The front door opens with a creak of rusty hinges. Yuri slips inside, walking on the balls of his feet, and pushes the door closed.
The apartment is dark, but Yuri doesn't need any light to navigate the tiny, spartan rooms. He passes the kitchen, then his grandfather's room. He's almost to his own room at the end of the corridor when a light clicks on.
Yuri turns around. His grandfather stands on the door of his room, wearing striped pajamas and a frown.
"Yurochka! Do you know what time it is?"
Yuri avoids his eyes. "I thought you were already asleep."
His grandfather grunts. "I was worried. You didn't say you were staying out so late."
"I'm sorry," Yuri mumbles, staring at his sneakers. "I didn't notice the time."
They'd been in a café that stayed open until late, talking long into the night, nursing cups of coffee that slowly grew colder and colder. Yuri hadn't planned on staying out very long, and he could have sworn they'd only been talking for an hour or so, until the waitress came to kick them out because the café was closing. Only then had he realized it was way past midnight.
Grandfather sighs. "At least next time call me so I know when you'll be back."
Yuri nods, feeling a pang of guilt. Grandfather doesn't seem angry, just tired, and it's Yuri's fault for making him stay up way past his usual bedtime.
"Were you out with your rinkmates from St Petersburg?"
Yuri shakes his head. "Um. With a friend." The word still feels unfamiliar in his mouth. Friend. Yuri has rinkmates and rivals and fans, but having a friend isn't quite the same thing. It makes him smile just to think about.
Grandfather isn't smiling. "Was it that Kazakh punk again? What was his name…"
"Otabek," Yuri replies automatically. It's not the first time he's had this conversation with the old man. "Otabek Altin."
"Right. Yurochka, I wish you wouldn't spend so much time with him. He looks like a delinquent."
Yuri gives an amused huff at the word. So absurd to think of soft-spoken Otabek doing anything remotely criminal – the guy doesn't even litter. "Grandpa, you have never met him!"
"I don't like the look of him," Grandfather insists, stubborn. "He looks like that other skater, the very rude one." He gestured to the side of his head. "They have the same weird haircut."
"You mean JJ?" Yuri asks. "No way. Otabek is nothing like him, JJ is an ass."
"Yuri, language!" his grandfather scolds him.
Yuri scowls. "Well, he is," he mutters. He'd introduced his grandfather to some of the other skaters ages ago, after a competition; he's never going to forgive JJ for rushing off mid-sentence to go make out with his girlfriend. Ass.
"Yurochka," Grandfather sighs again. "I wish you could have more friends your own age, instead of being always around adults…"
"Otabek isn't that much older than me," Yuri points out. Just two years and a half, and most times Yuri forgets that there's any age difference between them at all. Unlike Mila and the others, Otabek has never treated Yuri like a child. "Besides, I'm sixteen now. I'm not a little kid!"
"That motorcycle of his… I don't like it," Grandfather insists. "It looks really dangerous. I saw the video where he kidnapped you, you know."
Yuri snorts with laughter. "You mean that time in Barcelona? That's ridiculous, he wasn't kidnapping me!"
Grandfather doesn't seem convinced, and now Yuri wishes he'd never shown the old man how to watch videos on YouTube. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, so he wouldn't have to keep recording Yuri's exhibitions on dusty old videotapes. Who knew Grandfather would end up watching the stupid videos made by his fanclub?
"You've got the wrong idea about him," Yuri mutters under his breath. He stares at his grandfather across the corridor, pouting.
"Bring him to lunch," Grandfather says, matching Yuri's scowl.
"Tomorrow. I want to meet this man who's keeping my grandson out all night. I'll give him a piece of my mind."
"He's not… It wasn't all night…" Yuri groans. Grandfather has his arms crossed and a sour expression; when he makes that face, he's not going to budge, so Yuri might as well give in. "Urgh, fine. I'll ask him."
Grandfather nods, once. "You do that. Good night, Yurochka."
"Night," Yuri mutters.
He watches Grandfather go back to his room and waits until the light turns off. Then he goes into his own bedroom and throws himself on the bed with his clothes still on.
"It's going to be so embarrassing," he mutters, burying his face in the pillow.
Yuri sleeps until late the next morning, which for him means it's just after dawn instead of hours before. Even though he's on holiday, it's hard to break a lifelong habit of waking up early to practice. He rolls around under the blankets and retrieves his phone, scrolling through a couple of texts and notifications.
There's a bunch of new photos on Instagram. Phichit has made at least a dozen new posts since yesterday; when he quits skating, he could start a successful career as a blogger. Georgi is back to posting kissy photos with his new girlfriend. Barf. Yuri spends a few minutes typing snarky comments under Georgi's photos, and closes Instagram feeling satisfied with himself. At least Viktor has finally stopped with the honeymoon photos.
The heating isn't on, so the room is chilly. Yuri pulls the blankets up to his nose and opens a messaging app. The last few texts he's sent and received last night stare at him from the screen.
It's ridiculous that Grandfather is so worried about Otabek, when Otabek is the kind of person who will walk Yuri all the way to his block and then insist Yuri text him when he's inside so he knows Yuri got home safe. The corner of Yuri's mouth quirks up at the brief messages.
Yuri starts typing a new message. Pauses. Deletes it all and starts again.
What if Otabek won't come to lunch? After all, it's a last-minute thing, so maybe he's made plans already. Maybe he'll pretend that he has, so he won't have to meet Yuri's family. Yuri pouts, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. If Otabek says that he won't come, Yuri will understand, but it would be good if Grandfather and Otabek got along.
His fingers hover over the touchscreen. It's too difficult to explain everything in a message.
Otabek picks up at the second ring. "Hello?"
The nervousness in the pit of Yuri's stomach goes away at the sound of his voice. He had no idea what he was worried about. This is Otabek, and Yuri never had problems telling him anything.
"Hi," Yuri says, snuggling deeper under the blankets. "Are you out running?" He can hear traffic in the background.
"Yeah. I get antsy if I don't do anything all day." Yuri makes a sound of agreement. There's a pause at the other end. "Do you want to join me?"
"I can't," Yuri says, wistful. "I'm going grocery shopping with my grandfather."
"I see. Next time, then."
"Sure. Um, Beka?"
Yuri takes a deep breath. "Would you like to have lunch here? Today? At my place, with me and my grandfather."
There's just the briefest hesitation before Otabek replies. "All right."
"It's okay if you already have other plans," Yuri says quickly.
"No, no, I don't have plans. I'll be happy to come." His voice does sound happy, and warm.
"I should probably warn you," Yuri says, squeezing his eyes shut. "My grandfather… um… since I got home late last night…" he trails off, embarrassed.
"Did you get in trouble because of that? I'm sorry."
"No, it's my fault. I should have called him to say I was staying out."
"It's fine," Yuri hastens to say. "It's just, he said he wants to meet my friend, so…"
That's not exactly what Grandfather said, but Yuri can't bring himself to tell Otabek that Grandfather called him a delinquent. He hopes that, at least in person, Grandfather will act nice.
"I get it," Otabek says. "What time should I arrive?"
The doorbell rings just a couple of minutes before one in the afternoon.
"I'll get it!" Yuri yells, rushing down the corridor before his grandfather has a chance to get out of the kitchen. Just in time, Yuri thinks; he barely had time to finish cleaning and take off his apron.
He opens the front door. Otabek is standing outside, holding his helmet under one arm and a lumpy package under the other.
"Hi," he says. The corners of his mouth turn into a smile and, really, Yuri has no idea why the press keeps describing him as sullen or sour-looking. He can't stop himself from smiling back.
"Come in," Yuri says, motioning for him to step inside. "Man, it's freezing out there! Did you have any trouble finding the apartment?"
"None at all." Otabek looks around the small entryway, curious. "Where can I leave this?"
Yuri's grandfather emerges from the kitchen just as Otabek is handing his helmet and scarf to Yuri.
"You must be Yuri's friend," he says, fixing Otabek with an impressive scowl.
To his credit, Otabek doesn't even blink. "I am. My name is Otabek Altin." He steps forward, right hand held out. "It's nice to meet you, Mr Plisetsky. Yuri talks a lot about you."
"Does he?" Grandfather grunts, glancing at Yuri, who busies himself with hanging Otabek's scarf on the coat rack.
Yuri is slightly worried that Grandfather will try to crush Otabek's fingers, but they manage to shake hands without any casualties.
"I hope you like chestnut cake," Otabek says, holding out a package wrapped in pale yellow paper. "Maybe I should have asked beforehand," he adds, shooting Yuri a look. "I wasn't sure what to bring."
"You didn't have to bring anything," Yuri says. He loves chestnut cake.
Otabek shakes his head. "My parents would never forgive me if they knew I was invited to lunch and showed up empty-handed."
"This is very thoughtful of you," Grandfather says in a gruff voice. He takes the cake from Otabek; the small crease between Otabek's eyebrows vanishes. "I'll put it in the kitchen. Lunch is almost ready."
After the old man has gone, Otabek takes off his jacket and steps forward to hang it on the coat rack. Yuri moves aside to give him space since the entryway is so cramped. Their shoulders brush together.
Otabek is wearing a black v-neck sweater and black jeans. They're a bit dressier than his usual clothes, as if he's made an effort to dress nicely. Yuri is suddenly aware of the fact that he's wearing an old baggy sweater with cat paw prints, and his hair is still in a half ponytail from when he'd been cleaning.
He tugs at the scrunchie nervously until the ponytail comes undone, then runs his hand through his hair to flatten some flyaway strands. Otabek's eyes follow the movement and Yuri drops his hand, blushing. He doesn't want Otabek to think he looks like a girl.
"Come on," Yuri says, to cover his nervousness. "I'll show you my cat."
He grabs Otabek's hand and tugs him towards his room, where the cat has been hiding from the vacuum cleaner. Otabek's fingers are cold since he was out in the chilly wind. Yuri's skin, by comparison, feels as if it's overheating. I'll show you my cat. Yuri winces. Did that make him sound childish? He doesn't want Otabek to laugh at him.
When he looks back, though, Otabek isn't laughing. He's looking around, curious, while Yuri drags him along the corridor. Yuri wonders what Otabek thinks about it – about Grandfather's home. Yuri's home, too, though it's been years since he's lived here for more than a few weeks at a time.
It's a bit small and a bit shabby, with flakes of paint peeling off the wooden furniture and old humidity stains at the corners of the walls. The old apartment is not at all flashy like Yuri, and he's a bit embarrassed to show it to anyone, even to Otabek. It's been years since Yuri brought home a friend – the last time was before he went pro.
Yuri's bedroom is tidier than it's ever been. His bed is made, all the magazines and clothes scattered on the floor have been picked up and hidden in the wardrobe, and he's even dusted his rarely-touched shelf of school books.
"There she is," Yuri says, barging into the room dragging Otabek behind. Ange has been napping on his pillow again, even though she's not supposed to. Yuri drops Otabek's hand and kneels on the bed to scratch the cat behind her ears. "Have you been leaving fur all over my bed again?"
The freshly-changed bed sheets – a purple zebra print that's Yuri's favorite – are already covered with white strands. Ange purrs, not at all chastised. Yuri glances at Otabek from under his hair. Otabek is staring down at the cat with an unreadable expression.
"Can I pet her?"
"Sure," Yuri says, sitting back.
Frowning, Otabek crouches down and runs one hand through Ange's fur. Ange purrs, settling into a more comfortable position, and Otabek flashes another brief smile.
"She likes that," Yuri says, as if it wasn't obvious enough.
Otabek's eyes are still on the cat. "What's her name?"
"Ange," Yuri mutters. "It's short for Angelica. It's a bit of a stupid name, really, but she won't answer to anything else. Not that she answers when she's called. She's a bit of a spoiled princess."
He glances at Otabek, waiting for the inevitable teasing comments about did you notice that you named your cat like your fangirls, like your cat-ears-wearing fangirls – as if he could possibly not have noticed until now – but Otabek just shrugs. "It's a good name for a princess," he says. "Nice to meet you, Angelica."
Yuri breaks into another smile and reaches out to pet Ange, too. His fingers brush over Otabek's. He's almost jealous of the attention the cat is getting. "Do you have pets?"
Otabek shakes his head. "I'd like to but I couldn't keep a cat in the dormitory. Maybe this year, now that I've got my own place."
Yuri nods. "The worst part is having to leave her behind when I'm abroad." He leans forward to scoop Ange in his arms, burying his face in her soft fur. She's in a good mood, since she lets him do it instead of wriggling away. "She doesn't like traveling."
"Do you? Like traveling, I mean." Otabek flashes him a glance.
"Yeah," Yuri says, without thinking. It comes out sounding a bit too enthusiastic, too eager, as if Yuri hasn't spent the last few years flying all over the world for events and competitions. He wishes he could sound more sophisticated, like it's such a pain, and the jet lag, and the crappy hotel beds but what comes out instead is, "I love seeing new places. I wish I had more time for sightseeing instead of always rushing around from one rink to the next."
"Same," Otabek says, low.
Just then, Grandfather calls from the other room. "Yurochka! Lunch is ready!"
"Coming!" Yuri calls.
Ange, that spoiled animal, jumps down and runs towards the food, tail held high.
"Wash your hands if you touched the cat," Grandfather reminds him.
Yuri grunts. "So annoying," he mutters, but Otabek is already heading towards the bathroom.
Yuri waits outside in the corridor while Otabek washes his hands. There's a delicious smell of food coming from the kitchen and Yuri's stomach starts rumbling. Finally Otabek gets out of the bathroom, smelling slightly like Yuri's soap, and Yuri hurries to wash his hands so they can go and eat.
Grandfather has set the table in the kitchen, dragging in a chair from his room since there's usually only two chairs around the tiny square table. The chairs are mismatched, and there's not much space. Yuri has to squeeze past Otabek to get to his place in front of Grandfather. Otabek takes the chair between the two of them.
Yuri is ravenous, after spending the morning buying groceries and then cleaning the house. He starts scarfing down spoonfuls of steaming soup, while Grandfather glares and peppers Otabek with questions about his career, his family, his country, everything. The old man is being very nosy, and Yuri steals worried glances towards Otabek, knowing that he's a very private person.
For once, though, Otabek doesn't seem to mind. He starts talking about the scholarship he was offered in America, and how he decided to go to university in Almaty instead so he could stay close to his family. He talks about his memories of Moscow and St Petersburg from when he was living in Russia. Yuri has already heard most of that, but he listens anyway, because Otabek has a way of making everything interesting; it helps that he's got a soothing voice, too.
By the time they move on to the main course, Grandfather isn't glaring at Otabek quite so pointedly any more. He piles Otabek's plate with meatballs and potatoes, muttering something about growing boys.
"Why did you give me so many vegetables?" Yuri grumbles, poking at the mass of boiled carrots on his plate.
"They're good for you," Grandfather says, and Yuri pulls a face.
"I like carrots," Otabek says, in between bites, because of course he does. Otabek eats pretty much everything.
Yuri knows he shouldn't complain – this is way better than the strict diet he has to follow during training and competition season – but he can't stop wishing he could eat piroshki every day. He eats the meatballs and the potatoes and most of the vegetables, pushing the last of the carrots around on his plate. Ange, despite having still plenty of food in her bowl, starts circling the table and butting her head against people's legs.
"Don't be fooled," Yuri tells Otabek. "She's just doing this to get attention."
Yuri knows that he should stop encouraging the damn cat, but he can't help himself. When Ange puts her paws on his leg, he sneaks her a bite of meat. She immediately moves on to beg from Otabek and Yuri gives a soft, exasperated snort.
"It's your fault for spoiling the cat," Grandfather tells Yuri, and Yuri snorts again.
"As if you're not always giving her treats under the table– Ah, Beka, watch it–!"
Before they can stop her, Ange jumps onto Otabek's lap and swipes one of the meatballs from his plate. Otabek just sits and stares, mouth slightly open, as the cat scurries away with her trophy.
Yuri can't help himself. He bursts out laughing, slapping his knee. "You should see your face," he tells his friend, who looks completely stunned.
"Don't worry, he's done that to everyone at one time or another," Grandfather grumbles, shaking his head and pretending to shoot Ange a dirty look. He gets the serving plate. "Here, have some more."
After that there is the cake that Otabek brought, washed down by several cups of tea. By then, Yuri is pleasantly full. They linger at the table for a while. Yuri leans back in his chair while Otabek asks Grandfather for his meatball recipe.
When Grandfather starts getting up, Otabek forestalls him. "Let me," he says, picking up the dirty plates and piling the cutlery on top of them. "I'll do the dishes."
Grandfather protests, but Otabek says that it's no trouble, and he's already rolling up his sleeves and looking for the soap.
Yuri gets up, stretching his back with an audible pop. "Go watch your tv show, old man. We'll clear the table."
Ange wanders around and keeps getting underfoot while Yuri hands Otabek the glasses and the rest of the dishes to wash. The two of them are squeezed together in the narrow space between the sink and the fridge, their elbows constantly bumping against each other.
Otabek hands Yuri a clean plate and his eyes stray to a drawing pinned to the fridge with magnets. "Did you make that?" he asks.
Yuri nods, flustered. He'd deny it, but there's his name on it, written in a child's handwriting. "That old thing. I keep telling Grandfather to throw it out," he mutters, furiously wiping the plate with a dishcloth.
It's a drawing of him with his grandfather and his mother. Thankfully, Otabek doesn't ask anything else about the drawing, just glances between it and Yuri while a small smile plays on his lips.
"Have you got plans for the afternoon?" Yuri asks, changing the subject.
Otabek gives a slight shrug. "Not really." He brushes away some soapy suds from his hands and turns off the water.
"Want to hang out? We can play games or something."
Yuri smirks. "This time, I'm going to wipe the floor with you."
Grandfather is nodding off in front of a police drama, but he turns around when they walk past the living room.
"All done?" he asks.
"Yeah," Yuri replies. "We're gonna play video games now."
"Yes, yes." A slight pause. Is it Yuri's imagination or is Grandfather's face slightly red? "But, Yurochka… keep the door open, okay?"
Yuri gives his grandfather a questioning look, then shoots a glance at Otabek, who is wearing his blankest expression, so maybe he hasn't understood either.
"Don't get me wrong, I like your young man," Grandfather continues. "But you're still only sixteen, so while you're under my roof, keep the bedroom door open."
It slowly dawns on Yuri what Grandfather has been getting to. "You think that– you think we're banging?!"
"Is that what you're calling it nowadays?" Grandfather grumbles, staring fixedly at the flickering television screen.
Yuri can't bring himself to look at Otabek. "I'm not– we're not–"
"Did you think I would disapprove just because I'm old? I'm not a fool. I know that things are changing, even in this country."
"Good for you, but–"
Otabek puts one hand on Yuri's shoulder, cutting him off. "Don't worry, Mr Plisetsky. I understand. We'll keep the door open."
He gently pulls Yuri towards his room, and Yuri is so stunned he goes along without complaints, staring ahead wide-eyed. He has no idea what just happened.
As soon as they step into the bedroom, Yuri explodes.
"I'm so sorry!" he exclaims, turning around to face Otabek. "I have no idea why Grandfather said those things."
Otabek shrugs. "It's fine."
"I don't know what gave him the idea that we…" Yuri glances away, unable to finish the sentence. "Are you offended?"
"Why would I be?"
It occurs to Yuri that Otabek might be gay, for all he knows. They talk about a lot of stuff, but not about girlfriends, or boyfriends as it happens. Yuri never cared about dating, and he has enough relationship drama from Mila and Georgi to last him a lifetime, so he always avoids the subject like the plague.
"Just. He shouldn't have," Yuri mutters. "Assuming things that aren't true."
"What if it were true?"
Yuri's head snaps up, hair whipping around his face. His lips part but he can't find the words. Otabek is looking straight at him, in that direct way he has, but for the first time there's something like uncertainty in his dark eyes.
"Yura," he says in a low voice. "You're my friend, and I don't want to ruin what we have, but I should be honest with you. I've been thinking about asking you to date me for some time now."
It's like Yuri's missed a landing. The world tilts. "Since when?"
"Since Barcelona… No, before that. Since I saw videos of your junior competitions, I've been working up the courage to talk to you."
"Wow," Yuri says, softly.
"Yeah." Otabek glances at the open door for a moment, then back at Yuri. "Can I kiss you?"
Yuri can't believe this is happening. He wants to say of course, you idiot, but his foul mouth has deserted him and he can't seem to speak at all. Instead, he takes half a step forward.
It's enough to close the distance between them. He tilts his head back, meeting Otabek's eyes, and wills his thumping heart to calm down.
Otabek puts one hand on the side of Yuri's face, brushing back a strand of hair. "Can I?" he asks again. "Or not?"
"Yes," Yuri whispers, rising up on tiptoes to meet Otabek halfway.
Otabek's lips on him are soft and warm, they taste like honey and tea. Yuri puts his arms on Otabek's shoulders for balance and feels the shift of muscles under his sweater. His eyes flutter closed as Otabek frames his face with both hands, holding him still, as if there's any chance of Yuri going anywhere.
They break apart after an eternity, or maybe it was only a few seconds. Yuri doesn't know. His heartbeat is still racing as if he's just done his short skating and free skating routines back to back.
So that's how it feels to kiss someone, Yuri thinks dumbly. He's never given much thought to his first kiss the way some people do. He's certainly never lost any sleep wondering if he was ever going to be kissed – either it would happen or it wouldn't – but now that he has been, he's starting to understand what all the fuss is about. He can definitely see the appeal.
Otabek's hands are still cradling Yuri's face, the pads of his thumbs tracing the lines of Yuri's cheekbones.
"Yura," he murmurs, breath ghosting over Yuri's lips. "As I thought, you look best with your hair tied back."
"I don't like ponytails," Yuri replies. He tries to sound pouty, but he's still far too breathless for that. "They make me look girly."
"That's not what I meant." Otabek's fingers slowly draw back the bangs in front of Yuri's face. "I like it best when I can look you in the eye. You have the most amazing eyes, Yura."
Yuri's breath catches in his throat. As if Otabek's dark gaze doesn't have him spellbound. He glances to the door, which is still wide open. From the corridor come the muffled sounds of the television and nothing else.
"Kiss me again," he asks, pulling Otabek closer, and Otabek, ever obliging, complies.