Then the ceremony is over and it's time. Chris is waiting when Victor leaves the ice. "Congratulations, Victor," he says, just like he's practised.
Victor turns his head. "Thank you."
This is the third time they've had this conversation. But the first time Chris has been this close to the podium, fifth overall. People are starting to talk about him.
"Chris. I remember you." Victor pulls the band from his hair and it falls over his shoulders like a waterfall. His smile gleams like a sunny day.
Chris loses time watching. When he blinks and wakes, Victor is surrounded and it's too late to use his prepared chat.
But it's the first time Victor has remembered his name.
Chris dresses carefully. He runs product through his hair. There's a pimple on his chin and he holds an ice cube on it, willing it to fade and disappear. He tries concealer, scrubs it off again.
Then he goes to wait outside the presser.
There's a chance, he knows there is. He's heard the stories about Victor Nikiforov off the ice. He's seen the photos on the email chains that go around. And why not Chris?
He pulls his hand away from his chin. The door opens and he straightens up, then leans back against the wall, easily, relaxed, while people leave the room.
A reporter recognizes him and heads his way. Chris slips into the crowd to avoid her, moving upstream, to the knot of fans around the cloud of platinum hair. He doesn't join them; he's not a fan. But he positions himself against the wall again and glances over, coolly, at Victor.
On the third cool glance, their eyes meet. "Chris!" Victor calls and waves.
A shock of excitement goes through Chris and he waves back, not as coolly as he'd hoped. He pushes forward through the fans and poses for photographs, Victor's arm around his shoulders and Victor's hair brushing his face.
"Merci, Victor," Chris says, words tumbling out before he remembers to speak English. "Thank you."
"Ah!" Victor's arm tightens around Chris' neck. "You're French. Magnifique!"
"Swiss." Stupid, he shouldn't correct Victor, not in front of all these people.
Victor's coach calls him over, irritated like all coaches are, and Victor apologizes to the fans. Before he disengages, he leans in and speaks in Chris's ear. "Meet me in the lobby at 10:30."
Then he's gone. Chris watches as he walks away, every cell in his body singing with anticipation.
It's really happening.
Chris is in the lobby at 10:15. He sits in a chair and flips through a magazine someone left there. He doesn't see the pages; they're just blocks of colour in his peripheral vision while he watches the elevators.
Maybe they're going to the bar first. But Chris doesn't want to spend his time on a bar stool, drinking club soda because he's too young to serve in Helsinki.
Maybe just one drink, maybe Victor will buy it for him, and they'll talk about the tournament. Victor will brush Chris's hand with the tips of his fingers and say how much he liked Chris's free skate. And then they'll go to Victor's room.
Chris is ready.
It's 10:37 when Victor steps out of the elevator. Chris stands up and the magazine drops to the floor.
He walks towards Victor, his stomach twisting up because what if Victor changed his mind?
But Victor turns to meet him with a smile. "Swiss Chris," he says. "Come with me."
Victor takes him outside and Chris wishes he'd brought an overcoat because January in Finland is no joke, but the waiting car is warm.
"You'll help me with my French, won't you?" Victor asks and of course Chris agrees. They trade simple sentences about the weather, about the tournament, leaning towards each other in the back seat. "How's my accent?"
"Pretty good," Chris says. "If you want to sound like a Parisian asshole." It's out before he can stop it but Victor laughs and Chris laughs too, a little too hard.
The car drops them off and Victor leads him through an unmarked door into a crowded room. He takes Chris's hand and navigates the dance floor, a smile and barely-audible word in passing for everyone who tries to stop him.
Chris thinks they're in a club but when they get to the bar, he realises it's a private party. He orders a champagne cocktail and sips while people swarm around Victor like bees on a honeycomb.
Someone touches him and he turns. He talks — shouts over the music, really — to a woman who clearly likes his looks. She puts her hand on his arm and Chris wonders if Victor is watching. But when he glances back, Victor is heading to the dance floor, pulled out by two other men.
Chris swallows the rest of his drink and follows. The woman joins him and soon they're all in the middle of the floor, in the middle of the crowd, no way to tell who is dancing with whom.
Someone's hands are on Chris's waist, he doesn't know whose. He doesn't care, he's dizzy with the music and the lights and Victor beside him, moving his body in a way that makes every bit of Chris's skin alive, craving every bit of Victor's skin against his own.
Chris pushes his way between Victor and another man. He doesn't care about the dirty look he gets. He doesn't care that his feet are sore and his body is aching. He looks into Victor's flushed face and tries to get up the nerve to touch him.
He's just reaching out when Victor leaves the floor. Chris follows him to the bar. He wants another cocktail but gets water instead. There will be lots of parties to lose himself at. Tonight he has to be alert so he won't miss his chance.
Victor is speaking to a woman, talking close under the music. Chris edges himself in beside her so he's still in Victor's eyeline.
It takes a minute, but Victor notices him eventually. "Swiss!" he says. "Teach me some more."
Chris takes his hand off his chin. He pushes closer and manoeuvres so he's at Victor's side, their shoulders overlapping. Victor gives Chris a phrase in English, Chris gives it back in French. Victor repeats it and the woman laughs.
"It's so loud," Chris says and murmurs the next translation against Victor's ear. Victor's arm goes around him and Chris is warm, warm and high and spinning like a whole evening full of champagne cocktails.
He doesn't quite decide it's time, he just moves his face against Victor's neck, smelling his skin and nuzzling up underneath his jaw. Victor's arm tightens and Chris slides his own around Victor's waist. He kisses Victor's cheek and feels Victor's whole body change, even though he hardly moves.
Chris hopes people have their cameras, he wants to see this in the email chains. He turns, pushes between Victor and the woman, and looks into Victor's eyes.
Victor smiles and Chris knows tonight is the night. He leans in and puts his tongue out. He teases Victor's lips until Victor opens his mouth and meets him. A flash goes off and Chris hopes it will be on every website in the world.
He puts one hand on the back of Victor's neck, fingers sliding through Victor's hair. Victor kisses him back, deep and messy, just like Chris wants it. Like he's practised all year.
A hand touches Chris's back and he thinks it's the woman but he doesn't care. He leans in closer to Victor, shifting his stance so his leg is between Victor's thighs.
People are gathering, Chris can tell, watching him make out with Victor. It makes it that much better: look what Chris has, look what Victor wants. Desire is weakening Chris's knees, loosening his chest.
"Come with me," Victor says. He takes Chris's hand and pulls him through the crowd, past the bar and dance floor, into a hallway where a few people are milling.
They all stare at Chris, some not so kindly, and Chris stares back. He has Victor tonight. Everyone else can suck it.
"There's a room free in the back," a man says and Victor nods.
It's really happening, is all that Chris can think. It's happening tonight.
It's a small room, with a big couch and tray of drinks and lights turned low. That's all that Chris takes in before Victor pushes him against the wall.
Chris tries to catch Victor's mouth again but Victor just looks at him, half a smile and blazing eyes. He drags his hands down Chris's chest. He undoes Chris's trousers. And he sinks to the floor, eyes still locked, and goes down on Chris.
It's a shock, that hot mouth on him. Chris never planned for Victor on his knees and he doesn't know where to put his hands, or where to look. He wants to bury his fingers in Victor's hair and stare into his eyes but he can't, he just can't. So he covers his eyes with his arm and imagines Victor's face instead as the pressure builds and breaks and he comes harder than he ever has before.
His knees do fail him, finally, and he slides down the wall. When he opens his eyes, Victor is standing in front of him, looking down and licking the corner of his mouth.
Chris's face burns and he looks away. He's not sure what's next, if they're done. But he doesn't want to presume so he zips up and stands up and wonders if he should say merci beaucoup.
"Come on," Victor says. "Let's go see if they'll let me spin."
Chris follows him back out to the DJ booth. He laughs with everyone else while the dance floor empties. He makes out a little with a woman he meets by the bar.
The he rides back in the car with Victor dozing on his shoulder. Keeps his hand away from Victor's thigh. Gets him to his room. Stands in the hallway after the door closes.
It's okay, he tells himself. Worlds is coming and there's lots of time to practise.