To get through a war, a man needs something bigger than himself to fight for.
- Rick Remender
1 February 1944
Yuri had been asleep as they pulled up to the platform, and it had been hard for Otabek to bring himself to wake him. He looked at peace for the first time in days, and with his injury was more than reasonably exhausted.
Yuri came awake on his own as the train came to a sudden halt.
They stepped off the train in the early hours of the morning - a young man escorting two young and aspiring dancers into the city. Nothing terribly unusual. Artists of all kinds had flocked back to the safety of the city in the past weeks and months since Moscow’s freedom.
There were few people about, all departing the train or waiting to retrieve someone from it, and the trio allowed the other passengers to pass ahead of them as they made their way slowly toward the gate, Yuri leaning heavily on Otabek’s arm.
“Do you know where we are going?” Yuri asked, grumpy at having been awoken after only a few hours sleep.
“Yes, there is somewhere we can stay nearby. I have an old friend who - “ Mila began, stopping when she realized the boys had halted a few paces back. She turned about to see Yuri staring with wide eyes, and Otabek looking at him in concern.
“Grandpa,” Yuri breathed, bursting into motion again, fighting against his injury as he hobbled forward.
Otabek lurched to keep pace. “Careful,” Otabek cautioned, looking ahead briefly toward the man Yuri had seen. It was unmistakable who waited ahead of them.
Nikolai Plisetsky stood directly outside the gates to the station, his hands curled over the top of his cane. He held perfectly still in the pool of light beneath the street lamps flanking the gates, hope and joy in his shining eyes.
Yuri broke away from Otabek to hurry the last few feet into his grandfather’s arms, already in tears.
Nikolai held Yuri tightly, as though afraid if he let go his grandson would disappear again.
Both cried as they clung to one another.
Otabek and Mila stood together in silence, watching the reunion, neither daring to speak or step forward lest they break the moment.
After what seemed to be seconds and hours wrapped into one, Nikolai looked up, and gestured for the pair of them to come forward and join the embrace.
Mila went with a grin, Otabek following after with hesitation.
“I am so grateful to you, both of you, for bringing my Yurochka home to me,” he said, extending an arm out to pull them in. “I cannot possibly thank you enough.”
He’d driven them back to an apartment near the outskirts of the city in an old truck.
As soon as they’d all entered, Mila had passed out on the couch of the small living room, and Yuri had been tucked into bed, leaving Otabek and Nikolai awake and in the kitchen sharing a drink.
Otabek had hardly slept since they’d left Yuuri’s village. He couldn’t find it in him to do so now, even in the safety of Nikolai Plisetsky home. Not yet.
He wondered briefly the last time the old man had slept, knowing that his grandson was out in the world somewhere and in danger.
“You risked your life for him,” Nikolai said, breaking the quiet after several long minutes. “Abandoned your station and risked everything.”
Otabek only nodded, staring into his glass.
“Can I ask you why?”
Otabek looked up at the legendary Kolya. He was having difficulty wrapping his head around the fact that the man before him was a war hero from another generation. He just seemed so… grandfatherly.
“May I be very blunt with you, sir?” Otabek asked.
“You are more than welcome to speak freely, Lieutenant. I owe you a great deal for what you have done. Least of all your voice.”
“I love your grandson,” Otabek said, his voice soft. Afraid. He looked up at Nikolai for a brief moment, the truth of it in his gaze. “Much more than is acceptable for a man toward another man.”
Nikolai was silent for a long moment, before nodding and taking a drink from his glass. He downed the remains in one go, then placed the empty glass on the counter, turning back to Otabek.
“I will do whatever I can to protect you - to protect the both of you. But the world is not ready to accept that that sort of love exists. That what you have is real. It’s why we’re in this war - intolerance for those who are different.”
“You won’t drive me away?” Otabek asked, his voice trembling.
“Why would I do that?” Nikolai asked, clearly perplexed by the suggestion. “He’s my grandson, and he is clearly taken by you. Beside the fact that there is enough hate in this world already.”
“Most people would,” Otabek said, looking at the floor. “Even with the war proving them right.”
“I would not,” Nikolai said. “I couldn’t. My parents, their love was forbidden, for a different reason. But I can begin to understand, at the least.”
Otabek didn’t answer.
“You know who he is. Perhaps better than anyone else, even myself, at this point. It’s been years since I’ve seen him. It’s been years since I’ve known him to trust someone the way I saw him trusting you to hold him up. He does not put his faith in people easily. Just watching the way he leaned on you - he never did that, when he was small. Even when he needed it, he always did things himself.”
“I blame Nikiforov for that, in recent months,” Otabek murmured, putting his still half-full glass on the counter. “His trust in people has shattered, but he’s rebuilt it from scratch. He’s been hurt, emotionally as well as physically. I would not dare to leave him. Given the choice, I would never leave him.”
Nikolai nodded. “Good. Because I don’t want you to.”
Otabek looked at Nikolai. “Sir?”
“I do not believe my grandson would be particularly pleased with me if I sent you away. While we finish sorting this shit out, I would like you to continue protecting him, Lieutenant. After we get the men who have been after him, we’ll discuss further reassignment. No matter what happens, I’m not planning on letting you venture far from his side for the remainder of this war. You’re too good of a soldier for whatever hell-hole they have intended for you.”
Otabek’s face was a mask of disbelief. “You mean that for real?”
Nikolai nodded. “It’ll take me a few weeks to ensure everything goes through, but that’s how long it will take to corner the other men and give them their justice.”
“Thank you, sir,” Otabek said, bowing his head.
“As I said, I owe you a great deal. It is the very least that I can do.”
When dawn began to creep over the horizon not an hour later, Otabek slipped into the room Yuri had been tucked into. The curtains were drawn tight, blocking out all light and leaving the room in pitch dark.
He waited nearly an entire minute for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
“Beka?” Yuri muttered, stirring awake. He shifted on the bed, rolling onto his side.
“ I’m here ,” Otabek said, assurance in his tone, carefully treading across the room to the bed. He leaned on the mattress.
Yuri’s arms reached toward him in the dark. Still half asleep. “Where are you?”
“Right here,” Otabek murmured, catching Yuri’s hand in his own.
“I had a nightmare,” Yuri breathed as Otabek crawled into the bed beside him. “I couldn’t find you. It was terrible.”
Otabek curled around him protectively, gently pulling Yuri’s back against his chest. “It was just a dream,” Otabek murmured, kissing Yuri behind his ear. “I’m here. I have you. And I’m not going anywhere.”
Yuri pressed close. “ Thank you, ” he murmured.
“ You do not need to thank me, ” Otabek said gently, smiling. Yuri’s Kazakh was rough, but he was learning.
“Hmm?” Yuri asked, not sure what he had been told.
“Go back to sleep,” Otabek said, his arm going around Yuri’s waist.
“That’s not what you said.” There was a frown in his voice.
Otabek smiled against the back of Yuri’s neck. “Don’t worry what I said. Go back to sleep, Yura. I will be here when you wake.”
It took only moments after Yuri drifted back off for Otabek to follow, finally settling knowing that for now, they were both safe.