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RISE

He wins the 2005 World Junior Championships and graduates high school two months later, a full year earlier than the rest of his classmates. They bring him a cake and say “we’ll miss you, Vitya!” and he smiles. He has never exchanged more than a few polite words with these people.

Alexei, a boy with green eyes and the blackest hair, kisses Viktor in the school bathroom one last time. His lips are thin and his fingers buried in Viktor’s long, long hair.

Viktor is sixteen. With no more school, he is at the rink from seven in the morning to seven in the afternoon, with Yakov yelling, “No, not like that!” and “You will not attempt a quad Salchow,” and Viktor doing it anyway. He lands it more often than not these days. He’ll use it for his senior debut. Yakov doesn’t know that yet.

When he gets home, his mother is waiting with dinner and a smile. “Ça va?” she asks.

He kisses her cheek. “Oui, très bien.”

After dinner he watches TV and lets his little sister braid his hair. Dad gets home from the office around nine, which is when Viktor goes to bed, Makkachin tucked under the sheets between him and the wall. Dad opens his bedroom door, says, “Goodnight, Viten’ka,” and Viktor yawns, replies, “Night, papa.”

In July he’s assigned to the Rostelecom Cup, which he wins, and the Tropheé de France, which he doesn’t. He makes it to the Grand Prix Final, where everyone is impressed by his beauty, his grace, his long silver hair. He’s the youngest competitor here, but that doesn’t mean much in figure skating. He wins bronze, and at the press conference he gives them his most charming smile and says, in perfect English, “I did my best and I am proud.”

A week later he wins the Russian Nationals for the first time. The Federation nominates him and the silver medalist for the European Championship, the Olympics and Worlds. He’s called Igor and he’s twenty-four, and on the plane to Lyon he leans close to Viktor, the curve of his mouth a sneer, eyes sharp when he asks, “Do you really think figure skating is for pretty boys like you?”

“I do have a bronze medal from the Grand Prix Final, and this is only my senior debut,” Viktor says cheerfully. “How many medals do you have?”

He knows the answer is none; Igor has been to the Grand Prix Final twice and to European and Worlds four time. He has yet to win a single medal.

Across the aisle Igor bristles. Yakov comes back from the bathroom, takes one look at Viktor’s plastic smile and grunts, “What did you do this time?”

“Nothing,” Viktor says innocently. He waves at Igor and goes back to his book.

During Europeans, Viktor blows a kiss to Igor before starting his free skate and turns his triple Salchow into a quadruple. He had plans to surprise the judges and the audience anyway, and it works: the crowd goes wild with excitement and he breaks a world record with his technical score. He wins. Igor places eighth.

In February, they go to Turin for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Viktor beats athletes fourteen years older than him and becomes the youngest Olympic gold medalist in men’s figure skating history. Yakov is so proud he actually kisses Viktor’s head in the kiss and cry, on international television. Viktor is so proud he cries where everyone can see.

A month later Viktor flubs his jumps out of nervousness and places fourth at Worlds. Yakov, face stoic, pats his back and says, “You’ll do better next season.” Viktor is so frustrated he hides in a restroom stall and screams into his own hair. When he comes out there’s a blonde boy crying, curled up next to the sink. He’s wearing a Swiss Federation jersey and he looks vaguely familiar, but all skaters look vaguely familiar, even if Viktor can only remember the names of maybe five of them.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he asks in French, crunching down in front of the boy. He puts on his least threatening smile, the one he uses when his sister is sensitive and upset.

“I lost,” the boy says through his snot. “I placed twentieth.”

Viktor nods. He’s stuck playing nice now. He can’t tell the boy he’s a loser to his face, so he goes with “Well, and how old are you?”

The boy doesn’t answer for a full minute, too busy crying. Viktor gets impatient; he needs to find Yakov, get on a plane, get back on the ice and start preparing for next season. As calmly as he can, he takes the boy’s hands and helps him to his feet.

“There,” he smiles.

The boy sniffles. “I’m fifteen.”

“Alright,” Viktor says. He has no idea why the Swiss Federation selected a fifteen year old, when Lambiel alone would suffice. “You’re still young! I’m sure you have many great seasons ahead of you.”

The boy blinks. A couple of tears fall from his eyes with the movement. Viktor continues to smile encouragingly, thinking this is the end of it.

Then the boy slaps him in the chest. His face is red and angry.

“Who do you think you are, Viktor Nikiforov!” the boy yells. “Acting like you know everything when you’re only seventeen! You’re a kid too!”

Viktor is so shocked he slaps the boy back. The boy yelps and slaps him again, and then they’re slapping each other in the chest, and Viktor is saying “stop it, stop it, you madman,” and they’re both laughing.

“Okay,” Viktor says, panting, after they’ve calmed down. “You’re not wrong.”

“I am right, Viktor Nikiforov,” the boy replies. Viktor just grins at him sunnily, and the boy narrows his eyes. “Did you forget my name?”

“Did I?” Viktor asks innocently.

The boy sighs. Viktor learns that he is called Christophe Giacometti. They exchange numbers.

He goes back to St. Petersburg. His parents throw him a party for the success of his senior debut, and all his cousins and aunts and uncles come. His grandma gives him a kiss, some money and a scarf she knit. His mom bakes his favorite caramel cake.

By April, Yakov asks him to see a couple of choreographies put together by a retired ice dancer.

Boring, Viktor thinks, and “Boring,” he says, yawning exaggeratedly to make a point. Former ice dancer says, outraged, “You can’t talk to me like that!”

Viktor blinks, asks, “Sorry, who are you again?” and the man leaves angrily, all the while mumbling about how he’s going to report this to the Russian Skating Federation.

In his junior days and for his senior debut, Yakov allowed him to choreograph his exhibition programs. He’s ranked as the fifth best skater in the world at seventeen; he doesn’t want to be allowed anymore.

“I want to choreograph my own programs,” he says, skate blades set firm on the ice.

“No,” says the Russian Skating Federation.

“No,” says Yakov.

To the Russian Federation, Viktor says nothing. To Yakov, he says, “You do remember I’m the one who pays you.”

Yakov goes red in the face. He splutters and grunts and yells, but Viktor wins in the end.

He goes through an emo phase and paints his nails black that year. He and Georgi listen to My Chemical Romance and Evanescence in the locker room, sharing earbuds over Georgi’s CD Walkman. Viktor decides his short program song will be Teenagers, just to make Yakov angry. For the free skate it will be the instrumental version of Lithium. For the exhibition, The Used’s All I’ve Got.

His sister and his mother laugh at him. His dad shakes his head. Makkachin barks and wags his tail and licks Viktor’s hand.

“You’re the only one who understands me, Makkachin,” he sighs dramatically, burying his nose in the soft brown fur of Makkachin’s neck.

His sister laughs harder.

He makes it to the Grand Prix Final again. Chris doesn’t, but they meet at the NHK Cup and spend nights exploring the streets of Nagoya and giggling under hotel blankets. He likes Chris, likes the texts they exchange in the off-season, likes that he can be a little rude and mean and Chris will forgive him. It’s nice that they talk in French, even if Viktor learned English precisely to be able to speak to the largest number of people possible. But it’s hard to remember words, to worry about his pronunciation, to know when to use articles. French is easier, as natural as Russian, his mother’s mother tongue and somehow his own, too.

He gets bronze again. Wins nationals again. Wins the European Championship again (Chris places sixth). At Worlds he gets silver.

True to his theme of ennui (fake emo pissbaby, as Chris calls and laughs at him for it), that season Viktor reads The Sorrows of Young Werther, Wuthering Heights and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. They all make him very sad, and Yakov rolls his eyes and hands him tissues when he cries on planes or hotel lobbies.

By the time the season is over, the ISU has Viktor as the third best skater in the world. The only difference between him and the top two is experience.

Chris comes to Russia in the off-season to train under Yakov for a couple of months. He stays at Viktor’s house. Makkachin loves him, and so does Viktor’s sister.

“Let go of him, Nina,” Viktor sighs at the ten-year-old girl hugging Chris by the waist, face squished against his side.

“I won’t!” she shouts. “Take me with you!”

Chris laughs. Viktor sighs and takes them both to the beach. He dips his feet in wet sand and closes his eyes, listens to the seagulls as cold water bites at his ankles.

“What do you have in mind for next season, Vitya?” Chris asks later, seated at Viktor’s desk, a textbook open in front of him. Chris takes his studies very seriously, and promised his parents and teachers he would keep up with school work in the two months he would stay in Russia.

“Something new,” Viktor says enthusiastically. “Something exciting.”

Figure skating is all about inspiration. People have to look at you and see something they’ve never seen before. They have to love and respect you. You need to leave the public wanting more. Viktor wants to entertain the audience. But, most of all, he wants to entertain himself.

So he goes to Lilia. He’s used the androgynous angle before, with clothes and hair that blurred gender and won him Junior Grand Prix Finals and Junior Worlds, so he goes for the opposite this time: she teaches him the male roles in Swan Lake, Giselle, Le Corsaire.

“You are getting almost too old for this hair,” Lilia says, combing his long hair and doing it up in a bun to her liking. “It is a pity.”

Viktor is eighteen now. He adds a quad flip to his repertoire and he absolutely loves it.

“Yakov,” he says, so excited he’s out of breath, after he lands it perfectly in practice on his second try. “I’ll make this my signature move.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, boy,” Yakov scoffs. But he doesn’t say no. It wouldn’t matter if he did, anyway.

Lilia drills him harder than Yakov, and, because she is a savage, demands Viktor babysit their eight year old granddaughter when she doesn’t feel like being around children. Viktor, because he is a savage, takes Anastasia home to play with Nina while he goes to the rink two streets over. The boy who drives the Zamboni lets him practice alone in exchange for make outs and the occasional handjob.

He takes first place in Skate Canada and the Rostelecom Cup. At the Final, in the hotel lobby, Chris brushes a shoulder against his and says, “Have you heard of this new website? It’s called Facebook. Everyone is using it now.”

Viktor hasn’t. Chris explains how it works and says Viktor should sign up. Viktor says he’ll think about it and immediately forgets about the whole thing; who would he add, anyway? Chris is his only friend. Perhaps, less so, Georgi.

Viktor is sitting by the rink polishing his skate boots after practice when a young boy in glasses and a Team Japan jacket approaches. He looks like he’s in juniors, so Viktor smiles reassuringly.

“Yes?”

The boy squeaks, his face coloring bright red.

“I,” he says. “Ugh, I. Ah!”

The boy wrings his hands together, bows so low his nose almost touches his knees, turns around and leaves.

Viktor blinks.

“Weird,” he says to no one in particular, and goes back to his boots.

Lambiel wins the Final. Viktor takes silver. Chris places sixth.

“If you say I did good for my first time,” Chris says after the medal ceremony, tears in his eyes while they stare at the ceiling of Chris’s hotel room, lying side by side on the bed. “I will punch you in the face.”

“Okay,” Viktor says. They’re quiet for several long minutes, the low buzz of the heater the only sound in the room. Viktor’s medal glitters on the nightstand. It’s not real silver; he doesn’t know what it’s made of. The bouquet has, somehow, found its way to the floor. They weren’t very pretty flowers, anyway.

Viktor has his eyes closed. In his head, he pictures all of his mistakes, the quad Salchow he flubbed, the random fall after his Ina Bauer. Disappointment climbs up his throat and Chris sighs, shifts on the bed. Viktor opens his eyes to find Chris’s face above his.

Chris leans down and kisses him. It tastes very bitter.

 

vitinhomedalha

 

After, at the banquet, Viktor dressed in a sharp suit that belonged to his father years ago, the president of the Russian Skating Federation shakes his hand with a sneer curled around his lips. Viktor mirrors it.

“Nikiforov,” the president says. “It has been a month now since you last caused trouble. A record. I am impressed.”

“What can I say,” Viktor says cheerfully. “It is not my fault my accomplishments arouse the jealousy of others, sir!”

The president’s expression turns sour.

“Careful, boy,” the president whispers. “You think you are indispensable. You think you are the best. You are not.”

“I’ve won you silver, haven’t I?” Viktor says, very calmly.

“Silver, yes,” the president waves a hand dismissively. “Not gold.”

“Yet,” Viktor says, and his rage is so tempestuous and big it fuels him to win nationals, the European Championship and Worlds. He breaks some world records, too, and becomes the first skater to ever land a quad flip on international competition.

After the season is over, Viktor is asked to go on a lot of interviews and photoshoots. Teen magazines, sports magazines, ads for a clothing brand which play on TV in the afternoons. He knows how to pose, perfected smiles and gestures that come with years of growing in the public eye, of breaking his first world record at the age of thirteen. He knows how to answer questions, how to bend the truth to work in his favor without lying, how to make people think he’s given them what they want.

Chris calls it his art of bullshitting. Viktor, more classy, just calls it art.

He goes to Switzerland in May. Chris is rinkmates with Lambiel, who teaches Viktor the quad toe loop and pays for their dinner almost every night. They appear in a Swiss skating magazine, the three of them, in an article that calls Viktor the rising prince of the ice, coming to take Lambiel’s crown.

Viktor stays at Chris’s place. His parents are very nice, his older brother not so much. Chris is out to his family.

“It’s whatever,” Chris shrugs when Viktor asks about it, on their way home from the rink on a chilly night. There are a lot of high, old buildings in Lausanne; some of the street signs are written in Portuguese. “They’re cool with it.”

Viktor hums. His mom and dad were cool with it, too. When he told her, Nina blinked at him, asked “so I’ll have a brother-in-law, instead of a sister-in-law?”; to which Viktor, after a pause, replied with “one day”. All she said then was “cool”, before going back to her dolls. Makkachin had been the first one to know, Viktor’s forehead touching the dog’s as he whispered I think I’m gay into the brown fur. Makkachin just barked and licked his face.

“By the way,” Chris says, key halfway to the door. He turns and looks at Viktor, and his face is very serious for once. “Will you be my boyfriend?”

“Oh,” Viktor goes. He blinks. He thinks for a second and, finding no reason to refuse, says “Okay.”

He goes back home in July. Yakov, for once, is happy that Viktor learned something new with only mild complaints made to the Swiss Federation by Viktor’s brief rinkmates.

He practices his new quad and his old quads. Decides to add all three in his free skate. He’s also asked to be in a couple more ads, a couple more magazines. Local TV stations interview him, make segments about his day, film him at the rink trying to get his choreography right, Yakov by his side telling him how to make it smoother.

Chris calls him almost every night. Viktor answers when he feels like it, which is maybe once a week, twice when he’s feeling vaguely guilty and alone. Chris also texts him a lot, about skating and his studies, his family, books he’s reading and movies he saw. Viktor replies to all the skating messages, has little to say about anything else.

They only see each other again in December, for the Grand Prix Final. Chris’s hair is shorter. He greets Viktor with a kiss, and Viktor, close-mouthed, has no idea what to do. He tries placing a hand on the back of Chris’s neck. Chris hums contently.

The next day, just after practice time, an American skater comes up to Viktor and says, “Your hair is so pretty!”

He’s seen her before many times, at GPFs and Worlds, but he can’t remember her name. Either way he smiles, sticks his chest out a bit; he’s proud of his hair.

“Thank you!” he answers. “Yours is very pretty, too. How do you get it to shine like that?”

They end up talking about hair products for twenty minutes, until Yakov drags Viktor away to review his short program. He waves to the girl, genuinely happy, a few tips on hair care scribbled sloppy on a piece of paper in his hand.

“Oh, Yakov,” he says, tugging on Yakov’s coat. “Who was that?”

Yakov looks at him in disbelief for a second, then rolls his eyes and tells Viktor her name.

He takes Chris to a fancy restaurant that night, feeling generous and guilty for neglecting Chris all these months. Chris raises an eyebrow at the place when he sees the secluded tables, the menus written in Korean, English and Italian, the old patrons; they’re the only nineteen and seventeen year olds around.

“They don’t have the prices in the menu,” Chris says, after ordering a mediterranean calamari. “That’s how expensive this place is.”

“Don’t worry,” Viktor says. Awkwardly, because he doesn’t know what else to do, he tries to hold Chris’s hand on the table. His fingers close around Chris’s fist. “I made a lot of money doing ads.”

Chris’s face softens. He opens his hand and intertwine his fingers with Viktor’s.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he says.

“I’m your boyfriend.”

“Are you?” Chris asks, so quietly Viktor almost misses it. Viktor blinks, opens his mouth. Closes it. Chris laughs, but it sounds forced and sad and wrong.

The next day Viktor finishes the short program in first place, with a record breaking score. Chris finishes second. They’re so excited they go to Viktor’s hotel room, kiss and kiss and kiss until they find themselves naked on the bed, jerking each other off.

Chris breaks the kiss, grunts and throws his head back. Looking at the pale curve of his neck, his Adam’s apple bobbing, Viktor feels heat pooling in the pit of his stomach.

His eyes, filled with interior sight, gave off a kind of stifled fire,” he pants. “Suddenly he raised his head, his fair hair fell back like that of the angel on his somber chariot of stars, it was the name of a startled lion with a flaming halo.

Chris inhales sharply and looks at him.

“What,” he asks. Viktor thumbs the head of Chris’s cock and he comes, spurting all over Viktor’s hand. With a final stroke from Chris’s hand, Viktor comes too.

Chris laughs through his orgasm.

“What was that?”

“I just finished rereading Les Misérables,” Viktor shrugs, eyes closed.

Chris laughs until he cries, laughs until he falls asleep with his arms around Viktor’s waist. Viktor feels suffocated, a bit, being held like this. He wants to leave, but it’s his hotel room, so he doesn’t.

Then it’s time for the free skate, and what happens is: Viktor over-rotates on his first jump, a triple lutz. He crashes hard on the ice, his left ankle twisted and trapped under his body. He gets up and goes on by sheer force of will, but he doesn’t land any more jumps, his ankle throbbing and hurting.

He gets his lowest score ever.

He finishes fourth.

He waits until he’s in a hospital waiting room to cry. Yakov and the nurses are his only witnesses.

Back in Russia, his doctor recommends taking the rest of the season off to recover. Viktor says no, downs painkiller after painkiller under Yakov’s disapproving eyes and proceeds to crash and burn at every competition, falling and hurting even more, aggravating his injury further. He’s still good enough to win silver at the European Championships and bronze at Worlds.

Georgi, for the first time, places above Viktor at nationals.

“I will continue to work very hard so I can surpass Viktor,” he says in the press conference after the medal ceremony. For all his moody and broody persona, Georgi can’t stop smiling and tearing up, gold medal tucked safely inside his jacket.

Georgi is all bark and no bite. Viktor, on the other hand, is always biting, teeth sharp and showing, so when a reporter asks, “Mr Nikiforov, is your silver medal due to the judges’ favoritism?” all Viktor does is smile. He touches the tips of his braided hair that reach just below his ribcage. Says, pointing at the reporter’s thick black beard, “Mustaches are respected, and beards worn even by goats.” The entire room laughs, but the reporter frowns angrily.

He isn’t allowed to move his foot for one month after Worlds. He spends all of April lying in bed or the couch, staring at ceilings, petting Makkachin. He cries. He refuses to eat, sometimes. He itches, restless and frustrated, disappointed with himself, missing the sound of blades on the ice and the thrill of his body cutting through the year.

He doesn’t answer when Chris calls. In May, a week before he’s due to start physical therapy, he texts I want to break up.

Why, Chris texts back, a couple of minutes later.

I don’t know how to be your boyfriend.

Have you tried?

He types Yes, which he sends, and I think, which he doesn’t.

Chris sees right through his bullshit, though.

I don’t think you have, he replies. When Viktor doesn’t answer for one hour, Chris sends Okay then. Fuck you a little.

He sits at the piano in the living room and plays The Funeral March in honor of his now dead relationship. The piano is his sister’s, big and brown and old, and she loves it more than she loves anything else in the world.

His mother finds him crying, hitting keys at random and sniffling.

“Oh, mon garçon,” she sits with him on the bench, hugs him tightly. Viktor wraps his arms around her waist and cries on her shoulder. “Qu’est-ce que s’est passé?”

“J’ai perdu mon meilleur ami,” he sobs. “Mon seul ami.”

She kisses the top of his head and rocks him back and forth. He’s twenty years old, but his mom whispers “mon bébé” into his hair, her warm breath heating his scalp.

After ten minutes he calms down enough to let her go. He dries his eyes.

“Maintenant tout ce qui me reste est le patinage,” he says around a sigh. He puts shaking fingers to the keys again.

His mother is silent for a second. She starts to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Viktor plays with her.

“Tu aimes encore le patinage?” she asks.

“Oui,” he answers immediately.

“Pourquoi?” her voice sounds cautious, distant, skeptical.

“Parce qu’il y a toujours des nouvelles choses à apprendre,” he says. “Parce que je peux toujours motiver le public.”

His mother is silent again. Then, after they’re done playing, she says, very softly, “Okay.”

They watch Eurovision a couple of nights later, Viktor squeezed between his dad and Nina on the couch, Makkachin at their feet. Viktor, Nina and mom cry with the French performance. Dad, who speaks very little French, awkwardly pats their heads. When dad cries with the Russian performance, they all pat his head.

Yakov picks him up the next morning, honking in front of Viktor’s house at nine o’clock sharp. Viktor limps to the car with his sister’s help.

Physical therapy is like torture. The moment the doctor touches his foot, Viktor screams out in pain. He grits his teeth and cries silently through the whole session.

“Don’t worry, Vitya,” Yakov says, awkwardly patting his shoulder. “You’ll get better in no time.”

Viktor knows this, but physical therapy is so slow. His foot still hurts in June, and he cries on Makkachin’s fur after every session.

He starts Pride and Prejudice but can’t get past page twenty. So he tries The Brothers Karamazov, but gets stuck on page fifteen. He tries Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone and stops on page eight.

He stays up late, can’t sleep. He stares at the ceiling, Makkachin breathing quietly and warmly next to him, and thinks he’ll never be able to skate again. He’d rather die than have that happen.

His sister says “cheer up!” and he snaps at her, yelling until she cries and Makkachin whines sadly. He feels guilty but can’t bring himself to apologize. Nina doesn’t talk to him for two weeks.

He does nothing all day but he’s always tired. He’s always anxious. He hasn’t washed his hair in a month; his once beautiful locks look lifeless and dry, full of knots and split ends. He doesn’t really care.

On a Saturday, his mom marches him to the bathroom, sits him on the plastic chair under the shower head and spends two hours washing and massaging his hair, combing through the tangles, trimming it.

In July he’s able to step with his foot. Still he’s grumpy and gets into another fight with his sister, until dad says “enough” and takes him for a ride on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, to dusty roads surrounded by trees and grass.

“Come on, I’ll teach you how to drive,” his dad says. He helps Viktor switch places with him in the car. Then he patiently explains gears, and pedals, and the best way to turn the wheel.

Viktor tries to make the car go forward, but it doesn’t obey; it keeps going backwards. He tries and tries and tries, until the car doesn’t move at all, the tires turning in place lifting dust all around them.

“You are so bad at this,” his dad says, laughing hysterically. “You’re twenty years old and you can’t drive!”

“Well, I’m trying!” Viktor snaps, but his dad just continues laughing. Viktor laughs too, then, laughs so hard his belly aches, laughs so hard his vision blurs, laughs so hard he cries and cries and cries.

“Don’t worry, my boy,” his dad says. He kisses Viktor’s head and cradles it against his shoulder while Viktor sobs. “I’m here. We’re all here for you.”

On a random Friday Lilia appears at his house, takes one look at Viktor sitting in bed playing games on his phone and says, brow in a deep frown, “Pitiful. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start focusing on the coming season. What are your plans for the free skate?”

Viktor has many, from famous Hollywood soundtracks to Evanescence, from gudok music to Beyoncé.

“You are not focused!” Lilia says.

Most of Viktor’s ideas are horrible and tacky, but after two hours they decide classical music is their best option. They choose Polovtsian Dances for his short program, and Lilia suggests Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for the free skate. She calls Yakov, says “I’m at Vitya’s house. Bring me my Heitor Villa-Lobos record,” and Yakov shows up forty minutes later.

Viktor loves the song, the haunting violins and the sad aria. Thinks it’s fitting for his current moment in life.

By August he can walk without any pain. Physical therapy ends, and the doctors clears him to go back to skating.

“Finally,” he says, standing still in the middle of the rink, eyes closed, breathing it all in: Yakov yelling at Georgi; the sounds of blades, sharp and strong, cutting the surface of the ice; the cold that settles in his bones. It feels like freedom. It feels like home.

He skates loops around the rink to warm up, once, twice, six times. Then he speeds up, changes his course and jumps a quad flip. He giggles to himself after, beaming because he can still do it, the burning in his thighs welcomed and loved.

Yakov cuffs him on the back of the head.

A couple of nights later he gets a text. It’s from Chris. It says I’m going to call you in 10 minutes. Pick up.

“Hey,” Chris says, when Viktor puts the phone to his ear after letting it ring five times, staring at it in horror.

Privet,” he says, then: “Hi, salut.”

Chris snorts, but it’s not mean. Chris is so rarely mean.

“I’ve heard from Lambiel you’re back on the ice.”

“I, yes,” Viktor says. “How did Lambiel know about that?”

“Your coach told his coach, I think.”

“Ah.”

They’re silent for a couple of minutes. Then:

“I miss you,” Viktor says, too tired from practice and a constant sadness to really care. He’s being honest, here: he misses Chris’s sarcastic comments, his blunt criticism. He misses talking to him about skating and costumes. He misses their adventures in hotel pools and gas stations at night. He misses Chris’s makeup tips. He misses his only friend.

“I miss you, too, asshole,” Chris answers. He sounds exasperated, and tired, and fond.

“Are we good?”

“Yeah, we’re good,” he says. Viktor releases a breath, slow and warm. “So, how are you doing? How’s the foot? And what are your plans for the season? I think I’ll see you at the Rostelecom Cup. And oh, have you heard of Lady Gaga?”

Viktor breezes through the Trophée de France and the Rostelecom Cup. It’s almost impossible to believe he was injured until just a couple of months ago, reporters and commentators say, but no one knows about the key to the rink Viktor talked a security guard into giving him, or about how Yakov has to drive him home because he practices so late the trains to his place stop circulating, or about how he doesn’t sleep, doing both choreographies in his bedroom over and over until he’s too exhausted to move his legs. Rinse, repeat.

The 2009-2010 Grand Prix Final is held in Japan. Tokyo in December is cold, but not colder than St. Petersburg. Chris says, “You should make a Twitter account.”

A Canadian ice dancer, sitting nearby in the hotel lobby, says, “It’s totally addictive.”

Viktor sweet-talk the hotel manager into letting him use one of the computers in the lobby. Chris and the Canadian ice dancer help him create an account. He chooses the handler v_nikiforov, follows Chris, the ice dancer and his partner, the ISU. He doesn’t follow the Russian Skating Federation until they follow him first.

Viktor finishes the short program in second place and the free skate in first, which guarantees him a silver medal only two points behind the winner.

After the gala exhibition (I Dreamed A Dream, this season. Yakov, who for some reason has a deep loathing of musical theater, turned red in the face and said, “Do whatever you like!” when Viktor announced his choice of music), when he’s waiting to go back on the ice for the finale, he spots Japanese skater Yuuri Katsuki and pokes him in the shoulder.

Katsuki turns around slowly, eyes widening when he sees Viktor. Viktor puts on his most reassuring smile and grabs Katsuki’s hand.

“I heard you broke my junior record!” he says. Yuuri Katsuki broke all of Viktor’s three junior records, in fact, by more than eleven points each. A reporter told him that yesterday. Viktor was so impressed he pulled aside the first judge he found to ask if it was true. “Congratulations!”

“Oh,” Katsuki replies. His eyes are set somewhere above Viktor’s left shoulder, and his hand is sweating. “I, uh. Thank you.”

“How did you do it? Tell me about your programs!”

Katsuki looks panicked.

“No,” he blurts out, yanks his hand out of Viktor’s grasps and steps into the ice when his name is called.

“You think I scared him?” Viktor asks Chris, feeling confused and somewhat guilty.

“Hm?” says Chris, too busy making eyes at a Chinese pair skater.

“Never mind,” Viktor sighs.

The next week he wins nationals, to no one’s surprise. There are pieces about him in newspapers and on TV. People stop him to ask for photos and autographs. They say he’s Russia’s pride and joy. He smiles, thanks them. The Russian Skating Federation sends out a memo on proper etiquette and conduct to represent the motherland.

Viktor braids his hair with flowers and wears lipgloss on the European Championship out of spite. Yakov almost has a heart attack. Viktor, of course, wins gold.

In February, in Vancouver, Viktor wins silver at the Winter Olympics. He breaks his own record for the highest free program score. Chris places sixth, and turns eighteen, and gets into university, so Viktor takes him out to celebrate. They get drunk on vodka and cider, end up making out in a dark alley behind a bar.

“Oh no,” Viktor mumbles against Chris’s neck. “Noooo, we are not boyfriends anymore.”

“We’re both single, shut up,” Chris says. “This is the Olympics.”

Viktor giggles. “That’s true,” he says, and they keep kissing until Chris almost falls asleep on his feet at two AM and Viktor hails a cab to take them back to the village.

At Worlds he places second.

“Can’t win them all, my friend,” says Lambiel, who retired a couple of weeks ago and came to cheer Chris on.

Viktor blinks.

“I can, though,” he says. “I just haven’t yet.”

After the season is over, Viktor goes to Paris. He stays for two weeks, shooting a small role as Marion Cotillard’s brother in a period drama directed by Xavier Beauvois. Everyone says it’s going to be on Cannes next year. Back in Russia, he is in Coca-Cola and L’Oreal ads.

He’s twenty-one, and he has enough money now to buy a small house in the second nicest part of town. Instead he rents a big apartment three blocks away from the rink, close to grocery stores and in front of a twenty-four hour cafe/bar.

“You’re not taking Makkachin with you,” Nina says with feeling, standing as tall as a thirteen year old girl can, hands on her hips.

“He’s my dog,” Viktor points out.

“I spend more time with him than you do,” she says, meaning to hurt.

It works.

“Alright,” Viktor says, angry, upset. “You stand on that side of the room.”

He points to the far corner of the living room, and Nina goes, a suspicious look on her face. He moves to stand on the wall opposite her. Makkachin, sitting in front of the couch in the middle of the room, wags his tail and barks.

“Come on, boy,” Nina says.

“Makkachin,” Viktor says, very calm. “Come.”

Makkachin barks again, gets up and trots over to Viktor, puts his front paws on Viktor’s thighs. He kneels down to hug the dog.

“Don’t cry, Nina,” Viktor says.

“I’m not crying,” says his sister, crying.

Nina’s piano lessons and music summer camps are getting expensive, so Viktor also starts paying Yakov’s coaching fees, and Lilia’s, his costumes and skate maintenance. His mom, a bit teary-eyed, thanks him.

He fills a large cardboard box with medals and trophies. The huge ones, too big to carry, he leaves behind at his parents’ house.

His new building is quiet. The next door neighbors are a young couple with a baby who rarely cries. Viktor wakes up at five every morning and goes for a run in the chilly and wet city streets, Makkachin by his side.

When he’s not on the ice or ballet, when neither Yakov nor Lilia are scolding and praising him in equal measures, Viktor appears on TV. It’s a six month contract with the biggest channel in St. Petersburg, where he’s a weekly guest on the sports show. They ask him to comment on various sports and he bullshits his way through it; he knows nothing about volleyball, or tennis, or even hockey. Still he smiles and speaks nonsense and everybody is charmed, in awe, the audience rating peaking when he’s on air.

He only has time to read two books in the off season. On the metro, a woman with two children recognizes him. He kneels down for a photo on the dirty platform, arms around the boy and the girl. They both flush deeply and tell Viktor they’re ice dancers, that one day they’ll be as good as him and win lots of medals for their country.

“That’s very nice,” he smiles. “But don’t forget to have fun!”

The plants his mother gave him as housewarming gifts are watered every day. There are anthuriums and peace lilies and Christmas cacti, which have yet to bloom. He talks to them and Makkachin more than he talks to any living being outside of the rink.

When he’s away for competitions he makes his mother promise to come by to take care of his plants at least twice a week. He leaves the dog with his family.

Viktor only sees Chris at the Grand Prix Final, where he seems to be taking a lot more pictures with his phone than usual.

“It’s for Instagram,” he says, like it’s obvious.

“Insta what?” Viktor asks.

Chris shows him his profile on the new app, full of pictures of his dorm, his rink, his cat, his food, his shirtless body. Chris’s timeline is skaters and celebrities; he especially likes all of Lady Gaga’s posts.

“It’s perfect to show people how perfect your life is,” he says, his lips twisting to form a grimace. “Even when it’s not.”

Viktor creates an account, v_nikiforov, same as his Twitter. He links both. He asks Yakov to take a picture of him and Chris posing in front of the arena, Chris with hands on his hips and Viktor with an elbow resting on Chris’s shoulder, both wearing sunglasses. He captions it “In Beijing with my best boy!” for his first post.

He wins silver again, because he got nervous like a newbie and made mistakes: two falls on his short program, a quad that turned into a triple and a triple that turned into a double in his free skate. He has been to the Grand Prix Final six years in a row and he still hasn’t won. He told the president of the Russian Federation he would, and now he needs to save face. He needs to inspire people, too, to keep himself inspired.

He does win nationals a week later. The flowers in his apartment bloom beautifully in the living room. He posts pictures of them on Instagram. He places second at the European Championships and third at Worlds.

Viktor hears Yuuri Katsuki breaks another one of his records when he wins World Juniors three times in a row. Viktor was only in juniors for two years before he moved up to seniors.

“He’s making his senior debut next season,” Chris says at Domodedovo, head on Viktor’s shoulder, sharing earphones that stream Chris’s loud pop music. “You better watch out.”

Viktor smiles. He would love some competition.

After the season is over in 2011 he learns how to drive.

“Oh, finally,” his dad says, patting Viktor’s shoulder lightly. “It’s a good skill to have. Useful. Practical.”

“What a loser,” Nina says. “I will learn how to drive when I’m eighteen!”

“If you really want to put me to shame you’ll learn to drive at sixteen,” Viktor says, grinning. “I’ll buy you a motorcycle.”

“I’ll do it!” Nina says.

“Don’t give your sister weird ideas,” his mom says in Russian, but she’s smiling.

Yakov gets a new student in June. Ludmila reminds Viktor of Nina, in the way they’re both loud and wicked smart, quick-tongued and take Viktor way too seriously. He immediately takes to her, starts giving advice and suggestions and she looks up at him with big, sparkling eyes, drinking in every word he says.

“Vitya, you are not her coach,” Yakov says one day, very firm. “I am.”

Viktor, in retaliation, convinces Georgi to choose the Phantom of the Opera overture as his free skate music.

When he can’t sleep, which is often, he watches late night cooking shows, curled on the couch around Makkachin. It’s soothing, the presenter’s voice wafting over him, sometimes breaking at the end of a foreign word; the slices that are always cut perfectly, the fruits that always look fresh and juicy; how quick it all is.

He tries mimicking recipes at three AM on a Monday, too hyped to lie down but feeling sick at the thought of practicing his routines, which are never to his liking, never perfect, never the best he knows he can do. He doesn’t always have the right ingredients, so he improvises: no shrimp for the gaeng som pak ruam, but he does have chicken; no black beans for the feijoada, but there are adzuki beans sitting in the cupboard above the sink. Sometimes this is a mistake.

Viktor always cooks for himself, but he doesn’t like doing the dishes much. Mostly, though, he ends his nights alone, sitting at the kitchen counter drinking wine.

He starts the season slow by only performing triples and doubles and placing second at Skate America in October. From there he goes straight to Moscow, where Yakov has a choreographer friend who will help Viktor with his step sequences.

Yakov also has a big, old house he inherited from— his father, or his grandfather, Viktor can’t really tell with his mumbling. The house has been empty for years, so Viktor spends his entire first week in Moscow sneezing while he cleans dust from his bedroom, the kitchen, the bathroom. The walls are stone-dark and cold. The pipes, which have been going strong since the start of the Soviet Union, rumble at night. The stairs squeak. Viktor misses his plants and his dog.

Viktor wins the Rostelecom Cup in November. In the two weeks before the Grand Prix Final, Georgi and Mila come to the house and the rink in Moscow too.

“I don’t like it here,” Mila says, nose scrunched up. She is fourteen. “It smells.”

“Yes,” Georgi sighs. “Smells of death and decay. Not very romantic.”

Gothic fiction,” says Viktor, who has been reading Edgar Allan Poe and The Turn of the Screw just to spook himself.

Mila is competing in the Junior Grand Prix Final. It’s Georgi’s first time in the Grand Prix Final, senior division. Yakov doesn’t say he’s proud of them, but he does pat their heads and smiles, doesn’t complain when Georgi acts dramatic and Mila laughs at him.

Viktor, who is tired of not winning the Grand Prix Final, tired of seeing no results in the only thing he’s good, tired, skates a lukewarm short program and ends the day in second place.

People sigh.

Maybe Nikiforov will never win the GPF, they say. Maybe it’s just not for him. Oh well.

Good, Viktor thinks, keep thinking that, and grabs Chris by the wrist, drags him to his hotel room.

“Are we getting freaky?” Chris waggles his eyebrows.

Viktor, very serious, places his hands on Chris’s shoulders.

“I need you to do me a favor,” he says.

“Okay,” Chris says, instantly sober. “What is it?”

A few minutes later Viktor is sitting on a chair, bedsheets up to his neck and around his body; he has his eyes closed. The sounds of scissors clicking together from time to time fills the room. Sometimes Chris touches the back of Viktor’s neck or moves his head just so. His head feels a lot lighter.

“There,” Chris says, softly. “Done.”

He untangles Viktor from the bedsheets. Viktor opens his eyes and walks to the mirror in the corner of the room.

His hair is short. His beautiful, pale long locks lie on the floor of a random hotel room in Quebec. His hair is short, and Viktor looks handsome.

Chris comes up behind him and Viktor smiles, Viktor is about to thank him so much when Chris says: “Is that a receding hairline?”

“What,” Viktor says. He walks close to the mirror, until his nose almost touches the surface of the glass.

“Isn’t your dad bald?” Chris asks.

“I, it’s, no!” Viktor says. “I just have a big forehead!”

“Uh-hum,” Chris goes. He sits on the bed and crosses his legs, smiling smugly at Viktor.

“Shut up,” Viktor hisses. “Shut up, my dad was bald by thirty-five. Oh my God, I’m going bald. Shut up.”

“I’m not saying anything,” shrugs Chris.

Yakov almost drops his mug of steaming coffee all over himself when Viktor shows up to breakfast the next morning. Mila claps and snaps hundreds of pictures on her phone. Georgi cries a little bit.

“Your beautiful locks,” he says.

“I know,” Viktor says. He spent all night mourning his hair, too. But: “But I look very dashing, no? It’s refreshing.”

“You look good,” Yakov says.

Viktor beams.

There is a collective gasp of surprise and wonder when he steps on the ice. Viktor smiles at the stands, then he smiles at the judges, and when the music begins he is ready.

He turns all his planned triples into quads, one after the other - quad Salchow, quad toe loop, quad flip, the quad lutz he learned just last week, secretly, from the choreographer in Moscow. He feels more than hears the music building, building, building until it explodes into a frenesi of sound and so does Viktor, body rushing through the ice — his step sequence is perfect. He finishes with a scratch spin.

For a moment, everything is silent, except for the ringing in Viktor’s ears and his own heavy breathing. Then people begin to scream and clap, louder than he’s ever heard them before, Vitya! and Viktor! and Nikiforov!! Some people might be crying. Viktor might be crying.

He bows to the public. On his way off the ice, he picks up a plushie someone threw, a very ugly skate boot with sew-in eyes and a smile. He loves it.

Yakov actually smiles at him.

“Good boy,” he says.

“Yakov!” Viktor squeaks excitedly and hugs him. Yakov is in such a good mood he doesn’t even slap Viktor upside the head.

Viktor’s score is so high it sets a new world record for the free program. His combined score also does that.

He wins.

“Finally!” he says to himself.

During the award ceremony, Viktor doesn’t stop smiling for one second. Chris, who placed third, keeps looking down at his medal in wonder. Viktor offers Chris his arm to help him get on the central podium for the pictures. Instead Chris loops his arm through Viktor’s and they laugh for long minutes, drunk on glory and happiness.

They take a picture together for Instagram. Then Viktor asks Yakov to take a photo of him kissing his gold medal. He posts it with the caption After a lot of hard work, I can finally say I am a champion! Thank you to my family, to my coaching team, and to all the amazing fans who have supported me all this time! Kisses to the Russian Skating Federation!

His family cries on the phone. Makkachin barks very loudly.

They go back to Moscow, where Viktor gives about fifty interviews a day and goes to three hundred photoshoots. It’s a chaotic couple of weeks until they leave for Saransk.

Viktor gets a cold, skates with a high fever and misses a couple of his jumps. He ends up placing third in the nationals, and when the president of the federation hands him his medal, Viktor says “thank you” through gritted teeth and cold sweat.

He goes home back to his apartment and all his plants are dead. He calls his mom in a panic.

“Maman,” he says, thumbing the earth on his lily pot. It’s dry and dusty and dead. “Vous n'avez pas arrosé mes plantes!”

“Mais je l'ai fait,” she says softly. “Mais je crois qu'elles vous ont manqué.”

He hangs up and lies on the cold floor of the living room for the whole afternoon, crying.

The next day he borrow his dad’s car and drives for hours until he finds a nursery that’s open in the dead of winter. It’s almost eight PM and the place is about to close, but Viktor is famous enough and desperate enough that they let him wander around for two hours, choosing seeds. He buys the exact same three that died, adds four types of succulent and a bonsai, new pots and earth too.

He drives by his parents’, picks up Makkachin and brings his dog and his plants home.

Viktor wins Europeans a couple of weeks later. At Worlds he watches a few other skaters perform, and they’re either mediocre or downright awful until Yuuri Katsuki.

Yuuri Katsuki’s music is atrocious. It starts classical and suddenly turns techno, then back to classic, then techno again. It makes Viktor’s ears hurt. The fact that Yuuri Katsuki manages to make it work baffles Viktor during the entire short program.

He grabs Katsuki by the arm a few minutes after he’s done.

“Who chose your music?” he asks.

“My coach,” Katsuki answers, surprised.

“Fire him immediately,” Viktor hisses, and he’s so outraged on Katsuki’s behalf he furiously skates his own short program and breaks a world record. He wins Worlds, too.

In the 2012 off-season, Chris does an ice show. Viktor doesn’t, but he likes all of Chris’s pictures on Instagram and comments on some of them. He always thought ice shows looked fun: to skate freely, no pressure or expectations on your shoulders, to spend weeks on buses and hotel rooms with other skaters, to be on the ice with friends. Chris is his only friend, but he is not Chris’s.

“It’s amazing how you find time to go to university, practice for a new season and do an ice show,” he says to Chris on Skype one evening. He wonders if he could do it, too.

Viktor practices, and practices, and practices. The cold of the ice rink wraps around his ribs and squeezes, hard. Fogs up his head. Most days the sound of the blades cutting the ice is like waves crashing upon pavement, upon cement, like a big tsunami that destroys concrete buildings, that breaks down castles. Yakov rubs his back when he’s dry-heaving from exhaustion in the tiny bathroom stalls. Mila looks at him with big, concerned eyes. He smiles at her and tells her nothing is wrong.

A new season comes. A new season always comes, and Viktor makes it to the Grand Prix Final again. Wins it, again. All the skaters unite to sing Happy Birthday around a cake Georgi baked him on the first day of Russian nationals, like they do every year. He thanks them all. He wins nationals, of course. He wins Europeans, too. At Worlds the music stops during his free program but Viktor continues skating, his heartbeat loud enough in his ears to keep him going. He wins that competition as well.

His mother stays with him for one month after the season is over. When he can’t bring himself to get out of bed, she walks Makkachin and waters his plants. She helps with dishes that have been in the sink for three weeks. They do all his dirty laundry. He lies with his head in her lap while she runs fingers through his hair and hums. His sister comes once with her keyboard and plays him Chopin.

He copes. He gets by. In the summer Yakov asks him to help with lessons for the novice class. They both know Yakov only asks because lessons with three-time world champion Viktor Nikiforov means Yakov can charge more, but Yakov gracefully doesn’t say anything, and Viktor gracefully accepts.

The kids go “ooh” and “aah” when they see Viktor. One of them asks how to master a triple axel.

“Well, you keep your arms in like this.” He demonstrates by crossing his arms over his chest. “And then you go like, bam!”

Nine of them children look at him in confusion. The tenth nods.

“Like this,” he says, and jumps a not-so-sloppy triple axel.

“Yes!” Viktor says happily.

“Easy,” says the kid, so Viktor sticks to him for the whole lesson.

He sticks to the kid for the whole week.

“Go away, old man!” Yuri says on Sunday, the last day Viktor is teaching, while he skates away from Viktor’s goodbye hug.

Viktor gasps, pretends to be offended.

“I’m only twenty-four!” he says. Yuri sticks his tongue out.

A couple of months later Yuri becomes Yakov’s student. Viktor is delighted for three days, then forgets all about other people to focus on his skating.

Just before the season starts, Chris texts him to ask if he’s going to the Winter Olympics.

Of course I’m going, Viktor sends back. An Olympics at home; Yakov and the Russian Skating Federation would eat his liver if Viktor decided not to participate. More than that, Viktor would eat his own liver. Why, are you boycotting?

No, Chris says. But I’m coming out.

Chris comes out in an interview to IFS magazine during Skate America. He links the article on Twitter, and Viktor retweets it, saying after Very proud of my very best friend, @ChristopheGiacometti! You’ve been the bravest man I’ve known since you were 15. Love you!

They see each other at the Grand Prix Final. During the banquet, after Viktor wins for the third time in a row and Chris gets silver, Chris turns his phone so Viktor can see the screen. It’s open to areviktorandchrisathing.tumblr.com

“Oh my god,” Viktor laughs. This is the most enjoyable thing that has happened all night in this boring, boring banquet. “Is that a picture of the time we went clubbing in Turin? Who took that?”

“You have very dedicated fans,” Chris says. “This one here is my favorite.”

He clicks on a post called I don’t think Viktor and Chris are a thing - I think they were a thing. Here’s proof.

They look at each other and grimace.

Viktor wins Russian nationals. It’s kind of a given, by now. In Budapest for the European Championship, Viktor tries to ask a man if he can pet his beautiful corgi, but the man refuses to speak in any language other than German.

“I can’t speak German,” he says, frustrated. Chris, who came sightseeing with him, rolls his eyes.

“Fear not, bitch,” he says.

Chris marches up to the man and they trade quick-fire words.

“Viktor!” Chris yells after a couple of minutes. Viktor runs to him. “He says you can pet his dog.”

“Really? Wow! Amazing! Thank you!”

Viktor wins Europeans, and then it’s time for the Olympics.

There have been topics on Golden Skate forums about Viktor’s sexuality for years. A blurry picture of a long-haired man kissing another man made it to the press a few years ago, but Viktor never confirmed or denied it to be him. Once, the Zamboni boy from the rink near his parents’ house threatened to expose him and all Viktor said was “Ooooh, do it. People will talk about me for ages. The president will be pissed.”

He never thought he needed to come out. He lives in a glass closet. But he wouldn’t be a good best friend if he let Chris fight alone, and he would never pass up on a good opportunity to give the Russian Skating Federation the finger.

So that season he skates to David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging for this short program. He makes sure to mention in every press conference that Jeffrey Buttle helped him choreograph it. In the Olympics, he scores in the hundreds, the first time ever in figure skating history.

His free program is the Pas d’action from No. 13, with choreography inspired by the first pas de deux between the Prince and his Swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Viktor plays the Prince, lonely and sad and unloved until the bare-chested Swan takes him into his strong arms. His costume consists of black pants and a white, long-sleeved silk shirt that hugs his frame perfectly, with painted-on feathers and black wings down the back. There is also a lot of glitter.

He gets a score close to two hundred, sets a new world record with a total score of three hundred and one, and wins the Sochi Olympics.

“What made you choose Swan Lake for your free program?” the reporter asks him in the kiss and cry after his performance.

“It’s a tribute to my country’s ballet and classical music,” Viktor says, smiling cheerfully. “Tchaikovsky is a Russian national treasure. And I have a lot in common with him! We’re both very gay.”

Yakov nearly passes out behind the cameraman. Viktor waves and blows a kiss to the camera.

Chris is giddy with pride for both Viktor and himself on the podium. Yuuri Katsuki, who won bronze, looks shocked and overwhelmed. Viktor pats his head in sympathy and Katsuki flinches away, which only hurts Viktor a little bit.

The next day, Chris and Viktor do their makeup sitting on the floor of a corridor in the arena, holding hand mirrors for each other.

“Do I look gay?” Chris asks. He’s wearing light pink lipstick and blush, heavy mascara and glitter around one eye. His cat eye is long enough to almost reach his hair, and it’s applied perfectly. He painted blue and black lines above his eyebrows, curving all the way to his cheeks.

“The gayest man I have ever seen,” Viktor says, impressed by Chris’s makeup skills. “Do I look gay?”

“Hmm,” Chris goes. He grabs Viktor’s chin and moves his face from side to side until he seems satisfied. “Could be gayer.”

“Hmm,” Viktor taps his index finger against his cheek. He painted himself with dark purple eyeshadow, eyeliner and mascara. Also glitter. But he gets what Chris means: it’s missing something. He thinks and thinks and thinks, looking at himself in the mirror, until he figures it out. He rummages around his makeup case until he finds the bright red lipstick he stole from his mother a couple of years ago. “What about now?” he asks Chris, after he finishes applying it.

“Prime gay material.” Chris nods his approval.

Chris skates to Lady Gaga’s Boys Boys Boys just before Viktor, who does his exhibition skate to Madonna’s Material Girl. His choreography includes a Biellmann spin, the haircutter and an I-spin. It makes the president of the Russian Skating Federation absolutely furious.

“What are you doing,” he hisses to Viktor after the gala. His face is as red as a tomato. “Adding ladies’ elements, this, this is outrageous—”

“You know I’m a French citizen, too?” Viktor says, faking being deep in thought. “I can always skate for France if you don’t like what I do. Good luck winning without me!”

“This is Feltsman’s fault,” the president sputters. His bald head is sweating. “Letting you run around doing whatever you want, you have no discipline, Feltsman is irresponsible and so are you—”

“You better watch yourself before you say anything about Yakov,” Viktor says, very calm. His voice betrays nothing of the way he feels his blood boil. “He’s twice the skater you were and hundreds of times the man you will ever be. I’m the one winning medals for you, I’ve been the one winning medals for you for years, so you better shut your mouth about my coaching team.”

The president is actually shocked into silence. Viktor thinks about spitting on the ground and walking away, but that would be bad for his image and not classy. So he just smiles the most fake cheerful smile he can muster, says, “Have a good night, sir!” and leaves.

A month later he breaks his own record when he scores one hundred and six with his short program at Worlds. Then he breaks another record with a two hundred and sixteen free program. His total score is 322.40, which sets a new world record again.

He’s won the competition, but he watches the couple of skaters still to go. One of them is Yuuri Katsuki, who looks clumsy and wrong on the ice, falling before he even jumps.

“This is a disaster,” Viktor says, after Katsuki trips on nothing during his step sequence.

“Yeah,” Chris says. “I heard the airline lost his skates. He borrowed those from his coach.”

Viktor cringes. He wouldn’t wish lost skates on his worst enemies; not that he has any.

He tries to talk to Katsuki when he’s off the ice, but the boy looks past Viktor with so much frustration and sadness and anger in his eyes Viktor doesn’t dare come close.

Viktor becomes the second skater ever to win the Grand Prix Final, the Olympics and Worlds during the same season.

 

vitinhodior

 

He models for Gucci and a ridiculous Dior Homme commercial in the off-season. He texts Chris a lot of exclamation points when Conchita Wurst wins Eurovision, to which Chris answers with exclamations points back. He tweets about wanting to skate with golden blades, and a week later a John Wilson package arrives at his apartment. He goes through numerous options of music for the next season, and, finding nothing to his liking, decides to have original music composed for him. He hires his sister.

“She is only seventeen,” says his dad.

Viktor waves a hand dismissively.

“By that age I already had an Olympic medal and two European titles,” he says. “She can do it.”

In the summer, Chris does the ice bucket challenge and nominates Viktor. He asks Mila to throw the water on him while Georgi films. They do it on the rink, of course.

“Hi!” Viktor says to the phone camera. “I’ve been nominated by Chris Giacometti for the ice bucket challenge. For every like on this Instagram post, I will donate one dollar to the ALS Association. Okay, let’s go.”

He closes his eyes. Mila empties the bucket on his head. He’s silent for a couple of seconds while Mila and Georgi giggle. Then he screams and skates a full loop around the rink while yelling, “I am Russian!”

Mila has already been nominated by Sara Crispino, Yuri Plisetsky would rather chop off his right leg than expose himself to ridicule (his words), but Georgi has been complaining nobody tags him on social media, so Viktor nominates him. The video reaches ten thousand likes in less than a day.

He ends most of the days with Tatiana, the rink’s physician and unofficial masseur. She’s older than his mother but younger than Yakov, graying hair pulled back in a severe-looking bun. She tells him, every day, “You are overworking yourself.”

Viktor happily ignores her and gets his aching legs massaged.

“Tatiana,” he sighs. “Please marry me.”

She scoffs.

“Why would I want a husband who never listens to me?”

She’s right. Viktor wouldn’t want to marry himself, either.

Viktor wakes up with the sun and goes for a run with Makkachin every day. Then he eats breakfast and heads to the rink, where he stays until his legs literally cannot function anymore or Yakov kicks him out. Yakov insists on giving him a day off every couple of weeks, so Viktor goes to Lilia’s to practice his choreographies off the ice. Watering his plants is the only thing he musters up the energy to do after he gets home from practice. He hasn’t read a book in months. He sleeps very little.

Viktor wins Skate Canada with very little effort. Chris is not there, and he’s not at the NHK Cup either, where a funny thing happens: Viktor wins the short program by scoring in the hundreds again, to no one’s surprise. He scores one hundred eighty-seven on the free program, which is decent, except Yuuri Katsuki outscores him by ten points. He finishes the free program in second.

Viktor is so shocked he pokes Yuuri Katsuki through the entire press conference to make sure he’s real, that Viktor didn’t dream him up. Katsuki flushes and squeaks for the first ten minutes; then he hisses and slaps Viktor’s hand away like an angry kitten, doesn’t laugh once.

Viktor still wins the NHK Cup and advances to the Grand Prix Final. He doesn’t meet Chris until practice on the rink. They have lunch together and Chris updates Viktor about his life: he just began dating a former ice dancer, he’s finally graduating in May, he’s learning how to pole dance, he hired Lambiel as his choreographer, he made a Vine account and a Snapchat account.

“Check this out,” he says, and opens Snapchat on a dog filter.

“Dog!” Viktor laughs, opens his mouth and a huge tongue sticks out. “Amazing!”

Viktor makes a Snapchat too, mostly because the filters are fun and he wants to test the dog filter on Makkachin.

On his free program, Viktor falls on a silly triple loop, which makes him so angry he turns all his other planned jumps into quad loops, improvises on his step sequence and wins anyway.

He’s the first person to win the Grand Prix Final four times in a row. Viktor is losing count of the number of records he breaks every season.

He goes back to St. Petersburg and practices nonstop for the nationals.

“Go home, Vitya,” Yakov frowns, midnight and the two of them alone on the rink.

“In a minute,” Viktor says. He attempts a quad axel and doesn’t land it. His leg muscles shake with exhaustion. Yakov sighs and stays with him until he collapses.

Viktor wins Russian nationals with the highest scores he was ever given. It won’t go into world records because it’s a domestic competition, but:

“It doesn’t matter,” he tells the press. He manages to smile at them by sheer force of will. “I will do better at the European Championships and Worlds.”

Everybody knows it’s not an empty promise.

He sleeps for a whole week after nationals. Makkachin whines at the foot of his bed. His mom, his dad and Yakov come to check on him.

“My plants,” he mumbles to his dad. “Water them.”

“Okay, son.”

His dad sounds sad. Viktor cannot muster the energy to care, and goes back to sleep.

He wakes up hungry and smelly and dry. It takes a Herculean effort to get out of bed and walk to the kitchen. Nina is there. He blinks at her.

“Makkachin?” he asks. He feels suddenly guilty and upset, because he failed his dog. Maybe it would have been better if Makkachin stayed at his parents’, after all.

“Mom’s taking him for a walk,” she says. She hands Viktor a glass of water and watches as he gulps it down. “You should go see a doctor.”

“I’m not injured,” he frowns.

“A head doctor,” Nina says. She’ll be eighteen in February. She’s as tall as Viktor’s shoulder, with sharp and bright blue eyes and the loveliest brown hair in a bob cut. She is beautiful, and Viktor loves her.

“I love you,” he tells her. Last time he said that he was ten years old, kissing her forehead after putting her to bed.

She flushes bright red.

“I love you too, you big loser,” she says, and falls into Viktor’s open arms. He tucks his chin on top of her head.

“I’m a figure skating champion,” he says.

“Yeah,” she mumbles against his chest. “Maybe that’s the problem.”

A month later and Viktor is fine, flying to Stockholm for Europeans. There’s a huge ad with Chris’s face on it at the airport, which Viktor takes a picture with, and an even bigger banner with Chris’s face at the rink. He snaps a photo with that too, and posts both on Instagram with #MyModelBro. A couple of hours later Chris answers with a picture of himself next to a stand selling Viktor’s posters and the caption #MyHandsomeFella.

Viktor wins Europeans. True to his word, he gets higher scores than he did at nationals.

He’s bored out of his skull after the short program at Worlds (he broke the record he set just a couple of months before) when a Canadian pair skater sits next to him on the hotel restaurant and spends all of dinner moving his hand up Viktor’s thigh.

They go to the guy’s room and have quick, underwhelming sex. Viktor leaves after the second round and before asking the man his name. He passes by Yuuri Katsuki and his coach on the corridor. He nods at them, but only Katsuki’s coach nods back.

There’s a fire-eating show the at banquet. Viktor, who has seen these shows about a thousand times, nods off discreetly in a corner. He wakes up when Georgi, drunk off his ass, hops on stage, grabs the microphone and whines about his ex-girlfriend for the entire room to hear.

“And Viktor,” Georgi yells into the mic. Yakov makes frantic motions for him to get off the stage, but Georgi either doesn’t see or doesn’t care. “Gold medalist Viktor Nikiforov, I wish I could be more like you. Elegant and beautiful and— cold. Like ice. You’re like ice, Viktor.”

Viktor raises his glass. Georgi beams.

“Oh, man,” says Chris, leaning against the wall and brushing shoulders with Viktor. They watch Georgi be taken off the stage by security. “I love Worlds. But my favorite is definitely Universiade, though.”

Viktor grins at him, lips stretching like plastic.

“I wouldn’t know.”

Viktor spends one month in Paris after the season is over. He becomes an underwear model for Ralph Lauren and acts in another silly Dior ad. He’s in another movie, too, this time as himself, accidentally bumping into Audrey Tautou at the airport and setting the course of action that helps her find her true heterosexual love. He appears on French television, talk shows mostly, and people are fascinated by his perfect French, his barely-there accent.

“My mother is French,” he says in every interview. “She only talks to me and my sister in French. Yes, I have a sister. She’s younger than me.”

Back in Russia, he models for Burberry’s summer collection and gets paid to advertise Wilson Blades on Twitter.

He practices. Yuri Plisetsky watches his every move with hawk-like eyes and tries to land quads, for which both Yuri and Viktor get yelled at. He hires his sister’s music teacher to compose his songs, and Lilia to help him with choreography.

Louis Vuitton wants to design all three of his costumes, and Apple’s Russian branch wants to make iPhone cases of his free program costume. Viktor says yes to both. In June, he goes back to France for the 2015 Men’s Paris Fashion Week, walks the runway carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, and wears his costumes for a special Louis Vuitton & Apple photoshoot, which is featured in Vogue Hommes International as an announcement of his collaboration with both companies.

A couple of models invite him to a threesome. Afterwards, Viktor is sore and alone in his hotel room, scrolling through Chris’s Instagram and liking all of his pictures of Stars on Ice. His fingers hover over the comment button of one in particular, of Chris smiling with his arm around Yuuri Katsuki, who looks beautiful in a black, sparkling suit. Katsuki is smiling, too. Viktor doesn’t think he’s ever seen Katsuki smile before.

In the end, he comments A pair of handsome men! and places the phone screen-down on the mattress, goes to sleep.

That year, Viktor buys the apartment he’s been living in for years. He lies on the couch and thinks about his future. He’s not stupid; he knows his body will not hold much longer, that there’s a limited time to his skating. Then what — coaching, choreographing? He might not be good at those. He might not want to. So he makes investments: he buys stock, buys a second apartment a few blocks away from his, renovates it, and rents it to a nice family of four.

The season begins. Viktor is turning twenty-seven in December. He wonders if there’s a point in continuing.

 

INTERMISSION

somewhere on the internet, buried under pages and pages of performance videos, probably on ifs magazine’s barely used youtube channel, there’s a candid video of viktor getting off the ice after practice, his face serious and handsome. someone off camera asks, in russian, “viktor, why do you skate?” and viktor blinks, tilts his head and says “what else is there?”. the video is shaky and blurry, the audio from the camera full of ambient noise.

viktor lives more at the rink than his own apartment. sometimes he’s away for so long for competitions and training and interviews and photoshoots that when he gets home makkachin just looks at him with sad eyes from across the living room.

it’s part of the job, he tells himself. he has to make sacrifices if he wants to be the best.

it takes the sweepers almost five minutes to gather all the toys and flowers on the ice after viktor skates. it fucks up the schedule. later, yakov comes to viktor with bags and bags of stuffed animals, flags, flower crowns. he asks, “what do you want to do with these, vitya?” and viktor always answers, “donate them.”

people say he’s kind for that. truth is, he just can’t be bothered.

but he is always nice to his fans, stops for pictures and autographs and quick chats. once, in moscow, a girl told him she came all the from singapore to cheer him on, and he kissed her cheek for the selfie that he later retweeted.

he gets a bundle of fan letters from mikhail with rink administration weekly. he reads and keeps them all in a big box in his closet, but he has no time to answer them. when a letter is particularly touching, he gives the person a shoutout on twitter.

sometimes, in the dead of night, after he fails to sleep, viktor watches youtube videos of other skaters, talks loudly to himself while he does it (maybe he’ll become a commentator after he retires).

cao bin has sloppy step sequences and lands his jumps weirdly because he never keeps his arms in right. his costumes are awful, and his choice of music very doubtful. he forgets all about bin the minute he clicks x on the page.

phichit chulanont has only one quad. a quad salchow, which viktor land in his sleep. draws a lot of energy from the crowd, but that’s about it. he forgets all about chulanont the minute he clicks x on the page.

jean-jacques leroy bites off more than he can chew. he shouldn’t attempt a quad axel when he hasn’t even mastered the triple axel. dancing that doesn’t match the music well. ordinary at best. viktor yawns through his entire 2013 sp. he forgets all about leroy before he even clicks x on the page.

viktor doesn’t even make it to the end of michele crispino’s 2014 fs video. yuri plisetsky is better, and yuri is fourteen. the crispino girl is more talented and beautiful. viktor forgets all about the crispino boy the minute he clicks x on the page.

yuuri katsuki has beautiful step sequences. even when his music sucks, which it often does, he’s able to skate clean, precise lines. his spins are perfect, and his triple axel makes viktor go ‘oh!’ on more than one occasion. he keeps trying and failing to land a quad flip; maybe he likes viktor’s skating. but then again, who doesn’t. a lot of sloppy landings and questionable costumes. katsuki’s programs stay with him for a little while.

lambiel has retired, and so has weir, takahashi, machida. viktor is undefeated and uncontested, sitting alone on his throne with no one plotting to overthrow him, to take his crown. viktor is old. viktor is the only one left, drowning in boredom, underwhelmed and tired.

since 2011, world standings have looked sometime like this, the topmost name unchanged:

 

1 5312 VIKTOR NIKIFOROV
RUS

2 3793 CHRISTOPHE GIACOMETTI
SUI

3 3463 CAO BIN
CHN

4 3157 JAMES PIETRO
USA

5 2916 OTABEK ALTIN
KAZ

6 2902 JEAN-JACQUES LEROY
CAN

7 2811 MILOS BOJER
CZE

8 2794 YUURI KATSUKI
JPN

9 2763 GEORGI POPOVICH
RUS

10 2759 LEO DE LA IGLESIA
USA

before one european championship, viktor gives the isu an interview. the reporter asks him what his hobbies are. it’s an awkward couple of seconds before viktor remembers he likes reading, which he says, but that he hasn’t read a book in ages, which he doesn’t. “my mother is a professor of french literature, you see,” he smiles as he rambles on, tries to dissipate the feeling of something off. he has the girl laughing and blushing by the time the interview is over.

in 2014 somebody asks what the best part of the season had been. viktor blinks and says, “beyoncé dropped a surprise album back in december. that was nice.” it takes him a full minute to realize he should have said winning the olympics.

some bad nights it feels like the world is closing in around him and he can’t breathe. yakov, sometimes, needs to rub his back and talk him through crying fits for hours.

he falls in practice and cracks his elbow, wonders if it’s a good enough excuse to quit or skip the season. it’s not. nothing ever is, even if it takes him longer and longer to choreograph his programs, longer and longer to connect to the music as the years pass.

his feet hurt. his feet have been hurting since he was fourteen.

 

FALL

Chris taps his foot impatiently on the hotel lobby floor. He’s wearing sunglasses inside.

“Why is this line so long?” Chris grunts. There seems to be only one functioning computer for check-in, for which the hotel manager apologizes profusely to everyone who gets in line.

“Homophobia,” Viktor sighs.

Yuuri Katsuki and his coach leave the front of the line, hotel room cards in hand. Chris yells, “Yuuri!” and waves him over. Katsuki approaches slowly, almost like he’s afraid of them. Viktor puts on his most harmless smile.

“Hi, Chris,” Katsuki says. His eyes flick to Viktor quickly. He blushes.

“Heya, Yuuri,” Chris smiles. “Nice to see you made it to the Final!”

“Congratulations!” Viktor says.

“Yes, thank you.” Katsuki nods stiffly.

“It’s your first time, right?” Viktor asks.

“Ugh,” is all Katsuki says.

“Yuuri here has been to the Grand Prix Final tons of times,” Chris says.

Katsuki smiles softly at him.

“Only for the Junior Final,” he says. “It doesn’t count.”

“Of course it does,” Chris says. He frowns severely. “You’re a champion, Yuuri Katsuki.”

“Thanks, Chris,” Katsuki says. He looks doubtful, but happy. “I have to go now. See you,” and, to Viktor: “Ugh, bye.”

They watch as Katsuki goes back to his coach. Viktor has noticed this before, somewhat vaguely, and he’s seen comments on Twitter and Instagram: it’s definitely true. Yuuri Katsuki has a firm, round butt.

Chris sighs.

“I love to see him go.”

“You’re in a relationship,” Viktor says, startled into laughter.

“In a relationship, yes,” Chris says with dignity. “Blind, no.”

At practice the next day some guy tries to challenge Viktor to a quad battle. It takes him a very confused five minutes to remember it’s Leroy from Canada.

“There are only six of us,” Chris says. “Who did you think it was?”

“I thought they let some rando into the rink,” he says.

Chris laughs so hard he has to lean against the barrier to wheeze. Viktor, of course, wins the quad battle.

Leroy insists on making everything a competition. He rushes out of the elevator to the hotel restaurant the next morning and grins triumphantly when he gets there before Viktor. He ties his skates very fast. Viktor draws third for the short program; Leroy, who drew fourth, says “Damnit!” so loud it startles everybody in the room.

Viktor goes back to his seat next to Chris. Katsuki, sitting alone in the last row of chairs, goes up to the front and draws number one. Viktor claps enthusiastically. Katsuki bows, looks everywhere in the room except at Viktor.

“I don’t think he likes me very much,” Viktor says. He knows, objectively, that a lot of people don’t like him. But it makes him sad that such a sweet-looking guy like Katsuki seems to hate him. He wishes they could be friends.

“Hmmm,” is all Chris says.

Yuri Plisetsky skates his short program a little after lunch. Viktor goes with Yakov to cheer him on.

“Davai, Yuri!” he says.

Yuri scoffs and goes on to score close to ninety.

Viktor skates his own short program later in the afternoon. He breaks his own record, which is also the world record, by scoring one hundred fifteen points.

Leroy is very smug in the small medal ceremony with his eighty-eight. Viktor looks at this Canadian with the sleeves of his jacket cut off to show his straight boy tattoos and does not get it. Yuuri Katsuki, who placed second with a ninety-three, looks very handsome with his hair gelled back and glasses.

“Hey,” Viktor says as they take their seats for the press conference. “That was some very good skating. I love your triple axel!”

“Oh,” Katsuki says. He blinks owlishly at Viktor. “Thank you.”

“Give me a good fight on Sunday.”

Katsuki nods very seriously.

“I will.”

Georgi gathers Viktor and Yuri to cheer for Mila the next day. He came all the way to Sochi to support them. He made them all banners. Lilia is there in the stands, too.

“She is my student,” is all she says. Mila finishes the short program in second due to an aborted triple axel, just three points behind first place.

On Sunday, Yuri wins. Mila wins. Viktor practices his routine in a hallway, closes his eyes and pictures himself landing all his jumps, dancing a flawless step sequence. Pictures himself standing on the podium with Chris and Yuuri Katsuki.

He skates Stammi Vicino with perfection. Scores two hundred and twenty, for a total score of three hundred thirty-five; two more of his own world records he breaks.

Chris places second. Leroy places third, as Yuuri Katsuki crashed and burned his way through his free program, which disappoints Viktor more than he can say.

He’s watching Yuri get yelled at in the arena’s entrance hall when he notices Yuuri Katsuki staring at him.

“A commemorative photo?” he smiles.

Katsuki just turns around and walks away. Viktor doesn’t know why he keeps trying.

The exhibition skate goes without a hitch. Then it’s another boring banquet, where the president of the ISU makes a thirty-minute speech, an awful Russian ballet is presented, and terrible music plays. Except:

“Why isn’t anybody dancing?” somebody yells in the middle of the room. It’s Yuuri Katsuki.

Viktor, whose plan was to wait out ten more minutes and politely excuse himself at midnight, watches in shock as Katsuki starts to breakdance on the floor. The DJ, in solidarity, changes the music from Vivaldi to Nicki Minaj.

“Chris,” Viktor hisses, tugging at Chris’s sleeve. “What is he doing?”

“He’s having fun,” Chris says, a manic grin on his lips.

“You!” Katsuki says, pointing at Yuri Plisetsky. “Stop your bitching and come dance, you punk!”

“Is that a challenge!” Yuri yells in Russian.

He promptly hands Yakov his glass of juice and begins to dance with Katsuki. Except he can’t keep up at all.

Viktor laughs in delight.

“This is golden,” Mila says, phone in hand.

Viktor almost doesn’t hear her, too busy staring at the way Katsuki moves his hips. It’s entrancing, almost magical. Viktor takes out his phone, too, snaps a couple of pictures. But it’s not enough.

“Vitya!” Yakov yells when he notices Viktor’s beeline for Katsuki. “What are you doing?!”

“I’m going to dance!” he yells back, giddy with excitement.

He gets a few steps away from Katsuki and starts to mimic his movements. Right foot, arms up, spin. Hips low, shake ass. Katsuki has lost his shoes somewhere. Viktor laughs. Katsuki turns around and he’s glowing, his face sweaty, red and blotched; he’s the most beautiful man Viktor has ever seen.

Katsuki grins, wicked, takes Viktor’s hand and spins him, dips him. They waltz to Rihanna, tango to Pitbull.

Chris and some junior skaters join them on the impromptu dance floor. Everybody wants to dance with Katsuki, which makes Viktor upset because Katsuki leaves him to do so. By the time he returns, his tie is around his head and he has no pants on.

He hugs Viktor.

“Chris says we can pole dance,” he slurs. He mumbles a bunch of things in Japanese that Viktor doesn’t understand. Then Katsuki pulls away to look at Viktor with bright and adoring eyes, throws himself into Viktor as he says, “Be my coach, Viktor!”

He says it like bikutoru. Viktor never wants to be called anything else.

Viktor’s stomach somersaults the entire time Katsuki is on the pole with Chris. He refuses to get aroused in front of his coach and rinkmates, but Katsuki’s firm and toned body make his hands itch to touch, the way Katsuki twists and turns on the pole get Viktor hot all over. Katsuki’s thighs look strong as hell. Viktor wants to be crushed between them.

Still, they’re in public, and if Viktor knows anything about Katsuki, he knows he will be embarrassed in the morning. So he gathers Katsuki’s clothes from around the room and helps him into his pants and shirt after he gets down from the pole. The ties he purposely leaves behind a trashcan.

“Come on, stay still,” he says gently. Katsuki keeps swaying from side to side, which makes it difficult for Viktor to button his shirt. “Katsuki.”

“Yuuri,” he says. “Call me Yuuri.”

Viktor’s heart is very warm.

“Yuuri,” he says. “How much did you have to drink?”

“A lot,” Yuuri says, and launches himself at Viktor.

They fall on a chair with a whoosh, Yuuri laughing on Viktor’s lap.

 

VITINHOESEUMENINO

 

“Your suit is very nice,” Yuuri says, nose and hands buried in Viktor’s chest.

Viktor clears his throat.

“Thank you,” he says. “It’s Armani.”

“Rich Russian man,” Yuuri mumbles.

Viktor hasn’t had to buy clothes in ages, because people just give them to him. Packages from high fashion brands keep showing up at his door.

“Yes, it’s ridiculous,” he sighs.

The chair they are on is very near a table which Chris, Yuri, Mila and her friend Sara soon gather around.

“Yuuri!” Sara says. “You never said you could dance like that!”

“Well.” Yuuri hooks his arms around Viktor’s shoulders, grins smugly. Viktor wants to touch him very badly so he does, a hand on Yuuri’s waist where his shirt is riding up. The skin there is fever-hot. “You never asked.”

“Why is there a pole in the middle of the room?” Yuri asks, disgusted. “What kind of events are being held at this hotel?”

“Pole dancers are highly trained and respected individuals, you snotty brat,” Yuuri says.

“Where did you learn it?” asks Mila, while Yuri sputters in indignation.

“Detroit,” Yuuri says. He noses Viktor’s neck, which tickles and excites Viktor in equal measures. “You smell nice. I always wondered what you smelled like.”

“Gross,” Yuri says.

Viktor chokes up a cough.

“Always?”

“Hmm, yes,” says Yuuri. He smiles. “Dreamed about you since I was,” he hovers his hand in the air somewhere around the tabletop. “this high.”

Viktor wonders if the way his heart speeds up means love.

“Oh, are you a Viktor fan?” Chris asks.

“Yes,” Yuuri answers, firm and strong.

“Name three of his programs, then.” Chris grins mischievously. He probably just told a joke that Viktor missed, too busy staring at Yuuri’s ankles, the soft-looking skin and hair peaking out from under his pant legs.

“How do you want them? Alphabetical order? Chronological? Highest to lowest score? Most viewed on 1tvDance’s YouTube channel? Or—”

“Woah there,” says Chris. He looks like he regrets his question. Everyone else around the table looks like they regret Chris’s question, too. “Just your top three.”

“Okay,” Yuuri says. He starts to count on his fingers, except he’s too drunk and holds up two instead of one. Sara gently curls his middle finger inwards. “Two thousand and eleven Beyoncé medley short program, two thousand and thirteen Dance of the Knights free program, and two thousand and five Danse Macabre free program—” He looks at Viktor with big, bright eyes. “That was when I saw you for the first time.”

They stare at each other for a long time. Viktor hasn’t felt this shocked since Chris first said I love you and he answered with Amen. He feels warm. He feels gentle. He feels happy and excited, which he hasn’t felt in he doesn’t know how long.

“We should probably leave,” Mila says.

“Yeah,” Sara agrees.

“Bye, losers,” says Yuri.

Viktor doesn’t pay attention as they leave, because Yuuri starts to talk in really fast Japanese. Viktor has been to enough competitions in Japan that he can ask for food, for directions, say thank you for your support and I will continue to work hard. He had a Sailor Moon phase once, too.

He has no idea what Yuuri is saying, but he nods and says hai when Yuuri pauses like he’s waiting for an answer. Yuuri narrows his eyes, so Viktor switches to iie?, which gets him a nod and a smile.

So he talks in Russian, too. Says You’re beautiful and I haven’t had this much fun in a long time and I think I’ll be your coach, yes. Do you really want me to? to which Yuuri smiles confusedly and continues his babble.

“Do you like Beyoncé?” Viktor asks in French. He’s been running his hand slowly through the hair at the back of Yuuri’s head for five minutes. “This is an important question if we want to go forward with this relationship.”

Yuuri responds by kissing his neck. It’s quick and small, but Yuuri’s warm, wet breath ghosts over Viktor’s skin for long minutes. Viktor shivers and digs his nails into Yuuri’s scalp.

Much too soon someone shakes Viktor by the shoulder. He turns around and blinks at the old lady wearing an uniform.

“We’re closing the hall, son,” she says gently. “Please go back to your room.”

“Yes,” Viktor says. His voice is hoarse. He clears his throat. “Yes, sorry.”

It’s four AM when he checks his watch. He had no idea it was this late; he was very busy watching Yuuri blink heavily and eventually fall asleep with his head on Viktor’s shoulder, very busy stroking Yuuri’s hand with his thumb, very busy trying to match the rhythms of their breathing.

“Yuuri,” he says. “We have to go.”

Yuuri mumbles against his shoulder. It leaves a wet patch on his suit. Viktor doesn’t care.

With a heavy heart — Yuuri looks tired — Viktor manages to maneuver them both out of the chair and into the elevator.

“What’s your room number, sweetheart?” he asks softly.

“Card.” Yuuri hugs Viktor around the waist, head on Viktor’s chest. “Back pocket.”

Viktor reaches into Yuuri’s pocket for the keycard, sees the number on it and presses 11 on the panel. He kisses the top of Yuuri’s head and rests his cheek against it, hugs him back. Yuuri smells of sweat and champagne. It’s lovely.

In the hotel room, Yuuri flops ungraciously on the bed. Viktor takes off his glasses, his shoes, his socks, his pants and his shirt. He searches the mini bar for a bottle of water and makes Yuuri drink half of it. Yuuri sighs and clumsily burrows under the covers. Viktor pushes Yuuri’s hair back and gives his forehead a kiss.

“Good night, sweetheart.”

He turns to leave but Yuuri takes his hand. Eyes half-closed, he mumbles something in Japanese. Viktor knows what it means.

Stay.

Heart racing, Viktor kisses each of Yuuri’s knuckles. By the time he’s done, Yuuri is fast asleep.

There’s a pen and paper on the nightstand. Viktor writes down his number with three exclamation marks at the end and <3

He goes back to his own room, steps muffled on the carpeted floor, his heart lighter than it has been in years.

Yuuri never calls.