“Don’t stare at her.”
Georgi turns. It’s Christophe Giacometti, a glass in his hand and a curious look on his face.
“Why shouldn’t I stare?” Georgi says. Anya is right there, making herself conspicuous with her new boyfriend. “She brought him to the party just to make me stare.”
“That’s definitely one reason you shouldn’t,” Christophe says. “For another, you’re bringing down the mood. You’re like a storm cloud over here.”
It’s the usual post-event party, an indifferent hotel banquet room with drinks Georgi hasn’t bothered to drink and food he hasn’t bothered to eat. Skaters and coaches milling around in various versions of “well-dressed”.
“So you think I should be a rainbow?”
“That’s a provocative image.” Christophe looks at Georgi thoughtfully as he sips his wine. Christophe is definitely in the top-tier of well-dressed, a sharply cut suit and a scarlet tie in a perfect rosebud knot. The same scarlet as the wine; maybe he’s got a whole range of reds so he can match what they’re serving.
“You don’t know what I’m trying to do.” Georgi half turns so he can keep his eyes on Anya. His hand creeps up to his chest where he can feel the locket under his shirt. Where she’s smiling at him.
“You’re trying to make yourself miserable watching your ex and her new boyfriend. That’s giving her too much power.”
“It’s not about power, it’s…” But now Georgi doesn’t know what it’s about. Just that it should be his arm around Anya, his kiss against her hair.
“Don’t you want her to watch you instead?”
Instead. “Of course I want her to look at me,” Georgi says. “But I never thought about ‘instead’.”
“Come on, face away. I’ll keep an eye on her for you.” Christophe takes Georgi’s shoulder, gentle pressure until he turns. “Now let’s have a good time. Let her know what she’s missing.”
“How? I can’t produce a rainbow on command.”
“You don’t have to.” Christophe tips up his chin, widens his shoulders, preening. “You’re the storm cloud. I’m the sun.”
Two beats before Georgi can even find the words for that. “You’re ridiculous.”
“I am so many things.” Christophe smiles, brilliantly, a very public smile. “Now lean in closer, say something to me.”
Georgi leans in closer. No storm cloud, though. He’s the moon: stately and serene, glowing and poetic. “What should I say?”
“Anything, it doesn’t matter. Tell me what you had for lunch yesterday.”
Not very poetic but Georgi doesn’t have a better topic. “Hard boiled eggs,” he says. “Always the same thing before a competition. Keep it plain, easy on digestion.”
While he’s talking, Christophe looks into his eyes, like Georgi has him spellbound. He laughs, richly, like hard boiled eggs for lunch is the best story he’s ever heard. “I just saw her glance over. Keep going.”
“I only had eggs,” Georgi says.
Christophe laughs again but it’s more of a snort this time. “Okay, Eggs, find another topic then. Keep talking so she knows you’re having fun without her.”
“Did you see the pairs yesterday?” Georgi starts. He talks about the French pair, their perfect synchronization, that one breathtaking twist lift, their choice of music.
Christophe makes short replies, leans in closer, still so intent. He plucks at Georgi’s sleeve, rubbing the material of the jacket between his fingertips. Laughs again, just as carrying but lower, more intimate.
“Sometimes I wish I’d done pairs instead,” Georgi says. “Do you ever—”
“She’s definitely watching now.”
Georgi tenses up. Are her eyes soft with longing? Narrowed with anger? He’s got to know.
Christophe grabs his shoulder. “Don’t. You’ll wreck it if you turn around.”
“What does her face look like? Is she sorry?”
“Hmm, irritated, I’d say.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Christophe says. “But let’s give her a show and maybe she’ll get there.” He sets his glass down on an empty table. He steps in close, very close. And he presses a kiss onto Georgi’s cheek, both hands sliding up his back.
Georgi stiffens but he keeps from pulling away. Can’t let Anya see him looking awkward. “I didn’t know we were doing that.”
“It’s working,” Christophe whispers in Georgi’s ear. “She’s glaring at us.” He steps back, still cupping the back of Georgi’s neck with one hand. “Fake boyfriend is your only move. You’re lucky I was here.” He makes a sexy pout so exaggerated Georgi can’t help laughing.
“Okay, fine. If it’s working.” Maybe it’s okay not to be the one who’s brooding tonight.
“There you go, mon cheri. Now behave yourself while I get us drinks.” Christophe’s fingers trail across Georgi’s cheek as he drops his hand.
Did she see that? Just one glance, over his shoulder. Then he’ll know. Georgi turns.
Christophe grabs his chin and pulls his head back around. “That’s emotional infidelity.” He lets go. “Seriously, don’t turn around and look at her. You’ll spoil it.”
Well, Georgi did agree to this tactic. Might as well give it a chance. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.”
“I’ll be right back.” Christophe heads towards the buffet.
Georgi watches him go. He doesn’t turn around and look at Anya.
Christophe comes back with two glasses of the same wine. “Red okay?” he says. “I should have asked.”
“It’s a brand new fake relationship. You haven’t had time to learn the details.” Georgi raises his glass. “To your health, my friend.”
“Just friend?” Christophe grins. “I’m wounded.”
The wine is better than Georgi expected for one of these events. Big flavour, not too dry, a hint of spice. Clinging to the glass as he swirls it. Interesting, complicated, and he takes another drink.
“Okay, now look at me like you’re fascinated,” Christophe says.
Georgi looks up. “I thought I was the fascinating one.”
“I’m fascinated with you, you’re fascinated with me. A relationship of mutual fascination.” Christophe raises his glass, holding Georgi’s eyes over the rim. “I don’t have any material as good as your egg story but do your best to stay interested.”
They find chairs and sit, angled close, knee to knee.
“Can you still see her?” Georgi tries to feel her presence, her aura in the room.
Christophe reaches out and waits until Georgi takes his hand. “She’s not looking at us now but in a very pointed way. So, fascinated and flirty, okay?”
“Flirty isn’t really my move.”
“Yes, I guessed that, Eggs. Whatever your move is, use it. Just don’t propose to me. It’s too soon for a fake engagement.”
“You’d have to meet my mother first.” Georgi slides his fingers between Christophe’s, caressing, like he’s interested. Like Christophe is fascinating.
“So, last time I was in Beijing,” Christophe starts.
It’s going to be a club story, some late night adventure that ends with everyone losing most of their clothing. Or, since it’s Christophe, begins that way. Maybe Georgi should have just asked about his lunch.
But instead Christophe tells Georgi about an art exhibition he went to, one that Georgi wishes he had been able to visit himself.
While Christophe talks about the artist, the work, Georgi brushes his lips over Christophe’s fingertips, tender, lingering. This is his move, soft and romantic, and Christophe responds with a melting look.
It’s weird to be kissing Christophe’s hand, to be looking deep into his eyes, but there’s an ease about Christophe and it puts Georgi at ease too. He sets down his glass so he can fold Christophe’s hand between both of his. He bends closer, hanging on Christophe’s every word.
“You know that feeling, almost exhaustion, when you’ve taken in all you can and can’t put any of it into words so you just end up sitting, staring at nothing, trying to absorb it all.”
“I do,” Georgi says. And he does, he’s felt it many times. “Even the tears won’t come.”
“Then I went to this club—“
“There it is.”
“What are you implying?” Christophe smiles. “That I’m— oh, stand up. Be casual. She’s on the move.”
Casual isn’t Georgi’s move either but he stands slowly, keeping hold of Christophe’s hand, picking up his wine glass. “Which way should I face?”
“Change of tactics. It’s time to look.” Christophe steers Georgi around, then steps behind him, sliding an arm around his chest. Pressing the pendant into Georgi’s breastbone.
There’s Anya, ten metres away, hand around her boyfriend’s wrist as she pulls him along. And she’s looking at Georgi.
He meets her eyes. His heart thumps, his gut twists. She glares. And Christophe runs his tongue along the curve of Georgi’s ear.
Anya jerks to a stop, a nearly blank expression on her face that Georgi knows is more dangerous than a glare. Then she turns and plants a huge kiss on her boyfriend. “Let’s go to the bar,” she tells him loudly. “This party’s dead.”
Georgi watches them go. He sighs, half longing, half relief. Half pleased, half wanting to run after her.
“That was satisfying,” Christophe says. He’s still leaning into Georgi, still rubbing his stubbled jaw on Georgi’s cheek. “And I’m definitely hotter than him, so good for you.”
It brings Georgi back into the room, the heat of Christophe against his back, that scratch on his face. “That was hard to see but…it wasn’t bad to be on the other side.” Georgi drains his glass, he needs it. “They’re going to the bar.”
“Then how about you buy a man a drink?”
“With pleasure,” Georgi says.
Georgi gets martinis at the bar and brings them back to their table. Anya is across the room and he sits so he’ll have to turn his head to see her. “Your turn to toast.”
“To rainbows,” Christophe says.
“To rainbows,” Georgi agrees and drinks. Cocktails aren’t usually his thing but a dry martini fits his image of Chris-and-Georgi, sophisticated international skating couple.
The room is crowded with skaters blowing off steam, knots of coaches complaining and consoling each other. A fringe of fans around the edges. A babble of languages, laughter, clinking glasses. Dimmer than the stark lights of the banquet room. It’s enveloping, soothing, like a blanket on a cold day.
Georgi scoots his chair closer and puts his arm around Christophe’s shoulders. Leans in and kisses his cheek, soft and slow. Christophe settles into it, tipping his temple against Georgi’s.
“You know,” Georgi says. “I always remember you as gangly sixteen. Too skinny for your height, off-balance on the ice. Working hard to compensate.”
“My awkward phase.” Christophe toys with his glass, then reaches up to cover Georgi’s hand on his shoulder with his own. “And I always remember you with eight centimetres of spiked hair and a studded belt.”
“I did very well with that look.” Georgi remembers a few lovelies who found it — and eighteen-year-old him — charming. “We didn’t see too much of each other, though. You were always chasing after—“
Victor drops down in a chair. He raises his eyebrows. “What’s going on here?”
Christophe nuzzles Georgi’s cheek. “Just some consensual adult activity.” He laughs and Georgi can’t help joining him. “No,” Christophe says. “We’re running the fake boyfriend on Anya.”
At the sound of her name, Georgi can’t help glancing over. She’s leaning close to her boyfriend — real boyfriend — and straightening his collar, tapping his chin with one long finger.
Georgi doesn’t touch the locket under his shirt but he feels its weight, like Christophe’s arm is still pressing it against his chest.
“Fun!” Victor says. “Can I play too?” He reaches across the table to touch Georgi’s cheek.
Georgi bats his hand away. “Don’t ruin it!” He tightens his arm around Christophe’s shoulder. “Even my fake relationships are monogamous.”
“Well, if you prefer Chris to this—” Victor gestures at himself “—there’s no help for you.”
“I think he likes nice men,” Christophe says. “Speaking of, where’s Yuuri?”
Victor points at the bar. Yuuri is bumping elbows with Phichit Chulanont, laughing red-faced over what looks like their fourth round of shots. “That’s going to be trouble later.”
“Maybe you should set a better example, Coach Victor,” Christophe says.
“We all saw the photos,” Georgi says. How does he get away with it? Things that would be all frowns and scandal if Georgi did them are just wink wink outrageous when it’s Victor.
“I’ve never looked better,” Victor says, tossing his hair back.
They fall into chitchat, analyzing the competition, hashing over gossip. More drinks, more bar stories. It’s friendly, it’s nice, and Georgi can feel himself relax more than he has in weeks, months even, unwinding with the laughter and the warmth of Christophe under his arm.
Almost too warm now, the room is getting stuffy, the drinks are heating Georgi’s face. He shrugs out of his jacket.
“Don’t do a Victor now,” Christophe says. “Or—” He looks at Georgi speculatively. “Go ahead if you like.”
“That wouldn’t be sophisticated,” Georgi says. Maybe he should put the jacket back on?
“Maybe it’s very sophisticated,” Victor says. “Did you ever think of that?”
Christophe puts one finger inside his own collar, then pulls at his tie, starting to loosen it.
Georgi reaches for his hands. “Don’t,” he says. “It looks so good.” He runs one finger over the smooth red folds of the knot. “The furled petals of the rosebud.”
Christophe looks at him, pausing before he speaks. “I’ll leave it, then.” He smiles at Georgi, not audacious, not sexy. Just happy, like he’s having a good time.
Georgi smiles too and puts his arm back around Christophe.
“Your round, Gosha,” Victor says.
When Georgi gets back to the table, juggling three glasses of whisky, Victor is nowhere to be seen.
“I don’t think he’s coming back,” Christophe says.
“He’s the one who wanted Jura.” Georgi sets the extra glass in the centre of the table. “I should send him an invoice.”
“Well, you know what they say.”
“What do they say?”
Christophe shrugs hugely, hands wide and open. “Victor Nikiforov.”
“At home, we say ‘that inconsiderate bastard.’”
“Just drink your whisky.” Christophe moves closer and puts his arm around Georgi. He turns his head and speaks softly, his breath warm against Georgi’s temple. “Look like you’re having fun, mon cheri.”
Georgi takes a breath of the Scotch, then sips. It’s delicate with a smooth honey finish, no whiff of the peat bog. “That inconsiderate bastard has good taste, anyhow.” He leans closer to Christophe. One hitch of his chair and he’d be resting against his chest. “I am having fun.”
And he is, no matter what else he feels. He’s enjoying the evening, this hangout with Christophe. Even if it’s fake, it’s heartening to have someone focus on him, want to be around him. “You’re fun,” he says. “You’re interesting. And considerate.”
“I’m blushing.” Christophe’s voice is dry but Georgi can feel his smile in the way he shifts in his chair, in the set of his arm around Georgi.
They sip in silence for a while while the bar buzzes around them. “You know,” Christophe says. “I did skate pairs for a little while, when I was thirteen.”
“Why was that?” Georgi tries to picture Christophe at thirteen, probably all round red cheeks and too much curly hair.
“Our coach pushed it. Probably thought we’d look good together. And it was fun, we were pretty good for our level.”
“Why did you stop?”
Christophe sets down his glass. “I just didn’t want to share the ice. You can’t lose yourself in your skating when there’s someone else you have to work with.”
Georgi nods. “I thought about pairs a lot, daydreamed about how graceful it would be. Supporting her on the ice, trusting each other. But I always needed to prove my own strength. That was more important.”
“Sounds like we’re both where we should be. But we could always try a few throws sometime.”
“Might be fun.” Georgi smiles. He’s warm, the whisky is good, Christophe is nice. He reaches out for Christophe’s hand.
But Christophe sits up straight. His arm drops from Georgi’s shoulders.
“What is it? What did I do?” Some faux-pas? He’d held Christophe’s hand before, what was different now?
“Look at her now.”
Georgi looks at her. A shock goes through him, like a tremor in the earth. Anya is looking back at him. Her face is serious, wistful. No boyfriend at her side. Georgi’s heart throbs, a squeezed painful beat between his ribs.
She wants him to come over, she must. Wants him to take her hand, press it to his lips. Gaze into her eyes, tell her that she’s beautiful.
“What’s your endgame here?” Christophe’s voice is low and serious. He’s not touching Georgi now. He tips up his whisky glass, swirling the amber liquid around and around.
“I…don’t know.” And that’s another tremor shaking Georgi’s heart. He wasn’t actually expecting it to come to this, to another chance with Anya, for all he’s been longing for it. “I didn’t think she’d react this way.”
“You’re an adult,” Christophe says. “And you haven’t drunk enough to be stupid. So take a moment to think before you act.”
Georgi tries to think, to turn the cogs in his mind. But it’s the wheel in his chest that’s turning, spooling out his heart’s thread as she reels it in.
Anya lifts a hand and gestures, come here to me, that last tug, like a finger in the chain around his neck.
He’s rising with it, racing with it, pushing back his chair. Her eyes half close and a smile curls across her face. That smile he saw every time he pushed the last sugar cookie on the plate towards her.
Georgi looks away. “No,” he says, to himself, for himself. “No.” This isn’t how it should be, he’s not a cookie, sweet and crumbling and gone in two bites. He clenches his hands so they won’t reach out. “This is wrong.”
They never worked together, supported each other. Never trusted each other. Never felt the same way at the same time. “No,” he says again and this time he’s looking straight at her across the room. Hands up to push her away. “I’m done.”
“Are you?” Christophe says.
Georgi turns, away from Anya, towards Christophe. Relief floods him like cold water on a hot day and he sags in his chair. “I hope so. I don’t want to be with someone who only wants what they can’t have.”
“Good for you.” Christophe nods. “That must have been hard.”
“It still is,” Georgi says. He looks Christophe in the eye. “Thank you.”
“You’re the one who turned her down.” Christophe pushes the extra glass of Jura towards him. “Your reward, such as it is.”
“I paid for that myself.”
“Those rewards are the most meaningful.” Christophe puts his hand over Georgi’s, fingers spreading out over his wrist. “You’re going to be okay.”
Georgi takes a deep breath. When Christophe says it, it sounds like it’s true. “I am.”
“Good.” Christophe leans back, hands to himself now. “I didn’t get a chance to finish that story about my last time in Beijing.”
Georgi can’t help but smile. “I’m sure it’s fascinating.”
“The evening doesn’t end until I escort you back,” Christophe says. “Or you escort me. I think our rooms are on the same hallway so we’ll figure it out.” He presses the floor button and the elevator starts to rise.
“We’re not going out to that club?” Georgi stifles a yawn. He’s suddenly very tired. The exhaustion of the competition, the emotional highs and lows of the whole weekend: it’s all been trundling patiently behind him and now he’s stopped long enough for it to catch him in the back of the knees.
“That’s not a club you want to go to with your boyfriend, fake or otherwise.” Christophe gets a misty nostalgic look on his face and Georgi has to pull him out of the elevator.
“This is me.” Georgi stops in front of his door and Christophe stops too.
“Breakup time.” Christophe sighs theatrically. “How do you want to play it? Huge argument over how much time you waste playing video games? We’ve drifted apart? You caught me checking out Yuuri’s ass?”
“Thank you for tonight,” Georgi says. “This — you — helped a lot.”
“Good, I’m glad,” Christophe says. “I won’t make a fuss over the video games, then.”
“Why did you suggest it?” He hasn’t considered it before now, hasn’t considered much tonight except himself. But now the need to know is growing inside Georgi, pushing at the inside of his forehead.
“I don’t really know what your hobbies are so—“
“Why did you suggest this?” Georgi gestures between the two of them.
“I thought it would be fun, a way to spice up the evening. And I do love to perform.” Christophe moves his hand in a flourish. His face changes, becomes more serious. “But mainly because you looked sad,” he says. “And I wanted you to be happy.”
Warmth radiates all through Georgi, a surge that heats him down to his fingertips. “You are the sun.”
Christophe grins. “And you’re not a storm cloud anymore. But you’re not really the rainbow type.”
“You never saw me at a rave.”
“That’s a story you neglected to tell. But it was a fun evening anyway.”
Georgi looks at Christophe: that relaxed handsome face, those broad shoulders, the teasing smile.
Maybe it’s the second glass of Jura and maybe it’s the perfect rosebud of Christophe’s tie but either way Georgi moves in, puts his hand on Christophe’s lapel. Leans up close. “Good night, mon cheri,” he murmurs and kisses Christophe. A sweet press of their mouths together, long enough for Christophe’s hand to find his elbow.
And a shock goes through Georgi. Maybe not a tremor but definitely a tingle, waking him, kicking his heart rate up.
He lets go, moves away, looks at Christophe.
“Hmm,” Christophe says and his eyes are bright. Then he steps or Georgi steps or they both step and they’re kissing again, not sweet but serious this time.
A few bumps while they figure out who goes where and then Christophe’s back is against the wall while Georgi leans against him, opens up to him, one hand stroking his jaw and the other sliding inside his jacket.
Christophe puts his arms around Georgi, moves his hands down Georgi’s back to his waist, pulls him closer. Georgi sighs into it, into the tingles and the tremors and the whisky taste of Christophe’s mouth.
“That’s dedication to a role.”
Georgi jumps back. It’s Victor, surprise, surprise, holding up a very drunk Yuuri Katsuki.
“And that’s dedication to timing.” Christophe rubs his mouth.
“Goddammit.” Georgi tries to slow his breathing, not look like he just got caught making out in a hotel hallway, but it’s not easy.
“It’s Chris,” Yuuri mumbles. “Hi, Chris!” He lunges out, nearly toppling, and Victor has to haul him back upright.
“I don’t suppose either of you has heard of this new thing called ‘moderation’,” Christophe says.
“You owe me for that Jura, Vitya,” Georgi says.
“Why? I didn’t drink it.”
“Drinks?” Yuuri perks up.
“As you can see, I’ve got my own problems.” Victor drags Yuuri away with him, Yuuri lurching and Victor compensating to keep them on a mostly straight trajectory.
“That inconsiderate bastard,” Christophe says.
“You know,” Georgi says. “Yuuri does have a nice ass.”
“How dare you,” Christophe says. “We’re through. I’ll miss your egg stories, though.”
“It was an honour while it lasted. But…” Just as well not to get overwhelmed by the evening, by the attention of a friend. Georgi takes a deep breath, it’s time. “Good night, Chris.”
“Good night, Georgi.” Christophe looks a few moments more, then turns and heads down the hall.
Georgi falls into bed and he sleeps very well.
In the morning, Georgi picks up his locket while he’s dressing. It’s second nature to clasp it around his neck. But he stops before it’s fastened. It feels heavy in his hands, cold against his chest.
He tucks it into his suitcase instead.
When he gets down to the hotel lobby, Christophe is already there, roller and shoulder bag, waiting for a taxi. A little sleepy around the eyes but tall and straight, nodding to other skaters as they go by.
It’s raining and gusts of cold air come in every time the doors open. The café is inviting, warm lights and a hot cup of tea to soothe a man into the day.
As Georgi lifts his hand to wave, Christophe blinks slowly, his long lashes dark against his face.
It happens to Georgi all at once — the sudden shaking of the tremor, the sweet unfurling of the rosebud, the bright rise of the sun. He stops, stunned and unmoving, breathless and amazed.
Someone bumps into him, a bag banging into Georgi’s shoulder, and swears when he doesn’t move. Can’t move, while everything tilts, shifts, refocuses.
Christophe is the one who waves, good morning, hello, a smile as sleepy as his eyes.
Georgi’s joints unlock and he strides over. Brushes past Christophe’s greeting. Kisses him, hello, good morning, one hand on the back of Christophe’s neck, his whole body alive and springing.
When they part, Christophe looks around the room, not at Georgi. “Where is she?”
Georgi waits until Christophe’s attention is back on him. “I don’t know.”
Now it’s Christophe who stops, halfway through a breath, faint colour rising in his cheeks. Eyes widening with a confusion that’s more endearing than any self-assured caress.
Georgi takes Christophe’s hand between his own. There’s no time to think through his words, he has to trust his heart. “I’d like to spend more time in the sunshine.” He looks deep into Christophe’s eyes, puts his longing into his own. Fly or fall, it’s delicious to be teetering on this precipice again. “See you in Paris?”
They’re both still for a moment, both waiting, seconds gliding past them.
Then Christophe finishes his breath. The flush on his face deepens. And he smiles, his hand tightening around Georgi’s. “Paris, then. Let’s see your real moves.”
Georgi’s heart soars, a bird winging into the sunlight. “My turn to treat you well.”
Christophe leans forward and presses his lips to Georgi’s cheek like a promise. “I’ll be looking forward to it, mon oeuf dur.”
Georgi takes a deep breath, tries to catch Christophe’s scent so he can remember it later. “I know a club.”
“Probably not the same one I know,” Christophe says. “Maybe we should try both.” His eyes glitter. “See how you do.”
A thrill runs down Georgi’s spine. “See how you do.” Strobe or candlelight, he can’t wait to see Christophe glow.
The taxi arrives and Georgi watches until Christophe and his coach are stowed inside and the car pulls away.
He spends a few more moments looking out at the grey sky and the rain coming down. Almost like being at home. Then he goes for tea and wonders if it’s too soon to send flowers.