There was a video going around that purported to be footage of Victor Nikiforov’s greatest fall on the ice, the one that had taken him out of commission at the Worlds for long enough for Christophe Giacometti to finally -- and for once -- get the gold out from under him. The fall hadn’t happened during the competition itself, but rather a practice session a few days before. The rink had a strict anti-recording policy, and the footage itself was dark and fuzzy, as if shot from inside someone’s coat, but the moment Victor’s jump went wild and he crumpled to the ground was unmistakable.
Victor’s hair, loosened from its braid, spilled across the ice, gleaming silver for a moment before the phone jiggled frantically and the screen went black.
When Chris saw it for the first time, his gold medal still cool around his neck, he’d wanted to throw up. He watched twice in a row, until his coach had called to him, sharply, to come out of the restroom and talk to the press.
The narrative had been set, years ago -- Chris and Victor’s friendly rivalry made for a lot of pleasant copy, but for this year, in this competition, Chris’ win felt like a loss. He smiled for the cameras, flirted with the reporters, but in truth, he was looking around for Victor, to -- he didn’t know, exactly. Could he apologize for something that was beyond his control?
But Victor had cleared out as soon as the press conference was over -- most of the questions had been directed at him anyway, which Chris didn’t mind as much as he thought he would. The medal still rested against his chest, round and golden, reassuringly there. The bronze medalist, a sixteen year old from Spain and too dazed to speak much at all, said something to Chris that he didn’t quite hear.
He turned to hear him better, but in the corner of his eye, he saw Victor flash him a bright smile, but with an unreadable look in his eye. That got Chris’s pulse racing.
Bronze Medalist was quickly forgotten. Chris needed to see Victor.
He couldn’t see Victor. Not yet. There was the gala exhibition to prepare for -- Chris had prepared something both silly and sexy for it, using a bouncy pop song, heavy on the tearaway pants gag, plus a unitard that was designed to be shredded, but that had been before he had won gold. Would it still work now? Or should he have picked something more serious, more mature?
No, Chris decided. He had gotten this far being who he was. He wouldn’t change that for the world. And besides, the audience loved him. Fickle and hungry as they were, they did love him.
Anyway, the shower of condoms that some parts of the crowd threw down at him at the end was truly touching. That safe sex campaign he’d participated just last year had to count as a success now.
(He wondered what happened to them after the show. Probably not best to inquire, really.)
After the exhibition, there was the banquet to get through. Personally, Chris found it to be a bit of a bore, saved only by the presence of the other skaters. He found Victor almost right away, but he was too busy to talk. Instead he gave Chris a distracted hug and a smile. Five minutes later, Chris got a text from Victor, instructing him to come to his hotel room later that night. And to bring his gold medal.
Naturally, Chris obeyed.
Nocturnal wanderings, even down hotel hallways in Moscow, were hardly a new sensation for Chris. But then again, he hadn't ever fucked Victor in Russia. (They’d fucked in various other countries, of course, and Chris had been looking forward to Japan -- but fate had intervened there.) This would be something new, at least.
“Am I horrible? Do you hate me?” Chris asked Victor as soon as he opened the door.
“Of course not and no,” Victor said, pulling Chris into his room and closing the door with a thump. He locked it and turned to Chris, mischief in his lovely blue eyes. “Did you bring it?”
Chris lifted it out from the neck of his shirt, the medal warm from his skin. “They're saying you lost it more than I won it, you know.”
“People can be so cruel,” Victor said, his tone not particularly sympathetic. Then he smiled and said, “It's yours, Chris. You earned it.”
Chris allowed himself to relax a little. “Thank you, Victor.”
“I'm happy to do it,” said Victor. “Now, where’s my reward?”
“What would you like for me to do?”
“Strip off your clothes -- take off everything except the medal.”
Chris was not -- to say the least -- shy about getting naked around anyone. But with Victor, it was slightly different. It wasn't enough for Victor to find him sexy. Chris’ pride was also on the line. He wanted Victor to admire him, if not as much as Chris admired Victor, then close enough so that Chris could pretend.
He was growing out his hair this year for Greco-Roman style of program, but Victor tugged at his curls and clicked his tongue. “You're more Dionysus than Apollo, Chris.”
“You've read a book or two since we last did this, Victor. My congratulations.”
“Mean,” Victor said, chuckling. He bit at Chris’ earlobe, harder than he needed to. Chris suppressed a moan, sternly instructing his body not to get too excited when Victor only just started touching him.
But Victor slid down to the ground, as graceful as swan and looked up at him, a devilish look in his eye. “We’re not on the ice, now, Chris. But have you already come?”
Chris flushed and looked down at Victor through his lashes. “I wouldn't have told you about it if I knew you’d always hold it against me.”
“I like holding it against you,” Victor said, drawing out Chris’ cock from his briefs and stroking it to a half-hard state. “At least you recover quickly. I need a lot to get going, and then…”
“You're a romantic,” Chris said, cupping Victor’s chin gently. “You want the same person making love to you all night, every night.”
Victor gave him a wry smile. “You make it seem so … prosaic. Boring, even. But to me it sounds as exotic as ordinary people might find us now.”
“Poor Victor! Starved of love. Let me give it to you, darling.”
“Your cock is not love,” Victor said smiling, and took Chris’ cock into his mouth. Chris hissed out a breath as hehe felt Victor’s tongue press against the tip of his cock. His hands grasped at something -- anything -- until he grabbed a lock of Victor’s hair and coiled it around his fist. Victor pulled away from his cock for a moment and stared at him, eyes wide and very blue.
“Harder,” he said, his lower lip wet from Chris’ cock.
Chris felt faint. “Isn't that my line?”
But Victor didn't reply, his mouth was busy.
In the end, Chris was begging Victor to pin him to the bed and fuck him, begging loudly enough that he knew that the neighbors would hear. Victor pushed him down and stuffed a washcloth in his mouth but Chris spat it out and moaned like a whore when Victor finally entered him.
Getting fucked by Victor, there was nothing like it. He was still a champion and performed as well for an audience of one as he did for millions. He tied Chris’ wrists back with the ribbons from his medal and Chris only got harder, begged louder. In the middle of it, his brain strung out by hormones and adrenaline, Chris thought that maybe he could be that person, the person Victor would come home to love. It was an easy choice, if he could have this whenever he'd like.
(When Chris returned to his senses, of course, he quickly realized the impossibility of such a thought.)
“Untie me, untie me,” he gasped, as soon as Victor slid out of him and Victor complied, taking the medal and setting it carefully on top of the bedside table.
Chris must have been more tired than he thought -- he fell asleep for a while and only woke when he heard the sound of rustling. He opened his eyes and saw Victor standing above him, a pair of silver-handled scissors in his hands. There was a strange expression on his face, something bleak but determined.
For a moment, Chris felt a sick jolt of fear run through him.
But then Victor’s expression cleared. “Chris,” he said, “I need you to help me cut my hair.”
Chris had always loved Victor’s hair, the color, the texture, the weight of it in his hands especially. But it wasn't his place to protest. He only sat up and asked, “What do you want me to do?”
Victor sighed, bent his head down so his face was hidden under the gleaming curtain of his hair. “I want to cut the whole thing off...”
Chris made a noise of protest then. It would be such a pity! All that beautiful hair! But Victor only shook his head, a rueful smile on his face.
“... But Yakov would kill me. I want it short, though. Will you cut the parts I can't reach?”
“Of course,” Chris said. One of his first boyfriends had moonlighted as a stylist in between classes and had given him some lessons, and his mother had cut his and his siblings’ hair when they were very young. He knew how to do it, roughly.
They spread out a sheet on the ground and raided Victor’s beauty bag for supplies, and found almost all of them. Victor sat on the ground, wrapped up in a robe. He brushed his own hair, to get out the tangles, while Chris sat on the chair behind him, not sure what he should do with his hands.
“Let me do it for you,” Chris said before Victor could start. Victor looked up at him, a silent question on his eyes. Chris grinned down at him.
“I promise I won’t make you look bad.”
Victor snorted sharply. “That would be impossible!”
He handed the scissors up to Chris.
Once he had the scissors, however, Chris hesitated. Victor’s hair felt warm and smooth against his legs and he wanted to save it.
Victor grew impatient quickly and said, loudly, “Do it, Chris! Allez, allez!”
Chris winced and took a hank of Victor’s hair and lined it against the edge of the blade. After a second of hesitation, he did it. The piece of hair came away with his hand and Chris let it drop to the ground. He tried to concentrate on keeping the cut even and not too short -- he didn’t want to make impossible for a stylist to come back and fix his mistakes. In the end, with Victor’s permission, he settled for something sensibly shoulder-lengthed.
It was oddly intimate, cutting someone’s hair for them. Not more than sex, obviously, but there was still a tension there, and some danger. And Victor was warm, solid shape against his legs, leaning against him. If Chris’ hands lingered too long on the nape of Victor’s neck or the sides of his face, no one would be the wiser.
He thought he had done a pretty good job until finally, he had finished and passed Victor a mirror. Victor, who had been smiling all the while, looked stricken when confronted with his reflection.
“My hair!” he said, throwing him to the ground and rolling around in the clippings. “I’ve lost my strength!”
Chris rose, impatient and more than a little guilt-stricken.
“This is what you wanted,” he snapped.
Victor stopped rolling around and gave Chris a doe-eyed, innocent look. “I don’t blame you, Chris, for listening to me.”
“It’s just the shock…” Victor tugged at his hair, experimentally. “But now my head feels lighter. Freer.”
Chris helped him up and dusted him off. Victor leaned against him and dramatically whispered that he was ready for round two.
The morning after, Chris woke up to Yakov staring down at him and Victor nowhere in sight. At least he’d cleaned up most of the hair before he’d gone. Yakoy presumably didn’t know about the haircut, or else he was taking it extremely well.
“Stop glaring at me,” Chris groaned, turning over so he wouldn't have to look at Yakov. What a nightmare it was -- going to bed with Victor, waking up to Yakov. There was probably a lesson in that, somewhere, but Chris wasn't willing to learn it.
Yakov snorted sharply, and Chris flipped around and pointed an accusing finger at him. “Look,” he said, “I may be a slut, but I won't be shamed.”
Yakov rolled his eyes. “Go back to your room, Mr. Giacometti.”
“He gets pretty unhappy, you know,” Chris said, sitting up. He remembered the momentary bleakness in Victor’s eyes last night and almost shivered. Yakov was looking at him like he'd sprouted a second head.
“I think I know the mental state of my skaters a little more than you do. Sleeping with them once or twice a year doesn't quite cut it.”
Chris bowed his head to Yakov’s superior knowledge and got out of bed. Yakov averted his eyes politely as Chris dressed. His gold medal was resting on top of the bedside table. And since Chris did have some residual feeling of shame, he pocketed it.
“Giacometti,” Yakov said, looking out the window. Chris turned, curious as to what he was going to say. “Do you have a cigarette?”
“Me? I don’t smoke, sir!”
Yakov gave him a look and Chris grinned at him and fished out a carefully folded pack from the back of his pocket. Yakov sat down on the chair next to the window and lit up, in calm defiance of the no-smoking sign posted at the door. Chris borrowed Yakov’s lighter and lit up too, sitting on the edge of the messy bed.
In the corner of his eye, he watched Yakov. He wondered how Yakov had been like when he was still skating. Probably intense and already balding -- completely unlike Victor, who was always filled with light even when he was dark. (Although Victor’s hairline seemed a little suspect. Not that Chris would ever say anything. He was a good friend, after all.)
… Yakov had probably been good in bed though. Hadn't he once been married to Lilia Baranovskaya? Couldn't be too much of a slouch there. Chris had gone to see Baranovskaya’s farewell performance in Paris with his mother, who had been a life-long fan of hers. It had been an experience -- Baranovskaya had been startling, strong, erotic. Her beauty had moved both of the Giacomettis to tears.
Chris wondered if Yakov would introduce him to her...
“I’m going to give you some advice, Giacometti,” Yakov said abruptly. Chris closed his eyes for a moment. He felt tired for the first time in the last twenty four hours. Was he getting old? He was only nineteen, for God’s sake.
“You can call me Christophe,” he ventured.
“No,” said Yakov. He cleared his throat, and said “What are you planning to do after you retire?”
Chris bristled, but tried to hide it. “I don’t know. But it’ll be some years before I have to decide.”
Yakov gave him a sharp look. “I wouldn’t waste those years. Or the ones after it. Have a plan, and don’t cling to the past.”
“Do you? Cling to the past, I mean?”
“Never. My wife --” he said, blowing out a plume of smoke towards Chris, who leaned in closer in interest. “My ex-wife once told me that you can’t fill someone else’s empty heart. Do you understand that?”
“If you’re trying to warn me off Victor, you don’t need to. I’m not in love with him.” At least, he tried not to be, Chris reminded himself.
Yakov scowled at him. “Who says I was talking about Victor? Now get out, I need to find Victor and I’m not taking calls from your coach, asking after you!”
The season after was one of the best in Victor’s career and one of the worst of Chris’. He was twenty now and already there were rumors that he would retire soon. He didn't, opting instead to change coaches and revamp his style.
It was hard to know how he felt about Victor. Sometimes Chris felt almost hostile towards him, felt like if he'd been competing in another time with another skater, he would have been able to have his own time in the sun. His one gold medal was just that -- a singularity, a fluke. Victor shut him out, again and again.
But even in his bitterest moments, Chris could only resent Victor in the abstract.
In the flesh, Victor inspired Chris, drove him farther, made him long to be better. Victor was a skater that only came along once in a generation and Chris knew he was lucky to skate beside him.
But still -- he didn’t know which of them had the empty heart.