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the face of heaven (the taste of sin)

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the face of heaven (the taste of sin)

Prologue: He Refuses To Bend, He Refuses To Crawl

“Give a moment or two to the angry young man/ With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand/ He's been stabbed in the back, he's been misunderstood/ It's a comfort to know his intentions are good/ And he sits in a room with a lock on the door/ With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor/ And he likes to be known as the angry young man.”

- Prelude/ Angry Young Man by Billy Joel.

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Yuri Plisetsky @y_plisetsky

Skater flubbing a triple loop=fucking useless coach. Embarrassment to rest of skaters. ISU need to look at which skaters they let on ice.

Phichit Chulanont @phichit_chu

You directing that comment towards me, @y_plisetsky?

Yuri Plisetsky @y_plisetsky

(sips tea) No.

Phichit Chulanont @phichit_chu

@y_plisetsky Are you directing that comment towards me and my coach?

Yuri Plisetsky @y_plisetsky

If shoe fucking fits, then by all means, wear it, @phichit_chu.

Phichit Chulanont @phichit_chu

Speaking of things people wear, does your face have another expression thats not a scowl, @y_plisetsky ? No wonder your PCS’s always so low.

Yuri Plisetsky @y_plisetsky

Pity you didn’t medal at Four Continents, @phichit_chu . That way you’d have something other than my hands around your fucking neck.

Phichit Chulanont @phichit_chu

@y_plisetsky, can you even reach my neck?

 


 

Taipei, Taiwan

After Four Continents  

 

When Yuuri first decided to become an international figure skater, he never imagined it would lead to this moment.

He was sitting in the hotel’s café in what had to be the world’s most comfortable chair, breathing in the smell of freshly baked bread, roasted coffee beans, and cinnamon. The café served some of the best pastries Yuuri had ever eaten. It had terrible lighting though, which was why Phichit refused to step a foot into the place, saying that if he couldn’t get a decent picture of his coffee to post on Instagram, then it was not worth paying for an overpriced hot drink.

He stared at his phone as he scrolled down, pushing his glasses back up on his nose as he scanned the words on the screen quickly.

Yuuri literally took a nap for a few hours and Phichit started a twitter war with a fifteen-year-old. Christ.

If the situation hadn’t been so serious, Yuuri would have laughed at the mental image in his head of Phichit and Yuri Plisetsky angrily tapping on the screens of their phones, scowls in place.

Instead, he winced at some of the harsher tweets that one of Plisetsky’s fan had posted and Phichit’s rather scathing response. It was a bit of a shock to see such a gentle-natured being so vicious on social media. Yuuri knew that Phichit possessed a protective streak a mile long but this was just an overreaction. Not to mention damaging to his reputation.

He eased himself out of the chair with some slight regret, patting the red velvet arm as though to thank it, and disposed of his empty coffee cup.

Yuuri made some calls as he walked back to the hotel room he was sharing with Phichit. The first call was to his publicist instructing her to take care of the situation online, and the second was to Celestino to see if he was aware of the situation.

Celestino did not pick up his phone but texted him to tell him that he was currently in a meeting with the ISU officials about Phichit’s conduct.

Yuuri worried his lip between his teeth as he read the text. The ISU's involved?

Yuuri had hoped that the Podium Incident with Cao Bin would have kept the ISU occupied and not focused on this recent Twitter war. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He reached his hotel room quickly, taking out his key and unlocking the door hastily. The sooner he talked with Phichit, the better.

He called out to Phichit, hoping he hadn't gone out. “Phichit? We need to talk.”

Phichit turned his head from where he was sitting on the end of the bed, watching the TV. His grey t-shirt was slightly stained with something orange, and there were wrappers scattered over the white sheets. The Post-Competition Binge-Fest had begun. Just looking at the wrappers made Yuuri briefly overwhelmed with the urge to go to the nearest fast food restaurant before he remembered his mission. 

Yuuri grabbed the remote, switching it off without any warning.

“Hey!” Phichit said, frowning. “I was watching that.”

“Phichit,” Yuuri said, trying to keep his voice even. “You started a Twitter war with a fifteen-year-old.”

“Plisetsky? Yeah, so?”

Yuuri forced himself to take a deep, steadying breath. “Do you have any idea about what you have done?”

“What do you mean?”

“Celestino is in a meeting with the ISU because of it,” Yuuri said, his voice clipped. “They’re not happy.”

“Well, somebody had to put that kid in his place,” Phichit snorted.

“Can you actually be serious for one moment?!”

Phichit crossed his arms, turning his face away from Yuuri to stare at the beige wallpaper. “He was being a dick!”

“He’s a teenager. They’re all dicks! And now you look like one too,” Yuuri said, exasperated. “Do you realise the consequences of what you have done? This entire rivalry has gotten out of hand!”

“He started it!”

“And now it’s time to end it!” Yuuri snapped back. “You’re almost twenty years old. You should be above this. What does Thailand think of their star skater lowering himself to argue with a child?”

Phichit bowed his head.

He’s only nearly twenty years old, Yuuri thought.

It was easy sometimes to forget how young Phichit was. Yuuri was only a few years older, of course, but he had a bit more experience in life than Phichit did, more time to reflect on his past actions and learn to do better from them. Or, at least, cover his fuck-ups better like all adults learned to do.

Yuuri knew that he and Phichit were athletes representing their countries and that came with certain responsibilities, which they knew about and had agreed to. But when his sister Mari was Phichit’s age, Yuuri remembered that she went out to get drunk with her friends most nights and went street-racing every other weekend.

He and Phichit were still so young in the grand scheme of things, still reckless and prone to making mistakes. They didn’t have all the answers and they still had a lot to learn.

But that was okay. It was okay as long as they learned from them.

And Yuuri could help Phichit learn from this one.

Yuuri pinched the bridge of his nose, exhaling sharply, before sitting on Phichit’s bed beside him. “Look, I’m sorry for yelling. I just don’t want something this stupid to ruin your career.”  

“I’m sorry. It’s just… Ciao-Ciao’s done a lot for us. It’s easy for the Russians; they’ve never left Russia for a coach.” Phichit swallowed thickly. “They never had to leave their homes for years at a time, never seeing their family, and having to adjust to a new culture whilst knowing very little of the language. Ciao-Ciao saved our asses so many times, and when someone insults the man who has helped us get so far, I--”

“I know, I know.” Yuuri wrapped an arm around Phichit. Phichit immediately cuddled in, and Yuuri leaned his head against Phichit’s, the tension leaving his shoulders. Some of the orange dust on Phichit smeared onto the soft blue of Yuuri’s shirt.  “But Celestino wouldn’t want us to sink to their level for him. Not if it costs us our careers. He’d have no one to coach, and God knows Feltsman would give him grief about that.”

“True,” Phichit said slowly. “When’s Ciao-Ciao back from the meeting?”

“He won’t be much longer,” Yuuri said. “Want to watch a bit of The King and The Skater while we wait?”

Phichit immediately brightened. “Yeah! Let me just grab my laptop.”

We’ll be okay, Yuuri thought as he watched Phichit scurry around the hotel room. We’ll be okay.

 


 

www.icejewels.org

ISU SPEAKS OUT AGAINST FRICTION BETWEEN COACHES FELTSMAN AND CIALDINI

Hisashi Morooka

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The International Skating Union has spoken against the long-standing grudge held between coaches Yakov Feltsman and Celestino Cialdini following the recent Twitter war between their students, Thailand’s hero, Phichit Chulanont, and Russia’s rising star, Yuri Plisetsky.

The row over Twitter took place earlier today, and the slew of insults exchanged between the two brought several former and present students of Feltsman and Cialdini to join in the dispute. This, in turn, encouraged skating fans to enter the vicious fight.

The International Skating Union’s council has stated that it “does not condone the conflict between Feltsman and Cialdini” and “in light of the recent posts on Twitter between the skaters of Yakov Feltsman and Celestino Cialdini, the ISU council has decided that, in the event of further disputes, skaters will face penalties, the most severe being banned from competing in the sport altogether.”

President Riccardo Escalus of the International Skating Union has said that he is “disappointed in the recent behaviour of the skaters as the ISU aims to promote sportsmanship and peaceful competition” but hopes that the recent decision will end the strife.

The skating unions of each of the respective skater’s countries had been in contact with the skaters, informing them of their support for the ISU’s decision and advising the skaters to not engage in the quarrel.

Both Feltsman and Cialdini have declined to comment on the ISU’s decision, although one of Cialdini’s students, Japan's Ace Katsuki Yuuri, has recently posted on his Twitter page that “hopefully things will be a little less tense around competitions now.”

The next season will surely tell us all.

 


 

Saint Petersburg, Russia  

 

Viktor leant against the side of the rink, sliding the cap of his water bottle open with his teeth.

He closed his eyes as he took a long drag of his water, closing his eyes in relief.

Yakov was getting tougher on them now that Worlds was coming up and he would be facing off against Cialdini again. It was mostly him and Yuri feeling the strain (Georgi had injured himself at Europeans and had decided to not go to Worlds so that he could compete next season), but Mila was rising up in the ladies’ division now, so Yakov was putting pressure on her as well.

“-- on this Twitter. The ISU refuses to accept--”

Speaking of Cialdini.

Yakov was talking loudly at Yuri whilst Yuri rolled his eyes and yawned. Viktor noticed that Yakov’s voice lacked its usual amount of venom when he told off his students.

Truth be told, Viktor was worried about Yuri. The ISU’s warning had rolled off him like water off a duck’s back. Viktor wanted him to stay out of this rivalry business; it was more trouble than it was worth. Viktor did his best to not be a part of it, though it was very difficult not to be. He kept his head down when he was putting his skates on and make no contact whatsoever with anyone looking to start a fight.

He didn’t want a repeat of The Lion King Debacle.

On the other side of the rink, Viktor could hear Georgi enthusiastically telling Mila about his recent date with his girlfriend, Anya, though he lowered his voice every time he entered Yakov’s earshot. Yakov did not like Anya as he said she took Georgi’s focus away from skating.

At least Georgi had someone outside of skating.

His phone beeped from next to his bottle, and Viktor grabbed it, tapping on the alert. Headlines filled his screen.

 

THE CONTINUANCE OF THE COACHES’ RAGE: FELTSMAN AND CIALDINI’S STUDENTS FIGHT ONLINE


ANCIENT GRUDGE BREAKS TO NEW MUTINY: PLISETSKY AND CHULANONT TWITTER WAR


PLISETSKY VS. CHULANONT: ARE THEY THE NEXT KATSUKI-NIKIFOROV RIVALRY?

 

Shit.

The press was having a field day.

They weren’t as focused on the Four Continents Podium Scandal as Viktor had thought they would have been. This did not bode well for them, especially Yuri.

Viktor glanced through one of the articles quickly, pausing when he got to the part about his rival Katsuki Yuuri tweeting about the warning.

The article had a photo next to an enlarged quote of Katsuki’s tweet, a shot of three skaters with their arms thrown over each other's shoulders. Katsuki was in the middle, holding up his gold medal at Four Continents, and next to him was the silver medalist, a Canadian skater whose name he couldn’t remember, and the infamous Phichit Chulanont, who had come in fourth place.

Katsuki’s smile in the photo was brighter than the medal in his hand.

Viktor turned his phone off again and headed back to practice, firmly pushing his thoughts about the Japanese skater away.

He’ll think about a safer topic instead, like the rink’s pretty receptionist.

Chapter Text

 

the face of heaven (the taste of sin)

Chapter 1: Burning Glances, Turning Heads

 “Masquerade! Grinning yellows, spinning reds... / Masquerade! Take your fill - let the spectacle astound you! / Masquerade! Burning glances, turning heads… / Masquerade! Stop and stare at the sea of smiles around you!/ Masquerade! Seething shadows, breathing lies... / Masquerade! You can fool any friend who ever knew you!”

- ‘Masquerade’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera .

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skt8rboi98.tumblr.com

Everything Important (A.K.A DRAMATIC) That’s Happened This Figure Skating Season So Far

Have you been living under a rock the last few months? Luckily for you, this post is going to keep you up to date with all of the dramatic affairs that happened in the Ladies’, Nonbinary, and Men's singles this figure skating season!

(This post will only include highlights and drama. If you want to see who won what, go to my other post here.)  

Ladies

Jiya Chakrabarti, America’s ‘Empress of the Ice’, won her third senior gold at the Grand Prix Final with her masterful freeskate, ‘Bird Set Free’. Mila Babicheva from Russia also placed third in her first Grand Prix Final.

    It seems like this is the year that the Petersburg Pack (a nickname for Coach Yakov Feltsman and his current students (Viktor Nikiforov, Georgi Popovich, Mila Babicheva and Yuri Plisetsky) for those who don’t know) has run out of luck in the relationship department! Babicheva broke up with her boyfriend Anton Kozlovsky, HC CSKA Moscow’s Left Wing, a day after Europeans. Babicheva refused to comment on the split. Georgi Popovich was dumped during Europeans by his ice dancer girlfriend Anastasiya Kozlovskaya (also known as Anya or ‘The Beauty of Moscow’). Anya is also Anton Kozlovsky’s sister. Anya caused a big stir when she was then pictured kissing another man an hour later! There are no details as to who the man Anya was caught kissing is but rumour has it that it is her choreographer, Demyan Boytsov. Popovich is said to be extremely upset by the sudden split. Feltsman has also finally divorced from his estranged wife, Lilia Baranovskaya, and has understandably opted to not comment on the subject.

Nonbinary

Bulgaria’s Darling, Kostadin Galabov, won xyr first bronze at the GPF whilst Canada’s Niimi Odjig won their second gold at both the GPF and Four Continents. Amadore Fanucci from Italy has also announced zir retirement at the end of this season.

Switzerland’s Dominique Aurand is reported to have begun a relationship with their rinkmate, the Swiss Stud Christophe Giacometti! Giacometti, off the market! Christophe Giacometti has often been described as “Viktor Nikiforov’s heir to the Casanova throne”. Will Aurand be blowing Chris’s alphorn for long? Or is their relationship going to melt quicker than Swiss chocolate? 

Men

I saved the best till last because this is where the real gossip of the season is!

The Grand Prix Final saw Russia’s Living Legend Viktor Nikiforov gain his fifth gold medal in a row whilst Japan’s Ace Katsuki Yuuri created a new World record with the highest marks in presentation. Nikiforov and Katsuki both went on to win golds at Europeans and Four Continents respectively. Christophe Giacometti was injured during his Gala Exhibition at Europeans but he has announced a full recovery in time for the World Championships.

Four Continents gave us all quite a show! Cao Bin’s shocking display by throwing his bronze medal onto the ice and storming off the podium has resulted in him being banned from competing permanently. This decision has caused a media storm on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr with hashtags like #SinBinned#ISUtakingtheBinout#BinThereDoneThatand #CaoBanned trending for four days!

Sources tell us that the reason behind Cao Bin’s action was because he believed that he should have received the silver medal, despite scoring ten points lower than Jean-Jacques Leroy. Indeed, there was only had a zero-point-two-three difference between Cao Bin and Thailand’s Phichit Chulanont, who is now rumoured to receive the bronze medal now that Cao Bin has been banned.

Speaking of Phichit Chulanont… The infamous twitter war!

Shortly after the Cao Bin Podium Incident, Chulanont engaged in a heated Twitter war with Yuri Plisetsky from Russia. As we all know, they are the students of rival coaches, Yakov Feltsman and Celestino Cialdini. It appears that Plisetsky insulted Cialdini and Chulanont leapt to his defence. The twitter war escalated rapidly, with fans and other skaters chipping in with their own comments. The ISU has spoken against this “unsportsmanlike behaviour” and has warned the skaters that they will begin dealing out penalties from now on. Let’s hope our boys behave themselves as Worlds is only a week away!

 What did you guys think of the drama this season? Let me know in the comments!

  


 

Boston, United States of America

Worlds

 

Despite his theme being ‘Courage’, Yuuri did not feel very brave as he waited for his scores.

He did his best to not bounce his leg, knowing that it was better to keep smiling and attempt to possess some level of calm that he ought to have as one of the best figure skaters going. He should be not flying into a panic, wondering if this was where it was all going to go downhill for him.

What if it was? What if this was it? He felt like the freeskate went well but what if there were a number of mistakes? His last quad had not gone the way he had wanted it, Yuuri already knew that. Oh God, this was it. No, no, no. He did okay. He was over-thinking as per usual. Was he over-thinking? Or was he under-thinking? Is under-thinking a thing?

Celestino, probably sensing Yuuri’s whirling thoughts, nudged him gently. “You performed well, passerotto. Your step sequences were lovely as always. Your PCS was almost as high as it was at the GPF.”

“My landing on the last quad was shoddy,” Yuuri said, fiddling with the new handmade toy that had been thrown onto the ice for him, a rice ball with a smiley face stitched on the front and the kanji for courage on the back. He wiggled it at the camera, a grin on his face, momentarily cheered by the fact a fan had made this to give to him. Logic dictated that he couldn’t have been too bad if someone was his fan and gave him a toy they made themselves. Still, his stomach was fluttering nervously.

“It was not as terrible as you think,” Celestino said, “You did not stumble or two-foot the landing. It was still a clean quad, just not landed as gracefully as you wanted it to be. You’re too hard on yourself.”

“I know,” Yuuri sighed, looking down at the plush toy. “But I’m better than that.” At least, I think I am.

“We’ll work on it,” Celestino patted his shoulder. “Look, your scores are coming up.”

He sucked in a sharp breath as the announcer spoke to the stadium and his scores came up on the screen. “Katsuki Yuuri from Japan has been rewarded 213.44 points in his freeskate, putting him in first place!”

First. He was in first.

Oh, thank God. He could breathe again.

His freeskate combined with the score of his short program was 314.89, which was slightly higher by 0.32 than it was at Four Continents. This was good for him. Great, actually. Amazing. There was only Viktor Nikiforov left to skate so it was only the toss-up of whether Yuuri had gotten gold or silver this World Championship.

Yuuri would love for it to be gold. He really, really wanted it to be gold.

But he could be proud of silver. He had been for the last five years.

They exited the Kiss and Cry not long after that. Yuuri had already given a short interview before his skate so he would answer any new questions at the press conference later.

“Where’s Phichit?” Celestino asked. The man in question had not come to the Kiss and Cry like he usually did.  

“He’s probably in the stands. I think he wanted to stay up there because… you know, the Petersburg Pack,” Yuuri said, plopping down on a bench near the side of the rink. From here, he could see Viktor talking to his coach.

Celestino followed his gaze and scowled. “Ah, I had almost forgotten about them.”

“Celestino,” Yuuri said, his tone almost scolding.

Celestino merely pursed his lips into a thin line. “I take it you’re going to watch?”

“It’s good to watch your competitors’ performances,” Yuuri said. “It helps identify their weaknesses and your own.”

Celestino grunted. “Very well. I’m going to find Minako. If you see Phichit-”

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get up to any trouble,” Yuuri said, smirking a little. “Have fun with Minako-sensei.”

Celestino ruffled his hair, suddenly embarrassed, before leaving. Yuuri let out a sigh, letting his shoulders finally relax, and returned his gaze to see Viktor taking his starting position at the centre of the rink.

Yuuri remembered that when he had first started out skating competitively that his only wish was to skate on the same ice as Viktor’s equal. Now it was over a decade later, his wish had come true in the worst possible way. He was Viktor’s hated rival, in the sport and in the press. Yuuri may not have won any gold medals yet whilst competing in the same competition as Viktor but some people like Phichit and Celestino believed that it was only a matter of time. Yuuri knew that Celestino and many others wanted Viktor dethroned. Viktor had been the best in their field for so long that he had been given the moniker ‘The Living Legend’. Yuuri thought it was such a grand and lonely title to bear that he was quite glad he had been passed down the name of ‘Japan’s Ace’.

Yet, Yuuri couldn’t deny that Viktor’s skating was legendary. Even after so many years watching him, seeing Viktor skate in person took his breath away.

‘Stammi Vicino’ was probably Viktor’s most beautiful skate to date. Every spin, every turn of his skates showed a hunger, a yearning bleeding into every movement like the pink ombré of his costume jacket. His step sequences were one of Yuuri’s favourites to practice. He had learned them secretly after he first saw Viktor perform it. He had gushed about ‘Stammi Vicino’ a few days ago with Minako. She had not been as impressed as he was.

“It’s a beautiful program but it seems artificial,” she had said, shrugging. “What would a worldly man like him know about longing?”

Privately, Yuuri disagreed.

The longing was there, deep and sincere, in the lines of Viktor’s face, in the curve of his fingers, as he tried and failed to grasp onto the imaginary subject of his desire. The real mystery wasn’t why Viktor chose 'Longing' for a theme. The mystery was what he was longing for.

“What are you doing?” Phichit’s voice came from behind Yuuri. It was a testimony to their friendship that Yuuri didn’t startle. Phichit had the unnerving quality to move without making a sound, which contrasted quite sharply against his personality. In the early days of their friendship, Yuuri had sworn he was going to die at forty years old with the number of heart attacks Phichit had given him.

“I’m jumping a quad axel whilst eating a bowl of katsudon,” Yuuri said, not taking his eyes off Viktor. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m watching Nikiforov’s freeskate.”

“Why?”

“Er, because he’s my competitor?” Yuuri flipped the cap of his water bottle open, taking a swig of water. “I reckon his freeskate’s beaten mine.”

“I think yours is better,” Phichit said, sitting down on the bench with a soft thump. He stretched his arms above his head, grunting slightly.

Yuuri rolled his eyes, almost missing Viktor perform his quad flip. “Are you saying that as my friend or are you saying that because of who Nikiforov’s coach is?”

“Both.”

“Thanks,” Yuuri said drily. “That means a lot to me.”

“Speaking of Feltsman,” Phichit shuffled closer, lowering his voice. “Have you heard?”

Yuuri turned his head slightly. “Heard what?”

“Plisetsky is moving up to Seniors next season,” Phichit said, his scowl deepening.

Well, that certainly complicates things, Yuuri thought as he watched Viktor do his combination jump, a quad toe-triple toe.  All of the things.

Plisetsky had only been training with Feltsman for a couple of years but already was stirring up trouble among the skaters. Enough trouble that if he carried on, his career would be cut short.

“Who told you that?” Yuuri asked curiously.

“Overheard a conversation between J.J. Leroy and his girlfriend,” Phichit shrugged. “Plisetsky shouted that he was going to teach J.J. a thing or two about skating when he moved up into the Senior division next season.”

“Strange,” Yuuri mused. “I thought it was you Plisetsky had it out for.”

“Plisetsky has it out for everyone,” Phichit answered, a sudden bite to his voice. “He’s not the Russian Punk for nothing.”

“So why are you really telling me about Plisetsky?”

Phichit’s eyebrows drew together. “Because he’s coming up to Seniors?”

“The only person that is going to affect is you,” Yuuri said, taking a sip from his water bottle. “I’m not his rival.”

“Rival?” Phichit snorted. “That child is not my rival.”

“Isn’t he?” Yuuri slid the cap back in place. Viktor was a whirl of fuchsia on the ice as he performed a combination spin. “I mean, you’re both likely to get into the GPF next year. You both currently have the same amount of quads prepared. You both want to beat each other. Not to mention there’s the whole coach thing, we can’t really forget that.”

“Plisetsky is-”

“Phichit.”

“What?”

“I get that you’re foes for life with Plisetsky and not bros for life, but can you just watch where you’re saying it? We’re in a stadium full of cameras.”

Oh my God,” Phichit breathed, a delighted grin replacing the irritation on his face. “Did you just say ‘bros’?”

Yuuri stared incredulously at him. “Is that really what you’ve taken away from what I just said?”

“But you said ‘bros’,” Phichit said, taking out his phone. “It sounds so weird coming from you. Even Ciao-Ciao says ‘bros’ more than you. Can you say ‘bros’ again? I need to record it.”

“Seriously? Can we get back on topic?”

Cheers and screams rose up from the stadium. Viktor had finished his skate and Yuuri had missed it. He bit back his annoyance. He could watch the rest on Youtube later, though it wasn’t the same.

“Fine,” Phichit huffed. “But why aren’t you more worried about it? We have three of Feltsman’s students in our division now.”

“And only one is currently consistent in getting to the GPF,” Yuuri said, jerking his chin in the direction of Viktor, who had finished bowing and was coming off the ice. “You should be worrying about this next season.”

Phichit sighed. “I guess. We’ll sort it out then.”

We, Yuuri thought, a sudden tightness in his throat. He gazed out onto the ice rink, where the flowers and toys thrown onto the ice were still being collected. We.

Yuuri needed to make a decision.

And he needed to make it fast.  

 


 

Another year, another gold.

On some level, Viktor was proud of his achievement. A five-time World Champion was not something every skater could say they were.

Yet, as he went over to sit down for the press conference to begin, he couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. He wasn’t sure what exactly, but when he looked at the other competitors, he knew that they had what he was missing.

There were only three seats occupied on the table as there was no need for translators for this press conference since all three medallists spoke English fluently.

Chris was on Viktor’s left, a lazy elegance to his slouch as he shifted in the uncomfortable plastic chair.

On Viktor’s right, Katsuki sat with his back straight, his cross-training with ballet evident in the positioning of his shoulders and the elegant tilt of his chin. He seemed to be calm but Viktor could see the index finger of his right hand tapping gently, betraying his nervousness. Viktor had once mistaken this for impatience a few years ago before realising that Katsuki did it during every interview or conference.

Part of Viktor wanted to say something, something soothing. After all, Katsuki was one of the top figure skaters in the World. He had won silver for the fifth time at Worlds, an impressive accomplishment.

Silver looked good on Katsuki. Not as good as the gold he had won at Four Continents, but still good.

Viktor turned his focus back to the conference, biting his tongue sharply.

He shouldn’t be thinking about Katsuki like that. He was Cialdini’s student, his rival, his enemy.

Viktor hated Katsuki. Really.

Well, okay, maybe not ‘hate’ because it was too strong a word.  And so was ‘dislike’. You can’t dislike someone you never actually interacted with, can you?

Indifferent. Yes, Viktor was totally and absolutely indifferent to Katsuki’s existence. That was it.

The people organising the press conference were running around here and there, fetching extra chairs, testing microphones and placing water bottles and paper nameplates on the table. The room was stuffed full of reporters and TV crew from various stations, all of them armed with cameras, recorders,  notepads, and pens. Most of them were typically clothed in black but a few spots of red, yellow and blue littered the room. He could hear the soft murmurs from some reporters, different languages speaking into recorders or to other people.

He picked up the nameplate in front of him out of boredom and groaned dramatically as he looked at it. Chris looked at him curiously. “Mr Niliforov strikes again,”  Viktor explained, taking out a pen from his jacket and quickly turned the ‘L’ into a wonky, oversized ‘K’. Chris barked out a laugh. Viktor heard a slight snort from his right and he stilled momentarily at the sound, that small hint of laughter.

He had made Katsuki laugh.

Before Viktor could dwell on the thought any longer, the emcee began speaking. They were young and clearly nervous. “Hello, welcome to the press conference. Congratulations to our world medallists. It is wonderful to see you three here and it was absolutely fantastic to see you on the ice today. We’ll first start off the conference with the photographers taking photos of you. If you would please stand up for a few minutes and then we will start with the questions.”

Viktor and the others stood, chairs screeching on the platform’s floor, and took off their lanyards before stepping closer together to get into the picture. It was a routine the three of them were used to by now. Chris slung an arm easily around Viktor’s shoulders. Katsuki looked at Viktor, silently asking permission. Viktor gave the tiniest of nods and Katsuki wrapped an arm around his waist whilst Viktor placed his hand on Katsuki’s hip. Viktor couldn’t help but notice that Katsuki smelled really good, something sweet and musky.  

They shuffled around a bit at the request of the photographers, the flashes of multiple cameras blinding them.

Viktor kept beaming but he was counting down the minutes in his head until he would be able to go back to his room for a nap. The high he always got from performing was coming down sharply. He felt exhausted, both physically and mentally, and there was a familiar growing numbness in his chest. All Viktor really wanted to do was curl up on his bed and eat the giant slab of chocolate he had hidden away in his suitcase. Yet, here he was, stuck in a conference room with a dozen cameras aimed directly at him, his signature smile fixed in place and his hair coiffed to perfection. He knew he was blessed to be in this position but God, it was tiring at times.

Finally, they were allowed to sit back down and Viktor felt oddly cold as Katsuki slipped his arm away to go back to his seat. He pushed this feeling away impatiently, irritated with himself.

“Ok,” the emcee cleared their throat, tucking a few dark strands of their hair behind their ear. “I will call out an outlet. Please introduce yourself and your outlet before asking your question. We will first start with RT.”

“Mikhail Smirnov from RT,” The reporter said, clearly a Moscovite. “Mr Nikiforov, are you happy with your performance today?”

“I am very happy with my performance today. I have been playing with my jumps since the GPF so I’m glad that that has paid off. However, things can always be improved so I will aim to continue improving myself and my skating in time for the next season.”

There. That will squash any rumours of me retiring, Viktor thought with no little savage delight.

Indeed, there were already murmurs among the crowd.

From the side of the room, Yakov nodded at him in approval.

“TV Asahi.”

A reporter, in his late twenties with brown hair and untidy clothes, stood up. Viktor recognised the reporter as Hisashi Morooka, one of Katsuki’s most vocal supporters in the media industry. Viktor rather liked the man; he was fair in his assessment but encouraging. Even though Morooka was firmly on Katsuki’s side, he was professional enough to not trash Viktor like some reporters.

“Hisashi Morooka from TV Asahi. Katsuki-senshu, what was on your mind today before you went on the ice? A lot of fans noticed that you were on your phone and they wondered if perhaps you were speaking to a special someone.”

Viktor stiffened.

Katsuki has a ‘special someone’? Who is this ‘someone’? What’s ‘special’ about them?

Not that Viktor actually really cared or anything. He was only mildly interested because if Katsuki had a lover or something, that would mean Viktor would have to step up his dating game to keep himself on the front page. Obviously.

“I didn’t make any phone calls before my freeskate,” Katsuki said, confused. He spoke English a little quicker than Viktor did, clearly more used to speaking it, and his accent was tinged with British and American influences. Viktor guessed that, like him, Katsuki had been taught British English whilst he was younger. He must have picked some of the American pronunciation from his time in Detroit.

“My apologies, I meant that you seemed to be texting,” Morooka said.

“Oh, I was looking at pictures of my dog that my sister sent me,” Katsuki grinned sheepishly, scratching his ear. “I was thinking about what my theme meant to me too. About the people who gave me courage and the people who taught me how to be brave, like my family and friends. I also thought about the people who were there for me when I didn’t feel brave, like my dog, and how they would support me through that.”

Viktor could understand what Katsuki meant. Makkachin had been there for Viktor through the best and worst of times. Katsuki’s dog, a beautiful red-gold toy poodle called Bicchan (according to his fansite, the dog’s name was actually Biscuit. Bicchan was a sort of nickname). He wondered if Bicchan was like Makkachin.

Satisfied with Katsuki’s answer, Morooka sat down.

“Orianne Piccard from Telebasel. Mr Giacometti, what would you say about the audience and the support you got today?”

Viktor relaxed in his seat and let Chris’s answer roll over him.

The press conference carried on with the same old boring questions being asked. Viktor did his best to not yawn. He would have killed for a coffee.

Then, a reporter from Sportsperson Daily directed a question to Katsuki.

Viktor had already spoken to this particular reporter before his freeskate today. Alexa Johnson, her name was, and a clear fan of his from a mile off. Her voice had gone soft and breathy when she spoke to him, a worshipful look in her eyes. She had put her hand on his arm and leant in closer than Viktor liked but Viktor knew better than to have said anything about it.

“Mr Katsuki,” Alexa said, sneering. Viktor felt a little taken back by her attitude. He couldn’t imagine how Katsuki felt. “Do you think you can ever match up to Mr Nikiforov’s success, despite the fact you’ve only won silver medals when competing against him?”

The room went cold and silent.

“Excuse me?” Katsuki said so softly that the microphone had trouble picking up his voice. “Despite? Despite.” A troubling stillness had come to fill his face, a kind of coldness that wiped away the traces of warmth usually etched into his skin.

Alexa’s smile had not faded at Katsuki’s reaction but her curling shoulders made her seem a little less sure of herself.

“Let’s make one thing clear,” Katsuki leaned forward to speak into the microphone, his eyes glinting. “I am proud to have won silver for five times in a row at both the Grand Prix Final and Worlds. I am proud to represent my country at competitions. I am proud of all my hard work, that all my practices, my extra dance classes, have all paid off to give me a silver medal to wear around my neck. I am proud of the people who supported me and helped me win those medals, my family, my friends, my coach and my fans. And you sit there and tell me ‘despite’?” Katsuki shook his head in disgust. “I have nothing more to say to you.”

“Yes, I would hate to hear what you’d think about bronze,” Chris commented drily. “I won’t answer any questions from you. Today or any other one.”

“Indeed,” Viktor said. Alexa seemed surprised by his chipping in. He gave her his coldest look. “I’d like to think my career was quite successful when I was winning silvers.”

The people in charge of the press conference tried to get questions rolling again but the politely cheerful atmosphere had vanished. The rest of the conference ended quickly after that.

As soon as Chris, Viktor and Katsuki were permitted to leave, Katsuki went to his coach, mumbling furiously to himself in Japanese. Viktor flicked a final glance in his direction before going to Yakov.

“What was that?” Yakov said, scowling. “Why were you defending Katsuki?”

“Katsuki?” Viktor tilted his head, the patron of innocence. “Defending him? I was defending all skaters. Silver is very good, after all.”

“Perhaps,” Yakov replied. “Still, that reporter was comparing apples to pears. You are better than Katsuki. You should have made that clear.”

Viktor clapped his coach’s back. “Well, we’ll prove that to the sponsors, da?” 

 


 

Quadtastic @quadtastic

OMG, Yuuri went off!!! RIP reporter, you won’t be missed #DespiteSlight

NIKIFUCKOFF @nikifuckoff

That’s right, my son. You show them! #DespiteSlight #ProudAndLoud

StayCloseToMeme @nikiforever

Proof Viktor Nikiforov is an angel: He even defends his hated rival from reporters. #cinnamonroll #toogoodtoopure #DespiteSlight

YUURI KATSUCKI @blipblopnikiforov

Anyone notice that Katsuki never said that he would be as successful as Viktor? Even he knows it’s true. #DespiteSlight #ReporterIsRight

 


 

Yuuri didn’t think he could do this anymore.

Any of it.

Voices rose and fell all around the Banquet hall, the sound of heels clicking against the floor and the clinking of glasses making Yuuri’s ears ring whilst photographs flashes from cameras and the white light glaring from the chandeliers made his eyes water.

He was standing between Celestino and Phichit as they talked to a pair of prospective sponsors. The sponsors were from a drink brand, the name of which Yuuri had already forgotten.

Yuuri glanced at the other side, where Yakov Feltsman and his skaters were holding court with other skaters and sponsors. Yuri Plisetsky appeared to be attempting to charm a sponsor whilst Mila Babicheva was comforting Georgi Popovich, who had spotted his ex-girlfriend dancing with her new beau.

But someone more important held Yuuri’s attention.

Viktor Nikiforov stood a little away from Feltsman, speaking with Chris. He wore a grey suit with a plum-coloured tie, the suit jacket tailored to accentuate his broad shoulders and trim waist. Chris’s navy-clad back was to Yuuri so he could not see Chris’s face so he stared passed the sponsors in front of him to concentrate on the expression on Viktor’s face.

Viktor was gesturing animatedly with his hands, a serious expression on his face before a smile broke out. Yuuri’s breath stuttered a little at the sight, at the way his teeth gleamed against the soft pink of his lips, the way his bangs shifted as he moved. Yet… something about his face was not quite right; the corners of his eyes were not crinkling and there were no dimples in his cheeks like Yuuri used to see in Viktor’s interviews when Viktor was a Junior.

Yuuri wondered what Viktor and Chris were talking about. He wondered that if things had been different if Yuuri would have been able to speak to Viktor the way Chris could.

Viktor’s eyes flicked over to where Yuuri was standing.

Yuuri looked away quickly, tugging at one of his silver cufflinks as Phichit continued talking to the sponsors in front of them.  

A waiter came over to their group with a tray of champagne, the flutes delicate-looking and filled with a fizzing gold. The sponsors and Celestino took a flute. Phichit sipped his Coke, pouting a little and looking in envy at the champagne. Yuuri produced his I.D. to the waiter, who then handed over the glass.

Yuuri numbly took it, taking a tiny sip, a practised smile on his face. The champagne was awful, so dry that it scratched his throat as he swallowed.

He tapped the champagne glass in his hand lightly with his index finger as he struggled to pay attention to the conversation around him.

Tap.

Another compliment from the brown-haired sponsor about his exhibition skate. He smiled, thanking them.

Tap.

Celestino made some comment, smiling proudly, his hand heavy on Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri assumed it was funny since everyone was laughing so he quickly chuckled along with them.

Tap.

Phichit cracked a joke, nudging Yuuri’s side with his elbow, a grin bright on his face.

Tap.

“Thank you for your support. I hope we’ll see you next season!” The words fell out stale on Yuuri’s lips but nobody seemed to have noticed but him. The sponsors left and some more were beginning to edge their way over.

It felt like he was sinking, even though he was still. Everything was too much, the noise, the jostle of bodies, the heavy smell of perfume, cologne, and sweat.

Not here, not here.

Yuuri excused himself from Celestino and Phichit to go to the bathroom.

He needed a minute.

Maybe several.

He walked out of the banquet room, nearly stumbling, black shoes slapping against the purple carpet. Yuuri spotted a nearby bathroom and pushed the door open, his breathing getting a little too fast.

He approached the porcelain sinks unsteadily, bracing his hands on them as he looked at his reflection in the mirror.

The man in the mirror was unrecognisable to Yuuri some days.

The man wore a designer suit that Yuuri wouldn’t have bought because he would rather spend the money on video games. His hair slicked back and contact lenses in instead of messy hair and blue glasses. The only similarity was that the man in the mirror seemed to be as distressed as Yuuri was, his chest heaving a little, colour draining from his cheeks.

It was too public here by the sinks. Yuuri didn’t want anyone seeing him break down should someone come in.

He locked himself in a bathroom stall, hastily pushing the toilet lid down so he could sit on it, his legs too shaky to stand anymore.

It was stupid. It was stupid to get so upset over a question a reporter asked him. It was stupid to think he would be exempt from getting hate bouquets just because he never said anything. It was stupid, it was stupid, he was stupid, so stupid. He was overreacting, he overreacted to that reporter and now there was a hashtag on Twitter and people were talking about him and the rivalry and-

He felt the build of panic in the centre of his chest, the hard throb beginning to choke him, the familiar feeling of breathlessness making the panic worse. Anxiety attacks always felt like this; the feeling like everything was swirling apart, a sort of swaying looseness around him, and the only thing centring him, consuming his thoughts was the terror in his chest that made him want to cry for help but also paralysed him so he couldn’t form any words.  

So he did the only thing he could do.

Yuuri breathed.

He inhaled for seven seconds, held it in for another seven seconds, his eyes closed as he counted silently. Then he let out his breath as he counted to eleven. He repeated this many times, keeping it up until he felt the throb begin to reside in his chest.

Yuuri heard the door to the bathroom swing open but he ignored it to focus on his breathing.

He pictured that throb in his mind’s eye; it was a pulsing ball the size of his fist, sticky and the same bright red as Viktor Nikiforov’s Olympic jacket.

And Yuuri breathed around that red ball, accepting that ball was there, and continued breathing until he felt like the ball was smaller. Until he felt like he could manage the world again.

Yuuri heard the door to the room swing open but he ignored it to focus on his breathing.

Yuuri stood up, wiping his sweaty hands on his trousers. He took a piece of toilet paper, patting his forehead and neck dry from where little beads of sweat had collected. He checked his armpits for sweat stains but his deodorant seemed to have held up. He felt his back and it was a little sticky but nothing terrible. He could blame it on the heat of the room.

He flushed the piece of toilet paper down the toilet before unlocking the stall door.

Yuuri noticed the bathroom was mostly cream, with one wall covered in a cream and purple floral design and a pot of purple hydrangeas sitting under the soap dispenser.

Yuuri went to the sink, methodically washing his hands and watching the suds from the soap disappear down the drain.

Maybe it was time for him to retire.

He was a five-time World Silver Medallist, a five-time Four Continents gold medallist and a seven-time gold medallist at the Japanese Nationals. He had skated, he had won medals. Maybe it was time for him to go home.

But there were so many reasons to stay.

Tensions had significantly risen between Celestino and Feltsman in the last several months. Yuuri was Celestino’s main offence and defence as his top skater, the finest warrior on Celestino’s side of their battlefield. If Yuuri left now, a lot of pressure would fall on Phichit’s shoulders to quickly become his replacement. Phichit was not near Yuuri’s level yet and would not be for some time as his jumps still needed a lot of work. Phichit was already facing pressure from Thailand to make skating history. The rivalry would make this worse for him and Phichit was no better in asking for help than Yuuri was.

There was also Celestino to think about.

Yuuri may dislike the rivalry but he did not, could not hate Celestino himself. Celestino had become a sort of uncle to him over the years; he had been there to drive him to his therapy appointments, had picked Yuuri up at 3 am and held him as he cried over a breakup, had fiercely protected him against the worst of Yuuri’s critics. He had gone above and beyond what his job called for him to do. Yuuri could not turn his back on him and on Phichit with no sleep lost over it.

Even, his home could be affected if he retired. Tourism in Hasetsu had been revived as he had grown more and more famous, businesses flourishing once again. Because of Yuuri’s promotional work for his hometown, Minako had more students to teach ballet to, his family’s resort was always packed full of tourists, and more young people were staying in Hasetsu instead of leaving for the cities. Would this recovery end if he retired?

And… there was something else.

Yuuri had not spoken to Viktor Nikiforov, the man who had been the one who had unknowingly inflamed Yuuri’s love for skating, pushing him onto his current path.

Yuuri had been in the Senior Men’s Division for five years now and in all that time, he has never said a word to Viktor Nikiforov. They had stood on the podium together, wrapped an arm around each other as they posed for the ISU photographers, and sat next to each other in press conferences. Yet, no words, no greetings. Just brief eye contact or, at the very most, a nod. Could Yuuri leave without speaking to him?

What even would he say to Viktor if he could? How could he put into words the impact this man has had on Yuuri’s life? How he alone had changed Yuuri’s life forever with just one performance?

If he and Viktor were away from the eyes of the world for a moment, just one moment, what would Yuuri say?

The whining creak of a door opening made Yuuri startle. Yuuri looked up to see in the mirror the reflection of Viktor Nikiforov walking out from one of the stalls behind him, white-blond hair gleaming like silver under the lights. He paused, tension rippling through his body, at the sight of Yuuri washing his hands in the sink.

Yuuri stiffened and looked away from the mirror, finishing washing his hands and going towards the paper towel dispenser.

He felt Viktor’s eyes on him, probably wondering why Yuuri didn’t greet him like a normal person would.

Viktor moved towards the sink Yuuri had been using, pushing the top of the taps down and pressing the soap dispenser, the sleeve of his suit brushing the hydrangea flowers in their pot as he did so.

Yuuri watched Viktor carefully as he dried his hands and threw the towel into the bin, studying the way the warmth of Viktor’s smile contrasted against the dull look in his eyes.

“Your eyes are sad,” Yuuri blurted out, “Even when you smile, your eyes are sad.”

Viktor stilled in his movements for a moment, his hands frozen in the sink. His head snapped up to look at Yuuri, staring at him in astonishment, those eyes bluer in real life than in Yuuri’s posters.

Yuuri swallowed nervously. “I hope you’ll smile for real soon, Viktor.”

He left the bathroom quickly, practically sprinting back to the banquet.

 


 

Two days after the Banquet

 

The hotel bar was quiet tonight.

The air conditioning was blasting around every corner of the room, chilling Viktor’s skin to the point where he imagined his nipples would rip through his shirt any moment now. Bartenders in purple shirts spoke easily amongst each other as they wiped down the grey marble countertops, the refrigerators underneath purring. Bottles of spirits lined up across the wall behind, amber liquids gleaming in what little lighting the purple and grey room offered.

“So… how’s it going with Roza?”

It took a moment to realise who Chris was talking about. Viktor took a sip from his cosmopolitan at Chris’s question, a rueful smile on his lips. The drink slid down his throat smoothly, the fruit juice soothing the slight burn of the alcohol. “They’re not interested.”

“No?’ Chris leaned forward on his stool, steepling his fingers. He wore a look of interest on his face, an interest that seemed tinged with something like satisfaction. “Roza’s not interested in the world’s most handsome bachelor and the five-time world champion of men’s figure skating? Do tell.”

“Roza is not interested in me,” Viktor said, looking at the bottles behind the counter. “Because they are not interested in anyone. Ever.”

“Ah,” Chris nodded. “Is it a little awkward between you two now?”

“A little, but it is what it is. Besides, my life’s not over because someone I thought was cute didn’t want to go on a date with me. I still have skating.”

To be truthful, Viktor was not very disappointed that Roza had said no when he had asked the young receptionist at his rink out a few weeks before Worlds. Viktor often went out on dates, hoping there will be a spark and always disheartened when there was none. It happened enough that the press had the nerve to call him a playboy. Now, Viktor was tired and Roza’s rejection honestly saved him the time and effort of going through it all again.

“The ice is not a person, Viktor,” Chris said wryly. He drained the rest of his drink before he continued, “It will not keep your bed warm for you.”

“My sponsors would say otherwise,” Viktor chuckled, running the tip of his finger over the rim of the glass lightly.

“Well,” Chris flagged down the bartender to pay the tab. “As your friend, it is my job to cheer you up.”

Viktor sighed. “We’re not going to a strip club.”

“No, no,” Chris shook his head and laughed. “I have my Dom now. Besides, since I’ve been taking pole-dancing classes, all I can think about is the name of the moves they do on the pole so it doesn’t hold the same appeal anymore.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

Chris smirked, a gleam in his eyes. “How about we go to a little party?”

 


 

Celestino Cialdini and his students

request the pleasure of your company

to celebrate the end of the figure-skating season

at the Verona Hotel on the 31st of March.

Cocktails will be served at 7.30pm and

festivities will start at 8.30pm.

Theme: Venetian Masquerade.

Chapter Text


 

the face of heaven (the taste of sin)

Chapter 2: Silhouettes and Rebels

“Silhouettes and rebels are far, far away n' though that/ I fall is all that I'm gonna state/ Hey other man could you turn in my eyes/ Look for all the dreams that have passed long inside/ Turn back the days of my youth again/ Bring back the ways tossed by time/ Show me the ways of my witches and rip out the winds/ that are blowing the seas/ N' I said rip out the winds that are blowing the seas of my mind”Dream Me A Dream by Dax Johnson.


 

Earlier that day

Viktor wasn’t sure how long he had been skating in this rink.

Time seemed to drift as he did one jump after another, worked on his spins, and tweaked his step sequences. It was his exhibition program he was practising, a Russian folk song that he loved. He let himself flow with the movements, gliding across the ice, reaching, always reaching. Only the deep inhale and exhale of his breaths disrupted the peace that hung over the rink.

It was peaceful, skating at such a late hour. The stands were empty, with no audience gasping or cheering. It felt like everything had stopped in the world around him, apart from Viktor himself. It was only him and the sound of his skates on the ice.

Viktor was alone.

And then he wasn’t.

“Your eyes are still sad.”                                   

Viktor turned sharply in the middle of his step sequence, almost slipping. Katsuki Yuuri stood in the centre of the rink, dressed in his usual black and blue Mizuno tracksuit.

“Katsuki,” Viktor said, surprised. He had not heard or seen him come on the ice.

Katsuki frowned. “Why don’t you ever call me by my name?”

Viktor’s throat felt dry. “You know why.”

“Ah, yes.” Katsuki skated closer, his skates making a quiet scraping sound against the ice. “And how is that working out for you?”

Viktor said nothing. He didn’t need to.

Katsuki skated around him, a slow, wide circle, far away from Viktor and yet making his presence heard with every soft sound of his clothes shifting, every soft scrape of his skates’ blades.

Viktor helplessly followed every movement, turning with Katsuki as though they were two magnets simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by each other, shaking in each other’s presence.

And there was music playing, he could hear it now, a voice crying out, speaking of love and ruin and tormenting dark eyes.

It was too much. All of it. He needed to leave. He should leave.

He couldn’t. He didn’t want to. He wanted, he wanted

Katsuki slammed into him and they were falling, falling, falling onto something soft, a bed with white silk sheets, his legs bracketing Viktor’s hips.

“Katsuki,” Viktor choked out. Katsuki wasn’t heavy but the feel of him against Viktor, just ever so slightly pressing him into the mattress… God. God.

“That’s not my name,” Katsuki said, softly. “You won’t say it even now?”

“I can’t.”

“Look at me. Please.”

Viktor opened his eyes and the black ceiling had changed into the sky.

Dawn was breaking; pinks, blues, purples blending and melding together, though tiny pinpoints of light still remained. Katsuki was glowing from within, golden light highlighting his collarbone, his hair. It was so hard to look at him, but Viktor could not tear his eyes away.

And Viktor knew. He knew that

“ThisThis isn’t real,” he whispered, his hands clutching Katsuki’s waist desperately. Not real. Not real. Not real.

Katsuki considered him, gently tucking a few strands of Viktor’s hair behind his ear. “No, it’s not,” he agreed, leaning closer. Viktor could see his reflection in Katsuki’s pupils and his face was a terrible thing. “Do you want it to be?”

Viktor surged upwards, whether to break free from Katsuki’s hold or something else was unclear. His lips parted to answer and

Viktor’s eyes snapped open as he sat up in his bed, hot and trembling in every limb.

Moonlight streamed through his hotel room curtains. The ceiling was a cold white.

He was alone.


 

Yuuri settled against the backseat of the taxi with a sigh. Beside him, Minako gathered the skirts of her dress around her before strapping in her seatbelt.

They were both running late after a FaceTime call with Yuuri’s family went on a little too long. Yuuri couldn’t say that he felt too bad about it. He would have preferred to stay behind and talk to his family than go to the latest Petty Party Celestino was throwing.

“Where did you want to go, sir?” the taxi driver asked.

“To the Verona Hotel, please,” Yuuri said. His phone buzzed in his trouser pocket. He fished it out and tapped on the screen. “Ah, Phichit-kun.”

>> Hey, Celestino’s gonna call you in a bit.

Yuuri frowned. That didn’t sound good.

<< Why?

>> Something about an ice show?

>> When will you be here?

<< In the taxi with Minako-sensei now.

>> How does she look?

<< Very pretty! I’d show you a pic but that would defeat the point of the masquerade.

<< It’s not weird to ship Celestino and Minako, is it?

>> It would be if they weren’t looking at each other like that.

>> Celestino was fussing with his hair for like 3 hours.

>> Couldn’t convince him to wear the nicer mask though, sorry.

<< YOU HAD ONE (1) JOB, PHICHIT.

>> I TRIED MY BEST.

Yuuri went to type back but his messages disappeared, replaced with the image of a smiling Celestino, the familiar notes of Maria Nazionale’s Ciao-ciao playing

“Ciao-ciao?” Minako said, her eyebrows pulling together.

Yuuri bit back a smile and answered his phone, turning it on speakerphone.

“Ciao-ciao Yuuri!”

“Hi, Celestino-sensei. You’re on speakerphone. Minako-sensei is with me.”

“Ciao-ciao Minako! You two will be here soon, yes?”

“We’re on our way now,” Yuuri replied. “Phichit said you wanted to talk to me about an ice show?”

It took only thirty seconds of Celestino enthusiastically explaining his latest idea for Yuuri to regret not having more to drink when he had been getting ready.

“A pair skate in an ice show? With Jean-Jacques Leroy?” Yuuri said, pinching the bridge of his nose as he held his phone in one hand, listening to Celestino on the speakerphone. “Celestino, I want you to be completely honest with me. Is this ice-show another one of your plans to one-up Coach Feltsman? Because if I recall correctly, Ice Jewels released a report today with a rumour that Viktor Nikiforov will be in an ice show next year doing a pair skate with one of Yakov’s former students.”

“… Of course not! It’s to keep the bond between my former and present students strong because we’re a family.” Celestino paused. “But how did you know about that report?”

Yuuri cleared his throat awkwardly as Minako smirked at him, waggling her eyebrows. There was no need for Celestino to know about his ‘Viktor Nikiforov’ alert on his phone. “Hisashi Morooka wrote it. He’s been doing articles on me for years and has been very supportive of my career.”

"Usotsuki," Minako mouthed at him, grinning.

Yuuri pulled a face at her. "Hanasanaide kudasai."

“Ah, yes,” Celestino said, blissfully unaware of Minako’s teasing, “I like that man. Pity he has to write about that skater but I guess you have to do grunt work sometimes. So what do you think about the pair skate?”

“Err,” Yuuri began, trying to not make his disinterest too obvious. “I’ll think about it. From what I have seen, Jean-Jacques and I have very different skating stylescreating a program we both like will be difficult, to say the least.”

“Yes, yes. The show’s still some time away so there’s plenty of time to discuss it all.”

“Hmmm,” Yuuri said, “we’re almost at the venue. Phichit said you and he would be there early to welcome people in. Do you want me to be there as well?”

“No, leave that to us since we all know you’re not comfortable doing that sort of thing. Go mingle and I’ll speak to you later and introduce you to JJ. Ciao-Ciao!”

“Ciao,” Yuuri said, a hollow feeling growing in his chest, before hanging up and stuffing his phone back into his pocket.

“Why don’t you want to do the pair skate, Yuuri-kun?” Minako said, frowning as she straightened her tiara. Yuuri felt a surge of annoyance as she continued speaking in English instead of Japanese. He knew why she was doing it; it was so the taxi driver could understand what they were saying and Yuuri would feel pressured by having other people involved in his problems, a tactic she used to use when he was a kid. “Celestino clearly went into a lot of effort for this to happen. I would have thought you would have been grateful for the opportunity he’s offering you. Besides, think of

“I don’t want to speak about this now, Minako-sensei,” Yuuri said with surprising assertiveness, cutting her off. “There’s a lot of decisions to make and there’s still time to make them later.”

“Decisions? What decisions? You have to grab these opportunities whilst you can. You’re not getting any younger. There’s only one important decision to make right now.”

Yes, Yuuri thought, There’s only one.

Do I stay on the ice or do I retire?

The taxi rolled up to the venue.

Yuuri put his mask on, tying the ends of the ribbon tightly behind his head. Minako copied him before getting out of the taxi, fluffing her pink and purple skirt.

They both walked together into the venue in tense silence, where they were promptly offered champagne before coming to the ballroom where the masquerade was taking place.

"Houtte okareka desu ka?" Minako asked, eyeing the noticeable stiffness in his shoulders, "Nani ga hoshii? Oshiette kudasai."

"Boku no koto wa houtte oite kudasai," Yuuri said.

Minako nodded. "Wakatta. Ja, ato de aou."

She slipped into the room, leaving Yuuri at the threshold to stare at the entirety of the ballroom. He chugged the champagne glass and set it down on a table nearby him before going into the room.

The ballroom was beautiful, to say the least; it was a large, golden room composed of two levels with white pillars lined up at the sides and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The ground floor was where the dancefloor and catering was, whilst a grand staircase led to the next level where people could watch the dancing from above and talk amongst themselves without shouting over the music. A DJ was discreetly placed near the staircase, quietly taking requests. A bar was set up near the right side of the room near the windows, and the open balcony doors led to a private garden, though it was such a cold night that many people preferred to stay indoors.

The ballroom was already filled with people, despite the masquerade only just starting. Though, it was of little surprise to Yuuri. Celestino’s skaters may not be as successful as Feltsman’s were, but he was more well-liked than Coach Feltsman in their little world of figure-skating; and besides, his Petty Parties were on the more imaginative and grander side than Feltsman’s.

Yuuri meandered through the crowd of people and to the bar to sit there for a while in peace. It was swelteringly hot in the ballroom, despite the balcony doors being open. He drank another glass of champagne to cool down after taking his I.D. out of his phone case to show the bartender, though he took his time with this drink. Nobody lingered around here, and Yuuri was hoping he could remain unnoticed for the rest of the evening. Of course, he knew it would be a futile effort; at some point, Minako or Phichit would come looking for him and he’d be dragged into a conversation with Celestino and some sponsors or coaches. Probably would end up talking to JJ Leroy from Canada, like Celestino wanted him to.

Yuuri scowled at the thought as he picked up his third flute of champagne and sipped it, finally moving away to stand near the windows at the side of the room and trying as much as possible to blend in with the drapes.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like JJ. JJ was just a bit too… much, and sometimes he could be a little rude when he was showing off. Other than that, he was fairly pleasant and his jumps in his routines were incredible.

Still, Celestino was thinking about making Yuuri do a pair skate with him in an ice show next year, so Yuuri would have to speak with the younger man.

Yuuri didn’t want to do a pair skate with JJ in an ice show.

Yuuri still wasn’t sure if he was going to retire or not.

If there was any time to announce his retirement, it would be in the next couple of weeks. Otherwise, Celestino would start planning for the next season and Yuuri would have to compete.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to compete again. And he wasn’t sure if he didn’t.

All he knew was that he didn’t really enjoy skating anymore. Or, at least, the environment that he was forced to skate in.

Yuuri sipped his champagne, keeping an eye out for Minako. He felt someone looking at him, the heavy weight of their gaze resting on his shoulders, and he turned, ready to run if need be.


 

“So, who’s hosting this party anyway?”

“Oh, just some coach and their skaters,” Chris called from the bathroom where he was drying himself from his shower. “They’re going fancy this time, making it a masquerade. Said it was to create better relations between skaters with the anonymity and all.”

“I was wondering what these costumes were doing on your bed,” Viktor said, putting down his wineglass and picking up the red costume by its hanger. “I take it the red one is mine.”

Oui, it’s a Hussar uniform.”

“The irony,” Viktor said drily. “Dressing me in the uniform of a stereotypical hard-drinking playboy.”

“And it’s the Russian version of it as well. I thought you would appreciate it.”

Viktor draped the costume over his arm, eyeing the purple one. “Did they run out of fabric for your costume, Chris?” he muttered to himself, amused.

“Heard that,” Chris said, smacking the back of Viktor’s head as he walked past to pick up his costume, naked as the day he was born. “Just because some people don’t want the world to appreciate their goods doesn’t mean I don’t want the world to appreciate mine. Go get ready. Get showered, put your face on. We’re going to have a good time, and, if you’re lucky, you might find somebody cute.”

“They won’t know it’s me if it’s a masquerade,” Viktor pointed out.

“Well, you always said you wanted someone to fall for your personality and not for your fame.” Chris picked up Viktor’s abandoned wine glass and took a sip. “Here’s your chance. Now get changed. Take my key so you can get back in later.”

“Fine,” Viktor said, grabbing his costume and the key before leaving to get ready in his room.

He took his time in the shower, leisurely washing his hair twice before conditioning it. His hair was considered his best trait after all, and it was what had made him distinctive when he had first started skating.

Once he was out of the shower, he shaved his legs again and slathered his entire body in cocoa butter whilst his hair was wrapped up in a towel. He picked up his tweezers to pluck out any stray hairs from his eyebrows.

“Your eyes are sad. Even when you smile, your eyes are sad.”

Viktor stared at his reflection in the mirror, at the false smile on his face, the blank look in his eyes. The hand holding the tweezers faltered a little.

“I hope you’ll smile for real soon, Viktor.”

Katsuki Yuuri had called him Viktor. He still remembered the way Katsuki’s tongue had rolled the ‘r’, the way he had caressed each syllable of his name.

“Your eyes are sad.”

How could Katsuki see what even Yakov and his rinkmates couldn’t?

Viktor shook his head.

Now was not the time to be thinking about him.

He finished getting ready as quickly as his beauty routine would allow it before slipping on the costume and mask. He stood again in the mirror, considering himself.

Damn.

Regal was the word Viktor would use to describe himself right now.

There was a great deal of gold in the costume; the top half of the short scarlet jacketa dolman Viktor believed it was calledwas covered horizontally in a heavy gold braid, and a thick gold trim was stitched into the fabric where the dolman reached his waist. The loose-hanging pelisse that Viktor wore was also red and equally covered in gold braid and embroidery, but had a brown fur trim lining the ends. The legs of the black trousers were thickly covered in intricate golden designs and were paired with gleaming black riding boots with golden tassels attached to the front.

The mask was a simple black with gold trim around the edges, but its simplicity came together with the elaborate costume beautifully.

Chris knew his tastes far too well.

He picked up his wallet, phone, and key, tucking them into the little pocket on the inside of his dolman and turning off his hotel room lights before leaving for Chris’s room.

He swiped the keycard on the door and slipped inside.

“Chris?”

“I’m putting on my mask. I’ll be out now.”

The bathroom door opened and out strutted Chris.

His Colombina mask was golden with purple feathers protruding from the mask so thickly that Viktor wondered how Chris was walking up straight. His costume was similar to a figure skating dress Viktor had seen one of the female skaters wear in the past; strips of wine and blackcurrant fabric raced down from a jewelled collar to cover his nipples and wrap themselves possessively around his arms, the skirt of the dress asymmetrical and wispy. On his feet, he wore a pair of purple feathered heels, making him tower even more over Viktor.

Viktor wolf-whistled in appreciation. “Amazing!”

Chris preened, the feathers fluttering. “Thank you, but it’s not like that’s not my default setting.”

“And how do I look?” Viktor did a little spin on the spot, the gold buttons of his costume glinting in the soft yellow light of Chris’s hotel room.

Chris nodded in satisfaction. “I would ,” he said, his voice practically purring with the suggestion, “had it not been for my Dom. Or that seemingly over-complicated way to unbutton that jacket. Or the fact that blonds aren’t my type.”

“But Chris,” Viktor protested, laughter building up in his chest, “you’re blond.”

Chris shoved him good-naturedly. “Let’s get going or we’ll miss it.”

“Have you got a taxi?”

“We’re walking. It’s only a few blocks away.”

Viktor frowned before shaking his head. It was a little dangerous for him to walk out on the streets alone. Yakov would have a fit if he knew he wasn’t taking a taxi.

He followed Chris out of the hotel and down the street, laughing and bumping shoulders. Chris had a small bottle of vodka in a brown paper bag that they both took turns taking sips of. It was good vodka by Viktor’s standards but ruined by the fact that it was warm, which made it more difficult to swallow.

“So who are our delightful hosts this evening?” Viktor asked, a good deal more cheerful with alcohol warming his stomach, “Do I know them?”

“Yeah, I guess you would.” Chris’s voice turned a little high-pitched before he coughed.

Viktor side-eyed him for a moment. “So, I do know them! European?”

“Uh-huh.”

“A European coach… And you said ‘skaters’ earlier instead of ‘skater’ so they coach more than one student and they don’t teach any ice dancers.”

Chris made an affirmative noise.

“And they have regular parties because you said they were making it a masquerade this time and not many European coaches have regular ” Viktor stopped in his path. “No. Chris, it’s not… Tell me it’s not him .”

Chris coughed awkwardly.

“Chris, tell me that you’re not dragging me to Cialdini’s Petty Party.”

Viktor received only silence.

The Petty Parties were a long-time tradition between Yakov and Celestino Cialdini; they would invite international skating coaches, skaters and ice dancers… apart from each other and their respective students.

Viktor. In a room full of people who hated him.

Had Chris gone insane?

“Chris, I can’t go,” Viktor whispered, horrified, “Cialdini will kill me. His skaters will cut me up into little pieces with their skates!”

It could start another Twitter war. It could lead to Yuri (little, fiery Yuri, who couldn’t stop getting into fights) to be banned from skating. Yakov would have Viktor’s head and mount it on his office wall under a plaque saying ‘Viktor Nikiforov Mistakes were made in the pursuit of alcohol and pretty costumes.’

Chris rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “Phichit’s very nice as long as you don’t insult the people he cares about. And Yuuri wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Katsuki Yuuri. Japan’s Ace. Five-time World silver medallist. Viktor’s rival. His enemy.

“Your eyes are sad.”

He would be at the party.

Fuck.

“I can’t just go waltzing in there, drink their champagne, and then leave! Somebody’s going to find out I’m there.”

“It’ll be fine. It’s a masquerade. Just don’t take off your mask.”

“But Yakov

“Won’t know if you don’t tell him,” Chris said firmly. “Look, you can mope in your room or you can go to a party with me and maybe dance, have some fun?”

“It’s not a good idea. There’s too much at stake here. The rivalry. Can’t you

“Come to the party. If you want to leave early, you can call a taxi and go. I won’t stop you.” Chris shrugged, a deliberate, careless gesture. “But for all you know, you could meet the love of your life tonight and you’re standing here, debating about going or not. In a few years, you could be reminiscing about this very night with them and you might say ‘I wasn’t sure about going but I’m glad I did. Chris was right.’ And even if you don’t meet somebody, you can at least have a good memory about a night out with a friend. Isn’t that enough?”

“I don’t think

“I think that’s the problem, Viktor. You think too much. Perhaps you need to feel instead.”

Viktor hesitated, biting his lip.

Going to the party could start a fight.

But I have a mask. They won’t know it’s me.

They could find out.

But they might not.

And if they do?

But they won’t. I have a mask. The mask will protect me.

He stood there, gazing at the floor as if it would give him the answers.

I hope you’ll smile for real soon, Viktor.

What if he did tonight? Smile for real?

… Fuck it.

“This is the stupidest thing we have ever done and you once convinced me to go to Siberia with you in the middle of winter,” Viktor hissed.

“So, you are coming with me?”

Viktor stalked past Chris, the pelisse swishing as he walked. “Yes, alright. Just make my eulogy beautiful, okay?”

“Of course.” Chris fell in step with Viktor. “I’ll tell them of the night the heat went out in Siberia.”

Viktor snorted, even though his stomach was tied a little in knots.

Despite appearances, Viktor was not a spontaneous person. When it came to surprising his audience, Viktor took a lot of time in planning his performances and his interviews to make sure that his surprises would be well-received. Viktor was always thinking ahead, making contingency plans for every circumstance he could think of.

Going to a Petty Party was not part of Viktor’s plan for his time in Boston at all. But maybe that was a good thing. A good change, perhaps.

Maybe, after years of being cautious, Viktor could be a little irresponsible tonight.

They walked further down the street, streetlights guiding them. Neon lights from shops burned through the darkness and a breeze ruffled the corners of posters of a lost cat taped onto the street lamps. Up on a building, a large billboard stood, the edges of the advertisement already peeling a little.

Viktor squinted at the billboard before realising it was advertising Worlds.

A mish-mash of skaters and ice dancers decorated the billboard, himself included, all posing artistically. Billboard-Viktor was in the Stammi Vicino costume, his face raised to the heavens as though he was looking for a god to give him an answer to his plea.

That hadn’t been what had caught Viktor’s interest though.

It was the image of Katsuki Yuuri, clad in his white and silver short program costume, his dark eyes gazing directly, intensely, at Billboard-Viktor.

“This This isn’t real.”

“Do you want it to be?”

Viktor’s heart thudded for some reason and he turned his eyes back to the street in front of him. He wished he dreamt of some squishy penguins or something as equally ridiculous as that dream had been.

He knew it was just some edit that someone had strewn together to cause interest. He and Katsuki were a hot topic with the media; their rivalry was legendary in the world because of their coaches’ own. The fact they were both celebrity athletes in the same sport only encouraged this. It was funny how they were seen as each other’s hated rivals when they had never even spoken a word to each other until two nights ago, but the media was nothing if not good at stirring trouble up.

Viktor took another glance at the billboard, noting how Katsuki’s hair, always slicked back, was tousled a little in the picture, pieces sticking to his forehead.

He swallowed.

Katsuki was not beautiful in the way Viktor was.

The adjective used the most by tabloids to describe Viktor was ‘statuesque’; his cheekbones, jawline and body looked like they had been “sculpted and carved from glowing marble” (an actual quote from Vogue ) and he was a fairly tall man, towering over quite a few people. Viktor thought the adjective was somewhat accurate; he did feel like one of those Roman statues, the ones that had originally been painted with bright colours, but time and people had chipped away all the paint until there was nothing but a cold and colourless statue. A statue that seemed too far out of people’s reach, crafted only to be looked at but not to be seen .

Katsuki Yuuri was not like that; he was like a watercolour painting, the lines of his body fluid and light, even in stillness. The delicate curve of his face, the slope of his mouth, his strong brow and deep, expressive eyes could have been brought to life by a flick of a paintbrush. Definitely not the sort of beauty that had been created by endless workouts and a protein-based diet like Viktor’s. Katsuki had a softer, more natural beauty, more evocative in the slight twist of his fingers than Viktor was in his entire body, the kind of beauty that you could only see if you watched him for a long period of time. The kind that made many people mistake him as plain until they realised one day that he was anything but.

Viktor had known this from the very first time he had seen Katsuki in person, five years ago at the NHK Trophy. He had been 22, the season where he had started making his mark in Seniors. Katsuki had been nearly 19 (his birthday only days after the NHK trophy, Viktor would later find out), and that season had been his senior debut.

Viktor had not been competing at the NHK trophy. He had, instead, been supporting Georgi and stood behind the barrier of the rink, watching the competitors.

Everyone had been good. Katsuki had been better.  

He had worn a one-piece for his short program; an ombré ruffled shirt, the bright pink fading into white, with silver and red beading that weaved together into the black fabric of his trousers. It had clearly been an expensive costume, moreso than anything he had previously worn in his junior competitions. It had gone beautifully with his theme, Genesis , and even more with his short program, ‘Call of Destiny.’

Viktor remembered how stunned he had been by the sight of the man when he had first taken his starting pose, his eyes closed, one hand placed behind his ear. By the end of it, Viktor had been spellbound by his performance. For some reason, Yakov had not seemed pleased by Katsuki’s program, which had been strange enough because Yakov was usually quite supportive of other skaters and willing to admit if a performance was beautiful.

Being drawn in by the music Katsuki had made with his body, the way it had seemed to flow out of him like ink out of a fountain pen, Viktor had decided to approach him.

He had begun to make his way over to Katsuki as he had been skating back to the entrance of the rink, making plans to ask him out for coffee (as competitors getting to know each other, of course).

(Not that he had done that for any other competitor, but there was always a first time for everything.)

Then he had seen Celestino Cialdini clap Katsuki on the back and any plans of his crumbled into ash.

He remembered stopping in his path for a brief moment, his mind horrifyingly blank, before quickly and quietly making his way past some competitors in order to get a drink he hadn’t even wanted.

It had been the only time he had tried to interact with Katsuki.

And Katsuki had never tried to seek him out either.

So, they had spent the last five years, never speaking, only posing for pictures to put on the ISU website and various sports magazines.

Katsuki always looked great in the pictures they took together, despite having his enemy’s arm around him.

And yet, when Katsuki slipped an arm around his waist for photos, Viktor was always hyper-aware of the flex of Katsuki’s muscles on his back, the slightest touch of his hip against Viktor’s.

Katsuki’s arms were very muscular, but Viktor only knew that from the cologne TV ad he did a year or so back where he was shirtless and, for some reason, dripping wet. Katsuki’s hair was pushed back in the ad, the wet strands pulling through his fingers easily, and there had been droplets of water running down his chest to his navel that Viktor had wanted to lick

“Finally!” Chris interrupted Viktor’s train of thought.

The venue looked grand from the outside; it was two stories high and the white walls were covered with green vines and white flowers. When Viktor sniffed, the scent of jasmine hanging heavily in the air washed over him. Chris raised his arm up to wave to two people who were waiting by the revolving door of the venue.

Viktor squinted. One was bald, wore a red and white suit and glasses, their red mask on a small rod in their hand. Viktor recognised the person as Chris’s coach, Josef Karpisek. The other person Viktor did not know. They wore a deep purple suit with silver and gold crystals sewn tastefully around the cuffs and shoulders of the suit jacket. A gold and silver lace mask perched on their face and their chin-length brown hair covered the ribbons they used to tie the mask on perfectly.

“You didn’t say we were meeting people here,” Viktor said as they walked up to meet them. “Do they know I’m coming?”

“Not at all.”

“Chris!”

“Viktor!”

“Can you please be serious about this?”

“I am perfectly serious, thank y”      

“Who is this?” Purple-Suit interrupted them, crossing their arms a little.

Josef took one look at Viktor and groaned. “Chris, please tell me that’s not

“This is my friend, Viktor.” Chris did a little flourish of his arm. “Ta-da.”

“What?! Are you insane?” Purple-Suit hissed at Chris before turning to Viktor. “Sorry, not that I’m not pleased to finally meet you, but this isn’t really the best place for it.”

“No problem. I didn’t know whose party this was until we were nearly here. Viktor Nikiforov. He and him.” Viktor stretched a hand towards them to shake.

The person took his hand, firmly shaking it. “I’m Dominique Aurand but you may call me Dom. They and them.”

“Oh, so you’re Chris’s Dom!” Viktor said, smiling warmly. “I’ve heard so many good things about you!”

“Yes, this is my Dom.” Chris pressed a warm kiss to the cheek of his beau.

“That’s debatable right now,” Dom said, scowling at Chris. “You know bringing Viktor here is the absolute worst idea you’ve had since you both went to Siberia.”

“I told him that,” Viktor cut in. “He wouldn’t listen.”

“What was I supposed to do?” Chris said as he pointed at Viktor accusingly. “He was pulling sad faces in the hotel bar.”

“I was not pulling sad faces,” Viktor said, insulted.

“And yet when I pull a sad face at our apartment, you still won’t do the dishes.” Dom folded their arms.

“I forgot one time, Dom!”

“Three times actually,” Dom corrected him, “but that’s not the point here. You were coming here as my date and

“CHRIS! You never said!” Viktor said, scandalised.

it was clear that you were planning to bring Viktor along for a while since it’s not possible for you to get him a costume that elaborate on short notice. So frankly, I’m a little hurt by your deception.” Dom did not look hurt; they didn’t even look annoyed anymore. Instead, their brown eyes had darkened, and a small smirk sat on their lips.

“Oh.” Chris blinked coquettishly down at Dom. “Are you going to… punish me?”

What.

“What,” Viktor said. He looked towards Josef, who only shook his head mournfully at him.

“Maybe.” Dom pulled lightly on the collar of Chris’s costume, the jewels catching the streetlight, forcing Chris to lean down. “Depends on how naughty you plan to be this evening.”

Chris grinned. “Extremely.” He deliberately lowered his hand to rest clearly on Viktor’s left buttock, squeezing. Viktor, who was used to his ass being squeezed by Chris after so many years, found himself the target of unwanted attention as Dom’s eyes narrowed onto the point. “Maybe your ass isn’t as great as you thought it was.”

“You certainly didn’t say that last night.”

“Seriously?” Viktor said, stepping away from the pair, a light blush running across the bridge of his nose. “Right in front of your coach?”

Josef wore a look of long-suffering. “You think this is bad. You should have seen them before they got together.”

“No wonder you banned them from the rink until they had sorted themselves out,” Viktor said.

“Tell me about it.” Josef heaved a sigh before whistling sharply at the couple busy groping each other. “Dominique, Christophe! Hands off each other now! We’re going in.”

The couple pouted but obeyed.

“Fine.” Dom straightened their suit jacket. “We’re going to talk about this later, Chris.”

Chris huffed in response.

The walk into the masquerade was tense, at least for Viktor. Chris and Dom were murmuring to each other, their heads close together, and Josef made no effort to speak to Viktor.

Viktor did not mind. Josef was someone who would only speak when he had something to say, much like Viktor’s father.

When they came into the ballroom, Viktor was instantly hit by the amount of light and noise. He stood in the doorway, blinking at the room until Chris dragged him into the way by his elbow.

“Here,” Chris said, shoving a flute of champagne into his hand. “Drink that up. We have to pay our respects to the hosts. Go and wander around for a bit and I’ll see you later.”

“Wait, what?” Viktor said, startled. “You’re leaving me? Here? Alone?”

“You’ll be fine! Just keep your mask on.” Chris patted his back and went off, disappearing into the crowd to follow Dom and Josef.

“Chris!” Viktor called after him but he did not come back.

Slightly panicked, Viktor stood stock-still. People bumped into him, muttering annoyedly as they brushed past. He clenched his fists and took a deep, steadying breath.

An hour. He would stay for an hour and then he would leave.


 

“And… smile!”

Phichit grinned widely as the photographer snapped a picture of  Leo, Guang-Hong and him, the flash of the camera making his eyes water a little.

“Ah, I didn’t blink, did I?’ Leo said, rubbing his left eye.

The photographer looked at their camera screen. “Nope, you look great!” They showed the three boys the picture: Leo, clad in a puffy, teal shirt with gold swirls, a matching wrestler mask he borrowed from his brother, and black trousers, stood in the middle of their trio. On his left, Guang-Hong wore a similar outfit but in red and silver. Phichit stood out in stark contrast to them; his arm cuffs and necklace were cobalt snakes that coiled tightly around him, glittering little specks of harsh white as they rested against a tunic the colour of satsumas. His Phantom mask and trousers were the same deep blue as the snakes.

“I’m putting that on SNS first,” Guang-Hong said immediately, taking his phone out.

“You can’t!” Phichit said cheerfully, taking a swig of his Coke. “The photos are going to Yuuri for safe-keeping since he’s the only one that’s not going to Thailand tomorrow. So I’m posting it first!”

“Yuuri is basically my skating dad, he’ll give them to me,” Guang-Hong argued.

“Yeah? Well, Yuuri is basically my skating brother. We have a bond forged through ice and sweat. You can’t win here, Guang-Hong.”

“I texted Yuuri earlier,” Leo said smugly. “He said I can have them. He also said to tell you, Phichit, that if you try anything, he will literally never make you food again.”

“Damn,” Phichit sighed. “I can’t live without Yuuri’s cooking.”

Guang-Hong nodded. “He makes a good curry.”

“The best,” Leo said. “I still dream about it sometimes.”

“Speaking of Yuuri.” Phichit grabbed his phone and looked at this screen. No messages or calls. “Huh… He should be here by now.”

“Hasn’t he called you?” Leo said.

“No… That’s weird. He was in the taxi here not long ago.”

“Maybe he got caught up talking to someone.”

“Maybe,” Phichit allowed. “I’m going to see if I can find him or Minako. You guys go ahead, I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Okay!” Leo raised himself on his tiptoes, peering over the heads of the crowd. “I think I see my coach over there. Come on, Guang-Hong.”

“See you later, Phichit!”

He made his way around the dancefloor, heading towards the staircase to see if he could possibly get a glimpse of his friend from up there. He looked around and sighed happily at the number of people dancing and chatting around him.

The Masquerade was turning out to be one of the best nights of Phichit’s life.

It had taken nearly a year of planning for it all to happen. It definitely wouldn’t have happened if the Celestino Cialdini hadn’t been Phichit’s coach. Celestino loved parties as much as Phichit did and had taken all of his ideas on board every time he wanted to throw one.

But this Masquerade was on an entirely new level of parties.

It was the kind of party Phichit used to see on TV, all bright lights and gold and champagne flowing, sophistication, elegance and a hint of craziness whirled into one, glorious night. Phichit was living.

He had never imagined that he would be this lucky.

Ice skating in Thailand had not been taken seriously until Phichit had begun to skate in international competitions, rising higher and higher in the rankings until he was in the top twenty. And it was all due to Celestino and Yuuri.

Phichit had followed Yuuri’s career since he was 13 years old, blown away from the step sequences and spins that made it look like music was pouring out of Yuuri’s body. It had been Yuuri that stumbled across one of his practice videos on YouTube and showed it to Celestino when Celestino was looking for a new student. It was Yuuri who had offered to mentor Phichit about interviews and sponsors to boost his popularity. He had encouraged Phichit to use social media to get fans, although he didn’t use his own much due to being a rather private person.

A lot of people would say that it would be weird to become best friends with your idol because there was that fear of becoming disillusioned by them. For Phichit, this was the opposite. Yuuri made things seem more achievable by being so human.

Now, he was a hero in Thailand, unchallenged and loved. He would breeze through his Nationals in the next week.

Lost in his thoughts, he almost did not notice that the person passing him had paused in their step. “Phichit-kun? Is that you?”

Phichit stopped and stood there, gaping.

“Minako?” Phichit asked.

“Yes! Hello,” she said, relieved.

She seemed to be draped in the colours of the sky at twilight; the indigo off-shoulder sleeves and corset top bled seamlessly into a lilac tulle skirt streaked with soft pink and violet. Little crystals shone like specks of starlight in the tulle and on the pink lace mask and dainty tiara she wore. Her hair was in a sophisticated half updo, the ends slightly wavy, and her makeup was light, only a sheer lip-gloss and some mascara. She was radiant, strong and soft at the same time.

Celestino was going to die .

“Oh my God, you look amazing!” Phichit gasped. “Can we take a selfie together?”

Minako laughed. “Of course.”

He slipped an arm around her waist and posed with her, both of them holding up the peace sign and grinning.

“Where’s Celestino-san?” Minako asked.

“He’s just over here, talking to some sponsors. Want to help me save him?” Phichit needed a picture of Celestino’s face when he saw Minako stat .

“Won’t that be counter-productive to you and Yuuri?”

“Nah.” Phichit waved away her concern. “Yuuri and I are pretty charming. We’ll just circle back around to them later.”

“Alright,” she said, relaxing.

Phichit led her up the staircase and to where Celestino was entertaining a group of sponsors. He was gesturing animatedly, regaling them with a story in what Phichit thought was French.

Phichit coughed to catch Celestino’s attention. “Ciao-Ciao.”

Celestino paused in the middle of his story and sighed, twisting around to scold him. “Phichit, I told you not to” He cut himself off, eyes widening at the sight of Minako. “Minako!”

Minako smiled warmly at him. “I hope we’re not interrupting.”

The sponsors looked at Phichit curiously, who made very subtle gestures towards Celestino and Minako before tapping his heart and winking. Understanding smirks lit up their faces. “Well, we hope to speak to you later, Mr Cialdini,” one in a bright yellow dress said.

“Oh.” Celestino turned back to them, flustered. “Of course! I’d be delighted.”

The group said their goodbyes quickly and moved off.

“Minako, you look lovely,” Celestino said, slightly stumbling over his words.

“Oh, thank you,” Minako said. “Your mask… it’s so… interesting.”

Phichit hid a wince. It had been going so well. Celestino had chosen an elegant costume, something straight out of the 18th centurya tricorne with an upturned brim, a frilled shirt, a long golden waistcoat, and a blue full-skirted knee-length coat, elaborately decorated with gold ornamentation. The knee breeches and the silk stockings had raised Phichit and Yuuri’s eyebrows a little, but it added to the authenticity of the outfit so they had let slide on the basis that Minako could be into the whole dashing gentleman look. Thankfully, he was not wearing a white wig but had tied his hair back, as usual.

Then he decided to ruin it all by getting what he called a ‘Medico della Peste’ mask, which he explained was designed to look like what a doctor wore during the Black Death. The mask seemed more like a hindrance to Phichit and Yuuri; the long beak partly covered Celestino’s mouth and would make it difficult for Celestino to dance with people. The only consolation was that it had blue and gold markings on it. Still, Yuuri and Phichit had attempted to get rid of it and convince Celestino to wear a more attractive mask to no avail.

“May I get you a drink?” Celestino said. Then he blinked and looked around. “Where’s Yuuri?”

“Yuuri?” Phichit blinked. Shit, he forgot about Yuuri.

“He’s here,” Minako assured Celestino. “He wanted some time alone.”

Celestino nodded. “He’s been in a strange mood lately.”

“Yuuri hasn’t been on any new medication, has he? I can’t think of why else he would be acting this way,” Minako said.

Phichit shook his head. “No, we went to pick up his prescription the other week and it was the same tablets. I’m a bit worried because he’s only meant to take them when he needs to, and he seems to be taking them a lot recently.”

“I’ll speak to him later tonight,” Celestino said. “Maybe he needs more sessions with his therapist. There could be something weighing on his mind.”

“Maybe.” Phichit bit his lip. “I think I’ll go find him and see if he’s okay.”

“Good idea,” Celestino agreed, his eyes already returning to Minako.

Phichit rolled his eyes at them and left, hoping that maybe they would finally stop dancing around each other and that Yuuri’s mood was better now that he had some time alone.

Knowing Yuuri, he would most likely be skulking around the corners of the room or sitting at the bar. Phichit was personally hoping for the bar; Yuuri was always more outgoing when he had a few drinks in him and he could be easily persuaded to have fun. If Phichit was lucky, he might even convince Yuuri to perform a J-Pop dance routine for Instagram.

He drifted aimlessly around the masquerade, trying to keep an eye out for anyone who could possibly be Yuuri. He didn’t know what Yuuri was wearing, but it was likely to be something blue. He tended to stick with the cool tones and Yuuri’s preference for blue in his costumes had become something like a meme for figure-skating fans.

Still, a lot of people were wearing blue so it was taking some time to find him.

He was heading towards the bar when he was passing one of the columns and heard his name. He stopped in his step and turned.

invited him. Do you know how dangerous it is for him to be here, Chris?”

The voice was laced with a clear European accent, perhaps French. He hid by the column, listening.

“Dom, it’s not like anyone is going to find out.” This voice, Phichit recognised, belonged to Christophe Giacometti. So that meant Chris and Dom were arguing... Oh shit . This was premium gossip material. He wondered if he should message Yuuri what was going on since he was Dom’s friend.  “No one is going to find out Viktor’s here. He said he was going to keep his mask on.”

Phichit froze. Nikiforov was here?

“I still can’t believe you let him out of our sight! Do you know how careless that was? When you brought him here, I thought he would at least remain with us, not wander about like a stray dog! How are we going to find him?”

“We’ll look for someone wearing red.” Chris waved away Dom’s concerns. “It’s fine, mon amour, we’ll see him later. Let’s go get a drink now, oui?”

“We’re not done talking about this.”

“Well, I am. Excuse me,” Chris said as he shrugged past a speechless Phichit.

Phichit was left staring after the pair as a boiling fury began to build up in his chest, fire flooding his brain until it felt like it was sizzling and his thoughts jumbled together into a mess of red.

How dare Chris? How dare he? And how dare Nikiforov saunter into their celebration, the one Celestino had planned for months?

Phichit set his jaw, his hands curling into fists, and began to walk purposefully back to Celestino.

Yuuri could wait a little longer. He would understand. He hated Nikiforov as much as Phichit did.

He found Minako and Celestino by the staircase, watching the dancers and murmuring to each other in low voices.

Phichit was almost hesitant to interrupt them, but the thought that Nikiforov could be stirring up trouble this very second and ruin the Masquerade pushed him forward.

“Phichit,” Minako said warmly the moment she noticed him. “Celestino was just telling me how much Yuuri is enjoying his new dance class. Do you have any videos? I want to see them. ”

“Sure, I’ll send them to you,” he replied, stepping from one foot to the other. He opened his mouth to speak to Celestino but Minako spoke again.

“Ballet was Yuuri’s first love before he turned to figure-skating,” she continued, wistfully looking into her champagne glass. “He would have made a beautiful principal danseur if he hadn’t seen that figure-skating competition...”

“That’s great. Wonderful,” Phichit said. “Can I just steal Ciao-Ciao away from you for a sec?”

Minako frowned. “Is everything alright? Is Yuuri okay?”

“He’s terrific! I think. I, er, didn’t actually find him,” he admitted. “But he’ll be fine. Anyway, Ciao-Ciao. A word?”

“Of course,” Celestino smiled apologetically at Minako. “I’m sorry. We’ll only be a moment.”

“It’s fine,” Minako said, raising an eyebrow. “Are those the Leroys over there? I might ask them about this pair skate you were discussing with Yuuri.”

They waited until Minako had walked away before Celestino spoke, his annoyance clear. “Phichit, what on earth

“We need to call security,” Phichit said to Celestino.

Celestino looked shocked. “What?” He looked around. “Is there a fight going on?”

“No, but there will be soon.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s Nikiforov,” Phichit whispered furiously. “He’s here.”

“Nikiforov? Where?”

“He’s in a red costume,” Phichit said. “He’s gone somewhere, but if we get security

“No.”

Phichit paused. “No?”

“No,” Celestino said firmly. “We cannot make a scene. Not here, not with so many witnesses. We have to play this game by the ISU’s rules.”

“Ciao-Ciao, we can’t just let him get away with this!” Phichit said, aghast. “He’ll be laughing at us when he leaves.”

“And we will have the last laugh next season,” Celestino said, gripping Phichit’s shoulder. “Trust me on this, piccolo .”

Phichit hesitated. “But what if he

“Phichit,” Celestino said sternly.

Phichit deflated. “Fine.”

“Good man.” Celestino patted him on the back. “Try to enjoy yourself now. You won’t be having much fun when your Nationals start.”

“What are you talking about?” Phichit said, perking up again. “Competitions are fun .”


 

Viktor swirled his vodka tonic, watching the single ice cube swing around the glass.

The DJ was playing a Queen song and Viktor was boredly listening to the crooning. He loved Queen, he used to skate to it, but at that very moment, he was tempted to pull the plug on the DJ’s speakers.

“I work hard—he works hard!—every day of my life, I work till I ache in my bones. At the end—at the end of the day—I take home my hard earned pay all on my own.”

It was ridiculous, really. He should not have come here.

He was too nervous to talk to people, certain that they would find out who he was. People had given him strange looks the entire time, flicking their gaze to the man who was by himself with no company. He had started fussing over his hair, worried that it would give him away, and had spent a few minutes muttering to himself, trying out an English accent to disguise his voice.

Yet, nobody struck his interest enough that he felt the urge to go over and talk to them.

So he sat at the bar, people-watching and planning to leave as soon as he finished his drink.

He felt incredibly alone, especially since Chris had left him not long ago to enjoy the masquerade with his beau. He tried not to feel sour about that, but he couldn’t help but feel rather used. It felt like Chris had just used him as a prop in a foreplay scene with Dom.

So here he was, bored and isolated and only here because he was swayed by the hope of not dealing with monotony.

It was just like all of his previous dates.

“Everyday—everyday!—I try and I try and I try. But everybody wants to put me down!”

How many times had he sat in front of someone and hoped that maybe this could be someone who he could be happy with? Too many.

It had been around the second time he won the World Championships that the media had begun to write articles of Viktor Nikiforov the playboy extraordinaire, the heartbreaker, and certified flirt.

“They say I'm going crazy!”

What nobody knew was that he would give anything to just hold hands with only one person. Yet, that was the catch; finding that person.

He was 27 years old. He lived in an apartment with only his dog for company. Every night he would make dinner for one and watch TV alone. The only texts he received on a daily basis were the ones Yakov sent him about his skating.

He had recognised too late that he had no life outside of skating. Each day, his eventual retirement came closer and when it happened, when it was finally time to leave…

“I got nobody left to believe in, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!”

He would be utterly alone.

Who was Viktor Nikiforov without skating?

He placed his glass down on the bar’s countertop. The bartender thanked him and whisked it out of sight. Did the bartender have someone to go back to after they finished work? A lover who would smile at them and ask about their day and if there were any funny stories for them to tell?

His mother used to tell stories about her students to his father. So did Lilia and Yakov before they divorced.

But would he ever get the chance to do that?

“I just gotta get out of this prison cell. One day—someday!—I'm gonna be free, Lord!”

Viktor rolled his shoulders, trying to relieve the ache in them.

“—Find me somebody to love. Find me somebody to love. Find me somebody to love. Find me somebody to love, love, love—”

He should have turned around the moment it was clear this was a Petty Party. It was dumb to come here. Yakov would have his head and 

Oh.

Viktor’s breath left him in a sudden gasp.

“Can anybody find me—”

By the windows stood a vision.

—somebody to love?”

And Viktor felt something inside his soul click into place.