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“Happy Birthday.”

Georgi swung around. “Why are you here?”

Victor leaned on the bar and picked up Georgi’s drink. “It’s noisy but I’m sure you heard me.”

“I don’t have time for this nonsense now.” Georgi pushed the twinge of frustration away and smoothed his frown into his best soulful and interesting look. Then he turned back to — “Natalya?” But she was halfway across the room.

Victor caught Georgi’s shoulder. “Don’t go after her.”

“Why not?”

Victor shrugged. “I’m bored.” He drained Georgi’s glass. “That’s a better brand than I was expecting. No wonder so many people are here.”

“That’s not–” Georgi took a breath. Victor wasn’t worth getting worked up over. “You came just to drink? Not even a bouquet?”

Georgi’s family hadn’t been able to make it out for Nationals this year but the private room in the hotel was decently full of people. Gratifying but his wallet was going to take quite a hit.

“I’m sure you have enough flowers.” Victor flipped his hair back but it fell right down over his forehead again. This new annoying tic since he’d cut his hair short. “Why weren’t you here last night?”

“Drinking before the Free Skate is irresponsible.” Georgi scanned the room, maybe Natalya was waiting for him.

“I did have a bit of a headache,” Victor said. “But good for you, Silver.”

“Shut up.” Natalya was talking to another woman, a skater Georgi didn’t know. Maybe if he went over there, slipped in between them, it was his birthday.

Victor grabbed his arm again. “Have a drink with me.” He slid a bottle of champagne across the bar.

“Is that left over from your sad birthday?”

“Don’t worry, you’re paying for it.” Victor eased out the cork and filled two glasses. “The bartender found it for me.”

Georgi curled his fingers around the stem of the flute. “I can’t be seen drinking with my rival.”

“Is Orlov here? It’s true, he was only half a point behind you.” Victor raised his glass. “Come on, drink. Cheers.”

“You bastard.” But Georgi drank, half the glass in two gulps. The wine was dryer than he liked, too subtle for his mood this evening.

“If you knew how much you’re paying, you’d slow down a bit.” Victor topped off Georgi’s glass. “Moderation isn’t your strength.”

“And tact isn’t yours.”

“Oh, it is when I’m trying.” Victor sipped at his champagne.

“Give me another glass.” Still time to have a few words, a few drinks with Natalya. Georgi reached for the bottle.

“If you’re just going to swill it back–” Victor reached for the bottle too and resisted when Georgi tried to tug it out of his hand.

“No, for–”

“Let’s have a photo!” someone said and Georgi instinctively turned, putting on his pleasant social face, and leaning closer to Victor. He kept his grip on the bottle but so did Victor, both of them discreetly pulling at it while the flashes went off.

“A clean glass,” Georgi hissed. “For Natalya.”

Victor tossed his hair, then tilted his head so it bumped against Georgi’s. “Do I look like the bartender?”

Georgi yanked harder and the bottle slipped from Victor’s fingers but more people were coming up for photos, wedging themselves between Georgi and Victor for selfies, edging Georgi out of the frame entirely for their turn with gold-medal Victor.

Well, fine. Georgi signalled the bartender for a clean flute and moved through the eddies of wishes and handshakes towards Natalya.

She turned to meet him, dark hair brushing her face, eyes shining in the soft light. “Happy Birthday,” she said and leaned in.

The soft press of her mouth against Georgi’s cheek and the rose-petal fragrance of her perfume quickened a flame inside him, a glowing candle like the ones he would surround their bed with when they made love. He reached up to touch her back, draw her closer to him.

But she stepped away. “Long day, right? All the best.” And she turned, Georgi’s hand trailing from her shoulder and her name dropping from his lips as she headed for the door.

“Didn’t she and Orlov use to see each other?” Victor said.

“Quit following me.” Georgi set the bottle and glasses down on a table. “Should I go after her?”

“I don’t like your chances.” Victor poured himself more champagne. He topped Georgi’s glass too, splashing a few drops.

“Why are you here? Did you finally get tired of all the adoration?” Georgi looked down at the table. How much did that puddle cost?

“Yes.”

Georgi looked over. Victor was looking away, hair spilling over his cheek so Georgi couldn’t see the expression on his face. Then why are you still here? he wanted to ask but something stopped him. He reached across the table and touched his glass to the rim of Victor’s. “I thought you liked it.”

“Do you remember,” Victor said, “when we were fourteen?”

“In the house.” That first year Georgi had come to Saint Petersburg, away from his family. He’d moved into a group house, a bunch of other juniors crammed together, and his new roommate, rinkmate, and rival was Victor Nikiforov. They’d spent a lot of time sniping at each other then too.

“In the house.” Victor flipped back his hair but he didn’t turn his head.

“We weren’t friends.” Georgi toyed with his glass. Had Natalya gone back to her room? Out with other skaters? Out with Orlov?

“We weren’t friends,” Victor said. “We aren’t friends. We’ll never be friends.”

It should have sounded mean, but it was true, solid and true, and Georgi had never wanted Victor’s friendship. But. “Then why are you here?”

Victor did turn then, a cool look on his face. “Let’s go.”

“Where?”

Victor stood and held out his hand. When Georgi didn’t reach back, Victor leaned down and grabbed his wrist.

Fuck it. Georgi let Victor pull him to his feet, through the thinning crowd.

Victor stopped at the heap of bouquets and unwrapped one to take out a single pink rose. “There,” he said, and handed it to Georgi. “Flowers.” Then he pushed Georgi through the door, away from his own party.

“Are we going to find Natalya?” Georgi should definitely try again with her. Hand her the rose, tell her how beautiful she was. A drink or two together, his fingers sliding through her hair as he leaned in for a fragrant kiss.

“No.” Victor pushed Georgi through another door.

Another private room, but smaller than the one Georgi had booked. No people, just a long dining table, functional chairs, an ugly carpet with a dark stain.

“What–” Georgi said and then his back was against the wall and Victor was in front of him, hands on Georgi’s shoulders, face so close Georgi could feel Victor’s breath warm on his mouth and smell the bergamot in his cologne.

He couldn’t move, even to breathe, except his eyes finding Victor’s and locking there. Except his fingers tightening around the stem of the rose until the thorns pricked his skin.

Victor didn’t move either, not closer, not away. But the sheer pressure of him pinned Georgi there, even though they were hardly touching.

Finally, Georgi’s chest heaved to pull in air. “Victor,” he said. “Are you in love with me?”

“You think everyone’s in love with you.” Victor stepped back and pulled a chair away from the table. He turned it towards Georgi. “I’m bored.”

“I don’t have a deck of cards.” Georgi glanced at the door. What if someone came in? What if he just left?

“Sit down.” Victor pushed the chair a little, a gesture. “Or leave, your choice.”

Georgi stared at Victor a long moment more. A sense memory enveloped him like a winter quilt: the musty smell of their long-ago bedroom, the scratchy weight of the wool blankets Georgi’s mother made him take along, the slight sound of Victor’s sleeping breath from across the room.

The rub of his own hand on his insatiable dick as he thought about one girl or another. The twist and rack of his orgasm. The sting in his lip where he’d bitten it to keep the groan inside.

Victor’s hair a splash of silver on his pillow in the faint light from the street.

Georgi sat down.

“Glad it was such an easy decision.” Victor pushed Georgi’s legs apart and knelt between them.

A shiver rose through Georgi like the bubbles through the champagne. He tried to concentrate just on that, the simple feeling of desire, let it cloud his mind. He should have had more to drink.

He was already half-hard when Victor got his fingers around his cock. Three months out from his last girlfriend, it only took a few strokes of Victor’s cool thumb along the underside to bring Georgi up full and ready.

“I’m not delicate,” Victor said, “so don’t be too...restrained.” He shook his hair back.

“I–” Georgi started but Victor put out his tongue and licked the tip of Georgi’s cock and Georgi just didn’t have anything else to say.

Victor moved his mouth down over the head, then up again, teasing with his tongue. Just that far, a few times. It did seem a little delicate.

Then Victor opened up and took him in.

Georgi gasped. Victor was sucking him deep, so deep that Georgi’s cock touched the back of Victor’s throat on every move of Victor’s head. So good that if Georgi were the kind of man to compare his lovers with each other...but he wasn’t.

One of the overhead lights flickered and Georgi stared up at it, fingers clenching into his palms, breath shaking in his lungs, resentment flaring along with his arousal.

Maybe while Georgi had been working on his poetic lines and his romantic gestures and his tender caresses in the candlelight, Victor had been working on this.

Then Victor pulled back, rocking up onto his heels, and, engagingly, taking his mouth off of Georgi’s cock.

“Fuck!” Georgi said and wished he could suck the word back in.

Victor wiped the corner of his mouth. “Don’t just sit there,” he said. “I don’t want to hear the bad poetry you write for your girlfriends, but participate somehow.” He tossed back his hair. “It’s basic cocksucking courtesy.”

“What do you want me to...” Georgi tried to think about what he’d like Natalya to do, to say, when he was down between her lovely thighs. He couldn’t even make her face appear right now.

“Find your own artistic expression.” Victor knelt forward again and the flickering light make it look like his eyes were gleaming. “You were never quiet at night when we were fourteen.”

Georgi’s face burned, shame rushing up from the past to fill him now. “You were asleep. I always listened until you were asleep.”

“I wasn’t asleep.” Victor leaned down, eyes still turned up to Georgi’s, holding Georgi’s cock so that the breath of every word warmed it. “And your bed squeaked.” He pinched Georgi’s thigh, hard enough that Georgi winced. “Just give me something.” And he went back down, taking Georgi all the way in again.

Georgi groaned, too late to bite his lip, and it all rushed over him at once. The weekend’s fatigue and triumph. His loneliness and longing for Natalya. His frustration and fascination with Victor. And all the insatiable arousal of adolescence, like he was fourteen again instead of twenty.

This time when Victor moved his head down, Georgi raised his hips to meet him. “Fuck,” he gasped again. No room in his throat for more words, even if Victor wanted to hear he was the blowjob king. Just Georgi’s hands grabbing at Victor’s arms, shoulders, twisting in his hair. That fucking hair, not as pretty as Victor thought it was.

The sweat springing up on his face and under his new shirt, the wet sucking sound of Victor’s mouth. The hum of the fluorescent lights. Victor’s fingers digging into his thigh. Victor’s throat taking him down, too far, it had to be too far.

“What do you want?” Georgi heard his own voice ragged and rising. “What do you want?”

Victor wiped a string of saliva from the corner of his mouth and put his damp hand back on Georgi’s leg. He pinched Georgi again, twice, like they’d agreed on some sort of code beforehand.

“I’m nearly–” Georgi said and the tears started in his eyes, overflowing onto his cheeks.

Victor pulled back and spat onto the floor, a thick gob of saliva pooling on the ugly carpet. “Go ahead,” he said.

Georgi’s hips jerked one more time and he came, harder than he had in years, staring at Victor’s cat-cream smile and ejaculating into Victor’s silk handkerchief.

Then he looked away. He stared at the dingy blank wall, scrubbing his sleeve across his face to wipe away the sweat and tears. How long should he wait before he put his dick away?

“You can keep that.” Victor tucked the handkerchief into Georgi’s hand.

“Thank you,” Georgi said, because there was nothing else to say. He rubbed the corner between his fingers. The pale blue fabric was thin except for Victor’s raised monogram, three initials in a fine silver thread that he could almost believe was Victor’s cut-off hair. Initials unsmeared by Georgi’s semen. Of course.

He hitched his hips up and pulled himself together. His shirt stuck to his back and his heart was just beginning to slow.

Victor stood, bending his knees a few times before he straightened his back. He flipped his hair back and stretched out his jaw. There was a flush high on his cheeks. A film of perspiration along his hairline. “Okay, see you.”

Georgi stood and caught Victor’s wrist. “Wait.”

“There’s no goodnight kiss,” Victor said. But he stopped.

It wasn’t too late to let Victor go and drop the damp handkerchief into the trash and go back to the party. But courtesy. “Sit with me,” Georgi said. “Or leave, your choice.”

Victor stared a moment, then he laughed. “I hope you can land this better than that Salchow.”

But he let Georgi pull him down to the carpet, their backs against the wall. And he took out his dick without waiting for Georgi to ask.

Georgi held out his hand.

“Sophisticated,” Victor said. He spat into Georgi’s palm.

“It’s good enough for you.” And Georgi wrapped his fingers around Victor’s cock. It was already hard but it jerked against Georgi’s hand, the only involuntary movement he’d ever seen Victor make. It was surprisingly disarming and Georgi closed his eyes for a moment so he couldn’t see Victor’s face. Then he started moving, a slow stroke to begin with.

It had been, what, four years? since the last time he’d given a handjob like this. Back when they were all so on fire all the time, it didn’t matter whose hand it was, who they were rubbing off. Just what friends did to help each other along.

But never Victor. Not in that dark corner at the rink, definitely not in their room at night. He didn’t know if anyone had.

The light flickered and dimmed, leaving half the room in shadow. “As good as candlelight,” Victor said. His breath sped up, rough and open-mouthed, and his eyes dropped closed. He tipped his head back against the wall, showing his throat.

Georgi should have been goading Victor like Victor had goaded him. Make him gasp out some words of praise, stroke Georgi’s hair, squeeze his thigh, because it was only polite.

But Georgi just moved his hand faster. He stared at the strands of hair brushing Victor’s cheek and the pale line of his jaw. Victor’s mouth was still red from sucking Georgi’s cock. His fingers were slowly curling into fists.

And Georgi should have been feeling some triumph, some satisfaction at having Victor responding to him like this, so vulnerable to him. But instead he closed his eyes too. What would have happened if he had ever crossed that room at night and stood by Victor’s bed?

“The handkerchief!” Victor choked out.

Georgi scrabbled for it, catching it with his fingertips and dragging it over just in time to catch Victor’s ejaculate in the blue silk.

Victor gasped, once, and a dark flush spread under his skin until he was red from his neck to the roots of his hair. Then he covered his eyes with his arm, taking deep breaths, and the flush receded until only the tops of his cheeks were still pink.

Georgi crumpled the sodden handkerchief in his hand. A mistake. It was wet through from both of them, damp against his palm.

“If you sell that on eBay,” Victor said, “you can probably pay for the champagne.” He zipped and buckled and smoothed, lounging back against the wall.

Georgi dropped the handkerchief on the floor. “I should get back to the party.” If anyone was still there. He waited for a moment but he wasn’t sure what for. Then he stood and looked down at Victor.

“Don’t fall in love with me,” Victor said.

Georgi laughed. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there yesterday.”

“And I’m sorry we didn’t bring the rest of the bottle.”

“Good night.” Georgi turned to go. But he picked up the rose before he left the room.