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Thursday, December 22

When the door buzzer goes, Georgi is soaking his feet in the kitchen and thinking about winning. He sighs and takes a few seconds, just a few more seconds, to keep sitting there. He’s tired and he’s trying to focus on tomorrow’s skate. Rest his body, sharpen his mind. Ignore all distractions.

But the buzzer goes off again like a swarm of angry wasps. How hard would it be to have a silvery chime instead? A soothing gentle voice?

Georgi reaches for a towel that’s not there and curses as he trails wet footprints from the kitchen to the front door. “What do you want?” he says into the intercom. His voice isn’t either soothing or gentle but his knees are aching, more than they should be right before Nationals.

The speaker crackles something unintelligible. A little late in the day but it’s probably a delivery. Flowers, maybe, or the cod liver oil his mother keeps ordering for him. He’s already got too many of the red and blue bottles lined up in his cupboard, even though he takes it every night.

While he waits, he does a few squats and tries not to listen to the crackle of his cartilage. He’s not stiff, just sore. Not past it, just working hard. And even if his knees are not what they used to be, his mind is clear and sharp and ready.

When the knock comes, he springs up, a little bounce off the floor, plenty of energy still. Hopefully, it’s flowers, for luck. He’s owed some luck, after the interruption.

He opens the door. It is flowers. And Christophe is holding them.

“Hi,” Christophe says.

“What are you doing here?” Georgi says, in Russian because he hasn’t been expecting to speak English. His heart rings with a silvery chime and for a moment, he can’t even move. “Christophe, you, come in.”

Christophe hands him the flowers but Georgi wants both hands free so he drops them on the hall table and wraps his arms around Christophe, presses his face into Christophe’s neck. The winter damp is still on Christophe’s overcoat and it chills Georgi through his t-shirt.

Christophe hugs him back, one deep breath pressing against Georgi’s chest. “Just came to get laid,” he says and his hands slide down to Georgi’s ass.

Right now, Georgi doesn’t even care if that’s true, he’s so glad to have his arms around his lover, he’s so glad his heart is beating fast. “You know you can use your phone for more than dick pics.”

“Stalkers never call first.” Christophe eases back and kisses Georgi, hands on his face, just hello.

“Give me your coat and your bag and go sit down.” Georgi picks up the flowers: roses, red and fragrant. Lucky, very lucky. “Do you want a drink?”

Christophe looks Georgi up and down. His cheeks are still pink from the winter air and it makes him look wholesome instead of sultry. “I want everything.”

“I’ll bring you a drink.” Georgi kisses Christophe’s cheek as he takes his coat. Christophe’s skin is so smooth, with a faint whiff of cologne. He must have shaved at the airport after his flight. Georgi’s heart thumps and he wants everything too, right now: the satin of Christophe’s cheek, the rasp of his beard, climbing the inside of Georgi’s thighs. He kisses Christophe again, his mouth lingering, hello, hello.

Christophe pulls him close and Georgi loses his grasp on the coat and the roses too. “I could use a drink of water,” Christophe says against Georgi’s throat. He kisses along Georgi’s neck, hands moving over Georgi’s back.

“Come on then.” Georgi moves back a step, onto his own damp footprints. Hand on the back of Christophe’s head, keeping him there, mouth on Georgi’s skin.

Christophe follows him up, then turns around so he’s the one pulling at Georgi. “Fuck, I missed this.”

This. But Georgi missed it too, nearly misses it now, he wants it so much. He stumbles against Christophe, bumping him against the wall, pressing so his whole body is against Christophe, like they can occupy the same space. “I missed you.” He leans his forehead against Christophe’s. “It felt like a year.”

“Then you’re ready for it.” Christophe grinds in with his hips, he’s ready for it too. Then he pushes Georgi back, gets his hands under Georgi’s ass, and heaves.

Georgi doesn’t figure it out until a moment too late: Christophe is lifting him off the ground. But it’s too late for Georgi to jump with it so he’s left with Christophe hauling on his buttocks. “Are you trying to carry me?”

“Aren’t your feet sore?” Christophe squeezes Georgi’s ass, licks the corner of his mouth.

“I’m not a princess,” Georgi says. “What if you dropped me?”

“No lifts until after Nationals, got it.” Christophe drops his hands. “Are you still allowed to come? Or are you abstaining?”

“Don’t fucking ask me that right now.” Georgi takes Christophe’s arm and pulls him the rest of the way to the kitchen. He pours a glass of water and holds it out. “Drink this. Flights are dehydrating.”

Christophe takes the glass and looks at Georgi over the rim for a moment but he doesn’t speak before he drains it.

Georgi refills the glass. “One more, then I’ll get you a real drink.”

Christophe takes the glass and sets it down on the counter. He pulls his shirt over his head and drapes it over the back of a chair. “I like your kitchen,” he says and unzips his trousers. “Last time I was here, you cooked me dinner and we got drunk at the table afterwards but we haven’t had sex in here yet.”

“You haven’t even been here ten minutes,” Georgi says. He’s never prepared for what Christophe is going to do: he’s at right angles to everyone else in Georgi’s life. “I’ll make you dinner again.”

But Christophe is already down to his socks and underwear. He might as well not be wearing the underwear because his dick is half out of it. And then it’s moot because the underwear is gone too and he’s standing there naked. Like he and Georgi have one set of clothes between them and Christophe only got the socks.

“Don’t put your bare ass on my chairs.” Georgi twists the tap harder, it drips if he doesn’t. But he’s looking at Christophe because he can’t look anywhere else.

Even in Georgi’s chilly kitchen, Christophe looks warm and relaxed, beautiful and golden, dominating the cramped space. His dick moves as he shifts his weight to one hip.

Georgi gets wanting Christophe, he gets wanting men, but he still doesn’t really get dicks. He likes the feel of Christophe’s. How it moves in his hand, in his mouth, between his thighs. How it’s ready for him, because he’s the one Christophe wants.

But it looks weird. They all do, even his own. That whole area, dick, balls, that they tuck away into their dance belts. Is this how his girlfriends felt? Did any of them actually like the way his looked? Does Christophe?

Christophe wraps his hand around his own cock, still looking right at Georgi, and maybe Georgi doesn’t get dicks, but he gets this: Christophe’s aggressive desire. His body gets it. His sore knees get it and he leans against the counter.

“You’re so fussy.” Christophe steps close. He takes Georgi by the waist and spins him around. Puts him in the chair that’s still turned away from the small table, by the full basin and the splashes on the floor.

“Come here.” Georgi reaches up for Christophe’s bare shoulders. “Kiss me, I want you to kiss me.”

Christophe stoops and they kiss, Georgi’s arm around Christophe’s neck, his tongue sliding into Christophe’s mouth. Georgi is starved for this, for Christophe in his arms, naked in the kitchen or the shower or the bedroom.

Then Christophe pulls away and crouches in front of Georgi, hands on Georgi’s hips and those long eyelashes blinking slowly. “The way your face flushes for me is beautiful, you want it so much. You want me to suck your cock until you can’t even speak. Don’t you?”

Georgi’s heart flashes on beautiful and the rest of him on suck your cock. “Yes,” he says. And because he knows Christophe likes to hear it: “Suck me, please.”

“You work so hard,” Christophe says. He pulls up the hem of Georgi’s t-shirt and starts by kissing his abdomen, stroking his sides, not even brushing Georgi’s dick.

And Georgi is back where he was before the buzzer went and this whirlwind caught him up. But instead of visualizing his short program, he’s looking at the back of Christophe’s neck where the hair is cut close. Instead of playing the music in his head, he’s listening to the sound of Christophe’s mouth on his body and the hum of the refrigerator.

Christophe’s mouth reaches Georgi’s waistband and he hooks his thumbs inside the elastic — sweats, briefs — and pulls. “Give me some help here,” Christophe murmurs.

This time Georgi is ready and he lifts his hips for Christophe so that he’s the one bare-ass on the kitchen chair, pants around one ankle and cock jutting free.

“You have a great dick, by the way,” Christophe says. “Very suckable.”

“I don’t want to hear where I rank in your catalogue of dicks,” Georgi says. Even though he does, he really wants to know.

“Every dick has a special place in my heart,” Christophe says. “But I think there was somewhere else you wanted yours to be.” He gives Georgi that exaggerated grin, the one that makes Georgi melt and roll his eyes at the same time, and bends down.

Georgi puts his hand on Christophe’s head, not to guide him, just to touch him. He slides his fingers around the curve of Christophe’s ear, rests his hand on Christophe’s shoulder. Christophe is really here, in Georgi’s kitchen. This is really happening.

Christophe noses at Georgi’s balls. “Christ, I love the way you smell.” He sucks one testicle into his mouth, cradling it on his tongue a moment before he lets it go. “Do you ever grow your hair out here? Not that I don’t appreciate it but…”

“In the summer,” Georgi says. One finicky girlfriend talked him into waxing before she would go down on him and he liked the way it felt. Now in the competition season, he keeps it up: pubic hair, underarms, chest. “Come on, don’t tease me now.”

Christophe sits back on his heels, one long look into Georgi’s eyes, and Georgi braces for the next smart remark. Instead Christophe drops to his knees, bending over Georgi’s lap, and takes Georgi’s cock down, all the way down, so deep Georgi can hardly believe Christophe isn’t choking.

“Fuck,” Georgi says. “Fuck.” He puts both hands on Christophe’s shoulders and kneads at the muscle there, he can’t help his hands clenching. He can feel the back of Christophe’s throat against the head of his cock. Christophe isn’t moving, just holding Georgi there like he’s daring Georgi to raise his hips and fuck him, one more goddamn tease. “Do whatever you want, just do it.”

Christophe pinches Georgi’s hip, eyes turning up, and he finally starts to move. Warm and wet around Georgi’s cock, hands on Georgi’s thighs. Where fifteen minutes ago, Georgi was soaking his feet and thinking about his skating, too tired to stand up to open the door.

Georgi wants to savour this but he might not be able to, not when he’s this keyed up. He puts his hands on top of Christophe’s and strokes with his fingers, just lightly, while Christophe’s mouth slides over his cock. “I missed you,” he says. “I missed you so much.”

Christophe’s hands tighten over Georgi’s thighs. Saliva strings from the corner of his mouth and he frees one hand to swipe it away.

If he could, Georgi would pull Christophe into an embrace, press him tightly, wrap himself around Christophe’s whole body. Instead, he just gets his toes against the side of Christophe’s calf because he doesn’t want to shift and make it difficult for him.

“It’s good,” Georgi says. “You’re good.” He never feels like he can talk dirty enough for Christophe but he gives what he can. “The best. You feel so good.” So good that Georgi can hardly find the words any more and he trails off into Russian, “So good, so beautiful, jewel of my heart,” and soon enough that goes as well and he’s only gasping.

Christophe looks up, his eyes gleaming, and he turns one hand so that their fingers are crooked together, squeezing tight. The other he wraps around the base of Georgi’s cock, following his mouth up and down. He blinks rapidly, a signal that Georgi can’t remember, maybe, or just Christophe showing off his eyelashes.

Georgi strains to keep his eyes open, fixed on Christophe, but he’s losing focus, he’s nearly there. He tries to gasp out a warning but there’s no time and he starts to come, a crash of pleasure and of happiness that goes on until tears leak from his eyes and his face is sore from twisting.

Just as it begins, Christophe’s mouth slips away and he strokes Georgi’s cock lightly while he spasms. And when Georgi’s eyes slide open again, he sees the glistening chain of semen around Christophe’s neck, perfectly executed and almost beautiful. Like Christophe is an artist and ejaculation is his medium.

It’s also ridiculous and when Georgi catches Christophe’s face in his hands for a tender post-blowjob kiss, he laughs into Christophe’s mouth instead.

“That face,” Christophe says. “Show me that face every day.” He brushes Georgi’s cheek with the back of his hand.

Georgi leans into Christophe’s touch, closing his eyes for a moment while his pulse slows and his heart fills. But he’s making Christophe wait. He turns his head and kisses Christophe’s hand. “Now you.”

“Yes, now me. But let me see you first.” Christophe pulls up the hem of Georgi’s t-shirt and Georgi raises his arms to let it go. Christophe runs his fingers down Georgi’s chest. “Video chat just doesn’t provide me enough detail. Maybe you should get a high def camera.”

“Not VR?” Georgi reaches out to touch Christophe too but Christophe’s pearl necklace is running, matting the hair on his chest. “You’re dripping.”

“Shit!” Christophe swipes at the mess with Georgi’s t-shirt.

“That’s going to stain,” Georgi says. It’s an old shirt, just to wear at home, but still.

“Sorry,” Christophe says and he does look it. “I’m distracted by lust, so please let me come. I’ll buy you a new shirt. A new old shirt. You can have one of mine. Just touch my dick now, please.”

Georgi stands up and pulls Christophe up too, wraps his arms around Christophe so they’re pressed together, Christophe’s dick hard against Georgi’s hip. “Do you want to go into the bedroom?”

“Do me here,” Christophe says into Georgi’s ear, his tongue sliding around the lobe. “So you’ll think about me coming for you every time you cook.”

Better not to kneel on the floor tonight, not when he has to skate tomorrow. Georgi backs Christophe into the counter and kisses him: his mouth, his face, his neck. “Do not,” he says against Christophe’s throat. “Do not, do not put your ass on my countertop.”

Christophe leans in with his hips, rubbing his cock against Georgi’s hipbone. “Or what? You won’t let me come?” He squeezes Georgi’s ass, pulling him closer. “Nobody’s ever edged me before, could be hot.”

“There’s no ‘or what’.” Georgi digs his fingertips into Christophe’s back, pulling him closer for a moment. “Just don’t.” Then he makes some room and takes Christophe’s cock into his hand. “Just let me make you happy.”

Christophe’s face changes, that grin slipping away, and Georgi wonders if he’s broken the mood somehow. But Christophe presses his cheek against Georgi’s, slides his fingers up into Georgi’s hair. “Please do.”

Those silvery chimes ring in Georgi’s heart again and he jacks Christophe at the kitchen counter, kissing him again and again.

“I missed your hands on me,” Christophe says. “I missed your kitchen.” He puts his hands on Georgi’s face, stroking Georgi’s mouth with his thumbs. His breath is speeding up now, puffing onto Georgi’s face.

“You’re here now.” Georgi takes another kiss, circles his thumb around the head of Christophe’s cock. “In my kitchen, in my arms.”

“So domestic,” Christophe says. “Next time I’ll bring my apron.” His hands tighten. “Fuck, I’m close.”

Georgi can tell, he knows the signs by now. He catches Christophe’s mouth again and Christophe groans into it while his cock jerks in Georgi’s hand and he comes hard between them. No fancy art, just the full-body shudder that Georgi loves and Christophe’s semen over his own belly.

Christophe leans back against the counter, eyes closed and skin flushed. A film of sweat on his forehead. One hand limp on Georgi’s shoulder. He opens his mouth but no words come for a few seconds.

This is the moment Georgi loves best: Christophe unsmiling and satisfied. Speechless because Georgi shut him up. He takes Christophe’s hand from his shoulder and kisses the palm with a long press of his lips so he doesn’t spill his entire heart at once.

Christophe opens his eyes and his smile returns. “That was worth travelling all day for.” He stretches out and grabs the glass of water, tipping his head back and drinking it all in three long swallows.

“I’m glad you did.” Georgi looks at the roll of paper towels on the counter but pulls his poor t-shirt over instead and wipes them both off. “Now go sit down. I’ll bring you a drink.”

Christophe pushes himself upright and catches Georgi in a hug. “Is the throw still behind the couch?”

“You actually remembered.” Georgi hugs back. He’s feeling the chill in the room now, and Christophe is warm. Warm and here. “Will you get a robe for me? You know where the spares are.”

“Hint, hint, I get it,” Christophe says. “No lifts in the hallway, no asses on the countertops, robes preferred.” He moves his hands to Georgi’s waist. “No dancing in the kitchen?” He rocks his hips and spins Georgi around. Once, halfway to twice, then he kicks over the basin.

Water splashes out, pooling over the floor and wetting their feet.

“No dancing in the kitchen,” Georgi says.

“Fuck, sorry!” Christophe lets go and rights the empty basin. He starts sopping up the water with Georgi’s t-shirt, bare ass in the air.

“I’ll get the mop.” All the fatigue comes back at once and Georgi leans against the counter. The tiring week of practice, too much practice. The ache in his knees and his hips. The after-effects of surprise and joy and orgasm.

How much extra food does he have? He’s already prepped and labelled all his own meals for the weekend: the nutrition that he needs, no cooking, no decisions to distract him. He’ll have to go shopping early tomorrow. Pick up that rye bread that Christophe liked so much. Fresh coffee beans. A special wine for Saturday night.

Saturday night, after he wins gold.

“I’ll clean it up,” Christophe says. “Do you want me to fill the basin again for you?”

“You’re my guest—” Georgi starts but Christophe cuts him off.

“And you’ve been very hospitable to me and my dick but you should go get your fancy robe and then sit down and rest. I won’t tell anyone you were a fake Russian.” Christophe opens the broom closet and looks inside. “Mop in here?”

Georgi is too tired to argue so he just picks up the wet t-shirt and the rest of his clothes and leaves Christophe to it. He cleans up a little in the bathroom, himself and the fixtures. Gets out fresh robes. Turns up the heat.

In the living room, he gets the blanket from behind the couch and spreads it over the cushions. He sits down heavily and leans his head back. The couch feels so good, his mood is so good, everything is good. Christophe coming here is an omen. Georgi’s luck.

Christophe comes in with glasses but no bottle. “Black robe for me?”

“If you want. Or just sit on the blanket.” Georgi takes the glass Christophe offers him. A swallow of vodka in the bottom, from the bottle Georgi keeps in the back of his fridge for when he needs it. An old man’s drink. The same brand Georgi always saw on his grandfather’s kitchen table back home.

“I’ll get you more if you want it. Or open some wine.” Christophe sits, naked, and holds up his own glass. “I put a blanket on my couch for my cat to sit on when she’s shedding.”

“To us,” Georgi says and they drink.

“Let me check your feet.” Christophe pulls them up into his lap. He looks seriously for a few moments, then just strokes Georgi’s ankles with his fingertips. “They’re fine, you’ll be fine.” He lifts one foot and kisses Georgi’s instep.

Georgi’s heart turns over and he reaches out to brush Christophe’s shoulder with his fingertips. “You’ll be lucky for me.”

“Georgi,” Christophe says, and it’s the first time he’s used Georgi’s name. “I’m here to cheer for you and suck your dick, not to fuck up your skating. If you want, I’ll go to a hotel until Saturday night, stay out of your way.”

“You can’t stay in a hotel.” How can Christophe even suggest it? “How could you spoil my skating?” And yet. Already, Georgi is behind schedule, the burn of cheap vodka in the back of his throat instead of an electrolyte drink. Thinking about his lover instead of the ice. Lounging instead of stretching. Smiling instead of focussing.

“Or Victor said I could stay with him.”

“Victor–” Georgi says but his phone rings, his mother’s ringtone. If he lets it go to voicemail, she’ll just call back. “Sorry,” he says and picks up the call.

“Gosha,” she says before he can even say hello. “Why aren’t you sleeping?”

“It’s still early, mama,” he says. “How’s your back?” He looks over at Christophe. When has he been talking to Victor?

“You shouldn’t worry about my back,” she says. “You have enough to worry about.”

Christophe keeps stroking Georgi’s ankles, just lightly, fingers circling the anklebone and rubbing the tops of his feet. He picks up his own phone and swipes at it one-handed.

“What did the doctor say?” Georgi knows what the doctor said, always the same things: take it easier, do these exercises, use the painkillers for once. He looks over at Christophe smiling over his messages and thumbing out a reply. More invitations from Victor?

“Nothing worth hearing.” She sighs. “You should be resting. You need someone to take care of you.”

”I’m resting now.” When Georgi was younger, he always rolled his eyes at his mother’s groans, the theatrical way she pressed one hand to her back, such a big fuss over a little pain. But now when his knees ache and his hips don’t want to flex, he has more sympathy.

“So you say but you’ll be up half the night reading.” A childhood transgression she always accuses him with, he’s learned not to protest.

Christophe runs his hand further up Georgi’s calf but he’s still engrossed in his phone.

Georgi reaches down and slides their fingers half together. “I’m going to win,” he says. “Be sure to watch.”

“It’s bad luck to say so,” his mother says. “Take your cod liver oil and go to bed.”

When Georgi puts down the phone, Christophe taps at his a few moments longer, then drops it on the coffee table. “Do you want to come again? Or I could rub your feet.” He squeezes Georgi’s hand. “Or should I call a car for Victor’s?”

Georgi takes Christophe by the wrist. “You’re staying here with me.”

Chapter Text

Friday, December 23

Georgi is alone in the bed when he wakes up, twenty minutes after his alarm should have gone. No Christophe reaching under the covers to grab his morning hard-on, telling him to come back for a handie after his piss.

He stretches and does a few squats. His knees are better this morning, only a few popping sounds. He’s loose, focussed, ready. And if Christophe hasn’t taken off to a hotel, or, worse, Victor’s already…

But when Georgi opens the bedroom door, he can hear Christophe in the kitchen, the soft sounds of water running, cabinet doors closing. And Georgi basks like the summer sun is warming his face even though outside the rain is coming down.

Christophe turns when Georgi comes in. He’s wearing Georgi’s black robe and it’s even tied closed. He grabs Georgi for a hug, close and warm.

Georgi presses his lips against Christophe’s cheek. It’s not so smooth any more, but he turns and rubs his own cheek against it, that morning after boyfriend rasp. “Good morning, my luck.”

Christophe swipes his tongue along Georgi’s lower lip and slides his hands down to Georgi’s hips. “You want?” he says.

A shiver runs through Georgi and, yes, thank you, he does want. But he has a public practice this morning and if he doesn’t get his caffeine on time nothing will go well.

“A cup of tea,” he says. Even though he should be the one making tea for both of them. He should take last night’s dose of cod liver oil too but then his mouth wouldn’t be sweet for Christophe.

“Too much to hope that’s Russian slang for morning sex.” Christophe gives his hips a roll before he lets go. “Tea is brewing now, another minute.”

“You’re wonderful.” Georgi turns to sit down. And there on the table is the bouquet, in a jar his aunt gave him home-made pickles in. The roses are wilted, because he left them by the front door overnight. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I spoiled your gift.”

“I searched for some tricks on how to revive them. If they don’t perk up, I’ll buy you some more.” Christophe leans against the counter, half a body width from where Georgi jacked him last night.

“Did you find anything for breakfast? You can have one of mine. Or a protein shake. I’ll go out to the corner market as soon as it opens.”

Christophe pours out a cup and sets it on the table, then another for himself. “If you’re going to keep fussing over me, I will definitely stay somewhere else.” He sits down, his knee bumping Georgi’s under the table. “You just eat your way too meticulously labelled meals and do your practice and skate your program. I’ll take care of myself.”

“You’re very frustrating,” Georgi says. He adds sugar, then sips the tea. It’s good, not over-steeped. “I’ll get you the spare keys.”

Christophe gulps down his tea, no respect for the fragrance. “Anyway, I have to put in some work while I’m here. Victor got me ice time at your rink. I’ll get something to eat on the way.” He pushes his chair back again and sets his empty cup on the counter.

“Is Victor your concierge?” Georgi says and he hears the edge in his voice. “Your tour guide?”

Christophe glances over, frowning. “My friend,” he says. “Whose ass you’re going to kick, so don’t worry.” He stoops and kisses Georgi’s cheek, ruffles up the hair Georgi spent too much time smoothing in the bedroom, and leaves Georgi to eat his labelled breakfast and pour another cup of tea.

The flowers do look better by the time Georgi’s finished, less parched, although some blooms are brown at the tips and a few petals have fallen around the jar.

He’s putting his dishes in the sink when Christophe comes in, dressed and smelling faintly of Georgi’s shower gel.

“I have the keys, I’ll buy food, don’t even think about me. If you can help it. I’ll see you at the venue.” Christophe grins. “I’ll be the hot one.”

“Kiss me for luck.” Georgi holds out his arms and Christophe steps into them.

“You don’t need luck.” Christophe kisses Georgi, three soft touches of his lips. “You’re just that good.” His hands move downward again. “And I don’t just mean your ass.”

“Be serious.” Georgi leans his head on Christophe’s shoulder for a moment.

“Always.” Christophe lets go. “I’ll meet you after you skate. Text me if you want me before that, lunch or anything else.”

When Christophe is gone, Georgi stands by the apartment door for a few moments. Then he looks at his scruffed-up hair in the mirror and goes to take a shower.

On his way out, he takes one rose from the pickle jar and trims the stem. He presses the soft petals to his lips. “My luck,” he whispers and tucks the rose away inside his bag.

+

The stands are quite full for a public practice. It’s a good sign. The ice moves easily under Georgi’s blades, so smoothly there’s hardly any sound.

The competition is strong this year and Georgi fields a few looks from skaters he can tell are here to take his place, edge him out. But he’s not going to relinquish his hold until he’s ready.

A jump lands right next to him and Georgi swerves out of the way, heart-rate bumping up. He turns to glare.

It’s Yuri Plisetsky, calling, “Watch out, old man!” over his shoulder as he skates away.

Georgi takes a deep breath. In, out, keep focussed. No poorly disciplined child is going to defeat him either, even this one. He lays his hand over his heart for a moment, just where the rose is tucked inside his shirt.

He starts to go through the visualization he didn’t finish last night. His practice, his warm-up, his program. How he’ll move through the elements, how he’ll express his passion and artistry.

The elements and artistry are fine. He’s honed this program and it shows. But the passion is a problem.

He can’t seem to hook into the feelings he needs any more: the betrayal, the anger, the remorse. The desperation. He’s tried thinking of Anya but that well has dried, no more tears to draw out of it.

There are still hurts from other women — old girlfriends, rejected crushes — and he tries to find them on his heart. If he remembers their stories he can open those wounds again.

It’s not a lot but when he’s competing it will be better. It has to be better. The pain will flow and fill him when he needs it.

The crowd murmurs and there’s a spatter of applause. Someone landed a difficult jump? But in the corner of Georgi’s eye, he sees the reason: it’s Victor. Georgi didn’t even think he’d show up.

Georgi doesn’t have to turn his head to see Victor on the ice. He’s been catching Victor in his peripheral vision for years, nearly decade and a half. That flash of silver, those graceful movements.

But Georgi is the one with all the silver. And the bronze.

He drifts over to the boards and lets himself watch Victor for a few moments. He’s been watching Victor for the last few weeks when they’re sharing ice time. And it’s fine, Victor isn’t there yet. He’s still warming up for this season, eight months of indolence around his waist.

Georgi takes a breath and does his count in, stills his thoughts. He’s the only one here, the only one that matters.

But before he can push off, Victor skates up to him. “How often have we been here together, Gosha? It’s like old times.”

“We’re not here together. And when was the last time it was here?” Georgi makes to skate away but Victor claps his shoulder. Has that ever happened before? “Is this being filmed? Am I in your documentary right now?”

“We were so fresh-faced once,” Victor says. “Our eyes full of hope.”

“You sound like a maudlin old man,” Georgi says. “Go to the banya, if you want to cry about the old days.”

“Don’t you have any sense of nostalgia?” Victor still has his hand on Georgi’s shoulder, the prince condescending.

The weight of it comes down on Georgi: that long, long tale where Prince Victor danced his way through every quest, every battle, every dragon, while Georgi ran behind to keep up. His whole career, one step behind.

That story ends today. “I’m not the second son.”

“Maybe this is why we don’t talk more.” Victor takes his hand away but he doesn’t leave. “Why are you keeping Chris all to yourself?”

“Fuck off, Vitya,” Georgi says and skates away.

+

The venue hallways are buzzing with people, everyone leaking excitement and anxiety. Georgi looks for a place to be alone and finds a small office that probably shouldn’t be unlocked.

He sits behind the untidy desk and eats his lunch from its numbered container, drinks down his measured bottle of water. Pushes Victor out of his mind while he prepares himself.

This weekend, Georgi is telling a new story: the Tale of the Younger Son. Neglected, looked down on, denied the chance to prove his worth. But when the hour is darkest, he’ll be the one to shine. The one to rise up and be the hero that the kingdom needs.

He’s just arriving at the changing room when Victor rounds the corner. With Christophe. Victor’s hand is on Christophe’s shoulder. Christophe laughs and Victor responds in French, too quick for Georgi to work out the meaning.

It stings, Victor’s easy way with Christophe, and Georgi frowns before he can remember he’s a gracious prince. A gracious prince who needs to focus on his skating.

Christophe steps out from under Victor’s hand and takes Georgi by the shoulders. “Can’t wait to see you skate.”

Warmth sparks inside Georgi and his frown eases. He puts his free hand on Christophe’s arm. “Save your luck for only me.”

“Just my luck?” Christophe grins and rubs a thumb along Georgi’s shoulder. There’s wine on his breath. While Georgi was eating alone, working hard, Victor must have been laughing with Christophe in a café. “You should have been at lunch,” Christophe says. “Victor wouldn’t shut up.”

“I have to get ready.” Georgi lets his hand fall away and, after a second, so does Christophe.

“See you, Chris,” Victor says and pushes past them through the door.

Georgi turns to go after him, one last look at Victor’s back because after today he won’t be behind him any more.

“Good luck, Georgi,” Christophe says as the door swings closed.

+

As he takes his place on the ice, Yakov’s bark still ringing in his ears, Georgi searches in his heart for all of those old wounds. The break-ups, the endings, the rejections. But they’ve all scarred over. He can sense the places where they were, but it’s not the pain he needs. He touches the rose he’s tucked inside his costume; he should have left some thorns.

But as he bows his head in the chilly quiet before the music, he remembers: Victor’s arm around Christophe’s shoulders, head close and laughing in words Georgi can’t understand. A scratch across Georgi’s heart. He tears it open, deep and raw, and the music begins.

His body takes him through the motions, this program he’s skated to exhaustion so many times already. And his heart takes him through the story, all the passion that grows until he’s filled, the audience is filled, the ice and air are filled with his pain and his vengeance.

There is Christophe, sweet and loving. He smiles over the flowers Georgi presses on him, he melts under Georgi’s kiss, whispering his love in the moonlight. Yes, forever, Georgi, forever.

Then Victor, shining like the sun, holds out his hand.

And Christophe turns to him, puts his hand in Victor’s, dropping Georgi’s gifts at his feet. Christophe’s heart is weak, unable to resist Victor’s light.

Georgi clutches but Christophe slips out of his hands without even a backward glance at the one who loves him, who has given him everything.

Betrayal cuts at Georgi’s heart, fury surges through him. He rises, dark and terrible, to lay a doom upon his lover. His false one, who spurned true love just for a prince’s fleeting favour.

He speaks the curse: if Christophe’s love cannot be eternal, then his slumber will be, alone and waiting for forgiveness that can never come.

And then it’s over. Georgi is standing on the ice, sweat on his forehead, tears on his cheeks. And with the bone-deep satisfaction that he’s skated very well. The applause hits and nearly staggers him. He heaves in breath and bows, magnificently, to the judges, to the crowd, to his mother watching at home. To Christophe, wherever he’s sitting.

When the score comes in, he almost cries again: only a point away from the best he’s ever done.

And when the last skate is finished, he’s still in the lead.

+

When Georgi comes out to meet his fans, Christophe is waiting just beyond them, fielding a couple fans of his own. When their eyes meet, Georgi’s heart gives a twist and for a moment everything is wrong.

Then Christophe winks, broad and ridiculous, and the shadow of the story fades away. And as Georgi signs programs and poses for selfies, he’s glad, so very glad, that Christophe was here to see him skate so beautifully.

“I told you you didn’t need luck.” Christophe comes over finally, like he’s the last diehard fan, and pulls Georgi into a hug, crushing the flowers Georgi is holding. “You were great.” He lets go, catches some of the bouquets. “I told everyone around me I’m hitting that.”

“What—” Georgi starts but Christophe laughs and Georgi knows it’s not true. Probably. “But I had luck, you’re my luck.”

“Here, maybe,” Christophe says. “I won’t be so lucky for you when we’re both competing.”

“Even then.” The way Georgi feels now, alive down to his finger tips, so light he’s going to float away, nobody is ever going to beat him again, not Christophe and not Victor.

Christophe leans in, not touching Georgi, but close and intimate. “Wear that lipstick for me some time, it’s a good colour for you.”

Georgi imagines it, the dark prints of his mouth all over Christophe’s naked skin, blurred onto Christophe’s lips, smeared around the head of his cock, and his mouth dries so that it’s hard to speak. “After I–”

“Hi!” Victor butts in between them, one arm around each of them. “What are we doing now? Supper?” He looks at Christophe, then Georgi. “La Marée?”

Georgi sighs, a bit louder than he means to. Christophe looks at him, questioning. But Georgi can’t read him, can’t tell what he wants to do. They’re not at the wordless communication stage. And why is Victor here anyhow? “Their food’s too rich for the middle of a competition,” Georgi says.

“You pick the restaurant then.” Victor turns to Christophe. “Did you like my new costume?”

“Very sparkly,” Christophe says. “Georgi, I bought food, we don’t have to go out. Or did you want to stay for the pairs?”

“It’s a bit out of my way,” Victor says, “but I could come over for dinner.”

“Do you even know where I live?” Georgi steps out from under Victor’s arm. And mingled with his annoyance is a thread of satisfaction: look at the elder son, threatened and resentful, exactly as be should be.

“I thought we’d share a car,” Victor says. “Or we could all go to my place. Open some wine, order in.”

“No,” Georgi says. “I will see you on the ice tomorrow, Vitya, not before.” He picks up a stray bouquet from the floor and turns to go. He should stalk away now, but he hesitates.

“Go call your boyfriend, Victor,” Christophe says and puts his hand on Georgi’s shoulder.

Georgi’s chest relaxes and he turns to Christophe. “Let’s go home.”

+

After supper, Georgi pours them both a glass of wine at the kitchen table. Just one, to loosen up, to mark the day without losing focus for tomorrow.

He looks deep into Christophe’s eyes for a few moments before he raises his glass. “To you,” he says. “My luck, my prize.”

Christophe’s eyes flick away for a moment but he brings them back and looks at Georgi as they drink. “I am a prize, it’s true.” Under the table, he runs his foot up the inside of Georgi’s calf. “Which you can claim at any time.”

Georgi leans across the corner of the table and kisses Christophe softly. But Christophe catches the back of Georgi’s head and keeps him there for more, slow kisses that warm Georgi more than wine.

Georgi closes his eyes and tries to fix the moment: the kitchen crowding around them, Christophe’s knee pressing against his thigh, his tongue pushing at Christophe’s lips. The exhilaration of the day. The silvery chime of happiness in his heart. He’s going to remember it all forever.

“Do you want to come?” Christophe strokes Georgi’s neck. “You relax, I’ll take care of it. You don’t have get me off.”

“Not in the kitchen again.” Georgi keeps kissing Christophe, his mouth, his cheek, leans in to move along Christophe’s neck.

“No?” Christophe slips his hand up Georgi’s thigh. “No sex in the kitchen? Better post a list of all these rules. No lifts during Nationals, no asses on the furniture, no sex in the kitchen, please limit noise after eleven, here’s the WiFi password.”

“I’ll put the dishes away.” Georgi takes one more kiss before he lets Christophe go.

“Then come to the bedroom,” Christophe says. “And boss me around in there instead.”

+

When Georgi gets to the bedroom, Christophe is already naked. The small TV is on and he’s sharing his phone display.

Georgi stops. “We’re not watching one of your…” Sex videos. He can’t quite say it. And he doesn’t want to think about it. But he can see it now in his head, more vivid than on Christophe’s phone screen back in Paris: Christophe and another man, fucking for the camera. Is the file still on his phone? How many others does he have?

“No and not even porn.” Christophe pulls the duvet back and stacks the pillows against the headboard. “Clothes off, come here.”

“This is me bossing you around,” Georgi says but he does what he’s told.

Christophe sits up against the pillows and positions Georgi between his legs, Georgi’s back to his chest. “Just relax.” He puts one arm around Georgi’s shoulders and nuzzles his temple.

It takes a moment before Georgi can let his tension go and settle himself against Christophe. He’s still not all the way used to how it feels to be in bed with another man. To sometimes be the leaner instead of the leaned-upon. And Christophe makes it so difficult at times, with his explicit talk and way he’s always pushing, pushing at Georgi’s boundaries.

But even if it’s difficult, it’s also sweet to lie back against Christophe’s chest, turn his head for Christophe’s mouth, feel his own dick rise in anticipation of Christophe’s hand or mouth or thighs.

“Then what are we watching?” Georgi runs his hands up and down Christophe’s legs, presses back against Christophe’s chest and his hard cock between them.

“You,” Christophe says and turns on the video.

And there’s Georgi on the ice, poised in that hush before the music begins, the chill of the air and the whisper of the crowd all around him. The percussion hits, he skates off, and Christophe wraps his fingers around Georgi’s cock.

Georgi’s heart lurches. “Christophe, what—“ He leans forward. He hasn’t seen today’s skate yet and for a second even Christophe’s hands on him fade away as he watches himself.

“Don’t analyse,” Christophe says. “Just feel it.” He’s stroking Georgi’s dick in time to the music, but slowly, like a long double bass line underneath the frantic strings. “Look at you, at the power in your body.”

It’s harder to let go now than it is on the ice, to keep from judging every movement, but Georgi tries to sink into it, at least part way. Back into the warmth of Christophe’s embrace. Into the arousal building in him while the tension builds in his performance.

“Look at your skills,” Christophe murmurs, his mouth against Georgi’s ear. “So polished, so well-honed. Look at the way you carry yourself, like everything belongs to you, you’re so far above everyone.” He runs his other hand up and down Georgi’s chest, a light touch, skimming over Georgi’s skin.

Georgi shivers and closes his hands over Christophe’s thighs, not moving, just holding on. Does Christophe really believe the things he’s saying about Georgi’s skating? Is it just sex chat, to get him off?

But it’s working, either way, it’s working. Georgi’s performance is flowing through him, that pleasure of a good skate, of carrying the audience along with him. And Christophe is carrying him along, each stroke of his hands twining the skating and the sex together, two strands twisting tight and tighter.

The program takes forever while Georgi is skating it but now it ticks swiftly away. He kneels on the ice, applause crashing over him, and now he can close his eyes so that it’s just a normal hand job.

“You watch yourself like this,” he says.

“When it’s a good skate,” Christophe says. And the music starts again.

Georgi can’t keep his eyes closed, he’s got to keep looking. He watches himself disappear into those movements again.

“You’re an artist,” Christophe says. “So beautiful, so expressive.”

Christophe’s words slide through Georgi’s ear and tease him so he’s tingling with pride and with desire. He’s rising lighter and lighter, like he’s seeing his score for the first time, like he’s losing himself to the music.

“Think about how that felt,” Christophe says. “What did you feel? How did you captivate the audience?” His hand is still slow but firmer, sliding up like he’s trying to pull Georgi’s emotions out of his dick.

The applause dies away. Georgi closes his eyes again. But the music drags them open and this time he falls into it, does what Christophe says, and feels the program as he’s skating it. The story.

Their love, Georgi and Christophe. So bright, so beautiful, like a starry night. And then, betrayal. It’s a blow to his face, a hook in his guts. Christophe is still warm behind him, whispering in his ear and jacking his dick. But he’s also leaving, turning away, spurning Georgi so he can join his shining prince.

Georgi’s chest tightens and he digs his fingers into Christophe’s thighs. How dare he, after Georgi has given him his heart? That traitor, faithless, fickle, wanton. But Georgi is still responding to Christophe’s hand, Christophe’s words of praise, still getting closer. Closer.

“Once more through,” Christophe says. He switches hands on Georgi’s cock and shakes his arm out before he wraps it around Georgi’s shoulders. “Look at yourself, so beautiful on the ice, so beautiful in bed. I’m going to get you there by the end.”

When Christophe says it, Georgi sees himself: beautiful and terrible, too beautiful for a weak-hearted man. And he soars with the fury, with the power of his curse. And with the arousal that’s there, nearly there. Christophe’s hand is faster, the music is faster, the darkness is crushing him, crushing them both.

“Now,” Christophe says. “Come now.”

And Georgi does, gasping as the applause rains down and his orgasm shakes him. Then he lies there, eyes closed, while Christophe kisses his temple and rubs the semen into Georgi’s belly.

“And that’s how it’s done,” Christophe says. “Want to watch me?”

Georgi keeps his eyes closed a few moments longer, until he’s breathing again. Until the fury and the heartbreak have faded and all he feels is Christophe solid behind him.

Then he sits up and turns around, cross-legged on the bed. He touches his face but it’s not wet.

Christophe is still propped up on the pillows, glowing in the warm light of the bedside lamp. Not the brilliant glow of a shining prince: he’s tawny as a lion and smug as a house cat, lounging back in Georgi’s bed, thumb circling the head of his own cock.

“Give me your phone,” Georgi says.

“If you want to take a video, I’ll wait while you get yours.”

“I have enough video of you jacking it.”

“Is that even possible?” Christophe passes over the phone. “At least wait until I’m in the shower to go through my messages.”

“Look at me,” Georgi says. He holds up the phone and takes a picture, then sends it to himself. His finger hovers over Christophe’s message thread with Victor but he doesn’t tap in. “Sometimes still images are better.”

“Well, tag me if you put it up anywhere. Hashtag my hot bf.” Christophe grins. “Ready for my short program?”

Georgi drops the phone on the bed and watches Christophe jack it for him. Christophe does it so well, he’s so practiced. He knows how good he looks. He’s done this a hundred times before, for who knows how many other men.

A shadow passes over Georgi’s heart. But right now it’s Georgi’s eyes Christophe is looking into, Georgi’s bed he’s in. Georgi’s heart he’s filling, whether it’s noon or twilight.

So Georgi stops watching and slides in beside Christophe, hands on his body, kissing his face. “My prize,” he says. “So lovely, my luck, my heart.”

Christophe’s eyes drop closed and he turns into Georgi’s kiss, hand on his back, and lets Georgi reach down and finish him off as his face flushes down to his shoulders.

Georgi holds him while he shakes, smiling down at Christophe’s lashes fluttering against his cheek, exulting in the way Christophe grabs at him, fingers tight around Georgi’s arm, until he’s done.

“Audience participation,” Christophe says, still a little breathless. “I’m into it.” He grabs a wipe from the bedside table and cleans them both up.

“I’ll remember it better that way,” Georgi says. He rubs his fingers in the short hair at Christophe’s nape, where the product won’t catch his fingertips. “Want to–” Lie here together forever, if only they could, if Georgi could keep them both here. “–watch a movie?”

“Whatever you like.” Christophe bites at Georgi’s lip, then lets go of him and swings off the bed. His phone chimes and he picks it up.

Victor’s face on the message notification. Georgi turns away, pulls on his robe.

“Victor wants to meet for drinks,” Christophe says. “Which I assume you…”

“No,” Georgi says. “No more of his head games.”

“You think?” Christophe says. “Okay, what’s the Russian for ‘stop trying to cockblock me’?”

“Go out with him if you want.” Georgi looks into the mirror and watches Christophe thumbing his reply, the corners of his mouth turning up.

Christophe drops his phone and hugs Georgi from behind. “Hey, did you two ever hook up?”

Georgi freezes for a moment, then laughs, not that the idea is even funny. “No. Never. No.”

“Then that’s one thing I have that he didn’t.” Christophe kisses Georgi’s cheek. “Okay, you pick your favourite movie, watch here or on the couch? We can put on sheet masks, have another drink.”

They settle on the couch and Georgi puts on a movie that’s far from his favourite, just loud and amusing and forgettable. He pulls Christophe’s head into his lap.

And while Christophe complains about the plot holes and the lead’s haircut and the difficulty of reading subtitles sideways, Georgi scratches the back of Christophe’s neck and wonders if he’s ever going to be able to skate that short program again without thinking about Christophe’s hand on his dick.

“I should go to bed,” he says in the middle of a car chase. “It’s early but…”

Christophe turns so he’s looking up at Georgi. “Big day tomorrow. Should I go out and give you some space?”

“With Victor?” Georgi can hear the tone in his voice, the petulance he thought he’d left behind in juniors.

If Christophe hears it too, he doesn’t let on. “It’s a big day for him too. I don’t want either of you blaming me for keeping you up too late. I’ll just walk out and go to that café a few blocks over.”

“It’s raining,” Georgi says. He brushes Christophe’s forehead with his thumb, just along the hairline. He remembers Christophe the last time he was here: raindrops on his face, clinging to his eyelashes, running down his cheeks like tears while they walked home from dinner because Georgi forgot his umbrella. “Probably. It’s usually raining. Stay here.”

He leaves Christophe on the couch and goes to the kitchen for his dose of cod liver oil. It’s raining, a few drops on the dark windowpane. He takes an extra spoonful because he missed last night.

In bed, Georgi picks up his phone and looks at the photo he took before: Christophe is hot, sexy, photogenic. But that glow is missing. Georgi tries some filters but none of them capture what he saw.

He turns off the light and does a relaxation exercise. But he doesn’t fall asleep until Christophe crawls in beside him.

Chapter Text

Saturday, December 24

Georgi wakes before his alarm. He lies there a moment, feeling the ache in his knees and hips, Christophe’s warmth and weight beside him in the bed. It’s tempting to roll over in the dark, throw his arm around Christophe, and match their breaths until Georgi falls back into a dream.

But the day pulls at him: hours left until he skates, until he proves himself. Anticipation runs through him and he’s fully awake, ready to face anything.

He eases out of bed and picks his way out of the bedroom by the light of his phone. In the kitchen, he looks out into the rain-slick streets, the streetlights throwing their candle glow into the dark.

He puts his speaker on the table and loops his free skate music. He moves along with it: pouring water into his teapot, raising his arms and turning through the first moments of his program, cutting the stems on the drooping roses so they’ll live another day. Preparing for his battle, waiting for the sun to rise.

And underneath the music and the morning kitchen sounds, he can still hear Christophe’s voice from last night, murmuring in his ear, telling him he’s so graceful, so strong, he skates so beautifully.

When Christophe stumbles in, rubbing his eyes under his glasses, Georgi goes and kisses him, one long sweet press, to take in all Christophe’s luck, all his favour, so it’s Georgi’s alone. Like Christophe is seeing him off on this campaign, this quest. Georgi’s quest today, not Victor’s.

“Mmm,” Christophe says, when Georgi lets him go. “Is there something you want from me?”

Georgi pours a cup of coffee for him, beautifully, heroically. “I have everything I need.”

+

The wall is cool under Georgi’s palms as he stretches out his arms and back, waiting for his turn to skate. There’s movement all around him — skaters, coaches, trainers — and he closes his eyes to block it all out. Stay loose, stay warm, stay focussed.

His phone vibrates in his jacket pocket. He should have turned it off before this but he pulls it out anyway.

Have a good skate, beautiful, Christophe’s message says. There’s a selfie too: head cocked, chin up, half a smile and winking at the camera. The same pose he uses on his social media a little too often.

Georgi’s heart chimes. He touches his lips and then the screen, pressing his kiss on Christophe’s mouth. Thank you, my luck.

Then he hears the room gasp behind him and he turns to the monitors to see Yuri Plisetsky picking himself up off the ice. Yuri falls again, then again, his face contorted and body failing, burning what energy he has left with his rage.

It’s not surprising: Yuri used himself up during the Grand Prix and he’s still recovering from the damage, like a boxer after a championship bout. But it’s painful to watch and Georgi is sad for the boy, what emotion he can spare for now, while he’s still preparing.

Then it’s just Victor left before Georgi. Georgi moves down the hall to get ready, to raise his adrenaline and calm his heart. He turns up the music in his headphones so that Victor isn’t there at all.

Skate well, Vitya, he sends through the aether. So you’re worthy of being overtaken, a worthy prologue to my story.

When Georgi skates out to centre ice, the crowd is still settling. There should be an overture as they all make ready and the tension rises before this final, championship act. He takes a few extra seconds to loop around before he positions himself, waiting, body and soul.

Then he begins. He opens his heart and lets it break with the swell of the music. Why are you leaving me? He holds out his hand to his lover, to Christophe, but no warm fingers touch his own, no loving eyes look back into his.

He pictures Christophe’s selfie on his phone, but with a shadow falling over Christophe’s face. It’s Victor, laughing just outside the frame. The false prince stealing away Georgi’s only love. Tearing away half of Georgi’s heart.

Then Christophe, cursed and sleeping, cold and still. Remorse fills Georgi. How could he treat his beloved so cruelly, even if he was false?

One kiss, and Georgi will bring Christophe back to him, bind him forever. One kiss to save him. I will save you, let me save you! Georgi soars with love, with power. His body is tiring but his heart grows stronger with every sweep of his blades on the ice.

Don’t leave me! I’ll take you back from him, I’ll wake you up to me alone! Georgi rises, greater than his rival. The moon eclipsing the sun. The younger son inheriting the kingdom. He feels it in his centre of gravity, so sure and so balanced.

He stops, head bowed and hands on his heart. The applause buffets him and he knows he’s done it. There’s no mistaking that certainty he feels.

He salutes the judges, the audience, his chest heaving with exhaustion and excitement. Bouquets hit the ice but he slips his fingers inside his costume to touch the fading rose tucked there.

At the kiss-and-cry, Yakov lectures him, but perfunctorily, and Georgi takes that for the praise it is. Well done, welcome home.

But in the centre of all his certainty, his exultation, his expectation, there’s a needle-prick of anxiety. He can’t really know until he knows. His fingers tighten on his knees and he tries to look calm for the cameras, even though his heart is still crashing against his ribs.

The score goes up. Georgi looks twice to be sure, even after Yakov’s pleased snort. But it’s true: a personal best. At twenty-seven and here, at home, for all of Russia to see.

Joy bursts inside him, pulling him to his feet, a shout gathering in his throat, tears stinging his eyes.

And then he sees. Second place. Second. He thumps back down onto his ass. No joy. Just disbelief.

The best skate of his career, his life, and this is all that he can do. Half a point away but it might as well be fifty, a hundred. Might as well be Georgi climbing up a rock face, fingertips straining for that last handhold, but only scraping against the stone. Watching Victor plant the flag: one more mountaintop scaled, one more dragon defeated, who can keep track any more?

“Why are you still sitting there?” Yakov snaps.

Georgi’s knees won’t work. He pushes himself up with his hands, and sways for a moment before he can go to take a victory lap, trailing behind Victor with a cracked heart. If only the ice would crack as well and swallow him.

Then Victor’s arm around his shoulders for the cameras and Georgi’s frozen face, frozen body. He doesn’t have to think to get through these moments. He’s been here all too often before, it’s muscle memory by now.

And how can Georgi save his beloved when he can’t even save himself? He’s the one who’s cursed: to always rise but never crest, to always fight but never win.

He accepts congratulations gravely. He keeps from spitting on the floor. But in the changing room his face twists and his gut lurches. He yells out loud and bangs his fist against the wall.

People stare and he turns away. He presses his warmup jacket to his mouth and screams into it, frustration tearing at his throat, throbbing in his temples.

His hands shake and he can hardly peel himself out of his costume. The rose, crumpled and brown, falls into his hand and he crushes it in his fist. But he drops it into his bag, instead of on the floor. A memento of failure.

And when there’s no more left to keep him here, Georgi dries his face, squares his shoulders, and goes to face a world where nothing has changed.

+

Georgi drifts through more photos, more fans, the press. Rote phrases fall from his mouth, the familiar lies: I’m pleased, a good result, looking forward to the rest of the season. The triumphant speech he’ll never get to give sticks in his throat and he can’t swallow it back down.

When Georgi sees Christophe coming towards him through the hall, he blinks. It’s like a scene from another life and even when Christophe’s arms squeeze them chest to chest, it’s strange and unfamiliar at first.

“Amazing,” Christophe says. “You were so good. That quad Sal–” His voice doesn’t even have that purring boyfriend tone in it right now. It’s all skater, telling Georgi about his program, all the details Georgi already knows. “That’s the best I’ve seen you skate.” His hand lingers on Georgi’s shoulder, warm and solid. “I’m fired up for Europeans now.”

“I lost,” Georgi says and his heart crumples inside him. He’s hollow, a thin layer of foil shaped around nothing at all. Silver foil. He gave everything he had and now there’s nothing left.

“You…wasn’t that a personal best?” Christophe pulls out his phone and taps at the screen. “Yeah, by nearly a point.”

“I needed a point and a half.” Georgi shrugs. “I didn’t make it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Christophe reaches for Georgi’s shoulder again.

But Victor ducks between them like a pale snake, all smiles. “What a night!” He takes Georgi’s shoulder instead and slides his other arm around Christophe.

Georgi jerks back. “What do you want?” Victor’s had his win, does he need to bite Georgi now too?

“I don’t know why everyone says you’re so soulful, Gosha, you’re just cranky,” Victor says. “Time to celebrate! I already called La Marée and they’re holding a table.” He turns to Christophe. “You’ll love the sturgeon. And I’ll buy the first bottle.”

“What do you think?” Christophe says to Georgi. “We have to toast your score.” He turns to Victor. “Did you see him? He’s got me worried for the rest of the season now.”

“Worried for what?” Georgi says. “To be associated with a failure?”

“What the hell?” Christophe reaches for Georgi again. “You’re emotional, I get it, but—“

A photographer stops in front of them and they all swing, instinctively, into a pose. Georgi’s body is rigid between Christophe and Victor, Christophe’s hand hot on his back, Victor’s chilly shoulder pressed against him.

He’s caught between the fire and the ice, he’ll drown in the rising water. “It wasn’t enough, it will never be enough.”

“That’s a little extreme,” Christophe says.

Georgi wants to sag against him, burn up in his flame, but he’s freezing instead. And Christophe is wrong: Georgi isn’t emotional, he’s empty. Calm because there’s nothing in him to churn. “It’s the truth.”

“You really need a drink,” Victor says.

Georgi looks at Victor. He won, as usual, he’ll have everything, as usual. Tribute to the prince, useless to deny him. Georgi steps away from Christophe, away from them both. “Christophe, you go with him.”

Christophe frowns. “If you don’t want to go out, I’ll make you dinner.” Then he gives Georgi one of his looks. “Maybe get you drunk.”

“I can get drunk on my own,” Georgi says. Time to stop reaching. “Go.”

He turns on his heel and leaves, for real, no lingering, no looking back, and Christophe doesn’t follow him.

+

Georgi is just outside his apartment when his mother calls. He juggles his keys, his bag through the door while his mother gushes in his ear.

“You skated so beautifully, Gosha, like a dancer. Everyone says so.”

“Yes, mama,” he says, because it’s true. He did skate beautifully, better than he ever has. He did tell a story full of exquisite passion and sorrow. He did enthral the audience with his artistry. It just wasn’t enough. It’s just never enough.

“And your best score, too, I put it on the calendar.” To be remembered with the other excitements of the month: a sale on oranges, daily rainfall, his niece’s violin recital. “You’ll bring your medal down to show us at New Year’s.”

“Of course,” he says. “And caviar from the shop you like.”

“Now that you can relax, why don’t you go out and meet someone? I worry about you, it’s time you were settled.”

“I’m already seeing–” he starts and wishes he hadn’t. He doesn’t know how to explain Christophe to her, how to explain himself.

Not just that he’s with a man now; even if he’d been bringing home boys since he was thirteen, he’s not sure they’d be ready for Christophe. Wouldn’t you rather date a nice boy, Goshenka? The family who have the restaurant two streets over, their son is home to help run the business. He’s very handsome and polite.

Scandalous, that’s what she called Christophe once, watching skating on TV. Five years ago when Georgi hadn’t made the cut for Worlds. Back when Christophe was just another rival. Scandalous. That program, that costume. Overt, revealing, raw. Georgi agreed with her then. Still does, really. And so did the judges: they’d scored Christophe low. He’d probably just escaped a costume deduction.

“Who is she?” Her voice is animated, even more than when she praised his skating, but Georgi is used to that. “You’ll bring her down with you.”

“That might not work,” he says. “We might not…” I might not save him, bring him back.

“You need to try harder,” she says. “They have books about that now, you should read one. Now, tell me about her.”

“Not tonight,” he says, “I’m tired, mama, I need to sleep.” And he is. So tired, it hits him like a hammer blow and staggers him.

She fusses over him a few minutes more and he closes his eyes and leans against the wall to wait it out. “Take your cod liver oil,” she says at last and lets him go.

He unpacks his bag, checking his skates, hanging his costume, like it matters. Maybe it’s time to retire. Not at the end of the season, but right now, while he’s still clinging to that cliff face, before he falls.

In the kitchen, he draws a glass of water and drinks it slowly, like it will fill up all that hollow space inside. He looks at the roses in the pickle jar, dull and fading, just like him.

He touches his phone in his pocket. He wants to message Christophe, give him an ultimatum, maybe, or just say hi. Have that unexplainable, scandalous man wrapped around him one more time, warm and challenging.

But Georgi can’t save Christophe. He can’t even save himself. He goes to take the vodka from the refrigerator, one shot to sleep on, but his hand closes around the cod liver oil bottle instead.

He pours out a spoonful and swallows it: the pungent flavour of his childhood, of his whole life, in the livers of those poor fish who couldn’t save themselves either.

“Fuck,” he says and drops the spoon into the sink. Inside his belly, the oil transmutes into sudden anger and he’s glad to feel it, something real inside of him, even if it hurts.

He grabs for the bottle and over it goes, cod liver oil pooling over the counter, dripping onto the floor, filling the room with its fishy smell.

“Fuck!” he yells. He crashes his fist on the counter so all the cupboards rattle. Then he snatches up the bottle and throws it into the sink, hard as he can. The smash as the glass splinters doesn’t relieve his feelings at all. “Fuck me!”

He can’t be here right now, with the spilled oil and the drooping roses and his broken life so he leaves the mess there and slams the apartment door behind him.

Chapter Text

Saturday, December 24

Georgi straightens up when the server sets the glasses down in front of him. Vodka, because beer is too cheerful and whisky too slow. Because Georgi is an old man after all.

He hasn’t been in this bar more than a few times since he moved to the area. It’s plain and noisy, not the atmosphere of elegance he prefers. But it’s close by and if anyone recognizes him, they don’t say so. They’re not staring. They’re not even looking at him.

The liquor goes down easily, carrying away the lingering aftertaste of the cod liver oil and warming his throat and belly. His shoulders slump again and his anger softens into regret. What should he have done differently?

He orders two more and soon he can feel that fuzzy blanket of inebriation starting to wrap around him, insulating him from the noise and the light and the bread crisps the server thunks down onto his table. He’s always been a cheap drunk.

“To the end,” Georgi toasts. He’s going to miss it all, except for the aching knees, the bruises, the waking up at four am just for some solo ice time. That quiet chill in the rink and the soft scrape of his blades on the ice. He hasn’t even decided what to do next. What kind of a man he’ll be. How will he know his worth without a score?

Starting the third round, Georgi remembers: Christophe. That troublesome, exasperating, desirable man. It’s been such a short time but Georgi doesn’t know what kind of man he’ll be without Christophe now either.

One more love ripped from his heart. But not just that. Christophe’s roots are all twined through his guts, his tendons, and what’s going to be left of Georgi when they’re torn away?

Why did Georgi push him off with Victor? Victor doesn’t deserve that prize, no matter how he skated, no matter what fairy blessed his birth. Maybe Georgi doesn’t either but no need to deprive himself before it’s actually over.

He downs another shot and heads to the toilets with his phone. Only one way to entice a scandalous man.

When he gets back, the server says they need to find another bottle. Stupid, what a terrible bar without enough bottles. Georgi pulls up a video of his performance while he’s waiting.

The sound is off but that makes no difference. He can hear the music. Feel it ringing through him as he skates, gliding across the screen of his phone, landing smoothly, spinning gracefully. I’ll save you now.

And it’s beautiful. He’s beautiful. He can see the small errors but tonight they don’t bother him. He’s not analysing, he’s watching. He’s enchanted, like the audience was enchanted. Mesmerized, heart breaking, on the ice, again now.

Why wasn’t it enough? What could Victor have done that surpassed it? Georgi has seen Victor skate that program in practice. He hasn’t got the stamina back to load in more jumps or shift them to the second half. He hasn’t got the heart to pour out, the determination to fight.

But instead of bringing Victor up to see, Georgi watches himself again. And again and again, one hand over his heart to keep it whole inside his chest.

Someone touches his shoulder. Georgi drops his phone on the table and takes Christophe’s face in both hands, rising to kiss him, Christophe’s soft surprised mouth that takes a moment to start moving with Georgi.

Christophe squeezes Georgi’s shoulder. Then he pulls back, settling into the chair beside Georgi. “Now that’s a photo I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.” He rests his chin on his hand. “Next time add the name of the bar and I’ll get here faster.”

“Two more,” Georgi says to the server and they must have found the bottle at last because they appear on the table in front of him. He pushes one to Christophe. “Catch up with me, you need to catch up.”

He lifts his glass but Christophe’s fingers slip around his wrist before he can drink.

“I can’t catch up if you keep drinking,” Christophe says. “I’ve only had half a bottle of wine.” He takes Georgi’s shot and downs it, then his own. “So, have you cheered up yet?”

Georgi takes Christophe’s face in his hands again and looks into his eyes, at the gold flecks in his irises, at his goddamn fucking eyelashes. “I can’t save you.”

“There’s nothing to save me from.” Christophe doesn’t pull away this time but his forehead crinkles a little bit. “How drunk are you? Dick pic drunk, obviously, but is that regular drunk? Did you call any exes? Write a poem on a napkin? Send that photo to anyone else?” He turns his head and catches the server going by. “How many?”

The server shrugs. “Seven,” he says, like he thinks that’s not enough to matter.

Georgi turns Christophe’s head back and presses their foreheads together. “I can’t save you,” he says, because it’s important for Christophe to know. “But we should fuck anyway.” He kisses Christophe softly. “When you catch up.”

“Why don’t I catch up at home?” Christophe says. “The bathroom stall didn’t look big enough for any real fun.”

“You will catch up,” Georgi says and he lets Christophe take his hands off Christophe’s face. “And we will fuck.”

“Did he give you a card?” Christophe says to the server. He stands and pulls out his wallet.

That’s not right. “You’re my guest,” Georgi says. He sits up straight. “I can’t save you but I will pay.”

“I’ll keep the receipt,” Christophe says. “And I’m fine, I don’t need rescuing except from all these Russians buying me drinks.” He puts his hand on the back of Georgi’s neck and bends to kiss his cheek.

Georgi jumps up and his chair clatters to the floor. He ignores it and takes Christophe’s face again. “Time to go home.”

“God, I hope this isn’t your local.” Christophe puts his hand on the small of Georgi’s back, guiding him to the door like they’re dancing together and Christophe is leading.

Outside, the air is cold and the streets are shiny with rain. But it’s only misty right now, a beautiful glow around each neon sign and streetlight. “Hold my hand,” Georgi says and reaches for Christophe.

They walk hand in hand and Georgi wants to take Christophe down every street to show him off: Christophe is a nice boy, Georgi doesn’t care what anyone says, even Christophe himself.

In the elevator, Georgi presses up to Christophe and kisses him, seriously this time, arms locked around Christophe’s waist. Christophe flares into it, pushing Georgi back against the wall.

“Should I hit the stop button?” Christophe grins.

“That wouldn’t be polite.” The door opens and Georgi takes Christophe by the wrist and pulls him down the hall.

“I’ll get the door,” Christophe says and nudges Georgi out of the way.

“You’re a nice boy.” Georgi puts his arm around Christophe’s waist again, moves his hand down to grab Christophe’s ass.

“That does feel nice.” Christophe opens the door, pulls Georgi in behind him, presses him back against the closed door. “Does this feel — holy fuck, what is that smell?”

“Cod liver oil,” Georgi says. “You should swear in Russian, you’re in Russia.” The winey, almost rotten smell is overpowering and he can’t help taking a deep sniff. He buries his nose in Christophe’s hair, that will filter the stench.

Christophe swears and his accent is pretty good, Georgi is impressed. “The smell is terrible,” Christophe says, back to English. “We could go to a hotel. You can save my nose at least.”

“No, we should honour the sacrifice of the cods that died.” Georgi tugs at Christophe’s coat, starts opening the buttons. “Come on, nice boy, time to fuck.”

“You.” Christophe draws in an audible breath. “When you’re like this. My god.” He lets Georgi slide his overcoat off. “Okay, you, me, and the cod liver oil. What’s one more fucked up psycho-sexual association?”

Georgi grabs Christophe’s wrist again and takes him to the bedroom and when the door is shut, the smell is less. “Take off your clothes and turn off the light.” He sits down on the edge of the bed for a moment.

Christophe strips down quickly, minimal posing, but instead of getting the light, he crosses to Georgi and takes his hands. “Are you staying dressed? Are we playing something?”

“No, I’m undressing.” Georgi looks down. He’s unbuttoned half his shirt, that’s all.

“I’m distracting, I know.” Christophe starts to work open the buttons, and Georgi lets Christophe undress him, stripping away his shirt, pulling off his slacks, sliding down his underwear.

Then Christophe crouches in front of Georgi and puts his hands on Georgi’s thighs. “We’re going to have some fun but no fucking.” He kisses Georgi once, but rocks back onto his heels before Georgi can get properly into it.

Georgi grabs at Christophe, hand on the back of his head. “But I sent you the picture. Didn’t you like it?”

“Georgi,” Christophe says, “That was an epic pic, even with the crappy lighting. And I really want to fuck you, at least once, see if you like it. But not now, you can’t properly appreciate the experience.”

“Not now, nothing is ever now.” Georgi throws up his hands. Then Christophe’s words sink in and Georgi’s whole body throbs once. What would that be like? Christophe pushing inside of him, making him shake like it makes Christophe shake when Georgi fucks him. He’s attracted and repulsed all at once, which would it be?

“And you fuck as beautifully as you skate but if you fall asleep in the middle, I’m not sure my ego could recover.”

“I won’t fall asleep,” Georgi says. “I’ll sing to you all night.”

Christophe laughs. “I’ve never heard you sing. We should go to karaoke some time.” He catches one of Georgi’s hands and kisses the palm, then sweeps his tongue in a circle. “Lights off?”

“Lights off.” Georgi swings himself onto the bed and when Christophe’s weight settles beside him, he pulls them both together, his leg between Christophe’s thighs and their arms around each other, kissing in the dark.

A bit of street light filters around the edge of the blinds so Georgi closes his eyes. He strokes Christophe’s back, the crook of his elbow, the swell of his thigh, his hair, his ass. Everything he can reach and touch while Christophe does the same to him. Then his hand down between them, slowly moving on Christophe’s cock while Christophe pushes against his palm.

“Make some room,” Christophe says and reaches in for Georgi’s dick. He squeezes it gently, then more.

It feels so good, but it’s not quite right, not enough for Georgi. “Turn over.” He pushes at Christophe.

Christophe rolls onto his back and pulls Georgi over on top of him, mouth on Georgi’s neck and hands on his ass, rocking them together, one foot on the back of Georgi’s calf. “You smell better than a fish,” he says and nips at Georgi’s earlobe. “How do you like my sexy talk?”

Still wrong. “No, like—” Georgi slides off again.

“Not sexy enough?” Christophe leans in and kisses Georgi’s cheek, half his mouth, like he’s pretending to take a bite. “Okay, you smell just like a fish, a dirty, dirty cod.”

Georgi just ignores this, it’s too undignified. Instead, he tugs Christophe’s arm, pushes his leg under Christophe’s hip. “Get on top.” Christophe starts to roll up but Georgi stops him. “Other way, on your back.”

“Like–” Christophe slides over and onto Georgi, back against Georgi’s chest.

Georgi spreads his legs to make room for Christophe’s thighs and wraps his arms around Christophe’s chest. His cock against Christophe’s ass and his head beside Christophe’s, just a little above, like he’s the taller one. He breathes deeply and loves the resistance in Christophe’s weight, the pressure of his body.

Christophe strokes Georgi’s thighs. “A handie first?” He reaches up and takes Georgi’s hand, draws it down to his cock.

“Not first,” Georgi says. He squeezes, though, makes a ring of his thumb and forefinger, slips it up and down the head, slowly. “At the same time. I’m going to fuck your thighs, that’s okay.”

“Definitely okay.” Christophe cranes his head back so Georgi can kiss his temple. “But it’s easier if I turn over. Or beside you.”

“No, like this.” Georgi squeezes his legs around Christophe’s, hugs him closer. “Behind you, under you.”

“I already worked my core today,” Christophe says. But he lets Georgi get the lubricant from the bedside table and he moves up until his head is next to Georgi’s, just like they’re standing together, Georgi’s chin on Christophe’s shoulder. And Christophe’s thighs pressed tight around Georgi’s cock. “The point of these awkward positions is to video them. Not use them when it’s too dark to watch in the mirror.”

“I can see you with my eyes closed,” Georgi says. His arm is half under Christophe’s chest but he stretches out and wraps his hand around Christophe’s cock. “Just like this,” he says. “Count us in.”

“I knew this guy who liked to fuck to a metronome,” Christophe says. He braces some of his weight on his elbows. “One…two…three…”

Georgi starts but Christophe is a beat late. “A waltz,” Georgi says. “Not a march.”

Christophe laughs, which doesn’t help his rhythm, but they sync up soon, Christophe braced and moving up and down while Georgi moves down and up with his hips and up and down with his hand. So tricky, but it’s just choreography, he’ll master it.

And it is awkward, but so good: his cock sliding between Christophe’s thighs, Christophe’s weight pressing on him, then up again. The creak of the bed, the huff of their breath. And Christophe’s cock alive in Georgi’s hand, moving for him. This nice boy in his arms, here for him. Who came all this way just to see Georgi fail.

“We’ll call this position the sexy cod,” Christophe says. “When are you going to sing to me?” He turns his head and puts his tongue to Georgi’s cheek, around and around along with the up and down and down and up.

Georgi shivers and catches his breath. He can’t sing like this, it’s ridiculous. “My life,” he says instead. “My fate.”

Christophe doesn’t reply but he tips his head so his forehead is against Georgi’s temple, a little more closeness, and Georgi can feel every point of contact like a sweet, sad note in their waltz.

He doesn’t want to film them together, he wants to draw them, if he could draw: a pencil scribble, a Conté sketch, a watercolour scene. In bed, at the kitchen table, on the ice. Holding hands under the streetlights. Illustrations for their story, beginning to end.

“Christophe,” he says, into the dark. “I should retire, don’t you think?”

Christophe doesn’t answer right away and his hips keep moving but he stops tonguing Georgi’s face and just rests his mouth there.

Georgi waits, up and down and down and up, for Christophe to agree, to tell him it’s the right decision, everybody says so.

“Wait until the end of the season to decide,” Christophe says, finally, his voice a little rough. “I know you’ve been thinking about it but you skated so well this weekend.”

“Not then, now,” Georgi says. “Retire now, I’ll announce it tomorrow.”

The breath blows out of Christophe, sighing against Georgi’s cheek. “You’re drunk, you’re tired. Leave it for the morning. Talk to your coach.”

“I’m talking to you.” Georgi gives Christophe’s cock an extra squeeze, still in time. Gets his other hand next to Christophe’s so their fingers touch. Important to keep this dance going until the end. “There’s no more point.”

“You want to retire while you’re still doing well, I get it,” Christophe says. “But don’t you want to skate against me at Europeans? Worlds?”

“I lost,” Georgi says. Why can’t Christophe get it, when he’s so nice? “The best I can do and Victor still won. What’s the point of being always second best?”

Christophe stops moving and his whole body tenses. Not the oh so good, I’m going to come tension. He’s cold and still, like the sleeping Christophe in Georgi’s story. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“Don’t stop.” Georgi presses up with his hips, trying to start Christophe again, one two three, one two three, bring him back to life.

“Is that what you think of me? I’m not good enough?” Christophe’s voice sounds like Georgi’s heart, angry and sad.

“Don’t be sad,” Georgi says. “You’re a prize. Beautiful and strong.” He pushes his hips again. “Dance with me.”

“A prize? Only Victor is good enough to be your rival?”

“He’s always ahead, we can’t catch him,” Georgi says. “Everyone looking at him. While we’re sinking down. Time to stop running, time to rest.”

“So I can’t catch him either. I should just quit.”

“It’s okay to cry.” Georgi leans against Christophe’s cheek, is it wet? “I can’t save you but I’ll kiss your tears away.” He presses his mouth against Christophe’s face. All the sadness, he’ll drink it down.

“I’m not fucking crying,” Christophe says. But he relaxes, heavy and warm on top of Georgi. “Okay, let’s just forget about skating and goddammned Victor for tonight, you’re drunk and stupid.” He starts moving his body with Georgi again. “Maybe you should just sing to me now.”

Georgi doesn’t have the breath for singing, not with that lovely weight against his chest. But he hums to Christophe, a waltz, can’t remember the composer, and he pushes the tempo until Christophe’s cock is leaping under his hand and Christophe is sighing in his arms.

“You’re going to fall asleep,” Christophe says and Georgi lets him slide down the bed and finish Georgi off with his mouth, humming along with Georgi, and stroking his fingers lightly on Georgi’s hip.

+

Georgi wakes in the middle of the night and gets up to piss. His face in the mirror is puffy, with red-rimmed eyes. His hair is matted and mussed, like a second son who drank too much and had some okay sex and probably said the wrong thing.

He goes to the kitchen and drinks a glass of water, then cleans up the fish oil. Opens the window, even though it’s freezing outside. Stands there until he’s chilled through, not even thinking, just breathing the fresh air and wishing he could turn the pages of the story back another way.

When he crawls back into bed, Christophe rolls over, still sleeping, and throws his arm over Georgi.

It’s not long before Georgi is warm again.

Chapter Text

Sunday, December 25

Georgi’s not exactly hungover, not quite, but he takes a shot of sour brine anyway, to chase away the shadow of a headache and remind himself not to be so stupid. Then he sits in the chilly kitchen with his tea and eats some of the brioche Christophe bought. Just the exhibition skate left, but it needs to be beautiful, a performance everyone will remember.

“A bit of cod smell with my coffee,” Christophe says when he comes in, a kiss on Georgi’s temple before he grinds the beans. “It’s better though.”

“Open the window again before you go out.” Georgi’s not sure where he and Christophe are right now, if Christophe is upset about last night. If Georgi is. His head is thick and his heart is too.

“You’re not composing your retirement speech.” Christophe sounds normal but he doesn’t turn his head.

“I don’t have time.” Georgi rubs his eyes. There’s a rehearsal for the gala this morning. If he doesn’t get moving soon, he’ll be late. And who would be listening to him anyway, when Victor is there? But soon, he has to announce it soon, before his beautiful skate fades from people’s minds.

Christophe sits down with his coffee. “Don’t rush your decision.”

“Last night,” Georgi says and watches Christophe’s face. “I didn’t mean to say anything wrong.”

“Who ever does?” Christophe raises his cup and the steam clouds his glasses.

There’s no reason why but the moment pierces Georgi’s heart, one thrust of exquisite longing for Christophe with his bed hair and morning breath and sleepy eyes. “I’m sorry,” Georgi says.

“Post-competition crazy, we’ve all been there. And you do get a lot of points for that picture.” Christophe grins.

“I was drunk,” Georgi says. One of those special combination emotions that Christophe always seems to inspire floods over him: cringing at his own crassness but warmed that he made Christophe happy.

“Speaking of.” Christophe props his elbow on the table and rests his chin in his hand. “Don’t drink too much at Victor’s birthday tonight and maybe let me fuck you after.” He says it like he’s suggesting they should go see a movie together, something to do, whatever. But he’s giving Georgi the look, even though his misty glasses, that I want you in my bed right now look.

Georgi’s face heats, he can’t stop it. One fucking day away from twenty-eight and he’s still blushing at half the things Christophe says to him. He wants it, he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t even know. But even that confusion is arousing. “It’s going to be a long day,” he says, because he doesn’t have an answer.

“Just think about it.” Christophe runs his bare foot up Georgi’s calf. “Think about it a lot.”

“Bastard,” Georgi says. “I don’t have time for this now.” But he leans over and kisses Christophe like he has all the time they need, deep and hungry, and when Christophe responds, he slides his hand up the inside of Christophe’s thigh.

Christophe catches Georgi’s hand and pulls it higher, slowly, until he can close Georgi’s fingers around his dick. “Just think about it,” he says. “And whenever you look at me, I’ll be thinking about it too.” He lets Georgi’s hand go. “And I wouldn’t say no to a hand job right now but you should probably go to your rehearsal.”

Georgi doesn’t let go, not right away. He strokes Christophe’s dick first. Not like he’s getting him off, more like he’s stroking Christophe’s hair while they’re on the couch together, watching tv or checking their phones. “I’ll be late,” he says but he doesn’t take his hand away.

“I can be fast,” Christophe says. “For you.” He looks at Georgi over the rim of his coffee cup.

For you. “Turn your chair around,” Georgi says.

“I didn’t think that was actually going to work.” Christophe turns his chair away from the table.

Georgi could scooch his own chair closer, lean over and jack Christophe while they kiss, the easy option. But his heart is so full, he wants to give Christophe everything he can, while he can. So he crouches down in front of Christophe, hands on the tops of Christophe’s bare feet. “Let me make it up to you for last night,” Georgi says. “But be fast.”

Then he slides his hands up Christophe’s calves, pushes his thighs apart, unties the robe so Christophe’s whole body is exposed, fit and warm and beautiful.

“I am definitely going to be fucked up over this fish oil smell now.” Christophe touches Georgi’s cheek. “Fast now,” he says. “Slow tonight.”

Tonight shivers through Georgi like Christophe’s fingers on his skin. He has no words to respond with, so instead he kisses the inside of Christophe’s thigh. And then he takes Christophe’s cock and goes down on him.

He can’t deep throat like Christophe can, even if he takes the time, and he really is going to be late, so he just sucks Christophe’s dick, mouth over the head and hand moving on the shaft, opening wide as he can. He needs more practice at this. Not all his knowledge of women is transferrable to men.

“It’s good, your mouth feels good,” Christophe says. He touches Georgi’s shoulder, rubbing his thumb on Georgi’s skin. “You look so hot sucking me.”

It’s so cliché, standard dick-sucking chat, but Christophe says it like he means it and Georgi’s heart opens wider than his jaw can, hurts more than his knees on the linoleum do. He puts his free hand on Christophe’s hip and works harder.

“You’re going to look even hotter when I’m fucking you.” Christophe slides his hand up into Georgi’s hair, stroking the back of his neck, just lightly. “You’re going to feel amazing, so much pleasure, I can’t wait to see your face when you come.”

Faster, Georgi wants to say, it’s too much. He’s too aroused, so much more than he was planning to be right now, half an hour before he has to leave. Come now, let me see your face. He turns up his eyes just as Christophe drops his closed.

“Soon, ready,” Christophe says. “Now.” And his cock jerks in Georgi’s mouth, his hips jerk under Georgi’s hand. “Fuck, fuck.”

Georgi takes the load in his mouth, astringent on his tongue, the scent of dying roses and cod liver oil in the air. And Christophe, dark and sweaty, warm and lovely, shaking for him on Georgi’s kitchen chair.

Georgi claws for a napkin off the table and spits into it while Christophe catches his breath. Georgi is aching to be touched, to straddle Christophe’s lap so Christophe can get him off and kiss his throat. But there’s no more time.

Christophe reaches out for him as he stands. “Fast enough? I can be faster.”

“I will be so late.” Georgi takes Christophe’s hand; he doesn’t trust himself to even kiss him.

“Go then.” Christophe pulls his hand away. “And thank you for your hospitality.”

+

Georgi wants to get himself off in the shower but he doesn’t. Better not to, better to save up all his energy and feelings. He stretches out his jaw while he’s brushing his teeth and talks to himself while he’s fixing his hair, whispering, so Christophe won’t hear.

If he’s going to skate so beautifully they’ll regret losing him, if he’s going to make everyone cry one last time, he has to begin now. Part three: the ending of the story.

He brings the music to mind, his position on the ice, the opening lyrics. “Wake from your sleep,” he says to his reflection in the mirror. “The drying of your tears.” The beginning of the end.

When Georgi gets out of the bathroom, Christophe is on the couch, phone pressed to his ear and speaking to someone in French. Someone he likes: he’s smiling. He waves and heads into the kitchen, away from where Georgi can hear him well, even if Georgi could understand.

Maybe it’s Victor, hand still reaching into Georgi’s life, clutching everything he wants. And maybe it’s not. But Georgi needs a heavy heart today, so he takes a moment to feel that weight in his chest, the trickle of sadness in his veins.

“Remember me,” he says, too soft for Christophe to hear.

When Georgi is ready to go, Christophe is still on his call. Georgi leaves without saying goodbye.

+

Missed you, Christophe’s text says. You’d better be thinking about tonight.

Georgi drops his phone into his bag and goes to join the group. He takes a seat away from the others and tries not to think about tonight while they go over the program for the gala, the choreography for the group skates. But it’s there, Christophe’s voice curling in his ear, sliding down his spine like the touch of Christophe’s fingertips, making Georgi warm when he needs to be cold.

When they head out to the ice, Victor falls in beside him. “You missed a good bottle last night.” He claps Georgi’s shoulder again, another urge to be old friends, like he can fill their empty past with camaraderie like he filled Christophe’s glass with wine. “But I had to eat dessert alone. What was the emergency?”

At least Christophe didn’t share Georgi’s desperation and stupidity with Victor. Although surely Victor knows what the “emergency” must have been. “You shouldn’t eat so many sweets,” Georgi says, like he’s Victor’s dietician.

“Don’t keep him away tonight,” Victor says. “You’re both coming by. Even though neither of you is very sweet.”

Someone pulls Victor away so Georgi is spared having to reply that yes, they will be there, to celebrate everything that Victor has that Georgi doesn’t have, everything that Victor had first.

And when they’re on the podium, juggling all the medals and flowers and other crap, Georgi smiles like he’s happy to always be a step below and a day behind.

+

When Georgi goes to change for the gala, there’s another text from Christophe, a photo. Georgi holds his finger over the notification because he really wants to tap in, to see Christophe and think about him thinking about Georgi. He wants to imagine them together, sweet and happy, close and gasping.

But right now, he can’t. Not and skate this last chapter in his story as it should be skated: with a heart that fills the venue with sadness. Not when it might be the last time. So he clicks off the screen and pulls his makeup out of his bag.

A few stray rose petals come with it and he saves one before it falls. It’s brown and curling, only a ghost of fragrance left. There’s nowhere in his costume to carry it so he just presses it to his lips once, then drops it with the others.

When it’s his turn on the ice, he’s ready, he’s deep inside the story already. And as he takes his place and waits for the music to start, his heart is already breaking.

He’s put more work than he should have into an exhibition program this year. But his heartbreak story needed a fitting end. First the anger of his short program, then the remorse of his free skate. And now: tragedy.

He started looking at Romeo and Juliet early on: ballet, opera, movies. And it was the Luhrmann version that spoke to him, watching it alone in his apartment, lights off, tears sliding down his face. When the credits ran and Exit Music (For a Film) started, Georgi knew this was the song.

His costume is simple for a change: a loose flowered shirt and dark trousers, like DiCaprio wore in the film. Because in the end, everything is simple.

He moves slowly when the music starts, head bowed, shoulders set. But when the lyrics start, he raises his urgent face and desperate arms and skates, like this is his only reason for living, for dying.

Wake from your sleep. And there is Christophe, lying silent and still. Because Georgi couldn’t save him. Cheeks pale, lips cold as Georgi presses his mouth to Christophe’s. No power in Georgi’s kiss to wake him.

He’s gone. Georgi’s love, Georgi’s life, slipped away where he can’t follow. Breathe, keep breathing. A paroxysm of anguish, ripping Georgi’s heart, who has torn Christophe away from him? Who has parted them forever?

And then, the realization: it’s Georgi himself. His love is the curse that harms. He is the poison that kills. Even the tears that fall from his face onto Christophe’s are bitter.

I can’t do this alone. All he can do is bring an end, let that fatal love fill him too, still glorious even while it kills him. Until he slows, stumbles. Lets it squeeze his heart until it can no longer beat.

Goodbye, beloved. Drop the curtain, close the book. Close your eyes. Slip down onto the ice, cold and still.

Even the applause won’t bring them back to life.

+

“That was beautiful,” Christophe says.

Georgi turns and, for just a moment, it’s like seeing a ghost. I already let you go. Then he puts his arms around Christophe, the real Christophe, and thaws in that solid boyfriend warmth. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too. It was nice to see you and Victor skate without having to worry about my own performance for once.” Christophe hugs Georgi tight, then steps back. “My first time watching all of your ex too. I think you made the woman sitting next to me cry.”

“You didn’t cry too?” Georgi doesn’t have to watch the video to know it was a good skate. He could sense it in the venue, he’s heard it from other skaters, from the fans. He can feel it in his sore knees and tired body.

“That’s not how I show my artistic appreciation.” Christophe grins. “You were on fire this weekend, be proud.”

“It’s over,” Georgi says. And he’s pleased with how he reached the audience. But he thought the gala would give him some closure too. Nationals is over but it doesn’t feel done.

“Want to stop for a drink or two on the way home?” Christophe says. “My treat. Or your treat, I don’t want to risk breaching protocol again.”

And Victor rolls by, tossing his head to shake his hair back from his face. He slows down enough to grab both their shoulders as he passes. “Don’t be late tonight!”

It’s not over. “We probably don’t have time for drinks,” Georgi says and picks up the handle of his bag.

+

The fading roses are gone from the kitchen table. Christophe must have thrown them away. Georgi dumps his winnings there instead and arranges them: two medals, a trophy, and a watch, a small bouquet behind them.

“Do you keep a scrapbook?” Christophe says.

“For my mother.” Georgi takes a few photos and finds the best one to crop. “If I don’t send it now, she’ll keep calling until I do.” He taps out a quick email — she won’t even text, let alone video chat. The message is too short, she’ll be unhappy. But he just wants everything out of sight in a box under the bed, where it can decompose like the roses in the trash.

“Is she going to be here tomorrow?”

“No,” Georgi says. One thing at least he doesn’t have to worry about. He looks up and he’s not sure what to make of Christophe’s face. “She never comes to the city. That’s good, she can be intense.”

“More intense than you?” Christophe says. “I don’t want to make any mistakes.”

“We’d both make mistakes.” Georgi can’t imagine it otherwise, it’s never been otherwise. He sweeps the medals and the trophy off the table and pushes the watch over to Christophe. “You can have that.”

“A cheap Russian watch for a Swiss man? So thoughtful.” But Christophe picks up the box. “You must have a collection of these by now.”

Too late, Georgi realises what he’s done: the unluckiest gift he could give a lover. Now their time will tick away too quickly. But maybe that’s fate. A little sooner, a little later, all stories end.

Christophe puts the watch back down and hugs Georgi from behind, arms around Georgi’s waist and his whole torso pressed close. “So, what about tonight? Have you been thinking about it?”

Georgi tenses, he can’t help it. But Christophe’s body is solid and warm, his hands are light and caressing. Georgi can smell Christophe’s cologne, sharper than the lingering cod liver oil. He tips his head back and he doesn’t relax but the unease turns to anticipation. “What about tonight?” he says but it’s an answer.

Christophe kisses the side of Georgi’s face, his neck. “I want you to think about it all evening. All the time we’re at Victor’s. About me fucking you.”

“You’re terrible,” Georgi says. He drops everything again and turns in Christophe’s arms. “So nice and so terrible.” He kisses Christophe before he can respond, pushes him until Christophe’s back is against the wall and Georgi is leaning into him, so terrible and beautiful.

“You’re terrible too.” Christophe grabs Georgi’s ass and pulls him closer. “This fucking kitchen.”

And that’s where Georgi wants to stay, here with Christophe, in the kitchen, in the bedroom. In the bar. Out in the rain. Anywhere that Victor Nikiforov isn’t. But he knows better than to oppose fate. “We’ll be late,” he says. “I need to get changed.”

“The saddest words I ever heard.” Christophe kisses Georgi once, soft but lingering. “Before you do, I have a suggestion.”

“Your terrible suggestions,” Georgi says. He steps back, their hands falling away from each other. “I’m always in trouble because of your suggestions.”

“This one too,” Christophe says. “There’s something I’d like you to wear.”

+

It’s a plug. Light and smooth, nearly the same dark purple as Georgi’s short program lipstick. Smaller than some of the toys Christophe has sent before, that Georgi has teased himself with. But the size is not the issue.

“Oh my god,” Georgi says. “You expect me to have this in the whole time?”

“It’s comfortable, don’t worry,” Christophe says. “I never recommend anything I haven’t tried myself.”

“Do they sponsor you?” Georgi says and Christophe laughs.

Georgi turns the plug over in his hands, sliding his thumb along the curve of the silicone. The request is so deliberate and so unexpected. Georgi thought he might have to dissuade — or more likely fail to — Christophe from a blowjob in Victor’s bedroom while the party was still on. Not this long public foreplay, so unimaginable Georgi has no defense up against it.

“No one will know,” Christophe says. “Except us.” His voice has that exaggerated purr, that sexy sexy voice that he must have used on so many men before. “A head start on later.”

The worst part is that it works, it always works. Georgi can’t help the thrill that runs through him, he can’t help leaning closer.

“Put it in by yourself,” Christophe says. “I’ll watch next time.”

Georgi can’t fight fate and his own desire at the same time, so he takes the plug from Christophe. In the bathroom, he puts it in, a long slow push, chilly with lubricant. He closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the pleasure on his face when it’s inside and filling him.

He takes too long to shower and dress. Every movement, every thought, is secondary to the rub of the plug inside him, the pressure of the base between his buttocks.

Christophe is waiting in the living room. “Christ, you’re hot like that.” He moves close, raises his hand, but drops it, like he doesn’t trust himself to touch Georgi right now.

“I don’t look different,” Georgi says. But maybe he does, maybe everyone will know. “This is a bad idea.”

“That’s why it’s good.” Christophe gives Georgi that annoying grin. Even so, he’s irresistibly attractive. He’s wearing a slim-fitting pink silk shirt Georgi hasn’t seen before and beautifully-cut trousers that would be almost subdued if it weren’t Christophe inside them. And he’s wearing that terrible watch, as though he actually likes it.

And Georgi does reach out, sliding his palm over Christophe’s sleeve. “You’re lovely,” he says, the simple truth.

Christophe’s face changes, his smile softens, and he doesn’t speak right away.

Another moment for Georgi’s sketch album, if time would just stop, stop ticking away, for even thirty seconds. So that Georgi can listen to the chimes ring in his heart while he puts down all the lines and planes of Christophe’s face, the lights and the shadows. But under his hand, he can feel the watch on Christophe’s wrist, time slipping away.

“I’m your best accessory,” Christophe says finally. “Who wouldn’t want this on their arm?”

Georgi knows he’s supposed to laugh but who can laugh or even smile when he’s so overcome? “If we’re going,” he says, “then let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Sunday, December 25

Christophe doesn’t touch Georgi on the way there, not beyond a brush of the shoulder as they walk together, a bump of the knee as they get into the taxi. But he looks, meeting Georgi’s eyes like he does over Skype, if I were there right now…

And Georgi feels all of it, like the plug is really a vibe and Christophe has his finger on the control. All the physical sensation and the sexual tension, Christophe’s secret touch. It’s not a promise for later, not candlelight and long gazes to set the mood. It’s happening now, the beginning of their fuck, while they chat in the back of cab, while ride up in the elevator to Victor’s apartment. While Georgi raises his hand to knock on Victor’s door.

Victor’s dog greets them first, bumping at their knees and barking. Georgi steps back but Christophe scratches the dog’s head like he’s glad to have his trousers slobbered on.

“Happy Birthday, Victor,” Christophe says.

Victor holds up a tablet. “Look, Yuuri, it’s Chris and Georgi!”

Sure enough, there’s Yuuri Katsuki smiling awkwardly on video chat. “Preevyet,” he says. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Georgi says. He has a flicker of compassion for Yuuri, dragged to a party where he can’t eat the food or drink the wine, where he can only see the people Victor shows him.

“Congratulations, champion,” Christophe says to Yuuri. “Shouldn’t you be at a party of your own right now? Or sleeping? What’s the time difference?”

“Put on your medal, Yuuri,” Victor says, turning the tablet towards him. “We can watch your performance again.”

“I see Yuuri can win gold when you’re not there to stop him, Victor,” Christophe says.

“So can you,” Victor says. “How was the field at Nationals this year?”

“Bastard,” Christophe says, but he’s smiling, they’re all smiling.

Georgi isn’t smiling. All those gold medals weigh him down like lead ballast, pulling him to the bottom of the ocean, the pressure of the water squeezing his bones. But he won’t let that stop him from being gracious.

“For you,” he says to Victor, raising his chin, and holding out the bouquet he picked up on the way over. The most perfunctory of gifts, but what can he give Victor that he doesn’t already have?

Victor takes it, giving Georgi a nod, no clap on the shoulder now. He frowns at the bottle of wine Christophe is offering him, just as banal a gift as Georgi’s bouquet. “There’s plenty to drink, Chris,” Victor says. “Are you trying to insult me?”

“It’s a gift,” Christophe says. “Drink it later.”

“At the after party.” Victor balances the bouquet on his elbow so he can take the bottle in his free hand. “Take your coats off, then, and come get a glass.” Victor turns as someone calls for him and slips back into the crowd, boyfriend under his arm and dog trotting behind him.

The apartment is full of people, about half of whom Georgi knows. There’s food and drink everywhere and it’s not long before they each have a glass in their hand. Georgi sips the dark red and a hint of the flavour gets through his distraction, enough that he wants to ask what it is.

Victor has been living here a few years but this is the first time Georgi has seen the place. It’s spare and European, expensive but understated. High ceilings, plenty of space. A few pieces of stylish furniture, nothing like Georgi’s worn green couch. No wall of medals and trophies and photographs, no shrine to Victor Nikiforov. But a god doesn’t need a shrine to himself.

“Come meet my friend.” Victor appears again, with his entourage of virtual boyfriend and real dog. He looks at them both, but his free hand is on Christophe’s arm.

“This wine,” Georgi says. “What is it?”

“Bottles are in the kitchen, if you want to check,” Victor says. He turns to Christophe. “Sergei’s fun, you’ll like him.”

Georgi turns too, to see Christophe’s reaction, and the plug rubs inside him as he shifts his weight. He can’t help sucking in his breath. When Christophe’s eyes flick over to him, Georgi looks away. It’s too much. He can’t be around Christophe without pulling him back out the door. He can’t be around Victor at all.

So when Christophe lets himself be steered away, Georgi doesn’t trail after them like one more dog. Gracious, he tells himself. Accepting.

He turns into another group, skaters he’s friendly with, and talks over the competition with them. Gives and receives congratulations. Poses for selfies. Sips his wine. And feels the toy inside him every time he shifts, like Christophe is behind him, touching him, whispering in his ear.

When someone asks him about Christophe, Georgi says that he’s visiting and doesn’t volunteer more. Right now, he wants to keep Christophe for himself, every tick of the clock that’s left. Sweet words whispered, not shouted, for as long as he can.

Georgi has worked his way halfway around the room when he feels a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t need to turn to know it’s Christophe; the shiver that goes through him is enough.

“Are you thinking about me?” Christophe murmurs. He raises his phone for a picture of them both. “How much longer until you can take me home with you?”

A wave of desire rises in Georgi and his aching knees weaken. Damn Christophe for making him feel this way, here, now. For making him have to work so hard to keep from turning into Christophe’s arms. “Not until the toasts are over.” If they ever start.

“You’re so ready, I can tell.” Christophe takes his hand away but slowly, so his fingers trail over Georgi’s shoulder blade. “What will happen if we just leave now? Arrested by the birthday police?”

“It wouldn’t be gracious,” Georgi says. “I have obligations.”

“Are you making a speech?”

No speech, although Georgi should probably find a few words to say when the toasts begin: a dutiful second son, dignified even in defeat. That would be the moment to say that he’s retiring, fade entirely into the shadow that’s always been over him so he can begin his own birthday already decided. “Victor didn’t ask me to.”

Across the room, Victor looks for them and starts making his way over, hindered by the people that turn towards him, bits of praise tossed like lures. But he’s making progress and Georgi can’t find the graciousness in himself right now.

“Excuse me,” he says and hands his half-full glass to Christophe. He threads his way through the knots of people. How many of them will actually be there tomorrow for his own birthday? It’s always fewer, those times he’s been able to compare.

In the bathroom, he studies himself in the mirror, making minute adjustments to his hair and trying to find the right expression of poignant dignity. Then he presses on the base of the plug, moving it inside him, and there is nothing dignified about the way it makes him feel, so desperate for his body against Christophe’s and his name in Christophe’s mouth. Tick, tick. He grudges Victor every second he has to stand there, every bit of energy he’s wasting.

When he gets back, Christophe and Victor are across the room, laughing with someone Georgi doesn’t know, probably fun Sergei. Christophe still has Georgi’s glass in his hand but Georgi doesn’t go to reclaim it. Instead, he drifts into another group of people and discusses the décor, the amount of rain so far, the probability of rain in the future, that ridiculous costume Lobova wore for her free program.

A hand touches his arm. “I’ve never seen you skate so well, Gosha.”

Georgi turns to the woman looking up at him, her fingers still on his sleeve. Elena, another skater. It’s been a while since they’ve spoken; she’s been out with an injury and they don’t train at the same rink in any case. “Lena,” he says. “Thank you.”

“A lot of feeling, I was moved.” She tips her head and her long hair shifts on her shoulders. “And a personal best, congratulations.”

He accepts her words with quiet dignity, tries to remember how she skated so he can reply in kind. “Your recovery is going well?” he asks and when she answers him, she moves closer, until he can smell her perfume.

It’s been years since but they dated once, barely. A couple of evenings out that didn’t go further than a few kisses. Georgi can’t remember what she said when she turned him down or whether it hurt him. But it must have hurt him, what’s the point if it doesn’t hurt?

He shifts to make room for someone to go past him and feels the plug moving inside of him, no dignity there, just sensation. And Georgi wonders what it would be like to fuck her, her legs around his waist and her back against Victor’s bedroom wall, smelling her perfume and her sweat. And the plug still inside him, but more, larger, until it’s more than he can stand.

He steps back, shocked at himself, and collides with someone. They both swear but it’s Georgi who ends up with a splash of red wine on his shirt.

“Let me help you,” Elena says and reaches with a napkin.

“No, no.” Georgi jerks away, undignified, ungracious, and flees.

+

The kitchen is spacious and spare, like the rest of the apartment. Even the detritus of the party — bottles, glasses, balled-up plastic wrap and empty plates — can’t make it look anything but beautiful. But there’s no table to sit at, just an island with a gleaming espresso machine and a bowl of oranges.

Georgi pulls paper towels off a roll and blots at the wine. Though there’s hardly any point, the shirt is ruined. Might as well wear it like a blood stain: see the wound in his heart, the mortal blow.

He leans against the counter, taking the weight off his aching knees. He dabs the stain until it’s nearly dry. It might be a good look for a skating costume, a tragic death scene.

He hears Christophe before he sees him, that deep laugh, but he can’t make out what Christophe is saying. But it’s Victor who’s first through the door, laughing back at Christophe. They’re speaking French together, just like the other day at the rink, and Georgi remembers Christophe’s phone call from the morning.

It’s a few seconds before Christophe notices but then he turns his smile on Georgi. “Who are you hiding from? Me?” He glances at Georgi’s shirt. “Did someone throw a drink at you?”

“I bumped—” Georgi starts to explain.

But Victor talks over him, more French, as he takes a decanter from a cupboard. He’s shed his video boyfriend and his trailing dog, just Christophe left in his entourage.

Christophe holds up the bottle, the one he brought for Victor. “It’s from a vineyard in Italy we visited a few years ago,” Christophe says to Georgi. “After Worlds in Milan.” He glances over at Victor. “Victor swore he could speak Italian but…”

Georgi stares as Christophe eases the cork out of the bottle. He finds he’s pressing his hand over the stain on his shirt, like he’s trying to stanch a wound. Christophe and Victor had a past together, he’s always known that, but maybe there was more than he realised. And Georgi’s always been outside of it.

“I’ll have to hide it somewhere while it breathes,” Victor says, in English this time. “Away from the thirsty crowd.” He takes the bottle and pours it into the decanter.

It’s not like they’ve spent a lot of time together, all three of them together. But the over years they’ve been skating, there have been a few nights they’ve all been out drinking, a few days out sightseeing.

And now Georgi wonders if any of those times Victor and Christophe were where he and Christophe are now — open and waiting, already started fucking — while Georgi sat there knowing nothing at all. Were they laughing at him, at his naïvité? Wishing he would just leave them alone? Using him as part of their game?

Georgi’s hand clenches on his shirt and his stomach sours. He hates that thought. He hates that’s it’s happening now too, that he and Christophe are letting Victor into the middle of their sex act. But it’s still working on him and he desperately wants to be back home, alone with Christophe.

Christophe steps closer, close enough that Georgi thinks at first he’s going to lean in and kiss him. But he just bumps against Georgi’s shoulder. “Too good for a throwing wine,” he says.

Georgi takes Christophe’s arm, fingers closing tightly before he thinks. Has he marked Christophe with his own stain?

But it’s Victor he’s staring at. Shining, unmarked, just beyond Georgi’s reach. Always blocking Georgi’s way, always getting there first. And even when Victor has moved on, a new career, a new love, he has to circle back and scoop up everything Georgi has too.

There’s no more graciousness left. Time to leave this place, no matter how rude it seems. With Christophe if he’ll come along but without him if he has to.

“Put it on top of the cabinets,” Victor says.

And Christophe does, slipping out of Georgi’s grasp so he can stretch up with the decanter. There’s no spot on his sleeve, no trace of Georgi’s fingers on him.

Georgi’s head throbs, a storm pressing at the inside of his skull like a migraine. He can’t be here, he has to be anywhere else. “Vitya,” Georgi says. “I have to leave.”

“You can wear one of my shirts,” Victor says, waving his hand like that’s fixed everything. “Chris, look, you should try these vitamin supplements I was telling you about. Seriously, I have so much energy.”

“How much energy?” Christophe says but he looks over at Georgi, looks him up and down like he’s touching Georgi’s skin, hand up under the ruined shirt.

“Christophe,” Georgi says. He holds out his hand. Time is running down, tick tick, no way to know how much is left.

“Russian champion energy,” Victor says. “You saw me skate.” He opens a cabinet door.

There’s a collection of shiny white vitamin bottles, enough to make Victor’s piss very expensive. But it’s the blue and red label that catches Georgi’s eye.

“Hey, that’s the same—” Christophe starts, reaching for Georgi.

Georgi’s hands drop to his sides. It’s that same fucking cod liver oil that he’s been choking down all his goddamned fucking life. Here in Victor’s kitchen cabinet. Like it’s brand new. Like Victor discovered it. The bottle is closed but the smell of it fills Georgi’s nostrils. The taste of it floods his mouth.

“You take everything that’s mine,” he says.

Victor turns and stares, like Georgi is accusing him of breaking into his apartment to steal the bottle in the middle of the night. “What are you talking about?”

“Everything I reach for,” Georgi says. He’s so calm now, so righteous, throwing his arms in the air. “Everything I’m holding, you tear from my hands.”

“Georgi,” Christophe says, but Georgi can’t look at him right now, can barely hear him.

Victor stills. His face sets and he crosses his arms over his chest. “What have I ever taken that you already had? Your women? Your skate guards?”

“All my opportunities,” Georgi says, his voice rising, and he’s rising along with it, soaring. “All my chances, all the attention.”

A memory possesses him, a ghost slipping under his skin. Twelve years old, practising dutifully, when Victor Nikiforov skated out onto the ice at their rink for the first time. Even just looping his way out to centre ice, he was so graceful, it gave Georgi a pang. Not of jealousy, but of admiration.

He’d been so excited for Victor to join him, skating together. Still rivals, but also a team, a partnership. But then Yakov’s forehead softened and Georgi saw, like a vision in a mirror, his own favour slip away and wreathe Victor like a halo.

He had never won it back.

“Are you accusing me of sabotage?” Victor says. “Did I poison your food or cut your laces?”

“You left,” Georgi says. “You were done. Why did you have to come back?”

Victor’s eyes narrow but his voice is light. “For you, Gosha, of course. You’ve always been my only consideration, my whole career.”

Georgi slams his fist into Victor’s jaw.

He only knows he’s done it when the force shakes back down his arm and the smack echoes in the air. When he hears himself spitting out: “Consider this!” He springs forward as Victor staggers and grabs at his collar to haul him back. “Ignore me now, I dare you!”

Somebody grabs Georgi around the chest and yanks him away. Who’s fucking taking this away too?

“I was enjoying that for a while,” Christophe says.

Georgi sags back against him and his vision clears, widening until he can see the whole room again. And Victor, rubbing his jaw and looking utterly astonished.

Christophe’s grip loosens but he keeps his hands on Georgi’s shoulders. “Okay?” he says.

Georgi stands up straight. “Happy Birthday, Vitya,” he says. Then he leaves the room, striding through the crowd that’s gathered outside the kitchen. He doesn’t stop to take his overcoat before he’s out the door.

Chapter Text

Sunday, December 25

Christophe catches up to Georgi at the elevator, both of their coats over his arm. “I hope you were fighting over me,” he says. “But, seriously, Georgi, what the hell was that? Is everything okay?” His mouth twists a little, like he’s not sure if it should go up or down. “I think Victor’s all right but are you?”

“Fine,” Georgi says. “I’m fine, everything’s fine.” His heart is pounding against his ribs, his nerves are singing. He doesn’t want to explain himself. He wants to run all the way home, he wants to yell. He wants to push Christophe up against the wall and kiss him. So he does, hands on the front of Christophe’s shirt and their coats caught between them, grinding in with his hips so he can feel the plug inside teasing him.

Christophe kisses him back, coming alive, pulling him closer, like they’re going to just fuck right here in the hallway outside Victor’s apartment. Christophe’s heart is speeding against Georgi’s chest and his mouth is greedy. “You seem completely fine,” he says, after a moment, “Very normal and fine.”

“Let’s go home,” Georgi says but it’s another moment still before he can make himself step back and let Christophe free. Not quite free, his arm still around Christophe’s waist as he tumbles them into the elevator together.

“Are you drunk?” Christophe stabs the ground floor button.

Just on exhilaration, just on satisfaction. “Just on you,” Georgi says. He gets out his phone to order a car. His hand is starting to hurt but that just makes it better, one more throb of joy.

In the back of the cab, he leans over and kisses Christophe, breathes in the warm smell of him, runs his hand up the inside of Christophe’s thigh. It’s all his, for now, until their time is up. He’s taken Christophe back, he’s taking him home.

“I’m going to start making you get into fights on purpose.” Christophe shifts under Georgi’s touch, pushing closer. “How much extra do we have to tip the driver if I go down on you right now?”

“Too much,” Georgi says, but he kisses Christophe again, on his cocksucking lips, on his smooth-shaven cheek, fingers catching in the beard on his chin.

“When are you going to tell me what that melee was about?” Christophe says against Georgi’s ear. “Is it the scores still?”

“Forget Victor,” Georgi says. “Forget everything but me.”

Christophe laughs, a rumble Georgi feels through his mouth against Christophe’s throat. “You’re not easy to forget. Not here, not on the ice.”

“Tell me.” Georgi keeps kissing Christophe, his neck, his jaw, keeps stroking his thigh, who cares about the driver. “Tell me what you’ll remember.”

“You skated beautifully,” Christophe says, “every day this weekend.” He starts talking through Georgi’s short program, telling Georgi about each element, each emotion.

“Tell me,” Georgi murmurs again, even though Christophe is telling him, telling him all of it right now. Georgi catches the driver’s eye in the rearview mirror and he wants to stare him down, wants to gloat to him over Georgi’s prize. But he can’t do that and keep his mouth on Christophe’s skin, his hands on Christophe’s body.

They’re up to the exhibition by the time the car pulls up at Georgi’s building. Georgi doubles the tip and ignores the driver’s leer. He’s fizzing like a glass of champagne, bubbling over as they go inside, ride the elevator, stumble down the hall together because Georgi won’t let go.

“The continuity was amazing,” Christophe says and it sounds genuine, not just talk to set the mood. “Between all three programs. I could feel the arc of emotion through it all.”

Georgi opens his door. “It’s a story,” he says. “A story of love.” And they step inside.

They bump around the entrance, dropping their coats on the floor and pulling at each other’s clothing. Georgi sees himself in the mirror for a second: ruffled hair, wine-stained shirt, flushed cheeks, red mouth. Debauched, like Christophe always makes him in the end.

Then Georgi takes Christophe’s face in his hands and kisses him slowly, this beautiful man who appreciates Georgi’s artistry, who shows up at his door from so far away just to see him skate.

“Tragic love,” Georgi says. “Betrayal and anger, retribution and remorse, pleading and death.”

“It should have been an opera.” Christophe strokes Georgi’s jaw with his thumbs, fingers behind Georgi’s neck, half a breath away. “You draw out the emotion so well, it feels so real. You’re not still thinking about that girlfriend, are you?”

“No, of course not.” Georgi breathes in, filling himself with this quiet, beautiful moment before they start up again. And when Christophe asks his next question, it will be yes, it has to be yes. He wants Christophe to fuck him. He has to know what it will be like. He has to have everything with Christophe, everything he can before the clock strikes midnight.

“Of course not,” he says again. “I thought about you.” He leans in for another kiss, just one. Then he’ll pull Christophe into the bedroom, light some candles, and let him do anything he wants.

But Christophe tenses, his whole body stiff and still, and he doesn’t respond to Georgi’s mouth.

“Come on,” Georgi says. “Come with me, my prize.” The words come more easily than he ever thought they would: “I want you to fuck me.” He slides his hands down Christophe’s back and grabs his ass. “You said you would.”

“You thought about me,” Christophe says. He’s still not moving. “For betrayal and retribution. For death. We’re a tragedy.”

“For the emotion,” Georgi says. “The performance. To make the feelings real.”

Christophe jerks back, out of Georgi’s arms. “Why would you do that?”

Georgi staggers, like he’s the one who took a fist to the face. A fist that knocked him off a cliff and he’s free-falling, down and down. “Christophe.”

“How did I betray you?” Christophe’s hands clench. “How did you curse me?”

“You don’t understand,” Georgi says. His head spins like he’s really falling, sick to his stomach, ears ringing. “I would never.” But he can still feel the echo of Christophe’s crushing betrayal. Of his own angry curse. The tearing pain of their separation, the grip of their fingers slipping away.

“How did you kill me?” Christophe’s face is like stone, like death. As pale and bloodless as Georgi imagined it.

“It’s artistry, it’s not real.” Georgi reaches for Christophe, he has to make him understand. How can he even think this of Georgi? “I wouldn’t—“

But Christophe steps away again. He raises his hands like he’s holding Georgi off. “It’s sabotage.”

“No!” Georgi can’t be the betrayer, can he? He’s not the one who leaves, who turns away. It’s impossible. It’s not in his heart to betray his lover. But he sees his watch on Christophe’s wrist, tick tick.

“You’ll sacrifice anything to win, even me,” Christophe says. “Is that it?”

“How am I sacrificing you?” Georgi says. “You’re here with me. I’m doing everything for you, everything you want.” Including the plug still inside him, still moving when Georgi moves, still promising him everything. “What have you asked that I haven’t given you?”

“You’re just indulging me?” Christophe says. “Like some fucking child.” Colour starts to come back up in his face, bright spots of red over his cheekbones. “Do you even take me seriously?”

You’re not a serious person, Georgi wants to say. But right now Christophe does look serious, the most serious Georgi has ever seen him, all his fatuousness stripped away. And underneath is anger. “I take all my lovers seriously,” Georgi says.

“So you just need somebody to be your object,” Christophe says. “It doesn’t matter who it is. Me, anybody.”

“No,” Georgi says. He’s pressing his hand to his own chest again, crumpling the stained shirt in his fingers. But the pain is inside, his whole body cut and aching. Can’t Christophe see what Georgi has given for him? Doesn’t he see how much he means? “No, our story isn’t like that.“

“It’s not a story!” Christophe rocks backwards and bumps against the closed door. He looks startled for a second, then his face sets again. “We’re not a story. I’m not a character for you to fucking play with.”

“I’m not playing with you.” Georgi looks at Christophe’s hand on the door, so near the handle. So easy for him to open it, turn away, walk out. Go back to drink that wine. “You’re the one who’s always playing,” Georgi says. “With me, with Victor.”

“So it’s Victor?” Christophe says. “What the hell! Do you think I’m fucking around with him behind your back?”

“No, I don’t think that,” Georgi says. And he doesn’t. He doesn’t. But there’s a stab in his gut and he wants to hear Christophe come right out and say he’s not, he would never, ever. That he would blot out the past if he could. “Are you?”

Christophe blazes up, face flushing, shoulders rising so he almost seems to expand in size. “If I were, what would you do? Punch me too?” He stares Georgi in the eye, hard and dangerous. “Just try it.”

“I don’t care,” Georgi says. It’s a lie, it’s the truth, he doesn’t know. His heart is torn and bleeding but it’s still pounding in his chest, still pulsing in his head and throat and groin. He’s still got Christophe’s toy inside of him, like it’s Christophe’s fingers touching him, and he’s a fucking total disaster right now.

But even cursed and dying, he has to have Christophe now, no matter what. It’s deeper than his heart, it’s why they’re both here now. He launches himself at Christophe, no fist to the face, just his mouth on Christophe’s mouth and his hands raking Christophe’s body.

Christophe grabs him, kisses him, tears at Georgi like Georgi is tearing at him. Rocks up to press his cock into Georgi’s hip.

Georgi sinks into it, like he has so many times before. Whatever else is happening, they’re on fire together. Reeking and toxic, but together. His bruised hand yanking Christophe’s shirt up, fingers digging into his bare skin.

Then Christophe shoves him away.

Georgi crashes into the hall table, one sharp corner jabbing into his thigh. He flings out a hand just in time to touch the wall so he doesn’t go down. “What–”

“I’m too angry,” Christophe says. He closes his eyes and puts both hands over his face, like he can’t look at Georgi right now. His shoulders heave. He spits out a stream of French, then switches back to English. “I’m too angry to have sex with you.”

“I thought that’s what we did.” Georgi rubs his thigh with his sore hand but he almost can’t feel those hurts, he’s cut so deep right now. “Get angry and fuck.”

“I thought that’s what we used to do.” Christophe sags back against the door. When he takes his hands away, he looks exhausted, crumpled with pain.

Georgi sags too. He can’t take his eyes off Christophe’s face, even though he’d rather look at anything else right now. Real tragedy isn’t beautiful, it’s not poetic. It’s not a handful of rose petals drifting in the wind. It’s shards of glass and a stinking puddle of cod liver oil.

And Georgi’s the one who broke it. Who put those lines of pain on Christophe’s face and he has no idea how to erase them.

“I’m trying,” Christophe says. “I’m really fucking trying.”

“I know you are,” Georgi says and leaves Christophe in the hallway.

Chapter Text

Sunday, December 25

In the bathroom, Georgi runs cold water over his hand, for all the good that will do. In the mirror, he looks as tired as Christophe did, as sad, and he has to turn away from his own face too.

And then he takes out the plug. It’s not easy, he’s clenching tight. He doesn’t know what to do with it so he drops it in the shower, runs a bit of water over it, and leaves it there.

His phone buzzes and he pulls it out, afraid of what he’ll see: I’m leaving from Christophe, some threat from Victor. But it’s just a message from his mobile provider, shilling for an upgrade to his plan.

He deletes the message. And there, in his text threads, is the unread message from Christophe, from the afternoon, before the gala. A selfie from his seat in the venue, half a smile on his face like he couldn’t decide whether to be sultry or sweet. Good skate, beautiful. Think about me.

“I am,” Georgi whispers and opens the door.

+

Georgi is half expecting to find Christophe packing or maybe already gone. But he’s just sitting at the kitchen table, his phone and a glass of water in front of him.

He looks up at Georgi. “Fights are dehydrating.”

Is this good? Georgi knows how to go after a lover who’s stormed out, how to court them back. Or at least try to. But he still doesn’t know how to deal with Christophe. Maybe he never will.

Instead of trying, he gets the bottle of vodka out of the refrigerator. He sits down and pours them each a shot, then picks up his glass. “To…” There’s nothing to toast to, nothing to wish. “To life.”

Christophe’s fingers drum his water glass for a moment. Then he lifts his shot. “To life.”

When they’ve drunk, Georgi fills the glasses again. His hand is starting to stiffen and it’s painful to hold the bottle. “One more, you toast.”

Christophe cradles the drink in his hand. Then he laughs, a single tired bark. “To Victor fucking Nikiforov. I hope you broke his jaw.”

Georgi downs the shot. Right now, he’ll drink to that.

Christophe shoots his glass across the table and it clinks against the bottle. “Someone told me this would end in a murder-suicide.”

“Which one of us will be the murderer?” Georgi flexes his sore fingers and stares down at his palm, not at Christophe.

“You’re the favourite but he’d only give me 70/30 odds.”

“Even so,” Georgi says. “Victor would kill his lover the same day and nobody would talk about us at all.”

“Seems about right,” Christophe says. “What’s going on with you and Victor anyhow? Do you really think we’re messing around?”

“No,” Georgi says. And yet. He doesn’t think it, not really, but how hard would Victor have to try to take Christophe back? Like he’s taken everything else back. “Victor…all my career, I’ve been struggling against him. Not just to win. To be seen, to be acknowledged.”

Georgi slides his glass across the table too and it knocks Christophe’s away from the bottle. “He makes it impossible, he blots everyone out. I worked so hard all my life. So hard this year. My personal fucking best. And Victor takes eight months off to play around, not even in Russia. And still defeats me! What can I do? I’ve done everything.” He leans forward on his elbows, bracing against the weight on his shoulders pressing him down. “I got frustrated tonight, I lost control. What else can I do?”

“Don’t talk like you’re the only one to ever feel that way.” Christophe glances up. “We’re all unlucky, everyone who came up at the same time as Victor. Trying your hardest won’t make you the best.”

“But you’re okay with it.”

“No,” Christophe says. “I’m fucked up too. Do you think you’re the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders if it’s still worth it? At least you didn’t try to convince yourself you don’t care he’s always been ahead.”

“At least you didn’t punch him in the face.”

“You’re very direct,” Christophe says. “I envy that. Look, I know I can’t accept second best or I won’t even have a chance of beating him or anyone else. But that’s not my only reason to skate. Or is that the only reason you do?”

“It’s hard to even know any more,” Georgi says. It’s his life, his life for so long that motivation is irrelevant.

“Well, why did you start skating at all?”

“Who knows?” Georgi says. But he reaches back, far as he can. “My first time on the ice, I was five, I think. My parents took me to an outdoor rink in the neighbourhood.” The cold wind biting the tops of his cheeks above his smothering scarf, his mittened hand engulfed as his father pulled him slowly along. “All the big kids were whizzing past us. I wanted to let go and glide too, race alone across the ice.”

It’s too soon, his mother said when his father did let him go. He’ll fall. But Georgi pushed off like his father told him to and skated alone. Not fast, not easily. “I wobbled a lot when they let me try but I didn’t fall, not the first few steps, anyway.” It’s difficult to feel it now, beyond a glimmer, but Georgi knows how proud he was right then, how free. “I didn’t even know what figure skating was yet, I just wanted to glide while they watched me.”

“People still watch you,” Christophe says.

“I know, but…” Georgi says. “Maybe I should have found another coach, another rink, when Victor came. So I didn’t have to watch him day after day. Hear everyone praise him.”

“You’re skating better this season. Is that why?”

“Yakov told me to embrace the emotions and use them. He never used to like it. But now he does, I don’t know.”

Christophe pushes his water glass away. “Do you really think about me betraying you? Fucking you over somehow? Do you think I would?”

“No. Yes, but only while I’m skating.” Georgi starts to reach out but he stops when he sees Christophe’s closed face. “I need to feel something real to bring out the emotion in my programs. I have to feel the pain.”

“That’s bullshit.” Christophe slams his hand down on the table. “Fucking bullshit.”

“I don’t—”

“It’s also working really well,” Christophe says. “I don’t know what to say.” He frowns, mouth twisting for a moment. “As a skater, I think you should absolutely do that, it’s amazing. As your boyfriend, what the hell? How can you get out there and imagine you’re cursing and killing me?”

“I would never do that to you,” Georgi says. “Never for real. But all stories end somehow. All my stories end.”

“We’re not in some goddamn fairy tale. Or a tragedy about stupid teenagers.”

“Is it a romance?” Georgi says. “Or just terrible porn?” He swears, slipping into Russian. All the emotions are squeezed so tightly inside him, wrung like a washing rag, he can’t even tell what they are any more, except for frustration. “This is…this is a hard conversation to have in English.”

“This is a hard relationship to have in English.” Christophe sighs, shoulders dropping. “I don’t understand you, I never know what you’re going to do.”

“That’s just how I feel about you,” Georgi says. “I don’t know anyone like you.”

“Well, fucked up as we are,” Christophe says, “nobody has ever focussed on me this intently before. So, thank you?”

Georgi can’t tell if Christophe means that, how much he means it. Too clingy, that’s always what they tell Georgi. Maybe this is how Christophe says it too.

Christophe’s phone vibrates and he glances at it, then picks it up.

Georgi can see the notification: it’s Victor, of course. Pushing into the middle of Georgi and Christophe one more time. That’s who Georgi really wants to curse.

“He’s okay, no damage,” Christophe says. “So maybe we can keep this quiet. Unless you want it to get out. Rival skaters in birthday brawl, hashtag Saint Pete Beatdown.”

It’s honestly tempting, maybe people would even see Georgi in a new light. But in the end, he’s still the loser. “Just more attention for Victor.”

“Georgi.” Christophe leans forward and for a moment, Georgi thinks he’s going to reach over. But he just passes his phone from hand to hand. “You don’t think I’m screwing Victor. Seriously?”

“No, I don’t,” Georgi says and it’s true, he doesn’t really think that. “Honestly, I don’t. But he’s always there, around us, around you. Messages, phone calls.”

“We’re friends.” Christophe shrugs. “And I can’t erase the past. I don’t want to. Is this really your issue with him?”

“He’s trying to get you back.” How could Victor not want Christophe? The way they laugh together, reminisce, speak a language Georgi can’t understand even when it’s English. “He came back for everything else, why not you too? What should I do to compete with him?”

“Sure, he’s definitely trying to get me back. And I’m playing you off against each other to get the sweetest deal.” Christophe puts down his phone. “I don’t want Victor between us. Except maybe literally.”

“No,” Georgi says. He can’t even parse that idea, just feels his body reject it. “Don’t make me think about that.”

“Why not? Maybe if we got him over here to suck your dick you’d stop being so fucked up about him. Nothing I say is going to help but you have to get over him sometime.”

It’s taking all of Georgi’s attention not to think about Victor sucking his dick so all he can do is look at Christophe. “How?”

“You should have just snooped through my phone.” Christophe picks it up again and taps at the screen. “Here, all the sexy texts Victor’s been sending me. ‘Did you see Yuuri’s short program score? And his beautiful face? I miss him so much. L-O-L.’” Christophe grimaces. “‘Do you think I should find another rink here for Yuuri to train at? I don’t want to share him. L-O-L.’ Or this booty call: ‘Come shopping, I need to pick new sheets for when my Yuuri joins me.’ Exclamation point. Exclamation point. Exclamation point. L-O-fucking L.”

Christophe drops the phone. “He’s just lonely. Lonely and gross.”

Georgi looks at Christophe, at his beautiful face, this man he does not want to share, with Victor, with anyone, if he’s still Georgi’s to hold on to. And he does wish, just a little, that Victor were here now so they could glance at each other and shake their heads. Because Victor understands what it’s like to long for someone, to miss them every day.

“It’s hard to be apart,” Georgi says. “I should have come to you before. For Nationals, like you came to me.”

“Swiss Nationals is hardly on the same scale as the Russian Championships,” Christophe says. “Pairs didn’t even run this year. I don’t expect you to take that time off practice.”

“Still,” Georgi says. “I could have done more.”

“You sent me gifts, you called me every day,” Christophe says. “It was nice.” Then he frowns. “Maybe I shouldn’t have just shown up here without telling you. Upset your routine.”

“You helped my feelings bloom,” Georgi says. “I know I skated better because of you.”

“I still think it’s fucked up about your…” Christophe turns his hands up and gestures like he holding something he doesn’t know what to do with. “Whatever…process. But it obviously works, so I don’t know. I can’t tell you how to skate.”

“I don’t know any other way to carry my emotion to the judges and the audience. To make them feel it.” Georgi looks down at the table, then back up at Christophe. “But I can retire right away, then I won’t skate those programs. It won’t matter any more. I can do it tomorrow.”

“Not this still,” Christophe says. “I thought that was just drunk talk.”

“I don’t know,” Georgi says. “It’s all tangled together, you, Victor, skating, everything else. I can’t pull one thread free so easily. Maybe that will cut the knot.”

“Retire or don’t retire now, it’s your decision. But if you make it on some fucked up romantic impulse, that’s not going to be good for either of us. That’s just as bullshit as the Romeo and Juliet crap.”

“What else can I do to fix everything?” Georgi says. “How can I change the way I skate now?”

“Okay, tell me one thing,” Christophe says. “Did you choose these programs before or after your relationship ended?”

“I—” Georgi stops. He nearly can’t remember, it’s all so bound up together, the reality and the fantasy. “After,” he says. “During, I guess. While it was ending. It was messy.” He frowns, it’s all mixed up with this weekend now, the feelings stronger than the facts. “Yakov told me to stop moping and use my emotion.”

“It didn’t exactly help you get over her,” Christophe says. “Going by the state I found you in.”

And as if Georgi hasn’t gone through enough emotion tonight, there’s a flame of embarrassment about that first night. Not his feelings about Anya, but how he let Christophe treat him. “I was so angry with you.”

“That’s fair, I was an asshole,” Christophe says. “I still think you enjoyed it. Enjoyed the pain, I mean. I know you enjoyed our tryst.” And he smiles, a little.

Georgi doesn’t want to see it. “Do you think that’s funny? Pain is part of love. It’s part of life. You have to feel it all, good and bad, or what’s the point?”

“Okay, drown in the beauty of the pain if it makes you feel better. Stand on the bridge in the rain and recite poetry into the mist. But you’re still planning for the end. Whatever this is, with us, you’re expecting it to end, like there’s only one way it can play out.” Christophe’s cheeks flush, a wash of pink the same colour as his shirt.

Georgi looks at the watch on Christophe’s wrist. Tick tick, still running down. “Everything ends. Always. Should I lie to myself about that? That doesn’t mean I want the end to come.”

“But does everything have to end the same fucking way?” Christophe pushes back his chair. “Maybe it does, with you.”

“No,” Georgi says. “I don’t want–”

“Does anyone here even know about us?” Christophe says. “Besides online rumours and that taxi driver.”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Georgi says, and it doesn’t even convince him, even though it’s the truth. “It’s so different with you, what would they say?”

“You can’t even post a few pictures of us on Instagram? You think people are going to say it’s just a phase?” Christophe stares down at the table. “I can’t imagine worrying about that.”

“It’s not a phase,” Georgi says. “But–” And here it is, the words rolling from his mouth. “What if I’m your phase? You’re so different, I don’t know how to make you fit.” Always pulling at the fabric of Georgi’s life, stretching it out, reshaping it. “I want to make you fit.”

“There’s no fit!” Christophe says. “If all you want is some prêt-à-porter romance, no wonder they only last a season.”

Georgi opens his mouth to reply but he has nothing to say. His head is spinning, like he’s too drunk to stand, even though the vodka only shook his heart loose. It’s Christophe, always Christophe, strange, disorienting, turning everything sideways.

But he’s right. Georgi can feel it all through his aching body. Right about Georgi and his patterns, his stories.

“This scares me too.” Christophe stands up, shoves his chair back under the table. He grips the back of the chair, knuckles tight. “But I’m doing it. I was relieved as hell I didn’t have to meet your mother this weekend. But I would have if you asked me to. I said I’m in this with you and I am. I want to be with you. I’m not looking for excuses to run away. But if you can’t even mention me to anyone, what am I even doing?”

Georgi’s stomach clenches. “Your family knows about me?”

“Yes, of course I told them.” Christophe turns and looks down at Georgi. “Because it’s Christmas and I’m here.”

Georgi stares up at Christophe. His joints lock. His mouth dries. And he burns with shame because he didn’t even consider what Christophe might be missing to be here with him.

He jumps to his feet, chair clattering onto the floor behind him. Arms around Christophe, pressing him close, murmuring against his neck. “I’m sorry, it’s all my fault, I’m sorry.” That phone call this morning, of course. How could Georgi be so stupid?

“Not all your fault, just 70/30.” Christophe clutches Georgi back, holding him tightly, huge breaths pushing against Georgi’s chest. “60/40. I know I’m still an ass.”

“I’m so ungrateful.” Georgi’s knees shake, his eyes sting. “You’re the one I want, no matter how difficult it is. You’re the one who makes my heart beat faster.” It’s thumping now, can Christophe feel it? “Let me try again, we’ll find a way together.”

“Maybe I’m the one taking it too fast,” Christophe says. “What are the odds on that?”

“Not too fast, as fast as you like.”

“I know I push your boundaries.”

Georgi laughs, one spasm of his chest like a cough. “You don’t push my boundaries, you leap over them. Drag me so far, I can’t even see the boundaries any more.”

“You’re right, I always do.” Christophe strokes the back of Georgi’s neck. “50/50, then, equal fault.”

“A fairy tale would never be this messy,” Georgi says. But maybe it’s the mess that makes it worthwhile. Working together on something new instead of a story where the ending is already written. Worthwhile and terrifying and glorious.

“I’d make a great princess though,” Christophe says.

Georgi pulls back, just enough to look directly at Christophe. “No more princesses and princes, no more stupid teenagers,” he says. “No more waiting for the sad ending. No more stories. Just let me keep trying.”

“Me too.” Christophe’s hands tighten. “I’ll try to keep those boundaries in sight. No murder-suicide tonight?”

Relief fills Georgi like flood water rising in the streets. It’s not over, no sad ending yet. “Not tonight,” he says and they stand quietly together, sighing into each other for a few minutes while the silvery chimes ring in Georgi’s heart.

Then Georgi remembers: tick tick. “Christophe,” he says. “Give me money for that watch.”

“What?” Christophe moves back and looks at Georgi. “It’s bad enough to make me wear this terrible watch. I’m not a pawn shop.”

“Just a coin. If you don’t pay me for it,” Georgi says, “our love will tick away.”

“Georgi…” Christophe says but he takes out his wallet and finds a ten franc note. He drops it on the table and Georgi puts it in his pocket.

“You don’t have to wear the terrible watch,” Georgi says. “I’ll buy you something much better.” He rests their foreheads together. “Anything you want.”

“Just a bottle of that cod liver oil to get me in the mood when we Skype,” Christophe says.

Georgi’s heart throbs, pushing warmth all through his body, out to his fingertips and toes. Christophe isn’t going to whisper poetry into Georgi’s ear in the darkness, he’s not going to shout words of devotion from a mountaintop. Not today and maybe not ever. But Georgi can hear the feeling in Christophe’s voice, underneath the joke, and that’s all his heart needs today.

“Do you want a shot right now?” Georgi says and kisses him.

Chapter Text

Sunday, December 25

They lurch through the apartment together, kissing and grabbing at each other. Georgi is giddy, drunk on relief and joy, laughter brewing in his chest. Christophe too, Georgi can feel it through his body, see it on his face, when he pulls back enough to look.

He tugs at Christophe’s shirt buttons, fingers fumbling like he’s sixteen and nervous. He wants to be deliberate, reveal Christophe’s body slowly, like he’s seeing it for the first time. But he can’t wait, not now.

“I shouldn’t have talked you into putting in that plug.” Christophe’s hands are on Georgi’s waist, teasing and stroking, but he’s not dragging Georgi out of his clothes, not even helping Georgi with his own. “It was so hot, though.”

Georgi closes his eyes for a moment. He can nearly feel the plug still inside him, touching him whenever he moves. Christophe playing with him even when he wasn’t in sight. “It was hot,” Georgi says. “But too public, like everyone else was part of it too.”

“I’m definitely going to jack it while I think about you punching Victor with that inside you though.”

“Don’t talk about him now.” Georgi gets the last button open and pulls the shirt off Christophe’s shoulders. The cuffs catch on Christophe’s wrists and he swears.

“You weren’t trying to trap my hands behind me?” Christophe says. “Do you want me to struggle or…”

I want this to be easier, Georgi nearly says. But he doesn’t really want this to be easy: not undressing Christophe in his front room, not anything between them. “I want us to struggle together.” He kisses Christophe, his cheek, his jaw, while he works one cuff, then the other.

“That’s all we do, struggle,” Christophe says but now he sounds like that’s a good thing. “What do you want to do to me? Kiss me all over? Order me around? Drink cod liver oil from my navel?”

Georgi starts on Christophe’s trousers, unbuckle, unbutton, unzip. “You said you’d fuck me.” He has to have it now, he has to know.

“You still want to?” Christophe puts one hand on Georgi’s back. “You don’t have get fucked to prove you’re into men or into me or whatever. It’s not a requirement.” He strokes lightly. “That’s oral.”

Georgi stops working to stare. “Be serious.”

“I’m only half joking about the oral,” Christophe says. “Anyway, a lot of people like being fucked, a lot don’t, I’m sure you’ve done the research. I think you would but…boundaries.” Christophe catches Georgi’s face between his hands, looks straight at him. “I’m not emotionally invested in fucking you. I’m emotionally invested in making you come so hard your eyes roll back. That’s what I get off on.”

“You said you’d fuck me.” Georgi pushes Christophe’s trousers down past his thighs, hands back up his hips, his ass. “I want you to fuck me.” He presses his palm against Christophe’s cock through his silky underwear and it moves under his hand. Beautiful, frustrating, wonderful Christophe. “You want to fuck me. So unless there’s some rule you can’t fuck on Christmas, just fucking fuck me!”

“It sounds like you want me to fuck you or…?” Christophe steps out of his trousers. He kisses Georgi, hugs him tightly so Georgi’s hand is trapped between them.

Georgi’s chest is going to crack, Christophe’s arms compressing, his own happiness expanding. How can a man live through this? “Ask me for anything,” he says. “I’ll give you anything.”

Christophe holds on a few crushing seconds longer, breathing hard against Georgi. “I know,” he says quietly and his breath gusts hot down Georgi’s collar.

Then the moment changes, too soon for Georgi, but it doesn’t feel lost, just hidden for now. They move again, Georgi pulling Christophe along, kissing and bumping into Georgi’s bookcase. A few volumes thump onto the floor and Georgi kicks them aside, they don’t matter right now.

Into the bedroom and Georgi pushes Christophe down on the side of the bed, climbs astride his lap. Anything Christophe does to him will feel good, it always has, even in the beginning. But Georgi is still nervous, what if he doesn’t like it?

“On the side of the bed is probably easiest,” Christophe says, “and not your best sheets.” He slips his hand up the back of Georgi’s shirt, fingers light on Georgi’s skin. “I should have brought a swing.”

“I have one,” Georgi says. “It fits over the door, is that okay?”

Christophe laughs. “I should stop making assumptions about you. Is it under the bed?”

“I’ll find it.” Georgi stands up but he takes a moment at the door to look at Christophe lounging back, displaying himself for Georgi to admire. But there’s something in Christophe’s face beyond that sexy look, a faint shine in his eyes like a candle flame. It makes Georgi soft as wax and his hand lingers on the doorframe as he finally turns away.

The swing is in the storage closet, on the top shelf, an artifact of a few girlfriends ago. He hasn’t suggested it to anyone since. He runs the straps through his hands. She was always so eager to play, to be funny and loud, and Georgi could never appreciate that. It made him cringe and close his eyes. I’m sorry, he sends out to her, I should have tried harder.

“What else is back there?” Christophe calls. “Are you trapped under a pile of vibrators?”

“Is that what’s in your closets?” Georgi turns back to the bedroom. “Old skating costumes and vibrators?”

“Come visit me and find out,” Christophe says. He’s stripped the duvet from the bed and laid out all his sex paraphernaila like a doctor’s instrument tray. And he’s lighting the candles, showing Georgi the strong line of his back, the curve of his buttocks in the warm glow.

“You can show me the sights,” Georgi says. Hand in hand at all the tourist stops, a picnic in the mountain air, a glass of wine at a café, talking about anything at all.

He fits the weights over the top of the bedroom door and shuts it. He pulls the straps, then leans into the seat, and it holds.

“The only sight you’ll see is my bedroom walls, I’m not letting you leave my bed the whole time.” Christophe blows out the match and smoke curls up in front of him. “I don’t have sex in my kitchen. It’s not hygienic.”

“Anything you want,” Georgi says.

“You are going to look so hot hoisted up there.” Christophe comes over and pushes Georgi back against the door, his long naked body pressed close.

Georgi’s breath catches and he leans in. He doesn’t know how Christophe does it, how naked he’s more dangerous than clothed. Sometimes Georgi wants to fight it, push back against it. But right now he just wants to show his throat and let Christophe have him.

Christophe moves back, not quite out of Georgi’s arms, and unslips one of Georgi’s buttons, stroking a finger down Georgi’s breastbone. “This stain isn’t going to come out, is it?”

Even if it looked like new, Georgi doesn’t want to wear this shirt again. It would be like wearing this whole frustrating evening all over. “You get off talking about laundry?”

Christophe grins. Then he grabs the shirt with both hands and yanks it open. Only half the buttons tear away. “Shit!” He pokes his finger through one of the gaps. “You should wear cheaper shirts if you want me to rip them off you.”

Georgi laughs. “You idiot!” He works the last few buttons himself. “Just get on with it.”

“Not an hour of foreplay first?” Christophe lets go and sits on the bed. “Then undress your hot self, since I’m so bad at it. We’ll start here, get you relaxed and happy.”

“I’m happy now,” Georgi says. He strips off his clothes and watches Christophe watching him, so happy his whole body is aching with it.

When Georgi gets to the bed, Christophe leans down and kisses the head of his cock, softly, with a swipe of his tongue. Like he just wants a taste.

A shiver goes through Georgi and he drops his eyes closed for a moment while Christophe kisses him again, hands light around Georgi’s waist.

“Okay,” Christophe says. He rests his cheek against Georgi’s cock, then looks up. “The plug was going to shortcut this process but rimming you will be a lot more fun.”

He positions Georgi on the bed, on his hands and knees, with his ass in the air. It’s ridiculous, almost embarrassing, especially when Christophe wipes him down, and Georgi is glad he can’t see himself like this. But it doesn’t feel ridiculous when Christophe starts to work on him, stroking his buttocks and nosing at his thighs.

“Tell me if you don’t like it,” Christophe murmurs and his tongue touches Georgi’s asshole.

Georgi tenses, but just for a moment, he doesn’t have to force himself to relax. “It’s good, anything is good. You’re good.”

“If you think so now,” Christophe says, “just wait until I’m done with you.” And he goes to it, licking first, then probing. One hand firm on Georgi’s hip and the other stroking his thigh.

And it’s good, of course it’s good, shivers of pleasure underneath all his skin. “Yes,” Georgi says, into the sheets, because he wants Christophe to know. And he’s easing, he can tell, this is working.

“Next step,” Christophe says. “I’m going to add some lube, okay? Sorry it’s not warmer.” He sets the tip of the launcher against Georgi’s asshole. “Ready?”

“Go ahead,” Georgi says. “I’ll tell you if you need to stop.” He feels the plastic sliding into him, cool and narrower than Christophe’s tongue. He’s seen Christophe use it on himself, before Georgi fucked him, and it made Georgi think of something you’d put icing into, to decorate a cake.

“I’m going to use my fingers now,” Christophe says. He keeps up a running description, everything he’s going to to do before he does it, talking Georgi through it like a medical procedure.

Georgi half tunes out the words, just tries to catch when he needs to say yes, okay, that’s fine. As rough as Christophe might have been before with Georgi’s feelings, he’s never hurt him during sex, beyond some mutual wall slamming. But now he’s taking even more care.

And even though Georgi wishes this could happen simply and quietly, slipping into each other without a word, maybe this slow clinical act is what Christophe needs to give him. So he accepts it into his heart, just like he accepts Christophe’s fingers pressing slowly inside his body, always feeling like just a little more than he can bear, but he can, he wants to bear it.

“You’re ready,” Christophe says. “Are you ready?” He’s got three fingers into Georgi now, not moving, just a placeholder. He kisses the base of Georgi’s spine and his beard brushes Georgi’s skin.

“Yes,” Georgi says. He reaches back blindly and his hand finds Christophe’s head. He curls his fingers into Christophe’s hair. “I’m ready for you.”

“Come on,” Christophe says. “Let’s get you up there.”

Georgi hasn’t been in the swing before. He’s always been the one standing where Christophe is now, the one plunging in while his girlfriend dug her nails into his back and told him to fuck harder, last longer. Far as they’ve gone already, he feels apprehensive as he settles into the seat, fits his feet into the stirrups, grabs the handles. Exposes himself.

“You can still back out,” Christophe says. “We’ll hoist you higher and I’ll suck you off.”

“You don’t need to retreat that far behind the boundaries,” Georgi says.

“Make me a map sometime.” Christophe smiles. “Move your legs up, then.” He helps Georgi tilt himself to Christophe’s approved angle. Spreads his play mat on the floor underneath. Then he steps back to the bed and grabs a condom.

“You don’t have to,” Georgi says. He wants to feel it all, all of Christophe.

“That’s a different conversation.” Christophe rolls the condom on, eyes still on Georgi. “Anyway, it’s less messy.” He adds a bit more lubricant and comes back to stand close to Georgi, between his spread legs.

“Now,” Georgi says. No more waiting. He lets go with one hand and puts it on the back of Christophe’s neck, like he can pull Christophe into him.

Christophe leans in for a moment so their foreheads rest together. Then he sets his cock against Georgi. “I’ll be slow, you have to tell me when you’re ready for more.” And he starts moving.

Georgi groans when Christophe pushes in, he can’t help it. That feeling of being full, too full, is there room, should there be room? He bears down a little and it helps. Christophe’s cock is warm inside him, warmer than his fingers.

“Breathe a little,” Christophe says. His hands are on Georgi’s hips and he strokes with his thumbs, up and down. “Tell me if you want more.”

Georgi breathes, a jerk of his diaphragm at first, then more slowly. He’s ready for more, he wants to be ready. “Go,” he says.

Christophe goes, still slowly, pushing deeper. “You’re doing great.” His voice is calm, reassuring. “Don’t hold your breath.”

A few more stops and starts, breathing, pushing, Georgi grabbing Christophe’s shoulder. How does Christophe take this so easily?

“There,” Christophe says. “That’s enough, take a minute, then we’ll start.”

And Georgi takes one more breath, filling his lungs with the smell of both their bodies, and exhales, letting his weight fully down onto the swing. It still feels like too much, too full, but it’s good too, Christophe’s cock inside of him.

He looks into Christophe’s face, into his eyes. “How does it feel?”

“Amazing,” Christophe says. He’s not smiling but this is better, this serious expression that Georgi so seldom catches. “How does it feel for you?”

“It’s a lot.” Georgi moves his hand onto Christophe’s face, brushes Christophe’s mouth with his thumb, strokes the hair down his chin. Keeps his eyes on Christophe’s, looking deep as he can. “I like it.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to look at you,” Christophe says. “Because you never look away.” And he does smile, a little, like that’s a good thing. “Ready?”

Georgi’s heart rises in his chest, cracking open, spilling over. “I—” he starts, I love you. But he catches the words before they spill out too. Because even if this is what he needs to say, maybe it’s not the way Christophe needs to hear it right now.

“Christophe,” he says. “I trust you.”

Christophe stops, his breath, his hand on Georgi’s hip, the half-smile curling his mouth, all still. Then he blinks, his ridiculous eyelashes fanning over his flushed cheek and one long sigh warming Georgi’s face. “Good.”

He leans forward and presses his cheek against Georgi’s for a few moments. Then he starts to fuck Georgi, slowly back, slowly in.

Georgi closes his eyes and grabs Christophe’s shoulder. Christophe is already back to his commentary: Tell me if I should stop. I’m going to go faster. Is this the right angle for you? But Georgi can only half hear him now. This still feels odd but it’s overwhelming too, an intensity Georgi couldn’t have imagined, Christophe moving inside him, waking all his nerves.

The bump of Georgi’s back against the door, the murmur of Christophe’s voice, the wet slap of their bodies. The curl of Christophe’s fingers around Georgi’s cock, starting to move there too now, stimulating him inside and out. The heat of Christophe’s breath down Georgi’s back, the smell of his skin. The throb of Georgi’s pulse. The deep sound of his gasps. The black and red behind his closed eyelids.

It’s going to be soon, too soon. It took so long to get here, Georgi wants to make it last, stay inside this too-much moment for as long as they can. He clenches his hands, one on the swing handle, the other on Christophe’s shoulder. He opens his mouth to tell Christophe to stop his hand for a while. But it’s too late, no use.

“Go ahead,” Christophe says, like there’s anything Georgi could do to stop it now.

No stories, no pictures, no words, no abstract thought. Just the pleasure building deep inside until it’s now. Balls-contracting prostate-spasming head-cracking heart-breaking now.

When he can focus again, he feels Christophe’s hand on his face, thumb stroking over his cheekbone. “Oh,” Georgi says. “Oh god.” There’s nothing else to say, no breath in his lungs, no words in his mouth. He presses his hand over Christophe’s and hopes that that will do.

“That’s what I thought,” Christophe says. “You should have seen your face this time, it looked like you were dying. Or just sucked a lemon.” He’s not moving, but just barely, still tense with need. Georgi doesn’t have to weigh Christophe’s balls in his hand to know he’s close. “Do you want me to pull out?”

Georgi takes a breath. “No.” Christophe inside him doesn’t feel the same as before he came, not good but it’s not bad either. “No, my life, stay with me, keep going.”

For a few moments, Georgi watches Christophe, his face flushed with concentration and his eyes closed, then Georgi leans in and kisses him, open and plunging, fucking Christophe’s mouth with his tongue while Christophe’s fingers tighten on him.

And when Christophe jerks his hips and comes, swearing into Georgi’s mouth, Georgi strokes the back of his neck, soothes him through it. You’re doing so well, we’re doing so well.

Christophe sags but he stays upright, hands loose on Georgi now, still half inside. He breathes deeply, then slowly pulls out, steps away. “How was that?” he says.

“Amazing,” Georgi says. He’s still suspended against the door and back to feeling like he looks a little ridiculous. Ridiculous and happy. He unhooks his feet from the stirrups and lets himself down. His asshole is still tingling, warm and pleasurable, and he wonders how long that will last. “Complicated but amazing.”

“Just like me, then,” Christophe says.

“Just like us.” Georgi watches Christophe deal with the condom, then, before he can clean up any more, Georgi wraps his arms around him, one sweaty smearing exhausted hug. Christophe leans into it, weight against Georgi, head down on Georgi’s shoulder. Georgi touches the back of Christophe’s neck, fingers in his damp hair. If they don’t move at all, they might hold each other up even if they drift off to sleep.

“You want first shower?” Christophe says finally. “Or try to share that deathtrap?”

“You go first.” Georgi loosens his hold and Christophe lets go, but slowly. “You’re my guest.”

Christophe laughs, a rasping chuckle from deep in his chest. “And thank you for inviting me in.” He busses Georgi’s cheek before he goes, the swing bumping against the door as he opens it.

The bed looks inviting, but there’s still lubricant streaking Georgi’s thighs and he’s not sure if more is going to leak out of him. He cleans the semen from his belly with one of Christophe’s wipes, then uses another on the swing before he bundles it away. Under the bed, not back in the closet.

When it’s his turn in the shower, the hot water and the fatigue hit him at the same time, all the exhaustion of the weekend, and he stands under the spray for longer than he means to.

When he gets back to the bedroom, Christophe is in bed, duvet around his waist, tapping at his phone. The room still smells like sex but there’s another familiar note in the air as well.

Christophe looks up. “It’s after midnight,” he says. “Do a birthday shot with me.”

Georgi crawls in beside Christophe. “The dose is only a teaspoon.”

“Not tonight.” Christophe hands Georgi a glass and looks into his eyes. “Happy Birthday, Georgi.”

Nothing to be done so Georgi tips back the shot and glugs down all the cod liver oil, trying to let it hit the back of his throat instead of his tongue. But he nearly chokes anyhow when he sees Christophe’s face twist with disgust.

“Oh my god,” Christophe says. “That is vile.” His face is still screwed up, mouth working to get rid of the taste. And it is so, so endearing.

“It’s fermented,” Georgi says. He takes the glass from Christophe and sets them both on the bedside table. Let them perfume the air all night. Then he picks up Christophe’s hand and holds it between his own, saying nothing, because there is too much to say with words.

“I’m glad I came to see you,” Christophe says.

“I’m glad too.” Georgi turns out the lamp and when he drifts into sleep, it’s with Christophe’s head against his shoulder and Christophe’s fish breath in his face.

Chapter Text

Monday, December 26

“Go piss, then get back in bed,” Christophe calls from the kitchen. “I’ll bring your tea.”

Georgi stretches, one hand on the frame of the bedroom door, and obeys, half stumbling on his way to the toilet.

The whole weekend is catching up with his body: knees and hips aching from skating. A bruise on his thigh where he caught the corner of the table last night. A — not soreness, not really — just an awareness inside from Christophe fucking him and that prolonged languor of a truly great orgasm. Epic bed hair he tries to smooth down. A faint headache just because. And a stiff right hand.

When he gets back in bed, he picks up his phone. A little early still for calls but there are messages from family and friends and it’s comfortable to tap through them here; cozy, like the duvet over his knees. The silver medal emojis sprinkled through the texts give him a pang. But it’s his birthday and they’ve remembered him.

Christophe comes in with the tea. “Happy Birthday, beautiful.” He’s wearing one of Georgi’s robes but it’s hanging open, better than naked, and Georgi wishes Christophe would wait for just a moment so he could look a bit longer. Christophe’s bare skin framed by the drape of the fabric, the spring of his thighs, the strength of his chest. Even Christophe’s dick, his balls. Still not lovely, but they complete the picture.

“Thank you.” Georgi takes the mug and lifts his face for Christophe’s kiss. “Don’t you have a cup?”

“I had my coffee while you were still drooling on the pillow.” Christophe slips under the covers and puts his arm around Georgi’s waist. “Do you want a blowjob while you drink?”

“No,” Georgi says. “Just stay there.” He pulls Christophe’s head against his chest and touches his face while he sips, tracing the line of Christophe’s jaw, the angle of his cheekbone. It’s all so warm: the bed, Christophe’s body against his, the tea, his heart. If only this moment could last forever…

No, he tells himself. Take this moment while it happens, that’s all you need to do. Each moment together now. He brings up the mug and lets the steam wet his face before he drinks again. Christophe settles closer, eyes closing and breath soft. “I’m lucky,” Georgi says. “Very lucky.”

“Mmm,” Christophe sighs, that’s all, but his arm tightens around Georgi and he rubs his face against Georgi’s chest.

Georgi scratches the back of Christophe’s neck, up into the burr of his clipped hair. “Tell me about the first time you skated.”

Christophe’s forehead wrinkles and he’s silent for a moment, long enough that Georgi starts to wonder if there’s something about that memory he doesn’t want to think about.

“I don’t actually remember the very first time,” Christophe says finally. “There are photos. I was four, I think? In a class with other kids. With my friend Marco.” Christophe smiles. “He fell down a lot so he wanted to hold hands all the time. And we were ladybirds in the little ice show, could barely manage to keep in a circle while we skated.”

“I need to see these photos.” It’s hard to imagine sexy Christophe as a tiny child, round-faced and pulling his friend around the rink. A picture book, with cardboard pages and bright illustrations: Christophe’s First Skating Lesson.

“Maybe I should reprise that role,” Christophe says. “Want to be in my travelling ice show this summer? You’d get to wear a ladybird costume and skate in a circle. I think Marco is an accountant in Lausanne now but I’m sure he’d join us.”

“It might be worth wearing a ladybird costume to see you in one.”

“We don’t have to wait for an ice show for that.” Christophe looks up at Georgi. “Dress up, make a video.”

“Not even for your birthday,” Georgi says.

“Come on, you know that if a ladybird stays on you for more than thirty seconds, you can make a wish.” Christophe moves his hand down to Georgi’s hip. “Think of how many wishes you’ll get.”

“What would I need to wish for?” Georgi says. Even in the stories, wishes always turn out wrong. You have to work for what’s important: slaying dragons, wooing a lover, skating in a circle without falling down. “Christophe, I’ll talk to my mother when I’m home for New Year’s. After that, I’ll post any photos you want.”

“You don’t have to rush,” Christophe says. He takes a deeper breath, his ribs pressing against Georgi. “If you need more time, that’s okay.”

“I don’t need time,” Georgi says. “I’ll just tell her what’s in my heart.” It will be a relief to let that dam break, his feelings flooding out for everyone to see. “She might need time. Maybe I should spread out the news, two conversations.”

“Two?”

“Part one: ‘Mama, I am dating a man.’ And then answer all her questions. She asks a lot of questions. She doesn’t always listen to the answers.”

“Intriguing,” Christophe says. “I want to hear these questions and answers.”

“‘Is it just boys now or girls too? And why are you changing your mind now, at your age? Why didn’t you decide six months ago, before the neighbour’s son got married?’ Like that. She just has to get used to it.” Georgi pauses. “Like I had to get used to it.”

“Was that so difficult?”

“It’s just you think about yourself a certain way and when that changes, you have to adjust. Even if it’s a good change.”

“Was it good?”

“It’s good now. The transition was…bumpy.”

“I know,” Christophe says. “Some of the bumping was pretty great though.” He brushes his fingers along Georgi’s ribs. “It is still both, right? You never said but you don’t seem like someone who was just with women because he didn’t realise he was gay.”

“Still both,” Georgi says. It’s just his heart that’s opened wider.

“Lucky you,” Christophe says. “Twice the great asses to check out. What about part two of this confession?”

“Part two: that it’s you.”

“Why is that a whole separate conversation?” Christophe looks up, chin digging into Georgi’s ribs.

“Because you’re not a nice Russian boy. For one thing.”

“What’s wrong with a nice Swiss boy?”

“If you were a nice boy, Swiss or Russian,” Georgi says, “it might only be one conversation. Maybe one and a half. But she knows who you are and she has opinions.”

“I didn’t realize I’m so notorious,” Christophe says.

“Scandalous,” Georgi says. “After that program you skated in 2011, that costume that was basically just a handful of sequins. She says you’re scandalous.” He’s expecting Christophe to smile at “scandalous” but instead he frowns a little. “She doesn’t talk about you all the time but when you and I are in an event together, she brings it up.”

“And what do you think?” Christophe says. He’s still frowning, a crease between his eyebrows. “Are you expecting me to change? Be less scandalous?”

“Is that what you think I’d wish for?” Georgi presses his fingertip to the crease, like he can smooth it away. Maybe he would have wished that, before. But now he just wants Christophe, scandalous and nice, disconcerting and sweet. “I don’t want you to change. Just, if you meet my mother, be a nice Swiss boy long enough to convince her.”

“This is more complicated than I expected,” Christophe says. But his frown eases. “Bumpy. My family is straightforward.”

“Nobody’s family is straightforward,” Georgi says. “A family could be one person and a goldfish and it would still be complicated.”

Christophe turns his head so Georgi can’t see his face. “My fussy cat would probably agree with you.”

Does she like nice Russian boys? Georgi wants to ask but he doesn’t want to know if there’s evidence either way. Instead, he strokes Christophe’s hair, like Christophe is a cat himself and doesn’t say anything at all.

After a minute, Christophe looks up. “Do you want your gift now?” He rolls away and gets out of bed. “I didn’t wrap it because I didn’t want to crease it too badly.”

It’s a shirt, a slim sky-blue button-up. And it’s made of lace, a floral pattern. It’s completely unlike anything in his closet.

“I know it’s not your usual style,” Christophe says. “But it’s not sheer so nobody will say you’re scandalous. Just chic.”

Georgi runs his fingers over the material. “I love it,” he says. And he does. He doesn’t need to try it on to know how well it will fit. He knows Christophe’s eye. “It’s beautiful, a perfect gift. Thank you, I’ll wear it tonight.”

“You’ll be the hottest one in the room,” Christophe says. “And I promise I won’t try to rip this one off you.”

“I’ll get a special shirt for that,” Georgi says. “With very thin fabric and cheap thread on the buttons.”

“Maybe I’ll get a few like that myself, equal ripping time.” Christophe hands another package over: a plain white t-shirt. “I said I’d replace that. I’d rather see you with my stains on you, though.”

“Something to remember you by when you’re not here.” Georgi swings out of bed and hangs the nice shirt up in his closet. He rubs the hem between his fingertips. Too nice to let Christophe’s dick anywhere near it. “Those are half my stains too. You keep that one to remember me.”

“It’s already in my bag.” Christophe grins.

Georgi turns and hugs him, head on Christophe’s shoulder, pressing close. “You’re leaving too soon.”

Christophe strokes the back of Georgi’s head. “You should come visit me for my birthday, though. Europeans will be over, time for a day or two off before Worlds.”

Europeans, Worlds, is Georgi even going to be there? Not that he doubts his selection, after this weekend. But he might as well be skating in a circle. Even holding Christophe’s hand isn’t going to help him break away and overtake Victor.

“I’ll visit you whenever you like,” he says finally. He steps back, hands still on Christophe’s arms. “I’ll have time.”

“You didn’t change your mind about retiring right away,” Christophe says. He looks like he wants to say more but he stops there.

“I don’t know yet, for sure.” Will he be a quitter if he retires now? Or pathetic for hanging on too long if he doesn’t?

Christophe sighs and rests his forehead against Georgi’s. “It won’t be as much fun if you’re not there.”

“I’ll tell you first.” Georgi touches Christophe’s cheek. “I’ll tell you everything first.”

Christophe doesn’t speak for a moment. “Okay,” he says finally. He leans in and kisses Georgi, lingering and sweet. “I’ll stay with you all day if you want but I’m going to skate out the rest of the season so…”

“Go get your boots on the ice,” Georgi says. “I have some things to take care of.”

+

Victor buzzes Georgi in without a word. On his way up in the elevator, Georgi flexes his sore hand. Maybe Victor’s intercom is as bad as Georgi’s and he’s expecting a cleaning service or a grocery delivery.

But when Georgi squares his shoulders and knocks on Victor’s door, Victor opens it to him without surprise, almost without any expression at all.

Georgi thought Victor would step out into the hallway for this conversation but instead he moves back for Georgi to come inside. Georgi loosens his scarf, unbuttons his overcoat, but he doesn’t take them off as he follows Victor inside to the front room.

The curtains are drawn back to let the glow of sunrise through the large windows. But the room feels cool and dim, a blue cast to the light. There are still empty and half-full glasses littered around the room, crumpled napkins, plates of scraps. A pile of wilting bouquets, his own sad gift in the middle. He only knows it from the paper wrapped around the stems, it’s the same as the rest in every other way.

Victor drops onto the couch, leaning back, and looks up at Georgi. He’s as cool as the room, almost grey instead of silver, and even his soft home clothes fit him like couture. His face is still neutral, waiting without expectation, and his cheek is as pale and perfect as the rest of him.

Georgi clenches his teeth instead of speaking. It’s maddening: how can Victor’s face be less bruised than Georgi’s hand? But when he looks closer, he sees the makeup closely blended in and a shadow on Victor’s jaw behind it.

Then remorse finally wells up in him, spilling out instead of the careful formal speech he’d planned. “I’m sorry, Vitya,” he says, stepping forward. “I was an idiot. I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” Victor says. “Sorry, I mean.” His dog trots into the room, heading for Georgi, but Victor catches him, keeping him there at his feet so they’re both looking up at Georgi now.

Maybe Georgi should have brought a gift for the dog: sweeten the pet, sweeten the master. But that’s a bit like cheating. “I am,” he says. “I’m very sorry.”

“Aren’t you going to say you didn’t mean to hurt me?” Victor says. He sounds almost bored but Georgi has heard that voice far too often to believe it’s anything but calculated.

“No,” Georgi says. “I meant to hurt you. I’m sorry I didn’t control myself.”

“Would you rather I forgive you?” Victor says. “Or should I challenge you to a duel?” His face hardly changes but there’s a glint in his eye now, a tiny quirk at the corner of his mouth. “You’d probably enjoy that too much.”

“So would you,” Georgi says. He imagines their chilly dawn meeting, staring each other down through the mist, staking their lives for honour. Sometimes he thinks he should have been born earlier, in a more romantic age. Maybe Victor too.

“Don’t choose pistols, though,” Victor says. “Unless you want to die like Pushkin.” He tilts his head and the room thaws, the light warms to a buttery yellow.

Georgi settles himself in an armchair. “I don’t know how to fence, though. I’ll need time to learn.”

“It would make a good reality show.” Victor looks thoughtful.

“It really would.” An excellent idea, Georgi can picture it all: costumes, publicity, everything half scripted but filled with tension nonetheless. “The challenge, weeks of training, our glorious fight.”

“Much more glorious than getting knocked down in my kitchen,” Victor says.

“Do you want to knock me down now?” Georgi offers. Not that he expects Victor to take him up on it. Probably.

“I almost did that one time, remember?” Victor sits up, hands on his knees, leaning forward. “When we were kids.”

It takes Georgi a few moments but he remembers the way Victor would scatter his things all over the weight room like it was his own personal facility, shedding that long hair onto the equipment, the floor, Georgi’s towel. Scuffling over…he can’t recall how the sniping turned to shoving. Probably they each remember it differently by now. “We were…thirteen? You were so skinny, I was afraid to fight you, I would have broken you in half.”

“Willowy,” Victor says, “not skinny. And pushing just as much weight as you were. But wasn’t it in Moscow at the Junior Championships?”

“We had to share a room. You kept leaving your wet towels on my bed.” That weekend comes back to Georgi too: the arguments in the room, ignoring each other at practices. But when a group of boys taunted them, they drew together, back to back, ready to defend each other. “It was those other boys we almost fought with.”

“You appreciated my skinny arms then.” Victor smiles, his eyes half-closing for a moment.

Everything shifts for Georgi, just like it did years ago when that asshole from Moscow shoved Victor, and he sees what’s been there all along.

Maybe Victor isn’t his close friend but they do have a past together. That familiarity of long association, shared experiences, side by side for so many years. Working on the same ice, skating in the same competitions. Listening to the same terrible pop music. And maybe Georgi has missed that.

“Do you still snore?” Georgi says. He expects Victor to deny it, accuse Georgi in turn, a little more banter, like he’s been trying all weekend.

But instead, Victor glances at the tablet lying beside him on the couch, his eyelids falling sadly. The glamour of the shining prince falls away and Georgi sees Victor finally for what he is: an aging skater, stiff, sore. Up too late. Wishing his lover were here to complain about his snoring.

Georgi’s heart opens wide and he lets the moments pass in silence. A few more and he’ll rise, clasp Victor’s hand to show he understands, and go.

Then Victor looks up again. “I watched the free skates this morning.”

What does Victor want him to say? Does he want to be congratulated, praised? Didn’t he get enough of that yesterday? “I‘ve only seen mine,” Georgi says.

“Gosha,” Victor says. “I think they overscored me.”

Sweat springs up on the back of Georgi’s neck. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Maybe it’s to make me feel better.” Victor shrugs. “It happened, they saw what they wanted to see. I wish it were different but there’s nothing we can do. I just wanted to let you know I saw it.”

Georgi stares, first at Victor, then at the floor. For a moment, he’s back in the kiss-and-cry, shocked and disbelieving. But he’s covered a lot of ground since then. He can cover this too. “It doesn’t matter,” he says finally, pulling each word out like it’s clinging in his throat. And on his honour, on his life, on his love, he is going to make himself believe it. “Your score doesn’t matter to me, only mine.”

And what would that score be, if he weren’t always fighting to surpass Victor? Maybe he — and Christophe too — would have more gold medals in their closets if Victor had never been there for them to chase. But would the mountains they summitted be as high?

Georgi takes a deep breath. “My personal best, that’s all I care about.” And if it’s not true today, it will be true tomorrow. Or the day after.

Victor studies him for a few moments. “It’s early,” he says, “but have a drink with me.”

Georgi nods and shrugs out of his coat while Victor’s dog noses at his knee. He doesn’t really want to put spirits into his gut this morning, even whatever rare cognac Victor will offer. But it’s necessary, this acknowledgement of understanding.

But when Victor reappears, it’s with the decanter of red wine, Christophe’s gift. “All the glassware—” Victor gestures around the room and pours out into two water glasses. “To the future,” he says.

The wine is dry and challenging, harder to appreciate with the ghosts of last night’s wine still hanging in the air. Georgi rolls it on his tongue before he swallows and he can’t help but wonder about Christophe and Victor in Milan, another ghost in the room. Maybe Victor senses it too. Maybe Victor is only thinking about the days, the hours, until he’s reunited with his love. Or maybe he’s just hungover.

“Vitya,” Georgi says. “Do you remember the first time you skated?”

Surprise flickers across Victor’s face and he holds his glass in both hands. “Don’t you read all the articles about me?” He takes a breath of the wine. “At a winter festival, on my sixth birthday,” he says. “Everyone wants to hear about the magic when my blades first touched the ice. But it’s the lights I remember, the sparkling lights.”

Georgi nods, thank you, it’s enough. Everyone has their own reasons to skate.

“Tell me,” Victor says, “what’s this thing with Chris, anyway? Some sort of rebound?”

“No,” Georgi says. “It’s love.”

Victor raises his eyebrows and Georgi waits for the skeptical remark. But instead, Victor nods. “Coup de foudre,” he says. “I understand.”

“No,” Georgi says. “This love isn’t a bolt that strikes when your eyes meet.” He’s known this all along but now he can put words to it. “It’s a wolf that catches you as you run, tears at you as you struggle. A foe that embraces you as you surrender.” It’s not something Christophe did to him, this love caught him too, he struggled just as much. “It’s a fire that warms you as you live. A hand that comforts you as you die.” Nothing else matters, not the past, his or Christophe’s, not the future. “If you don’t have that, Vitya, I’m sorry for you.”

Victor stares at Georgi. When he finally speaks, his voice is quiet. “He’ll run.”

“He won’t run,” Georgi says and he knows it’s true. “I don’t know what will happen for us but, rise or fall, we’ll meet it together.”

“I guess if anyone could put up with your bullshit, it would be Chris.” Victor reaches out to rub his dog’s head. “If you can put up with his.”

“Such a blessing on our love.” Georgi stands. His glass is empty, his heart is full, and he has a lot to do today. He holds out his hand. “Come by tonight,” he says. “You can punch me in my kitchen, if you want.”

“And risk my hand?” Victor’s clasp is tight, squeezing just enough to make Georgi feel the bruise on his own hand. “Happy Birthday, Gosha.”

“Keep taking the cod liver oil,” Georgi says. “It’s full of Vitamin A.”

+

In the back of the cab, Georgi takes out his phone and stares at it until the passcode screen goes black again. No reason to question Victor’s opinion, he’s not going to lie to spare Georgi’s feelings. But he should see for himself. Shouldn’t he?

He taps in and finds the videos. But instead of Victor’s free skate, he brings up his own exhibition and watches it with the sound off, just the traffic and the rain and the driver’s talk radio as accompaniment.

It’s beautiful, poignant, tragic. The best performance he could have hoped for. And Christophe is right: it’s bullshit. Impulsive teenagers dying over a stupid misunderstanding. But it’s beautiful bullshit and he can still feel the pleasure of skating it, of feeling the response from the audience.

He clicks the phone off. Maybe Victor is right, maybe he’s not. Georgi isn’t going to look because it doesn’t matter, he won’t let it matter. He’s got to let this story go as well. He can’t let another man be the only measure of his worth.

He looks out into the wet streets and smiles to himself. No matter what else happened, will happen, he got to punch Victor in the face. He can still feel the shock of the impact in his fist, the exhilaration of the moment. He is sorry but not as much as he probably should be. Maybe they both needed it. And maybe when the season is over, they can talk about that reality show again.

And until then, Georgi isn’t going to give up in a fit of pique or despair. Skating is a duel after all, just with a different kind of blade. It’s not winning that’s the most important, it’s fighting for your honour. And not just against Victor.

He leans forward and gives the driver a new address.

+

Christophe is still on the ice when Georgi gets there. He picks up Christophe’s guards from beside his bag and watches him moving through the sequences in his short program.

In all the turmoil of Christophe in his life, in his bed, in his heart, Georgi has been forgetting to think about Christophe as a skater. So now he watches and appreciates Christophe’s skill, that grace that comes from life-long practice. The strong line of his body as he moves, so tall and beautiful. That rueful smile when he wobbles a landing. And the way he leans down to touch his knee. Like it aches as much as Georgi’s knees ache.

“I’m hitting that,” Georgi murmurs and goes to lean over the boards.

Christophe waves when he spots Georgi and skates over to him. His cheeks are that same wholesome pink they had when Georgi first opened the door to him. And the smile on his face is just as happy.

“You can get that birthday hummer any time,” Christophe says. “I’ve put in enough ice time and there’s a good spot around the corner by the sharpener’s shop.”

“You’re a beautiful skater,” Georgi says. “So skilled and strong.”

“Tell me all about that when I’m on my knees.” Christophe holds out his hand for his guards.

But Georgi sets down the guards and takes Christophe’s hand instead, between both of his own. There’s no waiting until they’re standing on the bridge, sharing an umbrella, or drinking tea in a café. Or around the corner by the sharpener’s shop. Or anywhere but here, with the shush of blades echoing around them, the faces Georgi knows gliding by. His home.

“Christophe,” he says, “thank you for putting up with my bullshit.”

“Fifty-fifty, remember?” Christophe says.

“Sixty-forty. At least.” Georgi keeps holding on, like he needs Christophe to keep him from falling. “I’ve decided,” he says. “I won’t retire right away. I’ll keep competing the rest of the season, at least, then we’ll see. I’m not satisfied yet. And I want to skate against you.”

Christophe lights up. “I’m glad.” He squeezes Georgi’s hand. “We can share the ice a bit longer.”

“I have to keep skating the same programs,” Georgi says. “I can’t change that now if I want to win. I’ll do my best not to let it affect me, us, off the ice.”

“I know.” Christophe doesn’t frown but his smile drops a few degrees. “I won’t be happy defeating you if you don’t use everything you can.”

There’s nothing Georgi can do about this, all the knots and tangles in their situation, he can’t unwind them all, just try not to pull them tighter. Except maybe there is one way to loosen them a bit.

“You already gave me a gift,” he says. “But I want you to give me another.”

Christophe flicks the tip of his tongue past his lips and he leans closer. “That’s what I’ve been offering all morning.”

“Not that,” Georgi says. “Please create a new exhibition program for me.”

The teasing look drops off Christophe’s face. He looks at Georgi for a few moments before he smiles again, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. “In all my free time.”

“In all your free time.” Georgi kisses Christophe’s fingers, it doesn’t matter who sees them. “Whatever song you choose, whatever mood you create, I’ll perform it.”

“Anything?” Christophe grins. “You’ve seen how literally I interpret ‘exhibition’. You might end up being called scandalous too.”

“I told you already,” Georgi says and he looks into Christophe’s eyes. All the tangles, all the knots, they’re pulling them closer together, not keeping them bound apart. “I trust you.”

Christophe’s fingers tighten. His chest heaves once and the flush on his face deepens. His face softens, that grin changing to half a smile that catches Georgi’s heart, the claws of this relentless love that brings such beautiful pain.

“You told me,” Christophe says.

Georgi’s arms go around Christophe and he pulls Christophe close as he can with the boards still between them, their cheeks pressed together and his hand on the back of Christophe’s head. “I’ll tell you every day.”

Christophe turns his face against Georgi’s neck. “How did you do this to me?” he says.

There’s no answer to that question so Georgi doesn’t try, just clutches Christophe tighter, stroking his hair, breathing in his warmth. Let the whole rink see Georgi’s lover in his arms. Let the whole world see.

“I’ll make a program for you,” Christophe says finally. “And I’ll watch you skate it at Europeans after you medal. But don’t think I’ll roll over for you anywhere but in bed.”

“I’ll kiss away your tears when you cry because I beat you,” Georgi says.

“If that happens, I’ll make sure to cry beside you on the podium, just to see what you’ll do.” Christophe turns his head and kisses Georgi’s cheek. “And what do I get if I beat you?”

“My congratulations.” Georgi pulls back and kisses Christophe on the mouth, soft and clinging. “Time to go.”

Christophe picks up his guards. “I’ll meet you at the sharpener’s shop.”

“No,” Georgi says. “Errands for tonight. A long lunch. Standing on the bridge in the rain while I recite poetry to you.”

“I feel so rejected right now.” Christophe smiles. “How much poetry?”

“As much as necessary.” Georgi smiles back. “Then we’ll go home. There’ll be time for you to be un-rejected.”

“Un-rejected, wow, I see why everyone says you’re so romantic.” Christophe steps off the ice.

Georgi watches Christophe go, then heads out to the lobby to wait. So light, so happy, every step feels like he’s going to lift off and fly. And when Christophe comes back and finds him, bag slung over his shoulder and smile on his face, those silvery chimes ring in Georgi’s heart.

No more stories, that’s what Georgi said. But maybe one story is okay. A new story about a second son who left the kingdom behind to take his lover’s hand and walk away together to unknown adventures in a new world.

Georgi holds out his hand to Christophe. “Ready?”