Actions

Work Header

All is Fair in Love and War

Chapter Text

“People always make war when they say they love peace.”

- D.H. Lawrence

 

Leningrad

19 August 1941

 

Two mornings ago, Yuri Plisetsky had been sitting in the yard with Mila, bending over a notebook and writing hurriedly as she looked over his shoulder. Both were attendees and the top students in their respective years at Yakov’s Academy for the Gifted, in Leningrad. She’d made a comment about how his hair was beginning to get to long again, and then hauled him up from his notes to take him to get it cropped short once more. He'd cursed her under his breath, but had gone along anyways, knowing that if he refused she would continue to pester him until he got it done.

Mila had always taken it upon herself to look out him, ever since he’d showed up at the Academy not three years earlier at eleven years old, completely on his own except for a grandfather who lived in Moscow to the south. Every day since then, she'd gone out of her way to at least pass by him in the halls between classes or drop unexpectedly into the empty seat besides him during meals. Because of this, Mila was always the one to note when his hair began to get too long by the Academy's standards, and take him to get it cut.

Now, though, Yuri kept running his fingers through his cropped hair, even two mornings later, causing it to stand up haphazardly before smoothing it down, only to repeat the process over and over again. It would take days to get used to the shortness again, and months before it was at his preferred length, when Mila would not notice for a few days before dragging him out to the barber again. Personally, Yuri liked it better when it was long.

Yuri’s knee bounced impatiently as he sat on the bench, once more besides Mila, outside of the ticket office at the train station. He could hear Victor’s raised voice - an oddity on its own - on the opposite side of the door, arguing with the station clerk. They'd been there before the gates to the train station had even properly opened, shoving through the crowd waiting outside, with little resistance as soon as people took a glance at Victor's uniform.

When Yuri’s hand unconsciously reached up to push through his too-short hair again, Mila rested her fingers over his, stopping him.

“Relax, Yurochka. All will be well,” she murmured. Her red hair framed her face as she looked at him, smiling softly. "Victor will take care of it."

Yuri jerked his hand away from hers, placing it instead on his knee in an attempt to stop fidgeting. It was only a few moments before he was at it again, both knees bouncing alternately.

Mila sighed besides him, leaning her head back against the wall behind them, and for several seconds Yuri wondered why he had wanted her to come along. He knew that it was his way of repaying her for looking out for him the past few years, but still he questioned himself. He wasn't even sure if he liked her, or if she was just someone that he tolerated on occasion. It was much too late to go back, however.

Not two hours ago, Victor had burst into the dormitory room Yuri shared with several other boys his age who attended the Academy. They were all asleep. Yuri had wanted to strangle the perpetrator who had awoken him at such an early hour, when classes wouldn’t start until well after sun-up, until he recognized Victor’s brilliant blue eyes staring at him, more serious than Yuri had ever seen the man.

“Yuri, pack your things,” he’d said quietly in greeting.

Without a second thought, Yuri had jumped into action. He’d just started to shove his spare clothes into the bag he kept under his bed when he stopped, and turned to face Victor.

"You cut your hair," Yuri blurted.

Victor gave him a long look, as though to say honestly?

"So have you. Pack your things. Quickly."

Yuri continued to stand there, and Victor sighed, impatient for the first time that Yuri could remember.

"What, Yuri?"

“What are you doing here? I thought that you were supposed to be - “

“I know. I was. But I was relocated here, not a month ago, because of the impending siege. Yuri, we need to hurry - “

Yuri had stared at him, dumbfounded. Major General Victor Nikiforov, his idol and mentor before being called away to the war, had abandoned his position, if even for a few hours. For what? What could be so important that he would shirk his duties? He prided himself in fulfilling his role.

“Victor, what is happening?” Yuri hissed, only just tamping down his terror as he jumped to conclusions. “Are they here, in the city?”

Victor moved quickly to stand before Yuri, looking around to ensure the other boys still slept before placing his hands on both of his shoulders as he peered down at Yuri. “No. They have not made it into Leningrad. Yet. But before long, no one will be able to leave. So we’re going, now.”

“They’re going to cut off the railways,” Yuri said, not even bothering to hide the fear in his words this time. “We’ll be trapped - “

“You will not be stuck here. You’re leaving, on the first train this morning. It leaves in two hours, at dawn. That is why we must hurry.”

Yuri hastily began to pack again, wary of waking his roommates - before he stopped once more.

“What about the others?”

Victor looked at Yuri in exasperation, then at the other sleeping boys. “What about them?”

“Are we going to just leave them?”

“Yuri, there is only so much I can do. There won’t much space on the train, and my top priority is getting you out of here.”

“What about Mila?”

He didn’t know why he thought of her in that moment, but the question was out before he considered it. The redhead was annoying, yes, but she was his friend. Sometimes. She’d looked out for him these last few years when no one else would.

“Babicheva? How old is she now?”

“Seventeen.”

Victor considered, then nodded his assent.

“Okay. We can take her as well, but I don’t know if there will be space. I will try. But only her, understand?”

Yuri hadn’t considered why her age had mattered, until they were sitting on the bench at the station waiting for Victor to come back out of the station clerk's office. Children would have priority, and because she wasn't old enough to be considered eligible to enter active service in some form, Mila might still be considered young enough to be considered as a child.

The door to the office flew open, and Victor looked at them both. Yuri and Mila leaned to look behind him, to see the station clerk looking flustered as he adjusted his tie, muttering under his breath.

“You both have your papers, yes?” Victor asked, yanking the door shut behind him. It slammed, and Yuri and Mila covered up their startled jumps by moving quickly to their feet.

“Yes, Victor,” Mila said, her gaze dropping to the ground. “Is there room for us both?”

Victor flashed them a smile. “When a Major General tells you he needs space for two passengers on the first train, they make room for two passengers.”

“Two? You’re not coming with us?” Yuri asked.

Victor did not answer. He swept in the direction of the platform, which was filling with people as they spoke, all scrambling to try and gain passage aboard the train crouching patiently, smoke rising from the engine’s stacks as it prepared for departure.

“Victor!” Yuri shouted, hurrying after him, his hand clenched around the strap of his bag.

Mila followed, her own bag hanging from her shoulder, and bouncing against her back with every step.

When people saw Victor moving towards them, they slipped to the side, clearing a path for him. They stared in awe at the uniform he wore, gaping at the star on either of his shoulders. He carried himself like a man in charge, and they responded in kind.

It was how they’d gotten into the station before it had properly opened, as well. The ease with which the attention shifted to Victor, and people scrambled to do as he asked. It caused envy to surge through Yuri. All his life he had wanted that sort of treatment, for people to see him and gawk. To be known and appreciated. To be important.

His grandfather had told him that was why he sent him to Yakov’s Academy. To allow him to become that person, to become someone that all of the Soviet Union - all of the world, even - would recognize the name of.

Victor and Yakov had even told him he was destined for greatness, though not in those exact words. Yakov would never outright say something so uplifting about any of his students, not even to Victor when he had attended the Academy several years earlier. Having both of their attention and favor, though, was why he was so high up in the Academy, why Yakov gave him more attention than just about everyone else in his year.

Mila pushed Yuri towards Victor, who had come to a halt at the edge of the platform and was now waiting for them. Yuri shot Mila a glare, but she only shook her head at him before returning her attention to the tall man before them. Victor placed a hand on each of their shoulders, drawing them in close.

“Listen to me, both of you. You get on this train, and you stay on this train. You do not get off until you are in Kazakhstan, understand? And you stay together.”

“Kazakhstan?” Mila asked, her brows furrowing. “We’re going to Kazakhstan?”

Victor looked her in the eye. “Yes. As far away from all of this as possible.”

“What about Moscow? My grandfather is there, can’t we - “

“No!” Victor snapped, his grip tightening on Yuri’s shoulder. “You do not get off at Moscow. You stay on this train until you are in Kazakhstan. Do I make myself clear?”

Mila bows her head, and Yuri nods hesitantly.

“This is the only way I have to protect you. To get you out of here. Do not ruin it.”

“Yes, sir,” Mila said, threading her arm through Yuri’s.

As much as he wanted to pull away from her, Yuri allowed the contact, moving his bag to his other hand with a frown.

“Good. Here are your tickets. You stay on until you are in Kazakhstan. Do not lose these, nor your papers. And you stay together. Those are the three most important things you must remember, understand?”

They nodded their understanding, and Victor drew them both into an embrace. Each of his hands went up to press against the backs of their heads, even when they both hesitated to return the hug.

The train whistle blew, and people began to surge forward in an urgency to get on. Officials swept in, pressing them back. Victor held Mila and Yuri tighter, not allowing them to see the panic on the faces in the crowd.

When at last he released them, he pressed them both forward towards the nearest rail car. Mila immediately stepped onto the lowest stair, and paused when she realized Yuri wasn’t immediately behind her.

He’d stopped just a few steps away from Victor, and was staring at him.

“What are you going to do, Victor?”

“I have something I need to take care of, back in the east, as soon as I have a chance to get out of here. And then I will come and find you again.”

“Promise?” Yuri asked.

The train whistled again. Mila, on the steps into the rail car, glanced towards the doorway, then back to the pair standing on the platform. The crowd beyond the line of officials was growing frantic, their shouts becoming a roar of fear as they were being held back.

“I promise,” Victor said, barely audible to Yuri above the ringing voices.

Yuri shook his head. There was urgency in his voice when he spoke. “No, Victor. Do you promise ?”

They both thought of the last promise that Victor had made. It left a sour taste in both of their mouths, Yuri still feeling abandoned and floundering, and Victor regretful of having broken his word.

“I swear it. When this is over, I will come and find you. I will not fail you like that again, Yuri. Never again.”

Yuri nodded, and threw his arms around Victor. Victor held him tightly for several seconds, until the whistle blew a third and final time.

“Yuri!” Mila shouted. Behind her, a conductor stood, watching the two on the platform with guarded understanding.

“Go,” Victor said, pushing Yuri away.

Yuri went, allowing the push to propel him towards the steps into the rail car as the train gave its first chug, lurching into motion. Mila leaned out, clasping Yuri’s forearm and hauling him up besides her onto the steps.

They both held tightly to the handles jutting from the side of the rail car, watching Victor as the train slowly began to pull away from the platform. Victor did not move. He stood at attention, watching them both stare back at him.

“Best find your seats now,” the conductor said.

With a last glance, Mila and Yuri climbed the last few steps and entered the rail car. The conductor slide the door closed behind them. The train sped out of the station, just as the swarm of people on the platform burst through the line of officials trying to keep them back.

They did not see the crowd careen carelessly into Victor, nor did they know that after that day, Victor would not be seen again for some time.

As they settled into their seats, crammed in with an elderly couple and what must have been their grandchildren, Yuri stared out the window at Leningrad beginning to wake. The sky outside was beginning to lighten in the east, the first strands of sunlight stretching into the dawn.

Within minutes of their departure, Mila was asleep against his shoulder, her red hair tickling his chin if he turned towards her. He didn’t have the heart to push her off, and let her be as he continued to stare out the window as they left the city far behind.

One of the children on the bench across from them stared at him. He ignored her, especially when she smiled to reveal several missing teeth. When one of her younger siblings began to cry, he shot a glare in their general direction, freezing when Mila shifted in her sleep. The grandmother rocked the crying child, shushing him and murmuring a lullaby. When Mila settled back against his shoulder, still asleep, he exhaled, and met the toothless girl’s gaze again. This time when she smiled towards him, his own mouth moved to return the expression against his will.

He looked back out the window.

They were still on the train the following day, August twentieth, speeding steadily south towards Kazakhstan, when news reached Leningrad that the railway had been severed by Axis forces, preventing any others from evacuating the city by train.

Chapter Text

"Tell me now it's dark,

There is no star in the sky,

Where are you?

Why are you leaving me?"

- "Tales of a Sleeping Prince"

Yuri!!! on Ice OST

Akmolinsk

Late November, 1943

 

The Academy for the Gifted had, once upon a time, when Yakov had first begun his tenure as the headmaster before the start of the First World War, been known for teaching Russia’s “best and brightest.” With the collapse of the Russian Empire, and Stalin’s rise to power, Yakov’s Academy transformed, to instead teach the Union’s future leaders in both the political and militaristic spheres. Publicly, the name of the school was shortened during the series of changes that crossed the country as a whole, to the Academy in Leningrad. The students and faculty, past and present, continued to refer to it as Yakov’s Academy for the Gifted.

The Academy, and Russia as a whole, were only the beginning of the reform that quickly rolled across the entirety of the Soviet Union’s widespread territory. Kazakhstan was one of the conquered countries that fared the worst.

Long before the Second World War arrived, Kazakhstan had been suffering at the hands of the Soviets, who had swept in and dragged them back out of their momentary autonomy after the collapse of the Russian Empire. In the decade leading up to the Soviet Union leaping into the war against Nazi Germany, the Kazakh people faced famine and starvation, as well as Stalin putting their elite through the Great Purge. Their population plummeted as a result. After Operation Barbarossa began, leading to the Siege of Leningrad, many of ethnic minority were deported to Kazakhstan.

Yuri, in the two and a half years he had been in Kazakhstan, often wondered how and why he had ended up in a place where his birth country was known to send its undesirables. No doubt, Victor had had something to do with it, in an attempt to get him as far away from the center of the conflict as possible. In honesty, Yuri appreciated the gesture. But he’d never say so, if asked.

Every morning since he had found himself at Madam Lilia’s in Akmolinsk , Kazakhstan, Yuri rose long before everyone else to begin the day. It was a habit worked into him from Yakov’s Academy, when the entire student body was up to perform drills in the yard before dispersing to breakfast and their morning classes.

Madam Lilia was from Leningrad, like Yuri, though how she had ended up in Akmolinsk was not information he was privy to. Yuri was fortunate that she had just happened to be at the train station the day he stepped down off of the train, lost and on his own for the first time that he could remember.

Each day before dawn, Yuri would sit on the edge of his bed in a small room not unlike his dormitory back at Yakov’s Academy, if only because he shared the space with three other boys, and quietly dress. During the warmer months, by the time the sun had poked its head above the horizon, he was walking down the series of main roads from Madam Lilia’s towards the train station, several streets away. In the winter, sometimes he made his entire journey in the dark.

The station clerk, Georgi, knew him by name. He was in his mid-twenties, but had been held back from being enlisted for some reason that Yuri did not care enough to remember. They would exchange greetings, and Yuri would ask, as always, if there were any passenger trains northbound that day. And, as always, Georgi would apologize and explain that the only northbound trains were packed with desperately needed supplies, but maybe the following day there might be one.

Yuri knew, deep down, that there never would be, but he went back every morning all the same.

After this, Georgi would tell him whatever news of the war had come in the last day, and often Yuri would return to Madam Lilia’s with his head bowed, his mind heavy with what had befallen the cities he loved. There he would sit behind a desk for several hours, distractedly doing schoolwork as Madam Lilia sat at the front of the room. Madam Lilia was very strict - all of the children who had fallen under her care would get an education, no matter where they had come from before fleeing to Akmolinsk.

In the afternoons, Yuri would go to Madam Lilia’s studio. She’d taken one look at him upon his arrival on her doorstep, and nodded to herself. “You will do very well in the company. We have plenty of girls, but never enough boys.”

He’d asked her in his first week why she taught dancing to orphans of the war. She’d looked at him with her hard as stone eyes for a long moment before speaking. “When the war is over, people will need something good to help move on, or to have some semblance of how things were before. So we dance, for when this is over. The world needs art, and reminders of how beautiful life can be.”

Madame Lilia’s words that day had caused him to think of Mila. Thinking of Mila led to him loathing the girl for leaving him. Loathing made him miss her. And missing her made him hate himself for missing her - she was the one who had gone and abandoned him. He vowed to himself to try to not think of Mila, though she often rose in his thoughts unbidden in the two years following her departure.

On their journey, the train had made a brief stop in Kuybyshev, and men had come aboard requesting volunteers to help at the newly created base hospitals within the city. Mila had stood up immediately, her bag clenched in her hand. Yuri had gaped at her.

“What are you doing?”

She looked down at where his hand had wrapped tightly around her wrist. He hadn’t even realized he’d reached out to latch onto her until her glance. He didn’t let go.

“I’m going to help them,” she said slowly, as though such a simple explanation would cause him to understand.

“Mila. Victor said - “

Her tone was urgent when she interrupted him, shaking her head. “They need help, Yurochka. I have to help them.”

Yuri stood up, angry and desperate. No, you’re supposed to help me . “You’re not a nurse, Mila!”

Mila pulled free of Yuri’s grasp, taking a step out of their row and into the aisle. People stared. “They will train me to be one, then. No matter what, I’m going.”

There was a finality in her words that left Yuri floundering for a response for several long seconds.

“Then I’m coming with you,” Yuri said determinedly, grabbing his own bag from where he had shoved it beneath the bench.

“No, Yuri. You’re staying on this train,” Mila said firmly. “You’re staying on this train all the way to Kazakhstan.”

“Why? We’re supposed to stick together!”

She couldn’t leave him. Victor had told them to stay together, and to not get off until they were in Kazakhstan. She was breaking two of the most important rules he had given them.

“I’m going to be eighteen soon, and then it won’t even matter because I’ll be joining up anyways. But Yuri. You have a few more years, okay? You still have time.”

“Don’t say it like that, Mila. You don’t have to do this. There’s still a few months until your birthday. Don’t do this.”

She didn’t listen to him, and within minutes she was off of the train. As she stepped out of the row and fully into the aisle, to follow the men who had come aboard, the grandmother who had been sitting on the bench across from them reached out to take her hand. Mila looked down at her, and the old woman quietly thanked her. Yuri watched the entire exchange in shocked fury. After Mila had gone, the woman turned towards him.

“My sons are out there. Knowing there are people like your friend willing to help in any way gives me hope.”

Mila and the old woman occupied his mind as he woke a little earlier than normal to pull back his hair - longer than it had ever been, thanks to not having Mila around to constantly pester him - and put on an extra layer of clothes beneath his coat before stepping out into the frosty November morning. Leaving Madam Lilia’s, his boots crunched on the frozen dead grass in the yard, and he stopped to look up at the predawn sky. It had snowed in the last few weeks, but it hadn’t stuck quite yet, though it was more than cold enough. The clouds hung heavy with it above, and Yuri had a feeling that this time when it came it would stay until the very distant end of winter.

The city was quieter than usual as Yuri made his way briskly along the all-too-familiar route to the train station, but he attributed the silence to the fact that the sky was still dark and people would wait to rise and begin the day until after the sun showed its face, even if it did give them less time in the day. The colder weather piled atop the war left everyone dragging their feet stubbornly, exhausted to face another dreary day.

When he arrived at the station, there were fewer people about than Yuri was used to seeing, even so early in the morning. The regular staff was on hand, and the gateman allowed Yuri through with a tip of his hat. Yuri made his way towards the clerk’s office, where Georgi could always be found.

He knocked on the half open door, and Georgi looked up from the notes and charts spread about on the desk before him. He looked exhausted, as though he hadn’t slept, with dark shadows under his eyes.

“Before you ask, no, I did not go home last night,” Georgi sighed.

“I wasn’t going to,” Yuri huffed, slightly annoyed.

Yuri entered the office, curiousity drawing him in. Rather than asking about the outbound trains of the day, he sat down across from Georgi and waited in silence for the man to give an explanation.

Georgi sighed again, and scrubbed his face with his hands. “A train didn’t come in last night. We’re still waiting. There was a storm up near Kuybyshev, which would have likely blocked the rail, but they had already passed through hours before.”

“What is on the train?” Yuri asked, his interest piking.

“Soldiers coming home on leave. They - “

Georgi was interrupted by shouting outside of the office. He rose abruptly, his chair tipping over and striking the floor with a crash. The whistle of an approaching train sounded.

A station worker appeared in the doorway, eyes locking with Georgi’s. “They’re here.”

Georgi was around his desk and through the doorway before Yuri could even process what was happening. He had no choice but to follow.

The platform had woken abruptly in the short time that Yuri had been in Georgi’s office. Workers shouted to one another and rushed about as the delayed train pulled into its berth. Yuri found himself trailing after Georgi, and they stood on the platform as at last the train halted.

Everyone seemed to hold their breath, and then the doors opened and men in uniform spilled out.

Georgi nodded to himself, then moved towards the engine, likely to determine the cause of such a delay. Yuri found himself frozen to the spot, watching so many soldiers with a mixture of relief and sorrow on their expressions flood the platform. What shocked him was how young the majority of them looked, hardly a few years older than himself. Several had clear injuries, with arms in slings or swinging crutches with each step.

It was only a few minutes before the tide slowed to a trickle, the majority of them already making their way out of the station and into Akmolinsk's streets, to either make their way to their homes in the city, find transportation to the outskirts, or fall upon whatever bars might be open in the early hours.

Yuri turned to look for Georgi again when he spied one last young man step down from the train.

The soldier boy’s expression was difficult to read, his eyes staring straight ahead. His hair was shaved close on the sides, the longer strands on top slicked back. He came to a halt just a few steps onto the platform, and turned towards Yuri. His brows knit together as he spied the blond boy staring at him.

Yuri’s breath caught for a moment, and he felt his face heat up at being caught. Before he could react, however, he was saved from his embarrassment by a woman practically flying onto the platform.

“Otabek!” the woman cried, drawing the soldier boy’s attention towards her.

The soldier boy looked in her direction, and his expression softened at the sight of the woman. It was mere seconds before she reached him and flung herself forward to embrace him, sobbing openly.

Yuri found himself turning away, as though this was not something meant for him to see. The woman was clearly the boy’s mother, and she looked as though she had rushed out the door at the first sight of uniformed men flooding out of the train station. Her hair was a mess, sticking out wildly from beneath her headscarf, her feet shoved into boots with the laces loose. It was a miracle she hadn’t tripped. She was still crying as the boy held her.

There was a surge of want that coursed through Yuri at the sight, a desire for some semblance of the scene before him. It wasn’t a want for his own mother, though. He could hardly remember his mother’s face, nor the last time he had seen her. What he desired was the feeling of comfort, of seeing someone at long last after months apart. He knew with certainty that when he saw his grandfather again, it would be like this, though perhaps reversed.

Yuri imagined it all the time. His grandfather would be there, in Moscow, when he arrived, and Yuri would run to him -

The soldier boy again met Yuri’s eyes, this time as Yuri’s expression morphed into a frown and he walked away from the platform. Yuri immediately dropped his gaze to the ground and sped up when he was caught staring, attempting to cover up the heat rising in his cheeks again.

On his way out, he checked Georgi’s office, only to find the man still not returned from wherever he had gone. He didn’t suppose there were any northbound trains that day, anyways.

With an exhale, Yuri left the station. He’d be expected back at Madam Lilia’s before long, for the morning meal and then classes. He had already wasted enough time standing around while the men had streamed onto the platform.

Yuri’s shoulders hunched up as he stepped back through the gates, once more entering the chill morning air. His breaths came out in a cloud as he jammed his hands into his pockets, gaze following a few of the soldiers on leave as they laughed further down the street.

Something cold landed on his nose, and Yuri looked skyward, pausing in the center of the sidewalk. He closed his eyes, head tilted back, smiling to himself.

It was beginning to snow.


Back at the gates to the train station, Otabek and his mother were exiting the building. His mother was tucked under his arm, tears still running down her rosy cheeks around her face-splitting grin, she was speaking excitedly, but her words were lost to him. Otabek paused, his gaze drawn to the boy who had been staring at him on the platform, his face tilted up to the sky as the snow flurried down from the grey sky.

All Otabek could think was how he had never seen someone so alone look so beautiful.

Chapter Text

“Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

Akmolinsk

December 1943

 

Every time Yuri went out and caught a glimpse of a young man in a uniform - for they were practically everywhere now - his heart leapt for a brief instant before realizing that it wasn’t the soldier boy he had seen embracing his mother in the train station. He would then curl in on himself, wondering why he’d been struck with a pang of disappointment. He had only seen the soldier once, and he hadn’t even looked approachable in any way.

Several days after he had seen the soldier boy, Yuri was sneaking out of Madame Lilia’s. He wasn’t sure why the urge to go to the station had hit him, especially at such a late time in the day, other than he hadn’t been able to go since the morning of the late arriving train. He chalked it up to not having been able to get the news from Georgi, usually one of the first people to hear anything.

Madame Lilia was in her office, as always when she wasn’t sitting at the front of the classroom or instructing in the studio, with the door partway open. She was on the phone with someone, seemingly annoyed.

“You said it would be three days ago, and now you’re telling me it could be two more weeks? I am doing everything I can, but you seem to be forgetting I have been housing this boy, keeping him off the streets with a roof over his head - “

Yuri was down the hall and out the back door before he could hear the end of what she was saying, ignorant to the fact that he was the subject of the conversation.

He made it to the station in record time, even though the snow drifts along the sidewalks were nearly to his knees, and the walkways themselves were slick with ice. It hadn’t stopped snowing since it had begun, days earlier. It was because of this that Georgi looked up in surprise when he came into the office.

“I was wondering where you might be. Snowed in?”

“Something like that,” Yuri shrugged, dropping into the chair across from Georgi. “What’s the news? I never got to ask when I was here the other morning.”

Georgi grinned. “You’ll be happy to hear that as of last month, Moscow has officially been secured.”

Yuri stared at him for a long moment, waiting for a but that never came. When he realized it wouldn’t, he began to grin. If Moscow was out of the woods, then they were that much closer to seeing the other side of the war.

It had been just over a month after Yuri and Mila had fled Leningrad that the German forces advanced on Moscow, beginning a fourteen month struggle that left the city still at risk, even after a Soviet victory. Everyone knew the casualty count had been high, exceeding one million in some estimates. But Yuri clung tightly to the hope that his grandfather was still alive and well, somewhere within Moscow’s borders, if not returned to their house in the country outside of the city limits.

Yuri wondered about their house now - the place he’d grown up before he’d gone to Leningrad to attend Yakov’s Academy for the Gifted. Was it still standing? His grandfather had written to him, not long before Yuri had fled Leningrad, saying that he had packed everything up and moved to a small apartment in the city when it had become clear that the Germans were going to advance into Soviet territory. Was the house standing empty still, waiting for his grandfather to come home? Waiting for him to come home?

He’d only been home a few times since he’d left for the Academy, but he could still see the paintings hanging on the walls and the way the light shined on the hardwood floors through the windows. His mind’s eye pulled him into a series of fond memories - waking up to the scent of his grandfather’s cooking; playing in the garden while his grandfather watched from the porch, joining in on occasion when Yuri had been much smaller; sitting up much too late on cold winter nights before the fireplace as his grandfather read him a story; their cats curled up on the end of his bed when he rose in the mornings.

Flashes of faces he couldn’t quite recall came to him - his parents, he guessed - but he pushed those memories aside in favor of the happiest ones he could remember, and clung to them tightly, his heart soaring.

He was going to go home soon. To Moscow, and the country house, and his grandfather.

He didn’t hear Georgi’s goodbye as he skipped out of the office, his face aching with a wide grin for the first time he could remember. He was going to go home soon. He deserved this elation, flooding his entire being with warmth. He decided that, even if Madam Lilia found out - which he had no doubt she would - and punished him for sneaking out, it would be more than worth it.

It wasn’t until he was halfway back to Madame Lilia’s that he sensed that someone was following him. He paused, glancing back over his shoulder, but the only people about were minding their own business.

Frowning that his instincts had been incorrect, he began to turn forward again when he slammed into something solid, and careened backwards, his hat falling to reveal his long hair.

Looking up with a snarl on his lips, he found himself facing a group of the young soldiers from the train station the other morning. They looked very unimpressed, and very unpleased.

“What’s this? A little Russian Fairy?” the one Yuri had crashed into sneered. His companions laughed, jostling one another. “Too good for the war, so he spends his days dancing.”

Yuri’s heart sank.

“Well? What have you got to say for yourself, little fairy?”

Yuri wasn’t even given a chance to speak. The leader of the group reached down and grabbed him by the front of his coat, hauling him up and off his feet.

“Come on now, apologize for running into me. Or are you so much better than us that it’s beneath you, and you can do whatever you want?”

Yuri gaped, at a complete loss. He’d done nothing wrong, especially in concern of the soldiers before him - hell, he’d never even met them before - just because he was Russian didn’t mean that -

Hey. Put him down .”

The group - Yuri included - turned towards the speaker. It was the young man that Yuri had subconsciously been looking for all week. Yuri himself could not understand what he had said, as the words were in Kazakh and he hadn’t picked up nearly as much as he should have, considering how long he’d been living in the country. The soldiers, however, definitely understood, and did not seem in anyway pleased.

Oh, going to pull rank, are you? ” the group leader spat.

Stand down. I’m not going to ask again.

Fine. He’s all yours, officer.

Yuri suddenly found himself on his ass in the middle of the sidewalk, and the group of soldiers stomped away, shooting glares back over their shoulders.

“Assholes,” Yuri muttered.

The young man put a hand under his arm to help him back to his feet, and Yuri spared him a glance. Though he was gentle with his motions, his face still had that distant hostility, mouth perpetually downturned.

Did they hurt you? They’ve been restless waiting for reassignment.”

“Let go, I’ve got it,” Yuri sneered, shrugging free and brushing himself off as he took several steps away, balling his fists up at his sides, ready in an instant to fight. He wasn’t caught off guard this time, and now there was only one of them, instead of a whole swarm. He looked the young man up and down warily. “You wanna pick a fight like your buddies?”

The young man stared at him with brows furrowed in confusion.

“Sorry - I asked if they hurt you at all?” the soldier questioned.

Yuri blinked, his hands falling loose at his sides. Even though his face was stern, there was a thread of concern in the young man’s tone. It caught Yuri off-guard. Yuri shook his head, and found himself staring at the soldier boy’s face, wondering if he was truly in a bad mood or that it was just his resting face. He hoped for the latter.

The young soldier had picked up Yuri’s hat and was looking him over, since he was taking so long to respond. Yuri cleared his throat, finding his voice.

“You sent them away? The other soldiers?”

His searching eyes flicked up to Yuri’s face, and he held out the hat. “Yes. Have they bothered you before?”

“No, this was the first time,” Yuri said, taking his hat back and stuffing it back onto his head as he glanced after the retreating group. His gaze snapped back to the soldier boy, and the epaulettes on the shoulders of his uniform jacket. “Wait, are you an officer?”

“Yes.”

The word sounded empty somehow, as though he weren’t overly prideful of the fact. Yuri frowned. Everyone he’d known who found themselves in such a position, even quietly, preened over their status. Perhaps he was stuck comparing everyone to stupid Victor, though.

“You’re, what, twenty?”

“Just turned nineteen, actually.”

“I didn’t know you could be promoted that quickly when you’re that young.”

He shrugged, expression loosing some of its hostility. “Neither did I, until I was the only one from my unit to come back.”

Yuri gaped at him, shocked at the blunt way the words fell out of his mouth.

The soldier’s frown deepened again. “That may have been too much.”

“No, no. You were out there, I think the least you deserve is to be able to talk about it if you want. Right?” Yuri hurried to say.

“I’m Otabek,” the soldier said, extending a hand suddenly. “Lieutenant Otabek Altin.”

Yuri’s brows shot up. “I’ve heard of you! The hero of Kazakhstan, they called you. You’re the one who helped all of those people last year, you got your entire unit out of - “

“Yes,” Otabek interrupted - and there was the smallest indication of pride, half buried in his eyes behind his guarded expression. It was gone in an instant, however.

Oh , Yuri thought. He’d saved his unit, only to lose them all. He could almost understand the lack of pride, but as far as Yuri knew the young man before him would be remembered for his heroics, not his failures. He hoped that remained true.

Yuri stared wide-eyed for a moment, before reaching out to take Otabek’s still extended hand in his own. “Yuri Plisetsky.”

Otabek nodded, as though he knew this answer already and had just needed a confirmation. “Where are you headed, Yuri?”

“Madame Lilia’s, just a few blocks over,” Yuri said, indicating over his shoulder.

“Come on, then.” Otabek set off down the road, in the direction that Yuri had previously been heading.

Yuri turned to stare at him, perplexed. “Wait, what?”

Otabek looked back at him with his serious expression. “I know those boys. As soon as I’m out of sight, they’ll try their luck with you again. I’ll walk you home.”

“It’s not home,” Yuri said quickly, rushing to catch up to Otabek and falling into step besides him. “Not really. Just a place I’m staying at, until I can go home.”

“Home is in the north?”

Yuri nodded. He would be going back, soon. To Moscow, and his grandfather. He wondered briefly if his old dance school might still be standing, where he had taken lessons almost daily before moving to Leningrad to attend Yakov’s Academy.

“How long have you been in Kazakhstan?” Otabek asked.

Yuri looked up at him. Otabek wasn’t much taller than him, but the way he carried himself made Yuri feel even shorter, and as though he had to constantly crane his neck. “I came down on one of the last trains to leave Leningrad, back in forty-one. I’ve been with Madame Lilia ever since.”

“I’ve been to Leningrad. There won’t be much left for you to go home to.”

“Oh, Leningrad isn’t home. Moscow is,” he explained.

“I was stationed in Moscow. It’s not as bad as Leningrad, but it’s still not good,” Otabek said quietly.

Yuri glanced at him. “I don’t expect it to be.”

“Ah. Here we are.”

Yuri looked up to find Madame Lilia’s walkway to the front door before them. He hadn’t even realized they’d been on her street already. He had half a thought to sneak around to the back, to go in the same way he’d come out, but he felt as though it may be too late for that. Chances were, Madame Lilia was waiting just on the other side of the door.

“Oh. Uh. Thank you, again, Lieutenant.”

The barest of smiles passed over Otabek’s face. “No, Yuri. For you it’s just Otabek.”

Yuri’s face reddened, and it wasn’t from the cold. “Thank you, Otabek.”

“Have a good night, Yuri,” he said, another glimmer of a smile flickering over his expression.

He waited at the base of the walkway until Yuri had opened the door, before turning and making his way back down the street.

Yuri paused to watch him go before entering the house. As soon as the hard door shut behind him, he looked up to find Madame Lilia standing there, fury on her face. He had expected no less.

“Where have you been?” her tone was somehow harsher than he had ever heard, even when someone misbehaved during lessons.

“I just went for a walk. I needed to clear my head,” Yuri said, moving to go around her, his gaze downcast.

“Yuri. Who was the young man with you?”

“What? Oh. Some of the men home on leave cornered me, and he helped me - ow!”

Madame Lilia grabbed his face, dragging him close to study him. “Bastard Kazakhs,” she muttered under her breath. “You’re not injured? They didn’t hurt you?”

“No, no, I’m fine!” he pushed her off, visibly annoyed. “And they’re not - they’re not all bad. The one who was with me, he stopped them before they could…”

He trailed off as Madame Lilia continued to look him over with concern, hands resting firmly on his shoulders to keep him from wandering. He wasn’t sure himself what exactly they had had in mind, but he knew it wasn’t good. He exhaled, shoulders slumping. They had every right to be prickly with someone who, to them, represented everything that had caused them grief in the last decades.

“You had me worried, Yuri. I went to check upstairs, and the others said they hadn’t seen you since super. I thought something had happened to you,” Madame Lilia said, her voice softening.

“I’m perfectly fine, Madame Lilia,” he said sullenly, looking stubbornly at the ground. “I’m sorry. I just hadn’t been able to get any news about the war in a few days.”

“I understand. And were you able to get it?”

Yuri looked up, excitement blossoming across his features as he grinned. “Moscow is secure. Since October, now.”

Madame Lilia’s expression softened to match her voice, and she almost smiled. “I am glad to hear that. Perhaps that means we can all go home again soon, and that this damned war will be behind us for good.”

Yuri blinked at her cursing for the second time in the same conversation. She frowned upon the distasteful use of language, though he knew she was not completely above using it. His mouth curved into a grin.

She caught the look, and huffed in amusement. “Upstairs with you. I won’t have the others complaining about favoritism.”

“Yes, Madame Lilia,” Yuri said, finally moving past her towards the stairway.

“And, Yuri?”

He paused, one hand on the banister, his foot hovering above the first step. “Hm?”

“If you think you can trust that soldier boy, then I think perhaps it is time you had a friend, don’t you think?”

Yuri considered. Otabek was not the kind of person he imagined himself getting along with, but then again… his guarded exterior was something familiar to Yuri, for it was something he himself did. It had been a long time since Yuri could remember having a friend.

As he pounded up the rest of the steps to the second floor, he smiled again. Perhaps tomorrow he would cross paths with Otabek again. He truly hoped so.

Chapter Text

"Making new friends is tough.

You don't really know  who to trust

when you're away from the people

that you love a lot."

- Selena Gomez

Akmolinsk

December 1943

 

When he was nine years old, Yuri had been walking back from his dance lesson one afternoon when several older boys had cornered and attacked him. They made fun of him and called him a girl. They pushed him to the ground, and threw his bag into the mud. One of them had been someone he thought was his best friend at the time.

When his grandfather saw the scuffed knees and palms, and the tear tracks down his face when he arrived home, he asked him what had happened.

Yuri told him outright. The other boys had pushed him and hit him, and had called him names, all because he went to dance class instead of running around wildly the whole day long with the rest of them when they didn't have school. All because he preferred the company of the little girls in his class over them.

“What do you want to do?” Nikolai Plisetsky had asked Yuri, patient as always.

Yuri, face full of hurt and anger behind his tears, looked up at his grandfather with a stubbornness Nikolai knew very well. “What do you mean, what do I want to do? I’m going to keep dancing. I don’t need them to be my friends. I’m just fine on my own. Besides, I have you.”

Yuri's grandfather should have known better. His little Yurochka was tougher than most, and would not give up the things he loved most because of a few bullies. Nikolai wanted him to have friends, of course, but instead only nodded sadly, and that was that. He would not protest his grandson's decisions.

That was the year Yuri wrapped himself tightly in a cloak of what he had thought was solitude. It wouldn’t be until, years later, that he realized he had been struggling through the suffocating hold of loneliness. At the time, he didn’t yet know the difference.

Yuri kept going to dance, accompanied by his grandfather whenever the old man could, and the boys gradually left him alone, realizing he was immune to their taunts. When school started up again, they continued to leave him alone, hardly even paying him any attention at all, as though he didn't even exist. Yuri was just fine with all that. He didn’t need them. He was smart, and he had his dancing, and his grandfather. And their cats, of course. For him, that was all he needed.

It was clear to everyone that dancing was more important than most people were in Yuri’s life. He began lessons when he was small, and the few memories he had of his mother were of her teaching him basic steps in the living room of his grandfather’s house, their shadows mirroring them on the walls.

She had been a dancer, too.

From the time he was seven years old, until he moved to Leningrad to attend Yakov’s Academy for the Gifted, Yuri danced in a class with five girls his age, under the tutelage of one of Moscow's best instructors for youth ballerinas. It was a way for him to forget that he preferred to be on his own, and the loneliness he called solitude that came with it. With dancing, he was never alone. With dancing, he had his grandfather there to watch, and the ghost of his mother moving, always, in step with him.

When he began at Yakov’s Academy, though he had to stop dancing, he had two people in particular keep him from going completely mad. Mila all but adopted him, and Victor took an interest in him, and they filled the gap that Yuri supposed friends might have. But because he never really felt he had much similarity to either of them, except their shared notoriety at the school, he kept them at arm’s length, always. 

Perhaps that was why, after the first brief meeting with Otabek, and the ensuing crossing of their paths in the days following, Yuri felt himself beginning to grasp for the branch being held out to him. He'd never had the desire to have a friend, not since the incident when he was nine, but now it came crashing into him with a force he did not understand. So he did the only thing he could, and clung on as tightly as he could.

Fortunately for Yuri, the feeling seemed to be mutual. Otabek found a way to appear at Yuri’s side, practically every time the younger boy went outside. Yuri found himself making more and more excuses to leave Madam Lilia’s each day in the week following their initial run-in, aside from his morning ventures to the station, to the point that he was going out two or three times, leaving Madame Lilia staring out the door after him with her arms folded as he hurried down the walkway in front of her house to where Otabek stood waiting, as promised at the end of a previous outing.

For the past two years since coming to Akmolinsk, Yuri had kept to himself more than he had as a child. He considered Georgi as an acquaintance, but nothing more than that, and Madame Lilia was like his temporary guardian, but there wasn’t anyone near his age that he went out of his way to be friendly with or to even talk to, including the others in Madame Lilia’s care. With Otabek though, he threw his hesitation to the wind.

“When do you have to go back?” he asked, several days after Otabek had come to his rescue.

Otabek shrugged. “We're waiting for reassignment still. Probably within the next week or two we will know where we have to go and when.”

They were sitting in the back of a bookshop, on the floor and out of sight of the worker stationed at the counter. Around them were stacks of books, pulled out of the shelves around them. They'd been flipping to random pages and reading whatever they found there. It was too cold outside to sit, so they’d found themselves in the bookshop after Yuri had exited the train station to get news from Georgi.

He’d learned that Stalin had met with Roosevelt and Churchill in November, and the Big Three had spoken on an invasion of Italy.

“I hope that you wouldn’t be sent there,” Yuri murmured, dropping his most recent book haphazardly onto one of the stacks. “That’s so far away.”

“I probably won’t,” Otabek reassured him. He turned his head towards the younger boy as he, too, placed the book in his hands onto a stack. “Would you write to me? When I go back.”

“Write to you?” Yuri looked down, his features twisted in confusion, fingers curling around the ends of his coat sleeves.

“Friends write to one another.”

Yuri looked up in surprise from where he was tugging on a fray on the cuff of his coat sleeve. He wasn’t completely sure if Otabek had wanted to be friends as well, but now… Yuri grinned. “ I - if you want me to, I would. I will. But, where would I send the letters to?”

“When I get reassigned, I’ll be able to tell you.”

“When I write to you, will you write back?” Yuri asked, a note of hope in his voice.

“Of course I will,” Otabek said, sounding as though he couldn’t believe Yuri would doubt it for a second. “I just said that friends write to one another, were you not paying attention?”

Yuri’s mouth opened in a retort that died on his tongue when he saw the playful gleam in Otabek’s gaze.


“You went to Yakov’s?” Yuri asked, the following evening.

They sat in the front room of Otabek’s mother’s house, at opposite ends of the couch, their legs pressed together between them beneath a blanket.

“Only for a year, when I was fourteen. Then we moved back to Alma-Ata. But I remember you. I knew, the first time I saw you, that you were someone who was going to do something great. You had a soldier’s eyes. You still do.”

Yuri smiled softly, looking down as he felt his face heat. “When the war started, even before we joined up, that’s what I wanted. To be a soldier, and fight in the name of my country. I was going to be great, and the whole world would know my name.”

“And now?” Otabek asked after a pause. He had his head propped up on one hand, arm resting on the back of the couch.

Yuri glanced up. “Now I just want it all to be over, so I can go home.”

Otabek nodded. “Sometimes the best soldiers are fighting a different sort of battle,” he said softly. “I pray that that is true for you, and that this war is over before you ever step foot on a battlefield.”

They were silent for several moments, both lost in thought. Yuri stared out the window behind them, watching the snow dance in the fading light. He turned back towards Otabek.

“Alma-Ata? Isn’t that way to the south from here?”

Otabek nodded. “When I was enlisted, my mother moved here. That way when I could be home on leave, there would be less travel time and I’d get to spend an extra few days with her.”

“Smart woman,” Yuri said, looking in the direction of the kitchen where the person in question was riffling about.

“She is,” Otabek agreed.

"Let's go to Alma-Ata," Yuri said suddenly. "And to Moscow, and Leningrad. And then lets go somewhere neither of us have ever been before. Like America, or England. Or both."

"Okay," Otabek nodded, a fondness in his eyes that Yuri had only seen him direct towards his mother.


“I’m going to find my grandfather, as soon as this damned war is over,” Yuri muttered, kicking the snow mound nearest to him in frustration.

“I’ll help you,” Otabek said, startling Yuri out of his abuse of the snow banks.

“You - what?”

Otabek shrugged. “When I go back, if I’m stationed near Moscow again, I’ll look for him. And I’ll tell him where you are. And if not, then when this is over, I’ll come back and look with you.”

“You’d really do that?” Yuri asked, doubt in his voice.

Otabek nodded.

Yuri looked down, shoulders rising towards his ears. “No one’s ever actually offered to help me search for him. Before I came here, when we found out that the blitzkrieg was coming towards Leningrad, everyone told me I had to stay put. All I wanted to do was go to my grandfather, but they all told me that it was foolish to go running for Moscow. Except... that’s the only thing I’ve wanted for the last few years, more than anything. To go back to my grandfather.”

“You will,” Otabek said.

Yuri looked up at him. “You think so?”

Otabek nodded solemnly. “I do.”


"Will you teach me Kazakh?"

They were lying on the floor of the parlor at Madame Lilia's. The other children in her care could be seen through the front window, playing in the snow.

Otabek rolled his head to look at Yuri. Yuri was staring at him with a far away look in his eyes.

"Of course."

A smile broke out across both of their faces.


 “Do you know what today is?” Otabek asked.

Yuri shook his head. They were walking back from the train station after Georgi had reported that there had been no new news.

Otabek gave him a long look. “Today is the second anniversary of the day the Japanese decided to wake the sleeping giant and involve the Americans.”

“You know, the last time the world went to war, it was two years after the Americans joined in that it was over,” Yuri said, his voice bright and hopeful.

Otabek smiled at his tone. “Perhaps we’ll be getting word that I don’t have to go back at all, then.”


“You are a dancer?” Otabek asked as they stood waiting for their order at the cafe down the street from the bookstore.

“Yeah,” Yuri said, visibly distracted. He’d been that way most of the morning. It had been more than a week since Otabek had helped him, and Yuri knew that time was running out. But he wasn’t ready to let go of his new friend, if only because he didn’t know how long he would have to.

It was a war, Yuri kept thinking. People didn’t always come home from war. Otabek was a testament to that already, having lost his entire squadron. But he’d been lucky so far. But maybe that luck would run out. The thoughts kept chasing themselves, endlessly around his mind until he felt his head might burst.

“Do you think you could show me sometime?” Otabek asked, watching Yuri carefully.

Yuri startled, mind instantly quieting as he turned towards Otabek, a blush creeping over his pale face. “What? You - you want to see me dance?”

Otabek shrugs. “It takes a lot of work to be good at. My mother, she used to take me to the ballet, when I was small.”

“What one is your favorite?”

“One that I haven’t seen. Romeo and Juliet. It was composed in thirty-five, but no one produced it until a few years ago. When it was first written for the ballet, it had a happy ending. I would have liked to see that.”

A happy ending for a tale known to the entire world as a traditional tragedy. It was unheard of, but if someone could change the lines just so, why couldn't life be that way as well?

“I think I would have liked to see it, too.” Yuri grinned, every line in his body suddenly reflecting excitement. “Can you dance?”

Otabek gave a small smile, shaking his head. “When I was younger. Never really got the hang of it, though.”

“I can teach you,” Yuri said quickly. He blinked, catching himself. “I - if you want, that is.”

“I would like that.”


They were making plans that each knew they would not be able to fulfill in their time remaining before Otabek would have to leave again. Yuri lay awake at night, wondering why he was doing this. He was setting himself up for a let down, but he couldn’t turn back now. He felt as though he were hurtling headlong towards something great, but that it wouldn’t be there and he would careen onward, with nothing to stop him or catch him. The thing was, he didn’t want to stop.

It hit him, one night as he stared at the ceiling, the other boys sound asleep around him, that he had complete trust in Otabek not to break this fragile thing between them. That there was something more, down the line, for the both of them. That was the thing he was flying towards, the thing he knew he may never reach but hoped he would anyways.

Yuri gasped as he realized that he was willingly going to break his own heart because of a boy he barely knew.

That he knew what he was doing and had no desire to stop it was perhaps the scariest part of the whole thing.


“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” Yuri barked at a man who had the unfortunate displeasure of stepping in his path while Yuri’s hands were full with a large box destined for Madame Lilia’s. It was Friday, not long after he’d finished his daily classwork.

Otabek smirked. He’d been waiting patiently outside of the building as Yuri went inside to pick up the package.

“What?” Yuri growled in his direction at the look on his face.

“Nothing,” Otabek said. “Do you need help with that?”

Yuri’s frown shrank, and his voice lost some of its bite. “I’ve got it.”

Otabek fell into step besides Yuri, prepared to help if needed, but didn’t move to take the package from him.

“After I drop this off at the house, do you want to come over to the studio?” Yuri asked tentatively after a minute of silence disturbed only by the rhythmic fall of their feet on the snowy sidewalk. "You don't have to, but I need to get in a practice, and I thought maybe..."

Otabek looked at him in surprise, but then he smiled. “I would love to.”

Chapter Text

"It scares me, to trust in people

when the ones who promised will never leave  go,

and the ones who say they will always be there,

were never really there."

- Christina Bittar

Akmolinsk

December 1943

 

 

The dance studio was located in a small building besides Madame Lilia’s house, taking up the majority of the second floor over a storage area. It took only minutes after dropping off the package to Madame Lilia’s office - she was on the phone, as always, and had fallen silent when Yuri entered, only giving him a nod and a sharp look - before Yuri was pushing open the door to the room, Otabek just behind him.

He stopped just inside for several seconds, eyes straining to adjust to the dark. They’d made their way up the stairway just fine, with the wall to guide them, but Yuri had nothing now to anchor himself now. The dark always left him disoriented, no matter how many times he’d been in the space before. Otabek bumped into his back, then reached out to place a hand against the back of his shoulder.

“Is everything alright?” Otabek asked, voice close to Yuri’s ear..

The light pressure of his hand on Yuri’s shoulder as well as the close proximity was a comfort. The younger boy blinked rapidly, trying to urge his eyes to make out the dim lines of the far wall of the room.

“Yes. Just waiting for my eyes to adjust,” he explained, voice soft.

Otabek hummed his understanding, and remained waiting behind Yuri, keeping the point of contact between them.

After several more moments, Yuri crossed the hardwood floor of the dance studio to open the curtains that hung heavily over the window. He’d been told not to use the lights unless it was dark out, which was rarely during his practice times. When he pushed the curtains back, weak winter sunlight painted pale stripes across the floor and reflected in the mirror taking up one wall.

Yuri turned towards Otabek, who stood just inside the room now, looking around with widened eyes. The hardness of his typically stern features softened, and Yuri felt a surge of something in his chest as he watched Otabek take in the room as though it were some astounding discovery.

“It’s not much,” Yuri said quietly, looking around as though seeing it for the first time himself. The walls needed a new coat of paint, and the mirror was showing its age along the edges. The floor was worn, from years of feet pressing and scuffing along its surface, and the ceiling was marked in one corner from where the roof leaked sometimes. He hadn’t thought it was, the first time Madame Lilia had shown it to him. It hadn’t taken long for that opinion to change, though.

This place, to him, was the closest thing to home. It was where he felt the closest to the things he loved - if he closed his eyes, he could imagine that he was back at the studio in Moscow. That he had never gone to Leningrad, and that the war had for once left them on the sidelines. With a look in Otabek’s direction, the illusion shattered. If he hadn’t gone to Leningrad, if the war hadn’t dragged them into its messy grasp, he never would have met the only person he felt he actually liked - in any sense of the word - and already couldn’t imagine having never known.

It was as though, unbeknownst to him in the last two weeks, the space he didn’t know was empty had been filled. Staring at Otabek across the dance studio, it settled over him that he would not let this one slip out of his grasp. Not like the tentative relationships he’d had before, where Victor and Mila both had left him stranded in their wake. Somehow, Yuri knew that Otabek would never willingly do such a thing.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Yuri began to take off his outer layer of clothes, tossing his coat and boots into the corner near the door.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Otabek said, moving deeper into the room and beginning to shed his outer layers as well. They fell into a neatly folded pile alongside the heap that was Yuri’s.

“I hadn’t danced in a few years when Madame Lilia told me that I was going to,” Yuri said, reaching up to tie back his hair. “There wasn’t time, around everything I was doing at Yakov’s, when I was in Leningrad, and it was hard to adjust. I missed it, constantly, though I never said so. When Lilia told me that I was going to dance while I was here, I was overjoyed. I gave up dancing when I was invited to attend Yakov’s Academy, because I thought that’s what I should do. I wanted to prove that I could be great.” Yuri shook his head, shaking a few strands of not quite long enough hair loose. “I never should have stopped. It’s the only thing that’s kept me sane since I’ve been here.”

“I’m glad that you were able to pick it up again,” Otabek said, lining his boots up besides Yuri’s before turning towards the room again. Otabek paused when Yuri faced him, staring with his mouth hanging partway open. Yuri reddened.

“What? Is there something on my - “

“No, sorry,” Otabek said hurriedly. “I’ve just never seen you with your hair back.”

Yuri laughed, looking sheepish. “I usually only tie it back when I dance.”

“You missed some.” Otabek crossed the distance between them in just a few steps, a look of concentration on his face as he reached out and pushed a loose strand behind Yuri’s ear.

Yuri’s gaze dropped to their socked feet to avoid staring at the line of Otabek’s serious mouth. Steeling himself after a few seconds, he looked back up, tilting his head to the side and allowing a smile to tug at the corners of his lips as he latched onto Otabek’s hand with his own.

“Come on. We’ll start with something easy.”

Otabek allowed himself to be pulled across the room until Yuri released his hand and moved to the barre along the wall opposite the mirror. Otabek leaned back against the adjacent wall, content for the moment to just watch.

It wasn’t until Yuri had completed his warm-ups and was beginning to work a simple routine in front of the mirror, leaning and twisting his body deftly, that Otabek pushed off the wall and took a hesitant step towards the other boy.

“Yuri, I need to tell you something,” Otabek said, so softly Yuri nearly missed it as he slowed to a halt in the center of the room, his heels coming down to the floorboards with more force than necessary. Yuri heard the regret and hesitation in Otabek’s voice, his head snapping up and eyes flicking open at the sound of it.

He paused in his motions and looked back at Otabek. The older boy looked sad, and Yuri felt as though he were crumbling apart inside, anticipating the words that were going to fall from Otabek’s lips. Yuri’s legs disconnected from the rest of him in a way that left him thinking her might lose his balance and fall, even though he was standing in one place. His entire being went still, and for several seconds he couldn’t pull air into his lungs.

When he regained control of himself, a breath coming sharply through his nose, he turned away, striding across the room to put as much space between them as he could. He halted, his back to Otabek, with his arms crossed over his chest and his shoulders hunched. In his head, he counted to ten before allowing himself to speak. It didn’t help to settle the emotions roiling within.

“When?” It came out as an accusation.

“Three days,” Otabek sighed.

That was so soon. Too soon. All of two weeks together, and then what? Yuri had expected this, but he’d been so hopeful, even just moments ago. He’d let himself down - he knew better. He fucking knew better, and yet -

“Where?” Yuri asked, refusing to turn around. His emotions were a riot, and if he faced Otabek they would explode out - he couldn’t allow himself to do that to the other boy, to make him a victim of the storm he tried desperately to contain within himself. Otabek did not deserve that.

Yuri could hear the pad of Otabek’s socked feet moving slowly towards him. He knew that Otabek could move with complete silence if he so choose, but by putting in the effort to ensure that Yuri was aware of his approach… Yuri didn’t know how to feel about that, only that his emotions could not handle anything else right now.

“We’re going to Kuybyshev, and then from there… I don’t know yet.”

Yuri whirled around, deciding that he wanted Otabek to feel this as much as he was, and nearly slammed into the older boy. He hadn’t realized he’d been so close as Otabek hesitantly reached out to steady him on instinct. “This isn’t fair. You just got here. You can’t go yet.”

They both knew that he wasn’t talking about Otabek’s presence there in Akmolinsk. Yuri slowly shook his head, feeling the rage bubble up inside of him and drown out everything else he was feeling in that moment. Rage at everything and everyone, including himself, except for the boy standing in front of him, looking just as broken as himself. And just like that, the anger was gone - Yuri didn’t need to project his feelings, because Otabek was grappling with a reflection of them already - and Yuri was left trembling and leaning forward as Otabek wrapped his arms around the younger boy carefully.

“We’re friends,” Otabek said quietly. The assurance did little to calm Yuri, though he wouldn’t say so aloud. “Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean that will change. And we’ll write, remember?”

“I just got you,” Yuri mumbled, head still shaking from side to side, even as he pressed it against Otabek’s chest. “You can’t go yet.”

I don’t want to. I’m not ready to leave you, yet. But it’s my duty. I signed up for this, so I have to see it through.”

“You wouldn’t have had to sign up for it if we could have just stayed out of it for once, rather than throwing our weight around to prove a point to the Americans. You’re not even Russian. You don’t deserve to be stuck fighting our war.”

“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have met you.”

Yuri froze, and slowly looked up at Otabek. His face was red, not from embarrassment but from the tears still dripping down his chin. Otabek wiped them away with one hand.

“I haven’t had a friend like you in a long time, if ever. Someone who just… gets it,” Yuri sniffled.

Otabek gave him a small smile filled with fondness. “Someone who understands your anger issues?”

“Har-har,” Yuri deadpanned, wiping at his nose with the back of his hand. “I meant someone who - “

Someone knocked on the doorframe of the studio, and they broke apart to look towards the sound, Yuri hiding behind Otabek briefly to swipe away any remaining traces of his tears from his face.

“Madame Lilia,” Yuri said quickly upon seeing it was her, barely keeping his voice from cracking. “I was just showing Otabek the studio, and then I was going to practice.”

“Yuri, I need to speak with you,” Madame Lilia said, her tone hard.

Otabek began to move to gather his things. “I can go. Yuri - “

“No, I think I want you to stay for this,” Madame Lilia interrupted, looking between the two of them.

Both boys looked at her in surprise.

Madame Lilia came into the room, pulling the door shut behind her as she did so. Otabek returned to Yuri’s side.

She folded her arms over her chest, the lines of her face as stern as ever. And then she closed her eyes, and they melted away into weariness as she brought a hand to her forehead, sighing.

“I don’t know how to say this. I’ve just gotten off the phone with your previous instructor, Yakov Feltsman - “

“You know Yakov?” Yuri asked.

“Please do not interrupt. Yes, I know Yakov. We’ve known one another for a long time, and we’ve been in contact recently. He is the reason you are here, with me, you know.”

“But, Victor…” Yuri began, trailing off into silence.

Victor hadn’t whisked him away on a whim. Yakov had instructed him to. Which meant that this whole thing was much bigger than he had thought.

“There are men who are coming for you, Yuri,” Madame Lilia went on, her words cautious and slow, as though to ensure Yuri knew exactly what the gravity of the situation was.

Yuri tensed, his anger flaring up again. Otabek’s hand falling onto his shoulder gave him pause from lashing out in any of the number of emotions roiling beneath his skin again.

Madame Lilia eyed the interaction a moment before continuing. “They believe that you have possession of a series of documents, that for whatever reason they have elected to ignore the absence of for the last two years. And, of course, you were the top student in your year at the Academy. You’re indispensable to them, Yuri. They want to pull you right into the middle of this.”

“I don’t know anything about any documents,” Yuri said, quivering. His hands were balled into fists at his sides. “And as for going back to be a puppet of theirs in anyway… I don’t want to. I’m just a kid. I don’t have to even enter the draft for over a year. They can’t do that to me.”

“I know. That’s why we’re leaving.”

Yuri blinked once, then again. He opened his mouth, but the words caught in his throat.

“You’re leaving,” Otabek spoke.

“And that’s where you come into play, Lieutenant,” Madame Lilia said, nodding in his direction. “I’m going to need your help to pull this off.”

“Wait, no,” Yuri interrupted. “No. Whatever you’re planning, if he gets involved and they find out, he’ll be punished.”

“Yuri. If it means keeping you out of this war, I will do it,” Otabek said, his gaze steady.

“Otabek - “

“What do you need me to do, Madame?”

Beka ,” Yuri protested.

Otabek startled, eyes wide and voice raising. “ Yura . I’m going to do this. Let me do this.”

Yuri flinched, having never heard Otabek raise his voice before. Otabek was the quiet one - Yuri was the one who shouted and yelled, even when it was completely unnecessary. Blinking, he glanced towards Madame Lilia, then pulled Otabek to angle away from her. His tone was almost desperate when he spoke. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I know. But I’m going to,” Otabek said, voice returning to it’s normal volume.

Yuri stared at him in disbelief for several seconds. “Why?”

Otabek looked at him with his regular blank expression, but now Yuri could read further into it. He was beginning to note the small signals that indicated Otabek’s true mood - like now, he could just make out the frustration in the flicker of the older boy’s eyes. “Because you’re my friend.”

Chapter Text

“Love is like war;

easy to begin but very hard to stop.”

- Henry Louis Mencken

Akmolinsk

December 1943

 

Otabek and Yuri sat in the living room of the Altin’s home, both quiet as Otabek’s mother bustled about the kitchen. They had been like that for some time, just sitting side by side on the floor, their backs pressed against the couch.

“You don’t have to tell her,” Yuri said, breaking the silence sitting heavily over them.Yuri had a blanket pulled around his shoulders, and his fingers twisted in it almost constantly.

Otabek looked at the younger boy, who was staring at him. “She’s my mother. And if I don’t tell her, and they come asking after you here…”

Otabek didn’t know why he had to explain it. They’d been over this, nearly a dozen times since the night before, when Madame Lilia had dropped the news like a bombshell. Yuri merely turned away from him, the blanket slipping down. Otabek automatically reached out to readjust it. Yuri was always cold, but he never said.

“Besides,” Otabek said with a sigh. “She’s my mother.”

Yuri had no answer for that. His memory of his own mother for the most part only included her dancing and long blonde hair, and the fact that one day he woke up and she was gone. Yuri’s grandfather had pictures of her, but he’d left them all behind when he’d gone to school in Leningrad, never thinking that he’d miss her. Sitting in the Altin’s home, though, and watching Otabek move into the other room to speak with his mother, made him wish that he’d taken at least one of the photos. He couldn’t even remember her face, or whether she had green eyes like his own.

He directed his mind elsewhere - towards the fact that in a few days he’d be in Kuybyshev again, where he’d watched Mila step off the train and disappeared from his view in a matter of minutes. If he had the chance, when they were there, he was going to find her. What he’d do when he did, whether it was yell at her for abandoning him or embrace her because of how much he wanted to see another familiar face, he didn’t know. Perhaps he would do both.

Of course, that was assuming she was still there. After more than two years, who knew whether she’d still be volunteering at one of the medical centers that had been set up within Kuybyshev’s boundaries. She could have been relocated to anywhere, if she was good enough. And, knowing Mila, she would have made herself good enough.

Yuri frowned. Everyone he cared about had a habit of leaving him behind. Otabek would, inevitably, as well. Knowing it didn’t make the idea of it happening any better.

No, absolutely not, Beka.

Mama, I need to help him .”

Yuri turned towards the raised voices coming from the kitchen. He hadn’t a clue what was being said, but by the looks on their faces and Mrs. Altin’s tone, he knew it couldn’t be anything good.

If you help him and they catch you, you will be killed, Beka. They already want you dead for where you come from and may as well have the gun to your head, don’t give them a reason to pull the trigger.

Otabek’s face was contorted in remorse, and his voice was laced with it. “ Mama - “

He is one of them, Otabek. He is nothing but bad news and trouble, and - “

In an instant, his face flipped like a switch, and there was anger. Watching them, Yuri hoped it wasn’t at the woman staring up at her son in earnesty.

He is not one of them, Mama. Don’t you see the problem? They are after him. He is one of us, some way or another. And he’s my friend - “

You’ve hardly known him more than a week -

Otabek gestured towards Yuri. “ He is my friend. You and Papa always raised me to never turn my back on my friends, nor those in need. And I will not make him do this alone . ”

If the war doesn’t kill you, then the Soviets will, just like your Papa -

Otabek took her hands in his own. “ You think I don’t know that? You think I haven’t considered that? But if I allow him to do this alone, then there is a higher chance that he is going to fail. He is terrified, and that’s not going to make it easy for this to work. He knows how to perform, but you know how difficult it can be to do that when everything is dependant on how you play the part. He can’t do this alone. I can help him. I can protect him. I’m not going to sit back and do nothing. I can get him out of here.

Otabek - “ she tried, her voice quieting.

His own voice dropped in volume. “ Mama. Do you remember the boy I told you about, from the Academy? The little boy with the soldier’s eyes? Yuri - he is that boy. He is the one who inspired me, years ago when I thought maybe I wasn’t good enough.”

Otabek’s mother shook her head. “No, Beka. That was just a Russian boy, like any other. This one is not the same.”

He caught her chin, gently guiding her to meet his gaze. “But he is, Mama. And he’s still inspiring me - Mama, you should have seen his face when he found out that Moscow was free. He had so much hope and joy in his face, because for him the end of the war is in sight. And if he can see it, why can’t I? Why can’t all of us?

Beka. Even when this war is over, it’s not going to be over. Not for us, and not for our people.

I know that. But that doesn’t mean he deserves to be treated the way they treat us. That’s only going to make it worse, and then it’ll never end.

Changing things with one person isn’t going to fix the world we live in, Beka.

No, but it’s a start.

“Fine,” she said softly, and Yuri blinked in surprise when he understood the single word after the entirety of the conversation thus far having been in Kazakh.

They both looked towards where he still sat on the floor in front of the couch.

Mrs. Altin’s gaze dragged towards her son’s face, and the way his eyes glittered, just looking at the Russian boy sitting in her front room. And then she understood. “ Oh, Beka, my sweet boy.

It took Otabek several seconds to pull his own gaze away from Yuri, looking down at his mother with a question in his eyes.

How long?

I don’t know. All I know is that the thought of losing him…

You’re going to have to let him go, Beka. And it’s going to hurt.

I know. But knowing that he’ll be okay, that he’ll be somewhere safe, where they can’t get to him. It will hurt less.

His mother placed a palm against his cheek, her face sad. After a moment, he held that hand there, holding her gaze. She started to cry, and he pulled her into his arms, resting his chin atop her head and rocking them both side to side.

When, a few minutes later, she pulled back, she reached up to pull out a pendant that had been hidden beneath his shirt and rested her hand over it against his chest.

Turning towards Yuri, she smiled, tears still in her eyes. She shuffled towards him as he slowly rose to his feet. When she reached him, she drew him into a hug. He stiffened. “You take care of my boy, you hear? Even if it’s just for a few days.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Yuri said, relaxing into her hold and slowly bringing his own arms up around her. Over her shoulder, he met Otabek’s gaze.

The other boy watched them, a collection of emotions flickering across his eyes too quickly for Yuri to decipher.

Thank you . Thank you,” she murmured.

She released him and went back to the other room, patting Otabek’s arm fondly as she passed him. Otabek took that as his cue to return to Yuri’s side, and they sat down on the floor against the couch again.

Yuri eyed the foreign script engraved in the pendant, still resting exposed against the front of Otabek’s shirt. His gaze flicked up to Otabek’s face, mouth open in an ‘o’ of surprise. “You’re Muslim?”

“My family was, yes. Back in Alma-Ata, when I was a kid and we still lived close to all our relatives. But, that was a long time ago. I don’t know if they still practice. I haven’t seen them in years. Mama and I… because of how strict everything is, we don’t risk it. Not publicly, anyways.”

A moment of silence. Yuri’s eyes dropped back to the pendant, and he tentatively reached out to hold it, studying the engraving.

“You don’t practice the religion you were born to?” There as a note of disbelief in Yuri’s tone that he couldn’t quite mask.

Otabek looked at him for a long moment before speaking. “It is difficult to practice one’s faith without fear in a world like this. I never had a chance to learn all that goes with it - Mama decided that it would be safer this way, after everything that has happened. But it’s like there is this piece of me that is missing. It’s a part of me, but a part that, right now, I cannot lay claim to. I hope someday to be able to, without fear.”

Yuri looked at the sadness behind Otabek’s eyes. “I hope that for you, as well.”

“What about you?”

“What? My religion? I don't… I haven't been in practice. I can't remember the last time I did, I was so young. My mother was still around, I think. When it was just my grandfather and I, it wasn’t a big priority for either of us. These last few years though, I’ve realized I don’t think I really believe in a God. If there is one, why would the world be at war? Why would we be killing each other on this scale?”

Otabek only nodded, and Yuri released his hold around the pendant, patting it and Otabek’s chest absentmindedly. “That’s what this damned war is about. In part, anyways. Religion. Why is it that one person’s religion is allowed to thrive and be right, while another’s is wrong? People are being killed for believing in a different interpretation. Why can’t people just accept one another?” Yuri muttered bitterly.

Otabek’s hand curled over Yuri’s against his chest. “Maybe someday the world will be better.”

Yuri drew his knees up to his chest, and rested his chin against them, eyes locked on Otabek’s fingers curled around his own. “I’d like to see that world,” he breathed.

Less than an hour later, Mrs. Altin peered back into the front room to find them leaning against one another, sound asleep.


Victor placed the phone back in its cradle with a click, and hung his head with a deep sigh, pushing a hand through the fringe of hair hanging over his face.

“What is wrong, Vitya?” a dark haired man asked quietly, standing in the doorway to the storage-room-turned-office. There was worry in his eyes behind his glasses.

Victor looked up, his expression brightening just from seeing the other man standing there. Rising, he made his way over, wrapping his limbs around the other man. “It is nothing to be concerned about, my love. I have to go back for a while. Yakov is looking for me.”

Victor could feel his lover slump in his arms. “No, no,” Victor cooed softly. “Only for a little while. I'll come right back. You know I will. Besides, Makkachin will be here with you,” he said gently, kissing the other's forehead. “I would take you with me if I could, you know that.”

“I know. But you just got here yesterday.”

“And we both knew I wouldn’t be able to stay very long.” Victor kissed the top of the mop of dark hair, holding his lover close.  “I don't have to leave until morning. It'll be easier to travel by daylight, anyways. With the amount of snow we've gotten…”

“Good.” Victor felt his lover's nose press into his neck, before his head turned to press a kiss to the underside of Victor’s jaw. “Will you come to bed then?”

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

"Dancing is just a conversation between two people."

- Steven Rogers

Akmolinsk

Mid December 1943

 

Yuri lay on the floor of the dance studio in the sinking darkness. It had been some time since he'd tripped over his own feet and gone down, having no desire to rise back up and continue. He hadn’t hurt himself in any way, but the will to move from that particular spot on the floor had long since fled him. In the corner, the record player only played the scratching sound indicating the needle had run out of track.

Footsteps came up the stairs, and he rolled his head to see Otabek standing silhouetted in the doorway.

“Yuri?”

“I'm here,” the younger boy sighed, his words almost drowning in the quiet interrupted only by the record player across the room.

Otabek’s hand fumbled for the switch, and the lights came on, dimly lighting the room. He puzzled at the sight of Yuri sprawled out in the center of the floor, arms flung wide, one knee up.

After a moment, Otabek pulled off his boots and sat them against the wall, besides Yuri’s own, then padded over to drop down next to Yuri, positioning himself at the younger boy’s shoulder. Yuri looked back up to the ceiling. They hadn’t seen one another since early that morning when they had woken up in a knot of limbs on the floor in the Altin’s front room, and Yuri had had to rush back to Madame Lilia’s to make sure everything was ready before they left the following day. It had been perhaps the longest amount of time they had not spent in one another’s presence in the last two or so weeks since they had appeared abruptly in one another’s lives.

“I am… terrified,” Yuri breathed. “So many things could go wrong.”

“I know,” Otabek said, unconsciously reaching to push his fingers through the hair that had come loose from where Yuri had tied it back while he danced. Yuri closed his eyes, turning into the touch.

“The last time I boarded a train,” Yuri said quietly, his voice distant, “I did so because the one person I've always wanted to be like woke me up in the middle of the night and told me I had to leave. So I did. And I left everyone and everything I ever knew behind, for the second time in my life. Except I didn't know if I would ever come back. When I left Moscow and my grandpa, I knew I’d be back. School is one thing; war is something else entirely. When Mila left me, when she got off at Kubyshev, I was truly alone for the first time in my life, and very, very afraid. This is what that feels like. Picking up everything and leaving but still being the one left behind.”

Otabek’s hand paused, trailing down to cup Yuri’s face and turn it gently towards him. “This is not like that. Madame Lilia will be with you the whole way there. She'll make sure you get home. And I will be with you part of the way, as well.”

Yuri nodded, but could not directly meet Otabek’s gaze. They both thought of how it would be like the last time, anyways. Someone leaving him in Kubyshev. Yuri, though he'd never properly been into the city, was beginning to hate the place.

For several minutes, they remained like that, the only sound the jump of the record as the needle searched for the track. Yuri’s eyes drifted closed as Otabek once more began dragging his fingers through his hair. When the scratch of the needle jumped abruptly in pitch, Otabek looked up towards the corner that the player sat in, his brows pulling together.

“What's this one?”

“It's from Swan Lake.” Yuri's eyes opened, gaze finally meeting Otabek’s when the older boy looked back down at him. “Madame Lilia danced it, ages ago. She thinks it’s important that I know the steps to this song, start to finish.”

“My mother took me to see Swan Lake, a long time ago.”

Yuri’s eyes glittered at he looked up at Otabek, a tiny smile working its way onto his face. “I can show you this dance. But I only know Odette’s part, not the Prince’s - it’s hard to imagine now, but Madame Lilia had her role, so that’s what she taught to me. I imagine her more as an Odile.”

The edge of Otabek’s mouth lifted into a half smile. “I think you’d make a lovely Odette.”

They both rose to their feet. Otabek reset the needle on the track as Yuri positioned himself in the center of the room, arms held out before him. For the first few sequences Otabek watched, swaying with Yuri's movements, before moving in to imitate the easier steps, and the moves that his limited flexibility allowed him to from behind.

Yuri's eyes were closed as he danced, feeling rather than watching his own movements in the mirror. It was entrancing.

When the music rose, Yuri turned towards Otabek to find him already there, taking his hand. Their steps slowed out of the tempo of the music, until they were doing little more than swaying from side to side, standing close together, foreheads resting against one another.

“I’m sorry,” Otabek said quietly, the words eating up the space between them.

“Why are you apologizing to me?” Yuri’s eyes were closed, and his brows pulled together.

“Because you have to go through this.”

Yuri shook his head. “You don’t apologize for that, Beka.”

“Yuri - “

“You do not apologize for that,” Yuri repeated firmly, eyes snapping open. “None of what’s happening is because of you.”

“I know that. But you don’t deserve this.”

“No one deserves it, Beka, it’s a fucking war.”


Yuri stood before Madame Lilia, just inside the house, as she straightened the scarf around his neck.

“What if this doesn’t work?” he asked quietly. His gaze was firmly on the floor between them as he tried to calm his racing heart. They were really doing this. He hadn’t slept the night before, tossing and turning for hours before giving up and sitting on the edge of his narrow bed, shoulders hunched as his mind raced laps around the world in seconds. He’d watched the sky lighten through the window across the room, and then Madame Lilia was knocking on the door to rouse the boys.

Everyone had to be up - the new Madame, replacing Lilia, had arrived the day before and was starting everyone on their daily tasks as Madame Lilia ushered Yuri to her own room to prepare.

Madame Lilia’s gloved hand nudged his chin up, forcing his tired gaze to meet her own. She looked him in the eye, hands going up to pull his two braids forward so that they hung in front of his shoulders. “It will work. No one will suspect a thing, Yuri. They won’t see past what is in front of them. You are a beautiful person, and that is all you need to convince them. That, and silence.”

Yuri nodded, breathing in deeply before releasing all his air in a shuddering exhale, his eyes closing.

He’d taken a look in the mirror when Madame Lilia had finished braiding his hair and putting the barest touches of makeup on his face. It had startled him, how familiar the face gaping back from the mirror was. Though he knew it was supposed to be him looking back from the glass, he hadn’t recognized himself; the person was someone else entirely, someone he hadn’t seen in years. With a muffled gasp, he realized why it was so familiar to him, though. He was staring at his mother’s face. Her green eyes glittering like shards of sea glass, the narrow angles of her jaw and cheekbones.

Just like that, he could picture her with perfect clarity, filling in the gaps in his memories, no longer just a blonde haired woman with indistinct features. Anger rose in his gut as he stared at his reflection, at the replica of his mother staring back at him. She hadn’t been the first to leave him, but she was the first that he remembered. The first that had mattered.

A knock on the front door startled him, his eyes snapped open, and Madame Lilia placed a reassuring hand on his arm.

“Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Yuri whispered, his voice catching in his throat. He cleared it, gaze dropping to the floor as he anxiously rubbed his arms.

“This is just like any other performance, Yuri. You can do this,” Madame Lilia said to him as she moved to open the door.

Yuri nodded, angling away to collect himself one last time before it was too late to turn back. Once he stepped through that door, the only way to go would be forward. Not that he had much of a choice in the matter - the officials had been alerted, and were expecting Madame Lilia, the former prima ballerina and her top student, Yelena, at the station, enroute to join their company in Moscow. The city, now freed, would be working to rebuild and hold on to whatever culture and hope it could - the ballet was a perfect way of doing so.

It was the perfect cover story, and the way that was going to get Yuri home to his grandfather. He’d asked Madame Lilia why she was coming with him, and she hadn’t answered for a long time. Just when he thought she wouldn’t, she spoke in a voice hardly above a whisper. “There is something I need to do in Moscow, besides raising up a company of stunning dancers to bring hope back into the hearts of our people. Something very, very important.”

Otabek stood on the steps up to the front door, his hands in his coat pockets, and his bag over one shoulder. He’d already said his goodbyes to his mother, in the privacy of their house, but she was going to meet them at the station to see them off. When the door opened, Otabek’s eyes immediately moved to the figure standing anxiously behind Madame Lilia. He had a double take, realizing that, yes, that was Yuri. That was his friend, whom he was helping to get out of this city and out of reach of the men who were searching for him. What he saw layered over the boy he’d come to consider his close companion in the past two weeks was a young and terrified person, unsure of themselves.

When Yuri faced him, Otabek found the boy he’d claimed as his friend, hidden just behind the fear and Madame Lilia’s simple disguise. Otabek had never fully realized Yuri’s androgyny before, but now it would play to their advantage.

Otabek, without a word, held out his hand. Slowly, Yuri came forward, suitcase clutched in one hand, to put his arm through Otabek’s at the base of the stairs. Inside the suitcase, Madame Lilia had packed clothing to support their claim as traveling dancers - another change of clothes (he’d convinced her that women wore pants in public often enough now to get out of wearing a dress beneath his coat), pajamas, a leotard and shorts, and a new pair of pointe shoes stuffed with an extra pair of socks, as well as various undergarments he’d rather not think about.

“May I take your bag, Madame Lilia?” Otabek asked, nodding towards the case in the older woman’s hand. How she’d managed to fit everything she needed in the one case was beyond Yuri.

“You worry about our Yelena,” Madame Lilia said, striding past the pair without hesitation, her head tipped up and her shoulders rolled back.

“I don’t know how the hell she can walk in these damned things,” Yuri muttered under his breath.

Otabek looked down, at the miniscule heels on the boots Yuri wore. He snorted, earning a glare from Yuri. “Surely they can’t be that bad? They’re not that different from your regular boots,” Otabek grinned.

“You want to wear them?” Yuri snapped. Then, gentler, “They pinch.”

“Yelena. What did I tell you?” Madame Lilia said, stopping a few paces ahead to shoot him a hard look.

Yuri looked down without a word.

“You look wonderful,” Otabek said, earning himself another glare. “Not what I meant. I know who’s under all that,” Otabek tried to explain, his gaze wandering towards the rooftops of the surrounding buildings as they set off along the walk behind Madame Lilia. “Yuri. My friend. Without all the… extra. You’d still look good. You should wear your hair back more often.”

Yuri, his face reddening, smirked as Otabek stumbled over his words. “If I weren’t dressed up as a girl, I’d almost think you you might be trying to flirt with me, giving me such compliments.”

Otabek cleared his throat, mouth pursing as he determinedly looked anywhere but at Yuri. There was a blush creeping across his face.

Yuri came to a dead stop, his eyes wide as he hauled Otabek to a halt besides him. “Holy fuck. You - ”

“Hurry up, you two,” Madame Lilia barked, seeing them lagging behind. “Stop flirting with Miss Yelena, Lieutenant, we have a schedule to keep to.”

“Later,” Yuri said, voice a low threat as he stared pointedly at Otabek.

Otabek only nodded, red faced and still not looking at him, as they began walking even faster after Madame Lilia now.

For several blocks, they moved in silence, the pair of them just close enough behind Madame Lilia to be identified as her companions.

Oi, Altin! Who’s the girl? She single, or with you? ” A group of Kazakh soldiers on the walk ahead of them turned, all grinning, their brows raising as they watched the trio approach. “ Didn’t know you had a thing for Russian blonde’s, Lietenant. That why you never join us at the bars?

“Beka, why is that man whistling? What is he saying?” Yuri hissed in Otabek’s ear.

“Did I not already tell you that you make a very attractive young woman, Yura?” he breathed. “ She’s off limits. ” Otabek’s face was still dark with a blush, but his tone shifted as the Russian words abruptly changed to Kazakh as he spoke to the other soldiers.

But is she yours ?” the soldier who’d spoken before called out.

Yes.

Yuri puzzled at Otabek’s suddenly icy tone, and the way his expression transformed back to its typical blank glare in an instant. It was his grip tightening on Yuri’s arm possessively that clued the younger boy to what was being said. Yuri looked down at their linked arms, then up at the soldier who had spoken, and finally at Otabek’s face.

Smiling to himself, Yuri nestled closer to Otabek and sniffed in disdain as they passed the group, catching up to Madame Lilia as they reached the gates to the train station.

Chapter Text

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can,

only as one who has seen its brutality,

its futility, its stupidity.”

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Akmolinsk

23 December 1943

 

Madame Lilia and Yuri stood side by side on the platform, earning interested glances from the soldiers arriving and preparing to depart on the train that sat patiently before them. Outside the station it was growing colder as the sun slowly sank towards dusk. They’d be traveling overnight, arriving in Kubyshev late the following morning.

Otabek was a few paces off, speaking quietly with his mother. Yuri was lost in the lull of their voices, unable to understand their words but knowing that what they said to one another meant a great deal to them both. They didn’t know when they would see one another next - or whether Otabek would return home at all.

Go back to Alma-Ata, Mama, you’ve been away from the family for too long now. Next time I’m home it will be for good, I swear to you, and that is where I want to be. They can’t keep me forever. Grandmama and grandpapa and the girls, you need to reassure them that I’m okay. That all of us are, and that we will come home. And if it’s not over and they come for Serik, tell him that he is brave - so very brave, and smart, and that it will help him. It will keep him safe.

My sweet Beka. I will.

I pray it will be over before he is eighteen, but just in case. And write to me.

Always .”

“Madame,” a familiar voice called, causing Yuri to startle and stiffen.

It was Georgi. How the hell had he forgotten about Georgi?

Otabek glanced at Yuri, as though sensing his unease, before his gaze flickered to where the other man was approaching. He murmured something to his mother, who turned and followed his gaze.

Madame Lilia turned towards Georgi, looking unimpressed. “What?”

“I have papers for you and your daughter,” Georgi said. His gaze slid to the blonde standing a few paces away.

“Niece,” Madame Lilia corrected coldy.

Georgi’s attention snapped back to the woman. “You are a member of the Bolshoi?”

“Was,” Madame Lilia sniffed.

Georgi flushed. “Right. Apologies, Madame. And you go to join them - the Bolshoi - in Moscow?”

“We travel to join them, yes. I was instructed to put together a small company of younger dancers. A show of hope for the future of our great country.” The Madame looked towards Yuri. “Yelena is one of them.”

Georgi’s eyes drifted towards the dancer, who was still facing determinedly away from him, and had drifted closer to Otabek and his mother.

His gaze flicked back to the Madame. “Right,” he said, clearing his throat. “These documents need to be presented to the officials in Kubyshev, as well as your identifications and clearance papers from Feltsman. And the request form for an escort, as well. They will assign someone upon your arrival.”

“Is that all, sir?” Madame Lilia asked expectantly.

“Yes. Safe travels to the both of you.”

Georgi handed her a slim stack of folded pages held together with twine. Then he made to walk away, hesitating at the last second and looking back at the blonde dancer.

“Miss Yelena,” he said with some expectancy, and waited until Yuri slowly turned towards him. There was no surprise on Georgi’s face, his eyes searching and seeing straight through to Yuri’s core. “Best of luck to you.”

Yuri gave a miniscule nod, hardly daring to breathe. As soon as Georgi had moved away down the platform to speak with another station worker, Yuri let out a long and shaky breath. Otabek placed a hand on his shoulder.

“He won’t say anything.”

“How do you know?”

Otabek shrugged. “I don’t. But he’s a good man who knows what he’s doing. How else do you think he wasn’t drafted?”

Yuri didn’t answer. He’d always considered it suspicious, but he assumed that Georgi had explained it to him once and he just hadn’t been paying attention. Maybe the man had never explained it at all.

“Just trust that he’s good at keeping secrets, Yura,” Otabek murmured, pulling the younger boy under his arm as a group of boisterous soldiers approached, laughing and speaking at obnoxious levels.

Your girl come to say goodbye, Altin?

You really got yourself a looker there, eh, Lieutenant?

The train’s whistle blew, and bodies started pushing towards the platform in earnest, ready to board and be done with it.

“Behave yourselves,” Otabek’s mother said, moving to stand in front of them, blocking the other soldiers out as they swarmed past. Her eyes were damp. “And do whatever you have to do.”

Yuri heard the “to stay alive,” even if she didn’t say it. It was the fact that she spoke in Russian, directing the statement at the both of them, that made him reach out and hug her the same way she had hugged him the other night.

When he stepped back, she moved to hug her son one last time.

“Yelena, stay close to me,” Madame Lilia instructed. “Lieutenant, we will see you aboard.”

Yuri stepped to stand in Madame Lilia’s shadow, and glanced back at Otabek. He still held his mother close, but his gaze was on Yuri.

“I’ll find you on the train,” Otabek promised.

Yuri nodded, and followed Madame Lilia towards the train.


“Otabek.”

The lieutenant stood, framed in the doorway to the private sleeping room. He entered with a glance down the narrow hallway, pulling the door closed behind him.

Yuri sat up on the bunk, worried at the appearance of the other boy so late in the night. They hadn’t seen much of one another since boarding the train - Madame Lilia and her dancer, Yelena, had been shuffled off to a private car set aside specifically for them. How that had been arranged, considering how tight travel typically was, went right over Yuri’s head. He suspected that the Madame had some connection or other, or perhaps Yakov, the one behind all of this apparently, had arranged it.

“Otabek?” Yuri said again when the older boy hadn’t moved from the doorway.

In the dimness, he could just make out the glistening in the older boy’s eyes as he looked up. “I - I’m sorry, did I wake you? I can go - “

“Beka, come here,” Yuri said softly, moving over to make as much space on the bunk as he could. Otabek crossed the small compartment and Yuri drew him down to sit besides him. He’d never heard the shakiness in Otabek’s voice before, and it scared him a little bit. “What’s wrong?”

For a long moment, Otabek did not answer. He sat with his legs stretched out alongside Yuri’s, his head hanging with his shoulders uncharacteristically hunched forward. Yuri waited in silence, studying Otabek’s face at an angle.

“I can’t do it,” Otabek breathed, the air shuddering in and out of his lungs. “I thought it would be okay. I thought that it would be fine - I’ve done this before. I’ve been on the line before. I’ve killed and watched people be killed before - “ He broke off with a quivering gasp. “Yuri. Now that it’s actually happening - I can’t go back there. I can’t do it. I - “

Yuri hauled him into a tight hug, refusing to let go as Otabek sat in shock for several long seconds before returning the gesture. For a long time, they sat there like that as Otabek trembled. Yuri didn’t know if the older boy was crying, but he wouldn’t blame him if he were.

“When we get there in the morning, there are going to be two high priority women - ballerinas, no less - getting off the train with the intent of boarding another bound for Moscow in a few days. They’re going to need someone that they trust to escort them, to ensure they reach their destination safely, don’t you think?” Yuri murmured. “What with a piece of our great Union’s culture dependant on their arrival.”

Otabek pulled back, and his eyes were damp. He blinked furiously, his eyebrows pulling together. “What?”

Yuri gave him a lopsided grin. “Yelena is a very high maintenance young lady, Lieutenant. She doesn’t trust just anyone with her safety. And neither does Madame Lilia. Honestly, if you thought I was going to let you go galavanting off - “

Otabek tugged Yuri back into his arms, and buried his face against Yuri’s shoulder. Yuri rested his chin on Otabek’s shoulder, holding onto him.

Thank you.

Yuri grinned. “I know that one. And you’re welcome. We’re friends, right? Friends look out for one another, and protect each other. Now, come on. I haven’t slept in two days, and if we don’t sleep now, we’re both going to be in a mood. And let me tell you, Yelena is worse than Madame Lilia in that regard.”

Otabek began to move as though to get up, but Yuri only tightened his hold, feeling his face heat up as he did so. But he wasn’t going to let the other boy go wandering around the train again when he was so emotionally on edge. From personal experience, if nothing else.

Understanding, Otabek settled back down, curling up against Yuri’s side. “Yelena is going to have to explain to her Madame why there was a soldier in her quarters. The men will talk.”

“Yelena doesn’t give a fuck what they think,” Yuri said, earning an almost laugh from Otabek. “Also, it’s fucking cold on this train and these blankets are much too thin.”

Otabek shifted closer. Yuri looked down at the top of his head. He couldn’t see the older boy’s face.

“Earlier, when we were walking to the station,” Yuri said quietly. “And you were saying all of those things…”

“I was trying to calm you down. Distract you.”

It made sense, in a way, though Yuri couldn’t quite grasp why he felt a sinking in his gut though at the reasoning.

“So you weren’t actually flirting with me,” he muttered.

“I didn’t say that.”

Yuri froze, his heart pounding at twice its normal rate. He shifted, peering into Otabek’s face. Otabek, who was looking at him almost expectantly, waiting for some sort of reaction.

“Does it bother you?”

Yuri shook his head. Otabek flirting with him was the opposite of what the older boy feared - Yuri realized he wouldn’t mind Otabek doing it more.

“Does it scare you?” That I have feelings for you?

“A little bit,” Yuri exhaled. He’d never himself considered it, though he knew how the world looked upon same-sex couples. The same way they looked upon anyone who was remotely different: outcasts, unfit, and impure. Subjects of discrimination that, these days, often led to death. He was scared of what could happen, if someone found out. What they might do to Otabek. Yuri knew that the older boy already had a hard enough time as things were.

“Do you want me to go?” Otabek asked, beginning to shift away.

“I’m not going to chase you off, Beka,” Yuri sighed, a hint of annoyance in his voice as he rolled his eyes.

“Even though - “

“Fucking hell, Beka. I’m your friend. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t have feelings for me because I’m a boy, okay? I don’t know how to feel about it myself - how to feel about you - I haven’t had a close friend like you in a long time, so for now that’s what I’m going to concentrate on. But the rest… it doesn’t bother me, okay? Just… stay. Please.”

Otabek rolled to wind his arms around Yuri’s waist, holding him, his head pressed against the younger boy’s chest. Yuri rested his chin on top of Otabek’s head, arms cradling his shoulders.

“I don’t expect anything from you. I just… I wanted you to know.”

“Well, now I know. Shut up and go to sleep.”

The night before, Otabek had comforted him. Now it was his turn. Because that’s what friends do, he thought. They take care of one another. Yuri shoved the knowledge that Otabek’s feelings possibly - definitely - went deeper than that to the side. Right now, he just wanted to enjoy the presence of his friend, while he still could.


Yuri woke up to a hand pushing gently through his hair, and pale light coming in through the window. The train car rattled particularly loud, pushing him further into the waking world. He groaned, stretching his arms above his head, and frowned as the hand pulled away. Squinting his eyes open, he found Otabek sitting on the edge of the bunk, looking down at him with that signature blank expression.

“What time is it?” Yuri mumbled.

“We’ll be in Kubyshev in less than an hour. I have to head back to - “

Yuri surged upwards to cling to Otabek’s wrist, preventing him from retreating. “Don’t go too far, okay? Don’t go marching off just yet after we get there.”

Otabek’s mouth tightened. “I know. Lilia and Yelena need - “

“No. Not Yelena. Me.”

They locked gazes for a long moment, at the end of which Otabek nodded slowly, a soft smile on his lips. “I’ll wait for you.”

Chapter Text

"If you are far from the enemy

make him believe you are near."

- Sun Tzu

Near Kuybyshev

24 December 1943

 

Yuri looked up as he felt the train begin to slow. Puzzled, he looked out the window. He couldn’t see Kuybyshev just yet from this angle, though he knew they would be approaching soon. He just hadn’t thought it would be this soon.

Finishing lacing his boots, he stood up, shrugging into his coat and tossing his scarf around his shoulders. He’d taken his hair down the night before, and it hung to his shoulders. Madame Lilia would want to redo the braids, to ensure that they were “just right,” so he let them be.

Grabbing his suitcase off the rumpled bunk, he turned towards the door as Madame Lilia herself slid it open, bracing herself against the frame.

“Where is Lieutenant Altin?” she asked before Yuri had time to puzzle at her sudden appearance. He blanched when the words she said processed.

“What? Madame, is something - ”

“You need to get off this train,” she said, glancing out into the corridor.

“What?”

She came into the private room, and began looking around to ensure all of his things were packed up.

“I’m so stupid. There is a checkpoint before the city. Stalin’s bunker is in Kuybyshev, so they’re monitoring who is coming in and out. We still have a few miles until we stop and they come aboard, but you need to get off and get out of here before then.”

“But they’ll know I’m supposed to be on the train. You are supposed to have a dancer traveling with you - “

Madame Lilia cut him off by holding up a hand. “I already have that taken care of. One of the young ladies on the train can dance. They don’t know how or when I picked up my dancer, for all they know it could be someone I met on this train. Miss Babicheva - “

Yuri’s entire being froze as he stared into the doorway as it was filled by a red-haired young woman.

Baba ? But you - ”

“Yurochka,” Mila beamed, surging forward into the private car hug him.

“Oh, good. You’re familiar with each other,” Madame Lilia sighed.

For several long seconds Yuri stood stock still, and then he wrapped his arms tightly around Mila’s midsection. He was still a few inches shorter than her, but he was beginning to catch up.

“Why are you on the train to Kuybyshev? I thought that’s where you’ve been?”

“I was stationed somewhere else for a while, and I’ve been on board to help with security since it left for Akmolinsk a few days ago. I’m sorry that I left you,” she breathed, squeezing him a little tighter. “But I had to do something. I’ve helped so many people, Yurochka. So many. And now I’m going to help you, to make up for leaving you behind.”

Yuri didn’t respond, just continued to stand in her embrace.

“I know the two of you probably want to have a grand reunion, but we need to move. Yuri, where is the Lieutenant?”

Mila finally released Yuri, and moved past him into the private car to drop onto the unmade bunk. Madame Lilia grabbed Yuri by the arm and pulled him out into the narrow corridor, sliding the door shut between them and Mila.

“I don’t know, he said he had to go back with the rest of them - “

Yura, I’m here. I’m right here,” Otabek said hurriedly from behind, and Yuri twisted around to see him entering the car. “Do you have a plan, Madame? They will know it’s him, they’ll be looking for him - “

“You take him. You get him out of here. I’m trusting you, Lieutenant. I’ll take care of your orders when I get into Kuybyshev. But for now, I need you to take him.”

“I - “

A loud thud cut him off. The entire train shuddered, the wheels screeching as the car rocked. Mila appeared, clinging to the doorframe and looking at the three of them with huge eyes.

“What the hell was that?” Yuri shouted, one hand braced against the wall, the other holding on tightly to Otabek’s coat. Otabek had one arm around the younger boy, his other pressed against the opposite wall. Yuri’s case had fallen to the floor between them.

The sound of groaning metal surrounded them, and all four winced.

“I think that’s our cue,” Otabek said, beginning to move back towards the door he’d come through.

“Go, now,” Madame Lilia said, stepping forward to grab Yuri by either side of the face. “You keep your head down, and get to Moscow. It may take longer, but I believe in you. You can do it.”

“Madame Lilia - “

“Yuri. You have been the best student I have ever had the pleasure to teach. When I see you again, it will be in Moscow, when you come to dance for me and the Bolshoi. As Yuri Plisetsky.”

Yuri threw his arms around the woman, startling them both. Pulling back, he looked at Mila one more time.

“Go. I’ll see you soon, Yurochka,” she winked, her eyes damp.

Yuri nodded, then backed away quickly to where Otabek was standing by the open door, grabbing his suitcase once more as he went, the winter air pushing in. Through the door on the other side of the gap, they could see soldiers pressing up against the windows in their rows, peering out and trying to see what was going on in the cars ahead of them. They were all turned away from the two boys.

“Can you see anything?” Yuri shouted above a clanking noise he did not think was normal for a train to be making.

Otabek had grabbed the handlebar on the back of the car full of soldiers, and was leaning out. “Something is wrong, up towards the engine. There’s too much smoke.”

“Are we under attack?”

“If we were, we’d probably be dead already.”

The train continued to slow.

“Come on,” Otabek said, holding his hand out to Yuri.

“What happens when you don’t report in Kuybyshev?”

Otabek shrugged. “Madame says she will take care of it. I trust her. Besides. Men go missing in action all the time during a war.”

Yuri tried not to think too hard about that as he took the hand held out to him. “This is a bad idea,” Yuri said, looking at the spread of white stretching out before them. The tracks ran close to the tree line, but not close enough that they would be at risk of hitting any of them at the slowing speed.

“On three,” Otabek said. “One… Two - “

The train shuddered violently again, throwing them both off balance and tumbling forward. They hit the snow rolling, and came to a stop in a heap.

“What the fuck - I thought you said on three!” Yuri gasped, picking himself up. His case was still clutched in his hand, and snow clumped in his hair and got up the ends of his coat sleeves.

Otabek grabbed him by the back of his coat, hurrying him onto his feet. “Move. Now.”

They ducked into the cover of trees, then stopped to watch the end of the train for several moments. Thankfully, the majority of the cars after the one Madame Lilia and Yuri had occupied were supply cars, and would have few if any people occupying them.

Yuri looked ahead in the direction the train was headed and shook his head. “I really fucking hate Kuybyshev,” he muttered.

“Come on,” Otabek said, beginning to shove his way through the snow.

“Where exactly are we going?” Yuri asked, stepping into his tracks.

“There’s a road just through these trees.”

“How do you know that?” Yuri asked, pausing.

Otabek looked over his shoulder at the younger boy, amusement in his eyes. “Because I’ve seen maps of the area before.”

“Right,” Yuri nodded, starting to walk again.

Otabek shook his head and continued to push through the snow.


Georgi glared up at the man in uniform who stood over his desk. There were two others by the door, waiting. Looking almost too casual to be standing in his office, with the rank insignias on the breast and shoulders of their uniforms.

“Excuse me, gentlemen. But if you have something to say, please say it. I have work to do,” Georgi sighed, his focus returning to the papers before him. His hand tightened around the pen he held.

A file dropped onto the desk, covering the paper he had been reading and making notations on. He looked at it for a moment, then glanced up at the officer standing immediately in front of him.

“Do you know this boy?” the officer asked.

Still looking at the officer, Georgi opened the file. He kept his face neutral as he looked over the documents of one Yuri Plisetsky, the picture several years old and accompanied by his transcripts from Yakov Feltsman’s fancy school up in Leningrad. There was a page describing his attendance of a dance school in Moscow as a child, and another on his family - the only name on the page was one that Georgi recognized, Nikolai Plisetsky. Kolya. He frowned.

“I cannot say I do,” he said, flipping the file shut off-handedly and nudging it back towards the officer.

“Popovich. If you’re lying, you would be considered as going rogue. You know the punishment for such actions.” The officer said it as though he were inviting Georgi to tea.

“A rogue agent is a dead agent,” Georgi incited. “You think I don’t know that? And I am telling you. I do not know this boy. If he came through here, he probably moved farther south. I would, if I were trying to get away from the war. Why are you after him?”

“He has something of importance.”

“Then I would definitely move farther south, if it were me. Have you tried Alma-Ata?”

The officer does not comment.

“Why are you after a boy who can’t be more than fourteen?” Georgi asked, looking at the picture. “What could he possibly have?”

“He’s nearly seventeen. The picture is old. We believe he is in possession of or knows the whereabouts of a series of vital documents.”

“What sort of documents?”

“You’re in intelligence. Surely you can figure it out.”

When they left, the door shut was a slam that rattled the nick-knacks on one of the shelves wrapping around the room. After they had gone, Georgi locked the door to his office and stood there for a long moment, his hands on his hips. With a deep breath, he strode across the room to the desk, and the phone sitting atop it. Dialing, he waited.

“Hello? Yes, is Feltsman there? Yes, Popovich. I can wait.”

He waited only a few minutes in silence, until a familiar voice spoke.

“This better be important,” Yakov grumbled through the receiver.

“Yakov. The officers. They’re closer than we anticipated. They’ve just come through the station here.”

“I’m meeting with the Madame in Kuybyshev this evening. Thank you, for the warning. We will be sure to move quickly.”

Georgi debated saying his goodbyes and hanging up. It was better to keep these conversations short. But his curiosity got the better of him. “You never mentioned that he was Kolya’s grandson.”

“It wasn’t important,” Yakov said quickly.

“Is that why you’re doing this? To repay the debt you owe him? Or do you genuinely want to protect him?”

“Georgi, now is not the time - “

“Tell me. Because I watched that boy walk through here yesterday with terror in his eyes. I have watched him nearly every day for the last two and a half years, Yakov. This war has destroyed so many children, forced them to grow up too quickly. He deserves better than this. They all do.”

“You’re a romantic, Georgi. Don’t let that get in the way of your duty.”

“What will they do to him, if they catch him? They think he has your documents. I thought you burned them. You told me you did.”

“I told you that I got rid of them. I did not say how.”

“You gave them to Nikiforov, didn’t you,” he accused. “Why do you always do that? Why do you trust him so much?”

“This is not a conversation to have over the phone,” Yakov said flatly.

“It’s a secure line,” Georgi said. “At least I know how to do my job.”

Yakov sighed. “Yes, I gave them to Victor. If he gave them to the boy, then he’s an idiot.”

“What are the documents, Yakov?”

“Information. Cataloguing some of the nation’s famed treasures, and where some of them had been relocated to before the Germans came.”

“The Amber Room. What did you take?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about - “

“If anything happens to that boy, Yakov, I’ll know who to blame. What did you take from the Amber Room?”

“The woman accompanying him, Madame Lilia. She has it in her possession. It will be in my care by nightfall. It will be taken care of.”

“Those men are not our own, are they?” Georgi asked, glancing towards the door as realization hit him. “They know I’m in intelligence.”

“I do not know if they are ours or theirs. But you cannot trust them. You cannot trust anyone, Georgi.”

“You say that as though you do not remember what it is I do for a living.”

Georgi hung the phone up before Yakov could answer, and sank into the chair behind his desk. He leaned forward, rubbing his face with one hand. With a sigh, he reached back for the telephone and dialed a number.

Chapter Text

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him,

but because he loves what is behind him."

- G. K. Chesterton

Kuybyshev

25 December 1943

 

Victor strode into the office with a glance in the direction of the clock. “This had better be good, Yakov. My train leaves in an hour, and I cannot miss it.”

The door shut hard behind him, interrupting the tense silence he had walked in on. The occupants of the office looked up at him.

There were three others in the room, including Yakov Feltsman. The other two were both women, one whom Victor recognized as Lilia Baranovskaya, Yakov’s ex-wife and the one-time lead of the Bolshoi ballet company. The second was the redhead that had gone onto the train with Yuri two and a half years ago, at the boy’s insistence. Victor blinked in surprise at her. He honestly hadn’t thought he would see her again.

“Mila, isn’t it?” he asked, smiling at her.

Mila sat in a chair against one wall, between a second chair and a cabinet. She had a rifle resting over her knees, and studied him with the eye of a marksman. One of the famed female snipers the Union had been recruiting, then. He wondered how much damage she could do in a tight spot. Likely a lot, if he remembered her from Yakov’s Academy correctly. She was someone he wouldn’t mind having at his back.

“I’m surprised you remembered.” She sounded unimpressed, and looked even more so.

Victor’s easy smile dropped away. He wouldn’t be going anywhere fast with that sort of attitude. He wondered briefly what he may have done to earn such… bitterness.

“What is this about?” he asked, his attention once again on the old man behind the desk. “What was so important that I had to come here, in the middle of my leave?” And on my birthday, no less .

Yakov stood behind the only desk in the room, his back to Victor as he stared out at the street below them. His arms were folded behind his back. His uniform was as stiff as his stance, as though he hadn’t worn it since the last war, when the Union was still just an idea preparing to blossom.

“Lilia, perhaps you should begin,” Yakov said with a heavy sigh, looking towards the woman. He sounded tired. Defeated. As though they had lost the war.

Victor’s interest grew, his eyes lighting.

“Yuri Plisetsky was traveling with me to meet Yakov, and then we were going to Moscow,” Lilia said. She stood near Mila, between the desk and the cabinet.

“Yuri? You mean - “ Victor began, putting the pieces together. Of course this was about the boy. One of the last conversations Yakov had had with him before he’d left Leningrad nearly three years before had been about the boy’s protection in the looming war.

“Yes. Kolya’s grandson,” Yakov sighed heavily, turning now to face him.

Victor opened his mouth, and paused. He’d forgotten that little detail. He always managed to forget the things that ended up being the most important in the end.

“He’s Kolya’s grandson?” Lilia snapped, whirling around to face Yakov. “You never said that!”

Apparently, Victor wasn’t the only one out of the loop. His brow lifted as he watched the woman bite into Yakov.

“What, you didn’t make the connection? He has his last name,” Yakov said, as though it were that simple.

“Kolya only had a daughter. I would know. She danced for me for a few years,” Lilia said. She grew quiet. “Wonderful girl. What happened to her?”

Yakov stared at Lilia a long moment before speaking.

“Kolya’s daughter had a son out of wedlock. Yuri inherited Nikolai’s surname,” Yakov said softly.

Lilia sat down heavily in the open chair besides Mila, her hands going to her mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me? You should have told me, Yakov.”

Yakov shook his head. “Does it really matter?”

Lilia looked at him sharply, her face twisting in a snarl. “Yes, it matters! I wouldn’t have sent them off the way I had if I’d known!”

Mila rests a hand on Lilia’s shoulder, looking harshly at Yakov. Victor looked between the two women and Yakov, not quite following.

“Will someone please explain to me what is going on?” Victor interjected, still looking between the opposing sides. “Where is Yuri now?”

All three of them looked at him.

“We don’t know,” Mila said when neither of the other two spoke. “There are men searching for him, so we couldn’t risk him going through the checkpoint.”

“You left him alone?” Victor asked, surprised.

“No, you idiot! He has someone with him. We’re not like you,” Mila said, looking at him with distaste.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Victor asked, offended.

“That means you were going to send him off from Leningrad alone if he hadn’t asked to bring me, too!” Mila snapped at him. “He would never have made it alone, even as smart as he is.”

“Who’s with him, then?” Victor asked, his gaze leaving Mila to look at Lilia.

“Lieutenant Altin. Kazakh. A hero in the eyes of his fellows,” Lilia said quietly, staring at the floor between her feet. “He’s a good man, and they’re close friends. He’ll take care of Yuri.”

Victor took a moment to process the information that Yuri had made a friend, determined not to forget that particular detail. “Okay. Then what is the problem?” Victor asked.

“Do you remember those documents I gave you?” Yakov sighed, dragging Victor’s attention back to him. Hed come around the desk and leaned back against it now, arms folded over his chest.

“You’ll have to be more specific, Yakov. You’ve given me a lot of documents in the past.”

“The Amber Room papers,” Yakov murmured.

“I believe I remember those, yes. What about them?” Victor asked, hesitant. He had a sinking feeling in his gut.

“I’ve been in possession of one of the items spoken of in the documents,” Lilia said. “Yuri - he doesn’t know about it. Doesn’t know that I had it, or that it was with us on the train. It’s in his suitcase.”

“You didn’t think to get it out before you got him off the train?” Victor asked, staring at her in disbelief.

“We were a little busy,” Mila snarled. “Something was wrong with the engine and everyone thought we were under attack. Excuse us for being a little preoccupied at the time.”

“Why send him off in the first place?” Victor asked.

“Have you not been listening? There are men looking for him!” Lilia snapped. “If they find him - “

“He would have been fine, no? They wouldn’t have known where he was - “

“They know that he isn’t in Akmolinsk. Lilia made the right decision,” Yakov interrupted, looking at Victor with a harsh glare. “Popovich called, saying they’d come through. They would have alerted the checkpoint, and they’d have been on the lookout for him.”

“Popovich? You believe Popovich’s word?” Victor asked, words dripping with disdain.

Yakov stared at Victor for a long moment before he answered. “Why wouldn’t I? At least he’s been loyal. He hasn’t gone running off across the entire country, chasing after - “

“Is that what this is about, Yakov? Is that why I’m here? So you can scold me? I have my reasons for doing what I did! We all have people we want to protect from this war - don’t tell me you don’t, when I know you do. You’ve been protecting Lilia, and Yuri, and even Kolya, I’d bet.”

Lilia and Mila watched the exchange in mute silence, their gazes darting back and forth between the two men.

“Yes, but I didn’t abandon my station in order to do it,” Yakov said through his teeth.

Victor laughed, a terrible, terrifying sound in the otherwise silent room. “I didn’t abandon my station. I am still serving. I have still fought and killed in this war in the defense of our nation and our way of life. Never, ever, accuse me of doing anything less, old man.” 


 

They sat with their legs dangling off the back of the cart filled with an assortment of the driver’s belongings. He was older, and had explained that they were about thirty kilometers outside of Kuybyshev when they came across him on the road. Then he’d offered them a ride in the back for the rest of the day when Otabek explained that they were headed away from the city.

Yuri had fallen back into his role as Yelena, and played the part of a scared young woman expertly. He leaned, dozing, against Otabek’s shoulder. Otabek watched him with a soft expression, only broken when he began to cough.

“Beka? You alright?” Yuri asked, coming fully awake.

“I’m fine,” Otabek cleared his throat. “Just something in my throat.”

Yuri lifted his head from Otabek’s shoulder to study the older boy. “Are you sure? We can stop a little longer at the next - “

“No, I’m fine, Yuri.”

“If you’re not feeling well - “

“Yuri. I’m alright. I promise.”

Yuri frowned, staring at him for a long moment. “I promised your mother I’d watch out for you. I don’t think she’d forgive me if - “

“Yura,” Otabek laughed. “I promise you, I am completely alright. The air is just dry,” he said with a shrug.

Yuri continued to look at him suspiciously. Unsatisfied, he crossed his arms over his chest and returned to resting his head on Otabek’s shoulder.

For nearly an hour, they remained in silence, broken only by the creaking and rattling of the cart. When it began to slow as the sun sank in the sky, Yuri lifted his head again to peer around.

“We’re nearing an inn - they’ll have a place for you for the night, I’m sure. At the split up here, I’ll drop you off,” their driver called back. “I have to head a different way from there.”

“Thank you,” Otabek said to the man when he stopped the cart long enough for Otabek to hop down, then reach up to help Yuri, his hands holding tight to the younger boy’s waist.

“Of course. Best of luck to you.”

“And to you, sir,” Otabek nodded.

As the cart veered to the left, Otabek and Yuri began to trek to the right.

Yuri, still wearing the ridiculous boots with the miniscule heel, lost his footing almost instantly, and Otabek’s hand shot out to keep him from falling. Yuri growled, staring harshly at the suitcase that had fallen from his grasp when he’d scrambled to keep his footing.

“Thank you,” he muttered under his breath.

“You need to be careful,” Otabek said softly, still holding Yuri’s arm.

“It’s these stupid shoes,” Yuri grumbled. He bent to pick up the suitcase again.

“Come on,” Otabek sighed. “We’ll be at the inn soon.”

They walked in silence for several dragging minutes. As they rounded a bend in the road, the inn came into view, surrounded by several other low buildings.

“Do you think we’re far enough away?” Yuri asked, worry dancing across his face.

“What do you mean?” Otabek looked down at him.

“From the train. From Kuybyshev.”

Yuri was staring straight ahead, and Otabek wanted the younger boy to look at him. Wanted to be able to reassure him with a look as much as with his words.

“I would imagine so. We were on that cart nearly all day.”

“Okay,” Yuri nodded.

After a few moments, he did look at Otabek, who smiled at him softly.

“We’re going to be okay,” Otabek said quietly.

Yuri’s lips curled into the barest of smiles, and he nodded again. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche,

Twilight of the Idols

Penza Oblast

28 December 1943

 

Three days had passed since they departed train. The entire time, Otabek and Yuri had been heading steadily west, either walking or hitching a ride in the back of a cart for a few hours like they had the first day. The minutes and hours had melted into a never-ending blur of infinite white beneath their feet, and Otabek’s shoulder occasionally jostling Yuri to attention. After they reached Moscow, Yuri would be more than happy to never have to step foot in snow ever again.

Now though, as the light faded in the sky, they hadn’t seen another being - human or animal - in hours, since they’d left the last village. From the heavy clouds hanging low overhead, snow fluttered down, limiting their vision.

“Are you sure we read the last sign right?” Yuri sighed, squinting through the dimming light and the all-encasing greyness down the road. Were they even still on the road? “We should have come across the next village by now. At the very least the lake.”

“It’s probably just ahead,” Otabek said, sounding exhausted.

Yuri looked at him with concern, his steps stuttering. “Beka?”

“I’m okay,” Otabek said quickly, a flickering smile appearing for an instant on his face as he looked at Yuri. “Come on. We have to be close.”

Yuri continued to stare at him. “If you’re getting sick, then we can take a break for a day or two.”

“I’m okay,” Otabek insisted. “Besides. If we stop for more than just the night, they’re more likely to find us. We’ll keep going.”

Yuri frowned at him in worry, but didn’t push the point. They were both tired, he supposed, and he really didn’t want to argue at the moment. Especially not with Otabek.

“How are your feet?”

Yuri sighed, knowing that Otabek was purposely steering the conversation away from himself.

His feet, though, like the last three days since they’d left the train, hurt like hell. The damned shoes were too tight and had rubbed and pinched in all of the wrong places, leaving him with blisters the first night. It was worse than breaking in a new pair of pointe shoes, he’d decided, though he hadn’t done that in years.

“Sore,” Yuri said.

He thought about the pointe shoes in the suitcase he still carried. Madame Lilia had said they were his size, and that she’d had them made for him. That, when everything was over, she wanted to invite him to join the Bolshoi for real, as Yuri Plisetsky.

Yuri let his mind drift, that picture flitting across his thoughts. The stage, the lights, the girls in their fine, handmade tutus. The pinch of the pointe shoes, nothing like what his feet were experiencing now, in the ill-fitting boots.

An audience, mostly hidden in the dark. Madame Lilia watching from the wings, a smile of approval on her face. And his grandfather sitting in the front row, maybe even with his mother, and -

In the present, Yuri looked at Otabek. The older boy was watching him.

“We can rewrap them when we get there,” he said.

Yuri only nodded, ducking his head down.

“How long are we going to do this?” Yuri muttered, mostly to himself. “How long until we get to Moscow?”

“It would take at least a month from Kuybyshev, walking.”

Yuri cursed under his breath, and scuffed the snow with his too-tight boot. “This was a stupid idea. We should have stayed on the train.”

Otabek sighed, as though he’d been waiting for this to come up. He was truly surprised it hadn’t yet. “If we had stayed on the train, they would have found you.”

“Not necessarily. My disguise is flawless,” Yuri argued, tugging on one of his half-falling out braids.

Otabek did not counter that, but raised a separate point. “And I trust Madame Lilia’s judgement. She said to get you off, and away. So that’s what we did.”

Yuri grew sullen at the mention of Madame Lilia. He ducked his head down, pulled his scarf up over his face more. His mind wandered to the two women they had left behind, and he wanted to hate himself for caring, but...

“Do you think that they’re okay? The Madame, and Mila?”

Otabek cleared his throat. “They’re clever. I’m sure that, between the two of them, they are doing just fine.”

They lapsed into another silence that carried them several dozen paces, before Yuri shattered it again.

“Mila was like a sister to me,” Yuri said, quiet enough that Otabek wasn’t sure he’d spoken until he went on. “I never asked for her to be, but she was.”

Otabek waited in silence for him to go on. He knew that Yuri didn’t like to talk much about his own family, except his grandfather, so he made a point of not being the one to bring it up. He did not want to push him.

“We met when I first went to Yakov’s. For some reason, the hag decided to take me under her wing. I never thanked her. For looking out for me, when no one else did. I never got along with anyone else, not really. She didn’t care.”

“She doesn’t seem the kind to allow herself to be pushed around,” Otabek said, nodding. He’d only met the girl briefly, but he could tell that much about her.

“No,” Yuri said, looking at the ground with a tiny smile. “She isn’t. She was supposed to stay with me, to come to Akmolinsk. But we stopped in Kuybyshev, and she decided that she was going to volunteer for the war. I was angry with her, for a long time. I thought that, when I saw her again, I would shout and we would argue, because that’s what we do.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. We didn’t. I wanted to, when I first realized that it was her. But then… I missed her, more than I was angry with her. Because, even though I didn’t ask it, she is my family. She is like my older sister.”

“Have you forgiven her? For leaving.”

Yuri nods. “Not out loud, but I think she knows.”

“I am sure that she does.”

Yuri looked up at him. “Do you ever think about your family?”

“All the time,” Otabek said gently. He looked sideways at the younger boy. They’d had a conversation similar, days or weeks earlier, but he never minded talking about them, especially when Yuri was the one directing the converation.

“What do you think your mother is doing, right now?”

Otabek smiled, looking off almost dreamily. “I told her to go home, to Alma-Ata, so hopefully she is there by now. She came to Akmolinsk when I was drafted and shipped out, so she would be closer and we could spend more time together when I was on leave.”

“You have siblings, right?” Yuri looked up at Otabek, curiosity in his eyes. They’d been mentioned, the siblings, but never talked about directly.

“Yes. A younger brother, and two little sisters.” Otabek smiled.

“How old are they?”

“Serik just turned sixteen, last month. Ayzere is thirteen, and Malika is ten now.”

“Which is your favorite?” Yuri asked.

“Malika. She’s everyone’s favorite, though,” Otabek answered, almost instantly.

Yuri laughed. “I thought you were your mother’s favorite, at the least.”

“If you think I’m her favorite, then wait until you see how she is with Malika,” Otabek huffed, amused.

Yuri swung his suitcase, prancing a few steps as an idea came to him. “After we get to Moscow, we’re writing your family. And as soon as this bullshit war is done, your entire family is invited over.”

Otabek watched him with amusement. “Malika would like you. She wants to be a ballerina some day.”

Yuri stopped his antics, falling back into step beside Otabek.

“What about you?” Yuri asked softly.

“Hm?”

“What do you want to do, after the war?”

Otabek frowned, his mouth pursed in thought. “I haven’t really considered it.”

“Surely there was something you wanted to be before you enlisted,” Yuri prodded, watching the older boy’s face for any indication of an interest.

And there is was - a tiny spark in Otabek’s eye as he glanced at Yuri, fighting a small smile. “I wanted to be a musician. I can play the piano, and the violin.”

“You can?” Yuri asked, voice rising in excitement.

“I haven’t done either, in a long time.”

“Will you play for me, someday?”

Otabek laughed. “Yes. But only if you dance for me.”

Yuri was too stunned by the sound of Otabek’s laughter to respond immediately. It too him several seconds to realize that he was mute, and then he scrambled for words that came out as a scoff. “You’ve seen me dance before.”

Otabek shrugged, still smiling. “And I want to see you dance again. Yuri, when you dance… I am continually awestruck.”

The sky darkened further, leaving them trekking through the dimness of dusk. Yuri worried that they’d lost their way completely. If they had to stay outside overnight… he worried that they wouldn’t need to worry about men chasing after them.

“There it is,” Otabek mumbled through his scarf.

Yuri glanced up from watching his own legs drag through the banks of snow, and caught sight of the glow of lights across the stretch of white before them. Lucky for them, the snow had eased to a flurry, and the village appeared to be much closer now, small spheres of light now visible in the encroaching dark.

“Just a little further, now,” Otabek said confidently, his arm going around Yuri to urge him forward.

They shuffled forward, faster now that their goal was in sight.

Beneath them, the ground groaned, and Yuri hesitated. Yuri stared down, his eyes widening. “Shit. Bek - “

Yuri froze, feet spread and arms out, leaning to the side against the weight of his suitcase.

“Otabek, do not move,” he breathed.

“Yuri?”

“I think we found the lake,” he said, hardly daring to breathe. Beneath them, the ice groaned again, shifting.

“Move slowly,” Otabek instructed, voice even. “Keep your weight balanced as well as you can. We’re almost across already.”

Yuri slid one foot forward, then the other, an inch at a time. Behind him, Otabek did the same, his hand fisted in the back of Yuri’s coat.

When the ice cracked, the noise it made reminded them both of the explosion-like sound on the train that had prompted their quick departure.

“Run!” Otabek shouted, surging forward to shove Yuri into motion.

Yuri went hurtling towards the bank, the ice breaking beneath him. Otabek shoved him again, and he flew forward into the safety of the snow, his suitcase tumbling out of his grasp to land several feet away. Breathing heavily, he pushed himself up and whirled around, looking for Otabek.

The older boy was nowhere to be seen. Yuri’s gaze landed on the ice, and the gaping hole where he had been only moments before, the water still bubbling up from something having fallen through. His face morphed in horror, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe.

BEKA !”


Yuuri stood alone in the kitchen, staring out the window into the fading light of the day. Victor should have been home the day before. Yuuri was beginning to think that perhaps his lover wouldn’t make it back for the last few days of his leave. He sighed to himself, knowing that in a war, such as they were, quite often they were faced with the unexpected.

Something had to have come up, he knew. Victor would never not return without some good explanation. It would only be a few days, he was sure, until Victor sent word and an apology.

A pattering sound approached, and Makkachin whined, rubbing up against his leg.

“I know, I miss him too,” Yuuri murmured, rubbing the dog’s head lovingly. “I’m sure we’ll hear from him very soon.”

Makkachin whined again, and paced away from Yuuri, who turned back to gaze out the window. Victor likely wouldn’t return for months, now. Perhaps at the start of summer, he’d have a few days to escape back to Yuuri.

A scratching noise came from the other room, and Yuuri frowned, turning towards the sound with worry. “Makkachin? What are you getting into?”

He walked out of the kitchen towards the front room, where the dog was pawing at the front door, still whining. As Yuuri approached, he turned from the door to stare at the man.

“What’s the matter? We just went out a little while ago.”

Makkachin continued to look at Yuuri, begging him with his eyes. When Yuuri made no move towards him, he barked, and pawed at the door once more, with increased urgency.

“Makkachin,” Yuuri sighed, but the dog only barked again, sounding more insistent. “Alright, let me get my coat and boots.”

The dog barked again, spinning in a tight circle while he waited for Yuuri to prepare to venture out into the winter air.

Chapter Text

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”

- Helen Keller

Penza Oblast

28 December 1943

 

Yuri caught Otabek under the arms when the older boy surged up with a gasp, hauling him up and onto the bank in a panic. Otabek, sprawled on his hands and knees, was already shaking uncontrollably, water cascading in freezing rivulets, his soaked clothes beginning to stiffen. Yuri knelt next to him, hands still locked around his shoulders.

“Beka, listen to me, you have to stand up, we have got to keep you moving,” Yuri gasped, trying to get Otabek onto his feet. “The village is right there, we have to get you inside.”

Otabek struggled up onto his feet, Yuri trying his hardest to help. Water had begun soaking into his own thick layers wherever they had contact. He looked up and around desperately. The village appeared to be so far away once more -

A dog barking shattered the stillness of the early evening. The barking grew louder, and Yuri searched desperately for the source, hoping that someone might be out and near enough to help.

He spied the yapping dog - a brown knot of fur racing across the snow, a bundle of a human in pursuit.

“Help,” Yuri rasped at the sight of them. He cleared his throat, then said it again, louder: “Help! Over here!”

He dragged Otabek into a few steps, and then the dog and it’s owner - Yuri assumed it was the owner - were skidding to a stop beside them.

“What’s happened?” the stranger asked, breathing heavily, his voice thick with an accent. His eyes, just visible through his own many layers, darted around the scene, piecing everything together as he waited for Yuri to speak.

“He fell through - please, can you help?” Yuri asked, panic lacing through his words.

“Hurry, we must get him inside,” the stranger said, stepping forward to Otabek’s other side to help support him.

Yuri grabbed his suitcase with his free hand, and they began to move towards the village, following the path of the prancing and over-excited dog as it darted around and ahead of them.

Within minutes, they were tumbling into a cozy little house on the outer edge of the village, and the stranger was tugging them towards a low fire against the back wall of the front room. They eased Otabek down in front of it, and then the stranger took a step back.

“Get him out of his things - I’ll find something dry to put him in.”

The man vanished into another room, and Yuri began to undress Otabek.

Yura - what are you doing? If you wanted me out of my clothes, you could’ve just asked, ” Otabek said, his words half slurred.

“I don’t know what you’re saying, you big idiot. Help me get these off of you, you can’t stay in them,” Yuri said. His hands were shaking as he tugged Otabek’s coat off and dropped it to the floor. His boots were next, tossed haphazardly out of the way.

The stranger came back into the room, half of his own layers discarded, a stack of thick blankets and dry clothes in his arms. He deposited them next to Yuri, but away from the growing pile of wet clothes that the boy was peeling off of Otabek.

“There’s a set for you, as well. I’m going to make something warm for you to both eat. Get him bundled up,” the man instructed. “The quicker he’s warm, the less extreme the symptoms will be.”

Yuri only nodded, preoccupied with attempting to get a dry pair of pants onto Otabek. The other boy looked around in dazed confusion. The shivering had lessened, due to the change in environment and the fire burning low beside them.

“Yura, where are we?”

Yuri’s gaze caught on the dog tags resting against Otabek’s bare chest beside his pendant for a split second before he rolled his eyes in exaggerated annoyance. “Now you remember your Russian. You fell into the lake, Beka.”

“I - what?”

Yuri stuffed a shirt over Otabek’s head, tugging it down. Otabek sluggishly pushed his arms into the sleeves while Yuri began to drape thick blankets around his shoulders.

“Your idiotic ass fell into the lake. You were trying to be a hero and shoved me when it cracked, when reasonably we would have both made it just fine,” Yuri scowled.

“Oh,” Otabek breathed, pulling the blankets tight around himself as he looked down.

Satisfied that his friend was bundled enough, Yuri turned and set about changing his own clothes. As he did, the ball of fur made it’s reappearance, settling on the floor next to Otabek.

“I-I’m sorry, I should have realized sooner that - “

“What? That we were on the ice?” Yuri snapped, head poking through a dry shirt in time for him to glare at Otabek.

Otabek’s gaze flicked up to him, then back at the floor. Yuri paused with only one arm in it’s sleeve, frowning for a moment before sighing and finishing pulling the shirt on. Already feeling warmer, he plopped down beside Otabek, shoving the dog’s head away as it tried to snuffle at his face.

Otabek wouldn’t look up at him, so Yuri reached out to turn the older boy’s face towards him. He didn’t speak until Otabek’s dark eyes met his.

“Beka, you scared the shit out of me,” Yuri said quietly.

Otabek’s breath caught. “I’m sorry, Yura - “

“Stop apologizing,” Yuri growled. He pulled Otabek into a hug. “I’m just glad that you’re okay, you big idiot.”

Otabek sat motionless for several seconds before slowly wrapping his blanket-layered arms around Yuri’s back.

They sat in silence, holding one another, for a long time.

The stranger cleared his throat, and they separated, both turning to look at him. “I’ve started boiling water for tea. It should be ready in a few minutes.”

Yuri stared at the man for a long moment, studying him now that he was out of his thick winter layers and only in a sweater.

Yuri’s eyes narrowed, and he shifted to place himself between the man and Otabek.

“You’re -”

The man sighed. “Japanese, yes.”

“Are you a spy?” Yuri asked, a note of accusation in his voice.

Otabek pressed a hand against Yuri’s arm.

“No, oh no. I just live here,” the man said. “My name is Katsuki Yuuri.”

“How did you get here? Our countries are at war,” Yuri said, looking him up and down.

“Yes, they are. But they haven’t always been. I was a student, before this mess started. And I met someone who became very dear to me, and I to them. I was here when the war started, and there was no safe way for me to go home with borders closing and suspicions against everyone rising. So my lover brought me here.”

“Your… lover?” Yuri stared at him in confusion.

“Yes. Vitya. He is away right now, trying like everyone else to end this war,” the man said.

Again, Otabek pressed his hand against Yuri’s arm. Yuri twisted to look at him, but Otabek was looking at their host.

“I’m Otabek, and this is Yuri. Thank you for welcoming us into your home, and for helping. We… seem to have found ourselves in a bit of a spot.”

“Of course. But, if I may ask… what were you doing on the lake?” the older Yuuri asked.

“We must have wandered off the road somehow,” Yuri said quickly.

“Ah. It is quite easy to do in this weather. But I meant, why are you out here? It appears as though you’re a soldier, Otabek. There isn’t anyone stationed near here, as far as I know.”

“I am. I’m escorting Yuri to Moscow,” Otabek said after a moment of hesitation.

“How old are you both? Shouldn’t you be - “

“He’s only sixteen. And he’s in trouble,” Otabek said, looking at Yuri.

“Beka!” Yuri said, horrified that he would tell someone that was a complete stranger what they were doing out here.

Otebek just looked at him, offering no excuse or explanation for telling their host without discussing it amongst themselves first.

Yuuri looked thoughtful for a moment. “I see. But, please don’t worry. As long as you’re here, you’re safe from whoever is after you. I won’t tell. And you can stay as long as you need.”

Yuri turns to the older man, gaping at him. “I - thank you.”

“Of course,” Yuuri said with a nod. “Now, when you’re ready you can come along to the kitchen for some tea. Makkachin.”

The dog jumped up and trotted across the room to his owner, and both disappeared into the other room.

Yuri spun about to glare at Otabek.

“What the hell?”

“We can trust him.”

“How do you know that, we don’t even know him!”

“He let us into his home, Yura.”

“What’s to stop him from turning us in?”

“Yura. This man is from a country that we are at war with. What are the odds that the authorities would willingly trust him? They’d likely lock him up without question. You thought him a spy, and they would too.”

Yuri sat in silence, processing that information.

Otabek began to smirk, reaching out to push Yuri’s loose hair from his face.

“What are you so smug about?” Yuri grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Nothing. Just the fact that you’re a little bit protective.”

Yuri’s face flushed, and he turned away from Otabek sharply. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not like you can defend yourself right now.”

Otabek hummed, but let the point drop. After a moment, Yuri turned back towards him. Otabek’s eyes had fallen shut, and he sat with his shoulders slumped forward.

“Are you still cold?” Yuri asked, worried.

“No,” Otabek said.

“Are you lying?”

Otabek opened his eyes to look at Yuri, giving him an amused look. “No, Yura. I’m warming up just fine. Thank you.”

A tremendous sneeze cut off his amusement at the younger boy’s expression, and Yuri sighed.

“You’re ill.”

“Yura, I am just fine,” Otabek said, running the back of one hand beneath his nose.

Yuri reached to grab whatever blankets were not already piled around Otabek’s shoulders. “You said that before you fell into freezing cold water, when you already had the beginnings of a cold. If it wasn’t going to manifest before, it will now.”

“Manifest?” Otabek asked, the amusement returning to his face.

“You’re impossible,” Yuri sighed, tucking the last blankets around Otabek. He scooted back to admire his handiwork, satisfied that he could only see Otabek’s face peeking out of the blankets as he sat patiently under Yuri’s inspection.

“Oh, I’m impossible?” Otabek laughed lightly.

Yuri rose to his feet. “Yes. You are impossible. Now sit still, and stay warm. I’m going to check in with the other Yuuri. If even one of those blankets is out of place when I come back…”

Otabek just shook his head, eyes closed in silent laughter. “I’m not going anywhere, Yura,” he promised. Otabek’s eyes opened to slits as he looked up at the younger boy. “At least, not without you.”

Yuri nodded. “I know.”

Chapter Text

"Every war is a war against children."

- Eglantyne Jebb

Penza Oblast

29 December 1943

 

Yuuri had gone to bed the previous evening after ensuring the two boys had been fed and told where to find the bathroom should they need it before morning. He’d then left them to their devices and the couch cushions in the living room, as the soldier boy Otabek had needed his warmth and he figured that the best place for them the first night would be by the fire. It had quickly grown late after their arrival, and he would show them the guest room as soon as the dawn came around and they were more settled in the unfamiliar house.

And as soon as he’d ensured that the guest room had been cleaned out.

By the time Yuuri made it into the living room the following morning with sleep still in his eyes and a robe over his pajamas, not quite long enough after the sun had risen, Makkachin was begging to be let out, pacing around his owner’s legs in repeated circles as he whinned. Yuuri complied, hushing the whimpering dog in case their guests still slept.

And they slept.

Yuuri paused only a moment when he saw the two boys, practically young men, curled in a tangled knot of blankets and limbs in front of the cushion-less couch. The fire was no more than embers, and probably had been for some time.

“Let them sleep, Makka,” he murmured to the dog that saw the two sleeping forms and made to snuffle at them. Makkachin lifted his head towards Yuuri, as though pouting, but then returned to his side. “Outside first,” Yuuri gestured, opening the door just wide enough to let the dog out.

It was sweet, Yuuri decided when he returned to the living room, the way the pair of them were clearly very attached to one another. Otabek, the soldier boy, was open with his affection, and Yuuri had been able to see it clear as day in his eyes. The younger, the other Yuri, was less obvious in his care. But it was there, behind the defensive snark and cautiously veiled remarks.

Yuuri wondered how their paths had crossed as he moved to the back of the small house, where the room containing the telephone was kept as the device rang shrilly.

“Hello?” he said softly into the receiver.

“Yuuri?”

“Vitya,” Yuuri said, twisting to lean back against the desk with his rear as he cradled the phone against his shoulder. He smiled at his lover’s voice in his ear. “What’s happened? Is everything alright?”

“Everything is peachy, love. I’ve just left the company of my old friend, Yakov. You remember him, don’t you?”

Yuuri frowned. “Of course. Is he the reason you were called back so soon?”

“Yes. I’ve been given a new assignment. I don’t believe I’ll be allowed to return home until it is completed, though. It’s terribly important.”

“Isn’t every assignment terribly important?” Yuuri asked, turning to look out the small window to watch as Makkachin plowed through the snow in pursuit of some small creature that would easily outrun him.

“Depends. It’s of the variety that that is all I can tell you at this time.”

“I know, Vitya,” Yuuri said softly.

Silence, and then Victor sighed on the other end of the line.

“I wish I could be home with you right now.”

“We missed your birthday,” Yuuri said, frowning as he twirled the phone cord around a finger. “I was going to bake a cake and everything.”

“There will be other birthdays, Yuuri. I promise. And, if you want, we can celebrate when I return.”

“Just tell me when that will be, and I’ll be ready.”

After a few more minutes of quiet conversation, Yuuri replaced the phone back in its cradle, and put his face in his hands. He dragged them back down, and turned to the doorway to find Yuri standing there, his hair sleep-tousled. It was then that he realized he hadn’t told Vitya about the guests staying in their home.

“Who was that?” the boy asked warily.

“Vitya,” Yuuri said. “He’s been given a new assignment, and won’t be returning home for some time.”

“Would he abandon his assignment, if you asked him to?”

Yuuri studied the boy for a long moment before answering. “If I asked him to, yes.”

“Then why don’t you?”

“Because it is something he has dedicated his life to, and I wouldn’t dare make him choose between it and me. It would pain him, to sit by and watch the world go by without him while it is at war.”

Yuri frowned.

“It’s different, for you and Otabek,” Yuuri said, watching the boy’s face and understanding what he was likely thinking. “For him, I can’t imagine it was easy, nor enjoyable in any way.”

“He hated it, in the end,” Yuri said, staring at the floor. “He never said so, but he did. He was afraid of going back. He nearly died.”

“Then he was smart. Smarter than most. Smarter than Vitya, at the least. Some of them… the closeness of death makes them retreat or makes them bold. Your Otabek is smart, because of that.”

“He’s not smart,” Yuri scoffed, not seeming to notice how Yuuri had referred to Otabek as his - except the faint pink that began to stain his cheeks. “He’s sick. He’s been sick, for a few days now, and he refused to stop and rest.”

“Well, you can both rest here now. For as long as you need.”

Yuri nodded, looking at the floor.

“Come along now, and we can get started making breakfast. I was just going to let the two of you sleep as long as you needed, but since you’re up would you mind helping?”

“Not at all,” Yuri said quietly, following Yuuri back down the hall toward the kitchen.

After getting everything started and a loaf of bread into the oven, Yuuri turned to the boy. “Would you mind just watching the pots and stirring them occasionally? I’m letting in Makkachin and going to begin clearing out the guest room for the two of you.”

“Oh. Of course not.”

“Thank you. In about twenty minutes I’ll come back to check on the bread and see how everything is going.”

Yuri nodded, then watched as Yuuri went to the other room to let the dog back in. After a moment, the man disappeared down the hall, Makkachin following behind him with a wagging tail.

Sighing, Yuri turned to his task.

The floor creaked as someone shuffled into the kitchen. Yuri’s gaze flicked briefly to Otabek, then back to watching the food.

“Beka, you’re supposed to be staying warm,” Yuri said, not turning from stirring the pot that Yuuri had left him in charge of. “Where are your blankets?”

It’s too hot ,” Otabek muttered in Khazak, moving to stand behind Yuri. He stopped, hunched over, and leaned to rest his forehead against the patch of skin at the back of Yuri’s neck.

“Otabek, I told you. I can’t understand you when you speak Khazak. I don’t know it that well yet, you know that,” Yuri sighed.

Too hot ,” Otabek said again, lurching a step back. “It’s too hot, Yura.”

Yuri turned about to face him, his brows scrunched. “What are you talking about, ‘it’s too hot?’ It’s the dead middle of winter - “

Otabek swayed on his feet, and Yuri’s eyes widened with concern. “Beka, are you - “

Without warning, Otabek’s knees buckled and he dropped to the floor, barely missing striking his head on the counter.

“Beka!” Yuri shouted, lunging to catch him before his head could hit the floor, and quickly propping him up on his knees and against his chest.  He looked up and around in a panic. “Yuuri!”

Yuuri raced into the kitchen, Makkachin on his heels. He saw the two boys on the floor, and froze.

“What happened?”

“I-I think he fainted,” Yuri said, his voice shaking.

Yuuri dropped to his knees on Otabek’s other side, hand going to the dark haired boy’s forehead. “He’s burning up. Let’s get him into the guest room, quickly.” 


 

Victor cradled his head in his hands, then pushed his fingers up through his hair with a frustrated sigh as he leaned back in his chair.

It was getting harder, every time, to hang up the phone. To leave home. To turn his back on Yuuri in order to complete his service to the Union.

“Trouble in paradise?” Mila asked, leaning against the doorframe to the small office.

Victor looked up at her. She had her arms folded across her chest, and her steely eyes stared him down.

“Not exactly,” Victor said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the desk. “What can I do for you, Mila?”

“I want to go with you.”

They stared at one another for several seconds.

“You want to come with me?”

“To find Yuri,” she said, as though he needed clarification.

“Yes, but why?” Victor asked.

She waved her hands through the air, looking exasperated with him. “Because I care about him and what happens to him. Because two and a half years ago, he saved me from Leningrad. At the least, I owe him. At the most, he is still my friend.”

Victor didn’t look convinced.

“You cannot do it on your own,” Mila said, a snarl in her tone. “Just because you’re the great Victor Nikiforov does not mean your are a one-man army. I can help you.”

For several dragging seconds, he did not reply. He watched her, waiting to see if she would explain herself further. When she didn’t, he prompted her.

“Why else is it you want to come along?” Victor asked.

“There is no other reason.”

“That is a lie.”

Mila shook her head, not understanding him. “What do you want from me, Victor? Do you want me to just spill my guts out to you? Fine. I have no family left - none of us do, because of this damned war. Yuri was my little brother, back at the Academy. We looked out for each other, though half the time he didn’t realize he was doing it. Not until he told you to bring me along.

“I left him, the last time. On the train, when we came through Kuybyshev, I left him. When Lilia ran into me a few days ago, and asked for help, and then I saw Yuri… I thought maybe that would be my chance to make it up to him for abandoning him. He’s still just a kid, and I abandoned him, and then again when he jumped off the train.”

She took a deep breath before she went on, her voice dropping. “Victor. This war has had so many casualties already, and even more of them are children losing their childhood.”

“You are hardly more than a child yourself, Mila,” Victor said quietly, words heavy with sorrow.

“That’s what I mean,” Mila said. “Why aren’t we out there, protecting the children? Why aren’t we out there, keeping them from turning into monsters like us?”

“Is that how you see us, Mila? As monsters?” He looked up her, and the surety in her eyes.

“Don’t you? We kill people, Victor. This war started over one man killing another, and it has become one about men in power killing hundreds of thousands just because they can. Children are growing up quickly, with the thought that that is something that just happens in the world.”

Victor nodded. “Then let’s do something. You and me. We can find Yuri, and save as many of those kids as we can.”

Mila swiped at her eyes, nodding. “Thank you.”

“Get yourself ready. We’ll leave at dusk.”

Chapter Text

"Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved."

- Thomas Fuller

Penza Oblast

1 January 1944

 

Yuri stood in the doorway, watching Otabek’s chest rise and fall as he slept.

Otabek’s fever had finally broken the night before, and the younger boy had felt a wave of relief wash over him. He’d hardly slept in the three days since Otabek’s illness had taken complete hold.

Yuri had all but refused to leave his side. Yuuri had quietly moved about, making sure both boys were receiving the care they needed.

“You need to eat,” Yuuri said, picking up Yuri’s untouched bowl of stew from earlier in the day.

Yuri blinked, looking up at him. He hadn’t remembered moving to sit at Otabek’s side, but that was where he was now.

“Oh, I hadn’t realized the time,” Yuri said distractedly.

“If you do not eat and rest, you’ll fall ill as well. You’d be no use to him then.”

Yuri nodded, gaze drifting back to Otabek.

“He’s in the clear now, Yuri. He just needs to rest. And you do, too. Come on.”

Yuuri ushered the boy from the room, closing the door quietly behind them.

“Come on. I have a tub for you to clean up.”

Yuuri left him alone in the living room, before the fire where he had dragged a tub out and filled with water. It was luke-warm, at best, but Yuri didn’t mind. He couldn’t remember the last time he had bathed.

Undressing, he tentatively stepped into the tub, sinking down to crouch before settling against the bottom. For a long time he just sat, trying to piece together how he had ended up here.

How he ended up here with someone like Otabek, who had risked his position and his life to see him home safely.

His suitcase, put together so carefully by Madame Lilia, still rested next to the couch. He reached for it, pulling it toward the tub so he could open it.

Inside, the pointe shoes were still tucked in their box, wrapped in tissue within. He pulled them out, holding the silk shoes in his hands, careful not to let their ties trail in the water of the bath.

He turned them over and over in his hands, absentminded. They felt heavy, weighing down on his mind as much as anything else.

He loved to dance, he always had. He’d gotten it from his mother. He had a vision in his mind of when he was a toddler, spinning around the living room while she held his hands. Her laugh came to him, from far off.

Yuri couldn’t even be sure that the laugh was actually hers. His memories of her, if there at all, were distorted.

With a sudden sob, he hurled the shoes away. They struck the wall beside the fireplace, collapsing into a heap on the floor. Yuri buried his face against his knees, hugging them tightly in frustration.

He felt like his world was ending, his memories forgotten and blurred. Replaced with things he had wished had been true, overlapping with false images.

He was here, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, not knowing who he really was or what the hell he was doing. What were any of them doing?

The world was at war for the second time, and his thoughts were of dancing and his lost mother. Of a boy a few rooms away and the confusing feelings he had for him, that had been building since the very first day they had met.

“Yuri?” Otabek’s voice croaked.

Yuri’s head jerked up, his face tear stained. He swiped at his eyes. “Beka, what are you doing? You need to be resting, remember? Last time you passed out. Go back to bed.”

“Yuri, why are you upset?”

“I’m not upset,” Yuri growled. “Go back to bed.”

Beka, dragging half of the quilts from the guest room, waddled to the side of the tub and knelt. He rested his chin on the edge, eyelids drooping. “You are not okay and I want to know why, Yuri.”

“You’re sick and delusional. I’m fine.”

Otabek looked hurt. “I’m starting to feel better, actually. And I didn’t realize you still felt the need to lie to me.”

“Beka, that’s not - “ Yuri started. He stopped, turning away to press his cheek against his shoulder. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know who I am or who I’m supposed to be. Why are we doing this? Why am I so important that I get to be brought home, when so many other people will never go home again?”

“I don’t know,” Beka whispered. “You’re not more important, in the grand scheme. But… to a handful of people you are. So I think that counts.”

Yuri turned to look at him, his green eyes glittering with more unshed tears.

“I might be one of them,” Otabek said, the corner of his mouth lifting in a half smile. “Who thinks you’re very important, I mean.”

“I know,” Yuri nodded. “You are, to me, too.”

“If I wasn’t I don’t think I’d be here right now,” Otabek joked.

“Honestly. I don’t drag just anyone out of a frozen lake and save their sorry ass from hypothermia.”

Otabek chuckled, one of his hands sneaking out from under his cloak of quilts to rest on the edge of the tub. An invitation.

Yuri stared at it for several long seconds before reaching up to twine their fingers together.

“We’re going to be okay. I promise,” Otabek said.

“I feel like I should be the one saying that. Considering you’re still sick.”

“Not completely. I’m recovering. I did make it all the way out here without passing out again, remember?”

Yuri laughed. “Uh-huh. I wanna see if you can make it back on your own first before saying you’re good to go.”

Otabek slowly rose, hand squeezing Yuri’s tightly before he released.

“Are these your shoes?” he asked, gaze locking on the silk slippers and their now-tangled ribbons. “Is this what you threw?”

“Yeah,” Yuri said, looking down.

“Be careful with them,” Otabek said, bending to pick them up. “I want to see you dance in them someday.”

As he straightened, two things thumped to the floor.

Yuri leaned forward, half-hanging over the edge of the tub to see in the dim firelight.

“Holy hell,” he muttered, pulling himself up and grabbing a towel. Covered, he knelt down beside the two objects as Otabek hovered, staring in confusion.

The first was a blue-green emerald set in silver, just small enough to have fit in the toe of one of the ballet shoes. The second was a key, simple, and worn from use and age.

“I think I know why I have to get you home now,” Otabek said.

“I think I’m thinking the same thing,” Yuri nodded, holding the jewel in his palm.

Chapter Text

“Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.”

- Herbert Hoover

Moscow

5 January 1944

The old man with his cane and salt-and-pepper beard stepped out of the post office and into the snowy afternoon. Stepping out into the crowded sidewalk, he tipped his head back, looking up at the lighting of the air.

Still some time before dark, but he had more to do before returning to his apartment.

Shuffling, he turned against the flow of traffic and made his way toward the center of the city.

Eyes always caught on his cane - they had since the last war, when he had earned it in a battle that had ended in him nearly losing his leg in exchange for half a dozen awards of valor.

Remains of the fighting from the year before were still strewn about Moscow’s streets. Buildings half collapsed, rubble now buried beneath the snow. They’d removed the bodies, but the rest was left behind, defending against the cold of winter more important than picking up the signs of a war not yet ended.

He continued his slow march through the streets, remembering a time, years ago it felt like, that they were filled to bursting with people laughing, talking over one another. Now they were dreary, the citizens passing by in near silence.

War was heavy, and it weighed down on every last one of them.

He came to a building whose doors were flanked by a pair of guards. They stood at sharper attention upon sight of his approach, and one rushed to open and hold the door for him.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” he nodded.

“Sir,” the man holding the door said.

Entering an immaculate hallway, with white walls and spotless floors, he frowned. An attendant, dressed in clothes much too fine for the state of the rest of the city, approached as he shook off his coat and stomped off his boots.

The attendant winced.

“I have a meeting with Feltsman. He is expecting me.”

“Of course, sir. Right this way.”

The attendant led him down a hallway and knocked on the third door. He did not wait for an answer before swinging it open.

“Kolya is here to see you, sir,” the attendant said. He made himself scarce before the door had even finished opening.

Yakov looked up from the desk, a phone held to his ear. “Georgi, I’ll call you back,” he growled, hanging up. “What do you want?” he said in greeting.

Nikolai Plisetsky shut the door behind himself and shuffled to the chair in front of Yakov’s desk. He sat, using his cane to ease himself down.

“Where is my grandson?” he answered.

Yakov looked elsewhere, gesturing at the air vaguely. “On his way here.”

Nikolai leaned forward, both hands folded over the top of his cane. “You were in Kuybyshev a week ago, where you were supposed to have retrieved him. Where is he?”

“Not here yet.”

“You promised me you would have him with you, Yakov.”

“What is it you want from me, Kolya?” Yakov asked, sounding defeated.

“I want my grandson.”

“Everyone wants their grandson, Kolya. Their son. Their brother, their husband. Hell, their wives and daughters and mothers.”

“We made a deal, Yakov.”

“Why is he so important?”

“Because he is my grandson. Why are you trying to worm your way around this? You owe me, remember?”

“Why him? Why not Natalia?”

“Because I know where Natalia is,” he growled.

“Who is his father?”

Nikolai shook his head, scoffing. “That’s none of your business and is unrelated to this conversation.”

“Is it?” Yakov asked. “Can you honestly tell me that who his father is has nothing to do why it is so important he is safe?”

Nikolai stared at Yakov, his face stone cold. “Yes. I can.”

Yakov sat back, heaving a sigh. “He was nearly to Kuybyshev. He was with Lilia, and a young soldier boy. There was a suspected attack on their train, and they fled. They could honestly be anywhere by now. And… he has something from the Amber Room.”

“So instead of protecting him like I had asked, you put him into more danger? Do you know how many people, on all sides of this God forsaken war, are after the Amber Room?”

“Do you think I don’t know that? What was I supposed to do? A boy is far less likely to be suspected than if I sent an agent - “

“Listen to me. I don’t care how it happens, but you find my grandson and you return him to me, alive and well, by March. That is less than eight weeks, do you understand?”

“Why, what happens in March?”

“He turns seventeen and then anyone can grab him and make him fight. Yuri Plisetsky will not play a part in this war as a soldier to be killed on the field, do you understand me?”

Yakov nodded. “Yes.”

“We enter Poland tomorrow, yes?”

“That is correct,” Yakov said. “Not sure why they’re still keeping you so informed with everything.

“Because I’m Kolya. Because every single one of you decided that you owe me,” he shrugged. “Where is Nikiforov?”

“He’s already looking for him, if that’s what you want. He’s got one of his best girls with him.”

“One of the marksmen?”

“Yes. Mila Babicheva. She was at the Academy with Yuri.”

“Good.”

Nikolai heaved himself up, leaning heavily on his cane.

“How’s your leg, old man?” Yakov asked.

“Same as it is every winter. And you should quit calling me old man. Compared to me, you’re ancient,” Nikolai smiled faintly.

He made his way to the door, only pausing to look back when his fingers closed around the brass handle.

“Should I still be expecting you for tea on Saturday?”

“Yes, I will be there,” Yakov sighed.

“And you’ll bring Lilia?”

“I - yes, Lilia will be there as well.”

“Good. I will see you both then,” Nikolai nodded.

The door closed behind him with a click. Yakov found himself staring at that closed door for several minutes, waiting for his old friend and comrade to come back through, to sit down and ask him about his day. Even when they met for tea it wasn’t as friends, it wasn’t for playful banter and small talk, not anymore.

Yakov frowned. Something else was on the other man’s mind, besides his missing grandson.

Chapter Text

What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?

- George Eliot

Penza Oblast

19 January 1944

 

Yuri and Otabek sat in the living room before the fire, not saying a word to one another. Outside, another snow storm blew across the little house, roaring through the village.

There had been sightings of an approaching army, though no one was sure what side they were on.

Yuuri had taken Makkachin into the village proper to see what he might learn, though that had been hours ago.

The emerald ring was on Yuri’s finger, and he twisted it about subconsciously. They would have to leave soon, should this approaching army come much closer to the village. They could not risk being found out, and could not risk staying away from Moscow much longer anyway.

It had been nearly two weeks since discovering another part of their mission to get to Moscow - the ring on Yuri’s finger, and the key that Otabek had hung from the chain he wore about his neck. Yes, Yuri supposed that he himself were important to return to the safe hands of his grandfather, but these things… traces of the lost art and treasures that had disappeared at the start of the war…

The Soviet Union thought perhaps it needed them.

Yuri twisted the ring again, and Otabek reached out to stop him, his hand brushing gently against Yuri’s wrist.

“It won’t do to get worked up over something we know nothing about,” Otabek murmured.

Yuri looked at him from beneath his eyelashes.

So much had changed the last few weeks. Otabek’s illness seemed to have left him, but Yuri still saw residual signs. The exhaustion. A slow reaction now and again.

Every night, Yuri made sure that Otabek was bundled in as many blankets as he could stand before he slipped into bed beside him, only for Otabek to pull him in close, nestling against the younger’s chest.

“If they come, we have to go. We cannot allow Yuuri to risk himself for us in this,” Yuri said softly, drawing his long limbs in toward himself.

“We’re a week away from Moscow,” Otabek said. “It will be difficult, but we can do it.”

“You seem so confident,” Yuri said with a huff.

“I’m not sure why you doubt,” Otabek murmured.

“Because I’m afraid. Anything could happen, and - I can’t lose you, Beka.”

There it was. Out in the open.

Otabek looked at Yuri, both of them silent once more, each watching the other.

Yuri blinked, biting his lip. “I don’t know when or how it happened. But when you were sick, when I thought maybe you might not make it - I was terrified. And maybe it’s just because I don’t want to be alone - “

Otabek leaned forward until his lips brushed against Yuri’s.

It was hardly a kiss, but Yuri’s breath caught in his throat all the same.

When Otabek drew back, his hand moved to cup Yuri’s face. “It may be because we are afraid to be alone. But I do know that I would do anything to protect you, Yura. I will not abandon you, for any reason. I am going to see you to Moscow, and then I am going to do all that is in my power to stay at your side.”

Yuri’s chest felt full to bursting as he looked at the glimmer in Otabek’s dark eyes. He knew without a doubt that Otabek’s words were true.

"You're the only one I feel I can actually trust. Everyone in my life has always had another motive, another reason."

"You are my reason," Otabek said, his thumb brushing Yuri's cheek gently.

“Can you kiss me again?” Yuri said, his voice hardly a whisper.

Otabek drew Yuri’s face toward him again, the press of his lips warm and patient. Again, he sat back, studying Yuri’s flushed face.

It was Yuri who leaned forward this time, half crawling into Otabek’s lap. He twined his arms around Otabek’s neck and shoulders, holding him close as their lips met again and again.

The world fell away from them. The fear, the worry. The war vanished like a dream when you wake up in the morning. Distant, hazy, and out of reach when your mind tried to chase the last of its threads. All that mattered was the way their mouths moved against each other, and the feel of their arms pulling each other closer.

When at last they came back to themselves, Yuri sprawled across Otabek as he stretched across the entire couch, the wind had come to a brief calm.

The fire crackled on the hearth, beginning to die down again. They would need to add more wood to it soon, to keep it from going out.

Otabek ran a hand lazily through Yuri’s hair, and the sensation caused Yuri to relax enough to drift towards sleep. Around the buzzing in his mind over the fact that he had just spent the last minutes kissing Yuri, Otabek hoped that the other boy would calm enough to rest. He’d been worried and anxious almost the entire time that they had been guests of the older Yuuri.

Otabek regretted that it was in part his own fault. But Yuri’s confession had sparked something within him, within both of them. A new sort of determination.

Leaning down, Otabek pressed a kiss to the top of Yuri’s head. Yuri’s chest rumbled, almost purring, and Otabek laughed softly, and turned to glance toward the door.

He hoped that Yuuri would return soon, for his absence would cause more concern the longer he was away.

“My grandfather will love you,” Yuri murmured, half asleep and falling faster with every moment.

Otabek turned to look down at him, almost startled by the words. Tired green eyes looked up at him from behind lowered lids. “I look forward to meeting him. But for now, rest, Yura. We will have a long journey ahead of us very soon.” 


 

Less than a few days march north, a small troop of Soviet soldiers took shelter from the blizzard in an old barn. Unbeknownst to them, they would not all make it through the night. They would not carry on into the Penza Oblast, where they would make contact with a particular village. They would not cross paths with someone being sought out by their messenger. They would not deliver a simple note from one Nikolai Plisetski to his grandson.

The note was only two lines, but it's words were heavy. 

Trust no one, for they are all after you now. They may not know who you are yet, but they will.

The note would remain in the pocket of the man who passed away suddenly on that freezing night, forgotten in the troop’s haste to pack up and move on. No one would think twice about it, as the mission was the messenger’s alone, sent by Kolya himself to find his grandson and help him on his way home.

Chapter Text

"In true love, the smallest distance is too great, and the greatest distance can be bridged." 

— Hans Nouwens

Kuznetsk

22 January 1944

 

“Nothing,” Victor spat, slamming his fists against the desk. “It has been weeks, and still there is nothing.”

They'd widened their search out from Kuybyshev over the last several weeks, spiraling out, but everything felt like a waste of time and effort. They'd made it to Kuznetsk the night before, and Victor was unsure of where to go next.

What he wanted to do was go home to Yuuri, less than a few hours drive away from Kuznetsk.

Mila, leaning against the wall of the private office with her arms crossed over her chest, bit her lip. “Russia is not small, Victor, and the Soviet Union is even bigger. They could be anywhere by now.”

“I’m a fool,” Victor said, dropping heavily into the chair behind the desk. He shoved both hands through his silver hair. “Whatever I do, I leave people I care about in danger, and put them at risk. I think that what I'm doing will help, but it makes it worse.”

His mind was on Yuri, and his lover, so close and yet so far away. He'd brought them both into the middle of the war with the intent of saving them from it.

“Victor, it’s not your fault,” Mila said. “You saved Yuri, you saved me, remember? Had we stayed in Leningrad, we would have died. They would have killed us. Now look at us. Look at me. He’s out there, somewhere. Yuri is a survivor. If the Academy did anything for us, it taught us how to survive.”

“You’re so sure,” Victor said, looking up at her, his hair disheveled. “I can’t remember what that feels like, to be so sure of everything.”

Mila came across the the desk, and rested her palms on it. "You're Victor Nikiforov. You're the best thing that came out of Yakov's Academy."

Victor shook his head. "Test scores and acting."

Mila scoffed. “ Tell me this, then. Why is it so important that we find him? Perhaps he is better off lost for now, until this war is over. He may be safer. If we cannot find him, I doubt anyone else can.”

Victor slowly looked up. “Because Kolya wants his grandson found, and what Kolya wants he gets. He is the reason we came out of the last war in as much of one piece as we did. Every powerful person you can think of owes him a favor or two.”

“But why?” Mila asked.

“Many reasons. But that is beside the point. Kolya wants Yuri back to him safely because of his lineage. Do you remember the stories of the family of the tsar?”

“They were murdered in cold blood,” Mila said with a sigh, rocking back to sit in the chair opposite him. “Pulled from their beds in the night, locked away in a basement to wait in fear for their end. Then the rumors started of Anastasia surviving, and then the whole to-do with that.”

Victor paused. “Yes, but that is not the one I meant. There was a survivor of the massacre, one that no one knows about.”

“What do you mean? They hunted down the entire family and had them killed,” Mila said, head tilted to the side in interest.

“I mean before all of that. Long before all of that. The second surviving son of Alexander III. Grand Duke George.”

“He died without a wife, without children," Mila said. "It was taught to us in primary school. They would have rooted them out and murdered them as well. The daughters of Alexander III and their children fled, and the sons and their families were murdered.”

“The Grand Duke did have a son, though. One who is still alive.”

Mila paused, her mouth opening to speak, but no words came out. She forced the words out, a guess, a shot into the dark. “Yuri’s father - “

“No, not Yuri’s father,” Victor said, shaking his head. “Mila, what I am about to tell you does not leave this room. For Yuri’s sake, and Kolya’s.”

Mila nodded, leaning forward.

“Grand Duke George had a son out of wedlock. The day he died, he was going to visit the boy, maybe nine years old at the time. The boy's name was Nikolai.”

Mila fell back in her chair, shocked. “Nikolai is a descendant of the Romanov line? Yuri is a Romanov - “

“Yes,” Victor said quickly, his hands going up.

“Who knows?”

“I do not know. I don’t think that Yuri does. Yakov does not - he knows there is some relation to the Romanov line, but he thinks that it is Yuri’s unknown father. He does not know that it is Kolya’s own father.”

“What about the other Romanov survivors? The Grand Duchesses. Do they know that they indeed have a surviving nephew?”

“Probably not. They’ve had enough to deal with with the false Anastasia. I doubt Nikolai would ever step forward, and I doubt that Grand Duke George would have told his family about a bastard child. That is beside the point, though.”

“Is that why people are after Yuri then? Because of his ties to the fallen royal family? They think that they can waltz in and claim some sort of reward?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps that has something to do with it. They’re after him for knowledge of the Amber Room that he does not have, so it is not a stretch to imagine someone may have heard a rumor about his lineage as well.”

“But they all think it is his father,” Mila said.

“Yes. But no one knows who that is, aside from Nikolai and Natalia.”

“What am I supposed to do with all of this information?” Mila asked, her mind whirling.

“I need your help to dissuade anyone else who might be in pursuit of Yuri. What we are doing is clearly not working, and it is getting us nowhere. Perhaps if we cannot find him, no one else can, but I will not risk it. A month ago, Georgi reported that men were closing in, just before Yuri escaped Akmolinsk. Just before you crossed his path. Yuri could be anywhere by now, but so could they.”

“Okay,” Mila nodded after a long moment of silence. “I have an idea. They’ll be looking for a dancer, a ballerina bound for the Bolshoi and rumors are easy enough. We need to get word out about a ballerina selected for the Bolshoi putting on a performance to raise awareness of the arts or something. They’ll come investigate, and anyone else who knows he’s been under Lilia will do the same.”

Victor's eagerness rose and fell. “But, how will we get away with it? We don’t have a dancer. To make it believable, we’ll need a dancer, a ballerina, will we not?”

“But we do. You’re looking at one,” Mila said.

Victor stared for a long moment, then nodded, smiling. “You are just full of surprises, Miss Babicheva.”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment," she laughed. "When I am performing, and keeping them distracted, what will you be doing? How do you plan to root out these men who are after our Yurochka?”

“I’m going to be out looking for him,” Victor said. “I’ll call in a few favors of my own to help you out, to identify and watch whomever walks into our set-up.”

“How much time do we have to get ready?” Mila asked.

“I can have my friends here in six days.”

“I’ll be ready in three,” Mila said, rising. “I need to call Lilia.”

Victor nodded. “I need to make a few calls of my own.”

As Mila left the room to make her call, Victor mentally made a list of those he knew could be there by week’s end. He picked up the phone, and dialed a number he knew by heart. After being transferred, he waited patiently as it rang.

“Popovich,” Georgi answered.

“I need that list,” Victor said. "It's important."

“Nikiforov. I was wondering when you'd ask for it. When and where?”

“Kuznetsk. Five days.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“And, Georgi?”

“Yes?”

“I need you to spread the word that our rising star ballerina bound for the Bolshoi will be performing this coming Friday evening here in Kuznetsk.”

“What are you planning, Victor?”

“Just know that I have a plan.”


“Be safe,” Yuuri said, ensuring that both boys were bundled. “And if ever you need a helping hand, you know where to find me. I will ask my Vitya to look out for you, and should you cross paths he will help you.”

“Thank you for your kindness this last month,” Otabek said. “I am not sure what we would have done without your help. I do not know how we can repay you for what you have done.”

“Survive. Stay together, and make it through this war. I fear we have not yet seen the worst of it,” Yuuri said, looking them both over.

“I hope that you may be reunited with Vitya soon,” Yuri said, shifting the bag he carried over his shoulder. They’d exchanged his suitcase for a simple satchel he could more easily carry. In it, the ballet shoes were nestled amongst spare clothes. Otabek carried a satchel as well, with another set of spare clothes.

“Perhaps we will all meet again after this is over,” Yuuri smiled. “And we can come and see you perform in the Bolshoi.”

Yuri grinned. “I would be honored to perform for you.”

The boys ducked out into the winter wonderland surrounding Yuuri’s small house tucked at the farthest edge of the village, and set off north, away from the lake that had brought them under his care weeks before.

Yuuri stood in the doorway for a long while, watching them trek down the half-buried road north, the sun peeking its head through the overcast sky.

He prayed that they would make it through the war, and that the world would not rip them apart. The world deserved a pair such as them in it. Love may not be able to win a war, but he knew that it could survive it.

Chapter Text

 

"Bendable, but not breakable."

- Unknown

Moscow Oblast/Penza Oblast

28 January 1944

 

Yuri’s back was pressed against an old barn, the paint on its sides having worn off. His eyes were closed, and his ears were intent on the sounds around him. A single set of approaching footsteps caused him to blink.

Yuri looked up as Otabek came around the corner.

“We have to move,” Otabek said.

Yuri nodded, hugging the rifle that Otabek had given him after they had passed through the last village the morning before. Moscow was only a few more days away. For the first time in a long time, Yuri began to imagine the look on his grandfather’s face when he saw him again.

Otabek helped Yuri onto his feet, glancing behind them as he ushered him along the side of the abandoned outbuildings on the edge of a deserted farm. “There’s a group of horses - we can’t outrun them on foot like this much longer.”

Yuri nodded.

“Have you ridden before?”

“No,” Yuri said quickly. Now was not the time to pretend he could do something he couldn’t. “I don’t suppose that they’ll be saddled?”

“No,” Otabek said. “But don’t worry, Yura. I won’t let you fall.”


Mila stood behind the stage, breathing slowly with her eyes closed. It had been some time since she had been on a stage, months since she had even thought about it.

A line of little girls in tutus and ballet slippers shuffled out onto the stage, a moderate sized crowd sitting in the audience comprised mostly of wealthy parents.

Mila blinked. Her parents had not come to her first recital - they could not afford to miss work even to watch their daughter shine in the spotlight for a few moments.

That was the night she had decided to do whatever she needed to to get into Yakov’s Academy. She had only been nine years old when she decided that she would do whatever it took to make a name for herself, and to make her parents proud. The Academy only accepted a few girls, but she everything in her power to be sure that she was one of them.

“You are ready for this,” Lilia said, coming up beside her. “It has been a while, but you have it in you.”

Mila turned to the woman who had done everything she could in the last week to prepare her for this. Dancing for hours until she could hardly stand from exhaustion, taking in an old costume so that it would fit her narrowed frame.

Gifting her a pair of new pointe shoes.

“Are they in position?” Mila asked.

Victor’s friends, his contacts from all across the world it seemed, had arrived over the last day and a half. Some of them looked too young to be in a war.

Than again, all of them were too young to be in a war.

“Yes,” Lilia said. “They’ve already begun to weed out those we suspect. We will know who to follow.”

“Good. Anything from Victor?”

Lilia shook her head. “No. He should be closing in on where the last rumored sighting was.”

“Okay,” Mila said.

“We still have a few minutes. Do what you must,” Lilia said, placing a hand on Mila’s shoulder and squeezing it lightly before stepping away.

Mila nodded, again closing her eyes. She rose up onto her toes, mentally running through the dance. She’d done it dozens of times since she was a child - it was simple, graceful. Everyone loved the dance of the Swan Princess, and she knew it was one of Yuri’s favorites. She wasn’t as good at playing Oddette’s part as Yuri was, but she could convince them well enough.

If Lilia had such faith in her, then she could do it.


Otabek pushed Yuri up onto the horse’s back, and took a step away.

“No matter what happens, you keep riding,” Otabek said.

“Don’t say that,” Yuri said, looking down at him. “We’re in this together. We will make it to Moscow together.”

The rumble of an approaching troop reached them, and they both jerked their heads in its direction.

Otabek hesitated as he turned back to Yuri, his mind going to that first night he had seen him. How beautiful he had been, standing like a ray of sun in the snow. His heart tumbled, and he sucked in a quick breath, scrambling onto the other horse he’d managed to catch.


Mila stood in the center of the stage, the curtains drawn, the light not yet on her. The audience fell silent, and the impromptu orchestra pulled together by Lilia held its breath.


Victor sped towards the border towns along the southern edge of the Moscow Oblast. He’d been driving almost non-stop the last two days, pausing only to seek out the threads of rumor of Yuri passing through. He felt it in his chest that he was close. Today was the day.


They rode through the trees, their horses running as fast as they could with so many obstacles. Otabek glanced over his shoulder almost every second to be sure Yuri was right there behind him, that he was staying close and would not fall behind.


Mila spun about the stage, the music rising to its height.

In the wings, Lilia watched with tears in her eyes. She had known, since the day she had met Mila, that the young woman was a born dancer. When this was all over, she would invite Mila to join the Bolshoi alongside Yuri. Even on such short notice, her skill as a dancer was clear.


Somewhere off to their right came the sounds of fighting. A skirmish between two small groups crossing paths by coincidence. Distracted enough by one another that they did not see or notice the fleeing riders.

Between one instant and the next, there was a crack of a gunshot.

Yuri’s horse screamed, rearing up in pain before collapsing.

Pinned down, Yuri cried out.

Otabek, yanking his horse about, looked back in utter terror. “Yuri!”


Mila struck the final pose as the music came to an end, her hand raised, her chest heaving, the crowd on its feet roaring.

She looked out, knowing better than to hope her parents would be there. She was fifteen now, a student at Yakov’s, still dancing when she could. But she looked out anyways, and met the gaze of Yuri Plisetsky.

His was the only familiar face in the crowd that day, sitting near the front, a look of concentration on his face as he stood and applauded. When he caught her eye, she could have swore he smiled at her.

She closed her eyes in the present, taking a bow. She had not performed since that day. Nearly five years before. When she stood again, her eyes scanning the crowd, she knew better than to look for Yuri, knew better than to look for her parents. But she did anyway.


“Yuri!” Otabek shouted, jumping down from his horse.

Yuri’s mount had fled, it’s flank drenched in red.

On the ground, Yuri writhed in pain, clutching his leg. Otabek reached for it, trying to see where it may have been broken when the horse fell on him, and instead found a bullet wound.

“Yuri, hold on,” Otabek gasped, pulling his scarf off to bind Yuri’s wound.

The snow around them was beginning to turn red.

Yuri rocked, his head falling back in the snow, his mouth open in a silent scream of agony.

“Just hold on,” Otabek said, trying to pull Yuri close to him after he’d tied the scarf around his leg as tight as he could.

Yuri clutched his coat, and Otabek held him for a long moment, his mind empty of what to do for the first time he could remember.

They would not make it to Moscow in time, even with the horse still standing and waiting behind him. Yuri did not have that kind of time anymore.

The fighting nearby was quieting. Otabek looked up, and prayed to whatever god was listening that they were Soviet soldiers before standing and lifting Yuri up.

“Help!” he shouted. “Someone, help!”


Lilia clasped Mila’s hands as she came off the stage. “Victor called. Someone has found Yuri.”

Mila tensed.

“One of ours,” Lilia said. “They’re on their way to Yakov.”

Mila let out all of her air, sinking into a nearby chair in relief. “We’re not out of this yet,” Mila said after taking a moment to collect herself.”

“Until this war is over, we will never be out of this,” Lilia nodded.

Chapter Text

"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."

- WINSTON CHURCHILL, The Second World War

Zaraysk

31 January 1944

 

Outside a bar, somewhere in the northern region of the Penza oblast, Major General Nikiforov leaned against the wall of the phone booth. His breath fogged the glass, and he occasionally reached out to wipe it away with his sleeve.

He cradled the phone against his shoulder as he spoke, fiddling with his gloves as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line.

“I understand,” Victor said into the telephone.

He’d taken his time on the return trip to Kuznetsk, where everyone seemed to be coming together. Yakov would be there soon, if his intel was anything to go by anymore. Yuri had been found by their agents, and was on the way there as well, according to Lilia.

It would be a grand reunion, he supposed. It had been a long time since they had all been together, and in the same room.

“I will be on the lookout,” he continued, nodding to himself. “I have a stop to make, then I will be back. I should be there by tonight.”

He hung up after a brief goodbye, and drew a deep breath. He shouldn’t be going to see Yuuri, not in the middle of everything. But, it was on his way. And they could do without him for a few more hours.

Exiting the phone booth, he strode out to his jeep, adjusting the collar of his heavy coat to better protect the back of his neck.

Snow came down from the sky like ashes. It felt like an omen, more than anything.


Mila strode through white halls, her heels clicking on the tile. It smelled like bleach, only a slight improvement over the scent of death.

In her arms was a clipboard she had snagged from an unattended nurse’s station, and she was dressed as a war nurse. Appropriate cover for sneaking into the hospital.

It was a civilian hospital, which made it easier for her to access, but not by much. She had only so much time to get in, find Yuri, and figure out how to get out again.

Madame Lilia was still at the office across the street from the theater, back in Kuznetsk, meeting with Victor’s operatives, and awaiting the arrival of both Yakov and Victor.

Foolish. They should all be coming here, to Zaraysk, where Yuri had been brought and dropped off two nights before. Or better yet, on their way to Moscow.

Turning a corner, she ducked out of the way of a gunnery being rolled past. Avoiding eye contact, she held her head high, striding with purpose toward her destination. Room three-oh-four, where one Yuri Plisetsky was recovering from a surgery to remove a bullet from his upper leg.

There hadn’t been a word about Lieutenant Altin, though, and that worried her a great deal. She had a feeling that if he were not found, Yuri would not be easy to handle. And she needed to be able to handle him, at least a little, in order to get him out and to the train station.

Arriving at her destination, she took a deep breath and opened the door, shutting it again quickly.

In the darkened room, she had to stand still for several seconds to allow her eyes to adjust.

“Yuri?” she called out, hesitant, taking a step forward.

Something in the corner of the room shifted, and the curtains opened on the grey afternoon, the sudden light nearly blinding her.

“Oh,” a distantly familiar voice breathed. “It’s you. Babicheva, isn’t it?”

The light dimmed again, as the curtains were pulled partially back over the window.

Lieutenant Altin settled back into the chair at the bedside, and Mila’s eyes blinked quickly as she took him in. She felt herself relax knowing he was there. She’d only met him briefly, but knew that whatever came he would help Yuri.

Her gaze drifted to Yuri’s face then.

He looked as though he had aged years in the weeks since she had seen him last. Even in his unconscious state, he was not at peace. His brows were pinched together, and he frowned in his sleep. A nightmare, maybe.

She couldn’t remember the last time he had been silent in her presence, and it felt wrong.

“What are you doing here? I wasn’t aware you were a nurse, let alone a civilian one,” Altin said, breaking the silence as he looked her up and down.

“I’m not,” Mila said, looking toward him. “Anymore, at least. At the start of the war - that doesn’t matter. I came here to be sure that you - both of you - were here. We had indications, but nothing can be trusted anymore. This whole bloody thing is a mess.”

Otabek leaned back in his chair, his own gaze going to Yuri. He looked as though he hadn’t slept in several days.

“Have you left his side even once? You look exhausted.”

“No,” Otabek said, not looking at her. “I can’t. I won’t. The nurses, they don’t know what to do with me, so they leave me alone for the most. Not sure how long that will last, though.”

“Has he woken at all?”

“No.”

She hesitated then. Wondered if because of Otabek’s stern exterior, he had unintentionally scared the doctors and nurses away, keeping them from treating Yuri -

“They’re too busy. The stop in every so often,” Otabek said, reading her thoughts. “They’ve done what they can with what they have. They’re a civilian hospital. There is only so much they can do here.”

“We need to move him. Take him to Kolya - “

“I was doing that just fine,” Otabek said bitterly. “We were doing just fine.”

Mila took a long breath. “What happened?”

“Stray bullet. Or maybe one with intent. We were so close. So damn close. God, I am an idiot. We were nearly there.

Mila did not ask what he muttered in Kazakh. She took a slow step forward, noting how Otabek’s eyes immediately jumped to her when she went into motion. Defensive, even if she was a friend. Prepared to protect Yuri, no matter what.

“How long has he been out?” she asked, setting her clipboard down on a side table.

“Two days.”

“And the doctors - “

“Have not said a word about it.”

“We’re going to get him out of here, Otabek,” Mila said, meeting his gaze across the bed. “You know that, right?”

“I know why I’m protecting him, but why are you? Why is everyone so interested in him?”

“A few reasons,” Mila said. “One being that Kolya is his grandfather.”

“What about his relation to the Romanov line?”

Mila’s head whipped toward him, startled. “How did you - “

“It makes sense, doesn’t it?” He shrugged. “Why everyone is after him. I don’t know how, but at least now I know I am correct. Does he even know the truth of it?” Otabek asked.

“Not to my knowledge. I only just found out recently. Not many know.”

“How do you plan to get him out of here?” Otabek asked

“I was hoping he would be conscious,” she admitted. “Other than that, I am not sure.”

“Why is the hag here?” Yuri muttered.

Both Mila and Otabek turned to Yuri, the latter reaching across to brush hair from his brow.

Yuri’s eyes blinked rapidly, and he squinted, looking at Otabek’s face for some kind of explanation as to what was happening.

“Yura,” Otabek breathed. “She’s here to help.”

“Help? Where are we?”

“Zaraysk,” Mila said, watching Otabek slowly help Yuri to sit up.

The blond boy winced.

“I feel like shit. How far is it to grandpa?” he asked, words half slurred.

“A few hours,” Otabek said. “With the right transportation.”

Yuri’s full attention was on the Kazakh man now, and Mila busied herself with making sure the door was locked, feeling like an intruder.

“Is there a plan?” Yuri asked.

“There’s a train, leaving late tonight. We can get on,” Mila said, turning back to the pair of them. “We’ll be in Moscow by early morning.”

“Why are you helping?” Yuri asked, looking at her. “I thought you were working with Lilia. Where is she?”

“It’s complicated,” Mila said. “Do you still have that disguise from the train to Kuybyshev?”

“It’s in his bag,” Otabek said, indicating said item across the room with a tip of his head.

“Good. Yelena will need to make a reappearance for a short time. Otabek, can you help him?”

“And then what?” Otabek asked, rising from his chair.

“The staff are too busy to pay much attention. We’ll walk right out the front door.”

“I can’t walk,” Yuri said, his gaze suddenly far off. “How am I supposed to be a dancer if I can’t even walk?”

“Yura,” Otabek said. “ Look at me. I will have you .”

Yuri stared at him for a long moment, his brain slowly remembering the meaning of the Kazakh words. He nodded. “ Okay .”

Otabek’s face lit up at the simple muttered word in Kazakh. He leaned forward, and ignoring Mila’s presence, pressed a kiss to Yuri’s forehead.

Mila had never seen the blond so content. She quickly looked away again, pretending to read something on her stolen clipboard. She felt as though she had intruded on something very intimate and private, though it was no more than a brush of contact. She was an outsider here, that much she knew.

After Otabek had help Yuri into his costume of Yelena, Mila returned with her own bag and coat, which she had stored away in the first supply closet she had come across. She immediately set about completing Yuri’s transformation into Yelena, future prima ballerina for the Bolshoi ballet.

“Alright,” Mila said, brushing the last of the makeup onto his face. “I think that will do.”

Yuri looked up at her with eyes that were more green than she remembered ever seeing them.

“Oh,” she breathed, stepping back to take in her own work.

“What?” Yuri snapped, wincing as he tried to stand.

“You just look very beautiful,” Mila said, turning away to pack up her things once more.

Yuri - Yelena, now - turned to Otabek, who waited patiently to help.

Otabek knew better than to assume he would need it, and respected Yuri’s desire to try on his own first.

It took an uncharacteristically short time for Yuri to reach out for Otabek’s assistance, and the soldier boy stepped forward to tuck the dancer’s arm in his own.

Mila found herself staring at them again. They were a perfect pair. Yuri, a pale golden sun just after dawn, and Otabek the dusk settling into night. She had to shake herself into motion, leading the way to the door, down the hall, and right out the front door.

No one stopped them. No one asked a question. All they saw in passing was a young man accompanying two young women out from a visit to the hospital.


When they sat on the train later that evening, waiting for it to pull out of the station, Mila took a deep breath.

“Madame Lilia lied about your location,” she said quietly. “About where you are headed.”

“What? Why would she do that?” Yuri asked, sitting up straighter and leaning toward her.

It was throwing her off. One moment, he was Yuri, the next he was Yelena. He played the part expertly, in both looks and actions.

“Kuznetsk,” Mila said. “That is where the world thinks you are headed. Madame Lilia, Kolya, they decided to convince everyone you were there. I was the only one told of your real location. I was worried someone would have found out before I arrived, but I was lucky that those soldiers who helped you just dumped you and went on their way. It was lucky that one of them reported to a man of Kolya’s, and that he had the foresight to telephone Lilia when he did.”

“So you work for my grandfather now?” Yuri asked.

“Don’t we all?” Mila asked, the corner of her mouth lifting as she glanced at Otabek.

Otabek was staring out the window as the whistle blew, and the train made its first lurch into motion.

“What about Yakov?”

“Kolya is growing impatient with him,” Mila shrugged.

Yuri frowned, settling back against the bench, nestling into Otabek’s side. The soldier boy automatically put an arm around his shoulders, not looking away from the window.

“I danced as you. As Yelena. To help weed out whoever else was after you,” Mila said softly. “We caught them all, except one. They all have someone watching them now. Reporting on their whereabouts and activities.”

Yuri blinked. “What did you dance?”

Mila was surprised he pursued that tidbit, versus any of the others she had fed him. “Swan Lake. Odette. The dying swan.”

Yuri turned away. “I’m growing tired of tragedies. I don’t think I want to dance another one ever in my life.”

Finally, Otabek turned from the window to look at Yuri, still nestled into his side.

“But, those are the best stories to tell,” Mila said.

“I won’t dance another tragedy in my life. If I even ever dance again.”

Otabek subtly pulled Yuri closer, comforting him silently. He did not try to deny the possibility that Yuri would not dance again - he’d seen the struggle in Yuri’s face as he tried to walk on his own without wincing. He’d seen the masked pain, even when Otabek supported him.

They were lucky that the stitches had held. That the wound hadn’t bled through the bandages.

“What will you dance then, if not a tragedy?” Mila asked.

“I don’t know,” Yuri said. “Maybe I will just rewrite them all so that they end differently. Or write my own.”


Somewhere, miles away, Victor Nikiforov stood outside a small house on the edge of a lakeside village, staring at a broken down doorway and not processing what was before him.

“Nikiforov,” a woman called, approaching him through the snow. A large brown dog raced ahead of her, shoving his muzzle against Victor’s hand. One of his paws had been bandaged. “They came, several days ago. The dog was hurt, but he’s been staying with me.”

Victor turned to the woman, his eyes damp as he nodded, holding Makkachin close to his side. “Who took him?”

“Our own.”

Victor nodded again, trying to force down his rage. “Thank you for caring for Makkachin.”

“What are you going to do? He would never hurt a soul, why would they have taken him?” the woman asked.

“I do not know,” Victor said, looking off into the distance. “But they will pay dearly.”

Chapter Text

To get through a war, a man needs something bigger than himself to fight for.

- Rick Remender

Moscow

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.