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i walk my days on a wire

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[YuriP is online]

 

After Worlds, he relocates back to Canada with his coach. It’s for convenience more than anything else; Olivier has a husband and two children in Montreal that he hasn’t seen in a while, after he agreed to follow Otabek to Almaty to let him train back at home for some time, and Otabek doesn’t want to change coaches again. He guesses it’s his turn to make some sacrifices.

He gets invited to the European part of the Stars on Ice tour—Lausanne, Dresden, Warsaw, Ostrava—but he doesn’t go with the show to Asia. Instead, he packs up his apartment and ships all his belongings across the ocean, to the nice, small condo his coach found for him. It’s within the walking distance of the rink and reasonably close to the city center.

Montreal is different enough from Toronto that it might be a separate country altogether. Otabek’s English is pretty good after living abroad for so long, but he doesn’t speak French at all, and even though he spent many years moving from rink to rink, from coach to coach, from country to country, for the first time in a long time, he feels like a complete outsider.

Three days after moving in, he finds out that he shares the floor with a Swiss hockey player who plays for the Montreal Canadiens. As it turns out, the guy is also on a first-name basis with Christophe Giacometti. Switzerland is a small, small country, apparently.

Between him and his cat, it’s Masha who takes the relocation better. It’s strange; he’s been living abroad for such a long time that the change of rinks shouldn’t even register, yet here he is, feeling uprooted and unsettled. But Masha makes herself at home right away, shedding on everything in sight and purring in his ear every morning until he gets up to feed her. Nothing new there.

 

From: Yuri Plisetsky
how’s montreal?
(04:07 pm)

 

“Isn’t it really late in Saint Petersburg?” Otabek asks once they figure out the connection and Skype stops freezing the video and disconnecting them every five seconds.

Otabek is not really one for social media or texting, but after years spent living apart from his family, he’s learned not to mind skyping. It’s convenient, and it leaves him with his hands free, so he can do stretches while he talks to his little sister or his parents in the evening.

“You called me, remember?” Yuri is sitting on an unmade bed with his legs crossed, holding a half-empty cup of plain yogurt in his lap. When he speaks, he doesn’t even bother removing the spoon out of his mouth.

It’s the first time he’s seen Yuri since Worlds, even though they’ve kept in touch otherwise. His hair is longer now, reaching almost down to his shoulders, and he looks like his frame has filled out a bit over the past couple of months.

He must hate it.

For skaters like Yuri, who rely on their lithe bodies to push themselves past their limits, late onset puberty is hell—even more so than it is for others. It means taking weeks to relearn things you used to be able to do with your eyes closed and getting to know how your own body works all over again; it means falling and falling, and falling again until the center of gravity reasserts itself.

There are some who never come back from this.

“Montreal is fine. Very…Quebecois,” he says, reaching to put the laptop on the floor. He can feel the first stretch all the way down to his hamstrings, but it’s the good kind of burn, so he pushes further down. “How’s the new apartment?”

Yuri makes a disgusted face. “Mila snores. Who fucking knew.”

From what little he’s seen of the place, reflected in the grainy camera of Yuri’s laptop, it doesn’t look very impressive—the walls are a drab green color and the furniture has seen better days, but it’s not surprising, either. Yuri might be good, but skating doesn’t pay well and for the younger skaters, who don’t have any endorsement deals yet, it sometimes costs more than it earns. For someone like Yuri, it must be even harder.

It’s not that Otabek pays any attention to the rumor mill, since skaters will gossip about anything and everything, half of it patently untrue, but he’s aware that Yuri’s family situation is complicated. He won’t ask, because it’s none of his business, but if there’s one thing he knows, it’s that kids aren’t born that tough. They just get that way.

“It’s still better than living with Yakov and Lilia, though,” Yuri continues. He puts the yogurt away somewhere outside the frame and reaches for a bottle water, then downs half of it in one go. His Adam’s apple is working with each mouthful, the elongated line of his neck graceful and strong. “They should just fuck already and stop with all the mating rituals, or whatever it is that they’re doing. It’s disgusting to watch.”

“I imagine,” Otabek says to the floor.

He’s sitting in a center split that has his thigh muscles locked tight and painful, until he slowly, slowly relaxes into it. He pushes forward a little more, until he can feel the scrape of his femur against the hip joint, then stops.

“And there’s no way I’m moving in with Victor and Katsuki,” Yuri continues. “Because their lovey-dovey bullshit makes me want to barf. No, thanks.”

Otabek laughs quietly. “You’re not very much into the lovey-dovey bullshit, are you?”

Silence.

“Asia sucked without you,” Yuri admits eventually after a moment, as he falls backwards onto the bed, his t-shirt riding up. It must be still hot in Saint Petersburg, if the forecast is to be believed, but Yuri has the hood up, obscuring his face at this angle. “But we all went back to the hot spring run by Katsuki’s family after the Fukuoka show, so I guess it wasn’t that bad.”

“I know,” Otabek says. “I saw the pictures.”

He could swear that Yuri is blushing.

There are no pictures from the actual hot spring, but there are some that Phichit and JJ uploaded from their trip down to the beach the following morning. In one of those pictures, Phichit caught Yuri in a moment of complete reverie, smiling faintly at something outside of the shot. It’s the one Otabek couldn’t look away from.

Yuri continues to scroll through his phone as they continue chatting, but he has a weird look on his face that Otabek can’t seem to place—something between wariness and anticipation. Most of all, though, he looks tired and sleepy.

Otabek looks at the clock; it’s past two a.m. in Saint Petersburg. He had no idea they’ve been talking this long.

“Do you wanna—” Yuri starts at the same time as Otabek says, “Are you planning on staying upright tomorrow in practice? Because that might be a problem if we keep this up.”

Yuri snorts unattractively. “Please, I could keep myself upright in my sleep. My balance is amazing.”

Otabek remembers the wide-eyed, bird-boned boy, executing a perfect arabesque so effortlessly it almost made him cry, the shame of his own inadequacy burning in his throat.

Of course.

“But I should probably go to bed,” Yuri continues with palpable distaste for the very notion of the passage of time. “Or Yakov is gonna chew me out again in front of the entire rink, and Victor is just gonna laugh, the asshole, like he hasn’t done that a thousand of times.” He sighs, pulls on the strings of his hoodie. “Ugh, whatever. I’m signing off.”

He sounds so young when he says that, but then again—they all have their moments. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s an entire life beyond their competitive careers, beyond the rink. When, on average, you retire at twenty-five, it’s easy to lose perspective.

 

When it comes down to it, all rinks look the same.

The locker rooms smell like stale sweat and far too many bodies coming through them on a daily basis. The benches are hard and uncomfortable, digging into the meat of their thighs. The surface of the ice is like a clean slate ready to be inscribed with the story of their hard work—the history of all the landings and all the falls documented on more than just their bodies.

Lately, he’s been underrotating his triple axel again.

It’s something he managed to finally correct a while ago, back before the start of the Grand Prix circuit, and it hasn’t been giving him any trouble throughout the season, but now it’s back, and he can’t seem to get it right. There’s something wrong with the angle of the blade on take-off that he can’t quite pin down, but it’s messing him up in the air and throwing him off on each consecutive attempt. He barely lands some of them, he falls on most of the rest. The clean landings he can count on one hand.

“That’s enough for today, I think,” Olivier says as Otabek is picking himself up off the ice with a grim expression. Olivier turns off the camera he’s been using to record the practice. “I’ll review the tape later and we’ll see what we can do about it tomorrow. Go, get some rest, do some off-ice conditioning in the afternoon. It’s no use pushing this any further right now. We don’t want you to injure yourself.”

Otabek nods stiffly, ignoring the pain in his hip where he landed on a fresh bruise.

Olivier doesn’t hug him when they come off the ice as he usually does at the end of a good practice; they’ve been working together long enough that he knows when Otabek doesn’t want other people intruding on his personal space, and right now, he needs some time alone to think and regroup, to calm down the heart hammering in his chest, beating out: you’re not good enough. They’re counting on you.

On his way back to the locker room, he passes the girl from Germany, Karina, who started training under Olivier just a few weeks ago after changing coaches. She smiles and waves at him. Otabek inclines his head in a polite hello, but he’s in no mood for small talk.

The locker room, when he enters, is dark and empty. He turns on the lights and sits down on the bench, then slowly starts to unlace his skates. He’s stepping out of his boots when his phone rings with a notification.

[yuri-plisetsky uploaded a photo]

The photo must be from earlier in the day: Yuri is on the Nevsky Prospect—somewhere near Mayakovskaya, by the look of it, but it’s been a while since Otabek was last in Saint Petersburg, so he might be wrong—throwing up a peace sign as he poses next to the biggest, fluffiest cat Otabek has seen in his entire life.

The Instagram post is captioned with #TigersOfRussia. In the photo, Yuri is grinning.

There’s another photo, uploaded earlier and tagged with Otabek’s Instagram username, that has Yuri in a black leotard at what must be Lilia’s studio, executing a perfect arabesque as he stares defiantly into the camera. He knows what the photo is—part reminder, part challenge, part something else entirely.

Otabek clicks like, then throws the phone back into his bag to forget about it for the rest of the day.

 

By the time he comes home after an afternoon of off-ice conditioning, a half-empty isotonic drink in hand, Masha is already getting antsy, flicking her tail back and forth as she regards Otabek from across the hallway.

“Don’t be like that,” Otabek tells her, but she flicks her tail again and starts to slowly walk towards the kitchen, pretending like she’s ignoring him completely. It’s an old trick; Otabek remains unmoved.

He makes himself some early dinner and feeds Masha, then boots up his laptop and logs into Skype, just to be greeted by a message from Yuri, from two hours before: where r u.

Otabek is slowly getting used to Yuri’s impatience. He’s a bit like a cat, prickly and standoffish, but at the same time starved for attention. It’s not surprising, really, considering the life he’s had, but it still manages to surprise Otabek sometimes—the fact that Yuri wants attention specifically from him.

It was, after all, Otabek who proposed friendship in the first place. He couldn’t have predicted that Yuri would do more than keep meeting him halfway. It’s not a bad surprise, just—surprise, that’s all.

The Skype calls are a regular thing for them now, at least once or twice a week, as often as their busy schedules allow. They’re both working on new programs for the upcoming season; Yuri is practicing the quad lutz to add to his roster; and Otabek is trying to get his triple axel back, on top of polishing his quad loop that he hasn’t debuted in competition yet but has been working on for the past two seasons. It’s a busy summer for all of them, so close to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Still, they try to keep in touch.

When Otabek presses the call button, it takes Yuri a moment to pick up and once he does, the delay in the video feed freezes the screen for a few seconds. When the video goes from grainy, pixelated mess to the regular, slightly grainy picture, Otabek sees Yuri sitting on his bed with his legs crossed, leaning against the wall.

There’s something off in the way he holds himself, almost gingerly, like he’s trying not to move too much, keeping the weight distribution even.

“Did you injure yourself?” Otabek asks. It’s not a subtle question, but Otabek is not a subtle man, and neither is Yuri.

He watches as Yuri tenses in front of the screen for a second, then relaxes.

“Yeah, I pulled a groin muscle in practice. Hurts like a bitch.” He winces when he changes position on the bed to tuck his right foot under his thigh. “Whatever, I’ve had worse.”

Otabek digs into his chicken pasta salad. “So what, no practice tomorrow?”

Yuri shrugs.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he says, then makes a face. “Probably not, though. Yakov gets really serious about this shit.”

The skating world could use more coaches like Yakov, truth be told—coaches who know when to say no to their skaters, coaches who don’t actively encourage their skaters to push themselves past their limits even while they’re recovering from an injury. That’s how, Otabek guesses, Yakov got Victor to where he is now with his body more or less intact.

“If you were here, you could help me stretch,” Yuri says then, looking straight into the camera, and Otabek blinks.

A few seconds pass, and Yuri is still stubbornly staring straight ahead, his eyes never leaving Otabek’s face, even though he’s starting to look uncharacteristically self-conscious.

Otabek is not stupid; he can see that statement for what it really is.

“Maybe you can get Mila to help you stretch,” he says and watches as his answer catches Yuri by surprise. The dissatisfaction of being ostensibly completely misunderstood is laid bare across his face for a second, before the mask of bored disdain comes back on.

“Oh, yeah, she’s stretching already, okay,” Yuri spits out. “She found herself another boyfriend, so there’s a whole fucking lot of stretching going on on the other side of the goddamn wall.”

He looks pissed off, not only at Mila, but also at Otabek for seemingly not catching the implication, and Otabek almost feels guilty. It would be stupid to start something right now, though, when there’s eight hours of time difference and a whole ocean separating them.

He would be lying if he said he never thought about it, looking at the graceful slope of Yuri’s neck and catching the glimpses of his collarbones when one of his wide-necked t-shirts slides off to the side to reveal part of the clavicle, watching the muscles of his back and arms shift under his skin when he skates or does barre exercises.

He’s not going to pretend it doesn’t get him just a little bit hot under the collar.

But it’s not always about what Otabek wants. He learned that a long time ago.

Masha chooses that moment to jump onto Otabek’s lap; it doesn’t happen often, since she mostly prefers to keep her distance and only come for occasional head scratches, but from time to time, she gets clingy.

On the other side of the world, Yuri hurls himself forward on the bed, closer to the screen.

“What the fuck, why the hell did I not know you had a cat?” he demands, still surly but somewhat placated at the sight of Masha, who meows loudly and proceeds to clean herself in Otabek’s lap.

“She doesn’t like people much,” Otabek says, reaching out to scratch Masha behind the ear just to watch as she swats his hand away, as if to prove a point. “Usually keeps out of sight when it’s not just me.”

He knows that Yuri has a cat, too, back in Saint Petersburg, because that animal is all over his Instagram and Twitter, impossible to miss, unlike Otabek’s Masha, who avoids people and camera lenses the same way Otabek usually does. They’re a well-matched pair, Masha and him.

He still keeps wondering, though, where Yuri fits into this.

 

His triple axel comes back eventually, as steady as it used to be back during the season. The quad loop is coming along nicely, too—he now lands it in practice more often than not, and he’s not two-footing it anymore most of the time.

Olivier is pleased.

It’s a good off-season for Otabek, all things considered. He’s not nursing any injuries, he has the choreography for his short program and his free skate for the next season almost down, and there’s still plenty of time before competition starts again. He’s going to come back, stronger than ever, and show everyone who has ever doubted him what he’s really made of.

He placed fourth at Worlds in March and watched Yuri get his bronze, seemingly eclipsed by Victor Nikiforov’s endless shadow and Yuuri Katsuki’s warm, bright glow, nearly impossible to look away from. But Otabek still kept glancing to the other side of the podium, where Yuri was looking down at his medal and frowning, oblivious to the way his own shadow was slowly starting to catch up to Victor’s.

Next year, Otabek swore back then. Next year I’ll beat you.

Yuri, on the other hand, is apparently struggling with his free skate, choreographed by Victor and, by all accounts, insanely difficult in a true Nikiforov fashion.

When Otabek calls him one afternoon, it takes Yuri a while to answer the call. When the video feed catches up, he’s greeted with the sight of Yuri sitting in the middle of his bed with a mass of bandages and tape strewn all around him. He looks up to greet Otabek, then goes back to taping his feet. There are blisters—some fresh, some already scabbed over, some open and red, recently drained of fluid, either on purpose or by accident.

“Rough day?” Otabek asks, and Yuri shrugs, further retreating into himself with his shoulders hunched.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” he says in a subdued voice. Yuri doesn’t let people see this side of himself very often, Otabek has learned, so he must be feeling really down to let it show like that. “Just…can we talk about literally anything else? Other than skating. Tell me, like—I don’t know, tell me about your neighbors or something.”

“Sure,” Otabek says earnestly, ignoring the strange undertone in Yuri’s voice. “Can it be sort of about skating, though? Because my neighbor is a hockey player, from Switzerland. Says he played in the KHL for a season during a lockout a few years back, before getting traded to the Habs.”

Yuri snorts. “The Habs,” he parrots. “Look at you, getting all up on the hockey lingo. Next thing you know, you’re gonna be chasing after a puck with a stick.”

Otabek smiles with the corner of his mouth.

“Not likely. These guys are like two meters high.”

“Ugh, I know.” Yuri makes a face.

Ah, right. Mila’s new boyfriend.

“Where in the KHL did he play?” Yuri asks after a beat of silence, just when Otabek starts to think that particular conversation is over.

“Magnitogorsk, I think.”

Yuri falls silent again. Otabek observes as he methodically tapes his feet, spreading ointment over the blisters before patching them up with gauze and bandage.

“Huh,” he says eventually. “Maybe he knows my cousin, then.”

It’s the first time Yuri mentioned a family member other than his grandfather. Yuri’s family situation is still a mystery for the most part, even in the skating world, full of gossip that Otabek tries to distance himself from. Even so, there are some things everyone has heard of at one point or another: the unknown father, the absent mother, who gave Yuri her last name and her father’s name as a patronymic before she left to chase fading glory.

“I never really met him,” Yuri continues in a wistful tone, just in case Otabek thought that maybe his life wasn’t as horrifyingly lonely as he suspected. “I just know he exists.”

He has no idea what to say to that. Otabek is no stranger to missing his family, but that only means that he has a family to miss. Yuri, it seems, has no one apart from his grandfather.

Instead of answering, Otabek excuses himself to make some tea. While he’s waiting for the water to boil, he leans against the kitchen counter, his mind still on what Yuri said a moment ago. Talking about family shouldn’t make anyone this sad.

“Yakov has a new student,” Yuri says once Otabek returns to his place in front of the screen, a mug of steaming tea in hand. So much for not talking about skating. “Some snotty rich momma’s boy from Nizhny Novgorod or wherever the fuck. He tried to kiss me today after practice. What a fucking tool.”

Otabek catches himself instinctively licking his lips. He wonders whether Yuri would push him away, too, if he tried to kiss him. Perhaps. Perhaps not, given his recent behavior: the way he’s taken to wearing loose shirts that expose his collarbones and shoulders around Otabek, like he knows exactly what it does to Otabek’s insides; the constant innuendo.

But whatever it is, there’s still half a world separating them at any given time. It’s not like he could just reach out and pull Yuri closer to find out.

 

On Wednesday, he comes home late, after he stayed behind to work on his catch foot layback that he’s been wanting to include in his exhibition program for a while. He knows he’ll never be as flexible as Yuri, who can still execute a perfect Biellmann without breaking a sweat, but he wants to get better, more interesting to watch.

He knows what people say about him—reliable but boring. To a figure skater, that usually means competitive death, never amounting to anything other than middle-of-the-pack standings, the curse of the fourth place. Otabek, at least, has the technique to make up for his PCS scores, and it’s earned him a few medals to date, but he doesn’t want to rely on that forever.

What he wants is to win.

It seems that in the years to come, after Victor and Yuuri retire for good, Yuri will be the one to beat. If Otabek wants to surpass him, he needs to do better than this. He doesn’t want for Yuri’s shadow to grow as huge and daunting as Victor’s, and he knows there will be more of the young blood trying to catch up to him—Phichit, Guang Hong, Seung-gil, Leo—but Otabek wants to get there first.

He feels weirdly on edge, the way he almost never does after a successful practice, but now his entire body is thrumming with nervous energy he can’t seem to shake off.

He showers, hoping to rinse off the excess of adrenaline, and jerks himself off half-heartedly to ease the tension in his shoulders. He does his best not to think about the flashes of blond hair and delicate collarbones, and strong, muscular thighs that keep flooding his mind, unbidden.

It doesn’t work.

What’s worse is that when he walks into his bedroom in search of something to wear, since he forgot to bring a change of clothes, there’s a waiting Skype call from Yuri. He answers it almost on autopilot and only realizes his mistake a moment too late, when he sees Yuri’s face. He’s still wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, and he can’t just ignore the fact that he got himself off less than five minutes earlier to the memory of Yuri’s mouth.

For a moment, Yuri doesn’t say anything, and Otabek busies himself with looking through his closet. He dresses away from the screen, discarding the towel and grabbing the first pair of briefs he can find; the white t-shirt clings unpleasantly to his skin, still damp from the shower where he hasn’t toweled off properly, and his hair is starting to drip down his neck.

He feels more uncomfortable than before he’d stepped into the shower.

Yuri, on the other hand, seems to be angry about something. He’s clutching the pillow in his lap so hard Otabek can see how white his knuckles are despite the grainy texture of the screen.

“Did something happen?” he asks. Sometimes it’s easier to just be straightforward with Yuri, he’s learned.

“No, nothing happened,” Yuri says, throwing himself onto his stomach in front of the laptop with a huff.

If that’s how he wants to do it, then two can play this game, Otabek thinks. Yuri is not a child, and Otabek doesn’t have the time, patience, or obligation to deal with his tantrums every time he decides to throw one nonetheless.

He likes Yuri, maybe more than he should, but Yuri can also be a lot to handle even on the best of days.

“Okay then,” he says simply before leaning back to reach the tape and ointment lying on his nightstand. He’s been breaking in new boots this past week; his feet are a mess.

When he looks back to the screen, Yuri looks half-surprised, half-frustrated, but Otabek just begins to methodically massage, patch up and bandage his feet.

“What kind are you using?” Yuri asks after a moment. It’s the first time he’s spoken since Otabek failed to rise to the challenge. Otabek shows him the label.

“This one is shit,” Yuri professes with all the confidence of someone who’s used to thinking he can’t be wrong. “There’s this other one Lilia bought for me, and it’s really good. You can’t get it outside of Russia, though, but I could, I don’t know, send you a package or something. If you wanted.”

It’s an olive branch of sorts, Yuri’s own way of saying the I’m sorry that wouldn’t fit through his mouth.

“Sure, if you want,” Otabek says with a small smile. “I’ll text you the address.”

There’s a moment of silence, followed by quiet meowing, and when Otabek looks up, there’s a cat sitting in Yuri’s lap, bumping her head against the underside of his jaw and demanding attention. Yuri smiles, soft and unguarded for once.

“Yo, come say hi to Koshka,” he demands, turning the cat around to face the camera.

Otabek snorts. “You named your cat Cat? Really?”

Yuri’s expression sours.

“Shut up. I got her when I was ten, okay?”

The cat meows again and swats at the screen with her paw, then headbutts the camera, like she’s trying to pounce at Otabek and is wondering why it’s not working.

“She’s cute,” he says and watches the way Yuri blushes as if Otabek just complimented him, not his cat. In a way, it feels like he did.

The moment Yuri sucks his lower lip into his mouth, gnawing at the chapped skin with his teeth, Otabek looks away, down to his neglected feet, only half-patched up.

Don’t think about his mouth, he tells himself. This way lies madness.

“Did you hear Georgi is doing Carmen for his free skate this year?” Yuri says, and Otabek doesn’t even need to look at the screen; the distaste is palpable in his voice. “Can you be less original?”

Otabek smiles with the corner of his mouth.

“Could’ve been Bolero,” he says.

“Please, you skated to Bolero your second year in the juniors.” Yuri rolls his eyes. “You have no fucking room to talk.”

Otabek shakes his head. “I can’t believe you even remember that.”

At that, Yuri’s mouth turns into a stubborn line as he keeps staring straight at Otabek.

“I didn’t,” he admits. “I watched it on Youtube.”

It’s at the same time unexpected and understandable. Yuri might have forgotten about their first encounter back when they were still children, but he’s always been serious about sizing up his competition. It’s nice, in a way, that Yuri considers him a threat.

There’s a lull in the conversation, where Otabek finishes his post-practice routine while Yuri lounges around in his bed, scrolling through something on his phone. A few times, Otabek catches him looking, but when their eyes meet through the screen, Yuri always looks away, feigning disinterest. Otabek doesn’t quite know what to do with that.

 

At first, he thinks it’s a mistake.

When he opens the message, he expects to see text, but what he sees instead is a picture. Initially, he can’t quite figure out what he’s looking at, the photo poorly-lit and a bit grainy. After a second or two, it clicks.

He can see the smooth, pale skin, the faint outline of strong muscle underneath. The meat of Yuri’s thigh, the curve of his ass.

Otabek’s mouth goes dry.

There’s a second picture, too, bright and clear this time, and Otabek almost wishes it wasn’t. The picture shows only the lower half of Yuri’s face, his mouth slightly parted and pink, and shiny, then follows the flat of his chest and abdomen, down to where Yuri has a hand wrapped around his dick. He’s hard.

There’s nothing else—no text, no other messages, nothing. Just the pictures, stark and bold, and unapologetically there, leaving nothing to the imagination.

He deletes them almost immediately, because contrary to Yuri, he’s apparently internalized the lesson that when you’re a public figure, in any capacity, you probably shouldn’t have nude pictures on your phone. That doesn’t mean they’re not seared into his brain forever.

Throughout the day, he does his best to ignore the memory of the full-body flush stretching from Yuri’s face down his neck and blooming across his chest. He goes to practice, works on his quads, does his off-ice conditioning and meets with the seamstress for a costume fitting.

He doesn’t respond to the now-deleted messages. Yuri doesn’t message him either.

If he’s being honest with himself, Otabek has no idea what to do with the revelation that Yuri Plisetsky is a person who takes and sends nude pictures of himself. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise him so much—Yuri, after all, always goes straight after whatever it is that he wants. Otabek just never figured that it would be him.

They might have skirted around the issue once or twice, and he couldn’t deny the tension between them, charged with static that made the hairs on his arm stand up, but he never expected it to go this far. There have been concerns, after all: the long distance, the time difference, the competitive nature of their lives. Yuri, apparently, has no such apprehensions.

A day goes by like this. Then another. And another.

They usually don’t skype every day; it’s nothing out of the ordinary for them not to be in touch for a while. That silence, though, is usually interspersed with texts from Yuri or tagged posts on Instagram, direct messages on Twitter.

Now, there’s nothing but silence.

On the fourth day, Yuri calls Otabek as soon as the computer automatically logs him into Skype. After a moment of hesitation, Otabek picks up.

The room behind Yuri looks unfamiliar. It’s not the usual bedroom or the common area in his and Mila’s apartment, and it’s not their tiny, white-tiled kitchen. Instead, it looks like a different kitchen, with wood paneling and dark tile on the walls.

“Yo,” Yuri says by way of hello. He doesn’t look in any way out of the ordinary, and he doesn’t shy away from Otabek’s gaze. The only difference is that now Otabek knows what his dick looks like when it’s hard.

“Where are you?” he asks in a neutral tone. “That’s not your apartment, right?”

He doesn’t expect the way Yuri’s entire face lights up.

“I’m in Moscow, visiting Grandpa,” he says. “I’m going back tomorrow morning.”

That, at least, explains the dated décor and the lack of Koshka lounging around in the background, but not why Yuri would take time off from training in the middle of the week to spend four hours on a train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow just to return the next day.

“It’s Grandpa’s birthday,” Yuri supplies. His t-shirt is slipping off his shoulder, exposing the collarbone.

Otabek swallows.

Before he can say anything, though, there’s the sound of the front door opening and closing, and a booming male voice saying, “Yurochka, come help me with the groceries!”

Yuri looks back over his shoulder, then extricates himself from where he’s sitting in an unholy tangle of limbs in front of his laptop, leaving Otabek to ponder the inside of the Plisetsky kitchen. It’s strange, seeing the place where Yuri grew up like this, empty and quiet, from halfway across the world.

It doesn’t stay empty and quiet for very long, though, because a moment later the muffled voices from the hallway grow closer until Yuri comes into Otabek’s full view again, dragging with him two bags of groceries. His grandfather follows a moment later.

“Yurochka?” he asks, and Otabek doesn’t need to see his face to know he’s talking about him.

“Grandpa, that’s Otabek, from Kazakhstan,” Yuri explains. “I told you about him.”

Otabek doesn’t know why it feels so much like a punch to the solar plexus.

“Good evening, Mr. Plisetsky,” he says politely. “And happy birthday.”

“Ah, yes, I’ve heard about you, boy,” Mr. Plisetsky says. “Yurochka talks about you a lot. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Behind Mr. Plisetsky, Yuri has turned abruptly away from the screen, busying himself with unpacking the groceries and stuffing whatever needs to be kept cold into the ancient refrigerator. Otabek waits.

“So you’re training in Canada, huh?” Mr. Plisetsky says. “That’s quite the way from home.”

Otabek shrugs slightly. “We don’t have that good of a support system for figure skaters back home,” he explains. “Facilities, coaches, choreographers—most of that is still abroad, if you’re serious about competing at the international level. I’ve lived away from home most of my life. It’s hard, but you get used to it.”

Mr. Plisetsky’s inscrutable face shifts for a moment, taking on an almost wistful expression.

“Ah, yes, well,” he says. “We know a thing or two about that, too. Don’t we, Yurochka?”

Yuri makes a faint noise of agreement, but he still doesn’t turn around.

“You can take it to the living room now,” his grandfather tells him, and Otabek guesses he means the call. “I’m going to start preparing dinner.”

“I wouldn’t want to intrude,” Otabek says, but Mr. Plisetsky shakes his head.

“It’s fine. You, boys, go and catch up.” He waves them off. “I’ll let you know when dinner is ready.”

The living room—or what Otabek sees of it, at least—seems small and a little cramped, like it has seen better days. The walls here are paneled with wood, too, and in the upper right corner of the screen, Otabek can see a shelf full of dusty knick-knacks that look like they remember the previous regime.

“I didn’t know he’d be back so soon,” Yuri says. He seems relaxed, but once Otabek gets a good look at him, he can see the residual tension in his shoulders.

“It’s fine. He’s your family, and it’s his birthday. I’m the one who should probably go. We can always talk another time.”

“No,” Yuri says, a little too fast. “No, it’s fine, he doesn’t mind. We’ve spent most of the day together anyway.”

He licks his lips. Otabek needs to physically stop himself from doing the same.

There’s no way they can talk about it now—the pictures, all of it—and even if there was, Otabek still has no idea what to say.

It’s almost a relief when Yuri’s grandfather tells him that dinner is ready and they disconnect.

 

He’s been so good at ignoring it, for the most part, that when it finally comes crashing down around him, it comes crashing down hard.

In the morning following his talk with Yuri, he wakes up overheated and restless. His dick is hard, trapped between his abdomen and the mattress, and there’s a faintly wet spot just below the elastic of his boxers. This hasn’t happened to him in a while.

At first, he tries to ignore it, but his alarm is due to go off in less than fifteen minutes, and he has another costume fitting first thing in the morning before he goes to practice. He can’t exactly arrive at the atelier with a hard-on.

Slowly, deliberately, he grinds into the mattress, then pushes his underwear past his hips and down to his thighs, just enough to get a grip on his dick, firm and tight around the head the way he likes it. Not thinking about Yuri is already a lost battle—there is no way for him to forget the play of shadows across Yuri’s abs or the way he touched himself, his grasp firm but slightly hesitant at the same time, the head of his dick peeking out, pink and flushed.

There’s a fleeting thought in his mind that he could snap a picture of himself like this, lying on his stomach with his hand wrapped around himself, his underwear straining around his thighs and his lips already bitten red, and send it to Yuri, but he discards the thought as soon as it appears.

They never really acknowledged this thing between them in any way. Now Otabek feels like he’s missed his window somehow.

Still, he brings himself right to the brink of orgasm with the thought of Yuri’s mouth, pink and wet, and dangerous in more ways than one, imagining what it would be like to have it wrapped around his dick. It’s the memory of the blush that does it, in the end, the way it spread across Yuri’s neck and chest, almost down to his navel, and Otabek comes to the thought of kissing the flushed, overheated skin, further and further down Yuri’s chest and abdomen, until he can wrap his lips around the tip of Yuri’s dick.

He imagines the soft moan, or maybe a throaty, choked-off sound, something, and the muscles of his abdomen contract, his thighs trembling. The inside of his palm is a mess.

Somehow, that only makes him feel worse.

He showers thoroughly to wash the scent of sex off his body, then goes in for the fitting. On his way, sitting in the backseat of an Uber, he uploads to his Instagram a photo he took after getting out of the shower, of Montreal slowly waking up. Then, on a whim, he tags Yuri in it.

Yuri likes the photo almost immediately, but doesn’t respond in any other way. It’s completely ordinary, as far as their interactions go. Otabek still can’t shake the lingering undercurrent of tension. Like they’re just biding their time, suspended in a fragile equilibrium.

Chapter Text

Practice runs late on Friday.

Most of the time, Otabek doesn’t care to socialize with the other skaters training under Olivier, but today is Karina’s first birthday away from home, and Olivier insisted that he stay for the little celebration down at the rink cafeteria.

So Otabek stayed, nibbling half-heartedly on his oatmeal cupcake with no frosting, quiet but polite.

He understands. Karina is barely seventeen and training halfway across the world from her family for the very first time; she gets homesick easily. Otabek had been in that place, too, but he started early. By the time he was seventeen, living away from home was just another fact of life.

When he finally gets home, he doesn’t expect Yuri to still be up, but as soon as he boots up his laptop, the notification pops up in the corner.

[YuriP is online]

This time, it’s Otabek who presses call.

Yuri, when he appears on screen, seems to be in a strange mood. He looks on edge, frustrated with something but also unwilling to share the source of his annoyance, and he ends up saying very little apart from a perfunctory hello.

Otabek doesn’t mind; they sometimes don’t talk a lot when they’re on Skype together, just go about their business with the knowledge that there’s another person casually keeping them company. It’s unobtrusive and soothing at the same time; for someone like Otabek, who is used to being alone and finds being around other people for prolonged periods of time exhausting, it’s the perfect compromise between his need for human contact and his monk tendencies.

But today, there’s an undercurrent of tension that makes it impossible for Otabek to relax, and every time he glances up at Yuri, he looks almost skittish.

“Am I not hot enough for you or something?”

Otabek’s head snaps up. On the screen Yuri is stubbornly looking straight at him, his mouth a thin, dissatisfied line.

“What?”

“Am I not hot enough for you,” Yuri repeats, his tone flat; more of a statement than a question. “You know what I’m talking about. So cut the crap, okay?”

Otabek closes his eyes, then takes a deep breath. So they’re apparently talking about it now.

“Did you delete them at least?” he asks, for his own peace of mind.

“Of course I deleted them, what do you think I am, stupid?” Yuri says, sounding indignant, a flush spreading down his face, neck and what little Otabek can see of his chest. Just like in the pictures, his traitorous brain reminds him. “It’s not like I want fucking Yuri’s Angels to plaster the pictures of my dick online for the entire world to see.”

“I don’t think you’re stupid,” Otabek says. “I think you’re hot.”

“Oh.” It’s more of a quiet gasp than anything else. In the silence that follows, Yuri looks shaken down to his core. Then his expression turns angry. “Then why the fuck didn’t you say anything, you asshole? You left me hanging for a week!”

Otabek never breaks the eye-contact.

“I’m saying it now.”

Another pause.

“Well, did you like them, at least?” Yuri still looks guarded and strangely unsure, his gaze skirting off to the side.

Otabek wants to tell him that he did, maybe a bit too much.

His tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. He swallows thickly, once, twice.

“I want to see you,” is what comes out instead.

Yuri looks at him for a few seconds, unmoving, his mouth slightly parted. When he licks his lips, Otabek can see the flash of pearly white teeth. Yuri’s chest rises and falls rapidly.

“What, now?” he asks obtusely.

Otabek smothers a self-satisfied smile. It’s not often that he’s capable of rendering Yuri Plisetsky completely dumbstruck.

There’s no way to walk any of that back—the pictures, the obvious come-on—and Otabek doesn’t want to. When it’s time to finally take the jump, he plunges.

“Wasn’t that what the pictures were for?”

Yuri flushes violently with his entire body, but he keeps staring straight at Otabek, now that all the cards are on the table. They’re both painfully out of their depth, on the opposite sides of the world, with no experience to guide them, but neither of them lacks in the determination department.

“Sure, whatever,” Yuri says. Otabek isn’t sure which question he’s answering. Maybe both. “But you too. Fair’s fair.”

“Okay,” Otabek says and takes off his t-shirt in one fluid movement. He emerges from the confines of the fabric just in time to see Yuri swallow thickly, his Adam’s apple working. “Your turn.”

To his surprise, Yuri puts the laptop away and gets off the bed, treating Otabek to a sliver of his stomach, fair and toned, before he shucks off his sweater and reaches to unzip his jeans. Otabek watches with a dry throat as Yuri unceremoniously takes off everything he’s wearing with quick, utilitarian movements and little regard for seductiveness. He’s already hard.

“Well?” Yuri says impatiently, getting back onto the bed. Otabek knows it’s more than just a reminder for him to hurry up.

In response, he unbuttons his jeans and pushes them below his hips, down to his thighs. He knows Yuri must see the outline of his half-hard dick. The gray boxer-briefs don’t leave much to the imagination.

He pulls his jeans all the way down, then lets his legs fall open. On the other side of the line, Yuri makes a quiet sound. His hands are fisted in the sheets at his sides.

“You should probably touch yourself,” Otabek tells him.

Yuri sputters. “Shut the hell up, I know. I’m not an idiot,” he spits out. “I’m just waiting for you to get a fucking move on.”

Otabek hooks a finger behind the waistband of his underwear, lowers it slightly until Yuri can see the jut of his hipbone, then pauses. That seems to do the trick, though, because Yuri bites his lip and wraps a hand around himself. His eyelashes flutter when he half-closes his eyes and tilts his head back with a quiet gasp.

Done teasing, Otabek lifts his hips off the mattress and pulls off his underwear, discarding it at the foot of his bed, and wraps his fingers around his dick as well. When he looks up, Yuri is staring at him, seemingly transfixed by the slow, deliberate movement of Otabek’s hand. Over the next few minutes, he watches, enraptured, as Otabek brings himself to full hardness, never taking his eyes off Yuri. There’s a flush spreading down Yuri’s neck and chest, and he’s breathing rapidly, his lips shiny as he keeps licking them.

Otabek can’t look away from the way Yuri arches his back, exposing his neck; he seems so delicate in that moment, but at the same time, Otabek knows there’s a skeleton of steel hidden under this porcelain wind-up doll exterior.

When Yuri comes, it surprises both of them—Yuri more so than Otabek, judging by the looks of it. Some of the come gets on his face, and Otabek watches as Yuri wipes it off his chin with the back of his hand, visibly unsure of how to proceed now that he’s finished and Otabek is still hard.

They have no script for it, though, and in the end, it turns out to be more of a blessing, because Otabek can just get himself off to the sight of Yuri, still flushed and disheveled, his stomach a complete mess, his lips shiny with spit and bitten red. He tightens the grip around the head of his dick, his eyes still fixed on Yuri’s mouth—and Yuri must’ve figured it out, this quiet obsession of his, because he looks straight at Otabek as he wets his lips with his tongue in a deliberate, calculated gesture. That’s enough to get Otabek over the edge as he follows without a sound.

“I need to—” Yuri says eventually as Otabek’s breathing returns to normal. His voice, rough and husky, cracks. He clears his throat. “I need to clean myself up.”

When he disappears outside the frame, Otabek reaches for a tissue to wipe himself off as well, then tugs his underwear back on without bothering with anything else. Yuri is gone for a long time—so long that Otabek starts to suspect he might just not be coming back, biding his time until he thinks it’s safe to assume that Otabek has disconnected.

He comes back after a while, though, dressed in ratty leggings that must have seen better days and a stretched-out t-shirt that shows off his collarbones. He looks pissed off and keeps chewing on his bottom lip, his body language strangely defensive for someone who just got off. Knowing Yuri’s quirks and habits, that only means he feels embarrassed and doesn’t want to admit it.

“It was really hot,” Otabek says simply. It’s the truth, and he’s in the habit of telling the truth.

“Please, I came in, like, five minutes,” Yuri snaps. “I can do better than that.”

“I liked it, though.”

A pause.

“You can’t just say things like that,” Yuri insists, now visibly aggravated. “Why are you so fucking blasé about it?”

Otabek looks him straight in the eye. He can feel the pressure building up in the bridge of his nose, the oncoming headache.

“Why are you so worked up about it?” he asks. “We both wanted it, right? And we had a good time. So what’s the problem?”

Yuri swallows.

“Nothing,” he says. “It’s late, I need to go to bed.”

Otabek stomps out the frustrated sigh before it leaves his body.

“Goodnight,” he says.

Once they disconnect the call, he showers and instead of toweling himself off properly, he steps out of the shower and takes a picture of his torso and the lower part of his face, captions it with sleep well and deletes the photo as soon as he sees the message delivered status.

 

They don’t see each other in person until the Grand Prix Final. When the assignments go out, it turns out that Yuri got invited to the NHK Trophy and Rostelecom Cup. Otabek has been assigned Skate Canada and Tropheé de France.

The message comes as soon as the assignments are up on the ISU website.

From: Yuri Plisetsky
kick victor’s ass for me @ skate canada
and jj’s
(03:15 pm)

To: Yuri Plisetsky
You too.
(03:16 pm)

And try to be nice to Katsuki at the NHK Trophy
or Victor is never going to give it a rest.
(03:18 pm)

From: Yuri Plisetsky
wtf you’re not my keeper
(03:20 pm)

To: Yuri Plisetsky
Tell that to him.
(03:20 pm)

They keep in touch still, even though now their talks are accompanied by pictures which reveal more than they hide most of the time, cautiously casual in a way that Otabek is used to, after his last arrangement with a rink mate back in Almaty. The thing is—with Yuri, he’s not entirely sure if he wants it to stay casual.

It’s easy enough for now, though, especially with the season already underway, and Yuri doesn’t press the issue, either.

So it goes on like this, punctuated with Skype calls and photographs—those they exchange in private, and those they upload for the entire world to see: a picture of Yuri at a costume fitting, looking like he came out of Nijinsky’s fever dream; a photo of Otabek at a Habs home game, posing with the puck he got after his neighbor scored a hat-trick; Yuri with Koshka in a cat-sized snapback, throwing up a peace sign; a photo of Otabek landing his quad loop in practice, shards of ice flying everywhere like broken glass.

But there’s also this: a photo of Yuri’s abs and the jut of his hip, his half-hard dick tucked into his boxer-briefs; a picture of Otabek fresh after workout, with a generous view of his naked thigh and just a hint of his cock, hidden in the shadow; an unabashed display of Yuri, spent and disheveled, his abdomen covered in streaks of come; a snapshot of Otabek first thing in the morning, his hand disappearing inside his boxers, wrapped tightly around his dick.

It works out, somehow.

 

He places second at Skate Canada and wins Tropheé de France. Yuri comes second to Yuuri in Japan and second to Victor in Russia. It must sting, but Yuri should count his blessings. A lesser skater would not come out of the sudden growth spurt that hit Yuri unexpectedly in the early autumn with so much grace and dignity.

God only knows how much he must have suffered to make it look this effortless.

In Nagoya, Otabek spends the first day fighting jetlag from hell, but he still goes to practice in the evening, ahead of the first official practice scheduled for the following morning. When he arrives at the rink, Victor and Yuuri are already there, running through their exhibition routine. It’s beautiful to watch, lyrical and tender, and almost too private to intrude upon.

Yuri arrives in Japan a couple hours later with an almost forty-degree fever.

He looks like hell when Otabek comes to greet him in the hotel lobby. “Don’t even fucking think about coming closer,” he warns him from beneath the black surgical mask covering half of his face. “We don’t need more people puking all over the ice.”

It’s a foregone conclusion that he’s still going to skate. Otabek would expect nothing less from Yuri.

He doesn’t see him at morning practice—he’s been excused, apparently, on account of his health condition. Yakov still comes, though, to keep an eye on Victor and scowl.

Phichit is there, too, as is Seung-gil, along with Christophe who’s trying his hand at coaching now that he’s retired. Seung-gil’s face looks impassive as usual, but there’s something frantic in the way he circles around the rink, trying to shake off the nervous energy. It’s not that surprising, though—he was a last-minute addition after JJ had to pull out due to an injury. He probably didn’t expect to be here at all.

It’s not a good season for men’s singles, overall: Yuri has come to Nagoya half-delirious with fever but determined to skate; JJ is out at least until Four Continents, recovering from a groin injury; Leo won’t probably be back until the Olympics, after breaking three bones in his foot at Skate America; Guang Hong is having lower back issues. Otabek, thankfully, has been relatively injury-free thus far, disregarding some minor pains and aches that are par for the course for any skater.

It’s the Olympic season, though, and they all want to be there when all is said and done. That’s the main goal this year. The Grand Prix Final is just a stepping stone.

 

Otabek sits in fourth place after the short program, just three points behind Yuuri. He touched down slightly on the quad loop and turned a triple into a double in a combination, but he pulled through nonetheless. Victor still reigns supreme in his farewell season as a competitive skater. Yuri is in second, a fraction of a point ahead of Yuuri.

It’s a tight competition this year, and even Victor, nine points ahead of Yuri, doesn’t seem that untouchable anymore. They’ve been all inching ever so slowly towards the pedestal of Victor’s perfection, chipping away at the distance, one competition at a time. Victor might have his records back, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder.

Otabek watches Yuri’s free skate with the satisfaction of a new personal best that tastes like metal on his tongue, but it doesn’t last for long. Halfway through the routine, Yuri looks like he’s about to faint or vomit; he’s winded and feverish, and Otabek understands in that moment that it was never going to be a flawless program. He falls on his quad lutz, touches down on the quad salchow, almost misses the triple axel that’s always come so easily to him and pulls it together at the last second through the sheer power of will and spite.

When the music stops, he collapses onto the ice as soon as his ending pose is finished, curled in on himself and motionless, and Otabek springs out of his seat, ready to skate out and pick him up if no one else will.

“Wait,” Olivier says with a hand on Otabek’s chest, holding him back.

After a moment, Yuri gets up on his own to a deafening applause of the audience and commotion among the paramedics. He bows, white in the face, then skates away just to collapse into Yakov as soon as he steps off the ice.

He’s not at the kiss and cry when they announce his scores that push him back behind Otabek. He’s backstage, puking his guts out.

It wasn’t meant to happen like this. They were supposed to battle it out together, on equal ground. Otabek might have beaten Yuri here to get to the podium, but there’s no satisfaction in a win like that. Not when he finds Yuri in the bathroom, bent over the toilet and green around the gills.

“You’ll miss the medal ceremony,” Yuri tells him stubbornly. He doesn’t turn around to look at him, but Otabek knows that voice, knows what it means.

He goes without a word.

 

Yuri misses the gala after the doctors forbid him from leaving the bed, and he doesn’t come to the banquet either. Victor and Yuuri, fresh off the high of winning gold and silver, skate their Stammi Vicino and look hopelessly, completely in love. They’ve already announced they will be getting married once the season is over and Victor retires for good.

Otabek skates his new exhibition program, with the catch foot layback he’s been working on, and thinks of Yuri.

At the banquet, he stays just long enough not to seem rude. On his way out, he snaps a picture of himself and sends it to Yuri with a caption that reads: It’s boring here without you.

A few hours later, there is still no reply.

 

He wins gold at Four Continents and gets a message from Yuri that says: send me a pic with just the medal on. Otabek can do nothing but oblige. In return, he’s awarded with a photo of Yuri getting himself off, his silver from the Euros around his neck, his spine in a graceful arch.

we’re not even yet, the accompanying message says.

 

He knows he’s done for the season the moment the blade of his skate hits the ice. He hears the quiet crunch of bone and cartilage in his knee, the tell-tale popping sound. Then his body hits the ground.

It’s a week before Team Kazakhstan is scheduled to leave for Pyeongchang. Otabek was supposed to be the flag-bearer.

Instead, he’s rushed to the hospital where the best sports orthopedist in Montreal tells him that he’s dislocated a kneecap, slightly damaging his tendons in the process, and will have to sit out the competition for at least a few months. That’s it for him, then: no Olympics, no Worlds, no ice shows in the off-season, most probably.

No way to try and beat Yuri on equal terms.

They keep saying he’s lucky—it’s his first major injury and he’s still young. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like the blessing they make it out to be.

Olivier makes a statement to the media; Otabek posts a picture of his knee in a brace on Instagram and tries to act like he’s unaffected by all of this. Injuries happen to everyone eventually, after all.

The truth is, he’s gutted.

In four years, he’ll be twenty-three, and while he might still be competitive, there is no way to know if he will still be in his prime, good enough to win Olympic medals for his country. There’s a number of things that can happen between here and there. Knee injuries like to come back repeatedly. He might suffer another injury along the way, one that will force him to retire before his time. He’s not Victor—he won’t be skating forever at the level that will allow him to dream of the Olympic podium in more than just an abstract way.

His time is supposed to be now. Instead, he’s wasting it in his room, in his bed, with his knee bruised all over and leaking fluid after the surgery.

His mother offered to fly in from Kazakhstan, especially now that Karina has qualified for the Olympics and Olivier will be leaving with her, but Dina has school and their father travels for work a lot.

Yuri calls him three times, but Otabek doesn’t pick up. At first it’s because he’s still groggy from the procedure and the painkillers; then it’s because he knows he wouldn’t be able to keep the bitterness out of his voice. Eventually, Yuri stops trying.

 

Otabek skips the opening ceremony broadcast altogether, drugged up to his ears with painkillers. Instead, he does what needs to be done to let him go back to training as soon as possible: he rests, drinks lots of fluids, gets lots of sleep, and exercises as much as he’s allowed, with clenched teeth and steel resolve to come back stronger than ever.

Still, he can’t help but feel like history is just passing him by while he sits idly on the sidelines.

He texts Yuri to wish him good luck before the short program and gets nothing but a clipped, terse thanks in return.

 

He watches Victor Nikiforov make history on live television. A three-time consecutive Olympic champion doesn’t sound half-bad.

Yuuri Katsuki wins silver while Yuri places third, just a fraction of a point behind Katsuki. Standing on the podium, he doesn’t look ecstatic, but he doesn’t look crushed, either.

 

Otabek sends his congratulations via text. He knows he should probably call, but it’s a bad idea. PT has been kicking his ass lately, he’s not making as much progress as he thought he would, and he’s not in the mood to talk to anyone.

Yuri, apparently, didn’t get the memo.

He calls in the middle of the night, waking Otabek from a fitful sleep.

“What, you couldn’t even call to congratulate me?” Yuri demands as soon as Otabek picks up. It’s a regular call instead of Skype or FaceTime. He doesn’t even want to know how much Yuri is paying for this.

“Do you even know what time it is over here?” Otabek says, looking at the digital clock which helpfully informs him that it’s 3:24 am.

“Yeah,” Yuri snarls, “it’s time for you to get the fuck over yourself.”

Otabek pushes himself up on the pillows.

“Excuse me?”

“So you got injured, so what,” Yuri continues, undeterred. “We all do. But don’t fucking pretend like you’re so above all of this that you can do nothing but stay in your fucking room and sulk about it until, what? Everybody leaves you alone? Is that what you want? For no one to give a shit?”

Otabek is suddenly wide awake and angry.

“Like this isn’t exactly what you would’ve done.”

“No,” Yuri says emphatically. There are voices in the distance, and for the first time, Otabek realizes that Yuri is probably at the banquet following the Olympic gala. “No, I would’ve punched something instead of being a sad sack of shit, and got on with my life.”

Otabek laughs. He doesn’t know if it’s exhaustion or hysteria, or maybe everything that’s happened over these past few weeks finally catching up to him, but it seems that getting yelled at by Olympic bronze medalist Yuri Plisetsky from halfway across the world is his tipping point.

“Why the fuck are you laughing, you asshole?” Yuri demands. “It’s not funny, shut up. I need someone to motivate me after Victor and Katsudon retire.”

“Come to Canada,” Otabek says in a rush. “In the off-season, after you’re done with exhibitions. I should be back to training by then. We can share the rink for a week or two.”

It’s a complete non sequitur, even as far as their conversations go, but suddenly it’s important for him that Yuri knows he’s welcome in this life Otabek has carved out for himself.

Yuri, on the other hand, falls silent.

“And congratulations,” Otabek tacks on, because maybe it does need to be said out loud. “You deserved that medal.”

There’s an exasperated sound on the other end of the line.

“Just go the fuck back to sleep, you moron,” Yuri says. “I’m gonna go get drunk.”

A few moments after the call disconnects, Otabek’s phone lights up with a message.

From: Yuri Plisetsky
were u serious?
(03:33 am)

Otabek shakes his head with a wry smile, then sends back, yes.

 

In the month between the end of the Olympics and Worlds, Otabek goes from getting around with a pair of crutches to getting around with just a knee brace. There is no way for him to return to the ice this early into the recovery process, but now that he can do more careful exercise, he has less time to obsess about the upcoming competition and all the medals he won’t be winning for Kazakhstan.

The bruise slowly fades to purple, to green, to yellow.

At Worlds, in his swan song of a competition, Victor once again makes history, tying with Yuuri in points for gold. In the end, Yuuri takes home silver and a new world record for the short program. It’s not a bad bargain, considering. Yuri places third.

“We’re still getting married after this, just so we’re clear. The ISU has never stopped me before, and I don’t intend to be deterred now,” Victor says at the press conference with a warm, genuine smile, looking to the side at Yuuri, who’s blushing all the way up to his ears.

The reporters laugh. Yuri makes a face.

Don’t look so sour, Otabek texts him.

For a while, the phone is silent as the medalists finish answering questions back in Milan, but as soon as they leave the press room, there’s the sound of an incoming message.

From: Yuri Plisetsky
i knew u were watching
(01:08 pm)

This time, it’s Otabek who calls in answer.

“I thought that was a given,” he says. A beat. “You looked good out there.”

“Well, I’d fucking better, after Lilia spent half an hour trying to rip my hair out,” Yuri replies, sounding indignant but pleased. “Braids can go screw themselves.”

Otabek pretends to make a thoughtful sound. “I don’t know,” he tells Yuri. “I kind of like them.”

“Tough shit,” Yuri says, “I’m getting rid of them as soon as I get back to my room. And thanks,” he adds after a brief pause.

“For what?” Otabek asks.

“The congratulations.”

“I haven’t even said it yet.”

On the other end of the line, Yuri huffs out a quiet laugh. “I thought that was a given.”

About half an hour later, Otabek receives a message. It’s just a photo of Yuri, fresh from the shower, wearing his medal and nothing else. His hair is still braided.

 

It’s well into the exhibition season before Otabek is allowed back on the ice.

The first practice after he comes back, he spends half an hour just doing basic crossovers along the outer edge of the rink, then takes a break.

“Feeling good?” Olivier asks. He sits next to Otabek on the bench and hands him a bottle of water, waiting patiently until Otabek clears the ice off his blades.

“It’s nice to be back,” he says.

At the conclusion of that first practice, where he ends up doing nothing more complicated than backward crossovers and two single toe-loops just to get the feeling for the ice back, Olivier snaps a picture of him on Otabek’s phone. It’s not even a particularly good picture—there’s too much glare from the sun coming in through the windows, obscuring Otabek’s face, but you can see the rest of him, his free leg sloppy and his landing wobbly, his arms outstretched without much grace.

He still posts it to his Instagram:

otabek-altin Feels good to finally be back at work.

Yuri is the first one to like it. If Otabek remembers correctly, he’s supposed to be in Harbin, together with the rest of the cast of Stars on Ice.

It’s past two a.m. in China.

Go to bed, he types out quickly, then presses send.

Yuri calls him less than twenty seconds later. “I am in bed,” he says into the phone, his voice low. “Where are you?”

Otabek licks his lips.

“Still back at the rink.” On the other end of the line, there’s the sound of sheets rustling and a soft, telling noise that can’t be anything other than Yuri. “Yura, no.”

More rustling, then Yuri’s breathing gets heavier. “Then hang up,” he says into the receiver. “You can do that any time you want, I’m not keeping you here.”

Otabek sinks his teeth into his lower lip and does not hang up. Instead, he heads for the bathroom and locks himself in one of the stalls, praying that no one comes in. On the other end of the line, Yuri is just breathing heavily into the phone, not even saying anything, but Otabek can hear the unmistakable, wet sounds as Yuri keeps jerking himself off, fast and desperate.

Defeated, Otabek pins the phone between his shoulder and his cheek and reaches into his pants to wrap a hand around himself, biting down on his fist to keep the sounds in. He tries to match the pace with Yuri but still ends up coming first, to the sound of Yuri’s choked-off, airy gasps and quiet moans. Yuri follows him not even a minute later, while Otabek’s come is still cooling rapidly in his palm.

He slouches forward, pressing his forehead to the stall door. He needs to give himself some time to think.

“I booked a ticket for June 20th,” Yuri announces like he didn’t just rock Otabek’s world in a public bathroom from thirteen time zones away. “My flight arrives at Trudeau International at seven twenty-five a.m.”

“Okay,” Otabek says in a rush of air, looking down at the bite marks on his fingers. “Okay, I’ll be there to pick you up. Go to sleep.”

Yuri makes a vague but contented sound.

“Okay,” he says. “I’m going now. Goodnight.”

Otabek waits a few beats until his heart rate goes back to normal, then pushes the stall open and thoroughly washes his hands. There are still angry, red crescents across his knuckles, forming a perfect impression of his teeth.

 

Yuri’s flight arrives at Trudeau on time.

Otabek is waiting for him at the arrivals terminal with a cup of iced coffee, half-skim milk, no sugar, no frills. He doesn’t know when, exactly, he learned how Yuri likes to take his coffee in the summer.

Yuri is easy to spot even in the rush of people hurrying to get their luggage and get out of the terminal, straight into the heat wave that’s been rolling through Montreal these past few days. It’s the giant suitcase that gives him away, leopard print and with more airport stickers than some people accumulate in a lifetime.

“Come on, let’s get going,” Otabek says by way of hello, handing Yuri the coffee and taking his luggage. Yuri puts the straw in and slurps obnoxiously. “Before the parade preparations start.”

Yuri looks at him from above his shades. “Parade?”

“The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup,” Otabek supplies. “My neighbor probably won’t sober up for the next two days, if he comes home at all. Come on, the city will be a mess in a short while.”

Yuri rolls his eyes. “Parade,” he spits out. “What a fucking joke.”

“So what, Mila still with that hockey player, huh?” Otabek asks with a wry smile and earns himself an elbow to the side.

Otabek drives them back to his condo in his leased Volvo. Back at the airport parking lot, Yuri visibly deflates when he sees the car instead of the bike.

“I would have nowhere to put your luggage,” Otabek explains as he slams the trunk closed. “We can go for a ride later if you want.”

Yuri looks away, like he’s been caught. “Yeah, whatever,” he says, buckling his seatbelt and reaching to turn up the air conditioning. “It’s hot as fuck in here. Isn’t Canada supposed to be, like, cold?”

“Sometimes,” Otabek says. “The summers can get pretty hot, though.”

Yuri makes a disgusted noise.

Otabek smiles with the corner of his mouth. “Nothing I can do about it.”

Yuri just flips him off, then puts his feet up on the dashboard, daring Otabek to say something.

Otabek drives.

 

They fall into a routine over the next few days. They wake up early but not too early, take their turns in the bathroom, eat and drive to the rink to spend the next few hours skating and doing off-ice conditioning.

Otabek helps Yuri stretch, feels the trembling muscle under his palms as Yuri pushes himself to his limits and past, holding the position until his legs and back must be screaming in pain. He never utters a word of complaint. Lilia taught him well. Too well, maybe.

Yuri helps him out in return, his touch impersonal and almost clinical, always knowing where and when to push to get Otabek to where he needs to be. There’s a metaphor in that, he thinks.

Yuri has already memorized all his choreography for the upcoming season, and he spends his time on the ice perfecting his routines while Otabek is desperately trying to catch up and make up for the lost time.

His programs are rough around the edges. Yuri’s are nearly perfect. This season, his short program and his free skate have been both choreographed by Victor, and it shows. They’re brutal but beautiful, just like Yuri.

“What about your exhibition routine?” Otabek asks on the fourth day since Yuri came to Montreal as they’re getting off the ice, cleaning their blades before putting the guards back on.

Work Song,” he says.

It’s not what he expected. He’s familiar with the song, but it doesn’t strike him as something Yuri would choose for a routine. And yet.

“Can you show me?” he asks. He immediately realizes he’s just made a huge mistake.

Yuri has his guards off already. “Pull up the music!” he shouts over his shoulder, throwing Otabek his phone.

Otabek watches the entire thing with his throat dry and his face burning. There’s nothing in that routine that isn’t designed to provoke and seduce, and he lets himself be dragged into this spectacle of spread eagles and Ina Bauers, punctuated with flawless jumps and spins. Yuri seems to be completely lost in the music, his artistic expression like nothing they have ever seen from him—and Yuri has broken world records before.

“How was it?” he asks, still holding the pose, after the music comes to a slow stop. He’s both fragile and lethal, and he’s the most dangerous thing Otabek has ever let in close enough to touch.

“Who choreographed this?” Otabek asks in lieu of answering.

Yuri looks at him for a long moment. “I did.”

“It’s—” Otabek swallows. “It’s good.”

 

They go to get lunch at a small place that’s about a five-minute walk away from the rink, then go back to Otabek’s place. They’ve taken to riding all over Montreal in the afternoons, Yuri’s arms around his waist and his chest plastered to Otabek’s back, but the heat is particularly unbearable today. They decide to stay in instead.

There’s a pitcher of lemonade in the fridge, all the curtains are drawn in the guest room and the living area, and they have enough ice in the freezer to last them a week.

Yuri powers up Otabek’s mostly unused PS4—a gift from his uncle—and settles on the cold floor, lying shirtless across Otabek’s lap, to massacre monsters in Bloodborne and suck on ice cubes. If that’s supposed to cool him down, there are probably more efficient ways to do it than lying plastered against another human being, but Otabek won’t be the one to bring it up.

Otabek didn’t really know what he expected when he invited Yuri to visit him in Canada, but Yuri sleeping in the guest room every night without so much as a glance in Otabek’s direction wasn’t it, given that they’ve seen each other in various states of undress a whole lot over these past few months.

“Victor keeps sending me pictures of their new house on the beach,” Yuri says, unpausing the game after he checks his messages. Masha uses this moment to come beg for head scratches, because as much as she hates people on principle, she apparently adores Yuri. “I wish they would just fucking get married already and stopped spamming me with their domestic bliss bullshit, but that would mean I’d actually have to go to the wedding.”

The palpable disgust with which he spits the word out is impossible to miss.

“And we all know how much you hate Katsuki’s hometown,” Otabek says, solemn.

Yuri elbows him in the side. “Shut up.”

On the screen, Yuri’s character is fighting what seems to be a huge werewolf in the middle of a gloomy cemetery. It’s not going too well, judging by the looks of it and the way Yuri is swearing up a storm in Russian and English, interchangeably. He’s very creative—Otabek has to give him that.

In his mind, he keeps going back to the moment at the rink: the graceful curve of Yuri’s neck, his face raw with emotion, his body a taut bowstring ready to be released, thrumming with barely contained energy. He looked like something otherworldly, even dressed in a plain black leotard, lacking any adornment. His hair was falling into his eyes, obscuring his face like a curtain.

That Yuri was a vision, too ephemeral to touch. This Yuri is warm and solid, and just within an arm’s reach.

Otabek might be many things, but he’s not a coward.

He leans down and kisses Yuri, tipping his chin up. For a moment, Yuri kisses back. Then he pushes Otabek away.

“You asshole,” he says and punches him straight in the center of his chest.

Otabek can do nothing but look down, confused as Yuri keeps staring up at him, his mouth a thin, displeased line. He can’t believe he read the situation this wrong.

“You made me die,” Yuri hisses, then punches him again, so light that it barely registers. “I was almost done with that motherfucker.”

On the tv, Yuri’s character is out cold, YOU DIED written across the screen in bright red letters.

Otabek doesn’t have time to look at the mess of bloody pixels, though, because Yuri yanks him down by the collar of his tank top and crushes their mouths together. It’s clumsy and desperate in a way that tells Otabek it might be the first time Yuri has actually kissed anyone.

They’re doing this, he realizes, completely backwards.

Yuri’s lips are cold from the ice cubes he’s been sucking on, slowly driving Otabek crazy. His teeth are biting into Otabek’s bottom lip.

Kissing Yuri is like kissing a hurricane—exhilarating and dangerous, and impossible to render in words.

He lets himself get swept up in it, tangling his fingers in Yuri’s hair and cupping the curve of his jaw. The kiss is all tongue and clashing teeth, and hungry lips that Yuri keeps pressing against Otabek’s mouth without much grace or refinement. Without breaking the kiss, he moves to straddle Otabek’s lap; his nails scrape against the buzzed scruff at the nape of Otabek’s neck before Yuri pushes his fingers into Otabek’s hair, closes his fist around a handful and pulls. His other hand sneaks under the hem of Otabek’s tank top, warm and impatient.

When Yuri presses against a fresh bruise by accident, Otabek hisses. That makes Yuri stop for a second and pull back, before he presses again in the exact same spot, looking for a reaction. Otabek gets incredibly, embarrassingly hard in the span of a few seconds. He holds back a moan.

In response, Yuri kisses the side of his neck and grinds down. He’s hard, too. Otabek’s head falls back against the couch, a soft, needy sound escaping him before he can stop it. Yuri pushes down again just as Otabek’s hands move to grab his ass and keep him there. He’s panting now, eyes staring into the ceiling as Yuri sucks a bruise into the skin of his neck.

“Get on the sofa,” Yuri says after a moment in a low, gravelly voice. He presses the heel of his palm against the outline of Otabek’s dick and stays kneeling on the ground at the foot of the couch, making his intentions clear.

“Have you even done that before?” Otabek asks, trying to keep his voice neutral.

“Jesus, whatever,” Yuri says, his face red and stubborn, which means: no, he hasn’t. “Do you want me to blow you or not?”

His mouth is already so pink.

Yuri unbuttons his jeans and shoves them past Otabek’s hips and thighs, down to mid-calf, together with his underwear. He stares for a moment, kneeling between Otabek’s open legs, then licks his lips and wraps his fingers around Otabek’s dick without much hesitation or ceremony. His mouth follows just a second later, closed tightly around the head of his dick and incredibly hot on the inside.

Otabek makes a quiet sound at the back of his throat and almost loses it when Yuri looks up in response.

Then, without breaking the eye contact, he sinks lower and lower onto Otabek’s dick with single-minded focus and stubborn determination, not stopping even when his eyes start to water. Otabek can feel the moment his throat opens for a split second before Yuri chokes.

He pulls off immediately, coughing, his chest heaving, a string of spit hanging between his bottom lip and Otabek’s dick.

“Take it easy,” Otabek says.

Yuri only takes it as a challenge. He coughs a few more times into the crook of his elbow, then closes his fingers around the base of Otabek’s dick and his lips around the crown. He goes slower this time, gives himself time to adjust, while Otabek is slowly losing his mind, enveloped in the smooth heat of Yuri’s mouth. His hips keep jerking up without him meaning to, the iron grip he usually has on his body suddenly disappearing as Yuri keeps taking more and more of him in and sucks experimentally. It’s sloppy and messy, Yuri’s lips and fingers slick with spit, and in the silence of the apartment, Otabek can hear all the wet, throaty sounds Yuri keeps making as he slowly brings him to the brink of orgasm.

Otabek tries to warn him, to pull him up and away, but Yuri stubbornly stays put, sucking around the head, and Otabek comes with a strangled moan, his thighs trembling. He feels like he’s just run ten miles.

Yuri swallows stubbornly, and makes a face at the taste.

“Nobody told you to swallow,” Otabek reminds him, which earns him a punch to the thigh.

“Shut up.” Yuri wipes his face with the back of his hand, then looks down at the mess that is Otabek with a smug expression.

“Your turn,” Otabek says simply while Yuri gets rid of his jeans and underwear in record time. It surprises him how rough his voice is.

He moves to the side to make space for Yuri on the sofa and lies between his open thighs. Yuri’s eyes keep flicking down to Otabek’s mouth and he’s worrying his bottom lip, still red and tender, with his teeth.

“Can you at least fucking kiss me or something before you go down on me?” he asks, and there it is again—that hint of hesitation and awkwardness born of inexperience that Yuri desperately tries to shrug off and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Otabek smiles with the corner of his mouth before he pushes himself up, hovering a couple of inches above Yuri’s face.

“Or something.”

Yuri pushes his face away with the palm of his hand just to pull Otabek down to crush their mouths together a second later. It’s forceful and messy, and it brings Otabek right back into the moment. He wraps his fingers around Yuri’s dick, supporting himself with one arm as they keep kissing.

He feels more than hears the hitch in Yuri’s breath, feels the muscles of his abdomen tighten in a tell-tale sign and lets go for a second to give Yuri a moment to compose himself. Then, he slowly moves down, leaving a trail of wet, open-mouthed kisses along the line of Yuri’s neck and sternum, down to his abdomen and lower. He kisses the tip of Yuri’s dick and watches him inhale rapidly, his eyes widening.

The first touch of his tongue is a broad swipe along the underside, followed by Otabek’s mouth closing around the head of Yuri’s cock.

Above him, Yuri makes a strangled sound.

Otabek can smell him all over himself, and he breathes in the scent of Yuri and sex as his mouth travels downward at an excruciatingly slow pace, giving him time to adjust and wrenching desperate, breathy sounds out of Yuri’s chest. His fingers tangled in Otabek’s hair close into a fist and tug.

It doesn’t take Yuri very long to come—he’s been halfway there ever since he dragged his jeans down his thighs and calves, and he finishes with his back in an impossible arch and his hands keeping Otabek in place, throat and mouth working as he keeps swallowing around the weight of Yuri’s cock on his tongue.

It’s sudden and violent, and it leaves both of them breathless for a long while.

“Jesus,” Yuri says eventually, then gives Otabek a weak thumbs up.

Otabek laughs. “Yeah, I’ll say.”

 

“So what, are we boyfriends now or something?” Yuri asks later, sprawling all over Otabek’s bed. Otabek can’t bring himself to mind.

“Or something,” he says with a wry smile.

Yuri aims to shove him, but Otabek ducks at the last second.

What he doesn’t tell Yuri is that they have probably been boyfriends for a while now, in their weird, roundabout way.

 

In the morning, Otabek uploads to his Instagram a photo of Yuri with severe bed-head and an equally severe scowl, giving the camera the middle finger.

He captions it:

otabek-altin @yuri-plisetsky is not a morning person. Who would have thought.

What the photo doesn’t show is that there’s the imprint of Otabek’s teeth just below Yuri’s collarbone, hidden under the t-shirt.

That one is just for them.