It’s one forty-five in the morning and the sky is bright. Not with stars or the lights of buildings rising through the night, but bright like day. Lit with shades of pale yellow like some forgotten painting; phosphorescent as it burns, and blinding.
Otabek forces his stinging eyes away, and looks to Yuri.
They’re standing in silence on a hill above the city. It’s not St. Petersburg, not Almaty, not home, but the last city they will ever see all the same.
The dust begins to rise.
Otabek’s on the ice when the end becomes a tangible, definite thing. He thinks he’s only fallen, forearms slamming down on the cold surface, blades slipping for traction as his legs fail. Then everything is shaking, the rink under his fingers cracking and splintering from something stronger than the impact of his body. His backtrack fades, violin crescendos transforming to the sounds of hysteria.
A week ago, some scientist began screaming about the end of the world. Any day now, any day. People laughed. It was the same joke they’d heard years ago; the world wasn’t going to end. He had skimmed an article about it, exited out, then arranged his luggage for competition. Nothing changed.
Otabek doesn’t register getting up; clambering off the shattered ice, finding his bag, rifling through it. The lights in the rink are still on, but the TV’s in every corner have turned to static; no broadcasts able to come through. He looks at the cell phone clutched in his palm.
No service. No way to call his mom; talk to his siblings, say goodbye.
Panic manifests differently for everyone, and suddenly Otabek is the calmest he’s ever felt. It washes over him like a wave of tepid water, his breathing evens out; the only numbness left behind settles into the tips of his fingers. He looks about himself in slow motion, the scenes contained in the arena coming into focus like bad cinema. The different reactions around him mingling like lines of heartbroken visual poetry.
Jean-Jacques Leroy is screaming at the opening of the rink; incoherent, broken French words mixing with English. His skate-guards hit the ground like hard plastic grenades, then his blades are cutting into the ruined rink, spraying cold shavings as he runs across the mangled ice. Otabek watches as he tries to begin a spin; one last skate for King JJ.
An American competitor Otabek doesn’t know is embracing a Chinese boy who is only vaguely familiar. They look young, fragile; timeless. He wonders if they even know each other. Phichit from Thailand is standing beside them, bright face broken by a mask of horror. He’s staring blankly at the jumbo monitor like he can will its lifeless black screen to spark up, make it tell them something, anything. In the stands, Mila is crying against Sara Crispino, Mickey holding both of them with expressionless eyes and his skates halfway unlaced. Many people are just yelling, so many voices in so many languages tumbling over one another in broken chords; the music of the apocalypse.
Victor’s voice is the loudest. Hard and Russian; full of command. Anger heating his normally cheerful tone as he screams at a rink worker. Otabek catches bits and pieces.
“Find someone to marry us, anyone! Someone here has to be certified. Our wedding was going to be three weeks from now, fuck the paperwork.”
Katsuki Yuuri is clinging to the front of Victor’s coat with one fist, white knuckled and gasping for air. He’s pressing his body so closely to the Russian that it looks as though they could meld together; gold rings shining on their joined hands, clutching desperately for each other. Neither one should even be, both retired now, having come only in support of their friends.
Otabek’s chest tightens, the air being punched from his lungs harder than any fall could manage. His brain realigns itself with the thought of friends, friend singular: Yuri. The only face missing from Otabek’s view is the only one that matters enough to look for. The urge— so sudden— causes him to move, useless cell phone falling to the floor, and legs shifting of their own accord.
He checks the locker room, the bathroom, the press alcove full of screaming journalists. Yuri hadn’t skated yet, was meant to perform after Otabek, should have been in the inner rink when he wasn’t. Otabek checks any place he might be—every place he can think of—shoving people aside and ignoring occasional shouts of his name from unfamiliar voices. He doesn’t realize he’s been running until he reaches the upper hallway at the back of the rink.
It’s empty, quiet and the sounds of his labored breathing echo off the glass of a large viewing window that shows the city outside. He stops; stands in front of it trying to catch his breath, presses his forehead against it. The city almost looks normal, buildings rising pristine into the air and lights sprinkling along the streets. If he didn’t know, couldn’t see the people running or the cars sitting bumper to bumper, it would look okay. If he wasn’t aware that the sky was supposed to be bright blue and not washed over with watercolor shades of yellow fire, he would be able to pretend the view was fine. He stares it down for an eternity, long after his breathing slows.
Thudding footsteps mix with the beat of his still thudding pulse. Hammering through the quiet in quick successions; the sounds of someone else running down the hallway, probably on the same kind of panicked search he is. He doesn’t pay them much mind until they halt beside him. There’s a gentle gripping on his wrist that tugs him back, away from the view of the waning world.
The voice is low, shaky. There’s no time to answer as he’s gifted an arm full of relief; becoming wrapped up by thin arms and a soft face that tucks its way into the crook of his neck. Yuri’s pants are heavy in Otabek’s ear. They’re pressed cheek to cheek and its warm, soothing. Otabek lets comfort wash over him; moves his arms around Yuri in return and tangles his fingers in long blonde hair.
He whispers the nickname into Yuri’s shoulder and feels the arms around him tighten. The panic is still beating a hole through Otabek’s chest and there are so many more words he wants to say. Three years of feelings, and no time. He pulls back a bit, hating to resist Yuri’s hold, then aligns them so that their foreheads are pressed together and he’s looking directly into sea green eyes. They shine eerily calm, where Otabek knows his own eyes probably look afraid; not just of the end. He wants to say something, anything. But he doesn’t have to, doesn’t get the chance.
Yuri’s lips press against his. It’s firm, urgent and Otabek molds to it; pushing back with every ounce of himself. It’s their first kiss— their only kiss— and its built of tragic fire; tongues and teeth, love and terror. It’s over way too soon, no human way to make it last long enough. Otabek would extend it to the very end if he could, but its Yuri that breaks away. He grabs Otabek’s wrist again as he steps back, and Otabek flips it, catching Yuri’s fingers and twining their hands together. He’s trying to capture as much as he can, stretch it out and relish it in a way he’s never been able to before.
The unnerving calm Otabek had felt earlier creeps back into his body like a cat on silent paws. It settles in the silence between them, and Otabek asks the only question he can seem to find.
“What do we do now?”
Yuri smiles and turns his face to the window. It’s a long moment before he raises his free hand and points one finger at something off in the distance. Otabek follows it. There’s a dust cloud edging over the horizon, landing softly over the city.
“Let’s make our way there. See if we can make it in time.”
Yuri’s voice is soft, and Otabek looks at the hill where Yuri is aiming; high and stark against the skyline, miles away.
It will take them every last hour to get there.
The dust is swirling around them in waves of grit and heat—ashes— and Otabek is afraid that if he looks back at the sky it might break a moment too soon. So he doesn’t. He keeps his eyes trained firmly on the only thing he cares to see.
Yuri extends a hand through the wind; his long hair is whipping around his head in waves of spun gold. He’s brighter than the tragic light; the dying sun. There’s a smile on his lips that contradicts the tears on his cheeks. There are no words, just the soft wiggle of his fingers between them.
Otabek reaches out with his own, fitting them firmly in each perfect notch. Pushes every last word he wants to say into the silent gesture as the sky begins to scream around them. Otabek can’t hear it, focused only on the small sigh that passes Yuri’s lips when their palms meet. He matches it with a quiet whisper.
I love you. Let us burn.