Yuri’s life typically ended up as a tug-of-war between his looks and his anger. He was under no illusions: his rage wasn’t taken seriously because his looks diminished his towering, screaming fury down to the temper-tantrum of a harmless kitten. It burned that he was never taken seriously when he was upset, simply because everyone thought it was cute to see him like that. It made him angrier, and fed the cycle.
However, he was also aware he was able to display his anger as openly as he did because of his looks. If he looked like Piggy, or Dead-Victor, or Jackass—or really any of his other competitors— he’d never get away with the fits he threw. He knew this.
The internet didn’t help. If anything it amplified the problem.
Fourth. He came in fourth. He was done. Nothing was ever going to alright ever again. He was fucked. And he had let it happen. Right in front of his eyes, and despite his best efforts, Piggy stole his gold metal right out from under him.
Otabek settled in next to him. For all Yuri’s rage, he couldn’t begrudge the man; he had performed his damn heart out. He earned the bronze around his neck.
“Stop freaking out.”
“I’m not freaking out.”
“Yes, you are,” Otabek muttered, bumping their shoulders together.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t know what’s going on up here,” Yuri insisted, one hand escaping his tight curl of a body to tap at his temple.
“No, but it’s probably ‘They were right, I’ve peaked’. Or something like that.”
Yuri, who had been thinking something along those lines, pressed his mouth shut.
“I was in the same summer camp you were, remember?” Otabek continued. “I recall all the cautionary tales they told us. Russian athletes who performed amazingly when they were young, but dropped off when they turned sixteen and their bodies started changing.”
He fell off as a pair of staffers walked by. Yuri’s face burned red, and his chest flooded with gratitude. He didn’t want people talking about him right now. Seeing him falling apart like this.
“Do you want me to keep going?” Otabek asked when they left. Yuri made a small noise. It could have relayed any number of thoughts. Yuri wasn’t even sure what he meant for it to say. Otabek took it as a sign to continue.
“You’ve probably been so concerned the last year that this was your only shot. That if you couldn’t succeed the first time, you never would. But come on, Yuri. You have to know that’s bullshit.”
Yuri didn’t. He remembered the statistics, of all the failures before him. All the promising skaters his country produced in the Juniors who plummeted in the ranks once they entered their later teens. That’s what he was. Not good enough to beat Victor’s record. Failed when it counted. Just another cautionary tale for the younger skaters.
Otabek bumped shoulders with him again. And again, until Yuri finally pulled his face out of his knees and glared.
“Stop,” he growled. Otabek listened, but once he saw Yuri’s face his mouth opened again.
“It’s not your one and only shot, Yuri.”
If he had been anyone else—Dead-Victor, Piggy, Loud-Mouth Mira, even Yakov, Yuri wouldn’t have hesitated to rip his face off and feed it to him. But…But Otabek had wanted to be his friend. Isn’t this what friends did? Helped each other? Were honest with each other?
Something inside Yuri pushed at him just hard enough for him to use his words in desperation rather than anger.
“You don’t know that,” he whispered, agonized. "I’ll probably never be as good as I am right now. Everything going to change. My body, my abilities, my coordination. It’s all going to be different soon. Not like it is now, when I know how it’s suppose to act.”
“And when that happens, you’ll figure it out. You never struck me as someone who admits defeat,” Otabek persisted. “You’ll conquer this. And now that you know what you’re up against, I don’t doubt you’ll come back stronger for it. You’ve got the time, Yuri. I know you don’t think you do, but you’re career isn’t ending tonight.”
“What if it is?”
“You just placed fourth at the Grand Prix, at fifteen years old,” Otabek told him. Yuri expected to hear exasperation and disbelief in his voice. But there was only soft determination. “Most skaters would have killed for a start like that.”
“You got bronze on your debut last year,” Yuri pointed out, but there was no heat behind it. The depression that clouded him since the realization he had lost was lifting. Otabek thought he could still win. That had to be worth something.
“I was also seventeen. I held off debuting for two years to work on my performance. You didn’t, and you still almost got there.”
Yuri knew he could have gotten there, but damn…Piggy had skated the performance of his career out there. He had left nothing on the ice but the awe of his abilities. Dead-Victor may actually know what he’s doing as a coach after all. Not that Yuri’d ever admit it out loud.
He decided he was done talking about himself. Instead he bumped shoulders with Otabek.
“Congrats, btw,” he said, waving a hand at the general direction of the rink. Otabek blushed, against all reason.
“Thanks. Be up there with me next year, yeah?”
Yuri hummed. His body didn’t uncurl, but instead of pressing his face into the fold of his legs, he rested it on his crossed forearms. Tilting his face towards Otabek, he looked for the bronze metal. The colorful ribbon snuck into the folds of his jacket, hiding his prize from view. Yuri reached out, and Otabek let him pull the ribbon to bring the metal into the light.
It was beautiful. Heavy and ornate, with the front masterfully detailed. The perfect symbol of success. Yuri flipped it over, admiring Otabek’s name carved along the back.
“Did they spell your name wrong?” he demanded, straightening. Otabek made a noise beside him.
“It’s fine,” he tried to say, tugging the metal back, but Yuri was having none of it. His grip tightened and he brushed his thumb over the engraving, tracing the incorrect wording.
“Oh my God, they did!” Yuri felt anger, familiar and assuring bubbling up. It was weird to feel it on behalf of someone else, but Yuri didn’t question it. “Tell me they’re fixing it and they just gave you this one as a commemoration of their fuck up.”
Otabek didn’t say anything. His eyes were too damn expressive, though, and gave away everything.
“You haven’t said anything, have you?” Yuri snapped.
“It’s not worth the hassle,” Otabek dismissed. Yuri almost ripped the damn metal off him for that—silent humility wasn’t dignified. The only thing that stopped him was Otabek’s expression. His face wasn’t one of humble gratitude, but keen pain as his eyes slid over towards the pool of press and staff.
“Just go tell them,” he demanded.
“No,” Otabek replied, just as firm. “I don’t want to talk to them. It’s fine.”
“I will, then,” Yuri snarled. “Come on. We’re fixing this.”
He stood up, taking the metal (and by extension Otabek) with him.
“Hey!” he announced, calling the attention of the first staffer within shouting distance who looked like they had even a modicum of power. He thrust the metal in the man’s face. Otabek ‘uff’ed’ as he was dragged along.
“Fix this,” Yuri commanded. “Now.”
“Fix it! Or bring me someone who can. Otabek, give it.” He dropped the metal, and held out his hand expectantly. The whole thing dropped into his hand a long moment later, and he shoved it into the staff member’s chest.
“Now,” he reiterated.
Otabek’s face was red, but his expression was relieved. “You didn’t have to-,”
“Yes I did,” Yuri said. “It’s not an incorrect order at a restaurant—this is a fucking Grand Prix metal. They’ll spell your name right.”
Otabek shifted. “Thank you for making the Bacelona staff hate me.”
“They’re not going to hate—are you fixing it yet!?” Yuri charged when another staffer, this one more official-looking, drew near. The man paled, took a step back, and turned away.
“I cannot believe you were just going to let them do that to you,” he grumbled. Otabek sighed.
“I didn’t want to deal with it,” he reiterated. “Dealing with it requires talking to them about it.”
“Well then your coach should have—wait, you told your coach, right?”
Otabek’s silence spoke volumes.
“I really, really, don’t like talking to people."
“But you talk to me just fine,” Yuri pointed out.
Otabek shrugged. “You’re easy to talk to,” he said. “You don’t expect me to say the wrong thing. It always feels like everyone else is.”
Yuri very deliberately didn’t allow himself to examine the excited, warm feeling in his stomach. That would be ridiculous. Instead, he lingered by Otabek’s side until he could confirm himself that everything about Otabek’s victory was right. His world deserved to be just right tonight.
It was almost enough to correct everything wrong in Yuri’s own.
It turned out, talking with ISU officials was the least of Otabek’s problems. Yuri found this out a day later when he asked about the potential of flying back east together. Otabek turned the offer down with a terse explanation.
“I’m not flying back,” Otabek repeated, taking a sip of his tea. They had returned to the same cafe they had gone before the competition, because Yuri had really liked the peach flavored tea they served. He wondered if they delivered internationally.
Otabek shrugged. “I don’t like airports,” he said. “And I like having my motorbike with me in whatever city I end up. If it’s on this continent, I usually just ride in.”
“…I don’t believe you.”
Otabek handed over his passport, and Yuri flipped through it in stunned disbelief as he tracked entry stamps in a line across Europe.
“If I recall,” Otabek said politely. “You benefited from my insanity. Or was someone else going to come along and get you out of that mess with your fangirls?”
Yuri kicked him under the table, but gently. Returning the passport, he tried to do quick math.
“How long a trip is that?”
Otabek shrugged. “About a week and a half. Two weeks, if I take it slow.”
“And you do that for every competition?”
“Every one in Europe and Asia.”
Yuri was blown away. “What about the NHK Trophy? Or the American and Canadian competitions? What do you do when you’re shuffled into those brackets?”
“I offered to go by boat once, but no one would let me. Now I take as much medication as I can and let my coach deal with the airport. It’s an unpleasant enough experience for everyone, so they let me use my motorcycle while I can.”
Yuri pulled up a map from Barcelona to Almaty on his phone. Moscow was just a touch too far north of the most expedient route, but not out of the question. “Do you ever go through Moscow?”
Otabek shrugged. “Occasionally, depending on the route and the weather.”
“Let me know if you do. My grandpa lives there. It’d give me a chance to visit and give you a place to stay for the night. Ada likes going home, too.”
“My cat,” Yuri flipped through pictures until he found an appropriately cute and funny one, and flashed it at Otabek. She was twelve years old—she had been a part of Yuri’s life since as long as he could remember. His grandpa had agreed to let him take her to St. Petersburg with him while training, and she was one of the few constants in his life. He could almost admit he loved her.
“I thought cats hate traveling,” Otabek mentioned.
“Ada handles it marvelously,” Yuri bragged, adoring of his special, one-of-a-kind cat. “She’d love to visit Moscow again. You wouldn’t be as cruel as to deny her an opportunity, would you?”
Otabek smiled. “I suppose not. I may take you up on that.”
Yuri was surprised to find he was excited about the prospect, rather than filled with dread. That was a rather unique first.
The pictures. Yuri hated those damn three pictures. And they had been all his fault.
It was the 2017 Rostelecom Cup. His routine was solid, strong, grounded. That had been his theme. Strength. He needed it, now more than ever. Needed to prove to himself that he was still a force to be reckoned with. That he could dominate, come back from failure. He was strong.
But he had another reason for skating; he was carrying the hopes and prides of other another that year.
Otabek was on the sidelines, and would be for the rest of the GPF. During the Trophée de France a week earlier, he had landed horribly wrong on a triple-loop and twisted his knee. He had skitted across the ice and dashed against the side of the rink. And he hadn’t been able to get back up by himself. The fall had put him out of commission for the rest of the Grand Prix if he wanted any sort of a shot at the rest of the season. The news had devastated him.
He would have stayed in Kazakhstan for the rest of the year if Yuri hadn’t pitched a fit over the phone and demanded he come up to Moscow for the Rostelecom Cup. It was greedy on Yuri’s part, there was no way around it. But he remembered watching Otabek on TV during the Trophée de France. The look of heartbreak and devastation on his face. He couldn’t let that sit and not help. Or try to help. Yuri had mixed opinions on how well his help would go over. But he could still try.
He had called the moment he could, and listened to Otabek describe what the doctors told him in a flat, unhappy voice. The news wasn’t good, but it wasn’t necessarily the worst-case scenario, either.
“Tell me about something else,” he demanded when Otabek showed no signs of improving. "Tell me about your performance.”
“You’ve seen it.”
“Yeah, but smarting off's not what I told you to do, is it?”
Otabek looked unamused by Yuri’s demand, but Yuri was angry he had nearly destroyed his career over something as stupid as a triple-loop, so he wasn’t giving an inch. Fucking hell, the Olympics were less than four months away—Otabek couldn’t be screwing around with his body at a time like this.
Otabek wasn’t thrilled about Yuri derailing his pity party but did as he was bid all the same. His theme this year had been ‘Enlightenment’. His performances leaned more towards the cerebral, and made Yuri ponder higher ideals with each move he made across the ice. It was a beautiful performance. Otabek slowly described his reasoning and judgement behind each aspect, both technical and creative, and Yuri could hear the passion reigniting in his voice. He kept his own mouth shut and listened, prodded only when Otabek stumbled, and commented when he was sure Otabek had completed a thought. By the time he finished, he didn’t look as torn apart as he had before. He didn’t look as mind-shattered.
It also gave Yuri time to browse train ticket prices.
“Awesome,” he congratulated when Otabek went quiet. "Now, open your email. I found a train station that’ll be able to get you and the bike to Moscow in time for the Rostelecom Cup.”
“I’m not coming to Moscow.”
“Yes,” Yuri overrode. “You are.”
“Yuri, I don’t want to.”
“And I don’t want you sitting in Almaty moping.”
“Please, Otabek?” Yuri asked, only slightly surprised he wasn’t above begging. “I want you there.”
Otabek grumbled, hemmed, and hawed, but Yuri knew he won the argument there. He and Otabek were friends. Friends supported one another. Quirks and oddities, triumphs and defeats. That’s how it went.
So at the Rostelecom Cup, Otabek sat at the sidelines, admitted under Yuri’s credentials. His shoulders still slumped in defeat, and he sported a heavy-duty brace on his knee, but his face looked more alive. That was a start.
And Yuri forgot about the damn cameras. Later he would ask himself: how the fuck had he forgotten about the cameras? He never had a good answer. At the end of his routine, all he could think of was his exhaustion, his ache. His bone-shattered body straining every nerve.
And his score. That was nice. That was really nice. Yuri could live with that score.
After the Kiss and Cry, he headed for Otabek. He sat in the lower level of seats accessible from the rink, so Yuri simply slipped in beside him. He had his bad leg propped up on the railing in front of him, and his phone leaning against his raised thigh as he browsed the rankings. His other arm stretched out across the back of the seats, and it left his free, uninjured side open for Yuri to collapse against. Which he promptly did.
“I hurt everywhere,” Yuri complained into Otabek’s stomach. Otabek snorted, but didn’t respond. Yuri, seeing no reason to move, stayed where he was as the next contestant preformed. He growled as he heard the man’s scores.
“Stop,” Otabek muttered. “You already qualified.”
“You don’t know that yet,” Yuri whined. It was probably true, but he had to wait to see for sure—some freak accident could happen and he’d get dumped right out of the top six if someone had a particularly strong night.
Otabek's fingernails flicked against his screen. “Chris needs a personal best to grab the lead, and that’d still only push you down to second. Leo’s doing well but he’s not going to bump you,” he recited, going down the list of contestants. Yuri listened to him with half an ear, more concerned for outliers than anything else.
“What?” Yuri asked, immediately tense.
“Just Victor and Other-Yuri,” Otabek said. He didn’t use Yuri’s own nicknames, but Yuri appreciated that Piggy was 'the Other Yuri’ to Otabek. He was the Yuri that mattered to Otabek. He tapped a few things out on his phone. “They're live-tweeting the whole night. They had some great things to say about your performance.”
Yuri’s irritation spiked: Piggy and Dead-Victor weren’t competing this year. They are too busy being wrapped up in one another. Ugh. What the hell did they have to say?
“Seriously?” he demanded, raising his head and reaching out to grab at Otabek’s hand, dragging his phone closer to his face as he glared at the screen.
“Yeah, I think they’re on a delay though—their reactions are a bit slow.”
GOOD JOB YURIO! WAY TO SHOW ENDURANCE! the tweet read. Without releasing Otabek, Yuri rose and twisted, glaring at the closest broadcast camera dutifully recording the current contestant’s performance. Dead-Victor and Piggy couldn’t see it, but Yuri was glad he could at least send it out into the world. It’d find its way to them eventually.
“Whatever,” he grumbled, releasing Otabek and collapsing back against him.
He didn’t see the pictures until later, when they were splayed out online in a nice neat row of three. Fuck.
None of that mattered. A month later, Yuri won bronze. He won bronze at his second Grand Prix. Fuck everyone, he was awesome.
“Congrats,” Otebak told him backstage, smiling slightly. Once again, he came because Yuri asked him to.
“Now we match,” Yuri replied, shaking his metal in his excitement.
“I have two bronze metals, I’ll have you know,” Otabek said. “It’s a very important distinction.”
Yuri almost went for the low blow. You could have had one more metal if you hadn’t bailed on the competition. He even opened his mouth to do it. If anyone else had said that to him, he would have gone for the throat without a second thought.
But Otabek was hurting. Yuri knew this. His knee still hadn’t completely healed, and the Olympics were right around the corner. Figure skaters never performed at one hundred percent, and Yuri knew if it had been any other year Otabek would have pushed on, long-term damage be damned. But that would have put him completely out of commission for Pyeongchang. No question about it.
Otabek was banking a huge chunk of his career on being up to performing in two and a half months. And it scared him. He needed his friend, because friends support one another. So instead, Yuri shrugged and smirked. “I’m catching up.”
Otebek’s smile grew into a grin. “You are.”
Yuri forgot about the damn pictures, but the internet didn't. They became a meme.
WHEN BAE TELLS YOU THE WI-FI PASSWORD GOT CHANGED
WHEN YOU FIND OUT ALL THE CHEETOS ARE GONE
WHEN YOUR BOSS CALLS YOU ON YOUR DAY OFF
WHEN YOU CATCH SOMEONE MESSING WITH THE THERMOSTAT
Yuri’s internet presence, already bolstered by his fan club and his own social media accounts, took the new energy and absorbed it with all the grace of a well-oiled machine. He understood that world. He was able to handle the influx of attention in stride, even harness it towards bigger attention.
Otabek, on the other hand, had next to no internet presence: an official Twitter that only ever tweeted his specs and wins, a Facebook group that listed his up-coming performances, an Instagram with all of three pictures, each taken in a press pool. For being the Hero of Kazakhstan, he didn’t talk to reporters or bloggers anymore than what was required of him. He thought his reluctance for attention made him uninteresting to people, and less open to speculation by the media. Yuri knew the exact opposite was true.
“They’re gonna keep digging if you don’t give them anything,” he warned during one of their Skype conversations. Otabek had just shrugged.
“They won’t find much of interest. I’ve led a pretty boring life. Just let it go, Yuri.”
He doubted that, but Yuri had let the matter drop, begrudgingly. It still worried him.
What the fuck, he was worrying for someone else.
Then Jackass got involved. Of course it was his fault. He ended up posting one of the memes. Yuri couldn’t remember the heading on it. The heading wasn't important; his comment below it was.
Awww, Otabek. Why don’t you tell us how you really ruined your knees? ;D ;D
It already had over two thousand Likes by the time it hit Yuri’s alerts. He saw red.
His first call was to Otabek, who didn’t pick up. Of course he wouldn’t, Yuri frantically thought. The damn pictures were Yuri’s fault. He asked Otabek to be there. He leaned into him. He forgot about the cameras. And Otabek had so many damn people to answer to—Yuri did as well, but they were used to his dismissive, irreverent ways.
Yuri’s homeland let people like him and Victor slide because they won metals and got their country good press. He wasn’t positive Kazakhstan extended Otabek the same luxury.
As well, Yuri could get away with murder on his looks alone, and had no problem manipulating that expectation every step of the way in his career. Otabek could barely handle the lines at a coffee stand. He’d never stand up for himself, just let what happened happen and deal with the fall-out as best he could. If Jackass’ comment went viral, it would cast speculation on him. He could get crucified, not just by his sponsors, but by politicians. The only thing better than a town hero was a ruined one. Yuri’s heart pounded as his fingers flew.
Otabek didn’t pick up his second or third calls. Or answer any of Yuri's texts. Shit, shit, shit. He had already seen Jackass’ comment. He was probably already getting ripped apart by his coaching and PR teams. Yuri’s imagination spiraled without any information and fed by panic.
Yuri took a deep breath, let his rage lead him to the dark place deep inside himself he used when he wanted to ruin the people around him. He needed it. He saw his plan unfold there, just as clearly as he saw the ice under his skates. It wasn’t a nice plan, but at times like this Yuri wasn’t a nice person.
He called Dead-Victor, who needed to be more like Co-Conspiring-Victor for Yuri’s idea to work. Or at least Zombie-Victor. The man would probably see right through Yuri, but that rarely stopped him from enabling.
He still hated that damn nickname, but he let it slide. He had bigger bones to pick.
“Mira’s birthday is coming up,” he said without preamble. He wasn’t exactly lying—her birthday was seven months away. “You still have the photos of the last few banquets? I can’t find any with her in them.” Zombie-Victor took way too many pictures. He always did.
“Ohh, I probably have a few,” Zombie-Victor acquiesced. His tone let Yuri know he wasn’t being particularly subtle, but this part of the plan didn’t call for it.
“Share the albums with me,” he ordered.
Zombie-Victor made a noise that reminded Yuri that this man had won five consecutive gold metals, and people who won five times in a row at anything were rarely the stupid sort. But he did as Yuri asked. That was all he needed.
He found the pictures he was looking for within minutes. Zombie-Victor had once been Victor-Who-Documented-Everything. And Jackass had wondering hands. On people not his fiancée.
Speaking of his next call…
Jackass picked up within two rings.
“Take the damn post down,” Yuri demanded. “The one about Otabek. Right now.”
“Oh, come on, it’s all in good fun.”
“Right. Now.” he yelled. A few heads in the rink turned towards him, but he ignored the attention.
“Take a chill pill, Princess. See you in Pyeongchang!” Jackass hung up.
Oh well. He had given the man a warning. Yuri felt no sympathy for him.
Phichit was next on his list. He didn’t have a nickname—Yuri wasn’t a monster, he recognized a sweet soul when he saw one. The man’s kindness unsettled Yuri though, and he preferred to avoid him when he could. He needed to bite the bullet. Otabek still hadn’t called him back, or returned a text.
JJ’s girl left something in moscow. mira needs her # he texted. Phichit responded a moment later with her contact info and a smiley face. Of course.
Yuri sent the first picture off without any preamble. And waited.
It took Jackass a little over ten minutes to call him back. Yuri spent that time with an iPad open to Jackass’ feed, watching the retweets and comments grow larger with ominous dread.
“What the fuck!?” was Jackass’ greeting.
“I told you to take the post down,” Yuri said. “Do it and apologize or I’m sending more. I’ve got plenty.” He actually only had one or two more, but he wasn’t about to reveal that.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Jackass hung up after that. Yuri set a timer for ten minutes on his phone and obsessively refreshed the page.
Eventually Loud-Mouth Mira, her face curious and her own phone in hand, settled in beside him.
“What’cha doing?” she asked noncommittally. Yuri hummed and hit the refresh button again. Two and a half minutes left. And still no word from Otabek.
“What do you want for your birthday?” he asked with half of his attention. Loud-Mouth Mira’s eyebrows shot up her forehead.
“I don’t know,” she finally admitted. “Something cute.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” she replied, nudging him. “What are you up to?”
“Making a point,” Yuri evaded. Jackass could throw all the bombs he wanted towards Yuri; he was stubborn enough to take them and give as good as he got. Their back and forth was even fun at times. Exhilarating. But Otabek was fucking off-limits. He hadn’t asked for this kind of attention. He actively avoided it, most of the time. Yuri'd make that clear and emphatic.
“Huh,” Loud-Mouth Mira said. Her phone was lighting up with alerts. “I only ask, because if you’re going to war, I’d like to be forewarned.”
“Why? It’s almost over.” Or at least it had better be. And this wasn’t a war anyway; it was a decimation. He sent another picture once his timer went off.
She’s blocking u Jackass texted a minute later.
than i post online was Yuri’s response. He didn’t hear anything after that.
Four minutes later, the post disappeared off Jackass’ feed. In its place was a quick ’Sorry folks, some places don’t have a sense of humor!’.
It didn’t completely fix the situation, Yuri knew. The original post had gotten too much attention for someone not to have grabbed a screenshot. But he watched as comments dissecting the current state of politics, homophobia, and discrimination start pouring in under Jackass’ comment, and felt a little better. Hopefully that would be enough to save Otabek the worst of it.
“Oh, you’ve got it bad,” Loud-Mouth Mira sighed.
“Nothing, dear.” She rose to her feet. “I’m going back to practice. Coming?”
“Now Yurio,” Zombie-Victor, who sounded like he was back to being Dead-Victor, called over the phone. “Do we need to talk about proper rage outlets?”
“You knew exactly why I wanted those pictures,” Yuri snapped. They had always been Yuri’s last ditch back-up plan if Jackass ever came up with something too clever for Yuri to counter on his own. “Why bother scolding me? You could have deleted them any time if you really felt bad about it.”
“I think it’s more interesting that you used your fail-safe plan on someone else,” Dead-Victor said. Yuri’s hackles raised.
“Go screw yourself,” he spat. Dead-Victor had no right digging into his intentions.
“Now Yurio,” Victor started.
Yuri’s phone chimed, and at the top of the screen he saw a call from Otabek coming in.
“Gotta go,” he demanded, cutting Dead-Victor off. Switching the call over, he grinned as Otabek’s face, bright and easy, filled his phone screen.
“Hey. Sorry, it looks like I missed you. Practice ran long.”
Oh thank God. Relieve flooded Yuri, sweeter than caffeine. He had been drinking too much coffee lately, wishing he could find a peach tea he liked somewhere in St. Petersburg.
“No worries,” he dismissed, unwilling to let Otabek know how frantic he had been a mere hour ago. “I was just wondering about something. I got it worked out. How’s your knee?”
“Doing better. Did something happen?” Otabek asked. “My rink mate kept giggling at her phone and looking at me weird.”
“Nothing, really,” Yuri replied. “Just Jackass living up to his namesake.”
“Seriously, it’s fine.” But Yuri could already see Otabek opening up a browser on his phone. Damn. Sure enough, his face went slack a few moments later.
“Wow, you found that quick,” Yuri fussed.
“Apparently, all I had to do was search my name,” Otabek said faintly. “Quite a few people have things to say about me.”
“I made him take it down,” Yuri said in a rush, overly eager to keep Otabek on the line and away from panic. “He didn’t at first, but he got over it. I didn’t mean to get you dragged into our fight.” he added contritely.
“He didn’t do it because of you,” Otabek said shortly, and his face was paler than Yuri was comfortable seeing. “He did it because he knows my ex.”
“…I’m sorry, what?”
“My ex—it was a. He. I mean-,” Otabek paused and pressed his lips together. When he started again, his sentences were short, jagged, and he wouldn’t look Yuri in the eye. “He’s one of JJ’s rink mates. My age. Last year. We were together maybe six months. If that. It was…” he trailed off again, looking distinctly unhappy.
Yuri had a lot of conflicting emotions bouncing around his chest. Part of him was stunned. He hadn’t known Otabek had any relationships. Another part was more thrilled than ever he had gotten Jackass to take the shitty post down.
“Not good?” he threw out, giving Otabek a lifeline.
“Yeah,” was the instant agreement. “Not good.”
“Well, fuck him.” That still hadn’t given Jackass the right. If anything, Yuri felt he was now on solid moral ground for blackmailing him.
Otabek laughed, though it was weak. “Yeah. Fuck him.”
“Does that mean your coaching team know?”
Otabek glared at him, though it was a weak imitation of what Yuri could manage on a bad day.
“Really?” he demanded.
Yuri shrugged, unashamed. “I think I’m allowed to ask,” he defended. “I’m gonna have to deal with the same thing in a few years, I think.”
“Well,” Otabek replied. “I think Victor’s gonna be more help than I am.”
Yuri shuttered. There was no way in hell he was asking Dead-Victor for any advice, let alone advice in the vein of his sexuality. Not gonna happen.
“Yeah, no,” Yuri decided. “I’ll figure something else out.”
Otabek’s blush ran down his face, but he met Yuri’s eyes again. “Thank you,” he said. “For getting him to take it down.”
Yuri grinned, leaned forward, and braced his chin on his palm. “Any other dirty secrets from your uneventful life I should know about?”
“And with that, let’s talk about anything else,” Otabek derailed. Yuri let him.
Yuri won a silver metal at Pyeongchang. At the goddamn Olympics. Once again, fuck everyone, he was awesome.
Part of his exuberance was fed by Otabek. He stood just above Yuri, waving with shock and amazement on his face, a gold metal around his neck. He looked radiant and smiled uncontrollably.
He also had to rest one hand on Yuri’s shoulder to help keep himself balanced. His knee still wasn’t up to the amount of strain he had ended up putting on it, and it left him limping to the podium.
Yuri lent his shoulder when Otabek asked. He didn’t feel angry, or bitter. He felt proud.
It was weird.
The 2018 GPF was…well, Yuri didn’t want to think about it. Fucking fourth. Again. Damn the world.
The year had been a combination of things, brewed to create the perfect storm of Yuri’s demise. And it started with his coach. Yakov experienced a heart attack two months into training, grabbing his chest and falling to his knees on the ice one chilly morning. Yuri’s spiral started there.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Yakov insisted on his hospital bed. “I’ll be fine. Keep training!”
Keep training. Right. That was going to work so well.
Lilia was still by his side, but she only knew so much about the figure skating world. The assistant trainer quickly dropped into Yakov’s spot was terribly suited to Yuri’s temperament. At one point, the man even suggested Yuri see someone about his anger issues. Loud-Mouth Mira had to heft him into the air to keep him from ripping the man apart limb from limb.
Victor offered to take up his training from Japan—Yuri’s desperation almost led him to accepting, but his pride stamped that plan out. He called Otabek instead.
“I hate everything,” he bemoaned.
Otabek made sympathetic noises.
“Would it help to come to Almaty?” he asked.
Yuri groaned and let his head bounce against his desk. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Maybe?”
“Well, come if you need to.”
Yuri didn’t take the offer, but only because his annus horribilis was just getting started. A month later, his found out his grandpa was due for back surgery. Again. And no one had deigned tell Yuri about it until a week before the procedure.
“Why didn’t you tell me?!” he yelled.
“Bah! Stop yelling!” was the old man’s response. Yuri screamed at him again, unintelligible and rage-filled, and he stormed out of the room.
Then he stormed back in.
“Third time! This is your third surgery!? Where was I during the first two!?”
“That ain’t your concern, now is it?!”
Yuri and his grandpa roared at each other for the better part of thirty minutes before Yuri deserted the conversation for good. He lost the rest of the week to worry and fear. His fretting ruined his focus, and more than once he had to stop mid-program to freak out at the idea of loosing his grandpa.
No. No, no, no, no, no. Unacceptable. How could this have been kept from him?
“I wanted you to focus on your career,” his grandpa said. That only made Yuri feel worst. Goddamnit there were lines in the fucking sand and family, even his pathetically small one, was part of it.
After pulling teeth with his grandpa, he learned that that surgery—while considered a success—may not completely solve his chronic pain. So there was that. He lost another month returning to Moscow to help his grandpa recover. It had been worth it, but the price still made Yuri cringe. He was so far behind now.
He found Dead-Victor and Piggy-Yuri’s wedding invite in his mail when he returned to St. Petersburg. Yuri considered setting it on fire just for the stress-relief. It would be cathartic, he knew it would.
But than his cat died, and Yuri was devastated. Poor little Ada, who was nearly as old as Yuri, had been experiencing liver problems for months. Yuri had stubbornly clung to her, hoping against all odds she’d just get better like she always did.
“She isn’t that old,” he insisted at the vet’s office. “She can get better.”
The vet didn’t believe him. Neither had Ada. Yuri had to say goodbye to her less than a week later. It was the hole that broke the dam, and Yuri couldn’t hold back the flood anymore. He returned to his apartment in disbelief, trying to figure out why everything hurt when he hadn’t done anything physical in over a week.
Dazed and in pain, he didn’t know what to do, so he called Otabek. He got barely a breath into the conversation before he balled. He sobbed. He screamed. He tried to force the words out but they never came over all the damn tears.
Otabek let him fall apart as much as he needed over the phone. He comforted where he could. But it didn’t make it better. Yuri felt like an apple that had been cored out, hollow and aching. That night, curled up next to all of Ada’s things, his email binged. It was a flight itinerary, in Otabek’s name. It came in at 04:34—three hours from now, Yuri’s clock told him.
Pls come pick me up tomorrow morning the note at the bottom said. I won’t be in any shape to handle taxis. Or people.
Yuri cursed, but set an alarm anyway. He didn’t sleep a wink, but instead tracked the time across his clock for almost two-hundred minutes before he decided to leave for the airport. Sure enough, Otabek was drugged to the gills and staring helplessly at the impatient baggage agent at the gate when Yuri found him.
“I-uh,” he was stuck on. Yuri thrust his hand out, happy for something he knew how to fix.
“Baggage ticket,” he ordered, and Otabek gratefully handed the whole billfold over.
Yuri pulled the baggage ticket out and shoved it over the counter. “Here. Find it,” he barked. Turning back to Otabek, he huffed. “What the hell would you do without me?”
Otabek didn’t answer. Instead, he held his arms out. Yuri blinked for a moment, torn at the desire for comfort over the demand that he was fine, really he was. Only by the time he formulated that, he was already wrapped up in Otabek’s embrace. His heart pushed him into the hug before his pride could protest.
He thought he had shed all his tears last night. Apparently, he was wrong, and the people of Pulkovo Airport got to see more of them. Otabek hugged him back, and didn’t ask him to talk about it. Thank God.
“I hate this,” he cried into Otabek’s chest. “This sucks.”
“It does,” Otabek told him slowly, like he was parsing every word from stone. He must have taken a double dosage to handle having to talk to strangers so many times in one morning. Yuri was oddly touched by his determination.
“Come on,” he said once the baggage agent returned with Otabek’s suitcase. Without necessarily releasing him, Yuri tugged him to the door. “You can sleep it off at my place. Well, my ballet instructor lives there too, but don’t worry about her. She’s been splitting her time between her studio and Yakov’s house. She won’t mind.”
“Okay,” Otabek replied without a fight. Yeah, he was super out of it. Yuri was still happy he was here.
Otabek stayed for three days—all he afford to lose with the NHK Trophy competition in less than a fortnight. But Yuri was grateful for even that. His room felt so damn empty without Ada, and having Otabek asleep on the air mattress on his floor helped Yuri remember he wasn’t alone.
He got Otabek (drugged again, but only mildly this time) back through the airport three days later, with strict instructions to call Yuri if anyone gave him grief. He had no problem yelling at people over the phone.
He hugged Otabek right before the gate. Yuri couldn’t remember the last time he initiated a hug.
“Thank you,” he whispered into Otabek’s chest. “I liked having you here.”
Otabek squeezed him back. “I liked being here. Call if you need me.”
Yuri figured that was just what people said to each other to be polite, but he leapt at it since Otabek had been foolish enough to offer. If he looked back on his phone records, he was fairly sure he called Otabek nearly every night until the Cup of China, three weeks later.
He came in second, and only because many of his other competitors also stumbled and lost focus. Apparently he wasn’t the only one having a bad year. Hippy-Emile beat him, for fuck’s sake. Yuri knew he was better than that. Otabek wasn’t in his bracket, thankfully. He had the NHK Trophy and the Trophée de France again. Yuri had the Cup of China and the Rostelecom Cup. It put him up against Dead-Victor and Piggy’s newest project—the red-blond menace Yuri decided was named Birdy. Tweet, tweet. Flicker somewhere else. Tweet, tweet. Wasn’t he just a ball and a half worth of energy Yuri had no intention of dealing with?
Yuri qualified for the GPF, no thanks to his new coach, who had distanced himself from Yuri more and more over the past few months, preferring to work with skaters who didn’t have a temper as sensitive as his. And he came in fourth.
Yeah, 2018 had been a shitty season.
Otabek earned a silver. Yuri could at least raise a sub-par glass of peach tea to that. He had skated beautifully, and Yuri couldn’t find it within him to be bitter about it.
“You still have time,” Otabek told him when his scores were announced, rubbing small circles into his back. “You’ll always have time. You just gotta endure. Push through this.”
Yuri growled, and refused to cry. Endurance, he thought. That’s all he needed to get through the rest of this disgusting year. He could do it. He could do it. He could do it.
He still felt like crap after the press circuit. Instead of finding a corner to hide in, he tracked down Otabek. Who, as it turned out, was looking for Yuri, so he could avoid the press circuit.
He had his silver metal tucked away under his jacket. Yuri would have thought Otabek had done it to keep from reminding Yuri of his success, but he knew the man did it to keep attention away. Too many people would see it and stop him to talk.
“Hey,” he greeted, falling into step beside Otabek. He got a small smile in return. “Done your interviews yet?”
“I was hoping to put them off for another…dozen or so years,” Otabek admitted.
Yuri knew better than to suggest Otabek skip them entirely. He may actually take the suggestion and run with it, contract obligations be damned.
“You done yours yet?” Otabek asked.
“Yeah, but they weren’t long. Fourth place for a second time isn’t that prestigious.”
“Forth place after the training year you’ve had is amazing,” Otabek countered. Out of anyone else’s mouth, Yuri would have viciously recoiled from the sympathy. But Otabek had answered every freaked out and panicked call Yuri threw his way. Otabek sent him pictures of beautiful sunrises over snowy mountains, and giant cats with serene faces in response to his raging text messages. Otabek offered to help him find a new coach. He knew what Yuri had gone through in the year.
“Yeah, I guess,” he muttered. “You riding back to Almaty?” The GPF was being hosted in Belgium, and Otabek insisted that was well within biking distance.
“Yeah, probably starting out tomorrow.”
“…can I came with you?”
Otabek blinked. “Sorry?”
“I don’t…” Yuri didn’t know quite how to say it, but he tried anyway. “I don’t want to deal with…with people.” Not right now. Escape on a long road trip sounded perfect.
Otabek let out a small huff. “Yeah,” he muttered. “I get that. We’ll need to get you a decent helmet, though. The one you stole from me is good for cities, but you’ll want a visor for the country roads.”
“I stole nothing,” Yuri defended, though he had done just that. Otabek’s lips quirked, but he didn’t dispute the lie.
“Fuck,” Yuri said, heartfelt and with emphasis. Otabek actually laughed. Yuri turned, and found Dead-Victor waving him down as he raced towards them.
Marriage suited Dead-Victor down to the ground, though Yuri decided he’d rather bite his own tongue off than say anything of the sort. He looked happier. Yuri felt like throwing up on him to take some of the shine off.
Victor braced his hands on his knees when he reached them, puffing over-dramatically. Yuri would eat his cat-earred hat if Victor was really that out of shape. Otabek shifted, almost silently, looking for a polite way out. Yuri clapped his hand down on his wrist in retaliation.
“I wanted to talk with you,” Victor announced. “About next year.” Yuri had a ball of stress in the pit of his stomach; he knew what was coming. Fuck. Reluctantly he released Otabek.
“Go,” he ordered, pushing at Otabek’s shoulder. “Do your interviews. I’ll buy dinner when you get done with them.”
“Bribery isn’t going to make them go quicker,” Otabek complained, but went anyway. Yuri almost followed him just to get out of the conversation that was about to happen. But no—he’d never be able to live it down if he ran.
“Is Yakov coming back to coach?” Dead-Victor asked.
“No,” Yuri admitted. “Probably not. But I don’t need a new coach.”
Dead-Victor didn’t say anything, and in his silence Yuri heard everything. His eyes were too damn kind, and Yuri hated it. Dead-Victor wasn’t allowed to be able to make him feel like he was unraveling.
“I”m doing fine,” he insisted. Dead-Victor’s face flickered out towards the rink and back. He didn’t believe a word out of Yuri’s mouth. But he didn’t speak, and Yuri rushed to fill the silence.
“Really, fine. My new coach is fine.”
“What’s their name?” Dead-Victor asked. “What’s their record?”
Yuri sighed and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest in defense. He couldn’t answer either of those questions. The assistant coach had been a state-sponsored pick and Yuri hadn’t fought it since Yakov’s training camp was responsible for producing some of Russia’s best figure skaters. Fighting that would have gotten him nowhere. But he didn't interact with them any more than he had to.
“That’s what I thought,” Victor commented. “Why don’t you take a few weeks and think about it? Yuri and I are starting up next years training at the end of January. Let us know.”
“I don’t want to study in Japan,” Yuri grumbled. Japan was a damn island.
Dead-Victor shrugged, and let his silence unfold again to make his point. Under the pressure, Yuri’s mind contemplated the horrendous.
There was nothing for Yuri in St. Petersburg…if he were honest the only thing that kept him there was the relative close proximity he had to Otabek. On long weekends, they could get to each other. Hang out at tourist spots. Talk. Ride and explore the tundra. Japan was far, far away from all that.
Otabek took a flight for him once, but Yuri couldn’t imagine asking him to do that often. He was fairly sure Otabek would go crazy trying. Yuri couldn’t ask that of his one friend. He could maybe take the flights? That would require a lot of time and money...
Yuri needed to change something. He couldn’t have another year like this. He needed to sacrifice to push forward. He hated it, but it was true.
Yuri felt sick and dizzy. He wasn’t sure if it was all the pressure of the last year collapsing on him, or the unwanted kindness Victor was extending. Either way, Yuri didn’t want to think about it. It was too big. It sat on his chest and made it difficult to breath. He needed to get away.
“I’ll think about it,” he muttered and escaped Victor as soon as possible. He sat against the wall outside the press room for the next hour, folded in on himself and breathing in slow, measured breathes.
Otabek, looking exhausted and bled dry, found him. Kneeling down, he bumped knees with Yuri.
“Wanna get out of here?”
“Thank God,” Otabek exclaimed. “Let’s go.”
They got Yuri a helmet. It was tiger-striped. He shipped his things back to Russia by freight and climbed on the back of the motorcycle the next morning, right between the small dufflebag of essentials and Otabek himself.
“Hold on,” was the only warning he got before they were off. Yuri wrapped his arms around Otabek’s waist, resting them against the other’s hips as he got comfortable feeling the motor roar under him, the wind whipping by. The road to St. Petersburg wasn’t a horrible journey—Otabek judged it to be about a week.
“Would it take you a week on your own?” Yuri asked when they stopped at an out-of-the-way cafe during their tiptoe into the Netherlands.
“Probably not,” Otabek admitted, stirring in spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee. “I’d go faster if it was just me.”
“You don’t have to slow down for me.”
“Yeah, I do,” Otabek disagreed. Yuri tried his best to get Otabek to change his mind, but the man held firm, and they wondered through Germany at an easy pace. Once they crossed the boarder into Poland, Otabek pulled over and cut the engine.
“Come here,” he said. “We’re trading spots.”
“Huh?” Yuri’s brain stuttered to a halt.
“You keep shifting around behind me,” Otabak told him. “It’s distracting. Besides, my eyes are starting to blur. Come here.”
This was a horrible idea. Yuri was going to loose control and kill them both.
“I didn’t sign up to die in a fiery crash on a back road in Poland,” he snapped, but he slid up the bike’s seat all the same as Otabek swung himself off. He had grown, just enough to reach the pedals and the handlebars at the same time. He cautiously wrapped his hands around the rubber grips.
Otabek gave him a run-through of the bike and its components. Yuri followed the breakdown and explanations meticulously. Right. He could do this.
Ten minutes down the road and Yuri understood why Otabek had gone slow, no matter how much Yuri had pushed him to pick up the pace. Fuck, he had Otabek’s life in his hands. The man was curled behind him, arms wrapped around his waist and body braced against his back. He was trusting Yuri to keep them safe.
Fuck. Yuri felt overwhelmed by the responsibility.
The motorbike demanded all of Yuri’s attention. Everything about the year: his grandpa, Ada, Yakov, fucking fourth place, all faded under the command of the road. He let the stresses of the year slip away, allowing them to flow behind him and lay scattered across the road in his dust.
Change happened. He still had time. Things would be different. He still had time.
Otabek was behind him, trusting and solid. If Yuri concentrated, he thought he could feel his heartbeat. He still had time.
When they got back to St. Petersburg, Yuri pulled out his phone. Well, he supposed, if he was going to train under Victor he may as well change the man's information card in his phone. Goodbye, Dead-Victor. Zombie-Victor was back, it seemed.
For the hell that 2018 had been for him, 2019 proved his year. It was glorious.
Zombie-Victor was a terrible coach. Yuri knew that going in—he remembered waterfalls and endurance runs. And that was what he got two hours after landing in Japan. Piggy had a friend who was a ballet instructor though, and she lent him all the space he needed to practice. That was nice.
Endurance. That was the theme he picked for his routines. Endurance through all obstacles. Victor didn’t ask for more detail, and Piggy only smiled at him when he heard. Yuri grumbled and refused to meet anyone’s eyes for the rest of the day.
He rose and slammed his head against his desk more than a few times that night while on Skype with Otabek.
“That good, huh?”
“Are your coaches crazy?” Yuri demanded to know. Maybe it was just a coach thing. Maybe it was just Zombie-Victor rising from the grave and returning to that full, terrifyingly efficient and brutally honest Victor Yuri knew once upon a time.
“If they are I’ve long stopped noticing.” Otabek replied.
“Huh. Maybe that’ll happen to me as well.”
“One can only hope.”
Yuri propped his chin up in front of the monitor. “Feel sorry for me yet?”
“Maybe a little bit.”
“Enough to tell me what you got me for my birthday?” Yuri asked, quick-jabbed. He had been trying to pull it out of Otabek since their drive through Europe, without much success.
Otabek’s lips twitched. “Not quite that much.”
“Oh, come on,” Yuri whined.
“Nuh uh. You can hold out for two more weeks.”
“Postage between Kazakhstan and Japan is super slow,” Yuri weaseled out. “That’s gonna make it late.”
“It’ll get there on time.”
“I’m holding you to that.”
Yuri’s birthday present arrived two days before his eighteenth birthday. He sent Otabek a picture of the box and a pair of scissors.
i know we’re not in same TZ, but its not ur b-day yet Otabek responded.
Yuri’s next picture was the tape half off the box, scissors open and at work. He threw in a selfie with a maniacal grin, just to add oil to the fire.
don’t you dare! 32 hrs!
Exactly thirty-two hours later, Yuri tore into the rest of the package and found three presents waiting for him. The first was a pair of chucky headphones in the design of a set of cat-ears, inset with bright blue-green LED lights. Awwwwww. Fumbling to get them plugged in, Yuri slipped them over his ears and took a selfie. Looking at the photo, Yuri noticed that the LED lights matched his eyes.
The second was a new set of gloves crafted from plain and unadorned leather. For the next trip the note attached to them explained.
During the last road trip, Yuri found out just how vital good riding gloves were. The wind whipped harsh across his bare knuckles, and the only relief was to take them off the handlebars—not an ideal solution. He had ended up using Otabek’s for most of the journey that he helmed, but they were too big for his own slender hands.
Otabek wanted to go riding with him again. Yuri giggled. Full on giggled. What the fuck was happening to him?
The last, Yuri discovered once he unwrapped the plain gold wrapping paper, was a box of peach tea. Flipping it over, he felt sucker punched when he saw the manufacturer: Cafe Sintra, Barcelona.
Damnit, he wasn’t crying. He wasn’t. He was just having trouble breathing. He had worked hard today. That was the reason. Exertion, and exhaustion. Typical pitfalls of any figure skater.
He made a cup of tea to calm himself down. It tasted as amazingly as he remembered it, and it sent him back three years, to hour long conversations and outrunning zealous fangirls. To beautiful Spanish sunsets.
Once his composure returned, Yuri sent another selfie, glove-covered hands flashing a peace sign as the headphones blinked. Not a bad one at all. He sent it first off to Otabek, then set it as his profile picture across his media accounts. He purposefully left the tea out—that was his now, no one else’s.
like? He could almost hear Otabek’s nervousness across the line.
no, i’m just wearing them to be nice he replied, including a link to his Twitter. He was already getting Likes on the new photo.
The next few months were hard. He thought he understood tough training, but Resurrected-Victor was a determined asshole. Yuri horded his peach tea for bad days and pushed on.
“You’ve picked up bad habits,” he told Yuri. “We need to break them.”
By break them, Yuri figure out Resurrected-Victor mean ‘break Yuri’. The training was grueling, with fierce repetition and endless loops of days. Wake up, run, eat, train, eat, train, run, sleep. Eight beats, day in, day out, over and over.
Birdy, who trained more with Piggy, Yuri was realizing, watched them with wide, concerned eyes.
“How are you not dead yet?” he asked in a scandalized whisper one night. Yuri blinked at him.
“Endurance,” was the only answer he could come up with. That was his goal. Resurrected-Victor understood that. It sucked, but it was worth it. It would be worth it. He could do this.
He told himself that each time he contacted Otabek, his face familiar and comforting.
“Hi,” Yuri muttered.
“Hi,” Otabek replied, looking just as exhausted after a day full of training. They didn’t talk much most nights, but Yuri felt eons better for having seen him, even for minutes.
Piggy patted him on the back the next morning. Yuri went tense under his hand.
“I like Otabek,” he said. Yuri’s eyes narrowed.
“Good.” Yuri wouldn’t hear a bad word against him. That wasn’t welcome, on any level.
Piggy…Other-Yuri, he conceded grudgingly, smiled like a damn sunrise. He, in turn, grumbled and went back to submitting to Resurrected-and-Crazy-Victor’s whims.
The GPF Finals were in Shanghai that year. It was a hop-skip-and-a-jump for Yuri. For Otabek, who decided to take the scenic route around China’s belly, it was a three week journey working his way through India, Nepal, Bhutan, and the south of China. Yuri tracked his progress on his phone once he convinced Otabek to actually use the Twitter and Instagram accounts set up in his name for something other than competition scores.
“Your fans will love it,” Yuri explained.
“That’s way too much information about my personal life out in the world,” Otabek parried.
“You’re gonna loose cellular service out there,” Yuri said, getting a little desperate. Damnit, he couldn’t stand three weeks of no word from Otabek. Not gonna happen. “How’s about letting the rest of us know you’re alive, huh?”
Otabek gave Yuri a knowing, gentle look. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, you know.”
“Yeah, well, it’s a long trip.” And Yuri’s imagination was vivid. It conjured all sorts of accidents or disasters Otabek could stumble into, all without telling a soul.
“I’ll keep you updated,” Otabek promised, folding like a stack of cards in the face of Yuri’s determination. “And the rest of the world, because apparently that’s something they want to know about.”
Yuri grinned. Success tasted awesome.
Yuri stood atop the podium, gold metal around his neck and honestly amazed at himself. He had done it. He had his gold metal at the Grand Prix. He was a fucking miracle. He was in heaven. He could hear angels singing his name. He was…apparently having a spiritual awakening.
Birdy-Minami stood in the bronze position. He looked happy. Good for him.
Otabek stood at his right, silver around his neck and only just favoring his knee. It was perfect. Yuri had a perfect, untampered, and fantastic experience in his life, right in this moment. It was everything he had ever wanted, and he never even knew it would be like this.
It tasted rich on his tongue. He actually laughed. Turning to Otabek, he couldn’t stop laughing, grabbing at his shoulder in excitement.
Otabek matched it, grinning at him like he grinned at no one else. Open and free. Yuri felt his heart stutter in his chest. Oh.
Oh. Oh fuck.
Yuri’s perfect moment slipped into another moment. That moment was filled with reflection, and all the times in the last three years he had experienced the heart-pounding, sense-melting feeling he was feeling right then. There was a common thread, he realized.
Otabek featured in every one of them.
Yuri nearly dropped the bouquet he was holding. Distantly, he could hear Resurrected-Victor and Other-Yuri screaming their happiness towards him, but he couldn’t make out the words. He had other things on his mind. Even the gold metal around his neck was only a faint tug at his consciousness.
Yuri realized what was happening seconds before it happened. He turned to Birdy-Minami.
“Hey,” he said, poking at the kid’s shoulder. Bright, eager eyes turned to him.
“I’m about to kiss Otabek,” Yuri heard himself say. “Get off the podium if you don’t want to be part of the photo frenzy.”
Birdy-Minami’s widened eyes were only beaten by the equally wide smile that stretched across his face. Making annoying cooing sounds, he hopped off the podium without argument.
“What did you-,” was all Otabek got out before Yuri dropped just a bit, sunk his hand into Otabek’s dark hair, and kissed him. He didn’t have experience, but he had determination, damnit. That counted for a lot. Otabek stumbled for breath under him, then opened up like a flower, letting Yuri in without a second’s hesitation. He was warm, and smelled like sweat and adoration and iron. Yuri whined into his mouth and dove deeper, sinking his fingers in to get a firm, unrelenting grip.
He didn’t want to let this go. Didn’t want to let Otabek go. Yuri felt liberated with the knowledge.
He had been right about the photo frenzy.
In retrospect, Yuri probably could have handled that better. In his defense, he had been in the midst of one of the biggest highs of his life. Rational thought was hard in those circumstances.
Otabek sat with his head between his knees, taking deep breaths. Yuri, feeling a modicum of contrition, rubbed at his back in soothing circles.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, meaning it for the first time in a very long time. “I should have thought you wouldn’t want something like that out in the world.”
“It’s fine,” Otabek muttered to the floor. “You just surprised me. Give me a minute.”
Yuri figured Otabek was being kind. But he also seemed to really enjoy the kiss, for the first few seconds. Before he remembered the cameras. Then he had frozen quicker than the ice under their podium.
He started hyperventilating the moment they got off the ice. Yuri shoved him into a nearby chair as their friends swooped in.
“Oh, there went another hundred Likes,” Resurrected-Victor cheered, watching the counter tick over Other-Yuri’s shoulder as he browsed his phone. Birdy-Minami whooped while playing with his own phone.
“Oh God, don’t tell me that,” Otabek whimpered. Yuri rubbed harder and glared at the lot of them. Otabek wasn’t calming down. Damnit.
Yuri dropped out of his to settle on the floor, filling the space between Otabek's knees and ducking down so their eyes could meet.
“Everyone else can leave now,” he ordered. His voice offered no room for argument. Otabek continued his breathing patterns as their friends drifted back. If Yuri considered them kindly, he saw them as forming a protective ring around them. He wasn’t sure if he was right, but no staff member stumbled upon them.
“Sooo,” Yuri said softly. “How you doing?”
“Remember when I said you had eyes like a soldier?”
“Yeah. Yeah, you definitely left an impression with that.”
“This is the kind of thing I meant,” Otabek said. “You really don’t know the idea of ‘surrender’ or ‘failure’, do you?”
Yuri made a face. Neither of those words appealed to him. Otabek let out a weak laugh.
“Yeah, just like that,” he muttered. He untangled one hand from were it was pressed against his face to reach down. Yuri had pulled his own braid out the moment they got off the ice, and now Otabek twined his fingers around the strands. “You’re really something else, you know that?”
“Only because you’re there.” Yuri replied, closing his eyes and leaning up enough to press his forehead against Otabek’s. His heart was flying at a kilometer a minute. But he wouldn’t back down. Endurance. He knew what he wanted. “All because of you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Otabek chided. “Or romantic. This,” he tugged at Yuri’s gold metal, still hanging around his neck. “This was all you. I told you, you’re not finished yet.”
“I think you’re right,” Yuri muttered. “But at the same time…not quite. Do you know you’re in the back of my head every time I skate?”
“Oh good,” Otabek replied. “It’s not just me, then.”
“Nope,” Yuri whispered, heart beating through his chest at his excitement. He opened his eyes again, and was elated to see that Otabek looked just as wrapped up in Yuri as Yuri was in him. He kept his face pressed in close, and urged them to share breath. “Not just you. Everything I did the last three years, I did to to prove you right. I’m not done.”
“Not by a long shot.” Otabek agreed.
“Question is,” Yuri asked, his voice small and oh-so delicate. He was scared to ask, but he needed to. Endurance. He had to push forward. “Are you my finish line?”
“Do you want me to be?”
“Yes,” Yuri answered automatically, rapidly, in an instant. “Please. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to ask that in public, but please.” He slammed his mouth shut before he could say anymore; Otabek already looked overwhelmed enough.
“I do need to point out, you didn’t so much ask as take.”
“Yeah, well. I’m use to getting what I want.”
Otabek laughed, and it sounded louder, more confident. “I’ve noticed.”
“Good job,” Yuri congratulated. “Go on a date with me?”
“Yeah,” Otabek replied. His voice was quiet, but assured. Yuri tried not to giggle again. Was this how Resurrected-Victor felt all the time? No wonder he followed Other-Yuri back to Japan. Probably why he always looked so damn happy.
“Can our next kiss not take place in public?” Otabek asked.
“Of course,” Yuri agreed. That really hadn’t been his most thought-out plan.
“Well, our next-next kiss,” Otabek reiterated. Yuri grinned, and couldn’t stop when Otabek ducked down to press their lips together. It was a sloppy kiss that way, but he didn’t mind. It was beautiful.
Otabek withdrew, hesitation bleeding into his face. “None of this on Twitter. Or any of those other ones,” he stated. Yuri pouted.
“Just a few,” he bargained. “Small ones.” He could see them now: hand-holding. Jacket swaps. It would get so many Likes. He could visualize the headlines clear as day.
Otabek tapped his nose. “I can see your mind working,” he commented.
“That’s not a no.”
“It’s not a yes, either. We’ll see.”
Yuri could live with that. He had time, after all. Nothing but time. And Otabek. The rest of the world could suck it up and endure him.