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Maelstrom

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Somewhere in the woods, a loon cries.

Victor Nikiforov slows, lingering for a moment. He cocks his head, listening to see if the cry will come again, but no further sound breaks the perfect silence of the wilderness. Victor exhales, and watches steam puff in front of his mouth before dissipating in the crisp air.

He’s alone. Not even Maccachin is here, though Victor thinks his dog would like this place: wild and quiet and pristine as anything he’s ever seen. Elegant black trees line the path he walks, their branches draped in gauzy veils of ice, banks of snow engirdling their trunks. No footprints mar the fallen snow in front of him; no signposts point the way.

But that’s fine. Victor already knows where he is going—just as he knows he must get there soon, or else the one waiting for him may grow impatient. He does not want to make her mad. So he starts walking again, hurrying along the path that winds through the endless stretch of woods.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been walking for; he is not yet tired, but off in the distance the sun is going down. Already its brilliance sinks below the treeline, twilight creeping stealthy through the woods like an intruder. Victor walks a little faster, unease stirring in the pit of his stomach for the first time.

Darkness comes early in the forest, and Victor does not want to be out of doors when it arrives.  

There—up ahead, hardly visible through the trees—lights! A house! Relief sweeps through him. Victor breaks into a smile, hurrying forward, almost jogging now. He startles badly as a black cat streaks across his path. Victor catches only a glimpse of its twitching tail as it vanishes into the underbrush at the edge of the path. “Дерьмо,” he mutters under his breath, and swallows.

Victor walks the last length of the path to the house in the middle of the woods, but it’s a near thing.

The house is small, little more than a hut; a plume of smoke rises steadily from the chimney that juts from the thatched roof. The stone walls of the builded are faded and covered in lichen, giving it the look of a structure right out of a history book. The path he’s on leads directly to the front walk of the house—a small flight of three stone steps that rise to meet the front door, flanked by heavy stone pillars that sit at an angle alongside the stairs. Curiously, the pillars are carved to resemble extended bird legs, and from where Victor is, it’s enough to give the house the appearance of standing atop them, as though at a given moment it might run off.

For a moment, he hesitates, gazing long at the stone legs, at the thatched roof and its ancient stone walls. But the light that shines through the windows is warm and inviting, and darkness is just minutes from drawing down around his ears.

It’s enough for Victor. He reaches a hand out to touch the door, and it swings open beneath his hand. Victor walks inside, finding himself in a room with a fireplace, wooden table, rocking chair, and a bed shoved in the corner. At the table is a roughly-carved wooden chair, and in the chair sits a woman.

Her eyes are black, and so is her hair, bound in braids about her head. She wears old, traditional clothes, like something out of a storybook; she could be any age at all—Victor cannot guess, and knows better than to try.

“Victor Nikiforov,” says the woman. Her voice is clear and striking, like the bells of St. Petersburg. The way she says his name sends a shiver down Victor’s spine. He bows deeply, from the waist, and when he straightens he can see that she’s smiling.

She gestures at the table, and Victor sees a second wooden chair. He sits down across from her, and wonders how to ask his question. She gazes across the table at him, saying nothing; he gets the feeling she’s laughing at him, and feels himself turning red.

“Speak,” she says after another few moments. “What did you come here to ask me?”

Victor takes a deep breath. “What am I missing?” he asks. “Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?”

She stares at him for a long moment, as if taking his measure—and finding him wanting, despite her initial approval. “You are looking in all the wrong places,” she says. “You clearly need more time to see what is there.”

Before Victor can respond to this, she stands, going to the fireplace against the wall. She reaches for something in her dresses, and with a snarled word she flings a handful of powder into the open flames.

Smoke erupts from the fire, many-colored smoke like a magician’s parlor trick. Victor jerks back automatically from the roaring flames, shielding his face with his arms, and when he drops them again it’s to see an empty hut with no trace of the woman in sight. He stands, starting to panic as he looks around the room. He came all this way—she can’t just run off and leave him here—

Something outside howls. Victor turns towards the large windows at the back of the hut, looking out into the now-dark forest, and is arrested at the sight that greets his eyes. Where before was the placid serenity of a quiet forest, a blizzard now rages. Snow hurtles past the window panes, almost completely obscuring the dark bodies of the trees just beyond the walls of the hut. It’s the wind that Victor hears, howling like a wild animal, rattling the windows and threatening to blow the smoke from the fire back into the building.

Victor is mesmerized. He’s seen blizzards—he’s from St. Petersburg, after all—but the ferocity of this storm is something else altogether. He approaches the window, staring in fascination as winter’s fury unleashes on the forest outside. Through the wind he thinks he can almost hear something. Victor wrinkles his nose, concentrating hard. Is that…

…Guitar?

* * * * *

”YOU’D MAKE A GROWN MAN CRYYYY-YYYY—

Victor jerks awake as Mick Jagger rudely starts caterwauling a foot from his ear. Maccachin yowls his protest at being jostled, shoving his paws into Victor’s lumbar spine. “Ow! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, hold on…” Victor grabs for his phone, squinting in irritation at his coach’s profile photo as the song goes on. He mashes his thumb against the screen and raises the phone to his ear.

“Yakov, it’s too early,” he whines by way of greeting. “It’s not even nine am, why—?”

“Get up, Victor,” Yakov cuts in. “You have to get down to the ice rink before you can’t even get here!”

Victor squeezes his eyes shut, then blinks them rapidly several times, trying to flog his half-awake brain into comprehending what his coach is saying. “What are you talking about,” he says. Maccachin grunts and flops over, clearly offended at Victor having a conversation instead of going back to bed.

“Look outside, Vitya,” says Yakov. Victor sighs heavily and flings the covers back, eliciting another noise of protest from his dog that he ignores as he pads across the carpeted floor to the heavy curtains that cover the windows. It’s an established fact that Victor sleeps as late as humanly possible on any day he can, and since he doesn’t have to compete today, he’d planned on being in bed till at least eleven.

He throws the curtains open, squinting in preparation of the morning sun reflecting off the Black Sea—and stares in shock at the blizzard that greets his eyes. The city is covered in a deepening layer of white, the snow blowing so hard that it’s going sideways, hurling itself impotently against the glass. “Oh my god,” Victor breathes.

His mind flashes on the dream he’d been having before he awoke. It was so hard to remember, but he thinks—was there snow in his dream? The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, whispers a voice in the back of his mind, and Victor shivers.

“Victor,” says Yakov sharply in his ear.

Victor realizes he just missed whatever his coach was saying, and winces. “Sorry,” he says. “What the hell is going on? Sochi doesn’t get snow like this!”

“Not normally, no,” says Yakov. “Which is why they’ve already announced they’re postponing the second day of the GPF till tomorrow. The city doesn’t have the infrastructure to get the snow cleared. They’ve shut down all the roads already.”

Victor has nothing to say to this. All he can do is continue to stare, amazed, at resort-city Sochi of the sandy beaches and beautiful resorts covered in a blanket of furious snow and ice that even Moscow would groan under. The cityscape (which is of course laid out in all its finery from Victor’s window) is now virtually unrecognizable.The Black Sea, normally blue and tranquil, now froths an iron grey, choppy waves throwing themselves on the icy beach.

Something registers then. “And you want me to go out in this?” Victor demands. “Yakov, I thought you loved me!”

“If you can make it down to the ice rink before the roads are impassable, you’ll practically have it to yourself,” Yakov says. “You could use the time to practice. And I’m sure they’ll have it clear by mid-afternoon at the latest.”

“Ugh,” says Victor. He rubs a hand across his face, disgusted. “Will you bring me breakfast?”

“Lazy,” grunts Yakov, which means yes.

“Fine, I’ll come,” says Victor. “I’ll be there by nine. Hopefully.” He hangs up, turning to look sadly at Maccachin and his inviting bed, the covers still turned down. Maccachin raises his fluffy head and wags his tail at Victor, looking at his owner hopefully. “I’m sorry, Maccachin,” Victor sighs. “I have to go.” Maccachin whines. Victor can’t help but agree, but he gets ready to go practice anyway.

Victor supposes he should have known what kind of day he would have when he slips on snow-covered ice en route to the rink and wipes out spectacularly on the snowy sidewalk. The day goes downhill from there.

Skating practice is—fine. It’s not bad; it’s never bad, no matter how under slept Victor is or uninspired he’s feeling. But when he’s gone through the most difficult parts of his routine several times and Yakov is still chiding him on lacking ‘soulfulness,’ Victor is finding it very hard to feel enthusiastic about having dragged himself out of bed to walk half a mile through a blizzard just to get told his skating today is ‘mediocre.’

It’s not—Victor knows it’s not, and Yakov knows it’s not; Victor hasn’t failed to gold-medal in a competition in which he’s participated in a frighteningly long time. But it feels mediocre, feels stale, and Victor hates feeling that way. Maybe that’s why, as he comes off the ice, he remarks a little too loudly to Yakov that “If I’m so boring, then maybe I should take some time off after this season like all the journalists keep saying I will.”

Yakov starts to respond, but there’s a clatter from down the bleachers at this. Victor turns in surprise as a scrappy teenager resembling a scarecrow with teeth all but flies down the row at him. “You’re not going anywhere till you design that routine you promised me,” Yuri spits.

Victor blinks and stares at Yuri for several moments before he remembers the promise he made to Yuri not all that long ago. “Oh,” he says lightly. “Are you still hung up on that?”

It’s the wrong thing to say. Yuri pales, eyes widening for just a split-second too long before his whole face goes black. “Don’t take other people for granted!” he snaps. “Just because you’ve won a lot of medals doesn’t mean you can treat people however you want!”

“Yuri—“ begins Yakov, who looks alarmed at how Yuri’s voice has carried throughout the cavernous ice rink, but Yuri has already turned and stormed off again. Victor sighs inwardly. “You’re better than this, Victor,” says Yakov. He sounds disappointed, as opposed to merely surly, which is how Victor knows that he really truly fucked up.

Victor grits his teeth. “I’ll put it on my list,” he says tartly, and turns away to go change back into his parka. He’ll head back to the hotel even if he has to dig himself a tunnel through the snow to get there. Maybe he can find some consolation at the bottom of a bottle of vodka.

As it happens, he finds consolation in the form of one Arianna Sabbatini, one half of the Italian pair-skating team. She’s beautiful, with dark hair that falls to her butt and laughing brown eyes, and she greets Victor with open arms when he staggers in the front door of the hotel—which just happens to be adjacent to the hotel’s restaurant-bar combo. “Come and warm up with us, Victor,” Arianna croons, coaxing him into the dark, wood-paneled room. The fire is already stoked, filling the room with a wonderful heat, and after about an hour with Arianna, her friends, and quite a bit of red wine, Victor feels a good deal better. So much better that he invites Arianna to continue warming up with him back in his room, something she’s all too happy to take him up on.

Like most skaters Victor has slept with (and he’s slept with a lot), Arianna has both flexibility and stamina. She’s also loud, something Victor normally loves in a partner, but her cries keeps spooking Maccachin. Victor’s dog is already locked in the living room of his hotel suite, so as not to invite himself to participate in the advanced-level cuddling on the bed, but every time Arianna gets too noisy Victor hears his poodle baying anxiously through the door. He keeps having to smother his laughter into her thighs, which seems to offend her. After about thirty minutes of this, she storms out of his suite in a huff, wrapped in just her coat with her clothes clutched against her chest.

Victor doesn’t know whether to laugh or just keep drinking—maybe both, but not before releasing his frantic dog from the living room. “Maccachin,” he sighs, as his poodle all but bowls him over in his relief at being reunited with Victor. Maccachin responds by barking happily and attempting to lick Victor’s neck clean of the lipstick Arianna left there.

He takes this turn of events as a sign that it’s better to just barricade himself in with the suite’s minibar for at least the rest of the afternoon, which he does. Maccachin is more than happy to keep Victor company with all the booze. They curl up on the bed again with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a classic movie channel Victor finds on the hotel TV, taking a break only when Maccachin demands to be taken outside to do his doggish duty.

(Victor has to pay extra to bring his dog to expensive hotels like the Citrus Hotel in Sochi, but in his opinion, it’s worth it. He doesn’t always subject Maccachin to the rigors of travel, but this is the Grand Prix Final, and furthermore he’d expected Sochi to stick to its temperate climate and not indulge in a freak December snowstorm.)

Movie In Bed With Dog and Wine—it’s like an impressionist painting title. It’s also the single best part of the day, which resumes its themes of Awfulness and Public Embarrassment just as soon as Victor dares to leave his suite.

It starts out innocently enough; Victor calls for the hotel’s paid pet sitter to come take Maccachin to the indoor doggie playground housed on the ground floor of the building, and once that’s done he heads back to the restaurant and bar attached to the hotel. Normally he’d head outside, try out something new and local; Victor loves trying new food almost as much as he loves skating (though it helps that he has an iron-clad stomach). But he’s had a little too much to drink today and doesn’t want to put in more effort than he has to, so he cleans himself up and changes clothes and then simply heads downstairs.

Halfway down the front hall Victor sees a man—a boy, really—emerge from the elevator. He’s vaguely familiar, a Japanese boy with glasses who’s more than a little cute. Victor slows automatically to intercept him, but as soon as the other man spots Victor he does a swift about-face and all but launches himself back into the elevator. Victor stares in mild surprise as the doors shut, and then simply shrugs and proceeds to the hotel restaurant.

Several of the other skaters in the GPF are already there; about a half-dozen of them are crammed into one of the larger booths against the far wall. Christophe Giacometti spots Victor and waves at him to come over, and after a moment’s hesitation at whether he wants to be social or eat alone, Victor heads over to them.

A chorus of voices greet him as he joins the table, everyone scooting over to make room for him to sit down. “Victor,” purrs Chris, getting up to let Victor in. “I was wondering where you were!”

“Ah, just taking it easy today,” says Victor. He sinks gracefully into the open seat, comforted by the familiar faces chattering happily around the table. Aside from Christophe, there’s several other men and women in the Senior Division here. The server appears at the head of their table, taking another round of food and drink orders, and Victor lets the idle chatter flow around him.

Apparently everyone had the same idea Victor had about simply avoiding the weather—though judging by a glance outside, the snow is finally done, leaving Sochi hidden under a thick blanket of purest white. Victor wonders idly how they’re going to handle all the snow and ice; he somehow doubts they’ll be able to borrow enough snowplows on short notice to clear the kind of snowfall they’re dealing with right now.

“So, Victor,” says Chris next to him, and something in his voice makes the hair on the back of Victor’s neck stand straight up. “What are you doing with the rest of your night?”

“Ah, probably relaxing,” says Victor. He keeps his voice studiously casual. “Yakov got me up early this morning to get in skating practice, so I’m actually pretty tired.”

Chris pouts. It’s very attractive, and he and Victor both know it. Victor bites the inside of his cheek as Chris drapes his arm around Victor’s shoulders, dropping his voice as he murmurs in Victor’s ear, “Since when are you such a stick-in-the-mud, Victor? We could have much more fun together, don’t you think?”

“I’m sure we could,” says Victor easily. He plucks Chris’s arm from around his shoulder, carefully disengaging, never letting the easy smile come off his face. “Maybe some other time.”

Chris’s expression, previously warm and and inviting, now plummets a cool hundred degrees. He gives Victor the once-over, letting the ice seep into his voice as he says, “Oh, I see. I should have remembered that the great Victor Nikiforov doesn’t ever like to tread the same ground twice.”

Victor raises his eyebrows. Several of the others at the table have gone quiet, listening intently to Victor and Chris’s conversation, something Victor is much too aware of. “Ah, Chris,” he says lightly, “you should know better than to drink so much this early in the evening, mm? It goes to your head.”

“You’d know something about that, wouldn’t you?” Chris gives him a tight smile, and slides out of the booth, standing at the edge of the table to dig in his pocket for his wallet. “Arianna mentioned how much the two of you enjoyed your wine earlier.” The edge he puts on the word is sharp enough to make Victor bleed; he has no doubt that Arianna told Chris all about the wine, and more.

Victor does not wince. He just gives Chris one of his trademark smiles, the Living Legend Accepting Adulation at the Podium. Chris throws some money down on the table and tips his head insolently at Victor before turning on his heel and striding away.

There are a few whistles at the table, wide eyes and pointed stares. “Way to go, Victor,” says Karena, one of the Slovenian girls, and elbows him in the ribs.

Victor shrugs by way of answer. “Some people have to take everything seriously,” he says. “But since we have an extra night off, I vote we enjoy ourselves.” He straightens, gesturing broadly at the table. “Who’s going to come out with me?”

Everyone cheers, shouts of encouragement instantly greeting his question. Victor brings his hands together as if in prayer and beams, and they head out into the night not twenty minutes later, Victor’s original plans to stay in forgotten. Maccachin will be fine—the pet service at the hotel is impeccable, and if Victor does not come to collect his pet at closing time for the dog park, an attendant will return him to Victor’s suite and see that he’s fed—and Victor has trouble brewing in his belly.

He’s always known, almost instinctively, how to charm people; his natural charisma is one of the things that wins him so many awards on the ice. And it’s not that he’s taken it for granted, exactly. He just sees no reason to question the fact that getting what he wants out of people has always been fairly easy. But something about the way the day has gone rankles. The callout from Yuri and Yakov, the mishap with Arianna, and then Chris’s behavior at dinner—it tugs at Victor. It gets under his skin, digging in like broken glass, and no amount of vodka shots and dancing with beautiful men and women seems to erase the burn.

Victor staggers back to his hotel room at some dead hour of the night—past three am—his nose and fingertips frozen from the unusual chill in the air. Maccachin raises his head to boof disapprovingly at him from the pile of linens that is the bed, but Victor hardly notices it. He makes a beeline for the bathroom, splashing water onto his face and then drinking straight from the tap like he’s the canine in the suite. He just barely manages to strip his clothing off before crawling into bed, wrapping around his dog, and passing out.

He dreams, but does not remember it: of winter storms and raven wings, of a house in the woods with claws etched into the stairs, of a never-ending forest.

And outside, Sochi is quiet.

* * * * *

”YOU’D MAKE A GROWN MAN CRYYYY-YYYY—

“Fcchhhhh…”

Victor curses under his breath, first in Russian and then in English for good measure. He shoots out a hand from his pile of bed linens, finding his phone and narrowly suppressing the urge to fling it to the floor. He emerges from his king-sized domain just enough to bring the phone to his ear.

“Yakov, this is too much,” he grates out. “You can’t call me this early two days in a row—“

“How much did you have to drink last night?” demands his coach, from what is clearly the seventh level of Hell he’s dragged Victor to. “You slept till 1 pm yesterday!”

“What—“

“Anyway, that’s not what I called about,” says Yakov. “Get up and get down to the ice rink, or you won’t be able to make it before the snow cuts you off!”

Victor makes a noise best identified as a squawk, though he’d deny it to his dying day. “It’s snowing again?”

There’s silence from the other end of the phone for a moment. Then: “Vitya, you should know better than to drink so much during a competition, even if it is your day off. Get yourself together and get down here.” With that, Yakov hangs up, leaving Victor somewhere between ‘affronted’ and ‘baffled.’

He considers throwing the phone against the wall in protest, then decides it’d do him more harm than good. He’ll just go back to bed, Victor decides, rolling over and snuggling back under the covers; after all, he got lots of practice in yesterday, and he drank so much last night he really deserves to sleep off his hangover.

Except… Victor pauses. He’s really not hungover. At all. He grabs up his phone from where it lays on the pillow next to him and squints at the time: 8:35 am, Friday, December 11th. He’s been asleep for maybe five hours, why does he feel so much less like death than he should?

—Wait. Victor blinks, staring at the date. It’s the 11th? But yesterday was the 11th. It snowed yesterday, too. “What the fuck,” Victor says out loud. Abruptly, he’s no longer tired.

Victor gets out of bed and goes to the huge picture windows at the edge of the bedroom. He throws back the curtains and stares uncomprehendingly at the towering wall of ice and snow that has set siege to Sochi.

What the hell is going on?

Victor spends about five minutes having a one-sided, deeply unsettling philosophical conversation with Maccachin. His dog has no real answers for him, but his dog breath and licks to the face are reassuringly normal, reassuringly Maccachin, and it calms Victor down enough to decide that he must have just had a particularly vivid dream. Maybe the time-change is getting to him, or something. He puts it firmly out of his mind, and gets himself dressed to go down to the ice rink.

It’s very hard to ignore the sensation of ice and snow blowing in his face, especially considering that a) Sochi is not supposed to have it at all, and b) he just did it yesterday, and remembers it quite vividly. Victor especially remembers the part where he slips on the icy patch of sidewalk and wipes out hard enough to steal his breath. He even remembers the parked BMW on the curb next to where he eats shit.

By the time Victor gets to the ice rink, the precious little confidence Maccachin gave him has been blown away in the storm. Yakov surprises him with breakfast, which Victor would appreciate more if he didn’t remember eating the exact same egg-and-sausage sandwich yesterday morning. He manages a shaky “Thank you” anyway, and does not respond to Yakov’s question about why he’s so out of sorts this morning.

Skating practice goes about as well as can be expected. Which is to say it goes poorly—something Yakov comments on, loudly and with enough curmudgeon that ice trolls in Siberia are offended. “Victor, I’ve never seen you flub that Salchow so badly, what’s gotten into you?” he demands.

“Sorry for being such a disappointment,” Victor snaps. The words fall out of his mouth before he can stop them. “Maybe I’ll do you a favor and quit skating after the GPF, then!”

He stops, shock burning through him like a brushfire, but it’s too late. Victor turns automatically towards the end of the bleachers where Yuri and Mila were both watching him skate, and sees Yuri storming down the aisle. “You’re not going anywhere till you design that routine you promised me,” Yuri spits.

Victor bristles. “Oh, stop being such a child, Yuri!” he says, stalking off the ice. He doesn’t stay to see the shocked look on Yuri’s face, and he doesn’t respond to Yakov calling his name as he hurries to the changing room.

That was bad. That was—churlish, and ridiculous, and completely unlike him, and what is going on? Victor hides in the changing room for a few minutes, overcome with a case of the shivers that has nothing to do with the blizzard raging outside. He packs up his things and leaves before his coach can decide to corner him for his poor behavior, and he does not answer his phone as he hurries out the door, heading back to the hotel.

He’s so intent on getting back to his room and hiding that he forgets all about Arianna Sabbatini, who is already in the hotel bar, just as he remembers. She calls his name and waves at him as he staggers in from the storm. Victor must recoil in horror or something, because she blanches as though he were making the sign of the cross at her. “Sorry,” Victor manages, and flees.

He thinks of the cute Japanese boy who dove into the elevator to avoid him, and wonders vaguely if this was how he felt.

Victor doesn’t spend anymore time than that considering the idea, though. He all but runs to his room, locking it behind him and scooping up Maccachin as his poodle bounds out of the living room to greet him.

He gets back in bed, wishing for the first time in a long while that he was home at his apartment in St. Petersburg. He’s always loved to travel, but right now Sochi is strange and forbidding, and he doesn’t know what to think about what’s happening. He silences his phone, ignoring the unread messages from Yakov and Mila, and then snags a bottle of wine from the mini-fridge. Maccachin follows him around, clearly sensing Victor’s distress, almost knocking the wine over in his attempts to crawl into Victor’s lap once they’re back in bed.

It’s comforting, Victor thinks. Too bad he still has no idea what the hell is going on.

* * * *

At one point late in the afternoon, Victor texts Christophe and asks him to come up to his room. It’s a bad idea, in retrospect, but he’s polished off a bottle of wine by himself and getting a little stir-crazy. Or maybe just crazy.

Chris appears ten minutes later, all but reeking of cologne and in the most ridiculously tight pants Victor has ever seen, and he figure-skates professionally. “Hello, Vitya,” he croons, when Victor opens the door.

“Hi, Chris,” says Victor, and gestures him inside. Chris barely waits for the door to be shut before he presses himself up against Victor, nuzzling Victor’s neck. Victor shivers and shoves Chris off him, a little rougher than he means to. But he’s never liked it when Chris calls him ‘Vitya,’; it’s too familiar.

Christophe staggers backwards, cheeks pinkening, eyes wide in embarrassment and alarm. Crap. “I think you have the wrong idea,” Victor says, trying for ‘tactful’ and failing by a country mile.

“Do I?” Christophe has recovered a little; he crosses his arms over his chest and glares at Victor. “You’re the one who texted me and asked me to come to your hotel room.” He glances over at the table, where the empty wine bottle sits, and his lip curls. “And you’ve been drinking. What am I supposed to think?”

“Ah,” says Victor lamely, realizing that he can add a gold medal in ‘failing to communicate’ to his roster. “That’s—I see why you thought that. I… actually just wanted to ask you something.”

Chris raises both eyebrows at him, arms still crossed. Victor licks his lips, wondering if it’s too late to make up some bullshit excuse as to why he texted, and finally ventures, “Did it snow yesterday?”

Chris stares. “What,” he says flatly.

Черт побери. “Forget it,” Victor says. He takes a deep breath. “Look, can you just—slap me?”

This time, there’s no hesitation. Chris slaps him across the face, hard enough to make Victor stagger. Victor has to put out a hand to steady himself against the wall, and he lifts the other to touch his cheek, wincing; he can already feel the mark. “Any other questions?” Chris inquires. His cheeks are still pink, but his face is as icy as the weather outside.

“Nope,” says Victor. “Thanks.” Chris turns and leaves without another word. He does not slam the door, but he doesn’t really need to.

Fuck, Victor thinks. He starts cursing under his breath, every iteration of shit and damn in every language he even half-speaks. He goes and lets Maccachin out, still wincing and probing his face.

There’s absolutely no way this is a dream, then. And no one else seems to remember the day before. That he’s encountered yet, anyway. Victor does the only thing he can think of, which is get out another bottle of wine.

* * * * *

By the time evening rolls around, Yakov apparently gets sick of Victor dodging his calls and texts and decides instead to just beat down his hotel door. It’s honestly a relief; Victor is very close to having a complete meltdown. He all but cries when Yakov bellows “OPEN THIS DOOR, VICTOR!” and slams a fist against the wood, clearly signaling his willingness to break it down if Victor fails to comply.

Victor opens the door with shaking hands and steps back. Yakov immediately pushes the door open—and then, seeing Victor’s face, he stops. The stormclouds in his face don’t vanish, but they clear a little, gnarled brows furrowing in concern. “Vitya,” he says, softer, and shuts the door behind him. “For God’s sake, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Victor says, and puts his face in his hands. He hears Yakov sigh, and then his coach puts both hands on Victor’s shoulders and guides him over to the bed. Victor shuffles across the room without any resistance, letting Yakov sit him down on the edge. He feels the mattress dip as Yakov sits down next to him, and then Maccachin’s cold nose is nuzzling at Victor’s elbow, his dog whining anxiously.

“Tell me what happened,” says Yakov quietly.

The concern in his voice brings a knot to Victor’s throat; he swallows hard to dislodge it, finding it difficult to speak. “I feel like I’m losing my mind,” he says at length. Victor drops his hands from his face, but keeps staring at his palms, laying now in his lap. “I’m—I’m going to say it to you and you’ll think I’m losing it, too.”

“Maybe,” said Yakov. “But I won’t leave.” This is more reassuring than it has any right to be. Victor nods a little bit, and takes a deep breath before he spills his guts to Yakov.

The telling takes maybe three minutes—five tops. Yakov listens without saying a word as Victor tells him of experiencing the snowstorm not once but twice, of his duplicated fall on the ice, of his twinned skating practice. Victor tells Yakov about the afternoon with Arianna and then the dustup with Christophe at dinner, ending with the night out drinking and partying. “I was out till 3 am last night,” Victor says dully. “I should have been too miserable to even move when you called this morning, but I was fine. Just like I was when you woke me up yesterday morning.”

Yakov frowns. To his credit, he says nothing at all about Victor’s sexual misadventures, though Victor knows for a fact that his coach would rather not know. “I wondered if this would happen eventually,” he says. Victor’s head snaps up, eyes widening. “Overworking yourself.”

“I’m not—“ Victor begins, and then stops as Yakov holds up a hand.

“Maybe not,” says Yakov. “It could just be stress, or maybe you’re even coming down with something. But after the GPF is over, we can think about taking a break, or doing something different. For now…” He grips Victor’s shoulder, squeezing gently, and then reaches for the half-empty bottle of wine on Victor’s bedside table. “You should take the rest of the night easy, okay?”

Victor swallows hard. “Okay,” he said, because how else should he respond?

“Order something comforting for room service,” says Yakov. “Pirozhki, or stroganoff. Take a hot bath. And go to bed early. I’ll come check on you in the morning, okay?”

“Okay,” Victor says again, and manages to halfway mean it this time. He sniffles a little, wiping his hand across his face. It’s childish and he knows it. Thus, when Yakov pulls him in for a gruff hug, Victor buries his face in his coach’s shoulder and has to take a few deep breaths.

“Just rest,” Yakov says, finally pulling back. He peers into Victor’s face as he says this, only letting go when Victor has given him a weak smile and nodded by way of understanding. “I’m going to go check on Mila and Yuri.”

“I bet Yuri’s pissed at me,” Victor mumbles.

Yakov frowns at him. “He has every right to be, you arrogant little prick,” he grumbles, and Victor chokes out a laugh despite himself. “Now get some rest, alright? You may have tomorrow off, but I want to see you back to your normal self again.”

“Alright, Yakov,” Victor says, and sees his coach out, shutting the door behind Yakov. He leans against it and sighs, absently scratching Maccachin’s head as his dog noses at his hand.

Yakov is right, surely. Victor just has an overactive imagination and has had way too much to drink lately. He’ll take the rest of the night off, disconnect, and start off fresh tomorrow. This decided, he does exactly as his coach said to: he turns off his phone, orders room service to come in an hour, and then runs a steaming hot bath. He spends the rest of the night cuddling with Maccachin, feeding his dog pirozhki while they watch Pulp Fiction on the big 55-inch TV.

He turns off the lights at 10, and is asleep twenty minutes later, buried under the covers. His last reassuring thought before sleep takes him is that tomorrow will be a new day.