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Heart of a Tiger (Eyes of a Soldier)

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Many people knew Otabek as ‘the guy who would show up for a DJ-gig at the big clubs every once in awhile’. He enjoyed creating music, and he could make pretty good money from his gigs every couple of weekends.

Many of those people would not recognise Otabek if they happened to see him during his day-to-day job. His hair was no longer gelled back, his eyes no longer concealed by awkward shades, no longer dressed to impress nor hidden behind a platform, mixing his beats. Rather, he was walking around the open, well-lit space of his job, more often than not buried behind flower arrangements or potted bushes.

The flower-shop was a beautiful little space. It was on the corner of a street in a big residential area, with a lot of people always coming and going yet none of the common noises of the city centre. The shop itself was a pretty large space, at the bottom floor of a three storey building, filled with the various smells of all the different common and tropical flowers on display, always filled with light from the large windows on the front and side of the building.

He had no doubt that his bosses had chosen the place especially for how peaceful and domestic the entire area was, as they too were some of the nicest, most laid-back people he knew. If he were to use one word to describe them, it would have to be ‘domestic’. They were constantly bickering over one thing or another, but even then they never strayed far from each other, always touching, holding hands, looking at each other with eyes filled with warmth and adoration.

He hadn’t ever thought about relationships before, never considered the idea of ‘true love’ or going out of his way to find someone to spend his life with. But seeing his bosses made him consider. It made Otabek wonder whether he’d ever find someone he would have such an easy relationship with; someone who would ground him the way those two seemed to ground each other, the type of relationship where, no matter who you are, you know the only place for the both of you is with each other.

The two owned the living space above the shop, all of two flats, and had given Otabek one of them to live in along with his job, with the mention that he had to handle his own bills. They lived in the remaining flat, although they spent most of their time away from home with their own jobs, so Otabek handled the shop on his own most of the time.

Nothing big ever really happened at the shop, so he could usually handle things just fine on his own.

Today was not one of those days.

To his defense, Otabek thought he was perfectly within his rights to be unsure of what to do. In any other day, moving the flowers to the outside display was just that. Moving around the pots so that the plants would get the air and light they needed, taking special care with the more sensitive ones, sometimes taking a short break in case some early customers would show up.

Nothing had felt different that day.

Nothing had prepared him for his routine and his life to suddenly be disrupted by the appearance of a stranger.

A boy.

A boy, no older than eighteen, whose appearance shocked Otabek in more ways than one. It shocked him through the dissonance between his lithe body, shockingly blonde hair, and his dirty, black attire. It shocked him through the poignant smell of blood and danger, overpowering even the smell of the flowers surrounding him. Shocked him through the blood dripping from his mouth, down his chin, through the various wounds visible despite his clothing and the ankle he was cradling, obviously injured. Through the way that he was fighting against the tears that were streaming down his face, mixing with blood and grime and smudging a dirty red against his ghastly pale skin.

But more than anything, what shocked Otabek were the boy’s eyes. Eyes that looked at him with the fierceness of a tiger who knew it would last to fight another day. Eyes of a soldier, who had seen more than he should have, hardened and determined, alight with the will to live and fight and survive.

Otabek gulped, lost in the intensity that the boy was giving off in waves, nearly forgetting where they were, nearly forgetting that the boy was still on the ground, bleeding. He cringed, wasting no time in setting down the flowers he was still holding. He fished his phone from the pocket of his loose, work jeans. He paced, fingers frantically tapping away at the screen in his attempts to get to the dial pad faster, to call the hospital, to get the boy treated and figure everything else out later.

His mind was already running through the possibilities; what could have happened to him, what was the extent of his injuries, what complications could arise if he went untreated. The abrupt motion in the periphery of his vision came as a shock, startling him out of his thoughts


His flat was modern yet cozy, with large windows, a nice paint-job and an overall natural color palette that complimented the full furnishing well. Otabek couldn’t have asked for any better terms upon taking up his current job, really. There were large mirrors in almost every room. They were an obvious choice considering his employers’ line of main business, but an unfortunate one for Otabek as he walked into the flat to the sight of his own ruffled clothes and bleeding nose.

He sighed a winded breath, making his way to the bathroom. He stood in front of the large mirror above the sink and sighed again. Today was not a good day. The warm light of the bathroom reflected off the mirror, making the swelling on his nose and the bruise on his jawline stand out shockingly against his skin, and for a second he had to wonder how it had come down to this. All he had done was try to call an ambulance when the teen had jumped him.

Never mind the fact that he had had an injured ankle, the boy had still tried to push himself on top of Otabek, shoving at him, trying to get to the ringing phone Otabek was holding. Some words were said, but none made sense to Otabek. The assault had only gotten more hasty once the person on the other side picked up; and at some point during his call to the hospital, while he was pushing away the boy who was clinging to his clothes, he’d ended up with his own bloody nose.

Today was not a good day.


It was a slow day. There were barely any clients, giving Otabek time to just look around and think. It had been a couple of weeks, and the odd incident with the blond kid had passed with no other repercussions beyond that one morning of confusion, almost as if it hadn’t happened, tucked away in a corner of his mind as it’s own entity, disruptive but not otherwise dangerous in any way. It had felt almost like an escape from reality, a bubble of existence that broke Otabek away from his day-to-day life only to end as soon as it started and leave him behind with nothing more than a vivid memory of those fierce eyes, a slightly swelled nose and a vague feeling of unease that he couldn’t seem to shake off.

He’d spent both his weekends ever since the encounter at different clubs, the owners more than happy to take him up for last-minute DJ gigs, and he’d mixed away, losing himself to the music and the atmosphere.


He sighed, looking for work around the shop in order to take his mind away from the blue-eyed gaze that had taken over his thoughts. He filled a bottle with water for some of the plants, watching the ripples forming on the surface and feeling, perhaps for the first time since taking up his job at the shop, bored. Despite the less-than-favourable circumstances of his meeting with the boy, and the tone they had parted ways on, something about his presence had caused something within Otabek to shift. The burning gaze and the feeling of danger and life that surrounded the boy had been something new and though he’d only felt if for a few seconds, Otabek craved more of it.

“You fucking asshole!”

The words broke through his thoughts before the bell above the door ever could, and Otabek had to wonder at how the boy seemed to have the uncanny ability to catch him by surprise even when Otabek’s mind was focused solely on him.

“You called the fucking meds on me!”

Otabek stepped back, holding the bottle between the two of them as the teen advanced aggressively towards him, eyes piercing as they met Otabek’s head on.

Otabek was unsure to this day of why exactly the boy had reacted the way he had to his actions, of what he had done wrong. And now here the boy was, suddenly here again, jamming himself once more into Otabek’s life like a welcome disruption, with murder in his glare and barely more coherence than the last time they had met.

And so Otabek met his eyes unflinchingly. He raised a hand and clapped it on the boy’s shoulder, and he spoke calmly. “Who are you?”

The boy blinked. His expression became vacant for a second and Otabek was almost amused. He was interrupted in the middle of his outburst and suddenly the boy seemed completely taken aback.

“I’m. Uh, I’m Yuri.”

Otabek frowned. He took a step away, breaking the proximity as he watched the teen - Yuri - with an expectant expression. He seemed to have gotten over his confusion, though, as he was suddenly glaring again. He wasn’t screaming anymore, so Otabek counted that as a win. “Two weeks ago. You called the fucking meds on me.” his tone was pointed, accusing, as though it was painfully obvious how that was an offense for the boy and Otabek was just an idiot for not getting it.

He stared.

“I told you to stop calling them!”

“You were bleeding and screaming bits of phrases without sense.”

Yuri stepped back as if struck. Otabek couldn’t be sure, but he thought he could even detect a hint of a blush on his cheeks. “I’m - uh… Well, you shouldn’t just call the ambulance on people.” He crossed his arms, as if with that statement he had indefinitely closed the discussion, challenging Otabek to say anything more.

Instead of answering the challenge, Otabek decided on a different approach. He easily spotted the Tiger-Lilys on display next to him, and picked one out of them, handing it to the boy. “I’m sorry if I caused you trouble, but I called that ambulance because you were on the ground, bleeding.”

He hoped Yuri would see reason.

The boy was currently eyeing both him and the flower with suspicion, but the aggression seemed to have drained away from his posture for now. So he shifted his hand, held the flower out closer to the boy. ‘Take it,’ he was saying without words, apologizing for whatever trouble he had caused in the one way he could.

Just as Yuri was finally reaching for the flower, the bell above the door jingled once more, and Otabek turned his attention to the customer. He had a feeling that the teen would wait around until he did his job, so he walked up to the man, leaving Yuri to stand in the middle of the shop with a flower in his still extended hand and a look on his face that looked as if the boy’s world had just shifted off its axe and he was no longer sure how to understand anything.

Otabek spent the next few minutes behind the counter, talking to the man; taking down his order for an arrangement, showing him different options for flowers that could work for the occasion, and explaining that, ‘no, we don’t generally know the exact meaning of every single flower we have on display, we just have a general understanding of what flowers are better for certain occasions, yes, I’m sure your wife will appreciate the thought even if the flowers don’t translate directly to ‘happy 8 year anniversary, I love you more than the starts and would give you the moon if you asked for it.’

Once the man was satisfied with his order of a $40 arrangement with a personalized message card -order that he would pick up rather than have it delivered because $40 is an insane amount already, and paying for delivery would be too much-, Otabek once again found himself alone with Yuri. The teen looked to be fully calm by now, arms limp by his side, still holding the flower but otherwise relaxed. He looked at Otabek as if he was trying to figure out a particularly difficult puzzle, his gaze alert, like a starving lion, hungered for a semblance of understanding.

What he was curious about, though, Otabek couldn’t guess. He held the boy’s gaze, unsure what his must have looked like to Yuri, wondering whether the boy would be able to find what he was searching for on his face.

He didn’t get to find out, because soon Yuri broke eye-contact, scoffing out a word that sounded close to ‘whatever’.

“Thanks, I guess. For the flower. What’s your name, by the way? Since. You know. Since you know mine.”

Despite himself, Otabek smiled.

“I’m Otabek.”


It became somewhat of a routine, after that. Yuri would show up at the flower-shop on most days. He’d spend hours lounging around, in total silence, or holding out a stream of constant chatter and questions.

At first, he had seemed embarrassed about actually coming back. He had been withdrawn and silent, and Otabek had happily offered him the silent companionship he seemed to need and desire.

After a couple of days, he had tentatively shifted closer to the counter, hesitancy thick in his voice as he uttered his first question, something about florists not knowing all about the language of flowers; a throwback to his conversation with the client before.

Slowly, Yuri seemed to come out of his shell more and more over the following few days. Otabek was mostly silent, letting Yuri lead the conversations and do most of the talking. It seemed to reassure the boy as he became more comfortable in Otabek’s company, asking questions at every step and listening intently for the answers, or sharing small things about himself.

It was after a couple of weeks that Yuri seemed to truly grow comfortable in his presence. It was around the same time that two events took place as an abrupt interruption to the days of peaceful coexistence.

The first was the return home if his bosses.

It was while Otabek was opening up the shop for the day that their familiar pink car pulled up next to the building.

Viktor and Yuuri walked into the shop, their arms laden with bags and luggage. They looked tired, a little worse-for-wear with their rumpled clothes, eye-bags and messy hair, but more so than that, they both seemed to exude an unmistakable air of satisfaction.

They both smiled at him with an amount of warmth and affection that was so specific to them, Otabek had come to feel at home around the two without ever meaning to. He had never been quite used to such open affection, and he still found it difficult to return it openly, but he hoped that Yuuri and Viktor were able to tell how grateful he was for their presence in his life nonetheless.

He’d helped them carry their luggage upstairs, and they’d spent the rest of their day in their apartment, probably sleeping off the jet lag.

The second event was decidedly less pleasant.

Yuri had failed to show up at the store for three days after Viktor and Yuuri’s arrival. While it wasn’t unusual for him to be away for a day every once in a while, Otabek had yet to forget how the boy had looked the first time they’d met - yet to shake off the worry he felt for what Yuri’s life held outside of their short hours in the shop, yet to stop worrying about the boy every time he failed to show up.

Then suddenly, he did show up. It was 2AM and Otabek was stirred from sleep by the insistent ringing of the bell to the building and Yuri was finally there, limping, and bleeding from the cut on his face, and crying, and it was little relief that he had no wounds anywhere on his torso or back, but when he begged for Otabek not to call the hospital, he could at least listen to the request without worrying that he might have any broken bones or internal bleeding.

He was going to come back to Yuri’s reluctance to get proper healthcare at a later time. For now, Otabek pulled the boy into his upstairs apartment in order to check on his wounds as best as he could with a simple first aid kit and little to no medical knowledge.

“How did you get all these?”

He had avoided asking Yuri about the circumstances of their first meeting from some sort of tacit understanding with the boy. Now, though, Otabek couldn’t hold back. Now, it was obvious that the boy was going to keep doing what he was doing and getting hurt, and Otabek had no plans on sitting back and watching it happen.

Yuri wasn’t going to make his job easy for him, though. He merely avoided Otabek’s eyes, expression clearly saying that he wanted the discussion to be over.


Otabek wouldn’t give in; not about this.

Reluctantly, Yuri met his eyes.

“Every day you’re not here, I can’t get you out of my head. Please, talk to me. Ever since you first showed up, I just want to help you!”

Yuri’s eyes flashed with anger.

“Why the hell would you want to-”

“Because you had the eyes of a soldier!”

Otabek screamed over his outburst.

Yurio paused.

Otabek never talked much. He raised his voice even less. But this time, he needed to make himself heard.

“Once I met you that day, I couldn’t get you out of my head. You showed up in my life out of nowhere, hurt and bleeding. But your eyes looked like... like something is burning inside you and I can’t get the image out of my head. I see a glimpse of it every day you’re here and I just want to discover what that is, discover what your best self will be like when you get to reach that potential inside you. That’s the you I most want to see. I want you to be my friend and lean on me to help you.”

He held Yuri’s gaze until the very end, staring into the blonde’s shocked eyes as he spoke from the heart, intent on getting his message across.

Otabek didn’t expect a verbal response. Instead he offered Yuri his hand. He put his feelings on the line in front of the boy he had seen at his most vulnerable.

And if, when the boy took hold of his hand in friendship, his smile was more genuine than he could ever remember before, then Otabek would argue that for once they were both vulnerable before each other, and that was fine.


A few minutes later found, Otabek setting down a cup of tea in front of Yuri. The teen was now dressed in a pair of clothes that were too large on him, with bandages wrapped around the exposed parts of his legs. They were both sitting in Otabek’s kitchen, silence growing thicker with every tick of the clock and every clink of their tablespoons against their cups.

Otabek waited, giving Yuri the time to gather his thoughts. Neither one of them was the type to easily open up about their problems, so he didn’t try to push the boy.

Instead, he waited.

Several times, Yuri seemed to draw in air as if he was preparing to speak, but the words didn’t come for a long time.

When they finally did, they were rushed and stilted, uttered as if the teen was trying to rip off a band-aid, which was probably the whole point.

“Back then. They were going to - the ambulance? They were gonna send me back to the orphanage. … was why I didn’t want you to call them.”

The last part was muttered awkwardly, slapped on at the ends of the statement like an afterthought, but it helped Otabek finally make sense of things, if only a little. Yuri’s statement didn’t tell him much. He still didn’t know how the boy kept ending up bloody and bruised on his doorstep. What he did know was that Yuri, for whatever reason, wanted away from the orphanage, even if that meant wandering the streets with a sprained ankle and potentially broken bones.

“Why were you hurt?” he had to ask.

Yuri refused to meet his eyes. He mumbled an unintelligible answer, but Otabek’s stare was insistent enough to try and get a proper answer out of the boy.

“I said I was…” he trailed off into more muttering.


“Ok, fine! I said- I said I got mugged! Ok?” he burst out, overwhelmed and loud and tempestuous, his eyes overflowing with frustration and helplessness.

Otabek blinked at the answer. It seemed better than other options he had considered, but it still felt like there was more to the story. ”Then,” he began, more gentle than before, his expression softening as he thought of what Yuri must be going through, and wanting nothing more than to reassure the boy. “What happened this time?”

Yuri finally met his eyes, and Otabek saw his shoulders slowly relaxing. The teenager sagged into his seat, hunching in on himself, suddenly seeming so much more open and vulnerable than Otabek had ever seen him before, that he had to wonder just what his own expression must have carried, in order for Yuri to be willing to drop all of his defenses like that.

“It’s… it’s not just now. It always happens. I spent a lot of time running away, and sometimes… sometimes, I run into people, ok? People who get on my nerves and I get on theirs and there’s always more of them because I’m always alone.”

Otabek couldn’t help but feel like that one muttered statement held a lot more meaning for the boy than he tried to make it seem. But there was nothing you could say to something like this, nothing that would really feel appropriate. So instead he strengthened his grip on his cup of tea, and he nodded to the boy. No empty promises would help Yuri now, after all.

“Viktor, no-”

Otabek might have gotten whiplash from the way his head snapped up towards the kitchen entrance.

There Yuuri was -he had never before thought about how weird it was that his boss had the same name as his new friend- trying to pull his husband behind the entrance where they had most likely been hiding.

Otabek nearly face-palmed. He refused to see Yuri’s reaction.

“But Yuuri~! You heard what he said!” Viktor whined, still trying to get free from his husband’s grip.

Otabek contemplated death.

“I- You- What the hell!”

He had never heard Yuri shriek before, nor was he to eager to re-live that particular experience. The boy’s chair fell to the ground with a resounding crash as Yuri jumped up, looking accusingly at the two who were now bickering in the doorway, and Otabek could already feel the incoming headache.

“Who the hell are these two, Otabek!”

Viktor gasped, draping himself over Yuuri. “Beka! You didn’t even tell your friend about us? I am hurt!”

“Viktor, get off me.” Yuri said while laughing along with his husband’s antics.

“Shut the hell up, old man!”

“Old-” Viktor twitched. Yuuri froze in anticipation of his husband’s antics.

“Oh god, no. Viktor, don’t-”

“Yuuri! He called me an old man! Am I really that old, Yuuri? Is it my hair? Am I getting wrinkly? This is it! My career is done!”

The man dropped himself to the ground at Yuuri’s feet. “I might actually die of sorrow, my love! If I’m growing old, I might as well die!”

“What the hell?”

Otabek met Yuri’s eyes, trying to please wordlessly for the boy to just not ask any questions. The boy’s gaze was challenging, and Otabek should have known he wasn’t going to get away that easily. Meanwhile, Yuuri was comforting his husband.

Otabek dropped his head on the table.

He desired death.


Things got resolved, somehow. Yuuri managed to convince his husband to cut the dramatics for a few minutes, and honestly, bless that man, he is a literal angel thank god I’ve got him on my side.

As soon as they were all sat down, Yuri retreated back into his shell, refusing to speak, and Otabek understood, really, because had confided in Otabek and instead ended up being eavesdropped on. But for a few seconds, he’d been able to see Yuri opening up, being himself, and he had homed it would last longer, that he would get to see more of his friend in that way.

As it turned out, Yuuri and Viktor had been woken up by their shouting contest in the bathroom earlier, and had come into Otabek’s first-floor apartment through the shared staircase in order to check on him.

“I’m afraid that trying to keep you here with us would be legally considered kidnapping.” he smiled sadly at Yuri, him and Viktor trying to come up with a solution for the two boys they had spontaneously taken under their care. “Unfortunately, legally, you live at the orphanage under their guardianship. There’s nothing that can be done about that in just a day. But with a bit of time, we might be able to help you, if you want.” he offered, despite the boy being completely silent ever since the moment they all sat down, refusing to talk or even make eye-contact with the two adults.

Otabek had noticed long before, but it became apparent to him all over again, that Viktor and Yuuri seemed to have the type of parental instincts that made them feel responsible for everyone who happened to come into their path. It was the same reason he had come to feel so at home around the two.

“How about you sleep on that, little kitten? It’s late, and there’s enough space for you here.” Viktor eventually intervened, when it was clear the discussion was going nowhere. “You can think about it after you get a good night’s sleep. And if it’s what you chose, we’d be happy to help you however we can.”

Several seconds, nothing. Then, Yuri nodded. And as they went to sleep, Otabek hoped that Viktor and Yuuri would be able to help his friend open up to them, with time. Then maybe, together, they could make sure Yuri would never again show up on their doorstep, with blood dripping down his face.