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the best imitation of myself

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THE SETUP

There’s no way this will work, Viktor thinks as he gets into line for badge pick up. SkateCon was in Moscow this year, which meant Viktor could show up without drawing undue attention by avoiding planes and renting out an entire train car for himself and Makkachin. He’s come to the convention plenty of times in the past few years, to sit on panels and do autograph sessions and on one uncomfortable occasion participate in a Skaters After Dark event.

But this year Viktor begged off being a celebrity guest—the convention is always exhausting and lately he has no energy—with every intention of taking a long nap with Makkachin as a lap blanket instead. Then Chris called.

“What do you mean, you’re not going? Why?”

“I’m busy,” Viktor lied.

“You are not busy.”

“Fine, I’m lazy.”

“Why don’t you just show up without warning? Interact with people normally.”

“The last time I tried that, I created a disruption and was asked to leave because I was distracting.”

“And?”

“And that was ten years ago, Chris.”

“So wear a disguise.”

“What kind of disguise?” The idea of having to pretend to be someone else, when he already does that constantly, sounded like torture. That nap was sounding better and better. There had to be wine in this apartment somewhere.

“Hmm.” Chris considered. “Contour more than usual.”

“What?”

“And put some oil in your hair to make it shinier. Put on a nude lipstick.”

“How is that a disguise?”

“You can be a Viktor cosplayer.”

“Oh, come on. No one will believe that.”

“I’ll bet you it will.”

“...bet what?”

“Winner picks the music for the loser’s exhibition skate next season.”

“Done.” Viktor put the phone on speaker so he can start buying plane tickets and google ‘depressing heterosexual music’. “See you there.”

So after Viktor checked into his hotel, and put the shiny new collar he bought for Makkachin on her, he put on the Olympic team jacket he normally didn’t wear (of the three he possessed, the red one was his favorite), he combed argan oil through his hair a little more heavily than usual, and then he did his makeup in a slightly more exaggerated way. Cheekbones that would cut glass, eyebrows a shade darker than his hair, subtly overlined lips.

He scrutinized himself in the mirror. This is a mistake.

Then he zipped up his jacket, applied a second coat of mascara, and headed on foot down to the convention center. The line was around the block already when he got there.

So here he is. Viktor hasn’t had to stand in line anywhere but an airport for years. He tries to stay tense, expecting someone to point at him or ask wide-eyed for an autograph any second, but...no one does. The only person who talks to him is an annoyed fellow convention-goer who wants him to move with the line instead of daydreaming.

There are at least three other people dressed like him that Viktor can see. None of them are attracting any attention, either. One of them has the most perfect wig Viktor has ever seen; the hair is almost exactly like his.

“Excuse me,” Viktor says. He holds up his phone (he switched out the case for a knock off version of it a fan was selling on Etsy). “Would you mind if I took your picture?”

“Of course!” The Viktor cosplayer flashes him a smile and a peace sign. Viktor snaps a photo and immediately texts it to Chris with the caption it’s working??? “I love your jacket, by the way. Did you make it yourself?”

“No, I got it from...a friend.”

“Well, do they do commissions? I’ve been trying to get one for ages. No one ever wears the Vancouver jacket, it’s always Torino or Sochi.”

“I know, right? So underrated,” Viktor says. He has to suppress a giggle. This is kind of fun. “Sorry, this was a gift.”

“Damn. You should totally enter the contest, though.”

“The contest?”

“The Viktor impersonator one tomorrow night! Since there are so many of us Viktors,” The cosplayer poses dramatically again, “they’re separating us from the main contest.”

“Oh.” Viktor’s pretty sure he’ll be caught if he has to stand in a room full of fake hims. Won’t he? “That does sound fun.”

“You can register when you pick up your badge. Oh, and the Viktor photoshoot is this afternoon at two in the Atrium, the Russia one is tomorrow morning at seven—is this your first con?”

Viktor smiles. “Is it that obvious?” Normally he only has to show up for his panel and autograph sessions, and they assign him a staff member the entire time.

“Hey, no problem! Welcome. Here, take my number, you can text me if you can’t find the photoshoot.”

Bemused, Viktor accepts a business card from the cosplayer (who turns out to be named Bryan) and types the number into his phone. He won’t text him—it would be a problem if his actual cell number got passed around—but still. People don’t usually give Viktor their numbers for the express purpose of helping him. Normally it’s the other way around.

“Thanks.”

+ + +

viktor: this is so fun!!! <3

chris: told you [eggplant] [peach] [zucchini]

viktor: where are you

chris: sex and skating panel

viktor: ew

chris: where are you

viktor: japanese skater photoshoot, im trying to avoid any panels where i might run into someone i know

chris: nice

viktor: one of these cosplayers is h o t

chris: [fire] [firetruck] [lemon]

viktor: wait he’s not a cosplayer? he’s the real yuuri katsuki? is it morally wrong if i hit on him?

chris: haven’t u met before?

viktor: no i dont think so i forget a lot of things but not cute boys

chris: well i know him and if u hit on him i want video

+ + +

Viktor has every intention of skipping the Viktor Nikiforov cosplay contest, really, but Makkachin is getting bored at the onsite doggy day spa (apparently a lot of cosplayers have poodles?). It has nothing to do with Yuuri Katsuki being one of the judges—okay, that’s a lie, it has everything to do with Yuuri being one of the judges. What can he say? Viktor doesn’t believe in letting good things happen to him. If you want good things, you have to make them happen.

He pets Makkachin as he waits in line again. Waiting in line is awful. Is this how normal people feel all the time?

One of the convention volunteers, in a bright blue SkateCon shirt, is handing out entry number cards. Viktor accepts one and is pleased to see he’s number twenty-six.

“Okay, y’all are in groups of twenty! One through twenty are group A! Twenty one through forty, B! Forty one through sixty, C!”

Once he knows where he’s going, Viktor loses interest in the announcements and starts checking out the cosplayers around them. There seems to be an equal mix of people wearing his skating clothes—Olympic or Russian team jackets, replicas of costumes—and casual clothes, mostly long coats and scarves. The wigs range from white to grey, at every length, from the waist length hair VIktor had in his youth to the pageboy cut he wore in an ad campaign (that was actually a well-edited wig) to the short hair he has now. A couple of them have the bangs on the wrong side.

Viktor tsks.

People come up to him to ask for pictures more than once, which is a novel sensation, because they treat him like a peer. He hopes it doesn’t get out that he was here; it might hurt some feelings if people find out Viktor goes around pretending to be himself.

“Line up!”

The groups are arranged in rows backstage; they’ll walk across the stage past the judges table and have to stand there while the judges examine them, ask questions, and record their scores. Then they’ll be ushered to a block of empty seats in the audience, where they’ll await the declaration of the winner.

chris: hey dinner? bae and i are eating before the rave

viktor: at the cosplay contest

chris: [cucumber] [eyes] [crab]

viktor: i dont know what that means

chris: never mind dinner bae and i are coming down there right now

Now Viktor really wants to win. Admittedly, Viktor always wants to win—what can he say, he lives a competitive life—but he’s normally more prepared than this. He knows he’s the most accurate Viktor in all existence, but none of the judges know him, do they? Is he going to be competing with his photoshopped media perception?

“Hey, do you know who the judges are?”

The Viktor nearest him, a long haired Lilac Fairy era version, nods. “Yeah, it’s, uh...Yuuri Katsuki—”

VIktor beams. Yuuri Katsuki is extremely attractive, and if he thought Viktor was repulsive, he wouldn’t be judging a contest based on looking at imitations of Viktor’s face. (Viktor does wonder why Yuuri is the skater they picked—he and Viktor have never met—but he’s sure there’s a good reason. Maybe convention funding was short this year.)

“Dee Brown—”

Viktor has no idea who that is.

“Oh, and Lilia...something. Barano—Baranov—”

“Baranovskaya?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

Oh, fuck. Viktor blanches. Lilia will recognize him, but Lilia also eats the souls of people who displease her. He still can’t go into a ballet studio without a vague feeling of guilt and the sensation of someone walking over his grave.

(“Stand up straight, Vitya!”

“I can’t do anything straight,” teenaged sulky Viktor says under his breath, He’s been here for two hours and it’s Makkachin’s first day of training school; what if she’s not having fun? What if the other dogs are mean to her?

“What was that?”

“Nothing, ma’am!”)

That leaves Viktor two options: brazen it out or run away. Viktor’s twenty-six years old, he’s not going to run away from Lilia. He’s pretty sure cosplaying as yourself isn’t even against the rules. (Oh, god, she is definitely going to eat him. No one will ever find his body.)

“...I’ll be back,” Viktor says to no one in particular. It looks like he has a few minutes.

He ducks out of line after asking a fellow contestant to watch Makkachin and pretends to be going to the bathroom; as soon as the coast is clear, he starts looking for wherever they have the judges stashed while they get things ready. Viktor’s lucky; he only has to check two hallways before he stumbles onto Lilia, alone in what looks like a green room, drinking steaming hot tea. She’s procured an actual tea cup from somewhere.

“Lilia!”

“Vitya.” She frowns at him. “What have you done to your face?”

“I’m pretending to be a fake version of myself.”

“If you wanted to attend the convention, you could easily have obtained a legitimate ticket.”

“But Lilia,” Viktor says. He pouts, watery eyed. “Please?”

“Why?”

“I wanted to attend that panel on obscure music without causing a scene.”

Lilia approves of not making a scene. She sighs.

“Stop pouting, you are a grown man.”

“You’ll do it?”

“Yes. But don’t expect me to go easy on you in the scoring. Your face is a tragedy.”

Viktor’s too busy being relieved to be offended. His face is fine. Contouring this much is a skill. He checks his hair in Lilia’s mirror, ignoring her snort of amusement, and then hurries off before he misses his cue.

An angry volunteer herds him back into place, and Viktor cheerfully apologizes, retrieves his dog, and lets himself be put back into line. A couple of the other cosplayers are practicing poses; a couple others are checking their faces in their phone cameras. Viktor notices the woman nearest him fumbling with a heavily braided wig—she’s trying to ape one of Viktor’s more complicated hair decisions—and reaches over to help.

“Here,” he checks the inside pocket of his jacket and finds a couple bobby pins, “Need a hand?”

“Oh, god, yes.”

It’s been a long time since Viktor has had long hair, but he still remembers how to style it; he practices on the younger skaters sometimes. She’s got the front almost perfect, but the braids in the back are coming apart. There’s not time to redo the whole thing, but it’s not like she’s going to have to spin at high speed in this wig, so Viktor settles for pinning everything flyaway in place.

“Group B, places!”

“Good luck!”

“You, too,” Viktor says. He fixes the cuffs of his jacket and straightens all the way up without thinking. Then he follows number twenty-five onstage.

 

THE MEETING

 

As the second batch of Viktors line up for appraisal, Yuuri regrets everything that led up to this. Accidentally rambling about Viktor for twenty minutes during an interview when he was sixteen. Joining all those figure skating forums under fake usernames. Drinking. Letting himself be talking into entering the trivia contest run by the official Nikiforov Fan Society. Being born.

But it’s too late; here he is, a judge at a cosplay contest, a sea of Viktor imitators before him. He’s sitting between Lilia Baranovskaya and Dee Brown; Dee is a famous cosplayer and costume designer, Lilia is like Minako but evil. She’d looked at him like she was itching to correct his posture. Yuuri is trying not to make eye contact.

So far, he’s come up with a list of things that are automatic deductions: hair that is clearly the wrong color, bangs on the wrong side, and obvious deviations from Viktor’s costumes. He’s not counting physical resemblance to Viktor, since that’s unfair, and he’s trying to give people latitude for creativity (Deadpool Viktor is just confusing; Maid Viktor makes Yuuri blush.)

Once the cosplayers are in line, he gets up and walks up and down to get a closer look; some of the details the cosplayers have gotten right are incredible.

Yuuri is about a quarter of the way down the line when he sees him.

Contestant twenty-six is the most beautiful person Yuuri has ever seen, Viktor excepted. His eyes are blue and his jawline could cut steel and his costume is exactly right, like it came out of the real Viktor’s closet. And, Yuuri thinks in amazement, it’s the Vancouver team jacket. This must be a very devoted fan.

He also has his dog with him. She’s a poodle, just like Makkachin, and she licks Yuuri’s hand when he holds it out for her to sniff.

Yuuri lingers, trying to find something wrong with twenty-six, and makes the mistake of looking him in the eye. Twenty-six is looking over his shoulder at the crowd and smiling the sweetest smile Yuuri has ever laid eyes on. He catches Yuuri staring and winks.

Flushing, Yuuri hurries on to twenty-seven.

There are three more groups of twenty to evaluate, but only one comes close to Twenty-six’s perfection: a Juniors era Viktor with long hair, in Viktor’s sparkling red costume, cape and all. They even made a replica of the tiny poodle pin Viktor wore on his collar that year. Most people forget that pin even existed.

The final judging is intense—Yuuri feels vaguely ashamed of giving Twenty-six such a high score until he sees the other two did as well—but while they’re equal in appearance, Juniors era Viktor has a better demeanor. The real Viktor never smiles that much, Yuuri thinks sadly. In the end, the Juniors era Viktor wins instead. Yuuri hands her her trophy and shakes her hand, asks her to forward him the name of whoever made her costume, and escapes the stage gratefully.

He wipes his sweaty forehead with his sleeve and makes for the bathroom—and promptly runs into Twenty-six.

“Oh, hi,” Twenty-six says. He has a Russian accent. He even sounds like Viktor. His smiling has gone from blinding to strained.

Yuuri remembers, belatedly, that Twenty-six took second place. And that that was Yuuri’s fault.

“Hi.”

“I like your costume,” Yuuri says.

“Thank you.” Twenty-six nods and starts to walk past. Yuuri is about to escape into the bathroom when he hears a conversation behind him.

“Hey, can I get your number?” There’s a woman talking to Twenty-six, her hand on his arm. Twenty-six gently removes it.

“No, sorry, I don’t give it out to strangers.”

“Oh.”

Twenty-six shrugs. “And I’m gay. Sorry!”

“Well, it was worth a shot. See you around.”

“Goodbye.”

He’s gay, Yuuri thinks. And he’s gorgeous. And he entered a Viktor cosplay contest, so we’d have at least one thing to talk about.

“Wait!”

Twenty-six turns around.

Yuuri screws up his courage. “Can I give you my number?”

“Your number?”

“You said you didn’t give yours out…”

“But if I text you at your number, isn’t that same thing?”

“Oh. Yeah, I guess.”

Cursing himself for his idiocy with his eyes fixed on the floor, Yuuri tries to think of some way to extract himself—maybe he should just run away—when Twenty-six clears his throat.

“Huh?” Yuuri looks up.

Twenty-six is smiling his heart-shaped, lovely smile again. “Well? Are you going to give me your number or not?”

A frantic search of his pockets reveals that Yuuri doesn’t have a paper or a pen, because of course he doesn’t. Twenty-six produces a black notebook and a gold fine-tip Sharpie from his jacket, identical to the ones the real Viktor carries, and turns the notebook to a blank page.

Yuuri scribbles his number, and his name underneath. “Here.”

“Are you going to be in Moscow long?”

“Two more days. Then I’m going to St. Petersburg.” The season has just ended, so Yuuri is taking a vacation. He’s always wanted to come to Russia, and the Nikiforov Fan Society paid for his airfare and the first three days of his room and board, so he figured he’d take advantage.

“Excellent, that’s where I live!”

“Great.”

“See you around,” Twenty-six says. He winks. “I have to pick up my dog. Excuse me.”

“Yeah,” Yuuri says. His heart is pounding in disbelief, in happiness. Did he just ask out this beautiful person? Did they just agree to go out with him? What the fuck. He takes it back, this entire escapade was a great idea.

The rest of the evening passes in a pleasant haze.

Around midnight, Yuuri, lying in bed playing Candy Crush, gets a text from an unknown number.

This is Viktor! Can we meet tomorrow?

 

It’s a bit weird that he introduces himself as ‘Viktor’, Yuuri thinks, and then he remembers that he doesn’t actually know Twenty-six’s real name. He’ll have to find it out, somehow. He saves the number in his phone under 26 and texts back.

Sure. We can do lunch?

 

+ + +

Twenty-six speaks French.

Yuuri meets him at the fountain in the atrium of the convention center; he’s changed his cosplay today and is in the ever-popular Torino Olympic team tracksuit. This is the one the real Viktor wears most often, so it’s no surprise it’s the most worn one. He’s sitting on the edge of the marble pool, on the phone, and he speaks French.

It feels weird to interrupt, so Yuuri stands awkwardly off to the side and listens to the musical sound of Twenty-six’s voice until he hangs up.

“Hi.”

“Yuuri! You’re here.”

“Yeah.”

Ask him his name, Yuuri thinks.

He does not ask him his name. Instead he sits down beside Twenty-six by the fountain.

“So, do you still want to have lunch?”

“Yes. But do you mind if we pick my dog up on the way? She’s at a dog daycare but I miss her.”

“Sure.”

Yuuri has been eating in the hotel restaurant, since it’s comped by the convention, but he scrolled through a couple travel sites last night looking for a good place to take a date. He still has no idea, and is about to propose a place with great trepidation when Twenty-six interrupts.

“Let’s go, I’m hungry.” He catches Yuuri by the wrist and starts dragging him out. He’s got silver nails.

Twenty-six seems to know where he’s going, and Yuuri allows himself to be led down the street to a bright orange building with a cartoon dog painted on the door. He waits outside while Twenty-six goes in, and a few minutes later he emerges with his beautiful and fluffy poodle on a leash.

Yuuri bends to pet her, and spends probably too many minutes warming his fingers in her fur. But Twenty-six doesn’t seem to mind; he’s beaming when Yuuri finally realizes he’s ignoring his date in favor of his date’s dog.

“Her name’s Makkachin.”

“Wow.” He really is a fan, Yuuri thinks, vaguely judgemental until he remembers he named his dog Viktor. Makkachin trots happily along with them as they walk; Twenty-six points down the street at a cafe with green awnings and some outdoor seating.

“Is there okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. I haven’t really eaten in Moscow yet.”

“I haven’t ever eaten there,” Twenty-six admits, “but they make very good coffee.”

A hot drink sounds good. Yuuri lets his fingers drift down Twenty-six’s wrist until he’s touching his palm; their fingers intertwine. The inside of the cafe is crowded with other convention goers, but the barista takes one look at Twenty-six and finds two stools in the back so they can squeeze in at the counter. Twenty-six orders for both of them; when he tries to pay, the barista shakes her head. Yuuri’s Russian isn’t great, but he gets the gist of it: she wants his autograph, not money.

Well, Twenty-six did say he lives in Russia and has been here before; maybe he’s a famous local cosplayer or something.

Their coffee is made amazingly fast, and a plate of pastries is delivered. Yuuri takes a half—he tries not to eat in front of a date until they’re attached to him—but Twenty-six takes a whole and eats with gusto.

“I’m really not supposed to do this,” he says between bites, “but oh well.”

Yuuri wonders if he has some kind of gluten intolerance. Or maybe he’s...diabetic. Yuuri really shouldn’t eat them, either, but they’re warm and sweet and eating distracts him from the powdered sugar at the corner of Twenty-six’s mouth.

He realizes that his half a pastry has turned into three. Hungry goblin Yuuri strikes again.

“These are really good.”

“Aren’t they?”

“So do you come to SkateCon a lot? I’ve never seen you before.”

“This is my first time cosplaying.”

“Really? But you’re so good!”

“Well, I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Oh, you go to local cons?”

“...yes.”

“Cool.”

Yuuri wonders if there are a lot of local figuring skating conventions in Russia. He’s heard of a couple. And of course the Fan Society has their own every year. Maybe Russia has a whole world of figure skating fandom Yuuri knows nothing about.

Twenty-six is staring at him. Yuuri looks down at his plate and swipes up the crumbs with his thumb.

“What?”

“You look nervous.”

“I don’t go on a lot of dates,” Yuuri mumbles. He casts around for something to look at that isn’t Twenty-six, and sees Makkachin wuffling around their barstools. He pets her. She licks him.

“Don’t think of it as a date. Think of it as...dog-sitting.”

“Dog-sitting.”

“We’re supervising Makkachin. She’s extremely dangerous.”

Yuuri raises his eyebrows. Makkachin is investigating a crack in the floor with great fervor. She looks like a stuffed toy come to life.

“Really?”

Twenty-six leans forward, conspiratorially. “Appearances are deceiving.”

Despite himself, Yuuri laughs.

“What’s your favorite program?” Twenty-six asks.He bites into a pastry.

“Scheherazade,” Yuuri says. “At the Olympics in 2014. Or Lilac Fairy from Juniors. Or, uh, his and Chris’s exhibition together to Bad Romance. Or—”

“I meant out of your programs,” Twenty-six says, laughing. “Never mind m—Viktor’s.”

“Never mind Viktor’s?”

“Well, we both know about them already…”

“None of my programs are anything special.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is.” Yuuri frowns. “Wait, have you seen them?”

“Obviously.” Twenty-six sips at his coffee. Yuuri tastes his; it’s excellent. “...why Lilac Fairy?”

+ + +

Their coffee goes cold while they’re talking; only Twenty-six’s phone alarm keeps them from missing the rest of the convention. Yuuri forgoes the two Viktor Nikiforov panels he was planning to attend in favor of following Twenty-six around for the rest of the afternoon, through an obscure music choice panel and a ‘best butt in skating’ panel and an AMV contest that makes Twenty-six laugh embarrassingly loud.

Twenty-six has opinions about music. Twenty-six covers his mouth when he snorts, like he’s trying to hide the fact he sounds like a goose being beaten when he laughs. Twenty-six puts his arm over Yuuri’s shoulders during one of the After Dark panels, and doesn’t even seem bothered when Yuuri falls asleep on him in the middle of a discussion about whether Chris was actually talking about blowjobs that one time.

When they walk back to the hotel only to find that Yuuri’s room is directly above Viktor’s, Yuuri thinks it must be fate. He’s being rewarded by the universe for that one time he helped his neighbors move a piano and nearly died.

“I know the convention is over,” Yuuri says, “but do you want to meet tomorrow?”

“Sure.”

“I was going to take a walking tour of the city, but if that’s too lame—”

“I’ve never done a walking tour! Let’s go.”

“See you tomorrow, uh,” Yuuri has no idea what his name is. He improvises. “Honey.”

“...honey?”

“Sorry, that’s weird.”

“No, I like it. It’s cute.”

Twenty-six must mean that, because he kisses Yuuri good night with great enthusiasm, and calls him something affectionate in Russian when he finally lets him go. Yuuri wanders back to his room in a daze.

He can hear Twenty-six humming through the floor as he gets ready for bed. It should be annoying, but Yuuri falls asleep smiling.

 

THE MISUNDERSTANDING

 

“Phichit, I need your help.”

“Yeah, so do I, this ringlight stand is a disaster. I’m never going to Ikea again.”

“Not even for meatballs?”

“Just tell me if these instructions make any sense.”

Phichit flattens a sheet of paper with cartoon figures smiling and holding wrenches in front of the webcam. Yuuri peers at it, then consults his phone for a photograph of the finished product.

“I think you have part 2A upside down.”

“Fuck.” Phichit throws the instructions across the room. “Okay, what did you need help with? Are you in jail?”

“Why would I be skyping you from jail?”

“I don’t know! You’re not great at this whole asking for help thing.”

“I’m not in jail! But I think my boyfriend might be a stalker.”

Phichit drops part 2A. “Your what? What boyfriend? Did Viktor Nikiforov show up at the convention after all?”

“Not exactly—”

“Oh my god.”

“He’s a cosplayer. Actually, he won second place, and he looks just like Viktor, it’s kind of scary but that’s not the problem.”

“Obviously that’s not the problem, I’ve seen that slideshow of Viktor in the Body Issue you use to jerk off to—”

“I think he might be stalking the real Viktor. Or be slightly delusional.”

Phichit taps the ringlight stand gingerly with a screwdriver. It collapses. “Fuck me. Okay, explain.”

Yuuri pulls up the Ikea instructions on his phone again while he talks. “I don’t know his name, and every time I try to ask, he just tells me to call him Viktor.”

“Maybe that’s actually his name?”

“That’s what I thought! But he named his dog Makkachin. I correlated his clothes with what Viktor wears in his outfit of the day posts and a lot of them match perfectly.

“Yuuri, are you sure you’re not the stalker?”

“We made out and that’s his real hair, it’s not a wig. And he has no roots.”

“Could be a coincidence.”

“Every time I try to ask him what he does for a living or what his hobbies are he starts talking about Viktor’s skating.”

“That’s weird.”

“And when we’re in public, people keep coming up to him and asking for autographs, and he just goes along with it!”

“Maybe cosplaying is his job. Like that one queen on Drag Race who pretends to be Cher all the time.”

“Maybe, I guess. I don’t get why he won’t tell me anything about himself.”

“But you like him? Should I tell Ciao Ciao I have to go to Russia to beat him up? If he turns out to be a serial killer we can call the police. Do not become part of his Viktor skin suit.”

“I like him,” Yuuri says faintly. He squints at the screen, where Phichit has picked up the ringlight stand again and is fiddling with it. “I think you broke it.”

“I hate this so much.”

+ + +

The thing is, Yuuri does like Twenty-six, who is practically perfect.

After their walking tour of Moscow, which ended with them eating a terrible dinner and a very good dessert, Twenty-six asked to see Yuuri’s itinerary.

“Oh, we have different flights,” he said, disappointed. “But your hotel isn’t far from my place! I’ll wait at the airport and take you home. My car is parked there.”

“You don’t have to…” Yuuri trails off. Why lie, he wants Twenty-six to drive him to the hotel, because otherwise Yuuri is going to give the cab driver the wrong address, end up in a bad part of town, and be killed by the Bratva. “Thanks.”

So after a short flight and two glasses of hideously expensive in-flight alcohol, Yuuri lets Twenty-six drive him to his hotel, and possible the alcohol in Russia is more potent because this devolves to them making out in the car until Makkachin gets sick of being ignored and starts trying to climb into the front seat for petting.

Since then, Twenty-six has been showing Yuuri around St. Petersburg, taking him to tourist sites and cheerfully lying to him when he doesn’t know the history of things, feeding him a number of things that are delicious and at least one thing that Yuuri doesn’t think is actually food. They go stand outside Viktor’s home rink, where Yuuri gapes like an idiot and Twenty-six is greeted by one of the employees by name. They take Makkachin to a dog park. They walk through an art museum that devolves into a conversation about who names colors and why.

And every day during the first perfect week, Yuuri can’t help but have the same niggling, recurring thought: I have no idea what his real name is or what he does when he’s not being Viktor.

It’s not like Yuuri can guess! Twenty-six, as far as Yuuri can tell, is always dressed like Viktor. He’s so convincing that people consistently mistake him for the real thing. Hell, if Yuuri didn’t know he was a fake, and if Twenty-six didn’t have that smile, Yuuri might be fooled himself.

When Yuuri’s scarf turns out to be inadequate for St. Petersburg’s spring chill one evening, Twenty-six brings him one of his own, and it smells amazing, like Viktor’s cologne collaboration with Tom Ford. When Yuuri admits to hating beets during a dinner, Viktor trades meals with him without a word. He’s really sort of perfect, and so Yuuri decides he has to solve the mystery before his vacation is over.

+ + +

“So, uh. Viktor. Baby.” Yuuri swallows and remembers Phichit’s sage advice. If he turns out to be a serial killer we can call the police. “Are you, like, a professional Viktor impersonator?”

“What?”

“Is that your job?”

“...in...a sense.” Twenty-six says slowly. “Technically. In a way.”

+ + +

Twenty-six handles the cold better than Yuuri does, and when the sun is out, he wears tshirts while Yuuri bundles himself into a jacket. They look a little ridiculous together, especially since Twenty-six is still wearing a hat and sunglasses. Yuuri wonders why he doesn’t just not dye his hair as often; surely the maintenance must be ridiculous, and the roots would give him away.

They’re on their way to pick up tickets to a show; apparently Twenty-six knows someone who knows someone who can get them last minute tickets to the ballet. Did he pretend to be Viktor to get them these tickets? Yuuri does not ask.

The neck of Viktor’s shirt slips down a little to reveal a little constellation of freckles on his left shoulder. Yuuri has seen these before, in all the shirtless pictures of Viktor he absolutely did not laminate and store in binders under the bed. He puts a hand on Twenty-six’s shoulder, and Twenty-six turns to smile at him.

Yuuri rubs his thumb in circles over the freckles to see if they wipe off. What kind of make up is this, he wonders. Is this a tattoo?

“Let’s hurry, Yuuri, you look cold,” Twenty-six says. “Wait, I love this bridge, let’s take a picture.”

“Sure…uh…sugar,” Yuuri says. He sounds like a forty year old diner waitress in Alabama. He should have just asked Twenty-six his name. He is a disaster.

They take a photo, and Twenty-six uploads it somewhere; Yuuri’s asked him for his social media handles, but what he wrote down were Viktor’s handles, and Yuuri’s not checking them unless he has to. He likes to stay unplugged on vacation.

+ + +

“Sweetheart, when’s your birthday?”

“December 25th.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes?”

+ + +

One afternoon they go into what Twenty-six says is his favorite bookstore. While he’s talking to the man behind the counter about his order, Yuuri palms his wallet from his jacket pocket and retreats into the back to look at it. Surely, even if ‘Viktor’ is his real first name, his ID or credit cards will list his real name. And possibly a picture with his real hair color (and eye color? Yuuri hasn’t seen any contacts, but who knows.)

He plans to take a picture and consult google later, but it’s unnecessary: Viktor Nikiforov is unmistakable even in Cyrillic. The driver’s license, credit cards, and rink ID all have the same name, the same picture of Viktor that Yuuri recognizes from press. He frowns. Maybe this is Twenty-six’s cosplay wallet? But Yuuri has seen him pay with these credit cards. What the fuck, he mouths to himself.

Did…did Twenty-six have his name legally changed? That’s weird. He seems so normal, Yuuri thinks despairingly. He’s so good at kissing. Why.

+ + +

“How did you get this vanity plate? I thought they couldn’t be duplicates.”

“Uh…I…bribed someone.”

“Oh.”

“Anyways! Come help me carry this dog food. It’s heavy.”

+ + +

Three days. Yuuri has three days left in St. Petersburg and he’s fallen madly in love with a man whose dedication to Viktor Nikiforov goes to levels Yuuri didn’t know it could go. It’s all the weirder that Twenty-six doesn’t seem to like  talking about Viktor all that much, though his knowledge of Viktor trivia easily rivals Yuuri’s own. He knows every little detail, but conversations beyond the factual never go anywhere.

Yuuri doesn’t really mind, because he’s discovered there are so many other things Twenty-six can talk about—dogs and music and art and why carrots are the worst root vegetable and how he’s convinced American universities are just like the movies (Yuuri takes great delight in correcting him about this.) And knowing that they’re both Viktor fans makes Yuuri feel relaxed talking to him in return.

He makes up his mind, after another phone call to Phichit where the ringlight falls over directly on his face and Phichit again promises to kill Twenty-six if their romance goes sour, to confront him about it. Hes got to just buck up and do it. Surely, worse come worse, Yuuri can move up his flight and flee the country immediately.

Twenty-six is trying to get Yuuri to come over again. Yuuri’s not even sure that his offers to make Yuuri tea are a euphemism, but he’s terrified that the inside of Twenty-six’s home will shatter the illusion that he’s a lovely person with one ridiculous flaw, so Yuuri has refused every time.

“Well, it’s getting late! I’ll walk you back.”

“Wait, Twe—pumpkin. I need to talk to you.”

“Sure. What is it?”

Yuuri takes a deep breath and sits down on a nearby bench. Twenty-six joins him, and Makkachin sits down betwen their legs. He pets her for strength.

“You know, when I asked you out, it was because you looked so much like Viktor.”

“…right.”

“But you’re actually not like him at all. You’re a lot more cheerful and you have an ugly laugh and no tact at all.”

“Should I be more like him, then?”

“No!” Yuuri says. “Your personality is great the way it is. If you’re pretending to be more Viktor-like just to impress me, you can stop, okay? I really like—” He swallows, mouth suddenly dry. “I really like you the way you are.”

“Really?”

Twenty-six sounds a bit like he’s crying. Oh god, Yuuri thinks wildly, I did it again, fuck me. He dares to look up.

He’s not crying at all, to Yuuri’s relief. He’s smiling hugely, and when Yuuri meets his eyes he throws himself at him. Yuuri wraps his arms around his shoulders, molding himself against Twenty-six’s body.

“Let’s just end this, okay? Tomorrow just…look the way you normally look.”

“I will,” Twenty-six promises.

They hold hands all the way back, just as they always do, although Twenty-six’s kiss good night goes on so long Yuuri nearly asks him to stay over. But he really wants to see the real Twenty-six, whatever that looks like, so he lets him go.

 

THE REVEAL

 

In retrospect, Viktor thinks, he should have told Yuuri the truth at once.

But…well…he forgot. He was having a good time! Yuuri was cute and funny and had a lot of terrible opinions about what constituted a good program. He liked Leroy’s short program from 2013, for god’s sake. What a disaster.

They’ve walked his dog and eaten at every restaurant Viktor likes; they’ve wandered all over St. Petersburg, so lost in conversation Viktor can barely recall what they were doing half the time. The city seems like a different place with Yuuri at his side, and Viktor feels like a different person with him. He hasn’t smiled this much in ages. Yesterday he opened his closet and got dressed in hurry, only to find later his outfit wasn’t coordinated. And it was fine.

He’ll figure it out, eventually, Viktor tells himself as Yuuri swipes ice cream away from the corner of his mouth with his thumb. Admittedly Yuuri hasn’t so far, but there’s still time.

“I really like you the way you are.”

Oh, fuck, Viktor thinks as he starts the walk back to his apartment. “Makkachin, I think I’ve made a mistake.”

“Woof!”

“No, this doesn’t mean Chris wins the bet!”

“Woof!”

“Stop laughing at me!”

+ + +

The moment Viktor is at home and has washed his face, he crawls into bed, cuddles Makkachin for support, and calls Chris.

“Chris, it’s an emergency.”

“Do you know what time it is, Viktor?”

“I had to exfoliate, it took longer than expected, but never mind that.” Viktor throws a hand over his face. “Chris, I fell in love.”

“With Yuuri Katsuki?”

“How did you know?”

“Because I follow you on both Instagram and Twitter, and you haven’t shut up about him, and also because last night you texted me ‘I love Yuuri’ with twelve heart emojis.”

“Then you understand why I need your help, because I—I lied to him, and I think the truth might make him break up with me.”

“Viktor, Yuuri is a lifelong Viktor Nikiforov fan. According to Phichit he has three body pillows. There is no possible way he would break up with you unless the truth is you murdered someone.”

“What if I did murder someone?” Viktor asks. Yuuri showed him pictures of the body pillows with glee; apparently one of them is limited edition. They’re surprisingly tame, although it does seem like Yuuri has some kind of fetish because a lot of the merchandise he has features Viktor shirtless.

Not that Viktor is complaining, exactly, he worked hard for these pecs.

“Was it someone we hate?” Chris asks. He doesn’t say JJ. That’s okay. Viktor knows.

“Probably?”

Chris sighs. “All right. Tell Papa Chris your problem.”

“He doesn’t think I’m me.”

“What do you mean?”

“We met at a cosplay contest! He thinks I’m just a dedicated impersonator.”

“Oh, come on. You two have been all over St. Petersburg together. People have been taking your picture and tagging you both. He must know by now.”

“Yuuri doesn’t use social media on vacation, he says it stresses him out.”

“Well, just tell him.”

“I tried.”

“Show him your license.”

“He checked my wallet.”

“Introduce him to Makkachin.”

“He’s very impressed at the resemblance.”

There is a silence as Chris thinks. Viktor hears rustling, and then a repetitive popping noise and a low hum, before Chris says, “Wake up, Masumi, Viktor has the most ridiculous problem.”

“Are you making popcorn?”

“Yes. Masumi, Viktor’s boyfriend thinks he’s impersonating himself, what should he do?”

“He’ll figure it out when they’re in a competition together,” Masumi grumbles. “Chris, I’m sleeping.”

“Well, there you have it, Viktor. Just dedicate a program to him next season.”

“That’s too—oh, but that’s it! Masumi is brilliant. I have to call Yakov.”

“Now?” Chris says, but it’s too late; Viktor is hanging up on him and dialing Yakov. Surely there must be a way he can get rink time tomorrow.

+ + +

Yuuri agrees to meet him at Yubileyny Sports Palace the next morning, and is waiting outside for him in his puffy jacket and the scarf Viktor gave him. He looks like a cute marshmallow.

“Why are we here?” Yuuri frowns at him. “And you look the same!”

This is a blatant lie, Viktor’s not wearing any makeup, which has not been the case for the past two weeks. His pores must look atrocious. He smooths his hair nervously before dragging Yuuri by the hand towards the rink.

“I’ll explain inside.”

“Okay…”

The Russian hockey team is training this morning, as Yakov had admitted after he was done yelling at Viktor for calling him so late and offering to call Yuuri’s coach and report his idiocy. Viktor sighs with relief when he sees Ivan is there.

“Ivan!” Viktor drops Yuuri’s hand and seizes Ivan by the shoulders. “Ivan, I need the rink.”

“Now?”

“It’s an emergency.”

“Can’t you start choreographing in the studio first?”

“It’s a romantic emergency,” Viktor says.

Ivan does not look impressed, but then, he never does. He rolls his eyes, but he gestures at the rest of his teammates to hold.

“Five minutes only,” he says.

Viktor slaps him on the shoulder in relief and goes to put on his skates.

The other players grumble, but Viktor’s been drinking with most of them, and they’ve all had to pick him up after he tried to keep up with them. Viktor’s gotten a lot of flack from his fellow skaters for dating a hockey player in his youth, but it’s been to his benefit, because the entire team has bemusedly adopted Viktor without complaint as ‘our captain’s weird hilarious ex’.

And none of them care about skating, so they’re good company.

“Where did you get those? I thought Viktor had to have them custom made.”

“They were a gift.” From a sponsor. Viktor stretches to warm up.

“Won’t they be mad about us interrupting?”

“No, he’s my ex, it’s fine.”

“That guy?” Yuuri looks nervously at Ivan, who is built like a brick house. “Him?”

“Yes.” Viktor shoves his phone into Yuuri’s hand, camera app open. “Film me, will you?”

“Why?”

“So you can replay it and count the rotations,” Viktor says. He kisses Yuuri on the cheek, just in case Yuuri breaks up with him later, and sets his skate guards on the boards before stepping onto the ice. It’s been two weeks since Viktor skated properly (he’s come in off-hours once or twice between dates, but not for long enough to sate himself.)

He’d thought about doing a full program, but honestly, Viktor doesn’t think he has the patience. Besides, there’s one thing only Viktor can do, and if that isn’t proof enough he’s going to have to resign himself to being ‘fake Viktor’ for the rest of his life.

He circles the rink a couple times, building up speed, letting his muscles warm up, before he goes into it.

Jumping is Viktor’s favorite part.

He lands the quad flip cleanly, arms outstretched, heart pounding as much as from excitement as from exertion. God, he was worried he’d fall, but Viktor performs better under pressure.

Yuuri is gaping at him like Georgi during a break up, phone in his hands.

“Uh,” he says as Viktor skates back to him. He mechanically hands Viktor his skate guards when Viktor holds out his hand. “I...have to go. I have to dry clean my coach.”

“You what? He can use shampoo. Come on.”

Viktor hauls him with all his strength, past the gaggle of glaring hockey players. Several of them are eying Yuuri suspiciously. One of them asks Viktor if he needs them to beat Yuuri up.

“Is this how I die,” Yuuri wonders. He looks alarmed but not angry. Is that good? Viktor can’t tell.

“It’s fine! I’ll see you Friday!” Viktor assures Ivan.

“You—you will?”

“We’re going drinking.”

“I need to sit,” Yuuri says. Viktor deposits him into the nearest bench and sits down beside him to take off his skates. His fingers unlace them on autopilot, right then left (never left then right), while beside him Yuuri rewatches the video of Viktor’s flip repeatedly.

“So.”

“So.” Yuuri rubs his eyes with his hands. “You…are actually Viktor Nikiforov.”

“Yes.”

“But we went on a date. We went on like five dates. We made out in your car. I touched your dog!”

“Why are you yelling?”

“Because I’m panicking!”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve apparently been dating you this entire time! Oh god. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I did! I’ve tried to prove it to you so many times!”

“But you—you entered the contest!”

“Under a fake name!”

“Why?”

“Because I wanted to go to a panel!” Viktor snaps. “And if I come as myself, I have to wear a guest badge, and be interviewed, and—and sign things! If I go to a panel it’s disruptive! And you can’t tell your fans you’re too busy to give them autographs, or take pictures! It’s rude!” He sighs. “There was a panel on obscure music for programs. I just wanted to attend in person.”

“Oh.” Yuuri stares at him like he’s never seen him before. “You…weren’t trying to trick me?”

“What possible reason would I have to trick you?” Does Yuuri think ‘pretending to not be Viktor Nikiforov’ is one of Viktor’s seduction tactics? Viktor has multiple Olympic gold medals and can put his both of his ankles behind his head.

“I…good point. Good point.” Yuuri nods. He flexes his fingers. “Yeah. That makes a lot more sense than you keeping a skin suit in your basement. This is good. Uh.”

“…skin suit?”

“It was a movie.”

Yuuri looks at him. Viktor looks back. The silence stretches on and on and on, until sweat is dripping into Viktor’s eyes and his heart is racing in his throat. Yuuri clears his throat.

“What are you thinking?” Viktor asks. He snatches up Yuuri’s hands in his own.

“I…” Yuuri colors. “Is that offer to come over and see your medal collection still open?”

“Of course,” Viktor says, He squeezes Yuuri’s fingers. “I’ll make you get intimately acquainted with all of them.”

 

THE AFTERMATH

 

“I can’t believe I talked to you about yourself,” Yuuri says, face buried in his hands. “Didn’t you think it was weird I talked about you in the third person?”

“Of course I thought it was weird at first. But I eat olives with peanut butter and put jam in my coffee, I just thought it was one of those things.”

Yuuri’s face is going to be red for the rest of his life. He’s going to have to start wearing makeup everywhere to hide the fact he’s trapped in a perpetual state of embarrassment. Viktor’s arm slides over Yuuri’s shoulders, and Yuuri turns to hide his face in Viktor’s shirt instead. At least he’ll die as he lived: trying to get as close to Viktor as possible.

“I can’t believe I told you about my poster collection. I can’t believe I showed you my wallet photos.”

“Would you have not showed me those things if you’d known?”

“I would have burned all the evidence immediately.”

Yuuri still can’t quite believe it. He asked out the actual Viktor Nikiforov (no wonder he didn’t want to give out his phone number) and Actual Viktor looked at him and thought ‘yes, I want to date him.’ And Yuuri didn’t even know. He can’t even call himself a real Viktor fan anymore. He’s become one of the fake fans he derides on the internet.

“I want a wallet picture of you,” Viktor says.

“Wait. You do what with peanut butter?”

“It tastes good!”

Yuuri sighs. He can’t believe he was afraid of Viktor. Viktor screams when he sees spiders and eats revolting things and, according to what the hockey players told him, is one hundred percent gayer while drunk. (Which means that they have that in common. Yuuri foresees a drunken adventure in his future.) If those things were charming when Twenty-six did them, they’re positively delightful now that Yuuri knows his actual idol Viktor does them.

“I don’t understand how you missed it for so long,” Viktor says. Yuuri thinks that’s a bit harsh, it’s only been two weeks, and Yuuri was blinded by his beauty. “Did you not think it was weird that I had credit cards that say Viktor Nikiforov on them?”

“I mean, yeah,” Yuuri says, “But I just thought it was part of your act. Maybe you just really loved Viktor. And you smiled so much.”

“And another thing, what do you mean, I smile too much?”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t think the actual Viktor Nikiforov would want to go out with me.” Yuuri frowns. “We are dating, right?”

Viktor looks offended. “Do you think I bring just anyone home and let them touch my medal collection? Of course we’re dating.”

“Thank god,” Yuuri mutters. Well, if Viktor wants to date him, who is Yuuri to try and talk him out of it? If it turns out to be a horrible mistake, he’ll have the memories at least.

(The Nikiforov Fan Society is going to freak. Yuuri hopes they don’t rescind his membership.)

“I know you have to go back to Detroit soon,” Viktor says, “and we’ll see each other once the season starts, but can I come visit you before then?”

“Sure.” Yuuri likes the idea of Viktor in Detroit, where fewer people will recognize him and where he can show Viktor all his favorite places, like the rink at two am and the all-night convenience store that sells homemade mozzarella sticks and the route Yuuri runs every morning. “But first, uh...can I have your autograph?”

Viktor kisses him.

Then, while Yuuri is recovering, he gets out his gold marker and signs the back of Yuuri’s hand.

“That’ll wash off,” Yuuri points out.

“Oops.”

(Yuuri wakes up to find the gold ink all over his body has smeared the sheets, and left a glittery stain on Viktor’s lips. He’s not sure it will ever wash off. Yuuri can’t bring himself to care.

Viktor brings him coffee with grape jelly in it in bed.)

+ + +

“I’m going to have to have these dry cleaned,” Viktor pants, He is alarmingly good at tying knots, and Yuuri, wrists bound together by silk and weighed down by gold, is wondering if he’s equally good at untying them.

(He’s not actually sure he wants to be untied. He can miss his flight in the evening. He can die right here happy.)

“I know a place,” he says, equally out of breath. The ribbons that hung around Viktor’s neck are brushing tantalizingly against his thighs.

(He’s been held against these medals so hard Viktor’s name might be imprinted on his skin.)

Viktor hooks a finger through the loop, pulls.

“Still with me?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri says, driven to distraction by how warm Viktor’s hands are, how warm the metal is. “Yeah, I—”

+ + +

Viktor tries to argue that Chris should let him off, since his winning the bet caused Viktor emotional damage, but Chris insists.

“You got to fuck Katsuki on top of your medal collection, and you won another gold medal, so stop whining, get out there, and do it.”

“Yuuri, Chris is abusing me,” Viktor says.

“Oh, no,” Yuuri says. He probably should help Viktor, but the Viktor fanboy part of him wants to see what the heck Viktor is going to do with Chris’s choreography and the Viktor’s boyfriend part of him wants to prolong Viktor not wearing a shirt.

Chris makes Viktor skate to “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, complete with white fringed jacket, bare chest, and scarlet perm hair extensions. It goes down in infamy as one of the most embarrassing things Viktor has ever done, but it does become a popular cosplay option—so much so that Viktor reuses the costume and wig at next year’s SkateCon.

Yuuri is horrified to find out he’s been asked to judge the cosplay contest again, and only marginally less horrified when Viktor, under the fake name he uses to register, is asked to as well.

“Try not to confuse any of the other cosplayers for me,” Viktor says.

“Don’t worry, cupcake,” Yuuri says, drinking in the curve of Viktor’s bright smile, the one he only wears when he’s being purely himself. “None of them smile as much as the real thing.”