He is five years old when he stumbles out onto the ice and goes sliding ten feet, and suddenly his whole world changes.
“Hm?” comes her response, followed almost immediately by, “Yuri! Be careful!”
She sounds frantic, as though she’s scared, but Yuri cannot imagine why anyone would be scared of this. He’s still sliding across the frozen-over pond, breath misting behind him in a long stream as he laughs, spinning, legs akimbo, until he loses balance and falls backward with a thump. Then he gets right back up and wobbles into another slide, laughing uproariously.
“Look at that!” Grandfather says as Yuri slides back over to the edge of the lake, before falling forward into the snowbank. “He’s got his father’s instincts, clearly. He’ll be a hockey player some day, I’m sure.”
“God, I hope not,” she answers tightly. “Yuri, please—”
“This is the best!” Yuri screams, so loudly that everyone in the village can hear him, likely. His mother flinches, but his grandfather bellows laughter.
“Let him be, Anna,” Grandfather says. “These old bones need a rest after all that walking, anyway.”
“Sit, sit, sit.”
Yuri screams again, this time just because he can, and topples headfirst into another snowdrift encircling the pond.
“He even loves the falling,” she says wearily, setting down the bag of groceries they’d bought next to her on the bench they both sit down on. “The boy’s immune to pain.”
“More evidence that he’s his father’s son, as far as I’m concerned.”
Yuri is too busy wobbling around the ice to notice the sudden tension between them, too distracted to see the way she fusses with her threadbare shawl, the way he sighs and drums his fingers on his knee.
“Anna,” he begins, but she interjects.
“I can’t talk about him right now,” she says. “At least not in front of Yuratchka.”
“All right,” he says. “All right, but Anna, but we can’t keep it from him forever. He’s going to start asking questions. How long can we keep lying?”
“Perhaps he’ll forget him altogether,” she whispers. “We should be so lucky.”
“There are some things about him worth remembering, aren’t there?”
She doesn’t answer, but her hands tremble as she watches her son fall face-first onto the ice, then get right back up as though he hadn’t even noticed.
When the silence between them grows too long, he puts his hand on her back. She leans onto his shoulder. Yuri screams and laughs and falls over and laughs even more.
He is eight when his mother and grandfather scrape together what little money they have to spare and buy him his first pair of ice skates. Yuri feels like he can’t breathe.
“Happy birthday, Yura,” she says with a smile, and despite the fact that the nearest ice is almost a half-mile away, he immediately kicks off his cat-shaped slippers to try them on. “We got a special deal with Gregor who owns the shop. If you take good care of them, we can trade them in for a larger pair whenever they get too small.”
They are shiny and sleek and white and the prettiest things Yuri has ever owned. Although they’re about a half-size too large for him, he is convinced that they are perfect.
“I can’t believe it,” he says wonderingly. Then, “There are so many laces.” He’s still not very good with laces.
“I’ll lace them for you,” Grandfather chuckles. Yuri beams at him. “But not in the house.”
He stands up immediately, heart in his throat. “Can we go down to the pond?” he asks. “It froze over last week, didn’t it?”
Grandfather opens his mouth, but hesitates. He looks back at his daughter, who smiles bravely. “Of course we can, kotyonok.”
“Anna, maybe I should take him,” Grandfather says.
“And miss my boy’s first time on ice skates? Never.”
As if to prove a point she didn’t make, she rises out of her armchair. At once, she sways and topples forward onto the floor of the living room, bringing down the end table next to her with a great clatter of wood and metal.
Grandfather dives for her, managing to catch her just before her head strikes the side of the brick fireplace.
“I’m okay,” she says at once, sounding breathless. “I’m okay, I’m all right. Just – just a little lightheaded—”
“Sit back down, Anna,” Grandfather answers gravely, helping her up with two hands around her elbows. Yuri toes out of his skates and shakily lifts the endtable up off the floor.
“I said I’m fine,” his mother says halfheartedly.
“You’re not going anywhere until you can stand without falling,” he answers severely. “Yuratchka, go make your mother some hot tea.”
“Da, dedushka,” Yuri says miserably, hurrying through into the kitchen, stopping only when he hears his grandfather’s voice again, softer, more urgent:
“Anna,” he says, “do we need to take you back to Dr. Abramovich?”
“I’m sure it’s not so bad as all that,” she answers, just as soft but without the urgency. She sounds so tired, and it frightens Yuri for reasons he doesn’t really understand. “He said this might be a side-effect, didn’t he?”
“Anna, can we please stop pretending that everything is fine? Yuri will figure it out eventually.”
Yuri’s eyes are burning with tears. Why are things not fine? He thinks back to all the whispered conversations he’s heard these past weeks, the word he’s only ever heard as a frantic, fearful hiss: cancer. They haven’t explained what it is, despite how many times he’s asked, but Yuri is already scared of it. In his head he has imagined it as some terrible monster, vampire-like, that drains his mother’s life away during the night, little by little.
“I just want to see him ice skate, Papa,” she says. “It’s all he’s talked about for months.”
He hears Grandfather sigh, his mother sniff, and Yuri shuffles further into the kitchen, heart heavy and hands shaking.
He is ten when, after years of skating on nothing but the little pond by the playground, he goes to Moscow in Grandfather’s beat-up Volkswagen to visit his uncle and he gets to skate on a real ice rink.
Yuri feels like he is flying. He loves his little pond, but it is very little, and feels littler every day. Here, there’s so much space. Yuri can go for ages without ever having to slow down.
He spins and jumps and twirls like he sees Victor Nikiforov do on TV, or at least he does it as near as he can. He doesn’t even care when he falls – he just gets right back up and keeps going, hair flying, heart thumping against his ribs.
His mother is chatting with an older man on the edge of the rink. As he passes, he hears them talking, and from there he stays in earshot, pretending not to listen.
“—no formal training at all?”
“As though we could afford it,” Mother says.
“It’s just—” The man shakes his head. He has long gray hair and a hooked nose. “I’m not used to seeing a ten-year-old who can do a double axel without any formal training.”
“He watches skating obsessively,” she explains, “and the moment the pond freezes over in the winter, he’s out there, dawn till dusk.”
“He sounds very motivated,” the man says.
“He is,” Mother answers, and Yuri feels a swell of pride at the smile in her voice. Just because he can, and not because he wants to show off, he lifts one leg and goes into a spin.
When he slows, and when the thrill of it fades and his heartbeat softens in his ears, he tunes back into the conversation.
“—damn crime not to train a natural talent like that, Ms. Plisetsky.”
“I appreciate it, Yakov, but like I said, we can’t afford it,” she says. “I don’t know what my brother told you—”
“He told me that I should train him pro bono.”
A jolt of adrenaline hits Yuri in the chest. He actually stops skating, blades grinding on the ice, and looks over at them, but they’re too involved in their conversation to notice.
“That I should take my salary as a percentage of the winnings he’ll inevitably earn once he starts competing,” the man, Yakov, continues.
His mother’s face is, he’s sure, a perfect reflection of his own. She stares at him, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, holding tightly on the shawl covering her now-bald head.
“Yakov,” she says, but doesn’t seem to know where she’d wanted her sentence to go.
“Ms. Plisetsky,” Yakov answers, “I haven’t seen a natural ability like his since Nikiforov first stepped onto my ice.”
At once, Yuri sprints fro the wall and THUMPS loudly into it. Both of them jump at the suddenness.
“You coach Victor Nikiforov?”
“And just how long have you been eavesdropping?” Yakov barks at him.
“Mama, I want to train!” he says, hands gripping hard at the wall.
“I can live with Uncle Anton, can’t I? And you and dedushka can visit me all the time, it’s only an hour’s drive!”
She sighs. “Yuri, please—”
“I’ll do whatever it takes, sir!” Yuri says, looking up at Yakov resolutely. “I’ll give you all my winnings for my entire life if I have to! I want to be just like Victor Nikiforov!”
Yakov, though he still seems peeved at the sudden interruption, softens around the edges at his words.
“Ditya,” he says, “if you train as hard as you can, you can be better.”
For a few seconds, Yuri stares breathlessly up at him. Better than Victor Nikiforov? That doesn’t even seem possible.
His mother makes a weak sound, and when Yuri looks back at her, she is swooning, gripping hold of the wall to keep herself from swooning.
Yakov is able to catch her quick enough, but by the time Yuri races for the door and sprints over to her, she’s already sat down on a nearby bench, eyes glassy, thin hands gripping at her shawl.
“Mama,” Yuri whispers, falling onto his knees at her feet. “Mama, should I call—?”
“No, no,” she says, breathless. “No, kotyonok, I’m fine, I just… the news surprised me, is all.”
She’s lying, and Yuri can tell. It’s the only way he’s ever received bad news: through decoding more palatable lies.
“Do you really believe that, Yakov?” Mother asks him, trying very hard to change the subject. “Do you think my little boy could be better than Victor Nikiforov?”
Yakov looks between them, seemingly acknowledging what she doesn’t. It’s not as though it isn’t obvious, with her pale skin and her thin hands and her bald head, to say nothing of her young son tearing up at her feet.
“I really do, Ms. Plisetsky,” he says.
She’s silent for a while, still looking dazed. Eventually, she turns her bright green eyes down to Yuri, and smiles.
“Well, then,” she says. “I suppose we should go talk to Uncle Anton, shouldn’t we?”
He’s twelve when she dies.
He can tell it’s bad when he’s pulled out of practice and sees Grandfather standing silently in the lobby, kneading his fraying gray hat between his hands.
He is told to change into his street clothes and come with him. Yuri spends ten silent minutes in the locker room feeling like he’s going to throw up, and an unbearable hour in the car feeling like he’s going to cry.
When they get to the hospital, Yuri doesn’t even recognize the woman on the bed. It’s only been a few months since Christmas when he last saw her, but somehow in so short a time his beautiful, radiant mother has transformed into some skeletal specter of death, her face cadaverous, her eyes deep-set.
“There’s my kotyonok,” she says. “I’m so sorry to pull you out of practice.”
Yuri wants to scream at her. Why the hell is she apologizing to him for interrupting practice when she’s about to die?
“Why so sad, Yuratchka? Come here.”
Legs stiff, he goes to her side. The dilapidated hospital looks nothing like the medical center he went to when he broke his ankle last year; everything is fraying and gray and old.
“It came back, didn’t it?” Yuri whispers.
She frowns. Before she can say anything—
“Don’t lie to me, Mama,” he says. “Not again.”
“It came back, kotyonok,” she says, putting her hand on his wrist. It feels like ice. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” he hisses, eyes burning. “Stop apologizing.”
“Come here, darling.”
He’d been trying, but the tears come anyway, spilling down his face. He climbs into bed next to her, curling up against her. There’s plenty of space; with all the weight she’s lost, she hardly takes up any room at all.
She winds one emaciated arm around his shoulders as Yuri starts to sob into her chest.
“All your life, you’ve surprised me, Yuratchka,” she says as she strokes his hair. “First with your spirit, then with your determination, then with your talent. It feels somehow unfair that the great tragedies of your life should be so ordinary.”
“Mama,” he sobs.
“Your father drinks himself into a car accident, your mother succumbs to cancer,” she says, “it’s all so obvious, isn’t it?”
“Stop it, Mama, stop talking like this.”
“Yura, if there’s only one thing you remember about me, about what I want from you, let it be this.” She lifts his chin with her fingers and stares unflinchingly into his bloodshot, tear-filled eyes. “Be extraordinary. Be unexpected. Be as brilliant and wonderful and daring as I know you can be.”
“Mama,” he chokes around the knot in his throat.
“Be anything but obvious, kotyonok,” she says, and Yuri collapses onto her again, shattering into pieces.
At some point, he falls asleep like that, crying into his mother’s chest. Several hours later, Grandfather shakes him awake and tells him she’s dead.
By thirteen, he’s forgotten the surge of joy in his chest when he lands a perfect triple loop.
He’s forgotten a lot about joy at thirteen. Life has reduced to three parts: practice, not practice, and sleep. At thirteen, Yuri finds he looks forward to sleep the most, because at least he dreams in color while everything else is in shades of gray.
Yakov has seen the changes in him, and every few months, he tries to bring it up.
“Will you be spending Easter with your grandfather?” he asks as Yuri bends forward over the barre and lifts his right leg up and up until it is straight up in the air.
“Probably,” he answers, holding the split. One, two, three…
“Looking forward to the break?”
“I guess.” Seven, eight, nine…
“You know you can leave a few days early if you like. You’ve been training hard. The season doesn’t start for months.”
Yuri drops his right leg and lifts his left.
“It’s not a big deal.” One, two, three…
“I think it might be a bigger deal than you care to admit,” Yakov says. “You think I don’t see your phone buzzing during practice? How many messages does your grandfather leave you every day?”
“This really isn’t any of your business,” Yuri growls, losing count.
“Your posture is off, Yuri!” Victor sings from across the room.
“Shut up!” Yuri barks at him, almost losing his balance. If there was a day when he looked up to Victor, Yuri can’t remember it anymore. Turns out all those sayings were right about meeting your heroes.
“Yuratchka, go home,” Yakov says. “That’s an order from your coach.”
Yuri drops both legs back to the smooth wood floor and stares up at Yakov in stunned silence. “What?”
“Go home,” he says. “Recovery is just as important as training, and you’ve been neglecting it.”
“I’m recovering! I recover! I do those stupid massages, don’t I?”
“I’m not talking about the massages,” Yakov growls. “What day is it next Thursday, Yuratchka Plisetsky?”
Yuri’s mouth forms a thin, hard line.
“Her birthday,” he answers, voice smaller than he’d intended it to be.
“And if I had to guess, that’s why your grandfather keeps leaving messages for you during practice. Have you even answered any of them?”
Inexplicably, frustratingly, humiliatingly, Yuri feels his eyes start to burn with the threat of tears. With every ounce of strength left in him, he fights them down. He will not cry in class. He will not.
“I don’t want to go back,” Yuri says. He doesn’t think he could bear it.
“You remember introduction to sports medicine.”
“After a serious injury, what’s the first step?”
“This is a stupid metaphor,” Yuri growls at him.
“Rest the afflicted area until the worst of the pain subsides, you little brat,” Yakov finishes. “Well, it’s been ten months, hasn’t it? So what’s next? Gentle stretches to the damaged muscles.”
“This isn’t a torn ACL!” Yuri bellows at him. “My mother’s fucking dead!”
The whole room quiets. Yuri is too angry to be upset at himself for screaming.
Slowly, Yakov crouches down in front of him. Some in the room pretend to go back to their stretches, others stare openly.
“It’s not so different,” he says. “Take it from me. You’ve got to confront the pain before it turns into something worse.”
“Go home,” he says. “I’ve already cleared out your schedule for the rest of the week.”
Yuri could punch him. He has, once or twice in the past, although Yakov’s reaction has only ever been to say he should integrate more strength training into his warm-ups. Furious but impotent, Yuri storms past him, ripping off the oversized sweater insulating the leotard.
That evening, he jogs all the way back to Uncle Anton’s apartment, and mercifully, he doesn’t ask why Yuri spends the whole night crying.
Everything about this place is wrong now. Memories of too-bright sunlight on the snow, of wind on his face and his heart racing in his chest, are all tainted by the small marble headstone under the tree by the lake near his childhood playground.
In the spring, the whole area is green and fragrant with freshly blossomed flowers, and Yuri hates it for reasons he can’t explain.
“It was an odd choice on her part, don’t you think?” Grandfather asks.
Yuri doesn’t answer.
“But this is what she told me,” he continues. “Right here, under the tree near the lake. I think she did it because of you. Do you remember how you used to skate here every day during the winter?”
Yuri hates this. He hates talking about it, even casually. Why should anyone be compelled to remember the dead? It’s not like it can achieve anything but pain, useless and directionless.
“That was a long time ago now,” Grandfather says, sounding sadder every second Yuri stays quiet. “I suppose you might not remember.”
“I remember,” Yuri says. He makes sure his tone communicates that he does not like remembering.
“She loved to watch you skate,” he says. “Maybe that’s why she wanted it to be here.”
“She can’t watch anything now, she’s dead.” And it’s not as if he’ll ever lay a blade on this godforsaken pond again.
There’s a pause, then a sigh.
“I know, Yura.”
“Can we go home now?” Home is not much better than out here – everything in that house is still a reminder of her; her shawls still hang in the open hall closet, her books are still piled on the shelves – but anything is better to the way Yuri feels right at this second.
“You don’t want to say anything to her?”
“I’m not a fan of talking to slabs of granite like you, dedushka,” he says, and turns on his heel. Grass whispers against his bare ankles as he heads back up toward the ramshackle little house at the top of the hill.
“Yuri,” Grandfather calls after him, but Yuri doesn’t look back.
After Yuri’s screaming outburst about his dead mother, his rinkmates start avoiding him. Even Victor keeps a wide berth, which surprises Yuri if only because he didn’t know Nikiforov was capable of ever shutting the hell up.
Most of the interaction he gets over the next few weeks is limited to sympathetic glances from a distance, which is annoying, but strictly speaking preferable to the alternative. Yuri got bored with his rinkmates months ago. He’s on a different level than most of them and everyone knows it. Only Victor is ever able to really keep up with him, and honestly, Yuri can manage without him.
This is all to say that it’s surprising when he opens up his locker after practice and finds a small tupperware container with a sticky note on the lid.
Yuri frowns at it for a few moments, then glances back at each of the other five boys changing out with him. None of them notice he’s looking. Yuri turns back to the tupperware, hesitates, then peels the sticky note off.
My mother made these for me after my father died, and then every time since when I’ve been sad. Maybe they’ll help for you?
The handwriting is awful. It’s not signed.
Yuri sticks the note on the inside of his locker door, pulls the tupperware out and peels off the lid. Inside are a half-dozen dumplings of some kind – Yuri is hit immediately with the smell, and his stomach growls reactively. Is that mutton?
He sticks his nose inside. It’s definitely mutton. He loves mutton. There are subtler flavors, too, that he can’t quite identify, spicy and intriguing. Yuri is suddenly very hungry.
He looks back to the other boys in the locker room. Was it one of them? If any of them can make dumplings, he certainly wouldn’t know. Maybe it was Yakov? Then again, Yuri’s had Yakov’s cooking, and had barely escaped that situation alive. Which one of them has a dead father? Yuri’s never gotten to know any of them well enough.
“What’s that smell?” Victor says, appearing abruptly at his locker. Whatever embargo had been in place in their relationship out of respect for Yuri’s mourning is apparently only as strong as the smell of mutton. “Ooh, dumplings!”
“Fuck off, Nikoforov, they’re mine.” Yuri slaps the lid back in place.
“You’re not going to share? You’re awful! And here I’d been being so nice to you.”
He’s practically mooning over the tupperware. Yuri hugs it a little closer to his chest.
“Tell you what,” Yuri says, “if you agree to choreograph my short program in my first senior season, I’ll give you a dumpling.”
Victor gives him a slightly puzzled, slightly offended look. “You’ve been asking that for weeks now and I’ve always said no. You really think I’ll cave for one dumpling?”
“I really do,” Yuri answers.
“Well, you’re right, I absolutely will.”
Yuri opens the tupperware again and hands him a dumpling. Victor beams.
“Pleasure doing business with you, Yuri! Dasvidaniya!”
He leaves, taking and overlarge bite of the dumpling. The last thing Yuri hears him say before he leaves the locker room is “ooh, mutton!”
Yuri grins. What a difference a few dumplings can make in a day. Now he has lunch and a gold-medal program for his first senior season. He even feels…
Yuri doesn’t know what he feels. Something, certainly. It’s warm and nice. Most people, even those closest to him, tend to let him handle his pain on his own. Yuri’s not used to gestures of kindness like this.
He plucks a second dumpling out and takes a small bite. God, it’s good, and the sound it pulls out of him is positively indecent. How long has it been since he’s had a home-cooked meal?
He’s about to ask the remaining boys if any of them made it, but before he can one of them hurries past him, red-faced and flustered, the new boy from Kazakhstan whose name Yuri can’t quite place. He means to ask him the next day but never does.
The long and the short of it is that, two years later, Yuri flies to Japan to make good on his dumpling deal with Victor. It’s not a journey condoned by his coach, and it may not technically be legal, but Yuri doesn’t care. It strikes him as much more important that he drag Victor back to Moscow and force him to hold up his end of the bargain.
A lot of things happen while he’s in that little backwoods prefecture, some of them interesting, but most of them deeply and profoundly annoying. Victor gets a new boyfriend, which is obnoxious, and it’s Other Yuri, which is even worse, and then there’s this whole exhibition skate thing that sort of happens out of nowhere, and the whole thing just ends up being a pain.
So far as he can tell, there’s only one good thing that happens in Hatsetsu: Yuri loses at skating for the first time in his life.
He was angry at first – livid, actually – but by the time he’s dragging his bag back to the airport to take the first flight back to Moscow, he is filled with a new sensation. It thrums behind his ribs and in the tips of his fingers, and it’s only after twenty minutes of waiting at the terminal that he realizes it’s determination.
It’s not something he’s used to feeling. All his life he’s been the best by simple inertia, because no one else around him has been good enough to be a threat.
But now there’s Katsudon, who, for his numerous and hilarious faults, might be one of the best skaters Yuri’s ever seen, and now that Victor is staying in Japan to coach him, he won’t be getting any worse.
A potent, venomous mixture of anger and adrenaline starts pounding through his veins. It’s not cold like grief, it’s white-hot and red and black and it starts eating away at him all at once. Yuri is going to beat Katsudon. He’ll train morning, noon, and night every day until the Grand Prix if he has to. He will. He must. Because if he doesn’t, then what the hell is the point of him?
If there’s some part of Yuri that is frightened of these new waves of crippling anger and ruthlessness, it swallows itself up in its own wake.
Maybe he’s burning now, but it’s better than being frozen.
Yuri freely and happily sells his soul to be the best, sealing the bargain with a kiss on the hand of a prima ballerina. He works harder than he’s ever worked before, pushing and straining and bending his body in ways he never could have imagined even a month ago.
“Yakov and I have finished your free skate program,” Lilia tells him on some Wednesday – Thursday? Yuri has stopped paying attention to days – before punctuating with, “higher.”
Yuri has been holding the arabesque for almost thirty seconds now, and the thigh on the leg he holds elevated, ankle at the level of his eyes, is burning intensely. Yuri relishes in the pain and lifts it all the higher, correcting the fatigue in his slump.
“You’ll be skating to Allegro appassionato in B minor,”she says. “There will be four quads.”
“Six,” Yuri says through his teeth.
“Don’t get cheeky,” Lilia responds, not missing a beat.
“I’m not being cheeky—”
“Higher,” she says, and Yuri flinches, lifting his extended leg back skyward.
“I want six quads,” Yuri says. “At least four in the second half.”
He drops his leg back to earth with perhaps too much eagerness, then folds back into an extended arabesque with his alternate leg raised.
“This is your first senior season, Yuratchka,” Lilia says. “You don’t need to show off to win.”
“I don’t just want to win,” Yuri replies, jaw tight, struggling to maintain the illusion of effortless grace while the muscles in his back and legs scream with tension. “I want to break the world record. I will break the world record.”
“Greedy,” Lilia chides. “There’s a fine line between ambition and avarice.”
“I want six quads and two combinations.”
“You don’t have the stamina for six quads and two combinations.”
“I will by the Grand Prix.”
“Yuratchka Plisetsky, as your trainer, I am telling you that you are being too ambitious. Victor wasn’t even doing six quads at fifteen. You simply do not have the experience and the skill to pull off a program like that.”
“Then what the hell is the point?”
Lilia doesn’t answer, but Yuri can feel the weight of her judgmental stare settling over his shoulders.
“What’s the point of my entire season if I insist on being obvious? I didn’t start skating to take it easy, Baranovskaya.”
“Then why did you start skating?” she demands, unsmiling.
Yuri opens his mouth to respond but finds he has none. He feels almost embarrassed to realize that he doesn’t even remember why he started skating. He spends a while searching through the recesses of his memory. He’d loved it once, hadn’t he? He has memories of blinding sunlight on the snow, of wind in his face, of the sound of his scarf flapping as he flies across the little pond—
There’s a jolt of pain from somewhere very deep in him, and Yuri banishes all such memories at once. If he’d loved skating, he doesn’t anymore. He doesn’t need to.
“To be extraordinary,” he answers, somewhat belatedly, but with enough conviction to convince himself, nearly. It may not be truth yet, but Yuri feels like he can make it the truth if he works at it enough.
Lilia stares down at him imperiously, arms folded over her chest, the fabric of her sweater rustling as she shifts her weight to her other foot.
“Six quads, two combinations,” she says after a lengthy pause of her own. “Entrechat. Fifth position.”
Yuri drops his leg, something like satisfaction swelling in his chest.
“Fifth position!” Lilia barks, and Yuri’s body snaps back into focus. “And one-two-three—”
Hatred has a name and an obnoxious, punchable face in Jean-Jacques Leroy.
Lately, Yuri has been seeing him in his dreams, cocky and hateful, and he spends the entire morning after burning with fury. Or maybe it’s muscle fatigue.
In the quieter moments, Yuri can hear Yakov’s nagging voice in the back of his head, lecturing him about the proper balance between training and recovery, but he tamps it down every time. Right now, the only thing in the world that matters is that he nails his last quad toe, and if he has to stay up until two in the morning, stealing extra ice time while the rest of China is asleep, so be it.
He has convinced himself it’s the reason he took silver the last time. If he can nail that sixth quad, if he can flawlessly move into the transition and the spin, he could have done it, he could have beat the bastard.
But his legs feel like they’re on fire, and this is his third time running through Appassionato so his lungs are about to collapse and sweat is pouring down his face, streaking his hair. He’ll just finish the routine one more time and then cool down with a jog back to the hotel—
But it’s not even the loop that takes him down, but the salchow just before it, one that he hadn’t had any problem with in competition. He lands on the outside edge and his ankle twists hard and sharp to the left, and Yuri screams and collapses and goes skidding across the ice on his side until he hits the wall with a loud, echoing THUMP.
Heart thundering, head spinning, but almost totally immobile, Yuri frantically gathers his thoughts and assesses his body. God, please don’t let it be broken.
He flexes his toes in his skate. A jolt of pain, but no, not a break. Just a bad sprain, if he had to guess. Fuck. He can’t get a sprain now. The men’s singles are the day after tomorrow.
Slowly, slowly, Yuri sits up and curls his body around itself. It’s not just his ankle that’s in pain, he realizes. It’s his thighs, his calves, his ribs, his chest. Everything hurts. His whole body is a maelstrom of aches. And now he has a sprained ankle.
He doesn’t bother to get off the ice. He tugs the laces out and slowly— “Shit,” he sobs when he pulls too hard, “shit, God that hurts, fuck, fuck,” —extricates his foot from his skate.
It’s definitely sprained. Yuri’s entire body starts to shake. It is, but it can’t be. Not now. Not when he’s less than thirty hours away from competition.
He squints his eyes shut and leans back against the wall, willing himself to calm down.
It’s fine, he tells himself. Fuck the sprain. The worst of the pain will be gone by morning. He’ll skate on his sprain if he has to. And he does have to. He’ll fuck up his own ankle if he has to. He’ll fuck up his entire body for the rest of his life if he has to, and go out in a blaze of glory with a gold medal around his neck.
He’s trembling. Not from the pain, he tells himself, just because he’s sitting on the ice. He bends forward and buries his face in his hands. Tears prickle at his eyes, not because he’s sad, he tells himself, but because he’s angry.
He keeps his burning, bruising ankle pressed into the ice while he struggles to put himself back together so he can leave the rink with dignity. He won’t be caught by the paparazzi crying and limping. He will not be so obvious. He must not.
He comes in second anyway. He falls during his free skate because his ankle hurts so bad. At least he’s able to get back up.
Yakov yells at him in the sit and cry, but Yuri is inured to it by now. His score would make some skaters he knows weep with joy, but for him it’s nothing but that ten-point fall deduction.
Yuri trips and stumbles when he and Yakov head out of the rink together, shouts in pain, and crashes into a row of folding chairs stacked against the wall.
Yakov catches him by the arm before he hits the floor and immediately steers him to a nearby bench.
Any anger on his coach’s face is gone in an instant. “Where?” he asks at once.
Yuri grinds his teeth. His ankle is still burning. “It’s fine.”
“Where, you little brat?”
He shuts his eyes tightly, head thumping against the cinderblock wall of the hallway. “Left ankle.”
Yakov crouches down in front of him and pulls his skate off carefully. Yuri hadn’t gotten a good look at it until now. It’s ugly.
“God in heaven, boy, this thing is already purple! How long ago did this happen?”
Yuri doesn’t answer.
“Did you just skate on this?” Yakov continues, volume rising. “Did you just fucking do your free skate on a sprain this bad?”
“I managed it, didn’t I?”
Yuri is used to seeing Yakov angry, used to seeing him go red in the face and shout obscenities at him when he’s belligerent or mouthy. But this is the first time Yuri has seen him so angry that he actually goes cold.
“We’re getting an MRI,” he says.
“I swear to God, Yuratchka, if you fight me on this, I’ll pull you out of the Grand Prix myself!” He pulls out his phone, stabbing at the screen to hail an Uber, probably. “What the hell were you thinking? You can’t skate on a sprain like that!”
“It’s fine, old man! If I can get a silver medal—”
“To hell with the medals, Yuri, you could have done permanent damage!” Yakov roars. “We don’t keep people off the ice for sprains as a punishment, we do it because skating is physically taxing and dangerous and you could rip your tendons in half and never walk again!”
Yuri grips the edge of the bench, eyes burning. He knew all that, of course.
Uber apparently hailed, Yakov shoves his phone away and rounds on Yuri, deadly. “This has got to stop.”
Yuri averts his eyes. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Fuck off, you know exactly what I mean. You think I don’t see this self-destructive spiral?”
“Shut up, Yura, and let me finish.”
Yuri bares his teeth and tugs his Team Russia jacket tighter around his shoulders.
“It started when you came back from Hatsetsu. You went from caring about nothing to caring about everything. One whiff of competition and you lose all sense of restraint and moderation. This is not healthy, Yuri. This is not how you succeed.”
“Not competing was not an option!” Yuri shouts. “If I’d told you about the sprain, you would have kept me off the ice, and that wasn’t going to happen!”
“Yuri, for God’s sake, you’re fifteen! You have plenty more seasons to come!”
“I don’t care about next seasons, I care about this season!” Yuri’s voice keeps getting louder and louder. “I have to break Victor’s record and beat Katsudon and win the gold on my first senior season, because otherwise why bother?”
“Do you even hear yourself, you stupid boy? There’s more to skating than being the best!”
“Not for me!” Yuri stands up to punctuate his point, which turns out to be a bad idea, because with only one skate his center of gravity is off and he lands hard on his bad ankle. A choked groan rips out of his throat, unbidden, and he topples over. Yakov catches him immediately and sweeps him up into both arms.
“Nn – put – put me down—!”
Yakov doesn’t listen. He carries Yuri down the hallway despite his thrashing and protesting, right through the lobby full of the pair skaters who all get a good look at his purpled ankle, of-fucking-course, and into the antechamber to wait for the Uber.
Unsteady silence falls harsh and heavy between them. Outside, the smoggy streets are clogged with cars and pedestrians and people on bicycles. Yuri keeps his head turned away from Yakov, not because he’s trying to hide the fact that he’s crying, but because Yakov pisses him off and looking at him will only make him angrier.
“Yuri,” his coach says eventually, fury deflated into a worldweary sadness, “I promised your mother I’d look out for you, and I can’t do that when you’re like this.”
Yuri’s throat tightens, but he stays angrily and decidedly silent.
His ankle heals in time. It hadn’t been terribly severe in the first place, which Yuri could have told him. He has three longs weeks until Barcelona, and Yakov only agrees to keep him enrolled on the condition that Yuri stop overexerting himself.
The longer he doesn’t train, the longer he’s left alone to his thoughts, the darker and smaller his world becomes. Everything starts to feel like a chore, from getting up in the morning to eating to hiding from his shitty annoying fans. He puts up the expected front when people are looking, but when they aren’t, the mask drops off and reveals that it isn’t even hiding anything – just a Yuri-shaped void where he used to be.
Yuri isn’t even sure why he’s sad anymore, or if “sad” is even the right word, or if it even matters that he’s sad. He doesn’t know what he is or what he’s doing when he’s not throwing everything he is into skating.
Bareclona is nice, at least. Yuri likes the sound of soft Spanish chatter, likes the golden lights of the city. He’d like it more, probably, if he could remember what joy felt like.
And then, one day rather like all the others, something different happens.
Yuri Plisetsky had the unforgettable eyes of a soldier.
What the hell does that even mean?
It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t even make sense, really. It’s—
Well, it’s unexpected.
Everything about Otabek Altin is unexpected. What kind of figure skater rides motorcycles around in a city a thousand miles from home? Although perhaps the more interesting question is what kind of figure skater goes with him?
He hadn’t planned on it, but Yuri spends the rest of the day with him. He hadn’t been expecting to, but he falls into their conversations a though they were quicksand. Time slips through his fingers like water. It’s nighttime before either of them realize it, and the streets of Barcelona are shining gold outside their café window.
“Wait,” Yuri says, “dumplings.”
Otabek gives him a strange look.
“That was you, wasn’t it?” he asks. “The dumplings. Back in Moscow.”
It takes a moment for the light of recognition to flicker alive on his face.
“Wow,” he answers. “I didn’t think you’d remember that.”
“Of course I remember,” Yuri says, grinning lopsidedly. “You don’t forget dumplings like that.”
He smiles. It melts all of Yuri’s edges. “My mother’s recipe,” he explains.
“I remember,” Yuri says. “They made a shitty day into a good one.”
He cants his head to one side. Yuri suddenly finds himself red-faced, embarrassed to admitting something so deeply personal about something so trivial. He stirs his coffee self-consciously.
“Well, good,” Otabek says after a lapse of silence, and Yuri looks up to find him smiling again. “That was why I made them. You always seemed sad, somehow, in those days.”
Yuri isn’t sure what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. Otabek keeps talking.
“Like under the polished surface there was something broken in you. I suppose I just related to it. And I wanted to mitigate it with dumplings.”
Yuri laughs, surprised. Then he is struck with the realization that it’s been – what, weeks? Months? – since he last laughed at anything.
“This was not how I thought this day would go,” Yuri admits.
“Then I’m glad I could make your day a little less obvious,” Otabek says, and there is something very warm in the pit of Yuri’s stomach at his words.
The way Yuri sees it, he had three opportunities to kiss Otabek Altin in those days before the Grand Prix final, and he somehow managed to not do it all three times, despite wanting to more than he’s ever wanted to do anything.
The first time Yuri doesn’t kiss him is two days after they met, and in that short amount of time, Yuri feels like they have known each other for years. The process of getting to know him is the easiest thing he’s ever done. Otabek manages to surprise him constantly while never disappointing him.
Yuri knows, for instance, that his father was in fact the Olympian Sabir Altin, and Yuri spends an embarrassing ten minutes gushing to Otabek about the incredible free program his father did in 1992 that broke the then-world record and was only surpassed by Victor over ten years later. He gushes despite the fact that Otabek knows, obviously he knows, he’s his son, but Otabek smiles at him through Yuri’s whole ridiculous monologue about how he spent eight hours on YouTube when he was nine frantically looking up all his programs and ice dances because they were just that good, even years later.
“I can’t believe I didn’t put it together!” Yuri says finally. They’ve spent the last twenty minutes jogging together through the nearby park, although they’ve had to slow down significantly because apparently Yuri can’t jog while rambling about figure skating. “I mean, a Kazakh skater named Altin, I should have known right away!”
“It’s all right,” Otabek laughs, and they stop together near a park bench where they can do a few post-run stretches. “I’ve gone rather out of my way to avoid the privileges of pedigree.”
“Did your father teach you how to skate?”
“He did,” Otabek says, putting one foot up on the bench seat and lunging forward. “Some of my earliest memories are of the rink by my childhood home.”
“That’s so cool,” Yuri says, and immediately regrets it, but Otabek only grins at him.
“You’re cute when you hero worship,” he teases.
Yuri goes hot in the face and does a full forward bend, which has the advantage of stretching his hamstrings and hiding his blush. “Shut up,” he mumbles into his shins.
“He died when I was pretty young,” Otabek continues. “Nine or ten. Complications from the accident.”
At first, Yuri doesn’t know what he means, though by Otabek’s choice of words, presumably he should. As he starts hunting through his memory, Otabek elaborates.
“At the Grand Prix in 2008.”
Recognition flashes cold in Yuri’s mind. “Oh,” he says. Then, “Oh. Oh, right. I’m sorry, I should have—”
Yuri rises up out of the forward bend. Otabek has sat down on the bench and is tugging a water bottle off from a clip on his belt, drinking deeply. Yuri knows the look on his face. It’s the same one he gets whenever anyone brings up his mother.
Yuri sits down next to him. Otabek offers him his water bottle wordlessly, and Yuri takes a few grateful mouthfuls.
“After the accident, I stopped skating for a while,” he says. “A long while. I didn’t even start juniors until I was fourteen.”
Yuri can imagine.
“My mother was furious when I told her I wanted to go to boot camp. I guess she just permanently associated skating with Dad’s death. She still hasn’t really forgiven me for competing.”
“It’s in your blood,” Yuri says, which he feels is a neutral enough response.
“Sorry,” Otabek says, rubbing the side of his face with one hand. “Am I talking too much?”
Yuri smiles. “Not nearly enough.”
Otabek hesitates a moment. “Do you remember that day – it was early spring, I think, before the Easter break – when you screamed in the middle of cool downs about your mother being dead?”
Yuri doesn’t say anything, but there must be an answer on his face.
“I’d noticed you on day one, but I think that was the first time I really wanted to know you. Crazy as it sounds, I wanted to be able to do what you did. I wanted to scream at people about my father being dead.”
He can’t imagine Otabek, so gentle and taciturn, yelling at anyone, but doesn’t say so.
“When people find out, it’s always the same reaction. Surprise, then sympathy, then some stupid platitude.” Otabek sighs, leans back on the bench. “And you always just have to stand there and smile and thank them, even when it’s the last thing you want to do. I wanted to be like you and just scream.”
Yuri leans backward, resting more fully on the bench. There’s an older man on the other side feeding a group of pigeons, so Yuri has to sidle up closer to Otabek to give the stranger his space.
“Well, for what it’s worth,” Yuri says, “I think I could stand to be more like you. I probably scream a little too much.”
Otabek grins. His arms are stretched out over the top of the bench, and Yuri realizes that the heat of Otabek’s bicep is pressing into his back. He suddenly realizes that they’re very, very close, and his heart rate picks up from where it had just started to fall.
“I got my skating genes from my father, too,” Yuri says, hoping that a change of topic will stop this intense and unwelcome fluttering in his stomach.
“He wasn’t a figure skater. He played hockey professionally, or at least that’s what dedushka told me. He died when I was still a toddler. I don’t remember him at all.”
“Apparently his hobbies included screaming and fighting people, including Mama. He got into a nasty fight on the rink and ended up fucking up his eye so badly that he couldn’t play anymore. And the story just gets more boring from there – depression to alcoholism to financial instability to more depression and alcoholism to fiery car wreck.”
“Sounds like a shitbag,” Otabek says.
Yuri can’t help but burst into laughter. “Yeah, he was kind of a shitbag.”
“Well, at least he managed to bring one good thing into the world,” he says, smiling.
It takes Yuri a moment to realize that Otabek is talking about him.
He’s more flustered by the comment than he cares to admit.
Yuri doesn’t get compliments. The people who admire him assume he knows his own strengths already, which he does. So hearing something so straightforward and sweet is – well, Yuri’s not sure what it is. It’s different. And it twists things around in his gut.
In the same way he realized he was complimented, Yuri realizes that Otabek is looking at him through half-lidded eyes, and that the edges of his olive skin are shining golden from the sunlight behind him, and that if Yuri leaned just a little bit closer, he could probably get away with kissing him.
But he doesn’t, and Otabek looks forward, and Yuri spends the whole walk back to the hotel kicking himself
The second time Yuri doesn’t kiss him is at the rink at three o’clock in the morning.
“I can’t believe you actually got us in,” Otabek says.
“I stole a paparazzi’s press pass,” Yuri replies, grinning. He’s lacing up his skates. “Come on, I want to see your short program.”
“Sabotage?” Otabek guesses.
“Obviously,” Yuri says, and they both laugh.
“I’m sick to death of my short program, to be honest,” Otabek sighs. He tucks his sweatpants down over his skates and sits upright, sighing. “I like my free skate fine, but my original choice of music for my short program got overruled.”
“Ugh.” Yuri hates it when that happens. “Your coach?”
“My mother, actually. I wanted to base it on my father’s 1996 record-breaker—”
“Scheherazade!” Yuri says at once, sitting bolt upright on the bench. “The pair skate? God, that was incredible!”
Otabek grins. “You saw it?”
“Saw it? I memorized it!” Yuri gushes. “God, that lift in the second half – pure genius!”
“I wanted to skate to the same song,” Otabek says. “But when I told my mother, she just—”
Otabek sighs. The smile on Yuri’s face trips and falls off.
“That sucks,” is the only thing Yuri can think to say.
“Yeah,” Otabek agrees.
Yuri worries his lower lip with his teeth. Otabek looks up at him, eyebrow raised.
“Do you want to skate to it now?”
Otabek frowns in confusion. “What?”
“I have the music on my phone,” Yuri says, tugging it out of his hoodie pocket. “And like I said, I’ve memorized the whole program. If you want to, we could…”
He seems genuinely lost for words, and Yuri feels a stab of nervousness. At once his head is filled with ten thousand reasons why suggesting it was a terrible idea. It was insensitive, for a start, and what are the odds Otabek knows the program front to back like Yuri does, and that’s not even mentioning—
“Do you think you can manage the throw?” Otabek asks, drawing Yuri back out of his head.
Yuri’s heart starts racing and his face splits into a grin. “Do you think you can manage the lift?”
“I’m pretty sure I bench press your weight as a daily warm-up.”
“Well, then put your money where your mouth is, Altin,” Yuri says, and stands up. Otabek grins and follows him out onto the ice.
Yuri pulls his headphones out of the jack and turns his phone’s volume up as high as it will go. When it’s tucked into the front pocket of his hoodie, they can just hear the music through the fabric.
Otabek puts both hands around Yuri’s waist and suddenly Yuri is drowning in a potent mixture of sharp regret and fiery anticipation. He doesn’t have time to analyze it, because within moments the first swelling chords of Scheherazade are echoing mutely off the ice, and they are dancing.
It is a piece that is by turns epic, playful, and intensely romantic, and the expertly crafted choreography follows each emotion with precision. They glide through a diagonal step, spin through the twizzles, and Yuri’s heart races in his chest when Otabek holds his thighs and dips him into a low spin.
When Yuri is lifted onto his shoulder through a camel spin, he is lightheaded. When they part for synchronized triple salchows, he is bereft. When they reunite for the transition, he is thrumming with energy and excitement and fun.
This is fun. Skating with Otabek, Yuri is having fun. He’d almost forgotten how fun skating could be. He feels light and airy, and when Otabek throws him nearly eight feet in the air, Yuri lands in a flawless triple toe and it is the easiest thing in the world.
In the final third of the piece, the tone shifts into something that is grand and sweeping and seductive. Otabek’s hands are on his waist, his breath on Yuri’s cheek. Yuri feels like he can barely breathe as Otabek dips him back and Yuri lets his fingertips brush just barely along the surface of the ice.
When the song ends, they are pressed together, panting and silent. Yuri’s phone starts playing something full of soft and sweet piano chords.
They are so close that Yuri can’t stand it. Otabek smells like minty shampoo and coriander, and Yuri wants to tangle his fingers in his hair and kiss him until neither of them can remember their own names.
“You’re incredible,” Otabek says breathlessly.
Yuri wants to say something back, like I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good, or you are the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, or if we don’t kiss in the next thirty seconds I might lose my mind.
But he doesn’t say any of those things, and he doesn’t kiss Otabek. At the same time, they both withdraw, hesitant and nervous about things neither of them can quite name, and Yuri hates himself for the rest of the night.
The third time Yuri doesn’t kiss Otabek, the Grand Prix final is over, and Yuri has won.
He broke Victor’s record. He beat Katsudon. He earned a gold medal in his senior debut. He has achieved exactly what he wanted to achieve, and it had nothing to do with Yuri’s self-destructive drive.
“Yuri,” Otabek says when they see each other in the lobby after the pressers, pulling him immediately into his arms. “God, Yuri, you were incredible.”
They’re both still in their free skate costumes. Yuri hugs him back tightly.
“You were perfect,” he says, “flawless. I’ve never seen a better free program in my life.”
Yuri grips him all the tighter and buries his face in the crux of Otabek’s neck.
God, he feels like he’s going to cry. Again. Breaking down into tears in the middle of the rink was bad enough. Get it together, Plisetsky, get it together.
“Thank you,” Yuri says, hoarse, pulling away and looking up at him.
“Thank me?” Otabek echoes. “What the hell for?”
Isn’t it obvious? Yuri wants to say, but doesn’t. For everything!
He can’t force the words out of his throat. Yuri knows Otabek has to go back to Almaty in just a few hours. He knows that if he doesn’t say something now, he might never work up the nerve again.
Yuri knows that he didn’t start the climb out of his depression on his own. He knows he didn’t perform as flawlessly as he did on practice and mettle alone. He knows that from the moment Otabek exploded into his life two weeks ago, he has been picking up all the pieces of himself he’d left behind on the ice. He can’t just let him fly back to Kazakhstan without – without—
In a sudden surge of bravery, Yuri grabs Otabek by the lapels of his jacket and pulls him forward into a—
—Yuri nearly chokes on his own heart.
He whirls in time to see his grandfather, pushing his way through the crowds of reporters and fans at the rope line, angrily waving his friends & family pass at the security who stop him up.
Yuri looks back at Otabek, whose lips are still parted, whose face is flushed.
Yuri doesn’t kiss him again. And he hates himself for it again, this time with more intensity.
He leaves for Moscow that night feeling like he left a part of himself behind in Barcelona.
It’s not that Yuri devolves back into what he used to be – nothing so dramatic. Yuri leaves home for Moscow and for the most part, his entire world stands still.
The season is over but it’s still winter in Russia, and the snow crunches familiarly under his feet when he and Grandfather unlock and slump through the front door of the dilapidated little house on the hill. Ice has overtaken the building as though freezing it in time, and everything is still in the same place Grandfather left it when he departed for Barcelona. Familiar scents and distant memories rise up to the surface of Yuri’s mind, and they don’t hurt anymore, but they also don’t do anything else.
“We could probably move,” is the first thing it occurs to Yuri to say the moment the door is closed and his grandfather starts kicking the snow off his boots.
“With the prize money,” he elaborates, pulling off his hat. “I’ve already paid off Yakov’s coaching fees in full from the junior competitions. We could use the Grand Prix prize money to move somewhere…”
Yuri looks up and around. The wallpaper peels away from the corners, the ceiling is cracked and leaks water during snowmelt days. It’s too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, and sometimes when Yuri walks past his mother’s old bedroom he gets a whiff of her perfume and feels like he’s going to cry for the rest of the day.
“I don’t know,” Yuri says, “somewhere. Maybe into Moscow. We could afford it now. And we wouldn’t have to burden Uncle Anton anymore.”
Grandfather frowns at him, then looks into the cramped little sitting room like he’s really seeing it for the first time.
“I don’t know, Yura,” he says, “there are so many memories here.”
“Maybe too many,” Yuri agrees, shrugging off his jacket once he’s stomped off most of the loose snow on his boots.
“This is where your mother grew up,” Grandfather continues. “This is where you grew up, learned to walk, learned to skate.”
“We wouldn’t have to leave the memories behind, dedushka.”
But he doesn’t look convinced, and Yuri’s too jetlagged to keep fighting him. “Never mind,” he says after the lapse of silence. “I’m going to shower and then bed.”
“Want me to wake you up for lunch?”
“Might as well get back on Russian time,” Yuri answers, trudging up the rickety stairs two at a time.
His cat is curled up in the middle of his bed. Yuri smiles, drops his bag by the door, and scoops her up before collapsing back down and letting her settle back down on his stomach. His room is tiny, more of a closet than a bedroom, and the ceiling sags in the middle. His window holds out the cold with duct tape. The whole place feels like a relic from a different, more painful time in Yuri’s life.
He reaches into his hoodie pocket and pulls out his phone. A few Twitter DM’s from fans, a tag on Instagram, and a text from Otabek. He swipes right on the text first.
Let me know when u get back to Moscow
Yuri must have missed the alert in the airport. He taps up the keyboard.
I’m home, he writes and sends.
Then, Long fucking flight shitty fucking cold home fuuuuuck
After a few seconds, the status switches from “DELIVERED” to “READ 09:22”. Then—
If u hate the cold u picked the wrong day to live in Russia
Yuri grins and sends back the poop emoji. Then drops his phone onto his bed and looks back up at the ceiling.
He misses Otabek already, and it’s barely been a day since he last saw him. Memories of their last time together in Barcelona flash through his mind’s eye, his hands fisted in Otabek’s lapels, his heart thundering against his ribs.
Yuri sighs and picks up his phone again. There are three little dots blinking one after the other, signaling that Otabek is typing something. Yuri waits.
The dots vanish.
Then they come back a moment later.
Then they vanish again.
Yuri frowns. He wonders what Otabek is not typing, while Yuri himself does his best not to think about the way he so nearly went crashing into a kiss with him.
Then he opens Instagram and posts a picture of his cat sleeping on his stomach (#catsofinstagram #thismotherfucker) and reads the hundreds of all-caps comments from fans to distract himself before eventually taking that shower and falling asleep.
Time happens, in the only way it can: slowly, and then all at once.
Winter ends eventually, leaking through their rickety roof most days and going blessedly down the drainpipes the rest of the time. Yuri and his grandfather eventually agree that they should probably move to Moscow, but neither of them so much as thumb open the real estate section.
In the clear spring mornings, Yuri wakes up and can see the little pond from his house, now thawed, his mother’s headstone in full view, even blinding bright with the reflection of the sunlight. Yuri thinks about going every day but never does.
He texts and Skypes Otabek most days, more frequently than what he suspects is appropriate, even between best friends. Otabek sends him breathtaking pictures of Almaty, of the resplendent gardens out back of his house, of gorgeous breakfasts his mother cooks for him, of the new ice skates that arrive in the mail. They talk about visiting before the season starts almost constantly, but neither of them formalize anything or buy tickets.
That is, until one day.
It’s the first thing Yuri sees when he squints at his phone that morning. He tugs the charger out and rolls onto his back, swiping open the Messenger app.
? is all he sends back.
The response comes back when Yuri’s brushing his teeth a few minutes later.
For visiting. Mom’s gonna be in Dubai on business that whole week anyway.
Yuri gives a bit of a start around the toothbrush in his mouth. He holds it in place with his teeth to tap out a response.
Yeah is that a good time? Otabek answers.
Yuri abandons oral hygiene, spitting out his mouthful of toothpaste and quickly opening up his calendar. He has an interview for Russian TV on the third, but the second half of September is pretty quiet, it looks like.
Yeah definitely, Yuri answers, feeling a swell of excitement in his chest.
Let me check flights and I’ll get back to u. Pick me up?
Absolutely, he answers, beaming down at his phone, so happy that he doesn’t even mind the minty burn moving down toward his chin. Can’t wait!!!!!
The three dots blink at Yuri for a while, then disappear. Then reappear. Then disappear. It’s been happening so much that Yuri’s just gotten used to it. He quickly rinses out his mouth and runs down into the kitchen to tell his grandfather the good news.
“Good!” Grandfather thumps Yuri’s shoulder. “It’s about time I met that boyfriend of yours.”
“Dedushka!” Yuri says, a bit too loud and far too shrill. “He’s not – we’re not!”
“Oh, aren’t you?” He takes a sip of his coffee, apparently unfazed. “Well, my mistake, then.”
Yuri tries to keep being upset, but it’s really hard. He’s actually going to get to see him again, before the season starts. Even though it’s only been about six months, it’s felt like so much longer.
Otabek has finally settled on his reply text: Looking forward to it yura
Then he sends a cat emoji. Yuri bites his lip to keep down the grin.
The excitement builds at an asymptotic rate all through August until, by the end of September, Yuri is filled with dread.
What if Otabek hates it here? Yuri wouldn’t blame him if he did. It’s the shittiest outskirt of Moscow in the middle of nowhere, and their house is tiny and falling apart. There’s really not all that much to do, even in town, unless you’re a fan of shitty pubs and Soviet-era antiquing.
He thinks several times of texting Otabek some lie about his house burning down or something, but by then it’s too late. He bought the tickets. This is happening.
But even though Yuri is a nervous wreck, waiting in the airport lobby and bouncing his heel against the tile, when he first sees the familiar head of hair come around the corner—
He bounds to his feet and sprints his way through the crowd, knocking over several commuters in the process before hitting him hard in a flying tackle of a hug. All he can hear is a winded oof, and he barely manages to catch himself, although his rolling luggage clatters onto the floor.
“Yuri,” he laughs. “Wow, hi.”
“It’s so good to see you!” Yuri says, drawing back just enough to look at him, and at the same time, they both seem to realize the same thing:
“You got tall,” Otabek says. “And…”
His eyes move down Yuri’s body.
“Yeah,” Yuri says. “Puberty snuck up on me, beat me up, and stole my wallet.”
He’d gained about four inches, by his grandfather’s estimation, since before the start of the Grand Prix, almost all of it in the legs. He let his hair grow out, more from lack of will to drive all the way to Moscow to get it cut than anything else. After eyeing Yuri’s legs, the first thing Otabek’s eyes linger on his his hair. It’s nearly brushing his shoulder blades.
“And you let your hair grow out.”
“Yeah,” he says, not quite able to recognize the look on his face.
As for Otabek, he didn’t grow so much up but out. His shoulders are broader than Yuri remembers, his chest more barrel-like.
It’s not a bad look on him. Yuri tries very hard not to imagine the dark hair surely growing under his t-shirt in a long, narrow V.
“You look good,” Otabek says, somewhat belatedly.
“Thanks. I mean, you do, too.”
Exactly half of Otabek’s mouth cocks upward into a smirk, and Yuri melts into his shoes.
“It’s kind of small and shitty,” Yuri says as soon as they’re in view. “Dedushka and I keep talking about moving, but…”
Yuri puts the aging, rattling, beat-up Volkswagen in park, and the sound it makes sounds suspiciously like a groan of relief. Yuri unfastens his seatbelt and climbs out.
“You grew up here?” Otabek asks, surprised.
“Yeah,” Yuri answers, not particularly proud. “Poor as fuck for as long as I can remember.”
“How’d you afford Yakov as a coach?”
“I paid him in winnings once I started competing.” He heads up to the front door and unlocks it. “We got a special deal for the skates. I’m still kind of amazed I was able to get training at all.”
“Wow,” is Otabek’s neutral answer. They come into the foyer, such that it is, aging staircase on one side, claustrophobic sitting room on the other.
“We don’t really have a guest room, per se, but…”
Yuri starts up the staircase, Otabek at his heels. At the very end of the hallway, nearest the linen closet, is the only door in the house that stays reliably closed, first because his mother was allergic to cats, and then because it hurt too much to open it.
It’s cleaned up now for company, the sheets washed, the comforter’s dust beaten out of it. Many of the personal photographs are tucked into a drawer under the vanity, a job which Yuri had not at all enjoyed. It’s small, and it’s dusty, but it’s fine.
Otabek puts it together at once, of course, he’s not stupid. “This was your mother’s room?”
Yuri nods knowingly. “Like it’s been abandoned for years and only recently made livable? Yeah, well, that’s because it was. It’s what we do instead of grieving in the Plisetsky family.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy,” Otabek says.
Yuri shrugs. “It’s not.”
Otabek sets his bag down on the foot of the bed and smiles. “Well, it suits my needs fine.”
“Once you’re settled and dedushka wakes up from his nap, we can drive into Moscow,” he says, leaning against the doorjamb and grinning. “God knows there’s nothing worth doing in this shit fuck of a town.”
“Not even dinner?” Otabek asks. “I wouldn’t mind having real Russian piroshki.”
Yuri grins. “I’ve got good news for you about my grandpa.”
Being with Beka again is exactly as wonderful and uncomplicated as Yuri was desperately hoping it would be.
If he’s uncomfortable in Yuri’s shitty, dilapidated house (Yuri knows that Otabek grew up in moneyed comfort), he has the decorum not to show it. He’s polite and taciturn, so of course Yuri’s grandfather takes to him immediately (though Yuri could deal with all his side-comments about just why he isn’t dating this lovely young man, Yuratchka). But perhaps the best part is he never really got to explore Moscow, so everything Yuri gets to show him is new and fascinating and quickly gets put up on Instagram.
“I’m glad you like the city,” Yuri says, grinning at him as Otabek carefully selects the appropriate filter for St. Basil’s Cathedral.
“I do,” he says, settling on Juno (#stbasils #moscow #wow). “I hated that I never got to really explore the city when I was here at boot camp.”
“Better late than never.” Yuri can see the likes popping up within seconds. Otabek has quite a dedicated fan following himself, and Yuri has always been privately jealous that they are so much more sophisticated and polite than his own.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more of your town, though.” Otabek stuffs his phone into his pocket.
“I promise you, there’s really nothing to see.”
“Not a thing?”
“I mean, there’s a pawn shop,” Yuri says doubtfully. “And a bar that sells sub-par Vodka starting at eight in the morning. Honestly, I hate everything about it.”
“Then why not move?” Otabek asks. Yuri sighs and leans on the fence encircling the cathedral.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” he answers. “I want to. We can. The winnings from the Grand Prix haven’t done shit except accrue interest, but…”
“… but your family has trouble letting things go,” Otabek guesses.
“So dreadfully obvious, aren’t we?” Yuri sighs.
Then, Otabek reaches up and cards a hand across Yuri’s hair, and his heart stutters. He looks up at Otabek, who’s smiling.
“Nothing about you could ever be obvious,” he says.
Yuri realizes that he has completely forgotten what they were talking about ten seconds ago. He feels like the universe begins and ends at the tips of Otabek’s fingers as they glide over and through his hair.
“I…” Yuri says, but gives up halfway through.
“In fact, everything about you and in your life is so extraordinary that when you’re confronted with something so simple and straightforward as grief, none of your usual tactics work. Sadness is a simple problem that demands simple solutions, after all.”
When Yuri can’t remember how words work, a look of worry and doubt flashes across Otabek’s face.
“I, uh,” he says, withdrawing his hand, “sorry, should I stop—?”
Yuri feels like he blacked out. He has never felt anything as wonderful as Otabek’s hand in his hair.
“Look, Yura,” he continues, letting his hands drop down to the fence, which seems to Yuri like a waste of two perfectly good hands, “I know about grief. How it twists you, how it drains the life out of you and everything around you. There’s only ever been one remedy for it – letting yourself move on.”
Yuri manages to tune back into the conversation. “Move on? You think I haven’t moved on?”
“I know you haven’t,” he says. “You’re sitting on a few million rubles in prize money, but you still live in the run-down, too-small house where your mother lived. All her things are everywhere, all these years later. Not to mention every time you come up to her room to let me know dinner’s ready, you stare at the vanity or the chair or the chest of drawers like it’s the most painful thing you’ve ever had to do.”
Inexplicably, Yuri feels ashamed. He drops his chin to his chest, folds his arms over his stomach. “I suppose I am obvious after all.”
“Not obvious, Yura,” he says, “just human. It was the same way with me after my father died. I couldn’t skate for years because it reminded me of him. For me, moving on meant going back out onto the ice, not because it didn’t hurt, but because it was reclaiming a part of myself the grief had taken from me. I…”
Otabek sighs, like he doesn’t know where he was going.
“I don’t know. It’s just that you’ve had those soldier’s eyes every day since I met you – like you’ve been through a little too much pain. I’d just rather see you happy.”
“You make me happy,” Yuri says before he can stop himself. Otabek freezes.
“I…” he begins, but trails off. He’s looking down at Yuri like he’s right at the edge of a cliff.
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I have to move on. Maybe that starts with…”
Or maybe Yuri is just making excuses to himself because he wants to kiss him. But it doesn’t feel that way.
“Back during the Grand Prix, I was a mess,” he said. “I was working myself to the bone. I skated on a sprained ankle because I was so obsessed with – with this idea I had in my head, this obsession with being anything but normal, predictable, imperfect – anything but obvious.
“I was fried and depressed and close to snapping, and then you just swept in on that fucking motorcycle of yours and—!”
The look on Otabek’s face is somewhere between terrified and hungry. Long fingers wrap around the same slat of fence that Yuri’s are gripping. Skin on skin, electric.
“And you were so smart, and interesting, and you reminded me what I loved about skating without even meaning to, and I could stay up with you until three in the morning talking about everything and nothing and I—”
Otabek grabs him by the face and kisses him.
Yuri drops the phone he’d been gripping tightly in one hand; the rubber phone case lets it bounce harmlessly off the pavement. He throws both arms around Otabek’s neck and kisses him back like he’s making up for lost time, because he is.
Hands slide backwards, through his hair, and lips part just slightly. Breath and tongue and teeth, fingers in his hair, Yuri feels like he is on fire.
When they break apart, it’s shaking and gasping for air that both forgot they needed.
If there are things that Yuri should be saying to him, he can’t remember them. Otabek leans forward, presses his forehead into Yuri’s.
“And you were worried about being obvious,” he mumbles.
Yuri kisses him a second time.
“Hm?” is his distracted response as his phone chirps in time with the candy he’s crushing.
“Yuri, let me get through this level.”
At twenty, Otabek Altin is in his prime, and Yuri has been noticing it every day since he came for an extended visit to his new condo in downtown Moscow. He especially notices it at night, after they’ve both showered away the day’s training, when he lies clean and refreshed and stretched out on Yuri’s bed in nothing but his pajama bottoms.
Yuri sits up and rolls over so he’s straddling Otabek’s thighs.
“Come on, Yura, this one’s timed. There’s only—”
“I want to have sex.”
If his mission was to draw his boyfriend’s attention away from his phone, Yuri has succeeded heartily. Not only does he stop looking at the screen, he drops his phone entirely and it thumps onto the carpet.
“I want to have sex,” Yuri repeats, more sedately, slowly pushing his fingers up across his stomach and chest.
“I,” Otabek answers, “weren’t we—?”
“We were,” Yuri says, leaning down, “and now we’re not.”
Yuri kisses him lingeringly. From under the bed, Otabek’s phone plays the sad foghorns of a lost level, and neither of them notice.
“Mmn,” Otabek says into his mouth, pushing his fingers through Yuri’s hair, then continues, “we don’t have to, you know. I don’t want you to have to push yourself. If—”
“Beka, am I going to get on your dick tonight or not?”
There’s a long rush of breath against Yuri’s mouth, and he is suddenly rolled over, pushed flat onto his back, and Otabek’s mouth trails down his jaw, his throat, across his collarbone. Yuri’s eyes fall shut and he gnaws hard at his lower lip.
“You have such a dirty mouth,” he mutters into Yuri’s shoulder.
“You love my dirty mouth.”
“God help me, I do.”
They kiss for a while longer. Eager anticipation is thrumming under Yuri’s chest.
“We probably shouldn’t—” Otabek begins, regretfully, then falters, “I mean, not right now. We don’t have any condoms or—”
“Nightstand drawer,” Yuri says. Otabek draws back, furrows his brow, then leans over to pull it open.
His reaction is not immediate, but it is satisfying to watch the transformation.
“How… how long have these been here?”
“Couple days now,” Yuri says. Otabek draws out the box of condoms first, glossy and unopened. “Condoms and lube, the I’m-going-to-be-having-sex-for-the-first-time Amazon Prime special.”
“The lube’s already been opened,” he observes.
Yuri can’t decide if he’s embarrassed or excited to tell him. Some mixture of both, it feels like.
Dark eyes swivel to Yuri with sudden intensity. Yuri slowly unfastens each individual button on his loose-fitting pajama top.
“In the shower, most of the time,” he says. “Just to see what it felt like.”
Arousal falls over Otabek’s face like a shadow. He leans down, nose against Yuri’s cheekbone, breath on his neck. “And?”
Yuri shivers. “It feels really good, Beka.”
A small groan. “Yeah?”
He nods feverishly, fingers fumbling with the buttons at greater speed. “It didn’t right away, but the m-more I tried it, the more…”
Another groan, louder. Otabek abandons the box of condoms on the bed to help Yuri with his pajama shirt. Neither of them bother pulling it off entirely; once it’s open, Otabek’s hands immediately move down to the waistband of his pajama bottoms, and he pulls.
They’ve seen each other in various states of undress already, of course, although only in the locker rooms, and this is decidedly more intimate. Yuri’s cock is already half hard and flushed red against his stomach, and the cool air of the room makes him shudder.
Now naked save for the open shirt, Beka sits back on his heels and looks him over, slowly and appreciatively, like he’s trying to memorize him. Yuri chews self-consciously at his lower lip.
“Show me?” Otabek asks.
Yuri makes some weak, embarrassing sound. “Pass the bottle.”
Otabek passes the bottle, and Yuri thumbs it open with hands that tremble in anticipation. Yuri can see him as he palms hard at what he can now recognize as the growing outline of his boyfriend’s cock against the flannel, and with a rush of adrenaline, Yuri effortlessly bends one leg up, over the headboard, to press into the wall.
Otabek makes a low sound and mutters something breathlessly in Arabic that makes Yuri absolutely smolder; it’s not often Yuri gets him flustered enough to ask for divine assistance.
“It got easier each time, Beka,” he breathes, tossing the bottle over the side of the bed, two fingers slick and shiny with lube. “And I found out – I haven’t been able to reach it myself, but I read – there’s a—”
Yuri slides one finger past the taut ring of muscle and his toes curl.
“Nnnm,” Yuri gasps rather than finish the sentence.
“You are the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen,” Otabek mutters, and Yuri feels the heat of his hands on the undersides of his thighs.
“Beka,” he whines, and slowly pushes the finger deeper.
“Keep going, God, you’re stunning,” he says, and Yuri rocks his hips in time as he slowly starts to fuck himself on his finger. “Just like that…”
He slides the second in alongside the first and rolls his hips. Otabek’s right hand leaves Yuri’s thigh and closes lightly around the shaft of Yuri’s cock, which sends his entire body bucking up off the bed.
“How does it feel?”
“It’s so good,” Yuri babbles, because it is, it really is, the combination of his own fingers and Otabek’s gentle hand is so hot that Yuri thinks he might melt. “God, it’s so good.”
Yuri feels his hand gently moved aside, and his fingers replaced with two of Otabek’s own. Yuri howls and throws his head back.
“Ssh – Yura, your grandfather—!”
“The man spent the entire Cold War sleeping through air raid sirens, Beka, now shut up and—” Beka pushes his fingers forward. Hard. Yuri’s entire body buckles at the chest. “Fuck!”
“Does that feel good?”
Yuri babbles something entirely incoherent. Beka leans forward, kissing Yuri hard, sliding his cock against Yuri’s as his fingers work him open with increasing speed.
“You’re so tight, Yura,” he mutters hungrily against his mouth.
“Beka,” Yuri manages, through long strings of overstimulated nonsense. “Beka, please.”
“You cannot possibly imagine how long and how desperately I’ve wanted to fuck you,” he mutters, scissoring his fingers inside Yuri. “Every day you just kept getting more gorgeous—”
Yuri decides that he’s done with the foreplay, and with a surge of adrenaline, he pushes Otabek hard in the shoulder, rolls him over, and straddles his hips.
Yuri doesn’t answer. Knees pressing into the comforter, Yuri holds Otabek by the root of his cock and tears open the box of condoms with his teeth.
“You’re going to rip them,” Otabek laughs breathlessly.
Yuri spends a frustrating twenty seconds extricating the condom, pre-lubricated, and rolling it down over Otabek’s length.
Then he crawls forward slowly up his boyfriend’s body, chest heaving, lubricant running down his inner thigh.
“You can go as slow as you want,” Otabek says.
Yuri has no interest in going slow.
Head heavy with lust, Yuri reaches back and lines himself up. With one long, complete movement, he sinks back down onto his boyfriend’s cock.
For a moment, his mind blanks.
He’s big. Far bigger than fingers. And thick. Fuck, he’s thick, spearing Yuri open in ways he was not aware were possible.
And he feels fucking phenomenal.
“Beka,” Yuri gasps. Otabek’s hands are on his waist. “Fuck. Fuck.” He starts to rock his hips. The stretch and the burn, the pressure, the heat, he could get used to this. Yuri shifts his hips to get a better angle and—
His entire body shudders. The wave of pleasure is so intense that it actually paralyzes him for a moment.
“Oh,” Otabek breathes. Then, “Oh. Yuri. There? Right there?”
Otabek leans up, kisses him hard, then flips him over again and starts rocking his hips past – fuck, fuck, fuck.
“Is that where it’s best, Yura?” Otabek purrs into his ear, though Yuri can barely hear him, or anything at all, other than the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears, thumping in time with the hard, deep thrusts in and out. “Is this the spot?”
Yuri realizes, with haunting clarity, that he is going to come – very soon, very powerfully, and with barely a hand on his cock.
“You feel so good, Yura,” he mutters, and he’s so close, he’s so close, his vision is going dark around the edges, “God, you feel so good…”
“B-Beka—” It’s about all Yuri can manage at the moment. “I…”
Otabek grips the headboard with both hands for leverage and his pace doubles. Yuri’s entire body tenses, bends, arcs upward, and the knot of energy catalyzes and releases; Yuri comes hard, so hard his vision clouds over, so intensely that he can’t even manage to moan. He comes like he’s dying, and maybe he is.
“Yura,” answers Otabek’s strangled groan, and the rhythm of his hips stutters, and Yuri only belatedly feels the subtle pulsing inside him that’s not his own. “Yura, God…”
A few minutes, or possibly a few years, later, Yuri returns to something like lucidity. At some point, Otabek had pulled out and collapsed next to him.
“I am such a fucking idiot,” Yuri croaks. He covers his face with both hands. “I can’t believe I waited so long!”
Otabek bursts into hoarse laughter.
“Years we could have been doing that,” Yuri says. “Years, Beka!”
“You weren’t ready,” Otabek chuckles. “Besides, that means we get to make up for lost time now.”
Yuri sighs. To his left, Otabek rolls over to face him. “Although we’re definitely going to have to embargo sex on the night before performances.”
“Agreed,” Yuri says reluctantly. His lower back is already starting to ache, albeit in the best possible way.
Fingertips on his jaw. Yuri let his head fall to the side. Otabek, hair slicked with sweat and smiling, leans in and kisses him lingeringly.
“Is it my imagination,” Otabek says, softly, into Yuri’s lips, “or are you very, thoroughly happy right now?”
Yuri realizes that he is.
In all the ways he’s come around these past three years – moving to Moscow, finding a personal and professional balance, remembering his passions – Yuri feels like there’s one thing left undone.
“You’re sure you’re okay with this?” Beka asks him, breath misting as they walk.
“I wouldn’t say ‘okay,’” Yuri admits, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. “I just… I have to.”
“You really don’t, not if you don’t think you can.”
The snow is deep today, up to their knees. But Yuri knows these hills, knows the well-worn paths, because he’s walked them a thousand times before in another life.
“It’s not…” Yuri sighs. “It’s like you, after your father died, getting back on the rink for the first time. This is that for me.”
Yuri doesn’t look back to check the look on his face, but Yuri can feel the frown.
“All right,” Otabek says.
Under the tree, at the bottom of the hill, a half-mile away from where that little ramshackle house used to stand, there’s a granite headstone, drenched in snow and half-visible. Yuri’s nose is red from the cold. He kneels down in front of it and brushes it clean as best he can.
ANNA NIKOLAYEVNA PLISETSKY, reads the stone. BELOVED MOTHER. 1968-2012.
Yuri lets out a breath so long that it feels like he’s been holding it forever. He sets the portable speakers on top of the headstone and tucks his phone into it before he slowly, slowly puts on his skates.
By the time he’s done, Otabek is already waiting for him on the ice. The pond seems so much smaller than he remembers it, but it’s as big as it needs to be.
Otabek is watching Yuri’s face carefully as he steps over the snowdrift and glides across the surface toward him.
“Ready?” Otabek asks him, and Yuri only nods.
The music starts up, muted on the snow. They start to dance.
Yuri choreographed the whole thing himself, and although he told Otabek not to spend too much time memorizing it – they both had the Grand Prix coming up, after all – he had been diligently working to memorize every gesture.
Since he knew it would never see competition, Yuri had gone with a modern, unconventional pick, sad but hopeful, slow but with energy. The dance is full of spins and lifts and triple jumps.
Nothing particularly taxing, in other words.
But it drains him anyway.
Otabek lifts him through the final, drawn-out spin, over his head, around his back, into a low dip, and they slow and slow as the music fades, until they are still, and the pond is quiet.
Yuri keeps his eyes shut tightly. He did not know what he was expecting to happen.
Had he been expecting to feel full of some angelic presence? Felt a grand weight lifted off his shoulders?
Otabek’s hand reaches up, and the fingers of his glove smear the tears Yuri did not realize were falling down his face.
A sob fights its way up his throat unbidden. Yuri doubles over, burying himself in Otabek’s chest.
“It’s okay,” Otabek whispers. “It’s okay, Yura.”
Otabek holds him as Yuri collapses down onto the ice. They kneel together like that for a while, with nothing but the snow and the smoke of their own breaths.
There’s no angelic presence, no weight lifted. But there’s something else. It’s small and it’s painful, like feeling coming back to a numb limb. It’s something like healing, Yuri realizes, and something like release.
“I miss her,” he sobs.
“I know,” Otabek answers.
“I miss her so much, Beka. I…”
It hurts to be here. It hurts to have done this. But even as he sits sobbing on the ice, Yuri knows he’ll come back next year, under the tree on the pond at the bottom of the hill, and skate for his mother again, because it matters, and she matters.
And maybe next year, it won’t hurt as much.
Maybe, in time, it won’t hurt at all.