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Beijing, The Cup of China

Georgi knows before the knock comes. A premonition, the hair on his arms lifting and a prickle on the back of his neck. You don’t have to answer, a voice says to him and he can’t tell if it’s an angel or a devil whispering in his ear.

He opens the door.

Victor is just raising his hand, still drawing his face up into a smile. He stops both motions. Doesn’t speak, just starts forward. And stops short when Georgi doesn’t step aside to let him into the hotel room.

“I didn’t think you were between,” Georgi says. “It didn’t look like it.” The rumours, the photos on social. The way Victor’s eyes followed his skater off the ice.

“No,” Victor says and there’s a pull between his eyebrows that would be a frown if he hadn’t shot it full of Botox. “I am.”

Georgi is unconvinced but it’s not his business. He opened the door, that decision is already behind him. He turns back into the room and Victor follows him.

Friends with benefits, that’s what Victor called it once. But they’ve never been friends and Georgi doesn’t know what the benefits are, beyond the blunt physical pleasure of the fucking.

He shuts off all the lights but one and pulls back the covers from the bed. If he were home, instead of Beijing, he’d pour them both a quick drink: one icy shot for manners, a perfunctory toast. Instead, he sits on the edge of the bed and waits for Victor to join him.

Victor drops his bag onto the desk, the kit he always has in hand when he shows up at Georgi’s apartment, that’s always on his bedside table when Georgi shows up there. He lays his phone beside it, screen up. He picks up a plum from the fruit bowl. Smells it, puts it back, like he’s in the market choosing supper for the day.

Then he glances at the bottle of champagne cooling by the tea set. He looks at Georgi, his eyes sharpening. “Are you between?”

You know I am, Georgi wants to say. Everybody knows. “I’d hardly let you in here if I were expecting someone else.”

“I know that’s not for me.” Victor shoves the chair aside and leans against the desk, half sitting on the edge. Georgi can see the back of Victor’s head in the mirror behind him: the perfect sweep of his hair down to his neck, the set of his shoulders inside his soft dark shirt.

The champagne is for Georgi, no one else. A single glass beside the bottle waiting for him to ease the cork, pour the wine, drink to himself. Not to his victory; he’s not courting bad luck. But to changing paths. Moving forward. Cutting his heart free. He’s not sharing that.

There’s only one thing here for Victor. Georgi is impatient with the deep pull of desire, half-hard under his green satin robe, shifting, not sure if he wants to try to hide it. “If you’re just here to chat, then go and let me sleep. I have to skate tomorrow.” He crosses his legs and his robe slips open over his thigh. “Unless this is your plan to sabotage me so your skater can win.”

Victor looks down at his phone, just a dart of his eyes. “Can you imagine Yakov trying that tactic?” He smiles, briefly.

“Are you trying to kill this before we even start?”

Victor runs his finger over a pear, slowly, like he’s tracing the outline of a body. “So he’s living with Lilia again. Think they’re back together?”

Georgi stands. He doesn’t even have to step, just swings his centre of gravity so he’s in front of Victor, hands on the desk on either side of him. “Shut up,” he says.

Victor doesn’t speak but he still doesn’t move, except to blink at Georgi, his blue eyes so close Georgi can see a crumb of mascara still caught in the pale lashes. So Georgi closes the gap and kisses Victor, more slowly than he wants to.

Victor doesn’t respond, his mouth still, his body tensing. Like Georgi is pressing him with unwanted attention.

Why is he even here? Georgi should have listened to that voice and let Victor hammer on the door.

But before Georgi can jerk away and swear, Victor spreads his legs and pulls him closer. HIs hands slip over the back of Georgi’s robe before they tighten. And he opens into the kiss, tongue sliding through Georgi’s lips, evening stubble rasping against Georgi’s face.

Georgi sighs into it, enough that he’s embarrassed by how much he wants it. He’s had just one other hookup since his break-up and it only made him feel bad. Bad that it was casual. And bad that she was okay with that. Where was Victor when he needed this?

Victor is usually impatient to be done with kissing, with anything but the endgame. But today he’s into it, clinging with his mouth and hands, pushing back Georgi’s head to kiss his throat.

Georgi gasps when Victor presses into the spot behind his jaw. Maybe he’s imagining the clinging. It’s been nearly a year since they were last together, maybe he’s remembering Victor as more distant than he deserves. But he’s not imagining the hand Victor slips inside Georgi’s robe to stroke the skin of his back, down to dip one finger in the cleft of his buttocks.

Georgi puts his arms around Victor and kisses his temple, runs a finger under the collar of his shirt. He drags the shirt up halfway, hands over Victor’s belly and chest. He rubs his thumb over Victor’s nipple and the shiver that goes through Victor echoes in Georgi too.

He catches Victor’s mouth again and pulls him up so they can lean over together, tumble down onto the bed. Roll and play together without thinking about why.

But Victor draws back, just enough for them to shift apart a little. Georgi can feel him compose himself: stiffen his back, quiet his mouth, still his hands. As though he’s already dressing after, flicking every strand of hair back into place.

The Victor that Georgi knows. Is he going to slide down and suck Georgi off instead? It happens sometimes and Victor will never let Georgi reciprocate, except with his hand while Georgi fucks him.

And Georgi isn’t that eager to get his mouth around another man’s cock but it makes him feel tawdry to take without giving. Like he’s just using Victor. He’d never share a woman’s bed without worshipping her, giving her all the pleasure he can.

A sense memory comes over him: he’s down between Anya’s thighs. She’s moving under his tongue, cursing and clutching at the bedsheets. The dark smell of her flooding him, the wet slide against his mouth, the smooth skin under his fingers.

And afterwards, she presses his face against her belly, stroking his hair gently, one or two sweet words for him. He’s glowing with warmth, perfectly happy.

A crack opens in his heart and pain seeps out. Fuck Victor for making him remember. “Let’s do it here,” Georgi says. No soft bed for them.

Victor’s eyes darken and he turns around. He undoes his trousers and pushes everything down, stepping out of one side so he can spread his legs wide.

Georgi grabs for the bag, Victor’s fuck-me kit, and gets himself a condom and a dollop of lubricant. Victor will be ready for him, he’s always ready. He never asks Georgi to even slip a finger inside of him first.

And then they fuck. Victor leans down, hands clutching the ends of the desk, shirt pulled up above his waist. Georgi opens his robe so it falls forward around them both. Starts slowly while he gets used to this again, so long since he last had his cock inside of Victor.

The desk isn’t deep enough to really support them so Georgi wraps one arm around Victor’s waist. They find a rhythm, slow and firm, breathing hard but not too fast. Georgi sinks into it, the building pleasure and the heat of their bodies, the slap of their skin and the rustle of the silk. The creaking of the desk, the dull sounds of traffic from the window. The sweet smell of an overripe plum in the fruit bowl.

“Gosha,” Victor says, like Georgi is across the room, not balls-deep inside of him.

Georgi looks up and there they both are in the mirror. Victor’s face is flushed but his eyes are sharp and open. Georgi can see the red coming up on his own cheeks, the pendant swinging around his neck, his hand moving over Victor’s cock.

“How do you know?” Victor says. “When it’s love?”

“You’re a man, not a boy,” Georgi says. The question barely makes sense to him. “How do you not know?”

“I asked how you knew.”

“Ask me after.” They never do talk after, beyond a few commonplaces as they sort themselves out. Maybe by then, Victor won’t want to anymore.

“Answer me.” Victor won’t stop looking Georgi in the eye and Georgi has to make that stop somehow.

“Your chest aches.” It’s difficult to get words out right now, to focus on something other than the thrust of their bodies together. “Your heart sings. The world contracts until you see only them. If you don’t know if you’re in love, you’re not.”

“And if it’s returned?” Victor does look away then, another glance at the dark screen of his phone.

Sometimes it’s easy to know, both vibrating together from the first moment. Sometimes it’s hard. But always, always… “Reach out your hand and see.”

“Reach out,” Victor says, thoughtful and half-breathless.

“Take a chance on love,” Georgi says. “That’s how you’ll know.” He closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see his own face any longer, doesn’t have to watch himself toiling into Victor while they talk about love.

And his heart cracks wider. It was never really healed. His world is still so narrow, Anya is still the only thing he can see. The dark fall of her hair, the brightness of her eyes. Her legs wrapping around him, squeezing him tighter as he calls out her name.

Victor startles beneath him and Georgi knows her name slipped from his tongue. He’s not ashamed, love isn’t shameful.

“I guess you’d know,” Victor says. His whole body seems to throb, he moves back against Georgi.

Anya. And Georgi can’t hold back, it’s too late now. His hand slips off Victor’s cock and he clutches the back of chair while he comes, spasming against Victor, staring at his own crumpling face in the mirror.

Before Georgi can catch his breath, Victor finishes himself off, eyes looking down and a glow on his face. A few gasps, his hair sticking damply to his forehead.

Georgi feels a thread of guilt. He can usually do Victor better than that, it’s a point of pride with him. When Victor is done, Georgi pulls out gently. It’s all routine now: Victor takes the condom and his clothes into the bathroom, Georgi falls back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting his turn.

When Victor comes back out, he’s buoyant, alive. A smile on his lips and pleased creases around his eyes. There’s a stain on the bottom of his shirt. “Reach out your hand, Gosha,” he says before the door clicks shut behind him.

In the shower, Georgi traces letters on the tiles. Maybe she has been thinking about him. Maybe his name still falls from her lips too. Reach out your hand and see.

He turns up the air conditioning and lights a candle to help clear the room. Makes the bed again. Takes a breath and taps out a message on his phone.

Then he calls housekeeping to bring up another glass.