in the flicker of the TV. The lights etch him in stark contrasts, painting his bones sharp. "Yeah," he says, exerting a voice and presence that stir Otabek forwards.
He moves slowly to the sofa and sits down on the edge of it, but Yuri has none of it and kicks at him until he can put his legs in Otabek's lap. "You don't like to party?" Otabek asks while Yuri flicks through shows he's started but not finished on Netflix.
"Not like that," Yuri says and makes an emphatic gesture towards the ceiling. "Houseparties."
"But... you danced." Otabek places his hands on Yuri's shins, watches the up and down bobbing of one purple cat face on his slippered feet.
"Well, I like dancing." Yuri glances at him. "But this shit happens every year at least three times if not more. Birthdays, their wedding anniversary now. Ugh. Always the same people, too. And Chris always ends up shirtless or worse. And if Yuuri gets drunk, and he almost always does, it's all hell let loose."
"Don't you have friends?" Otabek asks. Ones to amuse you, ones you like? Not assholes like me.
This time Yuri shrugs, face turned forwards again, lit with blue light from the television. "They're all from work," he says, sharp-edged and obtrusive. "You may be an asshole, but at least you're not part of that incestuous bullshit up there."
"I don't think I'll be any better," Otabek says. It's the truth. In fact, he'll probably be a worse friend than anyone Yuri has now.
"Yeah, yeah," Yuri sighs. "You wanna fuck me or whatever." He sits up suddenly, pushing his hair behind his ears, but his other eye remains hidden anyway. He's like a neon sign that says both open and closed at the same time, hair blue from the TV, face red from the LED strip. "Look," he says. "I'm not opposed to the idea."
Otabek sits still because any movement from him might derail this. He's pinned like an insect, some shitty moth, to the lights on Yuri's face, to a corkboard to be inspected. He'd thought, at the photo exhibit, after giving Yuri a ride on his bike, that he was impulsive and inexperienced, but this Yuri is like a steel fist closing around him. It's reassuring.
"But I want more," Yuri finishes.
"More?" Otabek chokes around the tension in his body. He had his time with more. It crashed and burned, literally. "With me?"
Yuri tilts his head so his hair falls to one side. "Yeah. You're kinda cranky and mysterious, but I like it. I mean, you could tone it down a little, but whatever."
"You owe me a pint," are the words that come out of Otabek's mouth while his chest and face get hot.
"That's cool," Yuri says, cool himself. "I'll take you out for a pint, no fucking problem." He's unreachable, even when a part of him is in Otabek's lap. He's unattainable, what he represents is gone from Otabek's life.
Otabek looks down when his restless fingers encounter smooth skin instead the roughness of denim, and finds a spot on the inside of Yuri's ankle under his thumb. There's something written there. мяу.
There's a loud thump and the sound of cheering from upstairs. Yuri's "ugh" is sighed and disgusted, and he is unaware of Otabek's crisis of self. He's leaned back and is concentrating on finding something to watch again.
Meow. It says meow.
The thing that had been written on Otabek's legs had been in marker, not a tattoo. Cut this one. Don't cut this one. The scars have healed into pale lines, the bones have healed, the muscles have healed, but the reasons are still there. Why he’s here, with someone else’s family, celebrating someone else’s holiday, instead of being home.
The opening theme of a cartoon startles Otabek and he squeezes Yuri's ankle as if that's going to preserve what's there, or hide the fact that Otabek had seen it. This time he finds Yuri looking at him instead of the TV, chewing on the end of his thumb. Otabek sets his jaw and looks back. He's shown enough weakness. He should take what's left of his tattered pride and leave, but he's useless. Self-preservation doesn't feel important now.
"So you have any?" Yuri asks, pointing at his ankle with his chin.
Otabek takes the question to mean tattoos. "Yeah. Do you have more?" He doesn't know how Yuri creates curiosity in him instead of disinterest.
"Yeah." Yuri's lips go into a grin around his finger. "Why? Do you wanna know where they are?"
It should be obvious that Otabek does, in fact, want to know where they are, but an admission of that desire would be weak. Instead he pulls up his sleeve to show the zipper tattooed on the inside of his left forearm, starting at the wrist and ending just below the hollow of his elbow.
Yuri reaches over to touch it, instantly curious and tactile, like he'd been with Otabek's bike. "Why this?" he asks. The rainbow of colours from the cartoon make Yuri look younger, too, especially when he pulls his hair back and over one shoulder to reveal his face and the side of his neck.
Otabek's insides clench and he bites his teeth together. "It keeps me together," he says against his will. Self-loathing as seduction.
"Just this?" Yuri questions. "Or do you have more?"
"I have more." More zippers. Most of them cover scars. They can't be opened and he won't spill out of all the faults in his self like water from a broken glass.
"Okay," Yuri says. He pulls his feet out of Otabek's lap and under himself, turning a little and presenting the bare, light-painted side of his neck. "Here," he says and touches his ear. Otabek pushes aside a strand of hair and the tiniest tiger face looks back at him, just behind and under Yuri's ear.
"It looks like a sticker," Otabek says and lifts his hand as if to try and scratch it away. Yuri's hair smells sharp, almost citrusy.
"Fuck you," Yuri says and turns his head so fast his hair whips across Otabek's cheek. Then an elbow lands point first into Otabek's solar plexus, which leaves him gasping, followed by a mouth on his, which leaves him breathless.
It lasts only for a second, a warm touch of lips and a little swipe of tongue, and then Yuri pushes him back against the sofa with an arm across his chest. "Your turn," Yuri says.
Otabek holds up his right arm and rolls up the sleeve to reveal an identical zipper there. Yuri looks and makes a face. "That's literally the same as before. It doesn't count."
Otabek slides down a little and rolls up the hem of his shirt, revealing a horizontal zipper this time, across a scar on his abdomen. Yuri sits back to look, then purses his eyebrows and lips.
"So... when you said you have more, you meant more zippers?" he says, slightly taken aback.
"Yeah." Otabek lets his shirt fall down. He's never had to explain it to anyone, he's never shown anyone, except his Grindr hookups, and they've almost never asked. And even if they have, he's not explained.
"That's fucking weird," Yuri says, but it doesn't stop him from leaning into kiss Otabek again.
It still, even though he sees it happen, leaves Otabek breathless. Like a really hot bath that squeezes his chest, or a really cold swimming pool that constricts his lungs until he's panting. Yuri's hair falls across both of them, soft and fragrant, and then someone bangs on the door.
"Cake!" someone screams. Otabek thinks it's the red-head, Mila. "Cake!"
Yuri draws back, his tongue sliding against the inside of Otabek's lip as he does. His arm is behind Otabek's head, across his shoulders. He doesn't move far. "Fuck," he says, almost close enough for his lashes to touch Otabek's cheek as he blinks. "Told Mila to come get me for the cake."
"Cake," Otabek growls, incredulous.
"Listen, asshole," Yuri says. "Yuuri's cake is life-changing." He brings his mouth onto Otabek's again, in a measured, short kiss. "Do you want a piece?"
To regain any sort of control over himself or the situation, Otabek should leave. He should go home and forget Yuri and pretend ballet and ballet dancers don't exist, like he did successfully for years. Blonde twinks aren't that hard to find in a place like London and Yuri could be replaced.
There isn't even anything to replace, Otabek thinks viciously, lips wet from Yuri's tongue, ready to fall apart if Yuri tells him to. Attraction isn't rare. But Yuri is so bittersweet and sour, so much of everything that Otabek wants.
"Cake," he repeats and Yuri's face lights up in a grin.
"I'll get you a piece," Yuri promises. "Not that you deserve it." He pats Otabek's chest before he gets up. "Just you fucking wait," he calls over his shoulder as he jogs away into the red-shadowed stairwell and takes the stairs two at a time.
Noise floods in when Yuri opens the door at the top of the stairs, letting in the light as well. Potya's eyes flash and she disappears under Yuri's bed. Otabek has the urge to follow, even though he'd have to fight for space with the cat. He has the time to get up and go to Yuri's closet, running his hand over the clothes there, his nails catching on soft knits and the occasional sequin or glitter thread.
"Get off!" he hears Yuri's voice at the top of the stairs and freezes. "I said get off, witch!"
The response is a feminine laugh, exaggerated, and then the door slams and Yuri rattles down the stairs. "That doesn't lead to Narnia," he says when he spots Otabek by his closet. He only has one plate with one piece of cake on it. "Sorry." He shrugs. "Fuckers didn't believe I had a hobgoblin in my cellar so I only got this. You're gonna have to go introduce yourself properly at some point."
The cake doesn't look special. It's all white, and in Otabek's mind it tastes like wallpaper paste, but Yuri digs into it and licks frosting off his lips. He doesn't offer Otabek a taste, and spots Otabek staring.
"No," Yuri says, pointing the spoon at him. "I'm serious, you're not getting any of this. If you want cake, go upstairs and pretend you're a person. Yuuri will reward you."
Otabek shakes his head and realises he's holding the sleeve of a very soft knit shirt in Yuri's closet. "I don't want any," he lies. He doesn't want cake as such, he's just curious whether it's as good as Yuri says it is.
"Were we really in the same ballet class?" Yuri asks around the cake. He's folded on the sofa again, sitting on his legs. "I think you lied and tried to pick me up."
Otabek moves around Yuri's unmade bed and a long paw swipes at his ankles from under it. "I didn't lie," he says. And I may have tried to pick you up. "I remembered your eyes."
"Weirdo," Yuri says and Otabek agrees. He shakes the claw loose from his sock and returns to the sofa. Yuri moves back by sliding back off his haunches and ends up sitting with his knees up. He places the plate on top of them and scrapes it with his spoon, then takes it in his hands and licks it clean.
"It is not that good," Otabek says, incredulous. He's jealous of cake.
"Well, you'll never know," Yuri replies, licking his lips and around his mouth—yes, like a cat. There's some chanting and stomping upstairs and Yuri's eyes roll around in annoyance. "I'm surprised you haven't fucked off already, Beka."
Otabek, frankly surprised about the same, shrugs. He isn't at ease and the discordant noise from above is starting to make his head hurt. It's not the same at all as the usually familiar beats from the club, evolving at known intervals. This changes and ebbs and flows in unknown directions.
"When are you playing again at the club?" Yuri asks.
"Tomorrow. The day after and so on." Otabek gestures in a circular motion. "Up to and including New Year's Eve."
"I'm gonna try and come," Yuri says generously. "And dance. Send me some of your music." Yuri pauses, tongue still in the corner of his mouth. "And take me on another bike ride."
"No," Otabek says, reacting to the demands with the instant desire to do the opposite. Then he swallows, fighting the urge, and grasps a velvety leopard print cushion to ground himself. "Come alone," he says, more questioning than demanding.
"You're like some wounded animal," Yuri says, eyes wide. "Potya's a rescue, too."
That spurs Otabek to get up and head for the stairs. His teeth ache from the tension in the back of his head and shoulders. It's impossible to get what he wants, but he keeps wanting it. He's not a wounded animal. Not anymore. He put himself together, alone. He zipped up the scars.
"I'll come alone!" Yuri calls out after him.
After mixing pills and alcohol to get rid of the headache and lingering tension, Otabek decides to send Yuri some music as an apology for leaving so suddenly. The pills are just ibuprofen and the alcohol is just a bottle of beer, but it's enough. He doesn't have to keep his body pure, either for religion or for athleticism. That life is gone.
O> u wanted music
Y< asshole 🌈 🐈 🦄
The reply is so harmless that Otabek can't decipher it. Then he remembers the kiss and responds with a dick pic, because it seems like a reasonable escalation at that time.
Y< u have no chill 😾
Yuri's admonishment is still followed up with a with a picture of himself, reflected in the twilight of his full body mirror, naked but unaroused, neck long and hair over one shoulder.
Otabek comes to that picture twice that night.
"Otabek: The Saga. Does he have a crush or is he dying? What's the difference?" JJ talks to himself around Otabek, who's more or less horizontal on the club's stage. The floor is a bit sticky.
"I don't know, what is the difference?" Isabella says.
Otabek doesn't have the energy to tell them off. He didn't drink that much over the holidays, and he even made it to the gym earlier, but he's leaden. He'd rather die than have the crush, but saying that out loud would lead to being called dramatic by the most theatrical man he knows. It's too much.
"Nobody knows," JJ explains. He's the expert, after all. "Not even the man who suffereth upon the dirty-ass floor."
JJ is right but Otabek admits it only to himself. Dying and not being able to shift his thoughts away from Yuri are about the same magnitude of shittiness. Relatively speaking dying would be easier.
"Give him a break, Jean-Jacques," Isabella says, making a point of using JJ's full name. "You okay down there, Bex?"
"Yeah, get up off the floor before you get chlamydia or worse and help me set up." JJ nudges Otabek with his foot and Otabek rolls off the edge of the stage to haul himself up. He gives Isabella a half-hearted thumbs-up and then stands by JJ, not actively helping, but doing whatever JJ directs him to do.
Three nights later Yuri shows up and spares no effort in making sure Otabek knows he's there. He pushes up to the DJ booth and dances in front of it. He's clearly tired and straight out of a performance at the Royal Ballet, hair still in a bun and wearing entirely unglamorous—but form-fitting—jeans and a t-shirt.
He dances slow and weary, not at all seductive or sexy, but he's present, occasionally making faces towards Otabek although there's no way to make actual eye-contact. Some interested parties come by, but he ignores them, or pushes them away. Eventually, when he's exhausted and Otabek is anxious with desire, he waves and disappears. Only loyalty towards his paycheque keeps Otabek playing until his set is done.
He staggers upstairs to his flat, uncomfortable and sweaty in his ridiculous pleather trousers, half-hard and probably dehydrated. The first thing he does is to get a drink of water from the tap in the kitchenette, and splash his face. Then he struggles out of his clothes on the way to his messy bed, leaving everything where it falls, thinking about pulling up that nude Yuri had gifted him.
His bed yowls when he falls on it. With the voice of a ballet dancer.
"Ow," Yuri complains. Otabek freezes, unable and unwilling to shift his weight in or off the bed. On or off Yuri.
Yuri stretches, long and pale limbs poking out from under Otabek's sheets, and Otabek spots the pile of Yuri's clothes on the nightstand. Otabek doesn't have LED strips or fairy lights in his room, but a glow from the street comes through his curtains, giving just enough light to illuminate just how naked Yuri is.
"Hey, Mr Do you want to fuck," Yuri says, rolling onto his side and propping himself up on his elbow. His face is a complex mask of amusement, sleepiness and expectation.
Otabek sits up. The surprise has in no way made the tent in his boxers diminish. "What are you doing here?" he asks, keeping his back turned.
"Tomorrow's my day off so I'm staying over," Yuri says as if it should've been obvious. The sheets rustle as he reaches over and places his hand against Otabek's lower back, then slides his fingers up along his spine. Otabek knows what he's tracing. "You really have a thing for zippers, Beka."
It's dark enough for the old scars to disappear and new ones to be made by fingers that walk up his shoulder. Otabek doesn't want to explain. He rolls into the bed, and into Yuri, pressing for a kiss.
The kiss is tired and slow, too, just like Otabek. Yuri's response comes with a sigh that blows across Otabek's lips. Yuri tilts his head back down on the pillow, fingers at the back of Otabek's neck. Occasionally Yuri's lips and tongue slow down as though he might fall asleep again, and Otabek responds with a bite, which makes Yuri smile. Otabek can feel his lips stretch against his, and the teeth behind them, nipping back.
There's nothing but smooth skin under the sheets for Otabek to find. No underwear, minimal body hair, just unbroken skin covering muscles that tense in response to Otabek's touch and then relax again. Otabek hasn't been this hard from just kisses and skin for a very long time. His cock rubs against an already-formed wet spot on his boxers and twitches when Yuri stretches under his hands.
"Sle~epy," Yuri's voice cracks in the middle of his stretch as he arches his back and separates their mouths. "Fuck." He sits up and pulls Otabek's underwear off, then straddles Otabek's thighs. He stretches again, arms up, his bun of hair coming apart.
Otabek could come from just that. He runs his hands up Yuri's thighs, thumbs skating along the softer inside until he's sat up, too, and wraps his hand around Yuri's cock. If everything about Yuri is like steel, then this is, as well. Silk-covered steel, hot and hard and flushed against Yuri's pale stomach.
Yuri keeps his arms behind his head, watching Otabek with half-lidded eyes, pupils wide and black. He groans and shifts against Otabek's hand. "Fucking go on," he says, voice cracking again, this time because he yawns. "Make me come."
The yawn, or the slothful way Yuri lets his head fall back, don't bother Otabek. He yawns, too, Yuri's light-splattered pale skin blurring in his eyes, but slides his hand around Yuri's lower back and hauls him closer to be able to handle both their cocks with one hand. Yuri bites his lip and groans again, but his eyes are closed and his head lolls back.
Otabek estimates with a cloudy mind that Yuri must've been up for almost 20 hours by now, maybe with a catnap in between. He catalogues the erect pink nipples, at least two more tattoos, the flutter of Yuri's stomach and the weight of him in his lap. He trails his lips over Yuri's bare throat and the hollow underneath, he sucks marks on his collarbones, and he strokes both of them hard, wet with desire and leaking more with every draw of his hand.
There's sweat, old and new, on Yuri's skin. Otabek tongues the taste over and over again, enveloped in the sharp scent of Yuri's shampoo as his hair comes loose and falls on his shoulders. He presses his nose into Yuri's neck, just under the sticker-tiger behind his ear and soaks in the small grunts and sleepy moans Yuri makes.
Yuri's arms come down around Otabek's shoulders when he comes. He bends his head forwards and tenses, thighs squeezing, as he pulses and spurts out his release, lubricating Otabek's hand to the point where he barely has any friction. But Otabek is too far over the edge to come down now, holding the beautiful, shuddering body, the lips against his ear, mouthing a whisper he can't make out over the hiss of blood in his veins. Otabek growls when he comes, but it's a broken noise, indolent.
Yuri goes slack and lets Otabek take all of his weight, and Otabek's body protests everything. He falls back on the bed. "Again," he croaks, his hand still between them, still moving, even if it's not so comfortable.
"Are you fuckin' kiddin' me?" Yuri is drowsy. He quakes and trembles but pushes himself off Otabek.
"Again," Otabek repeats in a daze, rolling after him. If he lets go, it'll be gone. The steel wire holding him alight will be snapped. He tries to kiss Yuri but his mouth is too clumsy; he presses his open lips to Yuri's shoulder, running his wet hand along the inside of Yuri's thighs, cupping his balls, his softening cock.
"After I sleep," Yuri says and pushes at him, but doesn't push him away. "If you want more, I don't care if you jerk off on me while I sleep."
The thought of it, being given permission, makes Otabek's cock twitch, but he's spent, too. He can't even keep his eyes open, or lift his arm. He still pulls Yuri to him, as close as he can, wanting to feel every bit of him and pretend it's his to have and to take, and to keep.
A relatively gentle but insistent slapping against his cheek wakes Otabek. It's not yet really light, but it's not so dark either, and his misoriented brain manages to recognise it as early morning. Yuri's eyes are dark and sunken, but he doesn't seem bothered by his tiredness as he takes Otabek's chin and waggles it.
"Hey, asshole," he says. "There's no food."
Otabek finds himself alone and crusty on the bed, with Yuri sitting on the edge of it, wearing nothing but the light.
"It's 7am and I have to eat," Yuri explains. At least his voice is soft, even if the traffic outside isn't. "But you just have cheap beer in your fridge. And tea bags. You don't even have sugar or eggs, you fucking creep."
Otabek rubs his face, his hair is sticky from unwashed product. The light on Yuri's skin is making him almost grey and his hair colourless. "I don't," Otabek starts.
"You don't," Yuri asserts, having taken it as a question. He curls back into bed, fitting his longer body against Otabek's. The bruises Otabek made on his neck are purplish on his skin and Otabek feels an instant tightening in his groin. He wants like the tide.
He doesn't kiss Yuri on the mouth; he burrows under Yuri's jaw and kisses the skin there, revelling in the stale smell of sweat because it's there. Yuri hitches a leg over Otabek's hip and rocks into him. There isn't anything to say, they sigh and moan and almost come together. Otabek does much sooner than Yuri, desperation making him trigger-happy.
Yuri spasms against him and then they lie there, cooling and oozing, until Yuri clicks his tongue. "Shit, now I really gotta eat," he murmurs, raking his blunt nails down Otabek's arm. "What are you gonna do about it?"
Otabek hadn't realised it was his problem. He keeps his face against Yuri's neck and strokes his hand down his flank and into the curve in the small of his back, then over the swell of his ass. He feels blurry around the edges, almost drunk from lack of sleep. "We could go out," he says, voice rough. "There's breakfast places..."
"No," Yuri says immediately, then pulls back. "You go buy something. And get lube and condoms if you don't have any. Then come back. I'm gonna shower, provided this shithole has a shower."
"It... does," Otabek says. The noise that leaves his throat as Yuri pulls away and gets up is embarrassing. It's infinitely colder and his skin is immediately brought to gooseflesh.
"Amazing," Yuri says. "And then you can tell me what the fuck this is about." He swipes his hand over Otabek's left thigh and knee, the network of scars that have nothing to hide them now except the zippers that make their way up the side of them. Otabek makes another sound of protest, this time on purpose, but Yuri is already walking away, towards the tiny bathroom.
Otabek uses a kitchen towel to clean the worst off himself before getting dressed in whatever he finds lying around. There's a place he knows that has decent sandwiches so he heads there. It's not bitterly cold outside, but it's wet and unpleasant, and his trainers aren't meant for the slush that lines the pavement.
He's uncomfortable coming back with the sandwiches and fizzy water for Yuri and Irn Bru for himself. The lack of sleep makes him crave the sweet hit of the faux-orange drink. He has the lube and the condoms, at least. And the thought of those and the sight of Yuri on his bed, in middle of their soiled sheets, finger-combing his wet hair, skin glowing pink from a hot shower, makes Otabek freeze in the doorway in dry-mouthed arousal. Faint music emanates from the sparkly, cat-decked phone Yuri has propped up against a pillow. It's the 10-hour YouTube video Otabek had sent him.
"What the fuck?" Yuri says, not gracious at all, when Otabek doesn't move, face contorted in barely contained crankiness. "Get in here. I'm fucking starving." Otabek remembers the carrier bag hanging uselessly from his fingers, and tosses it on the bed, while toeing off his soggy shoes and useless leather jacket.
Yuri descends on the food like a wolf on the fold and Otabek is glad he got several sandwiches. Partly because he hadn't asked what Yuri likes. His stomach growls at the sight of Yuri eating, but he decides to shower instead. His toothbrush is wet, as is the whole bathroom, and Otabek feels gratifyingly dirty sucking on the bristles a little as he tries to wash fast, but thorough. There’s only lukewarm water for him.
Yuri is on his second sandwich when Otabek comes out of the shower, towelling his hair with an already used towel. He doesn't bother with clothes, or trying to hide his half-erect cock. He hopes the scars will escape explanation with the food there.
"Noticed your piano. Thing," Yuri says with his mouth full, gesturing at the cheap synth setup Otabek has. "So you play that?"
Otabek nods between chews.
"Play me something," Yuri demands at once. "Didn't think you were a piano guy."
Otabek glances at the keyboard but makes no move off the bed. He's not a piano guy, but he doesn’t want to explain it either. He wants to stay in the present, in this weird hollowed-out space he has with Yuri right now, carved right out of normalcy. He desperately wishes there were fairy lights instead of the greyness of a post-Christmas December Sunday morning. And warmth instead of a draft that howls between ill-fitting the windows and door.
Yuri doesn't seem to be too shocked his demands are not met this time and continues demolishing his breakfast. When he's finished and wiping his hands on a napkin he looks at Otabek again. "Do you always play Russian hard bass on Sundays?"
Otabek shakes his head. "Not always," he clarifies.
"Just when I'm there?" Yuri supplies and Otabek nods again. "Thanks, do you think all Russians like it? Maybe I don't."
"But don't you?" Otabek prompts. He'd seen the way Yuri had bounced when he'd recognised the style.
Yuri throws the used napkins and the empty water bottle back in the carrier bag, a grin coming and going on his face. "Sorry I used your toothbrush. You didn't have one for guests or anything."
Otabek shrugs. Some orange soda spills down his face when Yuri stretches across his bed. He's naked and clean and he'd asked for condoms and lube. Otabek forgets about being hungry and hungover from lack of sleep.
"Do you just get less talkative the more I spend time with you?" Yuri asks with a hint of irritation. He jabs a finger towards Otabek's knee. "Tell me about that. You said you don't dance because you're not good at it, but those scars are deep." He looks as if he's uncovered some big secret, frustrated and imperious.
Otabek looks at the offending limb. It aches as if to remind him that he's not going escape his past. "I was in an accident," he says. "And afterwards..." He pauses until Yuri makes an impatient click with his tongue. "Afterwards I stopped dancing."
Yuri sits up and leans forwards, placing his hand on Otabek's thigh. "When did it happen? How? I haven’t seen you limp or anything." He has endless questions, which Otabek shies away from. He takes a drink, but Yuri pulls the can from his hands and crawls on him, pressing him down.
"Tell me," he demands, impatient and overbearing like a cat. And very hard to resist. Otabek only thinks of bucking him off once, then closes his eyes, feeling Yuri's hard body on his, the softness of his damp hair coiling onto Otabek's chest.
"I was 15. It was in a car accident. My left knee was crushed. My other leg and spine were fractured." Otabek is pleased that he can say all this now, without sound too bitter. It had been his fault even if he hadn't driven the car.
Yuri clicks his tongue again. "When I was 15 I won Prix de Lausanne."
"Of course you fucking did," Otabek sighs. He grabs Yuri and rolls them around, feeling rough.
"And then I grew like twelve metres in one summer and couldn't dance for shit," Yuri continues. He shifts under Otabek until he's comfortable, enveloping him in his long limbs.
"Are you saying a growth spurt is the same as a car accident?"
"Fuck no!" Yuri huffs. "Just telling you stuff about me. You know, sharing."
Otabek kisses him to shut him up. Grindr is so much simpler. It's all in the dark. None of this laying bare, literally or figuratively. Of course nothing's perfect. The hot dancer is going to be intrusive and annoying and curious, but of course he's going to feel perfect against Otabek.
"And then," Yuri continues when Otabek strays from his mouth. "When I was just getting back on track with ballet, my grandfather died."
Otabek lifts his head from the crook of Yuri's neck. "Really? You want to talk about that now?"
"I'm just saying." Yuri is blithe, and his nails drag on both sides of Otabek's spine. "Tragedy and shit. Happens to everyone."
Otabek bites him, but Yuri just laughs.
"And then," he continues. "I had to move here to live with Viktor. Don't tell me that isn't a tragedy worth Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky."
Otabek bites him harder on the soft part by his shoulder and is rewarded with a whine and Yuri's body stiffening. His cock also reacts, becoming hard against Otabek's thigh.
"Oh, you asshole," Yuri says, and it's clear he means the exact opposite.
On Tuesday night, still unslept and now completely fucked out, Otabek lies across the booth table at a pub. It's sticky, too, and smells like spilt everything. He's still clutching his first pint, barely touched, in his hand. He has no plans for New Year's except jerking off by himself. They hadn't talked about a next time.
"But why?" Leo asks.
"It's his new thing," JJ replies. "Lying on dirty surfaces."
"But why?" Leo repeats.
"He's in love," JJ says in the most annoyingly saccharine way possible, but at least it makes Otabek sit up and glare. "See?"
"No," Leo says. His eyebrows say he's sorry.
"It's Yuri," JJ continues and makes a heart sign with his hands.
"Oh." Leo cringes. "Is it?"
Otabek nods. At least that's true. It's what, or whom, he's been thinking about ever since Yuri skipped out of his flat to go home just a few hours prior.
"Can we talk about the website?" Leo at least has the decency to change the subject.
"You want to work in a pub? On New Year's?" JJ protests.
"Dude, I'm a freelancer. Everywhere's my office and every day's my office hours," Leo says.
"But it's New Year's," JJ repeats in case it's escaped Leo's notice. "It's too loud." No matter that it isn't for several hours yet. The pub-goers seem to be in good form, however, already celebrating.
Otabek rubs his knee under the table. He's overworked it. Should've let Yuri do the work.
"You'd think he'd be happier after getting laid, but he's actually worse!" JJ raises his voice even more, rapping his knuckles quickly against the top of Otabek's head.
"He got laid?" Leo pipes in.
"Yeah," JJ says as though it's his achievement. "Who do you think let the Princess into his flat?"
Otabek decides to put his head back down, and lays his forehead on the worn table. A cheer goes around. New Year's. Or beer. Or both.
"You're such a good friend," Leo says over the din. "Too good."
"Thanks!" JJ clinks their glasses together.
"Yeahhh..." Leo draws the word out. "I mean, too good to not have some stake in this."
Otabek thumps his fist on the table to draw their attention, points at Leo and then gives him a thumb-up. He's right. JJ is way too goddamn involved.
"Hey, I just..." JJ's voice drains away and Otabek hears him finish his pint, even over the ambient noise. "I guess you're right. I'll back off." He cheers with his empty glass against Otabek's head. "Sorry, Bex. You're on your own."
Otabek flips him off without looking up, but then changes it into a thumbs-up as well. JJ's never held fast to his promises to mind his own business. Happy New Year to him.
At night, sleepless from the on-going party on the streets, and the acrid aftermath of a full club and fireworks, Otabek sets his phone to record and sits in front of his keyboard. He plays Für Elise because it's the most insipid choice he can think of and he's a little pissed off at being continuously asked to share his music or play something. And he's a little pissed, period. He uploads the video on his Instagram. Yuri receives a link to it.
Otabek, in turn—although it's more like early morning now—receives a row of cat emojis, nauseated faces and middle fingers.
Two days later, when Otabek's elbow deep in de-greasing a bike engine, he receives an 8 second video of Yuri dancing to Bochka, Bass, Kolbaser, wearing a hoodie and his cat on his head so it looks like the cat has a human body. The weird bubbly feeling in Otabek's lungs turns out to be laughter that comes out in strangled bursts until he's laughing so hard he's crying. He's glad he's alone, emotional outbursts belong in private.
Then, following Yuri's Instagram, all he does is get jealous. Not because he has so many more followers, but because some of the comments seem so intimate, and Yuri responds to them—albeit flippantly, if at all—and Otabek wishes he could have all the selfies and cat pictures and videos to himself.
At least when Otabek calls Yuri, he picks up.
"Happy New Year," he says, because that's the convention.
"It's too late for that," Yuri says, sounding tired, but the dejected nature of his greeting is dispelled by the short laugh that follows. "You've been creeping on my Insta. You liked a picture from last summer!"
"And that's against the internet code of conduct or something?" Otabek falls onto his bed. "You look good with a tan." The tan and the sun-bleached highlights in Yuri's hair had made his green eyes brighter; the white tank-top and shorts had exaggerated the length and definition of muscle in his limbs; the pose had revealed slivers of the lighter, softer skin of his inner thighs.
Yuri laughs again, snorting. "Oh, okay. You liked it ‘cause you jerked off to it."
Otabek covers his face with his hand. "Yeah," he says. Pretending otherwise doesn't seem like a good use of his time or effort.
"So, whacha doing now?" Yuri asks, the suggestive tone so heavy it leaves nothing open to interpretation.
Otabek, despite the pleasant direction of the conversation, digs his knuckles into his eyes and curls up. "I told you about the accident," he says. "And you told me your grandfather died. Was your point that because everyone suffers I should be better adjusted?"
The heavy and long pause marks his weakness, but he hears Yuri breathe, so at least he hasn't hung up yet. Yuri exhales and Otabek shivers as though Yuri had actually breathed against his ear.
"No," Yuri says, the tired timbre back in his voice. "If you wanna discuss relativist bullshit like that, I'll hand you over to Vitya. He loves that dumbass stuff."
"Ugh, you know, philosophy and shit."
This time the long pause is because Otabek is lost for words.
"Way to ruin the mood, asshole," Yuri says while Otabek still struggles with the realisation that not everyone is devastated by their ruinous experiences. Or that maybe he's just that feeble.
"Yeah," he says, not pretending otherwise again.
"Come to dinner," Yuri says then. "Day after tomorrow. Sunday. Don't dress like a fucking hobo. We have standards in this house."
"I'll give it a go," Otabek replies, surprised but also pleased that he hadn't driven Yuri to utter annoyance with his whinging. "How tired are you?"
"Super," Yuri says and yawns as if to prove his point. The earlier playfulness is gone from his demeanour. "Gonna sleep, Beka." He hangs up without waiting for Otabek to wish him a good night or anything of the sort, but it's just as well. Otabek feels like he's been slapped by the name again. It's what his little brother used to call him. It sounds so good.
The cold water shock gives way to insidious warmth.
The Sunday dinner invitation means trying to act like a person—talking—because it's with Yuri's dads. Otabek still refers to them as that because it evokes so many expressions on Yuri's face, and then always ends up with snorted laughter and disgusted noises if not actual dismissal. And it's closest to actual family dynamics Otabek has witnessed for a long while.
"This is very good," Otabek hazards over the appetizers Yuuri has created. It's eggplant with some sort of glaze.
Yuri hums in a way that says I told you as he stuffs his mouth. His hair is braided to the side, the plait itself hanging over his shoulder.
"Thank you," Yuuri says, perfectly sweet.
The only person at the table to have a wine glass is Viktor and it seems to hover almost permanently at his pursed lips as he eyes Otabek. Otabek truly feels like he's meeting Yuri's parents and they don't like him very much.
The house is very different without the birthday decorations and all the drunk people. There's only soft music that seems to come from everywhere at once and has Otabek looking for hidden speakers. It's the kind of system he's dreamed of. He only scowls a little under Viktor's scrutiny and hides it in chewing.
"You were at my exhibit," Viktor finally intones, as if he's figured something out. "And at my birthday party."
Otabek nods at him, but keeps eating. Yuri groans something like ugh, Vitya next to him. There's some scuffling under the table and Yuri straight-up snarls at Yuuri, looking like a cat whose meal someone is trying to steal.
"So you've known Yuri for a few months," Viktor continues after touching the wine in his glass to his lips.
"Years, actually," Yuri says before Otabek can say anything. "Okay, you can take my plate. Fuck!" He shoves his plate away and Yuuri pops up and starts collecting them like it's all he's wanted to do.
Viktor reaches to the side and touches Yuuri's arm, but doesn't look away from Otabek. "Really? Years?"
"We met about ten years ago," Otabek says as Yuuri whirls by, wearing wide stripes and smelling faintly of sandalwood. He looks so soft, but moves like clockwork.
Viktor sips at his wine. "But didn't keep in touch."
Otabek shrugs. He doesn't know why Yuri wants them to think it's been a long time. "Are you Yuri's dads?" he asks, to a heavy grunt of disgust from Yuri and a surprising wide, happy grin from Viktor.
"Yes!" Viktor says ignoring the obvious needle Otabek had inserted into the words. "Yes, we are! Yuuri, darling, did you hear? We have a son!"
"No!" Yuri yells.
Yuuri places the plates in the sink and whirls around. "In that case," he says, rushed like he's been holding it in. "Yurio, you can't just fall in with every bad boy you meet!"
Yuri gapes at him, then at Otabek, his face cycles through looks of I can't believe you've done this and you'll pay. "Beka's only a bad boy in the sense that he's bad at everything!"
"Yurio!" Yuuri reproaches him. "That's not a reassurance!"
"Quite the opposite," Viktor murmurs, leaning his cheek on his hand, following the conversation with eyes that are alight with absolute happiness. "Sorry, Otabek, I'm sure you're not actually bad at every-"
"It's none of your business!" Yuri yells over Viktor.
"How dare you talk to your father like that," Viktor says, holding back laughter, and reaching over to touch Yuuri again when he returns to the table, wringing his sleeves.
"Oh, get fucked, Nikiforov!" Yuri is standing up, too. They're all so alive and Otabek can only watch.
Yuuri gasps. "So rude. We just want what's best for you."
Otabek knows he's definitely not what's best for anyone, especially not for someone like Yuri, but he's used to parental censure. Or, semi-parental, in this case. There’s been other bad boys?
Yuri growls. "Then feed me," he says and slumps back down, arms crossed and face in an impressive scowl. "I can't believe you gave them that opening," he aims the blame at Otabek.
Viktor and Yuuri share a smile, Viktor's completely, openly delighted and Yuuri's much subtler one. "I'm so happy he recognises the responsibility we've taken over you, Yurashka," Viktor says. "I'm so happy you brought him to dinner."
Yuri relaxes too fast to be as affronted as he looks, and his hand finds its way onto Otabek's thigh under the table as Yuuri hustles Viktor up and they bring over soup plates and a grand bowl.
"Soup," Yuuri declares. "Well, Japanese-Russian fusion borscht."
"You'll love it," Viktor promises and Otabek sees Yuri nod in agreement.
Otabek has no idea why he's been chosen for this dubious honour. Why Yuri had asked him to dinner months earlier, before anything really. Why not someone more accomplished, someone more beautiful, one who isn't out of place in this achingly aesthetically pleasing house, and these people who are like pieces of art. Ethereal Viktor and delicate Yuuri. And vivid Yuri.
The borscht is a brilliant red with a mellow, balanced flavour. Otabek doesn't know enough about Russian or Japanese cuisine to pick out what's what, but it's delicious. He's been living on bad kebabs too much. He's forgot what actual food tastes like.
"So how did you two meet?" Viktor asks and doesn't wait for an answer. "I saw Yuuri in my darkest hour," he continues and touches his husband again. It's innocent enough, but constant. "I saw him perform one of my original choreographies and I was lost. Oh, he was like fireflies on a warm night. Or like vodka to a frozen man."
Yuuri smiles and keeps his eyes coyly on his soup.
"So I travelled to Japan to meet him, and found out he felt the same about me. He moved with me to Saint Petersburg and then here, and made me the happiest man in the world when he married me." Viktor beams and Yuri makes another ugh while ladling borscht into his mouth. Both Viktor and Yuuri stop to look at Otabek and he realises they're expecting a reaction.
"Nice," he says and Yuri snorts wetly, pulling the soup bowl closer to get seconds.
"Nice?" Viktor repeats incredulously and shares a glance with Yuuri.
"Is there more?" Otabek prompts. What else should he say? He doesn't know them well enough make further comments. Yuri cackles with his mouth full, then swallows and points at his self-professed parental figures with his spoon.
"Try and get Beka to smile or something, I fucking double-dare you," he chortles. He's enjoying himself, too, and bumps his knee against Otabek's in what Otabek thinks is a show of solidarity.
Viktor leans back in his chair, picks up his wine glass and rests it against his lips again, returning to his earlier scrutiny.
"So how did you meet?" Yuuri asks this time, showing actual interest by not launching into a fable of his own.
"He was ogling me!" Yuri says immediately. "At the exhibit."
"The pictures of him," Otabek corrects. This distinction feels important in the face of this familial assault. JJ may have a contender for the title of the most theatrical man alive.
"Viktor's pictures are amazing, yes?" Yuuri says and smiles towards his husband. Viktor reaches over to touch him.
"Please," Yuri says. "The subjects of Viktor's pictures are amazing. You're just borrowing our likeness to make yourself seem less shitty."
Viktor gasps softly, in mock shock. "Kitten."
"Ugh," Yuri says.
"Borscht not good?" Yuuri asks, gesturing at Otabek's almost full bowl.
"No, it's-" Otabek doesn't get to finish.
"You said you'd met before," Viktor cuts in. "Where did that happen?"
"In Saint Petersburg. Ballet class." Otabek has some of the soup. It's really good, but it's hard to enjoy it right now. It's hard to remember how to operate a spoon, for fuck's sake.
Yuuri and Viktor share another look. "You don't look like a ballet dancer," Viktor says, forthright. It's true, although maybe it's meant as an insult. Otabek is far from being in that good a shape now and it shows. He's not terribly out of shape either, but it's hard to compete with professional athletes.
"I'm not," Otabek agrees and eats some more, barely tasting it.
Viktor clicks his tongue. "I see. Not a dancer."
"Let him eat, you freaks," Yuri says. "He's a DJ." He puts his hand on Otabek's thigh again, in a weird mirror of Viktor. "He has a motorbike. Shut up," he adds when Yuuri opens his mouth. "He only drove me around on it once. Yes, I wore a fucking helmet."
Viktor pours himself more wine, Yuuri looks disappointed, but they're obediently silent.
This can't be real, Otabek thinks, the only one eating now. Yuri's rocking back in his chair, glaring across the table at the fidgeting Yuuri, who'd been so worried about Yuri falling in with bad boys. Is it because he wore black? Yuri had said to make an effort and his nicest clothes were all black. Is it because he showed up wearing a leather jacket in January and didn't bring a gift? What would mother say? Mind your manners?
"I made dessert since we have a guest," Yuuri says and gets up. "Yurio, help me."
Yuri heaves the sigh of a put-upon teenager and follows, taking Otabek's soup plate before it's empty. He puts his spoon down and meets Viktor's gaze head on. He'd learned to stare people down from his father and it looks like Yuri has learned it from a father-figure as well. At least Viktor demurs after a spell and tops up his wine.
"Come with me," he says and stands up. Otabek glances towards the kitchen where Yuuri is whispering something to Yuri and Yuri is glowering back, his incredibly emotive face and body twisted up in annoyance and embarrassment.
"Why-" Otabek begins as Viktor takes him into the sitting room. The Christmas tree is still there, not the slightest bit worse for wear. The place is spotless.
"You want to talk about Yuri? What a coincidence, I do, too!"
Viktor pulls out a photo album and Otabek marvels at someone who still has photo albums as physical entities. Viktor flips quickly through the pages, then lands where he needs to be and shoves the album at Otabek. It's Yuri, if only recognisable by his hair, a measure shorter. He's tiny. Angry.
"Look at my kitten," Viktor says, proud. Otabek pulls his lips back, baring his teeth for a moment, but if Viktor sees or senses his disgust it doesn't stop him at all. Affection between fathers and sons is dangerous. His father's affection had always been edged with guilt and discipline and disappointment.
"He's grown so much," Viktor continues, going to the next page. They're his pictures, the same style as his exhibit. "The year he turned fifteen." He shows another picture, a dancing Yuri, the promise of his current form in the past. "He's strong, and good, and I'm not worried," Viktor keeps talking.
Not worried about me, Otabek translates in his mind.
"You should've seen him at Prix de Lausanne that year."
Otabek disagrees by curling his hands into fists. He'd been 18, going on 19 then. Already in London, first year at the College of Music. Angry and betrayed.
"Everyone should've seen him," Viktor says, moving pages forwards, talking down a the pictures. "I've never been so proud of anyone as I was then." His face is pinched, eyes shadowed by a sweep of ashen hair. It doesn't tell Otabek why he's being shown this, the pictures or the affection. They aren't anything he should know or has sought to know, but it's still something that Viktor is desperate for him to know.
"We could watch his performance on YouTube!" Viktor slams the photo album shut.
But Otabek thinks he might rather walk into traffic than watch that sharp-edged baby sprite with eyes too big for his face and spirit too big for his skinny body perform anything. It'll hurt. As if this doesn't already hurt enough.
Yuri is clearing the table, making dishes rattle as he stares towards them. "No YouTube," he says, clearly having heard Viktor's exclamation. "And stop being weird!"
Viktor picks up his wine glass with a grand sweep of his arm. "Don't bring guests if you're embarrassed of us," he says. Otabek has to concede that point to him.
Yuri turns with a huff and carries his armful of dishes into the kitchen, to start putting them into the dishwasher. Otabek has trouble reconciling this domestic picture with the one of Yuri riding his dick. Viktor claps him on the shoulder so hard Otabek is sure the memory must've shown on his face in some particular way.
"Ah, yes, staring," Viktor murmurs. "The love-lorn man's favourite pastime."
Otabek promptly drops his gaze to the floor and Viktor chuckles. Otabek finds it obnoxious, but he's the guest. He's dressed to play the part so might as well. Mind your manners.
"I've only known him a few months," Otabek says. He's not in love with Yuri.
"I thought it was ten years," Viktor taps the wine glass against his lips, holding it up with one hand, the other supporting that elbow. "You should get your stories straight."
"We were in the same class. He doesn't remember it," Otabek says. You don't owe them an explanation.
"It's not easy to forget someone who makes an impression," Viktor agrees with Otabek's unspoken words. He returns to the table where Yuri has placed a clean setting. Yuuri is by the kitchen island, folding napkins, entirely taken up by whatever origami flowers he's conjuring from the blue paper squares.
Yuri waits until Viktor's back is turned and mouths let's fuck after at Otabek. It's just as well Viktor and Yuri dominate the dessert conversation because Otabek hasn't the presence of mind to contribute beyond the simplest of affirmatives or negatives when required.
Yuri prefers to stay the odd night in Otabek's flat, rather than the other way around. Otabek doesn't press for it, because he also prefers the privacy of what he's got. Yuri's conveniently parental figures are too much for him.
A cold snap follows the first week of January. It not only freezes the wet streets into black ice and flurries of snow that barely reach the ground but it also freezes the windows of the flat. And, seemingly, the floor. Yuri fights the cold by first wrapping them in the sheets when they have sex, and when that proves unwieldy, he wears socks and a massive, zipperless hoodie.
Otabek has zero objections. About the socks, or the hoodie, or in general about Yuri being there. It isn't all that often, considering their mismatched occupational schedules.
But Otabek makes the mistake of watching over Yuri's shoulder as he scrolls through his social media one evening. "You have a lot of friends," he says.
Yuri snorts. "What? Not really."
"Oh, you mean followers," Yuri says snidely. "Yeah, well, look at me."
That's the problem. Otabek looks so much he's seeing Yuri when he closes his eyes. But he looks now, too, at the cosy hoodie-wearing, leggy vision on his bed. The hoodie barely covers anything, just enough to remind Otabek that Yuri is naked under it. So Otabek looks.
He's found out the tattoo on Yuri's inner arm is lettering, his grandfather's initials. The one on his hip is a leaping cat. ("Are you sponsored by Puma?" Otabek had asked. "Are you sponsored by a fucking zipper factory?" Yuri had countered.)
"Yeah," Otabek eventually mutters. "Everyone looks at you."
"Ugh, are you jealous?" Yuri puts down his phone. He has the hood up, and the shirt's long sleeves cover him to the tips of his fingers, but his legs are bare and shining pale in the cold of the flat. "Looking, whatever. I'm only fucking one of my followers right now."
"Right now," Otabek repeats. It's so bitter he actually touches his own mouth after the words come out. He doesn't blame Yuri for looking at him the way he does, eyes glowing from the darkness of his hood.
"Asshole," Yuri says. He puts one cold-fingered hand on Otabek's scarred knee, not visible through the sweatpants he's wearing. "You got some issues, Beka. Jesus, why do I put up with you?"
It's what Otabek has been wondering, too, and the uncertainty makes him want to lock himself up, maybe sow a zipper across his mouth so he can stop talking altogether. He fully expects Yuri to get up and leave, and erase his contact info.
"Ever considered just shutting up?" Yuri demands, pressing down on the scars. Otabek's whole left side aches from first standing too long and then sitting too long. And then from pounding Yuri on his back for too long, those legs on his shoulders and then jackknifed under him.
Otabek rolls his head, his shoulders, glares at Yuri. "Have you?"
The strangest things make Yuri laugh. This is one of them. "Been told I should," he says, grinning. "And ignored the advice." But his fingers are unkind, digging into the muscle above Otabek's knee.
"You're incomprehensible," Otabek says and lies down, pushing his head onto Yuri's thigh. He nuzzles into it, the downy hair and muscle that goes hard under his cheek.
"Stubble," Yuri says, and Otabek rubs his chin in a little more because it makes Yuri squirm. Yuri picks at his hair in retaliation, sharp fast tugs on his scalp. Otabek stays silent because it's borderline affectionate and it isn't what he signed up for, but doesn’t want to make it stop.
What shitty poster store has he visited to connect Yuri with reproductions of classic art? An image of Pietà fills the backs of his eyelids from the way Yuri lets him stay in his lap. He turns his face up and opens his eyes to see Yuri looking down at him, face hidden in the shadow of the hood, shoulders relaxed, draped in the overlarge piece of clothing.
Otabek hopes that it isn't pity that Yuri feels, but he knows a way to dispel pity and compassion. "I was in the accident with my boyfriend," he mutters into Yuri's skin.
Yuri groans and his fingers tighten in Otabek's hair. "Oh, and he's fucking dead, huh? Is that what this is? You wanna one-up me on my dead grandpa?"
"No," Otabek says. It's much worse. He shifts higher up on Yuri's thigh, nosing under the hem of the hoodie. "He's not dead."
The way Yuri brings up his grandfather is incomprehensible, too. Like it's nothing that he's dead, but Otabek knows some people are like that. Same as his father, who spoke of the accident like it it was in the past the moment Otabek opened his eyes in the hospital. He couldn't make his father understand the past and the present were the same for him, he was still living it, every day through his physical therapy. Yuri must be like that. It's in the past so it's done.
"Listen, asshole," Yuri says and Otabek bites him, making Yuri inhale through his teeth, like a needle.
"Tell me about your grandfather," Otabek says, mouthing at the bite, with Yuri momentarily silenced.
"What? Fuck no. You started this. You tell me about your-" he stops. "Are you trying to give me a blowjob so you don't have to talk about it?"
"Yep," Otabek says, nuzzling in deeper under the hoodie. There's already bruises there, on Yuri's thighs, left from before. Otabek makes a few more, concentrating on the slight taste of salt and musk, the combined scent of laundry detergent and soap and lotion and sweat. He slides his hand up onto his hip, digging his nails in there.
"You started this," Yuri mutters in repetition, and he doesn't stop Otabek. Even moves his legs apart more to let him do what he wants. "So you finish it."
"We were fighting," Otabek sighs, pressing kisses and licks along the crease of Yuri's groin. Slightly more salty there. Yuri's cock has a slight swell of interest. "In the car. So he lost control. I was trying to break up with him."
"Trying?" Yuri questions. "Useless even back then, huh?"
Otabek wholeheartedly agrees. Always useless. "Mm," he doesn't even bother putting it into words. He spends a while nuzzling into Yuri's cock, which twitches.
"Stubble," Yuri says again, pulling one knee up and canting it to the side so Otabek doesn't have to lie across his leg. "Either talk or suck, don't do both badly."
"You did say I was bad at everything," Otabek reminds him, looking up just enough to catch Yuri frustratedly chewing on the knuckle of his thumb. The muscles in his legs move as he kneads with his toes.
"Ugh." Yuri cuffs him on the back of his head. "I was being facetious. Yuuri was trying to make you out to be some bad boy, and I don't care how many motorbikes you own or ride, you're just a fucking weirdo."
"And that's better?"
Yuri makes no worded response, only shoves Otabek down. So Otabek adjusts his position, both to be more comfortable and to press his own erection into the mattress. He sucks on the tip of Yuri's cock for a little while, making him harder, then noses under it, licking at his balls. It gets Yuri shuddering again.
"My parents told me to do it. To break up," Otabek admits between licks. "Ballet was already too much, being gay on top of that was unacceptable. So I fought with my boyfriend and that made him crash the car. My side took the worst of it, but I know he was broken, too. I never spoke to him afterwards. I don't know if I even wanted to."
"Ouch," Yuri says, perfectly crystallising the whole mess. Does he get how Otabek's actions not only cost him his own dreams, but those of others, too?
Otabek closes his eyes. Yuri has gone soft again so Otabek doesn't stop to talk anymore. He's said enough, tried to explain the failure he comes from. But Yuri doesn't try to learn more, just sighs and concentrates on his phone, then moans and rolls his hips against Otabek's mouth. His orgasm is muted, but Otabek appreciates the generosity. Otabek comes, too, in his own hand, because Yuri is just staring at the ceiling, hoodie pushed up to his waist and legs splayed indecently.
"My parents were shit, too," Yuri says as Otabek dwells between his thighs, resting his head on one. "That's why I lived with my grandpa."
Otabek listens. He asked to be told, and only knew Yuri's grandfather was dead. He traces his fingers between the bruises on Yuri's inner thighs.
"I mean, I guess there's a distinction," Yuri continues. "It sounds like your parents were kinda shit ‘cause they cared. Or tried to control you. Mine were shit ‘cause they were never there. So I got into a lot of trouble ‘cause of that."
Otabek agrees with Yuri's assessment and nods against his leg, dragging his stubble against the soft skin again. It gets him a shove on his shoulder. "What about your dads?" he asks, which gets him a harder shove and a burst of choked laughter from Yuri. He's a little curious now of Yuri's life of troubles, too.
"They're okay," Yuri says with exaggerated disgust. "I'm gonna go check out my house in Moscow in the summer," he continues. "Well, my grandpa's old house. I thought I could maybe rent it out." He pauses, a surprising amount of uncertainty crowning his voice. Otabek can't see his face from his position. "I don't know. And maybe go to Saint Petersburg for a while, or Hasetsu with the idiots."
Otabek collects himself from his safe nest and sits up to get out of his now wet sweats and uses them to wipe his hand again. Then he flips up the sheets and gets under them. The flat is so cold; he can hear the wind as it flows through the shoddy window lining.
Yuri pulls his legs up against his chest and covers them with his hoodie, then takes his toes into his hands to get them warm. "Have you ever been to Japan?"
"No," Otabek says.
"Yuuri's from Hasetsu," Yuri says, resting his chin on his knees. "It's on Kyushu. They usually visit in the summer and I've been there a few times. Yuuri's family owns this... spa-thing. I think I'll go again if I'm invited."
Otabek says nothing although he knows Yuri wants something from him. Yuri's annoyed sigh proves him right.
"So what are you doing in the summer, asshole?" Yuri spits and turns his head so he can glare at Otabek. It almost makes Otabek smile so he pulls the sheet higher to cover his mouth.
"I'm going away," he says.
Yuri's face lives through his emotions, and his incredulity settles into sudden alarm, chased away by the dawning of suspicion. "Away?" he says. "Like away away?"
"For the summer," Otabek adds, because he's a coward. "Roadtrip."
Yuri glares at him again. "Where? How?"
"Why do you think I have a touring bike?" Otabek counters and watches Yuri's brow crumble into a frown. "I drive across the continent. Go wherever. You saw the pictures of border crossings."
"And you do that for the whole summer?"
"Yeah. Pretty much."
"Europe's not that big."
"No, it's not. I don't hurry. My knee hurts a lot. I have to stop a lot."
Yuri squeezes his toes furiously, giving Otabek an expectant pause, but when Otabek finds there's nothing he wants to say, Yuri huffs. "So aren't you gonna invite me to come?"
"Come?" Otabek repeats. "Didn't you just come in my mouth?"
"Are you being purposefully dense?" Yuri complains and Otabek almost admits that yes, he is, but he enjoys watching Yuri too much. Especially when Yuri suddenly kicks his legs out of his hoodie and rolls onto Otabek, grabbing his hair in one fist. "Invite me on your fucking roadtrip."
"You want to ride something?" Otabek says, sliding his hand over Yuri's ass, while Yuri's free hand grasps his chin.
"Fuck you," Yuri says and kisses him, cantilevering Otabek's lips open with his tongue. Otabek tilts his head back and lets Yuri kiss him into happy oblivion. The sensory feedback is both relaxing and arousing: the heat from Yuri's body, the slippy tongue, the feel of his skin under Otabek's hand, the crisp scent of his shampoo, the touch of his hair on Otabek's cheek, the sound of traffic far away, muffled by their breaths and the rustle of the bed.
"Whatever," Yuri says when he's done kissing. He pulls on Otabek's lower lip with his teeth. "I'll just do what I was planning, then, and you can go fuck yourself."
Otabek strokes the small of Yuri's back and doesn't let him roll away. "You'd hate it," he explains, keeping his voice low. "Roadtrips are just a lot of sitting down."
Yuri squirms and bares his teeth impatiently.
"And I want to go alone," Otabek adds. He's always gone alone, so he must want to go alone. And if he drives back to Almaty, he'll definitely want to be alone, not with the most gorgeous boy he's ever known. He's not ready for that yet, not ready to be told again he should abandon his choices. Although he isn't sure Yuri is his choice; he feels much like a surprised, pleased passenger in what they have.
"You suck," Yuri says in the most petulant, childish way possible. "It's still months away. You'll change your mind."
Otabek shrugs a little and reaches up to kiss Yuri again. He won't change his mind about it, but Yuri might. He'll probably be bored of Otabek in a few months' time. His optimism about the chances of them staying together almost pull Otabek under the current.
There is a time in February when Otabek realises he's begun appearing at the fringes off Yuri's selfies. A hand there, a shoulder here. A profile behind Yuri, a pair of dark eyes. Not as straight-on like in the picture from the restaurant, but pieces of him here and there, as if Yuri is collecting him, shard by shard.
He finds out JJ is definitely following Yuri on Instagram after he comes at Otabek with his phone held out, pointing at the incriminating evidence of Otabek's half-smile caught in the dark back of an Uber, behind an overexposed Yuri.
"You already knew," Otabek says.
"It's really you?" JJ asks, weirdly resentful. "Shit."
Otabek withholds his comments. JJ shrugs apologetically and claps him on the shoulder.
"Really happy for you, Bex. Just might owe Emil some money."
"Ah, yes, friendship," Otabek drawls with all the venom he can muster. It isn't much, because he doesn't mind as much as he pretends. Just a bit. Just enough to be happy to see JJ cringing.
"Right. Retreating, JJ style," he says weakly and leaves to go hide in the club's office.
Otabek puts down the scraper he'd been using to shave old posters and stickers off the information board and gets out his phone. First he screenshots the picture because it captures something, both of the night it'd been taken and of now. Then he sends it to Yuri with mood as a caption.
There's enough scraping and odd jobs at the club to keep Otabek fairly busy and out of his own mind until Yuri replies. Yuri's days are much less freeform than his, regimented into segments of practice, rehearsal, and performance.
Y< gonna be mad again? 😾
O> just wanted to let u kno
O> u made jj lose money w/ this pic
It's impossible, but Otabek pretends he can feel Yuri's spiteful excitement as the messages tumble in.
Then a selfie, with Yuri holding up his middle finger and smirking. He's sweaty, hair escaping from its braided prison and curling with the humidity and heat of the ballet practise room.
Y< hows this for a suck it leroy selfie?
Y< im sending it right now 😼
As much as Otabek owes JJ, which a considerable amount, he finds it's easily diminished in value and importance when Yuri becomes involved. Otabek would approve that selfie for any use. In fact, sending it to JJ seems a waste of a good selfie.
O> think he made a bet we wouldnt last
O> but he lost
Y< ha! 🖕
Y< he can suck my dick
Y< u can too
Y< im coming over tonite 🐈
Maybe Otabek owes JJ even more now. Maybe JJ deserves a gift basket.
Yuri in Rite of Spring is absolutely mesmerising. Otabek sees the performance twice, although not in a row. After the first one he finds out the opening night has coincided with Yuri's birthday.
("Coincided?" Yuri snorts later. "The director's Viktor Make a Statement, Any Statement As Long As It's Big Nikiforov. There are no fucking coincidences here.")
"Hey, fucker," Yuri greets him that night, walking out of the dressing room. "You're taking me out to dinner tonight. It's my birthday. These idiots are coming, too." His sweeping gesture encompasses about half the corps de ballet, or that's what it looks like to Otabek. "I didn't ask them." Yuri continues and gives them all a sweeping glare and a curled lip.
"I asked!" Phichit volunteers. "And we got you this card." He offers a large envelope to Yuri with both hands. Yuri takes it with an annoyed noise, rips the envelope, and opens the card.
A tinny version of You Are My Sunshine fills the air for a second before Yuri closes the card and glares at everyone anew. "I fucking hate you guys," he says and stalks ahead.
Phichit almost doubles over laughing, clinging onto Yuuri who's covered his mouth with his hand. Guāng Hóng giggles behind them–until Yuri throws his glare around–and Mila rushes forward.
"Yura, baby!" she calls out, holding back her laughter. "Don't go! You're our sunshine!"
Yuri's response is distorted by the corridor as he breaks into a run. Otabek makes a move to go after him, but is held back by Yuuri taking his arm, and Phichit his other.
"Don't worry, I know where he's going," Yuuri assures him and holds onto him like a vice. To be honest, Otabek finds him mildly disturbing. "He didn't tell you it was his birthday before, yes?"
"No, he didn't," Otabek says as the two men escort him out onto the dark and always-wet streets outside the Royal Opera House. It must be his 19th.
"He's never had a boyfriend around for his birthday," Phichit says and Otabek has the distinct impression he's feeling up Otabek's bicep through his coat.
"I'm not-" Otabek doesn't finish his sentence. He doesn't owe them any explanations on his relationship status with Yuri. And he doesn't want to hear about whatever boyfriends Yuri has or hasn't had.
"That's true," Yuuri says. Otabek has no idea where they're taking him and he doesn't see Yuri or Mila anywhere. Just slow traffic and sodium streetlights reflecting red and yellow off the pavement. "If I'm honest, I didn't think you'd be here, either."
"Thanks," Otabek says. At least Yuuri sees the same impossibility he does. It's drizzling just enough to create a cold mist, but Otabek perversely enjoys the shitty weather in England.
"Which is why I'm documenting this," Phichit says, his phone already held up to catch them in a selfie as they walk. He takes several, making many disappointed sounds when he fails to catch Otabek's face.
They hang onto him almost the whole way to a vegan restaurant and chat between themselves, but without really including Otabek, possibly because Otabek doesn't want to be included and stays silent. Yuri and Mila are already sitting down at a large table, with Leo and a purple-eyed girl who's introduced as Sara. By the time they have ordered, Viktor arrives with Chris, and Yuri is showered with many small gifts, all of which he accepts with a grudging ugh, thanks and a scowl. Otabek feels inexplicably guilty even though he'd had no idea.
"Birthdays are shit," Yuri confides in him midway through the meal when it's been mostly forgotten why they're there, and hunger and tiredness take people over. Leo had greeted Otabek with a wave of his hand, but then concentrated on his boyfriend, and on Phichit, who now seems to be Leo's boyfriend's boyfriend.
"Yeah, especially when you don't know about them," Otabek says between bites of coconut rice. Yuri punches him in the thigh.
"Didn't tell you 'cause they're shit!" he says, spraying some of his food out of his mouth. "Look at these circus freaks!"
"Yura!" Mila says on his other side and scuffles him a bit. "Don't speak with your mouth full!"
"Don't talk to me, hagfish!" Yuri scowls and scoots his chair closer to Otabek. "I can come over, right?" he says more quietly, leaning in.
Otabek nods, not about to speak with his mouth full. He already feels completely graceless between all these ballet gazelles. And Leo. He glances at Leo, but he doesn't seem to mind it at all. He has class first thing the next morning, but he figures Yuri won't give a shit. He'll have work, too.
On their way to Otabek's flat, with Yuri wrapped in about three metres of scarf and Otabek shivering in his leather jacket—because he's too useless to dress according to weather— they hold hands for about a minute. Then Yuri mutters no under his breath and draws his hand away.
"Why do you hate your birthday?" Otabek asks as they wait for the metro.
"'Cause it's stupid and made up," Yuri answers, muffled by his layers. The hood of his coat has a fur lining. It's the 1st of March, but it feels colder than December.
Otabek tries to follow that logic. "It's literally less made up than all other holidays."
"Ugh," Yuri grunts. "Okay, look, asshole. Do not react to what I'm about to tell you." Yuri moves from his half-lean and in front of Otabek. A train goes by and leaves the ends of Yuri's scarf fluttering as he sticks his finger into Otabek's solar plexus. "My birthday hasn't been real since my grandpa died. Nobody makes me birthday piroshki. And before he started doing that, before he had custody of me, my mother would just forget. Or not care. She was never home anyway."
Otabek is good at not reacting, at least outwardly. He nods. But he does take Yuri's hand, although just to remove the angry digit digging into his chest. "Do you know how to make piroshki?" he asks.
"Yeah," Yuri huffs.
"Why don't you make it yourself, then? Or ask Yuuri?" Otabek says. Yuri's face is stuck on bitch-mode, which just deepens with Otabek's questions.
"It's not the same," he says, and the end of his words are swallowed by the next train coming in. They board it and stay standing up, Yuri looking out the windows into the dark of the underground. And Otabek watching Yuri's reflection in the windows.
"Why me?" Otabek finally asks when the silence—for once—is getting too much for him.
Yuri turns his head. "Ha," he says. "You don't get it? 'Cause you're an asshole like me. You won't try to cheer me up or any of that bullshit." The trains jerks on its tracks, but it's no coincidence then that Yuri leans his shoulder into Otabek's instead of the wall.
"You don't really talk about your parents much," Otabek states.
"You're such a hypocrite," Yuri replies, still looking out. The way he turns his head, and the way his hair is held up in a tail, leaves the sticker-tiger tattoo visible behind his ear and Otabek stares at it instead, wanting to lean in and touch it. He isn't offended by Yuri's estimation of him. An asshole and a hypocrite. Yeah, sounds about right.
There's a walk at the other end of the train ride and it's silent. Yuri has his phone out, living in the glow of the screen. It's isn't until they make it to the flat, with the club in full swing and spilling out people and noise, that Yuri speaks again.
"Yuuri made me a cake," he says and turns his phone out for Otabek to see a picture of the current masterpiece. He pauses in unlocking the door, expecting Yuri to Uber the fuck out in favour of the cake. But he puts his phone away and shrugs. "It'll still be edible tomorrow. Hurry the fuck up."
Once inside, Otabek watches Yuri unwind his scarf cocoon. "My parents were good parents," he says, finding the words out of nowhere. "I was the one who was wrong."
Yuri climbs on the bed, snorting. "See, this is why you're such an asshole. 'Cause you're an asshole to yourself, too!"
Otabek picks up Yuri's coat and scarf off the floor and hangs them up as Yuri's trainers come rocketing at him off the bed. One of them graces his leg. "Do you want to stay or not?" he asks, very nearly snaps.
Yuri sticks out his tongue, childish again. "Your parents told you to stop being gay! They literally told you that being a gay ballet dancer is too much. And you defend them! So it's not just them, you're saying that being a gay ballet dancer is wrong!" Yuri howls. "So I'm everything that's wrong! But you're still fucking me!" At least there's no worry about neighbours hearing anything because the club music fills the walls.
Otabek hadn't expected the tremor in Yuri's voice. He stares at Yuri kneeling on the bed, shivering with energy that never quite seems to dissipate, no matter how tired he is.
Yuri draws breath sharply because Otabek refuses to say anything. "Oh, you passive-aggressive asshole," he hisses on the exhale. He peels off his long-sleeved t-shirt and sends it flying at Otabek. "I never told my grandpa I was gay so it fucking bugs me," he says next, in a rush. "At least you told your parents. Who the fuck cares if they don't approve?"
Otabek pulls the jumper off his head and presses it to his nose, inhaling Yuri's scent. "I do. I did." Yuri is staring at him from the bed, hard-eyed. "I didn't want to disappoint them."
"Please," Yuri says with disgust. "There's nothing people do more than disappoint each other. You're saying they didn't disappoint you when they told you to stop being what you are? Truth is important, Beka."
"Truth disappoints people the most," Otabek says, not sure why he's arguing the point, and not sure what really sparked the conversation in the first place. Something about birthdays? Yuri's uncertainty.
"Well, yeah," Yuri snorts. "But it has the advantage of being true. What other basis for your sorry-ass existence do you want?" He slumps, looking for all the world like a broken version of one of the puppet-like characters from the ballet, the sacrifice who dances himself to death. "I thought me being gay would disappoint my grandpa. So I said nothing. Now he's dead and I'm never getting that back. I don't fucking deserve piroshki."
Otabek still doesn't offer his condolences, and Yuri doesn't seem to expect any. Yuri moves again to get undressed, launching his clothes in every direction as soon as he gets the pieces off. Then he rolls into the sheets and wrinkles his nose. "You haven't even changed the sheets!"
Otabek shrugs and sniffs at the jumper again, then folds it onto the back of the folding chair. "I didn't know you were coming over." He flips on the keyboard and picks out a few notes on piano mode. How could you be a disappointment to anyone? It's too ridiculous to say out loud.
"If you play me that stupid birthday song, I'll strangle you," Yuri promises. His tone is still hard-edged, but his outburst seems to be spent for now.
"With your legs, I hope," Otabek murmurs.
"No, you'd enjoy that too much. I'd use my hands." Yuri mimes strangling him and his combative affections make Otabek feel more like a person and less of a disappointment, despite their argument. It's as though Yuri is saying it's not all his fault.
Otabek glances up and finds Yuri staring at him, through a cloud of his own hair. "Oh, well, I'll play you something else, then."
"And if it's Für Elise, I'm fucking leaving," Yuri threatens and disappears under the sheets.
"Oh no," Otabek says flatly and Yuri snorts, making the sheet puff up with his breath.
Otabek tries his best to pick his way through a spur-of-the-moment piano version of When I'm Down, and whether Yuri likes it or not remains a mystery, because the lump under the sheets doesn't move. Otabek doesn't wait for applause when he's done, but gets undressed and finds it's nice to get in bed when someone's warmed up all the sheets and when there's a supple body there to curl up around him. And Yuri isn't shy about poking him with his erection when he does.
"I like it when you play," Yuri admits, sounding almost sleepy. And kind of conciliatory. "What else can you play?"
"Guitar," Otabek says, shuffling them around so he can spoon Yuri and slot his own growing erection against Yuri's ass. So he liked it. "Zither. A jaw harp."
Yuri takes his hand and places it on his cock, squirming against him until Otabek bites at his shoulder. "A zither? Seriously?"
"Seriously," Otabek murmurs and licks at the tiger behind Yuri's ear. "Happy birthday," he adds, not sure if it's welcome or not.
"Thanks," Yuri says after a silence that lasts a beat too long. There's a little catch in the back of his throat as Otabek plays with the tip of his cock. "Is the jaw harp thing why you're so good at eating ass?"
"No," Otabek says. "I just like eating ass."
"So tomorrow," Yuri starts, tilting his head back and pushing his ass into Otabek. "Come eat the cake Yuuri made, and then eat me."
The way Yuri's pressing back means he must feel the way his words make him shudder, and Otabek catches the edge of his amused mouth tilt. "What's wrong with now?"
"Nothing," Yuri says. "Just thought it had more poetic symmetry like that."
"Your ass has enough poetic symmetry to make up for the lack of it elsewhere," Otabek mutters and Yuri snorts raucously, his whole body shaking with laughter he's muffling into a pillow, releasing dammed tension. The laughter combined with the vibrations of the club music lull Otabek into a world where he's free and happy. He sucks marks down Yuri's spine—there's a tiny little star tattoo on Yuri's left shoulder blade, small enough to almost look like a mole—and bites into the mouthwatering roundness of Yuri's ass.
It is, even objectively, a very beautiful set of gluteal muscles. And subjectively, to Otabek, it's paradise on earth. It's not the first time he thinks of his father when he goes down on Yuri. It never lasts long, a vindictive flash that makes him spitefully happy as Yuri moans and his asshole tightens against the tip of his tongue.
Every time he's fucked a man, or been fucked by a man; every time he's even kissed a man, or looked at a man with lust; every time he remembers his father, at a moment when he wishes it was the furthest from his mind. But doing this with Yuri, tongue fucking him, sucking on the soft skin of his balls, he wishes his father would see it. How could anything so perfect be wrong?
And he gets Yuri's squirms and moans and the wet spot on his sheets where Yuri pushes his cock, intoxicated by the pleasure. His hands and feet knead the bed and the muscles in his lower back jump until his voice gets loud enough to overwhelm the beat and the rumble of traffic and sweat gathers on his thighs and in the crooks of his knees. Otabek tastes him twisting and turning on his tongue, working his hole open.
Yuri comes with a drawn-out groan, working his cock with his hand, pushing back against Otabek's mouth. When his body relaxes, Otabek sucks a mark into the skin between his asshole and balls, making Yuri squeak a little. Otabek could stay there all night, doing that over and over again. He blows some cool air on the wet skin he's left behind and sits up. He's started leaving water bottles on the nightstand and takes a drink from it now. Dust billows in the air from the bed and from the building itself with every beat of the music, flashing in the light of the passing cars.
He realises how close he's to coming when Yuri's nails land on his back and slowly scrape down, and his balls tighten and pre-cum dribbles out. The next thing that touches him is Yuri's hair, and then Yuri's chin on his shoulder, his teeth too hard against his earlobe.
"You wanna fuck me, too?" Yuri offers, very much into having his ass played with.
Otabek picks up one loose strand of pale hair that's across his shoulder and lays his head back. "Love to," he murmurs. "But don't think I'll last." Yuri grins against his shoulder.
He picks up Otabek's hand, leaning over his shoulder to pull each finger into his mouth, starting with the thumb, circling them with his tongue and getting them all wet. After he trails his tongue along Otabek's palm and then guides his hand back down, to grasp Otabek's cock. Otabek pushes into his hand automatically, and then he can't stop fucking the tight circle of his own fingers, spurred on by Yuri's knees on either side of his hips, the wet mouth on his neck, the nails dragging across his chest and nipples. He comes fast and hard enough to spill on the floor.
He fucking hopes his father somehow knows exactly what he's doing right now and how much he loves it.
Only Yuuri is there when Otabek makes his way over the next day after classes, laptop in his bag. They stare at each other when Yuuri answers the door.
"Yuri isn't home," Yuuri says eventually. He's wearing glasses and a big knit sweater, almost like Yuri's except in an oatmeal colour.
Otabek doesn't know what he was thinking. Of course Yuri wouldn't be home yet. He turns to leave.
"He did say to give you cake," Yuuri continues. "So come in. Excuse the mess, we just got a new puppy."
There is no mess. There is a fluffy puppy that Yuuri picks up on his way into the kitchen. He gestures for Otabek to take a seat at the kitchen island. Everything gleams and there is a fruit bowl with symmetrically stacked apples. It's unreal. Yuuri puts the puppy down after kissing its ears and goes to pull out a cake from the fridge.
"Are you staying the night?" Yuuri asks.
Otabek conveys his lack of knowledge by raising one shoulder. The puppy comes over to sniff at his ankles and his bag, then sits down to stare. Yuuri cuts two pieces of cake, chocolate black on the inside and mint green on the outside, and pours two cups of tea, then sits down with Otabek.
"I know you think it silly how parental we act with Yuri," Yuuri starts, fork hovering over his piece of cake. Otabek has already cut the point and has it halfway to his mouth. "But I've known him since he was 15, Viktor even longer. He has no family other than us."
"Okay," Otabek says and has the forkful of cake. He immediately thinks back to Viktor's birthday and Yuri's words about cake back then. It's an incredibly subtle shift of beautiful flavours, sweet and bitter and amazingly balanced.
"Good?" Yuuri asks, watching him.
"Good," Otabek confirms. He tastes the tea. It's also delicious, and compliments the cake.
"Yuri's favourite." Yuuri has a tiny bite of cake himself. His calm unnerves Otabek, even when he smiles at the puppy and lifts it into his lap, whispering Japanese babytalk at it.
"You don't like me," Otabek realises. The airy kitchen turns cold despite all of its warm wooden surfaces.
Yuuri looks up from his puppy. "I don't know you," he says.
It's a negotiation. It's easier to brush past negotiations than demands, but Otabek lays his fork down carefully, not wanting to make it clink against the ceramic plate, and looks at Yuuri. He can negotiate. "What do you want?"
"Yuri said you're a DJ?" Yuuri tilts his head, swipes at the black hair across his forehead.
"I'm a student. I study Music Technology at the London College of Music. I'm 22. I used to dance, but I was injured and afterwards I couldn't," Otabek recites mechanically, looking at the cake, the light reflecting off the dark tea. "You decided to be Yuri's family, why?"
"Because he needed it," Yuuri answers, kissing the ears of his puppy, but looking up at Otabek. "Where are you from?"
"Almaty." At Yuuri's frown Otabek clarifies, "Kazakhstan." He stares mulishly at Yuuri, who at least seems to be affected by that. His eye flit about, not settling on Otabek or on anything. "Yuri is really young to have a principal role."
"He's very good," Yuuri says softly and Otabek gets it. Gets what Viktor had been saying at the dinner, with the pictures of Yuri and saying they should watch his Prix de Lausanne performance. Otabek isn't good enough. He's not worth risking a brilliant career like that.
"Yeah," Otabek agrees. Is it a parent thing? To make people feel like shit?
"Do you want another piece?" Yuuri asks although Otabek hasn't even finished the first one. "What does it mean? That you met Yuri in Russia when you were children?"
"It… doesn't mean anything."
"So a coincidence, yes?"
Otabek doesn't nod as much as he lowers his head to stare at the cake and the tea and the spotless rustic wood surface of the kitchen island. Sandalwood lingers in the intervals of the steam from the tea. It's not a coincidence if it's Viktor. Otabek feels panic until rationality overcomes it.
"Yes," he says. "A coincidence."
"So strange," Yuuri says. The puppy fusses in his lap and settles down to sleep with a little yawn. Yuuri watches with clear adoration, which only wanes into a puzzled frown when he looks up at Otabek. "You know the idea of karma, yes?"
"The accumulation of good intentions and good deeds towards happier rebirths," Yuuri says, running the ears of the puppy gently through his fingers. "I'm sure you don't believe in reincarnation, and I'm not sure I do either, but I can't help but think that I've done something right, in some past life, to meet Viktor in this."
Otabek nods again, dumbly. He's had a religious upbringing, but one that relies on the grace of god, not the grace of man.
"That’s why I sometimes think it can't have been a coincidence that I met him," Yuuri finishes.
Otabek finds his voice. "Are you serious?" he says. If anything, Yuuri unnerves him more now.
Yuuri shrugs, looking a little hesitant under Otabek's disbelief. "It's such a strange coincidence you two met like that," he says quietly. "Don't you think so?"
Now I do, Otabek thinks, but shakes his head. "It doesn't mean anything."
Yuuri looks at him until the puppy moves. "You can go wait downstairs, if you want," he says, effectively terminating the conversation, much to Otabek's relief.
Otabek nods his thanks, collects his plate and cup of tea and heads towards the stairs. He hasn't been back here since December, but the LED strips still glow in the dark. A scratch and a hiss from under the loveseat lets him know Potya's there and still hates him.
The cake and the tea go down on the counter by the sink. There's a plate and a mug there already. Otabek trails his fingers over the counter and along the edge of the tiny fridge. It's pale mint green. The sofa is a deep purple, the pillows on it spill across and over to the floor in a rainbow of colours and patterns. The clothes do the same and Otabek goes to collect a few, and isn't particularly proud of the fact that he sniffs them.
The room makes him its own as he wades through it, like entering a body of water. He's buoyed by the bits of Yuri he sees again or anew. He hasn't been in Yuri's bed. Are you staying the night? He'd like to wake up to the glow of the fairy lights, surrounded by all of this. The control that Yuri exerts over his senses even when he's not there.
There's a free outlet for his laptop by the bed so that's where Otabek settles, headphones on. Potya only attacks him once. There's plenty of time for him to study and work on the theoretical side of his thesis, but there's not a lot of concentration to go around.
It reminds him of being home. Alone in his bedroom, hiding from his parents. They'd all just pretended everything was fine. Up to a point. Up to the day Otabek got caught with Civan. It still makes his skin crawl. It still makes him ashamed. Would being caught with Yuri be the same?
He's very good. It can't have been a coincidence that I met him. Yuuri's words come with the shame, like an unpleasant undertow. Yuri is too good for him. If it doesn't feel fated, it's not good enough. Yuri deserves more than a coincidence. Don't waste his time.
Otabek's hands running through his hair dislodge his headphones, and he unplugs them from the laptop to hear the music from its speakers. He kicks off the house slippers and removes his thick button-up, and thinks of the time he found Yuri naked in his bed. He's tempted to do the same so he pulls off his t-shirt, too, and toes off his socks, leaving everything to become part of Yuri's controlled chaos of clothes, himself included.
In the bathroom he finds the shampoo that makes Yuri smell sharp like pine sap. There's a hairbrush that's caked with blonde hair and Otabek spends a while picking the hair out of it to flush it down the toilet. And Yuri keeps his lube in the kitchen. It's clearly a bottle that's been used, but for some reason it's in the cabinet with tea bags and rice. Otabek takes it out and carries it around, Potya's baleful gaze following him as he moves back and forth. He finds a black satin dressing gown behind the sofa and rainbow-striped thigh highs hanging off a shelf. There's a Macbook tilted on its side in the space between the bed and the wall, and the Apple logo is covered with a cat face sticker that has glowing eyes when the laptop is on.
Otabek goes back to his laptop and starts googling piroshki recipes.
He's fallen down the Wikipedia rabbit hole by the time Yuri rattles down the stairs, holding a plate of cake as well. "I wanna unzip you," he declares with his mouth full as soon as he spots Otabek on his bed.
Both Yuri's scarf and his hair are open and falling down his coat. Otabek sits up. "Creepy," he says.
"Figuratively speaking, asshole." Yuri manages to not put down the cake while shrugging out of his coat and his backpack. He even keeps the pastry upright while scooping Potya up under his other arm and kissing her head over and over. "You've got six fucking zipper tattoos. It's driving me crazy."
Otabek looks down at himself, traces the zipper on his side. "The cake is good," he says.
Yuri lets Potya go and she sits down to wash herself. "Told you," he sniffs and closes the distance, folding on top of Otabek. "You've made yourself at home," he says, nudging Otabek's bare chest. "Shower with me."
Otabek agrees with a kiss to Yuri's cake-crumb mouth, then helps him out of his absurdly long-sleeved hoodie, while Yuri balances the last bits of his cake. "You're be-"
"No!" Yuri spits out the spoon with the force of the word. "Don't say the b-word. I don't wanna hear it." He's vehement. He reeks of sweat and stage make-up, has the remains of eyeliner and mascara still on, and his hair is stiff from hairspray.
"What?" Otabek says, dropping the hoodie on the floor. "Bitch?"
Yuri snorts and wipes his mouth on his hand. "Okay, I got a b-word for you, too. Beka." Otabek is under no illusion that Yuri doesn't know what saying his name like that does to him. Yuri is smiling at him victoriously and crookedly. Otabek reminds himself to breathe.
"You play dirty," Otabek murmurs, running his hands down Yuri's back.
"Yeah," Yuri snorts and licks the plate clean. "What's this music?"
"Q-pop," Otabek says, trying to wrestle Yuri out of the sweatpants he's wearing.
"What the shit is that?" Yuri makes it as difficult as possible by not moving off his lap and by wrapping his legs around him.
"Qazaq-pop," Otabek replies and stands up instead, supporting Yuri's weight with his arms around him. It only makes his knee twinge a little. "Am I going to wake up skinned tomorrow?"
Yuri clings, laughs. "Not skinned, unzipped," he says, and Otabek walks towards the bathroom. Not tripping even though his leg wobbles and the sequins of an abandoned top on the floor bite into the bottom of his foot.
"It does not sound better that way," Otabek mutters and places Yuri in the bathroom. "How tired are you?"
"Exhausted," Yuri replies, belying the effervescent energy he radiates. He's quickly out of his clothes and has Otabek by his hair, pulling him into the cramped shower.
There's some making out, but a lot less sex than Otabek expected from the shower. But he defers to Yuri's assessment of needing a wash instead of an orgasm and helps him with that. Otabek uses every bottle he finds in some capacity to wash Yuri. He kneels between Yuri's legs and gets water up his nose and drinks some of the soap suds off his skin, not on purpose, but because he finds a ticklish spot on Yuri's foot and Yuri yanks on his hair. Then he coughs up foam and snorts water out of his nose and Yuri laughs at him.
It's the messiest and most wasteful shower Otabek has ever had. And the first one he shares with someone that isn't family. The baths he took as a child with his little brother were almost as splashy, but involved a lot less physical proximity. By the time Otabek was six, he wasn't allowed to bathe with his brother anymore.
The mess stretches from the bathroom to Yuri's bed because they drip water everywhere, although Otabek does his best to towel off Yuri's hair. Yuri escapes with a cackle and leaves Otabek with a handful of wet hair that's come loose with the wash. Yuri laughs at it like a dying hyena while Otabek disposes of the spiderweb of hair into the kitchen sink.
"Wear those," he says, spotting the striped socks he'd found earlier and pointing at them. He needs to see it, now that he knows it's a possibility. "You wear them a lot?"
"Ugh, sometimes?" Yuri snorts the last of his laughter. "In the summer."
They haven't even known each other long enough to go through a warm season. "I won't be here in the summer," Otabek reminds him and comes to the bed, kneeling in front of Yuri. He picks up one of the socks and rolls it open.
"That's your problem, not mine," Yuri says, but sits up and puts his feet in Otabek's lap, where Otabek picks one up and carefully fits the sock on, sliding it up Yuri's leg. It's still dappled with drops of water so the sock doesn't go on easy.
"I graduate this spring," Otabek says when the first sock is on. He strokes his fingers around the band of elastic that sinks into Yuri's skin.
"And?" Yuri says loudly. "So what? You're going back to where you came from?"
Otabek takes the other sock, but stops before putting it on. The arch of Yuri's left foot has a cat eye tattooed on it. Is it the same as when boats are painted with eyes that look over the water? He doesn't know, he has no idea of what any of Yuri means. He thumbs it, then covers it with rainbow stripes.
"I don't know yet," he replies. He follows the tense muscles of Yuri's leg, up to his groin, along his abdomen and the long neck, topped off with a displeased mouth and hair that drips water down his torso.
Yuri picks up a long chain of black pearls off his nightstand. "If I have to wear the socks, you have to wear this." He drops it around Otabek's neck and the pearls uncoil almost down to his navel. Otabek unspoken why is answered when Yuri loops the pearls around his fist and pulls Otabek up by them. He wouldn't say no to his personal god of amelioration.
A flash of light stirs Otabek to open his eyes. Yuri is right there, shoulder to his shoulder, and head tilted against his, but fussing with his phone. Otabek is slow to realise why the orientation of his bed is different. It's not his bed. The fairy-lit mirror proves it, as does the lack of cold draft and the drumming of spring rain on the windows. And even more so, the lack of club dance music.
Yuri raises his phone an arm's length away and Otabek understands the flash of light. He knocks Yuri's arm out of alignment just as the flash goes and the result is a useless blurry thing. "No," he says.
"Asshole," Yuri mutters under his breath, quickly thumbing the offending picture off his phone. "Whatever. It was my fault for using the flash."
It's as good as an apology and that's as what Otabek takes it. This time he can hear music, faintly, descending through the ceiling, but of a vastly different nature than what he's used to hearing. It floats in the air like dust and disappears into the sound of Yuri breathing.
"One of your dads was weird to me," Otabek murmurs. It earns a tired snort from Yuri because it's now a tired joke.
"Which one?" Yuri turns on his side to face Otabek, shoving the hand with the cat-eared phone under the pillow between them.
"Ah," Yuri says as if it's entirely ordinary and unsurprising.
"He tried to convince me our meeting was fate. Or karma. I'm not sure."
"They went to a Buddhist retreat in Tibet for their honeymoon. Stuck to Yuuri, I guess." Yuri's tone is flippant and he shifts again, quicksilver, arm and leg winding around Otabek. "They asked me to go, too. On their fucking honeymoon. But since I'm still sane, I told them to fuck off and stop creeping me out."
Otabek listens, unbelieving that he's uncovered yet another strange detail of Yuri's even stranger life. Where are all the sordid, horrid things? Like the ones Otabek has a life full off.
"But..." Yuri's voice trails away like the music. "I want what they have."
What do they have?
"Marriage?" Otabek guesses.
Yuri groans. "No, but..." His face is not so drawn and tight in the soft light, but there's unhappy lines around his mouth. "But I guess that's a part of it," he says as though the words taste bad. "I want a relationship like that. With trust and… happiness."
When Otabek was still healing after the accident he often had chills. Not because he was cold or feverish, but because his insides hurt. It was never a stabbing, sharp pain, and sometimes not even something he could identify as pain, just a vague uncomfort and constant chills. He shivers now, reliving that visceral pain.
"Oh," he says when Yuri's nose wrinkles impatiently at Otabek's sudden freeze.
"Yeah, oh," Yuri's voice has a slight mocking overtone. His eyes are hard. "That bad, huh?"
Otabek closes his eyes, shivering again. Yuri puts his hand on his cheek and strokes his temple. "Don't worry," Yuri continues then, the mocking replaced with a hint of bitterness, as if he'd expected Otabek's reaction but was still disappointed. "Forget I said anything."
I should explain. Yuri doesn't move away, but there's tension in him that wasn't there before, feeding into Otabek's stress. I should explain. But no words form on Otabek's tongue, no breath becomes sound. I should end this.
It may only be a matter of convenience that Otabek considers JJ his sounding board for relationships and general complaints. JJ takes it seriously even if his advice—which he insists on giving—doesn't always suit Otabek's needs. They approach relationships from fundamentally different places.
"I should stop seeing him," Otabek tells the tea shelf at Tesco. It just happens JJ is there, doing his shopping.
JJ drops a coffee packet into his basket. "Something wrong?"
"No," Otabek replies. "But I should stop seeing him, right?"
"You asking my opinion or talking to yourself?"
Otabek lifts one shoulder to convey he'd just been making small talk but if JJ was offering… Yes, the coward's way out. "Just kill me," he mutters and puts his forehead against the tea shelf, right by the Earl Greys. "I can't get him out of my head."
"Seems to me you like him," JJ opines. "Unless we're talking obsession-level stuff. Are you collecting his hair or toenails or something? Some light internet-stalking?" He grabs the back of Otabek's jacket and pulls him along, down the too-bright shop corridor, overlaid with music the volume of which was on the uncomfortable level of being too quiet to be heard and too loud to not be heard. Like an ultrasound mosquito.
Otabek's always been surrounded by music. The everpresent piano giving tempo to ballet classes, the beat of EDM that he used to run to, the simple guitar pieces Civan played. Music in his ears and in his brain and in his bones and muscles, moving him. Pleasant until this shit.
"He's a great lay," he says and shuffles after JJ.
"Well, casual's not bad," JJ comforts him. "But you're kinda the expert at making yourself miserable."
"He's going to hate me."
"Sure, if you dump him without reason," JJ agrees, stopping by the cereals to find his favourite. Otabek realises he knows which one is JJ's favourite and when he spots it, picks it off the shelf and drops it in the basket. JJ grins, then briefly puts his arm around Otabek's shoulders, squeezing. "But people don't dislike you just because you dislike yourself. That's depression, Bex. Bella likes you so much I'd worry if you weren't so sad and so gay."
"Great," Otabek says and then keeps his mouth shut. He doesn't want to be comforted any more. He has a feeling Yuri will hate him more because of the reasons.
"You sure you'll be off all summer?" JJ respects Otabek's scowl and changes the subject. "The club's always packed when you're playing. And, you know, Tino's coming back to see what's up."
"Cialdini?" Otabek asks and JJ makes confirmation noises.
"Yeah. We've been talking renovations and updating the systems," JJ continues. "He's still got the deciding share of the place so I need to get his approval for everything. We might have to close, which sucks, but not in the summer. You should stay."
Otabek waves the conversation away, and anyway he's here to buy some essentials, too. JJ raises his eyebrows at him when he gets the condoms, but doesn't say anything. Otabek fishes out his earbuds and fills himself with some actual music, while waiting in line for the self-checkout.
He's leaving early summer, anyway, might as well leave it to the last minute when it's going to hurt the most. A solid Otabek plan, weak and stupid.
The deadline for Otabek's final project is at the end of April, if he wants to leave school this spring. He's ready. The tracks he's mixed and prepared, many of which he'd perfected through playing at the club, are ready. The synth and the mixer are silent for now, and the empty un-noise of his noise-cancelling headphones surrounds him.
He lowers the brightness of his laptop monitor, writes a few words, then pulls up his right knee to lean his chin on it and wrap his arms around it. The club is alive, and while he can't hear the beat, he can sense it. The haptic feedback is soothing.
He doesn't hear, but sees his mobile light up. It's Yuri.
Y< u up? 😾
O> 👍, Otabek replies. Is he an old man now? Going to bed at nine? Is that what Yuri thinks?
Y< ok then open ur door asshole 🖕
Otabek gets up and goes to his door, headphones still on, phone still in hand. As soon as he opens the door, Yuri pushes in, shaking rain from his coat like a cat. Otabek sees his mouth move, then the annoyed expression as Yuri reaches over and takes his headphones off.
The noise is immediate. The music and the rain both beating on the side of the building.
"Sorry," he says, stupidly.
"Not good with surprises, huh?" Yuri says and shoves his backpack at Otabek, who takes it and goes to place it on the chair he'd occupied just a moment before.
Always good with this surprise, he thinks. "I guess," he says out loud.
"And didn't hear me knocking on your fucking door for the last five fucking minutes," Yuri spits, unwinding his long scarf, splattering water onto the floor. It's really raining. Otabek glances towards his windows to make sure.
"I was working," he says. The empty white page of the word processor still on his monitor proves otherwise. "I was trying to work," he amends after Yuri's snort.
"I was home, but I got really bored," Yuri starts before Otabek really finishes his sentence. For a second, to his horror, Otabek sees the naked yearning on Yuri's face, stark and undiluted. Then it disappears into Yuri's hands as he rubs them over his face and wet hair.
"So you came here?" Otabek is still holding his phone, and realises to place it down.
Yuri shrugs, walks past him and falls on the bed. "Yes, Beka. I came here. Amuse me."
Otabek shrugs and follows him, getting into bed with him, and reaches for the drawstring of Yuri's sweatpants. "I do need to write tonight," he says, "but I guess I can blow y-"
"Ugh, not that!" Yuri pushes his hands away. "I don't want to have sex!"
Otabek falls back and cradles his hands in his lap. Gooseflesh prickles his skin, spreading from his neck down over his bare arms. He hadn't bothered to change out of his gym clothes and is still wearing a sleeveless sweater. "Then why'd you come?" Isn't sex the one thing they give each other? And mean, spiteful peace of mind in Otabek's case.
Yuri stares at him, uncomprehending. "I can't come over unless I wanna get laid?"
Otabek scratches his arms, trying to dispel the uneasiness. "Didn't think you'd want to, otherwise," he says truthfully.
"Wait, wait." Yuri sits up, still giving him that unearthly stare. "No, fuck you, that means you don't want to see me unless you know you'll get laid."
So bored means aching to fight, because that's not what Otabek had said. He leans his back against the wall behind his bed and closes his eyes. "I have to write tonight," he repeats. "So it's boring here, too. I don't know what you expect." He stays still, waiting to hear Yuri get out of bed and slam out of the flat. It doesn't happen.
Otabek opens his eyes again and Yuri is right there, even closer, staring. His jaw moves as though he's biting his teeth together and his hands are in fists, resting on either side of his crossed legs. The neck of his hoodie is damp from his hair.
"Do you want to have sex?" Yuri asks, voice loud and flat.
"With you? Yeah. Always," Otabek says. Truth, again. He doesn't have that many lies left in him, and truth is almost always the worse option so he's proud to choose it, and dogged enough to stand by it when people get upset.
"Right now?" Yuri scowls.
"Always," Otabek enunciates more clearly and slowly, which causes Yuri's eyes to narrow. And he takes some perverse pleasure in getting him to react like that. "So yeah."
There hasn't yet been a moment when he doesn't get a little jolt at seeing Yuri, knowing he can have him. Even now, although it hadn't been on his mind earlier, he’s starting to feel it. Yuri tilts his head back, neck elongated, which doesn't help at all.
"Oh my God," Yuri mutters at the stained ceiling.
Otabek gets off the bed and puts Yuri's backpack on the floor so he can sit in front of his laptop again. He starts typing, not paying much attention to the words, just to prove a point to Yuri. Sex isn't compulsory, although the more Otabek thinks about it, the more he wants it. He realises he's been writing in Kazakh, not English, and drops his hands.
Music is everywhere. It's his fingers on my skin. It's my mouth on his. It's the way he laughs and calls me asshole when he wants me. He's music to my ears and to my body.
He starts deleting the words, blinded by the bright screen and deafened by the rain, so he reacts only when Yuri's arms come around his shoulders from behind. "Can I play with your hair while you write?" he asks.
Otabek nods. The words are gone, but the sentiment remains. He's music to me. Yuri's fingers draw through his hair, carefully nudging a tangle out. He keeps doing that for a while, scraping his fingers against Otabek's scalp, and it must be a distraction technique because it destroys Otabek's ability to even remember English words. But he tries.
The gooseflesh returns, this time because the difference between the draft from the windows and the warmth of Yuri standing right behind him is so pronounced. And the sensation of having fingers in his hair. Two sentences in Yuri French braids his hair flat against his head, then takes it apart and does it again. Then he leans down, his chin on the top of Otabek's head and arms looped around his neck.
"I'm bored," he says with a hint of whine. "Can I fuck you?"
"Yep. Yeah." Otabek slams his laptop shut, his low-key arousal jolting into enthusiastic overdrive. He leans back and presses his lips against Yuri's neck. Yuri tilts his face down and kisses him upside down, hands on the sides of his head.
"I can't believe the only thing we do is have sex," Yuri mutters, but he's backing away to pull off his shirt and Otabek gets up to do the same. His body doesn't pause even if his mind does. He knows Yuri wants more. He'd said it, on Viktor's birthday, he'd said it a day after his own birthday. He's saying it again. Otabek isn't going to be enough, but his body doesn't stop to think about it.
Yuri's undershirt is bright red and says Communism—It's a Party. It's gone too fast for Otabek to comment as they undress. Yuri stares at him through his lashes with a challenging upwards tilt of his chin and says asshole under his breath. His skin is painted over with sodium yellow light and shadows of rain, and he's warm when Otabek picks him up, bracing on his good leg. The same light makes Yuri's eyes cat green and brittle.
"Did you think I'd say no?" Otabek asks, with Yuri's nails digging into his his back.
"Maybe," Yuri says and kisses him, painfully soft.
"Don't use a condom," Otabek says, which makes Yuri scowl and put his feet down, although he keeps his arms around Otabek, pulling him the two steps to the bed.
"Okay," Yuri says. He doesn't like the mess, and this time it's Otabek who'd expected a no. Not just because of the mess, but for the past other partners they both have. The kiss is a hard one afterwards, teeth and dominance, Yuri pressing the advantage of his height to force Otabek to tilt his face up and back. But he should know by now Otabek doesn't mind being devoured by him.
Otabek falls on the bed, his leg giving out under him, but Yuri barely misses a beat, following him down with his mouth and body. Their teeth clink together unpleasantly and Yuri hisses, but buries his fingers into Otabek's hair and keeps him still while kneeling above him. When Otabek opens his eyes, hands failing to catch onto Yuri properly, he finds Yuri staring at him from an inch away, their tongues pushed together.
"What?" he gasps, lips too wet.
"I was just thinking you're an asshole," Yuri says and runs his thumb across Otabek's mouth.
"You always think that." Otabek tries to catch Yuri's finger into his mouth, but Yuri pulls it away.
"That's true." Yuri hangs his head, damp hair falling onto Otabek. Otabek runs his hands up Yuri's flanks, skimming every toned plane. "I guess I was just thinking how gorgeous you are."
Furious heat rises from Otabek's chest into his face, and spreads into his fingers and toes, then escapes through his mouth as a slow hiss. He covers his face with his hands because Yuri's still there, staring at him from mere inches away.
"Oh. Ohh. You're blushing. Oh my God," Yuri says, the grin evident in his voice. He sits on Otabek's thighs at pulls at his hands. "C'mon, Beka. Let me look at your red face."
They're naked. They've been naked together a lot, and yet having his hands pulled off his face makes Otabek feel more naked than he's ever been. Yuri's wide and tooth-filled grin doesn't help, or the imperious cackle he lets out.
"I was just gonna fuck you ‘cause I was mad, but now I really wanna do it," Yuri admits and leans forwards, pushing Otabek's hands on the bed on either side of his head. "Precious Beka." He mocks, but Otabek feels the blush get even worse.
"Lube," he mutters, flicking his eyes in its direction. He's uncomfortably hard, and uncomfortably hot with a mix of chagrin and desire.
"I know where the fucking lube is," Yuri says with a continuing undercurrent of laughter. He releases Otabek's hands, but grasps his chin instead, feeling around the nightstand with his other hand. "Don't you fucking dare turn around. We're doing this face to face."
Otabek nods and hitches his knees up as best he can. He won't be able to hold that position for a long time, but it's worth doing just to see Yuri's face flush pink, too, and pop the top of the lube bottle open with his thumb. The noise of the cap coming off is hardwired into Otabek's spine now, causing an instant and gratifying response from his body. His erection gets heavier and harder, and his breath wheezes for a moment as Yuri pours the slippy mess over his fingers.
Yuri isn't gentle. He forces Otabek to splay his legs farther apart than is comfortable and shoves two fingers into him, then leans to swallow Otabek's gasp of complaint with his mouth. The music from downstairs informs both the rhythm of Yuri's fingers and Otabek's heartbeat, up until the point Yuri crooks those fingers up, using his thumb to press down from the outside and causes Otabek's pulse to spike. Yuri swallows the moan, too.
"Okay," Yuri says then, pressing his forehead against Otabek's, slowly undulating his fingers, pulling them out to hook at the rim and scissoring. He sits up enough to palm the tip of Otabek's cock, catching Otabek between his hands like an insect he's about to kill. "I think I can feel your heartbeat in your ass."
"Yu-ri," Otabek huffs. Yuri pulls his fingers out and leans over Otabek again, hands on the mattress on either side of him.
"I can't believe you still call me that," Yuri says. "Like we're colleagues. Not even that. Unfriends. Like we've just met on the fucking street."
"Yura," Otabek tries again, although the name stings, placing his feet back on the bed because his thigh is definitely going to cramp soon. "Can we talk about it later?" It's a little bit unfair how much less affected Yuri seems by the situation, although he's purposefully rocking over Otabek, making their cocks rub together. Otabek doesn't voice the accusation that Yuri still calls him asshole more often than not.
Yuri snorts and grabs Otabek's face with his lubed-up hand, kissing him messily and leaving smears on his cheek. At least the pause has given Otabek's heart time to slow down and his hip time to relax. Then Yuri shoves his knees up again, crouching between them to harshly apply the lubricant to himself. He tilts his head back, making his neck even longer, and stares at Otabek, pale lashes golden yellow in the light from outside.
"Yura," Otabek says again and a self-satisfied grin illuminates Yuri's face.
The pain of being stretched open by his cock is blunt and constant, but greatly relieved by the way Yuri's face goes slack and his eyes unfocus as he pushes in. Otabek fights the instinct to tense up, nails digging into his own legs as he holds them up. This time he does feel his heartbeat in his ass, objecting to the entry. Yuri doesn't stop until the backs of Otabek's thighs are flush to his chest, then he runs his hands down them and over Otabek's hips, pressing him into the mattress.
The first slide out makes Otabek's breath stop, and the corresponding push wrings out a long groan, and an ooze of pre-cum onto his stomach. Yuri takes it as permission to keep going, snapping his hips forwards and back rather than making it smooth. It aches more like that, but in a way that makes Otabek hot. His cheeks burn, as do the indentations his nails are leaving into his skin, his cock burns with the need to be touched, but it's what he wants to suffer a little longer. He wants to see Yuri come first.
But Yuri stops and walks his hands up around Otabek's head, leaning down so half his cock slips out because Otabek can't bend that way and because he can only hitch his legs around Yuri's hips, not his shoulders.
"Hey, asshole," Yuri says, clearly aware of the irony of calling Otabek asshole right now. "Guess what?" He's low enough to ghost his lips against Otabek's throat.
"What?" Otabek croaks, clenching helplessly around Yuri.
"I'm not bored anymore," Yuri whispers, flicking his gaze up to meet Otabek's eyes, lips twisting in amusement. He thrusts his cock back in, causing Otabek to stutter out a gasp instead of any intelligible reply. Otabek's arms fly up above his head, grasping onto the old radiator between the bed and the wall as Yuri fucks him, leering and panting.
Otabek's cock bobs between them desperately, dripping and leaking, while Yuri drives into him. The ache never really goes away, and Yuri never really manages to hit his prostate well enough, but it's still gratifying.
"Mess me up," Otabek gasps when Yuri's movements become harder and faster and his expression becomes that familiar open-mouthed expectation that Otabek's seen so many times before.
(Once Yuri had exaggerated his orgasm face to the point of ridiculous, sticking out his tongue like a dog and crossing his eyes. And it would've been even more ridiculous if it hadn't made Otabek come so hard, seeing that stupid face.)
That face makes Otabek finally grab his own cock, glad he's leaked so much because it makes it easier to jerk himself off as hard and tight as he can. And it makes him tighten around Yuri, who them comes with an oft spoken and drawn-out fuck on his lips. Otabek pauses his hand and watches Yuri shudder. He closes his eyes for just a second, then stares at Otabek again, chest heaving. His slack mouth pulls back into a smile and he starts thrusting anew.
It feels different now, dirtier because it's being lubricated by Yuri's cum as well. Otabek only needs to stroke himself once more to orgasm and splatter his stomach and chest with white. Yuri rides it out, rocking against him just enough to remind him he's filled. Otabek lets himself go slack and Yuri leans over him, pulling out at the same time. The sweat gathered in the crooks of Otabek's skin is suddenly cool and the smell of their exertions hits him just as Yuri plants a messy kiss on his mouth. The sweet, sharp scent of his shampoo becomes an overlay on the sweat and sex.
Yuri sits back on his heels when Otabek groans. "Okay?"
Otabek forces his left leg straight, rubbing at his hip. "I need a muscle relaxant," he confesses, as the pleasure of the sex and its conclusion wane in the face of his uncomfort, hoping to forestall any severe cramping of the overworked muscles.
Yuri's eyes are still dark with wide pupils and his hair is all but loose now, hanging lank from the rain and the sweat. Otabek is still looking at him, not daring—or wanting—to turn away, so he sees Yuri's face go from satisfied and relaxed to affronted and put-upon. He slides off the bed, a faint gleam still on his skin, and his cock glistening wet with remnants of lubricant.
"Well, where do you keep your fucking muscle relaxants?" he says, clipped. Otabek points at his backpack on the floor. Yuri drags the whole bag over, dumping its contents on the bed. Otabek picks out the foil of tablets and has one, then a second one, swallowing them dry.
Yuri watches, then picks up Otabek's discarded shirt and uses it to wipe himself clean. "You know," he says loudly as he gets back into bed, pulling the sheets over himself. Even if it's spring, the flat has hardly become warmer. "Most people say stuff like that was so good after sex and not I need a muscle relaxant."
Otabek can't drum up the energy to be affronted. He's rubbing at his hip, very aware of having been ploughed open just now and still wet from use. Not to mention the congealing mess of his cum on his stomach. "Sorry. It was good. Really good." I'm just a fucking cripple.
Yuri snorts, but leans up on his elbow to look over Otabek, clearly pleased with his handiwork. "I'm gonna nap now," he says, placing his hand on Otabek's cheek so Otabek has no choice but to look back at him. "But I wanna ride you before I go to work tomorrow."
"Counterproductive," Otabek says, but Yuri just shrugs.
"Yeah, but I wanna," he says. "And while I do that, I want you to tell me how you got into music. ‘Cause I know shit about you. It's like we're not even friends."
"There isn't much to-"
"Save it," Yuri says. "And tell me later." He's always a little softer around the edges after an orgasm, which still leaves him plenty sharp. But it's so easy to let him demand and decide and be lulled into a sense of belonging. Otabek's heart speeds up again as Yuri glances over him for a second time, then pats his cheek and disappears under the sheets. A new, clammy sweat breaks over him, not from the pain in his leg, or desire for Yuri, but out of fear.
When he's able, he limps into the shower and cleans up. Being afraid is so familiar. I want more. I want what they have. Yuri is hanging his hopes on the wrong tree. Otabek burns his bridges. Let them go if you love them, right?
He puts on clean underwear and gets his phone, and goes back into the bathroom. Yuri doesn't either care or is already asleep, and exhaustion and the pills make Otabek sluggish. He finds his little brother's number and calls him. It's the one bridge he still has left, even if rarely traversed.
"Hey, bro," Nurbek answers. It's neutral.
"Hey, Nura," Otabek says, then has nothing else to add.
"...You okay?" Nurbek queries after some silence. "It's kinda late, so if-"
"No, you're right. I'm sorry," Otabek hurries to say. It would be late in Almaty. "I wasn't thinking, I-" He runs a hand over his face and into his hair, pulling on it a little. "I'm getting my degree this spring."
"That's awesome," Nurbek says, although still neutral. "Are you coming back home?"
Otabek shrugs, then realises he needs to vocalise it. "I don't know. Would I be welcome?" It's not just his parents, or his brother, it's countless cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents that he's left behind and refused contact with. He misses it, misses the abstract idea of home, belonging to a place. He wishes he could take Yuri there and show him off proudly because Yuri's life should be only full of people who are proud of him. And Otabek isn't proud, he's envious, like the piece of shit he is.
"You know you would," Nurbek sounds a little aggrieved now. "Nobody wanted you to go. You're the only one." It's an argument they've had over and over again so Otabek doesn't comment on it.
"And if I stay here?" he says instead.
"You should come back," Nurbek asserts. "We miss you. I miss you. I used to have a cool older brother and now I have an empty room. It's stupid." Of course the younger one is going to be the better version, and have his emotional shit together. Otabek blinks because his eyes are blurry with too much moisture.
"I'll think about it," he promises.
"Yeah, yeah," Nurbek mutters. "I've heard that before." Otabek has promised the same for years.
"I'll really think about it this time, Nura," Otabek says. "I really will."
"...Okay," Nurbek says. Then, "Goodnight."
"Night," Otabek replies and listens to the line go dead. He's glad his brother still picks up when he calls. Even if he calls at an irresponsible hour, after being fucked by his boyfriend-not boyfriend fuckbuddy crush, and feeling the imminent collapse of everything because he had to go and think with his emotions instead of his dick. And he still can't stop himself from letting it go on.
There's music in the guts of a motorbike, even when it's in pieces on the garage floor. Even if Otabek is on a deadline to get it back together for the customer. There's music in the bolts and valves, in the gearbox and the battery, even in draining the oil. And then there's music in his pocket when Yuri rings him.
"Take me on a date," Yuri says without greeting.
"You take me on a date," Otabek says, phone between his shoulder and cheek. There's no rule about taking phone calls on the clock as long as they don't last too long, although Otabek tries not to tread on the goodwill of his employer too much.
"I'm too busy to figure out where to go," Yuri says. Otabek realises how out of breath Yuri sounds, and there's music in the background, then applause.
"Are you in the middle of a performance?"
"Yes! Hence the lack of time!" Yuri hisses, then the line goes dead and Otabek drops his phone into his hand. Calling from the wings of stage is a great excuse to dump the responsibility of the date on Otabek. To him, the first date. To Yuri, who knows? He's opaque in everything but the motivation behind his demand: escalation. I want more. And Otabek lets him do this because it's not good until it crashes and burns, leaving nothing but scars and pain. And because there's still a month and a half until June when he's leaving.
The numbers on the face of his phone tell Otabek he still has two hours of work. Two hours to concentrate on engine music instead of date ideas. He finds the club's group chat and posts, give me date ideas, knowing full well JJ is going to let him hear about it for as long as Isabella lets him. The only dates Otabek went on were with Civan, and they mostly involved driving around in a car or going to see whatever films were playing in the early evening slots.
The memories are a kaleidoscope of early mornings, breath steaming in the cool air, the sun coming up and painting the mountains. Running, jumping, pirouettes that went faster and faster the stronger and better he got. There were friends, too, and Civan holding his hand. Silly boyish dates and excitement when he stayed out later than allowed with his older boyfriend.
So he thinks of taking Yuri on the bike, maybe make a day of riding around. But it's only April. It's not exactly picnic weather yet. Although in all his years in London, Otabek isn't sure if there's been any picnic weather, ever. He thinks of the tourist spots he's visited, most of them with JJ when they'd both just arrived from their respective countries. But that won't feel like a date. He feels his phone buzz in his pocket because he'd silenced it, knowing there might be several distracting responses to his request.
The engine comes together into a song of combustion when Otabek is done. It's satisfying putting things together and making them work, the obvious parallels to himself notwithstanding. Instead of looking at the group chat when he's done, he looks Civan up on Facebook, earbuds thrumming with hard bass to remind him where he is now.
Civan looks almost the same as he did before. There are pictures of him playing his guitar, and it's something Otabek is glad to see. Civan had taught him to play, sitting behind him on the bed, hands over his hands to guide him, kissing his neck when he did well. Otabek rubs the back of his neck to dissipate the gooseflesh brought on the memory. Would Yuri like to learn the same way?
Civan had also suffered a broken femur and fractured ribs. He'd also hit his head, and had had to work to regain his ability to talk and write. And play. Otabek feels fractionally less guilty as he watches a short snippet of a video where Civan plays the simple chords of All You Need Is Love, making faces at the camera. He's married. He has a 2-year-old. They haven't spoken for seven years.
He backs out of the app and opens the club group messages instead.
"Who's he dating?" Emil's voice is loud by necessity. The club's backroom-slash-breakroom isn't soundproofed so every conversation is conducted at a throat-rending level. Otabek usually wears his headphones if he's there. Right now they're uselessly around his neck. "I didn't know you were dating," Emil's words are aimed at Otabek now, and not the enthusiastically hovering JJ.
Otabek has nothing but a shrug. What does dating even mean? He's glad he didn't have the time to come in earlier, and that his set's starting in fifteen minutes.
"Yuri. It's Yuri, right?" JJ confirms. Emil rolls his head in the negative.
"I've no idea who that is."
"Y'know, I didn't know you were dating, either," JJ says, squeezing Otabek's shoulder. Otabek shakes him off since JJ had been the one teasing him about taking Yuri on a date earlier when it hadn't been a date.
Emil looks completely lost, but Otabek really doesn't feel like elaborating on his relationship status. Mostly because it's not their business, and a little because he doesn't know himself. "I wanted ideas, not an interrogation," he says, uncomfortable with how loudly he has to speak.
"This isn't an interrogation!" JJ smacks him on the arm. "Right?"
Emil shrugs and lifts his arms in a gesture of the fuck I know. He usually played his sets early on, so he was packing to leave. "My last one was a coffee date."
"With the twins?" JJ leaves Otabek's side to go get mixed up in someone else's business. Otabek is glad to get his headphones back on.
"We're not done," JJ mouths at him, making threatening hand gestures as he leaves the backroom to get set up. But clearly whatever twins Emil's seeing are more interesting than Otabek and Yuri. Otabek knows the relief will be short-lived.
Yuri doesn't show up to dance that night, and he isn't in Otabek's bed when he climbs to his flat, but he hadn't really expected that. Yuri has one day off a week and a strict schedule on the others. Otabek is already lucky enough to see him as much as he does. And Yuri wants to go on a date. The engine of music is good to him that night.
He doesn't suspect anything when Isabella asks him to dinner, but the circumstances become clear when Otabek gets there. "How could you?" he mutters to her as she beckons him in and Leo is already at the table with Guāng Hóng and Emil.
"We just want to help," she says with a small cringe. "Do you want to leave?"
Otabek nods, then takes a breath. "Let's get this over with." It's just dinner with friends. Sort of. Sort of dinner with sort of friends. No, that's an unkind way to think of JJ who's weathered all of Otabek's asocial storms, and Isabella who's taken him in. Leo, who gets excited about motorbikes, and Emil who's always there to talk music. Guāng Hóng is the only one he doesn't really know.
"Bex," JJ starts when they all have a drink. "We're here for you."
Otabek lets his eyes roll back. "Right."
"So let's all share our favourite date memories," JJ continues as if it's some party game. "I'll start because I'm amazing at dates." Otabek is glad he's not the only one to groan around the table, but Isabella holds up her hand.
"It's actually true," she says. "Everyone should go on a date with Jack."
JJ stands up and takes a bow. "I'm free most Sundays and Mondays."
At least there's beer. Otabek tries to nurse his bottle. There needs to be less beer and kebab and more gym and swimming. Yuri's too much to be wasted on someone who's not even trying.
"I have been on a date with you," Emil says suddenly. "Before Bella. The girl you were seeing stood you up-"
"Her loss!" JJ cuts in.
"And you called me to come hang out." Emil grins, then adopts a coy smile. "It was pretty magical, dude. You had a whole theme going and shit."
"I also took Bex on a date when we first met," JJ shares and Otabek catches Isabella rolling her eyes at the same time as he does it. "But he left midway, right after we got off the Eye. You said you got motion sickness."
"I just had JJ sickness," Otabek mutters, which causes laughter, the most loud of which is JJ himself. Otabek doesn't laugh, hoping that it'll be taken as a sign that he's suffering from the same problem right now.
"We went on a date last night," Guāng Hóng puts in after the mirth dies down a little. He's the only one drinking water and studiously avoiding the bread Isabella's laid out. He smiles at Leo. "It was really nice."
Leo loops his arm around the back of Guāng Hóng's chair. "I didn't know dating could be this chill," he admits. "We went antiquing."
"It's because of my mother," Guāng Hóng starts as soon as Leo stops, as if eager to explain the choice. "She has an antique shop back in Tianjin, and I kind of picked it up from her." He squirms and looks embarrassed. "So I wanted to go, but never really had the time before or anyone to go with..."
"It was really cool, babe," Leo says and Guāng Hóng blushes. When do pet names and affections become normal or expected? Otabek can't imagine an endearment that would encompass Yuri, but a hot bloom of shame inside his chest reminds him he's already likened Yuri to paradise and god. He can't backpedal to something more innocuous now. There's nothing innocuous about Yuri. Or Otabek's feelings for him.
"That's so sweet," Isabella says. "Why don't you ever take me shopping?" She nudges JJ. "I always have to take you."
JJ winks at her—and he's the only one Otabek's seen winking in real life—but focuses on Otabek. "Look, there's two main categories of date, right? A fun date and a meaningful date." Life according to Jean-Jacques Leroy.
"And fun but meaningful date," Emil interjects. "And sexy date. That's when both of you know it's gonna end in sex. Oh, oh! And breakup date. Name says it all."
"We're not there yet," JJ shushes him. JJ's barely touched his own meal, but he's a social vampire and gains sustenance through socialisation. So, the picture book perfect example of an extrovert. Otabek doesn't have the cover of eating any longer, so he leans his cheek on his hand and drinks his beer slowly, watching the people around him.
"Jack took me to Smithfield Market on our first date. No, the coffee and accounting thing was not a date," Isabella forestalls JJ's argument. She sits on Otabek's left and leans towards him a little, smiling. "Woke me up at 6am and dragged me through the meat market, all the while talking about how fresh everything was. If I didn't like him, I'd've thought it creepy. But definitely memorable."
"He's really into fresh produce," Otabek murmurs back.
"I know," Isabella laughs, which causes JJ to turn to her and look at her with shining eyes. "Our second date was the Kitchen Garden at Kew!"
"But Bella, my Plum Blossom," JJ objects as Emil guffaws and Guāng Hóng giggles. Leo smiles. "You said you didn't believe me when I told you how asparagus grows, so I tried to show you."
"I can't imagine Yuri Plisetsky going on a date," Guāng Hóng says after the laughter becomes chuckling. "I can't even imagine him liking anyone. Sorry, Otabek."
"Oh, well, they're made for each other, then," Emil says. "Bex doesn't like anyone, either."
"I resent the implication that Bex doesn't like me," JJ, on Otabek's right side, clinks their bottlenecks together. "But I asked Guāng Hóng to come with Leo because he's our expert witness."
Otabek sighs and buries his head in his arms on the table. "You're taking this way too seriously."
"I want to help." That earnest, sometimes semi-arrogant, desire is why JJ is hard to dislike. He's serious about being a friend, a boyfriend, a husband, a club owner, anything and everything he considers important enough. And he knows the mean details of Otabek's problems.
"Um, Yuri doesn't actually talk with anyone a lot, and when he does it's usually cursing or yelling," Guāng Hóng says. He plays with the remains of his too generously assembled meal. "He argues with everyone. I didn't even know he had a cat before I saw a picture of it at Viktor's photo exhibit." He's very apologetic.
"Wow, he sounds like a dick," Emil says.
"He's just... really wound up," Guāng Hóng adds quietly as though afraid Yuri's going to jump out from the fridge and yell at him.
Otabek grasps onto his own hair, long enough now on top to put in a bun if he wanted to go that route, but mostly long enough so Yuri can grab it. And he thinks of just how languid he's seen Yuri, stretching on his bed, laughing and sparkling. And just how intense he's seen Yuri, staring at him with black hole eyes that suck in all light and matter, and thus, inevitably, also Otabek.
"See? He's got it bad," JJ says and pats the back of Otabek's head. "He keeps doing this. Hiding. Simmering." Leo mumbles his agreement at JJ's words. It leads to a moment of silence. Otabek takes it as remembrance for his sanity.
"Thanks," he says and stands up. "This has been really helpful." If he wasn't an asshole—as Yuri likes to remind him—he'd enjoy being with these people more. He'd appreciate them and their concern more. He'd ask about Leo and Guāng Hóng's relationship and commiserate with Emil about the twins, who he hasn't even met. But here he is, leaving, and here they are, all giving him various expressions of worry, except Guāng Hóng, who refuses to look at him, and seems to want to hide under the table.
"Any time, Bex," JJ says.
"Any time," Isabella repeats and smiles at him. "Good luck on your date, whatever you decide."
"Boo, dump him," Emil says. "You don't need stress like that in your life when you're this close to getting your degree."
Leo gives him a small smile and a thumbs up. Otabek nods and leaves, not stopping to put his jacket on until he's outside and a block away. He doesn't owe any of them any exposition on Yuri. Or how he makes Otabek less stressed, usually. He shuffles through the wet and dark, but slightly warmer streets towards the ubiquitous metro and texts Yuri.
O> ill pick u up on ur day off
O> around noon?
The string of fake black pearls in in his jacket pocket and he wraps its soothing weight around his hand. What could be more fun and meaningful than any date with someone who hates everyone?
Otabek skips class on Wednesday to spend time with Yuri instead. He doesn't even feel guilty, just disturbingly excited and his heart actually stumbles when Yuri bounces out of the house and towards him. Yuri’s hair is loose and he's swallowed by a fleece hoodie entirely in leopard print. His red tennis shoes sparkle and his skinny black trousers have three Adidas stripes in gold down the sides.
"What's up, dumbfuck!" Yuri calls out and slaps Otabek's helmet hard when he gets close enough. "Didn't know you meant you were bringing the bike." He takes the spare helmet and jams it onto his head as he sits behind Otabek. No complaints or hesitation this time.
"Hello, Yura," Otabek says, looking over his shoulder. "Surprise. Where'd you find those jeans?"
"Huh?" Yuri tilts his head. "Online. Let's go!"
Finding a parking space and paying for it is an ordeal, especially with Yuri growing more and more impatient and breathing into the space between the edge of the helmet and the collar of his jacket. And when he's paying for the parking, Yuri's hands go into the back pockets of his jeans and Yuri mutters something about cold hands. It's not a particularly unpleasant day, just cloudy, but normal for late March.
Despite this Yuri opts for a cold smoothie at the sandwich shop where Otabek takes him to get lunch first. Otabek has coffee and an actual sandwich, while Yuri gnaws on his straw and fidgets.
"You keep complaining about my zippers," Otabek says, which makes Yuri focus on him. Is he nervous, too?
"It looks like you have a bodysuit on!" Yuri agrees loudly. He gestures over his shoulder. "The one on your back is the worst."
Otabek doesn't see that one so he forgets its even there. "You don't like any of them?"
"The first one was fine." Yuri rolls his eyes so hard his sunglasses tumble down onto his nose. He pushes them back up, letting the sun into his eyes. "And the ones on your leg are okay." One goes up the side of Otabek's left leg and another above it follows the side of his thigh. "You just overdid them," Yuri says and puts his smoothie down. "And you missed the opportunity to have two go up," he draws his fingers up his hoodie-covered chest to his nipples, "and have piercings to look like you could actually unzip."
Otabek stares in sudden and abject lust until Yuri chortles. "Yeah, but if I had, you'd have yanked the piercings out already trying to unzip them," he says.
"Oh yeah, probably," Yuri agrees and sucks loudly on his straw. Otabek could sit there the whole day, just watching how the light changes in Yuri's eyes and how the added contrast creates new expressions on his face. But that's not the plan.
"I thought I'd get a new tattoo," Otabek says at his coffee, but looks up when Yuri kicks him in the ankle. "You can pick it."
Yuri goes wide-eyed, but it's far from innocent. Criminally gleeful would be a better description. "Ooh. Ooh. I know what you're getting then." He crushes his empty smoothie cup and gets up, ready to go. "Can I pick where it goes?"
Otabek acquiesces with a nod and abandons his coffee. No wonder Yuri was born at the start of spring; he is spring. Pale gold and pale green and bursting with life. And people watch him on the street, too, as though he was on stage all the time. Otabek wants to step back, but at the same time Yuri takes his hand.
"Is this our date? Me watching you get a tattoo? I'm fucking into it. Ever had anyone watch before?"
Otabek's response is a mute shake of his head, his clothes feeling suddenly a size too small with the idea of Yuri watching him get inked. And the reality of it happening very soon. It hadn't even occurred to him when he'd decided this was something he wanted to do. It is fun and... fun. Meaningful might be stretching it a little. Yuri's hand leaves his as quickly as it'd entered.
Otabek watches Yuri from the corner of his eye while they walk, steering them towards the place he likes. It's owned by Yelena. She'd done the last two of Otabek's zippers and recognises him as he walks in. Her demeanour is brusque and she usually plays EDM or hard bass in her shop. It puts Otabek at ease again.
She greets them in Russian and Yuri rushes forwards to talk with her, telling Otabek to fuck off when he gets too close. "You're not allowed to look," Yuri says. "Not until it's done."
Otabek retreats obediently and views the pictures of Yelena's work that decorate the walls. There's a giant matryoshka doll and its progressively smaller copies in the window, painted like tattooed goth grannies, shadowed by a crocheted curtain. It's actually her grandmother's handiwork, she had it explained once.
("Babushka and me, both like to work with our hands," she'd said gruffly, gesturing at the curtain. "But she's dead, so I honour her." Otabek used to think he understood family.)
When it's time to get in the chair, Yuri starts fidgeting and then takes off his hoodie, revealing a loose, dark wine purple sleeveless top that shimmers when he moves. Otabek turns towards Yelena when he feels her place the trace paper on his chest, but Yuri snaps his fingers at him.
"No looking!" Yuri says. A particularly temperamental beat transforms his fidgeting into gyrating and dancing, and it receives all of Otabek's attention. The buzzing ache from the needle disappears under the music and echoes around his body, edging the pleasure of watching Yuri dance. He straddles the line between sexy and dorky, probably on purpose, and Yelena turns the music up higher. He's a performer and Otabek is glad to be his audience of one.
The half an hour is over far too soon. For all Otabek felt the passage of time, it could've been two seconds. Yuri's not stopped nodding to the beat, but he's stopped actually dancing and is leaning over Otabek to look at the tattoo, hand splayed on Otabek's shoulder, occasionally skating his fingers against the shaved back of Otabek's head.
He cackles softly under his breath as Yelena wipes the site clean and grunts in approval at her own work. "You can look now," Yuri says, barely withdrawing.
Otabek looks. It's the same tiger Yuri has behind his ear.
"Fuck you for calling it a sticker!" Yuri laughs and pulls back to pump his fist in victory. "Pay the fuck up, Beka!"
Yelena slaps on a piece of cling wrap and Otabek starts at the sudden sting, but he still can't look away from Yuri. He has zero regrets. The tiger face is tiny, just under his right collarbone, and it's Yuri's. He watches Yuri's smug face from the corner of his eye while he dresses and pays.
"You think you're really fucking clever, don't you?" Otabek says when they step outside and the fussy spring breeze picks at Yuri's hair. Yuri laughs again. It draws all fake protests out of Otabek, and the kiss that follows draws out his breath.
Someone whistles at them, but Yuri throws up double middle fingers with a grin and gets out his phone. "Pull down your shirt," he tells Otabek, already holding the phone out to take their picture. Otabek does as he's told, and makes the tattoo visible for the selfie. He doesn't even object having his face in it, although he doesn't match Yuri's ebullient grin and looks on blankly.
"I want to dance with you," Yuri says after he has the picture he wants, his face alight because he thinks this is the beginning of something and not the ending. "So it's happening," he adds, somewhere between a demand and a threat. Otabek just nods.
"Anything," he promises. It's a month and a half before he leaves. And even when it ends, he tells himself over and over again, hoping repetition will make it true, it'll have been enough. Impermanence doesn't equal unimportance.
They have three dates altogether. The second one involves taking the bike out of the city, and they spend the whole day in the countryside, on dusty gravel lanes. Yuri admits he hasn't been outside London before and is endlessly fascinated with the sheep they spot on several fields during the day. Otabek knows, without any shadow of a doubt, that he's in love.
"I've eaten this before," Yuri says when they sit on some grass for a very late lunch, looking at his sandwich. There's a long-limbed willow growing over the spot, just enough to provide sunscreen for Yuri's pale shoulders which he's revealed from under his hoodie. It's warm enough when they're not on the bike.
Otabek takes out the carrier bag and smooths it out on the grass between them, pointing at the logo on it.
"And?" Yuri says, taking a bite. "Is that supposed to mean something to me?" He still speaks with his mouth full.
Their lunch has been provided by the same sandwich shop that had provided Yuri's first breakfast at Otabek's flat just after Christmas. "You've eaten this before," Otabek confirms.
"Okay, whatever," Yuri says, chewing. He always eats like he'd been starved at some point in his life.
Otabek's appetite isn't the best, so he lounges back, leaning on his elbow and picks at some clover in the grass. Yuri makes some noise under his breath. It's pleasant enough.
"Okay," Yuri says again, louder and no longer eating. He shrugs his hoodie back on. "I take it back. Countryside sucks. This is so fucking boring!"
Otabek realises the weird feeling on his face is a smile. He's smiling at Yuri's wide-eyed disgust of all things pastoral.
"Look at this shit," Yuri says, holding up his leg. "There's ants in my shoe. Everything smells weird. That bumblebee is getting on my nerves." He points at the offending insect.
"I thought you liked fluffy things," Otabek says and sits up to brush the ants off Yuri's leg.
"The sheep are cute," Yuri agrees. "But I'm not having sex in this verdant hellhole."
Otabek meets Yuri's eyes, sees the calculating cast of his face. "Didn't know that was even a possibility."
Yuri snorts and straddles him in one movement full of grace. "Making out, tops," he announces and immediately pulls Otabek into a kiss that tastes like bacon and BBQ-sauce. It's not bad for two people who have no idea what they're doing when it comes to dating.
Otabek decides to call the outing their third date when Yuri drags him down from his flat to dance at the club. Dates mean going out, even if it's just downstairs. And it's absolutely not the way to dance to the energetic music Emil always plays, but Otabek had promised. Yuri makes him wrap his arms around Yuri's waist, then later makes him lower his hands onto Yuri's ass. Otabek gives in to everything. He's always thought dancing like that would be like foreplay, and to Yuri it seems that way, but Otabek is exhausted.
At the end of the night Yuri straddles him again, after Otabek's had his muscle relaxants and is too lax to barely move, much less fuck Yuri, and Yuri jerks off onto him, superior and forgiving. Otabek tells him he'd be happy even if that was all Yuri used him for.
In the end he's going to be lucky if Yuri will even look at him.
The club's office is across the landing from Otabek's flat. Late May he goes and knocks on the door, then cracks it open to find Isabella there, working on the computer.
"Hey, big guy," she greets him. Some light peers in through the poky window in the back, but all it does is pick up dust and the piles of odds and ends that had been collected over the years. Old speakers and chairs.
"Busy?" he asks.
Isabella leans back in the creaky office chair and spreads her arms. "Not really."
"I need a favour," Otabek says from the doorway and beckons her to follow. She does, circling the desk and coming across the landing to stand in Otabek's doorway in exchange.
"Looks more sparse than usual," she remarks.
"Yeah, I packed," Otabek affirms. "But the furniture stays, right?"
"Oh." Her eyes land on him again, a little bit wider. "I forgot."
He nods, shrugs. "I can't take the synth or the mixer so I'm leaving those, too." He walks a little circle in the space he's called home for almost four years. "You can keep or toss anything you want."
She's quiet, then steps inside. "What was the favour you needed?"
Otabek picks up a pair of scissors, a comb and his beard trimmer. "Cut my hair?"
Isabella seems relieved. "Sure. You need the sides trimmed?" She's done it before. She does it for JJ, too.
"No. Shave all of it."
It makes her pause and study at him, a slight frown creasing her forehead as if she's trying to figure something out, but hasn't got all the pieces yet. She takes the scissors, hefting them in her hand. They're just ordinary household scissors, not even meant for cutting hair, but it doesn't matter. They're only needed to take off the length before shaving.
"It's easier to deal with on a long trip," Otabek says. It’s true, but only part of the reason. She nods slowly, studying him again.
"You're still going?" she says.
"Yeah," Otabek says. "Why wouldn't I?" He goes into the bathroom where he's set down a chair for himself to sit on. Isabella comes after him, clutching the scissors with both hands.
"I guess I just thought you were doing so well with Yuri," she admits. "Jack keeps showing me pictures from Yuri's Instagram because you're in some of them."
"Doesn't it worry you your husband is so into some ballet dancer?" Otabek asks and in the silence that follows evaluates the life choices he's made that have led him to be short with Isabella. But then she laughs.
"You have it all backwards, big guy," she says as she plants her hands on his shoulders and presses him down on the chair. "You still don't get it? He's invested in you, not Yuri. He follows Yuri because you refuse to do any of that and don't talk."
It makes terrible sense. JJ is his friend, despite all the bullshit Otabek has put him through. He feels like he's swallowed his tongue.
"Cheer up, Bex," Isabella says softly. "Jack's got a big heart. There's room for all your shittiness in there." She smooths his hair down, and it feels like she's petting a skittish animal. "And you're not half as bad as you think you are, whether you believe it or not."
"He made a bet with Emil I'd break up with Yuri," Otabek grudges although it was months ago, but Isabella gives another short laugh.
"He made a bet, sure," she admits and holds her hand out for the comb which Otabek obediently places into her grasp. "He just didn't think Yuri would ever be able to get a picture of you two together. He bet against that." He’d underestimated Yuri.
She combs his hair for a while, which gives Otabek ample time to consider how JJ confides in Isabella. She always knows more than she lets on, usually because she likes people and listens to them, like she's doing with him now.
"Are you sure?" she asks, clicking the scissors a few times, but at Otabek's nod, begins to snip off the longest strands. She goes slow as though expecting him to stop her. But it's just hair. Isn't it? Is that what's she's asking?
"My student visa is expiring. I have to go back to Kazakhstan," Otabek says, staring at the sink in front of him.
Isabella's hands pause. "Haven't you applied for a new one? To work here?" One glance in the mirror proves that she's looking at him with a frown. "It feels like you've always been here."
Otabek shakes his head, ashamed to admit he hasn't. Another way to force himself into this decision. More loose hair cascades onto his shoulders and on the floor, this time in bigger chunks as Isabella ceases to be so careful.
"Does Jack know? That you're not coming back?" she says. There's no blame in her voice, just worry and apprehension as the situation dawns on her.
Otabek shakes his head again. "I haven't told him." He hasn't told anyone except her.
She sniffs and finishes the rough cut of his hair. "I think he would like to know," she says. "And hear it from you."
"I know," he says. He'd hoped she would take the responsibility from him, but she's right, too. He owes JJ a lot. Probably too much to ever repay. "I'm playing at a few electronic music festivals over the summer. Amsterdam, Berlin."
His attempt at distracting her receives nothing but a stern look as she starts the trimmer and pulls its buzzing blades lengthways across Otabek's head, leaving a furrow of stubble. "That's nice," she says. "Have you told anyone you're not coming back?"
He hasn't. The last of his hair falls away under Isabella's hand and a worm of panic eats through the apple of Otabek's heart. Yuri won't be able to hold him by his hair now, won't play with it. He inhales, but it's wet and raw, and Isabella looks up, meeting his eyes in the mirror.
"Oh, Bex," she sighs and puts down the trimmer, coming around to hug him. She's careful, both in voice and in deed. Otabek can't even get his arms up to hug her back.
All we do is have sex. We're not even friends. I want you to dance with me. I want more.
"I don't want to leave him," Otabek admits, teetering between full-blown panic and his relentless need to hurt himself. He burns his bridges. He's glad Isabella is blocking the mirror because he can't look at himself.
Isabella strokes his back. She doesn't tell him what to do, not like JJ would. Or Yuri.
"Jack'll be around later," she says when she pulls away, still standing in front of him. She doesn't try to solve his problems; she expects him to do it himself. "I assume you know Yuri's schedule."
Otabek nods. "I'll clean up," he croaks. She looks at him for a moment, pats him on the shoulder, then moves away, leaving just her faint floral scent. Otabek wipes his hair off the floor and flushes it down the toilet. He should be used to pain.
It's really warm enough to not need a jacket, but Otabek keeps his leather one on like armour as he waits by the employee exit of the Royal Opera House. He spots some of the familiar dancers, some of whom greet him, but he's so stiff and stressed he can barely even nod back, much less make eye contact. His heart speeds up when he sees Viktor come out, then crash to a halt as Yuri follows him, nose in his phone, then Yuuri, hurrying up to catch up with Viktor.
If only Yuri had been alone. Otabek steps forwards and tries twice until his dry mouth and empty lungs produce enough volume to say, "Yura."
Yuri looks up and changes his direction, eyebrows held up high and lips starting to form into a smile of sorts. "Hey, Beka," he says. "I was just," he gestures with his phone, "messaging you." Viktor and Yuuri stop a little way away, looking towards them.
Otabek wishes it was dark so he didn't have to see Yuri's face and that Yuri couldn't see his.
"What the fuck happened to your hair?" Yuri says and his hand lands on top of Otabek's head, warm against the stubble. Otabek ducks his head.
"It's easier like this on long trips," he mutters, tasting bitter.
"Oh yeah," Yuri pulls his hand away, sounding unhappy. "Your roadtrip. Ugh. You're still going? Well, when are you coming back? Vitya's got this new photo exhibit he's planning called Banquet," Yuri says it with loathing. "But you're in one of the pictures, you know, from my birthday when we went to the restaurant? So he needs your consent to-"
Otabek forces himself to lift his face and look Yuri in the eye, and Yuri tilts his head in response to Otabek's stare and face that feels like it's made of ice, cold and unwilling to move. "I'm not," he rasps. "I'm not coming b-"
"What the fuck?" Yuri's voice goes up and he steps closer. "What the fuck did you say?"
"Yurashka," Viktor says behind him and steps closer, but Yuri throws up his arm, palm outwards at him, making him almost walk into it. Black lurks on the edges of Otabek's vision, creating a tunnel that he's hurtling down into the magnetar of Yuri's anger.
"No," Yuri says, the full force of his attention on Otabek, demanding, daring him to break away. "What the fuck do you mean, Otabek?"
"My visa's expired. I have to go back," Otabek says. It's warm, but he needs his jacket because everything inside him is cold. His hands, useless and in limp fists by his thighs, are clammy and shaky. His head hurts from having to stand so still.
"Okay?" Yuri says, leaning dangerously close. "So get a new visa."
Otabek shakes his head, only minutely. "I'm not- I don't think-" He gasps for breath because he's drowning, cutting off all the branches that hold him afloat. "I'm done with you," he says as Yuri's eyes go black and red appears on his cheeks, face twisting. He doesn't even attempt to explain.
There's nothing in his world except Yuri, staring at him. He knows, vaguely, that he's standing with his back towards the road and traffic, just in case Yuri wants to shove him into it. It'd hurt less. Under the glacial fear he's angry at himself for letting it come to this. He knew there was no chance and he did it anyway.
"I didn't think you'd be hurt," he says, which is the first thing that makes Yuri step back, shaking. You're lying, but okay.
The horrible sneer disappears from Yuri's face, replaced with an even worse look of betrayal, but it's chased away with more rage that makes Yuri's resilient body stiff. "You didn't think-" Yuri's voice is choked. It's overlaid with a car horn. He steps back again and bumps into Viktor who's also staring at Otabek. It's so easy to break things.
Yuri turns on his heel, shoves Viktor aside, and walks away.
Otabek is empty again. And there's no beautiful sound.