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Chris was startled awake by the angry blare of his cell phone ringtone—the generic tone that he set to indicate an unknown number. Fumbling in the dark, he grabbed it off the nightstand and put it next to him on the pillow.

“Who’s calling in the middle of the night?”

“It’s not the middle of the night, you old pervert,” the voice whined through the tinny speaker. Chris could hear laughing in the background. “It’s Yuri Plisetsky.”

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” he drawled sleepily into the phone. No, he supposed Yuri was right; it wasn’t quite the middle of the night yet, but after a long day of physical exertion and failure, he’d collapsed as soon as he’d returned to his hotel room.

It all came rushing back then, not that he’d truly forgotten, but suddenly the crushing disappointment was weighing him down again. Chris sighed heavily as Yuri’s accented English blared unpleasantly in the dark room. Of all the people to wake him up from the blissful ignorance of sleep, it had to be the gold-medalist’s voice echoing off the walls at 23:00.

“Huh?” he answered Yuri’s annoyed prompting, bringing Chris’s attention back to his phone. “A club Otabek’d be likely to go to? I’m not sure, have you tried La Barceloneta? … Well, sorry, that’s the only club I really know.”

Yuri grumbled. More laughter filtered through. Chris felt sick.

“Oh right, I forgot to say: congratulations on your win, Yuri.”

With that, Chris ended the call.

Ten minutes later, he was still staring at the ceiling, and the room around him began to take shape in the darkness. Swiping his hand across his face in frustration, he leaned over to turn on the bedside lamp and sat up in bed. It was early yet, and he could tell he wouldn’t be getting back to sleep anytime soon. He threw on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, ran a hand through his curls to correct the damage done by the flat hotel pillow, and slipped on a pair of sandals as he headed out the door. He pressed the button for the lobby in the elevator and hoped the rest of the figure skating community was either out celebrating elsewhere or asleep like he’d have preferred to be. He didn’t want to make small talk with anyone, nor did he feel like wandering the streets in search of a deserted bar.

Chris kept his eyes downcast so as to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. It was a spacious lounge, and there were a number of seats available at the bar. He slid into one and motioned to the bartender.

“Sangria, por favor.”

Drink in hand, Chris gathered the courage to sweep his eyes across the lounge, checking for familiar faces. A few seats over he spied the infamous King JJ, nursing a beer alone. Chris tried to turn away before the other man raised his head, but he was too slow. JJ spotted him and gave a small wave and a strained half-smile before returning his eyes to the bar surface. It was so unlike his usual cocksure attitude that Chris felt a pang of empathy in his heart. The memory of their collective dismissal of the Canadian skater on the night of Viktor’s engagement was what stirred enough pity in him for Chris to feel obliged to grab his drink and move down the bar.

“Congrats on your medal,” he offered as he settled on the stool beside JJ.

“Oh,” he said, surprise on his face. “Er, thanks.”

“You don’t sound very happy,” Chris observed.

JJ shook his head, his eyes shifting away. Chris reached over and grasped his shoulder.

“It’s okay,” Chris said. “I’m not mad. I get it—you wanted something better than third place. We all did.”

“But you didn’t–”

Chris put a hand up to interrupt him. “You don’t have to tell me, I know.”

They sat in something of a companionable silence for a few minutes. JJ eventually gestured to the bartender for another round.

“Shouldn’t you be celebrating with your fiancée?” Chris asked. “She must be proud of you, even if bronze isn’t quite to your satisfaction.”

“We fought about it.” JJ tipped his head back, eyes to the ceiling. “She doesn’t like it when I get like this. It’s not her fault.”

“So she ditches you the night of your GPF bronze?” Chris raised an eyebrow.

JJ just shrugged before asking, “Don’t you have anyone to commiserate with you tonight?”

“Nope,” Chris said, taking a long sip of sangria. “This year he has someone else, so I’m on my own.”

JJ’s eyes went wide and it seemed like he was about to ask, but Chris firmly shook his head, hoping it would translate as: No, I don’t want to talk about Viktor right now.

JJ took the hint. “So what brings you down to the hotel bar, then?”

Chris snorted into his glass. “I was woken up by an ungrateful kitten and couldn’t fall back to sleep. What about you?”

“Leo de la Iglesia called to ask if I knew where Otabek was. Couldn’t fall back to sleep, either.”

“Yuri was looking for Otabek, too,” Chris said with a frown. He didn’t know Otabek well, but he hadn’t thought he had many friends in skating. “I hope he’s okay.”

“Beks can take care of himself.” JJ took a swig of beer, downing almost half of it in one swallow.

“You two are friends?” Chris asked.

JJ hesitated, then met his eyes. Chris had never noticed how blue they were before. “Something like that,” he said finally.

Chris had never seen JJ and Otabek interact. He wondered if there was a story there, but didn’t think it would be fair to ask, since he refused to talk about his own messy skater entanglement. He tried to imagine it, the two of them hanging out together, matching undercuts and polar opposite demeanors: Otabek silent and stoic, animated JJ chatting away. Maybe that made them compatible.

Tonight, JJ wasn’t nearly as boisterous as Chris had come to expect from him.

“Can I ask you something?” JJ asked after a few minutes of slow, silent drinking. Chris nodded. “How do you keep going? You lost to Viktor for years, and then this year…”

I don’t know if I’ll keep going after this.

“First of all, you’re… what? 20?”

“19,” JJ corrected him, cheeks turning pink.

“Even better. You have plenty of time to come out ahead, you’re just getting started. But if you really want to know, I just wanted to keep doing my own thing. Viktor had his ethereal thing, Georgi was always overdramatic and theatrical, you do your music collaborations and hand signs, now Plisetsky with his precious angelic act. And I was always the one pushing the boundaries of what was competition appropriate.”

“Your whole sex routine,” JJ clarified, his cheeks darkening. Chris maybe enjoyed that blush a little bit too much.

“Yes, that. Probably lost me a few points here and there, but I enjoy it and my fans love it, so I do it for them and for me. Except now Yuuri is doing it, too. And apparently he’s doing it better.”

Because he has Viktor.

“I don’t think so. He doesn’t go as far, he doesn’t, um… finish.” JJ couldn’t even maintain eye contact anymore.

“Aw, mignon, you’re precious,” Chris brushed JJ’s forearm teasingly with the tips of his fingers. Despite his evident embarrassment, JJ didn’t pull away. Chris let his hand linger. “Believe me, my real O face is much better than that.”

“Maybe you could, uh, show me…”

“Interesting proposition,” Chris said, leaning back in his stool with a raised eyebrow, stalling for time. He appraised JJ, his broad shoulders, thick dark hair, and bright blue eyes. Chris tracked the progress of JJ’s blush spreading from his cheeks, to the tips of his ears, and starting down his neck… Sure, Chris has been flirting, but he hadn’t expected anything to come of it. “What about the fiancée? You’re fighting, but are you sure…”

“We have an agreement.”

Aha. The Otabek thing suddenly made more sense.

Chris motioned to the bartender for their bill. JJ insisted on splitting it in half even though Chris’s sangria was definitely more expensive than JJ’s cheap beer.

As they made their way toward the elevator, Chris considered backing out—after all, using sex to help drown his creeping depression probably wasn’t the healthiest choice, but otherwise he’d just be sitting in the bar drowning it in alcohol, alone. Neither option was ideal, but he figured if this was his last season, it might also be his last chance to fuck a hot 19-year-old figure skater.

“We can go to my room,” Chris offers. “I’m not rooming with anyone.”

JJ smiles, and Chris thinks it’s the first time he’s smiled all night.

Later, after they’d showered (briefly getting distracted under the steamy water and having to wash all over again), as JJ began to get dressed to return to the room he was sharing with his parents, Chris stared a bit too long at the slope of his back, the casual ease with which he navigated the room gathering up his phone and wallet.

“What? Are there marks I need to cover?” JJ asked, tensing up. Chris shook his head quickly, hating the sudden reappearance of JJ’s anxiety. He’d only noticed JJ’s extreme nerves for the first time at the short program, but now it felt like Chris had become supernaturally attuned to it.

“No, just admiring the view,” he said with a smirk, but then added more seriously. “It’s good to see you look so relaxed.”

“Oh.” There was that lovely blush again. “It’s good that, uh… at least one person isn’t disappointed in me today.”

Chris could feel his heart beating heavily in his chest. He smiled softly.

“I’m glad.”

When JJ closed the door behind him, Chris released a long sigh.

At least he has someone who cares enough to be disappointed in him.

He turned over and felt the moisture gathering at the corners of his eyes soak into the pillowcase.