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Smoke and Mirrors

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Victor never expected a present like this, but in the end, the present wasn’t just for him.

It was December, in the middle of a freezing cold winter with Christmas just around the corner. Victor and part of the Russian team were participating at the Grand Prix Final in the United States. The top skaters of Russia medaled of course, and they chose the banquet as the perfect time to surprise Victor with the plans they had been making for months. Inside an envelope were plane tickets for a weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate their places on podium as well as Victor’s birthday, and to have a well-deserved rest.

Like always, Yakov rejected the invitation to come along. He never had fun or permitted himself to relax in front of them, afraid of what it could bring in terms of bad behavior from his students. Yurio was definitely excluded from the plans too (but not without a fight), under the excuse that adult entertainments would not be ok for a teenager. In the end, it was just Mila, Georgi, Chris and Victor going to enjoy a bit of freedom and having fun in Vegas. They would already be in the U.S., so why not quickly jump on a plane to a nearby city before going home? It wouldn’t do any harm. So they had bought the plane tickets, reserved the hotel and made an itinerary full of activities and fun throughout the United States’ most sinful city.

Immediately on their first day, the plans were changed and tickets for the greatest magic show ever seen on Earth (at least according to the poster on the hotel entrance hall) were bought. Mila loved magic shows, Georgi was eager to learn some romantic magic tricks to impress the ladies, and Chris had been hooked by the proposition of the spectacle being “mysteriously entrancing” as he had read directly from the sign. Sadly, Victor didn’t expect much as he had stopped caring about having fun a long time ago, and not even the allure of Eros’ famed talent could spark excitement inside of him.

So there they were, sitting in the first row of a fancy theater waiting for the show to begin. After a few minutes, the lights of the theater began to slowly fade out, and an image on the backdrop of the stage lit up. It looked light a faded photograph of an old rainforest, except in the dark, it felt like it was alive, moving and breathing like the trees were really there on the stage. The sound of wind shaking the leaves came loud and clear and Victor could almost feel it on his face. The fading sun rays that shone through the twigs and the distorted trunks made the atmosphere look very mysterious, but not exactly scary.

Suddenly, a black figure appeared from the back of one of the trees and began to walk in the direction of the audience. It looked like he was walking on the earth, carefully avoiding the roots and twigs, but every step making noises of dry leaves being crushed under his feet. He came closer and closer until Victor could easily see the details of his clothes. He was wearing what looked like a black cloak that hung to his feet with shining transparent crystals decorating his shoulder and sparkling around his neck. On his face, a black mask with red details of an animal that looked like a fox concealed his face. The sleekness made it seem much more expensive and luxurious than any other mask Victor had ever seen before.

In a flash, the light on the figure’s body changed and a loud crack of wood rang out when he finally entered the stage. As he walked closer to the audience, clear thuds came with every movement, and the image of the forest started to disappear toward the ceiling. As it moved, it became clear that the image was only a picture, a large panel in HD that was being lifted from the stage. People started to furiously clap as surprised murmurs became realization.

The figure opened his arms and bowed. When he straightened up, his mask had vanished, and the face of the man behind it caused a lot more awe from Victor than the mask itself. He was a young man, his skin was pale and looked very soft. He had a very tempting mouth, hair slicked back in a very sexy way and brown warm eyes, like they were made of hot caramel. In his mind, Victor was thanking his friends for insisting on buying seats in the first row. From here, he could clearly see all the beautiful details of this handsome man’s body.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Eros said with a controlled but booming voice. He sounded as if he was speaking comfortably and the sound was being naturally amplified by his mouth, “Welcome… and thank you for coming. Tonight, I invite you to unravel certain mysteries of life… things that we sometimes don’t even notice surrounding us, but influence and dominate our existences nonetheless. Well… let’s begin!” as he spoke, he grabbed his cloak with one precise movement of his shoulders and arm and threw it in the air where it started to spin, faster and faster until it suddenly shrunk and disappeared in front of everyone’s eyes. The audience went mad again.

Victor could see the clothes the magician was wearing now, a black long sleeved shirt with black leather gloves covering his hands, and a vest with rows of big golden buttons over a rich red velvet fabric. The curve of Eros’s waist was apparent, as was the muscular build of his legs, for the clothes fit his body perfectly. Surely, they must have been tailored to emphasize his gorgeous features. Even if the fabric of the shirt and pants were black, Victor could feel himself craving to have a look underneath them. Eros looked exquisite from head to toe, the latter very beautifully wrapped in varnished black shoes.

“Since the moment we enter this life, we start to yearn,” Eros said with a calm and soothing voice. “As years pass, the things we want become bigger and more complex, however, every human being has the same cravings. Each one of us wants something, from the bottom of our souls.” He moved slowly from one side of the stage to the other, hypnotizing the audience with his fluid movement and the elegant gesture of his hands. “Some people want more time, eternal youth, and even risk their lives for it, attempting avoid death at all costs.”

While he spoke, a tantalizing red apple appeared with a flicker of his hand, and he started to make impossible juggles with it. “To fear death is fine. To fear the unknown is normal. But people who possess this kind of fear are those who can’t see the whole.” He extended the apple on the palm of his black gloved hands, and the fruit started to rot instantly, turning a brown color and filling with fungus until it became a spoiled bulk that fell on the floor.

The audience gasped, showing disbelief and disgust with the scene in front of them. “People can’t see…” Eros continued out loud, making everybody quiet, “that death is necessary so that there can be life.” Kneeling, he closed his eyes to focus and extended his hands over the rotten fruit. Within seconds, a tiny stem rose from the decomposed lump, growing until it turned into a flourishing vine adorned with a flower bud, which opened into dozens of petals to become a huge rose, as red as the apple once was.

Everyone exploded in applause while Eros lifted the flower and raised it to his face to enjoy its scent. Then he threw it over the audience, and the rose burst into red petals that floated over people. All around the theater, people were raising their arms to try to grab a souvenir of the show.

When the applause subsided, Eros continued his presentation. “Some people desire money, possessions, material goods.” One of his hands entered the left pocket of his pants and brought out a golden coin, so shiny its sheen could be seen even in the back seats of the theater. “Unfortunately, we must admit that with no money it’s impossible to live in a world such as ours.”

This time, he put both his hands inside his pockets, dragging out so many coins he could barely hold them without letting them slide through his fingers. “However, money is not the answer for everything either, and can be easily taken from us.” He opened his arms and the coins in his hands became liquid, running over his gloves and melting until golden drops started to run through his fingers. Nevertheless, as soon as they touched the ground, the sound of metal hitting the floor rang through the theater.

The audience started to applaud again as the coins continued dropping from Eros’ hands, gathering around his feet. As soon as they stopped, the magician leaned down and blew in the direction of the money, turning it into dust and making it fly through the air like golden glitter. As with his first trick, Eros bowed with a serious expression on his face as he received the audience’s thunderous acclamation.

Eros continued his presentation, analyzing and contesting each deep desire of the human being, as if they were mere illusions collected over lifetimes. Fame, beauty, power… each one of them was represented with a magic trick, mesmerizing the captivated audience more and more until the show reached its climax.

“For the last number, I’ll need someone from the audience.” Eros spoke, hands folded in front of him. Some people started to raise their hands, others pushed their companions trying to encourage them, but those brown eyes didn’t move across the audience in front of him. Instead, they lowered to the first seat and pinned on Victor. “How about you, Mr. Nikiforov?” Smiling, Eros extended one of his hands, hushing everyone else with his words.

A spotlight focused on Victor, showing his stunned face. His mouth and eyes couldn’t be more widened. He slowly rose from his seat looking up to the magician, almost waiting for him to levitate his guest to the stage, until Eros pointed in the direction of a small ladder on the side, making Victor feel like a complete idiot.

When Victor got to the stage, Eros turned to the audience and said out loud, “Ladies and gentleman, Victor Nikiforov, five time world champion and Living Legend of figure skating!” People clapped loudly while Victor felt his cheeks burn. He was used to facing audiences, but this time was different. He was caught completely off-guard and had no idea what was going to happen. And how Eros knew him? It was impossible that he could have researched every single person who came to his presentations every night. Someone must have said something before the show began… probably Chris. Victor looked at his friend, who was innocently clapping his hand along with the crowd with curiosity on his face.

The noise started to decrease, and Victor heard the words coming out of his mouth without even thinking. “How do you know who I am?” He observed Eros coming in his direction, then for the first time he could enjoy the magician’s face up close. His lashes were uncommonly long for a man, his mouth was pink and glossy, and his nose was thin and delicate. Everything about Eros was gorgeous and impossible to take his eyes off of.

“I don’t know if you ever heard this Mr. Nikiforov, but a magician never reveals his tricks.” While Victor blushed even more, the crowd burst into laughter, including Mila who was sitting right in front of them and whose laughing was unmistakable for anyone who knew her. Even Eros showed a smirk on a corner of his perfect lips.

“I’m sorry for making jokes at your expense Mr. Nikiforov, but there is a reason why I chose you.” After hearing that, curiosity took the place of his apprehension, and Victor just wanted to hear more of it. Eros had the full attention of his audience, but Victor was firmly wrapped around his finger. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have here a man who has each one of the things we discussed tonight.” Eros started to leisurely walk around Victor as he spoke, like he was studying him from every possible angle. “Youth, money, fame, power…” he stopped right beside Victor, almost touching him and looking directly into his eyes, “…beauty.”

Victor’s heart stopped at that, and in the silence he could hear some whispers and muffled chattering. Then he instantly knew what was crossing everyone’s mind: a bit of envy, presumption and greed mixing together added weight to the air around him. “Well, I-I can’t really say I have power…” Victor answered shyly, trying not to stutter so much.

“Are you telling me that you actually don’t just need to snap your fingers… and have everything you desire in your hands?” Eros said while making the gesture of snapping his fingers and looking to the audience.

Well, at least nothing that I really want, Victor thought, but preferred not to say it out loud. However, at that moment, Eros gave him a strange look, a concerned look… as if he had read Victor’s thoughts. The look lasted only for a second though, leaving Victor unsure if it was real or not.

“But even possessing all those things, there is something you seek.” Eros raised his hands and slowly lowered them with splayed fingers, dimming all the lights in the theater along with them. “Some people don’t notice they already have it, others can never reach it. And there are some… whose lives are taken by the emptiness that the lack of it causes.” When Eros stopped talking, the lights of the theater were practically turned off, but something on the stage shone in the dark.

It was a pale blue light, and Victor searched around to find the source of it. Then he looked at his hands and noticed the blue light was coming from him. He looked down to his body and his chest was transparent, like a fogged glass. The only thing he could see was the shape of a small blue heart floating inside it, pulsing slowly: the real source of the glow. Victor looked like a ghost on the stage, and it was beautiful and frightening at the same time. The emotions reflected on his friends’ faces, each illuminated by the melancholic glow that flooded the whole theater.

Eros looked at Victor with a concerned but soothing little smile, and it was what kept Victor from freaking out. “What you lack, Mr. Nikiforov, is something much more important than everything we talked about tonight. It gives life purpose when all other purposes fade away. It continues after death, and it gives meaning to existence.” He started to walk on Victor’s direction again and positioned himself behind his back, delicately wrapping Victor’s shoulders with his hands. Victor immediately felt something warm inside him, and it was surely the best sensation he had felt in a long time.

“What you lack, Mr. Nikiforov… is Life… and Love.” Eros slowly said, his breath warm as it brushed over Victor’s skin.

The blue glow coming from Victor’s chest changed to purple and then red, and his heart grew in size and started to beat faster as the audience was immersed in a vivid, radiant light. The crowd awed and applauded even more than they had with the previous tricks. Victor felt the incredible need to cry as that wonderful feeling flowed through him from the magician’s touch, like he was full of life again. He smiled widely, a true smile… very different from the fake ones he gave the reporters and the media, or the ones he used on the podium when he won gold time after time.

That sensation continued for a few seconds, until the theater gradually lit up again while Victor’s body came back to normal. When Victor’s shoulders were released from Eros’ hold, he immediately missed the warmth, feeling completely desperate for that touch again. The absence of those fingers on his muscles made him crave and desire it even more than air, and in that moment he knew he would never be able to go on with his life without Eros by his side to continue giving him what he needed.

The noisy crowd was now standing, and Victor came back to himself as he felt something sliding into his back pocket. “In case you want it too, Mr. Nikiforov,” Eros whispered before leaving Victor’s shadow, appearing to the audience again to bow. “Mr. Victor Nikiforov, ladies and gentlemen!” He raised his hand in Victor’s direction and smiled, and Victor heard the crowd applaud even more. He bowed and waved, regaining control over his mind and entering his famous act just as he did when he was getting off the ice in competitions.

When he stepped down from the stage, people were still applauding. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. I wish you a good night… and a good Life!” Eros shouted above the rustle before his cape reappeared above him, falling over his head and onto the ground, leaving the audience gawking as he vanished from sight.

*****

“Can you believe that guy?!?!” Mila said as they were leaving their seats. “It was awesome! I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” she smiled as she talked.

“I told you it would be worth a change of plans. I’ve heard of this show before, but I never thought he would be in Vegas now!” Chris said.

“I need to learn that rose trick.” Georgi daydreamed. “And you, Mr. Victor ‘has everything in his hands with a snap of his fingers’ Nikiforov? What did you think of it?” He asked Victor.

But Victor wasn’t hearing anything his friends were saying. His mind left the stage with amazing Eros and probably wouldn’t come back any time soon. “I have to… hum, I have to go to the bathroom. You go ahead. I can’t wait… sorry!” Victor spoke as he ran away and left his friends behind.

“What’s gotten to him?” Mila asked frowning.

“I think I might have a good idea…” Chris answered smirking and raising one of his eyebrows.

*****

“Hello, can you tell me where I can find Mr. Eros’s dressing room, please?” he asked a woman who was standing in the corridor of the theater.

“Excuse me, but do you have authorization to go backstage?” she asked, and Victor had no idea how to answer it. But before giving up, he slid his hand inside his back pocket to see Eros had put inside and came up with a card. “That’s it. Please let me lead you there,” the woman said as she started to guide Victor. She was a beautiful woman, with long brown hair and a beauty mark near one eye, and she moved like a former ballerina, Victor could tell from his own years spent in the ballet studio. He wondered if she was part of the theater staff or some kind of personal assistant to Eros.

One minute later, she stopped in front of a door and knocked. She said something in another language that sounded like a question before opening it. He heard an answer in the same language from the other side. She opened the door, and stepped aside to let him pass. “Please wait here,” she said, and Victor could hear her steps on the floor as she moved away.

Eros was nowhere to be found, so Victor started to pay attention to the place while he waited. The dressing room was well organized in contrast to what Victor expected a magician’s room to be like. There was a dressing table with a mirror on the left side with the fox mask laying on it. A clothing rack with some black pieces and the red velvet vest hung beside a wooden folding screen on the right wall. On the back wall, a blue sofa with some cushions and a mantle behind an opened red velvet curtain made the room look really cozy. “Wow” Victor whispered to the authenticity of the room.

“Do you like what you see, Mr. Nikiforov?” Eros said coming from behind the folding screen with what seemed to be traditionally styled clothes. It was like a thick robe in a marine blue color, and it covered most of his body from neck to feet, but left a small portion of his chest in view. Tied around his waist was a dark pink band highlighting the shape of his hips. Eros was still wearing his hair slicked back, and it was quite an amazing view.

“Sure! The-the room is… is amazing” Victor answered with a stupid smile on his face. he never behaved this way in front of anybody. It was unbelievable how this man had the power to make Victor feel like a moron just by opening his beautiful mouth.

Eros laughed, though. “The room? I was talking about something else,” he said with a penetrating gaze. Victor felt his cheeks grow hot again, and diverted his eyes to the mask over the table.

“This mask… it’s amazing too.” He said, carefully taking the object between his fingers to examine it. “Is there some story behind it?” Victor covered his face, the red details on the mask making a beautiful contrast with his blue eyes in the mirror.

“Yes… kind of,” Eros said while walking to the dressing table and opening one of the drawers to display a mini bar inside it. Delicately, he lifted two glasses, a bottle of red wine, another of champagne and a bowl of strawberries. “The mask represents a Kitsune, a supernatural creature from my country that has the power to deceive people, appear in their dreams and create illusions.” The magician worked his fingers with great ability, opening the bottle of champagne and pouring it into one of the glasses as if it was not an effort at all. “Do you want a drink, Mr. Nikiforov?” he asked without looking at Victor, opening the glass bowl to reach for a strawberry. Then, he raised his gaze while the fruit lingered by his mouth, tainting his lips red as he bit it.

Victor swallowed dry. “No… thanks…” he answered, incapable of pulling his eyes away from that gorgeous mouth. He never wished so much to be a strawberry.

Eros smirked. “Suit yourself. So, the true form of the Kitsune is a fox, and it can be a tempting… seductive… artful… and very cruel being” he said in a low voice, stepping backwards in the direction of the sofa on the back wall. “I think you can understand now why I would chose this mask…” Throwing his head back to take all the champagne in one go, Eros left his neck exposed as he swallowed the golden liquid.

Victor put the mask back on the table and moved closer, feeling hotter and hotter with each step he took. “Yeah… I think I can…”

Eros looked up from his perch on the sofa, appreciating Victor’s entire body and licking his lips.
“What you said on the stage about me… was it true?” Victor asked, and saw Eros’ eyes widen in surprise when he looked at him, “or you were just a Kitsune deceiving me?” Victor continued, feeling the sudden urge to kneel before Eros and discover his beauty up close.
“I think there is only one way to find out.” Eros whispered. Victor heard the door creak and click shut from afar, but he didn’t mind at all, for now Eros’s face was so close to Victor’s that he could feel Eros’s breath over his lips, carrying the scent of strawberry and the intoxicating smell of alcohol.

Victor took one last breath, then he took the leap…