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i walk my days on a wire

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[YuriP is online]

 

After Worlds, he relocates back to Canada with his coach. It’s for convenience more than anything else; Olivier has a husband and two children in Montreal that he hasn’t seen in a while, after he agreed to follow Otabek to Almaty to let him train back at home for some time, and Otabek doesn’t want to change coaches again. He guesses it’s his turn to make some sacrifices.

He gets invited to the European part of the Stars on Ice tour—Lausanne, Dresden, Warsaw, Ostrava—but he doesn’t go with the show to Asia. Instead, he packs up his apartment and ships all his belongings across the ocean, to the nice, small condo his coach found for him. It’s within the walking distance of the rink and reasonably close to the city center.

Montreal is different enough from Toronto that it might be a separate country altogether. Otabek’s English is pretty good after living abroad for so long, but he doesn’t speak French at all, and even though he spent many years moving from rink to rink, from coach to coach, from country to country, for the first time in a long time, he feels like a complete outsider.

Three days after moving in, he finds out that he shares the floor with a Swiss hockey player who plays for the Montreal Canadiens. As it turns out, the guy is also on a first-name basis with Christophe Giacometti. Switzerland is a small, small country, apparently.

Between him and his cat, it’s Masha who takes the relocation better. It’s strange; he’s been living abroad for such a long time that the change of rinks shouldn’t even register, yet here he is, feeling uprooted and unsettled. But Masha makes herself at home right away, shedding on everything in sight and purring in his ear every morning until he gets up to feed her. Nothing new there.

 

From: Yuri Plisetsky
how’s montreal?
(04:07 pm)

 

“Isn’t it really late in Saint Petersburg?” Otabek asks once they figure out the connection and Skype stops freezing the video and disconnecting them every five seconds.

Otabek is not really one for social media or texting, but after years spent living apart from his family, he’s learned not to mind skyping. It’s convenient, and it leaves him with his hands free, so he can do stretches while he talks to his little sister or his parents in the evening.

“You called me, remember?” Yuri is sitting on an unmade bed with his legs crossed, holding a half-empty cup of plain yogurt in his lap. When he speaks, he doesn’t even bother removing the spoon out of his mouth.

It’s the first time he’s seen Yuri since Worlds, even though they’ve kept in touch otherwise. His hair is longer now, reaching almost down to his shoulders, and he looks like his frame has filled out a bit over the past couple of months.

He must hate it.

For skaters like Yuri, who rely on their lithe bodies to push themselves past their limits, late onset puberty is hell—even more so than it is for others. It means taking weeks to relearn things you used to be able to do with your eyes closed and getting to know how your own body works all over again; it means falling and falling, and falling again until the center of gravity reasserts itself.

There are some who never come back from this.

“Montreal is fine. Very…Quebecois,” he says, reaching to put the laptop on the floor. He can feel the first stretch all the way down to his hamstrings, but it’s the good kind of burn, so he pushes further down. “How’s the new apartment?”

Yuri makes a disgusted face. “Mila snores. Who fucking knew.”

From what little he’s seen of the place, reflected in the grainy camera of Yuri’s laptop, it doesn’t look very impressive—the walls are a drab green color and the furniture has seen better days, but it’s not surprising, either. Yuri might be good, but skating doesn’t pay well and for the younger skaters, who don’t have any endorsement deals yet, it sometimes costs more than it earns. For someone like Yuri, it must be even harder.

It’s not that Otabek pays any attention to the rumor mill, since skaters will gossip about anything and everything, half of it patently untrue, but he’s aware that Yuri’s family situation is complicated. He won’t ask, because it’s none of his business, but if there’s one thing he knows, it’s that kids aren’t born that tough. They just get that way.

“It’s still better than living with Yakov and Lilia, though,” Yuri continues. He puts the yogurt away somewhere outside the frame and reaches for a bottle water, then downs half of it in one go. His Adam’s apple is working with each mouthful, the elongated line of his neck graceful and strong. “They should just fuck already and stop with all the mating rituals, or whatever it is that they’re doing. It’s disgusting to watch.”

“I imagine,” Otabek says to the floor.

He’s sitting in a center split that has his thigh muscles locked tight and painful, until he slowly, slowly relaxes into it. He pushes forward a little more, until he can feel the scrape of his femur against the hip joint, then stops.

“And there’s no way I’m moving in with Victor and Katsuki,” Yuri continues. “Because their lovey-dovey bullshit makes me want to barf. No, thanks.”

Otabek laughs quietly. “You’re not very much into the lovey-dovey bullshit, are you?”

Silence.

“Asia sucked without you,” Yuri admits eventually after a moment, as he falls backwards onto the bed, his t-shirt riding up. It must be still hot in Saint Petersburg, if the forecast is to be believed, but Yuri has the hood up, obscuring his face at this angle. “But we all went back to the hot spring run by Katsuki’s family after the Fukuoka show, so I guess it wasn’t that bad.”

“I know,” Otabek says. “I saw the pictures.”

He could swear that Yuri is blushing.

There are no pictures from the actual hot spring, but there are some that Phichit and JJ uploaded from their trip down to the beach the following morning. In one of those pictures, Phichit caught Yuri in a moment of complete reverie, smiling faintly at something outside of the shot. It’s the one Otabek couldn’t look away from.

Yuri continues to scroll through his phone as they continue chatting, but he has a weird look on his face that Otabek can’t seem to place—something between wariness and anticipation. Most of all, though, he looks tired and sleepy.

Otabek looks at the clock; it’s past two a.m. in Saint Petersburg. He had no idea they’ve been talking this long.

“Do you wanna—” Yuri starts at the same time as Otabek says, “Are you planning on staying upright tomorrow in practice? Because that might be a problem if we keep this up.”

Yuri snorts unattractively. “Please, I could keep myself upright in my sleep. My balance is amazing.”

Otabek remembers the wide-eyed, bird-boned boy, executing a perfect arabesque so effortlessly it almost made him cry, the shame of his own inadequacy burning in his throat.

Of course.

“But I should probably go to bed,” Yuri continues with palpable distaste for the very notion of the passage of time. “Or Yakov is gonna chew me out again in front of the entire rink, and Victor is just gonna laugh, the asshole, like he hasn’t done that a thousand of times.” He sighs, pulls on the strings of his hoodie. “Ugh, whatever. I’m signing off.”

He sounds so young when he says that, but then again—they all have their moments. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s an entire life beyond their competitive careers, beyond the rink. When, on average, you retire at twenty-five, it’s easy to lose perspective.

 

When it comes down to it, all rinks look the same.

The locker rooms smell like stale sweat and far too many bodies coming through them on a daily basis. The benches are hard and uncomfortable, digging into the meat of their thighs. The surface of the ice is like a clean slate ready to be inscribed with the story of their hard work—the history of all the landings and all the falls documented on more than just their bodies.

Lately, he’s been underrotating his triple axel again.

It’s something he managed to finally correct a while ago, back before the start of the Grand Prix circuit, and it hasn’t been giving him any trouble throughout the season, but now it’s back, and he can’t seem to get it right. There’s something wrong with the angle of the blade on take-off that he can’t quite pin down, but it’s messing him up in the air and throwing him off on each consecutive attempt. He barely lands some of them, he falls on most of the rest. The clean landings he can count on one hand.

“That’s enough for today, I think,” Olivier says as Otabek is picking himself up off the ice with a grim expression. Olivier turns off the camera he’s been using to record the practice. “I’ll review the tape later and we’ll see what we can do about it tomorrow. Go, get some rest, do some off-ice conditioning in the afternoon. It’s no use pushing this any further right now. We don’t want you to injure yourself.”

Otabek nods stiffly, ignoring the pain in his hip where he landed on a fresh bruise.

Olivier doesn’t hug him when they come off the ice as he usually does at the end of a good practice; they’ve been working together long enough that he knows when Otabek doesn’t want other people intruding on his personal space, and right now, he needs some time alone to think and regroup, to calm down the heart hammering in his chest, beating out: you’re not good enough. They’re counting on you.

On his way back to the locker room, he passes the girl from Germany, Karina, who started training under Olivier just a few weeks ago after changing coaches. She smiles and waves at him. Otabek inclines his head in a polite hello, but he’s in no mood for small talk.

The locker room, when he enters, is dark and empty. He turns on the lights and sits down on the bench, then slowly starts to unlace his skates. He’s stepping out of his boots when his phone rings with a notification.

[yuri-plisetsky uploaded a photo]

The photo must be from earlier in the day: Yuri is on the Nevsky Prospect—somewhere near Mayakovskaya, by the look of it, but it’s been a while since Otabek was last in Saint Petersburg, so he might be wrong—throwing up a peace sign as he poses next to the biggest, fluffiest cat Otabek has seen in his entire life.

The Instagram post is captioned with #TigersOfRussia. In the photo, Yuri is grinning.

There’s another photo, uploaded earlier and tagged with Otabek’s Instagram username, that has Yuri in a black leotard at what must be Lilia’s studio, executing a perfect arabesque as he stares defiantly into the camera. He knows what the photo is—part reminder, part challenge, part something else entirely.

Otabek clicks like, then throws the phone back into his bag to forget about it for the rest of the day.

 

By the time he comes home after an afternoon of off-ice conditioning, a half-empty isotonic drink in hand, Masha is already getting antsy, flicking her tail back and forth as she regards Otabek from across the hallway.

“Don’t be like that,” Otabek tells her, but she flicks her tail again and starts to slowly walk towards the kitchen, pretending like she’s ignoring him completely. It’s an old trick; Otabek remains unmoved.

He makes himself some early dinner and feeds Masha, then boots up his laptop and logs into Skype, just to be greeted by a message from Yuri, from two hours before: where r u.

Otabek is slowly getting used to Yuri’s impatience. He’s a bit like a cat, prickly and standoffish, but at the same time starved for attention. It’s not surprising, really, considering the life he’s had, but it still manages to surprise Otabek sometimes—the fact that Yuri wants attention specifically from him.

It was, after all, Otabek who proposed friendship in the first place. He couldn’t have predicted that Yuri would do more than keep meeting him halfway. It’s not a bad surprise, just—surprise, that’s all.

The Skype calls are a regular thing for them now, at least once or twice a week, as often as their busy schedules allow. They’re both working on new programs for the upcoming season; Yuri is practicing the quad lutz to add to his roster; and Otabek is trying to get his triple axel back, on top of polishing his quad loop that he hasn’t debuted in competition yet but has been working on for the past two seasons. It’s a busy summer for all of them, so close to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Still, they try to keep in touch.

When Otabek presses the call button, it takes Yuri a moment to pick up and once he does, the delay in the video feed freezes the screen for a few seconds. When the video goes from grainy, pixelated mess to the regular, slightly grainy picture, Otabek sees Yuri sitting on his bed with his legs crossed, leaning against the wall.

There’s something off in the way he holds himself, almost gingerly, like he’s trying not to move too much, keeping the weight distribution even.

“Did you injure yourself?” Otabek asks. It’s not a subtle question, but Otabek is not a subtle man, and neither is Yuri.

He watches as Yuri tenses in front of the screen for a second, then relaxes.

“Yeah, I pulled a groin muscle in practice. Hurts like a bitch.” He winces when he changes position on the bed to tuck his right foot under his thigh. “Whatever, I’ve had worse.”

Otabek digs into his chicken pasta salad. “So what, no practice tomorrow?”

Yuri shrugs.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he says, then makes a face. “Probably not, though. Yakov gets really serious about this shit.”

The skating world could use more coaches like Yakov, truth be told—coaches who know when to say no to their skaters, coaches who don’t actively encourage their skaters to push themselves past their limits even while they’re recovering from an injury. That’s how, Otabek guesses, Yakov got Victor to where he is now with his body more or less intact.

“If you were here, you could help me stretch,” Yuri says then, looking straight into the camera, and Otabek blinks.

A few seconds pass, and Yuri is still stubbornly staring straight ahead, his eyes never leaving Otabek’s face, even though he’s starting to look uncharacteristically self-conscious.

Otabek is not stupid; he can see that statement for what it really is.

“Maybe you can get Mila to help you stretch,” he says and watches as his answer catches Yuri by surprise. The dissatisfaction of being ostensibly completely misunderstood is laid bare across his face for a second, before the mask of bored disdain comes back on.

“Oh, yeah, she’s stretching already, okay,” Yuri spits out. “She found herself another boyfriend, so there’s a whole fucking lot of stretching going on on the other side of the goddamn wall.”

He looks pissed off, not only at Mila, but also at Otabek for seemingly not catching the implication, and Otabek almost feels guilty. It would be stupid to start something right now, though, when there’s eight hours of time difference and a whole ocean separating them.

He would be lying if he said he never thought about it, looking at the graceful slope of Yuri’s neck and catching the glimpses of his collarbones when one of his wide-necked t-shirts slides off to the side to reveal part of the clavicle, watching the muscles of his back and arms shift under his skin when he skates or does barre exercises.

He’s not going to pretend it doesn’t get him just a little bit hot under the collar.

But it’s not always about what Otabek wants. He learned that a long time ago.

Masha chooses that moment to jump onto Otabek’s lap; it doesn’t happen often, since she mostly prefers to keep her distance and only come for occasional head scratches, but from time to time, she gets clingy.

On the other side of the world, Yuri hurls himself forward on the bed, closer to the screen.

“What the fuck, why the hell did I not know you had a cat?” he demands, still surly but somewhat placated at the sight of Masha, who meows loudly and proceeds to clean herself in Otabek’s lap.

“She doesn’t like people much,” Otabek says, reaching out to scratch Masha behind the ear just to watch as she swats his hand away, as if to prove a point. “Usually keeps out of sight when it’s not just me.”

He knows that Yuri has a cat, too, back in Saint Petersburg, because that animal is all over his Instagram and Twitter, impossible to miss, unlike Otabek’s Masha, who avoids people and camera lenses the same way Otabek usually does. They’re a well-matched pair, Masha and him.

He still keeps wondering, though, where Yuri fits into this.

 

His triple axel comes back eventually, as steady as it used to be back during the season. The quad loop is coming along nicely, too—he now lands it in practice more often than not, and he’s not two-footing it anymore most of the time.

Olivier is pleased.

It’s a good off-season for Otabek, all things considered. He’s not nursing any injuries, he has the choreography for his short program and his free skate for the next season almost down, and there’s still plenty of time before competition starts again. He’s going to come back, stronger than ever, and show everyone who has ever doubted him what he’s really made of.

He placed fourth at Worlds in March and watched Yuri get his bronze, seemingly eclipsed by Victor Nikiforov’s endless shadow and Yuuri Katsuki’s warm, bright glow, nearly impossible to look away from. But Otabek still kept glancing to the other side of the podium, where Yuri was looking down at his medal and frowning, oblivious to the way his own shadow was slowly starting to catch up to Victor’s.

Next year, Otabek swore back then. Next year I’ll beat you.

Yuri, on the other hand, is apparently struggling with his free skate, choreographed by Victor and, by all accounts, insanely difficult in a true Nikiforov fashion.

When Otabek calls him one afternoon, it takes Yuri a while to answer the call. When the video feed catches up, he’s greeted with the sight of Yuri sitting in the middle of his bed with a mass of bandages and tape strewn all around him. He looks up to greet Otabek, then goes back to taping his feet. There are blisters—some fresh, some already scabbed over, some open and red, recently drained of fluid, either on purpose or by accident.

“Rough day?” Otabek asks, and Yuri shrugs, further retreating into himself with his shoulders hunched.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” he says in a subdued voice. Yuri doesn’t let people see this side of himself very often, Otabek has learned, so he must be feeling really down to let it show like that. “Just…can we talk about literally anything else? Other than skating. Tell me, like—I don’t know, tell me about your neighbors or something.”

“Sure,” Otabek says earnestly, ignoring the strange undertone in Yuri’s voice. “Can it be sort of about skating, though? Because my neighbor is a hockey player, from Switzerland. Says he played in the KHL for a season during a lockout a few years back, before getting traded to the Habs.”

Yuri snorts. “The Habs,” he parrots. “Look at you, getting all up on the hockey lingo. Next thing you know, you’re gonna be chasing after a puck with a stick.”

Otabek smiles with the corner of his mouth.

“Not likely. These guys are like two meters high.”

“Ugh, I know.” Yuri makes a face.

Ah, right. Mila’s new boyfriend.

“Where in the KHL did he play?” Yuri asks after a beat of silence, just when Otabek starts to think that particular conversation is over.

“Magnitogorsk, I think.”

Yuri falls silent again. Otabek observes as he methodically tapes his feet, spreading ointment over the blisters before patching them up with gauze and bandage.

“Huh,” he says eventually. “Maybe he knows my cousin, then.”

It’s the first time Yuri mentioned a family member other than his grandfather. Yuri’s family situation is still a mystery for the most part, even in the skating world, full of gossip that Otabek tries to distance himself from. Even so, there are some things everyone has heard of at one point or another: the unknown father, the absent mother, who gave Yuri her last name and her father’s name as a patronymic before she left to chase fading glory.

“I never really met him,” Yuri continues in a wistful tone, just in case Otabek thought that maybe his life wasn’t as horrifyingly lonely as he suspected. “I just know he exists.”

He has no idea what to say to that. Otabek is no stranger to missing his family, but that only means that he has a family to miss. Yuri, it seems, has no one apart from his grandfather.

Instead of answering, Otabek excuses himself to make some tea. While he’s waiting for the water to boil, he leans against the kitchen counter, his mind still on what Yuri said a moment ago. Talking about family shouldn’t make anyone this sad.

“Yakov has a new student,” Yuri says once Otabek returns to his place in front of the screen, a mug of steaming tea in hand. So much for not talking about skating. “Some snotty rich momma’s boy from Nizhny Novgorod or wherever the fuck. He tried to kiss me today after practice. What a fucking tool.”

Otabek catches himself instinctively licking his lips. He wonders whether Yuri would push him away, too, if he tried to kiss him. Perhaps. Perhaps not, given his recent behavior: the way he’s taken to wearing loose shirts that expose his collarbones and shoulders around Otabek, like he knows exactly what it does to Otabek’s insides; the constant innuendo.

But whatever it is, there’s still half a world separating them at any given time. It’s not like he could just reach out and pull Yuri closer to find out.

 

On Wednesday, he comes home late, after he stayed behind to work on his catch foot layback that he’s been wanting to include in his exhibition program for a while. He knows he’ll never be as flexible as Yuri, who can still execute a perfect Biellmann without breaking a sweat, but he wants to get better, more interesting to watch.

He knows what people say about him—reliable but boring. To a figure skater, that usually means competitive death, never amounting to anything other than middle-of-the-pack standings, the curse of the fourth place. Otabek, at least, has the technique to make up for his PCS scores, and it’s earned him a few medals to date, but he doesn’t want to rely on that forever.

What he wants is to win.

It seems that in the years to come, after Victor and Yuuri retire for good, Yuri will be the one to beat. If Otabek wants to surpass him, he needs to do better than this. He doesn’t want for Yuri’s shadow to grow as huge and daunting as Victor’s, and he knows there will be more of the young blood trying to catch up to him—Phichit, Guang Hong, Seung-gil, Leo—but Otabek wants to get there first.

He feels weirdly on edge, the way he almost never does after a successful practice, but now his entire body is thrumming with nervous energy he can’t seem to shake off.

He showers, hoping to rinse off the excess of adrenaline, and jerks himself off half-heartedly to ease the tension in his shoulders. He does his best not to think about the flashes of blond hair and delicate collarbones, and strong, muscular thighs that keep flooding his mind, unbidden.

It doesn’t work.

What’s worse is that when he walks into his bedroom in search of something to wear, since he forgot to bring a change of clothes, there’s a waiting Skype call from Yuri. He answers it almost on autopilot and only realizes his mistake a moment too late, when he sees Yuri’s face. He’s still wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, and he can’t just ignore the fact that he got himself off less than five minutes earlier to the memory of Yuri’s mouth.

For a moment, Yuri doesn’t say anything, and Otabek busies himself with looking through his closet. He dresses away from the screen, discarding the towel and grabbing the first pair of briefs he can find; the white t-shirt clings unpleasantly to his skin, still damp from the shower where he hasn’t toweled off properly, and his hair is starting to drip down his neck.

He feels more uncomfortable than before he’d stepped into the shower.

Yuri, on the other hand, seems to be angry about something. He’s clutching the pillow in his lap so hard Otabek can see how white his knuckles are despite the grainy texture of the screen.

“Did something happen?” he asks. Sometimes it’s easier to just be straightforward with Yuri, he’s learned.

“No, nothing happened,” Yuri says, throwing himself onto his stomach in front of the laptop with a huff.

If that’s how he wants to do it, then two can play this game, Otabek thinks. Yuri is not a child, and Otabek doesn’t have the time, patience, or obligation to deal with his tantrums every time he decides to throw one nonetheless.

He likes Yuri, maybe more than he should, but Yuri can also be a lot to handle even on the best of days.

“Okay then,” he says simply before leaning back to reach the tape and ointment lying on his nightstand. He’s been breaking in new boots this past week; his feet are a mess.

When he looks back to the screen, Yuri looks half-surprised, half-frustrated, but Otabek just begins to methodically massage, patch up and bandage his feet.

“What kind are you using?” Yuri asks after a moment. It’s the first time he’s spoken since Otabek failed to rise to the challenge. Otabek shows him the label.

“This one is shit,” Yuri professes with all the confidence of someone who’s used to thinking he can’t be wrong. “There’s this other one Lilia bought for me, and it’s really good. You can’t get it outside of Russia, though, but I could, I don’t know, send you a package or something. If you wanted.”

It’s an olive branch of sorts, Yuri’s own way of saying the I’m sorry that wouldn’t fit through his mouth.

“Sure, if you want,” Otabek says with a small smile. “I’ll text you the address.”

There’s a moment of silence, followed by quiet meowing, and when Otabek looks up, there’s a cat sitting in Yuri’s lap, bumping her head against the underside of his jaw and demanding attention. Yuri smiles, soft and unguarded for once.

“Yo, come say hi to Koshka,” he demands, turning the cat around to face the camera.

Otabek snorts. “You named your cat Cat? Really?”

Yuri’s expression sours.

“Shut up. I got her when I was ten, okay?”

The cat meows again and swats at the screen with her paw, then headbutts the camera, like she’s trying to pounce at Otabek and is wondering why it’s not working.

“She’s cute,” he says and watches the way Yuri blushes as if Otabek just complimented him, not his cat. In a way, it feels like he did.

The moment Yuri sucks his lower lip into his mouth, gnawing at the chapped skin with his teeth, Otabek looks away, down to his neglected feet, only half-patched up.

Don’t think about his mouth, he tells himself. This way lies madness.

“Did you hear Georgi is doing Carmen for his free skate this year?” Yuri says, and Otabek doesn’t even need to look at the screen; the distaste is palpable in his voice. “Can you be less original?”

Otabek smiles with the corner of his mouth.

“Could’ve been Bolero,” he says.

“Please, you skated to Bolero your second year in the juniors.” Yuri rolls his eyes. “You have no fucking room to talk.”

Otabek shakes his head. “I can’t believe you even remember that.”

At that, Yuri’s mouth turns into a stubborn line as he keeps staring straight at Otabek.

“I didn’t,” he admits. “I watched it on Youtube.”

It’s at the same time unexpected and understandable. Yuri might have forgotten about their first encounter back when they were still children, but he’s always been serious about sizing up his competition. It’s nice, in a way, that Yuri considers him a threat.

There’s a lull in the conversation, where Otabek finishes his post-practice routine while Yuri lounges around in his bed, scrolling through something on his phone. A few times, Otabek catches him looking, but when their eyes meet through the screen, Yuri always looks away, feigning disinterest. Otabek doesn’t quite know what to do with that.

 

At first, he thinks it’s a mistake.

When he opens the message, he expects to see text, but what he sees instead is a picture. Initially, he can’t quite figure out what he’s looking at, the photo poorly-lit and a bit grainy. After a second or two, it clicks.

He can see the smooth, pale skin, the faint outline of strong muscle underneath. The meat of Yuri’s thigh, the curve of his ass.

Otabek’s mouth goes dry.

There’s a second picture, too, bright and clear this time, and Otabek almost wishes it wasn’t. The picture shows only the lower half of Yuri’s face, his mouth slightly parted and pink, and shiny, then follows the flat of his chest and abdomen, down to where Yuri has a hand wrapped around his dick. He’s hard.

There’s nothing else—no text, no other messages, nothing. Just the pictures, stark and bold, and unapologetically there, leaving nothing to the imagination.

He deletes them almost immediately, because contrary to Yuri, he’s apparently internalized the lesson that when you’re a public figure, in any capacity, you probably shouldn’t have nude pictures on your phone. That doesn’t mean they’re not seared into his brain forever.

Throughout the day, he does his best to ignore the memory of the full-body flush stretching from Yuri’s face down his neck and blooming across his chest. He goes to practice, works on his quads, does his off-ice conditioning and meets with the seamstress for a costume fitting.

He doesn’t respond to the now-deleted messages. Yuri doesn’t message him either.

If he’s being honest with himself, Otabek has no idea what to do with the revelation that Yuri Plisetsky is a person who takes and sends nude pictures of himself. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise him so much—Yuri, after all, always goes straight after whatever it is that he wants. Otabek just never figured that it would be him.

They might have skirted around the issue once or twice, and he couldn’t deny the tension between them, charged with static that made the hairs on his arm stand up, but he never expected it to go this far. There have been concerns, after all: the long distance, the time difference, the competitive nature of their lives. Yuri, apparently, has no such apprehensions.

A day goes by like this. Then another. And another.

They usually don’t skype every day; it’s nothing out of the ordinary for them not to be in touch for a while. That silence, though, is usually interspersed with texts from Yuri or tagged posts on Instagram, direct messages on Twitter.

Now, there’s nothing but silence.

On the fourth day, Yuri calls Otabek as soon as the computer automatically logs him into Skype. After a moment of hesitation, Otabek picks up.

The room behind Yuri looks unfamiliar. It’s not the usual bedroom or the common area in his and Mila’s apartment, and it’s not their tiny, white-tiled kitchen. Instead, it looks like a different kitchen, with wood paneling and dark tile on the walls.

“Yo,” Yuri says by way of hello. He doesn’t look in any way out of the ordinary, and he doesn’t shy away from Otabek’s gaze. The only difference is that now Otabek knows what his dick looks like when it’s hard.

“Where are you?” he asks in a neutral tone. “That’s not your apartment, right?”

He doesn’t expect the way Yuri’s entire face lights up.

“I’m in Moscow, visiting Grandpa,” he says. “I’m going back tomorrow morning.”

That, at least, explains the dated décor and the lack of Koshka lounging around in the background, but not why Yuri would take time off from training in the middle of the week to spend four hours on a train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow just to return the next day.

“It’s Grandpa’s birthday,” Yuri supplies. His t-shirt is slipping off his shoulder, exposing the collarbone.

Otabek swallows.

Before he can say anything, though, there’s the sound of the front door opening and closing, and a booming male voice saying, “Yurochka, come help me with the groceries!”

Yuri looks back over his shoulder, then extricates himself from where he’s sitting in an unholy tangle of limbs in front of his laptop, leaving Otabek to ponder the inside of the Plisetsky kitchen. It’s strange, seeing the place where Yuri grew up like this, empty and quiet, from halfway across the world.

It doesn’t stay empty and quiet for very long, though, because a moment later the muffled voices from the hallway grow closer until Yuri comes into Otabek’s full view again, dragging with him two bags of groceries. His grandfather follows a moment later.

“Yurochka?” he asks, and Otabek doesn’t need to see his face to know he’s talking about him.

“Grandpa, that’s Otabek, from Kazakhstan,” Yuri explains. “I told you about him.”

Otabek doesn’t know why it feels so much like a punch to the solar plexus.

“Good evening, Mr. Plisetsky,” he says politely. “And happy birthday.”

“Ah, yes, I’ve heard about you, boy,” Mr. Plisetsky says. “Yurochka talks about you a lot. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Behind Mr. Plisetsky, Yuri has turned abruptly away from the screen, busying himself with unpacking the groceries and stuffing whatever needs to be kept cold into the ancient refrigerator. Otabek waits.

“So you’re training in Canada, huh?” Mr. Plisetsky says. “That’s quite the way from home.”

Otabek shrugs slightly. “We don’t have that good of a support system for figure skaters back home,” he explains. “Facilities, coaches, choreographers—most of that is still abroad, if you’re serious about competing at the international level. I’ve lived away from home most of my life. It’s hard, but you get used to it.”

Mr. Plisetsky’s inscrutable face shifts for a moment, taking on an almost wistful expression.

“Ah, yes, well,” he says. “We know a thing or two about that, too. Don’t we, Yurochka?”

Yuri makes a faint noise of agreement, but he still doesn’t turn around.

“You can take it to the living room now,” his grandfather tells him, and Otabek guesses he means the call. “I’m going to start preparing dinner.”

“I wouldn’t want to intrude,” Otabek says, but Mr. Plisetsky shakes his head.

“It’s fine. You, boys, go and catch up.” He waves them off. “I’ll let you know when dinner is ready.”

The living room—or what Otabek sees of it, at least—seems small and a little cramped, like it has seen better days. The walls here are paneled with wood, too, and in the upper right corner of the screen, Otabek can see a shelf full of dusty knick-knacks that look like they remember the previous regime.

“I didn’t know he’d be back so soon,” Yuri says. He seems relaxed, but once Otabek gets a good look at him, he can see the residual tension in his shoulders.

“It’s fine. He’s your family, and it’s his birthday. I’m the one who should probably go. We can always talk another time.”

“No,” Yuri says, a little too fast. “No, it’s fine, he doesn’t mind. We’ve spent most of the day together anyway.”

He licks his lips. Otabek needs to physically stop himself from doing the same.

There’s no way they can talk about it now—the pictures, all of it—and even if there was, Otabek still has no idea what to say.

It’s almost a relief when Yuri’s grandfather tells him that dinner is ready and they disconnect.

 

He’s been so good at ignoring it, for the most part, that when it finally comes crashing down around him, it comes crashing down hard.

In the morning following his talk with Yuri, he wakes up overheated and restless. His dick is hard, trapped between his abdomen and the mattress, and there’s a faintly wet spot just below the elastic of his boxers. This hasn’t happened to him in a while.

At first, he tries to ignore it, but his alarm is due to go off in less than fifteen minutes, and he has another costume fitting first thing in the morning before he goes to practice. He can’t exactly arrive at the atelier with a hard-on.

Slowly, deliberately, he grinds into the mattress, then pushes his underwear past his hips and down to his thighs, just enough to get a grip on his dick, firm and tight around the head the way he likes it. Not thinking about Yuri is already a lost battle—there is no way for him to forget the play of shadows across Yuri’s abs or the way he touched himself, his grasp firm but slightly hesitant at the same time, the head of his dick peeking out, pink and flushed.

There’s a fleeting thought in his mind that he could snap a picture of himself like this, lying on his stomach with his hand wrapped around himself, his underwear straining around his thighs and his lips already bitten red, and send it to Yuri, but he discards the thought as soon as it appears.

They never really acknowledged this thing between them in any way. Now Otabek feels like he’s missed his window somehow.

Still, he brings himself right to the brink of orgasm with the thought of Yuri’s mouth, pink and wet, and dangerous in more ways than one, imagining what it would be like to have it wrapped around his dick. It’s the memory of the blush that does it, in the end, the way it spread across Yuri’s neck and chest, almost down to his navel, and Otabek comes to the thought of kissing the flushed, overheated skin, further and further down Yuri’s chest and abdomen, until he can wrap his lips around the tip of Yuri’s dick.

He imagines the soft moan, or maybe a throaty, choked-off sound, something, and the muscles of his abdomen contract, his thighs trembling. The inside of his palm is a mess.

Somehow, that only makes him feel worse.

He showers thoroughly to wash the scent of sex off his body, then goes in for the fitting. On his way, sitting in the backseat of an Uber, he uploads to his Instagram a photo he took after getting out of the shower, of Montreal slowly waking up. Then, on a whim, he tags Yuri in it.

Yuri likes the photo almost immediately, but doesn’t respond in any other way. It’s completely ordinary, as far as their interactions go. Otabek still can’t shake the lingering undercurrent of tension. Like they’re just biding their time, suspended in a fragile equilibrium.