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Húsavík is a beautiful town at night. He knew that already from Sigrit’s song—she poured such passion into her performance that he felt every word with all his heart, and he yearned both for a place he’d never seen and his own hometown, just as cold yet stunning. She didn’t win, couldn’t have, but should have, because she finally followed his advice and let her true spirit shine. She was a valuable friend in the end, if not the partner he’d hoped. Still is a friend. He’s glad he came to visit her.

But Alexander Lemtov takes a seat in the damp grass just after sunset, all alone atop the sprawling hill that overlooks the quaint houses below. He was invited to stay with them, though Lars didn’t look quite so pleased as Sigrit, but Alexander can easily afford a hotel room. More than that, he can’t stay around them any longer. They’re good people. Accepting people. But they’re painfully in love, and as much as Alexander says it doesn’t bother him, deep down, he knows it does.

He’s happy for them. Happy for everyone who can be free and enjoy a soulmate’s company. He leans back into the lush earth and trails his gaze along the horizon—the endless stretch of gleaming ocean and the stars above. He should’ve brought Mita. Then they could’ve convinced the pub to stay open late, gotten drunk off their asses, and he wouldn’t have to think about how incredibly lonely he is.

The breeze rustles past him. The knit turtleneck under his designer suit keeps him warm enough, and he’s used to harsh landscapes anyway. But there’s a scent on the wind—raw and saline, like fish and sweat and maybe outdated cologne. He hears quiet footsteps coming along the path behind him but pays them no mind. It seems like there are no dangers in Húsavík—everyone’s been almost painfully kind to him, and he’s already vulnerable—he’s let all his guards down. The faint echo of boots crunching grass creates a rhythm, and he can’t help humming under his breath to it. If there’s one thing that soothes him, it’s music.

Instead of passing by, the footsteps stop. Alexander stops too, glancing back. There’s a burly man a few meters away, dressed in a striped sweater and a brown vest, his chestnut hair parted at one side and trailing into a bushy beard. He’s big, broad, hairy—all the things Alexander tries to avoid in the pretty women he bats his eyes at. Traits that make him shiver.

“You’re singing,” the man says. His breath is a visible puff. He starts walking again, a few steps closer. Alexander quirks one brow.

“Are you serious?”

He can’t imagine the people here have anything better to do than watch the greatest music competition in the world. The man frowns, leaning back a little, squinting, eyes suddenly sweeping over Alexander from head to foot. Alexander subconsciously sits a little straighter. He’s glad he kept himself immaculately dressed and styled, even for a short walk out into nowhere. The man’s frowning, but it’s clear in his eyes that he sees just how gorgeous Alexander is. Alexander’s always looked particularly stunning in starlight.

Finally, the stranger grunts, “You’re that lion guy from TV.”

Alexander’s nose wrinkles. He feels vaguely insulted. He has a name. He provides, “Alexander Lemtov,” and expects that to clarify everything. The man just nods.

“Olaf.” It’s offered so casually, with no surname. So easily. In a way, that’s vaguely refreshing—Alexander usually garners more extreme reactions: overzealous fans, thinly-veiled disapproval, salacious flirtation—Olaf looks at him like he’s just some guy.

Maybe Olaf’s kind of cute, in a rustic, backwater, beastly sort of way. Maybe Alexander’s secretly partial to that. The accent’s definitely charming. Feeling generous, he asks, “Do you want to hear Lion of Love?” Though he’s sung it a hundred times, it’s currently his favourite. It usually makes his audience swoon

Olaf grunts, “No, I only want to hear Ja Ja Ding Dong.”

Alexander blinks. “That mindless pop song Fire Saga played at the bar earlier?”

Olaf’s lips twitch into his first smile of the evening. “Yes, that one! Can you sing it?”

Alexander wants to say no. It’s ridiculous. He has the voice of a god that could master even the most complex, exhilarating compositions, and this Olaf wants him to waste his time on a veritable trash-heap that even Lars seems resistant to play.

But the sparkle in Olaf’s eyes has warmed his face considerably, and suddenly all of him looks warm, inviting, endearing, and Alexander can’t bring himself to snuff out that flame. He begrudgingly nods and clears his throat, arching back to serenade the stars. “When I feel your gentle touch...” Olaf’s face absolutely glows. Alexander stretches out the line, enunciating each word clearly, adding modulation, whispering the line after that before building up rhythm, volume, repeating all day four times instead of two, then belting out at the top of his longs, “Ja Ja Ding Dong—my love for you is growing wide and long!” He bellows it to the heavens, swooping in for the repetition, finishing the chorus in a smoldering boom before dwindling into a more sensual stanza, and then the chorus repeats itself and he holds the note on long, until his voice naturally fades out and the silence left is cacophonous.

A few seconds pass, and then he’s rewarded with thunderous applause. “Marvelous!” Olaf tells him, chanting something else in Icelandic that Alexander can’t catch. “Excellent!”

Elated with the praise, which somehow means so much more from one lone man one-on-one than a sea of faceless fans, Alexander asks, “Now would you like to hear Lion of Love? My masterpiece?”

Olaf walks the rest of the way and plops down next to Alexander, heavy and musky and overwhelmingly genuine. He shakes his head. “No. You’re a fantastic singer, Mr. Lemtov, but Ja Ja Ding Dong is the only thing that makes me happy.”

Alexander stares at him. Olaf’s haloed by an endless field of nothing: just lovely scenery and peace, no judgment for days. For once, Alexander forgets the makeup and diamonds and the way the newspapers write about him. He blurts out exactly what he feels: “Challenge accepted.”

Then he puts his hand on Olaf’s leg, unsurprised when it seems to be well received, and he leans in to sing Olaf a heartfelt ballad version of the fiercest song ever written, which puts Lars’ work to shame.