Chapter 1: The Mechanic
“Yurochka, take this out to the table.”
Yuri grumbled, nearly staggering under the weight of the bowl of scrambled eggs. He glared as Grandma chuckled at him; she probably fed the chickens lead. Yuri had tried to sleep past breakfast again; six am was too fucking early to eat much less to talk to any of Grandpa’s dumb, annoying workers. But Grandma had woken him up at ten past five because Zeynep was still sick, and breakfast was too big of a job for one person.
He slammed the eggs onto the dining table and shook out his arms, already feeling a budding soreness in his biceps and a hot tightness behind his eyes. There had been at least seven conversations amongst the workers, but everyone around the long table was now silently watching as he slipped into his seat. Grandpa scooped a few spoonfuls of egg onto his plate and passed the bowl around. The conversations slowly started back after that. Okay, to be fair, he hadn’t meant to slam the bowl down that hard, but it had been so fucking heavy. He glared at his phone, pretending to be busy, but knowing that Mila would hand him his own ass over FaceTime if he texted her before eight again.
“Are you feeling alright?” Grandpa asked gruffly. “Your eyes look a little-”
“I’m not wearing any makeup,” he snapped, glaring harder at his phone. He hated this fucking farm. Stas - the youngest of Grandpa’s workers - started to snicker and the back of Yuri’s neck itched. “What the fuck is so funny?”
“Language.” Yuri rolled his eyes, slouching further down in his seat. Grandpa pretended not to notice. “And what is so funny, Stas?”
Stas shrugged, running a hand through his sandy-blond hair, and looked at Yuri with laughing eyes. “Galya, finally managed to get him up for breakfast and he stomps around like a troll.”
Grandpa scoffed deeply, patting Yuri’s shoulder. Yuri ground his teeth together and shrugged his hand away. He sneered at Stas, wondering how easy it would be poison his breakfast next time; he was making a small mountain of eggs on his plate.
“Two more cows, did you hear, Kolya?” Arseniy said through a mouthful of sausages and potatoes. “At the Belyakov’s.”
Grandpa breathed deeply though his nose. “Two? When, last night?”
“Earlier this morning. A calf and a bull. I don’t know what kind of wolf managed to take down a bull.”
Yuri rolled his eyes, every time they talked it was about wheat, or cows. But in a town with a population of like seven, nothing ever happened. Well, okay like ten thousand, but that was nothing compared to Moscow’s twelve million. He could cross it off the map and it would make no difference.
“Must be a big one.”
“Or a hungry one,” Jora chuckled, dabbing his bread with a napkin.
“Are we sure it’s not a pack?”
“No signs of an entire pack-”
“Aren’t you eating, Yurochka?” Grandma asked, setting down a tray with several pitchers of milk next to Yuri’s elbow.
She clicked her tongue, and began scooping sausages onto his plate. “You need to eat. You’re already so skinny, and breakfast is the most important meal-”
His chair screeched when he pushed it away from the table and stood up. “I’m going back to bed,” he announced, fingers tight around his phone.
Grandpa levelled him with a stern, unamused glare. Everyone was staring at him again. “Sit down.” He sounded like he was talking to a dog. “And eat.”
It took all of Yuri’s willpower not to bolt from the room. He sat down with burning cheeks.
“You know,” Stas began, scooping a forkful of eggs into his mouth. “You could actually be good-looking, if you weren’t so grumpy all the time and smiled more.”
Grandma patted his shoulder, tilting the almost empty bowl of eggs towards him. He shook his head, silently pleading that Stas would just shut up. What did he even have to smile about? There was literally nothing. This wasn’t even his home, just a placeholder for the next bit of family that didn’t want him.
“And cut it out with that makeup stuff,” Stas went on. “So you wouldn’t look sick without it. And you’re a guy, right? You don’t need it.”
Yuri stared at his plate; his spine was itching and he was a hair’s breadth away from breaking off a table leg and hitting Stas over the head with it. Somehow two thick slices of homemade toast had made it onto his plate, next to the sausages. Grandpa set a pot of blackberry jam in front of him.
“If you finish your breakfast, I’ll let you drive the truck out to the field today,” Grandpa said before taking a long sip from his giant, blue mug.
Yuri swallowed the angry, knotted ball in his chest. “You promised I could drive one of the combines.”
Grandpa snorted. “We’ll start with the truck.”
Yuri rolled his eyes, picking at a bit of his toast. Grandpa was never going to let him drive one of the combine - not before he got his license at least - but he let Yuri drive the flatbed trucks they used to carry the manual equipment to and from the fields. A few summers ago he’d let him drive one of the larger dump trucks that collected the grain from the combine’s unloader. It was one of the only cool things about spending summers in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Yet, nothing seemed to work out that morning.
“Balance the clutch, Yurochka.” Grandpa’s voice was brisk from the passenger’s seat and his frustration had Yuri’s cheeks burning. This was dumb, everything was dumb.
“I am!” Yuri tried again, pressing down on the pedal as he turned the ignition key for the fifth time. The problem came when he shifted from neutral to drive and the engine cut off again. He bit his lip as his eyes started to prickle. Everyone was watching him, waiting on him so they could start working.
Grandpa sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Do you need someone to show you again?”
Yuri whipped his head around to face him. “I know how to do it! Just, it’s not fucking-”
“Language! We don’t have time for this.” He opened his door, swinging himself down the ladder. “Stas!” he yelled, across the barn. “You’re driving the truck.”
Yuri let his head fall against the steering wheel and tried not to scream. Fuck, why wasn’t it working? He’d done this a million times before. And now Grandpa was mad that he’d wasted so much time. Just fuck.
His door swung open and he jolted up straight, digging the heel of his palms against his eyes.
“You okay?” Stas looked down at him, frowning slightly as he pulled himself into the cab.
Yuri shuffled over to the passenger’s side. “Yeah. It just won’t-”
He squeezed Yuri’s shoulder. “It’s okay. This stuff can be tricky-”
“I know how to drive a truck.”
“Okay.” He held up his hands, grinning. “Maybe you just need a refresher? I know you city people like your fancy, automatic cars.” Yuri rolled his eyes. “Okay so, make sure it’s in neutral, hold the clutch, start the engine.” Yuri wanted to punch the smile off his face. “Switch to drive, slowly press the gas and - shit!” The engine cut off after making a grinding, stuttering sound.
Yuri scoffed as a bitter satisfaction built in his chest. “You were saying?”
Stas ran his hand through his hair, leaning out of the window to call to Grandpa. “Kolya, something’s wrong with the truck!”
Grandpa climbed the ladder to the diver’s side, looking more annoyed with each passing second. “What?”
“Listen.” Stas tried starting again; the same thing happened. “It doesn't sound too right. Looks like it wasn’t just Yurochka.”
Yuri scowled as Grandpa swore under his breath. “Perfect. Danya!” He shouted over his shoulder. “Call the mechanic.” He was back on the ground in seconds, yelling orders to get out into the fields with the two remaining trucks.
Yuri slipped out of the cab, dragging his feet over the dirt covered ground as he walked.
“Yurochka,” Grandpa called right as he was about to leave. “When the mechanic comes bring him out here.”
He just wanted to go back to bed.
Less than two hours later the roar of a motorcycle blared through Yuri’s open bedroom window. He sat up, gently pushing the barn-cat-turned-house cat, Potya, off his chest. No one on the farm had a motorcycle. He crossed the tiny room to peer out of the window. His window opened straight out to the slanted roof on the side of the house and he used to have fun climbing out and making Grandma scream at him when he was younger. But now he just looked out at the dirt driveway, and yes, that was a motorcycle, a cool-looking, black one, being parked alongside the single-cab truck Grandma and Zeynep drove into town. So, who the hell was that? He snorted, maybe Zeynep had a secret boyfriend or something; she definitely seemed like the type. Yawning, he went back to his bed, idly stroking Potya’s back before he flopped backwards onto the mattress. He threw his arms over his head, smacking them hard against the wall and his knuckles stung as the rough plaster grazed them. He hissed, rubbing the scraped skin with his thumbs; even the house didn’t want him here. Screwing his eyes shut, he took a deep breath and held it in until his lungs burned.
“Yurochka!” Grandma’s voice echoed through his closed door. “Yurochka?”
He grumbled, sitting up and wiping at his face just in case. She tended not to knock when she wanted something.
“Yurochka?” His door creaked open a few seconds later, and Grandma stepped inside. “The mechanic is here. Go bring him to your Dedulya.”
Yuri huffed. “Why does he need a guide? All he has to do is walk in a straight line. It’s not like he can get lost.”
“Please,” she huffed, shoving her hands into the pockets of her flour-covered apron.
He rolled his eyes, standing up anyway. “Whatever.”
Grandma sighed as he passed. “When did you get so rude?”
He almost flipped her off.
There was a guy leaning against the porch railing, staring off into space, and looking like a goddamn model with cut cheekbones, sharp jawline, an undercut with just the right amount of flyaways around his forehead and temples, and muscles that pulled his white t-shirt tight across his chest and arms. Yuri nearly missed the last step, suddenly aware of how short his pants were - barely visible under the hem of his t-shirt and how pale and puffy his face looked. Fuck, he didn’t even have eyebrows. He was about to turn right back around, but the guy had already seen him.
“Are you the grandson?” he asked, his voice surprisingly soft as he peered through the open front door.
Yuri swallowed, his entire face steaming as he slowly shuffled outside. He paused in the doorway holding on tightly to the newly-painted, hand-carved frame. “Yeah.”
He hummed. “I’m the mechanic. Otabek.”
Oh. He’d been expecting a greasy, old guy in overalls. Not this. “You’re the mechanic?”
He paused, waiting for him to continue, but the silence stretched on. “Uh, I’m Yuri. Yurochka - uh. Just Yuri.” Wow, he couldn’t even introduce himself properly. He tucked his hair behind his ears, wanting to seep into the spaces between the floorboards. “I haven’t seen you around here before.” Of course not; he hadn’t been here in two years.
“I’m new. I moved from Kazakhstan last year.”
Yuri’s eyebrows shot up his forehead as he traced one of the raised swirls on the doorframe. “You moved here? Willingly? Why?”
Otabek huffed a soft laugh that had Yuri’s breath catching in his chest. He raked the few flyaways away from his forehead and shrugged. “Dunno. I just wanted to explore a bit. Left Almaty, left Kazakhstan, ended up here.”
“But this town is shit.”
He chuckled again and Yuri licked his lips with a raspy, dry tongue. “It’s not all bad. The people have been nice to me. I already have a job.”
Yuri frowned. “How old are you?” He didn’t look that much older than him; how did he already have a job?
One of his eyebrows quirked upwards and he hesitated for a second. “Eighteen.”
Oh, okay, that wasn’t too bad then. Eighteen and sixteen, maybe they did have a shot - and hold the fuck up, Plisetsky. Yuri bit his lip, shaking his head and tucking his hair behind his ears again. What the fuck was he thinking? He didn’t even know him, or if he even wanted to be friends with him. He was just hot; that was it. Nothing more. The odds were that he was most likely straight anyway. He ignored the cold sinking in his stomach.
“I haven’t seen you around here either,” Otabek tilted his head sideways, and Yuri rubbed his arms.
“I moved here a few weeks ago. Nikolai’s my grandfather-”
“I know. Heard that the grandson was coming to live here for a while. I didn’t think you’d be so…” he paused blinking slowly and indiscreetly looking Yuri up and down. He tugged at his t-shirt hem, feeling himself blush down to his neck. “So pretty.”
“Huh?” Okay, what?
Otabek shrugged, turning to trot back to his bike. Yuri blinked, not sure if that had been an insult, because Stas called him pretty sometimes and he 100 percent meant it as an insult.
“So, where do I go?” he called over his shoulder.
Yuri was still reeling. “Pretty?”
“Yes. Do you not like pretty?”
He scoffed, bending down to unstrap a toolkit from his bike. “It’s not a bad thing. In case you thought so. I mean, you just don’t look like any of the guys here. Maybe a few of the girls-”
Yuri scoffed, slipping on his sneakers, not bothering to tie the laces, and hopped across the porch. “Okay, if you were trying to give me a compliment you kind of ruined it.”
“Oh, sorry.” He shrugged again, biting his lip.
“But thanks anyway. Pretty is okay, I guess.”
Otabek blinked again, before hiding a small smile behind his hand. Yuri held his breath, reaching up to twist a lock of hair around his finger. Okay. Okay, maybe he wasn’t that straight. But seriously what were the fucking odds?
“Okay, so the truck is in the barn over there.” He pointed down the dirt driveway to the largest of the wooden sheds. “I dunno what’s wrong, but it started and everything but cut off when we put it in drive.”
Otabek hummed. “Okay. Lead the way.”
Yuri grinned, surprised that his face even remembered how.
Stas and Jora were supposed to be cleaning the barn, judging by the broom in Jora’s hands, but they looked way too happy and nothing was clean.
“I brought the mechanic,” Yuri announced, folding his arms across his chest.
Jora turned to them with a smile, propping his broom up against the wall. “Oh, Ivan sent the apprentice. You ever worked on a truck, boy?” He held out his hand to shake Otabek’s.
He nodded. “Yes, sir. Fixed the Pronichev’s tractor by myself two weeks ago.”
Jora grinned. “Good,” he began babbling off in car language and Yuri zoned out instantly, leaning against the barn door and watching as Jora lead Otabek over to the truck. He was really hot and Yuri honestly hadn’t been expecting that; everyone in the town was so blah, and they all thought he was a freak anyway. Usually, his summers here had been spent hiding from the kids his age. He hadn’t come last summer and he didn’t plan on coming this one. But life turned out to be shit.
“You just gonna hang around and watch?” Stas appeared out of nowhere, waving his palm in front of his face. He held out Jora’s broom, annoyance flashing across his face. “You’re not just here for your good looks, you know. Get to work.”
Yuri narrowed his eyes, staring over Stas’ shoulder as both Otabek and Jora went around unhooking latches so they could get the bonnet open. The way his muscles moved under the thin, white shirt had Yuri’s stomach gurgling, especially when he hoisted himself up onto the tyre and his triceps pulled against the back of his sleeves.
“Unless you don’t want to get your pretty hands dirty.” Stas’ voice was like chewing foil.
Yuri ground his teeth together and snatched the broom away. “Shut the fuck up.”
He kept on stealing glances at Otabek at every chance he got, ignoring Stas when he needled him about slacking off - he flipped him off each time. Jora had gotten Otabek a little stool so he could actually see what he was doing and had turned on the overhead floodlights, which highlighted just how long nothing in the barn had been dusted. Otabek was frowning as he tightened and loosened whatever engine parts he saw fit; Jora was just waiting around, passing him tools, parts, and answering his questions about the truck. Every time Yuri looked his way his hands were greasier and sweat stains were more defined around his collar, back, down the centre of his chest, and armpits. He’d managed to get a streak of oil across his temple and a few smudges on his shirt but he didn’t seem to mind. Eighteen and a mechanic. Eighteen and living in a new town, a new country. Yuri huffed batting a clump of dirt across the floor with his broom. Otabek was kind of really cool. Definitely much cooler than anyone in this dumb town.
“Okay, I think that’s it.” Even though he was so soft spoken, Otabek’s voice echoed around the barn. Even Stas looked up from hosing down some tools just outside the doors. “Just turn her on; let’s see if everything works.”
Jora grinned, climbing into the cab immediately. The engine roared to life a few seconds later, purring instead of clanking. Yuri raised an eyebrow; so he really did know what he was doing.
“She hasn’t sounded this great in years,” Jora laughed, sticking his head out of the open window.
Otabek nodded. “Put her in drive.”
Jora shifted the gears smoothly; the engine didn’t cut off. Jora cackled, pumping his fist out of the window and Yuri rolled his eyes at his enthusiasm. “Ivan’s been teaching you good, boy.”
Otabek shrugged. “I try my best.”
Yuri followed Otabek back out to the house, ignoring Stas’ yelling. He showed him where he could clean up, in the dented, metal sink on the side of the house, and pretended to wash his hands too, even though the soap was so harsh it would make his skin peel. His stomach was all swirly in the way that he knew that he needed to do something. He had to say something at least. But he couldn’t get his mouth to move. The back of his neck was itching like old hay, and sweat was dripping down his spine. Everything that crossed his mind sounded so stupid, though. Do you want to be my friend? I think you’re cool - fuck off, Plisetsky. With his heart thudding sick, he dried his hands on his shirt and stared as the last of the soap bubbles disintegrated. Just say something, Yuri, he screamed at himself. Otabek was getting ready to leave and he would be left alone at the stupid farmhouse with no one at all. He took a deep breath and turned towards Otabek.
“I’ll call tomorrow about the invoice, so here’s the number for the shop,” Otabek said from much closer than he had expected; he was less than two feet away. Yuri jumped back, bumping against the edge of the sink, and could only hope that his face didn’t look as startled as he actually was. “You can give this to your grandpa.” He held out an old, faded business card, scratching the back of his neck with his free hand, before reaching into the toolkit near his foot for an oil-smudged pen. He carefully wrote down a second number. “And here’s my personal number, I’ll probably be calling from that.”
Otabek looked like he wanted to say something else, but a long silence followed. Yuri watched him, his insides swaying like wheat stalks.
“You can keep it for yourself too,” he blurted, looking straight over Yuri’s shoulder.
His eyes flickered back to his face. “My number. You can call me, text me sometime if you want to, like, hang out or something.”
Yuri’s ears steamed, and he held onto the edge of the sink as the ground turned into gelatine. “Uh-”
“Unless you don’t want to. I’m like a creepy mechanic-”
“No. That would be… cool. I mean, like… uh.” Fuck what were words? “I, yeah, that would be great.” He was grinning so hard he could barely get his mouth to move.
“Great.” Otabek strapped his toolkit back onto the side of his bike before swinging his leg over the seat. “It was really nice meeting you, Yuri.”
“Yeah, you too.” His entire face was red and he was suddenly aware at how sweaty and grimy he must look. “I-I’ll see you around, I guess.”
Otabek nodded, smiling with one corner of his mouth. “Yeah, looking forward to it.” He pulled on his helmet and gave Yuri a thumbs up. The engine started with a roar and Yuri jumped back in shock.
Wind whipped at Yuri's hair and shirt as Otabek drove off. He held the business card tightly in both hands, heart pounding and stomach all light and airy. Okay, so that had just happened. He licked his lips, shocked that he was still smiling and stared down the driveway until Otabek was just a tiny speck in the distance and the freshly-tilled wheat fields on either side of the road swallowed him.
“Have you ever heard of fucking knocking?” Yuri spat, pulling out one of his earbuds and spinning around on his stool to glare at Stas. It was still too early for this. He’d skipped breakfast but the noise had woken him up, so he decided to shower and do his makeup instead. “I could have been fucking naked.”
“I did,” Stas answered, coming further into Yuri’s room and leaving the door wide open as he leaned against the wall.
Yuri growled, turning back around and digging through his cosmetic bag for his concealer; he fucking needed it today. “What do you want?”
“You still putting on makeup? Got someone to look pretty for?”
Yuri glared at Stas’ reflection in his tabletop mirror and angled his desk lamp so it would shine into his eyes. Stas winced and tilted his head away from the beam.
“Because I want to. Look, did you come here for a reason? ‘Cause I don't-”
“I know you were trying to get all cosy with that mechanic.”
Grinding his teeth, he picked up his beauty blender and squeezed it flat in his fist. “And?”
“You do know the only reason he’s here is ‘cause he was run out of his country by the police.”
Yuri’s stomach started to churn and his spine tingled. “So what? He’s the nicest anyone has been to me in this fucking town. Just fuck off, I didn’t ask for your advice.”
It took a split second for Stas to get angry. Yuri could tell by the way he worked his jaw, his narrowed eyes, and how he wasn’t leaning against the wall anymore. “The nicest? You know what - actually, you better watch yourself. I don’t know how it was for you in Moscow, but you don’t get by here just by being pretty. And girly boys like you get into trouble.”
Yuri spun back around, breathing deeply as his stomach bubbled and the top of his head got hot. “Is that a threat?”
Stas scoffed, folding his arms across his chest. “No. I just know what people would like to do to you. You’re lucky that you’re Kolya’s family and that all of us actually give two shits about your spoilt, city-boy ass.”
“Get the fuck out of my room.” He wanted to throw something at him, but nothing around him would hurt.
He scoffed again and turned to leave. “Just remember, Yurochka, things could be a lot worse.” He slammed the door as he left.
Okay, so what the hell? Yuri slowly turned back around, staring at his reflection. His hand shook as rolled his beauty blender between his fingers. What the actual fuck was Stas’ problem? He’d never been such a douche before; he was always like an older cousin. And okay, he hadn’t been back to the farm in a while, but what the actual fuck? Was he mad that he finally made a friend from town? Yuri took another deep breath, but his chest was all tight and it didn’t do anything to help. So, Stas hated him too. Just another person to add to the list. Right under his mom and Grandpa, and his dad who’d just up and -
Yuri shook his head, his vision going watery and he slammed his fist against his desk. Sniffling, he dabbed at his eyes with his fingertips. It had been months, so why was he still crying over someone who hated him that much that he’d left him behind without so much as a goodbye? His chest hurt so badly he clutched the front of his shirt and his shoulders shook as he tried to stop the tears from leaking out. Yeah, his chest still hurt and there was nothing on this farm that could ever make it better.
Chapter 2: The Chance
Zeynep set a giant basin of potatoes in front of Yuri and handed him a knife. “Don’t bother peeling them, just chop them up.” Her Russian was better since his last visit, but still heavily accented.
Yuri groaned looking at the potatoes; this was going to take hours. Plus, his hands were already wrinkly from hosing down one of the tractors with Tima.
“Stop complaining, Kotenok .” She grinned, flicking his shoulder. “You eat the food too.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but you’re paid to make it.”
She threw back her head and laughed, mumbling something in Uzbek before turning to Grandma. “Galya, where did you get him from?”
Grandma chuckled, stuffing a bundle of seasonings into the cavity of a raw chicken. “He’s just like his father.”
There was a brief pause where the air in the room hung heavy like ashes. Yuri swallowed, quickly turning his gaze to the potatoes, and adjusted his hold on his knife. His eyes were already burning. Fuck.
“I’m sorry,” Zeynep said softly. “I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s alright dear. I was the one who brought it up.”
Yuri grit his teeth as he began to slice the potatoes. His ears were ringing, and his chest felt like cold lead. He wanted to punch himself; when was he going to stop feeling like this? When would it hurt less? A small hand squeezed his shoulder and he saw Zeynep’s feet out of the corner of his eyes.
He worked as quickly as he could, dumping the potato chunks into a bowl for Grandma to rinse off. Grandma and Zeynep’s voices carried loudly, but he couldn’t bring himself to join in. He knew who they were talking about; Mrs. Putilova used to give him candy whenever Grandpa let him go over to play with her bunnies, but somehow he didn’t care that she lied about her tomatoes being organic.
“Is lunch ready yet, ladies?” Arseniy shouted, suddenly poking his head through the window over the sink. His face was red under his hat and he was covered in sweat, but he still looked happy. Yuri rolled his eyes.
Zeynep threw a dishcloth at his face. “No! Look at what time it is!”
Grandma chuckled. “Are you lost?”
Arseniy grinned. “Just came back for this little fucker - not you, Yurochka.” He held up a tiny, rubber ring. “This thing.”
Yuri ground his teeth, his spine itching and cheeks hot as Grandma shook her head in exasperation. He curled his fingers around a potato and pushed his knife right down the centre. They were all idiots.
“Yurochka?” Zeynep laughed. “Behave, he’s a little kitten-”
“Ow,” he grunted when his knife slipped right through the potato and he felt the sharp bite in the flesh between his thumb and index finger. He set the potato down to see the damage and gasped, his eyes going wide. “Um!”
Yuri stared down at his hand, watching red pool between his thumb and index finger before pain hit. He hissed, dropping his knife and holding his hand tightly; blood dripped down his palm, curling around his wrist and dropping onto the table. Holy shit, that was a lot of blood. His hand was throbbing and stinging and he bit his lip, holding his breath.
Grandma gasped loudly, dropping something with a clang and rushing him over to the sink. The water stung when it touched the open wound and red tinged water swirled down the drain, washing away the few spatters that had landed before Grandma had turned on the tap. Yuri’s heart was beating in his fingers and the cut just would not stop bleeding. It poured red like a flowing river. He rested his forearms against the sink ledge, blinking slowly as his stomach rocked and his head felt all spotty.
“He needs stitches,” Zeynep mumbled frantically as she handed him a wad of paper towels.
Grandma clicked her tongue. “You’re too clumsy, Yurochka,” Grandma scolded without her usual bite. “You need to be more careful; you know all the knives are very sharp.”
“I know,” he spat, screwing his eyes shut. He heard her scraping them against the sharpener almost every time she used them.
“We should take him to the hospital.” Arseniy was suddenly behind him.
“Hospital? Is everything okay? Who’s hurt?”
Yuri groaned, opening his eyes to glare at Stas.
“Yurochka cut himself,” Zeynep offered, rubbing Yuri’s back. “Badly.”
Stas swore under his breath. “I’ll take him. Come Yurochka.”
The other shitty thing about being in a small town was that everything took forever. Yuri thought he was going to pass out waiting in the emergency room. He had mostly bleed through the paper towels and when Stas had asked a nurse for gauze they took almost twenty minutes to find some. He was light-headed by the time they stitched his hand back together.
“You okay?” Stas asked, patting Yuri’s thigh as they drove away from the hospital. His old pick-up truck bounced and shook, each tiny bump multiplied by bad shocks, and old suspension.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, slumping against the seat and closing his eyes. They had given him a numbing injection; it hadn’t quite worn off yet. His fingers were all big and heavy.
“Good. So, I guess you can’t use your hand for a while, huh?”
There were a few beats of silence before Stas let out a rough sigh. “Look, Yurochka. I’m sorry for saying all of that to you the other day.”
Yuri cracked open an eye, frowning. “Okay.”
“I mean it. It’s just that, well, I’ve heard what some people say about you, and it makes me worry. I mean, I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“What do they say about me?”
Stas bit his lip, his eyes flickering to Yuri before he focused back on the road. “I’d rather not repeat any of it.”
Yuri huffed, closing his eyes. “Whatever.”
“I mean it, though.” He went on. “When they see you with all that stuff on your face… you don’t need it.” And here they were again. The back of Yuri’s neck itched, and iron snakes coiled in his chest. “That stuff shouldn’t matter to you; you're a boy, right?”
He ground his teeth together, sat up straight, and glared at him. “So what? I am a boy; you wanna fucking check?”
Stas blinked before huffing a short laugh through his nose. “Yeah, if you’d let me.”
Okay. Yuri’s jaw fell open and for a split second he didn’t know how to react. But then anger hit him like a migraine. “You know what, fuck off! Stop the car!” He unbuckled his seat belt.
“Stop the fucking car!” he yelled, slamming his hand against the door.
Stas pulled over, staring at Yuri like he was mad when he swung the door open and stomped down the sidewalk.
“Yurochka!” Stas called. “What are you doing? Get back here.”
“Fuck you,” he yelled. “Leave me alone!”
Stas scrambled out of the truck, his footsteps heavy against the pavement. “Yuri-”
Yuri spun around and Stas stopped short. Ignoring the people pressed up against store windows watching them, he glared at Stas.
“I said leave me the fuck alone! Just go away, I don’t want to see you!”
“Yurochka, come on, we need to go home-”
“No, Stanislav ! I’ll fucking walk, just leave me alone!”
Stas threw up his hands, stalking back to the truck. “Whatever. Just don’t fucking call me to pick you.”
Yuri breathed heavily as he watched Stas drive off. He was such a fucking asshole. Staring down the road, his eyes started to prickle and it was getting harder to breathe. His cheeks were getting hotter by the second.
“Are you okay?” Yuri swallowed and blinked hard before turning around to a man halfway out of a barbershop. “Yuri? Yuri Plisetsky, is that you? I barely even recognised you; you look so different.”
“Uh yeah.” He knew the man, but he couldn’t remember his name. He used to cut Grandpa’s hair before he started balding.
“Are you okay? Was that Stas?”
He swallowed, knowing his cheeks were red. “Yeah. I uh, I just needed some time alone.”
“Do you need to come inside? Sit down or call anyone?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’m fine. Uh, thanks. I’m just going to walk around for a bit.”
The barber nodded, and smiled pitifully. The back of Yuri’s neck itched; he knew what that smile was really for.
The town was small, but he wondered up and down the tiny streets for a while until he could breathe easier and his head wasn’t pounding as badly, and he wasn’t quite sure where he was. Just fuck it. Fuck Stas and this town, and the stupid farm. He wanted to go back to Moscow to his old life, with Mila and Gerogi, and ballet lessons with Lilia, and his dad - Fuck. His throat was closing up again and he looked up, sniffling. God, was he really going to break down in the middle of a busy street?
“Yuri?” Someone was calling him from across the road. Great. How many people was he going to run into like this. He blotted his eyes with his fingertips and looked up.
Oh. His insides curled up a little bit as Otabek jogged across the street. He was holding a brown-paper bag, and had a denim jacket tied around his waist over a pristine white shirt. Yuri blinked, was it possible for him not to look like he just got off a photo shoot? Was he a model in his spare time?
“Yuri, hey.” He stopped short, only a few feet away from him.
Yuri swallowed. At least he didn’t look that much of a mess today; he had at least tried something with his face.
“Yeah. Uh, hi.” He tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, his stomach wringing itself out. Okay, this wasn’t awkward or anything, like, they had texted over the past week, but it hadn’t been much. Otabek was probably busy and Yuri still wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to make friends.
“Are you - what happened to your hand?”
He paused for a second before looking down at the gauze and tape on his palm. “Oh, uh. I cut myself. Needed stitches.”
Otabek’s eyes widened and a small crease appeared between his eyebrows as he frowned. “Are you okay? Should you be walking around?”
For some reason Yuri chuckled. “I’m fine.”
“Is someone with you?”
Otabek blinked, licking his lips as his frown deepened. Yuri could practically hear him thinking. He brushed his hair from his forehead before tilting his head sideways. “Well, I’m on my lunch break now if you want to… uh, hang out. Or were you busy?”
“No. Uh,” Yuri’s back prickled and was the world actually swaying around him, had he really lost that much blood? “I mean.” He winced. “I’m not busy, and yeah that sounds cool.”
“Cool.” They walked along the sidewalk in silence and Yuri’s stomach dripped acid into his guts. “Uh, where do you want to go. I should have asked that.”
Yuri laughed. It came out of nowhere and left his chest much warmer and looser. Otabek bit his lip, hiding a small smile. “I dunno, where do you usually eat lunch?”
“You can come over if you want. I don’t mind.”
He shrugged a shoulder, ignoring the pulling in his stomach, and his thudding heart. “Sure.”
Otabek’s apartment was on the ground floor of a two-story, brick and wood building. The door wobbled against the frame as he opened it. The yard was clean but the grass was overgrown and there were little trails in the bare dirt driveway from rain. A few rusted cars lined the alleyway, and there was a dingy tarp thrown over what Yuri recognised as Otabek’s motorcycle.
He led Yuri inside, closing the door behind him. “You can sit down anywhere.”
It was a studio apartment; there wasn’t much to sit on besides a lumpy love-seat, or one of the two chairs at the kitchen table. Yuri sat down on the edge of the love-seat, looking around and trying not to be weird about it. Otabek was creepily clean. There wasn’t a dirty dish or any stray pieces of clothing anywhere. There was a single framed picture of what he assumed was his family, on the wall between the door and window but the rest of the walls were bare. And he had a crazy amount of plants.
“You like plants?” Yuri asked, feeling stupid as soon as the question left his mouth.
“Do you want anything to drink? I have water,” he paused opening the mini-fridge in a space under the counter. “Beer, and milk. And tea.”
“Water is fine.”
He shrugged, and picked up a glass from his drainboard. “You asked me something?”
“Uh, never mind.”
He raised an eyebrow as he handed Yuri his water. “What was it?”
Yuri bit his lip. “Nothing, just asking about your… plants.”
Otabek grinned, ducking his head to hide it. “Yeah, most of them are edible. I grow all my own herbs.”
“I guess. Do you like cookies?”
He picked up his brown-paper bag from the kitchen table. “Cookies. I got a free one with my golubtsy.”
“Yeah, sure. Uh, thanks.” Yuri’s stomach bubbled violently as Otabek handed him a tissue-wrapped cookie. Oatmeal and raisin.
Otabek sat down at the table, angling his chair so he was facing Yuri. “How did you manage to cut yourself that badly?”
Yuri looked down at his hand again. The injection was wearing off and the hot soreness was making itself known. “Uh. I was cutting potatoes.They were wet, and my hand slipped.”
Otabek winced, dragging his chair forward and gently taking Yuri’s hand in his. He looked down at the gauze as if he could see through it. Yuri held his breath, but his heart was beating in his throat. Otabek stroked the skin around the bandage with rough finger pads.
“Sounds like it hurt.” Yuri had to strain to hear his voice.
“A bit.” He licked his lips. His tongue was dry even though he had finished his water in like two gulps.
Otabek looked up at him and holy shit his eyelashes were so thick and long. He had to have been wearing mascara, there was no way they could have been natural. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
It was hard to swallow. “Yeah. Doesn’t hurt now.”
Otabek hummed softly. “Good.”
They fell into silence again and Otabek slowly let go of Yuri’s hand before picking up his lunch. Yuri nibbled at his cookie, his hand tingling where Otabek had touched. His fingers had been hot and rough, with hairy knuckles, even the back of his hands were covered in dark, wispy hairs. Yuri stared as he pulled his golubtsy apart with his fork, eating the meat and leaving back the cabbage leaf wrapping. The silence made him itch and he gazed around the apartment. There was a tiny, rusted stove-top, and although everything was clean it was old. The sink leaked, and the door leading to what Yuri assumed was the bathroom was crooked. It was so different from his home in Moscow, even from the farmhouse, but it wasn’t off-putting at all. He stared at a succulent plant with long triangular leaves and spikes on the edges.
“That’s aloe vera. It’s good for burns,” Otabek said, following Yuri’s gaze. “Sorry, this doesn’t look like it’s much fun for you.”
“No, it’s fine. I just… I don’t know. I’m not good at talking. To people.”
“Are you nervous?”
He tucked his hair behind his ears and leaned forward. “Not really.”
Otabek’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. Yuri watched it, unable to look away. “Good. I, uh. Sorry I didn’t plan this out. I mean I just saw you and, I don’t know. I just wanted to do something.”
Yuri scoffed. “No, it’s fine. I’m not bored or anything.”
“You look bored. You were just staring at my ceiling.”
“It’s cracked in that corner. Did you know?”
Otabek smiled, and his eyes narrowed to happy slits. “I know.”
Yuri found himself grinning too. His face and neck were hot and his stomach was still bubbling, but none of that was in a bad way. It actually felt good.
“Good. I thought this was a terrible idea for a date.”
Huh? Wait, huh? Yuri blinked, his neck snapping back from shock. His heart was beating on his tongue . “What? Date?”
Otabek winced, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sorry, that just…I meant to text you about it, but I saw you in person today and I just... ” he sighed, then mumbled, “Okay, might as well. I, uh. I think you’re really cute.” His leg was bobbing under the table, and he was staring at his lunch. “And uh, I… want to… get to know you better.”
Yuri licked his lips, they were dry again, and he reached up to tug at his hair. He would have believed it if someone had told him lightning had struck at that very moment. Struck him. “You… do?”
Otabek finally looked up at him, spots of red on his cheeks. “Yeah. So, uh, do you want to maybe go out sometime?”
“Uh,” Yuri’s mouth wasn’t working properly. He barely remembered to breathe. “Yeah.” He blinked and shook his head, trying to clear it. “Yeah. Yeah, that would be really cool.” He swallowed down his hammering heart. “Just tell me when.”
Otabek sighed softly, leaning back in his chair. “Great. Uh, how does this weekend sound?”
“Perfect,” he giggled softly, biting his lip. Wow. This was actually happening. He held onto the edge of the love-seat to keep from floating away.
They talked well past Otabek’s lunch break and when he realised he jumped up and scrambled to the door. Yuri laughed and followed him outside.
“Uh, how are you getting home?” he asked as he locked the front door.
Oh. Yeah. he winced, tugging at his hair. “I dunno. I’ll walk I guess.”
Otabek raised an eyebrow. “That’s over an hour’s walk.” Yuri shrugged. “How did you get here?”
“Stas brought me. But I don’t want to speak to him right now.”
Otabek hesitated for a minute. “Okay, come with me. There’s a car I’m supposed to test drive at the shop. I’ll bring you home.”
“You don’t have to.”
Otabek blinked, smiling with one corner of his mouth again. “Well, I want you alive for our date this weekend, so I kinda do. Come on.” He set a hand against Yuri’s shoulder, leading him down the uneven dirt sidewalk.
His hand was huge and covered Yuri’s entire shoulder. It was also incredibly hot.
Otabek got out of the car, leaving it running as he came over to Yuri’s side. The drive had been way too short, and his throat was dry from all the talking.
“I know this wasn’t really a date,” Otabe said, taking his hand. “But it was fun.”
Yuri’s face went hot and he looked down at their joined hands. “Yeah it was. Sorry I made your boss yell at you.”
Otabek chuckled. “It’s alright. It was a slow day anyway; I didn’t have much to do.”
“So, I’ll see you this weekend?”
Yuri’s eyes flashed up to his face and his breath caught in his chest. “Yeah, of course! Can’t wait.” But something gnawed at the back of his throat. “Wait, uh. Do the people here know you’re, uh, gay?”
Otabek shrugged. “Maybe? I don’t know. I mean, there were a couple girls who seemed interested when I first moved here, but I turned them down, so maybe there are rumors. I don’t really care, though.”
“Oh.” Yuri swallowed, his stomach now shaking. “Well, okay then. Saturday right?”
Otabek nodded, and took a small step back, but didn’t let Yuri’s hand go. He paused for a second, just staring at him, before letting go and turning back to the car. “Yeah, Saturday, I’ll text you.”
Yuri watched him drive away again, he was probably smiling, he wasn’t too sure. But he didn’t feel like shit.
“Stas, Yurochka? Is that you?” Grandma bustled out of the front door and across the porch. “How are you feeling, dear?” She pulled him into a tight hug, her hands were cool and damp.
“I’m okay.” He held up his hand. “I got stitches.”
She sighed softly, before pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Where’s Stas? Oh anyway, perfect timing, your mother’s on the phone.”
Every good feeling that had crossed his mind that afternoon evaporated.
She didn’t want him. Yuri wandered aimlessly around one of the fields, dragging his feet between the beds. The bottoms of his sneakers were caked with soft dirt, making his steps awkward and uneven. Overhead, the sky was orange and purple. Work was done for the day; he was the only one out here, so he just walked, his chest aching and cheeks wet. He walked until he reached the fence that surrounded Grandpa’s property; the wheat beds had ended a while back and a sparse forest started on the other side. Trailing his fingertips along the rough wood, he followed the boundary until he couldn’t see the house anymore. Eventually he paused, threw his head back, and stared up at the sky. The stars were coming out, bright and twinkling. He remembered his dad bringing him out to the fields one night when he was like five and showing him different constellations. They couldn’t see stars in Moscow; Yuri had loved coming to the farm because of them. He shut his eyes as a cool breeze chilled the tears on his face. Yuri collapsed; his butt hit the ground hard, and he brought his knees to his chest, folding his arms over them, and hiding his face in the space they made.
His dad was gone and his mom didn’t want him. She was touring Italy with her new boyfriend and had called to tell him that she wanted him to stay with Grandpa until he finished high school. She was supposed to come back to Moscow, he was supposed to have gone back home at the end of summer. But now she didn’t even want to see him. Hiccuping, he looked back to the sky, pulling up a fistful of grass. He cried silently, and cursed everything: the dumb stars, the sky, this stupid wheat farm, and just every fucking thing.
The world darkened into black and deep blue, and he stayed until the air turned sharp and cold. He wanted to go home, to Moscow, with his friends, dance lessons, and his dad. The farm wasn’t home. It never would be.
Wind whipped his hair around his face, stinging his chin and cheeks and rustling the grass and tree branches behind him. He wiped his eyes, pulling out his phone to check the time. He’d been out here for hours; everyone would be asleep by now. He wiped the last bit of wetness from his puffy eyes, wincing at how tender and swollen they felt, and got to his feet. The thin t-shirt wouldn't help him if it got any colder and he could still slip into his room unnoticed and lock the door. He sniffled, clearing his nose, and raked his hand through his hair. As much as he wanted the world to end, as much as he felt like it had, Grandma would be scared if he didn’t come home. Zeynep would make herself sick with worry.
He sighed wetly, but leaves crunching from behind him had his back going so straight it hurt.
What was that? His heart started to race, and the back of his neck prickled. He slowly turned around, trying to convince himself that it was just the wind. He wasn’t hearing something walking on dead leaves and grass. But then he heard growling.
Chapter 3: The Wolf
Slowly, Yuri turned to the forest. He couldn’t see anything in the darkness, but he tasted his heart beating in his throat. His hair stung his face, a few strands getting into his eyes when the wind picked up again. Okay, he definitely heard something. A low growling, like a rumbling from a really big dog or, he swallowed and it was so hard to breathe, a wolf. Holy shit. He froze the air squeezing itself out of his lungs. Holy shit, there was a wolf wandering around the town. A wolf that was dangerous enough to take down a bull; he was no match for it. Not in his t-shirt, and shorts - the only thing he had on him was his phone.
Okay, maybe he was just imagining it. It was dark and he was by himself, of course he would be paranoid and hear things. Plus, he hadn’t heard anything again, just the wind rustling leaves and branches. He swallowed again, trying to take deep breaths. God, he was already covered in cold sweat. It was nothing; he held his phone to his chest, slowly turning back around. Besides, if something was really there it would have attacked by now-
A snarling breath echoed loud in Yuri’s ears before something slammed into his back. It felt like a truck; the wind was knocked out of him so hard he couldn’t even scream.
The world tilted; the house lights in the distance were wiped out by dirt and grass blades. The impact had his teeth shaking and his head bounced on his neck. Something was heavy on his back, pushing him into the ground and his heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of his mouth. The back of his neck was alive with prickling heat and for a second he heard snarling millimetres away from his ear. Breath, hot and wet, brushed his cheek and then everything was gone. He actually heard a rush of air, maybe heavy footsteps and a growl so fierce his skin turned into goose pimples.
A loud, hollow thud rang out in the silent air and it took his mind a few beats to catch up and make sense of what was up and down. But everything was shaking and blurry, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get any air into his lungs, even after he was suddenly free.
A little person at the back of his head screamed at him to move, to get up, and run. And he got to his hands and knees after a few tries, shaking so badly he couldn’t even keep his balance. He crawled, scrambling and falling back over a few times before he could even try to stand. Nothing was working. Not even his eyes or lungs.
The snarling was vicious, constant, sending jolts of pure fear straight to his bones, down his spine and freezing his limbs. Growling and squealing and - holy shit, he didn’t know what was happening - it sounded like a fight. A fight - there was more than one wolf, and they were fighting over prey, over him. He needed to fucking get away. He finally got to his feet, knees knocking together and he fumbled with his phone for the flashlight. But his fingers were shaking so badly he dropped it. He didn’t have time to think, he dove to ground - no leave it and run, he screamed at himself - scrabbling in the grass and cursing. He was going to vomit; his breaths were coming out in short hurried puffs, and his vision was so watery he couldn’t see at all.
“Come on,” he mumbled, feeling nothing but grass and dirt. Even his voice was shaking, shaking and wet. “Come on, come on, come on come on-”
There! His fingertips bumped into the rubber of the phone case, and he nearly batted it away before he could wrap his hand around the edges. He swallowed, sounding like a he was dying, a high-pitched, crying noise, and pulled up the menu to turn on the flashlight before he got up. There was another loud growl and he screamed, shoulders jumping up to his ears as he fell onto his ass, his arms swinging wide.
The beam from his flashlight shone at the two wolves. Yuri thought he had been scared before, but now everything locked into to place, except his chest as he started convulsing. His stomach hurt, he had to pee, and the ground was tilting dangerously to each side. He saw flashes of dark fur, glinting eyes, and teeth the size of his fingers. They moved so quickly, nothing but flashes of teeth and fur; he couldn't even follow. But then they froze for a split second, or a minute, as the small beam of light landed on them. Reflective pupils dilated, as both creatures stared him down.
His feet weren’t working - come on, move, just fucking move - oh God, he couldn’t die here, not now, not like this. Not killed by some rabid wolf. But he was too scared to breathe, he couldn't even move his fingers to turn off the light.
One had the other pinned to the ground by its neck, its face dark and fur matted with black blood. Something was wrong with the one on the ground, though. Well, lots of things were wrong, but as far as he knew wolves didn’t have slitted pupils, or striped fur, or paws that looked like bear’s. His heart was beating somewhere in his stomach as a low growl started up in the thing’s throat. Foam built at its jowls, and its feet worked manically until it found purchase in the wolf’s side. The other one was a wolf. A sharp, pained squeal tore straight through the night, curdling Yuri’s stomach, and making his heart finally stop beating. The thing was gone in a flash, pushing the wolf to ground, and tumbling through the fence with a splintering crash.
Everything was silent then. Except for his breathing, and the choking whimpers that clawed their way out of his throat. Fuck. The wolf got back onto its feet and Yuri’s skin moved like ants had crawled underneath. He was going to wet himself; he might have already have. It rose to its full height, towering over Yuri and staring at him with ghostly, reflective eyes. God, so this was it then. The winner coming to claim its prize; it limped.
He only just then became aware of the pitiful whimpers he was letting out, and all the snot and tears streaming down his face. Weaving in and out of his flashlight beam, Yuri only caught glimpses of black and red fur, paws bigger than his hands, and claws black like lead. It let out thundering breaths, a rumble at the back of its throat, and stopped centimetres from his face.
Yuri screamed again, bawling loudly and screwing his eyes shut as hot, meaty breath blew hot against his face. Something finally clicked and he scrambled away, legs kicking out as he shuffled across the grass on his ass, but he fell over backwards as quickly as he moved, and the wolf was right beside him, grunting. It breathed in deeply, dipping its head right next to Yuri’s face. The ground was shaking, or was that him having a seizure? It’s whiskers were close enough to prick into his cheeks and nose, and then something cold and wet pressed firmly to his chin, and puff of air brushed over his entire face. He held his breath, still whimpering softly and hiccuping. The wolf grunted again, now so close that its coarse fur scratched his thigh. Then there was a thud as it dropped to the ground. It didn’t move anymore after that.
His brain misfired all sorts of signals; he couldn't get up. But as the seconds wore on and the wolf lay still like it was dead, his limbs began to prickle and twitch. He could practically see his heart beating through his shirt, he still couldn’t quite catch his breath, and his stomach was so tight it hurt. What the fuck had just happened? Why wasn’t he dead?
Should he move? Would the wolf attack him? Screwing his eyes shut, he took a shuddering breath and rolled onto his side. The wolf didn’t do anything; he waited a few seconds, staring at its back before he scrambled to his hands and knees. He needed to get the fuck back to the house. Grass crunched under his sneakers as he stood, and even though his legs were liquid he jolted forward. His steps were uneven, and he was tilting back and forth and sideways, but he needed to get away now. Before the wolf decided that, yes, it actually wanted to eat him after all. It had eaten a fucking bull . He coughed, clutching at the front of his shirt, and tried to steady the light from his phone.
A soft, pitiful whimper stopped him as one of his feet hit the soft earth of a wheat bed. His spine itched, and the same voice from before screamed at him. It was a fucking wolf; it could kill him with one bite; it’s claws could rip open his face. But it was hurt. He swallowed, cursing himself and slowly turned around, pointing his flashlight at it.
It was so fucking huge, bigger than any dog he had ever seen, with charcoal and orange fur and white at its feet and chest. But, he forced himself to take a step towards it, its fur was wet with blood. No wonder it wasn’t moving. Yuri bit his lip, swearing. Fuck, what was he supposed to do? Just leave it there to die? It wasn’t right. He couldn’t -
It whimpered again, a high trembling, pained sound. He turned around fully and took a few steps closer. It’s tail flicked weakly, and Yuri drew in a sharp breath, almost a gasp. It needed help. Its tail flicked again, almost wagging as he kneeled in front of it. God it was fucking huge. He swallowed again, fighting to keep his stomach in place. His lungs were even trembling.
“Hey.” He didn’t even know why he was speaking. “If I help you, you have to promise not to eat me.”
Its tail thumped the grass. Yuri shook his head, grunting and letting out a series of shaky breaths.
“This is so stupid.”
Shining his flashlight at the wolf’s side, he could only pray that he could actually do something about it. All he saw was dark, wet fur. It didn’t look good.
He should just leave it alone. He couldn’t do anything, he didn’t know how. But, the wolf was staring at him, its eyes half closed and tired. He couldn’t leave it out here to die, or for that thing to come back and do the job. The back of his neck itched at the thought. No, he definitely couldn’t do that.
Yuri breathed in deeply, despite his convulsing chest. “Okay. Hey, I’m gonna help you. Somehow.”
He reached out a shaking hand, pressing his fingertips to the wolf’s neck. He expected it to jump up and bite his face off, every single muscle in his body tensed to the point of rigidity, but the wolf sighed and shut its eyes. Yuri buried his hand in its fur, gently curling his fingers around a fold of skin and massaging.
It took him a while to realise that he was laughing. It was a harsh, uncomfortable sound, his chest hurt and his eyes were watery. But he still laughed; he was petting a fucking wolf.
It was a twenty minute walk from the perimeter of the fields back to the barn. Yuri did it twice. His feet were burning and numb, and he was dripping with sweat despite the night being almost freezing. The first trip had been for an old wooden cart he had seen in the barn Grandpa used to store truck parts and fertiliser. The wheels needed oiling and getting it over any little bump took his entire body weight, but it was something. There was no way in hell he would be able to carry the wolf back on his own. He’d just barely managed to get it onto the cart, straining and huffing until he felt the bright pain of pulling too hard on a muscle.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he mumbled, wincing and feeling like the devil when it squealed as he tried to manoeuvre it onto the cart. It didn’t bite, it probably didn’t have the energy, but Yuri could only wish he was stronger. When he wiped the sweat from his face, he noticed that he was crying too.
The second trip had taken him nearly an hour, taking frequent breaks with his back and arms on fire, and his lungs all dried out, refusing the oxygen he breathed in. His hands were ripped to shreds, blisters covered his palms and a patch of skin on the side of his thumb was just gone. His stitches were blooming red against the white gauze, pulsing and burning, making his entire hand throb. He counted at least three splinters. But the wolf was now safely in the tool barn - the smallest of the storage houses, but the one Grandpa used the least, especially now that the planting was done. He made it a bed using grain sacks and old, dusty overalls, and it settled down, immediately curling up into a ball.
Yuri sat sprawled out next to it, one of his hands buried in its fur as he panted and tried not to focus on his aching muscles. His hair was sticking to his face and the back of his neck, his throat was tight and dry, plus his shirt was plastered to his back. He wasn’t sure if he could actually get up. He stroked between the wolf’s ears, scoffing when they twitched and it cracked open an eye to stare at him for a full second before sighing and closing it again. Yuri bit his lip, shocked to find that he was smiling. Right. Why the actual fuck had he brought a wolf home? An injured wolf.
He shook his head, gulping down air like water. Right, he wasn’t done yet.
Youtube showed him how to clean out a wound, and Wiki-how helped with the exact steps. Grandma was going to kill him when she realised just how much rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, and bandages she was missing.
“Okay buddy, this is going to sting a little.”
He had gotten the wolf on its side. It knew he was trying to help somehow, willingly moving when he nudged it out of its ball. He had soaked a clean wad of gauze in rubbing alcohol, and smoothed away as much fur as he could away from its wound. But, the second he touched the shredded flesh it snarled, head coming around with bared teeth.
“Fuck!” Yuri screamed, scrambling backwards, checking to see if he still had all his fingers. He had thought he was too worn out to be scared. Apparently not. His heart was racing again.
God what had he been thinking? It could kill him. It was a dangerous wild animal, which was now staring him down.
Yuri swallowed, taking a few steps backwards and holding up his hands. This was such a stupid, fucking idea. His throat was closing up again and his eyes prickled. What had he even expected? He bumped into the wall, sliding down until he was on the ground. Pressing the heels of his palms against his eyes, he breathed in deeply and suddenly he was coughing up hoarse sobs. He brought his knees up to his chest and curled around them; everything was just so heavy and tired and hurt so much.
Something wet and cold poked his arm, and when he raised his head he was met with a face-full of whiskers and fur. The wolf stuck its snout right into his face, snuffling and licking. Its tongue was big, warm, and soft, and Yuri hadn’t been expecting it to lick a line right up his nose. He startled, jerking back and staring. The wolf lurched forward licking him again, before lying down next to him, firmly pressed against his thigh. Coarse fur tickled his skin; it looked so much softer than it felt.
“What is your deal?” he asked, burying a shaking hand in its fur. “Do you want to eat me or not?”
It responded by curling around to lick at the wound on its side, one of its back legs stretching out and bumping against Yuri’s foot. God, its paw was fucking huge, bigger than his palm.
“So I guess you don’t need my help.” Yuri watched it lick its side, ears twitching when he talked. “You didn't need me at all.”
It eyed him, blinking slowly and pausing with its tongue halfway out of its mouth.
Yuri chuckled; God, this was so bizarre. Weren’t wolves supposed to be dangerous? “Are you actually a wolf? I mean, why didn’t you eat me when you had the chance? Or are you one of those dog-hybrid things?”
It had gone back to its licking, ignoring him completely now.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” Its back leg twitched again, slamming into his thigh. “I guess not.” Slowly, Yuri reached towards its foot. Its paws and legs were white, so was its chest and belly and the sides of its mouth. The charcoal fur on its back had a rust-coloured tinge, turning completely orange on the underside of its tail and before the white started on its legs. “You’re actually kind of pretty,” he hummed, running a finger along the underside of a rough pad. It jerked again, pulling its leg away from Yuri’s finger and staring at him like he’d just offended its entire existence.
Yuri scoffed, folding his arms around his knees, and watched as it stretched out on its side, done with the licking. “So, what am I supposed to do with you?” Its mouth was red now, and Yuri bit his lip. “Can I at least clean you off?” It sighed gruffly, ribs heaving. “Okay?”
He shuffled around to its front on his hands and knees and found the wad of gauze he’d soaked with rubbing alcohol. He poured on a bit more and reached out to its face.
“This is one of stupidest things I’ve ever done,” he mumbled. The wolf’s ears twitched and it watched his hand with half closed eyes. “You must be exhausted.” His hand was shaking. “What was that thing anyway? Why did you fight it?” Its breath was hot against his wrist as he dabbed at the red around its mouth. “You could just have let it eat me, you know. You didn’t have to go and get yourself hurt.” Its tail thumped the ground a few times and it stretched, back curving and legs sticking straight out as it - well he - let out a long, low whine.
Yuri swallowed, pouring more alcohol onto the now stained gauze. “That was really dumb of you.” His eyes closed and his tongue flickered out to lick at the fur Yuri was cleaning.
This was unbelievable, a wolf letting him touch him like this. He must have been some sort of dog-mix because wild animals just didn’t - he shook his head. Maybe someone had lost a dog? He could ask Grandpa about it tomorrow. But now, he rubbed at his shoulder, wincing when his fingers hit what must have been a terrible bruise. Okay, he’d done what he could for the dog. Well, he could get him something to eat at least; Grandma was already going to kill him.
“Okay, you stay right here, I’ll be right back.”
He cracked an eye open, watching as Yuri got to his feet using the wall as support. God, his legs were actually shaking. It hurt to move, and his knees kept on knocking together. Yeah, what a fucking night it was.
The wolf - the dog; there was no way a wolf could be this friendly - fell asleep right after devouring a whole chicken. Yuri gave him one last pat before turning off the lights and shutting the barn door tightly. He’d have to get up before the workers arrived tomorrow, just to make sure no one found him.
The shower water was a mixture of red and brown swirling down the drain as he sat under the spray. At least the red wasn’t from him. Every inch of his body was aching, even his toenails felt sore, and he could barely do anything with his hands. He wasn’t supposed to get his stitches wet, but the bandage was so dirty with blood and mud that he had no choice but to take it off and try his best to clean it out. It stung enough for his eyes to water, and each gentle dab of the cotton pad felt like he was slicing his flesh anew. His palms were covered in blisters and picking out the splinters with tweezers took at least twenty minutes. There were also purpling bruises across his shoulder blades, and a series of bright red scrapes.
Whatever creature it had been, he was lucky that it hadn’t ripped open his back. He felt shaky all over again, covering his face with his hands. He honestly couldn’t tell if he was crying again or if it was just the shower water, but the shaking wouldn’t stop. Not after he dried himself and changed into a fresh t-shirt and a pair or flannel pants. Not after he’d brushed his hair, and rubbed moisturiser into his face. And especially not after he crawled into bed and curled into a ball on his side.
Sleep was impossible. Every time he closed his eyes he saw gnashing fangs and slitted pupils and had to bury his face into his pillow to keep from screaming. It was like the same creature was trying to claw its way out of his chest, leaving bloody gouge marks in his lungs, and ripping his stomach to bright red ribbons. He eventually turned on his bedside lamp, sitting up and trying to breathe away the tremors. His eyes stung, and his shirt was soaked with sweat again. Morning couldn’t come soon enough.
The world was still grey, when he stuffed his feet back into his muddy sneakers and ran across the yard to the barn. Dew immediately soaked his pants, and goosebumps rose along his arms. He had maybe half an hour before Grandma and Zeynep woke up to start breakfast, so he needed to be quick. Still, his body was clumsy and each step he took was like fire on the soles of his feet. Even his eyes were dry, probably swollen and very red. But, he would check on the wolf - the dog - make sure he was properly hidden, lock the barn and steal the key just to be safe and -
Yuri stumbled to a halt, his knees knocking together and his ankles clashing. His stomach sank to the grass and gravel, and his heart made a heavy, echoing sound in his chest.
The door was open.
He licked his lips with a sandpaper tongue, dashing inside and flipping on the lights. Had someone woken up already? Fuck, had they found him? Had they hurt him or fuck. It got harder to breathe as he searched behind the tools and in every corner. The grain sacks were still arranged in a bed, and the dirty gauze and bandages were still there. Yuri couldn’t tell if someone else had found him, if Grandpa had woken up early and - he cut himself off, shaking his head. He was gone. Just gone.
Yuri collapsed to the ground, his butt hitting the dirt floor hard. What the fuck had he done all that work for? Why had he even brought him home? He curled around himself, holding his stomach and gasping for air that wouldn’t come.
What had he even expected? He was a wild animal; he had probably just needed some rest and food. Tears tickled as they rolled down his cheeks. The wolf was gone. He was also wild and needed to be free, and Yuri had no reason to cry about it, but he still did.
Chapter 4: The Motorbike
“You seem like you had a long night,” Grandma said, reaching over the gear shift to pat Yuri’s knee.
“Yeah,” he grumbled. Even after spending nearly two days in bed he felt like he’d been run through one of the combines. His eyelids were heavy and his vision was slightly blurry no matter how much tea he drank. Plus, his stitches were still painful, sending fire up his entire arm if he stretched the wrong way.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah.” He glared out of his window at the passing fields and occasional house or barn. It was funny that she would even ask that when she knew it wasn’t.
She sighed heavily. “You know you can talk to me, Yurochka.”
Yuri held his breath when his stomach twisted into a knot. They fell into a sticky silence as the old pick-up truck bounced along the road into town. Yuri’s throat was clogged; he couldn’t even talk if he wanted to. But it wasn’t like he could tell her about the wolf, or the thing that attacked him. She wouldn’t believe him. And he couldn’t really talk to her about his dad; she said everything she could have months ago, and none of it had helped. Great, his eyes were stinging now.
“So, who’s this boy you’re meeting?”
His cheeks heated instantly. “No one.”
Grandma chuckled. “Must be a pretty important no one for you to get all dolled up like this.”
Yuri tugged at the hem of his shorts. He wasn’t dressed too fancy, he hoped. His shorts were dark denim with gold spikes down the sides. He paired them with a deep-red, v-neck t-shirt, his favourite leopard-print combat boots, and a black choker. His entire face was hot now. “I’m not.”
“How long does it take you to do all that makeup?” She smiled, glancing at him.“I was never able to do anything like that with my eyeshadow. You’re really good at it.”
Yuri blinked and shrugged. “I just watch a lot of YouTube tutorials.”
She sighed after realising he didn’t have anything else to say. “So, where am I dropping you?”
Otabek had texted him a few hours earlier asking him about their date. Yuri had thought he’d forgotten all about it, because he hadn’t heard anything from him since they had hung out the other day. Well, he could have texted first; he had actually tried, but he just couldn’t hit send even if Mila called him a coward. Yuri’s heart had stopped when he saw Otabek’s name pop up on screen and a nervous heat had made his lungs crumple like sheets of paper, and his stomach flutter.
“Um.” He tucked a lock of hair behind his ear. “The street behind that really small grocery shop with all the flowers at the front-”
“Yeah, I think.”
“So, tell me about this boy-”
“Actually, let me out here; I’ll walk.”
Grandma dropped him off right at Otabek’s doorstep and refused to leave until he had unlocked the door to let Yuri in, then gave him instructions to have him back by nine for the latest. Otabek stood in the doorway in another white t-shirt - were those the only things he had? But he had a leather jacket over it, and it looked so badass that Yuri couldn’t do anything but gape. Plus, his dark, destroyed jeans and fingerless gloves had him looking like he just stepped out of a magazine. He leaned against the doorframe and waved at Grandma as she drove off. Yuri couldn’t move from the spot; his cheeks were steaming and he wanted to melt into the ground, and at the same time he just didn’t know what to do with his hands because Otabek was so freaking hot. At least his heart was still working - but too quickly that he might just faint anyway. All he could do was stare, fixing his eyes on the little, gold wolf-head pin on Otabek’s lapel.
“Sorry,” Yuri mumbled, his face hot enough to steam. “She’s uh…”
One corner of Otabek’s mouth twitched upwards as he stepped aside to let Yuri in. “She’s your Babulya. It’s expected.”
“I guess.” He swallowed. Did he just stand there and wait on the doormat? His feet were suddenly too big and his arms too long and awkward. A line of sweat was forming down his spine. God, he was really here. They were actually doing this, this date.
“So, I just need to grab a few things and we can get going,” Otabek said from the kitchen.
Yuri’s cheeks heated as he turned around. “Are you going to tell me where you’re kidnapping me to?”
Otabek chuckled softly. “No. But I hope you’ll enjoy it.”
Yuri blinked - holy shit were those dimples - watching as he stuffed a few things into a black backpack.
“You look really good, by the way,” Otabek mumbled, zipping up his bag and slinging it over his shoulder.
“Uh, thanks.” Yuri tugged at a lock of hair, his stomach gurgled and his ears got hot. “You didn’t tell me where we were going, so I didn’t know what to wear.”
“You look good,” he repeated. “I, uh. Do you have a jacket?”
“Oh, uh… no. It’s the middle of Summer.”
His eyes widened slightly and the tips of his ears went pink. Yuri bit his lip to stop himself from giggling.
“Right,” he coughed. “Are you ready?” Yuri nodded and as he reached around him to open the door again his shoulder brushed against Yuri’s chest.
Yuri swallowed, his entire body prickling, and heat spiralled out from the tiny spot of contact. God, this was actually happening. He was going on a date, despite all this shit going on, someone had asked him out on a date. He couldn’t feel the ground under his feet as he walked. Otabek’s keys jingled and gravel crunched under his heavy shoes in a strange, offbeat rhythm.
It was hot that day, the sun beat down with angry, white heat, made worse by all the buildings that blocked the wind from the nearby river. Yuri’s shirt was stuck to his back with sweat, and God, he hoped he wouldn’t start to smell. How the hell was Otabek wearing a jacket?
“Have you ever ridden a motorbike before?”
“Huh?” He nearly stumbled over his feet, just then noticing that Otabek was standing next to his bike. The black paint shone in the sunlight and the metal framework was clean enough to reflect, even the tyres didn’t have a speck of dirt or dust. He raised an eyebrow, his smile so small it was barely there, as Yuri fumbled with his words.
“Oh, uh. I…” He paused, taking a deep breath. Just fucking talk, he rolled his eyes at himself, you fucking know how. “Yeah, I know how to drive one, actually.” Fuck, why was he sweating so much? “I, uh. I had a boyfriend. Back in Moscow. He had a bike, but it wasn’t as… cool as yours. My dad…” he swallowed again, grinding his teeth when his throat got all tight. “My dad didn’t like me riding it.”
Otabek’s eyes widened again and he ducked his head. “Oh, shit. Sorry, I should have asked before-”
Yuri shook his head, swallowing hard. Way to kill the mood, Plisetsky. “No, it’s fine. I was just… talking; bikes are really cool, and he and my mom used to go around everywhere on one when they were dating. I dunno, he just didn’t like my ex that much, uh, sorry. Too much info - let’s just… go. Uh, where are we going? To like a movie or something?”
Otabek shook his head and tossed a helmet his way. “Nah, I said I wanted to get to know you better. Can’t talk during a movie.”
Yuri blinked, looking down at the helmet. His stomach was fluttering again. Otabek was so weird, but it was kind of cool. “So…”
“It’s still a surprise.” He swung his leg over the seat and patted the spot behind him. Yuri couldn’t stop himself from grinning and he was sure there was hot cotton clogging his lungs.
They stopped at a small clearing not too far from the river bank, but not close enough they couldn’t hear each other over the water. There was a small grassy patch between a few large rocks where the sun was mostly blocked by trees. Otabek parked his bike under a tree and handed Yuri a blanket, telling him to go choose a spot while he unloaded another bag from underneath the seat. Wind made Yuri’s hair tickle his cheeks and the back of his neck, but it was much cooler near the water than it had been in town, and the air was crisp and fresh, filling his lungs with a light coolness. He bent down, smoothing the blanket under a bushy shadow and watched as the sunlight speckled the backs of his hands.
Was this actually happening? He bit his lip, trying not to smile like an idiot. He’d never been on a picnic date before; almost every first date he’d been on was for like coffee or to the movies. This was kind of refreshing. He glanced over his shoulder at Otabek, who smiled at him and strode over, the bag must have been heavy because he was leaning to one side - oh God, had he cooked? This was too much.
Bouncing to his feet, he hurried to Otabek making to take the bag from him. “What do you even have in there?”
He shrugged, moving it away from Yuri’s hands. “Just a few sandwiches, and drinks.”
“Did you make them yourself?” Fuck he should have brought something-
“Nah. You probably wouldn’t like my cooking.”
Yuri snorted and watched as he slowly sat down on the blanket, stretching his legs out on the grass and leaning against a tree trunk.
“Are you a bad cook?” He sat down on the opposite end, tucking his legs underneath himself.
Otabek scratched the back of his neck. “Not exactly…”
“I don’t believe you.”
He chuckled, hiding his mouth with his hand. He did that a lot, was he ashamed of his teeth? “I’m not, I promise, but I can’t do anything fancy.”
“Sandwiches aren’t fancy, though.”
He scoffed. “What about you, you cook much?”
“Nah. Grandma and Zeynep do all the cooking. I’m too slow for them. But I used to do a lot with my… in Moscow.”
Otabek hummed. “You miss the city?”
Yuri took a deep breath. “Well… yeah. I miss my friends and there’s nowhere here that does dance classes at my level-”
“You dance?” He said it like Yuri had said he was an astronaut or something.
“Yeah. Ballet. My instructor, Madame Lilia, was principle at the the Bolshoi - oh um, that’s… the highest ranked dancer in a company, basically.” Otabek hummed. “She told me I could go professional if I wanted to, like after school and stuff.”
“You’re that good?”
Yuri’s cheeks went hot, but cold dripped into his stomach. “Yeah, but it doesn’t matter now. There’s no one here to teach me.”
He hummed. “What about in another town?”
Yuri raised an eyebrow. “The nearest one is like a three hour drive.”
“So, it would be worth it if they had a dance place. You shouldn’t just let your dream die out like that.”
Yuri blinked, unable to hold Otabek’s gaze. His eyes were wide, so dark they were almost black, and intense enough to make Yuri’s lungs tremble. He picked up a stray blade of grass from the middle of a sun-spot on the blanket. “I guess,” he mumbled, ears steaming. “What about you? Was it your dream to become a mechanic?”
He hummed again, looking up through the treetops. “I guess. I learnt about cars from my father and my granddad.”
“That’s cool. Were they mechanics?”
“Yeah, they own an auto shop.”
That made sense then, how he was only eighteen and knew enough to fix a truck. But, “Why did you leave Kazakhstan?”
Otabek paused, glancing at Yuri out of the corner of his eye, and Yuri’s stomach leapt. Fuck what if he actually had to run away. “Just wanted a change of pace. I lived in the same place my whole life. I wanted to try something new. Something… bigger.”
“And you came here.”
He shrugged. “There’s nothing wrong with here.”
“Yeah, it’s just a shitty, small town. All that’s here is wheat and cows.”
There was a short pause. “You hate it here?”
“I don’t hate it. But like, I know I don’t belong here. Like, I dunno. When I came out, people acted different. I mean, like, I only ever visited during summer, so I don’t have friends, but they make fun of me for wearing makeup, and my clothes, and they call me girly-”
“They just don’t understand.”
Yuri sighed. “Yeah.”
“Because I’ve never met someone as cute as you.”
Yuri rolled his eyes, his cheeks felt hot enough to melt his makeup off. “You’re just saying that.”
“I’m serious.” He raked his hair back from his forehead. “I heard that Nikolai had a grandson from the city and that you were gay, but I wasn’t expecting… this.”
Yuri swallowed, tucking his hair behind his ear again. He was literally going to combust. “This?”
Otabek scoffed, shuffling so that he was sitting on his hip, and suddenly much closer to Yuri. “This is a bit cheesy, but I don’t know; there’s just something about you.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“That’s why we’re here.”
Yuri scoffed, stretching his legs out in front of him and leaning back on his arms. “You’re kinda weird, you know that.”
He smiled and this time his didn’t cover his mouth. Oh, his teeth were a bit jagged - not crooked, but his canines were pointy. “So I’ve heard.”
Yuri wondered if this was how it felt to be shocked by lightning. His chest seized and he couldn't breathe while his stomach churned and tilted. Yet, he was warm, his head weightless on his neck, and his fingertips were tingling. A breeze blew, ruffling his hair and shirt, and tousling Otabek’s hair - a few locks fell against his forehead and temples. Yuri itched to reach out and brush them away, his hand actually twitched, but this was like the third time they had even met. He swallowed, tucking his hands under his thighs, only remembering his stitches when white-hot flames rushed up his arm. He hissed, cradling his hand to his chest. He’d changed the bandage again this morning and cleaned them out with rubbing alcohol, but they were still red and tender.
“Are you okay?” Otabek was sitting up straight, a small frown on his face, thick eyebrows dipping down.
Yuri blinked. “I, uh, yeah. I just forgot about my stitches.”
“They still hurt?” His voice was heavy, serious. He reached out fro Yuri’s hand. “They shouldn’t after-”
“I did something dumb with my hand, they uh, nearly reopened.” Yuri bit his lip. He’d managed to hide his hand from Grandma and Zeynep. They had let him off of washing dishes, but he’d been avoiding everyone in general.
He drew in a sharp breath, turning Yuri’s palm over and seeing all the scratches and broken blisters. His hands felt like fire. “This looks like it hurts.”
He blinked, looking up at him through thick eyelashes. “I have a feeling you’ve been saying that a lot lately.”
Yuri swallowed, watching as Otabek stared at his hand, thumb gently tracing the tendon along his wrist. “When did this happen?”
“Uh, two nights ago.”
Yuri pulled his hand away, his stomach churning cold as a flash of yellow, slitted pupils sent chills down his spine. He swallowed, wrapping his arms around his stomach, and forcing himself not to look over his shoulder at the forest. “Nothing. I uh, Grandpa made me do work.”
Otabek stared at him; his face was unreadable, but his smile was long gone, chased away by his mouth pulled into a straight line and a wrinkle between his eyebrows. The happy, giddy feeling was gone.
“It’s nothing,” he mumbled, his throat closing up.
Otabek reached out again, running a thumb along his cheek. Yuri nearly flinched, his eyes going wide.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. It only hurts when I move it… wrong.”
He sighed, letting his hand drop to his shoulder. His palm was like a hot coal and big enough to nearly span his shoulder blade. “Okay.”
Yuri’s heart was racing again and he looked down at his lap. The spot on his cheek where Otabek had touched was tingling, stinging almost, and impossible to ignore. He reached up to touch it, his fingertips oddly cool against his face.
“Are you hungry?” Otabek asked, shuffling over to the bag.
Yuri took a deep breath. “Yeah, sure. What you got?”
The way he said it made Yuri laugh. He wasn’t even sure why.
“What?” Otabek asked, raising an eyebrow. “You don’t like chicken sandwiches?”
Yuri shook his head. “No, it’s not that. Just… God, you’re so weird. But, like, I...” He pushed his hair behind both ears with either hand, and tucked his legs back underneath himself. “I like it.” His mouth was dry enough for his tongue to feel like a slab of chewing gum.
Otabek grinned, shrugging as he dug through the bag.
They stayed out until the sky turned orange, laying on their backs, staring up as the first stars began twinkling, and the sound of wind blowing leaves, the river rushing, and bugs chirping grew steadily louder. Yuri’s throat hurt from talking; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked this much. But Otabek’s small, interested smile had his stomach bubbling like a glass of champagne, and saying everything that crossed his mind seemed like a good idea. They were quiet now, though, Yuri was exhausted down to his bones, a sort of weariness that made even breathing seem like hard. Yet, when he touched his mouth he was still smiling, and he really, really didn’t want the night to end.
“We should head home,” Otabek said, grunting as he pushed himself up to sit. Yuri groaned. “It’s not safe out here.”
Oh right. He sat up too. “Yeah. Grandpa said there was a… wolf on the loose.”
Otabek’s jaw tensed and his frown was so intense for a second Yuri squirmed. If he reached out he could probably touch his anger. “Yeah, so I’ve heard. Anyway, you ready?” It was gone just like that. He gathered the bags and got to his feet, stumbling slightly before working his legs.
Yuri buried his face in-between Otabek’s shoulder blades as the bike roared beneath them. God, the afternoon had gone by so quickly; he didn’t want to go home; he didn’t want this to just be another memory. He wrapped his arms tightly around Otabek’s waist. He barely even knew this guy, but he was falling hard enough to break something. He couldn’t tell if his stomach was shaking at the realisation, or if it was just the vibrations from the engine.
“I hope you had a good time today,” Otabek said with a small smile. It was already dark by the time they got back to the farm. Grandma had left the porch light on and it bathed the two of them in harsh white light.
“Yeah,” Yuri answered breathlessly. His cheeks were still stinging from the wind. “It was really fun.”
“So, can I start thinking about another date?”
Yuri bit his lip, his insides turned all gooey and his heart was pushing cotton along his veins. “Yeah. Of course, yeah.” He tugged at a lock of hair.
Otabek smiled for a second, doing nothing but staring. He’d done the same thing the last time he’d dropped him off too, but this time he took a step forward and wound his arms around Yuri’s waist in a loose hug. Yuri jumped, eyes widening as he slowly wrapped his arms around Otabek’s neck. God, his shoulders were so big and meaty and the hair at the back of his neck was like velvet. He let his eyes fall shut and leaned into the hug. It was good, he was so warm and big around him and he had lied before; he didn’t want this to end.
But eventually Otabek pulled away, his eyes all soft and tender and he was smiling with one corner of his mouth again.
“I had a good time too,” he said, stepping away, and raking his fingers through his hair. His jacket rode up. “So, I guess I’ll see you later-”
Yuri gasped loudly, his eyes going wide and all the blood draining from his face. “Otabek! You’re bleeding!” There was a red stain on his side. His jacket had been covering it, but Yuri could see the edges.
Otabek jumped, looking down his side. “Oh, uh. Don’t worry about that-”
He zipped up his jacket, shaking his head. “It’s nothing really. I mean, it’s just a scrape-”
“A scrape? Was that there this whole time? You were hurt this whole time?” Holy shit, and he forced him to spend the afternoon talking, he’d been holding him so tightly on his bike. The ground was tilting and his stomach was churning around cold pieces of lead. “I… fuck-”
“Hey, it’s okay, I promise.” Otabek placed his hands against his shoulders steadying him. “Look, I’m fine. I was under a car and something fell and there was a rough edge that kinda smashed into me. I’m fine.”
“But… the blood. I, today… we shouldn't have-”
“I said I had a good time. Look, if I wasn’t feeling up to it I would have rescheduled. I mean, I was actually looking forward to it.”
Yuri swallowed, looking up at him and at his little grin and soft, black eyes. He took a deep breath, feeling his lungs shake. “Okay. You’re so weird. I… just go home. Fix yourself up, please.”
Otabek scoffed, squeezing Yuri’s shoulders before pulling away again. “Yeah, I will. Well, good night. Thanks though, for uh, today. I mean it, I really had a good time.”
Yuri hung his head as he crossed the porch to unlock the front door. “Me too.”
He took a deep breath, leaning against the door as the roar of Otabek’s motorcycle faded into the distance. God, what kind of idiot went out on a date when they were injured? He looked down at his hands, eyes zeroing on the redden skin and black thread. Oh, right.
Grandma caught him cleaning his palm after he’d showered and gotten ready for bed. Without his makeup the puffy skin under his eyes made him look as worn out as he felt.
“Did you have a nice time, Yurochka?” she asked, peering into the bathroom.
Yuri jumped, hiding his hands behind his back. She raised an eyebrow before shaking her head. “I have a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the kitchen, come-”
Oh shit. “No, I took it already.” He bit his lip.
She sighed. “Alright, just make sure you put it back when you’re done. Those men are always coming home with something injured.”
“I will, Babulya.” The back of his neck was itching, but he forced himself from scratching.
“Otabek seems like a nice, young man. He was very polite. You’ll have to tell me more about him tomorrow.”
Yuri’s cheeks heated and he looked at his feet. “Okay.”
She chuckled softly, striding up to him and pressing a soft kiss to his forehead. “Good night, zajchik. Try to actually get some sleep tonight.”
Yuri waited until he was sure that both Grandma and Grandpa were sleeping before he snuck downstairs using his phone’s flashlight. He held his breath when the front door creaked open, and walked barefoot across the porch before putting on his sneakers. He’d left the bottle of rubbing alcohol in the barn and the last thing he needed was for anyone to start asking questions. After making sure the barn door was firmly shut behind him, he shone his flashlight to the corner where he’d left everything. The bloody pieces of gauze and cotton pads were still there and the old grain sacks and stray pieces of straw were -
Yuri’s heart screeched to a halt as a pair of gold eyes blinked at him, wincing at the light from his phone.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
There was a scuffling noise and panting then Yuri hit the ground, landing on his butt as like 100 pounds of wolf knocked him over. He was panting and whining, huffing meaty breath all over Yuri’s face, and licking his cheeks and neck.
“What the fuck?” he mumbled, giggles bubbling out of his throat as the wolf was all over him, everywhere at once, breathing hard and tail wagging like an excited puppy. He stepped on him, knocked him flat on his back licking every inch of bare skin he could reach. His entire body was shaking and he couldn’t keep still, bouncing from foot to foot.
“Okay, okay, I just showered, jeez!” He managed to push him away and he sat down with difficulty, tail still thumping against the ground. Sitting down he was taller than Yuri was when he sat up straight. “You were gone! What are you doing back here? How did you even get in?”
He tilted his head sideways, blinking as his tail picked up a few bits of straw. Yuri laughed, digging his fingers into the ruffle of fur at his cheeks. He panted right into his face, before pressing his cold, wet nose to his neck and snuffling. Yuri pushed him away again, giggling when he stood up and planted all four feet in place, refusing to move.
Yuri smiled, burying his face in the thick, rough fur. He smelled terrible, and Yuri’s cheek immediately started to itch, but the flood of cool relief that washed over his entire body made up for it. He still didn’t even know if he belonged to anyone; he didn’t have a collar or anything, but he couldn’t even begin to explain how glad he was. His eyes stung, and he rubbed his face against the roll of fur at his neck.
“You came back.”
Chapter 5: The Deserted
“Your Babulya told me you went out with a boy yesterday.”
“Deda!” Yuri startled, smudging his eyeliner when Grandpa suddenly appeared in his mirror. He groaned, trying to rub the line away but only made a black streak across his eyelid. “Look what you made me do!”
Grandpa chuckled, sitting down on the foot of his bed. “Good. You take too long to get ready anyway.”
Yuri rolled his eyes, pulling out a cleansing cloth from his drawer and wiping off the whole thing. “It’s not like you have to wait on me.”
“Thank heavens I don’t. No work would get done around here.”
Yuri stuck out his tongue, spinning around to face him. “If you made me work in the fields, I’d run away.”
Grandpa snorted. “I don’t want you in my fields; you’d kill the entire crop.” Yuri rolled his eyes again. “So, who’s this boy?”
Yuri took a deep breath, knowing that Grandpa wouldn’t let it rest. His cheeks heated and he looked down at his lap, his chest tingling and tightening. “He’s the mechanic that fixed the truck. He, uh, asked me out.”
Grandpa hummed. “The Altin boy?”
Yuri’s head snapped up and he narrowed his eyes. “Is there something wrong with that ?”
“No,” Grandpa shrugged. “Ivan says he’s a good boy. A hard worker, but a little… odd.”
Yuri scoffed; he was very odd. “Yeah, he’s a bit weird but, I don’t know, it’s like a good weird.”
Grandpa’s smile was small, but he made loud noise at the back of his throat. “Good. It’s good that you met someone. I didn’t like seeing you alone and so sad all the time.” Yuri blinked, his jaw falling slightly. “Anyway, I’m going over to the Petrov’s today.”
He breathed out heavily through his nose. “That wolf attacked again. It killed another cow.”
“ What ?” His fingers went cold, and weak jitters took over his lungs.
“Yeah. It got into the barn, ripped through the door like it was paper.” He sighed heavily. “I told Markus he needed to repair that barn.”
Yuri bit his lip. “What kind of wolf could do that?”
“I don’t know. But it’s very dangerous, so you be careful, especially at night.”
“Are you sure it’s a wolf?”
Grandpa narrowed his eyes. “What else could it be?”
Yuri bit his lip and shrugged. His stomach felt like it had been carved out and filled with ice. The scrapes on his back began to itch. It could have been a monster.
“You wouldn’t hurt anyone, would you?” Yuri asked the wolf as he licked his front paws like they were candy. He had finished his stolen chicken guts over twenty minutes ago, but he was still licking. Yuri, sighed, stretching out alongside him and stroking his back.
He took a break to pant, nosing Yuri’s cheek before setting his head down between his paws like he was bored.
“I can’t believe you stayed the night, but you ran away when you were actually injured.”
His side looked much better, scabbed over and pink around the edges, but at least he wasn’t in any danger of dying. There had been so much blood, Yuri didn’t even know what to think. He still didn’t know what to think; he was way too friendly to be wild, and he’d asked Zeynep if anyone around here was missing their dog. He’d even called the local animal shelter, but it seemed he belonged to no one.
“I guess, you’re alone too, huh?” He scratched between his ears, feeling them twitch under his fingers. He sighed again, picking up his phone from the ground by his hip and holding his breath as he prayed for a single notification. There was none.
Letting his eyes fall shut as a sharp spear of disappointment gutted him, he tossed his phone back to the ground. He’d texted first this time, just to say hi and that he had a really great time yesterday. That was at nine this morning, Otabek hadn’t said anything since. Mila had at least answered his third call and given him a long list of reasons why Otabek might not have responded. It helped, but he still couldn’t stop the phantom vibrations in his pocket.
Otabek had said that he had a really good time. And he had asked about a second date. So, there was literally nothing to worry about. He was interested and he called him cute. Yuri’s stomach fluttered through his disappointment and he could still practically feel the heat from Otabek’s hand against his cheek. Shit, he had looked like he wanted to kiss him. Yuri’s cheeks caught fire and he covered his face, smiling like a giant idiot. This wasn’t even his first boyfriend; butterflies always came on the first few dates, but he would never get used to his chest feeling too small and too tight to contain his heart. Otabek really liked him, and well -
“I think I’m falling for this guy,” he breathed, burying his face into rough, greasy fur. “I like barely know him, and he’s so fucking hot.” The wolf sighed, craning his neck backwards but only managing to bump the top of Yuri’s head. “But he’s really nice too, I mean a bit awkward, but it’s kinda cute, you know?” He groaned, looping his arm over the wolf’s shoulder. “Fuck, I actually like him.”
The wolf slipped from under his arm and rolled onto his stomach, staring at him and blinking slowly. Yuri curled around himself, trying to fight the butterflies in his stomach. But was it like too soon? Was it okay for him to date someone less than a month after moving here? He swallowed, it kind of felt like he shouldn’t, like he shouldn’t even be allowed to be happy?
But Otabek’s small grin flashed in front of his face, his dark eyes sparkling, and so deep, and the way that he smiled with one corner of his mouth, and all his fly-away hairs, and his thick eyebrows that were sparse at the outer ends. He bit his lip, suddenly breathless, and a heavy, furry chin settled on the side of his neck, right between his shoulder and chin, and suffocating him with with hair and musty dog smell.
“You need a bath,” he groaned, pushing the wolf away.
He blinked at him, before ducking his head to lick Yuri’s arm, his tongue curling around his entire wrist. Yuri snorted, scratching him under his chin, but he growled, swinging his head around to stare at the barn door. It took Yuri a few minutes to hear Grandpa’s truck and he scrambled to his feet.
“Stay here,” he instructed and sprinted to the door, praying he could slip out before Grandpa or anyone else saw him.
The wolf stood and trotted after him, tail swinging.
“No!” Yuri stood with his back against the door, wincing when car doors slammed outside. “Stay. Do you know stay?”
He sat down, blinking.
“Okay, good. Now, stay .”
As soon as he opened the door he felt a wet nose against his thigh. He groaned, trying to wedge himself out through a crack while barricading the wolf inside. “No, stay,” he hissed, shoving him back inside with his hip, and slamming the door shut. He heard snuffling from the other side, and his stomach bubbled like magma.
“Yurochka,” Jora called. Fuck. “What were you doing in there?”
He spun around to see Jora and Stas walking up to him while Grandpa watched him over the hood of the truck.
“Nothing.” He leaned against the door, his heart thudding. Fuck, he was going to be in so much shit.
“What are you hiding?” Stas asked.
“What?” His mouth dried out and he couldn’t stop his eyes from widening. “I’m not hiding anything!”
Stas chuckled elbowing Jora, and great, now Grandpa was coming over. He could feel the door shake behind him as the wolf tried to push himself through. Fuck. Just fuck.
“Yurochka,” Grandpa said as a warning. “What’s in there?”
Yuri swallowed, sweat already dripping down his spine and prickling his armpits. Fuck. He bit his lip looking at his feet. “Nothing,” he mumbled, voice so soft he could barely hear it.
“Yuri.” Yuri’s eyes widened, and he looked up, chewing his lip.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. “Don’t get mad-” Grandpa swore softly and Jora and Stas exchanged uneasy looks. How the hell was he supposed to explain that he had a wolf hidden in the barn? “I, um…” Shit.
The wolf chose that moment to jump against the door, rattling the wood and nearly making Yuri stumble forward. The three men startled, planting their feet, ready to either fight or run.
“Yuri Agapovich Plisetsky, what is in that barn?”
He tugged at a locked of hair and let the rest fall over his cheeks to hide his steaming face. “I… uh. I found a dog.”
The door rattled again. Grandpa breathed in deeply while Jora looked like he was about to burst out laughing and Stas shook his head.
“He was hurt ; I couldn’t just leave him out there to die !”
Jora clapped Grandpa on the shoulder, chuckling and shaking his head. “If that’s not typical Yurochka.”
Yuri’s entire face went hot. Well, when he was younger he had brought home injured birds in shoe boxes, and hand-fed orphaned chicks on several occasions. He had begged Grandpa until he cried once to let him bring home one of the Luski’s calves.
Grandpa sighed. “Let’s see him then.”
Yuri licked his lips. “He’s um…” The door rattled again and Yuri had to brace his feet. “Pretty big.” Grandpa scoffed as Yuri stepped to the side and cracked open the door. The wolf wedged his entire head out through the space, wildly looking around before he saw Yuri. Grandpa hissed loudly and he heard scrambling behind him.
“ Yuri, get away-”
The wolf shoved his shoulders through the crack, Pushing the door wide opening and knocking Yuri off his feet. In seconds the wolf was on him, planting his front paws to his shoulders, pinning him to the ground and sniffing his face. The yelling started then and Yuri’s stomach emptied out into his feet. Grandpa screamed for his gun and Stas took off like a horse. Yuri’s heart was in his throat.
“He’s not a wolf, Deda!” he yelled. “He’s friendly! He’s friendly! Look!” He buried his hands in the ruff around his neck, scratching and making the loose skin jiggle. “Look!” He guided him off of him, and sat up not even flinching when he licked him right across the nose and eyes. “See! He’s not a wolf!” His tongue got into Yuri’s mouth and he jolted back, spluttering and wiping his tongue with the back of his hand. The wolf lay down, curling around him and setting his head against his thighs. “See, he’s friendly.”
Stas came skidding back to them, Grandpa’s rifle in his arms and he didn’t even stop to aim, bringing it up to his shoulder and pointing it at the wolf.
“Wait!” Yuri screamed, his vocal cords tearing at the volume, and he curled over the wolf, wrapping his arms around his neck.
Everything was quiet for a few minutes. Yuri’s back was itching, his heart pounding so wildly he thought he was going to pass out. He was inhaling lungfuls of fur with each breath, so it wasn’t even a surprise that he felt lightheaded too.
When he finally dared to look up Grandpa was frozen, his face pale and eyes wide. It took a few seconds for the fire to build behind his eyes before he rushed at Yuri hand raised ready to either hit him or pull him away.
A loud growl stopped him in his tracks and Yuri flinched looking down at his lap, the wolf’s throat and chest were vibrating. He was not helping his case.
“Hey, stop it.” He placed his palm against the top of his snout. His fur was soft there, and his nose was like cold, damp suede. The growling stopped instantly and Yuri let out a deep breath, his heart echoing in his chest.
Grandpa sighed, rubbing his temples. Stas slowly lowered the gun looking between the wolf and Yuri, then finally at Grandpa.
“Kolya?” he began.
“Is he one of those hybrids? A wolf-dog?” Jora asked. Yuri nodded. “You said he was hurt?” He nodded again. “Where’d you find him?”
Grandpa leaned against the side of the barn, suddenly looking so weary that the acid in Yuri’s stomach curdled.
He swallowed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you guys…”
“Well, you did,” Grandpa said gruffly. “Yurochka, there’s a wolf on the loose and you bring home this?”
Grandpa sighed again. “You will be the death of me, boy.”
He pushed off from the barn, grabbing the gun from Stas as he passed. “Have fun explaining that to your Babulya.”
Yuri watched him shuffle into the house, his stomach twisting. He was so mad; he didn’t think he would get that mad. He sunk his fingers into the fur at the back of the wolf’s neck, suddenly feeling sick.
“What’s his name?” Jora asked, edging closer. The wolf turned his head to him and he froze.
What name? Shit. He was, “Uh, Dog, um,” wait -
“Dog?” Stas echoed. “Seriously?”
Yuri’s cheeks heated. God, he was so dumb. “What’s wrong with it?”
He chuckled, taking a step closer and stooping down. “You named the dog, Dog ?”
Yuri rolled his eyes, stroking Dog’s back. His head was heavy and warm on his lap, and tickled his thighs when he moved to watch Stas. Yuri looked down at him, feeling him tense, alert. His ears were flat against his skull. That wasn’t good. He set his hand in between his ears, scratching him with his nails.
“He’s huge.” Stas continued, edging closer. “How much does he eat? He could probably eat you.”
“Wouldn’t be much of a meal, though.”
Yuri ground his teeth together and sneered. “You’re fucking hilarious.”
Stas stood back up, patting Yuri on the top of his head. Yuri batted his hand away as both he and Jora laughed. “Come on, it’s time for lunch. Your Babulya will be calling soon.”
They moved to the porch, but Dog looked heartbroken, golden eyes sorrowful and unblinking, when Yuri had stepped inside and told him to stay. It felt like an absolute betrayal when he closed the front door. So, Yuri had sat down with him on the porch, stroking his back.
“Yurochka?” Grandma’s footsteps echoed across the floorboards. “Come inside, we’re all at the table-” the front door creaked open and she gasped so loudly Dog raised his head from Yuri’s lap. “Yuri!”
Yuri bit his lip, looking up at her. “He’s friendly!”
She stood in the doorway, her mouth agape and her arms folded tightly across her chest. “You and those animals.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Does he belong to anyone?”
“No… I checked.”
“How badly was he hurt?”
He swallowed. “Pretty bad, but he can walk now.”
She sighed again, shaking her head. “He stays outside.”
Yuri’s eyes widened. “I can keep him?”
“What’s one more animal to feed?” She smiled, turning back into the house. “Come inside; we’re eating.”
Dog’s ear twitched when he stroked his head. “Can I eat out here?”
Grandma paused for a moment before laughing and shaking her head. Minutes later both she and Zeynep were eating on the porch with him. Dog’s tail thumped happily against the wooden boards and he let Yuri rest his plate on his head after sniffing it and deciding that he didn’t want any. He started to snore moments later, and both Grandma and Zeynep laughed at him and called him cute.
Dog came inside that night.
It was the first storm of the summer; rain poured against the windows like an open faucet. All Yuri could see was black. The wind howled and thunder shook the sky. Dog was curled up against the front door his fur damp from the spray the wind blew into the porch. He leapt at the chance to come inside, snuffling at Grandma’s feet and wagging his tail. The first thing he did was shake, filling the room with wet dog smell. Grandma sighed and told Yuri to go dry him off immediately. She came up to his room with a bowl of meat trimmings and smoothed down the ruffle of fur behind his cheeks. Yuri hid his smile with his knees. She moved to him afterwards, patting the top of his head and bending down to place a soft kiss to his forehead.
“You get some sleep, don’t stay up too late on that phone.”
Yuri grumbled. He had made a conscious effort not to look at his phone since that morning. It was face-down under his pillow right now.
“I won’t,” he sighed, unfolding himself and flopping down sideways against the pillows.
Grandma scoffed. “Good night, Yurochka.”
So, Otabek hadn’t texted him back. It wasn’t a big deal. Except, his stomach feeling like it had been punched and his chest seizing told him that it was. It was still raining the next day, the sky was a murky grey that showed no signs of turning blue. Grandpa couldn’t go out to the fields; Grandma was happy for his forced break and smiled, watching him stroke Dog’s back, sitting at the foot of the couch, and grumpily staring at the window. But Yuri couldn’t keep still.
His phone had no new notifications since Mila sent him a snap last night and he felt as grey as the sky. Maybe Otabek had lost his phone? Maybe it was broken. Either way, Zeynep was going to the grocery store and Yuri needed to find out what was going on for himself. Even if his stomach was shaking and he hadn’t been able to eat anything at breakfast, he needed to know. And it was going to be weird as fuck to just turn up on Otabek’s doorstep; he was already sweating despite how damp and cold the air was. But he was not going to let him bring up the idea of a second date then fucking ghost him.
Zeynep dropped him off on Otabek’s street, handing him a red umbrella and telling him to meet her at Kostin’s in an hour. Yuri thought he was going to throw up as he stepped between the rivulets of water that flowed along the dirt sidewalk. Mud and gravel stuck to his boots and the drops of rain that managed to make it past the umbrella were like ice.
Otabek’s front door was innocent enough, with its cracked paint and dingy number, still Yuri’s hand shook as he raised it to knock. This was going to be so weird. His face was already hot, he didn’t even know what he was going to say. Hey, you didn’t answer my messages so I showed up on your fucking doorstep? Who the fuck did that? He swore at himself, letting the side of his fist hit the door. He could hear the echo from the other side and waited, looking down at his feet as his heart pounded in his ears.
Fuck, what was he really going to say? I can’t stop thinking about you, and I really really like, you but I freaked when you didn’t answer, so here I am? Fuck. His heart beat away the minutes and he chewed on his lip.
Okay, maybe Otabek didn’t hear? He knocked again, louder and with his knuckles. It wasn’t like he could hear much over the rain, and the splatter against his umbrella was deafening, but he should have heard something from inside the apartment, right?
His throat was suddenly tight. Stop freaking out, he cursed himself. He was probably just at work. It was a Monday, and he had a fucking job.
The mechanic was a few streets over, only a seven minute walk, but Yuri’s legs were splattered with mud by the time he got there, and his hoodie was beginning to feel damp.
“Otabek?” A greying man in dirty, blue overalls, tapped a scratched, plastic counter with a greasy finger. “No, he hasn’t come in today, I think - hey Ivan?” he called through an open door that lead to the garage. Yuri could see a bunch of cars on jacks and with open bonnets. “Otabek called right? Kid’s usually in by now.”
“Yeah,” a deep voice answered before another man with a silver-streaked beard entered, wiping oil-stained hands on a rag. “He left me a voice note at two am or something. Something came up, he’s out of town for a few days.”
Yuri’s stomach dropped to his toes, and he nearly lost his grip on the umbrella. Water drops still fell all over his legs and the floor. Otabek was gone. He had left town. The tiled floor was as slushy and slippery as the mud outside and he felt as if he had eaten spiders and they were crawling back up his throat.
Okay, why hadn’t Otabek told him anything?
Dog abandoned his towel on the floor and climbed onto Yuri’s bed, curling into a tight ball against his back. He was a warm, fluffy, giant mass, ten times bigger than Potya and took up most of the bed, but his presence was comforting all the same. Especially now, when Yuri literally heard the world shatter around him for the second time in less than six months.
Why had Otabek just left without a moment’s notice? He had called into work, but hadn’t bothered to fucking text him? Was he that unimportant? He had said he wanted to go on another date, he had said that he liked him, so why - had it all been a lie? His eyes stung and he held his breath, trying not to start crying. Yuri screwed his eyes shut as the first tear dropped. It burnt a trail across his nose and cheeks. Otabek hadn’t meant any of it. He couldn’t have, not if he just left and didn’t bother to say anything.
God, he fucking hated this town and every single person in it.
His phone vibrated and even though, he knew it wasn’t going to be what he wanted, he picked it up. It was a notification from his weather app. A frustrated scream barrelled out of his throat and he threw his phone across the room, a fresh set of tears leaking from his eyes when it crashed into the wall next to his window. Dog leapt off the bed, ears perked and and eyes wide as he paced in a tight circle. The shattering thud it made seemed fitting, and Yuri threw himself against his pillow, shoulders shaking and throat cemented shut. He wasn’t meant to be happy. Everyone always left him; no one thought he was important enough to stick around for. Not his mom, or his dad, and now Otabek.
There were hurried footsteps in the hallway and his door flung open. “Yuri what was - What’s wrong ?”
He didn’t expect Stas to be the one to check on him. He gave him his back, pressing his face into his pillow. His mattress sunk as he sat down and a rough, warm hand settled between his shoulder blades.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
He couldn’t even talk, he could barely breathe, so he just shook his head. Stas sighed, softly rubbing circles against his back.
“I know things have been really tough for you-”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he mumbled, his voice all choked and rough.
“Okay. I can’t even imagine what you feel like. It was hard enough when your grandparents got the news.”
He swallowed, screwing his eyes shut but tears still flowed. There were a few moments of silence before Stas pulled him upright.
“Come on, let’s go for a walk. Being cooped up in your room isn’t doing you any good.”
Yuri wiped his eyes with his palms. “Don’t want to,” he blubbered, but Stas shook his head. His expression was so soft, eyes tender and earnest.
Yuri sighed wiping his face again, and sniffling to clear his nose. “Fine.”
It had stopped raining, but the sky was still grey and quickly darkening. They walked along the wheat beds, shoes squelching in the mud and leaving sticky prints. Dog padded along, alternating between lagging behind and wandering ahead. The air was heavy with the smell of wet earth, but still smelled clean and light. Yuri shoved his hands into his pockets as he walked, his eyes felt raw and swollen, but the clean air had helped to clear his nose and throat. Stas was silent as he walked beside him, for once in his life not trying to say something funny or stupid.
Yuri breathed in deeply, pausing to watch Dog sniff at a clump of dirt. His paws and legs were muddy, and his stomach was covered with flecks of dirt.
“You’re going to have to hose him down before he comes back inside,” Stas observed.
“I know,” Yuri mumbled. “He stinks too.”
Stas chuckled, clapping Yuri’s shoulder. “Hey, I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it, but everyone on the farm is here for you. You’re not alone, okay?”
“I’m serious. Your grandparents have done so much for all of us, and, well I… I really care about you too okay?” Yuri looked up to see him staring off into the distance. “So, if you ever need anything-”
“Thanks,” Yuri turned away, following Dog as he trotted further away. “But you don’t have to. I know you think I’m a freak anyway.”
“What? No, I don’t!”
Yuri snorted, finally catching up to Dog, and stroking his back. He looked over his shoulder, pressing his nose to Yuri’s wrist. “I know you don’t like that I’m gay.”
There was a short silence. “I don’t… That’s not the problem, Yurochka,” he sighed. “It just makes we worry, okay?” Yuri rolled his eyes as Dog rubbed against his waist, circling him and pushing his head against his back. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
He laughed bitterly. It was a bit late for that. “I’ll be fine.”
Stas sighed, bending down to pick up a muddy stick. He waved it in front of Dog’s face, getting his attention, before launching it across the field. Dog’s eyes followed the stick, but he turned back to Yuri, biting the hem of his shirt and tugging.
Yuri giggled, patting his head. “Guess he doesn’t know fetch.”
Stas shook his head, wiping his hands on his jeans. “Guess not.”
Yuri sniffled, stooping down, and rubbing either side of Dog’s neck. He licked his cheek and chin, tail slowly wagging.
“So, heard you went on a date the other day.”
Yuri sighed, batting Dog’s snout away when he tried to lick him again. His mouth was being enough to go around Yuri’s neck, and his teeth were long enough to go through his palm, but his bite was gentle around his wrist. He nipped and gnawed playfully, but none of it hurt. Yuri laughed, tugging his arm away and swinging it in front of his face.
“With the mechanic.” Stas continued.
He clenched his jaw, pushing Dog away with a palm to his shoulder.“I don’t want to talk about that either.” He bounced back, light on his feet and caught Yuri’s hood in his mouth.
“Oh. It was that bad?”
“I guess. It doesn’t matter. He’s gone anyway.” He tugged his hood back, pushing Dog away again. He circled around him, jumping, paws landing against the middle of Yuri’s back, before springing away. “Hey!” Yuri grabbed at him, but he was too quick.
“Yeah. He left town. Dunno if or when he’s coming back.”
Stas swore, stepping aside as Dog barrelled past, zooming up and down between the beds. He nipped at Yuri’s legs each time he passed. “He asked you out on a date and just left?”
Yuri grabbed at Dog as he passed, but he slipped through his hands like water. “I don’t want to talk about it.” His stomach dropped again, chest tightening and eyes stinging. Fuck. He watched Dog until he was a blur.
“You deserve someone so much better than that,” Stas mumbled.
Yuri sniffed, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve. “It’s whatever. I don’t even care.”
Stas shoved his hands into his pockets. “You’ll find someone else.”
Yuri raised an eyebrow, turning to look at him. Stas was an asshole, but there were times when he really tried to be decent. He used to tease Yuri about his teddy bear when he was younger, but then he showed him how to play Street Fighter on his brother’s old Play Station. He’d also take him for rides on his dirt bike before he had to scrap it a few years ago.
“I’m not sure if-”
He didn’t see Dog running back to him, but his solid mass against his back knocked the wind out of him. He got a mouthful of mud and a bruised shoulder, but Dog was all over him, nosing his ribs, tugging at his shirt and licking every bit of bare skin he could find. His fur tickled, his tongue was everywhere at once. Yuri rolled around, trying to free himself from the onslaught, giggling and not caring that he was covering himself in mud, while Stas’ laughter echoed across the field.
Chapter 6: The Beast
Grandma tried to look upset when she saw Yuri and Dog covered in mud, but she ended up laughing and sprayed both of them with the hose before they were allowed inside. Still, they needed a bath. Having no idea what was coming, Dog happily followed Yuri into the bathroom and didn’t even bat an eye when he shut the door. But, he got into the tub pretty easily and sat down in the warm water, eyelids drooping sleepily. Okay, this was going to be much easier than he thought.
Yuri giggled, sitting down on the bathmat and spraying Dog’s back with the detachable shower head. He didn’t mind water, and he loved being shampooed, laying down as if Yuri was giving him a full body massage. He was big enough to take up almost the entire tub, but that didn’t stop him from going boneless and allowing Yuri to scrub every inch of him. He smelled of Yuri’s Moroccan oil shampoo afterwards, but it was an upgrade from wet dog and mud. The most difficult part was drying him when he tried to play tug with the towel and licked Yuri’s face every chance he got. Then when Yuri was taking his own shower, he pushed back the curtain and licked the water dripping down his thigh.
Yuri chuckled, watching him rest his chin against the tub ledge and look up at him. “You’re really just a giant puppy, huh?”
Dog’s ears twitched and he shook the stray water droplets from his face.
Grandma came up to his room while he was braiding his damp hair, with a mug of hot chocolate and a few slices of ham. Potya was winding herself around her feet as she walked, meowing pitifully. Dog had been sleeping on the bed, but had woken up when Grandma came in and Potya either didn’t notice him or didn’t care, jumping onto Yuri’s desk and staring at Grandma. Dog’s eyes were fixed on her, however.
“No, kitty,” Grandma scolded her, handing Yuri the mug. “You already got yours.”
Yuri giggled when she meowed sadly and Grandma huffed breaking off a tiny piece of meat for her.
“Now you.” She turned to Dog. “You’re not eating on that bed. Come here.”
Dog tilted his head to the side, ears perking up, but only moved when she waved the slice of ham. The floorboards rattled when he landed and Grandma’s eyes widened.
“Thanks, Babulya,” Yuri mumbled, taking sip.
She sat down on the edge of his bed and began to reorganise his pillows. “I know none of this has been easy for you.” Yuri bit his lip. Oh, it was going to be one of those talks. His stomach was already spasming around his small sip of hot chocolate. He set the mug down. “But your Dedulya and I love you no matter what. And we will get through this together, as a family.” He nodded, looking down at his lap. “Remember, zajchik , you’re not alone; we’re all here to help.” Suddenly she was hugging him to her chest. Yuri let his eyes fall shut, leaning heavily against her as cold swirled in his stomach.
Now that Dog was on the floor, Potya took interest, staring unblinkingly as he gobbled up his snack and Yuri suddenly wondered if it was a good idea to have them around each other. Potya was a big cat, but Dog was easily over 100 pounds. He could eat her as a second snack.
Yuri reached out to pet her, but she batted his hand away and lay down with her front paws hanging off the edge of the desk. Dog looked up, licking his lips and Grandma slowly pulled away.
“Do you think we should separate them?” she asked softly.
It was probably a good idea, especially since neither one of them had blinked in a while. Nodding, he reached out to Potya, but she glared at him and slipped out of reach. Yuri sighed, hands falling to his lap.
“Come on, baby, you need to go with Babulya,” he grumbled, but she ignored him, now completely out of reach sitting on the far edge of his desk, tail slowly swinging as she stared Dog down.
Dog didn’t look away, but he lowered his head, whining low at the back of his throat before lying down on his stomach and resting his chin between his paws. He looked up at Potya, with gold puppy-eyes, thumping his tail softly against the floor.
“Um…” Yuri looked between the animals and Grandma before Dog sprang into a bow, which Yuri knew was dog-language for ‘let’s play’. Potya went back to ignoring him and that was apparently too much for him to handle because he started whining even louder.
Grandma laughed, rounding the back of Yuri’s chair, and scooped Potya into her arms.
“Come on, kitty. Stop teasing the dog.”
Potya slumped against her chest, purring loudly as Grandma left. “Good night, Yurochka.”
Dog cuddled up to him when the lights went off, curling against Yuri’s stomach and pushing him against the wall. Sighing, he stroked his neck, feeling the gentle rise and fall of his chest.
“I need to get you your own bed.”
He sighed, his back leg twitching and kicking Yuri in the thigh.
Yuri woke sometime that night to a cold bed and Dog scratching at the door. His claws scraped and sliced the wood and he was sniffing and whining urgently. Yuri shot up, eyes widening when he realised what damage his claws would cause. Grandma would kick him out if she saw scratches on the door.
“Hey,” he rolled out of bed, yanking Dog away by his shoulders, but he pulled out of Yuri’s grasp easily and went back to scratching. “Stop it, what’s the matter?”
He growled low in his throat, and jumped against the door. Yuri swore it cracked against his weight. But now his stomach was quivering and cold lightning struck in his chest. Was there something outside? Was the beast outside? Had it come back?
He swallowed, reaching out to stroke Dog and try to calm him down. His hands were so not shaking and he did not feel like vomiting. “Okay, okay!” He stroked his back, but Dog shook him off. “Do you need to go outside?”
As soon as he opened the door Dog ran downstairs and began scrabbling at the front door. Yuri ran down behind him, trying to be as quiet as possible, but a loud howl pierced the air. The hairs on the back of his neck actually raised, and goosebumps prickled his arms and legs, like a ghost had just breathed out cold air all over him.
“No! Shhh,” he hissed, but Dog didn’t listen, rising on his back feet, throwing his head back, and howling his lungs out.
A door opened upstairs and Grandpa’s heavy footsteps echoed down the hallway. “Yurochka-“
He cursed. “I know, I’m letting him out-“
Dog barrelled through the crack in the door, pulling the doorknob right out of Yuri’s hands. It slammed against the wall hard enough to make the entire house shake. He took off across the porch and down the driveway in a few blinks and disappeared off into the night. Yuri stood watching the blackness outside, his stomach sinking to his knees. He stumbled across the porch, knees slamming together. It wasn’t raining anymore, but the wind was strong and everything smelled wet and cold. His hair stung his cheeks, and his breath caught in his throat.
“No, Dog, come back!” Fuck. His heart was racing now and he got to the porch railing before a heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“It’s okay, Yurochka.” Grandpa's voice was low with sleep. “He’ll come back when he’s done with whatever business he had.”
“But…” It wasn’t safe outside, what if he got hurt?
“He’ll come back.”
Yuri swallowed, but the lump in his throat only got bigger. Grandpa wrapped an arm around his shoulders and lead him back inside. Once the door was shut they stood in unnerving quiet and Grandpa still hugged him.
“Go back to sleep,” he said. “If he’s not back by morning we’ll go look for him.”
Yuri couldn’t fall back asleep. The bed was like ice without Dog. It was weird he’d only had him for like three days, but it didn’t feel right that he was gone. The wind howled, rattling loose sideboards and Yuri hid his head under his pillow. He felt sick, his stomach rolling around a knife and his chest felt like a broken, glass vase. All he could see was Dog running around in the woods and that creature chasing him, catching him, and tearing him to shreds. He heard him squealing in pain as red blossomed through the white fur on his chest and belly. He screwed his eyes shut, cursing himself and hugging one of his pillows to his chest. Dog was going to be alright. He had pretty much won the fight with the beast thing. He was going to be fine. He’d come back; he wouldn’t leave him now.
Still, just the thought of vertically slitted pupils and coarse, dark fur had him trembling until the house phone rang, a shrill screech, which pierced through the grey of the morning. Yuri rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, listening as Grandma padded to the phone in the kitchen. His insides felt like crumbles of charcoal and his eyes were throbbing and dry.
Grandma’s voice floated upstairs in a soothing hum. Yuri couldn’t make out her words, but it was enough to have him sitting up and yawning. It was bright enough to go look for Dog anyway. Sitting on the edge of his bed, he blinked hard to clear his fuzzy vision. He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, it felt like a few sluggish seconds, but there was a knock on his door.
“Yurochka?” Grandpa called.
“Yeah, I’m awake.”
The second the door open heavy breathing filled the room and Dog dashed across the floor, leaping onto Yuri’s bed, licking his face like he hadn’t seen him in years. Spluttering and turning his head so Dog couldn't get his mouth, he buried his hands in his fur. Relief flooded down to his bones, and it was almost too much to keep upright, especially with Dog attacking him. He flopped backwards, eyelids so dry and heavy he couldn’t keep them open. Dog settled down, curling around Yuri’s head, and resting his chin on his shoulder.
“You look like you didn’t sleep,” Grandpa’s voice was solemn as he sat down on the bed next to Yuri.
Yuri shook his head and Grandpa patted his thigh. He looked like he needed to say something. Yuri stared at him, following the lines around his eyes and along his cheeks.
“There’s been another attack,” he said softly after taking a deep breath. Yuri’s stomach clenched and he sat up, dislodging Dog’s chin. “Vadim Luski’s farm.” Yuri nodded; that was even closer than the Petrovs. The Luskis had the biggest cattle farm in town. When the wind blew strong enough in the right way, he could smell them. His breath came out shaky. “Whatever that dog heard last night,” he shook his head. “It’s a very dangerous creature.”
“Was it bad?”
Grandpa paused. “Yes. I’m going over with the men to see how much we can fix. Sasha and the children are going to stay with us for a while, be nice to them okay?”
The Luskis had three children, but Ustin had been a baby back then, so Yuri used to play with the older two sometimes. Viola and Marka were rough and loud and teased him because he couldn’t run as fast, and made fun of his city accent. The summer after he had came out Marka had whispered behind his hands when he saw him at the grocery store. He hadn’t spoken to Viola in years, and he wasn’t really looking forward to it now.
“We were so scared, Galya.”
Yuri stopped Dog from going into the kitchen, and peered around the doorframe to see the Luskis seated around the kitchen table while Grandma and Zeynep prepared tea and a tray of cookies.
“Growling and clawing all around the house, I’ve never heard an animal sound that angry.”
“It sounded like it wanted to get inside.” He recognised Viola’s voice.
“Inside?” Zeynep echoed, horrified.
“Yeah, it was scratching the windows and everything. Sounded like it was going to break down the door too.”
“There were claw marks on the walls!” Ustin blurted. “Huge ones, bigger than Papa’s hands.”
Yuri swallowed, curling his fingers around the loose skin at Dog’s neck. His stomach was swirling, and the air was almost hard to breathe. Slitted pupils flashed in front of his eyes again and his back began to itch.
“Thank the heavens it got the animals and not you,” Grandma breathed.
Sasha sighed heavily. “Yes, even with his gun I don’t think Vadim could have done much. The way it tore at the cows. I’ve never seen any animal do that.”
“I heard the government has been doing doing experiments-”
“Oh hush, Viola.”
“But what else would it be? A wolf would never go up to a house and attack it. And they don’t kill for fun.”
“For fun?” Grandma asked as Yuri heard her clunk a few mugs onto the table.
“Yeah, it just killed like five of them and left them there. I did a report on wolves; they don’t do that, they only take what they need.”
Sasha sighed. “You should go tell it that. I just hope the traps can get it. Anyway, thank you so much for letting us stay with you, Galya.”
“Of course, what are neighbours for?”
There was a beat of silence and Yuri was about to drag Dog back upstairs but Sasha went on.
“I heard Yuri is living here now?”
“Yes. He’s probably still sleeping - oh.” She glanced to the doorway and her eyes flickered to Dog before she shook her head. “One moment, Sasha.”
Grandma kissed him good morning before guiding him and Dog to the front door. “He needs to stay outside, Yurochka, at least for now.”
Yuri frowned. “But-”
“Please, just do what I tell you, for once.”
He snapped his mouth shut, grinding his teeth together and tugged Dog outside. “It wasn’t him. I don’t care what anyone says. Dog isn’t going around killing cows.”
Grandma blinked. “I know, but he looks like a wolf, and I don’t want to frighten anyone more than they already are. Put him in the barn-”
“He’s not sleeping outside!”
“He has to; you’re sharing your room with Marka and Ustin.”
“ What? I didn’t agree to that!”
Grandma folded her arms across her chest and Yuri knew that arguing with her would only get him in trouble. He balled his hands into fists, heavy smoke lazily rolling in his lungs. “Fine, I’m sleeping in the barn too!”
He slammed the door and stomped across the porch. Dog trotted after him, nipping at the backs of his legs.
Yuri locked the barn door from the inside, ignoring Grandma when she called him for breakfast.
“You wouldn’t hurt a fly,” he told Dog. “They’re just dumb.” Dog was stretched out on his side, sleeping and Yuri felt like doing the same, even if the stray pieces of hay were making his legs and arms itch. “But whatever that thing is, it’s really dangerous. It probably would have killed me if you hadn’t… yeah. How’s your side doing anyway?”
He sat up, rolling onto his stomach and crawling closer. His fur was starting grow back over his side. Yuri frowned, parting the hairs with his palms. Was it his other side that had gotten hurt? A growl made him jump as Dog eyed him with irritation.
“Okay, sorry. I guess it was that side. But where the fuck is it? There’s no way you could have healed that fast. It’s been what, like a week?”
He blinked, yeah a week. Suddenly even more tired than before, he pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his cheek against them. It was the world’s longest week. So much had happened, and yet, no time had passed at all. It had only been three days since his and Otabek’s date, but it felt like a lifetime ago.
“What did I do?” he asked Dog, a black pit opening in his stomach. “What did I do to make him leave me?” Dog sighed. “Did I say something? Did I not text him fast enough? Was I too boring, or did he hate my makeup?”
Yuri’s eyes started to prickle and he regretted putting on mascara. Things had been going so well, but then Otabek had just left like Yuri didn’t matter to him one bit. And now that his phone was broken he couldn’t even try to find out what went wrong. He had tried turning it on that morning, but nothing had happened. The screen was shattered and it was dented at one corner. There was no way Grandpa was going to get him a new one either.
Tears choked him, and he flopped over sideways. It wasn’t fair, he was just trying to be happy. That’s all he wanted.
He stayed in the barn alternating between fitful sleep and staring at the dusty rafters, clenching his jaw to keep tears from falling from the corners of his eyes until banging like thunder had him jumping. Dog was on his feet in seconds, staring at the door as it shook.
“Yuri Agapovich Plisetsky, get out here this instant,” Grandpa roared. Oh shit. Yuri hadn’t heard him this mad in ages. The door rattled on its hinges and Yuri jumped to his feet, wiping at his eyes.
Opening the door and facing Grandpa’s furious face made him feel like he was six years old again and about to be spanked. He hung his head, looking anywhere but at Grandpa. His skin was prickling and he felt like he’d eaten ants.
“What is wrong with you?” Grandpa yelled, grabbing him by his arm and dragging him to the house. “I asked you to be a good host, and instead you throw a tantrum like a little child because your Babulya asked you to share your room?” His grip was like a vice around Yuri’s bicep, pulling his skin tight and red. “You’re too old for this behaviour, do you even think, do you know how embarrassing that was for your Babulya? How it reflected on us as a family?” Yuri’s throat stung, and Grandpa’s grip got tighter the closer they got to the house. “You’re going to go in there and apologise to everyone, your Babulya, and the Luskis!” He dragged Yuri up the stairs yanking like he wanted to detach his arm from his body.
“Ow, Deda, that hurts-”
Grandpa dropped his arm like it had burnt him and he stood still, his rage falling for a second. Yuri cradled his arm to his chest, not even trying to fight the tears that streamed down his face. His cheeks were hot, and the back of his neck felt like he’d been stung by a swarm of wasps. He stared at his feet.
“Sorry.” Grandpa’s voice was gruff. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Yuri hiccuped, unable to move his head. “Yurochka, I...” Yuri bit his lip, just then realising that it was trembling. Grandpa set a hand against the back of his neck, massaging and gently pinching the bumps of his spine. “Much too skinny,” he mumbled. “What’s the matter? I hope you’re not crying because you have to share your room.”
“No,” Yuri pulled away, wiping his face with the back of his hands. Dog was staring at them, neck low, ears flat against his skull, and looking warily at Grandpa. “No…” he repeated, sniffling and hiccuping. “There’s just too much happening.”
Grandpa sighed, pulling him tightly to his chest then guiding him across the porch to the wooden bench next to the front door. “I know it’s hard, Yurochka. I miss him too.”
Yuri swallowed. “Everyone leaves me.”
Grandpa was silent for a while. “Well, your Babulya and I aren’t going anywhere. I can promise you that.”
Yuri felt his bottom lip tremble, and he took a deep breath trying to pull himself together. Grandpa always hated it when he cried. Boys weren’t supposed to cry, even the gay ones.
The trap worked, they caught a wolf the next morning. It was a female barely more than thirty kilograms; there was no way she was responsible for killing all those cows. But the Luskis went back home that afternoon, and Yuri was free from Ustin’s questions about everything in his makeup bag, and Marka’s disgusted glares. Viola had surprised him, though, following him on Instagram and liking a few of his makeup videos. She said something about making plans once he got a new phone, but Yuri wasn’t going to take her seriously.
“They do know that can’t be the wolf that was killing all the animals,” Yuri grumbled over dinner.
Jora and Tima, had been trading stories about hunting wolves with their parents when they were younger. Yuri felt sick as he glared at the melted butter, dripping down the sides of his baked potato. He knew the wolf population got out of hand sometimes, and they could be nuisances when it came to killing livestock, but it wasn’t their fault. They shouldn’t be killed just for trying to live.
“Of course it wasn’t that little she-wolf.” Jora hummed. “That thing was half the size of Dog, she couldn’t take down a cow by herself.”
“So then why is everyone so happy?”
“Relieved,” he corrected. “The only good wolf is a dead wolf.”
“Jora!” Grandma admonished.
He chuckled. “They’re nuisances, Yurochka, they’d overrun the town if they could.”
“They eat our garbage and scraps! They’re only trying to survive!”
“And so are we.”
Yuri fell silent, his stomach gurgling and throat dry. He went back to glaring at his plate.
“You know,” Stas began and Yuri knew at once it was going to be a terrible joke. “Dog looks a lot like a wolf. You better keep him on a tight leash or something could happen to him.”
“Stas,” Grandpa said as a warning, but Yuri had already pushed his chair away from the table.
“That’s not funny,” he spat.
Dog dashed out from under the table and followed him back to his room. Grandpa didn’t even try to stop him.
Chapter 7: The Story
A cold gust of wind woke Yuri up. He shot upright, blinking wildly and swearing; he hadn’t meant to fall asleep in the barn. It was way past sunset, he couldn’t even see his hand when he put it up in front of his face and for the hundredth time he cursed himself for breaking his phone. His skin was prickling from falling asleep in dusty hay, and there were goosebumps all along his arms and legs. He’d been napping with Dog earlier that evening, but apparently he was more tired than he thought. Fuck what time was it?
He got to his feet, stretching, and ducked around the ladder that lead to the hayloft. Dog had picked the furthest, most hidden corner so, Yuri had just followed him. Actually, were was Dog and - fuck . Yuri froze, skin going icy. The giant sliding door, which they only used to get tractors and hay bales out was wide open. Faint streams of silvery moonlight shone through, casting shadows from little clumps of hay and dust-bunnies. It was almost full moon, but clouds were blocking most of it. The world outside was black, eerily outlined in silver and white and a cold wind blew Yuri’s hair around his face.
Okay, what was going on, why was the door open? He couldn’t even believe he’d slept through the loud, rusty creaks and rumbling -
There was a person. Leaning against the doorframe, a man. One of the workers? He was outlined in silver, but Yuri couldn’t make out his face.
“Who’s there?” he called out. “Stas?” Taking a few steps closer and squinting to make out who it was, he realised - “Holy fuck!”
He was naked.
“What kind of sick, fucking game-”
The guy looked over his shoulder, just as the wind blew a cloud away from the moon, and white light illuminated the entire barn. Yuri stumbled backwards before he fell on his butt. His heart beat in his chest like it had forgotten how, and his brain buzzed.
“What the fuck!” he yelled, scrambling backwards. “What the fuck!”
It was Otabek.
Yuri was sure he was going to pass out. He was still on the ground, trying to get his lungs to work while Otabek rolled the door shut so he could turn on the overhead lights and not wake up anyone in the house. But Yuri’s mind was reeling, he was positive that he was actually swaying as he sat, because what the fuck was going on?
He watched Otabek like he was seeing him through a tunnel. His voice refused to work and he could feel the gears clunking in his head, the same stuttering thought repeated over and over. Otabek was gone, he had left town, he hadn’t answered any of his calls or messages. What was he doing here now and, more importantly, where the fuck was he naked?
“Okay,” Otabek began and Yuri blinked, trying to swallow, but nothing was working like it was supposed to. “I promise this isn’t what it looks like.”
“Wh-what does it look like?” Yuri’s voice was a hoarse whisper.
Otabek paused; he was still standing by the light-switch and hadn’t come any closer since Yuri had started screaming. “I um… well,” he scratched the back of his neck. “I’m… not some kind of messed up pervert. If that’s where your mind was.”
Yuri blinked. He’d be lying if he said that hadn’t crossed his mind. He’d woken up to a strange, naked man in the same room as him; there was no possible good ending to the story. He tried to take a deep breath again, but there was a steal rope across his chest. He should have gotten up and left, called the police, or go get Grandpa at least. But this was Otabek . He’d asked him out on a date, he’d driven him home, made him laugh, he’d called him cute and said that he liked him. They were supposed to go on a second date, they were supposed to start dating, and Yuri had really liked him; he had wanted to kiss him. But now it felt like he’d been punched in the stomach and face. What did he do if they guy he really liked turned out to be an insane criminal? He stared at the goosebumps on his thighs, knowing he was going to vomit if he looked at Otabek any longer. And where was Dog? He needed him right now.
“What’s going on?”
“I… don’t know how to explain this. I’m not sure you’ll believe me anyway.”
Yeah, that was exactly what he needed to hear. Yuri looked up, a hot bullet of anger shooting up the back of his neck. “You were gone for five fucking days! ” He got to his feet, balling his hands into fists as his breath clawed like a monster inside his chest. “You just disappeared without a word, I tried calling you and texting you and fucking nothing! Then you just turn up here, naked , and I’m just supposed to believe that you’re not some sort of crazy person? Or a fucking rapist?”
Otabek at least had the decency to cover himself with his hands, but his eyes widened before he gave a short, frustrated sigh. “I… know it sounds… terrible. And I… I never wanted to put you through anything like this. But I… Yuri.” He took a shaky breath then another, almost sounding like he was starting to panic. “Okay, first, I’m not crazy. This looks bad, but I’m not insane. I can promise you that.”
Yuri swallowed. “So what the fuck is going on?” His voice cracked and his vision grew blurry. “You said you liked me and then you disappeared.”
Otabek opened his mouth, at a loss for words for a second, but his expression was so pained, that Yuri’s breath caught in his throat again. “I… do like you. I really really do, and just leaving like that wasn’t my choice. I should have told you,” his voice cracked and he grimaced, clearing his throat. “But I thought I’d be back before it even became a thing.”
Yuri stared at the lines between his eyebrows, his hands were numb and something was crawling up the back of his throat. “So, explain. Explain why I shouldn’t call the police.”
Otabek breathed out in frustration, screwing his eyes shut and banging the back of his head against the wall. “You won’t believe me.”
“Try me.” Otabek shook his head. Yuri’s throat swelled up and he blinked to hold back the tears. “Okay. I’m calling the police. You can run if you want.” So, he really wasn’t meant to be happy.
“No, Yuri, please-”
“If you think that turning up here like this is okay, then you are crazy and you need help!”
“ Then explain what’s going on !” His voice tore at his vocal cords “I need a reason why, fuck !”
Otabek swallowed, taking a deep, shuddering breath. His shoulders rose and fell with the effort. “Okay,” he mumbled through gritted teeth. “Okay, just don’t be scared.”
Yuri blinked. “Scared?”
“Promise me you won’t run away.”
They stared at each other for a few long seconds. Yuri bit his lip, nodding. He had really really liked Otabek, at least he could do this before he called the police. “Okay, I won’t.”
Otabek nodded, standing up straight and rolling his shoulders. The only way Yuri could explain it was that he started to blur, like a camera going out of focus.
“Just don’t run away, please.” His voice sounded weird too, muffled and shaking.
“I won’t, but what’s… what’s happening?” The more Yuri blinked the weirder it got. He forgot how to breath, his heart forgot how to beat, and he couldn’t even think enough to process what was happening.
Otabek was changing, the blurriness from before was something that looked like dust, rising from his skin. Hair grew in places it wasn’t before, his skin peeled away like sunburn to just evaporate into a silver cloud. He shrunk and grew, face elongating and skull shrinking, nails thickening and turning black. Yuri’s legs stopped working, but he didn’t remember hitting the ground.
His world shattered for a third time.
“D-dog?” he croaked. His vision was swimming and he was lightheaded and in danger of passing out because he just couldn’t breathe , but Dog was sitting where Otabek had been a few seconds ago, itching like he was overrun with fleas. His ear twitched at Yuri’s voice and he sprang up trotting over to lick his face. Yuri raised a shaking hand to Dog’s forehead. Yes, the coarse charcoal fur was real; Dog was real. Then Otabek…
God, he was going to faint.
Dog trotted in a tight circle, seemingly agitated as a soft whine escaped his throat. He darted to the hidden corner where he’d made his bed and a few seconds later Otabek came stumbling back.
He stood a few feet away from Yuri, brushing his hair out of his face and working his shoulders. Again, their eyes met for a few moments. Things were getting fainter by the second, and Yuri’s brain was short circuiting. Otabek had explained, but now everything was even more confusing. Grey was definitely coming in at the edges of his vision.
“You’re bleeding,” Otabek sounded panicked, dashing to Yuri’s side. Oh. He’d grazed his knee when he fell. He didn’t feel it. “Hey, Yura,” Otabek’s voice was far away again. “No, stay with me. Stay-”
For the second time that night he didn’t remember hitting the ground.
“You’re a werewolf.” Yuri said, the words were almost foreign in his mouth. Otabek nodded. “An actual werewolf, from like the myths.”
They were sitting on Yuri’s bed, facing each other. His bedside lamp was the only light source, and the room was golden-orange. He’d only blacked out for a few minutes, but Otabek had caught him before he hurt anything else. Nothing made sense anymore, but it felt as if big chunks were finally slotting into place.
“Sorry, I like saw you change and everything but…”
“I know it’s a lot to take in. I’ve been like this my whole life; my entire family are werewolves. But it doesn't really make sense to you, does it?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m just… I have to believe you now.” He swallowed, hooking his fingers around his toes and staring at them. “So when you left…”
Otabek took a deep breath, playing with the hem of Grandpa’s old t-shirt and tugging it down his lap. “Yeah. I was hurt that night, on our date. I lied, it was pretty bad. But uh, when I change it sort of forces me to heal faster, with like all the new muscles and tissue growth. So, I changed into my wolf. I only needed to heal and rest; I didn’t think I’d just forget everything and go searching for you-”
“Searching? For me?”
Otabek winced and shook his head. “I… uh, not like that exactly. I just wanted to see you and well, it’s just when I’m me, I’m me, and when I change, I’m a… wolf. Mind and body.”
Yuri blinked. That honestly sounded terrifying. “There’s no control at all? Like you could just attack-”
“I won’t. I didn’t attack you.” He looked mad for a second, frowning at the bedspread.
Otabek sighed. “I won’t hurt anyone. I don’t have human control, I don’t think like a person, but… I dunno, I just feel what’s right. You were never in any danger around me. I like you too much.”
“That’s why you were friendly?” He chuckled dryly, running a and through his hair. This was so fucking weird, but he felt better about it. Maybe it was just because Otabek wasn’t crazy, and still liked him, and they were alone in his room, and he was on his bed in one of Grandpa’s old shirts because he’d ripped the one Yuri gave him because his muscles were so fucking huge. He paused to breathe. Tonight hadn’t gone at all how he thought it would. But he was strangely relieved; his chest was warm and the butterflies were back in his stomach and he couldn’t help but stare. Otabek was back, or he hadn’t really even left. He’d been the fucking dog . He shook his head, laughing internally. This was just all so bizarre.
Otabek still looked like himself, like a model. His hair was wet from his quick shower and he really, really looked amazing in the gold lighting. His profile was perfection, and Yuri wondered if his muscles were just because he was a werewolf, 'cause he was way too built just for the heck of it. He stared at the tendon on the side of Otabek’s neck, moving up along his sharp jaw, to his chin, his full lips, upturned nose, and those fucking mile-long eyelashes and - Otabek caught him staring. Yuri jumped and blushed, looking away.
“I thought you were going to attack me,” he cleared his throat, tugging at a lock of hair. “But then you jumped on me and started licking and -” he broke off into a loud gasp, face catching on fire. “I bathed you. You watched me shower !”
Otabek blinked, going red. “I did?” he swore. Yuri hid his face with his hands; it was hot to the touch. “I don’t… remember. Don’t worry, I’m just as upset about it as you.”
Yuri looked up, his mouth hanging open. And okay, he was going to combust. But had Otabek just… his face was so deadpan. “Uh…”
Otabek jumped slightly, blinking and blushing deeper. “I… that wasn’t supposed to be out loud.” He pinched the bridge of his nose.
Yuri blinked, a small, trembling flame igniting in his chest. “You are so weird,” he mumbled, tracing his finger along the red lines where his stitches had been.
“I’m serious, though. I don’t remember.” He was still blushing. “Thoughts and memories don’t translate well between wolf and human. So, like I think I remember the sound of the shower… uh your face, the smell of the shampoo, but uh…”
“It’s okay, you kinda made up for it… in the barn.”
He really had, thinking back now that he wasn’t terrified out of him mind, Otabek was so fucking muscular, his chest was like a brick wall, and his thighs were glorious and thick. He was pretty hairy, though it made sense now; his chest and stomach had been almost covered in black hair. And, of course, lower between his legs - Yuri’s cheeks heated, and he bit his lip. Okay, he wasn’t really a fan of body hair, especially not on himself. He was praying that he never grew chest hair, but on Otabek he didn’t hate it. It suited him and honestly was a little bit hot. He cleared his throat.
Otabek’s eyes widened and he groaned softly. “Sorry.”
Yuri giggled, scooting close enough that their knees touched. Otabek looked up at him through his eyelashes. It felt like a dream. “I knew there was something off about you.”
Otabek’s shoulders came up to his ears. “I understand if you don’t want to… see me anymore-”
Scoffing, Yuri flicked his forehead. “I guess, this is so fucking weird, but… I still like you. I liked you before I knew… and well, this doesn’t make you different, right?” Otabek finally raised his head, mouth agape. “Besides, you, uh, saved me from that… thing. I could have … died, but then you - yeah.”
Otabek’s throat bobbed, and he slowly reached out to cover Yuri’s uninjured knee with his palm. He didn’t have to say anything. Yuri placed his hand over his, slotting their fingers together. His hands were so much bigger and his fingers were thick and short, almost like wolf paws.
“What was that thing? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“It’s called a chimera. They’re a mix between two or more animals and they can get pretty nasty, so I usually just do my best to keep them away from the town. I’ve been hunting that one for a while now, actually. But it’s… I’ve never seen one this big before, or aggressive.”
Yuri swallowed. “So that’s what’s been killing all the cows?” He nodded. “And they’ve come here before? How do they get here? Where do they come from?”
“Something about this town, draws them in; I guess that’s why I really ended up here. But I have no idea where they come from. I’ve tried tracking the source, but I haven’t been able to find any leads.”
“Something about this town?”
Otabek breathed out. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s a sort of energy that just pulls you. I was on my bike and I just took a turn and this town just felt right to me.”
Yuri scoffed. “But it sucks.”
“Plants grow really well here. You have to admit your Dedulya’s harvests are pretty impressive. The livestock is healthy, even the wolf packs that scavenge are thriving.”
“Is it magic?”
Otabek stared at him, blinking slowly. “Yes and no. It’s energy from the earth.”
Yuri blinked, and everything was too much for him again. This was an entirely new world. Otabek’s world. He didn’t know anything about it, how was he supposed to keep up? Maybe Otabek should just leave him behind -
“Hey, Yura,” Otabek’s hand was suddenly on his cheek, and he realised that his breathing had gotten very shallow very quickly. “It’s okay, I’ll protect you. No matter what. I’ll keep you safe.”
He swallowed, leaning into Otabek’s touch. “I don’t know anything about you,” he mumbled.
“I…” He stroked Yuri’s cheekbone and the puffy skin under his eye. “I can teach you. If you want.”
Yuri held his breath. “Really? You don’t think I’ll be a burden? You don’t think it’ll be easier to just leave me behind?”
Otabek swallowed again, hooking a finger under Yuri’s chin, gently forcing him to look up. “No.” He stared directly into his eyes. They were black in the dim light, and Yuri though he’d fall into them. “I really like you, and… well I, want you with me. For as long as possible. If you want.”
It was probably because his emotions were everywhere all at once, his head was buzzing and his body was tingling, and his heartbeat was pretty much the only thing he could hear. He surged forward, tumbling onto Otabek’s lap. His missed his mouth at first, but Otabek caught him around the waist and guided his face into the proper position. Yuri knew he was a good kisser, all his exes had said so, and even though everything was happening far too quickly, he kissed Otabek with everything in his soul. Otabek kissed back with just as much. His fingers tangled in his hair, one hand heavy on his waist. God, he was so warm, and big, and real, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Yuri pressed into him, wrapping his arms around his neck and threading his fingers in the longer hair above his undercut. They moved together, breathed together, and Yuri found himself sitting fully on his lap. They broke apart after an eternity, breathless and red-faced, foreheads pressed together, soft pants mingling.
“This is happening way too fast,” Yuri mumbled, yet he still kissed the corner of his mouth, unable to let him go just yet.
Otabek’s chest rumbled as he hummed. “Maybe,” he answered through a series of slow, soft kisses. Yuri melted into him. “But there’s something about you. Like I’ve been waiting to meet you, like I was supposed to. You just feel so right .”
Yuri sealed their mouths together again, a warm shudder travelling through his entire body. They kissed until Yuri’s lips were raw and they were both out of breath. He pulled Otabek to lie down, and they faced one another. Otabek lulled him to sleep, as he gently traced random patterns along his spine.
“I should get going,” Otabek breathed, kissing the corner of Yuri’s mouth and rubbing their noses together.
“No.” Yuri held onto the back of his shirt. “Stay, please. It’s not like we haven’t slept in the same bed before.”
Otabek chuckled. “This is different.”
He gave in just like that, shuffling so that he could pull the covers over them. Yuri pressed his face right against his chest, holding him tightly. His heartbeat was strong and steady, the perfect lullaby.
“I have to leave in the morning,” he mumbled into his hair. “There are still things I need to do.”
Yuri hummed. “Wake me up before you go.”
“I will. I promise.”
“ Yuri Agapovich Plisetsky !”
Yuri shot upright, startling awake as he looked around. Bright sunlight was streaming in through his open curtains, and Grandma was standing in his doorway, her face a cross between fury and disbelief. Otabek moved behind him and Yuri’s heart started thudding, his face heated enough to catch fire. Fuck.
“Babulya,” he croaked, “I…. it’s not-”
“What is going on in here?”
Grandma called Grandpa in from the fields and had sat him and Otabek down at the kitchen table. Yuri didn’t think he’d ever stop blushing. Otabek was red as well, apparently fascinated with the pattern on the tablecloth. Grandma had lectured them for nearly twenty minutes straight, and refused to listen to Yuri when he said that they hadn’t done anything . Grandpa was mostly quiet but when Yuri looked up, he was trying his hardest not to laugh. In the end Yuri was grounded, something insanely embarrassing to happen in front of his boyfriend - were they boyfriends now? His already strict curfew was made even worse, and if Otabek did ever come over again they weren’t allowed to be in Yuri’s room. He was mortified, especially when they were finally done Grandpa stared Otabek down.
“Altin, a word in private.”
He pulled Otabek into the tiny room at the back of the house he used for accounting and stuff. It felt as if they were in there for hours.
“What did he tell you?” Yuri asked, straddling the porch railing as Otabek looked down the dirt driveway.
“The usual shovel talk.” He ran his hand through his hair, pivoting around a pillar to stand next to Yuri’s thigh. “I’m supposed to take care of you and treat you right.” He brushed a lock of Yuri’s hair behind his ear then traced a knuckle along his jaw. “I don’t need to be threatened to do that.” Yuri’s face went hot again and he bit his lip to hide a smile. “Cute,” he breathed.
Yuri shook his head, laughing. “You’re so weird.”
Otabek smiled his familiar small, crooked grin. “So I hear. So, uh, I guess I should really get going now.”
Yuri’s stomach clenched. “Yeah, I guess. Wait, how are you getting home?” He didn’t have his bike and he was barefoot, still in Grandpa’s borrowed clothes. It had been a miracle neither Grandma or Grandpa had noticed.
Otabek shrugged. “I’ll run.”
“Wolves are much faster than people. Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.” He smoothed his palm along the back of Yuri’s head.
Yuri sighed. “Okay. Let me know when you get back, I mean my phone’s broken but, I still have my laptop-”
“What happened to your phone?”
“Uh, it fell.”
He raised an eyebrow, but shrugged. “Okay.”
And then he was leaning in, and Yuri’s eyes widened when their mouths met. The kiss wasn’t nearly as deep or long as last night, but it had his lips tingling all the same when they broke apart. His heart was fluttering when Otabek’s hand lingered on his cheek.
“I’ll just go back inside to… change and uh,” he took a step back, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah.”
He nodded and smiled doing a little hop before he turned around and apologised to someone he nearly bumped into going through the door.
Stas emerged, looking at though he’d just bit into a lemon. Yuri slipped off the railing, touching his lips and trying to stop himself from jumping up and down and squealing.
“Is he your boyfriend now?” Stas asked, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the doorframe.
Yuri blinked, ears going hot. “Uh, I… yeah.”
“Thought he was an asshole.”
“I… well, I was wrong.”
He scoffed pushing off the doorframe and stomping across the porch. “Whatever,” he mumbled as he passed Yuri. “Fucking fags.”
Yuri blinked, not even sure if he’d really heard anything, but he watched Stas stop to put on his boots before marching off to the main barn.
“What did you just say?”
He worked his jaw when he glared at Yuri from over his shoulder. “You heard me.”
Chapter 8: The Protector
It had taken Yuri nearly a week to convince Grandma to let him go out with Otabek. Grandpa had come to the rescue, winking at Yuri over breakfast and telling him that he would talk to her. He was allowed to go, but it had to be on a weekend, and when someone could pick him up and drop him off. He wasn’t going to argue.
“We’re just going to see a movie, Babulya,” he grumbled. He’d put his hair up into space buns, but still tugged at a wisp of hair, which had fallen loose at his temple.
“So why am I dropping you at his apartment?”
“ Because , we want to get lunch first!”
She sighed. “Alright. I just want you to be careful, Yurochka.”
“Sex comes after marriage-”
“Oh my God!” His cheeks heated enough to melt off his makeup. “We’re not - we didn’t - you know what, I’m not talking about this!”
She shook her head. “Your Dedulya and I trust you, be safe and smart, zajchik .”
She smiled, pulling up right in front of Otabek’s apartment. “And tell Dog hello for me, maybe ask Otabek to bring him over so he can run around. I don’t think he enjoys being cooped up in that tiny apartment.”
Yuri swallowed and nodded. He’d told Grandma that Dog had belonged to Otabek, but had run away when he had left town for a few days. She had offered to get him a new dog, but Yuri had said that he was okay for now.
Again, Otabek waved as Grandma drove off and waited until she had turned the corner before pulling him into a kiss. Yuri swayed, holding onto Otabek’s shoulders. He still couldn’t believe that he and Otabek were actually a thing, that this was actually happening. His stomach fluttered, and he smiled even as they kissed.
“Hey,” Otabek breathed against his mouth when they broke apart. “You look really cute.”
Yuri grinned, glancing down at his denim overalls and striped, thigh-high socks. “Thanks.” He reached up, to smooth a lock of hair from Otabek’s forehead, but paused at his puffy and bloodshot eyes. “You look tired. Is everything okay?”
He sighed softly, opening the door and ushering Yuri inside. “Well, yes technically-”
“So why do you look like a zombie?” Yuri narrowed his eyes, toeing off his black booties.
“Was up late. For the entire week actually.” He leaned against the door when he closed it.
“Hunt-” he cut himself off, eyes widening. There hadn’t been any more attacks this week; had that been Otabek’s doing? “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He was silent as he sat down on the loveseat and Yuri stood in the middle of the room. “It’s just that people are going a bit crazy with the traps. And the gunshots.”
Yuri’s eyes widened. “Gun- you were shot at ?”
Otabek shrugged. “It’s not me I’m worried about.” Yuri bit his lip. Well, he should be. “They caught another one.” The back of Yuri’s neck prickled. “A Female. I heard her crying. I’m not even sure how long she’d been there, but when I got to her she’d already lost too much blood and…” he trailed off raking a hand through his hair. Yuri sat down next to him, his lungs were cold and he wasn’t even sure what to do, but he put his hand against Otabek’s shoulder. Otabek sighed through his nose. “She had pups. I tried to find them, but she had crossed the river to get here and I lost the trail on the other side.”
Yuri swallowed, his heart clenching and unease began to sweep through his stomach. “We can go look for them today.”
Otabek tilted his head, one corner of his mouth flickering upwards and he reached up to cover Yuri’s hand on his shoulder. “Thanks, but you wouldn’t be able to keep up. I’ll try again tonight.”
Otabek shuffled to peck him on the cheek. “I know you want to help, but you need to stay inside.”
Yuri scowled even though his cheek was buzzing. He let his hands fall onto his lap and traced his index finger along the slightly raised scarring from his stitches. Right, he’d just get in the way. He wasn’t a werewolf with cool powers. He swallowed, the sound hollow and far away.
But then Otabek shifted to face him, and reached out to stroke his cheek. It made his stomach flutter, and his hands were so warm and rough, they took him off guard again.
“So, uh,” Otabek started after a few minutes of silence. “You ready to head out?”
Yuri swallowed, resting his fingertips against Otabek’s wrist. “No offence, but you look like you’re going to pass out.”
“You could have cancelled, you know.”
“I didn’t want to cancel.” He threw himself against the backrest, causing the couch to shake and Yuri to bounce. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“Fine my ass-”
“It’s a nice ass, though.”
Yuri’s words died on his tongue and he rolled his eyes, face heating yet again. Was Otabek actually in control of his mouth?
“Sorry.” He was staring at the ceiling.
Yuri shook his head, but something swelled in his chest. “I was saying , I dunno, let’s just do something, uh, here. We don’t have to go to the movies.”
Otabek smiled. “But you got all dressed up.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“We can still go out for lunch.”
“But then we can come back here.”
Otabek bit his lip. “Okay.”
“The only problem is my Babulya is picking me up at seven and I told her we’d be at the cinema.”
Otabek chuckled, his eyes slowly falling shut. “Okay, we’ll be at the cinema for seven.”
Even though Otabek had next to no social media, he had a Netflix account in the true weirdo fashion Yuri was getting used to. Yuri had signed him up for Instagram and Snapchat while they were deciding on a movie.
“In case I want to send you nudes,” he teased, hitting the save button and tilting the screen towards Otabek.
His eyes widened as he stared at himself in the front camera on Snapchat. “You’d do that?”
Yuri snorted, sliding up next to him and swiping through a few filters. “If I ever get a new phone.”
His disappointment was almost palpable. Yuri laughed, snapping a picture as he pressed his lips to his cheek. Otabek’s eyes widened when he noticed that he had dog ears and a snout.
“Do you actually like dogs or is it like a side effect?” Yuri asked. Otabek raised an eyebrow. “Sorry, was that rude?”
He shook his head. “I just… I guess you still have a lot of questions.”
Yuri blushed. “I, uh… yeah. Kinda.”
“Okay, go ahead.”
Yuri took a deep breath. “How did you become a werewolf, were you born this way?”
He nodded. “Yeah, it’s genetic; as far as I know.”
“Does the moon make you go crazy?”
He scoffed. “Nope.”
“So, are you a human who changes into a wolf or a wolf who changes into a human?”
He frowned, sitting up straight. “I dunno.”
“ How do you not know ?”
He shrugged. “I spend more time as a human. I was born a human, but I have cousins who were born as wolves.” Yuri blinked. Holy shit. “I’m both.”
Both. Yuri had seen him change, but he still couldn’t wrap his head all the way around it. He swallowed; there was still so much he had to learn.
“Does changing hurt?” he went on.
“No. I mean it feels weird, like everything growing and shrinking, the fur coming in itches like a bitch though, and my fingers get sore when my nails fall off and regrow.”
“Shit falls off ?”
Otabek chuckled. “Nails, teeth, hair, fur, skin. It all turns to dust immediately, though. I don’t know why.” Yuri blinked, his skin was itching. “Anything else?”
He nodded, ignoring his blush and Otabek’s grin. God, that grin. “Do you have like really good hearing and smell?”
“Yeah. I guess. Not at good as when I’m a wolf, but definitely better than yours. I can tell you’re using a different kind of toothpaste, and I can smell the glycerin and minerals in your makeup.”
Yuri’s eyes widened. “No way.” So, there was probably so much more he could smell too. His cheeks heated. “Um… what about super-strength and speed?”
“That’s just in the movies.”
“But you’re really buff.”
He shrugged. “It’s easy for me to put on muscle. I don’t know if it has anything to do with all the new growth during each change. There aren’t really any scientific studies.”
“So, it’s just one huge secret?”
He nodded. “I know of a few packs in Kazakhstan, but it’s a safety thing.”
God, it must be so lonely, having this huge secret that no one would even understand. He couldn’t tell a single person in this town; Grandpa would probably have shot him on sight. But then why had he left his family to come to a place where he was all alone? His eyes widened, fuck, what if Stas - “Have you killed anyone?”
He physically recoiled. “ What ? No !”
“So, uh, why did you leave home?”
Otabek frowned. “Not because I killed someone… I dunno. I just wanted something different. If I stayed at home I would have just become a mechanic and worked at the family shop. Like my dad and my grandfather and my great-grandfather. I just wanted something more . I wanted to see what else there was for me.”
“And now you’re a mechanic in a shitty town-”
“And now I have you .” He leaned forward, running a hand along Yuri’s cheek. “Now, I’m doing something to protect this shitty town . I’m not just another pack wolf or a family mechanic.”
Yuri swallowed, his breath leaving him like a ghost. “Okay.”
His gaze fell to his lap. He still had hundreds more questions, but Otabek hooked a finger under his chin, raising his head, and pecking him lightly on the lips. Yuri’s face heated to a thousand degrees, and then Otabek kissed him again.
“Has anyone ever told you how adorable you are?”
“Shut up.” Yuri rolled his eyes, placing a hand against Otabek’s chest and gently pushing him away. Holy shit, he was so muscular. Grinning, Otabek pulled him onto his lap and guided him into another soft kiss. Yuri giggled, his hand falling from his chest, his bulging pecs, and down rock hard abs and something suddenly crossed his mind.
“Wait, wait,” he mumbled against Otabek’s lips. “One more.”
Otabek raised an eyebrow, pausing with his mouth open.
“Do you like belly rubs?”
He didn’t answer.
They ended up ordering in and eating on the couch. Yuri watched Otabek play with his phone, only bothering to pay attention to the movie when something interesting happened. Otabek curled up under his arm, and Yuri rolled his eyes at how dog-like he was; his head had ended up under Yuri’s palm like he was asking for scratches. Yuri had to stop himself from laughing as he ran his fingers through the dark, unbelievably thick, and silky strands. Otabek was in his own world, trying to figure out Instagram. Small lines deepened between his eyebrows the more he got into it, and by the movie’s end he’d followed nearly forty dog accounts. He blushed when Yuri looked over his shoulder as he liked almost every picture.
“I like happy dogs.”
Yuri had laughed before boldly kissing him on the cheek. Otabek tilted his head, fingers holding Yuri’s chin before he could pull away, and kissed him just like they’d kissed that night in Yuri’s bedroom. Yuri didn’t even know when they moved, just that he was on Otabek’s lap again, holding him like he would evaporate. His entire body was tingling as fire grew in his stomach. One of Otabek’s hands plamed the bare skin between his socks and the hem of his overalls. His touch was searing. Time stopped as he held onto Otabek’s arms; he could barely get his hands around the thick muscle. But there was an ocean in his stomach, and he was breathing fire. Otabek’s lips were almost pillowy and soft, his mouth like burning silk. He didn’t remember ever kissing anyone like this before. It had never felt so consuming, or so right . Yuri felt as if he was waking from a dream when they parted.
“Sorry,” Otabek mumbled, smoothing his thumb along the underside of Yuri’s lip. “I messed up your lipstick.”
Yuri giggled, touching his buzzing lips. “It’s okay.”
Otabek pecked him one last time. “We should get to the cinema before you’re grounded again.”
“Shut up,” he grumbled, chasing his mouth to kiss him again. He didn’t want to leave.
Grandma hadn’t commented on his smile or his smudged makeup on the drive back home, and Yuri practically floated across the squeaky floorboards. He was still grinning as he wiped off his makeup in the bathroom.
“How was your date ?” Stas’ voice made Yuri jump and their eyes met in the mirror.
Yuri rolled his eyes, wanting to slam the door shut on him, but he knew it wouldn’t make sense now. He hadn’t apologised for the fag comment and had been looking at Yuri like he was mad, or had just plain-out avoided him over the past week.
“What’s it to you?” he spat, tossing the wipe into the trash and turning around to glare at him. He could never properly read Stas. He was nice sometimes, but his teasing was too much and he got mad at him out of nowhere. It was tiring and frustrating.
“So it was a date.” His eyes narrowed. “He’s your boyfriend?” He had asked that already. “You guys fucking?”
Something exploded in Yuri’s head, an ugly raging beast, one he hadn’t felt in a long time. He was shaking, his veins pulsing fury.
“That is none of your fucking business!” he yelled, crossing the bathroom and shoving Stas out.
Stas planted his feet and scoffed. The noise grated Yuri’s ears. “Disgusting-”
Blood pulsed and there was a cracking noise when Yuri’s fist hit his nose. “Fuck you ! You’re the one that brought it up! If me being gay is such a problem, then why don’t you just leave me alone?”
Stas stumbled backwards, catching himself against the wall, but blood was dripping between his fingers as he held his face. Yuri was panting, but gasped when he saw the blood. Shit, he hadn’t meant to -
“Yurochka?” Zeynep called, rushing up the stairs. “What are you yelling about - Stas !” She froze looking between the two of them. “Yuri, what did you do?”
“He punched me,” Stas sounded as if he didn’t believe it.
No, he wasn’t the one at fault here. He stamped his foot, folding his arms across his chest.
“No!” he yelled. “He’s been disgusting ever since I came here! You don’t hear the comments he makes! You don’t hear what he tells me all the time! I’m sick of it!” Arseniy and Jora came rushing up now, Grandma wasn’t too far behind either. “I’m gay, okay? And if you have a fucking problem with it, tell me and stop acting like a little child!”
“ Yuri ,” Grandpa’s voice was thunder, and everyone parted to let him down the hallway. Yuri’s heart was pounding between his ears. “Watch your language.” He towered over them and suddenly Yuri felt dizzy.
“I…” he started, not even knowing how to explain himself, but Grandpa had moved to glare at Stas.
Yuri took a deep breath. “He called me disgusting, because I’m da- dating Otabek.”
“I was just telling you to be careful.” Stas’ words were nasal and slurred. “You know what people in this town are like, Kolya! And he just goes around parading it in- in makeup and saying he has a boyfriend.”
Yuri’s jaw dropped. “Liar! What was that comment about me and Otabek fucking, then?”
Grandpa’s hand was heavy on his shoulder, and he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yurochka, go to your room. Stas, go get cleaned up then meet me in the study.”
Yuri couldn’t help but smirk as he pushed his way past Stas.
Both Grandma and Grandpa came to his room later that night, and Yuri quickly snapped his laptop shut, sitting up and biting his lip.
“Am I in trouble?” he asked, watching as Potya sauntered in as well.
Grandma sat on the edge of his bed, pulling him into a tight hug. “No, zajchik , but we do need to talk.” Yuri swallowed. “We don’t tolerate violence in this house, you know that.”
“But that was on hell of a punch,” Grandpa chuckled. “You remember one thing I taught you, at least.”
“ Kolya ,” Grandma snipped. Yuri had to bite back a smile.
“No one on this farm has a problem with you being gay, and if they did I made sure they knew where the door was.” Grandpa jumped right into it. “You’re safe here, Yurochka, no matter what.”
Yuri bit his lip, blushing. “Stas does, though.”
Grandma hugged him tighter. “Stas is a bit difficult. With you, we could always tell that you were... different. And you’ve grown into it; you’ve become this beautiful person, we’re proud to call our grandson. But, Stas is still working it through, and he doesn’t have support from his family like you did.”
“ Wait , he’s…”
Grandma nodded. “And he has a little crush on you, so-”
“What? Ew no! He’s like in his twenties .”
Grandpa scoffed, but his expression hardened and his hand was suddenly heavy on Yuri’s shoulder.
Grandma continued, “Be patient with him, zajchik -”
“But if he makes any more of those comments let us know.”
Yuri blinked, letting himself fall into Grandma’s embrace. She stroked his hair, kissing his forehead.
“Okay, but tell him I don’t need his protection or anything. I can handle myself, and I know what people are saying about me, so he doesn’t need to remind me about it every chance he gets.” Grandpa patted his shoulder. “It was the same in Moscow, but I don’t care about what they say.”
“Good,” Grandma smoothed his hair away from his face. “Not everyone here is narrow-minded that way. You’ll see when you start school, and I’m sure you’ll make lots of friends.”
“ Yeah, right .”
Grandpa laughed and flicked his shoulder. “Are you forgetting that you’ve only been here for a month and a half and you already have a boyfriend?”
Yuri hid his blush with his hands. Okay, that was different.
He saw Otabek the following weekend, waking up extra early to go with Zeynep to the Saturday farmers’ market. Grandpa had finally relented and bought him a new phone, telling Yuri that he’d have to do chores to pay it off. The chicken coop was a disaster and he’d nearly thrown up when he had to scrub it down. It wasn’t the newest iPhone, but now Mila would stop screaming at him for killing their Snapchat streak, and he could now actually send Otabek selfies.
Otabek met him at the entrance to the market, pulling him into a tight hug and breathing in deeply.
“Did you just smell me?” Yuri asked, giggling as he raised an eyebrow.
Otabek buried his nose into the small top-knot at the top of his head. “Yes, you smell good.”
“Weirdo.” He hugged him tighter. Otabek’s wolf-head pin dug into his skin and Yuri held back a scoff, just realising that another clue had been there all along.
Chuckling softly, Otabek stooped slightly to place a light kiss to Yuri’s mouth. “You look beautiful today,” he breathed. “Well every day, but today too.”
Yuri giggled. He’d gotten up before dawn to do his makeup. He had wanted something more natural today, but then he’d dug up a tub of gold, glitter eyeshadow from the bottom of his bag and said fuck natural.
“Thanks.” God, every time Otabek spoke his stomach erupted. “So, uh, do you want to walk around?”
They held hands as they walked along the stalls of fresh vegetables, homemade pastries, and crafts. If people were staring at them, he didn't care. He wouldn’t let himself care, not today at least. He turned his back on an old woman who was blatantly staring at their hands. Taking a deep breath, he leaned against Otabek’s shoulder as they walked. People left them alone for the most part, too busy with their own errands, or rushing around setting up and restocking their stalls. Hundreds of conversations mixed together into a loud roar, and the smell of fresh earth, early-morning, dewy air, buttery pastries, spices and herbs, and kompot mixed into something entirely bizarre.
The early mornings were cool and breezy, so he’d put on leggings, black and pink floral that he hadn’t worn in a while, and thin white t-shirt under his hoodie. Otabke’s shirt was grey this time, but Yuri had barely even noticed the change under his leather jacket. Yuri bought them both some beef-filled piroshki, watching as Otabek peeled back the layer of dough to pick out the steaming-hot meat filling.
“So, uh,” Otabek began, rolling up his pastry shell in his napkin once he’d gotten all the meat out. “I guess I should tell you this now.” He took a deep breath. Yuri paused mid-chew, the piroshki turning to sand in his mouth. “It’s nothing to be worried about, but I uh, found the chimera’s… lair.”
Yuri nearly stumbled. “That’s a huge reason to worry! What happened?”
He shrugged. “Nothing happened. I just found it. But, I need to deal with it before it hurts someone. We’ve already been so lucky; I don’t want to wait and see.”
Yuri swallowed. “You’re going to kill it?”
He nodded. “Before it kills a person . Or before the wolf population here takes a bigger hit.”
Yuri’s stomach rumbled, or before someone mistook Otabek for a real wolf and killed him. Okay, he took a deep breath. “When are we going?” Otabek paused, tilting his head as he looked at Yuri. “Yes, we . It nearly killed you the last time. I’m coming.”
Chapter 9: The Silent
Yuri’s shoulder still stung from the recoil almost twenty minutes later. His ears were also ringing and blood was pumping electricity through his body. He hadn’t been expecting any of that. Otabek had tried to persuade him to stay home, that he could handle the chimera on his own, but it had nearly gutted him last time, so Yuri had ignored everything he said about his safety. They had gone in circles before Otabek finally relented after Yuri said he’d take Grandpa’s gun.
“Have you ever shot a gun?” Otabek had asked, watching Yuri gently set Grandpa’s blanket-wrapped rifle on his coffee table.
Yuri shrugged. “You just squeeze the trigger, right?”
Otabek’s eyes widened, and he grabbed the gun, clicking it open before breathing out a sigh of relief when he found it unloaded. Oh, Yuri bit the inside of his cheek; they’d need ammo as well.
“There’s a bit more to it than that. Let’s just hope your aim is good,” he said, staring at Yuri for a few seconds before shaking his head.
He had brought Yuri to a secluded area right on the river bank to give him a crash course in shotguns after he’d pulled out a box of bullets from his closet; Yuri’s jaw had fallen open. Otabek walked him through everything; don’t rest the butt against your collar bone - it will shatter - line up the ball at the end of the barrel with the target, keep your muscles tight, cheek to the stock, pull back the trigger in one smooth motion. There was no hesitation, no deciding that he didn’t want to shoot halfway through. He hadn’t expected the shotgun to be so heavy when he held it up, or for the recoil to nearly knock him over. Otabek had cut an X in a tree a few meters away with a giant fucking machete , but Yuri’s first few shots ended up in the river.
“That’s okay,” Otabek said, watching as Yuri reloaded with shaky hands. “Deep breaths, remember to keep your muscles tight.”
He stood behind him, helping him to steady the gun as he pulled the trigger. That shot at least hit the tree. Otabek smiled, kissing Yuri’s cheek and they practiced until Yuri was hitting the X more often than not.
“Shooting a moving target is going to be much different. You need to predict its movements.” Otabek said, cracking the gun open on his knee and pulling out the remaining shot. “But remember this is for protection only.”
Yuri swallowed, shaking out his trembling arms. “But what if you’re in trouble? I’m not going to stand there and watch it rip you to shreds.”
Otabek blinked. “If that happens, I want you to get as far away from it as possible-”
“Fuck that; I’m not-”
“Take my bike, get back to town, and get as many people as you can to go after it.” Otabek’s voice was deep and heavy, shaking Yuri to the core. And the weight of what they were actually about to do settled on his shoulders.
“Fuck.” He let himself sag against a tree, adrenaline fleeing his body and leaving him heavy like lead. What if it really killed them? What if it killed Otabek? He actually didn’t know what he would do if he lost someone else.
“Are you scared?” Otabek slung the gun over his shoulder by the strap and stood close enough that the tips of their shoes touched.
Yuri swallowed, rubbing his palms up and down his thighs. They were clammy, and slid against his bare skin. “Well, yeah.”
Otabek grabbed his wrists. “You still wanna come along?”
Yuri glared at him, pushing off from the tree and getting centimetres from his face. “I’m not letting you do this on your own. I’m not just gonna stand there and let you die.” His throat was suddenly tight. “Not… not if I can do something to help.” This time he had a chance to help. He swallowed, glaring right into Otabek’s eyes. They were so dark and deep and his eyelashes were so ridiculously long. “If you’re in trouble, I’m gonna shoot. I’m not running away.”
Otabek’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. He licked his lips, pulling away slightly, hands tightening around Yuri’s wrists. “Okay. Just try not to hit me, yeah?”
He snuck out the next morning before the sun even rose, and left a note saying he’d gone for a run just in case Grandma came to wake him up. He jogged down the road with Grandpa’s shotgun bumping against his thighs, and dewy grass soaking his sneakers and leggings, until he saw Otabek's bike parked alongside the fence.
Otabek swung his leg over his bike and smoothed a few windswept hairs from Yuri’s temples before kissing him deeply. Yuri wrapped his arms around his neck, threading his fingers through his hair and drinking in all he had to offer. Otabek held him, one arm like steel around his waist, the other cupped Yuri’s jaw so gently it was like he wasn’t even touching him. Still, sparks of fire swept over him igniting his skin and turning his breath to ash.
“You ready?” Otabek mumbled, smoothing his thumb along Yuri’s cheek bone.
His stomach shook with anxiety, fire ants crawled in his lungs. “Yeah, as ready as I’ll ever be.”
Otabek kissed him again.
The chimera was nocturnal; Otabek thought it was a cross between a wolf and a bear, but he said it had stripes so that probably meant there was some tiger in it as well. It’s lair was less than twenty kilometres away from the town, but they went slowly and didn't ride the bike all the way.
“We’ll go the rest on foot,” Otabek said, hiding his bike between two trees. “The bike’s too noisy.” He then pulled off his jacket and shirt, and kicked off his shoes.
“Um,” Yuri watched him fold them up neatly and stow them under the seat of his bike. Muscles rippled with each movement, and Yuri’s mouth went dry as he followed the thick line of hair that ran from his navel to the waistband of his grey sweatpants. He was clearly not wearing anything underneath either. Yuri’s cheeks heated and he licked his lips with a sandy tongue.
“Can’t change with clothes on.” Otabek’s voice made him jump. He was staring at Yuri staring at him. Okay, now was so not the time for ogling. “Well I can, but they get in the way. Sorry, I’ll have to take my pants off later.”
“Oh, okay.” Yuri blinked, feeling his heart beat in his stomach.
“You still have the chance to back out-”
“Stop it. I’m coming.”
Otabek sighed. “Okay, we’ll be approaching from down-wind, and if we’re quiet enough we should have the element of surprise. If I can get it off guard, then we’ll be done in minutes.”
“Then it’s going to be a lot harder.” He tugged at one of the strings on his sweatpants. “You try to stay hidden, okay?”
Yuri followed Otabek, carefully pushing aside bushes and branches, watching his steps, and breathing as quietly as he could. They didn’t talk, but Yuri wasn’t even sure if he could anyway. His mouth was so dry, and his throat was closed shut. The sun had fully risen, sending long rays of golden light between leaves and branches, by the time Otabek held up a hand to halt Yuri. Sweat was prickling his back and armpits, his stomach was rolling so badly he actually tasted bile a few times, and the gun had gotten heavier with each step. They crouched, low to the ground behind a wide fir as Otabek kissed his cheek, gently tucking a lock of hair behind his ear.
“I’m going to change now,” he breathed against Yuri’s skin. “Stay as close as you can to me, until you see a giant, hollowed-out tree. The chimera lives in the roots. There’s a little gully you should be able to hide in, if not stay behind a tree.” He kissed him again, this time on the mouth. Yuri held on to him, breathing him in. “Stay safe.”
Yuri grabbed him before he could pull away. “You too.” He swallowed. “I know we’ve only known each other for like a month, but I really like you. So, please, don’t…” he couldn’t finish the sentence.
Otabek nodded and kissed him again, his eyes softening and almost closing shut. “The same goes for you.”
Yuri’s heart nearly beat out his throat. Otabek took a step back and rolled his pants down his legs without warning. Yuri looked away, cheeks heating as he caught a flash of coarse, black hair and something thick and fleshy right underneath. Holy shit .
“Hold these for me.” Otabek handed him his folded up pants, and caught him in one last kiss before standing up, working out his shoulders uncaring that he put himself fully on display. Yuri kept his eyes fixed on the sky, blindly tying Otabek’s pants around his waist. Now wasn’t the time for embarrassment, but he couldn’t stop his face from heating or the extremely inappropriate thoughts from popping into his head.
A wet nose planted itself to Yuri’s cheek followed by a tongue licking a stripe up the side of his face. Yuri rolled his eyes, patting Dog - no, Otabek’s - back, before gently shoving him away.
“We have a job,” he mumbled. “Don’t get distracted.”
Otabek nipped at his wrist before suddenly catching wind of something and getting up to wander around the tree with his nose planted to the ground. Yuri sighed, his heart pounding as he followed.
He followed Otabek for around twenty more minutes before he saw the tree Otabek had been talking about. It looked like it had been struck by lightning; the hollow trunk stood tall at an angle, and some of the earth around its roots had been pulled up, creating a shallow cave. Yuri ducked behind a tree searching for the gully that Otabek said should be nearby. It was much further back than he would have liked, and shallow enough that he could kneel at the bottom and still see over the edge, but at least he had a clear view of the lair. He slid down into the crevasse, crumbles of dirt getting under his shirt and into his sneakers, but that was the least of his worries. Otabek had disappeared into the forest, and Yuri’s heart was beating so fast it was almost a single, steady thump. His hands shook as he unstrapped the gun from his back, and, as quietly as he could, loaded three shots into the barrel. That’s all it would hold, but if they were lucky he wouldn't need more.
Okay, now all he had to do was wait. Otabek would make the first move. He’d kill it in no time at all then they could go home. His throat was dry and his tongue felt like sandpaper, as he pressed his back against the earth and held the gun to his chest. Okay, they were doing this. They had to, otherwise the chimera was actually going to kill someone. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes and concentrating on the prickling that traveled up his spine. He had told Otabek that he wasn’t going to chicken out, and it wasn’t like he could run away now .
A sharp squeal tore through the air, and Yuri’s chest seized. Growling, snarling, and rustling leaves followed. Something didn’t sound right; that squeal had sounded like Otabek. He swallowed a mouthful of bile and peered over the edge and felt like he’d accidentally shot himself. The chimera was dragging Otabek by the neck back into its lair. Otabek was growling, legs flailing for any purchase, and he caught the chimera a few times in the face, drawing blood along its cheeks and muzzle, but it was determined not to let go.
No, Otabek! Yuri almost screamed aloud.
It felt like a barrel of cold water had been dumped on his head. His stomach curled and withered, and there was a knife in his lungs. He drew a hoarse, raspy breath, brining the gun up over the ledge. His hands were shaking so badly he had to use the ground to steady the muzzle, and he was afraid to breathe. But Otabek wasn’t allowed to die, he couldn’t lose him.
He lined up the sight with the chimera’s large, misshapen head. It had a bear’s skull, but it’s snout was too long and narrow to match, it’s teeth were horribly crooked and stuck out at different angles. Yuri felt his heart stop when he pulled the trigger. The recoil pad slammed into his shoulder, and he had plant his knees wider apart. The shot echoed, birds took to the sky, and the muzzle of the gun smoked. Yuri was going to vomit, but he forced himself to focus. The chimera had jumped, the noise scaring it enough to loosen its hold on Otabek. He scrambled away and slunk off to a safe distance, but Yuri had missed. Fuck.
He screamed at himself to shoot before it had a chance to run back into its liar, and his finger tightened on the trigger before he remembered to aim. His ears were ringing and his vision blurred slightly, he forgot how to breathe his heart forgot how to beat. The crack from the gun almost covered its squeal, and it tilted to the side, falling to the ground as red blossomed along its shoulder and side, matting the dark grey fur. Otabek was on it a split second later, snarling like a demon as he sunk his teeth into its throat, tearing and ripping through muscle and veins.
The chimera flailed, swiping at Otabek with black claws, but its breathing was coming out in gurgling, ragged pants and blood flowed through its teeth. Yuri couldn’t do anything but watch. All the blood drained from his face, his fingertips went numb and his stomach was curdling. When the chimera finally stopped moving, he fell back into the gully, leaned to the side and threw up, bile stinging his throat and nose.
And it was over.
His hands shook as he clicked on the safely and pulled himself out of the gully. His legs shook as he walked. Otabek was growling low at the back of his throat, but the chimera was still, in a puddle of bright red. Yuri covered his mouth and gagged. It was dead, but his stomach was tight and painful and even though he was taking heaving breaths his head was swimming.
Otabek limped up to him, holding one of his front legs high off the ground and whimpered until Yuri stroked him. He was hurt? Yuri’s throat was tight. Of course he was; he nearly got his head ripped off. God. Yuri crouched down, wrapping his arms around Otabek’s shoulders as he snuffled every inch of him as if he was checking for injuries.
Yuri let out a dry laugh. “ You’re the one that’s hurt, dummy.”
He whined again, shaking dirt and globs of saliva from his fur before he began to change back. Fur fell away, disintegrating before it even hit the ground, limbs elongated, and nails grew out before dropping off as well. Otabek fell forward before he was fully human and Yuri lunged to catch him. They fell heavily against the ground, but Otabek landed on his chest winding him. It took him a few seconds to regain his bearings, but then he shot upright looking around wildly before grunting and curling around his arm.
“Otabek?” Yuri asked, crawling closer. “Are you okay?”
He swore. “I think it’s broken.”
Yuri’s eyes widened and there was a blip in his heartbeat. “I thought changing helped you to heal!” It came out as a panicked jumble.
Otabek took a deep breath. “Shouldn’t change with broken bones. They can reform misshapen or pierce through muscle.”
“How bad is it?”
Otabek uncurled enough to look down at his arm. Yuri could see the exact spot his forearm was split in two. The skin was discoloured and swelling. Fuck .
“We need to get you to a hospital!” His eyes widened. Fuck. “Okay, uh… um…” He looked frantically around, now painfully aware that he didn’t know the first thing about first aid. Shit. “What, I um… I-”
“Yura,” Yuri spun to face him, freezing when he saw that he was smiling. “Calm down.”
“ Calm down -”
“Yes, please . I’ve… okay, oddly enough this isn’t the first time this has happened. I just need to splint it, and we can head back home.”
“What? Doesn’t it hurt?” He blinked, still wanting to vomit his guts out.
“Yeah, but… it’s not that bad, I promise.” Yuri swallowed, not sure if he could believe it. “Come here.” He waved him over with his uninjured hand.
Yuri crawled up to him, tucking his legs underneath himself and butting his knees against Otabek’s thigh. Otabek took a deep breath through his nose, and reached out to cup Yuri’s cheek.
“Hey.” He smoothed his thumb along his cheekbone. Yuri swore his eyelashes touched his cheeks as he blinked slowly. The blood had evaporated from his face when his fur disappeared, and his eyes were bright, sparking even. Yuri’s heart fluttered and he licked his lips, leaning into the touch.
“We did it.” He smiled widely, gently guiding Yuri in for a long, deep kiss.
Yuri hiccuped, eyes prickling and relief flooded his entire body. He threw his arms around Otabek’s neck, mindful of his injured arm, and kissed him as deep as he could. He was still alive, injured, but so alive. Alive in the heat from his mouth, his calloused palm against Yuri’s cheek, his smooth tongue, jagged teeth, and fiery breath. He tasted of fire and salt, a weird mixture with the crisp freshness of the forest and the high metallic tang from the chimera. But everything was weird now, even the soft dirt under his knees, the occasional birdsong and gentle breeze. Otabek’s mouth was like water as it moved against his and Yuri followed, giving up himself completely. He pressed his fingertips into the velvet at the back of Otabek’s head and climbed onto his lap when he shifted and pulled him closer. His heart was beating sluggish fire, and it felt like they were rising off the ground.
“So,” Otabek said when they broke apart, both breathing heavily. He wiped away the tears that had leaked from Yuri’s eyes. “You’re gonna have to help me put on my pants.”
Yuri laughed, his vision going blurry again as he planted a series of quick, messy kisses against his mouth. “God, you’re so weird.”
Otabek pressed their foreheads together and kissed the tip of his nose. “Yeah, I know.”
“You know what’s dumb?” Yuri asked, pillowing his head on Otabek’s chest as he looked up at the purple sky; the stars were just beginning to twinkle. They were lying between the wheat beds; the earth was cold against his bare arms and legs, and the wheat-stalks were only around two feet high, but still blocked the outside world.
Otabek hummed his chest vibrating as he played with the twisted ponytail of Yuri’s half-up hairstyle.
“We basically saved the town and no one even knows. No fucking one is gonna say thank-you.”
He snorted. “Yeah. I’m just happy that everyone is safe, though.”
“Until the next one comes.”
Yuri shifted, pressing his body flush against Otabek’s side. “Do you have any idea where they’re coming from?”
“No. I’ve tried everything, but… I dunno. I just haven’t been able to figure it out.”
Yuri hummed. “So we just have to keep on killing them?”
“Yup, that’s the plan.”
He sighed. “We’re fucking heroes.”
Otabek kissed the top of his head, pulling his sheer blouse away and dipping his fingers under the high-waist of his shorts to run against the shallow indent at the base of his spine. He left goosebumps along Yuri’s spine. Yuri tightened his arm around Otabek’s ribs, throwing a leg over his thighs. The air was already chilly; summer was almost over and school was starting in a few weeks. He didn’t want summer to end, which was funny because when it had started it had been the worst one of his life.
“My dad used to bring me out here,” Yuri began, looking back up at the sky. “We used to come here every summer when I was a kid.” Otabek’s hand tightened on his hip. “My mom hated it, so it would just be me and him. We used to come out here with blankets and hot chocolate and he’d tell me all about constellations and show me how to pick them out.” His throat tightened and he had to stop for a minute. He had no idea where this was all coming from, or why he was even telling Otabek.
“He sounds like a really good dad.”
Yuri swallowed. “He was.” His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “I miss him.”
Otabek hugged him with both hands, his cast hard against Yuri’s shoulders, and he pressed his lips to Yuri’s forehead. “I’m sure he’d be proud of you now. And I know he’s watching over you.”
Yuri swallowed, hugging Otabek back. He still didn’t understand why his dad had done what he did, and he wasn’t sure if he ever would, but maybe Otabek was right. And the thought that he was still watching out for him was comforting.
Grandma dropped him off right at the school gate, wishing him a good day. His blazer felt way too big and the striped tie was too tight around his throat. He’d barely slept last night and couldn’t even swallow a spoonful of breakfast. He’d never felt this anxious about a new semester before, but this wasn’t Moscow and he didn’t know a single person in his class. Still, he curled his hair and done really simple makeup look, staying away from his glittery pallets, and opted for a nude lipstick instead of his favourite purple or red.
Shuffling through the gate and trying to remember the way to his homeroom, he nearly walked right past a black motorbike.
Yuri’s eyes widened as he spied Otabek leaning against one of the brick pillars by the entrance. He hopped over, the stabbing anxiety in his stomach lessening slightly.
“Beka!” He dropped his bag to the ground, throwing his arms around his neck and trying to ignore the whispers and giggles from passing students. “What are you doing here?”
Otabek smiled, holding his waist under his blazer. “I had to see you off on your first day. It’s so weird seeing you in actual pants by the way.”
Yuri rolled his eyes. “I hate them.”
“You still look really good, though.”
Yuri smiled, leaning in for a quick kiss.
“If anyone gives you trouble, let me know,” he mumbled. “I’ll gladly make an example.”
Yuri rolled his eyes. “Yeah, so will Grandpa. And Stas. I’ll be okay. You don’t have to worry.”
Otabek scoffed, squeezing his waist. “Well, have a good day. Tell your Grandma I’ll bring you home today.”
Yuri smiled, kissing him again to delay having to go inside.
He chose a desk at the back of the classroom, next to the window, and tried to make himself as small as possible as old friends told caught up with loud laughter. He pulled out his phone to message Mila about how much he wished she was here.
“Hey, Yuri!” His head shot up as Viola Luskaya walked up to him, grinning, with a friend on either side. “I didn’t know we were in the same homeroom. This is Yulia and Inka. Guys this is Yuri; we used to play when we were kids. He’s from Moscow, but he lives here now.”
They sat down at the desks surrounding his. “Your makeup is amazing,” Yulia said, smiling. “I’ve tried to do winged liner, but it was a mess.”
Yuri blinked looking between the three of them. Viola winked at him. “Yeah, his he does tutorials on Instagram.”
“Really? That’s so cool! Let me follow you.”
“Um, it’s just a lot of practice really. And YouTube. I watch too much YouTube.”
They laughed, and Yuri let himself breathe as he handed over his phone.
“So, I hear we have a new homeroom teacher this year,” Inka said. “From Saint Petersburg.”
“I heard we have two. A student teacher.”
“Why would they come here?” Yuri asked. “Saint Petersburg has way more options.”
Viola shrugged. “We get a lot of new people. Like, your boyfriend showed up out of the blue.”
“You have a boyfriend? That’s so cute!” Yulia squealed, her face lighting up.
“Didn’t you see them making out by the gate?”
“We weren’t making out!”
“Guys, it’s them.” Inka pointed to the front of the room as two men walked in. One was tall and willowy with platinum hair and a wide smile. The other was shorter and east-Asian with slicked-back hair and glasses. Something was off about them; Yuri narrowed his eyes. Well not off, but strange. He felt it in his gut. They surveyed the room for a few minutes before the taller one spied Yuri. Okay, no one’s eyes were naturally that blue.
“Do you know him?” Yulia asked as he strode over.
“No. I’ve never even seen him before.”
He stopped right in front of Yuri’s desk and his smile grew. “Are you Yuri Plisetsky?”
“Yes.” His stomach was gurgling.
“Perfect!” He clapped his hands, amused. “Would you come with me for a moment?”
He shrugged at the girls before following him to the front of the class. “ This is Yuri,” the teacher said to his associate, patting Yuri’s shoulder. “Come, let’s take a walk.”
The three of them walked down the hallway and Yuri’s chest tightened, anxiety eating its way up his throat.
“Am I in trouble?” he asked. Grandma had assured him everything was set up, all he had to do was go to class.
“Trouble? No, not at all!” the platinum one said. “I’m Viktor Nikiforov, and this is my… partner Yuuri Katsuki, oh look at that, you two have the same name!”
Okay, he was annoying. Why was he so happy? “Um, is there a reason-”
“We’re sorry,” the black-haired one - Yuuri - began, he touched Viktor’s arm, calming him down instantly. “If this is a bit strange-”
“But,” Viktor cut him off, eyes sparkling with a strange, blue light. Okay, was he seeing things? “We heard you killed a chimera with the Altin boy.”