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It's Complicated

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         With an annoyed huff, Yuri crossed his arms and began tapping his foot as he glanced up at the large clock on the wall for what felt like the hundredth time.

         The plane arriving from Almaty, Kazakhstan had landed over an hour ago, but Otabek had yet to finish going through customs and the wait was driving Yuri crazy. At least he had managed to avoid any run-ins with his silly fangirls, his long hair hidden underneath a beanie and having eschewed his usual feline-inspired street fashion for inconspicuous jeans and a black V-neck sweater.

         Well, so far. One teenage girl kept staring at him as if she recognized him from somewhere, but she had enough sense to keep her distance, so he didn't mind. Much.

         Sighing, Yuri pulled out his phone and leaned back against the wall as he scrolled through his social media feeds. There wasn't much new since he last checked fifteen minutes ago, but he watched a video Yuuko recorded of her triplets getting skating lessons from Viktor and Yuuri and "liked" some of the recent pictures Mila had posted from her Greek holiday with the Crispino twins and Emil Nekola. He was about to comment on one of the photos, telling Mila to bring back one of those cool leopard-print scarves as a souvenir, when he sensed someone approach him.

         "Yura?"

         Recognizing the voice, Yuri glanced up from his phone. "About freakin' time," he said. "I was about to die of boredom."

         "It's good to see you, too," Otabek said with a slight smirk, shifting his backpack on his shoulder.

         "Yeah, yeah." Grinning, he slid his phone back into his pocket and stood up straight, startled once again by the fact that he was now taller than Otabek – granted, by only an inch, but an inch was still an inch. They first became aware of the height difference back at the Olympics in February, but Yuri had yet to fully get used to his new stature, surprised every time he had seen Otabek since then. "How was your flight?" Yuri asked, giving him a hug before taking the handle of Otabek's rolling suitcase and leading him toward the exit.

         "Not bad."

         "You hungry? We can grab something to eat before we head to the dorms." There was a new restaurant near the rink that claimed to specialize in serving authentic Kazakh food. Yuri had been looking forward to taking Otabek to see just "authentic" it actually was.

         "Nah, I'm okay." Otabek stifled a yawn behind his fist. "I could use a nap, though."

         "Sure, whatever."

         They took a cab to the dormitory where Yuri now lived, having moved out of Lilia's house shortly after his seventeenth birthday. She and Yakov had rekindled their romantic relationship during the Olympics, and while they were nowhere near as gross as Viktor and Yuuri had been, the noises coming from Lilia's bedroom next door were enough to keep Yuri awake at night, shuddering in disgust. Luckily, the rink had recently opened a nearby dormitory for teenage figure skaters, speed skaters, and hockey players who trained there, giving him an opportunity to leave without too much fuss.

         "Well, here we are," Yuri announced as they entered his dorm, which was more like a small apartment. "Sorry, there's only one bedroom, but there are two beds. Yours is the one on the right side." He motioned in the direction of the bedroom door.

         "You don't have a roommate?" Otabek asked, stopping to scratch a purring Potya, who was laying on top of the couch, underneath the chin.

         "There are some perks to being an Olympic bronze medalist."

         "And gold medalist."

         Yuri rolled his eyes. "In the team event, yeah, but nobody cares about that." 

         "Well, I think it's pretty cool," Otabek said. "I'm currently the only senior-level skater in Kazakhstan. We'll probably never even qualify to compete in the team event, much less win gold. You should be proud."

         Yuri frowned, regretting his dismissive attitude in light of what Otabek had said. Truth was, a part of him was actually more proud of his team gold than his individual bronze, despite the bronze carrying more prestige amongst fans. He'd faltered during the men's event, stumbling out of his triple axel in the short and popping one of his planned quads to a triple during the free, but he had the skate of his life during the team event. Skating to his Agape short, which he had kept from last season, Yuri had skated the program to its maximum potential, thinking of his grandpa and Otabek watching him in the stands, Yakov and Lilia supporting him from the boards, and Mila, Georgi, and the rest of his teammates rooting for him from the Team Russia box. Even Yuuri and Viktor had cheered him on, despite Yuuri competing for Team Japan.

         It was…nice. He was always so focused on winning for himself, but he had enjoyed competing as part of a team more than he expected.

         Not that he would ever admit it. He'd rather die than confess something so sappy.

         "Are you sure you don't have a secret Russian grandma or something?"

         Otabek shook his head. "Even if I did, I only want to skate for Kazakhstan. Skating for another country would be meaningless, even if I might be more successful."

         "Yeah, yeah, I know." Yuri grinned. He wouldn't expect any other answer from the "Hero of Kazakhstan". "Anyway, go take a nap. I'll wake you when dinner's ready."

         "Thanks."


 

         The main purpose of Otabek's visit to St. Petersburg was to find a new coach. His current coach was dealing with some serious health issues and had decided to retire at the end of the Olympic season. Since there were no other high-level coaches in Kazakhstan, Otabek planned to spend the off-season traveling to find a new one. He'd already tried out with Josef Karpisek, the recently retired Christophe Giacometti's former coach, as well as the coach of the Crispino twins, but neither had been the right fit.

         Next on his list was Yakov Feltsman, and Yuri had his fingers crossed that Otabek would decide to stay, permanently. Even though Otabek had taken lessons from Yakov before at the summer training camp where he had met Yuri for the first time, that had been a long time ago and things had changed since then. Yakov was no longer as set on all his students having the requisite balletic background as he was before, and Otabek's jumps were now considered amongst the best in the world, a far cry from the thirteen-year-old junior who was told he was only good enough to be a novice. Yuri knew Otabek's most cherished dream was to stand on the podium at the Beijing Olympics, and as far as he was concerned, Yakov was the best coach to get him there. (The fact that they would be able to see each other all the time was just a nice bonus. Really.)

         He just had to convince Otabek of that.

         "You know, it's kind of strange hearing you say such nice things about Coach Feltsman," Otabek said the third day of his trial period as they arrived at the rink for their first group session of the day. "Isn't this the same coach you called 'that old, fuc—'?"

         Yuri slapped a hand over his mouth, stopping Otabek from repeating the highly inappropriate nickname he had given Yakov. "Do you want to get me in trouble?" he hissed, glancing around. Fortunately, Yakov was on the far end of the ice, barking instructions at a novice boy who had just fallen on a triple salchow. Still, he was beginning to regret being so…honest with Otabek whenever he had a bad day a practice. "Anyway, yes, sometimes he's a real pain in the ass," Yuri continued, removing his hand, "but that doesn't mean he isn't a great coach. You'll see. Now, come on, let's do our stretches."

         They found a spot near the gate onto the ice and began their usual off-ice warm-ups. Otabek, whose flexibility was fairly limited for a figure skater, stuck mostly to lunges and rotating his arms to loosen his muscles. Yuri, on the other hand, leaned against the barrier and brought his left leg straight up behind him until he was in a near-perfect vertical split, toes pointed almost unconsciously after having it drilled into him so much by Lilia's lessons.

         "I still have no idea how you do that," Otabek said, stopping his own stretches to stare at Yuri in awe. "It's like your bones are made of rubber."

         Bringing his leg back down, Yuri shrugged. He didn't know how he did it, either. Despite his recent growth spurt, he had lost little of his trademark flexibility as he feared he might. He'd grown taller, yes, but he was still quite thin and willowy. He supposed he ought to thank his mother for that, though he was reluctant to give that woman any sort of credit at all beyond giving birth to him. "Genetics, I guess."

         "Mmm." Otabek knew discussing his mother and unknown father was a sore spot with him, so he began swinging his arms around and switched the subject. "Have you given any thought to your new programs? You're not keeping Agape for another season, are you?"

         "No way." It had been the right decision to repeat Agape for the Olympics, but Yuri was more than ready to retire the short program Viktor had choreographed in favor of something that suited his personality more. "Lilia's doing my free again – The Nutcracker." Otabek arched an eyebrow, and Yuri rolled his eyes as he began stretching his hamstrings on the barrier. "Yeah, yeah, I know it's a freakin' warhorse, but Lilia seems to think she can create something special with it, so I guess I'll trust her. I haven't decided anything about the short yet, though. I've been thinking about working with a new choreographer, maybe someone overseas."

         "Shae-Lynn Bourne has been doing some fantastic work lately," Otabek suggested. "I think she could be a good choice for you. Rohene Ward's great, too. Leo can't stop raving about him."

         "Maybe." Yuri sighed. Both were already at the top of his list of potential choices, but he just couldn't bring himself to feel excited about working with any of the top choreographers. He didn't want to skate like Viktor or Leo or anybody else. He wanted something with a style all his own. "Or maybe I'll just do it myself..."

         He hadn't realized he had voiced the thought aloud until he noticed Otabek regarding him with a mildly surprised, but thoughtful look. "That could work, too."

         "You don't think it's a dumb idea?" Yuri thought it was a dumb idea, and he was the one who came up with it.

         "Why would I? Your Welcome to the Madness program was incredible."

         "Yeah, but…"

         It was one thing to impulsively choreograph a new exhibition the night before the gala. Exhibitions didn't matter. They were just a chance for skaters to perform for the audience without worrying about the judges' scores, and frankly, it didn't take much to impress the fans in Yuri's experience. A high-flying Russian split jump here, a hydroblade there, two or three easy triples set to a fun piece of music, and they ate it up like candy.

         Competitive programs were a different beast. Yuri had once tried to read the technical requirements of a level four step sequence and gave himself a headache, deciding it best to leave such tedious minutiae to the professionals. There were just too many damn rules and regulations, and on top of all that, it had to be something the crotchety old judges actually liked if you wanted to get the best PCS – thus the ubiquity of the tried and true warhorses.

         Still, he couldn't deny that the idea intrigued him. After all, Viktor had started choreographing his own programs when he was around Yuri's age. If Viktor could do it, how hard could it possibly be?

         "Kalimera!" a familiar voice called out behind him, interrupting Yuri's thoughts. Something light and silky covered his eyes, blocking his view of the ice. "One ridiculously over-priced leopard print scarf, as promised."

         Yuri pulled the scarf down to his neck and glanced over his shoulder, surprised to see Mila standing behind him. "What are you doing here? I thought you weren't due back from Greece until tomorrow."

         "I don't have practice until tomorrow, but I flew home today," Mila said, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "Did you miss me while I was gone?"

         "Oh, you were gone? No wonder it's been so peaceful around here lately."

         Huffing, Mila broke her embrace and snatched the scarf off his neck, provoking Yuri to whirl around. "Hey! That's mine."

         "Not anymore. I only give souvenirs to people who appreciate me," she said, draping the scarf around her own neck. It clashed horribly with her blue-and-white striped T-shirt.

         Yuri rolled his eyes but played along with her game, wanting the scarf back. It would make the perfect new addition to his wardrobe. "Fine, there has been a huge Mila-shaped hole in my life and I'm so glad she has finally returned to the Motherland to grace us with her glorious presence yet again," he recited in a bored monotone. "There. Satisfied?"

         "That's better," she said, handing him back the scarf. "Was that so hard to admit?"

         "Oh, shut up."

         "I believe the word you were looking for was 'thanks'?"

         "Yeah, yeah, thanks," he mumbled, stuffing the scarf in his bag so it wouldn't get damaged during practice, but Mila wasn't even paying attention to him anymore, her interest turning to Otabek.

         "Hey, nice to see you again, Otabek. Yura told me you were coming for a try-out. How are you enjoying life in St. Petersburg so far?"

         "It's been good. Coach Feltsman is tough, but I can see why his students achieve such great results in competition."

         "Yeah, he works us hard, but he knows what it takes to win," Mila said, unzipping her backpack. "Oh, that reminds me, I bought you a souvenir, too. Now, where is it…?"

         Otabek stopped his stretches, walking over to join the two of them at the boards. "You bought me something? You didn't have to –"

         She waved him off. "It's no big deal. I bought souvenirs for everybody here at the rink, so when I heard you were coming… Oh, there it is. Found it!" She pulled out a necklace – a strange-looking pendent that resembled a blue eye attached to a leather string – and held it up so that Yuri and Otabek could see.

         "What the hell is that?" Yuri asked, poking the eye with his finger. "You aren't trying to curse Beka with that creepy thing, are you?"

         Mila rolled her eyes. "Of course not. Actually, it does the opposite. It's called a mati necklace, and it's a talisman used to ward off the curse of the evil eye." Winking, she handed the necklace to Otabek. "Here. I thought it might come in handy whenever Yakov's in one of his glaring moods."

         "Oh, thanks," he said, as polite as ever.

         Someone called out Mila's name from across the rink, so saying a quick goodbye, she zipped up her bag and jogged over to her friend, Otabek's eyes following after her. Frowning, Yuri waved his hand in front of Otabek's face.

         "Uh, Earth to Beka?"

         Otabek blinked, turning his attention back to Yuri. "Sorry, were you saying something?"

         He shook his head. "Nothing. So, what are you going to do with that thing?" Yuri asked, indicating the necklace. If it was his, he'd throw it in the trash where it belonged. At least Mila had the good sense to buy him the awesome scarf instead of tacky jewelry.

         Otabek shrugged his shoulders, glancing down at the strange pendent in his hand before slipping it over his head.

         "Don't tell me you actually believe in that silly 'evil eye' nonsense. It's just a cheap trinket they sell to gullible tourists like Mila," Yuri said.

         "You shouldn't take the 'evil eye' so lightly, Yura. We have superstitions about it, too, in Kazakhstan. My great-uncle Miras was said to be cursed by the evil eye and died three days later from a sudden heart attack. He was only thirty-five."

         "You're…joking, right?" Yuri couldn't tell, Otabek's face a blank slate as always, but he had to be kidding around. Curses weren't real; they were just a figment of people's overactive imaginations.

         A few seconds later, Otabek's lips twitched into a smile, and he lightly slapped Yuri on the back. "Of course I'm joking," he said. "Not about the heart attack – he really did die young from one – but as far as I know, it had nothing to do with a curse. Still, it doesn't hurt to be prepared."

         "Well, whatever." If he liked the stupid necklace, Yuri wouldn't say anything more about it. "You better tuck it inside your shirt if you don't want it to smack you in the face, though. Come on, let's put our skates on. It's almost time for our session, and if we're late, Yakov might really give us the evil eye."

Chapter Text

         A couple of days later, Yuri and Otabek were sitting in the bleachers after doing their stretches, putting on their skates while they waited for the senior ladies' practice session to conclude. Yuri noticed that one of the girls in particular had caught Otabek's attention. He'd been stealing covert glances at Mila every chance he got ever since she gave him that creepy necklace, which for some inexplicable reason had become part of Otabek's daily wardrobe.

         Did she actually put some kind of spell on that charm? Yuri had never believed in such ridiculous superstitions before, but it was the only explanation that made any sense as to why Otabek's eyes were suddenly drawn to Mila whenever she was nearby, like she was some kind of magnet.

         "Hey, you're friends with Mila, right?" Otabek asked, breaking Yuri from his thoughts.

         He considered the question. Was he? He never really thought of her as his friend; she was more like an annoying older sister. But it was true that he was the one Mila always cried to whenever one of her relationships inevitably broke up, and she was the only person Yuri really trusted to take care of Potya whenever he was out of town. (Well, besides his grandpa, but he lived too far away for that to be a feasible choice.) If that could be considered friendship… "Yeah, I guess you could call us friends," he decided. "Why?"

         "I was just wondering if she was seeing anybody at the moment."

         "No, I don't think so…" The last he heard, she'd been hooking up with a Canadian hockey player she met at the Olympics, but that relationship seemed to fizzle out with the dousing of the Olympic flame, the two returning home to their respective countries. She hadn't mentioned Riley in weeks. "Ugh, don't tell me you have a thing for the hag," he moaned.      

         Otabek cocked an eyebrow at his less-than-flattering nickname for Mila. "Hag? Are you sure you're really friends?"

         "I say it with love," Yuri assured him, adding "most of the time" under his breath. When Mila first began training with Yakov's group her debut senior season, he really had meant it as an insult, but over the years, it had evolved into a pet name of sorts.

         "If you say so… Is she into guys?"

         "Yeah."

         "Well, do you think she would say 'yes' if I asked her out?"

         Yuri shrugged. Mila had mentioned Otabek was hot in passing on a couple of occasions, but she said that about a lot of people, men and women alike. Viktor was hot. Yuuri was hot. (And they were really hot together, apparently.) Sara was hot. Michele was hot. (They were not hot together. Ew. Brain bleach.) Christophe was hot. Phichit was hot. Emil would be hot if only he lost the beard. (Something about beard burn...and Yuri really did not need to know more.) Leo was hot. Seung-Gil was hot (but a total jerkwad for being so mean to poor Sara). The American girl who won silver at Worlds was hot. Anya was hot. Riley was hot. The entire Russian Olympic men's hockey team was hot. Once, she even declared Georgi hot, at which point Yuri came to the unfortunate conclusion that Mila had no taste whatsoever.

         At least she never said JJ was hot. Maybe she had some standards.

         Just very, very low ones.

         "You're not really her usual type," Yuri said, bending down to check his laces were properly secure. "She tends to date hockey players." Which was true. He could count the number of non-hockey players she had dated on one hand.

         "I play hockey."

         "You suck at hockey."

         "Maybe, but I'm better than you, at least."

         "Like that's an accomplishment." Yuri was talented at a great many things – skating, ballet, making pirozhkis – but hockey was not one of them, which was perfectly fine with him. He never got the appeal. "Come on, let's go warm up."

         They walked over to the gate, where the senior girls were filing to get off the ice after the end of their practice session. Mila was the last one to finish, shooting off one final double axel before skating over. She smiled when she saw Yuri and Otabek, her eyes lighting up.

         "Hey, guys – Whoa!"

         As she stepped off the ice and onto the rubber mat, Mila somehow tripped over her blades. Otabek, the closest to the gate, grabbed her by the waist before she could completely pitch forward, breaking her fall.

         "Thanks." A faint blush colored her cheeks as Mila found her footing again and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

         "No problem," Otabek said.

         Yuri rolled his eyes as he slipped off his skate guards, brushing past Mila to get on the ice to warm up before practice officially began. He expected Otabek to follow him soon after, but, to Yuri's surprise, he spent some time chatting with Mila at the boards. Otabek wasn't much of a talker, after all. Then again, Mila was a social butterfly who could talk somebody's ear off if they let her – the complete opposite of Otabek. Frowning, Yuri couldn't help but wonder why he was interested in her, of all people.

         Despite he and Yuri arriving early, Otabek ended up being the last of their practice group to take the ice. He had to rush through his warm-up, meaning Yuri didn't have the chance to ask what he and Mila were talking about before practice started.

         As usual, Otabek was all focus once the session began in earnest. He didn't like to be distracted, not even during water breaks at the boards. Even though they didn't talk much during practice other than the occasional "Good job!" or "Nice position!", Yuri enjoyed having him around. They pushed each other to do better, especially when it came to the quad lutz – a jump they were both working on adding to their arsenal for next season in order to compete with JJ and his monster tech scores on more equal footing. Otabek landed more of them, but not cleanly, often two-footing or stepping out of the jump. In contrast, Yuri's landings were usually either sublime or a splat-fest, with nothing really in between.

         "Damn it!" Yuri swore at the top of his lungs after his fifth such splat, just before Yakov blew the whistle to signal the end of the session. How could he land the jump perfectly one minute, then end up falling on his ass the next?

         Otabek skated over to where he lay sprawled out on the ice, offering a hand. "You okay?" he asked as he helped Yuri back to his feet.

         "Yeah, yeah." Yuri rubbed his sore hip. "Just another bruise, probably. I'll be fine. So, how many did you land?"

         "Cleanly?" He shrugged as they made their way back to the gate to exit the ice. "Maybe three. You?"

         "Six for me," Yuri boasted, proud of himself despite the hard falls. "That means you owe me a smoothie."

         Otabek arched an eyebrow. "Since when was this a competition?"

         Slipping on his skate guards, Yuri smirked. "It's always a competition."

         "In that case, how many times did you fall today?"

         He frowned, knowing full well that Otabek had only fallen twice. "That's not fair, Beka."

         "Yeah?" Otabek's face was as stoic as ever, but Yuri thought he caught the slightest twinge of a smile at the corner of his lip.

         Laughing, Yuri punched his shoulder. "Fine, I owe you a smoothie, too, you jerk. Let's hit the snack bar before the next session. I'm thirsty."

         After taking off their skates and changing back into their sneakers, they headed to the rink's snack bar. A group of the senior girls from the session before theirs was already there, sitting around one of the tables and eating salads. As Yuri and Otabek passed them by, Yuri noticed Mila giving Otabek a small wave, which he returned.

         "So, did you ask her out?" Yuri asked once they had ordered their smoothies and snagged a table for themselves away from the girls.

         "Actually, she asked me out before I got the chance," Otabek said after taking a sip of his drink. "Mila's pretty forward. I like that."

         "Oh." It seemed the attraction was mutual, then, even in spite of Otabek's lack of hockey skills. Yuri twirled his straw around, letting out a sigh. "I assume you accepted?"

         "Yeah, we're going clubbing tomorrow night." He paused for a moment before adding, "Is that, you know, okay with you?"

         Yuri glanced up, surprised by the question. "Do whatever you want," he said with a shrug. "It's none of my business who you date."

         "Good."


 

         Yuri frowned as he skipped past yet another rejected song on his iTunes playlist. He'd decided he wanted to give choreographing his new short program a try after all, but even choosing what piece of music he wanted to use was harder than he thought it would be. Usually Yakov or his choreographer just told him what music he was going to skate to, giving him little say in the matter, so to have absolute freedom of choice was a daunting task.

         It was more than simply finding a song he liked. Yuri was a big music fan – perhaps not as huge as Otabek or Leo de la Iglesia (or JJ…), but bigger than most – and had plenty of favorites to theoretically choose from. However, the piece he chose couldn't be more than 2:40 minutes in length (though clever cuts in editing could make a longer piece work) and the musical highlights needed to suit the required elements of the short program. As he listened to each song on his phone, Yuri closed his eyes and tried to imagine where he would put the three jumping passes, three spins, and the step sequence, but nothing was inspiring him yet.

         "Beeeeeeeka!" Yuri entered his bedroom without knocking, flopping down on his unmade bed with a thud. "I give up. I'm going to skate to Carmen for my new short program."

         "You are not." A shirtless Otabek turned around, pushing his arms through a black button-down shirt. "If you do, I am officially revoking our friendship."

         Yuri rolled his eyes. "Don't act like you didn't skate a Carmen free your first season as a junior, Otabek Altin."

         For once, Otabek seemed taken aback, opening his mouth several times before managing, "H-How do you even know about that? You weren't a junior yet."

         "YouTube is a thing, you know. After we met in Barcelona, I went back and watched all your old programs that I could find." Which meant sometimes resorting to shaky fan cam videos of his earliest performances  – the Carmen among them – but it had been fun to see Otabek develop as a skater through the years. It was amazing to think the scrawny fourteen-year-old Kazakh boy who didn't even have a consistent triple axel at the time would become a senior world bronze medalist just a few years later.

         Otabek muttered something that Yuri suspected was a foul Kazakh swear before he sighed and began buttoning his shirt. "I didn't have any choice in the matter. It was my coach's pick, not mine."

         "Sure. Or maybe you're secretly a Carmen fan after all?"

         "Yura…"

         "Okay, okay, I'll drop it." Yuri sat back up, drawing his knees to his chest. "But, seriously, it's impossible to find a good song that nobody has skated to yet. There's a reason why Carmen is such a warhorse."

         "Do you have any other ideas at all?"

         "Uh… Exogenesis?"

         "Which part?"

         "Three?" Otabek shot him a look, to which Yuri's only defense was, "I like it?"

         "Well, it's not the worst choice in the world," he admitted, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt, "but you can do better. Look, I should be back by around ten-thirty since Mila and I both have early practice tomorrow. I have some songs in mind that might work for you, so let's listen to them when I get back."

         Yuri sighed. "Okay."

         After checking his reflection in the mirror above the dresser and combing back his hair with his fingers, Otabek turned once again to Yuri. "So, how do I look?"

         Yuri gave him the once-over. Otabek looked as cool as always, dressed all in black save for the cobalt blue of the mati necklace peeking from the unbuttoned neckline of his shirt. Somehow, he managed to make even that tacky souvenir work for him. "You look good."

         "Thanks."

         Otabek walked over to his suitcase and pulled something out. From his angle on the bed, Yuri couldn't see what it was, but he thought he saw Otabek discreetly stuffing a couple of square-shaped foil packets into his pocket before putting whatever it was back in the suitcase. "We'll be at Metro Club," he said. "I'll have my phone if you need to contact me, though."

         "Should I do that thing where I call thirty minutes into your date and pretend there's some big emergency in case you want to leave?" Yuri asked, trying his best not to think about what the condoms implied about his hopes for the night.

         Otabek chuckled. "I don't think that's really necessary, Yura."

         "It might be. You barely know Mila."

         "But you know Mila. She's not secretly an ax murderer or something like that, is she?"

         "No, of course not, but –"

         "Then I'll be fine," Otabek insisted, tousling Yuri's hair as he passed by the bed on his way out. "Thanks for offering, though. See you later."

         "Yeah…later."


 

         Yuri gave up.

         After Otabek left for his date with Mila, he tried once again to focus on finding music for his new short program, but it was no use. He was too distracted, and it didn't help matters that every other song on his playlist seemed to be about love or sex. Sure, a lot of them were in English, giving him some excuse for not realizing at first, but how had he never noticed before?

         Sighing, Yuri set his phone on the coffee table and stretched out on the couch, Potya hopping up to settle on his stomach as he mindlessly flipped through channels on the TV. He scratched the cat behind the ears with his other hand and half-wondered if a recording of Potya's meows and purrs would count as "music" in the eyes of the ISU. It would certainly be original, if nothing else.

         Nothing on the TV caught his eye. This late at night, it was mostly just local news, syndicated sitcom reruns, and movies he had already seen a million times before and had no desire to rewatch. He turned the TV off and once again reached for his phone to check out what was new on Instagram when his ringtone went off.

         It was Otabek.

         "Hey, Beka, you on your way back?" Yuri asked, answering the call. A quick glance at the clock revealed it was only a little before ten, but maybe Otabek had decided to cut the date short. "I found a couple of songs that might work, but I need your opinion on them."

         A blatant lie. He didn't want Otabek to know that he'd been too preoccupied by his date to properly concentrate on his music search.

         "That's great, but, uh…" Yuri faintly heard a female voice – presumably Mila's – in the background. "Do you mind if we looked for your music another night?" Otabek asked. "Mila invited me back to her place, and I think – Well, I think I'm gonna spend the night. If that's okay with you?"

         "Oh." It took a second longer for Yuri to realize what that implied. "Oh!"

         They were going to have sex.

         Well, of course they were. It's not like he had expected Otabek to use the condoms he had snuck in his pocket in a water balloon fight. He knew Mila wasn't a virgin and Otabek probably wasn't either, based on some remarks he had off-handedly said in front of Yuri in the past, but the idea of them sleeping together…

         "Yura?" Otabek prodded when Yuri didn't say anything more. "Are you still there?"

         "Y-Yeah, I'm here, I'm here. So…I guess the date's going pretty well, huh?"

         "Yeah, Mila's fantastic. We're having a great time, but… Is something wrong? I can come back if you want me to."

         "What? No, don't be ridiculous," Yuri scoffed."Potya just distracted me, that's all. You should stay."

         "Are you sure?"

         "It's fine. We can pick out my music some other time. No big deal."

         "Thanks. I'll be back in the morning. Bye."

         "Bye."

         Yuri ended the call and tossed the phone back on the table, finding himself no longer in the mood to browse social media. Instead, he turned his attention to Potya, rubbing him on his favorite spot, right underneath his chin. He was rewarded with a loud, contented purr.

         "Hey, is sex really so great?" he asked the cat before remembering that he was neutered. "I guess you wouldn't know, huh? Sorry about that."

         Yuri frowned, dropping the hand that had been petting Potya down the side of the couch and draping his other arm over his eyes. What did it matter to him if Otabek and Mila were screwing each other? Like he told Otabek yesterday at the snack bar, his love life was his business. They were two young, unattached adults; they were free to do whatever they wanted. No big deal, as long as they didn't do it anywhere in his vicinity. Yakov's and Lilia's surprisingly vocal love-making still sometimes gave Yuri nightmares.

         Potya, annoyed by the loss of attention, meowed and butted his head against Yuri's arm.

         Laughing, Yuri lifted it away from his eyes and sat back up, gathering Potya in his arms. He supposed if Otabek wasn't coming back until morning, there was little point in staying up any longer.

         "Come on, Potya," he said, kissing the top of the fluffy cat's head as he stood up. "Let's go to bed."

Chapter Text

         For the next few days, Mila and Otabek were practically joined at the hip. Otabek slept over at her place the next two nights too, only stopping by the dorm to shower and grab a fresh set of clothes in the morning, and pretty much the only chance Yuri got to speak to him alone was when they had practice sessions together. Otherwise, Mila was right there beside him, a constant shadow that never went away.

         Well, perhaps he wasn't being entirely fair to Mila. She wasn't always around; it only felt like it. Yuri wasn't used to sharing Otabek's free time. Of course he knew that Otabek occasionally went on dates and hung out with other friends back home in Almaty, but his social plans had never really interfered with their twice-weekly scheduled video chats, so they were easy to ignore. When Otabek first brought up the idea of coming to St. Petersburg for a try-out with Yakov, Yuri just assumed that meant they would be able to hang out whenever he wanted; he never expected Otabek to want to spend time with other people as well.

         Really, in some ways, Yuri supposed he ought to be grateful to Mila. If their relationship continued to thrive, that would only give Otabek more incentive to choose Yakov as his new coach like Yuri wanted. And he liked Mila…most of the time. If Otabek had to date someone, he could do worse in Yuri's book. Much worse. (Like a theoretically bi JJ… Yuri shuddered at the thought. Their friendship would never survive that.) But if Otabek ended up spending most of his time with Mila, then what was even the point of hoping that he would stay? In that case, he'd almost rather remain online friends. At least then he would have guaranteed, uninterrupted face time

         "Oh, for the love of – Again?"

         Coming out the locker room, Yuri spotted Otabek leaning back against the wall opposite the exit, Mila pressed up against him in a sight that was becoming all too familiar for Yuri's tastes. Their lips were locked together, her arms wrapped around his neck, and he was cupping her ass through the back pockets of her tight jeans.

         At the sound of his voice, they broke apart, Otabek wiping her lipstick off his mouth with his sleeve as Mila turned around. He, at least, had the decency to look embarrassed, his eyes lowering as he greeted Yuri.

         Mila, on the other hand…not so much. "Oh, hey, Yura. Ready to head to ballet?" she asked, smiling brightly.

         "Yeah," he mumbled, walking off without her.

         "Hey, wait up!"

         Sighing, Yuri slowed down, allowing Mila to catch up with him after she said a quick goodbye to Otabek. Since Otabek didn't practice ballet, he was going to do some weight-training at the gym instead.

         "Do you two ever do anything besides play tonsil hockey?" Yuri asked, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his tiger-print hoodie as they exited the rink to head to Lilia's nearby ballet studio. It wasn't even noon, and yet he had caught them making out at least three or four times since arriving at the rink that morning. Maybe even more. He was beginning to lose count.

         They were almost as bad as Viktor and Yuuri had been!

         "Well, it's not like Beka's really the talkative type. You know that," she said, giggling. "But we do other things, too."

         Yuri groaned. "Please, I do not want to hear about your sex life."

         "You're such a perv!" She lightly shoved him, forgetting her own strength as she often did and almost pushing him off the sidewalk. "I wasn't even going to say anything about that, although if you really want to know…"

         "I really, really don't." He'd rather be forced to land a hundred quad lutzes in a row than hear about what the two of them did in bed.

         Mila shrugged. "Well, anyway, we dance and we listen to music… Oh, you have to listen to this!" She pulled out her pink gem-encrusted phone and started searching through her extensive playlist. "Beka found it for me. It's called SOS – well, it's French and I can't pronounce the rest of it, but he found a version sung by this fantastic Kazakh singer. I'm thinking of using it for my free program next season."

         Yuri stopped in his tracks, falling behind as she continued walking. He was helping Mila find music for her new programs? What about the short program music Otabek had promised to help him look for? It seemed like Otabek had forgotten all about it. He hadn't even mentioned it since the night he had canceled their plans to sleepover at Mila's place for the first time.

         Upon noticing Yuri's absence by her side, Mila turned around, head tilting in confusion. "Yura?"

         "Maybe some other time," Yuri said, brushing past her as he caught up. "Come on, we're going to be late for class."

         "O-Oh, okay." Putting her phone away, Mila tugged on the sleeve of his hoodie. "Hey, is something bothering you?"

         Besides the fact he had barely seen his best friend since she and Otabek started hooking up? "No."

         "Are you sure? Because if you need to talk to somebody…"

         "I'm fine," he said, shrugging away her hand. "Just mind your own damn business for once, hag."

         He expected Mila to either threaten to pick him up – something that was becoming harder for her to do after he had his growth spurt but she still insisted on trying – or tickle him like she usually did whenever he called her "hag", but instead she just sighed, the two of them walking the rest of the way in silence until they reached the ballet studio.

         Lilia hadn't returned from lunch yet, but she would expect them to be already warmed up by the time she arrived, so Yuri and Mila shed the outer layers of their clothes and switched to their ballet shoes before starting their usual exercises at the barre.

         "Hey, I've been wondering for a while, but…do you like Beka?" Mila asked, breaking the quiet of the studio.

         Performing a ronde de jambe, Yuri glanced at Mila over his shoulder. What kind of idiotic question was that? "He's my best friend; of course I like him. He's the coolest person I know."

         "Even cooler than me?"

         "Infinitely cooler than you."

         Mila stuck out her tongue before starting some elevés and relevés. "Well, I can live with that. Beka is pretty cool," she said. "That's not what I really meant, though. Do you like him? Like…a crush?"

         Oh.

         That kind of like.

         Yuri scoffed, turning his attention to his form in the mirror. "No, of course not. Don't be ridiculous."

         In all his seventeen years of life, he had never liked anybody – boy or girl – like that, and he was beginning to think he never would. But somebody normal like Mila would never understand. Hell, he didn't really understand it himself.

         After all, he was a teenager. Wasn't he supposed to be full of raging hormones and sexual desire by now? That's what movies and TV shows had always led him to believe, at least. Even his grandpa had begun asking if he was dating anybody, awkwardly gifting him with a box of condoms on his sixteenth birthday "just in case" in one of the more mortifying moments of Yuri's life.

         Yuri knew his grandpa just didn't want him to make the same mistakes his daughter – an unwed teenage mother who had been on the brink of stardom before the scandal cut her promising singing career short – had made, to be safe no matter what happened, but Grandpa had nothing to worry about in that regard. The idea of being so physically intimate with someone repulsed him, and he didn't understand why everybody else in the world seemed to be obsessed with something so…well, gross.

         "Are you sure?" Mila pressed. "It's okay if you do, you know. You don't have to lie for my sake. Beka and I are just having fun at the moment, so if you want me to break things off —"

         "Don't be stupid. You like him and he likes you."

         Fortunately, Lilia chose that moment to arrive back at the studio, sparing Yuri from any more of Mila's inane questions. As the aging ballerina clapped her hands, announcing the beginning of class, he pushed the unpleasant thoughts out of his head and concentrated on the day's lesson.


 

         Mila had a late night FaceTime interview scheduled with a journalist from International Figure Skating magazine, so for the first time in what felt like forever – in actuality, only four days, but Yuri wasn't counting – Otabek's evening was free. For dinner, they finally checked out the "authentic" Kazakh restaurant near the rink Yuri had been wanting to try – Otabek deemed it acceptable, but not as good as his mother's cooking – then they headed back to the dorms.

         "Want to work on finding your short program music?" Otabek suggested when they returned.

         To be honest, Yuri was more in the mood to play video games, feeling as if he had already listened to every single song in existence over the past few days. He just wanted to relax and enjoy some increasingly rare quality time with his best friend, but Otabek had already gone to the bedroom, coming back out with his laptop and setting it on the coffee table.

         He sat on the floor in front of the couch and pulled up iTunes in preparation. "Something wrong, Yura?" he asked when Yuri made no move to join him.

         "No, it's nothing."

         Yuri took a seat on the couch. Earlier, he had been annoyed when he thought Otabek had forgotten his promise; he couldn't very well refuse his offer now, not when he was finally ready to make good on it. Besides, if anybody would be able to find Yuri's short program music, it was Otabek. When it came to music, no one was more knowledgeable in his eyes.

         "So, Mila told me you've been helping her with her program music, too?" He tried to keep his voice even and neutral, passing it off as a casual inquiry.

         Otabek shrugged. "I gave her a suggestion, that's all. I originally considered the piece for you, but it seemed more Mila's style than yours. We can listen to it if you want –"

         He started to add the song in question to his queue, but Yuri waved his arms in front of his chest, feeling silly for bringing it up in the first place. He should have realized it was something like that. "No, that's okay. I don't want to copy Mila. She can have it if she wants." As petty as it was, Yuri was happy enough to know that Otabek was more serious about finding music for him than for Mila.

         "What about you?" Otabek asked. "You said you had some songs you wanted me to listen to?"

         "Oh, right." He had forgotten about the lie he told the night of Otabek's and Mila's first date. "Yeah, never mind about those," Yuri said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I decided I didn't want to use them after all."

         "So you're back to square one again, huh? Do you at least know what kind of music you want to skate to?"

         "Not really?" Sighing, Yuri fell back against the couch cushions, crushing a leopard-print throw pillow to his chest. "Not classical, I guess? I'm already doing a classical program for my free, so something different for my short would be a good contrast."

         "It's a start, at least."

         "Nothing too lyrical, either. I already did that with Agape. It's time to try something new."

         "What about musicals? Not Phantom or Les Mis, but something more current, like Dear Evan Hansen or Hadestown?"

         Yuri shook his head, scrunching his nose in distaste.  "Broadway isn't my thing," he said, reaching over to pet a meowing Potya, who had hopped up on the couch beside him.

         "Not even…?" Otabek clicked on one of the songs on his playlist, a familiar tune beginning to play from the laptop's speakers.

         Yuri rolled his eyes, recognizing the famous melancholic song instantly. "Beka, I am not going to skate to Cats!" he said, throwing the pillow at the back of Otabek's head and scaring Potya off.

         "Your Angels would love it…"

         "Don't say stupid things with such a serious face. I can never tell when you're joking."

         "Sorry." The brief smirk that crossed his lips said otherwise as Otabek turned his attention back to the computer. "Well, I'll play a few of the songs that I thought you might like, and then we'll go from there, okay?"

         That sounded good to him. Yuri laid down on the couch, pillowing his head against the arm since Potya had taken possession of the throw pillow he had thrown, and closed his eyes as the first song – a bluesy jazz number – began to play.

         Otabek knew his musical taste well. Yuri liked every song on the playlist, having already considered several of the pieces on his own, but something was still missing, a certain…spark that made Yuri want to skate to the music. Nothing spoke to him like Welcome to the Madness had the first time he heard it, when he had snuck into the club in Barcelona and saw Otabek deejaying for the first time, looking so impossibly cool.

         "Still nothing?" Otabek asked after the last song finished playing. He placed a hand on one of Yuri's knees, chuckling as Yuri's eyes startled back open at his touch. "Hey, were you sleeping?"

         "No, of course not," Yuri said, sitting back up. "Sorry. They're all great songs. You have amazing taste as always…"

         "…they just don't inspire you?"

         He sighed, dragging a hand through his loose hair in frustration. "Yeah."

         Why was it so hard to pick a damn piece of music? Maybe he was putting too much pressure on himself. Any of the songs Otabek had picked would work well enough. Besides, everyone knew the free skate was the more important program anyway, and Yuri had no doubt that Lilia would come up with some amazing choreography to the Nutcracker music she had chosen. As long as the short program was half-decent and he hit all his levels and nailed all his jumps, including the quad lutz he planned to include next season, he would probably score high enough to compete on equal standing with JJ…

         That was the issue, though. Yuri didn't want to just compete with JJ, to only be good enough. He'd broken Viktor's previous world record in the short program twice, even without the lutz, largely due to Viktor's brilliant choreography and backloading his jumps, but a recent rule change had put a limit on how many jumps would receive the second-half bonus. The new increased G.O.E. range also favored JJ's enormous jumps over Yuri's arm variations. That meant if he intended to beat JJ, he not only had to match his technical content, he had to have better programs, too.

         He couldn't keep relying on JJ making mistakes at the major competitions as he had been doing, not if he wanted to be the undisputed best in the world. Only seven hundredths of a point had separated them at the Olympics; JJ could have just as easily won the bronze instead. And Yuri couldn't disregard Otabek either, especially if he chose Yakov as his new coach. Otabek was his friend, but he was still a fierce rival.

         Maybe he should just swallow his pride and ask Viktor to choreograph him a new short program. He wouldn't dare say it to his face, but there were worse things in the world than being considered a Viktor clone, as annoying as it was. As long as he won, did it really matter?

         "Hey, something wrong?" Otabek asked, placing his warm hand over one of Yuri's and giving it a light squeeze.

         Startled once again by his touch, Yuri glanced up, unaware until then that he had been digging his fingers into the fabric of his jeans. He relaxed his grip and shook his head. "It's nothing. Just wish I could decide on my music already, that's all."

         "You'll find it. I know you will. We just need to keep looking." Otabek turned back around, grabbing his laptop from the coffee table and balancing it on his crossed legs. "I still have plenty of music to go through. Give me a minute to find a few more…"

         He started scrolling through his various playlists, occasionally stopping to click on a song.

         "What about your programs?" Yuri asked as he waited for Otabek to finish. They had been so fixated on finding music for him, Yuri realized he had never even asked. "You've been helping me, but have you picked out your music yet?"

         He shrugged, eyes still focused on the computer screen. "It's still early in the off-season. I'm more concerned with finding a new coach than working on new programs right now." He paused for a moment before adding, "I've been wanting to do a Spanish-inspired free skate for a while, though, ever since the Final in Barcelona."

         "Like a tango?" Yuri's Olympic free program had been a tango – Yakov's idea. Lilia had wanted him to do another balletic program, but since he had kept his Agape short, Yakov thought a tango would be a fresher choice for the free. "I could give you some pointers."

         "More paso doble. Or maybe flamenco."

         Yuri could see that. It would suit his strong, masculine skating style. "You'd make a great bullfighter."

         "Yeah?" Just then, a notification from FaceTime appeared in the upper right-hand corner of the computer screen. Otabek moved the cursor over "Accept" and glanced over at Yuri. "Do you mind if I take this? It's Mila."

         Yuri resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Of course it was Mila. "Go ahead," he said with a dismissive wave.

         Otabek accepted Mila's call, the redhead's smiling face appearing on the screen. "Hey, what are you guys doing? Having fun without me?"

         "We're trying to find Yura's short program music, but we're not having much luck so far." Otabek settled into a more comfortable position, adjusting the angle of the screen to center the web camera on himself. "How did your interview go?"

         "Great! I'm going to be the cover story for next month's issue. It's my first cover, so that's pretty cool."

         "You deserve it," he said, giving her one of his rare smiles. "You were incredible at Worlds."

         Standing up, Yuri scowled and headed to the kitchen for something to drink as Otabek continued FaceTiming with Mila. Not that he wasn't happy about Mila's cover – he was! – but… Well, it was supposed to be his night with Otabek, damn it! Was it too much to ask that he be allowed at least a few hours alone with Otabek, Mila-free?

         After grabbing a bottle of water from the refrigerator, Yuri closed the door with perhaps a little more force than necessary and twisted off the cap, bringing the bottle to his mouth as he heard Otabek chuckling at something Mila had said.

         Beka does seem happy, though, Yuri had to admit, watching them interact from his spot in the kitchen. Potya, recognizing Mila's voice, had climbed onto Otabek's lap and was pawing at the screen, Mila cooing at the cat while Otabek scolded him for getting in the way, though clearly more amused than angry. Even Yuri had to smile when Otabek scooped Potya up and kissed him, waving one of his front paws at Mila before setting the cat down on the floor beside him. One hand continued to scratch Potya behind the ears as Otabek turned his attention back to Mila, Potya purring so loudly that Yuri could hear him even from five feet away.

         Shoulders dropping, the smile left Yuri's lips as he brought down his water bottle, twisting it in between his hands. It was a softer side to Otabek, one that few ever got the privilege to see. Most people saw the leather jacket, the motorcycle, and the resting bitch face and just assumed he was some intimidating badass – an image that Otabek admittedly did little to challenge, never one to care much about what strangers thought of him. If Otabek already felt comfortable enough around Mila to show her that hidden side of himself, then he must really like her.

         Do you like him? Like…a crush?

         Yuri frowned, suddenly recalling Mila's question during their ballet lesson earlier. He didn't understand what gave her such a ridiculous idea in the first place. He and Otabek were friends – close friends –  and nothing more.

         Right?

         "Hey, Yura, Mila wants to celebrate her cover," Otabek called out. "How does bowling sound?"

         Yuri jumped, almost dropping his bottle but catching it just in time. "Sure, if you want to catch athlete's foot from wearing rental shoes… Very romantic," he said with a roll of his eyes, as if he cared what they did on their date. Why were they even asking for his opinion?

         Turning around to face him, Otabek tilted his head to the side. "You're invited, too, you know."

         "Yes, come with us, Yura!" Mila said over the laptop's speakers. "It sounds like you need a break. You've been obsessing too much over finding your short program music. There's still plenty of time before the start of the new season, so forget about it for a couple of hours and let's go have some fun."

         "Oh." A pity invite, huh? "Bowling's not my thing," Yuri said, taking a sip out of his bottle of water as he moved back in view of the web camera.

         "It doesn't have to be bowling." Mila leaned forward in her chair, her eyes darting from side to side before bringing a hand to the side of her mouth. "How about we be really bad and go out for ice cream?" she suggested in a loud whisper. "It's been forever since I've had a strawberry sundae."

         Damn it, she wasn't playing fair. Mila knew he had a secret weakness for banana splits. Not even Otabek was aware of that.

         "I'm not really in the mood to go out tonight," Yuri said, squeezing the bottle in his hand. "You two should go celebrate, though."

         Otabek craned his neck around to look back at Yuri. "Are you sure?"

         Not really, but Yuri decided he was going to try to be more supportive of their relationship. If Otabek was happy, then he was happy…or something like that.

         "Yeah. Go. Have fun."

         Otabek stared at him for a second longer before turning back around and making plans to meet up with Mila at a local bowling alley. He then set his laptop back on the coffee table and went to the bedroom to change, coming back out a short time later in ripped jeans and a faded T-shirt.

         "Are you sure you don't want to come with us?" Otabek asked one more time, pushing his arms through his favorite leather jacket. Although it was technically springtime in St. Petersburg, it still got pretty chilly at night. "You're more than welcome."

         From his spot on the couch, Yuri scrolled through his Twitter feed, not paying much attention to what he was reading. "Tonight's the finale of a show I like," he lied. "I want to watch it live so I don't have to worry about spoilers."

         "Oh, okay." Otabek stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Well, I'll probably stay over at Mila's again tonight, so you don't have to wait up for me. See you in the morning, then?"

         "Yeah, morning."

         With that, Otabek left and Yuri tossed his phone to the side, wondering why things had become so complicated between them.


 

         After Otabek left to meet up with Mila, Yuri continued to search for his short program music, listening to some of the songs on the playlist Otabek had been preparing before Mila's FaceTime call, but his heart wasn't in it. In the middle of a Pink Floyd song, he closed the lid on Otabek's laptop and glanced over at the clock.

         He hadn't completely lied to Otabek. Tonight actually was the series finale of a hugely popular TV show, but Yuri had given up watching it two episodes into the last season, realizing that the writing had become an incoherent mess. A part of him considered watching the final episode anyway, mildly curious to see if the season got any better after the point he stopped watching. The more rational part of him, however, knew the finale was bound to be a dumpster fire, not even worth watching for the context to the irate comments that were sure to litter his social media feeds for the next couple of days.

         Maybe I'll just go to sleep, he thought. It was only a few minutes after nine, well before his usual bedtime, but Yuri had an early morning session with Lilia before her usual lessons to start choreographing his Nutcracker free skate. A little extra shuteye couldn't hurt.

         "Come on, Potya, let's go to bed."

         But the cat had immediately curled up on top of Otabek's laptop, claiming it as his bed for the night. Yuri rolled his eyes at the sight. Though the laptop probably needed to be plugged in to recharge, he knew better than to mess with Potya when he was sleeping. Otabek would just have to deal with a dead battery when he came back.

         He headed to his bedroom and pulled a T-shirt and a pair of pajama pants out of his dresser, tossing them on Otabek's nearby bed before stripping out of his jeans and tank top. He impulsively took off his boxers as well, feeling a bit silly as he laid down, naked, on his bed.

         It wasn't as if he'd never masturbated before. He'd discovered, quite by accident, that it was a good stress reliever. Whenever Yuri was nervous before a big competition and couldn't sleep, he'd jerk off in the hotel shower, tiring himself until he practically passed out from exhaustion afterwards.

         But people usually masturbated for fun, right?

         Yuri closed his eyes, trying to think of something arousing. Just touching himself was usually enough to get him going, but he wanted to try something different this time – an experiment to turn himself on by desire alone.

         I guess I just need to think of a naked girl? he thought, having no real idea of what to do. It was worth a shot.

         The only naked girl he had ever seen in real life was Mila, though. She had very little shame when it came to her body, thinking nothing of changing her clothes right in front of him or showing Yuri pictures of herself sunbathing topless aboard the Crispino twins' family yacht. She'd even recently posed nude for a magazine spread celebrating the beauty of athletes' bodies – artistic photographs, not porn, as she was quick to point out to the trolls online who gave her crap about it. Aesthetically, Yuri thought they were gorgeous photos; they just didn't do anything for him.

         Still, Yuri brought the image of a naked Mila to the forefront of his mind, giving it another try. Maybe if he thought about her kissing him, touching him, reaching down for his… Nope. His stomach lurched the moment he tried to imagine it. Mila was too much like a sister to him to ever think of her that way. Besides, he doubted he was really into girls anyway.

         Sure enough, he was still soft, not even a hint of arousal.

         So, guys?

         That didn't seem quite right, either. He'd seen plenty of naked guys in the locker room, but he never got the urge to jump their bones.

         Maybe he was like Yuuri Katsuki, the guy who had first equated eros with his love of katsudon, of all things. Even as young and inexperienced as he was, Yuri knew eros wasn't like that, but there was no denying that Yuuri had found his true eros the closer he became to Viktor, to the point that they could barely keep their hands off each other nowadays, disgusting Yuri with their over-the-top public displays of affection.

         But if he was like Yuuri, then wasn't Otabek his Viktor, the key to unlocking his sexual desire? Otabek was the most important person in the world to him. If he were to ever fall in love with somebody – a very big IF – he thought it would be with Otabek, yet…

         Do you like him? Like…a crush?

         Mila's question from earlier once again echoed in his mind as Yuri rolled over on his side. What did that even mean, having a crush? Maybe he did have a crush on Otabek and didn't realize it. Yuri had no desire to kiss him or do anything further with him, though, happy with their relationship as it was. If he really had a crush, wouldn't he want to do those types of things with Otabek?

         He sat back up, sighing as he ran a hand through his hair. Something had to be wrong with him. Every other person in the world wanted to have sex except for him. That wasn't normal, right?

         Deciding it was pointless to continue his experiment, Yuri grabbed his nightclothes from Otabek's bed and got dressed before returning to his own bed to go to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

         The faint smell of cologne caught Yuri's attention first.

         He glanced up from the magazine he was reading as Otabek came out of the bedroom, dressed in dark-wash jeans, a white T-shirt, and his leather jacket, the ever present mati necklace hanging from his neck. "Another date with Mila?" he guessed.

         "Yeah, we're going to see Bohemian Rhapsody," Otabek said, pausing for a second before adding, "You should come with us."

         "And watch you two sticking your tongues down each other's throats for two hours?" Scoffing, Yuri turned his attention back to his Russian edition of Rolling Stone and flipped to the next page. He may have resolved to be more supportive of Otabek's relationship with Mila, but that didn't mean he needed to bear witness to it. "No, thanks." He could think of a million things he'd rather do with his free time.

         To Yuri's surprise, Otabek walked over to the couch and snatched the magazine out of his hands. "Come on, I know you've been dying to see it."

         "I'll buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out," Yuri said, holding out his hand. "Now give me back my magazine."

         Otabek started to hand it back to him, but at the last second, he hid the magazine behind his back. "No."

         Yuri arched an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

         "I said, no," he repeated. "If you want the magazine back, you have to go to the movies with us."

         "You do realize I can just go down to the store and buy another copy?"

         Not that Yuri really wanted to waste his money on buying another magazine, especially when he only had a few more pages left to read. Maybe one of his fellow dorm mates had a copy he could borrow…

         "Get your ass up and go get dressed," Otabek ordered, apparently not taking "no" for an answer. "We're leaving in ten minutes."

         "But, Beka…"

         Otabek sighed. "I promise, Mila and I will behave and watch the movie. No making out, okay?"

         "Fine. But only because I really do want to see the movie," he finally agreed.

         Yuri changed out of his sweats, and fifteen minutes later, he and Otabek headed to meet Mila.

         When they reached the theater, Mila was already waiting for them outside. She smiled and waved when she spotted them, glomping onto Yuri as soon as he was within reach. "Yura, I didn't know you were coming. Yay!"

         "I invited him last minute. I hope that's okay," Otabek said. "He's been wanting to see the movie, too."

         "Of course it's okay. The more, the merrier!"

         Once again, Mila forgot her own strength, Yuri nearly suffocating in the headlock she had him in. "Can't…breathe…"

         She giggled. "Oops, sorry." Mila released her hold on him before turning to Otabek and playfully poking him in the chest. "You're late, by the way. I've been waiting here for ten minutes."

         "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry," he said, chastely kissing Mila's cheek as Yuri fought back a frown. "Someone took forever to get ready."

         Yuri huffed, blowing his bangs off his forehead. "Well, excuse me for wanting to look presentable in public. If you had invited me earlier, it wouldn't have been a problem."

         In between them, Mila wrapped an arm around both their shoulders. "Boys, boys, no fighting! We're going to have fun tonight. Come on, let's buy our tickets. I hope there's still some available."

         Otabek generously paid for both Yuri's and Mila's tickets in addition to his, then they headed to the concession stand, where Mila insisted on buying the largest bucket of buttery popcorn Yuri had ever seen in his life.

         "You're not seriously going to eat that whole thing, are you?" he asked. "Yakov would have a coronary if he saw you right now." Not that he was one to talk, having ordered a forbidden medium-sized Coke – the real kind, not the no-calorie diet crap he usually settled for when he couldn't resist his craving for soda.

         "I don't see Yakov around; do you?" She made a show of looking around before popping a kernel in her mouth. "Besides, I bought it for the three of us. Want some?"

         Yuri was going to decline when his stomach roared like a tiger, reminding him that he hadn't eaten dinner yet. Mila laughed and even Otabek stifled a chuckle as Yuri grabbed a handful of popcorn from the offered bucket.

.        "We should go find our seats," Otabek said after paying for his oversized chocolate candy bar. "I like to watch the previews."

         He took Mila's free hand and led her toward the proper theater, Yuri following after them with a frown on his face. For a moment, it had felt like the three of them were just hanging out and having fun as friends, but seeing them hold hands reminded him that he was technically a third wheel. Why had Otabek invited him along on his stupid date, anyway?

         The only three seats they found together were in the center of the second to last row. Thankfully, Otabek took the seat in the middle, holding Mila's popcorn bucket in his lap. Yuri had been to the movies with Mila a couple times before and knew she had an annoying habit of whispering her running commentary to her neighbor. At least he'd be able to watch the movie in relative peace for once.

         To his relief, Otabek actually kept to his promise of no making out, the two of them staring up at the screen, engrossed by the movie. Occasionally, Mila leaned over the armrest and whispered something in Otabek's ear, but the sound was easy to tune out, like white noise in the background…until Yuri heard a familiar giggle about halfway through the film.

         There was nothing particularly funny about the current scene playing out on the big screen.

         Against his better judgement, Yuri glanced over at Otabek and Mila. Though it was dark and difficult to see, he could just make out the shadow of Otabek's right hand on Mila's thigh, inching dangerously close to the hem of her short skirt. She giggled again, swatting his hand away with a whispered "Beka!", but it wasn't long before he resumed stroking her leg.

         Was it that hard to keep their hands off each other for two freakin' hours? Annoyed, Yuri blew into his straw, bubbling his Coke and catching the attention of several surrounding people, including Mila and Otabek, who finally remembered he was there and stopped pawing each other.

         A little while later, Mila stood up and squeezed past Otabek and Yuri to get to the aisle. Yuri assumed she was just going to the restroom, but not even thirty seconds later, Otabek did the same, handing him the half-eaten tub of popcorn.

         "Seriously?"

         "Gotta piss," Otabek mumbled. "Be right back."

         Yeah, right. Yuri grabbed another handful of popcorn and stuffed it in his mouth. He supposed he ought to be grateful they at least had the decency to go somewhere else and be disgusting.

         The two of them returned to their seats about ten minutes later, Otabek's shirt half-untucked and Mila's hair in mild disarray. "Did we miss anything important?" Otabek asked, taking back the popcorn which Yuri had almost finished off in their absence.

         Crossing his arms over his chest, Yuri muttered, "Watch the Blu-Ray when it comes out," and stared up at the big screen.


 

         To their credit, Otabek and Mila did behave during the rest of the movie, having apparently gotten whatever it was out of their systems. Mila even stopped her incessant whispering, perhaps sensing that they were skating on thin ice with Yuri.

         Upon exiting the theater when the movie ended, Otabek checked the time on his phone. "It's still early," he said. "What do you two want to do now?"

         Mila, humming a Queen song slightly off-tune, twirled around a nearby lamppost. "Let's go drinking!"

         "We can't. Yura's underage."

         "Still? You need to hurry up and turn eighteen already, Yura."

         "Well, sorry for being born a year too late," Yuri said, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "I'm going home. You guys can go out to drink if you want." They'd probably prefer the chance for some alone time, anyway.

         "No, don't go yet!" Mila said, grabbing Yuri by the elbow when he pivoted around to leave. "We can go back to my place. I have beer, and nobody will care what age you are."

         Otabek crossed his arms over his chest. "I care, Mila. He's too young."

         Walking over after releasing her grip on Yuri, Mila poked Otabek's cheek. "You know, it's cute how responsible you are when you have such a bad-boy image," she said. "Kinda sexy, too."

         "Oh, gag me," Yuri muttered in a low voice.

         "Did you say something, Yura?" Otabek asked.

         "Uh…I was just saying we should go to the hag's place," he said, thinking fast. "I feel like drinking."

         "Yes, that's the spirit!" Mila threw her arm around his shoulders. "But cool it with the hag comments, okay?"

         "Sorry, sorry."

         Otabek frowned. "I still don't think that's a good idea."      

         "Oh, Beka, lighten up. He'll be eighteen next March," she reminded him. "It's not like he's a little kid. Besides, he'll be safer at my place where we can keep an eye on him than some seedy bar."

         "I'm going whether you like it or not," Yuri declared. He hadn't meant to invite himself along for the rest of their date, more than ready to call it a night and go back home to his magazine and Potya, but he wasn't going to back out now.

         Besides, it always annoyed him on the rare occasions when Otabek treated him like a kid. If he wanted to drink a damn beer, then he would drink a damn beer!

         Otabek sighed, knowing he had lost the battle. It was two against one. "Fine, but don't blame me when you wake up with a massive hangover tomorrow."

         The three of them began walking to Mila's apartment, Yuri somehow getting roped into singing Queen songs with Mila at the top of their lungs along the way. Unfortunately, neither of them were the next Freddie Mercury, the usually unflappable Otabek unable to contain his laughter when they both tried to hit a particularly high note during Under Pressure and croaked worse than JJ Leroy in the short program at the 2016 Grand Prix Finals.

         "You two are the world's worst singers. You know that, right?"

         "Oh, shut up," Yuri said, flipping him the bird over his shoulder.

         Still, he couldn't help but smile, truly enjoying himself for the first time all night. Why couldn't it be like this all the time?

         Mila's apartment building was only a couple of blocks away from the movie theater, so it didn't take long for them to arrive. The moment she unlocked and pushed open the door to her third-floor apartment, Yuri's eyes were nearly blinded by fifty different shades of pink.

         "Is this place even pinker than it was the last time I visited?" He didn't think that was even physically possible. Tossing a hot-pink heart-shaped throw pillow off the gray armchair – one of the few non-pink items in sight – Yuri plopped down in the seat and threw one of his legs over the armrest. "You know, there are other colors in the world."

         "Says the boy who's obsessed with leopard print," she said, heading to the kitchen.

         "Hey, leopard print is cool." At least he had some sense of moderation…usually.

         Okay, not really, but he also liked tiger print and cheetah print, so it wasn't the same.

         "And pink makes me happy." Mila opened the refrigerator and pulled out three ice cold bottles of beer, handing one of them to Yuri on her way back to the living room. "Here you go, Leopard Boy. Bottom's up!"

         Yuri popped off the top of his beer as Mila gave Otabek one of the other bottles and the two of them sat down together on the couch, Mila lounging with her bare feet in Otabek's lap as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

         "Yura, you gonna drink that?" she asked when Yuri made no move to drink.

         "Y-Yeah, of course." He brought the bottle to his mouth and took a large gulp, coughing and making a face as he forced the cold liquid down his throat.

         It actually wasn't his first experience with alcohol. After the men's event at the Olympics, Viktor and Yuuri had snuck a bottle of Dom Perignon into the room he shared with Georgi in order to toast their respective medals – Yuuri's gold, Viktor's silver, and Yuri's bronze, along with his and Georgi's shared gold from the team event. Yuri had enjoyed the bubbly champagne quite a bit, so he wasn't expecting beer to taste so…well, awful in comparison.

         Mila giggled.

         "It's a bit of an acquired taste," Otabek confessed. "If you don't want it, give it here and I'll drink the rest of it for you." He held out his hand for Yuri's bottle.

         But Yuri refused to give Otabek the satisfaction. "No, mine." He took a smaller sip from the bottle, keeping his face as passive as possible. Now that he knew what to expect, it wasn't quite so terrible. "It's good. I like it," he said.

         "Hey, we should play a game," Mila suggested. "How about 'Never Have I Ever'?"

         Otabek shook his head. "No drinking games. I just want to get buzzed, not drunk."

         "Party pooper." She playfully kicked him. "'Truth or Dare'?"

         "What are we, twelve again?" Yuri asked, taking another swig. He was starting to get used to the taste. Besides, if they were really going to play "Truth or Dare", he wanted to be properly wasted so he wouldn't remember any of the embarrassing things Mila would no doubt force him to do.

         "Oh, come on, it'll be fun. Beka, truth or dare?"

         "Truth."

         "Hmm… What was the last thing you searched for on your phone?"

         "Show times for the movie," he answered, causing Mila to pout.

         "That's so boring." She sat back up, reaching into his pocket for his phone. "What did you search before that? Something naughty?"

         "Mila, I already answered your question. If you don't like it, too bad." Snatching his phone back from her hands, Otabek turned his attention to Yuri. "My turn, right? Yura, truth or dare?"

         "Dare." It was a matter of pride for Yuri that he had never once in his seventeen years of life chosen "truth", always willing to take on a challenge, no matter how dangerous, humiliating, or stupid it might be. "And make it a good one."

         "Okay, I dare you to…"


 

         Yuri decided he liked beer after all.

         Maybe not the taste, but he liked the way it made him feel – all loose and happy, like he was floating on a fluffy cloud. He couldn't remember the last time he laughed so much, cracking up as the questions and dares got more and more ridiculous as the night went on. He didn't even mind it when Mila crawled onto Otabek's lap midway through the game, the two of them sharing a second bottle of beer.

         Yuri himself was currently on his third…he thought. His memory was becoming fuzzy. At the back of his mind, he knew he would probably hate himself in the morning for drinking so much, but that was a problem for Future Yuri to deal with. Yuri in the present was having way too much fun to stop, despite Otabek's repeated warnings to slow down and maybe drink a glass of water instead.

         Seriously, for being such a cool guy, Otabek could be a real "party pooper" as Mila had called him earlier. It wasn't as if he was driving, so what was the harm in getting drunk off his ass for one night?

         "Yura, truth or dare?" Mila asked, Yuri wondering why they even bothered asking him anymore when they already knew which he would pick.

         "Dare me!" he shouted, knocking back another large gulp of his beer.

         "Okay, I dare you to…" Finger on her chin, she gazed around the room for inspiration, smiling when she turned her head toward Otabek. "…kiss Beka."

         That sobered Yuri up fast, the smile immediately disappearing from his face as he brought his bottle down. "No."

         "Come on, it's okay with me, and I know Beka's made out with guys before…"

         "No way." He didn't care if it ruined his streak. Kissing Otabek – or anyone, for that matter – was one thing he refused to do. The very thought of it churned his stomach.

         "But –"

         Otabek touched her shoulder. "Mila, stop," he said in a soft, but firm voice. "Yura doesn't have to kiss somebody he doesn't want to."

         "Oh, right, of course." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Sorry, Yura. That was really out of line."

         "Whatever." Yuri finished off his beer, chugging the rest of it down and wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his hoodie.

         "Give him a question instead," Otabek said as Yuri stood up from his chair, a little unsteady on his feet.

         "No, I'm tired of playing this stupid game." Yuri headed toward the kitchen for another drink. "Let's just watch TV or something." He swung open the door of the refrigerator and swore when he realized that they had finished off the six-pack. "Hey, hag, do you have any more beer?"

         "I really think you've had enough, Yura," Otabek said, frowning. "Remember, we have training tomorrow. And will you stop calling her a hag already?"

         "You're not the boss of me," Yuri said, although he thought better of the "hag" comment. "Ha—I mean, Mila, booze?"

         "Sorry, that was all I had," she said, sliding off Otabek's lap to reach for the television remote on the end table. "You should get yourself some water and rehydrate. Beka's right. You've had enough for tonight."

         Ugh, why were they suddenly ganging up on him? Mila was the one who pushed him into drinking in the first place. Hag. Groaning in frustration, Yuri grabbed one of the bottles of water from the fridge – not because they told him to, but because he was still thirsty and Mila didn't have any Coke – and flung himself back on his chair as Mila turned on the TV and began browsing through the on-air guide.

         "What do you want to watch?"

         He didn't care. "Whatever. Just pick something."

         "Oh, I love this show!" She flipped the channel to some American supernatural drama about a couple of demon-hunting brothers and snuggled up against Otabek, who kissed the top of her head. "Is this one okay with everyone?

         "Yeah," Yuri said, not even watching the TV. "Yeah, it's fine…"

Chapter Text

         The next morning, Yuri cracked opened an eyelid and was greeted by a bombardment of pink. Startled, he bolted upright and swore as he grabbed his pounding head.

         Ugh, so this is what a hangover feels like, huh? he thought, groaning as he ran his fingers through his tangled hair.

         Maybe he should have listened to Otabek after all – not that Yuri would ever admit it to his face.

         He rolled his stiff shoulders and glanced around the room, wondering what time it was. Judging by the sunlight filtering through the blinds on the window above him, it must have been morning. He remembered falling asleep – or maybe he had passed out? – in the armchair while watching TV with Mila and Otabek, but somehow he had ended up on the couch, shoes off and one of Mila's violently pink throw blankets tucked around him. Neither Otabek and Mila were in sight. Had Otabek gone back home without him last night?

         His eyes landed on the door he knew led to Mila's bedroom, and he sighed. No, of course not. Otabek had slept with Mila in her bed because they were a couple, and that's what couples did.

         He still didn't know what time it was, his phone battery having gone dead sometime in the middle of the night, but he didn't exactly relish the idea of being around when the two of them woke up. Yuri reached for his shoes on the floor beside the couch, deciding he would sneak back to his dorm room to take a shower before heading to the rink for practice. Maybe he would even skip practice for the day and sleep off his hangover. Yakov would be furious, but whatever. It was the off-season; no big deal.

         He had just finished tying his boots when the door to Mila's bedroom creaked open. Yuri expected it to be Otabek, who was typically an early riser. Instead, it was Mila, her hair a tangled mess and wearing a white T-shirt that was a couple of sizes too large for her.

         "That's Beka's shirt," Yuri said dumbly, his mouth as dry as a desert.

         Mila brought a finger to her lips and softly closed the door behind her. "Hey, you're up early," she said, keeping her voice down. "Beka's still asleep. How are you feeling?"

         He rubbed at his throbbing temple. "Like a heavy metal band has taken permanent residence in my head, and the drummer is playing a never-ending solo."

         "That bad, huh?" She padded over to the kitchen, grabbing a glass from one of the overhead cabinets. "Want to give an Icelandic hangover cure a try? Gosha told me about it a couple of years ago. It sounds disgusting, but it actually works…sometimes."

         "What's in it?" Yuri asked in mild curiosity, taking a seat at the peninsula.

         "Honey, apple cider vinegar, and warm water."

         Yuri wrinkled his nose. "Just give me a glass of water and some paracetamol."

         "Your call."

         As Mila filled the glass with tap water, the bedroom door opened again. A yawning Otabek came out, only wearing his jeans.

         "Mila, did you steal my shirt ag—" He paused when he saw Yuri sitting at the bar. "Oh, hey."

         "Morning," Yuri mumbled, reaching for the glass of water and two tablets Mila had set in front of him. So much for his plan to leave before they woke up, but as long as they didn't –

         "Good morning!" Mila said, throwing herself into Otabek's arms for a long, lingering kiss.

         Yuri sighed. Too late.

         "Good morning," Otabek said, smiling as he tugged on the sleeve of her – his – shirt. "Tell me – why is it that with a closet full of your own clothes, you feel the need to steal mine?"

         Mila shrugged, coquettishly biting her bottom lip as she walked a couple of her fingers up his bicep. "I don't know. Maybe I just prefer it when you go shirtless…"

         "Ugh, get a room," Yuri muttered to himself before remembering that it technically was Mila's room and she could do anything she wanted.

         Fortunately, the two of them were too wrapped up in each other to hear what he said.

         Yuri slid off the bar stool and gulped down the rest of his water in one go. "I'm going home," he announced in a louder voice.

         That caught their attention.

         "Already?" Mila asked, turning back around. "I was going to cook us some breakfast."

         "Mila makes great omelets," Otabek said, wrapping his arms around her waist. "You should stay."

         For one fleeting moment, Yuri was tempted. He'd eaten Mila's omelets before, and they were good. Really good. But if he had to sit through an entire meal of them making heart eyes at each other, he was liable to throw up anything he tried to eat, defeating the whole point.

         "No, that's okay. I'll see you later."

         "Yura –" Otabek began, but Yuri had already closed the door behind him.


 

         "Yuri Nikolayevich Plisetsky, don't you dare think about sneaking off," Yakov yelled at the top of his lungs at the end of practice, every single person on the ice turning to stare in Yuri's direction. "My office, now!"

         Yuri grimaced. He knew he should have listened to his gut and skipped out on practice for the day. The pills Mila had given him earlier that morning had worn off soon after he took the ice, his headache returning with a vengeance. It was a miracle he had been able to skate at all, although the most he could manage was some half-hearted, two-footed double axels. Quads were out of the question. Most of the session he spent just stroking around the rink, wishing he could curl up and die.

         Otabek handed Yuri his skate guards as he stepped off the ice. "You okay?" he asked, the concern evident in his dark eyes.

         "What? You're not gonna tell me, 'I told you so'?" He certainly would have, if their positions had been reversed. Otabek had warned him several times not to overdo it, yet he had refused to listen and now he was paying the price.

         "Yura…"

         Yuri sighed, slipping the skate guards over his blades. "Whatever. Just go on without me. I have a feeling I'm in for one of Yakov's legendary lectures." He hadn't had one of those since he returned to St. Petersburg after running off to Hasetsu and losing Onsen on Ice – his longest streak since he started training with Yakov at ten years old.

         "You sure? I don't mind waiting."

         "Yeah, this might take a while. There's no reason for you to hang around. I'll be fine."

         Otabek didn't look convinced, but at that moment, his phone pinged. He quickly checked the message, a small smile on his lips.

         "Mila?" Yuri guessed.

         "Yeah. She wants us to meet up for lunch, but –"

         "Then go ahead. I'm not really hungry, anyway."

         Not giving him a chance to protest, Yuri grabbed his bag and left without changing out of his skates, his skate guards click-clacking against the floor as he headed down the hall that led to the rink's administrative offices. Yakov's office was the second on the right. He knocked on the door, inhaling a deep breath to prepare himself before entering.

         The office was just as small and cramped as Yuri remembered it, barely bigger than a shoebox. Yakov, sitting behind a desk buried in papers, motioned for Yuri to take a seat.

         "You know, you really ought to consider joining the twenty-first century one of these days," Yuri couldn't resist saying, plopping down in the plastic chair in front of the desk. "There are these handy things called comput—"

         Yakov glared at him. "Now is not the time to be a smart-ass, Yura."

         "Right. Sorry."

         Clearing his throat, Yakov pushed aside the piece of paperwork he had been reading when Yuri came in and immediately launched into a lecture about the importance of drinking responsibly and other crap that Yuri only half-heard despite the increasing volume of Yakov's voice. His brain was throbbing too much to focus on anything but the pain. Groaning, Yuri was about to interrupt and ask Yakov if he had anything he could take when the coach asked him about Otabek.

         "Was it the Altin boy who provided you with the booze?" Yakov pinched the bridge of his nose. "I should have known he would be a bad influence, what with the motorcycle and all…"

         "Hey, Beka's not like that!" Yuri said, jumping to his feet. If Yakov decided not to coach Otabek anymore because of his dumb mistake… "He had nothing to do with my drinking. In fact, he was the one who tried to stop me. I… I just didn't want to listen."

         Yakov crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back in his chair. "Okay, let's say I believe you. Then where did you get it? You said that Altin tried to stop you, so that means he was at least present at the time. Was it Mila? She and Altin have been 'hooking up', as you young people call it, right?"

         Oh, God, he could have gone a thousand lifetimes without hearing the phrase "hooking up" coming out of Yakov Feltsman's mouth.

         "It's not Mila's fault," Yuri lied, not wanting her to get in trouble either. She may have provided the beer, but it was ultimately his choice to drink it. He had no one to blame but himself. "I-I stole it."

         "From where? The grocery store?"

         Yuri rolled his eyes. "I'm an Olympic bronze medalist. Do you really think I'm that dumb to shoplift when somebody could have recognized me?"

         "Well, I thought you were smart enough not to come to practice hungover, so perhaps I'm not the best judge of your intelligence. Just tell me where you got it, Yura."

         "Gosha's stash, okay?" Yuri said, thinking quickly. "I snuck into his apartment and stole a few bottles of beer." Luckily, Georgi was in Japan at the moment, skating in Fantasy On Ice with Viktor and Yuuri, so Yakov wouldn't be able to confirm his story until Georgi returned sometime next month. Yuri crossed his fingers that Yakov would forget all about it by then.

         Yakov sighed, rubbing at his temple and looking much older than his fifty-nine years. "Oh, Yura… What am I going to do with you? I thought you had already gotten over your rebellious phase. You're seventeen years old, almost an adult. It's about time to start acting like it."

         Yuri slumped back in his chair, twiddling his thumbs. A younger him probably would have fought back, tried to blame it on somebody else, but he knew he had messed up. He had no defense. "Sorry."

         "Well, we all make mistakes," Yakov said, surprising Yuri, who had expected another round of yelling. Maybe he was getting soft in his old age. Or maybe it was just the fact that Yuri was now his top-ranked male skater; he'd usually let Viktor get away with murder, too, as long as he was winning. "Don't bother showing up for the afternoon session. There's no point if you're not feeling well enough to jump. Go home, drink lots of water, and sleep it off. I expect you back tomorrow, ready and willing to work twice as hard to make up for today.

         "Yes, sir."

         Yuri stood to leave. He wasn't about to argue with that, having anticipated a much harsher punishment.

         "By the way," Yakov said just before Yuri reached the door, "have you decided on your short program music yet?"

         "No, not yet."

         "Mmm." Yakov reached for the paperwork he had been looking at when Yuri arrived. "You still have plenty of time before the new season starts, but I wouldn't wait too much longer to make a decision. Since this is your first time choreographing a proper competitive program, it's impossible to know how long it will take you to finish. I guarantee it will take more effort than that ridiculous Madness program of yours."

         "Ridiculous?" Yuri's hand clenched at his side. "It got a standing ovation at the Olympic gala," he reminded his coach, turning back around. "The video from the Barcelona Grand Prix Final has over two million views on YouTube. The audience loved it!"

         "Yes, well, it's the judges you have to impress this time, not the audience, and they are not so easy to please."

         It was the same thing Yuri had told himself when he first came up with the idea, yet to hear the words coming from his coach's mouth… "You don't think I can do it, do you?"

         Yakov glanced up from his paperwork. "I never said that."

         "No, but that's what you're thinking."

         "Listen, Yura, even Vitya's first attempt at choreographing a competitive program was a piece of crap," Yakov said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "It's nothing personal. I think it's good that you're taking a more proactive role in creating your own program, but nobody expects you to come up with a masterpiece your first time around. Just do the best you can, then we'll have Lilia polish it up for you. Worse comes to worst, we'll scrap it and have her create another one."

         Yuri couldn't believe it. When Yakov agreed to his idea of producing his new short, he'd been happy, thinking it was a vote of confidence in his ability after the viral success of his Welcome to the Madness exhibition, but it turned out that not only did Yakov expect him to fail, he already had a back-up plan in place!

         "Just wait and see, old man," Yuri said, eyes narrowing. "I'm going to choreograph an amazing short program – without Lilia's help – and then I'm going to use it to smash my own world record. I'm gonna be better than Vitya ever was!"

         With that vow, he stormed out of Yakov's office, slamming the door shut behind him.


 

         "Shit, why did I say that?"

         Yuri moaned, lightly hitting his forehead against the door to his dorm. Perhaps not the best idea when he was already suffering from a pounding headache, but why not add another bad decision to the ever-growing list?

         He had no experience with choreography beyond one hastily planned exhibition program. Of course Yakov was going to have doubts! Like he said, even Viktor hadn't started out as the genius choreographer he would become later in his career. It was normal to suck when you started something new, yet Yuri had boasted he would create a program even better than Viktor's Agape, putting more pressure on himself than before.

         Stupid, stupid, stupid!

         Yuri fumbled around for his key. Sleep – that's what he needed. Once he got some proper rest, in his own comfy bed instead of on Mila's couch, he was bound to feel better.

         He located his key in the pocket of his hoodie, but when he reached for the doorknob, it twisted easily in his hand. Yuri frowned. He had been in a rush that morning, deciding last minute to go to practice after all, but he almost never forgot to lock up. In fact, he was rather obsessive about it, a habit he had picked up from his grandpa.

         He opened the door. "Beka?"

         The living area was deserted except for Potya, taking a nap on the windowsill as he basked in the sunshine filtering through the curtains. He didn't even look up at the sound of Yuri's voice, dead to the world aside from a subtle twitch of his ears.

         Weird. Maybe I did forget, Yuri thought, tossing his bag on the chair on his way to the kitchen. It didn't matter. Nothing appeared to be missing or disturbed. He would just have to remember to be more careful in the future.

         He shook out a couple of paracetamol tablets from the bottle he kept on hand and poured himself a glass of water, gulping down the whole thing in one go as he swallowed the pills. It would take a few minutes for the medicine to kick in, but he already felt a little better.

         Next, he rummaged through the refrigerator for something to eat. He had skipped breakfast, but the shelves were almost empty, Yuri having forgotten to go grocery shopping thanks to Otabek dragging him out on his date with Mila. Yesterday was the day he usually went to the store to take advantage of the weekly specials. Even though his new post-Olympic sponsorship deals meant he no longer had to worry as much about money, providing him with enough to support himself and Grandpa, old habits die hard.

         Muttering a swear, Yuri closed the refrigerator and pulled out his phone. Maybe he could ask Otabek to pick something up…

         Oh, right. He was on a lunch date with Mila.

         Yuri sighed, setting his phone down on the counter. Technically, he supposed he had been invited, too, but after last night, the last thing he wanted was to play the third wheel yet again. He didn't understand why they kept trying to include him in their plans. Surely they would much rather spend time alone together, doing whatever it was that couples did.

         Well, he wasn't that hungry anyway. Yuri decided he would take a nap, and if his headache was gone by the time he woke up, he'd go to the store. As far as he knew, Otabek didn't have any plans with Mila later, so maybe he would cook some of his grandfather's katsudon pirozhkis for dinner since he had the time for once.

         Yuri headed to his bedroom, freezing when he opened the door.

         On the bed opposite of his were Otabek and Mila, both completely naked, having sex.

         They were so caught up in each other that neither of them noticed Yuri's presence, Otabek continuing to pump in between Mila's spread legs as she repeatedly moaned and gasped his name in fevered passion. Yuri wanted to look away, but his body stood paralyzed in the doorway, staring in horror at the disgusting sight in front of him.

         "W-What the hell are you two doing?" he finally managed to sputter out, hating that he sounded almost on the verge of tears.

         The two writhing bodies stopped what they were doing, Otabek twisting around to look toward the door. His eyes widened as his gaze met Yuri's.

         "Y-Yura, you're home," he said, climbing off of Mila. He grabbed his discarded pants from the floor and attempted to put them back on as fast as he could, almost tripping over his feet in his haste. On the bed, a for-once-modest Mila grabbed a pillow to cover herself, hugging it tightly to her chest. "Uh, sorry about this. I didn't think you'd be ba—"

         Yuri didn't want to hear it.

         He pivoted back to the living room, a litany of Russian and English profanities streaming from his mouth at top volume as he seriously considered gouging his eyes out. A few seconds later, Otabek followed, closing the bedroom door behind him to give Mila privacy to get dressed.

         "Yura, will you calm down?" He pulled his T-shirt over his head, yanking it down. "I think the entire building can hear you. Let's talk abo—"

         "LIKE I GIVE A DAMN!" Unable to look his best friend in the eye after what he had seen, Yuri began pacing around the living room, hands clenched at his sides.

         "Why are you so angry?" Otabek asked. "You're acting like you caught me having an affair or something. I know we never dis–"

         "YOU AND THE HAG WERE HAVING SEX IN MY BEDROOM!"

         "Come on, it's not that big of a deal, is it? I'll buy you new sheets if you want."

         "Not a big deal?" Yuri stopped in his tracks, his eyes widening in disbelief as he spun around. "YOU AND THE HAG WERE HAVING SEX IN MY BEDROOM!" he repeated as if Otabek somehow hadn't heard him the first time. "I CAN'T UNSEE THAT!"

         At that moment, the bedroom door opened and Mila stepped out, fully dressed. Sheepishly, she tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. "Um, I'm going to head back to my place," she said. "Sorry, Yura."

         "Wait, I'll walk you home," Otabek offered.

         "You don't have –"

         "I want to. I need to get out of here for a while."

         He walked Mila to the door, his hand intimately placed on the small of her back, and the two of them left, Yuri flipping them off as the door slammed shut behind them.

         "FINE, BE THAT WAY! GO SCREW EACH OTHER'S BRAINS OUT SOMEWHERE ELSE FOR ALL I CARE!"

         He plopped down on the couch, arms crossed over his chest, and stewed until Potya hopped up beside him, purring and rubbing against his elbow. With a sigh, Yuri gathered the cat in his arms and buried his face in Potya's soft fur.

         "At least you'll always be there for me."

 

Chapter Text

         Otabek still hadn't returned by dinner time. He hadn't as much as called or texted, either.

         Not that Yuri cared. He didn't care one bit.

         "Don't look at me like that," he scolded a meowing Potya after checking his phone for messages for the third time since he sat down for dinner. Across from him on the table, Otabek's plate sat uneaten, the katsudon pirozhkis he made going cold. "It's not like I'm worried about him, or anything. It's just common courtesy to call if you're going to be out late, right?"

         The cat meowed again, which Yuri took as agreement.

         "Besides, Beka can take care of himself. I'm not his babysitter. He and Mila are probably just busy…doing things."

         He didn't want to imagine what kind of things they might be doing, pushing the memory of earlier out of his mind with a shudder.

         And he certainly wasn't going to call and risk catching them in the middle of the act again. Did people even answer their phones during sex? Mila probably would, especially if she knew it was him calling.

         A ping alerted him to the fact that he had received a message. Yuri immediately dropped his fork with a clatter and reached for his phone, frowning when he saw it was Mila texting him instead of Otabek. He considered ignoring it, not exactly in the mood to deal with her, but she probably knew where Otabek was, so he sighed and texted her back.

         Mila: hey

         Yuri: hey

         Mila: Beka's spending the night.

         Yuri snorted. Of course he was.

         Yuri: yeah, figured that.

         Mila: he left his phone at your place. he was charging it when you…u know…

         He glanced over at his charging station. For the first time, Yuri noticed Otabek's phone was plugged in. At least that explained why he hadn't called…although he could have used Mila's phone if he really wanted to get ahold of him.

         Mila: Sorry about that, btw. we really weren't expecting you back til later.

         Yuri: I've gone permanently blind, just so u know.

         Mila: Oh, don't be so dramatic. :P

         Mila: did u see anything you liked?

         Yuri: Ew, NO!

         Mila: Haha, you're SUCH a virgin. it's cute.

         He started to type "Better than being a sl—" but quickly backspaced, thinking better of it for once. She didn't deserve that. After all, Mila just had a perfectly normal, healthy appetite for sex…unlike him.

         You still there? she messaged when a couple of minutes passed without a response from him.

         Yeah, he typed, pausing for a brief moment before adding, are u happy?

         Mila: With Beka?

         Mila: Yeah, I am. I mean, we don't know each other that well yet, but I think I could really fall for him.

         Mila: and he's REALLY good in bed.

         "Oh, gross," he exclaimed to Potya, who had begun rubbing himself against Yuri's calves under the table. "I don't want to know that!"

         Yuri: lalala, i can't hear you…

         Mila: of course you can't, idiot. we're texting.    

         Yuri sent her a selfie of him giving her the finger, then decided to switch gears.

         Yuri: he might not choose Yakov, u know. he could decide to go to a different coach, and then what?

         Mila: Then we'll just make him choose Yakov.

         Yuri: what, you're gonna bribe him into staying with your body?

         Mila: No. don't be crass, Yura.

         Yuri: look who's talking

         Mila:…

         Mila: Point taken.

         Mila: but, seriously, we need to convince him to stay.

         Yuri: how?

         Mila: …sex?

         He rolled his eyes.

         Mila: IDK. He's your best friend.

         Yuri: he's your…boyfriend?

         Granted, neither of them had ever came out and said anything to that effect, but Yuri assumed they were boyfriend and girlfriend. They certainly acted like it.

         Not officially, Mila admitted to his surprise. We decided to keep it casual since he wasn't sure if he was going to stay…but I really want him to stay, Yura. I really, really do.

         Yuri sighed. She really liked Otabek, didn't she?

         Well, of course he wanted him to stay, too. It was great being able to hang out with him in person outside of competition (at least when he wasn't busy being disgusting with Mila), and now that Viktor and Yuuri had permanently moved back to Hasetsu, Yuri needed someone around the rink on his level to push him to continue to improve. Even in just the week and a half since Otabek's arrival, his consistency on the quad lutz had nearly doubled from before.

         Oh, fine, I'll talk to him, Yuri typed, but u owe me.

         Mila: Thank u! You're the best!

         Yuri: yeah, yeah.

         Mila: oops, gotta go! i think beka's ready for another round.

         Yuri: I DON'T NEED TO KNOW THAT!

         Seriously, if Otabek decided to stay in St. Petersburg and they continued dating, he and Mila needed to have a talk about keeping certain things private.

         Mila: Virgin. :P

         Yuri: Hag.

         Yuri: Oh, go screw Beka already. AND LEAVE ME OUT OF IT!


 

         Yuri didn't sleep well, tossing and turning all night. Potya, annoyed with his inability to lay still, finally had enough, jumping off his bed and finding a new spot on Otabek's empty one across the room.

         "Traitor," he muttered before flipping over on his other side to face the wall. Every time his eyes landed on the unmade bed, Yuri flashbacked to what he walked in on earlier, seeing far more of his friends than he had ever wanted.

         At around five-thirty, Yuri finally gave up trying to get any sleep, climbing out of bed and padding to the kitchen. He yawned as he went through the motions of making a pot of coffee, the fresh nutty aroma managing to perk him up as it brewed.

         He was pouring himself a cup when he heard the doorknob jiggle, the door creaking open a few seconds later. Otabek paused in the doorway when he saw Yuri in the kitchen.

         "Yura, you're up early."

         "Couldn't sleep," Yuri admitted, a bit satisfied to see that Otabek looked similarly sleep-deprived, although whether the dark circles under his eyes were because of their fight or screwing Mila all night, he wasn't sure.

         "Oh." Otabek closed the door behind him and stuffed his hands in his pockets as he came further inside, avoiding looking Yuri in the eye. "So, I…uh…spent the night at Mila's."

         "I know. She texted me last night." Like you should have done, he thought but didn't say aloud.

         "Oh. Good."

         "I made coffee, if you want some," Yuri said, holding up the rainbow tiger-print mug in his hand.

         Otabek pointed his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the bathroom. "I was actually planning to take a shower. I have an early practice."

         "It can wait." Yuri set the mug on the breakfast bar, along with two packets of sugar and a spoon. "Go on, drink the damn coffee."

         After a moment of hesitation, Otabek sighed and took a seat on one of the leather stools, tearing open the sugar packets to dump in his mug. Yuri poured himself another cup in a matching mug but remained standing, leaning back against the counter. An awkward silence fell between the two of them, Otabek stirring his coffee with the spoon while Yuri tapped his fingers against the ceramic mug in his hands, blowing his bangs away from his face.

         Otabek was the one to finally break it, taking his spoon out of the cup and setting it on the counter. "About yesterday…I'm sorry," he said. "We weren't expecting you back so early."

         "You could have at least locked the door."

         "Yeah." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It kinda slipped our minds in the heat of the moment."

         "Well, just buy me some new cheetah print sheets and forget about it," Yuri said. "I already have."

         Looking up, Otabek arched an eyebrow. "Have you? Really?"

         "No, of course not!" Yuri suppressed a shudder, forcing the memory out of his head. "The image of you and Mila…naked…doing things… It's permanently seared in my brain!"

         "Sorry."

         "Stop apologizing. It's getting annoying." He took a sip of his coffee, glancing over at Potya who was playing with his favorite catnip toy near the refrigerator. "I'm sorry, too, for the record," Yuri mumbled, his shoulders slumping. "I might have overreacted."

         Okay, he had definitely overreacted, although to be fair, he'd been having a really crappy day.

         "Do you have a problem with me going out with Mila?" Otabek asked.

         "No, not really."

         "Yura…"

         Yuri sighed, pushing his hair out of his face. "It's complicated, okay? But don't worry, it's not like I'm jealous… Well, maybe I am, but not like that. I'm not in love with you or her or anything like that. I…don't get those types of feelings."

         That was the first time he admitted it to somebody else.

         He risked a look at Otabek, whose face was just as stoic as always. He didn't seem all that surprised, though. Encouraged by Otabek's seeming acceptance of the idea, Yuri continued.

         "I-I used to think maybe I was a late bloomer and one day I would fall in love with you…or maybe a girl like Mila…well, maybe not like her, but a girl…or maybe a boy…" Flustered, he shook his head; he was getting off track. "Anyway, I thought I would become attracted to somebody, but it hasn't happened yet and I doubt it ever will." Yuri stared back down at his coffee, twirling the cup in his hands. "I think that's part of the reason why it bothers me so much to see you and Mila – or even Vitya and Katsudon – being so gross together. It makes me feel…inadequate, I guess? Like there's something wrong with me?" He shrugged, feeling as if he wasn't doing a very good job of explaining. "I don't know… Maybe I'm just defective or something."

         "Nah," Otabek said. "I think you're cool just the way you are."

         "Yeah?" Yuri exhaled, relieved that Otabek didn't think he was a freak or a weirdo. It felt good to finally tell somebody.

         "Yeah." He set his coffee mug down on the counter, propping his chin on his hand. "To be honest, I've kind of suspected it for a while. It's why I never told you that I was in love with you."

         At that, Yuri spewed out his coffee. "Y-You what?" he asked in between hacking coughs and muttered swears.

         Otabek let out one of his rare laughs, tearing a sheet off the nearby roll of paper towels and standing to help Yuri wipe off his shirt. Luckily, he was still dressed in his sleep clothes, so it wasn't a big deal that he got them dirty. "You didn't burn yourself, did you?"

         Yuri set his half-empty mug on the counter behind him. "No, the coffee wasn't that hot, but Beka…"

         "It's fine," Otabek said, rubbing at the spill with the paper towel. "Like I said, I already knew you didn't feel the same."

         "I'm…sorry." Yuri didn't know what else to say, licking his lips to combat the sudden dryness in his mouth. Looking back, there were maybe signs he missed – unexpectedly intimate touches, longer-than-necessary stares – but he never expected Otabek to confess his love for him. "You… You are important to me, Beka. Maybe even more important than a lover, but… I'm sorry. I can't –"

         "Hey, it's okay. What we have is more than enough."

         No, it wasn't. Yuri didn't miss the flicker of disappointment in Otabek's dark eyes. "T-Things could change in the future," he said. "I mean, I don't feel that way about you now, but maybe I really am a late bloomer. Maybe one day…"

         "Yura, don't." Otabek tossed the dirty towel on the counter and placed his hands on Yuri's upper arms. "You're pretty sure you're ace, right?"

         "Ace?"

         "Sorry, it's short for asexual. It means you don't experience sexual attraction."

         He never realized there was a word for it. Did that mean there were actually others like him, that he wasn't some random freak of nature? The thought comforted him. "Yeah, I'm ace," Yuri said. "I'm asexual."

         "Asexuality is a spectrum. It's true some aces do feel sexual attraction in special cases, and some even have sex with their partners, but I don't want you to ever try to force yourself to feel something you don't. I meant it when I said I was fine with what we have."

         "But –"

         Reaching up to brush the bangs out of Yuri's eyes, Otabek softly smiled. "I love you, Yura, just the way you are."

         "But what about Mila?" Had Otabek just been using her? Yuri never would have pegged him as the type, but if Otabek was in love with him…

         "I've never kept it a secret that I'm bi. You know that."

         That wasn't what he meant. "Yes, but –"

         "Mila knows. She's known from the start," Otabek said with a shrug. "Not about what you just told me – that's for you to decide, although, for the record, I do think she would understand if you explained it to her – but I told her how I felt about you. She understands that it's possible to love more than one person, and she's cool with it."

         "Oh." That explained those silly questions she asked that day in Lilia's studio and her dare for him to kiss Otabek. "Stupid hag," Yuri muttered, crossing his arms over his chest. "Seriously, who tries to set their boyfriend up with another guy?"

         "Her heart was in the right place. Besides, I'm not technically her boyfriend."

         "But you want to be, right?"

         "It's…complicated," was all he would say as he sat back down on the stool, echoing Yuri's words from earlier.

         Frowning, Yuri turned around and began pouring himself another cup of coffee. What was so complicated about it? Mila liked Otabek, and he obviously liked her… That was when he noticed the calendar hanging on the refrigerator, the next Saturday's box filled with Otabek's flight information.

         Only three days away.

         "So, you're leaving at the end of the week?"

         Otabek nodded. "Yeah, I'll spend a few days in Almaty for my sister's birthday, then it's two weeks training with the Leroys in Canada."

         Yuri made a face. "Ugh. That means you have to train with JJ again."

         "He's really not a bad guy once you get to know him," Otabek said, not for the first time. Yuri knew they were friends of sorts, but he would never understand what Otabek liked about the guy.

         "Whatever. You should just forget about trying out with other coaches and stay here," he suggested, remembering his promise to Mila. "Yakov's annoying sometimes, but he's the best."

         The corners of Otabek's lips twitched. "You want me to stay that badly?"

         "No." Yuri took a sip of his coffee, avoiding meeting Otabek's eyes. "Mila does, though. She really likes you."

         "I really like her, too."

         "So, stay."

         He frowned. "I can't stay just because of a girl – or even you, Yura. I want to win an Olympic medal."

         "Yakov can coach you to one. Just look at me and Vitya, and even Mila." In addition to being a member of Russia's gold medal-winning team with Yuri, Mila was the individual silver medalist in the ladies' event.

         "He has too many high level pupils," Otabek said. "I know Viktor and Georgi are no longer competing, but I've seen some of the upcoming juniors. They're good. Really good. I'll probably just get lost in the shuffle."

         "Yakov's not like that. He gives a hundred percent to all his students. Plus, you'll be training on the same ice as the best in the world, every single day. You'll know everything about your toughest competitors: their strengths, their weaknesses…"

         Otabek cocked an eyebrow. "You do realize you're one of those tough competitors I'm trying to beat?"

         "Ha! I'd like to see you try." Yuri had no intention of losing the gold to Otabek – or anybody else for that matter – but it would be pretty cool to share the podium in Beijing. He might even let JJ join them.

         "You really do want me to stay, don't you?"

         "No! I told you, Mila is the one who put me up to this," Yuri reminded him. He took a large gulp of his coffee before adding, "But it wouldn't be, you know, horrible to have you around more often."

         "I do like it here in St. Petersburg," Otabek admitted, "and it's only a five hour flight to Almaty. I could go home every once in a while."

         "Exactly. You can't do that if you're training in the U.S. or Canada. That's part of the reason you left the Leroys in the first place, right?"

         "True. And it would be nice to see more of you and Mila…"

         "Does that mean…?"

         He nodded. "Yeah, I think it does. I'll talk to Coach Feltsman after practice about making this a permanent situation."

         Yuri hid a smile behind his cup. "Good."

         "I'm getting my own place, though," Otabek said, standing up.

         "Probably for the best." Especially if he planned to keep seeing Mila. If Yuri walked in on them one more time… "Uh, Beka?"

         Otabek had been heading to the bathroom to take his shower, but stopped and turned around at his name. "Yeah?"

         "Just…be good to Mila, okay?" Yuri said. "Most of her exes turned out to be real assholes, so…"

         Another soft smile crossed Otabek's lips. "You're a good friend, Yura. Don't worry, I'll treat her right."

         "You better, or I'll kick your ass all the way back to Almaty."

 

Chapter Text

         Otabek canceled his flight to Toronto, although he kept to his original plan of flying back home to Almaty the following Saturday. It was his sister's birthday, after all, and there was a lot he needed to do to prepare for his permanent move to St. Petersburg now that Yakov had officially agreed to be his new coach. Yuri and Mila saw him off at the airport, Yuri only gagging a little as the two of them sucked face while saying their goodbyes.

         "I'll give you two a couple of minutes," Mila said when they finally broke apart, her hand brushing against Yuri's shoulder as she passed him by.

         "Mila?"

         Yuri turned to look at her retreating figure, but she simply waved her hand over her shoulder, not looking back. Confused, he spun back around, only to find Otabek standing right in front of him.

         "It's okay," he said. "I asked her to give us some privacy."

         "Oh." Yuri pulled his beanie further down his head, then stuffed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. As he had the day he picked Otabek up, he'd been careful to choose non-descript clothing in order to avoid detection by any nearby Angels. "Not much privacy in the middle of a busy airport, though."

         "Yeah, I guess so."

         "Did you want to talk about something?" Yuri asked, thinking it a strange time to bring something up when Otabek was about to leave.

         "No. Well, yes." Otabek reached for Yuri's arm. "I wanted to ask you something. If you don't want to do it, it's fine, and I will respect your decision. I know it won't mean the same to you, but…"

         It wasn't like Otabek to dance around a subject. Clear and direct was his usual style. "What is it, Beka?"

         Otabek inhaled a deep breath. "Can I kiss you?" he asked, Yuri's eyes widening slightly.

         Ever since the morning Otabek confessed his love, they hadn't really talked about it. Yuri knew now he was asexual, but his feelings for Otabek were harder to label, no definition seeming to fit. It just seemed…easier to ignore, to go back to the way things used to be between them.

         After all, Otabek was already dating somebody else.

         "But Mila…"

         Yuri again looked behind him, searching for the redhead. He found her leaning against the wall near the public restrooms. She smiled when their eyes made contact, mouthing what looked to be "Go for it!" while making an encouraging motion with her hand.

         "Like I said before, Mila's cool with it," Otabek said when Yuri turned back to face him.

         "But I don't understand. Mila's your girlfriend, right? Officially now?" She'd made the announcement on Instagram a couple of days ago, posting a cute selfie of the two of them from their recent bowling date.

         "Yes, but there are different ways to have a relationship."

         Yuri still didn't quite get it, but it was clear that Mila really didn't mind the idea of her boyfriend kissing someone else – in fact, was outright egging him on! And if it would make Otabek happy, maybe he could stomach it one time… No matter what he said, Yuri couldn't forget that brief look of disappointment in Otabek's eyes that day in the kitchen.

         "Okay," Yuri said, taking Otabek's hand. "But not out here in the open." Otabek wasn't as recognizable in Russia as he and Mila were, but he still had a fairly large Russian fanbase. If someone saw him kissing Yuri and misinterpreted the situation as him cheating on Mila, skating fans would have a field day with the gossip.

         Besides, public displays of affection were gross.

         His eyes swept the vicinity as he pulled Otabek along, looking for a good place for them to hide. A stall in the men's room would probably be the safest option, but Yuri refused to under any circumstance have his first kiss in such an unsavory location. There apparently was a limit to his lack of romantic sensibility, and toilets were it.

         "What about over there?" Otabek suggested, pointing to a large potted plant in an out-of-the way corner. It looked to be about six feet, give or take a couple of inches, easily tall and thick enough to conceal them from view from any curious passers-by.

         Yuri couldn't find a better spot, so he tightened his grip on Otabek's hand and led him through the crowds, making certain no one was looking in their direction before pulling him behind the plant.

         It was a tight squeeze. The plant stood only a couple of feet away from the wall and trying to move it would only draw unwanted attention. Even with Yuri's back pressed against the tile, Otabek had a tough time finding a position that wasn't too suggestive, finally settling on placing his hands on either side of Yuri's head, holding the rest of his body as far apart as possible from Yuri's, which wasn't much.

         "Sorry. Maybe this wasn't the best idea…"

         "It's fine," Yuri said. "But you should have worn a disguise, too, you know. Don't forget you're dating Russia's new Snow Queen. You won't be able to fly under the radar for much longer, especially now that you'll be training here."

         "I'll deal with it," Otabek said, lifting one of his hands away from the wall and hesitantly stroking Yuri's cheek. "Are you sure about this, Yura?"

         Yuri licked his lips, his mouth suddenly running dry. He'd agreed to the idea without much thought beyond wanting to make Otabek happy, but now that the time had come, the two of them standing so close together that he could feel Otabek's warm breath brushing against his face, he began having second thoughts. It's only a stupid kiss, he reminded himself, clenching his shaking hands into fists at his side. No big deal. Hell, maybe you'll actually like it and finally understand what all the fuss is about.

         "Yeah," he finally said, hoping he sounded more confident in his decision than he felt. "No longer than five seconds, though. And no tongue. If you do, I'll kick you in the balls."

         A smile tugged at the corners of Otabek's mouth. "Deal."

         Inhaling a deep breath, Yuri closed his eyes and tried not to think about what was about to happen. Otabek's hands slid down to rest on his upper arms, firm, but gentle, and Yuri sensed him shifting closer toward him, the faint scent of his aftershave tickling his nose. Just relax; you can trust Beka, he thought, but his body refused to listen, tensing up as his heartbeat began to quicken in response to something he couldn't quite describe.

         Fear? Desire? A combination of both? He wasn't sure.

         Whatever it was, Otabek must have sensed it as well, because instead of Yuri's mouth, he changed course at the last second and pressed his lips against his forehead.

         "Why?" Yuri asked, his voice practically a whisper as he opened his eyes. "I said it was okay."

         "It wasn't, though, was it?" Otabek released his hold on Yuri's arms, bringing his hands down to his side. "I told you before. I don't want you to force yourself to do things you don't want to do."

         "But I want to make you happy, Beka. I…I just hate this." He lowered his gaze to the mati necklace hanging around Otabek's neck, reaching for it and rubbing his finger over the creepy blue eye. "Why can't I just be normal like Mila? Why can't I satisfy you like she can?"

         "Yura, look at me."

         Yuri shook his head. If he looked up and saw the look on Otabek's face, he didn't trust himself not to start crying. He never should have agreed to the kiss in the first place; it just made things more complicated than they already were. "Just forget about it. Mila's probably starting to wonder where we are. We should go find her before your plane starts boarding."

         He started to shift to the side, but Otabek placed his hand against the wall, blocking his way out. "Wait. Please."

         Sighing, Yuri took a moment to compose himself, then lifted his chin back up. "What?"

         "I just want you to know that you do make me happy, Yura," Otabek said, "just as happy as Mila does. I'm sorry I asked you to let me kiss you. I thought maybe…" He shook his head. "It doesn't matter what I thought. I never meant to pressure you."

         "You didn't. You made it clear that it was my choice. I just…" Yuri shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest. "I don't know. This is still all so confusing for me. I mean, what are we now, Beka? Are we still best friends? Are we…more? Is that possible, when I'm asexual? What do you even want from me when you already have Mila?" The questions he'd been trying to answer on his own for the past couple of days tumbled out of him without pause.

         "I don't know," Otabek admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. "Maybe I want you to be my zucchini?"

         "Your zu—what?" Yuri blinked. Out of all the things he thought would come out of Otabek's mouth, he never expected that. "Zucchini? Is that some really weird new Kazakh slang?"

         Otabek chuckled. "No. It's what people call their queerplatonic partners."

         "Queerpla— Honestly, Beka, are you just making up words at this point?"

         "I'm not. I'll text you some links later, but –"

         At that moment, a voice came over the public address system, announcing that economy class boarding had begun for Aeroflot Flight 526 to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Otabek frowned, reaching down for the backpack he had taken off in order fit to behind the plant.

         "That's me," he said, slinging the bag over his shoulder after taking out his boarding pass and passport. "I need to go. Will you tell Mila good-bye for me?"

         "Of course, but –"

         Otabek smiled, grasping Yuri's hand and giving it a firm squeeze. "You don't have to give me an answer now, but think about what I said, okay? I'll send you those links I was talking about when I get home."

         Yuri nodded and started to let go of Otabek's hand as he moved back out into the open, but as their fingers lost contact, he found himself reaching for Otabek once again, grabbing onto his wrist.

         "Yura? Something wr—?"

         Before he could change his mind, Yuri wrapped his arms around Otabek, pulling him into a tight hug. Otabek reacted with a surprised "Oh!", but it didn't take long for him to return the embrace, the two of them holding onto each other for a long moment that Yuri wasn't ready to let end, even when he felt the eyes of nearby strangers staring at them.

         It was silly, he knew. Otabek was only going to be gone for a short time, probably only two or three weeks at most. From the start, the nature of their relationship had always been long-distance, only seeing each other in person at competitions and the occasional random visit when they could manage a few days off from training. They were used to saying good-bye, yet…

         "Have a safe flight," he finally said, forcing himself to release his hold on Otabek and stepping back. "Call me when you get home. Well, you can call Mila first, but then me, okay?"

         "Okay," Otabek agreed, a soft smile on his face. "Goodbye, Yura. See you soon."

         "Bye, Beka."

         Yuri stood watching long after Otabek had gone through the gate, frozen in place until he felt somebody tapping him on the shoulder.

         "Hey, where's Beka? Did he already leave?" Mila asked. "I heard the boarding announcement."

         "What?" Yuri turned around. "Oh, yeah, sorry. He wanted me to tell you good-bye."

         "Oh." Clearly disappointed to have missed him, Mila sighed and hugged herself. "I was hoping to see him off, but that's okay. He won't be gone long."

         "Yeah." He smiled at that, remembering that when Otabek returned, it would be for good.

         "Anyway, how did things go between you two? You don't have to give me the details if you don't want to, but –"

         "He asked me to be his zucchini."

         Mila's reaction mirrored his from earlier, down to her blinking eyes and slack-jawed expression. "I'm sorry? His zu—what? Like the vegetable?"

         Yuri could only shrug, not knowing much more than she did at the moment. He would have to check out the links Otabek promised to send. "It's a thing, apparently."

         Laughing, she threw her arm over his shoulder. "Well, I don't know much about zucchinis, but come on, how about I treat you to a banana split?"

         He grinned. "You're on!"


 

         Lilia had just concluded their daily ballet lesson when Yuri heard the muffled ping of his cell phone coming from his duffel bag. She arched an overly plucked eyebrow in his direction as Yuri unzipped the side pocket, silently cursing whoever had decided to text him when he had forgotten to turn off his phone. It was probably Viktor; he seemed to have a real knack of trying to contact him at the most inopportune times, often forgetting about the time difference between Hasetsu and St. Petersburg.

         "I'll let it pass today since the lesson is over, but do remember to put your phone on silent the next time you come to class, Yuri Nikolayevich," Lilia scolded. "Your mind should be focused on ballet, not outside distractions."

         "Yes, ma'am," Yuri said, glancing down at the notification screen as soon as Lilia left the studio.

         He grinned, his irritation disappearing the moment he saw who the text was from – not Viktor, but Otabek.

         Hey, you busy? the text read, Yuri quickly sending a reply.

         Nah me and Mila are on break at the moment. what's up?

         Oh, Mila's there, too? Tell her I said hi.

         "Beka says 'hi'," Yuri said to Mila, who was wiping the sweat off her face with a towel.

         "You're texting Beka?" Coming up behind Yuri, Mila propped her chin on his shoulder and looked down at the screen. "Tell him 'hi' back for me and let him know that I miss him. Oh, and add the kissy-face emoji."

         "I most certainly will not," he said, typing instead, Mila says she doesnt miss you at all cuz shes found a hotter sexier girlfriend, and earning him a slap on the arm for his effort.

         "Yura! Oh, my god, you can be such a brat sometimes."

         "Whatever. He knows I'm joking. Now get off me already. This is a private conversation."

         He shrugged her off and resumed typing.

         Yuri: Seriously though mila does miss you.

         Yuri: Potya too. Hes been driving me crazy with his meowing ever since u left.

         Otabek: Cute.

         Otabek: And you?

         Yuri: … Yeah I miss you.

         Otabek: I miss you all, too.

         Yuri: When r u coming back?

         He hoped soon. Otabek hadn't even been gone a week yet, and it already felt like an eternity. Yuri wondered if it was similar to how Yuuri had felt during Rostelecom Cup a couple of seasons ago, when Viktor had to leave him behind in order to be with his sick dog in Japan. He had rolled his eyes at the time, thinking it silly to be so affected by something like that, but he kind of understood it now.

         (They were still ridiculous, though. Viktor had only been gone for a little over a day at most. A day! At least he wasn't that bad.)

         Otabek: Maybe by the end of the month, but I'm not sure. I'll let you know when my plans are more definite.

         Otabek: Have you decided on your music for your short program yet?   

         Yuri: Ugh.

         Yuri: Dont remind me.

         Yuri: Maybe I really should just go with carmen.

         Otabek: Please don't.

         Otabek: I heard a song today. It made me think of you.

         Otabek: It might be difficult to make it work for a short program, but maybe with the right cuts…

         Yuri: Send it to me.

         At this point, he was willing to listen to any and all suggestions from anyone who was willing. Yuri had even swallowed his pride and emailed Viktor and Yuuri for advice on what kind of program he should do, but all they told him was to pick a piece that meant something personal to him, which was absolutely no help at all.

         A few seconds later, Otabek texted back with a link to a YouTube video. It was one of those fanmade clips where the lyrics were displayed while the song played in the background. Yuri had forgotten his earbuds at home, but he and Mila were the only ones still in the studio, so he opened the video in the app and turned up the volume as high as it would go.

         Jason Mraz's Song For A Friend began playing. Yuri was familiar with the song – he owned the album it was from – but he had never paid much attention to the English lyrics before, finding it too much of a pain to translate when he'd rather just listen to the melody instead. They were hard to ignore this time, though, the white text popping against simple black. His mind immediately started translating the words into Russian as he followed along, Mila stopping her cooldown stretches to watch the video with him.

         "Yura, you're crying," she said, gently touching his arm when the song ended.

         "What? No, I'm n—" He brought a hand to his cheek, cursing when he felt a wetness against his skin.

         Mila pulled him close for a hug, and for once, Yuri didn't mind, burying his face in her shoulder as his tears continued to fall. He didn't understand what was wrong with him. He wasn't the type to fall to pieces just because of a song. He hadn't even cried when he heard the national anthem playing while standing on top of the podium at the Olympics, even though Georgi had been sobbing his heart out right beside him, Mila dabbing away her own happy tears on his other side.

         But the lyrics… Though there were parts Yuri still didn't quite understand, the feelings behind them were clear. They said everything he had wanted to tell Otabek that day in the kitchen, when he had been caught too off-guard by Otabek's confession to do anything but apologize for not being what he wanted him to be.

         "You have to skate to this, Yura," Mila said when he finally pulled away. Her own eyes were glistening as well. "It's perfect."

         Yuri shook his head, wiping away his tears with the back of his hand. He wanted to, but… "It's too long." It was why he never considered the song for his short program in the first place. "I can't make an eight minute song fit into two minutes and forty seconds, not without butchering it to pieces."

         "Then make it your free. Lilia only started choreographing your Nutcracker program  last week, right? She can just make it a short program instead, or you can save it for next year."

         "Y-You think she would go for that?"

         "If you tell her how important the song is to you, I don't think she would mind. She's strict, but she's not unreasonable. You know that probably better than anyone, right?"

         He nodded. Lilia was probably the closest thing he ever had to a proper mother. She came off cold and harsh at first, and even now, Yuri was still a little afraid of her, but he knew she cared about him in her own way. As long as he choreographed a program up to her high standards, she would be pleased. Ideas were already flowing through his mind, his body itching to go back on the ice and begin planning his program.

         "But what about you?" he asked. "Are you okay with me skating to this song?"

         "Of course I am. I'm the one who just told you to use it, aren't I?"

         Yuri frowned. Mila's English wasn't as good as his – which was hardly fluent either – so maybe she hadn't understood the lyrics. "It's basically a love letter to your boyfriend! A platonic love letter, but still!"

         "I know. That's why you should skate to it. I know you love him in  a different way."

         Taking Otabek's advice, Yuri had told her the same thing he told him about not experiencing sexual attraction. He wasn't sure if Mila totally got it, but she seemed to at least understand the basic gist of it.

         "You know how in wedding vows, people always say corny stuff like 'You're my best friend,' or 'You're my soulmate,' or 'You complete me'?" she asked, sliding down on the floor and patting the spot next to her

         He took her up on the invitation, sitting down beside her and wondering where the conversation was headed. "Yeah? What about it?"

         "I'm not sure if I believe it," she admitted, drawing her knees to her chest. "Or, rather, as his girlfriend, I don't want to be Beka's best friend or his soulmate or whatever. I don't want to be his everything, and I don't want him to be mine. I think that's too much pressure for one person, don't you think?"

         Yuri shrugged. He never really thought about it. "I guess so," he said. "So it doesn't bother you if Beka loves someone else in addition to you?"

         "I wouldn't go that far…" Mila sighed, the back of her head tapping against the wall. "I mean, I told Beka I was okay with it, and I am…mostly. The truth is, though, a part of me is sometimes jealous of you, of the way he feels for you."

         "You are? But what about the dare? And the air—"

         "Beka was honest with me right from the start," she said. "He told me on our very first date that he was in love with you and had been for a very long time, but that he didn't think you would ever feel the same way about him. It really didn't bother me at first. I was cool with it. We were just having fun, you know – a summer fling, nothing serious. I even thought I would try to get you two together." She laughed, running a hand through her hair. "You probably thought I was pretty weird, trying to hook you up with the guy I was sleeping with."

         "Yeah, that was kind of strange," Yuri said. "So, what changed?"

         "The dare. A part of me was disappointed, because the idea of you two kissing is kinda hot –"

         Yuri hid his face in his hands. "Ew. Please don't say that ever again." He did not want to be a part of her weird sexual fantasies.

         "Yeah, totally not appropriate. Sorry. Mostly, though, I was relieved when you refused to go through with it. I realized that my feelings for Beka were becoming stronger than casual, especially when you passed out while we were watching TV and he carried you over to the couch before we went to bed. He was so sweet and gentle with you…" She shrugged. "It made me jealous that he cared for you so much."

         "I was jealous of you, too," Yuri admitted, playing with a loose thread on his shirt. "He was spending so much time with you, it felt like I wasn't as important to him anymore. Thinking back, I wonder if maybe a part of him was trying to put some distance between us by dating you. Not that I think he was doing it consciously!" he was quick to add. "Beka's not the type of person who would use someone like that. He really does like you. A lot."

         Mila smiled. "I know."

         "But it must have been difficult for him. Beka figured out I was ace before I even knew what the hell that meant. I don't really get all this love and sex stuff, but I know it hurts him that I don't – can't – feel the same about him, no matter how hard I fuc–" Feeling another unwanted round of tears coming around, Yuri sniffled and blinked his eyes, the fingers of the hand not holding his phone digging into the fabric of his leggings in an effort to hold them at bay. "Dammit!"

         "Oh, Yura…" Mila slid closer toward him, leaning her head against his shoulder and placing her smaller hand over his. "It's not your fault, and Beka doesn't blame you for being asexual. You know that, right?"

         He nodded. He knew that in his head, even if his heart was having a hard time believing it.

         "Can I ask you something?" Mila sat back up, though she still kept her hold on his hand, her thumb rubbing tiny, comforting circles on his skin. "I'm still trying to understand this whole asexuality thing, but…how do you honestly feel about Beka? You love him, but you really don't want to have sex with him?"

         "It's not the same kind of love you probably feel for him, but, yeah."

         "What about kissing? Did you… Did you kiss him at the airport?"

         He shook his head, and he saw Mila's shoulders drop in visible relief out of the corner of his eye. Apparently she hadn't been as cool with it as she seemed.

         "I wanted to, though," Yuri said, feeling it was important to be honest with her. "Not for myself, but for him. He could tell I wasn't into it, though, so he just kissed my forehead."

         "Good," she said, blushing a little when she realized how that sounded. "I mean, it's good that Beka didn't force you to do something you didn't feel comfortable doing."

         He frowned, pulling his hand away from her grasp. "The same goes for you, too, you know."

         "What do you mean?"

         "I mean… Maybe I shouldn't do the program."

         "What?" She turned so that she was directly facing Yuri. "But that song is perfect for you, Yura! You have to skate to it."

         "Not if it's going to make you uncomfortable," he said, standing back up and gathering his things. "Beka and me… We can go back to the way things were. You shouldn't have to force yourself to be okay with whatever our weird relationship is just to make him happy. Beka wouldn't want that."

         "I'm… I'm not," Mila said, though her voice sounded uncertain. "Okay, maybe I am, a little," she amended, "but you two pretending that you don't have feelings for each other isn't going to make anybody happy either."

         She was right. Yuri spat out an expletive, leaning back against the wall and dropping his bag on the floor at his feet. For a moment he hated Otabek, hated that he had left when things were still so unclear between them, hated that he had made things so complicated between the three of them. If only he had kept his feelings to himself… Then what? Would that be any better, for Otabek to live a lie? To torture himself with "what ifs" and "maybes"?

         "Yura…" Mila rose to her feet, reaching for his elbow. "I don't want to force Beka to choose between us," she said. "Honestly, at this point, if he did, I think he would choose you anyway."

         Yuri shook his head. How could she even think that? "Don't be an idiot. I can't give him everything he wants, Mila," he said, pushing himself off the wall. "You're obviously the better choice, so let's just forget –"

         "I told you, hiding your feelings isn't the answer, Yura!"

         "Then what is?" he asked, rounding on her. Because as far as he could tell, no matter what, someone was going to be hurt.

         "We both love him – that's the answer."

         "But you just admitted –"

         "I know." Mila wrapped her arms around her waist, a small smile on her lips. "I won't lie. Sometimes I'm jealous of you, and I probably will be jealous of you in the future, but…I think maybe that's okay? As long as we're open and honest and respectful?"

         Yuri wasn't sure. He'd been fine with the idea when he thought Mila didn't mind, but… "You'd really be okay with that?"

         She nodded, giving him a hug. "So you be his zucchini or whatever, and I'll be his lover, and we'll both love Beka in our own special, but equally important, ways. Okay?"

         At that moment, Yuri's phone pinged in his hand. "Crap!" He had gotten so caught up in the song and talking to Mila that he had forgotten Otabek was probably waiting for some sort of response.

         Are you still there, Yura? the text read, another one coming in right after it. If you don't want to use the song, it's fine. Like I said, I know it would be tough to use it for a short.

         No I want to use it, Yuri typed. Not as a short program tho. Im making it my free.

         Otabek: Really? What about The Nutcracker?

         Yuri: I can save it for next season. Or maybe use it for the short. IDK yet. Lilia can decide.

         Yuri: I just know that I have to skate to that song.

         Yuri: It's…me. me and you.

         Yuri: I wanna skate it for you.

         Yuri: Beka?

         Now it was his turn to wonder if Otabek had left him hanging, although that wasn't like him at all. Had he misinterpreted the song or something? Otabek's English was a lot better than his, due to his training in the U.S. and Canada… Worried, Yuri bit down on his bottom lip and started to type yet another message when Otabek finally replied back.

         I can't wait to see it, Yura. It's going to be incredible.

         Yuri smiled, glad that he liked the idea. He finally understood what Viktor and Yuri were talking about when they advised him to pick a piece of music that meant something personal to him. Maybe it wouldn't be on the level of one of Viktor's masterpieces, but he would try his best and fill the program with his feelings for Otabek, who always loved and believed in him.

         That reminded him…

         Yuri: BTW, about what you asked me at the airport…  

         Yuri: I talked to mila about it. she said she's okay with it so…

         Yuri: My answer is yes. I want to be your zucchini.

         Yuri: only we have to come up with a better term for it.

         Otabek: Heh, I agree.

         Otabek: I'm happy, though. Thank you, Yura. I know this isn't the most conventional type of relationship…

         Yuri had to roll his eyes at that. What about us has ever been conventional? he typed, grinning when Otabek replied back, True.

         Anyway, I should go, Otabek texted a few seconds later. It's almost lunchtime, and I promised Mama I would help her cook.

         Hang on a sec.

         Getting an idea, Yuri scrambled back to his feet and called out to Mila, who had been about to leave the studio. She turned back around, hand resting on the handle of the door.

         "Something wrong, Yura?"

         "I just wanted to take a quick selfie. Of us, together, for Beka."

         "Oh, great idea!" she said. "Are you sure you want to do it right now, though?" She teased the back of her hair. "I mean, neither one of us is looking our best at the moment…"

         "It's okay. It's just for him, not for Instagram."

         He placed a hand on Mila's shoulder, pulling her close to him, and extended his other arm outwards until he found the perfect angle on his camera. On the count of three, the both of them smiled, and Yuri snapped the picture, sending it straight to Otabek.

         As Mila had pointed out, it was far from their best look. Mila's hair was flat despite her attempt at teasing it and Yuri's braid was a mess and their clothes were drenched with sweat, but the two of them grinned when Otabek texted his reply.

         My two most favorite people in the world. Beautiful!