There was a knock on the connecting door, and Freddie stiffened at once. Florence's room. She'd come to get her things and leave with Sergievsky. What more could she possibly have to say to him?
He was already undressed for bed and a good deal drunk. He shrugged into his white button up, leaving his binder on the questionably clean hotel floor, and opened the door without bothering to button it. Nothing Florence hadn't seen before.
Only, unthinkably, it wasn't Florence.
"Trumper, Miss Vassy wants her--"
It was Sergievsky. He'd stopped talking abruptly in mid-sentence, staring at Freddie's unbound chest. Freddie slammed the door in his opponent's face, breathing like he'd run a marathon. Great. Now Sergievsky knew. That was just what he needed. He'd be Freddie Trumper, former world champion, former woman. Wonderful. The press would love it. He flung the door open again and stepped quickly through it, reaching out for Sergievsky's shirtfront and grabbing it in his fist.
"Listen up, you sonuvabitch, you may be the new world champion, but if you tell a fucking soul about this, I'll break your jaw. Okay?"
Sergievsky hadn't moved, didn't resist the pull on his shirt. "What?" he managed at last. "You're a woman." He seemed to be in shock.
Freddie made a little snarling sound against his will and shook his opponent slightly. "I'm a man."
"No, you aren't. Did you do this so no one would question your competence? My god, Florence said the two of you were..."
"We were. I'm a man, you fucking idiot," he spat. "Florence doesn't care." He could hear his heart beating in his ears. He was going to break the commie bastard's nose if he said it again.
Freddie swung a fist and Sergievsky narrowly avoided the blow by wrenching out of his grasp.
"What's wrong with you?!" he yelped, gesturing at all of Freddie. "Calm down! Are you insane?"
Freddie lurched forward and grabbed his shirt again. "You beat me at chess. You stole the only woman I've ever loved. And now you're going to tell the press I'm a goddamn transsexual? I'd rather kill you."
"I'm not going to tell anyone anything. Let go of me."
"Right. Sure. I'm pretty sure I don't trust you nearly as far as I could throw you."
"Yeah, I'm a man with a vagina. What, don't you have those in Russia? Haven't you ever slept with one? I'd think, with your track record-- But they probably kill off people like me in Soviet Russia anyway."
"I've never-- What are you talking about?"
"I'm a man. That's all you need to know."
"I don't understand."
"You don't have to understand!"
Sergievsky was staring below eye level. Freddie became aware that his shirt had opened and his chest was exposed. He let go of the Russian's shirt to close his own.
"Stop," he snarled, gesturing violently to catch his opponent's gaze and draw it back up.
"I thought you were Florence. I opened the door. I shut the door again when you weren't her. You didn't see anything weird. Okay? I swear to god, when this hits the media I will find you. I will chase you all the way to the other side of the Iron Curtain and I will--"
"I'm not going back to Russia. Florence and I are going to England."
"I'm no longer a citizen of Russia."
"What the fuck?"
"Florence needs her passport. You have it in the safe in your room. Go and get it."
"You aren't that drunk, Trumper. Get the passport."
"Florence-- You're...? Okay."
Sergievsky watched him move back into his room and across it to the closet in silence. He had entered two of the digits of the safe key when the Russian spoke again. "What's your real name? Frederica? Winifred? Something else entirely?"
"It's Freddie!" He would have thrown the safe at Sergievsky, but it was bolted down. "Frederick." He punched in the last number and flung the passport at his opponent's head. "My name is Frederick Trumper."
"That doesn't make sense! You're--"
"Don't say it."
Sergievsky, to his credit, shut his mouth. He opened it again a moment later to try again. "So you want to be a man?"
"I am a man! What don't you get about this concept? It's not that hard! I'm a man!"
"I-- Alright. You're a man. Fine. I don't care what you are. Thank you for the passport. I hope I never see you again." He turned on his heel, picked up Florence's suitcase, and was gone.
The story never hit the press.
By Bangkok, Freddie had relaxed again. For whatever brilliant strategic reason, Anatoly Sergievsky hadn't screwed him over. Well. Not in that particular way, anyway.
He left halfway through the final match, went back to his hotel room. He could tell at a glance that Sergievsky was going to win. He hadn't thrown the match. He'd done what Freddie had told him to do. He'd been true to chess.
Not, of course, before thoroughly and utterly condemning Freddie's entire existence. So had Florence. He could still hear the things they'd said to him ringing in his ears. So much for that, and so much for his relationship with Global Television. Fucked, fucked, and fucked. The Red was the closest thing he had to an ally at this point, and they were trapped in a sort of mutually hateful respect. Or he hoped they were, anyway.
When someone knocked on the door, he was playing bartender with the hotel minibar-- that is to say, pouring all the whiskey into a plastic cup.
He opened the door and came face to face with Anatoly Sergievsky.
"Hey." He sounded odd, even to himself. "Congrats, partner."
"I'm not your partner."
"It was a joke. What do you want?"
"Can I come in?"
"Sure. You like vodka, right? I mean, you're Russian. I've got these mini bottles that I'm cracking open, and I can't stand the stuff. Want some?"
"Whatever. Come in." He stepped back from the door, and Sergievsky followed him into the room.
"Florence and I broke things off. I'm going back to Russia, to finalize my divorce."
"I... wanted to thank you."
"Don't thank me."
"I'm just glad you won. If you're ever back in the States-- if they let you out of Russia-- look me up."
"What are you going to do now?"
"What do you mean? With Global?"
"Are you still with Global?"
"No. They just don't know it yet. Maybe I'll go somewhere else. CBS or something."
There was an awkward pause.
"Though if you ever need a publicist, or a manager, you might be able to pay me enough balance out my pride."
Sergievsky snorted out a laugh. "You? I don't think so."
"Oh no? You know I'm the king of courting publicity."
"You're a child. You throw tantrums, and the press eats it up. At least they actually like me."
"Yeah, but who had ever heard of you before our championship? I'm a household name. I made chess relevant."
"You know, I actually used to believe that. Before I met you, I mean. I believed that you did it on purpose, that it was all some elaborate game you were playing."
"Who says it wasn't? It made me rich."
"You're practically broke, Freddie. I know how you blow through money. Florence told me all about you."
"Oh, she did, did she? Did she tell you how I planned my tours and my statements? Or did she let you think that I was an idiot? Did she tell you how much of that money I blew on her?"
"She had a few good things to say about you. Not many, but some. You're a good chess player, and you're good at gauging the mood of a crowd. Now if only you could control your desperate need for attention and your childish temper..."
"I think I forgot who I was talking to for a minute there. There isn't enough money in the world to make me put up with you in the long term. I guess there wasn't enough in it for Florence to, either."
"We parted on good terms, Freddie. It was mutual."
"Sure, whatever. All I know is that you never seem to keep a girlfriend for very long. I guess you get bored, then."
"I don't-- Look. I came here to thank you, not to fight."
"I guess I should thank you, too, then."
"Me? For what?"
"You didn't spread it around. What you know about me. It's better than I expected of you."
"What I...? Oh. Well I'm sorry that you think I'm that sort of person. I'm not. I talked to Florence about it--"
"And she helped me understand. It's none of my business. I'm not going to use it against you."
"If you expect me to take the high road here and decide not to use what I know about your personal life against you--"
"I would never expect that of you. You've never taken the high road in your life."
"Definitely not when it comes to you."
"Speaking of which, Florence gave me an interesting impression of you, you know."
"What? Great. I can't wait to hear this."
"She thinks you're attracted to me."
"What?!" Freddie almost dropped his cup of overpriced liquor. A little voice that sounded like his mother reminded him absurdly that he couldn't afford to be so fucking wasteful. "What are you talking about?"
"Your pointless aggression, your distraction while playing, even flipping the table... And the way you talked to her about me."
The laugh the came out of Freddie sounded like a dying animal. "Well, she's wrong."
Sergievsky took a step forward, and Freddie backed himself into the bed. "Is she? That's a shame."
"A shame. Right. Look, I know you've got a thing with women, but I'm--"
"I know you're not a woman, Freddie."
"I've had top surgery since Merano. And I'm on testosterone-- Florence told you that, right? It's not what you're picturing."
"You know. Okay. What, you don't care?"
"I'm attracted to men and women. Surely you've read the tabloids."
"I did. I didn't really take it seriously."
"You should have."
"Fine, fine." Freddie took a sip of his drink and set it aside. "So you're attracted to me, is what you're saying."
"And you're telling me this because you think I'm attracted to you."
"And you want... What? To have sex with me before you leave for Russia? I'm not following here."
"Not exactly. I just wanted you to know."
"I know you love leaving people, but--"
"God, Freddie!" Anatoly stepped forward and grabbed his shoulders. "I'm not putting up with any more of this. Kiss me or I'm leaving."
Freddie took a startled breath, then tried to muster another horrible laugh in Anatoly's face. "Then get out."
"Fine! Fine. Goodbye, Freddie." He dropped his hands and turned towards the door. Freddie growled out his frustration and caught Anatoly roughly by the arm. "I can't stand you," he hissed out. "Come here, if that's what you want."
"What I want? I want to know what you want!"
"What do you care what anyone else wants?"
"Freddie! For God's sake, if I--"
Freddie kissed him, primarily to shut him up.
It wasn't a very nice kiss at first-- Freddie was feeling belligerent and frustrated, and Anatoly didn't seem to be feeling very forgiving, either. There were too many teeth involved, and the kiss was a little too hard for comfort. That said, it was also making Freddie's head spin. When Anatoly finally broke it, gasping for breath, he sat down hard on the edge of the bed.
"You're one to talk."
They stared at each other in breathless silence for a long moment, and then, stupidly, Freddie started to laugh.