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Bruised Petals, Aching Heart, and You

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Otabek has a lingering memory of the last day of a training camp he once attended. No one took interest in his marginal progress, but Yuri was worth noticing. Someone sent flowers to Yuri as congratulations. Yuri refused to accept them.

That probably never happened, at least not the way he remembers. Otabek is almost sure he invented it while he was laying on some cold bathroom floor waiting for another attack. He’s just imagining how Yuri would react if he came bearing an armful of shredded flowers and his thorn-riddled heart.

Otabek is reasonably sure that the first flowers to grow in his chest are wild roses. Very few of them make it up his throat intact, and he doesn’t like looking at them. He’s more interested in destroying the evidence than studying it.

Maybe he’s just assuming roses because after a while it feels like his throat has been raked raw by thorns. Hanahaki disease might spring from a fault in his heart, but it’s not just his heart that’s suffering. His muscles ache from coughing. It’s hard to swallow around the heavy lump in his chest. Otabek can almost feel leaves rattling in his lungs every time he takes a deep breath. He keeps thinking he’s going to die before he can make his senior debut every time he chokes.

At sixteen, Otabek has no idea how to handle the disease except to hide it. He can’t even explain what’s happening to his worried coach. This can’t be happening. He’s not even in love with anyone.

At least, he doesn’t think he’s in love. It’s not until Yuri appears in front of him again that he feels something. It’s as if his heart anticipated seeing Yuri again. Everything he had almost forgotten comes rushing back. Yuri’s finely-controlled grace is more mesmerizing than Otabek remembers. The steady look in his eyes is even more stunning.

They speak less than they did the first time their paths crossed, which is to say they don’t speak a single word to each other. It’s entirely possible that Yuri doesn’t know he exists. Their eyes meet, once, when Yuri’s turn for the short program comes just before his. He looks at Otabek with no more recognition than he offers anyone else. It seems that Yuri won’t really look at him until he’s considered worthy competition.

Otabek strangles on his own pride every time he thinks of approaching Yuri. Watching Yuri makes him feel clumsy in confusing new ways and he hates it. Any words he might say are hiding somewhere among the flowers in his lungs.

It feels like it shouldn’t be possible to fall in love with someone this way. Otabek reads later that sometimes a glance is enough for a soulmate bond to form, and hanahaki disease is a disease of the soulmate bond. Did it only take one glimpse of Yuri across a crowded room and he was doomed?

He would have guessed that watching Yuri would make him feel worse. Instead, the pull on his heart seems to ease. Even Yuri’s profile as he looks away is a balm.

By the time the competition is over, Otabek is convinced that he only needed to see his soulmate again, nothing more. Closing the distance between them that much is enough for him. Yuri’s mere existence shrivels the flowers growing in his chest.

He can’t help noticing that Yuri shows no interest in flowers. He wants to take gold, nothing less. Praise and presents from strangers don’t seem to impress him.

Otabek swears to himself then that he will never bring Yuri flowers.

The flowers resurface when Otabek is eighteen. At first it’s all red rosebuds. They bloom inside of his lungs so that larger and larger flowers find their way out in a mess of battered petals. The heavy taste of perfume lingers in his mouth.

He’s better able to endure the second time around. The attacks are further apart and he can delay them for a short amount of time when he needs to. His rattling cough draws some concern, but he’s able to defuse the worst of it.

Every morning he reads Yuri’s instagram like it’s a prescription, enjoying the quest to pet every cat and appreciating Yuri’s frown as he tries to look cool in his selfies. He doesn’t understand why just seeing his soulmate isn’t enough anymore. This season is Yuri’s senior debut, and they’re about to come closer than they’ve ever been in their lives. When they finally meet again on the same ice, Yuri will not overlook him.

Otabek has things under control right up until he doesn’t. He takes gold at the NHK Trophy and spends the entire night in his hotel bathroom, ignoring the stream of congratulations on his phone as he vomits roses.

There are pink tea roses this time (I’ll remember always, as if he could forget.) Otabek identifies them on his phone between attacks. Pink is for admiration, grace, sweetness. . . Does he think Yuri is sweet? He honestly doesn’t know. Over the night the roses darken to the passionate red of love and beyond. He hopes the darkest reds don’t really mean mourning.

He can’t forget the footage of Yuri after Skate Canada’s medal ceremony, with red and white flower petals stuck to his jacket. He accepted a bouquet somewhere and completely plucked the gerbera daisies before anyone noticed. When Otabek is far beyond weary he imagines Yuri’s relentless fingers plucking away every petal until his lungs are empty. He would give Yuri all of his flowers just to see them undone.

It won’t happen. Yuri has no reason to reach out and save him.

How can his heart be this desperate for Yuri? He doesn’t even know Yuri. Wanting Yuri he could understand. Yuri is enchanting every time Otabek watches him skate. His short program this year is flawless grace. His free skate is passion unleashed. Watching him, Otabek’s feelings could at least approach those of Yuri’s more ardent fans.

Otabek doesn’t think simple attraction should be enough to destroy him this way. Why is his heart bound to someone who he is sure feels nothing for him?

Maybe it’s still a matter of distance. Hanahaki is a disease of unrequited love, but it can also be a disease of missed connections. Otabek has read case studies about soulmates matched by the efforts of their doctors and soulmates never found. Maybe he’s lucky that he even knows who his soulmate is.

At the Grand Prix Final, after the Grand Prix Final, he will talk to Yuri. He won’t even promise himself that he must go to Yuri bearing gold. He will approach Yuri at the banquet. They will talk. It will be enough to be that close to his soulmate.

(Otabek never doubts that Yuri will make it to the Final. He only needs to remember Yuri’s face after taking silver at Skate Canada. Yuri will only become stronger.)

If anything, his vow makes it worse. His heart wants his soulmate now, and his lungs make it abundantly clear. He has nightmares about coughing up flowers on the ice. He’s derided and pitied by the faceless crowd, but Yuri’s expression changes every time: Shock one night, contempt the next. The worst is the night when Yuri’s eyes pass over him, unseeing.

Otabek’s pride won’t let him fall that way. He has made a foundation of his own tenacity. He has built himself up to where he is now. He will not let himself fail because of Yuri and absolutely not in front of Yuri. Still, he is strung so tightly waiting for the burning in the back of his throat to become a cough that every jump he lands will be a minor miracle.

He still sets his sights on gold, because anything less is admitting defeat before he’s begun. In that dream Yuri gives him the same look he turned on JJ, and it’s beautiful.

Luckily, Otabek doesn’t have to wait for the banquet. Yuri needs a quick rescue and he’s more than happy to provide. Put another way: he steals Yuri away the instant the opportunity presents itself.

It doesn’t matter if Yuri doesn’t remember him. (Actually, Otabek might prefer that Yuri doesn’t remember him being a failure at that training camp. Yuri can know him as a man who can stand on equal ground, instead.) It doesn’t matter if Yuri has never really looked at him before. The expression on his face as he listens is enough. Being able to finally talk to Yuri is enough.

They steal a little time in a café rather than going their separate ways. Maybe it’s just from coming in out of the cold wind but there’s a warm glow in Yuri’s cheeks. There’s warmth in his eyes as well. It’s an expression he never broadcasts to the world, but happiness suits him. He’s beautiful in a way that Otabek never knew.

Yuri’s presence burns the flowers in Otabek’s lungs down to the roots. His throat and chest remain tender from the abuse, but he can breathe more deeply than he has in weeks. He feels like he could do anything.

All he wants is to drink Yuri in, savoring every word. Yuri is still a vibrant mystery. Every moment with him only makes Otabek want to stay longer.

For the first time, Otabek falls in love with Yuri’s smile.


Otabek knows that using Yuri’s existence as a cure for what ails him and actually getting to interact with Yuri are two very different things, but it doesn’t hit him until after he touches down in Almaty and turns his phone back on to find Yuri has sent an update saying he’s back in Saint Petersburg.

That’s sent specifically to him, not posted on social media. It includes a selfie of Yuri curled up with a fluffy cat Otabek recognizes from at least a hundred instagram pictures. It takes some time for Otabek to decide how to respond, but he finally sends a picture from his apartment’s balcony, a view of the city he hopes he’ll have a chance to introduce Yuri to someday.

Otabek tries to take it slow, but there is no warming up to their friendship. Yuri is volatile and clingy and he throws himself into friendship even harder than Otabek fell in love. He doesn’t seem to know what to expect any more than Otabek knew how to cope with love, either. That much is obvious when Otabek tries to give him space after their first fight and Yuri has to ask if they’re still friends. (Otabek wants to smother him with promises, but Yuri’s temper settles just as quickly as it flared.)

Maybe it’s because he has so few preconceptions, but Yuri also seems to have no inhibitions. He’ll excitedly insert himself into Otabek’s space or grab his hand, impatient to show him something. Otabek can’t help the excited jump of his heart each time it happens even though he’s sure Yuri’s attention is platonic. The too-few evenings they spend together aren’t readily distinguishable from dates to him. The only thing they’re missing is a kiss goodnight.

Even though he has basically everything, Otabek looks for evidence that the soulmate bond goes both ways. He lets himself hope that maybe he was just the first to fall and Yuri will follow him down.

Or maybe this is what they’re meant to be. The flowers are conspicuously absent as their friendship grows closer. Maybe that means his heart has no complaints. If he loves Yuri in a hundred different ways and Yuri only loves him back in ninety-nine that has to be enough.

Otabek is sure if Yuri loved him in a romantic sense he would know by now. Yuri has no filter, except for the times when he clenches his jaw and stops talking altogether.

The rest of the world seems to think they’re together the way he wishes they were. He suspects Yakov has been comparing notes about it with his coach. JJ refers to them as each other’s boyfriends no matter how many times Yuri threatens him. Victor gives him a Talk about what will happen if he breaks Yuri’s heart, and Lilia’s appraising look is more unnerving than any mere threat.

Sometimes even Otabek almost thinks they’re together. He dreams it on the nights when they don’t bother to go back to separate hotel rooms, and the last fog of fantasy remains on the mornings when he looks over at Yuri with all the covers kicked off and hair in his open mouth.

Of course the illusion dissolves when Yuri wakes and demands first turn in the bathroom. He always has the shower on full blast seconds after the door slams. Otabek has been told a dozen times how much more quietly Yuri takes early mornings when he’s around, and can only think fondly of Yuri’s volatile mood.

Even if he can’t cross that final step into Yuri’s heart, Otabek thinks he has everything he needs.

Otabek can’t visit for Yuri’s eighteenth birthday. It breaks his heart to miss this excuse to see his friend. It breaks his lungs when Yuri texts I wish you were here, and the lump in his chest bursts into bloom.

The petals are all yellow this time, roses and tulips that shred apart in his throat. Otabek used to like tulips. When he thought–briefly–of giving Yuri flowers he thought they could only be yellow. Yellow both for the joy he feels with Yuri and because he thinks of yellow as the color of victory.

In Russia those flowers symbolize parting. He will never give Yuri such a thing.

Yuri sends him texts through the day. The internet gets periodic demands to shut the hell up about him finally being legal. (He already got this at sixteen, so his ire is doubled. Ordinarily it would be funny.) Otabek gets: I miss you, with a line of angry cat emojis.

Over the hours Yuri’s texts get increasingly more cranky, starting with reminding Otabek that it’s past one pm there wake up already and then demanding to know if Otabek is ignoring him. Otabek nearly passes out from tulip petals blocking his windpipe and when he comes back to his senses his phone chimes with the shortest message yet.

R u ok?

He can imagine Yuri typing that in a frantic impulse and hitting send before he can rethink it.

It’s probably stupid to clean himself up just to send a text back, but he feels like he has to. He claims his phone died and makes excuses that his throat is too sore to call (which is true.) He wishes Yuri happy birthday three times before the day is over and says twice that he wishes he were there and almost says he loves him. Yuri is mollified long before he’s done.

For the next few weeks Otabek’s throat is too sore to call or Skype Yuri. Mostly he’s worried that he’ll have an attack in the middle of a call. Yuri doesn’t push, but he can’t be quietly sympathetic for long. His concern comes out with his temper, as if by getting angry about Otabek being sick he can make it go away.

Sometimes it helps to have Yuri on his side. All too often it’s agony. Thorns prick in his lungs when he remembers the distance between how Yuri cares for him and how he adores Yuri. He loves Yuri. He can’t imagine not loving him now. In his mind and his heart their friendship is everything. Why is there something in him that’s killing him for more?

After a week Yuri sends him a care package of tea and raspberry jam. (Obviously the cold remedies in Kazakhstan are inferior if Otabek is still sick.) It’s the most potent medicine. Otabek brings a thermos to practice every day and two times in three the warmth acts as a surrogate for Yuri’s presence and eases things inside of him.

When he can’t hold them off, the attacks are worse than ever. The sheer volume of flowers leaves him incapacitated longer and longer each time. He feels permanently exhausted. It’s like the flowers are sapping his strength as they grow.

Worlds is a painful failure after what was a triumphant season for him. He doesn’t have the stamina for his short program anymore. He fights for breath, but he can’t force oxygen-deprived muscles to perform as they should. By the time he makes it off the ice he has dark spots in front of his eyes.

Yuri catches him before he can find a safe place to collapse. There’s an angry flush in Yuri’s cheeks, and there is no escape, but when Yuri invades his personal space he can almost feel flowers wilting. While Yuri is near him, he can breathe.

Otabek impulsively promises that he will redeem himself with his free skate. He promises Yuri that he’s already seen a doctor. He even has antibiotics he’s not taking for the pneumonia he doesn’t have. He would give Yuri any promise he can think of. (Yakov is the one he has to promise that he’s not contagious. He would never risk Yuri suffering through anything like this.)

Normally they stay away from each other the night between events, but their dynamic has already been thrown off and it’s stressing both of them out. If he can do anything to help calm Yuri, that’s enough of an excuse to spend the entire evening with him. Otabek won’t pretend his motivation is only altruistic. Being close to Yuri is healing him once again.

He’s almost asleep when Yuri whispers something, so softly he can’t catch the words even with Yuri’s breath stirring his hair. It sounds much longer than ‘goodnight.’ For a moment he can almost believe that Yuri loves him back. He almost promises Yuri his heart out loud, but he won’t risk distracting Yuri before his free skate tomorrow. That’s more important.

When Yuri leaves for his own room, his relapse is sudden and violent. It’s a stark reminder of how much he needs Yuri now.

His free skate falls short of his standards, and his score is far short of the podium, but he doesn’t feel like he’s suffocating and it’s better than he’s skated in weeks. He still has power in him, and he proves it. Some of the worried atmosphere around him eases.

That night Yuri stays by his side. As long as he’s there it’s easy to breathe, to eat, to talk and smile and simply exist.

Yuri has another gold medal and an exhibition skate tomorrow, so Otabek won’t add his feelings to the things Yuri needs to juggle. He only gives Yuri a promise that they’ll choreograph their exhibition skates together again next season. It feels like Yuri wants to drag a promise out of him that he’ll have a next season.

(Yuri’s exhibition skates must be approved by Yakov after the first time, so there is often shouting and fuming and revisions, but the days working together on them are some of Otabek’s most cherished memories.)

Watching Yuri’s exhibition skate brings back something from the time they spent creating it. Yuri, unsatisfied and temperamental, decided to change up his spin sequence by dragging Otabek in with him. Neither of them knew how to arrange themselves around a partner. Otabek is naturally unsuited for pair skating. Or maybe he just doesn’t know how to deal with having Yuri for his partner. How can he keep his cool when he has Yuri holding on to him? He couldn’t even think with Yuri laughing at him, head tossed back and hair escaping his ponytail.

Otabek has to leave before the program is over to cough up flowers. For the first time he wants to put his head down and cry with frustration. He can’t even watch Yuri skate without this getting in the way.

Yuri has an early flight the next day. He doesn’t need a confession to keep him up all night, does he? Otabek falls asleep on Yuri’s bed without finding the words to send him off with.

When he wakes up Yuri’s hand is on his shoulder. Yuri’s face is bent close to his, bangs shading his eyes in the low light from the entryway. Yuri’s suitcase is waiting by the door. It’s four in the morning and already too late.

“Are you awake? You don’t have to get up yet. Just take my key down for me when you check out, okay?” Yuri sighs, smoothing his hand down Otabek’s arm. “Are you even going to remember this conversation?”

“I have never forgotten a single thing involving you.”

“Oh, really. Then remember this: Take care of yourself. Take your medicine. I want to see you again soon.”


“I’ll miss my plane. Yakov’s been nagging me for twenty minutes.”

Otabek pushes himself up out of bed so he can hug Yuri. Yuri calls his name, startled, but Otabek can’t seem to say anything at all.

He would rather Yuri miss his plane. He would rather the two of them stay like this forever.

Except he doesn’t want to force Yuri. He can’t say it now, the moment when Yuri is leaving. The words, ‘I love you,’ stay locked in his chest.

The flowers are back as soon as Yuri leaves. Those hours next to Yuri were like a last, sweet gasp of air, and now he’s back to drowning.

His coach finally catches him while he’s too busy choking on a rose to explain himself. There isn’t much left to explain with the sight he makes.

In a way it’s a relief. He’s given a firm hand on his back until things subside and a damp towel to hide his face in. Then the first question isn’t even, who? but, “How long?”

It’s only been a few weeks but at the same time it’s been five years since roses first settled in his lungs. Otabek does his best to explain. He knows his stretches of sickness years ago did not go unnoticed, and they are clearly not forgotten.

“We have to take care of this, permanently.”

Otabek usually appreciates pragmatism, but not now. The most permanent cure would be to cut Yuri out of his heart. Surgery would have been easy when Yuri was nothing but a stranger on the other end of the red thread of fate. From the moment he actually started talking to Yuri it was too late to cut Yuri out of his heart.

“Being friends with him healed me. I don’t understand why this is happening now, but I can’t forget him.”

“Have you actually talked to him about this?” Technically there is a pause for him to answer, but the answer is so obvious Otabek doesn’t bother to try. “I am booking you a plane ticket to Saint Petersburg right now.” Right now as in his coach has phone in hand before Otabek can answer. They’re not even going to pretend that Yuri’s identity needs to be revealed.

“He’s in Hasetsu now. Late birthday present.”

Tickets to Japan can be procured just as quickly. Before Otabek can wrap his head around it there is a taxi scheduled to take him to the airport the next morning and he’s forbidden from riding his bike home in case he gets an attack and crashes and dies before he can get fixed.

“I don’t know what to say to him.” How do you say to someone ‘I love you so much I broke myself?’ How do you even say ‘I love you’ to someone like Yuri?

“Think about it on the plane. You can’t wait.”

This is about his health now, not his heart. This is about the petals scattered at his feet. If it was just love he could wait until their paths cross again. There has never been any possibility of neglecting injuries with his coach. Otabek has felt this atmosphere before, thanks to that. He’s convinced this is what the air feels like before an avalanche. The moment the stillness breaks it will be with a rush of unstoppable ice. There’s only one direction to move.

“I know if you could do this over the phone you already would have, so you are going to go where you need to be. You are the most relentless skater I’ve ever known. Don’t come back without that boy’s heart.”

Otabek meets eyes like ice and feels a strange sense of relief. He’s not the only one who thinks of this as more than not dying after all.

“I’m going to drive you home so you can pack.” The tone books no argument, and Otabek has no interest in wasting time with one.

Every time Otabek tries to go to sleep that night he wakes himself up coughing, but nothing comes up. The same rasping cough stays with him the entire flight. He can only be grateful to make it through the flight without any flowers appearing. The people on either side already want nothing to do with his misery.

It isn’t until an hour after takeoff that he realizes he never called properly to say he’s coming, and he’ll be making trouble for the Katsukis by appearing without a reservation. At that point it seems to make more sense to find his own way to the inn and discuss it there. Yuri is going to be delighted or pissed or both.

Over the endless hours, he builds something of a plan in his head. He will confess to Yuri unambiguously. Preparing a speech is impossible but he will at least say ‘I love you’ and then prove his confession by telling Yuri how those feelings have grown during their time together. He won’t say anything about the flowers or the knowledge that Yuri is his soulmate.

The way things have gone he’s fairly sure that even if he’s rejected, opening his heart will at least buy him a few more years. He just prays that Yuri will still want to be in his life for them. It’s easier to think about that than to try to imagine Yuri returning his feelings.

There is something comforting about the sight of Hasetsu, and even more so when he finally reaches Yu-topia Katsuki and sees the warm light softening the night. Yuri loves this corner of Japan more dearly than he’ll ever say. It’s more than a place he can escape to without having to give up practice, though that probably doesn’t hurt. He dragged Otabek here last year, claiming the hot springs would heal a stress fracture in his foot. Otabek only has good memories of this place so far.

Otabek remembers Yuri’s second visit to Almaty, when he demanded they visit the falcon farm again and eat dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall place they discovered instead of only letting Otabek lead him around. Otabek let himself believe that meant Yuri has come to love his corner of the world as well. What if he ruins both of these precious places for Yuri at the same time?

Suffocating on flowers isn’t going to make Yuri happy, either. Otabek isn’t too keen on it himself. This is where Yuri is. He will have to make it work.

Mari recognizes him. Before he can ask about a room she’s guessed that he’s there to see Yurio and is directing him to leave his bag and get moving so that he can surprise the other skater before he heads to the bath.

The hours of travel have slowed Otabek’s brain, and suddenly everything seems to be happening too fast. Instead of having time to collect himself he finds himself moving, for one thoughtless moment propelled by the desire to see Yuri before anything else.

He’s halfway down the hall when Yuri comes out of his room. His face blazes with the most incredible smile the moment he lays eyes on Otabek. Too quick to head off, he charges and leaps on Otabek in a welcoming hug.

The hug knocks something loose inside his chest. Otabek manages to get one good lungful of air, and then hacks yellow rose petals down Yuri’s front.

Yuri recoils and Otabek finds himself doubled over, trying to remember how to breathe. When Yuri grabs him and pulls, nearly dragging him off his feet, he has no choice but to follow. He’s just grateful Yuri chooses the semi-privacy of a washroom instead of throwing him outside.

“Give me a minute,” Otabek wheezes, interrupting the worried tirade that keeps going in and out of focus. It feels like all the flowers from the past day want out this instant.

Yuri awkwardly touches his back a few times before disappearing. He leaves the sink running to cover the sound of Otabek’s coughing and slams the door behind him.

It doesn’t feel like he’s gone very long. Otabek is taking careful breaths, trying to determine if anything else is about to come up, when Yuri announces his presence by tapping him on the head with a plastic bottle.

“Give me a minute,” he says again. He accepts the bottle from Yuri and pretends to read the label. He can’t make himself look at the damp places on Yuri’s yukata yet. Of all the situations he imagined, this one seems only marginally preferable to collapsing and falling into traffic before making it here.

Yuri gives him at least a few seconds before saying, “You’re staying in my room. I already asked for an extra futon. And you have to apologize about the mess later. I’m not apologizing for you.”

Otabeck sips the weird fruity sports drink Yuri brought him as he spares a thought to be amazed at how completely he has failed to keep this secret in the last twenty-four hours. He thought he had gotten so good at hiding it, too.

“Can you move?”

After a few deep breaths, Otabek is confident that he can. He lets Yuri help him up. Yuri’s arm wraps around his back, supporting him as if he’s afraid Otabek might fall at any moment.

Yuri’s body has matured in the past few years. His wrists and fingers are more substantial, and his grip is strong when he pulls Otabek to his feet. Muscle is more visible on his shoulders and chest, and even more so on his calves and thighs. Otabek has spent so much time taking in the changes. It was always with a feeling of quiet appreciation before, but for the first time he finds himself grateful. He feels blessed by Yuri’s solid presence supporting him. He loves Yuri simply for existing next to him.

Yuri helps him down the hall without comment, keeping up his support until he can guide Otabek to sit at the low table in his room. Otabek is conscious that he’s still moving a little gingerly, but he’s in good enough shape to explain, as soon as he finds where to start.

Yuri turns away and starts pulling off his stained yukata, which stops every train of thought dead. Even if he’s not looking he’s hyper-aware of the sound of Yuri tossing the yukata on the floor.

“So you’re not here to see me.”

“I am here to see you, Yuri.”

“You are not!” Yuri stomps into Otabek’s field of vision (Otabek has never been so relieved to see tiger-print pajama shorts) and plants himself there, arms crossed and head up in a haughty pose that Otabek is usually rather fond of. “There’s only one thing that makes people puke flowers, and if you can be running across the world to see someone there’s something a lot more important than visiting me! It’s not like I’m going to be mad at you or anything, so who are you actually here to see? It’s not Katsudon, is it? Or Yuuko?”

Otabek almost wants to smile. Those are the people Yuri loves dearly, so of course he can only think of them first. “Both of them are happily married. I’m not here to be a home wrecker.”

“Is it someone I introduced you to last time we were here? Who did this to you?” A tinge of doubt creeps into Yuri’s voice, as if he wants to say, ‘did I cause this?’

“No one did this to me but me. I need you to understand that.” Otabek knows Yuri isn’t going to agree with him, so he doesn’t wait for an answer. “I’m only here to see you. You’re the one I’m in love with.”

“Me?” Yuri is caught completely off guard. His expression softens as he hugs himself. Otabek realizes all in a helpless rush that there is an answer he is desperately hoping to hear after all.

“Liar. You’re not in love with me. I said I wasn’t going to be mad! You don’t have to lie to me!”

Rejection hits the moment Otabek leaves his heart open for it, and it feels like a physical blow. He can’t breathe. There is no space left in his lungs for air.

He almost collapses, coughing, but then Yuri is holding him up. Before he can think Yuri has snatched a trash can out of the corner and is holding him to make sure he doesn’t face-plant in it. It feels like there will be a bruise later from Yuri’s fingers digging into his arm, but Otabek doesn’t think he’ll mind.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Yuri keeps saying, while Otabek is physically unable to tell him to stop.

“I wasn’t going to tell you about the flowers,” is the first thing Otabek says when he can breathe again.

“I don’t know how you thought you were going to keep me from finding out.” Yuri peers at the mess of yellow flowers with an air of horrified fascination. “How were there so many of those in you? Are those tulips?”


“Oh, fuck you! What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Yuri throws both arms around Otabek and hugs him tightly enough to make his chest squeeze in a much more pleasant way.

Yellow tulips might be for parting, but Otabek has never had any intention of parting with Yuri. “I don’t think it means anything. Yellow makes me think of you, that’s all.”

“Really? Why?”

“Like gold, for victory. Like the sun. It’s warm and bright, like your smile.” Otabek slips his arms around Yuri as he tries to explain. He isn’t completely sure what’s going on, but since Yuri is holding him so fiercely he might as well return the favor.

“I thought you were at least going to say my hair or something.”

“Your hair is beautiful, too. Especially in your spins.”

“You can’t be serious.” Yuri takes a deep breath, lets it out again. “This can’t be happening. Ten seconds ago I was telling myself I don’t get to kill whoever made you all lovesick and you’re saying it’s me? I don’t believe you. You can’t have some emo pining disease because of me when I’ve had a crush on you forever!”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Well I do! I love you, so you’d better get used to it!”

It feels much easier to breathe with Yuri holding him. Warmth soaks into his chest and eases the lingering ache inside. He could definitely get used to this.

“What am I supposed to do now? If I admit I love you, that’s supposed to cure you instantly, right? That’s how it works in the movies.”

“It will be fine. I think I only fell in love with you a little too fast, and I was a little too slow to admit it.”

“It’d better be. I don’t want you to do that again. It looked horrible.”

“I won’t.” There is no longer anything rattling in Otabek’s chest when he takes a deep breath. He can actually feel air going all the way to the bottom of his lungs.

“I love you. I’m not going to let you doubt me.”

Yuri shifts a little so they are face to face. He is not being subtle as he moves closer, and Otabek loves him for that. Still, he doesn’t miss the grimace the second after Yuri touches an experimental kiss to his lips.


With a small frown of concentration, Yuri seems to steel himself before he tries for another kiss.

“Stop it. You don’t have to do that.”

“Shut up. Your mouth just tastes weird.” Yuri’s fingers dig stubbornly into his shoulder. “I still want to.”


It takes some scrambling for Otabek to find the drink Yuri brought him. It’s still cool enough to soothe his throat, and while the odd taste of salt under sweet is more Yuri’s thing than his, it’s a relief to wash away the heavy floral taste.

Yuri is amazingly patient and waits for a nod before kissing him again. He’s slower this time, giving Otabek time to kiss him back.


Yuri does not dignify his smug tone with a response. He just keeps going on the same trajectory, gaining confidence by the second. His mouth is hot and clumsy and the words he growls against Otabek’s lips are sweeter than anything.

“Don’t you dare forget I love you.”

Yuri destroys every trace of the distance between them and sears the flowers growing in Otabek’s chest to nothing.

Even with his love confessed and accepted, Otabek can’t help thinking about an eventual relapse. It always happened before. The physical distance between them might be too much, or maybe his heart will get the idea there exists some greater intimacy he should seek with Yuri.

Yuri is the one who settles it for him, directly after his short program at Skate America. He makes a point to pin Otabek to the wall, using every centimeter of his superior height to demand Otabek’s full attention.

“Your stamina is better, isn’t it?”

Otabek gives him a short nod. Why on earth does Yuri sound angry about that?

“Your breathing got better, didn’t it? Not just since Worlds. Since forever.”

Otabek hadn’t consciously noticed. He puts one hand to his chest, where the small lump of plant life once grew. He hadn’t noticed it unless it was actively growing, but he could believe it was always living quietly in the bottom of his lungs.

“If you ever do something stupid to your lungs again I’m going to kill you.”

“Then I won’t give you a reason.”

“Damn right you won’t.” Satisfied, Yuri leans into him, hugging him tightly. “You were amazing. I’m still going to kick your ass tomorrow, but you were amazing. Even more than you usually are.”

“You should give me a ‘good luck’ kiss every time.”

“I’m going to. I don’t care if your coach yells at me again.”

When he’s holding Yuri, Otabek can’t imagine ever being sick again. As long as he’s loved this well, there will never be room for flowers to take root in his heart.

Chapter Text

Yuri’s mother sends him flowers on the last day of Yakov’s training camp. He doesn’t know her as a person who makes frivolous gestures, and he hasn’t done anything to earn them yet. It leaves a sour feeling in his stomach. He curls his hands into stubborn fists, refusing to even touch them.

When he walks away he’s aware of a handful of others from his class watching him. He doesn’t care, but there’s that one older boy. He’s looking at Yuri again.

Yuri doesn’t know what that look means. It’s not a glare, not sizing him up, not jealousy or smug superiority or disapproval. It is nothing Yuri knows or can guess. When Yuri snapped last week and demanded to know what he was looking at he only answered that he thought Yuri was very skilled. He sounded too sincere for Yuri to know how to retaliate.

It doesn’t matter. Yuri is sure they won’t meet again.

Yuri’s first short program at an international junior competition is not the flawless triumph he practiced, which makes it a failure. The ringing in his ears makes it difficult to tell how anyone else is reacting, so he lifts his chin and hardens his heart, ready for scorn.

The next skater is already waiting on the other side of the barrier. Before Yuri can decide if he needs to preemptively snap out a rude comment their eyes meet.

He knows that look from somewhere, but he doesn’t know what it means. The dark eyes gazing into his are steady, unflinching, but not harsh.

It’s only an instant, but it shocks him into swallowing any words he might have said. He steps past the older boy in silence, grabs for his skate guards, and refuses to look back.

Because he imagines those eyes turning to follow him, he smothers his own curiosity. He doesn’t really want to watch that boy skate. When he turns to leave this kiss and cry intending to ignore the competition, Yuri feels a sudden pain in his chest, like someone jabbed his insides with a needle. It’s enough to make him put his hand to his chest, but then it’s gone.

The months before Yuri’s senior debut are busy, starting when Victor goes running off to Japan in a fit of stupidity and he has to give chase to get his promised choreography. He’s going to take that short program to a level not even Victor can imagine.

After that competition in Hasetsu he makes a point to check up on the competition. When he watches Skate America there are a few that manage to surprise him. Leo de la Iglesia, for example. Yuri will admit that his choreography stands out even with the lower technical difficulty. Gold and silver might have been reversed, except Otabek Altin made some glaring errors in his short program.

Yuri isn’t sure why he has the feeling that Otabek could have done much better rather than assuming his skills just aren’t up to the challenge. They technically competed together during Yuri’s first year in the junior division, but Yuri never really watched him.

Normally he would skip the interviews, but there’s something about Otabek’s neutral face that’s annoying him. Maybe he’s the kind of man who can be satisfied with silver around his neck. How would Yuri know? There’s no reason to think he should be more intense.

Then it hits him: Otabek doesn’t look into the camera the way he used to look at Yuri.

Yuri slams his laptop closed when he realizes. He can still hear Otabek’s muffled voice. There is someone he is watching this season, although he cannot claim them as a rival yet. Yuri doesn’t care who Otabek considers a rival. He doesn’t care about Otabek’s politely distant gaze. He doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of weird looks from Otabek.

Now he remembers that he used to avoid watching Otabek because of the way Otabek looked at him. He didn’t hate it, exactly, but he hated not knowing what it meant. It wasn’t a challenge or something he could push back against. Otabek never even tried to say anything to him.

Yuri hopes Otabek doesn’t make it to the Grand Prix Final. He doesn’t want to have to look at Otabek’s face.

There is a pain deep in Yuri’s chest, and when he inhales the pain becomes a cough. It feels like there’s something stuck all the way down in his lung. It takes forever to get whatever-it-is up his throat so he can spit it into his palm.

It’s a flower petal. It’s long and thin and white, like a petal from a large daisy. Yuri stares at it in dumb confusion. How could he possibly have inhaled a flower petal? He has never, ever, taken flowers home because he can’t remember which ones are toxic to cats.

It can’t have come from inside of him. That’s impossible.

By the time he takes part in Skate Canada, Yuri has acknowledged that the impossible is happening. He’s not about to tell anyone else, but it’s freaking him out. Half a dozen daisy petals are nothing, but it seems like you only ever hear about really extreme cases with people practically vomiting entire rosebushes.

There are big, showy daisies in the bouquet that gets shoved into his hands. He pinches the petals out in clumps and lets them scatter. Looking at flowers makes him feel sick.

Yuri is deliberately skipping Otabek’s program in the NHK Trophy when he coughs up half a flower.

It’s not a daisy. He’s not entirely sure what it is, but morbid curiosity makes him look online. There are several flowers that look pretty similar to him, but he chooses bloodroot as the closest. If a stupid flower is going to try to ruin his life it might as well be one with a badass name.

Otabek wins gold (with a performance Yuri should probably watch but never does) but that is the last thing on Yuri’s mind as he gives in and finally starts reading about hanahaki disease.

When Otabek approaches and actually talks to him, he changes Yuri’s mind about him within the hour. Yes, he was pissed when they laid eyes on each other for the first time since juniors and he caught Otabek giving him the same fucking look, but he’s over it now. The look in Otabek’s eyes says he recognizes Yuri’s strength and he will never back down before it.

Otabek understands that this is a battle they’re fighting to win and faces it head-on, but there’s space in his head for other things, too. Yuri’s not used to having someone he can move from complaining about judges and musical interpretation to sharing cat videos with.

Yuri insists on exchanging every type of contact information and social media handle he has with his new friend. He’s not going without contact for the months it’s going to take for them to see each other again.

They’re both still exhausted from staying up all night when they have to say goodbye, but it’s worth it. He’s loved every minute they’ve spent together since Otabek told him to get on that bike. He loved the rush of being swept away with the city blurring by them. He loves the straightforward way Otabek speaks to him. He’s pretty sure he never wants Otabek to stop looking at him the way he does. He almost tells Otabek at least some of that but it seems weird and embarrassing so he doesn’t.

He’s waiting in the airport terminal, ignoring the lingering chill of Lilia’s disapproval, when a needle-sharp pain in his chest warns him to get to a bathroom before he starts coughing. The cluster of tiny, white flowers that comes up is new, and Yuri can only stare at them blankly. Are they supposed to mean something?

The moment he asked Otabek to step onto the ice with him, to become part of his exhibition skate, he’d been sure he’d found his soulmate. Not only that, but as far as he’s concerned he’s announced it to the entire world.

Isn’t this supposed to stop?

Yuri manages to get to Four Continents to cheer Otabek on. The look of surprise on Otabek’s face is so perfect he wishes he had a picture of it.

Getting to see Otabek in person again is so exciting Yuri is tempted to blurt out a confession, but he already has plans for how he’s going to tell Otabek his feelings. He’s going to tell Otabek at Worlds and it’s going to be perfect. They’re both going to medal. No one is going to interrupt when they go out to celebrate. Yuri is going to be cool when he says it, and maybe Otabek will hold his hand when he says it back but they’re definitely not going to be gross like some other couples Yuri has to put up with.

Otabek gets him into the banquet afterward, and as far as Yuri is concerned hanging out as friends with the guy he also loves is the best thing ever. Besides, Yuri isn’t wasting his love confession when everyone else is being disgustingly romantic around them. Case in point, JJ is blowing kisses at his fiancé across the room like he can’t fetch champagne without getting separation anxiety. Yuri makes a gagging noise in protest.

“Jealous, Kitten?”

“Ugh. Couples who get all over each other in public are disgusting.”

“I’m sure you don’t mind how obvious Otabek always was about his crush.”

“What?” Confusion cracks Yuri’s confrontational scowl. Otabek doesn’t have a crush. He’s never said anything about any crush.

“He still hasn’t told you? Wait, you’re still not sixteen,” JJ suddenly looks uncomfortable, even though he’s the one who started it.

“I’m old enough for the senior division,” Yuri snaps. That is literally the only thing that matters. “Think you’re going to feel better about getting your ass kicked at Worlds just because I turn sixteen first?”

“I’m sure Otabek will tell you when you’re old enough.”

“Fuck you!” Yuri would like to believe JJ is just messing with him, but he heads across the room to where the Canadian ice dancers are behaving like rational adults instead of lovesick idiots, instead of back to Otabek.

Otabek is still chatting with Leo and doesn’t notice him not coming back.

Yuri can’t help feeling suspicious now. They are pretty close. Otabek doesn’t talk about him the way JJ implied, but he has mentioned Leo a few times. Leo is one of the few people Otabek actually interacts with on social media, too.

If it’s not Leo that just means it’s someone else.

Otabek finds him before he can think of another candidate to be angry about.

“Let’s go. I promised we could take a night ride, didn’t I?”

Ten minutes ago Yuri would have said they couldn’t ditch this party fast enough. Now there’s an accusation ready on his tongue.

“Take someone else.” The pain in his chest is suddenly sharper than ever before.

“Why would I-”

“I feel sick. I’m going back to my room.”

Yuri gets out of the hotel conference room and runs for it, struggling to keep flowers down with every breath. He ends up on his knees coughing up flowers a few doors down from his room. He doesn’t want to clean them up, but it feels too incriminating to leave them there. Not that anyone chased after him.

Huddled up in his bed, he starts and deletes message after message to Otabek. Why did he have to learn about Otabek having a crush from JJ? And who is it? And why can’t it be him? After having to get up twice so he can cough more flowers into the toilet, Yuri drags the trash can over beside the bed so he won’t have to move.

The inside of his mouth feels burned raw, but maybe that’s normal. He’s tried to identify the clusters of white flowers before, and maybe he’s wrong (the results for “tiny shitty white flowers trying to murder me” may be biased), but they look exactly like hemlock. The bitter taste he can’t get out of his mouth feels like it should be poison.

This must be what unrequited love feels like. This is more proof than he ever asked for that his feelings are one-sided. Otabek is in love with someone else and it’s going to destroy him. If things keep going with this intensity, Yuri doesn’t know how he’s going to cope. How is he supposed to skate if he can’t go ten minutes without coughing flowers? He doesn’t know how he’s even going to manage the flight home.

He receives a text from Otabek asking if he’s okay shortly after reaching his room, which he ignores. He gets another half an hour later to remind him that if he needs anything Otabek is right here in the same city for once.

Yuri tells about half the truth when he admits that he wanted to run around all night with Otabek but he really is too sick right now.

After that the flowers subside enough for him to fall asleep. He wakes up with a sore throat and an ache in his chest, but at least he didn’t choke on a broken heart in his sleep.

Otabek is waiting to share a ride to the airport, and Yuri realizes he has fallen from wishing they were flying to same place to wanting to lick his wounds in peace. Otabek assumes he’s still not feeling well, and Yuri doesn’t pretend otherwise.

Their gates are in the same terminal, so Otabek finds a seat beside him for the last hour they have together. Yuri pulls out his phone to play with. His lips and tongue are still tender. Talking feels like an unnecessary trial, and he doesn’t know what to say after yesterday anyway.

“Have I done something wrong?”

Startled by the sudden force in Otabek’s voice, Yuri looks up and finds himself caught in dark, serious eyes.

“You’re easy to be around, so I may have done something without thinking. If I have I don’t want to do it again.”

“That’s a stupid question! You haven’t done anything wrong.” Yuri looks away again. He wants to have someone he can direct his anger at, but he doesn’t want to push it at Otabek. “You got to hang out with Leo last night, right? You’re friends?” Now it sounds like he’s friend-jealous over Leo. Yuri doesn’t know if that’s better or worse.

“I wish you could have come with us. Hanging out with Leo and Guang Hong I felt a little like a third wheel. They’ve gotten very close.”

“Really?” Yuri isn’t sure how to interpret that. If Otabek maybe loves Leo it sounds like Leo doesn’t love Otabek back.

“They would have liked that too. I talk about you a lot to my other friends.”

“Me too.” Yuri hopes Otabek’s friends complain about how much they hear about him the same way Mila has been complaining lately.

Otabek seems satisfied with that, and Yuri decides he’s not going to complain either. At least it doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s selfish, but as long as he doesn’t have to watch Otabek with someone else he’ll probably be okay.

No matter how much he loves Otabek, Yuri suspects he’s not made for this whole soulmate thing. If fate is a thread then he can imagine a needle trying to stab through his chest, unable to ever reach Otabek’s heart.

If he has to choose, Yuri is more upset by puberty than he is by the fact that he’s still occasionally coughing up flowers over his friend. His body keeps getting taller and heavier and his heart keeps growing flowers for someone he knows he can never have. It all makes him feel helpless inside his own skin, and Yuri pushes even more insistently against his physical limits because he can’t do anything about the emotional ones.

It doesn’t make sense that Otabek helps ground him when he’s half the problem, but the result is obvious enough that he can practically smell Yakov’s relief when Otabek visits Saint Petersburg to work with a new choreographer. Yuri just enjoys the suspiciously high overlap in their training schedules.

Yuri closes his eyes while raising one leg into a vertical split during his warm up (he feels more of a stretch than he likes, but not enough to stop him) and opens them to Otabek’s thoughtful gaze on him. He hates the thought that even Otabek thinks he needs to slow down. He silently dares Otabek to say anything.

“You don’t have to prove anything to me.”

Yuri knows he doesn’t, and that suits his pride. He still has something to prove to himself, however, which is why he drags Otabek into it when he raises his other leg. He can put Otabek’s hand on his calf as if making him help with the stretch, but he knows Otabek won’t actually push.

He leans in until they’re nose to nose. It occurs to him that he’s looking Otabek straight in the eyes. He’s not sure how long he’s been able to do that.

Otabek’s touch moves down Yuri’s leg as he relaxes out of the stretch. His free hand comes to rest on Yuri’s hip. Yuri loves the firm warmth of those hands, and he leans recklessly into them.

For all he knows these kinds of casual touches are completely normal for best friends in Kazakhstan. Yuri is dedicated to never finding out if that’s the case. All he needs to know is that Otabek has no reservations about holding him. It’s like a thin trickle of water when he’s dying of thirst. He’s never going to be satisfied but it feels so good.

He’s on the verge of a confession that will leave him falling all the way into Otabek’s arms. He physically swallows as he forces down the words.

The next minute he’s coughing so hard he doubles over with it. It pisses him off more than ever when Otabek is here physically holding him and still out of his reach.

“Are you all right?”

Yuri nods and hides the flower under his tongue until he has a chance to dispose of it.

Longing is bad, but rejection would be worse. Yuri can deal with coughing flowers once in a while. He knows he won’t be able to deal with what will happen to his body when he’s forced to acknowledge that Otabek doesn’t love him. He may be reckless, but he has enough self-preservation not to jump off a cliff.

By the time he can spit out the delicate cluster of white flowers there’s a tender place under his tongue. It’s so mangled he can’t tell if it’s snakeroot or hemlock, but it doesn’t really matter. They’re both poison. He assumes the reason the pain in his chest has never felt like thorns is because his flowers kill in a different way.

When he comes back he gets another concerned glance. Otabek doesn’t know what’s wrong, but it’s obvious he would help if Yuri would let him.

If he confessed everything would Otabek pretend to love him back? Would he offer to disappear from Yuri’s heart and his life for the sake of his health? Yuri can’t imagine a solution that wouldn’t hurt more than the flowers.

He isn’t going to say anything about it. For every stab of pain Yuri has hours and days to enjoy their friendship. He’s so used to enduring so much more for the things he loves that it seems like a fair price. He destroys the little reminders of his disease and leaves it at that. Otabek is worth a lot more than a few flowers.

They spend too long too far apart, so Yuri looks forward to every casual skype date. It’s hard not to say ‘I love you,’ along with ‘goodnight,’ but Yuri is an expert at swallowing the words down before they get out.

One night Otabek talks about meeting up with a childhood friend and how well he thinks the two of them would get along. Yuri gulps down paranoid jealousy and wakes up coughing a few hours later. He’s barely aware enough to roll over so he doesn’t choke. He really does not want to deal with soggy flower petals on his pillow right now.

Then Potya hops up to investigate, and any thought of dealing with it later is gone. Yuri grabs his cat and throws her in the closet before she can do more than sniff his pillow.

He has no ideas what the flowers are but everything he has ever managed to identify has been poisonous. He flushes the petals. Then, as Potya complains loudly at the indignity of being shut in the closet, he strips off his pillowcase and sheets in case there’s a stray petal in them.

He knows it’s not Otabek’s fault. He knows on some level that lying about his feelings will probably make it worse. He can’t stop himself from grabbing his phone and texting his best friend, I hate you several times, his chest tight with something between anger and fear.

Yuri digs out a spare set of sheets, because he is not dealing with laundry right now. When it’s finally safe to let Potya out of the closet she gives him a look of utter distrain. It was for her own good, but try explaining that to a cat.

When he picks up his phone there are messages from Otabek, asking what happened and if he’s all right, then asking him to meet on skype.

Heart sinking, Yuri does just that. Otabek only looks half awake, and Yuri can’t tell if he’s angry.

“Why are you awake?” Yuri had thought he had time to say something else and take back his hasty words, and now he can’t.

“I was going to say the same thing. What’s wrong?”

“I didn’t mean it.” Yuri looks to where Potya is sulking pointedly at him. The best excuse he can think of is, “I had a nightmare that you hurt Potya.”

Otabek lays down on his side with his phone propped up on his pillow beside him, reassured that nothing is actually wrong. Otabek takes mornings with dignity, but Yuri has noticed when they’ve shared a room that he takes his time waking up. He wouldn’t have expected such a fast response to midnight texts.

“I was about to tell you I was sorry,” Yuri adds.

“I know how much you love her. I would have been mad at me too.”

Yuri mirrors Otabek’s position. When they’re like this there is an illusion that Otabek is lying in bed next to him. The longing to reach out and touch Otabek is so strong it becomes an ache down his arms to his fingers. It’s not Otabek’s fault he’s so lovesick. Otabek would never do this to him on purpose.

“I know you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Otabek gives him a small smile. Potya apparently also forgives him, because she picks her way up the bed to settle against his chest where he can pet her in apology. She’s the unquestioned queen, but she’s so lenient with him. He certainly wouldn’t have forgiven himself yet in the same circumstances.

“Is she there?”

Yuri nods. His throat is too sore to hold words back. “I wish you were here right now.”

“So you can smother me with your pillow?”

“I wouldn’t do that.” Otabek should already know he’s safe from pillow homicide, even if he doesn’t realize how much Yuri loves him.

“Will you be able to go back to sleep?”

“Yeah,” Yuri whispers. Even if he wants to spend all night lying next to Otabek he knows he’s not going to be able to fight off sleep forever.

“Go to sleep,” Otabek tells him. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Yuri nods, but waits for Otabek to disconnect first. He doesn’t want to look away.

Potya snuggles against his chest in a warm bundle. Yuri whispers into her fur, “I love him so much.”

She’s probably the only one who will ever know.

Yuri spends his last scrap of free time before his entire life becomes nothing but the new season visiting Otabek. They made a promise to work on their exhibition skates together, and nothing is going to keep Yuri from keeping it.

Otabek is still in the last stages of physical therapy, recovering from a stress fracture. He’s so clean and confident Yuri can believe he’s already healed, but his coach has set an absolute limit on the number and difficulty of jumps he’s allowed to attempt each day. Yuri won’t get to see Otabek’s exhibition complete until he wins, so he had better win.

Yuri doesn’t know how he feels about Otabek choosing a love song.

“I want you to help me make it intense,” Otabek explains. They transform the climax of the song into a rush of hope and joy. That’s love as Yuri thinks it should look on him.

It always ends in rejection, though. It ends with Otabek on his knees, arms crossing his chest, bent until his forehead nearly touches the ice. That’s the way the song sounds to him. He won’t change that, and he won’t change his music, because he’s a stupid jerk.

If Otabek is choreographing this for someone then Yuri is going to kill them. He shouldn’t, because that would make Otabek sad, but the eloquence of Otabek’s body language as he accepts rejection has to inspire either tears or murder.

Maybe Otabek just wants to try something different. Yuri would like to believe that. It would make it easier for him to concentrate on his own skating.

Everything Yuri tries feels like a disaster. Otabek doesn’t say anything as he watches Yuri struggle with a combination spin that seemed so triumphant the first time, but there’s a frown between his eyebrows that says he sees it too.

“Come here,” Yuri impulsively demands, because somehow dragging Otabek in will fix it.

The first position is a camel spin that looks different on Otabek. He doesn’t arch into it, as is Yuri’s bad habit. Yuri is in love with the level of control that defines Otabek’s beauty.

“Stop that. Do it with me.”

Yuri puts his arm around Otabek’s waist and pulls so they can build up momentum together. Otabek understands that Yuri wants to drag him into a pair spin. Hip-to-hip, both of them keep touching clumsily along the other’s body, trying to figure out their positions. Yuri laughs at how awkward it feels.

“Okay, next position.”

They’re losing momentum much faster than they should, and Yuri finds it impossible to make a clean transition with the two of them this close, but he doesn’t care. He rises into a Biellmann, pulling his skate up over his head with both hands. Otabek can’t mirror him, but he doesn’t let go. He drops into a basic sit spin, his hands around Yuri’s waist. It feels like Otabek could just lift him, like he’s a second away from being weightless. He is invincible.

“Next,” Otabek says, and he’s moving into the last position. It’s supposed to be triumph, but all he can think about is Otabek’s hand under his knee, guiding his upraised leg into position so they don’t get tangled. This was supposed to be a simple scratch spin, pulling in arms and legs to increase his momentum, but it becomes something unfamiliar as his leg ends up around Otabek’s hip. He can feel Otabek mirroring him, leg cocked around his knee.

Otabek is too close. Yuri’s center of gravity is too far back. It feels like he’s falling until Otabek’s hand presses against his back. Otabek dips him in a rush of vertigo.

The sensation of putting himself in another person’s hands shocks him so badly he can’t remember what he was doing with his arms and he ends up clinging to Otabek instead. He trusts Otabek won’t let him fall, but they are on the ice right now. Trust isn’t enough. The need to be in control threads through every nerve.

How does anyone ever do lifts?

They’re winding down when something occurs to Yuri. It feels like Otabek is supporting him and showing him off. If pairs are supposed to be flower-and-stem, that makes him the flower, and fuck that noise.

“I should be the one dipping you and showing you off and shit. You’re shorter.”

“You’re more flexible. I couldn’t do the Biellmann,” Otabek counters. Yuri can’t argue with that. It’s true and he’s fiercely proud of the flexibility he’s still fighting to keep. He would be happy to leave it there, but Otabek looks into his eyes and says, perfectly deadpan, “And you’re more beautiful.”

Yuri bursts out laughing. It’s the worst joke he’s ever heard. He would never take that kind of crap from anyone else, but with Otabek he can only throw his head back and laugh at how serious he sounds.

Otabek waits out his mirth with a fond smile softening his eyes. He still has his arms around Yuri, even though their spin has wound down to nothing.

“We could save the pair skate for when we’re both on the podium,” Otabek adds, getting another snort of laughter out of Yuri. “But your fans might kill me.”

“My fans have good taste. Obviously they love you.” Yuri mostly skims his fans’ feeds so he can avoid their meetings, but he’s noticed speculation about what he and Otabek might be doing in private. Some of his fans would probably love to see them together like this. Of course, that has nothing on how much Yuri would love for Otabek’s arms around him to mean something more.

He could say they should save the pair skate for just the two of them. Otabek would think he’s joking. It’s not the same as confessing. He holds the words back just the same. He feels something pinch in his lungs, and suddenly it’s that much harder to breathe.

Yuri shoves some of his hair back one-handed as he concentrates on breathing. It’s come loose from his short ponytail and there are a few annoying strands in his mouth.

Otabek brushes his hair back on the other side before he can. There’s no sign that he’s thinking about what he’s doing, but it sparks pain in Yuri’s chest. He has to pull out of Otabek’s arms to hide himself and cough a flurry of tiny flowers into a tissue.

His flowers are always white. Whether he gets thin petals that try to adhere themselves to the back of his teeth or clusters of tiny flowers, they all seem the same now. As far as he can tell no one has ever assigned meaning to them. They say nothing in the language of flowers. They can only pile into silent drifts.

When he’s done he goes and hooks his arm through Otabek’s and says he wants to grab dinner like nothing happened. He’s ready to forget for a few hours that Otabek doesn’t know what he’s almost saying with his touches and his smiles. Other people talk about the two of them acting like lovers when they go out together, but they agree that other people can fuck right off. They’re not in love.

Or at least, Otabek isn’t.

Yuri never gets to see Otabek’s completed exhibition skate. He can’t watch it without needing to cough up flowers.

Yuri hasn’t celebrated his birthday on the actual day in years. It would be nice to have it in the off season when he could go spend a few days with Otabek, but that’s not happening with Worlds so immediate in both of their minds. It wouldn’t even matter if not for Otabek mentioning he wishes he could tell Yuri happy birthday in person.

He almost asks Otabek to come to Hasetsu with him. Katsudon and Victor haven’t officially announced his birthday present yet, but that’s what it’s been for the last two years and it’s obvious that’s what he wants.

What he wants most hopefully isn’t so obvious. At least Otabek hasn’t figured it out yet. Sometimes Yuri wants to take his life in his hands and tell Otabek the only present he wants is a kiss. What he really wants is a chance, but a kiss seems easier to ask for.

Thinking of that, Yuri doesn’t even make it out the door before he starts coughing. That’s a great way to start the day.

It feels like every confession he’s ever held back has come out as a flower instead.

I wish you were here, he texts Otabek, and the attack stops instantly.

Yuri gets his hopes up of seeing Otabek before Worlds, but Otabek apparently goes directly to his hotel room and directly to sleep. Yuri spends his evening sulking and scrolling through pictures on his phone. Their tradition of exploring new cities together is precious to him, and he doesn’t understand why Otabek is suddenly avoiding him. He hasn’t heard Otabek’s voice in weeks.

When he sees Otabek the next morning he understands why Otabek has been silent, and he hates himself for feeling so ill-used about it. Otabek is as cool as ever, but he’s obviously holding himself upright through will alone.

How long has he been like this? Yuri remembers that Otabek stopped communicating via anything but text on his birthday. That makes it almost three weeks.

As he watches Otabek skate Yuri’s heart is pounding against his breastbone so hard it makes him feel sick. Otabek’s presence is still strong. He radiates confidence. He shouldn’t be panting for breath. Under-rotated jumps and messy landings don’t fit him.

Yuri shows superhuman restraint in waiting until Otabek leaves the kiss and cry to ambush him. His face feels hot and he wants to grab Otabek and shake him. It’s more comfortable to be angry than worried.

When their eyes meet something in Otabek’s expression softens, like he’s ready to put his guard down in a public place just for Yuri. Yuri’s anger flickers and nearly goes out completely.

“What was that? What happened to you? Are you really that sick? How are you still sick? Haven’t you been to a doctor?”

“Yes, I have.” Otabek’s voice is a raw whisper. “He already treated me for pneumonia. I’ll be fine.”

“You’re skating with pneumonia!?”

“It just means there was a little fluid in my lungs. I’m doing much better now.”

“This is better? This isn’t good enough!”

“I swear, I will do better tomorrow. I will not disappoint you.”

“Disappoint me? Screw your priorities. You need to take care of yourself first.”

Yuri would like to be furious, but he can’t rant with Otabek already looking so defeated.

They spend the evening in Otabek’s hotel room. At least Otabek isn’t coughing or showing other symptoms by the time they get there. He just seems to be exhausted. They settle down on the bed to eat and watch a nature documentary about leopards and another about leopard seals, because Otabek has a weakness for cute animals that could bite his face off.

When Otabek dozes off, Yuri almost curls up to sleep next to him. He’s not sure he actually makes a sound when he breathes the unguarded truth, “I wish I could stay with you,” before he pulls the comforter up over Otabek’s body and leaves him.

The best way to vent his feelings is to utterly destroy the competition. He will have the most brilliant free skate of the season. The judges will be stunned with wonder. Every rival will weep as their hopes are shattered. Otabek will be shamed and healed all in one.

Otabek is doing much better for his part. Not better enough for Yuri’s tastes, but he seems merely tired. He’s not gasping for breath, anyway.

When they eat dinner in the hotel restaurant Otabek looks like a man recovering from a long illness. His voice is shot, but other than that he’s made an amazing recovery in the last twenty-four hours.

Yuri is glad to perform his exhibition skate one last time. It makes him think of one moment with Otabek’s arms around him. He tries to preserve that feeling in his favorite combination spin. He is invincible and he is loved. No one else will ever know. He’s not sure if even Otabek will see what he’s saying with his body.

That night Otabek falls asleep in his bed and Yuri has no hope of sleep after that. He lays down next to Otabek and closes his eyes, but his mind is too busy. He tries to imagine he’s breathing in Otabek’s scent, even though they both just used the same hotel shampoo.

The only reason he gets out of bed is because Yakov pounding on the door is going to wake Otabek. He gets ready in a frantic rush and only hesitates when it comes to telling Otabek goodbye. It would be worse not to and let Otabek wake up alone, right?

He gives Otabek a gentle shake, and Otabek’s eyes crack open before Yuri can second-guess himself. “Are you awake? You don’t have to get up yet. Just take my key down for me when you check out, okay?” Yuri wonders if he’s asking for too much from someone who is barely this side of conscious. “Are you even going to remember this conversation?”

“I have never forgotten a single thing involving you.”

Yuri almost laughs. He sounds so serious. “Oh, really. Then remember this: Take care of yourself. Take your medicine. I want to see you again soon.”


“I’ll miss my plane. Yakov’s been nagging me for twenty minutes.”

The next thing Yuri knows Otabek is hugging him. He says Otabek’s name, as a question but also something close to a plea. The things left unsaid ache in his chest.

He wouldn’t regret missing his plane just to stay in Otabek’s arms. He might stay if only Otabek didn’t let him go so soon.

Yuri knows that someday Otabek will fall in love with someone who loves him back and he won’t be able to pretend he has a chance anymore. Rejection is going to hit him even without him asking for it and he already knows it’s not going to be pretty. What he doesn’t expect is for his doom to come in the form of Otabek coughing roses on him.

His five seconds of happiness that Otabek came to Hasetsu to surprise him are over, but rather than agony Yuri’s first instinct is to hide Otabek somewhere. He drags Otabek out of the hallway to a place where he can be sick in private. There is not enough profanity in the world to encompass his feelings.

It’s impossible to stay there and try to be a good friend. He needs to be doing something.

He has too much experience with what he would want now. Yuri grabs the drink he was going to have after his bath, but he doesn’t want to touch the flowers. Before he can find anything to clean them up with, Mari comes around the corner. She looks at the mess, looks at him, and Yuri doesn’t know how she can be so calm when this is the worst thing that has ever happened.

“I’ll clean it up. Did Otabek find you?”

“It’s not-” Yuri doesn’t know if he wants to say this isn’t Otabek’s fault or it’s not what it looks like or it’s not anyone’s business anyway. He’ll think about that later. Instead he announces, “He’s staying with me! He doesn’t need an extra room.” That might be a bad idea, but whatever. Yuri is charging ahead with it anyway.

“I know. Now scoot.”

She doesn’t need to tell him twice.

When he gets back Otabek no longer sounds like he’s going to cough up a lung. It’s obvious now why he looked so sick at Worlds. Yuri doesn’t know how he’s been able to breathe at all.

The only time Yuri’s had an attack this bad was the night he realized his love was unrequited. What does this mean for Otabek?

“Give me a minute,” Otabek says when Yuri taps him on the head to announce his presence.

It seems to Yuri that he’s given Otabek too much time already. Otabek started losing his voice almost a month ago. He’s been screwed up at least that long.

Who did this to him? Yuri will strangle them. He supports Otabek to his room with his thoughts full of murder. Anger will save him from coughing in front of Otabek.

Once he has Otabek settled, Yuri can’t ignore the damp feeling where Otabek coughed flowers on him any longer. He yanks his yukata off and throws it away from himself.

“So you’re not here to see me,” Yuri accuses as he grabs for the pajama shorts that he packs by habit but usually never wears.

“I am here to see you, Yuri.”

Otabek is pointedly looking away from him. Worse, he’s obviously lying. And why? To be polite? Yuri steps in front of Otabek, arms crossed, daring him to avoid his eyes.

“You are not! There’s only one thing that makes people puke flowers, and if you can be running across the world to see someone there’s something a lot more important than visiting me! It’s not like I’m going to be mad at you or anything, so who are you actually here to see? It’s not Katsudon, is it? Or Yuuko?”

“Both of them are happily married. I’m not here to be a home wrecker.”

“Is it someone I introduced you to last time we were here? Who did this to you?” Is it his fault Otabek is in love with someone else? If he introduced them then he made Otabek sick and signed his own death warrant all at once, because he’s not getting out of this in one piece.

“No one did this to me but me, Yuri. I need you to understand that. I’m only here to see you. You’re the one I’m in love with.”

“Me?” Yuri folds his arms tightly over his stomach. It’s the one thing he’s been desperate to hear but hasn’t believed possible. He can’t breathe, can’t answer, and then he feels the belated jab of pain.

He wants to tear his own chest open and rip out the poison at the source. He refuses to let his body do this to him now. Let Otabek murder him with that taste of hope but he will die with some dignity at least.

“Liar. You’re not in love with me. I said I wasn’t going to be mad! You don’t have to lie to me!”

Otabek chokes, and the noise is familiar enough that Yuri knows what’s coming next. He holds Otabek up so he doesn’t drown in yellow petals. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Yuri finds himself crying, because he can’t make it stop.

“I wasn’t going to tell you about the flowers,” Otabek says after a few last, strained coughs.

“I don’t know how you thought you were going to keep me from finding out.” This is a severity that belongs in terrible romance movies and medical dramas. This is what Yuri has been stubbornly avoiding. “How were there so many of those in you? Are those tulips?”


“Oh, fuck you! What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Yuri throws his arms around Otabek in a demanding hug. He doesn’t know much about flower meanings, but he knows red roses are for love and yellow tulips are for parting.

“I don’t think it means anything. Yellow makes me think of you, that’s all.”

“Really? Why?”

“Like gold, for victory. Like the sun. It’s warm and bright, like your smile.” It’s a surprisingly thoughtful answer, but Yuri is thinking more about how Otabek’s arms wrap around him in return.

“I thought you were at least going to say my hair or something.”

“Your hair is beautiful, too. Especially in your spins.”

“You can’t be serious.” Yuri takes a deep breath, lets it out again. “This can’t be happening. Ten seconds ago I was telling myself I don’t get to kill whoever made you all lovesick and you’re saying it’s me? I don’t believe you. You can’t have some emo pining disease because of me when I’ve had a crush on you forever!”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Well I do! I love you, so you’d better get used to it!”

Something wrenches in Yuri’s chest as the thing growing inside of him is ripped out by the roots. It hurts, and it seems to leave an empty space inside of him, but it’s over in the space of one sharp breath.

“What am I supposed to do now? If I admit I love you, that’s supposed to cure you instantly, right? That’s how it works in the movies.” It’s still sinking in. He’s said ‘I love you’ and nothing horrible happened. He’s not dying. He’s only breathing and feeling Otabek breathe in his arms.

“It will be fine. I think I only fell in love with you a little too fast, and I was a little too slow to admit it.”

“It’d better be. I don’t want you to do that again. It looked horrible.”

“I won’t,” Otabek promises.

“I love you. I’m not going to let you doubt me.”

Yuri is gaining momentum. He’s going to announce his feelings as loud as he wants, as many times as he wants. He’s going to make himself clear in every possible way. With this in mind he moves to kiss Otabek on the mouth.

The heavy, floral taste is not what he was expecting. His flowers always tasted bitter.

“Yuri,” Otabek protests. “Stop it. You don’t have to do that.”

“Shut up. Your mouth just tastes weird. I still want to.”


Otabek finds his drink and takes a few sips before indicating that Yuri can kiss him again. The time Yuri can savor it a little more.


Yuri is more interested in kissing Otabek than dignifying that smug tone with a response. As far as he’s concerned, there’s only one thing that needs to be said.

“Don’t you dare forget I love you.”

Yuri would be happy to keep kissing Otabek all night if he could do that without interruptions. As it is he doesn’t get to kiss Otabek nearly enough before Mari comes to deliver the extra futon.

“Good. You found each other.”

“Don’t you knock?”

“I did.”

Big sisters are evil, even if they aren’t technically his. Yuri is grateful she apparently sent Otabek to him, because she understands priorities, but he also wants to drag Otabek off and hide.

Before Otabek can open his mouth Yuri senses what he’s about to say. He grabs the front of Otabek’s shirt and pulls.

“We’re taking a bath!” Yuri almost misses the playful admonishment to behave themselves, he’s so focused on getting Otabek out of the room. He pulls Otabek towards the bath, looking back to make sure they’re alone before he says, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t find anything to clean up with before she found me, and I was jealous. You can tell her they were mine.”

“How would that work? I came to confess to you.”

“You found out somehow and came running to save me from myself? You would.”

“I would.” Fondness smooths the edges of Otabek’s strained voice. “I’m not going to lie. I have nothing to be ashamed of, as long as I have you.”

Yuri is a little bit ashamed. Maybe this is the closest he’ll ever get to telling Otabek what happened.

By now Yuri is a firm convert to the healing power of hot springs, particularly this one. It’s best for skating injuries, but the steam can only help Otabek’s abused throat and lungs. He laces their fingers together and leans his shoulder against Otabek’s so he can feel when hard muscle finally relaxes, but otherwise behaves himself.

“How long was that going on before you told me? Tell me it hasn’t been eight years.” Yuri knows from experience that hanahaki disease can be hidden for a long time, but Otabek clearly reached an extreme point that he managed to avoid.

“Only five.”

That’s better, but, “That’s too long.”

“It started right before we were in the junior division together. You made such an impression, I was waiting until I had a chance to meet you again. When I saw you again, it got better. Becoming closer and closer to you kept it under control until now. I promise you it has not been like this the entire time.”

“But we barely laid eyes on each other. I didn’t even remember you.”

“It happens that way sometimes.” Otabek’s fingers squeeze his.

“I used to avoid you because I didn’t know how to deal with you staring at me. We could have avoided years of bullshit.”

“I’m sorry if I was a creep.”

“If you were a creep I would have known how to deal with it!”

By now Yuri has mostly figured out the way Otabek looks at him. It’s respect tempered with determination that he will never back down from the challenge. It took him forever to understand the fondness there, like Otabek loves watching him.

“Wait, do you look at me that way because you love me?”

“That must be it.” Even if Otabek has no idea what he’s talking about, he touches Yuri’s jaw and draws him in for a kiss, so that’s all right.

They barely get three kisses before they’re interrupted again. Yuri doesn’t realize they have company until he hears, “Do I need to remind you the rules for the bath?”

“Yurio! You didn’t tell us you had a special visitor!” Yuuri’s fond smile is bad enough, but Victor is beaming pure cheer. Victor is the whole reason the ‘rules of the bath’ needed to be outlined in the first place and he still has no shame.

They escape as quickly as possible.

Otabek really does go and apologize to Mari. Then he needs to phone his coach for an update. He will be staying for the rest of Yuri’s vacation and he will be sharing Yuri’s room. Yuri won’t entertain any argument about that.

Mari has laid out two futons so close they’re touching and provided fresh yukatas. As they change for bed, Yuri starts to have hopeful thoughts that no one else is going to barge in on them. He has faith in Katsudon to keep his husband in check, and the rest of the Katsuki family has generally been good to Yuri.

Having some time to be together and let this sink in should not be too much to ask. Also, he wants to kiss Otabek more. Yuri claims one futon and waits for Otabek to sit down and join him. They’ve waited so long every minute makes him feel impatient now. He’s wasted so much time thinking he couldn’t have this.

A thought flashes through Yuri’s mind that makes him announce, “I am going to murder JJ.”

“Right now? Why?”

“He told me you were in love with someone, but he never said it was me! Who does that?”

“To be fair, he’s been convinced we were dating for the past two years. He probably didn’t think he needed to.”

“But I thought I. . .” Yuri feels his throat close as he looks at Otabek. I thought I was going to die, he screams inside, clenching his jaw, but the pain he’s bracing for doesn’t come.

Otabek sits down close enough to pull him into a hug, like he knows what Yuri’s not saying even though that’s impossible. “I’ll be lonely if you go to prison.”

“You’re not going to help? What kind of boyfriend are you?”

“The kind who’s taking you to the cat café tomorrow. And that horrible pizza place you like.”

Yuri snickers. He has no guilt about not warning Otabek that ‘tako’ actually means octopus, something he learned after making the same mistake himself. Otabek’s face was worth it. “You admitted it was good, though.”

“Food tastes better when I’m with you,” Otabek tells him. Before Yuri can complain about that being the sappiest thing anyone has ever said he adds, “I would have liked to do that before telling you I love you. I’m sorry,” which is worse.

“You should be apologizing for taking so long to say it!”

“You didn’t say it either.”

“Fuck you,” Yuri whispers.

The corner of Otabek’s mouth quirks. “I think we can agree we’re both bad at talking about feelings.”

Yuri can admit that he is very bad at talking about feelings. He hasn’t improved much over the years, either.

Sometimes Otabek understands what he’s not saying anyway. “I’ll listen whenever you feel like talking. You can take your time.”

He can take his time. It’s not a choice between blurting things out or suffering. It’s still sinking in that the unspoken words won’t grow poison inside his lungs anymore. Yuri feels so light he could land a quint.

Maybe someday he’ll be able to tell Otabek the rest, but not tonight. He’s free to make that choice.

“Did I tell you how much I love you?”

“You may have mentioned it. I wouldn’t mind hearing it again.”

Yuri’s short program at Skate America is the perfect way to start the season. Not that he’s not determined to pull himself up ever higher, but today he can leave the ice in triumph.

Otabek’s turn comes after his, and he’s already waiting. When their eyes meet Otabek looks at him with love and respect and he hopes Otabek sees the same in his eyes.

Impulsively, Yuri touches a kiss to Otabek’s mouth and whispers, “Beat that.”

“Watch me.”

Today the truth come easily. “I couldn’t tear my eyes away.”