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“Allô? Vitya?”

“Oh, Chris, thank god.”

“English today.” Chris laughs low in his throat as he switches over. “Okay, then.”

“English every day,” Victor says. “Until my Japanese gets better.”

“It’s fine, I’m just used to…” Victor lets Chris’s voice fade into the background as he peers up at the nearest street sign. Where the fuck is he? And of course he’s got his phone to his ear, so he can’t map it out. Chris says something about French and you and me, and Victor sways on his feet.

Then he spots something. A familiar awning, on what he thinks is a storefront. He passed it on the way here, seven thousand hours ago. “That way!” he says, and starts walking.

“What way?” Chris asks. He was in the middle of a different sentence a second ago, Victor thinks. He doesn’t know what it was, though. Oops.

Well, whatever. Chris asked a question. Victor should answer it.

“Home,” Victor explains. “Well, his home. But I’m going there.” Then he realizes how that must sound, and adds, “’S fine! ’S where my room is, too.”

“Your room…?” Chris seems unsure how to process this information. Victor isn’t sure why. He’s being perfectly clear. He keeps walking—a left at the awning, because he definitely remembers it being a left before—and Chris keeps talking. “Wait, you’re staying with Yuuri Katsuki?”

“And his whole family!” Victor says. “They call me Vicchan. His parents like me. Which is great. And I… wait, oh, I meant to ask, how are you?”

“How am I?” Chris says. “You mean other than how I’ve been texting you for weeks after you fucked off to Japan with no warning, and I’d pretty much given up hope that you’d ever text me back?”

Victor slows his pace. There’s an accusation in there. But he doesn’t really feel like dealing with it. He needs to get back to Yu-topia Katsuki. He needs some water. He thinks he sees pink on the horizon.

“Yeah,” he says. “Other than that.”

“Oh my god,” Chris mutters. “Okay, Vitya. Let’s do this. How am I? I am just fine. I’m training, like usual, and I’m working on my programs for next season, like usual. And I am flying to Japan and forgetting to tell anyone about it. Like usual. Oh, wait, maybe not that last one…”

This time, the accusation is clearer. Victor says, “I didn’t forget.”

Chris says, “So you’ve been avoiding me on purpose, then.”

No, no, that’s wrong. Victor makes another left. Nothing looks familiar, but maybe it’s the light. Everything looks weird and different when the sun’s just starting to come up. Also, Chris is absolutely wrong.

“It’s not avoiding,” Victor says. “I’m not… I’m…”

“You’re what?” Chris asks. He sounds tired.

“It’s not you,” Victor says. “It’s everyone. It’s… people.” His head is swimming, and it occurs to him that Chris is probably mad. He doesn’t sound it—he rarely sounds it—but that’s twice he’s brought up the flying-to-Japan thing. So Victor adds, “I’m sorry I didn’t text you back.”

“It’s all right,” Chris says; Victor can’t tell if he means it. “I just wish you… whatever, never mind. How are you?”

“Drunk,” Victor replies.

“Ooh, gosh, I never would have guessed.”

For a second Victor is pleased with himself for managing to hide his drunkenness effectively. Then it occurs to him that Chris is being sarcastic.

“Well, you’d be drunk too, if you heard—I mean, katsudon? Really?”

“Cats… what?” Chris asks.

“It’s food,” Victor says, and immediately realizes that explaining it—reliving what Yuuri had said over dinner that night—would just make him want to go back to that ramen place and start all over again. So what if they’re closed? The owner thinks he’s hot. That’s how he managed to stay four hours after closing in the first place. But anyway, the point is that there’s no point in explaining, so instead he just asks, “Do you think food can be sexy?”

“How drunk are you?” asks Chris. “And—fuck—what time is it there?”

“The sun’s coming up,” Victor says. “The sky’s all pink and pretty. What time is it there?”

“Almost eleven,” Chris says. “Which means I should be asleep already. My rink time tomorrow is inhumanly early. You didn’t… did you stay up all night?”

“You know me so well,” Victor says, and, ha, there’s a familiar building. Or is it? Maybe it isn’t.

“Go to bed,” Chris says.

You go to bed,” Victor shoots back.

“I am in bed,” says Chris. “I was just about to jerk off and go to sleep, but then someone decided it would be a great time to give me a call.”

Chris. In bed. Probably naked already, because he rarely bothers sleeping in clothes. The sudden clarity of the image hits Victor squarely in the chest, and he nearly trips over his own feet with the impact of it. He’s been so focused on Yuuri for the last few… millennia? that’s what it feels like… that this is… Chris is… he’s…

Victor slows to a stop, clutching at his chest with his free hand. Chris is familiar, that’s what it is. Yuuri’s a puzzle, a mystery, a locked chest that Victor can’t find the key for, but Chris is warm and open and can say things like jerk off without blushing and running away. He is a hundred nights in a hundred hotel rooms in countries where neither of them speak the language. He is cash slid across hotel bars in exchange for the entire bottle of whatever they’ve been drinking that night. He is nude beaches and glittery makeup and muscle tees and high heels and leather jackets and dick pics and say please, Vitya and overcrowded clubs and smoky bars and Victor’s been sort of wondering, this whole time, why his fingers found Chris’s number, of all things, on his way back to Yu-topia, but really, isn’t it obvious?

Victor feels suddenly, painfully sober. “I wish you were here,” he says, meaning it more than he’s maybe ever meant anything. “You wouldn’t have to jerk off. You could just fuck me instead.”

“Oh, I could, huh?” Chris says. He sounds sort of amused. But also sort of weary.

“Yeah,” Victor continues. “Then you wouldn’t have to use your hand, like… like some sad, pathetic person who’s still sleeping alone even after flying halfway around the world to—”

“Oh my god,” Chris mutters. “Is that why you called me? Yuuri Katsuki doesn’t want to sleep with you?”

Nobody wants to sleep with me.” Victor’s eyes itch. His head is starting to throb. He is a disaster of a person; no wonder he is alone.

“Vitya, fifty percent of the human race wants to sleep with you,” Chris says.

“Including you?” Victor asks mournfully.

Chris sighs. “Yes, you idiot. Including me.”

“I miss you,” Victor says. Maybe he isn’t as suddenly-sober as he thought. If he were sober, his voice wouldn’t be this shaky.

Chris laughs, not unkindly. “Sure you do.”

“I do, I miss you, I really do,” Victor says.

“Are you crying?” Chris asks, gentler now.

“No.” Victor touches the skin under both his eyes, just to make sure he’s telling the truth.

There’s a long pause.

“I miss you, too,” says Chris.

“Can I listen?” Victor asks, before he can stop himself.

“What?”

“You said…” Victor casts a quick look around; a few cars have passed him on his walk, and he’s seen a few morning runners in the distance, but there is nobody paying attention to him. He is alone. “You said you were about to jerk off.”

“So you don’t really miss me,” Chris says with a laugh. “You just miss my dick.”

Victor sniffs. “Can’t it be both?”

“Well, come to think of it, I’d actually be kind of offended if it were either one without the other,” says Chris. “All right. How close are you to wherever you’re staying?”

Excellent question, actually. Victor looks around again; maybe, if he concentrates, he can get a better sense of where he is. Maybe he’ll even be able to see the gates of Yu-topia in the distance.

The cries of seagulls reach his ears. Then, underscoring it so softly that he didn’t notice until he stopped walking, the quiet shush-shush of water on sand. He is close to the beach.

How the fuck did he end up near the beach?

He keeps walking.

“Um,” he replies, as he catches his first glimpse of sand. “I think… uh, not very close at all.”

Chris pauses.

Victor bites his lip.

“Are you lost?” Chris asks.

“I found a beach,” Victor replies—and he stops walking, and he looks around. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Chris, you should see this. The water’s dark, but there’s pink in the sky, and nobody’s here, and it’s so…”

So quiet. It’s so, so quiet.

He steps onto the sand. Yuuri told him that he does his morning run on the beach—is this the beach he means? But no. He’s not going to think about Yuuri. Not now. Not when—wait, did Chris say something?

“Sorry, what?” Victor says.

“I said, do you want to call me back when you figure out how to get home?”

Victor doesn’t even have to think about his answer. “No.” He sits down. “No, I think I’m gonna stay here for a little while.” There’ll be sand in his shoes, and all over his pants. He doesn’t really care. “It reminds me of… remember that beach in… what was it. Bordeaux? It’s like that.”

It’s not, really. The quality of the air is completely different, and there aren’t any people around like there were in France, but there’s a common thread somewhere, beyond just the beach-ness of it. He doesn’t know what it is, but it’s definitely there.

“I do remember,” Chris says. “You and your sun-hat.”

“I have delicate skin,” Victor says, smiling as he remembers. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and nothing else. That’s what he wore that day. It was that sort of beach.

“Delicate skin, my ass.” Chris laughs, the sound landing warm in Victor’s ear. “You mean you had a modeling job lined up, and you were afraid they’d cancel your contract if you got a tan.”

“In Russia, we do not tan,” Victor says, in his best Yakov-recounting-Soviet-memories voice.

“Mmm,” Chris says. “I remember you telling me that. I also remember everyone staring at you. You were a vision under that stupid hat, Vitya. All that long, beautiful hair. Your gorgeous body, and your gorgeous cock. Everyone on that beach was trying not to stare. You remember?”

Heat pools low in Victor’s belly. He remembers very, very vividly. Not being able to tell if anyone recognized him. Deciding, eventually, not to care either way. Angling his body just so, in case anyone decided to sneak a photo.

“I remember,” Victor says. The words come out breathy. He can feel himself getting hard.

“Well, let me tell you what else I remember,” Chris continues, in a low and rumbling sort of voice. “I remember thinking that every single person on that goddamn beach wanted to take you home and fuck you. Every single one of them. And I remember thinking that none of them would get to. Not a single one. And you know why?”

Victor’s breath is coming faster now. He bites his lip and waits for the answer.

“Because,” Chris says, “that night, you were coming home with me. Nobody else would get to touch that beautiful cock of yours. Nobody else would get to hear you beg for it. Nobody else would get to see you like I did. Only me.”

“Only you,” Victor whispers. And he remembers, then, the way Chris looked at him that day. It was five years ago, maybe six, but the way Chris looked is as clear as ever. The want radiating from every line of him. The dark hunger in his eyes when he leaned close and pulled his sunglasses down.

“Good,” Chris says. “Now touch yourself for me.”

Victor blinks. Looks around. The pink in the sky is brighter now; he can see definition in the waves lapping against the sand, just a short distance away. There is nobody else here, but it’s so wide-open and…

“Someone could see,” he whispers.

“And wouldn’t you just love that?” Chris purrs.

Drunk Victor is aware, somewhere at the edge of his mind, that Sober Victor would probably say no. No, he would not love to be seen—not here, anyway. Not in a town like this, where it might get back to Yuuri and his family. But Drunk Victor doesn’t care. He’s back on that French beach with Chris, years and years ago, feeling eyes and wind and sunlight all over his skin.

“Yeah,” he says, and cups himself through his pants. They’re practice pants, thin and loose, providing only the smallest of barriers between his hand and his dick. He is already halfway to hard. “Okay, yeah. And you… you have to touch yourself, too.”

“Way ahead of you,” Chris says, and then lets out a long, lewd groan, as if to prove it.

Victor squeezes himself, and his spine curves at the flood of sensation. He draws his knees up, framing his torso, hiding his hands. The position—don’t mind me, I’m just sitting here watching the sunrise and definitely not masturbating—wouldn’t stand up to any kind of close scrutiny, he knows, but at least it’ll give him something approaching plausible deniability. And a few seconds to hide what he’s doing, if he hears anyone coming. For now, though, it’s just him and a few seagulls.

He snakes his free hand under the waistband of his pants. Skin on skin. He can’t help it; he lets out a groan of his own.

“You hard, Vitya?” Chris asks breathily.

“Getting there,” Victor says. “You remember… remember, um…” He takes a deep breath to steady his voice. He has to be able to speak properly if he’s going to do this for real. “That day at the beach. That guy. Tree tattoo on his arm, kept staring…”

“Everyone was staring,” Chris murmurs in Victor’s ear. “Everyone wanted you.”

“No.” Victor closes his eyes and breathes deeply. “The one with the sunscreen. The one who wanted you.”

-

He was older than Victor by at least a decade. Maybe more. He had close-cropped hair, light brown skin that glowed golden in the sunlight, and legs that went on for days. An athlete, Victor assumed—or a bodybuilder, if the size of his shoulders was anything to go by.

He hadn’t taken his eyes off Chris in probably fifteen minutes, except to glance over at Victor now and again. Probably wondering if they were together. Which was understandable. If Victor had been anyone but himself, he’d probably have been wondering the same thing. Who were these two slim, muscular, inhumanly attractive young men, pretending not to be posing as they lay on their towels in the sun? Pretending they didn’t notice everyone looking at them?

To be fair, they weren’t just letting themselves be looked at. They were doing plenty of looking, too. At the pale-skinned gentleman with the bushy eyebrows and the extremely bitable ass. At the young woman whose pert little breasts made Victor reconsider what he’d told Chris just last week, about only really being interested in men. At the couple who were trying to be discreet about putting their hands all over each other. They were succeeding, for the most part—or, rather, they weren’t failing quite as much as Chris was.

“Stop that,” Victor said, as Chris flicked idly at one of his nipples. “How many times can you pretend to put sunscreen on me?”

“As many times as I want,” Chris murmured in reply. “Skin cancer is no joke, Vitya. Everyone knows that.” He removed his hands from Victor’s chest, and ran them down his own instead. He rubbed little circles on his skin, as if applying sunscreen—except, if there were really sunscreen involved, Chris probably wouldn’t skip over most of his chest in favor of giving a few quick strokes to his cock.

The sight made Victor stir. But he ignored it and repeated, “Stop that.” Because… because of public indecency. Or something. He didn’t want to get caught. Not on the one day of this entire summer that he’d decided it was okay to actually relax.

Chris put his hands up in mock-surrender. “If you say so. But I’ll be your fault if I get a sunburn on my dick.”

Victor laughed at that, adjusting his sunglasses. “I promise I’ll nurse it back to health if you do.”

Just then, a shadow fell over them. Victor looked up, and there he was: the man with the tree tattoo and the golden-brown skin. He was wearing sunglasses. He was smiling.

“Can we help you?” Chris said, leaning back on his hands. Victor, who was stretched out on his towel with his hands pillowing his neck, crossed his legs at the ankle. All the better to show off the long, lithe lines of his body.

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” said the stranger. His French was accented, but Victor couldn’t place it. Not that it mattered. “I was wondering if you needed help with your sunscreen. Skin cancer is serious business.”

Victor laughed again; Chris had just said much the same thing.

Chris turned his best pouty smile up at the newcomer. “That’s what I always say. Here, you can do my back. I can’t reach, and my friend is too lazy to help.”

“Lie on your stomach,” the stranger said, kneeling in the sand. “I’ll take care of you.”

Victor found their tube of sunscreen and tossed it over to Chris’s new friend, who caught it easily. “I’m Victor. The man you’ve been staring at all morning is Christophe.” He sat up and cocked his head just so—just in the way that always made his hair cascade down over his shoulder. “And you are?”

“Tomás,” he replied. “And I’m sorry for staring. Although… can you blame me?”

Victor smiled, pulling his hat back onto his head as he sat up. “Be careful with his left knee,” he tells Tomás. “He injured it last year.”

And so Victor watched as Tomás squirted sunscreen into his palms, then rubbed his fingers into Chris’s shoulders, his back, his ass, his thighs, his calves. He didn’t do anything untoward; he didn’t even say anything when Chris began making mmm noises and adjusting his hips against the towel. He just… applied sunscreen. More thoroughly and more efficiently than Victor had ever seen anyone apply sunscreen to another person before.

“Me next?” Victor said coyly, when Tomás was finished.

Tomás’s gaze flicked down to Victor’s cock, which was half-hard with watching those strong fingers work their way over Chris’s skin—and then up to his face.

“Of course,” Tomás said. And grinned. “And maybe you and your friend Christophe would be willing to return the favor.”

Chris raised his head from his towel, just enough to give Victor a meaningful look. Victor grinned back at Tomás, and turned over, onto his stomach.

-

“We should have brought him back to the hotel with us,” Victor says now. He is nearly breathless with stroking himself, with recounting that day at the beach, with describing how beautiful Chris looked as he let himself be touched and stroked and caressed. With hearing Chris punctuate the story: yes, yes, I remember, yes. “He wanted to. He was waiting for us to invite him.”

“Mm,” says Chris. “Tell me—ahh, god, that’s good—tell me… what would’ve happened? If he’d come back with us?”

The sun has crested the horizon by now. The sky is growing lighter and lighter, and Victor can hear, somewhere behind him, the steady increase of traffic on the roads. The day is beginning, and here he is on a lonely stretch of beach, his dick in his hand, Chris Giacometti’s voice in his ear.

Somewhere nearby, Yuuri is still sleeping. So is little Yuri Plisetsky. Their alarms won’t go off for another few hours, at least, and Victor has to be at the rink at—

No. He’ll think about that later.

He closes his eyes.

“If he’d come back with us?” Victor says, and squeezes the base of his cock. “We would’ve let him have what he wanted, right? You.”

“Me,” Chris says. The strain in his voice is audible. “How?”

“His mouth, first,” Victor says. “He’d strip you down and ask how you liked it, and instead of answering, I’d just show him. I’d get on my knees and tell him to watch, and I’d use my tongue on you. I’d try to start slow, but I can’t. I can’t, because I can’t help myself, you just taste so good—”

“Yeah,” Chris interrupts. “Yeah, just like… just like that, yeah…”

“—and then, once you couldn’t get any harder, I’d take you all the way in—”

“Oh god, Vitya…”

“—so you could feel yourself inside my throat, and I’d be so tight and so hot and you’d be begging for me to suck you—”

“Vitya, fuck, fuck…”

“—and Tomás would be standing there, asking me for a turn, but I’m feeling greedy. I want you all for myself. I’m not gonna let him be the one who makes you come. So instead of fighting me for your cock, he goes around and—”

“Fuck, I’m gonna… I’m…”

“—and he gets on his knees behind you and he starts massaging your ass. He opens you up, and he starts tasting, and you taste like salt, like sun, and you feel his tongue inside you, and your cock inside me, and—”

And Chris shouts, then: a string of profanity in at least three languages, all layered on top of each other. Victor can picture it easily: the exact way that Chris’s cock jerks when he comes. The thin ropes of pearly white, probably landing on his belly. His own balls tighten at the mental image, and he listens to Chris as he shouts and shouts and then starts, slowly, to grow quiet.

“Yeah, that’s definitely what happens next,” Victor finishes with a smile. God, god, he misses having this kind of closeness with another person. He misses it so much.

Chris lets out a loose, high-pitched laugh. “Fuck,” he says. “Fuck, it sure as fuck is.”

A seagull lands a few feet in front of Victor. Its beady eyes are fixed on him. Guilt surges over him, ridiculous in its sudden intensity, and Victor takes his hand out of his pants. The gull keeps staring.

Victor stares right back, and feels like an idiot.

On the other end of the line, on the other side of the world, Chris’s breathing starts to slow. He says, “Now you, Vitya. Unless—did you already—?”

“No,” Victor says. And then, “Get out of here, you asshole.”

“What?”

“Not you, there’s…” The gull spreads its wings and takes off, finally. “There was a bird. Never mind.”

Chris laughs. “How’re you feeling?”

Victor slips his hand under his waistband again, and sucks in a breath as his fingers brush against the shaft of his cock. “Good. Sobering up, I think.” He lets his head fall forward, lets his eyes close. “You think Tomás would’ve wanted some of me that day, too?”

This time, when Chris laughs, it’s dark and low. “I told you. Fifty percent of the human race. You think he would’ve said no if you offered him a fuck?”

Victor’s thumb pulls at his foreskin. His index finger seeks out the sensitive place just under the head of his cock, and he sighs into the feeling of it. “Is that how it would’ve happened?” Victor asks. “He eats you out, then fucks me?”

“Unless you wanted me to fuck you instead,” Chris says. “Or…”

“Or?” Victor echoes, squeezing the head of his cock with his fingers.

“Or,” Chris says, “why not both of us?”

His whole body clenches at the thought of it. Two men, Chris and a stranger, one right after the other. “Yes,” he says, and slides his foreskin up and down his crown. Up and down, up and down, creating little whorls of sensation. “Yes.”

“Why not both of us at the same time?” Chris adds. “You think we could’ve done it? Two cocks inside that greedy little ass of yours?”

“Oh, god,” Victor breathes. They’ve talked about this before. Well, they’ve talked about a lot of things—things they’d do if they didn’t have to worry about being ready for the next practice, the next competition—but this. This has always been one of Victor’s favorite ideas.

“You’re into that, huh?” Chris says, smug as all hell. “Yeah, I thought so. I’d go in first, because I know how you like it. All sweet and slow at first, but then, god, once you start really getting into it, and you start begging for more…”

Victor frees his hand again, and then—and then, fuck it. He pulls the front of his pants down, so the waistband is hooked under his balls. His cock is exposed—to the morning air, to anyone who happens to get close enough without Victor noticing, to whatever fucking seagull decides to come and stare at him again. He’s exposed, he’s exposed, and anyone might see, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t.

He spits into his hand and wraps it firmly around himself. He starts stroking. Chris is still talking.

“…That’s when I invite him to join me. We’ll take it nice and easy. Stretch you out. He can use his fingers, or maybe his tongue, and you’re sitting in my lap with my cock buried inside you, and you just keep saying, ‘More, more, more…’”

“More,” Victor whispers. Because, yes. That’s definitely what he would say.

“And then, when you’re nice and ready and you start begging us to stop teasing you, that’s when he slides his dick into you. Remember how thick he was?” Chris says. “He was so thick, and he wasn’t even hard.”

Victor doesn’t remember. He doubts Chris remembers, either. But if they’re already pretending that Chris can get it up again, five minutes after coming, and if they’re already skipping over the part where they make Tomás put on a condom, not to mention the part where they drench Victor’s ass with lube, then Victor can sure as shit pretend he remembers the size of that guy’s dick.

“Yeah,” he says. “God, yeah, I remember.” He strokes faster, faster. It won’t be long now.

“So there he is, pushing that monster of a cock into you,” Chris says. “And I’m already in there, and I can feel him sliding against me, and it’s the hottest thing, Vitya, and you keep making these noises, you’re so stretched out, and your skin is so hot, and I’m kissing your neck, biting you, and you keep asking for more.”

“Keep going,” he says, breathless. “Keep… I’m…”

“He starts thrusting into you,” Chris says. “Just slamming and slamming, nice and rough, and I reach around, and—”

Victor’s hand flies over his skin. He doesn’t bother looking around. He doesn’t care who sees.

“—I put my hand on you, and you barely even notice because you’re so far gone, Vitya, so blissed out because we’re fucking you so good, and—”

Every nerve in his body is straining, singing, hovering right on the verge of…

“—your dick is so hard, and I’m stroking you off, and you’re so full, and you’re so beautiful, you’re always so beautiful when you’re like this, and—”

Fuck,” Victor says, nearly sobbing as his body coils in on itself, and he needs, he needs…

“Vitya,” Chris says, somehow cajoling and commanding all at once. “Come on. Come for me.”

And Victor does. He just barely manages to keep himself from screaming into the morning air as his body shudders, as his cock pulses hot in his fist, as streams upon streams of white erupt from him, landing in tiny streaks across the cold, hard sand.

He comes back to himself slowly, shoulders shivering, skin clammy. His body is a wreck; his heart, somehow, is calm. His cock is—Victor scrambles to pulls his pants up again, to cover himself. And he looks around, then. But there’s nobody. He is still alone.

There is sunlight on his skin, and Chris is talking to him, in a voice like clean sheets, like hotel-room air conditioning, like falling asleep next to someone who knows you. “Beautiful, Vitya,” he’s saying, soft and lilting and tender. “That’s right, just like that. You’re so beautiful.”

Victor wonders who Chris is picturing when he says that. Long-haired, sun-kissed Victor from the beach in Bordeaux so many years ago? Short-haired Victor who got drunk on rice wine and ended up here, because he couldn’t find his way home? Part of him wants to ask. He doesn’t, though.

He just clutches the phone to his ear and says, “You are, too.” And then, “I really do miss you.”

“So come back,” Chris says sleepily. “I know you’ve been… tired, or whatever. But just come back. Come visit. I can get you rink time, we can go over your new routines, you can give me some pointers, too, if you want.”

“I’m staying here,” Victor says softly. “I’ve got Yuuri to think about.”

The sand is still wet in front of him; he uses one foot to cover up the spot where he came. Then he moves. Just a few feet to the left. Because he might be able to hide the mess, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

“Two of them now, isn’t it?” Chris asks. “Didn’t Yakov’s little junior champion fly out there, too? Some kind of competition between them…?”

“Onsen on Ice,” Victor says with a sigh. “They think they’re competing for… Whoever wins gets me as a coach.”

“That seems…”

“Ridiculous. I know.” Victor is definitely sobering up now. He needs water. And sleep. “But I’m the only judge, so whatever happens, I pick Yuuri Katsuki as the winner. Plisetsky gets a wake-up call and can maybe stop thinking he’s above putting in a little work, Katsuki gets a confidence boost, which he desperately needs, and then—”

“And then you go back to trying to seduce Katsuki, and you call me again next time you fail?” There’s a wry twist to Chris’s voice, and Victor kind of hates it. He also kind of hates that while Chris isn’t exactly wrong, he’s completely missing the point.

“And then I go back to coaching Katsuki,” Victor says coolly.

There’s a pause.

Then Chris says, “So you’re serious about this coaching business.”

“I’m serious about…” Not coaching. Not really coaching; not only coaching. “I needed a change. I can’t skate forever. I’m getting older. You know that. And something needed to change.”

“And flying to Japan without telling anyone is the change you needed?”

Victor should probably be annoyed with Chris for bringing it up yet again. But he doesn’t have the energy. He just says, “I hope so.”

Another pause. Longer, this time. And when Chris finally replies, “I hope so, too,” he actually sounds kind of sad.

“You should go to sleep,” Victor says. “Early rink time tomorrow, like you said.”

“Yeah,” says Chris. “Hey, thanks for the… for all this. Tonight.”

For the stories. For the memories. For the warmth and the closeness, even from however many thousands of miles away. Victor smiles, even though Chris can’t see. “Same to you. I needed that.”

“Clearly,” Chris says. “And, Vitya?”

“Hmm?”

“Maybe answer me, next time I text you. Okay?”

“I will,” Victor says, meaning it with his whole heart. “I promise I will.”

“Good night,” says Chris. And he hangs up.

“Good night,” Victor replies, and pulls his phone away from his ear.

He’s almost out of battery, both phone-wise and body-wise. He needs sleep. He should try to find a taxi or something—some way to get himself back to Yu-topia so he can sleep for a few hours before he meets Yuuri and Yuri at the rink.

Or he could stay here. He could take a nap right here on the sand. He’s already That Weird Foreigner in the eyes of practically everyone in town; how much damage could one little beach-nap do to a reputation like that?

Another gull lands in front of him, just a few feet away. Maybe it’s the same gull as before. He doesn’t know, but it’s staring at him in exactly the same way. Like he’s intruding. Or like it’s wondering if he has food. Or like it wants to communicate but doesn’t know how.

“What do you think?” he asks it. “Sleep in a bed, or sleep right here?”

It doesn’t answer; obviously it doesn’t. It just cocks his head at him, and then flies away.

Victor watches it go. And then, exhausted, he makes him his mind. Turning his back on the water, he starts walking. Away from the sand, toward buildings and streets and, hopefully, Yu-topia Katsuki. No, not hopefully. Definitely. Because he won’t get lost this time.

This time, he’ll find his way.