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On thin ice

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[Turning Edge Magazine – Worlds like we’ve never seen them before! – Published March 23rd, 2020]

CORDERO DEFENDS GOLD

Where there are expectations, there’s Micah Cordero . The twenty-two-year-old from the USA wowed the Montreal crowd by claiming his second consecutive World Championships gold, a feat last achieved by Nicodemus Petty in 2001.

When it comes to winning gold, Cordero makes sure to do it in style. His winning performance earned him two new world records, a 198.26 in the Free Program score and a 299.32 in the Combined Total score. This marks his second season undefeated and Micah is looking to make that three next season. Read more about his plans for next season in our exclusive interview on Page 52.

 

THE PITCH NAME RISES BACK TO GLORY

After a rough season last year, missing both Europeans and Worlds podiums, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch made a comeback this week by winning a silver medal, only two points behind Cordero . Having just turned twenty last month, this marks the first World Championships medal for the Briton and the first World Championships medal for Great Britain since 1992, when the World Champion title was claimed by his own mother, Natasha Grimm-Pitch.

It’s no coincidence that we see the Pitch name at the very top of elite figure skating again. Basilton started skating at just three years old, under the watchful eye of his mother, who remained his coach until her tragic death in 2009. Pitch now lives and trains in Moscow full time, under Coach Alexander Ryabkov , who also coached the young Angelina Nuriyeva to her World Championships gold this week. (More on the ladies’ event on the next page.)

When asked about his plans for next season, the twenty-year-old was reticent, saying he will reveal everything in due time.

 

BRONZE MEDAL FOR THE YOUNG RUSSIAN STAR

Possibly one of the biggest surprises of this World Championships was seventeen-year-old Russian, Kirill Sokolovsky . Living and training in Saint Petersburg, this marks Sokolovsky’s first season as a senior. The 2019 Junior World Champion suffered a fall in the Short Program but made a strong comeback in the Free Skate, scoring three points behind Pitch and taking third place overall. 

Young Sokolovsky has ambitious plans for next season, saying that he wants to be the first man to break the 200-point barrier in the Free Program and the 300-point barrier in the Combined Total score. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Goodbye, yellow brick road

Interviews, butt pads, packing your life up, childhood pacts and does Baz Pitch ever sleep?

 

SIMON

The only thing possibly more nerve-wracking than competitions are the interviews. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of those – the last time I spoke to the press was last November, when I got bronze at Internationaux de France and I had to sit at the press conference. But that wasn’t even that bad, since Baz Pitch and Eric Walsh were the other two medallists and the press mostly paid attention to them.

I have no Baz or Eric to distract the media attention away from me today. I just have to suck it up and do it.

I mean, if it were up to me, I’d turn it down. When the email from Turning Edge magazine came, requesting an interview with me, I ignored it for a full day before Penny told me I should take the opportunity to clear things up about my coaching change.

So now I’m here, at the café next to Mitali’s rink, waiting for the reporter to show up. I’m surrounded by a bunch of parents who are probably waiting for their children to finish practice. Some of them are eyeing me and I try to pretend I don’t notice. I suppose I’m still a big deal in the British skating community, but I sometimes wish I wasn’t. The attention makes me uncomfortable and the parents are relentless. Some even come to me after practice and bombard me with questions such as what training do I recommend for their little Timmy to become as successful as me, as if it’s my place to answer that. As if I’m successful.

The reporter finally shows up. I recognize his face from various competitions and press conferences, but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him.

“Simon, right? Hello. I’m Jonathan Grayson.” He has an American accent.

“Hi,” I stand up to shake his hand. The waiter shows up and Jonathan orders a cappuccino. I still have half a glass of Ribena in front of me from when I was waiting for him. I watch him set up a recording device on the table.

“So, Simon, shall we get into it? How are you?”

“I’m good, thanks. How are you?” I can already feel my palms getting sweaty. I most definitely am not good, but you can’t exactly say you’re nervous as fuck right to the reporter’s face.

“I’m excellent. Okay, so, let’s talk about the World Championships, right? As we all know, you couldn’t attend due to an injury. How is that going now?”

He doesn’t mention that I wasn’t going to Worlds even before getting injured. I messed it up big time at the European Championships and the British Skating Federation pulled me out of the Worlds team. It’s not like I was Britain’s hope for gold anyway – more like Britain’s hope for 15th place. But if there was even a slight ray of hope that the feds would change their mind, it all went out the window in February, when I got a stress fracture in my right foot.

“Well, the injury’s all better, thankfully. I still have to limit my training a bit, but I should be back to normal in time for the next season. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t go to Worlds, but I did watch the livestreams and I’m very happy with how my teammates did. I know both Agatha and Basilton have worked very hard for this,” I say.

It’s true. Baz especially blew everyone’s minds by getting a silver medal. I mean, he’s been teetering in the top five of men’s figure skating for a while now, but he hasn’t won a Worlds medal yet. And Agatha was 10th, which is also an amazing result.

“Yes, indeed!” Jonathan agrees. “A silver medal for Britain, that’s something we haven’t seen in a long time in figure skating. And all of you used to train together as kids, right?”

I relax a bit. Of course the press would want to talk about my more successful teammates. Most people would be angry about that, but I’m actually relieved. I can talk about Agatha and Baz – even though I haven’t seen either of them in nearly six months. As long as I don’t have to talk about myself, it’s fine. 

“Yes, we’ve known each other for a long time,” I nod.

“Tell me, what was that like?” he asks. I don’t know how to answer... Does he want me to tell him that it was always clear that Baz would one day be a Worlds medallist? (It was. At least to me.) Or does he want general anecdotes?

“Oh, well, Agatha and I always got on really well and Baz and I didn’t get on at all. Our coaches actually considered putting us into separate groups because we were always in each other’s hair,” I say, deciding to settle for general anecdotes.

“Really? What did you guys do?”

I pause for a moment, deciding what to say. I mean, there are a lot of reasons why I didn’t like Baz as a kid – the constant berating... sly comments about my skating, how he was always hissing at me to get out of his way (even when I wasn’t in his way!) and let’s not forget about the time he actually pushed me down the stairs! But I can’t tell Jonathan any of those – I’ll probably get an angry text from Baz or his aunt if I do- Something about ruining his reputation.   

“Well, um… I started training in the top group when I was twelve, and obviously, I was the worst one there. So, for example, I was learning my double axel and Baz was on the other side of the rink learning his triple axel. And I remember he had these butt pads because learning the triple axel hurts and one day, I got really jealous because he was a better skater than me, so I took his butt pads and I tried flushing them down the toilet. Obviously it didn’t work, but that earned me extra push-ups for the whole week,” I say. Jonathan laughs so loudly that other people at the café turn to look at us and I know I’ve struck gold.

“Oh my… what a great story! But you guys get along now, right?”

I want to say that if occasionally acknowledging my existence counts as getting along, then yes, Baz and I get along. It’s not like I see Baz that often anyway – only at training camps and competitions and most of the time, at competitions, we’re all just focusing on ourselves and don’t really speak to other competitors until after the competition is over.

“I mean, we’re both adults now and he trains abroad so I hardly ever see him,” I say. “But I can assure you it’s been a while since either of us stole each other’s skate guards.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. Speaking of training abroad, you’ve recently announced that you parted ways with David Mage and will be moving to Montreal to train with Ebeneza Petty, right? Can you talk a bit about that?”

“Um, well, yeah. I’ve decided to switch coaches because I felt like it was time for a change. You know, I’ve trained with Davy all my life and I wanted to get a different perspective on my skating, so when I was recovering from my stress fracture, I reached out to Ebb and she said she’d be happy to coach me,” I say.

You have to sugar-coat your answer. The truth is, I was getting nowhere in London. Or better yet, I was getting somewhere… until I wasn’t.

I did great as a junior – I have two gold Junior World Championships medals to my name – but when I was eighteen, I started competing in the seniors and that’s when it all went south for me. I’ve messed up most of my competitions in the past two seasons, most notably Europeans this year. And I mean, it’s mostly my fault… but I do think maybe I’d do better as a competitor if Davy did better as a coach. Or at least, that’s what Penny always says and I try to believe that it’s true. Because if that’s not true, then I’m just a shit skater, aren’t I? Then I’m just someone who peaked as a junior and the rest of my career is a write-off.

The final straw came when I got my injury, though. After I was cut from the Worlds team, Davy tried to convince the federation to let me back in if I learned a quad lutz by the beginning of March. Quad lutz is the hardest jump in figure skating and learning it in five weeks is just plain impossible. I ended up with a stress fracture and I was lucky it was just a stress fracture.

But I’m not supposed to say any of that out loud. You’re not supposed to speak badly of your old coach, even if they kind of messed up your career. Even if they made you almost quit skating.

“So when are you moving to Canada?” Jonathan asks, bringing me back from my own thoughts.

“In a few weeks,” I say. “We’ve arranged for me to start training there in June.” The thought of moving to Canada is still so scary to me. Originally, I only wanted to move my training base over to Mitali’s rink, which would be great because it’s also in London and Penny and I would be rink mates then – but when I told Mitali about it, she told me she’s not sure her rink can accommodate my training needs and that my best chances are to go abroad. She’s still letting me train at her rink while I’m waiting to move to Canada, though, which is nice.

“And have you thought about your plans for next season?”

“Well, yes, but I’d like to discuss them with my new coach first. I will try to make it to Worlds this year, though,” I say. And I will try to not fuck up every competition I go to.

“Alright, well, I’m looking forward to seeing you next season. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to move on to this game called This or That. I’m going to give you two options and you choose whichever you like best. The readers have sent in some suggestions…”

 


 

“I can’t believe you’re moving to Canada tomorrow, Si,” Penny sighs, laying back on my rug. She was supposed to help me pack, but all she’s done so far was throw socks at me and smother my cat Merlin with affection. 

“Yeah, I know,” I say, looking at a pile of my training shirts. I have to decide which of those I’m going to take to Montreal and which I’m not. To say that I’m scared to leave for Canada would be an understatement. My last week in London was basically just spent packing and filling out a ton of paperwork. You’d think the federation would arrange everything for you, but it’s not that easy. I barely even had any time to train this week, let alone think about the fact that I’ll be moving across the world.

But now that I’m staring at my training shirts and my open suitcase, it’s starting to hit me that this is real. I’m actually leaving.

What if Canada is actually terrible? What if I can’t live on my own? Will I even be able to find my new flat? And I don’t speak any French!

I need to stop spiralling. I’m not in Canada yet . I still have one sleep and a seven hour plane flight to go. And my mum is coming with me for the first week and she always knows what to do. I take a deep breath and start sorting through my training shirts.

“Remember the pact we made when we were twelve?” Penny asks.

“That we’ll buy our own rink and go to the Olympics together?”  I check with her. Penny and I made a lot of pacts over the years. We also had no idea how much rinks actually cost - or how hard it is to get to the Olympics. 

“That’s the one,” Penny nods. “And now you’re going to Canada and we’ll never get our rink!” It might sound like she’s unsupportive, but I know she’s just teasing me. Penny was the one who’s been urging me to change coaches for over a year. She was the one who prepared a list of all the possible coaches for me to go to and the one who sat next to me when I first dialled Ebb with shaky hands. I think if I suddenly decided to not go to Canada, she’d drag me there herself.

“We’ll also never go to the Olympics together,” I remind her. Penny stopped competing two years ago to focus on university and I don’t think she’s planning on starting again.

“Who knows, that might still happen,” Penny shrugs. “I might become a judge. I might become your coach!”

“I thought your mum’s rink didn’t accommodate my training needs,” I say.

“We’d have our own rink,” Penny rolls her eyes. “In Canada.”

I scoff and get back to sorting out my clothes. Penny pulls her phone out of the pocket of her hoodie and starts scrolling through it.

 “Oh my god!” she half yells after a few minutes of silence. She rolls onto her stomach, looking at something on her phone. “Basilton Pitch announces split from Coach Alexander Rybakov,” she reads.

“What?!” I rush to her and try to pull her phone from her hands, but she holds it out of my reach while continuing to read.

“Yesterday, while doing an interview for Turning Edge Magazine, European champion and world silver medallist, Basilton Pitch, announced that he has parted ways with Russian coach Alexander Rybakov and will be leaving Moscow to train in Canada with Coach Ebeneza Petty.”

Wait. What?

“What?! Why would he do that?”

“Hold on, I’m getting there,” Penny swats me off, then turns her attention back to the article. “His teammate, Simon Snow, has also recently announced his switch to the same coach. When asked about the reason behind the change, Pitch said it was a matter of a personal nature and that he would be giving no further comment. He has disclosed that he reached out to Petty before the World Championships, but has requested that she keep it a secret until everything was ready. Rybakov has so far made no comments.”

“What the-” I mutter, but Penny lifts up her finger to tell me she’s not done yet.

“Coach Ebeneza Petty is the head of the Creuset Skating Club in Montreal, Canada. She and her twin brother, Nicodemus Petty, went down in skating history when they each took gold at the women’s and men’s figure skating events at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002,” she reads.

“Okay, we know that,” I say. “Does it say anything else about Baz?”

“It says he’s on tour in Japan right now and he’s set to start training in Montreal in mid-June. Looks like you two will be rink mates again.”

“What the fuck,” I mutter again, sitting on my bed. I don’t believe it. I actually don’t believe it. Baz was doing amazing with Rybakov, especially this season – he won the European Championships (again) and was second at Worlds. Why would he move on from the coach he was clearly thriving with? Especially Rybakov . He’s the head of the most elite figure skating club in the world. You can’t even decide to train there, you have to be invited. Baz was invited when he was sixteen and he’s been in Russia ever since, winning medals at nearly every competition he went to. Why would he leave?

Penny tosses me her phone and I read the article again. This has got to be a joke, right? A rumour. Baz can’t be leaving Russia – it’s practically his second home!

I go back and forth on the validity of the article and then I realize I could just check with him. I pull out my own phone and find Baz’s number in my contacts.

SS: Ur coming to Montreal too???

“Did you text Baz?” Penny asks. “You know he won’t answer you.”

I know that. Baz isn’t particularly good at answering texts and I’m pretty sure it’s way past midnight in Japan right now, so he’s probably asleep. However, much to my surprise, my phone buzzes only a few seconds later.

BP: Surprise

BP: Although, I must inform you, I no longer own butt pads so you’ll have to find other ways of coping with your jealousy.

 

BAZ

Here’s the thing; I could’ve stuck with Rybakov, and I would have, if I had any less self-respect. Usually, skaters can overlook a lot of political bullshit from their coaches if it gets them the medals, but I’m not one of those people. I can’t be coached by someone who thinks I should be killed because of my sexuality.

I mean, he’s a figure skating coach. You’d think being involved with what’s considered to be the gayest sport in the world would make you at least a little bit open-minded, but apparently not. (Also, figure skating being a gay sport is just a stereotype rooted in the belief that men doing any sort of a “soft sport” are gay.) (Skating is not a soft sport – I have a medical record to prove it.)

I didn’t tell Rybakov I was gay. He’d just out me and I don’t want to be out publicly (it’s not anybody’s business), so I told him I didn’t think this was a good training environment for me anymore and that I’d be leaving after Worlds. It would’ve been unremarkable if I hadn’t won silver. Now people will be wondering why I left the coach who helped me get the best result in my senior career.

People wondering why I left Rybakov isn’t even my biggest concern right now. It’s Simon Snow. It always is.

I didn’t know I’d be training with him again. I was just in the process of getting the final details sorted out when he announced his coaching change.

At first I was pleasantly surprised (that was before I read who his new coach was). I always thought Snow would benefit greatly from a coaching change. He’s a brilliant skater. Madly talented. He started when he was eleven, which is incredibly late for a figure skater (some would say too late, but those people have never met Simon Snow), and by the time he was fourteen, he was already competing internationally in the junior circuit. I’ve never seen anyone learn so fast.

The very first time he showed up to practice in my group, I immediately hated him. Not only did he have zero consideration for the rink etiquette, I hated how much time and effort Davy put into coaching him.

Snow was the charity case, always getting special lessons and extra attention, and yes, it was all for the sake of catching him up to speed with the rest of us, but my mother’s policy with Watford Skating School was to never accept children his age into top groups. I mean, who did he think he was? You can’t just waltz into the sport at eleven years old and expect to make the national team. (Even though that’s exactly what he did, the bastard.) The rest of us put years of effort into this and he got his triples within three years of training.

Not that I was jealous – I’m a Pitch, we don’t get jealous – but I was annoyed. He had no business being this good. 

And there was something else. I hated him because, well... I hated what the sight of him did to me. Granted, I always figured I wasn’t straight, but until that point, I was able to ignore it. Yes, I didn’t like girls, but I didn’t like anyone. Then, when I was twelve, Simon bloody Snow showed up at my rink and I was suddenly hit with a very real realization that I am in fact gay as fuck. This didn’t combine very well with the fact that I was already getting teased at school for being gay because I did figure skating and ballet and while I generally didn’t care much about what other kids had to say about me (I was better than them anyways), that period of my life still wasn’t very fun. I just wanted Simon Snow gone , as if he was somehow the culprit in all this.

Of course, it wasn’t his fault. And of course, he didn’t go away – and neither did my stupid crush on him. In fact, over the four years we’ve trained together, it developed into something much bigger and much more terrible.

I thought moving to Russia would sort it out. I was sixteen then and old enough to realize that being in love with your rival is not something you want to do. Being in love with anyone is not something you want to do in an elite sport – it’s just a distraction and you can’t afford distractions if you want to be the best.

Plus, I thought the sudden 1,800 miles worth of distance between us would make it easier for me to get over him. Out of sight, out of mind, they say. It didn’t quite work.  The first time I saw Snow again, after six months of being in Russia, I got slammed in the face with all those old feelings again. 

It was about two years ago that I decided to stop trying to get over my feelings for Snow and instead, just decided to live with them. It’s not like I saw him often anyway, only a few times a year. I could live with that.

I don’t know if I can live with seeing him every day for five hours. I really don’t.

But it’s too late to do anything about it. I could technically switch coaches again, but the federation would take months to process another coaching change, in which case I'd be going into the new season without a coach, which is never a good idea.

Plus, I actually do want to train with Ebb. She was one of my mother’s old students and I’m hoping she picked up some of her training methods. And she’s always been very kind to me when I ran into her at competitions.

So really, I don’t have much of a choice here. I can either get over Snow – or I can learn how to live with my feelings.

Either way, I only have about two weeks left to do it. There’s only one more week of this tour and then I’ll return to England, where I’ll have a few days to pack my life up (again) – and then I’m off to Canada. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Montreal

Doors that (don’t) bite, a gang of young Canadians, jet lag, tiny rainbow flags, a set of new beginnings and the art of fucking up your senior debut. They say love your neighbour as you love yourself but that doesn’t really apply that well when you have low self-esteem.

 

SIMON

The only thing more nerve-wracking than interviews is changing your coach for the first time in your life.

I stop in front of the Creuset Rink doors, trying to muster the courage to go in. A little kid hurries past me, dragging his skating bag behind him. Right. It’s just a rink. And I’ve talked to Ebb before – it’s not like this is my first time meeting her.

“The doors don’t bite, you know,” a man’s voice comes behind me, sounding amused. I quickly turn around. It’s Shepard Lee, one of the American skaters. He smiles at me and extends his arm. “I don’t think we’ve met properly before. The name’s Shepard.”

“Simon.” I shake his hand even though it feels weird to shake hands with someone I technically already know. (Well, I don’t know Shepard, but I know who he is.)

“Ebb told me you were coming. About time if you ask me; I was getting really tired of being the only senior skater at her rink,” Shepard says, pushing the door open. I have no choice but to follow him.

“You’re the only one here?” I ask.

“Well, generally not, but Ikumi is staying in Japan until July so right now, it’s just me versus a horde of juniors and let me tell you, they are a handful. Do you want to know how many times I had to be a cameraman for their Tik-Toks in the past month?” he complains as we zig-zag through the corridors. It makes me laugh and I momentarily forget my nerves.

That is, until he pushes one door open and suddenly, we’re at the rink.

It’s not hard to spot Ebb; she’s one of the two adults on the ice, currently watching a bunch of ten-year-olds doing double axels.

“Ebb!” Shepard cups his hands to call her. “I brought your newest asset!”

Ebb comes to the boards and pulls me into a hug. “Hello. How are you? How was the flight? You didn’t have any problems getting here, right?” she asks. It makes me feel slightly more at ease.

“No, no, everything was fine,” I shake my head. “My mum’s here with me for the first week to help me get settled in anyway.”

“Oh, that’s great. Do you think I could meet her?”

“Um, yeah, sure, I’ll tell her,” I nod.

“Great! And at some point today, we’ll have a proper meeting to discuss the plans for next season, but for now, Shep can show you around. I’d do it myself, but these little rascals can’t be left unsupervised,” she says, nodding her head at the girls who had been doing double axels before. Since their coach’s attention had left them, they had reverted to just standing on the ice and chatting.

“Sure, I can do that. Come on,” Shepard waves at me to follow him. “So, how come you decided to train here?” he asks, leading me alongside the rink.

“Um…” I have no idea how to answer him. Why did I choose Ebb over all the other coaches I could have gone to? “It just felt right to come here,” I tell him truthfully. Shepard nods.

“Well,” Shepard pushes open another door. We’re suddenly in a small, white room lined with benches and clothing hooks. “I think you made a good choice. Ebb is great. Also this is our changing room – just drop your stuff wherever.”

He pushes his bag towards one of the benches, but I’m hesitant to drop mine off. At the Watford rink, everyone had their own assigned place and you didn’t mess with that. Shepard notices my hesitation.

“Seriously whenever. We’re the only ones here – the juniors have their own changing room just down the hall,” he says. I finally drop my bag next to his. “We do share a bathroom with them, though, so if you ever go to the toilet and walk into a cloud of Axe body spray, that’s probably Joel.”

I wrinkle my nose. “Well, this gives me flashbacks to secondary school.”

Shepard’s face breaks out into a grin. “I’m glad our experiences are universal. Come on, grab the things you need for warmup and I’ll show you the rest.”

He takes me upstairs, where the gym and the ballet room are and then we go to the warm-up area, which is a flat surface on top of the stands, overlooking the rink. There are some kids already warming up there and they all stop to look at me curiously.

“Kids, this is Simon Snow. Simon, these are our juniors, Joel, Sam, Emma, Lea, Loic and Ophelie,” he points out each of the kids. I’m going to have trouble remembering their names.

“What quads can you do?” one of the boys asks. They all look at me like a gang of squirrels when you bring them a packet of nuts. (The squirrels in London are relentless.) (I wonder if there are squirrels here.) (I should probably not be comparing these children to squirrels.)

“Um, the toe loop and the salchow,” I say, shifting awkwardly. I know there’s a Canadian junior with a quad lutz, but I can’t remember his name. What if this is actually him and I’m about to get my abilities judged by a fourteen-year-old?

“Cool!” the same boy (apparently not the Canadian wunderkind) says, a grin spreading across his face. “Can you show us later?”

“Um, okay.”

“Sam just started learning his quad toe this spring and he’s very excited about it,” Shepard explains, seeing the confusion on my face. He turns to the juniors. “Okay, you’ll have plenty of time for getting acquainted later, go back to warming up!” he orders them. One junior makes a face at him, but they soon scatter back to their yoga mats and jumping ropes.

“I’m practically their babysitter,” Shepard mutters.

 

I don’t know what I expected of my first day here, but I didn’t expect it to go this well. (Well, I do know what I expected; to get nervous and forget how to jump and for Ebb to say I’m a hopeless case and send me back to London and then I’d have to retire because going to Canada was a last resort for me.) (Penny says I tend to over-catastrophize things and I think I’m beginning to see what she means.)

Turns out Ebb didn’t even let me jump for the first two training sessions. She made me work on my skating skills and steps and artistry. 

Truthfully, I suck at artistry. I mean, I’m relatively okay at emoting to music, but artistry is not just about that; it’s about speed and flow and the transitions between the technical elements. It’s about changing direction, using your edges and keeping your audience engaged.

I’m not good at any of that. I started skating so late that I had to catch up on the technical elements very fast if I ever wanted to make the national team, and that didn’t leave me with much time to work on my artistry. And everyone always says I’m more of a technical skater – but what do you do when your technical elements start to betray you? I have nothing to fall back on, nothing to bring my score up when I mess up my jumps. (And I usually mess up my jumps.)

But after spending two hours just working on my steps, speed and stability, I feel a bit better about myself – like I’ve actually improved a bit. And Ebb told me that she thinks the reason I mess up my jumps is due to performance anxiety, which can apparently be fixed with therapy. (I didn’t know that. Davy always just told me to train harder.)

I know it’s too soon to say – it’s only the first day – but I think I made the right choice, moving to Canada.

I think something might actually become of me here.

 


 

BAZ

So far, I only like one thing about Montreal; the close proximity of my new rink. It’s only a ten-minute walk away, as opposed to Russia or England, where I had to commute for at least forty minutes every morning.

However, I do not like that there are maple trees everywhere. (Thankfully, allergy season is almost over.) I don’t like that milk comes in a bag instead of a carton. I don’t like the constant French – even if I am fluent in it. It’s just exhausting.

I definitely don’t like the absolute monster of a jet-lag that coming to Montreal has cursed me with. I am never, ever travelling from Japan to England to Canada within the same week again. If I just travelled from Japan to Canada, I reckon I would’ve been fine, but that in-between stop in England is what left my circadian rhythm very, very confused and possibly irreparably damaged.

I actually feel undead. I feel worse than that. Melatonin supplements don’t help me. Coffee doesn’t help me. And I have five hours of training scheduled for today.

If I were a lesser man, I would just call my new coach and tell her I won’t be coming in for another week because my brain gets unhealthily attached to certain time zones. But I’ve never been one to cancel practice over such a miniscule thing as four hours of sleep, so I grab my skating bag and my coffee (maybe the third cup will do the trick) and head to the rink.

I was lucky enough that Worlds was held in Montreal this March, so I had the opportunity to visit the rink and meet everyone after the competition was over. Ebb and I already discussed my plans for next season, although I suppose we’ll go into more detail in the following weeks.

For now, all I have to do is stop by her office before practice to give her my new short program music. I put it together before last season even ended, because I knew I’d be leaving Russia and my choreographer only works with Rybakov’s students. It’s a shame, really; I don’t get along with most choreographers (they don’t like that I make half of the program myself and just use them to fill in the gaps), but I got along with her. Now, it’s going to be hard finding someone to choreograph my free program.

I’m so wrapped up in thinking about my program that I completely forget to think about the fact that I’ll be seeing Snow again, after six months, until I actually see him.

Well, hear him.

“No, no! Agh!”

My head snaps up just in time to see Snow drop a hockey stick on the grassy patch next to the rink parking lot and run off after something. I watch his curls bounce, golden brown in the sunlight.

I’m so fucked. I might have had time to mentally prepare myself, but seeing him again after a long time always does things to my heart.

At the very least he didn’t see me before he ran off god knows where. I don’t think I could handle talking to him without blushing right now. (Why does he always look more and more beautiful?) (Is it too late to switch coaches again?)

“Oh, hey, Baz!” I hear a familiar voice snapping me out of my thoughts. I look over and see the American skater, Shepard, leaning on a hockey stick, his tattoos snaking down his arms. (Shepard is the only skater I know who has this many tattoos. I respect him endlessly for it.)

“What’s possessed Snow?”  I ask.

“Oh, we’re playing floorball and he keeps accidentally making air shots,” Shepard laughs. That sounds like Snow; he played hockey before he started skating. “Do you want to join us?”

“I don’t want to get decapitated,” I say, only half-jokingly. “And I have to go inside.”

“Alright, well, I’ll see you on the ice then!”

 

It’s not hard to find Ebb once I’m inside the building. She’s kneeling by one of the rink-side benches, helping a little boy tie his skates. The boy notices me first and his jaw drops.

Coucou ,” I tell him because I’m not sure he speaks English. That makes Ebb look up.

“Oh, Baz! You’re here! Just give me a sec, yeah?”

“No problem,” I reply, coolly. The boy is still staring at me and I’m not sure where to look.

“All done,” Ebb says to the boy in French and lifts him back to his feet. “Alright?”

The boy nods and Ebb ruffles his hair. “Go back to your group,” she tells him. I watch him step back on the ice and waddle to one of the other coaches. He can’t be more than five years old.

“I remember when you were this little,” Ebb says, in English this time. “Your mother used to bring you to all my practices.”

I smile at that. I have vague memories of that, but I was still very young when Ebb retired and moved back to Canada. I don’t remember her brother at all, since he retired before her.

“Ah, come with me before I get all emotional,” she shakes her head. “You said you have short program music for me, right? I want to hear it.”

I follow her into her office and give her the USB with my music on it. She immediately plugs it into her computer and gives it a listen.

“Oh, I think this would work very nicely for you. You said it’s already done, yeah?” she asks as the last notes of Vivaldi’s Winter die out.

“Yes, I choreographed it with Irina Nevskaya,” I nod.

“Are you going to show it today? Or would you like to spend a few weeks just working on your technical elements first? We usually start working on programs in July but Simon is starting next week already, and since yours is already choreographed, I’ll leave it entirely up to you as to when you want to start practicing it.”

“I can start today,” I nod. “But yes, I’d like to focus more of my training on the technical for now, because I need to get my quad lutz back,” I say. Ebb looks surprised when I mention the quad lutz. I don’t blame her; only a handful of skaters can do this jump and all of them are my rivals. If I want to win the World Championships next year (and I do), I need to land it.

“Have you landed it yet?” she asks.

“A few times. I’ve had to put practicing it on hold because of the tour, though, so it’s probably going to take a while for me to land it again,” I say. I am regretting dropping my quad lutz practice, but someone’s always filming on tour and I didn’t want my lutz attempts to end up on someone’s Instagram stories for all my rivals to see. I want to keep it a secret until it’s ready.

“Okay, I’ll tell our technical coach and you two can come up with a strategy.”

I nod, getting ready to stand up, but Ebb stops me. “Just one more thing,” she says. I sit back down. “About your old coach. I know you said you don’t want to discuss it with the public, but if there’s anything that could possibly cause an issue here, I’d like to know about it.”

Of course, I probably should’ve seen this coming. The number of times I’ve been asked about Rybakov since I announced my coaching change has been appalling. Except, unlike most people, Ebb actually has a good reason to want an explanation.

“No, it’s most definitely not going to be an issue here,” I say, trying to look as bored as possible. Should I tell her? Only one person in the skating world knows I’m gay and that’s Agatha. Maybe I should tell Ebb – she’d keep it a secret. After all, if anyone knows what it’s like, it’s her.

“Are you sure?” Ebb asks. I stare at the tiny rainbow flag tucked in her pen holder.

“Positive.”

 

SIMON

When Shepard and I walk into the changing room, I immediately notice a black bag tucked neatly under a bench.

“Whose is that?” I ask, stopping in my tracks. Shepard and I are supposed to be the only ones here.

“Baz’s probably. He came in earlier. Didn’t I tell you?”

“Oh,” is all I can think to say. I swallow my nerves. Baz is here.

I don’t actually know much about Baz, even though we’re teammates and have trained together for four years. I may know him from back in England, but I feel like the four years he’s spent in Russia have changed him. He’s become more private. Cut off. He barely speaks to me and he doesn’t even sneer at me anymore. (When we still trained together, he was constantly sneering at me.) (I wonder if that’s going to make a comeback now.)

I know about his mother. Everyone knows about his mother. Natasha Pitch was one of the best skaters of her time, but she was even more successful as a coach. After she retired, she opened Watford Skating School and coached a whole generation of amazing skaters. In figure skating, it was affectionately known as the Natasha Generation, but almost all of the skaters she coached are retired now. Baz is the only one still competing. (I don’t even know if he counts since he was only nine when she died.)

Davy took over Watford after her death and Baz carried on her legacy. When he started competing, he already had a huge amount of support, consisting mostly of his mother’s old fans. (I remember I was dead jealous at that.)

I think Baz would be able to reach the same levels of popularity even without his mother’s name, though. I didn’t want to admit it when I was younger, but I know now that he’s absolutely brilliant. When he skates, it’s hard to look away. He’s got the best artistry out there and he did four quads at Worlds this year, which was actually amazing.

 

When I get on the ice, Baz is already there, showing something on his phone to our technical coach, Mathis. His eyes flicker up at Shepard and I when we enter the rink, but he quickly averts them back to his phone.

Some of the junior girls – Emma and Ophelie – are looking at him and giggling to each other. I think they might be asking for an autograph later, which is a bit odd. After all, they’ll be seeing him every day from now on.

I mean, I guess they’re just excited at the prospect of training with The Great Baz Pitch. I know 13-year-old me would’ve been excited about that. 13-year-old-me did train with Baz Pitch, but he was only getting started in the junior division back then and didn’t have any medals to his name yet. I still thought he could win the Olympics one day. I was so jealous.

He did actually qualify for the Olympics two years ago, but he had to withdraw due to an injury. I can’t imagine how terrible that must’ve been for him. But he’s only twenty, just a few months older than me – he still has time for at least one more Olympic cycle in his career.

I don’t think I’ll ever qualify for the Olympics. Technically, I could, and Baz’s success means Great Britain will probably have two or even three entry spots for the 2022 Beijing Olympics – but I think I’ll just get nervous and mess up the qualifications. That’s what happened in 2017 too, when I tried qualifying for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Both Baz and I were seventeen back then. I was still in juniors and I was good (I won the Junior Grand Prix Final that year), so Davy thought I should try qualifying. I was going to move to seniors next year anyway, so the Olympics would’ve been my senior debut, which, let’s be real, would’ve been pretty epic.

It didn’t quite happen that way. I took the ice at Nationals, which was our qualifying event, and that’s when it hit me that this was the real deal. If I qualified, I would be competing with the biggest names on the biggest stage in our sport. I froze – and ended up being 2nd alternate.

I thought it was a small slip-up. Everyone has bad competitions; you can’t avoid it. I really thought I would be okay after that. I went to Junior Worlds that March and ended up breaking all of my personal bests and winning for the second year in a row, so I didn’t really expect things to change when I started competing in the senior division that autumn. But they did.

I don’t know. All those big names… they scare me. How can I compete against Olympic medallists and world champions? The whole summer of 2018, every figure skating media source was talking about me like I was the next big thing, but the moment I stepped off the ice on my first senior competition and saw my scores, I knew I didn’t stand a chance of being good here.

And now I just can’t stop fucking up.

 


 

Baz doesn’t say anything to me for the first two training sessions, but I bump into him as I’m leaving the rink for my lunch break. 

The routine is more or less the same every day here: three hours of training on ice and two hours off ice, with a two hour break in the middle to get lunch. The juniors are hunched over their lunchboxes, doing homework while eating or playing weird games with things they find around the rink, but Shepard and I usually go back to our flats for lunch. Both of us live close enough to the rink to afford it. (I live about ten minutes away by foot and Shepard lives a bit further out, but he has a car.) (Sometimes, we use his car to go to a McDonald’s drive-through.) 

 “So, quad lutz, huh?” I ask as I hold the door open for Baz. I saw him practicing it at the end of our first session today. He fell on every attempt, but a lot of them were fully rotated. It was incredible.

“Just a little something I brought from Russia,” Baz says, his voice bored. I half expect a fancy car to be waiting outside the rink to pick him up, but he continues walking with me.

“I was trying to learn it before the World Championships, but I wasn’t even close to landing it,” I say. I don’t mention that it gave me a stress fracture, because I don’t want to psych him out. I’m not sure Baz can get psyched out, but I’d rather not find out.

“I’ve landed it a few times,” he says nonchalantly; like landing a quad lutz is about as simple as putting your socks on in the morning.

“Are you going to put it in your layout next season?” I ask.

“Yes. Are you?”

“No, I’ve stopped trying it. I’d rather focus on getting my current quads consistent,” I say. Ebb did suggest I learn a new quad, but I feel like I have no business doing that if I can’t even land the quads I do have in competition.

“Your current quads are consistent,” Baz says, his voice slightly tinged with annoyance. Oh great, is he pissed because I’m a bad skater? Well, he’d better get in line then, he’s not the only one.

“Not in competition, they’re not,” I object.

“Yeah, but the problem there is in your head, not your quads. I think you should try and learn a new one – it wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Ha!” I scoff, thinking about my stress fracture and also about all the times I came home and practically covered myself with ice packs when I was learning new quads. That it won’t hurt is possibly the biggest lie you can tell to a figure skater.

I’m also trying to figure out if there’s a hidden ploy behind his words. Is he somehow trying to tank my career? Probably not. I’m not good enough to be considered his rival – and I’m not sure my career can sink any lower.

“Okay, it will hurt you but it will be good for your career,” Baz rolls his eyes. I don’t know if I’m relieved or offended that he doesn’t consider me his rival. I guess a little bit of both.

“Ebb said I could learn the quad loop,” I admit.

“Give it a go. Your triple loop is very solid.”

He’s right about that. It’s the only jump I always land in competition and I’m able to do loop combinations - not many people can do that.

“Yeah, I’ll see,” I shrug. We’re approaching my building now and Baz is still walking beside me. “You don’t have to walk me home, you know,” I say. He furrows his eyebrows.

“I live here, Snow.”

“Wait what? You live here ? In this building?”

“Yes?” he says slowly, looking at me like I’m an idiot.

“Me too! How weird is that?”

“Well, given that we’re both under the same federation, which covers our living costs in Canada, I would say it’s not weird at all,” Baz remarks, pulling out his keys.

“I guess I figured you’d be renting a fancier place.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re rich?” I offer. Baz scoffs but doesn’t say anything. We reach my flat.

As it turns out, he lives just one door down from me – so he was the one I heard moving things around all day yesterday. (The walls here are paper thin – I can hear the couple above me having sex nearly every night.) (I hope Baz doesn’t meet a girl here in Canada because that could get really awkward. I think we share a bedroom wall.)

“Enjoy your lunch, Snow,” Baz says and disappears into his flat before I have the time to say anything.

 

BAZ

Competing against the person you’re in love with means you have to learn how to not let their presence throw you off track. I usually only see Snow for competitions, and I have to keep my focus then – I can’t afford to be distracted by his curls or his smile or the mole on his cheek or the freckles speckled across his forearms. I have a job to do and that job doesn’t involve staring at Simon Snow.

Apparently, ignoring Snow’s presence only works in high pressure environments, though, because I absolutely could not do it today. I found myself staring at the way the muscles in his arm moved as he was tying his skates, or how his eyes glistened when he landed a jump just right, or how he took off his gloves and ran his fingers through his curls.

He’s absolutely stunning.

Watching Simon Snow in practice is like staring at the sun. Unlike in competition, there’s no nervousness tugging on his limbs and ruining his jumps, so his brilliance as a skater really shines through. It’s overwhelming. It gets in your face and you can’t ignore it, even if you want to. He pulls you in and you don’t ever want him to let you go.

There have been many times in my career where I thought I should just drop it all and retire. I love figure skating, but it just gets too much sometimes. You put in everything and you leave everything on the ice, but sometimes, putting everything in isn’t enough. Sometimes it leaves you wondering ‘what even is the point?’

Whenever I’m feeling like that, I always find myself watching Simon’s performances. There’s just something about them – you can see his love for the sport on his face. My favourite one to watch is his free skate at the 2018 Junior Worlds. Not because he won that competition or because he skated clean – I love the way he smiled during his step sequence.

Sometimes, Simon smiling like that is all it takes for me to realize why I love this sport.

Sometimes I think I wouldn’t be able to do this without him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Rhapsody in blue

Lutzes, short programs, a feud with choreographers, image training and being bad at jazz. A little bit of unspoken competition never hurt anybody.

 

SIMON

It doesn’t take Baz long to land his first quad lutz here. We’re on our first training session of the day and I hear a choir of juniors gasp in awe. I look over on the other side of the rink and see Baz in his landing position and know exactly what happened.

Ebb tells him to do it again and he lands it as well, only this time I get to see the jump in its full glory.

Fuck. His quad lutz is actually gorgeous. (I mean, all of Baz’s jumps are – his technique is textbook.) (The only jump he sometimes struggles with is the triple axel. I have no idea why.)

Even though I decided to ditch my attempts to learn this jump, watching Baz land it now is bringing out my old feelings of jealousy. He’s so good – he’s actually going to land it next season.

I’ll never be this good, but I want to try.

I tear my eyes off of Baz and gain speed across the rink and do a triple lutz triple loop combination. I know Baz can’t do this one and it fills me with a small sense of victory.

But when I go to the boards to have some water and catch my breath, I see him dash across the rink and do the exact same combination on the exact same spot I did it. It’s not as good as mine (I can tell he's not used to doing it) but still, he lands it. Afterwards, he doesn’t even look at me, just glances at his tracing on the ice and skates off.

I see how it is. I set my water bottle on the boards and do a few laps around the rink before gaining speed again. This time I decide to go for a sequence of five jumps – quad sal, euler, triple sal, euler and triple sal again. It’s a killer combination that would never be allowed in competition, given that we can’t have more than three jumps in a row, but I sometimes do it just for fun.

After I’m done, I go back to circling the rink and sure enough, a few minutes later, Baz comes down the rink full speed and repeats the same combination. Still, doesn’t even acknowledge my existence. He also did this one better than me.

Ikumi Takahashi, the Japanese skater who just got here this week, is watching us with amusement in her eyes. Nice to know we have an audience.

I decide to give it one last try – I know of a combination Baz surely can’t land. I only land about one quarter of the attempts. Triple axel triple loop. It’s difficult, because you have to land the axel perfectly if you want to pull off the loop. I sometimes do triple axel double loop in competition, since that’s easier, but I only do triple axel triple loop in practice.

I probably shouldn’t be wasting my time and energy on this, but I can’t help myself. I gain speed across the rink and do a triple axel triple loop.

It’s not perfect. I almost come down on the landing and my hand nearly touches the ice but I save it at the last moment. Baz is staring at me but he quickly averts his eyes when I look at him. I smile. Repeat that one, fucker.

He does try, a few minutes later. He does a triple axel just fine but then he pops the loop and only does a single. I see him shake his head in disappointment as he lands. I smirk and look away.

Victory.

Except only moments later, Baz does another quad lutz. He makes a point to look at me this time and I clench my fists. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

I know I can’t be better than Baz, but two can play this game. I’ve never been able to say no to a challenge – and with the look Baz just sent me, it’s definitely a challenge. I find Ebb on the ice surface and skate up to her.

“Ebb. I want to learn the quad loop.”

 


 

BAZ

It’s like watching Snow when we were kids again. The glaring, the unspoken competition – me pushing him because I’m desperate for his attention and him pushing me because pushing is the only thing Snow can do.

It’s pure force with him, always has been, but I can see that Ebb is teaching him how to control himself; how to have powerful step sequences, not just powerful jumps. He’s improving frighteningly fast, and at this pace, he’ll be a realistic threat to everyone next season.

I mean, Snow has always been a realistic threat. He can pack a punch, he just usually doesn’t. But when he skates clean, it’s magnificent.

Watching him in practice is a sight for sore eyes. His curls are all messed up from jumping and his freckled nose and cheeks are tinged pink from the cold. His cross is stark gold against his black training clothes. (Snow’s not religious, as far as I know - I think it’s a good luck charm.) He’s in harness right now, working on a quad loop with our technical coach, Mathis. I was a bit surprised to see this development, but ultimately glad that he decided to pursue this jump.

It probably won’t be ready by the beginning of this season (although Snow is such a fast learner I wouldn’t put it past him), but maybe by World Championships, he’ll have it… and if he does, well, then we’ll all be in trouble.

All of my rivals have sort off written him off after this season. I remember in 2018, everyone was on the edge of their seats for his senior debut. A seventeen-year-old who’s won every competition in the junior circuit was now coming to seniors. Even Rybakov told me to ‘watch out for that Simon guy’.

But then he came and royally messed things up and now, he’s no longer a concern for most guys. I know what he’s capable of, though.

Snow almost beat me last year at Nationals. I swear it was the best skate of his life – even better than when he won Junior Worlds for the second time. I still managed to take gold, thanks to my presentation score, but it was a tight win.

Our nationals aren’t televised however, so nobody else saw what he did. Nobody else knew.

And by the time it was European Championships, he was back on his losing streak. To be honest, I was kind of disappointed.

I know how I feel for him will never be requited, that there’s nothing that could ever come out of this, other than our rivalry. But when he challenges me, whether it be an unspoken jump battle or competing for the national title, it’s the closest thing it feels to something. At least that way, I can put my feelings for him out there, even if only in the form of rivalry. 

But it doesn’t matter when I win our battles. All it takes is one look at Snow smiling or running his fingers through his hair or using his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face (disgusting), and it becomes apparent that, in that aspect, all I do is lose. 

 


 

I think Ebb really struck gold when she gave Snow Rhapsody in Blue for his short program music. It’s not his usual style and the whole program is a lot harder than what he’s used to, but it suits him so well. I can tell he’s struggling to get into character, though, but that’s normal when you’re just learning your program.

I should get ready for my run-through. I’m going right after Snow and I really want to get the timing on the quad lutz right this time. While my lutz has become a lot more consistent (the strength and conditioning coach and the technical coach here really do work miracles), I’m yet to land one cleanly to the music. However, I reckon I’ll have it in time for my first or second competition.

The bigger issue I have is with my free skate. While my short is pretty much done already, I still haven’t found the right choreographer for the free. So far, every choreographer I’ve met didn’t work for me – I either didn’t like their approach or they didn’t like mine.

I could just suck it up and deal with it, but I want things to be perfect. I’m going into the next season with a Worlds silver medal and a quad lutz under my belt. People will be expecting great things from me, so I can’t just give them a program that I didn’t put my everything into. That’s not how I do things.

The ordeal with choreographers is making me more than a little bit frustrated, but I try to rationalise that it’s still June and I have plenty of time left.

I should get ready for my short program now, but Snow is doing his step sequence, working through the steps as if they were a checklist. His eyebrows are furrowed in concentration and he sometimes forgets to include his arms in the movement.

I skate over to Ebb and we watch him together. She looks concerned.

“He’ll get into it,” I assure her. Snow is always a disaster when he’s just learning a program – but once he gets it, he gets it.

He’ll get it right. Just give him a few weeks.

 

SIMON

I just can’t get it right. I’m not good with jazz – you have to have a certain energy for it and I just… don’t. To make matters worse, I can’t get the Grand Prix assignments out of my head. They’re coming out this weekend and I don’t know if my world standing is high enough to get invited to two competitions, and, well… if you don’t get invited to two competitions, you’re screwed.

Baz and Shepard have nothing to worry about. They’re both for sure getting two assignments and they have good chances of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Speaking of Baz, he’s standing alongside Ebb, watching the failure of my short program. As if this run-through couldn’t get any worse.

“Your illusion spin was spot on this time, but I’d like to see more energy,” Ebb says when I skate up to her for corrections. “Right now you’re doing the elements and everything is fine, but you’re not connecting to the music. Go take five and then we’ll run the whole thing from the top, but this time I really want you to focus on your presentation, not your technical elements. Don’t do any jumps; just try to convey the energy of the music.”

I nod, still too out of breath to say anything. For some reason, doing two quads and a triple axel within less than three minutes seems like a much simpler task than conveying the energy of the music.

“Alright, Baz, you’re up,” Ebb turns to Baz. He skates to the centre and takes his starting position.

Baz has no problem getting in character. He’s practically competition ready and it’s only June. He steps out of the landing on his quad lutz, but the rest of his program is near flawless, at least by my standards.

When I told Penny I was learning the quad loop, she told me she knew training with Baz would motivate me to work harder and improve, but I think she’s wrong. So far, it’s only been a constant reminder that I’m still miles away from the Worlds podium.

Ebb wants me to have all these unrealistic goals – medal at my Grand Prix events (if I even get invited to any Grand Prix events), make the top five at Europeans and the top ten at Worlds. She says my program base value is high enough for it, but it doesn’t work like that. I’m not that good.

She should be putting her hopes into Baz. He wants to be the world champion and he could actually do it.

I mean, he’s not even sweating, for fuck’s sake.

“Nice save on the lutz,” Ebb comments as Baz finishes up. “But you were one rotation short on your combination spin and your timing on the axel is still off.”

Huh. I didn’t notice those mistakes.

Baz nods along to her corrections. He’s out of breath and strands of black hair are escaping from his bun.

“Simon, are you ready to go again?” Ebb turns to me.

“Yes,” I nod. Baz skates past me to get his water bottle.

“Go on, birthday boy. Give us some face,” he says offhandedly.

Yeah, that’s easy for him to say, the tosser. He’s the one who’s actually good at connecting to the music.

Now I’m feeling incompetent and annoyed, which is not a good mood to be in when skating a program that’s supposed to be fun and confident.

Fuck him, honestly. Not only has he ruined my mood, he thinks I can’t do it.

I’ll fucking show him.

 

After a whole day of running my short program, I’m so exhausted that I want nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep for twelve hours, but I can’t because Baz is making noise again, thumping and stomping around and making annoyed grunts every now and then. 

I have no idea what he’s doing on his side of the wall, but he’s at it every night, for at least twenty minutes. 

At first I thought he was having sex and I was mortified. But the banging against the wall is far too sporadic for that (at least compared to the upstairs neighbours) and nobody sounds annoyed during sex. (Although Baz seems like just the type, if I’m being honest.)

I’ve stopped trying to figure out what he was doing some time ago and now, I just try to ignore it.

I hear another thump coming from his flat. No, it’s impossible to ignore tonight. He’s been at it for at least an hour and we both need to be on the ice at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.

I get up and go out into the hallway. I’m fully aware I look ridiculous – I’m in my pyjamas and I have ice packs tied to my ankles (quadruple jumps will do that to you) – but I want him to stop . I bang my fist on his door. No answer.

“Baz!” I call out and knock again, harder. He finally opens his door, his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth a thin line. His hair is in a bun, just like it is in practice, and his cheeks seem red, like he’s been exercising.

“What do you want, Snow?” he snaps, eyeing me up and down.

“What on Earth are you doing?” I explode.

“Image training. Ebb says my axel timing’s off.”

“Are you actually doing triple axels in there? Do you have any idea how loud you’re being?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m doing single axels. My bedroom’s not big enough for triple axels.”

I sigh. “Can’t you just lie in bed and think about your axel? You don’t have to actually jump it, you know.”

He raises his eyebrows at me. “Is that how you do your image training, Snow?”

“Yes! That’s how everyone does it!” I’m feeling more than a bit annoyed. Who is he to mock my methods when the entire building can hear his methods?

“Nope. That’s how you think everyone does it because that’s how Davy taught us how to image train. I bet you’re really bad at it too, right?”

“Can you just keep it down, please? I want to go to bed,” I mutter, feeling blood rise to my cheeks. He’s not wrong about the image training – about me being bad at it. I can never keep the focus.

“Alright, I’ll stop,” Baz says, furrowing his eyebrows like he’s thinking. “But only if you let me teach you how to image train properly.” 

“I don’t need you to teach me!” I say, more aggressively than I probably should. 

“Consider it a birthday gift.” 

“Fuck you,” I spit out. I don’t like being patronised, especially not by Baz, and I forgot what a patronizing git he is. I can feel my cheeks turning even redder, as they always do when Baz pisses me off. 

“That’s not part of the deal,” Baz says, raising his eyebrows at me. 

I growl in frustration. “There is no deal!” The fucking arsehole. Fine, let him stomp around then, if he’s so stubborn. See if I care. I’ll just sleep with earplugs. 

I turn on my heel and disappear back into my flat, leaving Baz standing by his doorway, probably looking bloody pleased with himself that he’s managed to both get it his way and piss me off in the process. I pull the duvet over my head, expecting him to be even noisier this time, but his side of the wall remains quiet for the rest of the night. 

 

BAZ

Well, I probably fucked that up…  but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Snow over the years, it’s that he works better when he’s riled up. I used to piss him off on purpose, just to get some of that fire out of him.

I think I pissed him off at practice today, when I told him to give us some face. I can’t imagine how that could’ve possibly made him angry, but it did – and when the music started, he skated the best Rhapsody in Blue I’ve seen from him yet. Everything was there; the footwork, the character, the energy… he sold it. I couldn’t look away.

If he skates like that in competition, the rest of us better watch out.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Canada, America, Russia

Days off, the Olympics, FaceTime calls from Russia and Grand Prix assignments. It wouldn’t hurt Simon to hoover every now and then. What the fuck is Tayside Trophy? #CoachBaz

 

BAZ

Sundays are my only day off and I usually spend them doing coursework and chores. That’s probably the only benefit of moving away from your parents at a young age – you learn to be independent early on. Snow just plays video games all day long. He was complaining about the noise I was making with my image training, but the idiot doesn’t realize I can hear him shouting at his screen every Sunday.

It wouldn’t hurt him to hoover every now and then.

In a way, I kind of envy him. I mean, it’s not like I was left to my own devices the moment I left England (I’m pretty sure that’s illegal), but I did have to move from Hampshire to London when I was ten in order to train with Davy. (That fucker really had the audacity to move my mother’s club from Winchester to London and I didn’t really have a choice. I stayed with Aunt Fiona and only came home for the weekends.)

When I moved to Russia, Fiona came with me and stayed there until I turned eighteen. I owe so much to her. She fucking hated Russia and yet she put up with it for two years for the sake of my career – so that I could get the best training possible for the 2018 Olympics.

It had really looked like it was going to pay off; I mean, I was on a fucking roll during the Olympic season and if had I actually gone to the Olympics, I probably would’ve medalled, which is all I’ve been working towards ever since I was a child.

A week before the 2018 European championships, my hip started hurting. I didn’t think much of it. Something always hurts when you’re a skater so I just took it easy for a while (and consequently came in second at European Championships that year, even though I could’ve won) and the pain went away. I thought everything would be alright after that.

Then, just three weeks before I was supposed to leave for Pyeongchang, I managed to fuck it up.

I was in practice and I had a weird landing on a jump. I didn’t even fall (probably if I fell, I would’ve been fine – sometimes it’s better to fall than to not fall), I just… I don’t even know what happened, really, but I knew immediately that I'd somehow fucked myself up. For a moment, though, I didn’t believe it was that bad. That I’d just have to put some ice on it, maybe rest for a week, which wasn’t ideal, but I could still go to the Olympics.

As it turned out, I could barely walk off the ice. My coach had to take my skates off for me because I couldn’t bend forward enough to untie them. We went to the doctor and they did their scans and the results were far worse than I imagined.

I was supposed to spend my 18th birthday in an Olympic village in South Korea, but instead, I spent it in my bed, in Hampshire, recovering from hip surgery and feeling like I’ve let everyone down. 

When it was finally time for me to return back to training in Moscow, I had to practically beg Fiona to stay in England. I didn’t want anyone from my family to suffer for the sake of my skating anymore. The price of failure was too high. She wasted two years of her life for me – I didn’t want her to waste any more.

“I’m eighteen now, I can legally live on my own!” I said.

“You’re depressed, Basil, I’m not letting you live on your own!” Aunt Fiona wouldn’t have any of it.

“I’ll be fine once I get back on the ice!” I insisted.

Eventually, I did convince her. And eventually, I was fine.

But not immediately.

Post-Olympic season was rough. A lot of athletes get depressed after the Olympics, which is understandable; you spend your whole life working towards this one thing and then it’s over and whether you failed or succeeded at your goal, in the end, you’re still left without that one purpose that’s been driving you on. It’s like turning a blank page and realizing you have to learn how to write all over again.

But I didn’t even go to the Olympics. I’d neither failed, nor succeeded – my goal had simply been postponed for another four years. In a way, that was the most infuriating thing about it.

I spent so much time preparing for Pyeongchang 2018. I didn’t allow myself to do anything else – it was all reserved for after the Olympics. In a way, I just wanted to be done with it. I wanted to move on with my life – not retire (that would be ridiculous at such a young age), but to have room for other things. I wanted to… I don’t even know. Have more time for school. Have friends that weren’t also my rink-mates. Go out more. Fall in love with someone who would actually love me back. I don’t know. It sounds cliché, but I didn’t want my life to be just skating, which is what it had been up to that point. I wanted to experience other things.

It didn’t help that I didn’t win a single major medal in the post-Olympic season. My hip still wasn’t 100% and doing the triple axel, the jump that I injured myself on psyched me out. (And I couldn’t just leave it out of my programs since the axel is an obligatory element.) All of this just piled up to the whole “what is my purpose?” thing I had going on.

It was only in the summer of 2019 that I started to feel like myself again. I realized I needed a purpose, so I made a vow.

In 2022, I will qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

And I will win.

 

SIMON

The Grand Prix assignments are supposed to come out today. It’s my day off, but I’m too jittery to do anything. I just keep refreshing the ISU website.

You’re entered in the Grand Prix series based on your world standing and your personal best score. My personal best should be high enough, but being 18th at Europeans and withdrawing from Worlds tanked my world standing a lot.

Each skater generally gets assigned to two out of six possible competitions. You get qualification points based on your placement in the competitions and in the end, the six skaters with the highest amount of qualification points go to the Grand Prix Final to compete against each other. Usually, qualifying for the Final requires getting a medal on both of your assignments, but it also depends on how well other skaters did.

I’m not hoping to qualify for the Grand Prix Final (that’s brutal and I’m not good enough for that), but I do want to get two assignments.

I refresh the website again and here they are. Fuck.

The page crashes the moment I click on the PDF of men’s assignments. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!

I start refreshing furiously but nothing happens.

Maybe somebody put them on Instagram already. Those figure skating fan pages always seem to know the news before everyone else. I open Instagram and start typing @figure_skating_daily into the search bar, when there’s a knock on my door.

“Snow! The Grand Prix assignments are out!” Baz yells from the other side of the door.

“I know!” I yell back. “The website’s down!”

“You got Russia and America!” he says. I fall out of bed and scramble to open the door.

“What did you say? How do you know that? The website’s crashed!” I fumble, slightly out of breath. Baz is standing outside, holding his laptop and looking bored.

“You have to use Russian VPN. Look,” he pushes past me into the kitchen and sets the laptop down on my table. I rush after him and try to find my name on the list.

“You’re in Skate America with Shepard and in the Rostelecom Cup with me,” he says, pointing out my name on the list.

“Holy shit, I got two entries,” I gasp, not believing my eyes. I feel dizzy with relief.

“Well yeah, why wouldn’t you?” Baz looks at me with his eyebrows furrowed.

“My world standing is literally so low,” I say.

“Twenty three is not low. And your personal best is way over two hundred, right?”

“Two hundred and sixty four,” I mutter. How does he know my world standing? I don’t know his world standing. No wait, I do… he’s fourth.

“So, why wouldn’t you get two assignments?” Baz prompts me again. I shrug.

“What did you get?” I change the subject.

“Well, I have Rostelecom with you and Skate Canada with Eric Walsh.”

The Canadian, Eric Walsh, is one of Baz’s biggest rivals.

“Also I should warn you, Micah Cordero is going to be at Skate America and Huang Li is going to be in Russia with us.”

“These are your rivals, not mine,” I shrug. I don’t stand a chance against these guys. When it comes to the medals, it’s always a fight between five blokes – Baz, Micah, Huang, Kirill and Eric. Sometimes Shepard also joins the mix, but I think he’s more in it to have fun, not for the hardcore competition.

I’ll just settle for skating clean.

“They could very well be yours,” Baz says. I open my mouth to object, but his laptop screen lights up with a FaceTime call. A name in Cyrillic flashes across the screen, along with a picture of Baz and some dark-haired girl, holding up their gold medals and smiling at the camera. I recognise her immediately; Angelina Nuriyeva, European and World champion. She and Baz used to train together.

“Excuse me,” Baz mutters and clicks ‘accept call’.

He then starts talking to the girl in fluent Russian and I almost fall out of my chair. Russian? Seriously? I didn’t know he spoke Russian. I knew he spoke French, because he talks to some of our coaches in French, but Russian – that’s news to me.

 I have no idea what they’re saying, but Angelina sounds very excited. I hear my name then (or at least I think I hear it) and Baz turns his laptop towards me.

“Oh hi, Simon!” Angelina greets me, switching to English.

“Hi, Angelina,” I wave at the camera, still trying to process Baz’s Russian.

“Are you coming to Russia too?” she asks. I nod. “Yay! Then we will see each other!”

I don’t know why she’d be excited to see me. I’ve only spoken to Angelina a few times, when we were both still in juniors and winning gold medals at the same competitions. But I guess she’s talking more about Baz than me. They’re actually friends and everything.

And they’re talking in Russian again. Are they really going to have a whole conversation right here in my kitchen? What am I supposed to do in the meantime, stare into space? Apparently not though, because Angelina says “bye bye, Simon!” and then hangs up.

“I didn’t know you spoke Russian,” I turn to Baz. 

“I lived there for four years, Snow.” 

“Yeah but Rybakov speaks English, right?”

“There’s a law in Russia that requires you to learn Russian if you work there,” Baz says flatly, shutting his laptop. I did not know that. “Also it’s useful for going to the grocery store.”

“Say something in Russian,” I demand. It’s so cool. I don’t know any foreign languages. I mean, I took German in school but I forgot it the moment I was done with it.

“Niet,” Baz cuts off. I roll my eyes.

“No, something real.”

“You just heard me speak, Snow.”

“Come on. Please?”

Baz sighs and says something that sounds a lot like “tea idyot” .

“Did you just call me an idiot?”

“Well, who would’ve thought, you speak Russian too,” Baz says flatly, standing up and grabbing his laptop. “Now if you will excuse me, I told Gelya I’d call her back once I’m in my own flat again.”

 

He’s off so I decide to FaceTime Penny. She picks up almost immediately.

“Did you see the assignments?” I ask as soon as I see her face on my screen.

“Only the ladies. I’m trying to load the men’s now but the page keeps crashing. What did you get?”

“Skate America and Rostelecom cup. And Baz got Canada and Rostelecom.”

“See, I told you you’d get two! Agatha got Skate America too, by the way.”

“Oh, have you heard from her? I wonder what she’s been up to…”

“No, she won’t pick up my calls. I think she’s just working on her new programs,” Penny sighs. Agatha is about as good at communicating with her teammates as Baz is. Well, she’ll at least text you to wish you a happy birthday, which is slightly better than Baz. I’m convinced the only reason he remembered my birthday this week was because Shepard and Ebb made such a big deal out of it that it was impossible to ignore.

“By the way, you still owe me a video of your short program!” Penny’s voice snaps me from my thoughts. She gives me a stern look.

“It’s not ready yet!” I protest.

“I’m not waiting until Tayside to see it!”

“I’m not going to Tayside…” I mutter. The Tayside Trophy used to be my start of the season competition. It really is the very start of the season, though – the beginning of August is way too early considering that I don’t even have my free program yet.

“Wait, you’re not?” Penny sounds shocked.

“No, the federation said they won’t fuss with plane tickets for such a minor competition,” I shrug. I’m not that bothered – I’m going to Autumn Classic mid-September and that’s going to be my starter competition. I much prefer that option since it gives me more time to work on my programs and also because Toronto is considerably closer than Scotland.

“Oh no, that’s a shame…” Penny says, looking sad.

“Why? It’s such a minor competition, Pen.”

“Yeah but I’m going to the Tayside Trophy!”

I nearly fall out of my chair for the second time today. “Wait what? You’re competing again?” I practically shout into my phone. Penny starts laughing.

“Well, I’m doing Tayside and if I score high enough, I can go to a Challenger competition, probably Nebelhorn Trophy and if I score high enough on that, I might get a placement in one of the free slots of the Grand Prix competitions,” she explains.

“Oh my god, are you serious? That’s great! How much do you have to get?”

“For Nebelhorn, probably about one hundred and twenty total, for GP I think one forty.”

“You’ll get that,” I say confidently.

“I don’t know. I haven’t competed in two years.”

“Yeah but your personal best is two hundred, right?”

“Under the old scoring system, yes.”

“The new one isn’t much different,” I shrug.

“We’ll see.”

“Okay but…” I pause, trying to find my words. “Why did you decide to start competing again? I thought you said you never wanted to deal with competitive skating again?” Penny took a break from competitions after the Olympics because she wanted to focus on university and because she was fed up with the judging bias in ladies’ figure skating. 

“Remember our pact?”

“That we’d go to the Olympics together?” I feel a grin stretching across my face.

“If we want to do that, it’s about time I get back in the business, don’t you think?” 

 


 

BAZ

“Hey, can you film my short program?” Snow approaches me after our session ends. I raise my eyebrows at him. “Penny wants to see it,” he explains.

“Alright,” I take off my gloves and tuck them in the waistband of my trousers. He hands me his phone. “Do you want me to just stand there or?”

“I mean, you can follow me, whatever you want,” he shrugs. “Just don’t get in the way of my jumps.”

“Wait, you’re going to jump?” It’s the end of our session and he must be exhausted – I know I am – and he still wants to skate a full short program. Sometimes I don’t understand where Snow gets all this energy from.

“Well, I want to show her I have two quads in my short now.”

“You can just tell her you have two quads. I’m sure Bunce will believe you.”

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Snow insists. I roll my eyes.

“Alright, but I’ll point out everything you’re doing wrong on camera.”

“Why?” Snow asks, his voice suddenly turning annoyed.

“Because I can. Also because if I don’t, Bunce will do it for me and I don’t want to give her the satisfaction.”

“You’re a prick,” he sighs, rolling his eyes. 

“Ebb said we’re not supposed to be hostile towards each other,” I remind him. He sighs again. 

“Whatever. Are you going to film me or not?” 

“Are you going to start skating or not?” 

He gets in his starting position and I roll the music. Tailing him with a camera and giving him corrections as he goes is actually quite fun, mostly because I can say whatever I want.

“Come on, Snow, you call that a rocker? Use your edges! You’re already supposed to be in your spin now!” and so on and so on. Despite me commenting on almost everything, his run-through is actually surprisingly decent for this early in the season. There’s still a lot of work to be done but compared to last week, the improvement is staggering.

“Good job,” I say, handing him back his phone.

“You really took the commentary thing seriously, didn’t you?” Snow asks, still catching his breath.

“It’s the coaching license.” We skate towards the boards. Snow stops.

“Wait, you have a coaching licence? Since when?” he asks.

“Since last summer. Didn’t you know?”

“No?”

“I was doing master classes in England and I had to get one. I literally did a whole week of classes at the Watford rink, how did you not know?” I don’t see how it’s possible that Snow wouldn’t know about this. Granted, he didn’t attend my classes (that’s for the better, actually – my life is already painful enough), but even he’s not that oblivious. 

Snow rolls his eyes, grabbing his blue skate guards off the boards. “Yeah, I know you did masterclasses. I just didn’t know you needed a coaching licence for that.”

“It’s literally coaching. Of course you need a coaching licence to coach ,” I say, putting on my skate guards.

“Yeah, but it’s not full-time coaching. Did you ever do full-time coaching?”

“No, I don’t have the time for that,” I say. Or the patience. I’m not like my mother, who never seemed to get frustrated with her students. Coaching a few classes is fun and actually helps with your own skating, but I could never do it full-time.

“Davy didn’t like your masterclass, by the way,” Snow says as we’re walking towards the changing rooms. “He said you focused too much on the artistry.”

“Yeah, that sounds like something he would say. Maybe he should take a masterclass on how to be a good coach,” I say flatly. Snow giggles. Actually giggles. I feel my cheeks turn hot – I’ve never heard him giggle before. (He laughs all the time with Shepard or Ebb and I can hear it across the rink, but the sound he just made is new to me and now I’m sure it’s going to be replaying in my head for the rest of the day.) (I love it and I wish I didn’t.)

“Yeah, he probably should,” he says, sitting on the bench. He leans forward and starts untying his skates and I’m once again mesmerised by the dance of muscles in his arms as he does that. (I’m weak. I’m flawed. He’s gorgeous.)

“He definitely should,” I say, far later than what’s probably an appropriate response time. I tear my eyes off of Snow’s arms and start paying attention to my own laces. “Are you going home to eat?” I ask.

“No, it’s Thursday. Shepard and I are going to McDonald’s.”

I roll my eyes. Snow and Shepard have known each other for less than a month and they already have a plethora of silly traditions. “Of course you are.”

 

Before I moved to Montreal, I didn’t have much free time. As a child, my schedule was always filled with skating, ballet, violin lessons and schoolwork. After I moved to Moscow, my training time increased from three hours a day to five or six hours a day and I had to ultimately pick skating over ballet (which was a hard decision but one I don’t regret at all), which left me with a slot of free time that was quickly replaced by the Russian lessons I had to take. It was in Moscow that I learned how to squeeze all my schoolwork and other responsibilities in between lunch breaks and commutes – it was the only way to get everything done.

My schedule’s cleared up significantly since I moved here. I do my university classes online and I’m quite busy with that, but I forgot my violin in England (which I’m still kicking myself over) and I don’t take either ballet or Russian anymore. Still, old habits die hard and I usually spend my lunch break doing university work.

Today, I’m weirdly tired, though. I pushed myself extra hard during the morning session and the thought of sitting at my table, doing university work fills me with dread. I know I shouldn’t make procrastination a habit, but maybe I can afford it just for one day. I set my alarm for an hour from now then fall into bed. Every muscle in my body sighs happily.

 

When I wake up, my phone is blowing up with notifications. I have far more text messages than what is usual for me. Jesus Christ, what happened?

My mind immediately goes to Rybakov. Did he go on Russian TV and spread some lies about me? Worse yet, did he somehow find out I was gay? Has he outed me?

No, that’s impossible. Only Agatha knows that I’m gay. I open her text message first.

AW: listen I know ur going thru it but pls don’t ever become a commentator

BP: What are you talking about? Why is everyone texting me?

AW: wait u don’t know? Check Simon’s insta

I sigh. What has this imbecile done now? Because if he filmed me practicing something I’d rather keep a secret, I’m actually going to kill him. But Agatha said something about commentating?

I open my Instagram and see a tagged post notification. It’s the video from earlier today.

simonsnowsk8er: this is what happens when you ask @the_baz_pitch to film your SP! Thanks mate, I’ll keep it in mind. Short program music for this season is Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. FS music announcement coming soon! #CoachBaz

I read the caption first (I’m definitely going to kill him), then watch the video. It’s of his step sequence and I can hear myself yelling corrections behind the camera.

“Arms, Snow, use your arms! Face! Look up! Yes, good!”

I roll my eyes and find Snow’s number in my contacts.

BP: I thought you said this video was for Bunce only

SS: It was too good not to post

BP: #CoachBaz?

SS: It’s trending on twitter!

BP: I’m going to kill you

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Nicodemus Petty

Bruises, back muscles, ballet, backflips and Olympic legends. The recipe a good program is five spoons of too harsh criticism and a bucketful of exhaustion.

 

SIMON

I was over the moon when Ebb let me pick my own free skate music. I’ve wanted to do a program to the Game of Thrones music for a while now, but Davy always said that wasn’t my style and that we should stick to what we know.

As it turns out, he was wrong, because Game of Thrones is totally my style. Unlike with the short, I have absolutely no problem getting in character here. Maybe that’s just because it’s not such a character heavy program or because I actually like Game of Thrones a lot. (Except for the ending, that was terrible and I’ll never forgive the writers.)

The point is I haven’t felt this confident about my program in a long time. I think this has the potential of being really good – maybe even medal winning good. Ebb says we can put a quad loop in later in the season or whenever I’m ready. My quad loop isn’t nearly ready yet, but last week our technical coach, Mathis, gave me the green light to start trying it off harness, which means I’ve spent the entirety of this past week rediscovering all the different ways I can wreck myself on a jump. I have bruises in places I didn’t think it was possible to get bruises in. I wince every time I sit down, which makes both Shepard and Ikumi crack up with laughter.

It’s painful and it’s a little bit brutal, but I feel so good about it. However, all of this falling caused Ebb to give me an ultimatum: from now on, I can only practice the loop every other day so that my body has at least some time to recover. My limbs are thankful for that but my mind isn’t – I want to practice. It’s frustrating, feeling like you’re close to improvement one day and knowing you’re not allowed to practice it the next day (especially because Baz is allowed to practice the quad lutz every day) but I know it’s for the best. It’s better to take things slow than to risk another injury.

Plus, Baz is actually already about fifty percent consistent with his quad lutz, meanwhile I haven’t landed a single one of my quad loop attempts yet – of course it makes sense that he’s allowed to practice it every day.

Despite his successes with the lutz, Baz seems to be growing more and more frustrated every day. As far as I know, he still hasn’t found a choreographer for his free skate and it’s getting really late now. The rest of us have had our programs for nearly three weeks already and he hasn’t even gotten started on his long program. (Although to be fair, he did have his short ready before the last season even ended.) (His short program is beautiful – Vivaldi. Very classical, very Baz. I’ll be damned if he doesn’t break at least one world record with it.)

I wipe the blades of my skates dry, then put them back in my bag. We have a ballet lesson starting shortly and Shepard and I have to hurry so as not to be late – we stayed out on the ice for a while longer after our session ended because Shepard was showing me his backflip. It’s the coolest thing ever and he said he’s going to teach me. Then I can maybe put it in my exhibition program.

We make it to the ballet room with just a few minutes to spare. I don’t think our ballet teacher notices – she’s busy talking to Baz. Typical.

Baz is brilliant at ballet. He did it for a long time and even got accepted into the Royal Ballet School, but he ultimately chose skating over ballet. Still all of these years of extensive ballet training have left him miles ahead of the rest of our group and our teacher is always giving him special, more advanced exercises.

I suck at ballet. Davy only had the children in lower groups take ballet, so that they develop a sense of posture and movement, but the kids from higher groups no longer received ballet training. I was only in the lower group for a year before I got moved to the higher group, which means I only took ballet for a year. While I was training at Mitali’s rink this summer, the ballet teacher there was very kind to give me extra lessons so that I could catch up, but I’m still very behind. And I’m not particularly fond of ballet either – there’s too much thinking involved and my glutes always hurt afterwards. Plus, I’m usually on the barre right behind Baz, and watching him execute the exercises perfectly while I struggle to even get a respectable rond de jambe is more than a little frustrating. And he always wears this really tight fitting shirt for our ballet classes and watching the muscles shifting in his back always makes me wonder if I’m even using the right muscles for the exercises we’re doing and then I get distracted.

 Our ballet teacher claps, meaning that the class is about to start and I take my usual position behind Baz and it’s not long before I’m staring at his shoulder blades. Seriously, does he get that muscle from skating or from ballet? Does my back look this good? I don’t think it does.

Not that I really care about these things, but if there is such a thing as the perfect body type for figure skating, Baz has it. He’s lean and tall – not too tall to have trouble jumping, but still tall enough to have nice, long lines that make everything he does look elegant. His muscle distribution is just right too – it doesn’t ruin his lines, but he still has enough power to execute high level jumps. And he has a natural sense of posture and movement. I’ve never seen him slouch or look down at his feet. His arms always know what to do and his head is always in line with his spine. His legs are really long, which, paired with his ballet training, makes his extensions look really nice. It’s like he was born to be the artist he is.

“Higher leg, Simon,” our teacher’s voice snaps me from my thoughts. She grabs my leg and lifts it higher, turning my foot while she does so. “And turn out more,” she adds.

I try my best to hold the position, feeling my muscles cramp as I do so. In front of me, Baz is holding his developpe almost effortlessly.

I sigh, my leg dipping as I do so.

I really don’t like ballet.

 

BAZ

Snow would be a decent ballet dancer if he put half as much thought into it as he does into skating. Unfortunately, the moment he’s off the ice, he seems to lose even that small amount of brain cells he initially had.

For me, barre exercises are like meditation. You have to be perfectly focused and tuned in into every muscle in your body. You don’t have time to think about the sweaty idiots behind you and you definitely don’t have time to stare at them in the mirror as they struggle with their basic steps.

I’ve been putting in extra effort into our ballet classes lately because I want my free skate to be very balletic. I decided to skate to the music from The White Crow which is a movie about Rudolf Nureyev, one of the most talented ballet dancers of his time, and not putting balletic elements into my program would actually be a sin.

It looks like I’ll have to choreograph the program myself, though, since I still haven’t found the right choreographer. I’m hoping at least that our ballet teacher will help me with the arm movements and seeing which ballet moves we can translate on the ice and which not.

It’s going to be a lot of work. I’ve never choreographed an entire competitive program by myself. I’ve been choreographing my own exhibition programs for years, but competitive programs are far more difficult than the exhibition ones. Not only do you have to think about what moves go to the music, you also have to think about whether those moves will maximize your score. Sometimes, a really simple step will go really well to the music, but it won’t make your step sequence a level four, so you have to think outside the box to come up with steps that will make your step sequence a level four and also fit to the music. That’s why I generally prefer to work with choreographers on my competitive programs. 

I’m still hoping that Ebb and I will find someone, but I need to start working on my free program next week if I want it to be in decent shape in time for our training camp in late August. Time is running out and things aren’t looking good.

It’s not like I’m starting from ground zero, though. I already know where I’m going to put my jumps and spins and I’ve been staying at the rink late, choreographing little bits and pieces by myself, but the whole thing is still far from finished.

Tomorrow. I’ll start working on my program tomorrow, whether I have a choreographer or not.

 

 

SIMON

“Well, if you want to learn how to do a backflip on ice, you must first learn how to do it off ice,” Shepard says, dragging a gym pad behind him.

“Sounds reasonable,” I nod, grabbing another gym pad and taking it to where Shepard’s just dropped off his.

“Did you tell Ebb you were doing this?” Ikumi asks. She’s sitting on the hip abductor machine, looking at her phone.

“No,” Shepard says, stretching his arms.

“Okay,” Ikumi raises her eyebrows. “When you break your neck, I will not be held responsible.”

I stop in my tracks. “It’s not really that dangerous, is it?”

“No, you’ll be fine. I’ll spot you. You have stretched before this, right?”

“Yeah,” I nod, suddenly feeling slightly nervous.

“Okay then, first, I want you to lie down on your back and pull your knees up to your chest.”

“Shepard, do you hear yourself?” Ikumi jumps in. We all start laughing.

“Not like that!” Shepard defends himself. “You can do it sitting up as well, if that will get Ikumi’s mind out of the gutter.” He shoots Ikumi a look but it’s not very serious since they’re both still laughing.

I sit on the mat and pull my knees up in the air position, feeling a bit less nervous because of all the laughing.

“Okay, you need to do it faster. When you’re jumping the backflip, you need to really snap in the air position,” Shepard corrects me. We work on that for a few minutes before he decides he’s happy with what I’m doing and we move on to practicing the take-off.

“Do you want to try it for real now?” he asks, after what feels like my 50th jump in the air.

“Really?”

“Yeah, why not? You do have the strength to do it. Just jump, angle back, pull your knees up and keep your head back. Then, when you see the ground, just open up,” he instructs me. “I’ll spot you the whole time so don’t worry.”

“Okay,” I say, feeling nervous again. Still, when Shepard says “Go”, I push myself off the ground and bring my knees up and… hey that wasn’t so scary at all! Granted, Shepard helped me with the rotation, but I had a feeling this would end way more disastrously than it did.

“Yeah, man, that’s good!” Shepard high fives me. “Just really keep your eyes out for the ground, you didn’t open up quite fast enough this time. Let’s do it again, yeah?”

We keep repeating the backflip, with Shepard spotting me, until it’s time for us to go get ready for another session on the ice.

“You’re doing really well,” Shepard says again as we’re leaving the gym. “I didn’t even have to spot you on these last few tries.”

 

I’m still warmed up from the backflips, so I just head to the changing room to put my skates on while Shepard and Ikumi go to the warm-up area. Baz is already in the changing room too, tying his skates.

“Why do you have yellow skate guards?” I ask. It’s been puzzling me since the day he got here. Baz really doesn’t seem like a person who would enjoy yellow.

Baz looks up, his eyebrows furrowed. “Pardon me?”

“I mean, you’re always wearing black and then the yellow just… stands out,” I fumble.

“I let my siblings pick the colour of my skate guards every season. This year they chose yellow,” Baz shrugs.

“Oh,” I say. “That’s really nice of you.”

“Some would say I’m capable of that from time to time,” Baz says, standing up and grabbing his water bottle. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have yet another choreographer to meet.”

I hurry with tying my own skates because I know the ice will be mostly empty for at least ten more minutes – everyone is still warming up. Baz is just finishing some of his basic skating exercises as I set my water bottle on the boards. He’s the only person on the ice.

Huh? Didn’t he say he was meeting with his new choreographer? There’s no one around here. Maybe that’s just Baz’s dramatic way of saying he’ll be choreographing his free skate himself this year – I wouldn’t put it past him.

I take off my skate guards and step on the ice, immediately launching myself into my warmup laps.

The rink door opens then and a person walks in. At first, I think it’s Ebb – they’ve got the same blonde hair, but the figure is taller and bulkier.

When I recognize him, I nearly trip over my toe pick.

Nicodemus Petty.

“Mr Pitch,” he calls out. “I’m here to do your program.”

 

BAZ

When Ebb told me that she had convinced her brother to be my choreographer, I was shocked. Nicodemus Petty is a bit of a legend in figure skating. Both he and Ebb are; the story of twins who won gold in both men’s and ladies’ events at the 2002 Winter Olympics remains really popular with the press up to this day. But Ebb stayed in skating – she kept competing and now she’s a coach. Nicodemus Petty disappeared after the Olympics. He completely removed himself from the sport; turned down every interview, every opportunity for a public appearance, and every invitation to ice shows. He doesn’t have any social media either. The only reason we know he’s still alive is because the media would certainly report if he wasn’t.

He won the biggest competition in our sport and then disappeared. I think that’s partially what’s contributing to his legend status being bigger than Ebb’s. (It’s either that or misogyny.)

Nobody has seen Nicodemus Petty since 2002. Not even the people who train at Creuset have seen him and his sister runs the club. And now he’s here and he wants to choreograph my program.

 

Working with Nicodemus Petty works. We don’t do any serious choreography on this session; it’s more about blocking the program and sharing our ideas, but I can already tell this is going to work. He’s harsh – I showed him the bits I already choreographed and he criticized some of them into oblivion. There is probably a nicer way he could let me know he doesn’t like them, but I don’t mind – at least he’s efficient. And he is right about most things he doesn’t like. When he points out something that doesn't really fit to the music, I start to see it too.

This is why I generally prefer to work with a choreographer, even though most of them infuriate me. It’s just better to have an extra set of eyes.

At the end of our session, he gives me an address. “Come to this rink tomorrow at eight. We’ll have private ice and we can work out your program. Don’t be late.”

“I won’t,” I assure him, but he’s already turning on his heel, leaving the rink.

 


 

It only takes a few hours of work for me to realize Nicodemus Petty is an arse. Yes, he’s absolutely brilliant, but an arse nevertheless. It takes me a few days to realize he’s absolutely anal about details. 

He was holding himself back with his criticism on the first day, I think. But we’ve been working on my new program for a few days now and I don’t think I’ve ever received this much criticism in my life. Especially today: he’s really set out to tear me a new one. It’s the last day of choreographing and everything is mostly done, we’re just fine-polishing the details now – which is actually the hardest part. It’s only been forty-five minutes but I’m already exhausted.

Working on a long program in general is exhausting – it’s only four minutes long, but it feels like running a marathon. Working on a long program with Nicodemus Petty feels like running a marathon over and over again. It feels like being one of the victims of the French dancing mania. My lungs hurt from the cold air and my muscles feel wrung free of any energy. I’m glad I have a day off tomorrow, because I surely won’t be able to move.

“No, no, no! Do you not hear the music?” he groans, frustrated while we work on my transitions. “Shoulders down, chest up! Listen to this note, do you hear it? That’s when you lift your head. Again from the top,” he orders me, skating back to the radio to restart the music. I take my starting position.

I don’t do any jumps; I just focus on my skating and on the corrections he’s given me. When I get to the part he just criticised, I make sure to lift my head up right on time, but I must’ve done something wrong because he pauses the music again. I stop, catching my breath.

“Do you want this program to be balletic?” Nicodemus asks me.

“Yes.”

“Then stop moving like you’re made out of wood. What was that?” he demonstrates my head lift. “Are you a fucking robot? Do it softer. Again.”

I’m absolutely exhausted. I’m about ready to drop dead, right there on the ice, and we’re barely even halfway done. Still, I take my starting position.

Nicodemus Petty might be an arse. He might be the rudest person I’ve ever met. He might be an absolute stranger to constructive criticism – but he’s also a brilliant choreographer. When I watch the video of my full program at the end of the day, I decide the final product is definitely worth all his harsh comments and endless repetitions and the muscle soreness already creeping up on me.

It’s beautiful. It absolutely does the music and Rudolf Nureyev justice. This is the kind of program I can face my rivals with.

This is the kind of program I can win the World Championships with. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Blood, sweat and tears

Bad days, bets with Shepard, Tayside Trophy continued, Natasha Pitch the #1 queer ally and Simon makes a mean curry.

 

BAZ

I’ve been training in Montreal for nearly two months now, and I constantly surprise myself with how much I’m able to avoid Snow, given that we’re neighbours and we spend about six hours together every day, for six days a week.

I mean, I can’t completely ignore him or even tell him to fuck off. Ebb has made it pretty clear that this rink has zero tolerance for hostility, so when he talks to me, I try to respond in a civil manner (not that I was planning on being a dick to Snow – I’m not fourteen anymore), but I just generally avoid him at all costs.

It’s not that hard – we don’t speak that much during practices and in his free time, he mostly spends time with Shepard and Ikumi. I keep to myself. The only time I really can’t avoid Snow is on our daily walks to the rink and back.

I’ve tried going to the rink earlier to avoid his company, but the fucker heard me leaving the flat and caught up with me. Then, I tried leaving later than usual and he came knocking at my door, asking me if I’m okay.

There are days where he doesn’t join me –  either one of us has a private session earlier in the morning, or sometimes, he just decides to come in a bit later or earlier. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and I’m not about to break my avoidance streak to ask.

Today is one of those days when I walk to the rink alone. I can’t decide if I’m glad about this or not – as much as I try to avoid Snow, I actually rather like his company, but talking to him always stirs up my feelings for him. (They’re always stirring lately anyway. Six hours a day, six days a week – I’m in hell. Or in love. Same thing.)

I think that, actually, today I’d prefer to be alone. It’s that day – the twelfth of August – the day she died. Ebb texted me yesterday and told me I didn't have to come in today if I didn’t want to, but I know my mother would be turning in her grave if she knew I skipped practice because of her. She’s the one who taught me that hard work gets you further than talent, after all.

And I think that this year, the 12th of August is actually going to be a bit easier than the years before. Ebb was close to my mother. I know she’s going to spend today mourning her loss as well. In a way, that makes me feel a bit less lonely. 

 

I pause in front of the Creuset doors, taking in those last few seconds of warmth before I have to inevitably step into the cold rink air. You’d think spending practically my whole life at the rink would allow me to get at least a little bit used to the cold, but I still dread it every day.

Just before I’m about to walk in, however, Simon Snow sprints into the parking lot full speed. He skids to a stop right in front of me and leans forward, catching his breath. His curls are sticking to his forehead with sweat and he’s wearing fucking shorts. I try not to look at the shape of his thighs clearly visible through his shorts, but I still do. (Damn figure skating thighs. No wonder I’m gay.)

“May I help you?” I raise my eyebrow at him. He looks up like he’s just noticed I’m here.

“Baz! Hi! Um, have you seen Shepard? Is he here yet?” He’s still leaning against his knees, half squinting to look at me. His breath is still coming up short.

“I only just got here myself, Snow. Where are your skates? I would think that even an idiot like you would remember to bring his skates to practice, but maybe I’m wrong.”

“They’re in Shepard’s car,” he says, abandoning his current position to fully lie down right in the parking lot. I watch him with an expression that hopefully conveys disgust. His chest is rising and falling rapidly.

“We had a… we had a bet…” he says while catching his breath.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah I’m fine. We bet that I wouldn’t be able to run to the rink faster than… than he can get here with his car so I… well, if he’s not here yet, then I guess I won.”

“Excuse me, you ran from Shepard’s flat to the rink?”

“Sprinted,” Snow corrects me.

As if on cue, Shepard’s truck pulls into the parking lot. Snow quickly gets  to his feet, grinning like a child on Christmas morning.

“I blame Montreal traffic entirely for this!” Shepard yells while jumping out of his car. He pulls his and Snow’s skating bags out of the backseat. Ikumi emerges from the passenger side and doesn’t say anything, just high-fives Snow.

“Oh, admit it, you drive slow!” Snow yells back as Shepard pushes his skating bag at him.

“Well, I’m glad you kids are having fun,” I mutter, pushing the rink door opened and stepping inside.

 

Snow is all over the place today. At first I thought he was tired from all the sprinting but then I quickly realised what was going on. Tayside Trophy is today and the ladies’ free skate is on right during our morning training session. Snow is coming to the boards to refresh the results page every five minutes. It’s ludicrous.

I’m as glad that Bunce is competing again as he is, but he needs to focus. Obsessively checking the results every five minutes isn’t going to help her get the score she needs. Although I guess it can’t hinder her either…

It’s hindering him though and consequently all of us. He’s just skating around absentmindedly and getting  in the peoples’ way too many times. It’s like he’s twelve again.

“Jesus Christ, Snow, can you pay attention to your surroundings for five seconds?” I snap at him when he (once again) crosses right in front of me.

“Sorry,” he says sheepishly. I roll my eyes. I want to tell him to calm the fuck down. Bunce will get the score she needs. She’s a good skater.

But I don’t say anything. It’s not like Snow is the kind of person who listens anyway. I just circle around the rink and start doing my choreo sequence from the start. Snow goes back to the boards and checks his phone again.

In the end, Bunce wins Tayside with over 180 points, which is more than enough to get her a spot in Nebelhorn Trophy and one of the Grand Prix competitions. Snow is over the moon. It’s like the morning practice never happened. For our second practice, he’s completely focused and he even has a clean free skate run-through, which is a first.

I, on the other hand, am not having a good training day. I’ve fallen on all my quad attempts today and I’m trying not to let it get to me. It is getting to me, though. I haven’t had a day this bad in years. Even my footwork, which is something I usually take solace in when jumps aren’t working, seems to be off today. And the worst part is nobody is telling me to get my shit together. All of my coaches are tip-toeing around me because they know what day it is today.

I’m feeling especially frustrated with my quad lutz. Even on good days, I still only land half of them, which is bad. With the competitions approaching fast, my success rate should be at least 75%.

I mean, technically, it wouldn’t be an issue if my lutz wasn’t ready by Autumn Classic next month, except that I just found out Eric Walsh is going to be at that competition too and he has the quad lutz as well. I can beat Eric without the lutz, (at least I have in the past), but I’d rather not risk it. The only thing I have over Eric – what I have over almost everyone – is my presentation score, but that’s usually lower earlier in the season and I don’t want to rely on it to win.

I have to win. There’s already all sorts of shit going around about me, gossip about how my coaching change is going to tank my career and how I should’ve stayed with Rybakov. I think people are upset because I never gave them a solid reason as to why I left, but I can’t. What am I supposed to say about it without outing myself?

I have to win so that they shut up. I have to win. I have to land this jump now. I have to.

I gain speed across the ice for another quad lutz attempt, paying extra attention to my posture on the take-off. Outside edge, right shoulder pushed far back, right leg reaching behind me to slam my toe-pick into the ice and… the fall lurches me forward and I catch myself on my elbows.

Fuck. Me.

I don’t even have the will to get up. I let my body slump fully against the ice. My chest feels tight and my eyes are burning, as are my forearms; I’m wearing a short sleeved shirt so I probably scraped myself against the ice when I fell.

Slowly pushing myself back up, I check my elbows and yup, they’re definitely bleeding. I’m about ready to set something on fire – preferably myself. At least the sting is a welcome distraction from the overwhelming wave of frustration currently welling up in my chest. I bite my lip and start circling the rink in an attempt to clear my head.

“Baz, you’re bleeding,” Snow says as I skate past him. I ignore him.

“Baz,” Ebb calls me over. I can’t ignore her, so I do as I’m told. “Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yup.” If she’s referring to my scrape, I’m fine. This has happened a billion times before. The sting is going to stop in a few minutes and this time next week, it will be like it never happened.

“Come on,” she says, waving me off the ice. “I can’t let you continue like this.”

I sigh in frustration, but get off the ice anyway. “It’s hardly even bleeding,” I object as I put my skate guards on. This is embarrassing. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been sent off the ice.

I grab my jacket and follow Ebb. She’s leading me upstairs, to her office. When we’re there, she gives me some alcohol swabs and a pack of band aids. Then, she turns around and starts fussing in the corner of her office where she keeps the food.

I slowly start cleaning my wounds, hissing as the alcohol makes contact with the scraped up skin. It’s really not that bad – it definitely doesn’t warrant being sent off the ice. Then, Ebb sets a cup of tea in front of me.

“If there’s anything I learned from my time in England it’s that you Brits chug this like water,” she says. That makes me laugh and I wrap my hands around the cup of tea.

“Thank you.”

“So what’s up with you today?” she asks. I shrug. I don’t usually shrug but I really don’t know what to tell her – I have no idea why I’m doing so poorly today.

“Bad day, I suppose.”

“Is it because of…?” her voice trails off.

“No. No,” I shake my head. “I mean, I’m usually a bit off this time of the year but no. It’s never been this bad.”

“Then what is it, Baz? I’ve never seen you like this.”

“I don’t know,” I sigh, feeling dangerously close to crying again.

“You know what your mother always used to tell me?” Ebb asks.

“What?”

“She said when things aren’t working out, it’s always fear. And when you aren’t having a good practice day or a good competition, it builds on your fear and then you get trapped in this vicious cycle,” she says. I nod. I could think of at least one person I’ve seen this happen to. He’s down on the ice right now, probably practicing his quad loop. “So you really have to ask yourself, what are you afraid of?”

I don’t know what I’m afraid of. I don’t know what I’m not afraid of. The competition pressure slowly creeping up on me, the rumours that have been going around, the fact that I’m going to have to come out publicly one day, the depth and complexity of my feelings for Snow, the loneliness that comes with competitive sport pressing into me extra hard lately… well fuck, looks like I have a lot to work on.

“My friend had a competition today,” I offer. “And I guess maybe it’s just hitting me that the season is starting.” I think competition pressure is the least complex of my problems - or at least the one I know how to deal with best. 

“Are you afraid of competitions starting?” Ebb asks. Am I afraid of competitions starting? No. I’m actually itching to get back on competitive ice. I miss the applause, the adrenaline, the crowd. Skating in front of an audience is one of my favourite things in the world. 

“I think I’m afraid of not living up to people’s expectations,” I finally say, looking at my tea so that I won’t have to look at Ebb. I don’t want her to see the tears pooling in my eyes. Fuck, I’m not usually a crier. “I don’t know if you’ve seen what everyone’s saying--”

“Baz. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I’ve never seen you in better shape,” Ebb interrupts me. “These people are just running their mouths because they haven’t seen you and because they don’t know what’s going on with you. And you know how heated Russian press can get about these things. It’s either siding with their star coach or a foreign skater; of course, they’re going to take it out on you. Now I don’t know what happened between you and Rybakov but you’ve got to remember, he is not the reason behind your success. You are.”

“I’m gay,” I blurt out. “And Rybakov is…”

“A piece of shit?” Ebb suggests. It makes me laugh again. A sad, shrivelled up laugh, but a laugh nevertheless. I’ve never heard Ebb curse before.

“I was going to say extremely homophobic but yes, that.”

“I remember he had things to say when I came out.”

I look at her. “I did not know that. I’m sorry.”

“You were probably too young to remember anyway,” she waves her hand as to say that it doesn’t matter. “Your mother just about dusted his ass, though. She wanted to report him to the Olympic Committee for hate speech, but I convinced her not to.”

I just stare at her. “My mother wanted to do what?”

“Oh yes. She was a fierce woman.” I can see her eyes get a bit more watery, although with Ebb, that’s not such a rare occurrence as it is with me; she’s a crier. She cried when Sam, one of the juniors, landed his first clean quad, she cried when she first saw my free skate, hell she even cried when Snow told her how much he misses his cat.

Still, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one fighting back tears. Because I definitely am now.

“My mother… she was okay with the gay thing?” My words feel heavy and small at the same time. I can’t count how many times this question has kept me awake at night, especially when I was younger. It’s the question I’ve always been afraid to ask Fiona or god forbid, my father.

“Kiddo, Natasha loved you so much. If she were alive today, she’d just want you to be happy. But yes, she was okay with me when I came out, and she’d be okay with you as well.”

I don’t know why I’m crying all of the sudden. I guess it’s just a relief. I hear a chair being pushed back and suddenly, Ebb’s arms are around me.

I don’t try to push her away. I don’t think I could even if I wanted to. Instead, I just let her hug me and let my tears fall.

 

I hate to admit it, but I do feel better after that. Ebb tells me I can go home if I want to, but I’m a Pitch and Pitches don’t quit, so I go to the bathroom to splash some water in my face and head to our strength and conditioning training.

We try to make use of the warm summer days while we still can, so we do our strength and conditioning on a sports field a few blocks away from the rink. I make a mental note to come here and play football on one of my days off.

“Are you alright?” Snow asks as I drop my backpack beside him. He’s lying on the turf, looking up at me. (I don’t know why Snow likes lying on the ground so much. One of these days something is going to run him over and then we’ll all have a problem.) (Don’t even get me started on the amount of times he just plops himself flat on the ice during practice.) (Maybe I should be the one to run him over. Just to teach him a lesson.) 

“Yes,” I roll my eyes. He’s still staring at me, his eyebrows furrowed.

“It’s just… you missed the rest of the session. And your eyes are red.” This takes me by surprise – Snow is not usually this observant.

“I popped off to have a quick joint behind the rink,” I cut off, walking away from him to stretch. Snow scrambles to his feet, catching up to me in no time.

“Seriously, is everything okay?”

“Yes, Snow. I have an allergy, that’s all,” I say. Technically, that’s not even a lie. I am allergic to pollen, but thankfully, allergy season is already over for me. (I would be in much worse condition if it wasn’t, because maple trees are everywhere here.)

“Oh. Ouch. Are you sure you can train outside then?” he asks.

“Well, I am outside, and about to train, except somebody doesn’t want to leave me alone.” I send him a glare so cold Ebb would definitely call it hostility and he buggers off. Good. After everything that’s already happened today, I do not have the emotional capacity to be dealing with Simon Snow’s concern for me on top of it.

I’m just about ready for this day to be over. All that crying and five hours of training have left me seriously exhausted. Still, the day isn’t over yet, so I grab my laptop and get ready to do some university work over dinner. Just as I settle in, though, there’s a knock on my door.

Maybe it’s the landlord. He’s always nagging about the rent, because no matter how many times I explain it to him, he still won’t understand that I’m actually not the person responsible for paying my rent. (Which I’m fully aware sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. The federation does.) I sigh and get up to open the door, ready to have yet another draining conversation in French.

It’s not my landlord, though. It’s Snow – and as much as I’ve had my fair share of him for today, I’m still glad to see him. I’d pick my idiotic teammate over my idiotic landlord any day.

“Snow. How can I help you?”

“Do you have any milk? I’ve run out.”

“I suppose hitting the shops is not an option for you,” I remark. He rolls his eyes.

“My legs hurt. And I only need a little bit.”

“Must be all that running you did this morning.”

Snow sighs, exasperated. “Do you have milk or not?”

“I do. Wait here,” I say, turning back to my kitchen. Snow follows me in. So much for respecting my wishes. “What do you even need milk for?” I ask.

“Hot chocolate.”

I feel a blush spreading across my cheeks. Something about Snow and hot chocolate is too adorable for me to comprehend. I open the fridge and hand him the jug of milk. He doesn’t take it. He’s too busy staring at my table.

“What the fuck are you having for dinner?” he asks. I look at the olives and pesto sauce and breadsticks laid out on my table. I realize it’s a weird combination, but I just grabbed whatever I had available. (I need to hit the shops too.)

“Italian?” I suggest.

“For fuck’s sake… Wait here,” Snow mutters, turning on his heel and leaving my flat.

“I suppose I’ll just put this back then,” I say to myself, putting the milk back in the fridge. I then close the door behind him because that idiot’s left it open. I wonder where he went and what he meant by “wait here”. Where else am I supposed to go? I live here!

Snow comes knocking on my door again a few minutes later.

“Déjà vu, Snow,” I say, opening the door. I grabbed the milk back out of the fridge as soon as I heard his knock and I hold it out to him now, determined not to let him enter my flat again. To no avail, as he pushes right past me, holding a mug and a Tupperware container.

“May I ask what you’re doing?” I demand, following him to the kitchen (my kitchen). He grabs the milk from my hands, pours it in his mug and shoves the mug in my microwave. Then he puts the container next to my dinner.

“You need to have a proper meal. I hope you like curry,” he says.

I can’t think of a response to this, because frankly, I’m in shock. And I actually really like curry.

“You really don’t have to give me your food, you know,” I start, but Snow shakes his head.

“I always make too much anyway.” I didn’t know Snow could cook and this information is now doing things to my heart.

“Um, well… Are you hungry too?” I’m stumbling over my words. It’s fucking embarrassing.

“No, I already ate. I’ll just have hot chocolate,” he shakes his head. This is fucking weird. Simon Snow is in my kitchen, giving me his curry and making hot chocolate in my microwave.

I expect him to leave as soon as the microwave beeps, but he sits down at my table, sipping his drink. I try not to stare at him. I hope he’s too busy with his chocolate to notice my blush.

For some reason, I don’t shoo him away either. I suppose it’s nice to have some company while I eat, even if he hardly says anything. And his curry is bloody delicious. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Melting point

Heatwaves, puddles, mystery music tastes and innuendos. Simon channels his inner Russian girl. A PSA for everyone to wear their gloves and not get their dates from Craigslist, signed by Baz Pitch.

 

BAZ

The Creuset rink is hosting a competition for children this week, which means our training base has been moved to a different rink temporarily. That’s not such an issue, since rinks are abundant in Canada. What is an issue, however, is public transportation.

It’s days like these that I really wish I had a car. I’ve already missed half of the morning practice because I had a costume fitting, but now I’m extra late thanks to Montreal traffic.

The other issue is that the insulation in this rink is very faulty. While I generally don’t like the cold, I’d still take it over having to skate in actual puddles. I walk to the rink, take one look at the ice and decide that, nope, I will not be trying any lutzes today. I want to keep my clothes as dry as possible.

I begin to make my way to the changing rooms, but Snow sees me and skates to the side to stop me.

“Ebb says she can drive us to the airport tomorrow morning,” he says, leaning on the boards.

“Does Ebb know we have to be at the airport at six?” I ask with my eyebrows raised. Snow and I are flying back to London tomorrow for the national team training camp.

“She does. She and the juniors are flying to Richmond tomorrow morning too, so she said it’s not an issue and that she’ll just come to the airport a bit earlier.”

“Wait, they’re leaving tomorrow already? I thought their competition starts on Friday.” I must’ve missed something. I really thought Ebb and the juniors would only be leaving on Thursday for the Junior Grand Prix Canada.

“Practices start on Wednesday,” Snow shrugs. Why is he more aware of what’s going on in our training group than I am? This truly is a weird day – first the rink is too warm and then Snow demonstrates a basic knowledge of his surroundings.

“Alright then,” I nod, making a mental note to thank Ebb later and to also listen to what the people around me are talking about.

“Are you excited for camp?” Snow asks.

I shrug. It’s the same thing every year – despite the name, training camps aren’t actually that intense. The only purpose of them is to gather the national team together right before the season starts. The daily practice is not that different from our usual practice, but we have seminars and team building exercises (which I hate ). The only special thing about training camps is that judges usually come to look at our programs and give us feedback and we get to go to a sports lab and do some anthropometric measurements. If anything, I’m more excited to see my family again.

“I’m nervous,” Snow admits. I furrow my eyebrows.

“Why? It’s just practice with a few added judges.”

“I guess because Ebb won’t be there and people will see my programs. And the last time I saw Davy was when he kicked me out of his rink.” He shrugs.

“Wait, what? He kicked you out?”

“Yeah, I mean, after I got injured, I told him I’d be changing coaches and he knew the federation would take a few months to process my change so we agreed that I could still train at Watford until I moved to Canada, but then, when the doctor cleared me to go back on the ice and I showed up at his rink, he made a very big deal of kicking me out.”

“What an arse.” I feel anger boiling in my stomach. Who does David Mage think he is, kicking his best skater out like that? Out of my mother’s club! My mother never kicked her students out. Yes, she was very selective over who to coach, but she never kicked anybody out.

“Yeah, but it was okay because Mitali let me train at her rink then.”

“Right.” It still isn’t okay, but I decide not to press it. “Well, if anything, that just proves you can still train even when you don’t have a coach nearby,” I say instead.

“I guess,” Snow shrugs.

“Good. Now go back to practice,” I shoo him, grabbing his skate guards off the boards and pretending to smack him over the head with them.

“Alright, alright,” he laughs. “No need to be so aggressive!”

“How else will you work? Go on, do as many triple loops as you can in a row. I want to see at least three!”

Snow looks at me, his expression amused. “Who do you think I am, Angelina Nuriyeva?”

“Channel your inner Russian girl, Snow.”

“Fuck off,” he laughs and skates away. I watch him as he gains speed across the rink and then does one, two, three, four triple loops in a row. They really come that easily to him.

“Happy?” he yells from across the rink. I raise my hands and give him a small round of applause, then head for the changing rooms. He does a theatrical bow and I can’t help but  smile.  

 

SIMON

Fucking hell, it’s so hot today. If the ice wasn’t one giant puddle, I’d be lying on it right now. Shepard fell right in a puddle while learning his quad salchow and now the back of his shirt is all wet. He’s drying it by standing with his back against the hand drier in the changing room while rambling about how everything hurts. 

“Figure skating is just… you wake up and your butt hurts. You go to bed and your butt hurts. The last time it hurt this much to sit down was when-”

“Shepard, I’m going to have to ask you not to finish that sentence,” Baz interrupts him. Shepard throws an empty water bottle at him and Baz dodges it swiftly.

“You people! Get your mind out of the gutter! I meant when I was learning my axel!”

“It’s not Baz’s fault you keep saying things that sound wrong,” Ikumi jumps to Baz’s defence.

“Thank you!” Baz says. I’m just watching the whole interaction, trying not to laugh.

And ,” I jump in. “You do keep telling us about your dating life. Details that we don’t need to know.”

“Yes, it’s called sharing,” Shepard defends himself. “You tell us something about your dating life then.”

“I don’t have a dating life,” I laugh. Like I have time to think about that.

“Didn’t you used to go out with that blonde girl from your national team? What’s her name again?”

“Wellbelove and Snow didn’t go out,” Baz interrupts him. “They had a phase of awkward courtship that we all had to endure before they finally decided to spare us all and just be friends. You should be glad you weren’t there to see it.” His voice is bored and he’s looking at his phone.

“Thank you for your input, Baz,” I glare at him.

“You’re welcome.”

“Okay, fine, then Baz,” Shepard says. Baz looks up from his phone.

“Me what?”

“You tell us something about your life. You never say anything.”

Shepard poses an interesting take here. It’s true; nobody knows anything about Baz’s personal life. Well, I know he doesn’t have a sleep schedule and studies literature and has four siblings and doesn’t like garlic in his food, but I’ve also known him for nearly a decade. And I know he’s probably not seeing anyone, at least not in Canada because I think I’d notice it, given how thin the walls in our building are. 

“Alright fine,” Baz leans back. I raise my eyebrows – I wasn’t expecting Baz to actually go with it. “Let’s see. I usually get my dates by putting an ad on Craigslist. Then I take them out to a nice dinner, possibly to a taco truck that doesn’t meet the basic food safety standards. After that, we go to my flat and I snap their necks and drain their blood. Happy?”

Ikumi sniggers. I should’ve known he wasn’t going to take this seriously.

“Kinky,” Shepard comments. “I think I’ve been on a date that started like that.”

We all groan. 

“Shepard,” Ikumi starts. “Did you seriously go out with someone from Craigslist ?”

“What? He sold me a perfectly nice armchair.”

“Now, that’s a sure way to get yourself stabbed,” Baz comments. 

“Hey, he was nice! But the place he took me to was kind of sketchy,” Shepard defends himself. 

“Shep,” Ikumi starts. “Are you sure you didn’t go out with Baz ?” 

We all burst out laughing. 

 

BAZ

It’s even warmer in our afternoon session. I’m using the softness of the ice to my advantage, and  practicing my edge jumps. Mathis comes up to me and suggests different entries to try for my triple axel, which is fun, but also leaves my clothes soaked through from falling. I’m definitely going to have to change for the bus ride home.

“I think if you practice the spread eagle entry more, you can put it in your short program,” he says.

“It would fit nicely to the music,” I agree. And it would put me a bit ahead of the game – having difficult or creative jump entries gets you more points, but it’s also dicey. A difficult entry means a higher chance of messing up the jump itself, which means all those extra points go down the drain. You have to be dead-sure of a jump and I’m never dead-sure of my triple axel. 

“Well, try doing one at training camp and see what the judges think. Shepard! What did I tell you about doing your sal like that?” Our conversation abruptly ends as Mathis rushes off, presumably to fix Shepard’s quad salchow. I decide to take a break to drink some water.

As soon as I’m by the boards, Snow skates up to me.

“Do you want to put music on?” he asks. Ebb lets us put our own music on the radio during the sessions where we don’t run our programs, which is a bit hit and miss, depending on who’s putting it on. I always refuse because I don’t like sharing my music taste with other people.

“Snow, how long have I been training here?” I set my water bottle down. Snow squints.

“Um… well… two and a half months?”

“And how many times have you asked me if I wanted to put my music on?”

“A lot?”

“And what has been my answer every time?”

“Come on, Baz, you never play your music! It feels unfair!” he objects.

“I’m doing you all a favour with that. We already hear enough classical music every day,” I say.

“Your music taste isn’t just classical,” Snow says, his blue eyes boring into mine. Is he actually about to fight me on what kind of music I like? He’s such an idiot.

“And how would you know that?” I raise my eyebrows at him.

“I saw you lip-syncing something backstage at the Europeans last year. Didn’t look like classical,” he shrugs. 

Oh. I do sometimes do that before competitions. It helps with the nerves.

“I was mouthing the notes to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. You know, G-sharp, C-sharp, E,” I sing the first three notes of Moonlight Sonata. There’s no way I’m letting him know about my hype playlist. (Which does include Moonlight Sonata, by the way, but only the 3rd movement.) Snow sighs and rolls his eyes mightily.

“Whatever. I’m putting my music on then.”

“Thanks for the heads up. I’ll go get mentally prepared.”

Snow sighs again and grabs the aux cord connected to the radio. Seconds later, the first few notes of High hopes by Panic! At the disco fill the rink. (Panic! is also on my playlist, but I’m never going to let him know that.)

“Yes, Simon!” Shepard yells across the ice. Their taste in music broadly overlaps, which is annoying but also kind of cute when they start lip-syncing and jamming together and Ebb tries to tell them to go back to practice but she can’t help laughing at their moves.

 

Snow’s music taste is alright, but when the radio plays the third Taylor Swift song in a row, I decide to tell him to switch it up. Except he’s not on the ice. His jacket and water bottle are still here, though. Huh. Where did he go?

I see the light on in the changing room and decide that he must be there.

Quickly checking that neither of my coaches is currently watching me, I grab my skate guards and slip off the ice.

“Snow, one Taylor Swift song is okay but three -” I stop abruptly when I see him. He’s sitting on one of the benches, pressing a bunch of paper towels to the palm of his hand. My heart drops when I notice they’re stained with blood. “Are you okay?” I choke out.

“Yeah, I just cut my hand,” he says sheepishly.

“That much I can see. What happened?” I sit down on the bench next to him.

“I was doing a catch foot spin and I uh… just had my blades sharpened yesterday. It’s not the first time this happened but it just… yeah,” his voice trails off. He looks embarrassed.

“You’re an idiot, Snow. Gloves exist for a reason. Let me see,” I grab his hand, lifting the paper towels up.

“It’s too hot for gloves today,” he objects, as I examine his hand. To my relief, it’s not as bad as it looks - just a nick at the edge of his palm. (Thank god for that. We really don’t have time for ER visits today.) I roll my eyes at his stupidity and press the paper towels back into the palm of his hand, applying pressure so that the bleeding will stop.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone about this? You can’t just disappear if something like this happens,” I lecture him.

“Honestly, I thought it would have stopped bleeding by now.”

“You’re an idiot,” I say again. Then I realize that I’m still holding his hand and I let go quickly. “Apply pressure. I’ll go get Ebb,” I instruct him.

“Wait no! It’s really fine.”

“Snow, you’re bleeding,” I object.

“It’s going to stop. You don’t have to get Ebb, come on.” His cheeks are red and I think he might be embarrassed about the whole ordeal. (Which is fair – I did just call him an idiot twice because of it.) (But still, it’s incredibly hard to actually cut yourself on your skates. Trust Snow to find a way.)

I sigh and walk over to my skating bag, where I have some basic first aid. “Alright fine. Give me your hand.” I try not to think about how I’m holding his hand. This isn’t about me – it’s solely about getting Snow back on the ice as soon as possible.

I pry his fingers apart with mine and pull the paper towels away. He flinches and tries to pull his hand away when I start cleaning his cut with alcohol, but I hold it fast.

“Stop moving,” I snap.

“Sorry.”

I’m acutely aware of how close together we’re sitting. I can feel his warmth radiating from his clothes. My hands are shaking as I unwrap the plaster and I pray he doesn’t notice.

“There,” I say, smoothing over his plaster more times than I probably should. He looks at me and our faces are just inches apart. His freckles have never been more prominent.

“Thanks.” He bites his lip and I see it turn white under his teeth. My mouth’s gone completely dry and my pulse is echoing through my whole chest. I’m not sure he can’t hear it. He’s still staring. I’m still holding his hand.

This realization snaps me out of it and I quickly pull back, standing up.

“Don’t mention it. And wear your gloves next time.” To my pleasure, my voice sounds steady and not at all like how I’m currently feeling on the inside. My legs are shaking as I walk back to the ice.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: London

Plane flights, scones, cats and pep talks in the corridor. Ebb married a morning person, Simon tried to kill a mosquito and Baz isn’t even that tall. Jeans make a debut.

 

SIMON

Ebb’s wife is the only person in this car who seems to actually be okay with having to get up at four in the morning. Ebb is half asleep, Baz looks downright miserable and my brain feels like PlayDoh. 

It takes us forty minutes to get to the airport, where we say goodbye to Ebb. Her flight is an hour after ours and her check-in hasn’t even opened yet.

“Thank you for coming here an hour earlier,” I say, as I hug her goodbye.

“Oh, it’s no issue. You two text me when you get to England, okay? And call me or Mathis if you need anything.”

“Okay,” I nod.

“And have fun! That’s what’s most important!” She hugs us one last time and I tell her to wish the juniors luck with their competition, before getting in line for the British Airways check-in. I fish my glasses out of my backpack so I can actually see what the airport signs say. Baz raises his eyebrows at me.

“Since when do you wear glasses?” he asks. It’s the first time I’ve heard him speak today. (I’m starting to believe Baz is not a morning person.)

“I don’t like wearing contacts when I travel,” I shrug. I’m surprised he hadn’t noticed before. Surely, we’ve had at least one plane flight together in the past few years?

“Hm. I have another question.”

“Shoot.”

“What the fuck were you doing in your flat last night?”

I nearly drop my passport. “You heard that?”

“Yes, I fucking heard that! It sounded like you were throwing bricks against the wall. What the fuck, Snow?”

“I had a mosquito in my room,” I say sheepishly.

“Did you try killing it with a tank or what?” Baz still sounds annoyed but there’s a hint of amusement in his voice.

“No, my university textbook,” I admit.

“Oh, my heart hurts.”

I nudge him. “Shut up. If it’s any consolation, at least I killed it.”

“Nice to know you can handle an insect, Snow, but next time, try not to wake up the whole building with it.”

I sigh. If he’s going to spend the next seven hours being such a prat, I think I might push him off the plane, airline safety guidelines be damned.

 

As soon as we get to our gate, Baz disappears somewhere and only reappears a few minutes before boarding, holding a large Starbucks cup. He does look to be in a slightly better mood. Coffee truly does work miracles.

His mood improves even more when we board the plane and see that we have emergency exit seats. I don’t really like those seats – they’re a constant reminder that we could fall out of the sky any minute – but Baz seems to be thrilled by them.

“Ah, leg space,” he sighs happily, stretching out his legs. I have no idea what he has to complain about with regular seats – he’s not even that tall! (I mean, for figure skating standards, Baz is tall, but for normal people standards, he’s average at best.)

That’s when I notice what he’s wearing.

“Baz, full offence, but who the fuck wears jeans on a seven-hour flight?” I ask. They’re not even regular jeans! They look way too posh for a plane.

“I’m sorry, what’s wrong with jeans?”

“Well, they uh…” I can’t quite formulate my thoughts. “I mean, trackies are just way more comfortable? And it’s socially acceptable to wear them everywhere if you’re an athlete?”

“You may enjoy looking like a savage, Snow, but I certainly don’t. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to catch up on.” He grabs a book from his seat compartment and puts in his earbuds. Baz is one of those athletes that actually do their university work while they’re traveling. (Although he might just be reading Shakespeare for fun – I wouldn’t put it past him.)

Well, I certainly can’t relate. I take one last glance at Baz (seriously? Jeans?) then grab my Switch. Who needs university work when you have Mario Kart?

 

My mum and Penny are waiting for me at the airport. I rush to them as soon as I see them and we hug for a long time. Then, Penny starts fussing about my luggage and my mum about my haircut. (I haven’t cut my hair in months – I called up one barber shop and they answered the phone in French, so I panicked and hung up.)

“I keep forgetting Montreal is French Canada. Everyone at my rink speaks English,” I defend myself while mum and Penny laugh at me.

“Seriously, Simon, next time just tell them you don’t speak French,” Penny shakes her head.

“I guess,” I sigh, running my hands through my curls. I actually kind of like them a bit longer, but I reckon it’s only a few more weeks before they start falling in my eyes and then we’ll have a problem.

“Are we ready to go?” my mum asks. I nod and Penny and I start picking up my bags. Then I look up to find Baz. He’s standing a few meters away, holding a toddler and talking to his family. (Both Penny and Baz have scarily big families – there’s a whole crowd of people gathered around Baz and half of them are children.)

“Hey, Baz!” I call out to him. He turns around – his baby brother is resting his head on his shoulder. “We’re leaving,” I inform him. “See you tomorrow!” 

“See you,” he nods and turns to the toddler. “Are we going to wave goodbye to the idiots?” he croons, his voice softer. His stepmother gives him a playful smack on the head.

“Stop teaching him bad words!” she lectures him. Baz just laughs and I’m not entirely convinced that this is the same Baz that called me an idiot thirty minutes ago, when I grabbed the wrong suitcase at baggage claim. (“Seriously, Snow, can’t you read?”)

His little brother raises his arm slowly and gives us a small wave.

 

When I get home, Merlin absolutely won’t leave me alone. I can’t even go to the bathroom without him trying to follow me.

“I think he missed you,” my mum laughs as he circles around my legs, purring loudly. I bend down to scoop him up.

“You did, didn’t you?” I say to him. He headbutts me in return.

“Oh, by the way, I made you scones. They’re in the kitchen if you want one.”

I nearly drop Merlin. “You made scones?” My mum’s sour cherry scones are just about the best thing on the planet. I could eat them all day, every day.

Sure enough, a batch of scones is waiting for me on the kitchen table, golden brown and beautiful.

“Thank you!”

I spend the evening eating scones and watching shitty reality shows with my mum, just like we used to before I moved away. Merlin falls asleep on my lap.

I’ve missed this so much.

I’m happy. I’m home.

 

BAZ

The Alexandra Palace rink is arguably one of the most beautiful rinks I’ve ever skated in. It’s situated inside of an old building, so the walls are all brick with giant windows stretching from the floor to the ceiling. I love rinks that have a lot of natural light. Our rink in Montreal has plenty, but the rink I trained at in Moscow didn’t have any. It was disorienting to step outside after a full day of training and see that the sun had set already.

Not even Creuset rink can compare with the beauty of Alexandra Palace, though. It’s one of my favourite places to skate in – and coincidentally the first place I remember skating in. I’ve practically grown up in rinks – my mother took me to all her practices at the old Watford Rink, which is located in Winchester, but my first memory on ice is here.

I was three years old and my mother put up orange cones in one corner of the rink so that I could play there while she coached. I remember pushing the cones around and her scooping me in her arms and carrying me while giving her students corrections. I remember the big windows. I remember her hands, warm and scratchy against my cheek.

So in short, this rink holds a special place in my heart. The only downside is that it’s located on the far side of London from where my aunt’s flat is. Not to mention I had to drive up from Hampshire this morning, because my father insisted I spend the first night at home. And I’m jet-lagged as fuck. I forgot my melatonin supplements in Canada (terrible, rookie mistake), so I only got about four or five hours of sleep. I’m surviving on caffeine and spite alone.

A familiar Volvo pulls up in the parking lot, just as I’m getting my skating bag out of the trunk.

“Good morning Wellbelove. Long-time no see,” I greet her as she exits the car.

“Ugh, don’t talk about morning to me,” she sighs.

“Jet-lagged?” I ask. Agatha trains in San Diego, so she’s running on an even bigger time difference than I am.

“As fuck. You?”

“I’ve had better mornings, to be honest.”

“Oh,” she suddenly taps my arm, as if she’s remembered something. “You have some explaining to do. There are all sorts of rumours going around about you on Instagram.”

“What, why?” I ask too quickly, suddenly nervous that somebody outed me. But who could do that? Only Agatha and Ebb know and neither of them would do it.

“Oh shit, no, not about that,” Agatha immediately picks up on my panic. “About Nicodemus Petty choreographing your program. Did he really?”

“Oh, that. Yes, he did.”

“What was he like?” Agatha’s eyes light up with excitement. Nico and Ebb were our heros when we were growing up. 

“Brilliant, but a bit of a dick if you ask me. Ebb is much nicer,” I say, pushing the rink door open. A wave of cold air hits me in the face – there’s a heatwave in London right now, so the cold is actually welcoming. I just hope Snow won’t be tempted to take his gloves off again. (His hand ended up being just fine, thankfully. I reckon in a few days, it’s going to be like it never happened.)

Snow and Bunce are already in the changing room – I can hear them laughing all the way down the corridor. When I enter, they’re sat on benches opposite each other and Bunce is chucking cherry tomatoes at Snow, who tries to catch them, in turn, with his mouth. I roll my eyes at their stupidity.

“Don’t play with your food, kids,” I say, grabbing a tomato out of Bunce’s lunchbox and popping it in my mouth.

“I was going to eat that!” Snow complains.

“You have cat hair on your trousers,” I retort. He looks down and starts frantically brushing them off. Snow’s cat’s hair gets everywhere . Every training camp, I end up finding cat hair on my belongings even though I’ve never even met the damn thing.

I tear my eyes away from Snow brushing cat hair off his thighs (a sight for sore eyes, really) and leave the room to warm up.

 

Our national team is tiny. Figure skating is not a big sport in Great Britain and consequently, everyone knows each other. Everyone is bloody related, for fuck’s sake. Bunce and her siblings make up half of our national team (Although only she and Premal compete in the senior division) and Mitali Bunce is the only national team coach in England besides Davy. Even that is a fairly recent development; Mitali used to be Davy’s technical coach up until a few years ago, when she got fed up with his bullshit (rightfully so) and founded her own club. Most of the Bunces train there now, with the exception of Premal, who’s still with Davy.

And Agatha’s father is our national team physician, although, since most of us train abroad, we only go to him for major injuries and long-term medical treatment. He was the one who operated on my hip two years ago. He also comes with us to major competitions in the second part of the season.

There are only five of us on the ice right now: Snow, both Bunces, Agatha and me. We do have an ice dance team and a pairs team, but they have separate ice time because putting individual skaters together with team skaters would result in a catastrophe. Especially ice dancers. You’d think being on ice with them would be safe, since they don’t do jumps, but they’re scarily fast and always glued to each other, so they don’t have as much visual range. No thank you.

I’m quite enjoying all the space we have available. It makes it easier to imagine I’m in a competition. So far, I’m very pleased with how this practice is going. Snow, however, is not having a good day. He can’t land a quad to save his life – even some triples seem to be a problem.

I know this look on him. He’s been the same in every warm-up of every competition we’ve had together in the last few years. When Snow falls like that, it means he’s probably having a nervous breakdown on the inside. When he falls like that, I just want to pull him aside and tell him to take a deep fucking breath – but that’s not my job. I’m not his coach.

Our coach isn’t here, however, so I catch Snow after practice and pull him aside.

“Snow. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he mutters, trying to tear himself from my grip. I can feel his biceps moving under my fingers and I try to ignore it. I don’t have time to be gay right now.

“Right, don’t bullshit me. What’s wrong?” I insist. There’s no way in hell things can be fine if he fell on his triple loop earlier. I remember what Ebb told me in her office about fear – about how things go wrong when we’re afraid. Something is definitely not okay.

“I’m just jet-lagged, that’s all,” he mutters. I raise my eyebrows at him.

“I know you, Snow, you don’t get jet-lagged.” It’s true. I don’t know what kind of monster hypothalamus Snow has been gifted with, but time zones don’t seem like an issue for him. It’s incredibly annoying at times, especially when I’m practically a zombie and he’s as chipper as I’ve ever seen him. He’s not chipper now. He’s staring blankly ahead, biting his lip.

“Can you please tell me what’s going on?” I try again.

“I just… I hate it that he’s here!” he suddenly erupts. “He’s just looking at me and waiting for me to fall, I know it!”

“Are you talking about Davy?” I ask, even though he’s obviously talking about Davy. “Surely he’s not-” I begin but he cuts me off.

“No, Baz, he is. If he were still my coach, he’d be screaming at me that I’m a washed-up has-been right now.” His voice breaks. “And now it’s like he’s trying to prove his point. Like he’s trying to tell me my coaching change won’t save my career.”

“He actually said that?” I ask in disbelief.

“Said what?”

“That you’re a washed-up has-been?”

“Um, yeah. Loads of times,” Snow sniffles. I try to push down the anger boiling inside me. What kind of a sorry excuse of a coach do you have to be to say these things to your student? What gives him the right? I knew Davy was a shit coach, but I thought he was just shit to me (which was fair because I was shit to him) – all of this is new information to me. How could he say something like that to Simon? I always thought Snow was his favourite – everything he did was to please Davy. Every medal he won, he put it around Davy’s neck. He tried so hard , he pushed himself so far (too far sometimes), all so that Davy could berate him when things started going downhill.

I always knew Snow would do better with a different coach, but now I realize just how much of a better skater he could be if he had a better coach. Fuck, he could be a world champion for all I know. He could win everything .

But I don’t have time to be pissed off at Davy right now. I have more important things to take care of – Simon is still standing in front of me, biting back his tears.

“And you actually believe that?” I ask.

“I mean, look at my track record, Baz. I’ve won one semi-major international medal in the past two years. Even that was a bronze. It’s hard not to believe him when the evidence is right there.”

“Snow, do you want to know what changed when you entered seniors?”

“I became a shitty skater?” he suggests and I want to smack him.

“No. You lost your confidence – which was bound to happen, Snow. Did Davy do anything to prepare you for your senior debut?”

Snow shakes his head.

“See? This is his fault first and foremost and now he’s trying to play into your insecurities and you’re letting him. You’re not a has-been and your career is far from over and Snow, you’re a good skater .”

He shakes his head, a few tears making their way down his cheeks. I fight every urge not to wipe them away. “ I fucked it up Baz – I couldn’t keep it together and now my career is ruined.”

“Okay, let’s look at it this way then. Let’s say it was your fault and you did fuck it up – did he do anything to help you? Ebb sent you to therapy and changed up your training regime, right? Did Davy do any of that?”

Snow shakes his head again. That’s what I thought.

“So,” I continue. “He didn’t provide you the support that you needed, ergo he’s a shit coach, ergo he fucked it up for you. Secondly , he did not ruin your career. You’re twenty , Snow, your career’s barely even started.”

“But-” he tries to object, but I quickly cut him off.

“No. You have all the power to come back from the past two years. Just don’t let some bitter old man bully you into doubting yourself, because you’re far too good for that.” I might be getting too nice here, letting too much of my heart spill out – but I need him to know that. I need him to stop crying and eating himself alive. He’s good. He’s so fucking good – and he deserves so much better.

Before I can stop myself, my arms come up around his shoulders and I’m pulling him into a hug. I expect him to push me away, but he doesn’t.

I’m hugging Simon Snow. Not just a brief sportsmanship hug, like we’ve had to do at medal ceremonies before – no, this is a proper hug. His head is buried in my shoulder and I’m letting my hands rub circles in the place between his shoulder blades. He’s so warm. Christ, I never want to let go.

I do, though. I pull away, looking at him.

“Are you going to be okay?” I ask him.

He nods, wiping at his nose with his hand. (Disgusting.) “Thank you,” he says quietly.

“Don’t mention it. And go stretch.”

 

SIMON

Baz disappears down the corridor before I can fully comprehend what just happened. I don’t try to follow him. Instead, I wait for my tears to stop, then go do my stretches like he told me to do.

Baz has never been this nice to me – he’s never told me that I’m a good skater. He’s certainly never hugged me. It makes me wonder if his rudeness is  just a façade he’s putting on and he’s actually a nice person deep down inside. But why would he be putting up a front?

To scare off his rivals, probably – which means he considers me his rival.

I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest, so I decide not to think about it.

 

Penny immediately notices I’ve been crying.

“Are you okay? Where have you been?” she asks, as I put down my yoga mat next to her.

“Mhm. Just uh… I was talking to Baz.” I don’t want to recap the whole event – I’ve just calmed down and I don’t want to get upset again. I’ll tell her about it later, when it all feels more distant.

“That bastard!” she grumbles.

“No, no Pen, it wasn’t him.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No… he was nice, actually. He helped me.”

Baz Pitch was nice to me. Baz Pitch considers me his rival.

Fucking hell, what am I supposed to make of all of that? 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Creep/Ode to ankle support

Radiohead, rollercoasters and roller skating. Baz really hates team outings.

 

BAZ

I can’t say I’m a fan of Snow’s cat. He keeps trying to crawl in my lap and I’m afraid he’s going to leave hair all over my shirt. I considered lying and saying I was allergic to cats just so that I’d have an excuse to wait outside, but then curiosity got the better of me. I’ve never been in Snow’s house before and I wanted to see it.

“Merlin, come here,” Snow calls for him, noticing my discomfort. He’s leaning against the kitchen counter, eating a sandwich and this is the only reason I’m in his house right now. I was supposed to just stop by and pick him up – we agreed that he would wait for me outside – but the idiot wasn’t done eating yet. (And there’s no way in hell I’m going to let him get crumbs all over my car.)

Why can’t he just get his own driver’s licence? Why do I have to be the one to drive him to the team outing? Why do we even need a team outing? Figure skating is (mostly) an individual sport and as a national team, I feel like we’re connected enough. I mean, most of us grew up together, for fuck’s sake! We don’t need a night of team bonding. And we certainly don’t need one every year.

The only thing worse than a team outing is a creative team outing. The federation could just pay for our dinner at a nice restaurant, but no , they try to come up with new things every year. Escape room. A hike to the middle of nowhere. Building Ikea furniture together. The only occasion where I found a team outing to be enjoyable was when we played paintball and I got to shoot Snow. That was fun, we should do that again.

Although, if I’m being honest, visiting an amusement park doesn’t sound half  bad. Definitely better than Ikea furniture or, god forbid, pottery classes. I don’t want to be optimistic, but this sounds like it could be bearable. It doesn’t mean I’ll have fun, though.

Simon seems to be excited about it, though. He told me so on the ride here - I just rolled my eyes at him. 

We meet up by the amusement park entrance. Agatha looks just as excited over this as I am which is not at all.

“Suggestion: we just ride that fifty times,” she says, pointing at the biggest rollercoaster.

“Agreed,” I say.

“Absolutely not!” Snow objects. “Unless you want the contents of my stomach all over you.”

I raise my eyebrow at him. “You can jump quads but you can’t handle a little rollercoaster?”

“I can’t handle the backseat of cars.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner? I’d have made you ride in the back,” I say. Simon glares at me.

“Guys, are we going or not?” Agatha asks, impatiently.

“I’m in,” I nod.

“I’ll wait for you at the bottom,” Snow shrugs, taking a step back. We all turn to Penny.

“I’ll stay with Simon.”

“Suit yourself. Come on, Baz!” Agatha says, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me towards the rollercoaster line.

 

I kind of love rollercoasters – I reckon it’s the adrenaline. So far, I like where this team outing is going – but then again, it’s just Agatha and me and she’s the one I actually spend time with outside of skating. (Provided that we’re both in the same country.) 

We actually almost ended up skating together when we were little. Our coaches didn’t know how tall we were going to get, since single skaters usually have to be on the shorter side and our parents are pretty tall. They thought we might be better off in ice dance, where height isn’t such an issue, so for a few years, we had extra ice dance training together. We both hated it and eventually threw a fit at our parents (we called it “The Rebellion,” because we were ten and thought we were slick) and they took us out.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on a rollercoaster,” I say, looking up at the people screaming as they race through the loops.

“Really? Ginger and I go to Six Flags all the time.” Ginger is Agatha’s rink mate.

“What’s Six Flags?”

“It’s a theme park in America.”

“Ugh,” I roll my eyes. I like to pretend I hate America just to get on Agatha’s nerves. Well, I don’t have to pretend – I have common sense. I don’t understand how Agatha can live there.

But then again, I knew I was queer, and I still moved to Russia so who am I to speak?

“Shut up, Baz. I know what you’re thinking,” her sharp elbow pokes me in the ribs. The line moves up and it’s our turn to board the rollercoaster.

 

One time isn’t enough, so we end up going for a second ride. My hair is a mess at the end so of course Agatha takes a picture of me and posts it on her Instagram story.

“I’m going to report you,” I mutter while fixing my hair. “I’m going to steal your phone and delete all your social media.”

“You don’t know my password,” Agatha says while typing.

“I could guess it. I bet it’s something like I heart hummus .”

That makes Agatha laugh. She tucks her phone back in her pocket and grabs my elbow again. “Come on. Let’s find Simon and Penny.”

 

Bunce and Snow are sitting at one of the wooden tables with a plate of chips and a big stuffed dog placed between them.

“Where were you two? We were waiting forever!” Snow complains.

“The rollercoaster, Snow, get your ears checked out,” I sigh, sitting down next to Bunce and grabbing some chips off their plate. “I see you weren’t bored. Where did you get that?”

“There’s a stand over there,” Snow says, nodding his head at the fish and chips stand to our right.

“The dog, Snow, I meant the dog!” I sigh. Fucking hell, that boy has the intelligence of a brick.

“Oh,” Snow’s face turns red. “Penny won it at the claw machines.”

“What are you going to do with it?” Agatha asks.

Bunce shrugs. “I’ll give it to Priya or Pip… depends on who’s nicer to me tomorrow morning.”

“That’s a good tactic,” I nod, reaching my hand out to grab more chips but the plate is already empty. I look at Snow, who is surely the culprit in this. “How do you eat so fast?”

“There wasn’t a lot left,” Snow shrugs, wiping his hands against his jeans. “What do we do next?”

“Baz and I are probably going to find another rollercoaster-”

“Oh, come on, Aggs, let’s stick together! Just like in the old days!” Penny objects.

“Didn’t your brother fuck off as soon as we arrived?” I ask, raising my eyebrow at her.

“Would you like Premal to be here?” Penny retorts and I have to hand it to her; as much as I hate team outings, they would be ten times worse if Premal was here. He’s insufferable at best.

“Okay, what do you suggest we do then?” Agatha asks. Penny smiles.

“I have an idea.”

 

I was joking earlier. About hating team outings. I mean, I usually hate them but I didn’t hate this one. That was, until Bunce had an idea, of course.

Bunce should be banned from having ideas, ever. Because as it turns out, this place has a roller-skating rink. And Bunce apparently thought: “Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Putting a bunch of figure skaters on wheels and watching them topple over like bowling pins!”

I mean, it’s easy for her to say. She’s the only one out of the four of us that actually knows how to roller skate – but Agatha wants to learn and Snow will go with whatever Bunce suggests, which leaves me as the only one who thinks this is a terrible idea.

“We’re going to die. Look at that,” I say, pinching the top of the roller boot. The two ends come together way too easily.  My skates don’t squeeze at the ankles at all and this is just ridiculous. 

“Oh, have a little faith,” Bunce objects.

“Bunce, this has about as much ankle support as a sock.”

“You don’t need ankle support, Basil, it’s not like you’ll be doing anything advanced,” Agatha comments, lacing up her skates.

“Thank you for believing in me.”

“Come on, I’m sure it’s not that different from figure skating,” Snow says, standing up. I watch the confidence drain from his face and he immediately sits back down. “Never mind,” he mutters. I would be laughing if the same fate didn’t await me.

“I’m actually with Baz on that one. These feel nothing like the roller skates I have at home,” Penny says, tapping her toe stop against the ground.

“Yes, because they have the ankle support of a muppet.” I’m glad Bunce agrees this is a terrible idea, even if it was technically her idea. At least she’s self-aware.

“Okay, but we already paid now. We might as well give it a try,” Agatha says and unfortunately, the others agree.

 

I actually hate this. It feels like I have absolutely zero control over my legs and I have to put my weight in a completely different place than what I’m used to. Bunce isn’t doing much better – I suppose she’s too used to her high end (good ankle support) roller skates to feel secure in those cheap, rental ones. I’d be the same if you put me on rental ice skates, or god forbid, hockey skates. I would probably die in hockey skates – every figure skater would. Well, except maybe Snow but he actually did hockey before he started in figure skating, so he doesn’t count.

Speaking of Snow, he is taking to this like a fish to water. He has this uncanny ability to pick up on things extremely fast – it’s how he managed to still be successful in figure skating despite starting so late – and within ten minutes of being on roller skates, he’s already doing crossovers and simple turns. Agatha isn’t far behind either. I don’t understand them. Personally, I’m in hell of instability and insufficient ankle support. 

“Do you reckon I should  try jumping?” Snow asks as he catches up to Bunce and me. He puts his forearms on my shoulder, using me as an armrest, which makes no sense, given that I’m taller than him and he’s definitely the one with more stability at the moment. I want to shrug him off, but I’m afraid I’ll lose my balance in the process. And I also don’t want to shrug him off because I’m weak and flawed and he’s touching me. So much about avoiding self-indulgence. 

“If you want to fall, then by all means, go ahead,” I say.

“I was talking more to Penny.” Ouch.

“I think you could surely get away with a waltz jump,” Penny nods.

“If I end up having to drive you to A&E, you better not get blood all over my car,” I warn him, hoping that my threatening tone will make him take his hands off me. He’s annoyingly close and it’s making it hard for me to think. He turns his face in my direction and for a split, horrifying second, my brain thinks he’s going to kiss me on the cheek and I feel my stomach drop to the floor – but then he just sticks his tongue out at me.

“Very mature,” I comment, trying to ignore the somersaults still going on inside my abdominal cavity. (Stupid, gay brain. Why would Snow ever want to do that?)

“Okay, watch me!” he says, finally removing his hands from my shoulder, and then he’s off.

Bunce and I watch him as he gains some speed and does a huge waltz jump – and immediately eats it. Bunce starts laughing and I can’t help but scoff either. That looked ridiculous.

Bunce skates past me and helps him get up.

“That wasn’t nearly as fun as falling on ice,” Snow comments, dusting off the back of his jeans even though they’re not filthy. For a second, I worry that he’s hurt, but he’s smiling and he takes much worse falls in practice, so I conclude that he’s fine.

“Don’t put so much force into it. You went in as if you were doing a triple axel and that’s not going to end well. And shift your weight a bit more forward when you land – but not too forward because then you’ll fall on your nose,” Bunce advises him.

With her guidance, Snow gets in a couple of really solid waltz jumps as well as some other more advanced jumps. They try to get me to join too, but I’m not having any of it. I still think the ankle support in these skates is shit and I’d rather be burned alive than attempt anything more advanced than a simple forward crossover.

Then Agatha decides she wants to learn how to jump too, so she occupies Penny, which means Snow is at my shoulder again. Fortunately for me, I’m already feeling steadier on my feet, so I shrug him off almost immediately.

“Why don’t you try anything?” he asks.

“I really don’t feel like twisting my ankle today,” I say. He scoffs.

“Lame.”

“Says the bloke too afraid to ride a rollercoaster,” I retaliate.

“Hey, I was doing you a favour with that. You know, with the motion sickness?” Snow defends himself, then reaches for my hand. I pull it away, my heart beating faster. What is he trying to do? “Come on, let me at least teach you how to go backwards.”

“I’m good, thanks,” I say.

“Are you scared?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I just don’t trust you as a teacher. Besides,” I say, shifting from one foot to another so that I’m now going backwards, facing him. “I was supposed to go to the Olympics. Of course I know how to go backwards,” I add.

I’m surprised to find out that just like with figure skating, it’s actually more comfortable to go backwards. It also makes it easier for me to look at Snow, which actually might be a mistake. I rarely see him out of practice clothes and I must say, in washed out jeans, rolled up at his ankles and a white t-shirt, he looks beautiful.

“Watch out,” he says suddenly, grabbing the front of my shirt and pulling me close to him. I look behind my back and see that I nearly ran into a strange woman. “Maybe Mr. Olympics should also learn how to watch where he’s going,” he teases me and I can’t even shove him on the ground for that because I’m too busy staring at his stupid smile and his ridiculous curls and his freckles .

“Yeah, thanks,” I choke out, my face flushing hot red.

“Seriously? No witty comeback to that?” Snow raises his eyebrows at me. I clear my throat, trying to compose myself.

“Well, I would say you’re the one to talk when it comes to looking where you’re going, but I don’t want to sound like a broken record,” I say, my voice much more controlled now.

Snow gives me one of his heart-stopping grins. “You do say that a lot,” he agrees.

“And you still keep getting in my way,” I retort.

“I do not.”

“Admitting that you have a problem is the first step, Snow.”

He jabs me in the ribs. “Shut up.”

 

SIMON

Baz is silent on the way back. I stare out the window, humming along to the songs on the radio. I think he wants me to shut up because he changes the station. Rude.

“Don’t you like this song?” I ask. It was Creep by Radiohead. Who doesn’t like Creep ?

“I do. Your singing was ruining it for me,” he cuts off.

“So you like Radiohead?” I’m still on a mission to find out Baz’s music taste – if he has any. My theory is that he’s into something very un-Baz-like and he’s ashamed to admit it. Like Ariana Grande. Or the Soviet Union Anthem. Or yodelling.

“Hm,” Baz mutters, which tells me nothing.

“Is this your car?” I ask, deciding to drop the topic of music. It’s a really nice car; a black Jag. I see why he wouldn’t let me eat my sandwich inside when he picked me up this afternoon. Although maybe he just did that to fuck with me – I know he has little siblings, and they must be way messier than me. But then again, he’s also the poshest person I know, so maybe not. Maybe all of his siblings can eat a biscuit without leaving a single crumb on the expensive leather seats.

“It’s my father’s but I drive it when I’m at home,” he says, his eyes fixed on the road.

“How come you don’t have a car in Canada?” I ask. I mean, he could probably afford it and our building has a garage.

“I don’t want to make any big investments until I’m sure I’ll be staying in Canada for a longer period of time,” he shrugs.

“Wait, what? Are you not sure about staying in Canada?” I can’t hide the shock in my voice. Throughout these past three months, it has never occurred to me that Baz might not be certain about training with Ebb. That he can still change coaches. I mean, Canada is it for me. If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to retire and go back home. Canada is a last resort.

Not for Baz. He can afford to change coaches – the federation would let him because he’s so successful. And even if they wouldn’t, he has enough money to pay for it out of his own pocket.

 I try to imagine him leaving Ebb’s group and it makes me feel weird, really weird.

“That’s not what I meant. I’m not thinking about moving again,” Baz says and I hate how relieved I am by that. I don’t even know why. “It’s just, you never know what might happen. I was dead sure I’d be staying in Russia until the end of my career too, and then things happened and I decided to leave. I’m just keeping my options open this time around.”

“What happened in Russia?” I ask. I can’t help it – Baz has never publicly discussed why he left Rybakov, nor has he disclosed it to anyone at our rink, at least not that I know of.

“I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” Baz says coldly.

“Right. Sorry.” I feel my cheeks burning with embarrassment.

“It’s fine, it’s just…” his voice softens up a bit. “It’s not something I’m willing to discuss.”

“Noted,” I say, looking out my window. Thankfully, we’re almost at my house already and I don’t have to sit in this awkward conversation any more.

“Here,” Baz says, pulling up at my front door.

“Thanks for the ride.”

“Don’t mention it. See you tomorrow.”

I get out of the car and stand on the pavement, watching his tail lights slowly move out of sight.

Yeah. Tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Focus

Sport labs, heart monitors, quad loops and mock competitions. Baz’s promises come back to bite him in the ass and Simon, for once in his life, doesn’t fall on his ass. This chapter is about ass and overcoming your anxieties. Autumn Classic: T-minus eighteen days

 

BAZ

SS: hey remember when u said you’d teach me how to image train?

I sigh. Of course, that promise would come back to bite me in the arse when I least needed it. I could just ignore his text. Pitches are known traitors anyway. I wouldn’t even be putting my family name to shame by not keeping my promises.

Except I’ll see him at the rink tomorrow anyway, and Simon Snow is relentless when it comes to promises.

BP: What about it?

SS: Well, we never got round to that
SS: and I just figured it might be time
SS: since competitions r starting soon
SS: and we have that mock competition thing in 2 days
SS: yk

I roll my eyes, as my phone vibrates for the fifth time. Would it kill him to send all of these as one text?

BP: OK. But it’s not something I can just teach you and then you’re good at it. You have to practice it every day in order to see results.
BP: And I can’t guarantee that my methods will work for you

SS: It doesn’t hurt to try, does it?
SS: what do u say about tomorrow? After that measuring thing?

BP: That works

SS: great thnks

 

 

Anthropometry is possibly my favourite part of training camp. All athletes representing Great Britain come in once a year to have different aspects of our physical performance measured. It happens during our training camp and I rather like it because it’s a great insight into where we need to optimize our training, and how we’ve improved compared to last year.

The only shame is that it’s off-ice only. That’s why we’re not at the rink this morning, but at a sports lab in central London. We’re all cramped into a tiny changing room and they’re calling us in one by one to measure our height, weight and muscle composition. In the meantime, we have to fill in a very detailed questionnaire about our diet and training.

“How many hours of strength and conditioning would you say we do in a week?” I ask, turning to Snow. I had been planning on ignoring him for as long as possible today, but this questionnaire is far too detailed.

Turning to him was a mistake, though, because Snow has the hem of his shirt between his teeth and is currently attaching a heart monitor around his chest. His stomach is speckled with moles and I can see a faint line of hair going down from his navel.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, right?

“Um, what? Were you talking to me?” he asks, his shirt falling back over his stomach.

“Yes,” I say coldly, trying not to show that I’m currently experiencing a meltdown. Sure, Snow is bloody fit and sure, I’ve been in love with him for years, but that doesn’t warrant nearly getting a stiffy over a heart monitor. Fuck, I’m glad I’m not wearing a heart monitor right now.

“How many hours did you put for strength and conditioning? You know what, never mind, I’ll just put four.” I write down the number four in my questionnaire. The less I have to look at his face, the better. I hear Snow fumbling with the pages of his questionnaire.

“Yeah, I put four as well,” he confirms a few moments later.

“Brilliant,” I mutter, trying to calculate the amount of flexibility training I do in a week, while also trying to ignore the butterflies in my stomach.

“Yeah, it’s hard to determine off-ice hours because our gym schedule changes every week,” Snow continues, as if I didn’t know that already.

“Mhm. Be quiet now.” I have to restart my mental calculation because of him. I sigh and open the calculator app on my phone. Snow goes back to messing with his heart monitor and I try not to stare. 

The measurements take about two hours and I’m very pleased with the results – I’ve improved in nearly everything. Physically, I’m where I need to be for the start of this season. There are only a little under three weeks left before our first competition and this has just given me a new wave of confidence. 

Snow approaches me when we’re back at the Alexandra Palace rink.

“Baz. Image training,” he reminds me. I sigh and get up from the changing room bench. I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid it forever.

“Alright. Come on then. Take your phone.” I wave at him to follow me. The junior national team has just finished their training session and the changing room is much too loud to practice intense concentration in. I can’t help but think of the Creuset juniors though. All of them are competing today – I’ll watch the livestream later if I can, but I think the time difference is too big. I just hope Sam lands his quad.

Snow follows me into an empty ballet room.

“Okay, so,” I sit down on the floor. He sits down opposite me. “If you want to successfully image train, you need to engage all your senses. You need to visualize yourself in the setting. That’s why I always google the arena before going to a competition.”

“Okay,” he nods. “But what about when you’re not visualizing for a competition?”

“I always visualize for a competition. If there’s no competition then I just imagine I’m in the Megasport arena,” I say. Megasport arena is a venue in Moscow. I’ve been there plenty of times, so it’s familiar and at the same time, it’s big enough that the sight of huge arenas doesn’t scare me anymore because I’ve mentally prepared for it.

Snow scoffs. “Typical.”

“So, there are two ways to approach this. First is the meditative approach, second is the active approach,” I continue, ignoring his comment.

“I know the active one. It’s where you put music on and run it off-ice, right?” he asks. I nod. I’d be shocked if he didn’t know that. “And with the meditative one you run it in your head. I already know this, Baz.”

“Okay, let’s see it then. Put your short program music on and run it in your head.”

He sighs but lies back on the floor and does as I tell him.

“Okay, pause it. You’re doing it wrong,” I say after not even ten seconds. He sits up, frustrated.

“How do you know that?”

“First, tell me what was going on in your head. What did you picture?” I ask him. He shrugs.

“I dunno. I was in practice and –”

“Competition, Snow, always picture a competition! You need to get yourself acclimatized to every distraction – the score announcements, the applause, the cameras clicking – you need to picture it all. That way it won’t become a distraction when you’re actually competing. Secondly, engage your muscles. Don’t just lie there. Let your muscle memory take over – it’s what’s going to save you if you get too nervous to focus.”

He lies down again and starts his music, and it is a bit better now (at least from what I can see, he’s letting his muscles move), but not by much.

“Alright, stop. Are you there in your head?”

“I can’t focus if you’re watching me!” he complains. I sigh in frustration. I should’ve seen this coming.

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do; I’m going to play you a video of one of your old competitions and that way you’ll hear your name being announced and the applause and then I’ll play your music and I’ll turn my back to you so you can focus. How does that sound?”

Snow shrugs. “Alright, sure.” He doesn’t sound convinced that it’ll work. 

I open YouTube and find a video of his short program at the 2019 World Championships. That competition was held in Japan, and the audience there is always extremely big and very loud—perfect for my purposes.

I let the applause play on my phone and then start his music on his phone, then turn to watch him in the ballet room mirror. He seems to be doing better this time, really letting his muscles move, and he’s focused enough that he doesn’t even notice when I turn back around and watch him.

I stop checking if he’s doing it right and instead just take some time to look at him. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to look at Simon like this, so I enjoy it while I can. He’s got his eyes closed and I stare at the moles on his face – the ones I’ve wanted to kiss since I first met him. He got a haircut a few days ago, but his curls are still long enough that I want to run my fingers through them. Instead of doing that, though, I lie down next to him on the floor, just for a little while. I’ll allow myself this much, for a few minutes at least.

It took me a surprisingly long time to figure out I was in love with Snow. I certainly found him to be fit—even when I was twelve—but I thought that just meant I was gay, not that I was in love with him. I only realized that last part when I was fifteen – but I think maybe I loved him from the start. From that first day, when he showed up at my group, sullen and stubborn and covered in bruises from all the falling. I’d seen him around the rink before, training in the lower group, but it was only when we shared the ice that I started to pay attention to him. (It was impossible not to; he always kept getting in my way.)

I distinctly remember the moment I realized that I loved him. It hit me like a bag of bricks and has hung over me ever since. We were in practice and Snow was running his free skate for that season. I remember he was exhausted – he was bent forward, braced on the boards for support, absolutely drenched in sweat, his breath coming out dangerously fast. He didn’t ask for a break that day, even though it seemed like he was about to pass out from exertion, and I just knew. The moment he straightened up, wiped his sweat away and pushed on, it all fell into place. I loved that stubborn nightmare. I still love that stubborn nightmare. Hopelessly.

I think I love him more now. Despite doing my best to avoid him in Montreal, I still let myself get too close – especially here in London. The energy seems to have shifted between us since our talk in the corridor on the first day of training camp. He seems more comfortable with me, he smiles at me more often – he makes my heart flutter every time.

Words can’t describe how much I want to be close to Snow, how much I crave his companionship, how happy it makes me when he tries to strike up a conversation with me – but I can’t allow myself any of that. It’s not good for my heart. I know he’ll never want me the same way I want him.

I close my eyes and let out a heavy sigh.

When we get back to Montreal, I have to start putting some distance between us again. I have to let him know that I’m not his friend, I’m his rival.

His rival who’s hopelessly in love with him. (He doesn’t have to know that part.)

“Baz?” Snow’s voice brings me back from my thoughts. I realize the music’s ended and his blue eyes are now staring at me. “Why are you lying on the floor?”

“I was seeing if I could best you,” I say without missing a beat. I expect Snow to be annoyed, but he starts laughing. I allow myself to laugh too.

When we get back to Montreal, I’m going to have to start pushing him away.

But we’re not in Montreal yet.

 

 

It happens later that day, during our evening session. I don’t see it – I just hear the sound of blades against the ice, then someone landing (jumps are loud ), then Bunce yelling.

I finally look then and see Snow, with both Agatha and Penny rushing towards him. At first, I think he’s hurt and my heart stops, but the three of them are all smiling and Penny is hugging him.

“What happened?” I ask, coming closer. I glance over at Premal, who’s standing a few meters away, looking dumbfounded.

“I landed a quad loop,” Snow says, breaking away from Penny, a huge smile stretched across his face.

“You did?” I don’t even bother hiding my shock. His quad loop shouldn’t be nearly at the landing stage yet – last week, he still struggled to get the full four rotations in and ended up on his back, even when he did fully rotate it. (Which happened maybe two times.) (But it still happened.)

Leave it to Snow to learn one of the hardest quads within a month and a half. It took me a year of training to get my quad lutz to a seventy-five percent consistency rate, but I’m not Snow .

He goes to look at his tracing on the ice and we all follow him.

“It’s very under-rotated, though,” he observes. We all hum in agreement. 

“How did you even land that?” I ask. 

He just shrugs. “Dunno.” 

“But you landed it! Holy shit Simon!” Bunce is still over the moon about it.

“Do another one!” Agatha says.

“I’ll film you and we can send it to Ebb,” I join in. 

“Oh yeah, we could do that!” Snow agrees. 

So he gets back to studying his tracing and I skate to the boards to grab my phone, passing Davy as I do so.

His face . I nearly burst out laughing. Davy is still staring at Simon, his jaw hanging open. I consider skating over and closing it for him, but I don’t want to touch the gamy old fuck. Oh well, let him see what good coaching does to Snow.

Snow doesn’t land the next quad loop attempt, but we make him go again.

“You can do it!”

“Come on, one more!”

“Focus, Snow.”

He lands the next one. It’s still under-rotated, but Bunce, who saw every attempt so far, says it’s better than the first one.

“Good man,” I say, high-fiving him.

“Did you film it?” he tries to catch a peep at my phone.

“Yes. Do you want to see it?” I ask. He nods excitedly and I show him the video. Actually, I have to show him the video three times, because he uses it as a way to correct himself. Then he tells me to send it to him and I take the opportunity to send it to Ebb as well.

BP: Check this out
BP: [Video attachment]
BP: It’s under-rotated but still

It takes Ebb a few minutes to reply.

EP: AAAAAAAAAAAA SIMON
EP: How many times did he land it? Was any of it not UR?
EP: This calls for a cake

BP: Twice so far, both were UR. He would like you to know that his favourite cake is any cake

EP: Tell him I’m proud of him!

 

SIMON

Everything hurts the next morning. I probably pushed myself too far with the quad loop attempts yesterday (I did land a few more after that, but they’re all still very under-rotated) and now my legs are killing me.

Today is the last day of training camp. Baz and I will be flying back to Montreal this evening – I can’t believe it’s all over already. The next time I’ll be back in London is going to be in December, for Nationals and our Christmas break.

Today is also the day I’ve been the most nervous about; the mock competition.

While some judges have been coming and going throughout our sessions here, today, we’ll still have a full panel of judges and be scored just like in competition. It’s also going to be set up like a real competition too – a six-minute warm-up and then we take the ice one by one. Our families are allowed to come watch us so that we have an audience.

Mock competitions are good; they give you a chance to prepare for the real deal and to see where you need to improve. I actually really like that we have them, but I’m still so nervous.

All of us are treating it like a real competition, or at least like a test run for a real competition, though. We’re all doing our backstage pre-competition rituals and some people are in costumes.

Baz is kicking a football ball against the walls – he does that before competitions sometimes – while listening to music. He’s not in costume – neither of us could be arsed to bring our costumes from Canada – but his hair is in a different bun than it usually is, so I’m guessing that’s how he’ll be wearing it for a competition.

I tear my eyes away from him and get back to my own thing, bouncing my red ball against the other wall. (Most skaters carry a ball to a competition, although hardly anyone kicks it like Baz does. Most of us just throw it against the walls or play catch with our coach – it gives you something to focus one while simultaneously keeping you warmed up. It’s neat.)

 The one big difference from a real competition is that this is much, much shorter. Competitions are organized so that we’re all split up into warm-up groups of six. Six skaters take the ice for a six-minute warm-up, then five skaters leave and the first one in the starting order skates his program. When all six skaters are done, the next warm-up group takes the ice. The starting orders are randomly selected, but skaters are usually sorted into groups by their scores from previous competitions. The ones with the lowest scores always skate in the first group and the ones with the highest always skate in the last group – this is to keep the competition more interesting. Grand Prix competitions always have two warm-up groups, but big competitions like Worlds or the Olympics can have four or sometimes even five groups.

Right now though, we don’t even have enough skaters to fill one warm-up group. Ice dance and pairs will be funny – we only have Minty and Sascha competing internationally in ice dance and Gareth and Philippa in pairs. They’re going to be doing the six-minute warm-up completely alone. I’ll be doing mine with Baz and Premal; Premal will skate his short program first, I’ll be second and Baz will be third. Then we’ll have a two-hour break, and repeat the whole thing again with the free skate.

This is the second major diversion. We never have the short and the free program on the same day at real competitions – more often than not, we even have one day off in between the two events. But there’s only three of us here, so we’re doing both in one day.

The six-minute warm-up goes well. I decided to stick with my original layout and not try to do the quad loop in either of my programs, because it’s still too risky (even if it’s not a real competition). Baz isn’t doing his quad lutz either. He’s super adamant about keeping it a secret until the first competition, so he hasn’t practiced it at all during this training camp. According to him, he doesn’t trust Premal and Davy not to run their mouths.

Suddenly it’s my time to take the ice and I’m feeling very nervous. I take a few deep breaths and try to tell myself this isn’t a real competition. I try to think of everything my therapist has told me about calming down, but my mind is coming up blank. I’m starting to panic again.

I’ll be okay. I can do this. It’s just practice. Come on.

My hands are shaking. The music starts.

Baz said I should always visualize my program like I’m in a competition, but I think he was wrong. Because right now, I’m trying to imagine I’m at the Creuset rink and the only person watching me is Ebb – and I somehow pull through. It’s not perfect and I definitely could’ve done a better job with the step sequence, but my jumps were steady.

I take my bows and skate off. One program down, one more to go.

 

My mum hugs me when I join her on the stands.

“I know I’m not an expert in these things, but I think this is the best program you’ve had so far,” she says. I nod in agreement.

“It’s a lot harder compared to what I had last year. Both of my programs are,” I say, taking a bite of the sandwich that she brought for me. Penny and Agatha are on the ice right now, warming up.

“And how do you feel about them?”

“Actually, really good. I think if I can manage to keep it together for competitions, I could get some really nice scores.”

“I think you’ll manage,” my mum says, putting my arm around me.

“I was so nervous just now,” I admit.

“Yeah, I noticed at the beginning. But when the music started, you held out wonderfully. It didn’t even show that you were nervous.”

“Really?”

“Really,” she assures me.

“I think therapy helps,” I say. My mum knows I’ve started seeing a sport’s psychologist in Montreal. Ebb told me I should do it, so I did. “And Ebb. And Baz, actually,” I add, remembering how he taught me how to image train yesterday.

“I’m really glad Baz is there with you. As much as I miss you when you’re away, it’s comforting to know that you at least have a friend there,” Mum says. 

Is Baz my friend? I never thought of him that way. He’s just Baz… he’s always there, probably making a snarky comment about something. But I think he cares about me… In a strange, Baz sort of way. Yes, I think he is my friend. 

“I miss you when I’m away, too,” I sigh, deciding to stop thinking about Baz and instead leaning against my mum’s shoulder.

 

I don’t know if it’s the conversation with my mum or just the residual confidence from doing my short program well, but I feel a lot calmer for the free skate. I’m still nervous when I take my starting position, but once I hear the music, I’m somehow able to forget my nerves and just enjoy the program.

This is something that hasn’t happened in over two years, not in front of an audience anyway. I think it’s just because I’ve finally realized that this isn’t real. Still, I think this will help once I’m in an actual competition. (And, if nothing else, it’s a nice confidence booster.)

The real shock comes after we’re done, though. In a real competition, we learn our scores a few minutes after our program, but here, they just print out our scoring sheets and pin them on a board in the changing room.

And when I see how much I scored, I think it must be a mistake. Because if this were a real competition, I would’ve won.

Because I just scored above Baz.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Homesick

The grind continues; Creuset rink hair salon, private sessions, and Hozier. Baz is too British for his own good. Autumn Classic: T-minus seven days.

 

SIMON

As soon as the initial shock wore off, I realized that it made sense that I scored above Baz. I mean, I skated two good programs and Baz half-arsed both of his. He didn’t do half of his quads and he fell on his triple axel in the free. It wasn’t anywhere near the performance he usually gives at competitions. There’s no way I could’ve beat him at a real competition.

Somebody should tell Baz that. He was acting cold to me for the entirety of our flight back to Montreal. I really hope he was just tired and wasn’t actually upset over his scores. I know Baz is very competitive, but getting upset at being beaten in a fake competition seems too dramatic, even for him. And I thought that maybe we were becoming somewhat closer to friends. I mean, he was relatively nice to me throughout the whole training camp, only to shut me out entirely the moment we got on the plane.

I guess we’ll see today. We had a day off when we got back from London, but now it’s time to resume training. The next two weeks are going to be busy; Ebb and I have to work through all the feedback the judges gave me at training camp this week, and then next week is dedicated solely to getting ready for our first competition. Mathis and I are also going to be working on my quad loop, trying to see what we can do to get it fully rotated.

When I walk into the Creuset rink, I’m met with a strange sight: Baz is sitting on the stairs, Ophelie—the junior—sitting one step above him and a younger girl sitting one step below him and they’re in some sort of a hair braiding chain. Ophelie is doing Baz’s hair and Baz is doing the little girl’s hair.

“What’s going on here?” I ask as I approach them. Only Ophelie looks up at me – Baz is focused on the little girl’s hair and the girl in question probably doesn’t know how to speak English. (She’s from the pre-novice group, so I don’t know her name.)

“I promised Ophelie that if she won a medal in her competition, I’d let her do my hair,” Baz says with a bored voice.

“And I won silver!” Ophelie says excitedly.

“I saw that! Congratulations! You’ll have to show me your medal later.”

“I have it in my bag.”

Baz says something to Ophelie in French then and she turns her attention back to his hair.

“Okay, so your hair I get. But why are you braiding…” I try to see if I can remember the little girl’s name, but I know it’s no use.

“Noemi’s mum is on a business trip and her dad didn’t do a very good job with her ponytail this morning. I figured I’d help,” Baz says. I glance over at the girl’s hair – he’s not doing a ponytail but some sort of a fancy bun, the kind that Russian skaters wear at competitions.

“Where did you learn how to do that?” I ask.

“I have long hair, Snow.”

“I asked him the same thing and he said Angelina Nuriyeva taught him,” Ophelie says, her eyes shining. Angelina is probably one of her biggest idols, given that she’s a world champion in ladies’ figure skating.

“Why was Angelina teaching you competition hairstyles?”

“You never run out of questions, do you, Snow?” he snaps. 

“Do you think she could teach me?” Ophelie interrupts us.

“Make it to the Junior Grand Prix Final and I’ll ask her,” Baz says. Ophelie makes a face.

“I’ll never make it there. The Russians are too strong,” she says. I have to give her that – while Ophelie is very good, some of those little Russians could be a fair match even for Baz. Figure skating is funny like that – if you can do a quad lutz, you’re either a fully-grown man or a thirteen-year-old Russian girl. There’s no in between.

“Well, not with that attitude, you won’t,” Baz says. “I trained with those Russians and you’re just as good as they are. However, it would help if you listened to Ebb’s corrections every now and then.”

Ophelie giggles, but she looks a little bit embarrassed. “Don’t worry,” I tell her. “When he was your age, Baz never listened to his coach either.”

Baz glares at me. “I had my reasons, Snow. Don’t you have to warm up?”

“Why didn’t you listen to your coach?” Ophelie asks.

“That story involves some very bad words, Ophelie, so I can’t tell you. Go tell Snow to warm up.”

“Alright, I’m going,” I step past them to the warm-up area, trying not to laugh at the whole scene.

 

“Simon! Where’s my favourite quad looper?” Shepard yells as soon as he sees me come up to the warm-up area.

“Is that even a real word?” I ask as he hugs me.

“I don’t care, man. You landed it!” he grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me lightly and I start laughing.

“It was under-rotated,” I object, still laughing.

“Eh,” he waves his hand dismissively at me. “Do you know how many quads I under-rotate? All of them!” He’s laughing too now. It’s a common joke around here – Shepard and quads don’t really get along. He can do the quad toe just fine but the rest of them are still very dicey. It’s okay though, because he’s got the artistry.

“Come on,” I nudge him. “We have to warm up.”

 

It feels good to be back on Creuset ice. Mathis and I spend a lot of time working on the quad loop, but I only fully rotate a few of them and even on those, I end up falling. By lunchtime, I’m exhausted and everything hurts. Still, I catch up with Baz as he’s leaving the rink.

“Hey,” I greet him, slightly out of breath from running after him. (He left at astronomical speed today. He usually takes his sweet time taking off his skates and packing up his things, but today, he was out of there within three minutes.)

He doesn’t say anything and I notice he has earbuds in. I tap his shoulder and his head snaps up to look at me.

“What do you want, Snow?” he scowls. Oh. I didn’t realize he was in a bad mood.

“Um, are you okay?”

“Yes,” his voice is cold. He looks pissed off. He also picks up his pace and I have to half run to keep up with him. (Damn him and his long legs.)

“Are you sure? Because if you don’t want to talk to me, you can just tell me,” I say.

“Okay. I don’t want to talk to you. Goodbye!” He starts walking even faster and I stop trying to catch up – mostly because his answer caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting him to be that straightforward with me.

But then again, that’s who Baz is. He always goes for the lowest blow. I guess a few days of him being nice to me haven’t changed that. And maybe he’s actually having a bad day and he’s probably jet-lagged. I better just leave him alone for today and hope he’ll be in a better mood tomorrow.

Baz is not in a better mood tomorrow, or the day after that and I slowly begin to realize it’s not jet-lag or anything else. He has an issue with me specifically. His comments during practices get worse – I can’t come within five meters of him without him sneering at me to get out of his way. He keeps making awful comments about my skating too. (“Seriously Snow, you call that a rocker?” and “What’s the point of getting your skates sharpened if you’re not even going to use your edges?” and his favourite: “I’ve seen a dead fish with more expression.”) 

I don’t know if this is about my scores at the training camp or if something else is bothering him, but every time I try to have a conversation with him, he sneers and pokes at me until I get angry and no longer want to talk to him.

After a few days of that, I decide to stop bothering. If Baz doesn’t want to talk, fine. See if I care. I have better things to do anyway – Autumn Classic is approaching fast. Only one more week until we leave.

 


 

I have a private session in the evening to fine polish the details of my free. It’s eerie being at the rink this late, because all the other lights are already turned off and it looks staggeringly empty. It’s also colder than usual (although that might just be autumn creeping up on us) and there’s a cloud of condensation floating about two meters above the ice, contributing to the eeriness.

Frankly, I don’t care how creepy the rink looks. I’m too exhausted. I’ve already had five hours of training today and working on the free skate is twice as tiring as working on the short program. By the end of the session, I’m about ready to drop dead.

“Really good work, Simon,” Ebb pats me on the back as we’re leaving the ice. I nod, too tired to actually make conversation. My legs feel weak and my lungs hurt from breathing in the cold air. I just want to go home and sleep for twelve hours, but I still have to stretch, otherwise my muscles are going to be dead tomorrow.

Ebb offers to stay until I’m done but I tell her not to wait. I live close enough that I don’t need a ride and there’s a security guard here at the rink, so I don’t have to worry about locking up.

I take off my skates and try to gather the strength to go to the ballet room and do my stretching. I’m so fucking tired – I don’t think there’s an ounce of energy left in me.

I lean my head back against the wall and that’s when I hear something. Music.

That’s strange. No one’s supposed to be here at this hour. Maybe Ebb decided to stay behind anyway. Or the security guard is listening to music… I decide not to give it much thought and just go get the stretching over with so I can be home as soon as possible.

I grab my mat and my roller and head to the ballet room. The music is louder here and I see a light shining from underneath the door. I guess someone must still be here then. I pause in front of the door, listening carefully. I don’t recognise the song, but the voice singing it sounds familiar. I push open the door, just the slightest bit.

It’s Baz. What the hell is he still doing here? I swear I saw him leave earlier.

He’s dancing . Not ballet, but the kind of dancing you do when you run your program off-ice. But that’s not his program music… What’s he doing?

It looks good though. Very good. The music sounds dark and lonely, but powerful. It suits him – or he suits it . I don’t know. Baz is a very good dancer and he can suit pretty much any music. I wish I could do that – connect to music like that.

He doesn’t notice me, so I keep watching him. I think he’s dancing to Hozier. I don’t know, I don’t listen to Hozier, but I’ve heard Take me to church and Movement and maybe that’s why the song sounds familiar.

He turns then and stops abruptly. It takes me a moment to realize he’s probably seen me peeking through the door. I’m kind of disappointed – I wanted to see where this was going. But when I see Baz’s expression, I realize I maybe just walked in on something I wasn’t supposed to see.

“How long have you been standing there?” he snaps.

“Not long. Is that Hozier?” I ask. I can’t help myself – I’m still on a mission to find out about his music taste (although that seems like the least of my concerns right now). Baz grabs his phone and pauses the music.

“What are you doing here?” He sounds annoyed. Or embarrassed. Maybe both.

“I could ask you the same thing. Are you working on an exhibition program?” I ask, flopping my mat on the floor. It’s best to play this off casually – and besides, my muscles are already hurting like a bitch and the longer I stand there, the worse it’s going to get.

“No. I’m probably doing Rachmaninoff for my exhibition this year,” he says, rolling his eyes.

I wrinkle my nose. “Why do you always go for classical?” I ask. That makes Baz roll his eyes again.

“I like classical.”

“You also like Hozier, apparently.”

“How much of that did you see?” his question comes out too fast to sound bored. Oh god, is he actually worried about me seeing him dancing?

“Not much. But relax, it was really good,” I assure him. Seriously, I had no idea this was an issue for him. Why would it be an issue? He’s a brilliant dancer.

“That’s beside the point, Snow! You can’t just spy on people like that!” he snaps.

“You knew I was at the rink! How was I spying? What’s up with you?” I’m too tired to deal with his bullshit today. Here I thought we were having a normal fucking conversation but no , he just has to be a prat.

Maybe he’s just nervous because competitions are starting soon. Maybe being a prick is his way of being nervous. (Does Baz even get nervous for competitions?)

“You were loitering at the door. How is that not spying?” Baz retaliates.

“I didn’t want to bother you. Sorry for being considerate,” I huff.

“You’re never considerate,” he says, picking up his jacket from where he’s left it by the radio.

“Listen, I know you have a thing about not wanting people to see what you’re working on, but you really don’t have to worry; I won’t tell anyone.”

“It’s not about that,” Baz says, his voice cold. He’s already at the door. “See you tomorrow, Snow.”

I’m about sick and tired of this shit. Of his shit. I run after him, my muscles complaining loudly as I do so, but I don’t care.

“If it’s not that then what is it?” I yell down the corridor. He turns around (or at least I think he turns around – I can only see his silhouette).

“Seriously, Snow, just forget it.”

“No,” I say, still walking towards him. I’m close enough to see him now and I reach out to grab his wrist in case he tries to run off again. “What’s up with you? Why are you being such a prick? Is it because you’re worried I’m going to beat you this season? Because I can assure you, Baz, that’s not going to happen.”

“Snow, I don’t give a shit whether you beat me or not,” he sneers, stepping closer and towering over me. He’s close enough that I can feel the warmth of his breath. “But we’re not friends and never will be; we’re rivals. And if you do want to beat me, I suggest you finally get that into that thick head of yours.” With that, he tears his hand out of my grip and turns on his heel. 

Bullshit. Fucking bullshit. He can’t just shut me out as soon as he finds out I’m a possible threat for his gold medal. (Which I’m not . Just because the judges at the training camp said I am doesn’t mean I actually am. He should know that.) (I mean, Shepard is a much bigger threat to Baz than I am and I don’t see Baz being an arse to him .)

He’s walking down the stairs now and I chase after him.

“That’s bullshit, Baz,” I yell from the top of the staircase. 

“Leave me alone!”

 

BAZ

If Snow thinks this is about him beating me, he’s a bloody fucking idiot. I mean, he is a bloody fucking idiot. That’s pretty much confirmed. And I’m not worried about him beating me. I’ve been in this sport for long enough to know that I’m the only person responsible for my successes and failures. And I know full well what Snow is capable of. I may have put minimal effort into my programs at that mock competition (I don’t want people to know what I’m planning), but Snow is still very much capable of beating me even when I’m at my best. Just because he wasn’t aware of his potential doesn’t mean I wasn’t either.

And I’m not even that competitive.

Okay, that’s a lie. But Snow is my teammate . Whoever gets the medal, it’s still a medal for Britain, so if he thinks I give a shit about his fucking scores, he’s a moron.

And I’m not a sore loser! I’m not like Micah Cordero. If anyone else beats me, I can only be mad at myself for not doing my best. That’s basic sportsmanship!

But I guess it’s better he thinks I’m a sore loser than that he knows the truth.

And the fact that he saw me today…

I wasn’t even planning on going back to the rink, but then I heard this song and it resonated with me too much. I just had to do something with it and my flat is too small to do choreography in.

And it should’ve been fine. Ebb lets us come back to the rink any time it’s open to use the space there, provided we’re not interrupting any classes. I mean, for the ice, it’s better to make arrangements first, just because of the ice resurfacing, but the gym and the ballet room are free to use any time.

But I forgot Snow had a session this evening. And that he’d probably use the ballet room after he was done. Really, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he walked in.

And I wouldn’t really care, except for the fact that he watched me . Because this was too personal. Because this song put together everything I was feeling. Because if I didn’t put everything I was feeling into choreography right then, it would swallow me whole.

And he saw it. He watched it. He watched me pour all my feelings about myself, about being gay, about him into choreographing this piece and that’s just… I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t know how to deal with people seeing me vulnerable. I never did. 

He probably, hopefully, didn’t see it like that, though. Snow doesn’t have a lot of comprehension for choreography – he probably just thought I was having fun. Or being creative or whatever he wants to call it. But I know what he saw. I know he saw me with my heart completely out on my sleeve… and I hope he never figures out he did.

 

SIMON

I don’t try to catch up with Baz. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t – I’m too tired. By the time I head home, he’s long gone. And it’s raining outside. And I don’t have an umbrella.

Bloody brilliant.

I walk back home, holding my jacket above my head and trying to ignore the fact that I feel like shit, both mentally and physically. I just want this day to be over with.

 

Despite my exhaustion, I can’t fall asleep. I can’t shake the image of Baz in the ballet room out of my head. I don’t know what song he was dancing to; I just know it was mesmerizing. If he skated to that in public, he’d win everybody’s hearts.

I mean, he’s already won everyone’s hearts. Baz might not be the world champion (yet), but he’s definitely the crowd favourite.

But no, this was different. This was more than his usual programs. I can’t describe how or why, but it felt like… well, it felt like him. It felt like I’d recognize him in the movements, even if someone else performed it.

Or maybe I’m overthinking it. I don’t even know Baz that well – but I do know he’s very good at connecting to the music. Maybe I’m only thinking like this because his choreography made me feel something. (Good choreographies always do.)

Like when the lyrics said ‘thought gasoline was on my clothes’ and he crumpled his shirt in his hand and tugged on it, I felt as if someone had sucked the breath out of me. Or his expression when he turned around, a moment before he saw me. He was just so immersed in it. And he looked kind of sad. It made my heart ache. It made me realize maybe I was seeing something I shouldn’t be seeing.

Maybe I should stop thinking about it.

I toss and turn in bed, feeling more awake than ever. I just want Baz out of my thoughts so that I can sleep… or I want to talk to Penny about what a prick he’s being.

But it’s already past midnight in London. Penny is asleep.

Sometimes, I hate living here. I used to be able to call Penny any time I wanted. I used to be able to see her any time I wanted. Now with the time difference… there are evenings when I just feel so lonely . Homesick. I hadn’t realized how much I missed home until I went back for the training camp.

Maybe that’s why I’m so upset by Baz pulling away so suddenly. He’s the most familiar person here – and he’s so fucking English . He hasn’t lost a bit of his accent, even after four years of living abroad, he hates every weather, loves tea more than life itself and even smells like bergamot. It’s ridiculous.

No. What’s ridiculous is that he reminds me of home.

It sounds so dumb. But he does… in a way. 

Chapter Text

[Turning Edge Magazine – Let’s go Autumn Classic! – published September 15 th , 2020]

The Canadian leg of the Challenger Series, Autumn Classic International, is shaping up to be quite the event with some of the finest talents in men’s figure skating going head-to-head in their first competition of the season.

The twenty-year-old Basilton Grimm-Pitch from Great Britain is looking to be the favourite for gold, competing for the first time with a new coach, Ebeneza Petty. Pitch won gold at the 2020 European Championships in Graz and silver at the 2020 World Championships in Montreal. He holds the world record short program score of 104.56 points, which he set this January at the European Championships.

Also from Great Britain, and a medal hopeful, is twenty-year-old Simon Snow. We remember Snow as the 2017 and 2018 Junior World Champion, however his senior career so far has been rather turbulent. Much like his teammate, Snow also moved his training base to the Creuset Skating Club in Montreal this summer and is hoping that the coaching change will help him get the results he needs.

Possibly the biggest threat for Pitch is the Canadian Eric Walsh. At twenty-six years old, Walsh has quite an impressive list of achievements behind him, including a gold and a silver Olympic Team Event, multiple World Championships medals, two Four Continents Championships titles and three Grand Prix Final medals. 

The defending Autumn Classic champion, twenty-two-year-old Shepard Lee, is looking to earn himself yet another medal this year, by attempting two quads in his free program for the very first time. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, but training in Montreal for three years now, Lee’s most notable achievements include the 2019 US National title, the 2020 Four Continents bronze medal and a bronze medal in the 2018 Olympic Team Event. 

 

Chapter 12: The game is afoot

Train trips, the curse of small competitions and valid methods of stress relief. So no one’s told you life was gonna be this gay.  Autumn Classic: T-minus two days

 

BAZ

I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a competition by train before. I’ve gone by planes and more rarely cars, but never a train. But Oakville, Ontario is a six-hour train ride away and Ebb says we should give the Earth a break if we can.

I was on board with her idea at first, but now that I’ve just dragged all my bags down this too tiny train corridor into our compartment, I’m beginning to change my mind. And of course, our compartment doesn’t have enough luggage racks for all of us.

I suppose that’s not the train’s fault. For a four-day stay, we have insane amounts of luggage, but that’s just because our equipment always takes up one whole suitcase and then you need another one just to fit all your clothes and toiletries.

Snow squeezes in behind me and kicks his duffel bag underneath one of the seats, then tries to lift his skating bag up on the racks but he’s too short. If I wasn’t still ignoring him, I’d be laughing about it right now.

I put my own skating bag on the racks with ease and sit by the window, pulling out my phone so that I won’t stare at Snow struggling with his luggage. (The hem of his jacket rode up and now I have a nice view of his lower back. His moles form a triangle just above his left hip.) 

“Are you going to help me or not?” Snow snaps just as I’m trying to tear my eyes away from his moles.

“Just step on the seats,” I say, pretending to look at my Instagram feed. He rolls his eyes and proceeds to try to throw his skating bag onto the luggage rack. This can’t end well.

I already consider standing up and helping him, but Shepard steps into the compartment just then and immediately takes care of it. I take the opportunity to put Ebb and Ikumi’s luggage up and Snow glares at me while I do so. He doesn’t seem to be in a very good mood today.

“Let’s go, Autumn Classic,” Ikumi sighs, taking the seat next to me. Snow plops himself down by the window opposite of me.

“First, we have to hope our luggage doesn’t swallow us whole,” I say.

“At least this way, we don’t have to worry about the airline losing our bags,” Shepard chimes in and we all nod in agreement. This is a common fear within the skating community – skates are not allowed in our carry-on, so if you’re flying for a competition and the airline loses your luggage, you’re pretty much fucked.

Ikumi then starts telling Shepard about how she once couldn’t find her bag in the luggage reclaim, but I tune out. I’m too busy watching Snow from the corner of my eye. He’s bunched up his jacket into some sort of a makeshift pillow and placed it between his head and the compartment wall. His hood is up, and he’s got his earbuds in and his eyes have dark circles under them. I don’t think he got any sleep last night.

As soon as the train starts moving, he does fall asleep. Shepard follows shortly afterwards. I take out my book, ready to catch up on some university work. I’d like to re-read Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en one more time before I start writing an essay about it.  

Ikumi notices what I’m reading and scoots closer.

“Is this the uh…” she snaps her fingers, trying to remember the English name of the book. “The one with the monkey?” she finally gives up.

“Do you know it?” I ask.

“We had to read it at school. Why are you reading it?”

“University,” I explain. “I’m taking an elective course in Asian literature.”

“Oh, that’s so cool! Did you cover any Japanese books yet?” she asks excitedly.

“We did The tale of Genji ,” I say.

“Oh!” She reaches for her backpack quickly and pulls out a book with a colourful illustration and Japanese letters on the cover. “ Asakiyumemishi . Manga version,” she explains.

“There’s a manga version?”

“Of course. Do you want to see?” She offers me the book.

“Please.”

I flip through the pages of the manga – it’s all in Japanese, so I don’t understand anything, but Ikumi points out some notable scenes to me. Then we start talking about The tale of Genji , which slowly switches over to Murakami and his works and then over to European literature. I’m surprised to find that Ikumi knows a lot about literature and has some very interesting takes on certain famous works. Before I know it, two hours have passed already and we’re still discussing Shakespeare.

Four more hours and we’ll be in Oakville. Four more hours and the season begins.

 

SIMON

Oakville looks the same as the Montreal suburbs – big, wide and with houses that are almost identical. We get a cab to the venue as soon as we arrive, to get checked in and get our backstage passes.

The Sixteen Mile Sports Complex, where the competition is held is actually huge. There are four rinks inside the building (welcome to Canada, I guess) but only one of them is the competition rink. The rest are practice rinks that don’t have any seats.

There are only about fifteen hundred seats in the main rink, so the arena itself is on the smaller side. The audience here isn’t going to be huge – that’s good. I would not like to start off my season with a big crowd. (I remember the 2019 World Championships – the arena in which it was held had nearly forty thousand seats. And it was sold out . I don’t know how I lived through that competition.)

We get our laminates and a printed-out competition schedule and then Shepard and I poke around the arena for a bit, but really, we’ll have plenty of time for getting acquainted tomorrow. The only thing left on the agenda today is to go to the hotel and rest.

That turns out to be an issue though. Or the curse of small competitions – they have small hotels. We usually get one-person hotel rooms, but this hotel apparently ran out or just has an abundance of two-person rooms. Either way, everyone is paired up – Ebb with Ikumi, Shepard with some American kid that is coming in later today and me with Baz.

I’m not a fan of this development. Baz and I still haven’t really spoken to each other ever since he told me to leave him alone. And I’m already going to be nervous enough – I don’t need Baz to be poking or prodding at me. (He’s either going to do that or he’s going to be ignoring me and I don’t know which is worse, to be honest. Somehow, Baz ignoring me feels worse than him provoking me.) (Either way, I’m definitely going to be a wreck this weekend.)

We get to our room and Baz takes the bed closer to the window. I drop my bags on the other bed.

“Ground rules, Snow. Don’t bother me when I’m image training, don’t bother me if I’m reading and don’t bother me when I have my earbuds in. Actually, don’t bother me at all,” he says, opening his suitcase. He begins putting his clothes in the wardrobe, which is actual madness – we’ll only be here for four days!

“Fine by me,” I huff, throwing myself on my bed.

“Take off your shoes,” he barks at me. I keep them on just to spite him, even though now that he mentioned it, I do feel like I’m getting my bed dirty.

“Seriously, Snow, that’s unsanitary.”

I sigh and kick off my shoes, then watch Baz as he unpacks his clothes. He hangs his costumes on the wardrobe door. Baz’s costumes are beautiful this year – dark green velvet with golden flowers embroidered on it for the free program and a shirt that looks like the depth of the ocean for the short. I wouldn’t be surprised if he helped design them.

I should hang my own costumes as well, so that they don’t get wrinkled. I drag myself out of bed and open my suitcase. Baz scoffs and I ignore him. I pull my costume bags out and hang them on the wardrobe door, then immediately fall back into bed.

 

Baz doesn’t say anything for the remainder of the evening, but his presence is still so loud. It’s like there’s a siren in my room, constantly blaring out that he’s ignoring me. His indifference somehow feels magnified.

I keep rotating between the same three social media apps, pretending I’m not completely on edge right now, and he keeps reading his book, as calm as I’ve ever seen him. At some point, he gets up, grabs something from his wardrobe and disappears into the bathroom. He comes back out, wearing his practice clothes. I sit up.

“Where are you going?” I ask as he grabs his yoga mat and his roller.

“Exercise, Snow. Surely you’re familiar with the concept?”

“It’s our day off,” I object. I don’t know why. I should be glad that he’s leaving the room.

“Stretching knows no days off.”

“Yes it does!” I disagree. I never stretch on my days off.

“And that’s why you can’t do a biellmann spin. Goodbye!” he says, swiftly leaving the room.

“I’m a bloke, I don’t need to know how to do a biellmann spin!” I yell after him, but I doubt he hears me. I huff, throwing myself back on the bed. I don’t know why I’m even bothered by all that. Let Baz do whatever he wants on his day off – if that means exercise, then so be it.

But you’re not supposed to exercise on your day off. It’s called a day off for a reason! Your muscles need time to rest and recover. Pushing his body seven days a week will just leave him with an injury!

Will it, though? Maybe you’re supposed to stretch on your day off? You’d figure as an athlete, I’d know that, but I’ve found out so many new things in the past few months that Davy never taught me, like how to image train or do cardio interval training – I never knew any of that before.

I decide I can’t be arsed, though, and use the opportunity of the room being empty to do my image training. Shepard helped me edit my program music so that there’s a name announcement and applause at the start, and now I’m slowly getting better at it. Seeing the arena in person for the first time today is also super helpful for visualization. I close my eyes and let my short program music play.

 

BAZ

It feels good to be back at a competition. The atmosphere is buzzing with excitement. The stands are filling up.

Technically, it’s not competition time yet . The only thing on schedule today is the official practice, but spectators can come watch those and I’m pleased to notice the arena is nearly half-filled for our practice. I don’t know if they’re here to see me or Eric Walsh – possibly both of us.

Eric is looking to be in good shape this year. Out of all my rivals, he’s the least predictable. I know exactly where Kirill Sokolovsky and Huang Li’s weak spots are, and I know Micah is damn near unbeatable at the moment, but Eric… he’s a wild card. He’s either very easy to beat or very hard. I’m actually looking forward to competing with him. Well, him and Shepard and Snow. I think the four of us are the most likely contenders for a medal here, although Snow doesn’t seem to believe it for himself.

He was a wreck this morning, but he seems a bit calmer now. I just hope it stays that way. I need to stop worrying about Snow, though, and start getting some quad lutzes in. I feel my fingertips buzzing with nerves. This will be the first time I attempt a quad lutz in front of an audience.

If I could, I’d keep my lutz hidden right up until the competition, but I would actually be playing with fire if I did that. No, it’s better that I try it in practice today so that I’ll be more certain of it tomorrow. I check that the lutz corner is empty, then start gaining speed across the rink. I do the same mental checklist in my head that I always do: outside edge, posture, toe pick, rotation.

I land the lutz, but it’s not as good as I’d like it to be. Still, the reaction of the audience makes it all worth it. I bite back a smirk as I check my tracing on the ice (it’s a little under-rotated), then skate off. Across the rink, Eric is staring at me.

 

My quad lutz turns out to be the biggest news of the day. I stay off social media during competitions, but in the evening, Snow informs me that it’s all over Instagram.

“Get off Instagram,” I snap at him. He sighs and reaches for his laptop instead. I think he starts watching something – I’m not sure, since he’s at an angle where I can’t tell, but at least he’s quiet now. And he’s not on social media anymore.

After about half an hour or so, he turns around and shifts his laptop and I see what he’s watching.

“I’m sorry, are you watching Friends ?” I blurt out before I can stop myself.

“Huh?” Snow turns around to look at me, pulling one of his earbuds out as he does so.

“Are you watching Friends ?” I repeat.

“Yeah. It helps me relax before a competition.”

I sigh. I can’t even make fun of him for that. Lesson one of competitive sport etiquette: never make fun of someone’s pre-competition rituals. Even if they involve watching an overrated show.

“Fascinating,” I mumble, turning my attention back to my book.

“Listen do you um…” he glances at me briefly, then looks up at the ceiling.

“Spit it out, Snow.”

“If you have anything you like to do before a competition, uh, feel free to do so. And if it’s something that requires me to leave the room, just tell me.”

“Snow, that sounds like you’re asking me if I’m going to have a wank,” I spit out. His entire face turns about as red as a tomato.

“It’s a valid method of stress relief!” he defends himself.

I have to bite my lip to keep myself from laughing at him. “Oh my god, you actually meant that! Fucking hell, Snow, I’ll be fine. All my rituals are condensed to the day of the competition only,” I say. I mean, I don’t strictly have any rituals – I’m not superstitious – but there are things I like to do to keep my nerves down and get myself in game mode. Some skaters are very superstitious, though, and follow the same exact rituals every time. (And that’s why you never make fun of pre-competition rituals. They’re practically sacred to some people.)

Snow has another pre-competition ritual, as it turns out. One that doesn't require me to leave the room, but that makes me wish I had. After he’s done watching Friends , he cracks his joints. Every single one of them. He doesn’t even give me a warning, just starts popping his spine and it’s so loud I actually startle.

“What the ever-loving fuck was that, Snow?” I ask, looking up from my book. The sound still echoes in my ears.

“My spine?” he suggests.

“Why is it so loud?”

“Oh,” I see a hint of smile on his lips as he shrugs. “I’ve no idea actually. But it’s kind of cool, like a party trick.”

“Snow, your joints sounding like Firework Night is definitely not a party trick. Your body is broken,” I roll my eyes.

“Yeah, it’s called figure skating.”

“Oh, getting a bit snippy, are we?”

He grins and throws his laminated backstage pass at me. I grab it and put it around my neck. “Just so you know, you’re not getting that back now.”

“I’ll tell Ebb.”

“I’d like to see you try.” I realize this may be the first proper conversation we’ve had since we got back from London. I also realize I’m smiling, and I quickly wipe it off my face, throwing the laminate back at him. “This is just because I think you’re half decent competition,” I inform him.

“Sure,” he grins and gets back to his horrible joint popping ritual. (Seriously, why is it so loud? Is he okay? Does he have half of the Earth’s atmosphere trapped in those cartilage air bubbles? What even is the point of this?)

He starts walking around the room, sitting on different surfaces and turning himself upside down on his bed. I have no idea what he’s trying to achieve, but nothing’s popped in a while.

“I can’t get my lower back,” he announces.

“Maybe because it’s a part of the body that wasn’t meant to be popped,” I tell him. Upper back and shoulder I get. Why he needs to pop his elbows and hips is beyond me.

“Can you do it for me?”

I drop my book to stare at him again. “Absolutely not.”

“Come on, it’s not that hard. I’ll lie on the floor and you just press here,” he says, his hands circling the area dangerously close to his hip bone. “It’s easy, come on, I’ll show you. Lie on the floor,” he orders me.

“Snow, I had hip surgery, I’m only letting licenced medical professionals anywhere my hip,” I snap. The last thing I need is Snow’s hands near my bum. And I actually am skittish about who touches my hip.

“Oh right,” he makes a face. “What even happened to your hip?”

“The name is very long and complicated and wouldn’t tell you anything. Something tore and then another thing tore, and they had to go in with scopes to patch it all back together. I wouldn’t recommend it,” I frown.

“Oh. Ouch. I never had surgery.”

“Don’t jinx it,” I tell him.

“But I did have to get stitches. Here,” he points at a faint line just above his eyebrow. “A puck hit me in the face when I was ten.”

“Well that explains a lot,” I mutter. 

“Shut up!” 

“Don’t you hockey guys have tons of protection specifically to avoid that?”

“It was on a public rink. I wasn’t wearing a helmet,” he shrugs.

“Fucking hell,” I mutter. “No wonder you didn’t stay in hockey.” I don’t know exactly what prompted Snow’s sudden switch from hockey to figure skating when he was eleven, but a puck to the face sure does sound like a reasonable explanation.

“I mean, hockey was alright. Just not really my cup of tea,” he shrugs. “Are you gonna pop my back or not?”

I sigh. “Fine.”

He lies on the floor and I try to find an angle that’s not awkward for me to do this. I notice two strips of KT Tape coming up from under the hem of his trackies. Huh. I had no idea his back was hurting. Now I’m even more nervous about accidentally hurting him. 

“Just put your hands on my bum, I don’t care,” Snow grumbles half into the carpet of our hotel room floor. It makes me panic. 

“No thank you.” I settle for putting my hands on either side of his hips and shift some of my weight onto him. Nothing happens.

“You’re not going to hurt me, Baz,” Snow mumbles. I sigh and put some more pressure on it. A loud pop echoes through the room, followed by Snow yelping in pain. I jump back, terrified.

“Fuck, are you alright?”

“Yeah I’m fine. I just forgot I had a bruise here, that’s all,” he says. He looks at me and starts laughing. “Your face!”

“That’s not funny, Snow! I thought I just took you out of the competition here!” My heart is still beating too fast.

“Christ, Baz, I’m fine. I’m not made of glass, you know. Were you actually worried about me?” he turns to look at me. I refuse to meet his eyes.

“Are we done with this?” I huff.

“Yes, it’s fine. Thank you.”

I make a face at him. “Don’t thank me. It sounds weird.”

I get back to my bed and try to keep reading my book, but I’m still too unnerved to actually pay attention. Snow grabs his pyjamas and goes into the bathroom to take a shower. I still feel the warmth of his skin underneath my hands. My heart is still racing. 

And to think I’ll have to compete against him tomorrow. 

I’m so fucked. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Autumn Classic part 1

Short programs, knitting and encounters with the press. Creuset hair salon makes a comeback. Autumn Classic: T-minus zero days.

 

SIMON

My hands are shaking. I think they’ve been shaking ever since I got up this morning. It’s getting worse now, though. The closer we get to the rink, the more I feel myself getting nervous.

There are two groups in this competition and I’m skating second in the last group. It means I still have a good hour to go before I can actually step on the ice. That’s the worst part about competitions – the waiting. Just staying backstage, listening to the cheers and the scores and the music of other skaters and trying to keep yourself sufficiently warmed up and trying not to think about everything that could go wrong.

I do my thing. I warm up, I do my jumps off ice, I visualise myself doing my program, I listen to music, I throw my ball against the walls. I watch other skaters do their thing. Shepard is on the far other end of the corridor, probably listening to one of his 80s playlists and lip-syncing the words while jumping around. Baz is walking up and down the corridor with a determined look in his eyes.

It’s kind of funny how different the three of us are backstage; Shepard looks like he’s having the time of his life, Baz looks about ready to kill someone and I look like I’m about to have a mental breakdown any moment now. (I’m not sure I won’t.)

I decide this might be the right time to change into my costume. It’s nothing special – a light blue button-up shirt with trousers and suspenders, the most basic men’s figure skating costume there is, but it fits the music. I zip my national team jacket over the costume, taking one last look at myself in the mirror.

I don’t look ready to do this. Fuck. I need to find Ebb. I need a distraction from the wave of panic currently rising up in my chest.

It doesn’t take long to find her. She’s out on the corridor, looking over both Baz and Shepard.

“You okay there, Simon?” she asks as I approach her. I shake my head.

“Nerves,” I manage to choke out. She sits me down on one of the chairs.

“Okay, talk to me. What are you nervous about?”

I shake my head. “It’s just going to be worse if I focus on it. I need a distraction. I uh… how did you deal with competition nerves when you were still competing?” I ask her.

“This might be an unconventional answer, but I knitted.”

“You knitted?” The shock of this makes my nerves completely disappear for a second.

“Yeah, it’s actually very calming. I did it throughout the whole competition. Just before we left, I always went and bought myself some yarn and then I knitted on the plane and in the hotel room and during starting order draws. Drove Nico mad, so I made him a hat in Canadian colours. He never wore it,” she laughs.

I shake my head. “But how did you not get nervous when warming up?” I ask.

“Well, you know how big competitions always have gym equipment backstage? I just plopped myself on one of those stationary bikes and I could still knit,” she shrugs. That makes me laugh just slightly. The mental image is funny.

“Remind me to show you the scarf I made at the Olympics. I completely messed up the pattern because I was so nervous,” she continues.

“But you won.”

“I did. Listen, Simon, whatever’s going on in your head right now, you are stronger than that. Remember, you are in control here. You and not your nerves, okay?”

“Okay,” I nod.

“Now, when you put your skates on, try to pay attention only to your laces and how your skates feel on your leg. Can you do that?”

“I can try,” I say sheepishly. I know what she wants me to do – my therapist calls it mindfulness. It’s when you focus all your thoughts on one thing only. I tried doing it a few times, but it always makes me either overthink or not think at all.

I guess not thinking would be welcome right now.

Ebb pats me on the back. “You’re a good kid, Simon. You can do this.”

 

I feel slightly better after I put on my skates—right up until the moment it’s my time to go on the ice.

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain: Simon Snow!”

The crowd cheers and I feel panic rise in my throat.

Calm down , I think. This isn’t even a big competition .

I skate to the centre of the rink. The familiar feeling of being completely alone is beginning to creep into my chest. I take a deep breath and take my starting position.

I’m not alone. Ebb is watching me at the boards, and I know whatever happens next, she won’t hate me for my results.

The music starts.

 

BAZ

I might be more nervous for Snow than I am for myself. This competition is a fresh start for him. He’s been doing so well and I’m worried that if he does badly, he’ll just slip back into doubting himself, and then he’ll start flubbing his jumps.

I’m skating right after him and I go into the arena early to watch his performance while doing the last of my warm-ups. I can see his hands shaking as he takes his starting position.

My heart stops when he under-rotates the first jump, but he holds on.

“Good, good ,” I hear Ebb from the boards. “Come on, Simon!”

Yeah. Come on, Simon, you fucking nightmare. You can do this.

That first jump was supposed to be a quad sal-triple toe combination, but he didn’t do the triple toe. That means he’s going to have to put it at the end of the quad toe in the second half of the program, when he’s more tired. If he doesn’t make it a combination then, his quad toe will get invalidated and he’ll end up losing roughly fifteen points over it. That’s a loss he can’t afford.

He can do it – he’s trained for it. He just has to focus. I hold my breath as he gets ready to do the triple axel.

It’s much better than the sal. Clean as a whistle.

“Yes!” Ebb jumps up when he lands it. I clap. He’s back on track… only one more jump to go. Come on , I think. Quad toe… triple toe!

I sigh in relief as the crowd erupts in cheers. Whatever happens now, at least he landed his jumps. I get back to warming up while still keeping an eye on him.

The rest of his program is a breeze. His step sequence is good, and he gets in character nicely. The crowd is really enjoying it – they’re clapping along, and he gets a huge applause at the end. He’s actually beaming.

“Nice job on the combination,” Ebb says when he gets off the ice. He nods and hugs her.

“Thank you.” He’s out of breath. I take off my skate guards and step on the ice.

“Hey, you did it, not me. I’m so proud of you. Now go get a good score.” Ebb gives him another squeeze before turning to me. Snow also turns to me.

“Good luck,” he says. I nod.

The LED screen above the ice is showing slow motion replays of Snow’s performance, which gives me about two or three minutes to warm-up, maybe longer, depending on how long the judges take for his score.

I shut it all off. Now it’s my time to get ready. I know all eyes are on me. I know there have been all sorts of speculations going on about whether I’ll still be as strong without Rybakov. I know they’re all expecting to see a quad lutz from me today. I know they’re expecting a big score.

I have to deliver.

“The short program score for Simon Snow is…”

I put my fingers in my ears so that I don’t hear his score.

 

SIMON

“The short program score for Simon Snow is… 88.18 points, which puts him currently in second place.”

Holy fucking shit.

My personal best is a little over 89 points. That’s literally so fucking close! And in the first competition of the season as well! I usually score in the 70s on the first competition. This is nearly a 90!

I can’t believe it. I actually can’t. Holy fucking shit, I’m so happy.

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain; Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch!”

Oh shit, Baz is about to skate. I forgot about that. I stay in the kiss and cry to watch him – I should go backstage, to the mixed zone, but I want to see if he lands the quad lutz first.

The crowd roars as Baz takes his starting position. I think they’re all here to see him.

The music starts and the arena gets so quiet you could hear a pin drop. You could cut the tension with a knife. That’s what Baz does to spectators – he makes sure all eyes are focused on him. It’s really quite amazing.

He’s getting ready to do his quad lutz now and I think everyone is holding their breath, including me.

And he’s foot perfect. The crowd erupts in cheers. Ebb jumps up and claps.

“Good man,” I mutter before heading backstage.

 

The mixed zone is where I get nervous again. There are a lot more people trying to talk to me than usual and I’m not good with the press.

“Simon, Madeline Derry here for the Olympic Channel. Could you give us a few words about your performance today?” A woman stops me, much to my surprise. I honestly didn’t expect to be getting interviewed by The Olympic Channel today. They’re pretty picky when it comes to interviews.

“Um, yeah, sure,” I turn to the microphone. At least three other people point their microphones and recording pens in my direction. “I, um, I’m very happy with how I did and I’m very happy with my score,” I say. Short, sweet and definitely in need of media training.

“The music is not your usual choice. What led you to decide to pick this piece for your short program?” A man asks. He has CBC written on his microphone. Olympic Channel and Canadian television. Wow.

“Well, uh, actually my new coach said we should give it a try, so we did. At first, it was a lot to get used to, because it’s not really something that was in my comfort zone, but I think it’s going better every day.”

“And how has training in Montreal been for you? Obviously you’re now training with your rivals, like Basilton Pitch and Shepard Lee. Can you talk about that?” the Olympic Channel woman asks again. Rivals? I’m not anywhere close to Shepard and Baz.

“Honestly, it’s been great. I really like the rink and the staff is amazing and I think we’re all pushing each other to be better, so yeah, it’s been really cool.”

We hear cheers and applause from the arena which means Baz must be done with his program.

“Okay, well, thank you for your answers and best of luck tomorrow in the free program,” the lady smiles at me. I nod and thank her and then I’m free to go. Well, that didn’t go half bad, for my first interaction with the press this season. At least, I think I didn’t totally fuck it up.

I walk further backstage, back to the changing rooms. I see Shepard running up and down the corridor. He’s up after the Canadian kid that’s skating after Baz. Ebb is already with him. (Ebb is really working overtime with having three skaters in the same group. As soon as one of us gets off the ice, she already has to rush to support the next one. At least with Shepard, she has more time because he’s not skating back to back like Baz and I did.)

 

Somebody has set up a laptop with the livestream of the competition in the changing room and other skaters are gathered around, watching it. The screen shows Baz sitting in the kiss and cry, waiting for his score. Good, I haven’t missed it then.

“The short program score for Basilton Pitch is… 102.84 points. This puts him currently in first place.”

What? 102.84? That’s huge! The other skaters hum in approval. The screen shows the leader board now – Baz has a solid six-point lead over Eric. They should just put a gold medal around his neck now. Unless something goes very wrong for Baz tomorrow, he’s practically won already.

I mean, 102 points? That’s way out there! Suddenly my 88 points feel a bit droopy.

But no, he has the quad lutz and the artistry. And I made a mistake on the quad salchow and purposefully toned down some of my steps so that I would have the energy to do a combination in the second part of the program.

I smile. Micah Cordero better watch the fuck out for Baz.

I untie my skates, grab my clothes and change in one of the bathroom stalls. When I come back out, Baz is already in the changing room, untying his own skates. I sit down next to him.

“Good job,” I say.

“Not too bad yourself, Snow. Nice save on the combination.”

“Yeah, I don’t know how I made it. I was so tired,” I laugh.

“But you did, and that’s what’s important,” he says, straightening up. “And you’re still in third place,” he points at the screen. The Canadian kid scored lower than me.

“Shepard’s about to skate, though,” I say. I know Shepard can easily overtake me, even though he doesn’t have any quads in his short program. He usually gets a huge presentation score – he’s got the artistry that only Baz can compare with.

Or not even Baz. They’re two different types of artistry. Baz’s sucks people in; he’s very intense, very fast and very dramatic. Shepard gives it all out. When he steps on the ice, everyone can tell how much he loves skating. They’re like two ends of a spectrum – or two sides of the same coin. I don’t know how to explain it otherwise.

Shepard is skating to Singing in the Rain, which is right up his alley, really. The crowd loves it. He makes a small mistake on the triple axel though, which puts him on fourth place, just 0.3 points below me.

“He did well,” Baz says. I hum in agreement.

There is only one skater left to go and it’s the American guy Shepard is roommates with. He’s apparently not having a good day, because he misses the combination and ends up placing tenth. That means the current standing after the short program is Baz in first, Eric in second, me in third and Shepard in fourth.

That’s good. It’s really good. I just hope I don’t mess it up tomorrow. The last time I was in a medal position after the short program was at the European Championships. I was fourth in the short there, but messed up so badly in the free that I ended up in 18 th place.

I hope that doesn’t happen tomorrow. Ebb and I were talking about my goals for this competition just before we left, and she said winning a medal would be a realistic goal for me, but I just want to finish in the top five.

 

Back at the hotel, I crawl straight into bed. Physically, competition days aren’t as exhausting as our regular training days, but mentally, they’re twice as hard. I’m absolutely knackered.

Baz walks past me to his bed and takes his laptop.

“At least take a shower first, Snow,” he says, his voice bored.

“Are you going to watch the livestream?” I ask, ignoring his comment. The ladies’ event should be starting soon.

“Yes.”

“Wake me up when Ikumi’s on,” I mutter and turn to the other side, so my back is facing him.

“Noted.”

 

BAZ

Not even five minutes back at the hotel and Snow is asleep already. What else was I expecting?

I turn on my phone and see that it’s flooded with text messages and missed calls. I sigh. When will my family learn that I’m not available to talk the moment I step off the ice or even the moment the competition ends? I swear to god, Daphne’s parents call me as soon as my face is no longer on TV. I tried explaining to them that I have all sorts of matters to attend to backstage and usually keep my phone on airplane mode until I’m back at the hotel, but the message hasn’t gotten across yet.

It’s already too late to call them back, so I leave it until tomorrow. I answer the text messages, though, which are mainly other skaters congratulating me on landing the quad lutz in competition. Even Huang Li and Kirill Sokolovsky text me, which is nice of them. No text from Micah, though. Typical.

He’s not really the golden example of good sportsmanship. It just piles up on the reasons why I don’t like him. (Mainly I don’t because of what he did to Bunce. Micah’s the enemy of the entire British national team because of that.)

Being a lying, cheating bastard aside, he’s also incredibly arrogant. He won’t talk to anyone who could possibly pose a risk to his gold medal, not even Shepard and Shepard is his teammate. It’s kind of fucked up, if you ask me. We all like to win, I get it, but you don’t have to be an arse to your teammates about it.

But then again, I’m not exactly the nicest to my teammate either. But I have other reasons. I’m fairly sure that Micah doesn’t find Shepard annoyingly attractive.

I look over at Snow, who’s facing away from me, fast asleep. He really should’ve showered before getting into bed. His hair is still slicked and parted and he’s going to get hair gel all over the pillow, the idiot.

I had to slick his hair for him this morning. He was going to do it himself, but he was getting it all wrong and it was painful to watch.

“You’re an idiot, Snow. What kind of a person doesn’t know how to slick their hair?” I said, taking the gel from him and checking the label. As suspected, it wasn’t even the right hair gel for the job.

“I’ve never done my hair for a competition before,” he said defensively.

“I can tell. Go wash that out and we’ll start over.”

He stomped off into the bathroom and presumably dipped his head in the sink, while I rummaged through my bags for my own hair gel.

“Okay, now what?” he asked when he got back, his hair dripping on his black Nike shirt. (That image is still very much stuck in my head.)

“Towel it off a bit,” I threw a towel at him. “You have to do this when your hair is still wet, otherwise you won’t get anywhere. And for fuck’s sake, use a comb!”

He let me sort out his hair and I pretended like my hands weren’t shaking while I did it. And after we were finished, I pretended that Simon, with his hair nicely parted and properly done up, didn’t make my heart flutter.

So, in retrospect, I’m also an idiot. Snow is my rival . Today definitely confirmed it. He scored nearly a 90 with an under-rotation and the start-of-season low artistry score. He’s only going to get better as the season goes on. I reckon by Worlds, or Europeans, he could be scoring over a hundred in the short.

And I’m not like Micah. I really am keen on having a friendly relationship with your rivals – but that doesn’t involve romantic feelings! Competing against someone you want to slip the tongue is… well it sucks. Half of the nerves I felt today were solely for Simon. Today could’ve gone much worse, if this wasn’t a minor competition and I only felt a fraction of nerves I usually feel. 

If this was a major competition… well… the nerves I felt for Simon would be too much, on top of the usual nerves I feel on the big stage. And then I’d start to slip. And then I’d start to lose.

I can’t afford that.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Autumn Classic part 2

Long programs, a series of unfortunate falls, medal ceremonies and a whole lot of ramen. Simon has a feud with his toe pick. Baz falls asleep.  

 

SIMON

Our free skate starts at five in the afternoon and I’m once again skating second in the last group, which means I’ll be on at around six thirty. We had a practice session this morning and it went smoothly, but now I’m feeling nervous again. Really nervous.

Honestly, if I just finish in the top five, I’ll be over the moon. But top five means I can’t afford any huge mistakes, and just because I made it through without any major slip-ups yesterday, doesn’t mean I can do it again today.

It’s like Ebb can sense my nerves. I don’t even have to ask her to talk to me today.

“You okay there?” she asks when she approaches me. I shake my head. Somehow, this is worse than yesterday – because now I have a standard to live up to. I’m in the medal position. I wouldn’t want to let that go. My chest feels tight – Ebb notices I’m spiralling and puts her hand on my shoulder.

“Okay, deep breaths. Remember, Simon, what’s the most important thing I want you to do on the ice?”

“Enjoy myself,” I say, feeling a bit stupid. “But what if I mess up?”

“How many hours did we spend training this program?” she asks.

“I don’t know. A lot?”

“Exactly. Trust your training, okay? You know you’re prepared enough to skate this program clean. Just do it like you do in practice and you’ll be good.”

“And if I make a mistake?”

“If you make a mistake, you put it in a box and move on. Don’t think about it, yeah? Take it one element at a time.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay,” I nod, taking a few deep breaths.

“I believe in you, kid,” she says, pulling me into a hug. “You’re as good as any of them.”

 

I do feel a bit better after her words, and the six-minute warm-up goes well, so for approximately ten minutes, I’m feeling like I’m not going to fuck everything up. Then it’s my turn to go on the ice and I feel like overcooked noodles again.

And then my mind gets stuck on noodles for a bit and I decide that if I do well now, I should go get ramen afterwards. Then I mentally smack myself for not being focused, but as it turns out, that’s for the better because I didn’t hear the Canadian kid’s score. Because I was thinking about ramen. For fuck’s sake.

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain: Simon Snow!”

“Go get ‘em,” Ebb squeezes my hands. I take a deep breath and skate up to my starting position.

The music starts and I really try taking it one element at a time. I have three quads in my current layout and they’re all in the first half of the program. I somehow manage to land them all cleanly – even the salchow, which was giving me troubles yesterday, holds good today. Once I get the quads out of the way, I relax a little.

And then it happens.

I trip on the step sequence – which is frankly the dumbest mistake you can possibly make. It’s so dumb, I can’t even take it seriously. I think I’m laughing and I need to get back into the program. Coming up after the step sequence is a big combination: triple axel, euler, triple sal.

Right. Focus up, Simon.

 

I don’t remember the rest of my program, but I know there aren’t any more falls. I start laughing as soon as the music is over. (Well, as much as you can laugh when you’re already out of breath.)

I think I’m just relieved that it’s done. And I can’t believe I did something as stupid as falling on the step sequence. I mean, seriously?

Ebb hugs me as soon as I’m out of the rink.

“You did it!”

“I fell on the step sequence,” I say, still catching my breath.

“Forget about that, that’s a one-time mistake. I’m so proud of you!”

There’s still one skater in between me and Shepard, so Ebb has enough time to stay with me in the kiss and cry. I’m nervous as we wait for the scores; with four more skaters to go, taking the lead now would mean I’ll definitely be in the top five.

I just hope it’s enough.

“The scores please,” the announcer says. I grip my water bottle with anticipation.

“The free program score for Simon Snow is 181.34 points. His total score is 269.52, which brings him currently in first place.”

I did it! I’m in the top five!

Ebb hugs me. “Is that a new personal best?” She asks. Oh shit. I think it is. 

“I think so, yeah,” I nod, trying to contain my excitement. 

“Ohh, I’m so proud of you! But I have to go find Shepard now. See you!” She gives me one last squeeze before rushing out of the kiss and cry.

 

I go into the mixed zone, where the press swallows me whole, but I’m still too much on cloud nine to be nervous about it. I think it’s the calmest I’ve ever been with the press in my whole career.

There’s a live-stream set up again in the changing room and they’re just about to announce the score of the guy who skated after me when I get there. He scores lower than me, so I’m still in first. With Shepard, Eric and Baz yet to skate, that most likely means I’ll be fourth overall.

I begin to untie my skates, but I don’t take off my costume, just in case I do still somehow end up on the podium. I most likely won’t, but I can always change while Baz and Shepard are at the medal ceremony. However, I’m being extra careful with all my movements – this is the fanciest costume I’ve had yet. It’s deep red, with my left arm entirely covered in gemstones. The costume designer took inspiration from one of the dragons in Game of thrones and I think it looks really cool – but I’m also dead afraid of ruining it.

I zip my national team jacket over it and turn my attention back to the live-stream. Shepard is about to skate.

Shepard is skating to Home by Vince Staples this season, and it’s amazing. You’d never think this song would work for figure skating, but Shepard makes it work. He seriously wows the crowd and ends up scoring a whopping 188.89 in the free and 276.78 in the total score, which is more than enough to put him in first place for the time being.

Baz is on right after Shepard. I hold my breath as he enters the quad lutz, but his axis is off from the get-go and he falls.

“Come on, Baz,” I mutter under my breath. The Canadian kid who’s in the room with me looks at me weird, but I don’t care.

His next two quads are also shaky, but he holds on. I know he still has one more quad to go and it’s the second to last jump in the program, which means he’ll be extra tired… but surprisingly, this is the one quad he lands without any problems.

Good. I mean, Baz won’t be happy with how he did, but he pulled through. He scores 185.23 in the free, which is lower than Shepard, but he still has a huge lead from the short program, so his combined total score is 288.07 and he takes the lead.

Shepard walks in the changing rooms just as the cameras switch over to Eric and his coach.

“How did he do?” he asks immediately.

“He fell on the quad lutz and his other quads were a bit off. You beat him in the free, but he’s first overall,” I say, making room for him on the bench. Shepard sits down and takes a sip of his water. He’s still slightly out of breath.

“How about you?” he asks.

“269 total. I’m in third right now.”

“Nice!”

“Yeah, I fell on the step sequence,” I tell him.

“Happens to the best of us,” Shepard laughs.

“Guys, shut up, Eric is about to skate,” the Canadian kid complains.

“Shit, yeah. Sorry.”

Then something weird happens. Eric falls on his quad toe and his triple axel and he under-rotates the quad lutz.

“Ouch,” Shepard mutters when Eric falls for the second time. I nod in agreement. I know exactly how Eric probably feels right now and it sucks when you just can’t get it right.

But his bad performance means Shepard and I are most likely going to keep our current standings… which means I’m on the podium.

I’m getting a medal.

Holy fucking shit.

Baz walks in just as Eric gets off the ice. Neither of them are looking pleased with themselves.

“Nice job,” I say as Baz sits down next to me and Shepard. He shakes his head in disagreement.

“I couldn’t get my shit together after that quad lutz,” he sighs.

“You’re still going to win, though,” the Canadian kid says, nodding his head at the screen that’s just showing a slow-motion replay of Eric falling. Baz shakes his head and I know what he’s thinking; winning is not so fun if the only reason you won is because your rival did even worse than you. If Eric had his shit together today, Baz would be second. And I’d be fourth.

“If it makes you feel any better, Simon fell on the step sequence,” Shepard says. Baz scoffs. Hurtful.

“Did you really?” he turns to me.

“Yeah.”

“Did you get so relieved that you were done with your quads that you forgot to pay attention to your toe pick?” he raises his eyebrow at me.

“How did you know?” I ask in disbelief because that’s exactly what happened.

“It just sounds like something you would do.”

I want to object, but our conversation is cut off abruptly as Eric’s score is announced. It’s official; he places fourth, which means Baz won, Shepard is second and I’m third. The screen shows the leader board.

“Wait, Snow. Why didn’t you tell me you’re third?” Baz turns to me.

I shrug. “I thought you knew?”

“How was I supposed to know that?” he asks and I think he’s trying to sound cold, but there’s a shade of excitement in his voice. I realize that he’s happy for me.

That, paired with Baz’s behaviour since we got back from London, makes no fucking sense, but I decide not to think about it.

I’m about to get my second senior international medal in my career . I’m not going to let Baz’s confusing behaviour ruin it for me.

 

The three of us are asked to return back to the venue for the medal ceremony and that’s when I remember.

“Do you guys want to get ramen after this?”

“Ramen?” Baz echoes with his eyebrows raised.

“Sure, why not,” Shepard shrugs.

“Okay,” Baz agrees.

“Cool,” I smile.

 

I haven’t won a medal in so long, I nearly forgot what process medal ceremonies are. You skate up to the centre, bow to the audience, take your place on the podium and then clap as the other two medallists do the same. Then there’s more clapping as they give you the medal and the flowers and then a bunch of officials shake your hand. After that, the winner’s anthem is played, you take a lap around the rink to thank the audience and then you have to take pictures with your flag and your medal. It’s a whole thing and I’m thinking about ramen the whole time. I was too nervous to eat anything other than breakfast today, and it’s already dinnertime, so I’m starving.

After the medal ceremony, we still have to do press. Bigger competitions have a press conference afterwards, but here, the reporters just approach you and ask you questions. It takes a long time, especially for Baz.

Shepard and I are waiting for him and Ikumi joins us. The ladies free skate event was held earlier today, so she stayed behind at the rink to watch us compete too. She’s holding a bronze medal in her hand and I fish my own medal from under my jacket and hold it up.

“Twins!”

“Oh! Ikumi! Do you want to come get ramen with us?” Shepard looks up from his phone.

“Do you even know where to get ramen in Oakville?” Ikumi asks with her eyebrows raised.

“I’m googling it right now.”

“Let me see,” she demands, stepping closer to him. Shepard holds his phone down (he’s much taller than Ikumi) and they look at the options together.

 

We end up going to a Japanese noodle house. As soon as Ikumi saw it, she insisted – not that she had to insist very hard, because we were all immediately on board with it.

The ramen is actually delicious. I don’t think I’ve had ramen this good in my entire life. And now that the competition is over, I feel almost giddy with relief. I’m not the only one; Shepard keeps cracking jokes that almost make Ebb’s noodles come up through her nose and even Baz seems to be in a good mood. I wonder if his facial muscles hurt from smiling more than usual.

It turns out that both Ikumi and the restaurant owner are from the same small town close to Sapporo and they spend most of our meal talking excitedly in Japanese. In the end, the owner gives us a discount.

 

By the time we get back to the hotel, I’m too tired and happy and full of ramen to care about anything else. The only thing left on my agenda tonight is to take a shower and go to bed.

When I get out of the bathroom, Baz is sat on his bed, with his laptop and a notebook in front of him. I know what this means – he’s going to go on YouTube and analyse his performance. He did it after the short program too.

I don’t mind, even if I am planning on going to bed. I can sleep with the light on and I know Baz is the type of person who likes to go over his program while his thoughts are still fresh.

Just before I go to bed though, I take my medal out of the pocket of my jacket, where I put it during dinner, and look at it. It’s shaped like a maple leaf and I let my fingers run over the edges.

It’s weird to think that I’ve been competing in seniors for three years now and this is only my second medal. (Well, I won medals at Tayside and Nationals too, but I don’t count those because the competition there is little to none and royally messing up would still get me on the podium.)

But I have a good feeling about this. When I won bronze at the Grand Prix competition in France last year, it was different. My dad was trying to get back in contact with me during that time and I think I was too riled up about that to properly pay attention to my competition nerves. Here, I was nervous – really nervous – and I still managed to come away with a bronze.

Maybe things are turning for the better – or maybe I was just lucky. I hope it’s the former, though.

I realize Baz is watching me looking at my medal and I expect some sort of a snarky remark from him, but he doesn’t say anything. Still, I set the medal down on my bedside table.

“Don’t be too long,” I say, crawling into bed.

“I won’t.”

“Goodnight, Baz.”

No answer.

 

I wake up in the middle of the night because I have to use the loo. Courtesy of eating two ramens, I guess. All the lights are out, but the room is still lit up with the white light from Baz’s laptop. He must still be up then. I sigh. He should go to bed. It must be late.

I turn around, towards the direction of his bed, to tell him to go to sleep, but to my surprise, I see that he’s already asleep. The laptop light is illuminating his face and his notebook is discarded next to him, still opened.

I sit up to get a better look. I’ve never seen Baz asleep before. He looks… younger. His sharp lines look softer, less ruthless. He doesn’t look like the Baz who spent years mocking my skating or the Baz who told me to leave him alone a few weeks ago. He also doesn’t look like the Baz I see backstage at competitions or at practices.

Really, there’s only one Baz I can connect this Baz to. Baz from London. The Baz who was teaching me how to image train and who I opened my eyes to see lying down next to me. Baz, who told me I’m a good skater. Baz, who hugged me when I was crying.

He doesn’t look malicious. He doesn’t look like my rival – like anybody’s rival. He looks like a boy. Just a boy.

I don’t understand him. I don’t understand what part of him is real and what part is just a face he puts on. I know Baz and I have a history of not getting along, but I thought things were improving. He was almost friendly when we started training together again. He was definitely friendly when we were in London. But the moment we got back to Montreal, he turned cold again. Not even back to his pre-London levels of moderate politeness, no, he started acting the way he did when we were fifteen.

Of course I know the common denominator in both of those cases. When I was fifteen, both Baz and I were still competing in juniors and that’s when I started getting good. That’s when I started winning medals. That’s when Baz turned cold: when I became his rival.

He thinks I’m his rival now, too. But I’m not! There was still a nearly twenty-point difference between our final results today. Even if Baz made mistakes, he still won comfortably. I have no idea what he has to worry about.

And he was happy when he found out I won bronze. I know that. He thinks I’m his rival, but he was happy that I won a medal. I don’t understand him.

I shouldn’t care, really, but I do. I don’t know why – Baz and I were never friends. When he still trained in Russia, we barely even spoke. Hell, despite training together every day, we don’t actually talk a lot. Just because he was nice to me that one week in London doesn’t change nearly a decade of distance and antagonism. 

I decide to stop thinking about it. Baz is weird, and it’s not like he’s a particularly friendly person. If he wants to be a prick and ignore me, so be it.

But he doesn’t look like a prick right now. He looks small. He looks tired.

I move closer, letting my eyes drift over to his notebook. It’s too dark to make out what he wrote, but two words stand out because he’s written them in big letters and underlined them three times.

Do better.

He’s being too harsh on himself. Yes, his performance today wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad . Usually, if I get by with just one fall and a few shaky landings, I consider it a good performance. And it’s the start of the season – everyone’s off at the start. You can’t expect to break a world record on your first competition!

I never considered Baz felt under pressure during this competition, too. I thought he considered it an easy win, but now that I think about it, he and I were probably under the same pressure; first competition under a new coach, first time the wider audience sees your programs… hell, Baz was even unveiling a new jump here. And he had expectations to live up to. I was coming into this competition with virtually no achievements to back me up – Baz is the European champion and the World silver medallist. People are expecting great things from him. People have always been expecting great things from Baz; being Natasha’s son means he probably grew up with a ton of expectations on his back. Thinking about this makes me so sad, for some reason.

Baz used to have stage fright. I remember it distinctly. It was my first competition, a small, domestic competition for novice skaters, and he was backstage, crying. I asked Penny why he was crying and she said he feels like he needs to live up to his mother’s name. (Penny has always been very insightful, even as an eleven-year-old.)

He won that competition quite easily (he was the only kid who had triples) and after that, I went up to him and told him I think he’s living up to his mother’s name. He told me to piss off.

That was the first time I spoke to Baz.

He’s learned to deal with his stage fright now, obviously, but I think he still feels like he needs to live up to a name sometimes, whether it’s his own or his mother’s. I wish I could take some of it away. The pressure he puts on himself, the pressure he gets from the audience – it must be a load to carry. No wonder he looks tired. No wonder he looks ruthless. Maybe it’s the only way not to crack from the pressure.

I carefully grab his laptop and his notebook from his bed and place them on the hotel room desk. As I’m putting his laptop away, I glance over to the screen and see my name.

My performance. He was watching my performance.

I don’t know what to think about that, so I don’t. I put his things away, go to the bathroom and crawl back into bed. I try not to look at Baz. I try to ignore all the feelings currently bubbling in my stomach.

 


 

figure_skating_daily: AUTUMN CLASSIC INTERNATIONAL – MEN’S RESULTS

1 st place: Baz Pitch (@the_baz_pitch), GBR – 288.07 – guys, he has a 4Lz!!!! This is NOT a drill! He fell in the FS but he landed a beautiful one in the SP and seriously, look at the technique! Textbook! Wonderful programs from him this year, I cried like a baby during the FS.

2 nd place: Shepard Lee (@shepard.from.omaha), USA – 276.78 – I love this guy so much, he just has the Energy™. I LOVE what he did with his FS, very unusual music choice but suits him so well! I hope he keeps it for the Olympic season!

3 rd place: Simon Snow (@simonsnowsk8er), GBR – 269.52 – what a surprise??? It seems like Simon really benefited from this coaching change and his artistry already improved a lot. As much as I’m bummed that Eric didn’t make the podium, I’m so happy to see Simon in the medal zone again. Shame about the step sequence, but he seemed to be cool with it. (And it was pretty funny!)

Wishing all guys the best of luck in the upcoming competitions! The men’s category is going to be so intense this season!

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Two bad ideas by Baz Pitch

Post-competition snacks, DIY Vivaldi, Nebelhorn Trophy watch parties and the Creuset rink hockey tournament. Simon’s feud with the toe pick continues, Baz is plotting and Shepard hates Starbucks.

 

SIMON

I usually sleep well after a competition, but today, I feel more tired than I should be. I couldn’t sleep well after the… no. I’m not going to think about it.

I sit on my suitcase. We still have to wait another fifteen minutes for the train back to Montreal. Ebb is talking on the phone with someone, Shepard and Ikumi are playing some weird game of tag, Baz has disappeared to god knows where and I’m trying to pretend I’m not worried about him missing our train.

 

He doesn’t miss the train. He shows up to our compartment just in time, holding a huge Starbucks cup. Shepard stops talking to Ikumi to look at him.

“Baz, pardon my choice of words but what the hell are you drinking?” he asks. Baz looks at his cup.

“Salted caramel mocha,” he says. “Post-competition snack.”

He sits down next to Ebb and removes the lid so he can get to the whipped cream. Shepard is looking at him with a troubled expression on his face.

“Your post-competition snack is a coffee?” Ikumi asks.

“And crisps. Hold this,” he says, handing Shepard his drink. Shepard looks mildly disgusted, but holds the drink anyway. Baz pulls a bag of salt and vinegar crisps out of his backpack.

“Why? Why would you add all these things to your coffee? What’s wrong with regular old coffee?” Shepard complains.

“It’s boring,” Baz answers, taking the cup back from him.

“So you have disgusting chips and diabetes in a cup? Noted.”

“Yes, Shepard, and I’m going to enjoy it. Now if you mind, these are crisps ,” he says, holding up one crisp to Shepard. Shepard takes it and pops it in his mouth.

“Chips,” he objects, grimacing. “Disgusting chips, by the way.”

“We invented the English language, we’re right,” Baz turns him down. “Chips are potatoes.”

“What do you think these are?! Other than an abomination, of course,” Shepard jumps up, pointing at the bag. “Potatoes! It says on the bag!”

“Snow, back me up here,” Baz turns to me.

“They’re crisps,” I laugh.

“Ikumi, back me up here,” Shepard turns to her.

“They’re chippsu ,” Ikumi says.

“See! The Japanese say chips!”

“I didn’t know you could be wrong in two different languages,” Baz says, helping himself to more crisps. “Anyway, what’s your post-competition snack then if you’re so clever?”

“Oh, that’s easy. A pizza,” Shepard says. We all nod our heads in agreement. A pizza is a good post-competition snack. “And Ikumi’s mochi.” Another excellent choice.

“What’s yours, Simon?” Ebb asks me.

“Oh, um, my mum makes these sour cherry scones.” I realize this is the first competition where I won’t be eating my mum’s scones afterwards. “But really, anything will do,” I shrug.

Baz is looking at me oddly.

“Cool, we’ll have pizza when we get back,” Shepard says. “Do you want to play Mario Kart?”

“You bet I do.”

 

BAZ

I have an idea. It’s not necessarily a good idea. In fact, I think it’s a very, very bad idea. For my heart. For my kitchen. Definitely for my baking abilities.

I texted Bunce and she gave me Snow’s mum’s phone number. Then I asked Mrs Salisbury to send me her scone recipe.

I’m okay at cooking, but I’m by no means a baker. I don’t think I’ve ever baked anything in my life, spare the Christmas biscuits Mordelia and I made once. (Well, tried making. It was going fine until Mordelia accidentally tipped an entire bottle of vanilla extract in there. And then it turned out we also added 300 grams of salt instead of sugar, so in retrospect, it was not going fine.) (Daphne ended up making them while we just sat on the sofa and licked the melted chocolate we were going to dip them in.)

Scones are way more complicated than Christmas biscuits. I don’t know how I’m going to manage them. More than once, I ask myself, why am I even doing this?

Because he’s Simon. And he did so well at this competition. And I know how hard living away from home is – even a small thing such as not having scones can bum you out.

And because when I woke up on that last morning in Oakville, my laptop and my notebook were stored neatly on the other side of the room and I know he was the one who put them away. He didn’t say anything about it, even though he probably saw I was watching his performance before drifting off to sleep. (I often do when I can’t sleep – not that I’d ever admit it to him.)

I’ve been an arse to him and I want to apologise, even if I will continue being an arse to him after that. Simon doesn’t deserve it. I hate myself every time I sneer at him, but I don’t know what else to do – how else to deal with feelings this big, knowing they will never, ever be reciprocated.

I just… I want him to know I don’t mean it.

 

After hours of mixing, whisking, stirring and wrestling with the cherries, the scones are finally done. I wait for them to cool down a bit, then try one, just to make sure I don’t poison Snow (although that would solve some of my problems). To my delight, they’re edible, which is really all the criteria Snow requires for his food.

I put them all in this cardboard pastry box that I bought at the supermarket and drop them off at his door. Then I ring the doorbell and quickly rush back to my own flat.

 

SIMON

Baz is up to something. I know he is. Penny texted me and said he asked for my mum’s phone number.

I don’t know what the fuck that means and I’m sitting here, steaming, trying to figure it out, but I can’t think of a single reason why he’d want to be in contact with my mum. Fucking hell, I hate him. I was going to enjoy my day off by playing some video games, but now I can’t even focus, because all I’m thinking about is how Baz is plotting. And I can’t text Penny again because she’s in practice.

I actually hate it. I hate how Baz makes me feel – like my head is swarming with bees. I can’t get a single concise thought out. Part of me just wants to grab him and push him against the wall and just… demand an explanation for everything.

It’s my day off, but Baz is making me feel so restless that I decide to go to the rink and practice, just to clear my head. Ebb would let me. I toss my Switch aside on the bed and kneel by my open suitcase (I still haven’t unpacked), rummaging for my practice clothes. (I come to the conclusion that I need to do laundry.)

Just when I find some fairly clean practice clothes, the doorbell rings. I jump up and sprint to the door (I’m not sure why – I think it’s just because I’m so jittery). I hear something slam in the corridor.

When I open the door, there’s no one there. I sigh and look down and then I see it. A brown package waiting for me outside, with a note attached.

Don’t eat them all at once.

 

BAZ

I know Snow liked the scones and I know he figured out it was me. He texted me shortly afterwards, but I didn’t respond.

He was giving me weird looks in practice all day today, but I pretended to ignore him. I avoided him when it was time to go back home for lunch and now, I plan on heading back to the rink early. This is not so much to avoid Snow as it is because I glanced over the ice time schedule this morning and found a thirty-minute slot of unoccupied ice right before our first afternoon session.

I need to seize every opportunity I can get to train. My next competition is in late October, which still gives me plenty of time, but there is so much to work on, and I know Eric will be working hard too, trying to improve on his mistakes. When we come face to face again in Skate Canada, I expect him to put up a good fight and I expect to win that fight.

Last year, I managed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final by winning both of my Grand Prix events. I want to do it again this year.

However, when I get to the rink, I find that the ice is already taken. More specifically, it’s taken by Snow, Shepard, the entire Creuset junior team and Ebb playing hockey. They’ve set up skate guards as makeshift goals and the juniors are laughing and screaming as they try to keep the puck away from Snow.

I notice Ebb and some of the juniors are actually pretty decent, but they’re no match to Snow. The fucker has years of hockey training under his belt. He’s grinning as he takes the puck over from Sam and immediately starts navigating it to his side of the rink.

“Go get him, go get him!” Sam yells to someone in French. (Wise move from the juniors to communicate their tactics in French – Snow doesn’t understand them that way.)

Ebb tries to attack him but he dodges her swiftly. I’m trying to figure out the teams here; I think it’s everyone vs Snow and Shepard. Well, I know which team I’m rooting for.

“Go Ebb!” I yell as she tries to catch up with Snow. That makes Snow’s head turn to me and the next moment, he trips, landing flat on the ice. Everyone starts laughing, including Snow.

“What is it, Snow? Still haven’t worked out where your toe pick is?” I call out to him. He gets up, dusting off the snow build-up from the front of his shirt.  

“Why don’t you get on the ice then?” he asks, grinning back at me. One of these days, his smile is going to kill me, but I’m determined it’s not going to be today.

“That was my plan until I saw you people were holding a bootleg NHL game. Not my cup of tea.”

“Come on, Baz!” Ophelie urges me.

“Yeah, come on!” Other juniors chime in. Even Ebb applies some pressure.

“I hate all of you,” I mutter. “I’m on Ebb’s team.”

 

I don’t know how to play hockey. I don’t think I’ve ever even watched a full game of hockey. I’ve held a hockey stick once, when Davy made me hold it over my shoulders to help with my arm positions.

I don’t even know where they got hockey sticks, but this is Canada. Hockey sticks practically grow on trees here. Snow jumps over the boards (we have doors, but okay) and pulls out yet another hockey stick from under the bench, eyeing it closely.

“I reckon this one’ll do,” he says, jumping back over the boards. “Okay so,” he starts matter-of-factly. “The way to hold it is you put your left hand here and your right one here,” he demonstrates, then gives me the hockey stick.

“I know how to hold a hockey stick, Snow,” I lie.

“Then why are you holding it wrong?” He asks, reaching over and moving one of my hands down the handle. “That way it’s easier to control. And wrap your thumb around it,” he pries open my grip, moving my thumb as he does so. I try to pretend my stomach isn’t doing somersaults right now. Neither of us are wearing gloves, but his hands are still surprisingly warm.

“Okay,” he straightens up. “You said you were on Ebb’s team, this is your goal,” he points over at the skate guards on the other side of the rink. “The rules are; don’t kill anyone and keep your stick on the ice at all times because nobody has padding. And no air shots.”

I want to comment that I doubt I’d even be able to do a regular shot, but I don’t. No need to let him in on my weaknesses.

I join Ebb’s side and the game is back on again. Ebb and Sam are the only ones on our team who have a basic grasp of puck control.

“Why do you know how to play hockey?” I ask Ebb during a slow period of the game. 

“I’m a Canadian lesbian, Baz. Some things are practically a given.” It makes me snort with laughter.

The rest of us are just trying and failing to keep the puck in our possession for longer than a second. Snow is like some sort of a chaotic bird of prey, always swooping in and stealing the puck when you least expect it.

About fifteen minutes into the game, I finally manage to keep the puck for longer than five seconds. I start leading it towards the goal Shepard is tending to, but Snow is immediately at my side, trying to take the puck back. I smack his stick away with mine, kicking the puck along with my foot. (He may have played hockey in his childhood, but I played football.)  

“That doesn’t count,” he informs me, stealing the puck from me with ease.

“You said there are no rules,” I retaliate, trying my hardest to get the puck back.

“I said there were three rules.”

“None of them were this. Give me my puck back.”

“Get it back yourself.”

I slam into him, nearly making him lose his balance. He pushes right back, still managing the puck. (How does he do that?)

“See, you’re a real hockey player now,” he comments, changing direction swiftly and nearly making me fall over in the process because I was still shoulder to shoulder with him.

“Don’t ever insult me like that again!” I yell after him.  

 




SIMON

Baz has really thrown himself into practice since we got back. We all have – Ebb and I have been working on my artistry, since my presentation score was lower than we anticipated it would be. Shepard and Ikumi are working on their jumps. Baz is working on everything. It seems like he pushes himself to his limit every day. There are times where I wonder how he even has the strength to walk off the ice.

On top of our regular trainings, he’s started going to the rink earlier every day to work on his exhibition program. And his image training time went through the roof. There’s not a day I don’t hear Vivaldi coming from his flat.

I get that he wants to be the best, but some days it’s just infuriating. Especially the image training. I mean, he has earbuds, right? And he knows how thin the walls here are. It’s like he’s trying to annoy me. (He probably is.)

I’ve been doing a mighty good job of not saying anything about it for the past few days but I’m starting to get fed up. I hear Vivaldi’s Winter every day at the rink, I don’t need to listen to it more at home. (Although I must admit, whatever edit he has, it sounds nice. Slightly different from the original, although I’m not going to pretend that I know enough about music to say how or why.)

Even if it is nice, enough is enough. I march over to his flat, determined to make him use earbuds.

I knock on his door and the music abruptly stops. Moments later, Baz opens up, a bored expression plastered onto his face.

“Snow. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Could you use earbuds? The walls are really thin, you know?” I erupt. “I mean, I get it, you want to image train and maybe you want to annoy me, in which case congratulations, you did it, now please can you stop playing your music so damn loud?”

Baz is just looking at me with his eyebrows raised. It’s infuriating. “No, Snow, I’m afraid I cannot use earbuds,” he says, his voice amused. Well, I’m glad he finds joy in disturbing his neighbours.

“Seriously, Baz. Whatever point you’re trying to prove, fine, proven. Just stop playing it so damn loud!”

“The point I’m about to prove now, Snow, is that you have absolutely no ear for music.”

“If this is about Taylor Swift—”

“This is not about Taylor Swift,” he interrupts me. “Wait here for a second.”

He disappears back into his flat, slamming the door in my face. I huff. I’m willing to bet good money that he’s leaving me here, waiting, for the sole purpose of fucking with me. Much to my surprise, he comes back.

“Okay, genius, tell me. Where am I supposed to plug in headphones here?” he asks, holding out a violin in front of me. My jaw drops as I realize what’s happening.

“Wait, you were playing that?” I ask in disbelief. I knew Baz played the violin, but I didn’t know he was good enough to play Vivaldi. (Not that I know how hard Vivaldi is. I’m just assuming it’s hard because, well, it’s Vivaldi .)

“Yes, I was playing that and you apparently can’t distinguish between orchestral music and solo violin, you numpty!”

“Why are you…” my voice trails off.

“I learn all my programs on the violin. It helps me understand the music better,” he says.

“But you… I mean…” I don’t even know what to say to that. It seems like my brain has short-circuited.

“Spit it out, Snow.”

“You weren’t doing this before!”  

“I forgot my violin in England and only brought it back after training camp and I didn’t have time to play it before Autumn Classic. Any more questions? Or can I get back to practicing?”

“Isn’t Vivaldi hard ?” I blurt out. Baz raises his eyebrows at me, smirking a little, like I’ve just given him a compliment. (I’m not sure I haven’t.)

“I’ve been playing for fifteen years, Snow. I think I can handle it.”

I just stare at him.

“Well, if that will be all, goodnight,” he says, slamming the door in my face. Moments later, I hear him play a series of rapid notes from his side of the door, probably to prove to me how good he is.

I sigh, swallowing down the weird feeling in my stomach.

I fucking hate him.

 

Things aren’t going well for me in practice the next day. I’m still wrestling with my quad loop and it’s frustrating. I’m yet to land a fully rotated one, and last week, I almost had it, but this week, it feels like all my progress has disappeared and I’m back to where I was when I first started learning it – which is on my back, on the ice, constantly.

Today is going to be one of those days I’ll have to put a pillow on my chair again, it seems. Or an ice pack. Or both.

I’m almost glad when it’s time for lunch break – and I’m also restless. The Nebelhorn Trophy is today and Penny is competing. I’m not as nervous as I was for the Tayside Trophy, because she already got enough points there to qualify for the Grand Prix, so this competition is more of a formality, but I’m still nervous.

I rush home, not bothering to wait for Baz. I’ve been ignoring him all day and I don’t think he notices anyway.

As soon as I’m home, I wrap an ice pack on my knee (fucking quad loop) and turn on the livestream. There’s still about an hour until Penny skates, so I only half watch the competition while I make lunch.

I sit down to eat just before the last group is about to go on the ice and my doorbell rings. Oh, for fuck’s sake! I swear, if this is the landlord again… I don’t speak French! And Penny is about to skate! Can’t it wait?

I sigh and go to open the door. It’s not the landlord. It’s Baz. He’s holding his laptop.

“What’s your Wi-Fi password?” he asks.

“Excuse me?”

“My Wi-Fi died and I want to watch the Nebelhorn Trophy. Speak, lest I miss Bunce’s performance,” he demands. Huh. I didn’t know Baz cared enough to watch Nebelhorn.

“Come in. You can watch my livestream,” I say, stepping aside to let him in my flat.

 “I appreciate your generosity Snow, but I fully intended on stealing your Wi-Fi in the future, so I’d just like your password if you don’t mind.”

“I’m not giving you my password,” I shake my head. He sighs and pushes past me into my flat.

“Fine.”

I shut my door and follow him into my kitchen. “Do you want lunch?” I ask. It’s been a long time since we had a meal together – he started ignoring any food I brought him after we got back from London.

“What did you make?” he asks, his eyes glued on the warm-up group currently on the ice.

“Fried rice,” I say.

“Okay.”

It’s a strange thing – us eating lunch together while watching the livestream. Neither of us say anything, but I think this is one of the friendlier interactions we’ve had in the past month. Hell, this week has been full of friendly interactions – first the scones, then Baz not being an arse during hockey (although I have a feeling he wasn’t an arse there just because he knew I could’ve easily knocked him over – not that I would, but I could’ve) and now this.

It’s Penny’s turn to skate and we both hold our breath. It’s off to a rough start – she falls on the first jump and puts her hand down on the second one.

“Come on, Bunce,” I hear Baz mutter under his breath.

She does pull through the rest of the program, scoring 183 points, which is enough to put her in the lead. Baz shakes his head when he sees her score.

“What is it?” I snap. If he’s going to criticise Penny, I’m going to… I don’t know. Kick him out of my flat, that’s for bloody certain.

“Look at that presentation score, Snow. It’s a joke. She deserves more than that!” he says. Oh . He’s saying she was underscored – I actually agree with him on that. But that’s to be expected on the comeback competitions. I wasn’t giving it much thought, to be honest.

“It’s the start of the season,” I say. He shakes his head.

“That’s too low for her, even for the start of the season. The technical should be higher as well, but okay, she made some mistakes there. Personally, I think that should be at least 190.”

I just stare at him. I don’t know what to say to all of that. I mean, I agree with him, but I’m just glad she got a good score.

“Um,” I start, trying to compose my thoughts. Baz doesn’t let me.

“Well, if that’s all, I will be leaving now,” he says, standing up and putting his plate in my sink. “Oh, just one more thing. Have you thought about your exhibition program yet?” he asks and it’s so out of the blue, I really don’t know what to say anymore. Why does Baz change topics so quickly? I’m still trying to process him criticising the judges at Nebelhorn.

“Um… where is that coming from?” I fumble, turning around in my chair to look at him. He’s leaning against my kitchen counter, looking bored. Why does he always look bored? For someone who’s so expressive on ice, he sure doesn’t show it in normal interactions.

“Do you want me to explain my thought processes or do you want to answer my question?” he says, raising his eyebrows at me. “Have you thought about it?”

“Um, not really,” I mumble. Thinking about my exhibition program means thinking about the prospect of doing well enough to be invited to a gala in the first place and I don’t want to think about that. “If I make the gala, I’ll probably just do one of my old programs,” I add, just so that it looks like I have a plan.

“Snow, that’s a terrible idea. You don’t keep your ex’s clothes after you break up with them, do you?” he asks.

“Excuse me?” I don’t know where he’s going with that or what relationships have to do with my exhibition program.

“What I meant was, repeating a program that your old coach gave you is a terrible idea. You need something new.”

“I appreciate the concern, Baz, but I really don’t have time to be looking for a choreographer right now,” I say. I refrain from pointing out that his current short program was technically made under Rybakov’s coaching.

“What if you don’t have to look for a choreographer?” he asks.

“I can’t choreograph for shit, Baz,” I scoff. If he thinks I can just make my own exhibition program like he does, he’s sorely mistaken. Not all of us are blessed with the many talents of Baz bloody Pitch.

“You really are an idiot, aren’t you? I’m not asking you if you want to choreograph your program yourself. I’m asking you if I can choreograph it for you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Movement

The making of Rocket Man, races, bored security guards and the pressing question of whether Simon Snow is self-aware or not.

 

BAZ

Deciding to choreograph a program for Snow might be the worst idea I’ve ever had – even worse than scones. If it were up to me, I’d never go through with it, but once my brain settles on an idea, it’s very hard to let go of it. Usually that’s good; that’s how I was able to learn the quad lutz or how I’m able to keep up with my studies while also competing at the highest level.

Usually it’s good because most of my ideas are good. This is not a good idea.

Well, a program to Rocket Man is a good idea. Snow skating to Rocket Man is a brilliant fucking idea. He’s got just the right style. He has nice, broad shoulders and despite being absolutely shit at ballet, his posture is actually decent and he can move his arms, provided he remembers they exist first.

I just really want to see him skate to softer music. Every program Snow’s done so far was to something fast paced and dramatic – and I get it; he’s a powerhouse, the style suits him and it hides the fact that his artistry isn’t quite as strong. In all aspects of competitive skating, it makes sense to give him music that’s lively and easy for him and the audience to connect to. Highlight your strengths, hide your weaknesses, that’s the modus operandi of basically every choreographer.

But, god , there’s this bit in his free skate where the music slows down and it’s just soft piano notes and I think it might be my favourite part of his program. And every time I see him skate that part in practice, I think, fucking hell, it’s a sin not to have him skating to more softer music. 

Rocket man might not be considered soft, per se, but it reminds me of him. (Which is ridiculous and a little bit pathetic, but most Elton John songs remind me of Snow.) (I mostly just avoid Elton John, if I can.) And it really is his style.

So yes. Snow skating to Rocket man is a brilliant idea. Me choreographing it for him, on the other hand, is the worst idea I’ve ever had. A full week of extra private sessions with Snow – what have I signed myself up for?

I’m just surprised he agreed, to be honest. Scones and a game of hockey aside, we haven’t exactly been on friendly terms lately. Mostly, we’re just ignoring each other. I’m certain everyone at our rink’s picked up on it, but surprisingly, nobody’s said anything, not even Ebb. (Although she did seem very glad when I told her that I’m choreographing his program.)

 

It’s six thirty in the evening. Snow should be here any minute now. I’m already on the ice, because I was working on my own exhibition program, but Snow went back home in between our practice and this session.

As if on cue, the rink door opens and he walks in.

 

SIMON

Baz is right. I need an exhibition program that wasn’t choreographed by Davy. And if he’s offering, who am I to say no?

I’m pretending that that’s why I agreed to do this. For the convenience – I mean, I don’t have to find a choreographer, hell, I don’t even have to pick the music. And we’ll be doing the whole thing at the Creuset rink so I don’t have to travel to a different rink every day, as is normally the case when choreographing new programs.

In terms of convenience, it’s never been easier to make a program. Except it’s Baz and nothing is easy with him. Which by itself, should’ve been reason enough for me turning down his offer. But I didn’t.

Because it’s convenient.

Because it’s Baz.

Because I don’t understand him.

 

He’s already on the ice when I get on, wearing two jackets and a scarf. I scoff – it’s not even that cold! If that’s how he’s holding up in late September, what will he be like in January?

He watches me as I do my warm-up exercises, then raises his eyebrow when I come to a stop in front of him.

“Okay, let’s start by blocking your program,” he says.

“Couldn’t you tell me that before I warmed up?” I groan. Blocking means just discussing where to put your elements, which means I’ll have to warm up again by the time we actually get to work.

He rolls his eyes at me. “Not my fault you’re so eager. So, which jumps do you want to do?”

“I’m not eager ,” I mutter. “Triple loop and triple axel, by the way. And I wanted to have a backflip, but I can’t land it yet.”

“Good, because I wouldn’t let you do a backflip under my supervision anyway. As much as it would amuse me to see you wreck yourself, I don’t want to be the one held responsible. Do you know any other moves in the field?”

I don’t bother answering him, I just gain some speed and do a cantilever – if I’m warmed up, I might as well use it. Baz looks at me with a frown on his face.

“My knees hurt just looking at you,” he comments. Then he’s quiet for a while, like he’s thinking. “Can you do a kick jump?”

“A what?”

He sighs and gains speed across the ice, then slams his toe pick as if he’s about to do a flip jump, but instead of rotating, he does a weird kick-turn move. It looks like a combat move and I like it very much.

“Do it again!” I call across the ice. He repeats the move and I pay extra attention to his execution this time. Then I repeat exactly what he just did.

“Like this?” I ask.

“Exactly like this. Christ, Snow, how do you pick up on things so fast?” He shakes his head. Did he just compliment me?

“I’m pure shite at remembering choreography, though,” I say.

“Looks like I have my work cut out for me with you then.”

 

We block out the program, which involves a lot of skating around at a slow pace and talking. The kick jump idea turns out to be quite brilliant, since the leadup is similar to the backflip so I can switch it out with the backflip when I’m ready without doing any major changes to the program’s flow. I’m astounded that he came up with that – I never would’ve thought of it myself.

“So, you’d start by—” Baz starts but I cut him off.

“We’re starting for real now?” I ask. “Because then I’d like to warm up again.”

Baz’s eyebrows drop as he looks at me. “We’re not doing any jumps today,” he says.

“Still. I’d just feel better if I was warmed up,” I shrug. After half an hour of leisurely skating around, I sure as fuck don’t feel ready to tackle the undoubtedly difficult choreography Baz is about to make me do. It has been getting colder, both inside and outside, which means you cool down faster. (Still not cold enough to warrant two jackets, though. How Baz isn’t burning up right now is beyond me.)

“Alright go.”

He doesn’t have to tell me twice. Moments later, I’m sprinting around the rink, trying to go as fast as I can. It’s my preferred mode of warming up, even though it’s not efficient. Baz is standing at the centre, following me with his eyes.

He calls out something to me but I can’t hear him over the sound of my blades and the wind in my ears. (Christ, it feels good to go this fast.)

“What?” I call back. He sighs and starts to follow me. I know I’m going fast, but Baz is even faster. His long legs and strong thighs certainly don’t help me in this scenario and within a few seconds, he’s nearly caught up with me. I turn backwards, so that I can go even faster while also keeping an eye on where he is.

“What did you say?” I repeat.

“You call that a warm-up?” he says. (Well, half shouts – it’s still hard to hear, with how fast we’re going.) His hair is whipping around his face since he doesn’t have it in a bun like he usually does. (It’s nice; he should wear it like this more often.)

I decide to change the direction abruptly, just to fuck with him (and because I don’t know how to respond), but nothing seems to catch him off guard. He’s even closer to me now – he could reach out a hand and touch me, but I’m determined not to let him win this. (Is it a competition? Is he chasing me?)

I grin at him before trying to speed up even more (I’m nearing my limit now, even with going backwards) and he does the same (it’s definitely a competition). Fucking hell, just how fast is he?

I try to work out my battle plan here, but before I can reach any solid conclusions, Baz trips and the speed sends him flying into me. I end up on my back, feeling like all the air was sucked out of my lungs as he lands on top of me.

“Fuck,” he mutters. “Are you okay?”

His hair is falling in my face. I raise my eyebrow, trying to do my best imitation of him. (I don’t think I’m succeeding.)

“What is it, Pitch? Still haven’t worked out where your toe pick is?” I say, echoing his words from last week. He rolls his eyes and pushes himself off me.

“At least I don’t do it in competition,” he says, crawling back on his feet and dusting himself off. He skates away.

And here I thought the fucker was going to help me get up. (He was the one who knocked me down in the first place!) But of course, that outstrips the kindness of Baz bloody Pitch.

“Come on, Snow. We have a program to make.”

 

BAZ

Working with Snow is hell. Not because I have to repeat things eight times before he remembers them, not even because of the way he looks with his hair messed up and his cheeks red and his breath coming out in little clouds of fog because of the cold.

No. Because the idiot really doesn’t use his arms unless he’s reminded he has them. Which means I have to remind him of his arms. Constantly.

This doesn’t mean telling him to use his arms, no. That’s only a short-term solution – I can yell “arms!” at him, and he’ll use them for thirty seconds, before it slips from his mind again. The real way to remind Simon Snow he has arms and he should use them is to skate up to him and make him use them.

So much for keeping my distance. So much for keeping my heart rate steady.

This is the fourth night we’ve been working on his program. I’m hoping tonight is going to be different – the first three nights, I went home frustrated in more ways than one, but now we’re slowly reaching the polishing-out stage. That means I hopefully won’t have to repeat things so many times or have to touch him so many times. (Christ, that first night – me on top of Snow, him calling me Pitch. I thought I might combust right there and then.) (If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was flirting . But it wasn’t. It was just Snow being an idiot.)

I’m determined to keep my distance tonight. It’s a little too much and we still have at least two or three more days of work ahead of us. If things keep going the way they’re going, I don’t know how I’m going to resist wiping that idiotic grin off his face. (But then again, I resisted for over five years, so maybe I’m underestimating myself.)

On the bright side, the program is coming along brilliantly. I was not mistaken when I thought it would suit Snow – yes, it is a struggle sometimes, but when he gets it, he gets it perfectly. And he likes it too; he told me that yesterday, when we were leaving and I pretended his compliment didn’t make my whole day better.

 

“Arms, Snow, arms,” I correct him now. He’s letting them flop by his side again, only using them to maintain balance sometimes. “Okay, stop.”

He stops in his tracks and turns to look at me. I skate up to him until I’m behind him. He’s slightly out of breath and I consider giving him a short break, but we only have fifteen minutes left anyway, so I decide he can pull through for that much longer. 

“Keep your shoulders down,” I say, quietly, trying to hide the tremor in my voice. I place my hand on one of his shoulders, weighing it down. (I can feel the heat radiating through the thin fabric of his shirt.) My other hand reaches up to grab his, wrapping my fingers around his wrist. I slowly move his arm the way he was supposed to move it.

“And make sure to keep your wrists soft.”

He nods, repeating the movement again. I’m still holding his wrist.

“That’s better,” I say, letting go of his hand and his shoulder. I expect him to go again, but he turns around to look at me.

“Baz, can I ask you something?” his voice is quiet, just like mine was seconds ago. I nod, suddenly fully aware that he’s able to see the blush on my face. (Hopefully, he’ll attribute it to the cold.)

“Hm?”

“It might help me with the… uh, you know… portrayal, but…” he’s fumbling and I know whatever he’s about to ask me is something he’s given a lot of thought to before.

“Spit it out, Snow,” I say, but there’s none of the usual venom in my voice.

“It’s just… well… how do you interpret this song?”  

 

SIMON

Baz is oddly quiet for a second and I can almost see the cogs turning in his head. For a moment, I’m worried I might’ve asked something too personal, and he’s going to close off again, but then he speaks.

“Well, Rocket Man just…” he stops and I think I might’ve caught Baz Pitch at a loss of his words for the first time in his life. “I think it’s a song about loneliness,” he says finally.

“Loneliness?”

“The way I see it… It just describes how being in this sport feels sometimes. If you entertain the metaphor for a second, it feels like my family and friends are all on Earth and I’m somewhere off in space, right? Like a—”

“Rocket man,” I cut in. He smiles faintly and nods.

“And it’s incredible, don’t get me wrong. It’s really fucking amazing that I get to do all this and I feel so lucky because this is what I love , but sometimes it gets so lonely and detached and I just want to land. And I know eventually it will all be over and I’ll have to retire and live a normal life, but I don’t think… I don’t think it will ever truly be normal, because I spent so much time up in the metaphorical space that the Earth will always feel a bit alien to me. You know, sport blurs the line between a job and who you are as a person so much, and one day, when I stop skating, I’m worried about what will be left of me then. Sometimes I listen to this song and I think Elton John must’ve felt the same way too. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but sometimes I think you feel this way too.”

I don’t say anything. Because he’s absolutely right (of course he is). And because I’ve never heard anyone put it in words before.

I could kiss him right now. I could…

 

BAZ

What else was I supposed to say? Oh, Simon, this song reminds me of you because all Elton John songs remind me of you because I’m hopelessly in love with you and it is lonely, knowing I can never have you, knowing you’ll never feel the same way, seeing you every day and knowing you’ll never, ever be mine.

It almost feels like a love confession. I edited it greatly and it still feels like a love confession. Maybe that’s just my paranoid brain.

Simon is staring at me. He’s standing here, looking like I’ve just slapped him across the face and all I can think of is that I’ve fucked it up somehow, by implying that he’s lonely. Or worse, that he’ll start feeling sorry for me now because I very clearly stated that I’m lonely.

I don’t feel lonely now. Not with him here.

He looks so beautiful. There’s something in his eyes that I can’t describe and his lips are hanging open and I’m definitely not looking at them, but they’re chapped and there’s a faint freckle in the corner, so light that it barely stands out against his tawny skin.

Maybe if I kiss him, he definitely won’t feel sorry for me. Maybe I should kiss him. He’s right here.

I just wish he’d say something . Anything.

“Simon,” I begin, trying to think of something to say, but I can’t think of anything – and as it turns out, I don’t need to.

Because me calling his name is apparently all it takes to snap him out of it.

And the next moment, his lips are on mine.

 

SIMON

I could kiss him right now.

I’m trying to think of something to say, anything , but I’m coming up blank – my mind is still stuck on the ‘I could kiss him’ and I’m trying and failing not to think about it. And I guess Baz is starting to get worried because he calls my name.

Simon. He says Simon, not Snow.

And then I do kiss him.

 

His lips are cold. Of course Baz’s lips would be cold. Of course that’s the first thing I notice when kissing Baz Pitch.

Fuck. I’m kissing Baz Pitch.

And he’s not kissing me back.

 

BAZ

He takes me by surprise and I don’t know how to respond at first (I’ve never done this before) and before I have time to compose my thoughts, he’s already pulling away.

“Fuck. Baz, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what—” he starts, taking a step back, but doesn’t get very far, because I catch his arm and pull him back to me and kiss him again.

I feel him melt against me. His mouth is so warm and I don’t even notice he’s pushing me backwards until my back meets the boards. I can’t help a sound of surprise escape my lips, but I also can’t be arsed to care right now, because his mouth is so warm and he’s pushing me against the boards and he’s kissing me like it’s the only thing that matters.

He’s definitely done this before. I haven’t and I think he can tell, but he doesn’t seem to mind. My arms snake around his waist, pulling him closer.

Fucking hell, he’s so warm.

I can feel his hands move up behind my head and he’s fumbling with something, but his lips make it hard for me to give it much thought. Moments later, I feel something drop down next to me and I feel the warm skin of his hands against my cheeks. I can’t help but to smile against his lips. He’s taken his gloves off – that’s what that was. He’s taken his gloves off and he’s now pushing one of his hands in my hair and prying my lips open with his tongue and I think I might be dreaming.

I seriously think I might be dreaming.

I kiss him harder, just to be sure, and he responds with equal force. Fucking hell, if I knew kissing Simon Snow would be this good, I’d have done it years ago.

We hear doors slamming somewhere in the distance and I jerk my head up quickly and Simon backs away so fast, he’s already halfway across the rink by the time I regain basic awareness of my surroundings.

The rink’s security guard is coming up towards us. His face is bored. Good – that means he didn’t see anything.

“Are you boys done yet? I’m about to close up!” he half-shouts towards us in French. Snow just gives him a puzzled expression.

“Yes, we’re done,” I answer, also in French. “Give us ten minutes and we’ll be out of here.”

“Okay,” the guard spins his keys around his knuckles and turns on his heel, presumably to go back to the lobby.

“What did he want?” Snow asks, coming back closer to me.

“It’s closing time. We have to go,” I say, avoiding his eyes. I grab my skate guards off the boards and Simon follows my lead.

“Do you think he saw anything?” he asks once we’re in the changing rooms, sat on benches opposite each other.

“I’m almost positive he didn’t. He wouldn’t look so bored if he did.”

“I don’t know,” Snow shrugs. “You look bored and we just snogged.”

I roll my eyes at him, then get up and walk over to his bench. I grab his chin, tilting his head up and press a brief kiss on his lips.

“I’m not bored,” I say, pulling away.

“Okay,” he smiles like he’s trying not to. I can see a faint blush spreading across his cheeks – it makes my heart swell. He’s adorable.

 

He takes my hand on the way home and doesn’t let go of it until we reach our flats. I pause, not entirely sure what to do. Do I kiss him goodnight? That feels too boyfriendy. What do you even do in a situation like this? I don’t exactly have experience.

Simon gives my hand a squeeze. “Do you want dinner? I can make you dinner,” he says and I’m not sure how I don’t melt on the spot. (I suppose that’s what you do in a situation like this.)

“Okay,” I nod. “Can I just… put my things away?” I ask, gesturing at my skating bag.

“Sure.”

I give his hand a squeeze, then go into my flat. Then, I have the proper panic moment that I’ve been holding back since the rink. Holy fucking shit. Simon Snow just kissed me.

I just kissed Simon. Excessively. (Well, not excessively. I’d love to do it some more.)

And he wants to make me dinner. In a moment of clarity, I realize I’m probably completely disgusting (I did spend seven hours at the rink today, after all) and I want to shower, but I don’t have the time. I settle for changing my shirt, then I almost change it back because now he’ll know that I changed my shirt, then I realize most of my clothes are black anyway so he probably wouldn’t notice. Then I change my trousers as well.

I consider doing something to my hair, slicking it back maybe, but then he’d definitely notice, so I just leave it be.

 

When he opens the door, I notice he’s changed his clothes too. He’s now wearing a Team GB t-shirt and some light grey joggers and he must’ve taken his contacts out because he’s wearing glasses too. And here I thought I couldn’t be any more attracted to Simon Snow. His whole ensemble makes me weak at the knees and I try to think of something witty to say, but he hurries back into the kitchen immediately. I follow him.  

“Sorry,” he mumbles, messing with the frying pan. “The chicken.”

“It’s fine.” I sit down on one of his dining chairs, watching him. (Does he know how good his arse looks in those joggers? He must. This can’t be a coincidence.) (But then again, Snow is pretty oblivious and I’m so far gone I think his arse looks good in anything so…)

I wish I knew what he was thinking. I wish I knew why he kissed me… can I just ask him that? Will it come off as aggressive?

“I didn’t know you were gay,” I say instead. (I really didn’t.)

“Um, I don’t know if I’m gay,” he shrugs. “Are you gay?”

“How do you not know whether you’re gay?”

He shrugs again. “I mean, I kind of figured there was a possibility I wasn’t straight, but I’ve never really given it much thought. It’s not like I have a lot of free time available to ponder my sexuality.”

That makes me laugh and he turns around to beam at me. “You have plane flights,” I suggest.

“Just sitting on a plane, thinking, do I like men? ” he laughs. “Is that what you do?”

I smile and roll my eyes. “No. I’ve known I was gay since I was twelve. Maybe even earlier.”

“How can you possibly know that at twelve? I wasn’t even fully self-aware back then.”

I want to say I knew because a certain boy showed up at my training group and I couldn’t stop staring at his stupid moles, but it’s a bit much to say to someone who doesn’t even know whether they’re gay or not.

“You’re still not fully self-aware, Snow,” I say instead.

“Hey!” he says but he’s smiling. So am I.

Fucking hell, I can’t stop smiling.

 

SIMON

Baz and I end up lying on my sofa, kissing. He’s got his arms around me and I’m half on him, half beside him and my hands are in his hair and I try to figure out how long I’ve wanted this. I don’t know – all I know is that things make more sense now than they did before. All I know is that I want to keep kissing Baz until my lips are sore, but it’s getting late and we’re both tired.

I’m brushing my fingers through his hair and he lets his head fall in my direction, closing his eyes. He looks happy and it makes my heart swell. I wish he looked like that all the time.

“Baz?”

“Hm?”

“How long have you wanted this?” My voice is quiet. Baz is silent for a few seconds. His eyes are still closed.

“Longer than you,” he finally says. I feel another wave of butterflies rise in my stomach. (They’ve been non-stop this whole evening.)

“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted this,” I object. He can’t know – I don’t know.

“Yes, but I’m terribly competitive so I have to best you,” he mumbles, pulling me closer to him.

“At least you admit that,” I laugh. The way he’s avoiding the answer makes me wonder if he’s wanted it for a really long time and is embarrassed to admit it. How long, though? Since we got back from London? Since he moved to Montreal? Longer?

I decide not to press it.

“I should probably go home,” Baz says after a few more minutes of silence. He sounds sleepy. I untangle myself from him and pull him up – I’d ask him to stay, but if he said he wants to go back to his flat, I’m not going to try to convince him otherwise. And he does look really tired. He rubs at his eyes when he sits up and smiles at me faintly.

Has Baz always been this cute? I mean sure, he’s fit, but I’ve never seen him like this before – but then again, I’ve never kissed him before either. I lean over now and press a kiss on his cheek and he smiles again, blushing. (Baz blushes a lot – that’s something I’ve learned about him in the past hour and I’m very happy with my newfound knowledge.) (Also, I have a theory that playing with his hair makes him sleepy, since he went all soft and all but purred when I started doing it.)

He cups my face when we’re at the door and kisses me again. Softly.

“Goodnight, Snow,” he says, still lingering close to my face.

“You called me Simon before.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You did.”

He kisses me again. “Goodnight, Simon.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: If you care

New jumps, security camera footage heists, the return of Hozier, a two-way ticket to Canada and the sacrifices we all have to make. Skate America: T-minus three weeks

 

BAZ

Whatever brain chemicals were flooding my mind last night, they’ve certainly all left this morning. When I first remembered what had happened, my entire body felt flush with warm feelings, but my second thought was that we can’t do this.

We really can’t do this.

For starters, Simon is my rival. Yes, he’s also my teammate, but soon enough, he’s going to join the fight for  medals with the rest of us. And dating is a distraction, even when it’s not your rival.

I mean, just because we snogged doesn’t mean we’re dating, but his kisses last night made it pretty clear that he’s interested in me (which I still can’t comprehend), and I’m worried where this might lead. It’s not that I don’t want to be with Simon – hell, it’s all I’ve wanted since I was fifteen – but we really can’t do this, not in our current situation anyway.

Maybe in five to ten years, when we’re both retired and no longer have to deal with the competitiveness of this sport… but he will definitely find someone else by then. (I’m not sure there will be anyone but Snow for me, but I’d accepted that fate a long time ago.)

My heart sinks as I realize I’m going to have to tell him all this. I don’t really know what to say to him other than that we just can’t afford to be together. Not right now. Not in the pre-Olympic season. Not when he’s just getting his confidence back and rebuilding his career.

The truth is harsh, but it’s the truth. Dating Simon Snow could ruin everything.

 

SIMON

I have a text from Penny when I wake up.

PB: It’s official! I’m going to Skate Canada

I drop my phone on my face from excitement when I read her text. Fuck, I need to stop being on my phone in this position. I rub my nose for a second before scrambling to find the phone and text her back.

SS: omg u got it!!!!
SS: Skate Canada as well?? Because that’s only two hours from Montreal
SS: I can come watch u
SS: also I dropped my phone on my face just now

I’m suddenly very, very excited at this prospect. Skate Canada is in Ottawa this year and I can totally go watch that. I’d probably even get discount tickets since I’m registered with the ISU.

My phone buzzes with Penny’s reply.

PB: Shouldn’t you be training?
PB: LOL. I told you to stop holding your phone like that

SS: I mean, Ebb, Baz and Ikumi are all going to be at Skate Canada so I could find a rink there and do my trainings there
SS: and technically, it’s after Skate America
SS: I’ll ask Ebb tho

PB: It would be really cool if we could see each other
PB: otherwise I’ll maybe ask the federation to book my return ticket from Montreal and come there for a few days

SS: omg yes

I consider telling her about Baz, since we have a no secrets pact, but this isn’t just my secret, it’s Baz’s as well and I don’t think he wants people to know he’s gay, so I decide against telling her.

I will tell her about me, though. Just hopefully when I see her in person.

 

I walk to the rink alone – Baz probably left early to work on his program. My suspicions are confirmed when I get there and he’s already on the ice, along with Ebb and Ikumi. I walk up to the boards. Better get this over with now.

“Ebb!” I call. She turns to me. “Can I go to Skate Canada?”

All three of them look at me, puzzled. “Can I come with you to Ottawa, I mean?” I add, realizing I just sounded like I want to compete in a competition I wasn’t even assigned to. “My friend just found out she’ll be competing there too, and I want to go see her.”

“Who, Bunce?” Baz asks. I nod, then turn to Ebb, still waiting for her answer. She’s biting her lip like she’s thinking.

“Please?” I try applying some more pressure. It works. 

“If Shepard’s on board then yes, you can go. Wouldn’t like to be leaving him alone here while the rest of us are in Ottawa.”

I grin. It won’t be hard to convince Shepard.

 

I don’t expect Baz to talk to me during our training today – we hardly ever talk during practices. And I don’t mean just me and Baz, but all of us. In the wise words of literally every coach; you’re here to train, not to chit-chat.

So, I’m a little surprised when he approaches me during our morning practice.

“Snow,” he says, his voice serious. Whatever it is that he wants to talk about, I somehow have a feeling he’s not just checking up on how I’m doing the day after my sudden gay awakening. (I mean, it’s not like I haven’t had an inkling before all that - you can’t be a male figure skater and not consider the option that you might not be totally straight, but I genuinely never thought about it much.)

“Hm?”

“About yesterday,” he starts and Christ , does he want to talk about it? Fuck. I feel all the blood rushing to my cheeks. “There might have been a small thing neither of us anticipated.”

“What?” That’s not how I expected this conversation to go.

“Security cameras.”

Fuck. Oh fuck. Shit.

“Do you think… the guard…?” my voice trails off. Fuck, this is bad. What if someone knows? What if Ebb finds out two of her skaters snogged each other in her rink? Surely there are policies against this. (Maybe not? I don’t remember anything in the document I signed when I started training here, but it’s not like I was looking .)

“No, I checked this morning. His display only shows the cameras on the corridors and in the gym. No use monitoring the ice pad when you have to get past him to get to it anyway,” he says and I breathe out a sigh of relief. At least that’s something .

“Then why do we even have cameras here?”

“I don’t bloody know, Snow! All I know is that we have to pull the tapes. Now—”

“Wait, how are we going to do that? It’s not like we have access!” I interrupt him. Baz narrows his eyes at me.

“I was getting there, you moron. Ebb will let you view the tapes if you have an element you want to review that your coaches didn’t see, so just do one of your insane combinations and say you want to review it.”

Me ? Why do I have to do it?” I ask. (Well, I suppose it’s because I kissed him first. I guess that would be fair.)

He rolls his eyes at me. “Because your moronic self didn’t even think of the fact there’d be security cameras. I’ve done the brainwork of this operation, now you do the dirty work.”

I swear Baz is unnecessarily theatrical sometimes. I doubt anyone would even see those tapes, but the fact that they’re there makes me feel nervous. Better safe than sorry, I guess. I’m not sure what the club’s policies are on athletes snogging each other, but I’d still prefer nobody see it.  

“What would I even do?” I ask.

“I don’t know, Snow!” he sounds annoyed. “Five loops in a row or quad toe triple loop or whatever it is that you bloody do that the rest of us can’t!”

“I can’t do a quad toe triple loop…” I mutter. “Wait, are you admitting I’m better at something than you are?”

“Yes, Snow, some of us can’t pull triple loops out of our arses like that. It’s your only redeeming quality. Now go do something .”

I’m not as offended by his snide remarks as I usually am. Maybe because I know he’s just stressed over the situation, maybe because, given the events of last night, his insults seem kind of empty. (Christ, Baz likes me. I still haven’t thought about all of this properly.)

I have a job to do, though. Come up with a combination insane enough to warrant me pulling the tapes – also probably best if my coaches don’t actually see me do it. The quad toe triple loop is a solid idea, to be honest, but I’ve never tried it before. Let’s start with that – just one attempt to see if it’s actually doable. I gain speed across the rink and…

Nope, nope, it’s definitely not doable , I think as the fall leaves me with my back flush against the ice and the air sucked out of my lungs. Not only is it not doable but it hurts . Fucking hell, Baz better cut me some slack after this.

What else could I do? Triple axel triple loop? Ebb and I have been working on this, though, so she’s seen me land it before. It probably wouldn’t warrant getting the tapes pulled.

I could… the stakes are really high here and my chances of success are very low, but I could try … quad loop. I’ve never landed a fully rotated one. But I could try .

I notice Baz watching me as I gain speed across the rink and throw myself into my quad loop. Too harsh. I end up on my back again. Fucking hell.

Again. Let’s try this again.

I glance my tracing on the ice – at least it was fully rotated – then try it two more times. Two more falls. Not nice ones either. I have to skate two full laps around the rink before the pain in my bum from that last fall subsides. Ebb is looking at me and I know she’s going to tell me to stop any minute now, so I have to hurry.

I wait till she turns her back to me, then gain some speed and…

Quad loop is a hell of a jump. It feels like you’re constantly fighting to keep physics from tearing you down mid-air or sending you flying sideways like a poorly balanced spinning top. The falls are hard, but generating the force to get full four rotations in is harder .

Jumping quads in general is hard. It’s over in a second – blink and you miss it – and still, there’s so much thinking to do during a jump. Some people won’t believe it, but there’s a whole thought process involved for that split second that you’re in the air.

This quad loop doesn’t feel that good on the take-off and it definitely doesn’t feel good in the air. I can feel physics attacking me from every side and I don’t think I’m going to make the full four rotations, but I have to.

And suddenly I’m on my feet and the residual spinning force is doing its best to knock me over, but I push against it. It’s hard but… but…

I’m still standing. And it was fully rotated. And for a moment, I’m so shocked I forget the whole purpose of this. Then someone starts yelling across the rink.

“Dude, that was fully rotated!” Shepard is at my side before I see him coming. He’s taking me by the shoulder and pulling me back to the spot on the ice where I landed. We both look at my tracing. “Look at that! Holy shit, man! Ebb! Ebb, come look at this!”

His excitement is all that it takes to snap me out of my shock.

“You saw it?” I ask him.

“Yes, but Ebb didn’t. Doesn’t this always happen? Every time you succeed at something, your coach isn’t looking at you. Every time!”

“Maybe she can let me pull the tapes,” I say, feeling like a plotting git. Feeling like Baz.

“Oh, she’ll definitely let you pull the tapes.”

 

Ebb lets me pull the tapes and Baz comes with me under the pretence of letting me borrow his USB. I feel like we’re about to rob a bank. The security guard gives us access to the computer that holds the security footage files, then leaves the room and I realize I have no idea how to do this.

Baz appears to know how to do it, though, because he starts scrolling through the files, biting his lip. He selects a bit of video, then presses delete.

“There, Snow. The evidence of a serious sportsmanship violation is officially gone.”

“I’m sure that’s not a sportsmanship violation,” I grin. He rolls his eyes at me.

“I’m sure it is.”

“There are athletes who—” I stop myself at the last second. The word ‘date’ still hangs on my tongue. Baz and I aren’t dating . Probably I should ask him. Out, I mean. On a date. Maybe he’d like that. I think he fancies me, but one can never be sure with Baz. Still, the way he kissed me last night… and he called me Simon.

I realize I’m blushing and try to shake the memories of last night out of my head. Baz is watching me, his eyebrow raised.

“Yes, there are athletes who commit serious sportsmanship violations,” he says. I huff at him. He’s fucking impossible. “Will that be all, Snow?”

“Well, actually, I’d still like a video of that quad loop if you don’t mind.”

He sighs and turns back to the computer.

 

BAZ

I almost saved the file of us kissing. Just… just as a reminder that Simon Snow kissed me. We’re never going to do it again, so I thought at least I should have that much. But he was there and I didn’t want to risk him watching me save the file, so I deleted it. (And it is a bit creepy to save it, but I’m disturbed.) (Ask anyone.) 

At some point today, I’m going to have to have a conversation with him about how this can’t work. How we can’t work. Because he’s my rival. Because he landed his first clean quad loop today (I’m so fucking proud of him) and that officially puts him in the three quads club. And before Snow, there were only four people in the three quads club; Micah, Kirill, Eric and me. Now that Simon’s got his loop, we have five people who can land three different types of quads, plus Huang and Shepard who don’t have as many quads, but are still good enough to be considered dangerous rivals.

So, seven of us. And still only three spots on the podium.

Fucking hell, why didn’t I save the file?

 

I’m not looking forward to our choreography session this evening. I’m going to have to tell him that whatever this thing is between us, it won’t work out. And then I’m going to have to keep my distance – for my sake, not his. I don’t think Snow will try kissing me again at the rink, not after today, but if I get too close, it’s going to be too hard.

It’s already too hard. My throat feels tight and I’ve been fighting back tears ever since I got back from the rink. I just… I really don’t want to do this.

It’s better this way , I tell myself.

It’s better this way.

 

I end up going back to the rink early, so that I can work on my Arsonist’s lullaby program. It’s the program Simon caught me practicing that night in the ballet room, and I don’t ever intend on showing it to the public, but I work on it when everything else is too much – when he is too much – just to clear my head. To have an outlet that doesn’t involve pushing Snow against the nearest wall and snogging him senseless. I’m going to need every ounce of strength not to do that tonight, security cameras be damned.

He wants this and I’m so in love with him.

Saying no seems harder than anything else I’ve ever done.

 

SIMON

When I get to the rink, Baz is already on the ice, running that program again – the one with Hozier. He didn’t hear me come in and now I’m hiding behind the stands watching him.

I’ve seen this program off ice before, briefly, but fuck, it looks so much better on the ice. He’s throwing himself into every movement and his hair is down and I once again feel like I’m watching something I shouldn’t be watching. But I can’t stop.

There’s this tugging feeling in my heart again –  like what I felt in the ballet rooms – but I think after last night, I understand it a bit better. It’s the same thing I felt before I kissed him…

I realize that maybe this means I’ve wanted to kiss him for a while now. I know I’ve felt like this before; when I caught him practicing this program, when he brought me scones, when he fell asleep into his open notebook at Autumn Classic, when he taught me how to image train and hugged me when I was crying. And, now that I think about it, I don’t think there has ever been a time when I’ve looked at Baz and felt nothing

So how long have I wanted this? 

It feels big and scary to think about, so I decide to push it to the back of my mind for a while. Besides, Baz is still skating his program and I want to enjoy it while it lasts. 

I’m almost sad when the music ends, because the program looks bloody perfect. I stay hiding for a while longer, hoping he’d run it again, but he doesn’t. He just skates around for the next few minutes, his breath forming white clouds of fog in front of him.

I emerge from my hiding spot, hoping it will look like I’ve just come in. He doesn’t say anything – he must still be out of breath – so I just go get ready for another session on the ice.  

 

I was hoping during choreography that I’d get some time to talk to Baz about everything, but he’s really pushing me today, allowing me only short breaks, and it’s exhausting. I mean, generally, I can handle it; but after five hours of intense training, an additional two hours of choreography is too much. Besides, the program is done already; right now, I’m just rehearsing and we’re working out any small details that might be off. 

“Can you… slow down a bit?” I ask, leaning on my knees to catch my breath. My lungs are burning from the cold air. “Just… give me five minutes.”

“We’re on a schedule, Snow. If you’re slacking off during our strength and conditioning training, that’s hardly my fault,” he replies coldly. Here’s the other thing – Baz has been cold and distant this whole evening. Before today, during our choreography sessions, he was acting almost like the Baz he was in London. Yes, he still made snide comments about my skating, but there was no edge to them. When I didn’t get something, he just rolled his eyes and called me an idiot, but then explained it again anyway, slower.

There’s none of that today; just coldness and distance and breaks that are too short. It’s making me worried, which is making it even harder for me to catch my breath.

“We’re not… I’m not…” I fumble, not entirely sure what I’m even trying to say. “Just let me fucking catch my breath,” I feel the anger starting to bubble in my stomach. I don’t slack off during trainings! He literally just made me run my program three times in a row! With jumps! Every normal person would need a break after that.

“If you can curse, you can skate. Come on.”

I straighten up to look at him, the pool anger inside me growing bigger by the second. He can’t just… he knows I’m tired! He knows I have a competition in three weeks and have been working my arse off as it is.

I’m about sick of his sudden mood shifts. He can’t kiss me one day and be completely cold the next. That’s not… it’s not how it works!

I look him straight in the eye and I swear, I see a shadow of concern in them, which only pisses me off further.

“No.”

 

BAZ

I’m too weak to do this. Not like this anyway… not when I know Simon possibly wants more. But if I piss him off, it’s going to be easier. He’ll realize he doesn’t actually want anything to do with me and maybe I won’t even have to tell him no.

My plan seems to be working. I’ve been shit to him this whole session – pushing him too far just so that he’d talk to me less – and now Snow is looking at me with a fire in his eyes that is all too familiar. He’s actually steaming. (I mean that literally; there’s a faint cloud of fog coming off his body, as often happens when you’re overheating in a cold rink.) (He looks gorgeous, and I only feel a little guilty for pushing him so hard.)

“No,” he says, through gritted teeth. The tone of his voice is enough to make me feel unsettled. “Five minutes.”

I should just give him a break, really. I know he’s exhausted. I consider giving in. “Three minutes,” I say instead.

“What is it? Why are you being such a prick all of a sudden?” he explodes. “You can’t kiss me one day and be a downright arse the next day, Baz! That’s not how this works!”

He’s moving closer to me, crowding me, and it takes everything in me not to let my breath hitch as he puts his hands on either side of me, effectively pinning me against the boards. Fucking Simon Snow. Of course he’s not going to make this any easier for me.

You kissed me , Snow,” I say. He growls and he’s so fucking close, I can feel the heat radiating off his body and fucking hell, I hate myself for what I’m about to say next. “And there is no ‘this’!”

“There damn well is!” he insists, like the idiot that he is. I wish I could believe him, but I don’t. I can’t.

“No, Simon, there isn’t ,” I say, but I’m staring at his lips, because I’m just so fucking weak and he’s so fucking close it’s making my head spin. Maybe I could kiss him, one last time, before I tell him.

He growls again and I think he’s about to bash his rock-hard head against my nose. That’s fair – I feel like I deserve that.

He doesn’t. He kisses me instead.

 

SIMON

I just want him to shut up. I have to know this means something to him. And he called me Simon again. And he’s kissing me back again and I don’t fucking understand him, but I hold on to him still.

It’s all that I can do, really.

 

BAZ

Simon is pushing me back so hard that the edge of the boards digs into my lower back. It's all too familiar and I can’t help but kiss him back. Even I don’t have that much self-restraint. (I’m starting to think I have none at all.)

My hands are on his shoulders and his are still on the boards behind me and fucking hell, he’s so warm.

The kiss is a mess – more aggressive than anything we did last night. Of course, Simon Snow fights better with his mouth than he does with his words. Of course, I give into him completely. I would again and again. I’d cross every line for him.

But we really can’t do this.

As much as it hurts me to do so, I push him off. He just stares at me for a second, dumbfounded. Fucking hell, the way Simon looks after a kiss…

“We can’t do this,” I choke out.

“Baz…” he starts.

“No, Simon. We’re rivals, we can’t do this.”  

“We’re teammates .”

“No,” It hurts me to even say it. I want to pull him into my arms and hold him close, but I have to do this. For his sake. “It’s too risky.”

He raises his eyebrows at me. “Too risky? You mean because of people finding out? Because we can keep it a secret.”

Fucking hell, why does he have to make this harder for me?

“Okay, so we keep it a secret. And what then? What about when we have our next competition together and you can’t focus because you’re now also worried about how I’ll do? Because that’s happened to me at Autumn Classic, Simon, and it’s not fun, and I don’t want it to ever happen to you. Or what if we can’t draw the line between work and personal life and competitiveness starts to affect us? And what if Ebb finds out? Or the federation? What if they make us train with different coaches because it goes against some policy?” I pause to take a deep breath, trying to gather together spiralling thoughts. “It’s not that I don’t want this, Simon, but there’s too much on the line. You can’t compromise your career because of me. I won’t let you.”

“I’ll be fine , Baz.” He grabs my hand and I let him hold it because I’m fucking weak. Because I know that this is the last time I’ll ever be this close to Simon Snow again. 

“You don’t know that, Snow.” My voice is more composed than I feel. 

“Well, you don’t know that we won’t be fine either.” 

Fucking stubborn bastard. Why doesn’t he see it? 

“Baz, do you want this?” he asks and his voice is so sincere it makes me want to cry or push him against the boards and snog him senseless. (Again.)

Do I want this, Simon Snow?  So badly. For so long. With every fibre of my being. 

My heart feels like it’s breaking when I look him in the eyes and let go of his hand. 

“No.” 

And then I turn around and get off the ice. 

 

I wait until I’m sure Snow has gone home, hiding in the ballet rooms. It’s for the best; I wouldn’t want him to see me kneeling underneath the barres with tears streaming down my face.  

After I wipe my eyes and splash water in my face, I go ask the security guard for access to the camera footage again. He rolls his eyes, but lets me in. I consider saving the footage this time, since Snow isn’t around to watch me do it, but I delete it anyway. It doesn’t do me any good to dwell on this.

Then I go home and try not to think about how I just passed up my only chance to have Simon Snow. I could have had him – after five years of yearning and wishful thinking, he could have been mine .

But we all have to make sacrifices for this sport. I guess losing Simon is mine.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Keep my head from going under

Going back to normal, a midnight crisis and the tragic lack of avocados. Shepard to the rescue. Skate America: T-minus one week

 

SIMON

It’s been two weeks since Baz and I kissed and things have somehow gotten worse. He doesn’t even provoke me anymore and only speaks to me if he absolutely has to. It’s gotten bad enough that Ebb called me into her office and asked me what was going on. I didn’t know what to tell her, so I just told her to talk to Baz. 

I don’t know what Baz told her. Probably something about how we were never friends in the first place. 

It doesn’t make sense. When he was kissing me on my sofa, he told me he’d wanted this for a long time and then the next day, he told me he didn’t want it at all. I think he was just lying because of all of those concerns he had about our careers, but I don’t understand that either. If he’s so worried about it, why did he kiss me so much in the first place? It doesn’t make sense. 

Nothing about Baz Pitch makes sense. 

I’m trying not to think about it and instead channel all my energy into preparing for Skate America. Shepard and I are leaving for Nevada in a few days’ time and this competition is actually quite important. Ebb says I could medal, and I’m really trying to work towards that. We’ve been mostly working on my artistry, because my artistic score at Autumn Classic was still lower than we wanted it to be.

I’ve also been working on my quad loop – I land more of them now, but it’s still not consistent enough to try it at Skate America this weekend. The plan right now is to put the quad loop in my programs in the second part of the season, when Europeans and Worlds are on.

I’m nervous for Skate America –really nervous. Grand Prix competitions have much more weight than Challenger competitions such as the Autumn Classic. The only thing keeping me going right now is that Skate Canada is the weekend after Skate America and I’ll be able to see Penny again then.

The closer we get to the competition, the more nervous I get and the harder it is to focus during practices, which makes me mess up more, which makes me even more unnerved. I can break from this cycle usually, thanks to therapy, but there are still days when I just can’t.

Today is one such day. I walk off the ice after practically falling on my arse all session, my chest feeling tight. I think everyone is concerned about me and I try not to spiral over how I’m not only fucking it up majorly but also inconveniencing everyone.

I lean back on the wall of the changing room, trying to take in a few deep breaths.

“Simon, you okay there?” Ikumi asks me.

“Mhm,” I nod, even though my chest is still tight. “Just stressed, that’s all.”

“I know what’s going to help you. You’re coming with me to lunch,” Shepard says.

“I’m actually not that hungry,” I shake my head, even though I know I’m going to have to force myself to eat something. Stressed or not, my body needs fuel.

“Still,” Shepard insists.

 

That’s how I end up in Shepard’s truck for our lunch break and he’s taking me to… Walmart?

“Why are we here?” I ask as he parks.

“You might not be hungry, but I need food. Come on, British boy, let me show you the wonders of Walmart.”

Walmart is pretty wonderful, I have to give him that, but I don’t feel particularly stress-relieved after that. It kind of reminds me of ASDA. Shepard buys a sandwich and a salad and then we’re back in his car. He fumbles with his phone, and, moments later, Everybody talks by Neon Trees sounds through his car. I smile. He knows I like this song.

“Now, my advice to you would be to just vibe,” he says, digging into his salad.

“Is this how you deal with competition stress?” I ask, still smiling.

“Yeah, man. They’re not even stressful anymore. The power of a good bop and a shitty Walmart sandwich,” he laughs. I laugh too and lean back on the seat. It is impossible to be stressed with this song playing in the background.

I realise Shepard must’ve put on one of his pre-competition playlists, because the next song is also impossible to be stressed to. I don’t know the title, but I’m enjoying it very much. After that song, Take on me comes on and Shepard puts aside his sandwich to sing along.

I join him and before I know it, we’re singing and laughing along to various 80s hits. It’s the most relaxed I’ve felt in weeks.

“So,” Shepard asks after Dancing Queen dies out. “Are you hungry now?”

I smile. “I could eat.”

 


 

BAZ

Simon has been playing 80s music out loud in his flat for the past few nights and now I constantly have ABBA stuck in my head. I think Shepard is rubbing off on him.

I’m going to miss this when he leaves tomorrow. Granted, he’ll be back by Monday, but then I’m leaving for Ottawa next week. (And yes, he and Shepard are coming to Ottawa with us, but it’s not like we’ll see each other much. They’ll be in the stands and I’ll be competing.)

It’s good though. Some time apart will do him good. I already know that no amount of distance is going to change how I feel about Simon Snow, but I’m hoping it makes it easier for him to move on. (There is one selfish, jealous part of my brain that doesn’t want him to move on, but then again, I know how hard it is to be in love with your rival and I wouldn’t want to wish that upon him.) (I don’t think Snow is in love with me, but I still catch him staring at me during our training sessions and I guess it’s a little inconvenient for him to have to see me at the rink every day.) (Hah. Imagine how hard it is for me .)

Staring aside, we’ve barely spoken at all since the kiss and it hurts . Now that I know what it’s like to have him, the distance between us feels twice as big. But I have to keep it that way. It’s just another sacrifice I have to make. 

The first week after our kiss, I slipped out of my routine. I stopped doing my schoolwork in favour of practicing the violin excessively or lying in bed all the time, thinking about his lips on mine. It was incredibly idiotic of me and now I only have two days left for my essay on the Great Vowel Shift.

I mean, I don’t have to write it. My professors understand that I’m very busy, especially during high competition season (which is right now ), but I still like to stick to deadlines. I know I can write it, so why shouldn’t I? Even if it’ll mean that I get less sleep than I should. And it’s a welcome distraction from thinking about Snow and about how he’s leaving for America tomorrow and probably sweating bullets over it and there’s nothing I can do to make it better.

I put my earbuds in to drown out the sound of Rick Astley’s Never gonna give you up (he and Shepard might be the only two people I know who listen to this song unironically), open my laptop and get to work.

A few hours pass before I decide I should take a break. I stretch my back and check my phone. I’m not expecting anyone to message me at this hour, but it’s a habit.

Except to my surprise, I have four messages waiting for me. A fifth one flies in when I unlock my phone. All are from Snow.

SS: r u awake?
SS: it’s just
SS: I’m really fucking nervous and I can’t sleep and nothing is helping and I think I’m losing it and I’d just really like someone to talk to
SS: sorry u probably don’t wanna hear from me

I glance at the time-stamp. Those messages were sent fifteen minutes ago. I look over to the newest message, which was sent a few seconds ago.

SS: u know what nvm this is stupid

Another message flies in as I read this one.

SS: forget I said anything

I lean back on my chair, trying to process this. I mean, I can’t go to him, can I? That would not be ‘keeping my distance’.

But Simon’s alone in his flat, probably having a mental breakdown right now and I can’t just stay away . I said I wouldn’t do anything to compromise his career and not offering him help when he asks for it is doing just that. And besides, I don’t have to kiss him. I don’t have to touch him. I just have to be there.

I’m out of my flat before I know it.

 

SIMON

I shouldn’t have texted Baz. I realise now that I could’ve just texted Ebb, or my therapist, or even Shepard; but of course, my mind went to Baz first. It always does.

I watch with horror as the little ‘read’ marker appears next to my texts. Baz has seen my messages then. He doesn’t respond – I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, given that we’re keeping our distance.

It was stupid to text him.

I’m definitely not going to get enough sleep tonight. I try not to think about that as I wrap myself tighter in my duvet. I don’t want to start thinking about how lack of sleep could potentially affect my performance – I’ve just somewhat stopped spiralling.

There’s a knock on my door and it startles me. I know it’s Baz, because who else could it be, but I’m still surprised when I open the door and see him standing there. He’s wearing black joggers and a grey sweatshirt and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wear something so casual in his home. (I swear Baz lounges in his jeans.) It makes me wonder if I’ve woken him up or something.

“Do you still need someone to talk to?” he asks. He’s trying to keep his expression bored, but his voice comes out soft.

“Have I woken you up?”

“No, I was up. Just wasn’t checking my phone. Can I come in? Would you like some tea?”

“Um… could you just talk to me?” I step aside to make room for him and he comes in and takes off his shoes. I realise we have no place to sit – my sofa is crammed with suitcases for tomorrow and I don’t want to be moving them around. Baz notices too and raises his eyebrow at me.

“Do you mind if we uh… Go to my bedroom?” I ask, feeling my cheeks turn red as I do so. Baz looks panicked for a second, but composes himself quickly.

“I hope you’re not hinting at one of your valid methods of stress relief,” he says. My face flushes even harder.

“No, no, no! It’s just… we have nowhere to sit and—”

“Snow, Snow. I’m joking. I know. Bedroom is fine.”

I breathe out a sigh of relief and nod at him to follow me.

 

BAZ

I’m in Simon Snow’s bedroom. The light is off, but there’s still light coming from the corridor, so I can see it well enough. His sheets are messy and his wardrobe is opened and it’s really fucking cold in here for some reason. He steps up and closes the window (that’s why), then sits cross-legged on his bed, pulling a blanket over him and leaning against the headboard. His eyes are red, like he’s been crying and my heart breaks for him.

I sit down on the other side of the bed – keeping my distance. I’m still cold and I wonder if I could pull the covers over me, but that feels too intimate, so I just pull my legs to my chest and hug them.

“Have you eaten anything?” I ask. He nods.

“Yeah, um… I was fine until I went to bed.”

“Have you tried watching Friends ?” I offer. I know that calms him down.

“Didn’t really help,” he shrugs, rubbing at his eyes. “I just… Can you talk to me?”

“Remember when we were fourteen and you told everyone I pushed you down the stairs?” I ask. He starts laughing – it’s barely there, but it’s a laugh.

“You did push me down the stairs,” he says.

“I didn’t. You fell. Because you’re a clumsy oaf.” There’s no edge to my words.

“No, you pushed me!” Snow insists.

“Snow, if I actually pushed you down the stairs, I’d never shut up about it. I’m nothing if not honest.”

He scoffs. “Yeah right.”

“The truth hurts.”

“Not as much as being pushed down the stairs,” he says.

“Not as much as falling down the stairs,” I agree.  “Maybe next time you tackle something as motorically challenging as stairs, try looking where you’re going.”

“This might be the most normal thing you’ve said to me all month,” Snow mutters. My heart drops and I don’t know what to say to that. He’s right, of course, and it makes me feel so infernally guilty. 

“Listen, Baz, I understand if you don’t want this ,” Snow starts again. Oh no. I’m not mentally prepared for another conversation about our relationship. But Snow keeps going, of course. “But the way things are right now is driving me crazy. I mean, it just feels wrong. So I’m not saying we have to do this, but can you just stop ignoring me? Please?” 

“We have to keep our distance,” I say and my voice comes out steady, even though I don’t feel steady. 

“We can keep our distance and still talk to each other,” he says. 

“Snow, I’m literally in your bed right now.” 

I can see him roll his eyes. “I mean, we can keep our distance after tonight,” he says and I don’t think he realises how much this sounds like he’s about to kiss me. I don’t think he realises how much I want him to. “And we’re just talking, aren’t we? I just… I’d like us to talk to each other again. Even if you’re an arse.” 

The sentence sounds so ridiculous that we both scoff at it.

“I can be an arse again? Oh good. You have no idea how much assholery I’ve had to hold back these past few weeks. Finally, I can breathe again.”

He smiles and nudges me. “Shut up.”

“Sorry, Snow. You’ve given me permission to speak now. I may never be quiet again.”

“I’m beginning to regret everything,” he laments. I laugh and it sends my body into shivers. Seriously, no wonders Snow can’t sleep – I’m pretty sure the ice at our rink is warmer than this. (Okay, I’m exaggerating but it is cold.) Snow notices, of course.

“Are you cold?” he asks.

“I’m fine.”

“You can use the blanket, you know?”

“It’s fine, Snow.”

“No. Come on,” he starts pulling the blanket out from underneath my legs and I decide to take matters into my own hands because his hands are decisively too close to my arse.

“That’s better, isn’t it?” he asks, but I’m too busy to reply immediately, because now, we’re both under the same blanket. And his knee is pressing into my thigh.

“It’s adequate,” I finally say. He slides into a lying position, resting his head on the pillow and my heart skips a few beats. 

“Baz? How did you know you were gay?”

“Having a sexuality crisis, Snow?” I jab at him, even though it’s perfectly reasonable to have a sexuality crisis after the events of a few weeks ago. He scoffs.

“No, it’s just… Weird that I didn’t know, y’know?” he sounds sleepy.

“Everyone has different experiences,” I tell him.

“I suppose. Do your parents know?”

I roll my eyes. “Yes.”

“But nobody else does?”

“Ebb knows. And Agatha. And you. And probably Shepard assumes. But nobody else. I’m not exactly planning on making it public knowledge.”

“That’s fair,” he mutters. The room is quiet for a while.

“Are you feeling any better?” I ask. He might be getting tired and I don’t want to keep him up any longer than necessary.

“I don’t know. I’m just… so fucking scared,” he says, his voice quiet. It breaks my heart. “The competition is so stiff and there are going to be so many people and I don’t want to mess it up again.” His voice breaks mid-sentence and I slide down, pulling him into my arms before I can stop myself.

“You’re not going to mess it up,” I say, rubbing circles between his shoulder blades. Simon buries his head in my shoulder. He smells sweet, like apples and cinnamon and I realise this maybe isn’t such a good idea since we just said we’d keep our distance, but I can’t just sit here and do nothing while he worries himself to death! It’s a well-known fact that I’m weak when it comes to Simon Snow and I can’t stand to see him like this. 

“You don’t know that,” he says, his hands sliding around my waist, causing a whole swarm of butterflies to rise in my stomach. (This is a bad idea, a really bad idea.) (I don’t care, I don’t care.)

“No, look. Out of everyone competing at Skate America, Shepard and Micah are your biggest rivals, right?” I start. I’m using the technique that helps me calm down when I’m feeling overwhelmed before a competition – which is to rationalise everything. Snow scoffs.

“Baz, I’m not even on their level, they are—”

“No, Snow. You are. You have the second highest base value of this competition,” I cut him off. (Yes, I’ve done the math.) “Now Shepard, you train with every day. You know him, you two are friends, you know what he’s capable of and that’s good because it’s familiar, right?” I ask. He nods. “And I’m about on the same level as Micah is right now, so you can just imagine you’re going against me if that will make it any easier for you. Or you can do really well to spite him, because he’s a lying, scheming brat and anyone coming even remotely close to his gold medal will annoy the fuck out of him. It can be a revenge mission for Bunce,” I say. It makes him laugh a little.

“I didn’t know you had a bone to pick with Micah too,” he says. I roll my eyes at his choice of words.

“Snow, I have so many bones to pick with him, I could build a whole damn skeleton. He’s incredibly annoying – even more so than you.”

“Hey!” he nudges me and I chuckle, pressing him closer to me.

“Sorry.”

“He is a git, though.”

“Definitely.”

“And I think you’re better than him,” he says, which takes me by surprise. I’m not used to Snow giving me compliments.

“I’ve never actually beaten him,” I object. The few times Micah and I do come face to face (usually only twice per season, with the way our competitions are scheduled), he’s always the one to win.  

“You will this year,” he assures me. 

He might be right about that. The difference between the total base value of mine and Micah’s programs this year is less than a point. It’s going to be tooth and nail, that’s for sure.

“Wasn’t I supposed to be comforting you , Snow?”

“I’m just saying. You nearly did last year and that was without the lutz,” he mutters.

I’m not sure what to say to this, so I just stay silent, rubbing his back. 

“You’re really good at keeping your distance, Baz,” Snow says and it almost makes me laugh. 

“Snow, you said yourself that our agreement starts after tonight. I’m merely taking advantage of your inability to predict loopholes.” 

He just scoffs in response, but now I’m suddenly feeling like he might not want this. “If it’s not okay, though, you can always tell me and I’ll stop,” I say. 

He shakes his head, his hair brushing against my cheek as he does so. “It helps a bit, actually.”

We don’t say anything after that, just lie in silence, my hands still running up and down his back. I don’t know how long it takes him for his breathing to settle down, but I don’t allow myself to sleep until I’m sure he’s asleep first.

His breath is warm against my collarbone and I try not to think about how I shouldn’t be doing this. I try not to think about how I’d still do this again in a heartbeat, the agreement be damned.

It’s just for tonight. He’s leaving tomorrow and then we’ll keep our distance. This won’t happen again.

I press a kiss on top of his head before I drift off to sleep.

 

SIMON

I’m woken by an alarm that is not my own. In a moment of confusion, I completely forget about the events of last night, until Baz stirs next to me, reaching over to the bedside table to grab his phone. It must be his alarm then.

“What time is it?” I ask, rubbing at my eyes. My brain is still too tired to fully process the fact that I spent the whole night sleeping in Baz’s arms. (And then I do think about it and a familiar flutter rushes through my belly and I come to the conclusion that cuddling is also a valid method of stress relief.)

“Six thirty. Go back to sleep,” he says as he gets out of bed. I’m starting to miss his warmth already. 

“Where are you going?” I roll over to look at him. He’s putting on his shoes in the corridor.

“Home. I need to eat breakfast. Practice starts at eight.”

“You can eat breakfast here,” I offer.

“Go back to sleep, Snow. Your flight isn’t until lunchtime, right?”

“Yeah,” I mutter. I wasn’t planning on waking up for another two hours and my eyelids are already starting to feel heavy. “What I meant to say was you can raid my fridge. ‘S not like I’ll be around to miss my food.”

He pauses, like he’s considering the option. Then: “Do you have avocados?”

“No.” 

“Then no,” he says.

I scoff, closing my eyes again. “You posh prat.”

He doesn’t say anything to that, but I hear him messing with his shoes in the corridor. Then, I hear him walking around. When he speaks, his voice is much closer to me than I remember it being. 

“Let’s for a moment entertain the thought that it’s still last night,” he says and the sentence is much too complex for my morning brain to process. 

“Hmm?” 

He leans over and presses a kiss to my cheek. “Good luck, Simon.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: Skate America

Las Vegas, Nevada: the betrayal of the quad toeloop, a spark of determination and the best Thai food Simon has ever had. The Grand Prix series officially begins! Next stop: Skate Canada, T-minus one week.

 

SIMON

Granted, sleeping in Baz’s arms helped with my competition nerves, but that’s only because now, all I can think about is him. I’ve tried to push him out of my mind dozens of times already, but each time, before I know it, my thoughts are full of him again; how warm he felt in my arms, how his hair smelled, how he kissed me on the cheek before he left – how I cannot figure him out.

He says we shouldn’t do this, but he still voluntarily spent the night at my place and kissed me and… I don’t know. The more I think about it, the more I think maybe we could do this for real and maybe, instead of talking about the stupid agreement, I should talk to him about how we could at least try to make this work.

Maybe it’s good that I didn’t attempt to talk to him about that, though, because I don’t actually know what I’d say. And he is right about some things; if we were to follow through with this, there’s no way to tell what the reaction from the outside world would be. But Baz is more worried about how it’d affect our jobs and I don’t think it would, at least not negatively. Baz and I have competed against each other for years, so surely, we’re used to it by now. Although he did say he felt nervous for me at Autumn Classic… (which leads me to believe he’s wanted this at least since Autumn Classic.) (I have too, I just didn’t know.)

I think maybe we should just talk about this… I’ll do it when I come back from Skate America. Or maybe after he’s done with Skate Canada, so that I don’t distract him from his competition.

I should stop distracting myself from my competition. I should stop thinking about it.

The plane stewardess announces that we’ll be landing in Las Vegas shortly.

Right. Time to stop thinking about it.

 


 

I close my eyes, leaning against the bus window. The afternoon sun is warm against my skin and for some reason, I feel completely calm, despite being on my way to the arena to compete in the short program.

I know this is all just for a moment, but I’m going to enjoy it. Las Vegas has been good so far. We got here two days ago and I got to see Agatha, and spend some time with her. (But not a lot because she doesn’t like to be very social before a competition.)

Now it’s time for the real deal. The very first event of the Grand Prix series. The next six weeks are going to be interesting, with competitions every weekend to see who manages to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

I’m not looking to qualify. I mean, I’d like to – especially since this year’s Grand Prix Final is the test event for the 2022 Beijing Olympics and it would be really cool to have the opportunity to skate in the arena before the actual Olympics – but qualifying for a Grand Prix Final is brutal, especially with the current competition in the men’s field being so strong.

My main goal is to just get through my two competitions without any big muck ups.

The bus pulls up in front of the arena and we all start grabbing our bags. I’m starting to feel the nerves now, but only a little bit – this is still good. Maybe it’s the weather; Nevada is much sunnier and warmer than Montreal and I think it’s putting everyone into a slightly better mood. Maybe it’s because my mind is still stuck on Baz despite my best efforts. I try to push him out of my thoughts as I exit the bus.

Right. Time to compete.

The backstage area is different here. You can really tell that this is a bigger competition than Autumn Classic was; there’s press and cameras everywhere, but thankfully, the majority of them are American, so they’re more focused on Shepard and Micah. (Mostly on Micah. I mean, he is the world champion, after all.)

There’s also going to be a press conference later, for the first three men after the short program, and then on Sunday, there’s going to be a gala exhibition and a closing banquet. All of this is normal for bigger competitions. This is the real deal now, not a warm-up. (Well, I suppose if you’re Micah or Baz, you can treat a Grand Prix competition as a warm-up too.) (The real battle for them comes when they’ll be going face to face at the Grand Prix Final.)

I avoid the press and do my warmups. I’m skating 5th in the final group, so it’s still a long time until I go on the ice.

 

By the time our warm-up group goes on, I’ve managed to work myself up enough that my chest feels tight and my knees shaky. Yes, Baz is no longer on my mind, but this is actually worse.

It’s alright , I tell myself. Nobody’s going to be looking at you, they’re all going to be looking at Micah.

“Skaters of warm-up group two may now take the ice,” the announcer’s voice sounds around the arena. This is it .

They call our names as an introduction and, unsurprisingly, Shepard and Micah get the biggest applause. The crowd’s all looking at them, I remind myself. You’re fine. Just focus on your warm-up .

I manage to pull through, and it’s back to the waiting game for me. Shepard is skating first in our group, so Ebb doesn’t come with me backstage. I try to calm myself down a bit. The warm-up went fine. You are good, you are good, you are good .

You are okay. You’ll be fine .

I don’t watch Shepard’s performance, despite there being a TV backstage. He must’ve done a bloody good job, though, judging by the cheers coming from the arena. I only catch half of the score, but it’s over ninety. That’s really good for him.

I put my earbuds in then, so that I don’t hear the rest of the skaters’ scores and blast ABBA at the highest volume.

Let’s fucking do this.

 

BAZ

Montreal is three hours ahead of Nevada, so I’m sacrificing my sleep to watch the livestream. I have my notebook open and I just finished taking down notes on Micah’s performance. I’ll of course look at the scoring sheets later, but first impressions are just as important.

Micah scored 102.66, which is just a smidge lower than what I scored at Autumn Classic. I’m better at Micah in the short program – I hold the world record score for it and I usually beat him in that event, but he always overtakes me in the free. Now he’s slowly closing the gap in the short as well.

I’m watching Simon get on the ice now. He seems visibly nervous, but Ebb tells him something and he smiles and nods. That’s good to see.

I’m nervous when the music starts, but he pulls through the first two jumps (quad sal triple toe combination and a triple axel) wonderfully. But then he lands his quad toe too far back and ends up falling.

Shit.

It doesn’t seem to have affected him much though, as his step sequence is wonderful and he ends up smiling. It warms my heart. The mistake he made wasn’t actually so bad; if he popped the jump or fell on the combination, it would’ve been much worse. Really, this is one of the better mistakes you can make in the short program.

His score comes up and it’s 88.27, which both he and Ebb seem happy with. It’s almost the same as what he scored at Autumn Classic, but he had a fall here, so the fact that his score is still so high means his artistry score has improved.

That’s good. That’s really, really good.

I pull out my phone and send him a text.

BP: And to think the toeloop was the first quad you learned

 

SIMON

I’m sitting in third place after the short program and now I’m really, really nervous. I want to keep my podium position. Ebb says I can do it. Shepard says I can do it. If Baz was here, he’d say I could do it. (Although he’d probably be snarky about it. He sent me a text about my fall yesterday, but I think that was his way of congratulating me.)

I wish he was here right now, just to talk to me. (Even if it’s only insults.)

I’m skating first in the final group, though, so at least it’ll be over soon. I actually like skating first – most skaters hate it, because it doesn’t give you a lot of time to breathe after the six-minute warm-up, but I like it because at least then I don’t have to go backstage again and wait and steam in my own nerves until it’s my turn.

“Skaters, there is one minute left to your warm-up,” a man announces over the microphone. This is my cue to go to the boards, catch my breath and drink some water. I notice my hands are shaking.

“You good, kid?” Ebb asks.

“Yeah,” I say, kneeling down and putting my hands on the ice. I sometimes do that when I’m nervous – it grounds me. I take a deep breath.

“You know what you have to do.”

“Have fun. Land my quads. Stay on the podium,” I tell her. She smiles.

“Just that first one.”

“I want to do the other two as well,” I say, feeling determination rise up in my chest, like static. The feeling surprises me a bit – I haven’t felt like this since the 2018 Junior World. This is nowhere near the determination I felt back then, but it’s still nice to have some of it back. It makes me wonder if my therapist was right about me regaining my confidence.

 “Skaters, this concludes your warm-up. Please, leave the ice,” the announcer says. I make room for the five other guys, who are about to head backstage again. Shepard nods at me as he’s leaving the ice and then I become acutely aware that all cameras are on me now.

I swallow my nerves and squeeze Ebb’s hands one last time.

“First to skate, representing Great Britain; Simon Snow!”

The audience cheers and the static in my chest grows slightly stronger. I tune into it. I’m staying on that podium.

I’ll make sure of it.

 

It’s not perfect – I made some mistakes on my spins, and I’ll probably get a negative grade of execution for my triple axel-double loop combination but damn . It was clean. No falls. No under-rotations. (No air left in my lungs.)

I take my bows in all four directions and notice that some people are standing up. It makes me really, really happy. I hug Ebb as soon as I’m off the ice. I think she’s crying a little.

“I knew you had it in you!” she jumps up and down. I can do nothing else but smile and nod. (I’m still out of breath.)

“I have to go find Shepard now, but we’ll talk about this later, okay?” She hugs me again. “I’m so proud of you. Go get a good score!”

And then she’s off.

And then I do get a good score. A really fucking good score. 178.69 in the free and a 266.96 in the total. Not as good as at Autumn Classic, but good enough that I can maybe keep my place on the podium. (It’s still too early to tell, with five other skaters yet to go and I’m not good enough with math to be able to say anything for sure.) (Baz is, probably. I mean, he’s Baz . And as far as I know, he enjoys being a nerd over scores – if he were here, he’d probably tell me all his score predictions.)

I head backstage and find a TV. Some skaters from the first group are there, and they all congratulate me and then get back to watching the livestream. I try to too, but the next moment, someone sprints up behind me and hugs me.

“Oh my god, you did so great!” I recognize Agatha’s voice immediately and I turn around. She’s beaming from ear to ear, bouncing excitedly on her heels. “Aaagh! That was like watching old Simon again!”

“You really think so?”

“Yes!” she hugs me again. “Except for your spins. Seriously, what were you doing there?”

I laugh, my hand coming up to scratch the back of my head. “Not a spin day, I suppose.”

“I get that,” she nods solemnly.

“Sure you do,” I roll my eyes. If there’s one thing Agatha always nails, it’s the spins. She’s not much of a person for jumps, like I am, but she frequently gets perfect grades of execution on her spins. It’s unbelievable really. She’s like one of those things that scientists use… a centrifuge or whatever it’s called. (Maybe it’s not a good idea to compare your kinda ex-girlfriend to a centrifuge, but Aggie and I are friends more than we are anything else.) (Maybe you shouldn’t compare your friends to scientific equipment either.)

“Hey, it happens to the best of us too!”

“Sure it does.” I’m teasing her now and she rolls her eyes at me.

“Winning medals inflates your ego, you know that?”

“I haven’t won anything yet!” I defend myself. (And it doesn’t .) (And even if it did, I’d probably benefit from an ego-booster, at least during competitions.)

 

I do end up winning bronze though. Shepard gets silver, with five points more than me, and Micah, unsurprisingly, wins with over twenty points more than Shepard. (And that wasn’t even Micah’s best performance – he under-rotated two jumps.)

It’s pretty much routine from there on out. A medal ceremony. A press conference for Micah, Shepard and I. Lots of hugs and congratulations.

Then Agatha suggests we go to a restaurant called Lotus of Siam and I eat ungodly amounts of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. It’s bliss.

I fall into bed, feeling more content than ever before. That’s when my phone buzzes. I fully intend on ignoring it – I already answered my mum’s and Penny’s messages and the rest can wait until tomorrow.

Except I check my phone and see that it’s Baz.

BP: Congratulations on managing your toe pick
BP: You spin like a troll, though

I laugh a bit at that.

SS: have u ever seen a troll spin?

BP: Yes. Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiTV3aTFwl0

I click on it and the video of my performance from today pops up. I have a good chuckle at that.

SS: Oh fuck off
SS: Any chance I could face time u 2mrrw during gala practice and u check my EX program one last time?

BP: Not with that grammar, there isn’t

SS: Git

BP: Yes, I’ll be available

 

BAZ

In the end, Agatha calls me. She’s at the arena, the colourful gala practice lights reflecting off her hair. I can hear the music and the chatter in the background and I never thought I’d miss gala practices, but here we are. (I’m itching to get back to a proper competition – less than a week now.)

“Simon forgot to charge his phone,” Agatha explains, her voice loud enough to hear over the music. I scoff.

“Typical.”

“Hey!” A head of bronze curls tries to nudge itself into the frame of her camera. “It was an honest mistake!” 

“Get back to practice, Snow. If you butcher my program in public, I’ll butcher you ,” I tell him, stabbing my asparagus with a fork for emphasis. (Agatha’s call caught me during my lunch break, which is really convenient because I don’t have to pause my training for it.)

“Are you eating?” Snow asks, now opting to stand a bit further behind Agatha in order to be in frame. (I wish he wouldn’t – I was already missing him enough as it is. And there’s something so heart melting about Simon with all the competition stress gone. He looks so happy.)

“No, Snow, I just have a plate of food in front of me as decoration.”

“Bone apple teeth,” he grins at me. I sigh. Not a day goes by when Snow doesn’t butcher the English language. (Or, I suppose that’s actually the French language.)

“It’s Bon Appetit. Get back to practice,” I snap at him. Agatha rolls her eyes at us, then hands Simon her phone.

“I’m going to leave you two alone to settle this,” she says.

“It is already settled,” I object, but Agatha is off. Snow is practically cackling, and he pulls off one of his gloves with his teeth. (This shouldn’t be so attractive.)

“Do you want to have a look around?” he asks.

“I’m good, thanks,” I say, but he’s already flipped the call to the back camera. He shows me around the arena, as if I haven’t been there before. (Actually, maybe I haven’t.)

“Check this out,” he says, turning the camera briefly to him. Then he launches into a spin while still holding the camera and I think he’s doing this on purpose – he knows I’m eating. (Joke’s on him, though; it takes a lot more than that to get me dizzy.) “Cool, right?” he turns back to me, grinning. His hair is all over the place from spinning so fast.

“I see you’ve sorted out your spins,” I say, making a point to take a bite of my food as I do so. “Shouldn’t you be practicing?”

“I’m waiting for my music to be called,” he rolls his eyes. “Shepard! Hey, Shep! Wanna say hi to Baz?”

I roll my eyes at him. I don’t want to sound like a pompous tit here, but I am still famous enough in this sport that if he goes around yelling that he has me on a call, there’s going to be a whole line of skaters wanting to talk to me. I generally wouldn’t mind it, but I like to have my peace during meals.

“Fucking hell, Snow, scream my name any louder, why don’t you?” I snap at him, then immediately want to smack myself over how fucking perverted that sounds. He hears it too and his face flushes so red that I can see it despite the dim lighting in the arena.

“I thought we had an agreement,” he starts, smirking. (Dear lord, he’s going to be the death of me.)

“We do have an agreement. Stop flirting with me. And give Agatha her phone back,” I roll my eyes, trying to ignore the fact that my heart is racing. Trying to ignore flustered Simon. (Trying to ignore the implications .)

Simon smiles sheepishly at the camera. (I’m so far gone.) “Sorry,” he says. “Although for the record, I wasn’t flirting,” he adds.

“Snow, your lack of self-awareness is so staggeringly low you don’t even know when you’re flirting. Agatha would call you a Gemini or something.”

“I am a Gemini,” he rolls his eyes. “I think. I don’t know anything about astrology.”  

“Me neither.”

“Agatha!” he calls to her. “What’s my star sign?”

“Just give her back the phone,” I roll my eyes.

“You’re a Cancer,” Agatha says, taking the phone away from him. (Thank god – a few more seconds of his stupid grin and I would’ve melted.) (Maybe I have already.)

“Ha!” Snow beams triumphantly.

“What’s this about?”

“Snow would rather chat than practice,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“Typical. I told him yesterday winning medals inflates his ego.”

“It does,” I agree. (Not that I mind – confidence looks good on him.) (I should stop thinking like this.)

“I don’t like either of you right now,” Snow pouts in the background.

“Good. Go practice.”

 


 

SIMON

My bronze medal sits heavy in my pocket as Shepard and I board the plane. Ebb isn’t with us – she went back to Canada as soon as our competition was over, in order to have more time to prepare Baz and Ikumi for Skate Canada. She’s even busier than we are with the way our competitions are scheduled. She has one week off after Skate Canada, then it’s France with Shepard, Russia with Baz and I, and then Japan with Ikumi. And after that, there’s only two more weeks until the Grand Prix Final, which I’m sure at least Baz and Shepard will qualify for.

I actually haven’t been able to stop thinking about the Grand Prix Final since the medal ceremony. I have a bronze now, which gives me 11 qualifying points. If I want to qualify for the Final, I would need to get at least 24 of them, which means I’d have to be second in Russia. (I could get away with being 3rd again, which would leave me with 22 points and that might still be enough, but that depends entirely on how many points the other skaters collect.)

It would be really hard to be second in Russia. Baz is going to be there and I’m sure he’s going to win, so I’d have to fight Huang Li for 2nd place and I know I can’t beat him with my current program layout.

But maybe if I add a quad loop and increase my layout from three quads to four… it could be doable. Possibly. Maybe.

I only have about a month to prepare for the Rostelecom Cup. If I want to seriously fight for a spot at the Grand Prix Final, I have to make up my mind now.

I think I want to do it.

 


 

figure_skating_daily: GP SKATE AMERICA – MEN’S RESULTS

1st place: Micah Cordero (@micah.cordero), USA – 292.01 – amazing as always! He didn’t seem happy with his FS, probably because of the under-rotations, but he’ll get those sorted. Really looking forward to what he does at IDF!

2nd place: Shepard Lee (@shepard.from.omaha), USA – 271.19 – aaaaah Shep!!!! He fell on his second 4T in the FS but otherwise it was perfect!! Can’t wait to see him at IDF! Also, his Instagram stories were so entertaining lol, it’s good to see he and Simon are such good friends

3rd place: Simon Snow (@simonsnowsk8er), GBR – 266.96 – Simon Snow is BACK everybody! So excited to see him medal again, and this time with a clean FS no less! He was so happy! Also is it just me or is his exhibition program really cool this year?

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Chapter 20: Skate Canada

Ottawa, Canada. Road trip with the boys, the wonders of bisexuality, Baz’s dark fashion past, the return of Nicodemus Petty and Ebb adopts another one. Sometimes jumps betray you and that’s okay.

 

BAZ

Snow has his feet up on the dashboard of Shepard’s car and is currently very enthusiastically bobbing his head to Livin’ on a prayer . I’d be rolling my eyes at him if I wasn’t pretending to ignore him.

I wasn’t even supposed to be in Shepard’s car. I was supposed to be riding with Ebb and Ikumi, but then Shepard’s truck didn’t have a trunk, so we had to pile all of our luggage into the backseat of Ebb’s car and I ended up having to ride with Snow and Shepard.

It’s only a two-hour drive, but I’m in hell. Shepard’s love for dad rock is louder than my playlist, and not paying attention to Snow is about as difficult as not paying attention to the sun on a hot summer’s day. He’s still riding the high of medalling. Pair that with the excitement of seeing Bunce again soon, and – between his smile and his curls and his legs  –  it’s very hard not to stare at him.

Happiness looks good on Simon Snow.

I can’t wait until we get to the hotel so I can put on my game face and have an excuse to ignore everyone. Well, maybe I’ll say hi to Bunce, but that’s it. I’m not here to make friends or pine over Snow or otherwise participate in any sort of distracting activities. I’m here to win.

I put my earbuds in, turn the volume to the highest, close my eyes and get to image training.

 

SIMON

We only stop at the hotel to drop Baz off and get our luggage to our rooms. Shepard and I are staying at the same hotel as the rest of our team, but since we’re not competing, we’re on a different floor than all the other athletes.

I haven’t seen Penny yet. I think she’s at the venue, so I just text her to let me know when she’ll be back and then I hop back into Shepard’s car and he drives us to practice.

Obviously we can’t just afford to put our trainings on hold for four full days, especially not in the midst of the Grand Prix season, so Ebb arranged for us to practice at her brother’s rink under his supervision – which I’m very fucking nervous about.

The only thing I know about Nicodemus is what Baz has told me, and he said Nicodemus is a prick, but he’s brilliant. I can’t even imagine what an arsehole you must be for Baz Pitch to call you one – I imagine his standards are pretty high. (But then again, so are his standards for brilliance, so Nicodemus must be some sort of a genius.)

“I keep forgetting Ebb and Nico are from Ottawa,” Shepard says as we navigate the roads to Nico’s rink.

“Wait, Ebb isn’t from Montreal?” I ask, shocked. (Shouldn’t this be the kind of information that you know about your coach?)

Shepard laughs at my reaction. “No, she told me once she only moved to Montreal because her wife lived there,” he says.

“Oh,” I nod and my mind drifts off to how many queer people there are at our rink. And then I start thinking about how I still don’t actually know my own label and I’m planning on telling Penny this weekend. Can you even come out if you don’t have a label? How do you even know what you are?

From what I’ve been able to piece together from Baz, he’s always known he was gay. He did say everyone has different experiences, but I just wish I had someone else’s experience at hand too, to see if it compares to mine. Did it take everybody twenty years to figure out they weren’t straight or am I just weird?

“You okay there, Simon? You seem deep in thought,” Shepard asks, glancing at me.

“Yeah, just…” my voice trails off. Then I realise I do have somebody else I can ask about their experience. I take a deep breath. “Uh, Shep… you’re bi, right?”

“Yes.”

“How did you, uh… how did you know?”

Shepard casts another glance at me, but I look away. (Is talking about sexuality always this difficult? Whatever happens next, Shepard can now probably figure out that I’m not straight and that’s a bit frightening.) (I understand now why Baz doesn’t want to be out publicly. This is nerve-wracking.)

“Well, I don’t know. I always thought I just liked girls, right? And then I think I was seventeen and I started liking this boy and I was super confused at first, because it didn’t feel the same as liking girls, but then I realised that probably means I’m bisexual so…” his voice trails off and he shrugs.

“Wait, it feels different? Like, when you like girls and when you like boys?”

“Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s not the same for everyone, but for me, it’s completely different, even to the extent of you know… the love language and all of that. And also, it fluctuates. There are times when I’m more attracted to dudes and times when I’m more attracted to girls, but one attraction doesn’t cancel out the other.”

I just stare at him, my mouth hanging open. Why does nobody talk about these things? I didn’t know all that was possible!

Does that explain why the way I feel about Baz is different from the way I felt about Agatha?

“But… how do you know that one of your attractions isn’t… fake?”

Shepard laughs. “Well, you don’t. That’s the beauty of bisexuality; you’re always confused and screaming.”

That makes me laugh too. “So, you don’t know?”

“No, no, you do know, I’m just joking. But you know, when you’re attracted to one person specifically, you don’t exactly think about how you’re attracted to others, right?”

“Right,” I nod.

“I’m assuming this is all coming from a place?” he asks. I’m glad he’s not looking at me.

“Well yeah, I just… recently came to the conclusion that I’m not straight and uh… I don’t know what to call myself.”

“Well, you don’t have to call yourself anything if you don’t want to. Nobody’s forcing you to label it,” Shepard shrugs.

“But how do you come out to people if you don’t have a label?”

“You don’t have to come out either, if you don’t feel comfortable. Like I’m comfortable about being open about my sexuality, but Baz, for example, isn’t,” he says. I turn to look at him so quickly that I get a cramp in my neck.

“You know about Baz?!”

“I mean, I assumed .”

How ? How do you just know that?” I ask, rubbing the back of my neck. The pain is already beginning to subside.

“He’s the only one who laughs at my gay jokes, Simon. It’s not that hard to figure it out. How did you know about Baz?”

“Uh… Context clues, I guess,” I mutter.

“See? You have gaydar too!”

I decide not to mention that Baz happily letting me shove my tongue down his throat probably doesn’t count as a gaydar thing.

“Okay, if I want to come out to my friends but I don’t have a label, what do I even say?” I change the subject.

“The same thing you told me. You don’t owe them a label, Simon – you can just say you’re not straight.”

“Right,” I nod, leaning back in my seat. The tension finally seems to be leaving my shoulders. “Right, that makes sense. Thank you.”

Shepard smiles at me. “Glad I could help.”

“And uh… you won’t tell anyone about Baz, will you?”

“Not a word,” he assures me.

 

BAZ

Bunce’s and Snow’s reunion is disgustingly heart-warming. Both Snow and Shepard are half-dead in their chairs (courtesy of Nicodemus Petty), but Snow comes back to life the moment he sees Bunce enter the dining hall. The very next moment, he’s sprinting across and the two of them collide in what I can only imagine is a very painful hug. Then he brings her to our table and introduces her to Shepard, Ikumi and Ebb.

I just nod at Bunce. I saw her at the venue earlier today and we hugged then. (I’d never admit it, but it’s good to see her.) Bunce sits down between me and Snow, which is a relief, because now I don’t have a direct view of his disgusting, yet somehow endearing eating habits. (I also happen to know that Mrs. Salisbury sent scones from England via Bunce, which I imagine he’ll be ecstatic about.)

“Penny, I couldn’t help but notice you’re here alone?” Ebb turns to Bunce.

“Well, my mum couldn’t just leave my little siblings alone in England. They’d burn the rink down,” Bunce shrugs. “It’s no issue – I can compete without a coach.”

“That’s impressive,” Shepard says and I agree with him. I could never handle a competition without a coach – maybe a small one, like Nationals or Tayside, but everything else is too much pressure. But Bunce has nerves of steel. If there’s anyone who can handle it, it’s her.

“Well, if you need anything, you can always turn to me,” Ebb offers. Bunce smiles wide.

“Thank you.”

“So, now that we’ve got half of the British national team here, I want to hear the hot goss. Give me embarrassing stories about Baz,” Shepard turns to Bunce. I send him a glare and he just grins back at me.

“Bunce, don’t you dare,” I warn her. I know Snow hardly has any embarrassing stories about me, but Bunce and I have known each other since we were seven. She was there for me when I had a mullet. (Oh god, if she mentions the mullet...)

“Okay, for starters, why do you call all your teammates by their last name? You don’t call me Lee or her Takahashi,” Shepard nods at Ikumi.

“Oh, I can answer that one!” Snow practically jumps. Oh no . “Baz was thirteen and he had a spy phase and started calling everyone by their last names because he thought he was cool, and it stuck.”

Shepard starts laughing while I send a scowl in Snow’s direction. Maybe he does have embarrassing stories about me… oh well, he just opened Pandora’s box. For every embarrassing story he has on me, I have at least three on him. I’m sure of it.

“If we’re talking phases, Snow shaved his head during his Slim Shady phase,” I say. Everyone looks at Snow with raised eyebrows and his face turns so red I almost feel bad… but then he retaliates immediately.

“Baz tried jumping on the podium once and fell,” he says, raising one eyebrow at me.

“Aw that’s adorable,” Ebb laughs.

“Snow walked on concrete without skate guards,” I say, knowing I’ve hit the mark with it. They all recoil in horror – it’s the figure skating equivalent of nails on chalkboard.

“Oh, I forgot about that,” Bunce mutters, more to herself than to others. Snow’s face is as red as a tomato now and I know I’ve won. Until…

“Baz had a mullet!”

“Oh my god, did you really?” Shepard turns to me.

“You have to show us!” Ikumi insists.

“Aw, you must’ve looked so cute!” Ebb coos. “I remember when you were little and Natasha brought you to the rink and you had the cutest little bowl cut. Nico and I taught you how to skate on one foot.”

Everyone “aw”s and I suddenly feel more embarrassed about that than about Snow leaking information about my mullet. (And also kind of warm inside.)

“You had a bowl cut?” Snow turns to me.

“I was three, everyone has a bowl cut when they’re three,” I sneer.

He shrugs. “I didn’t.”

“Lovely to know your lack of fashion sense started at such a young age,” I say, trying not to imagine what Snow looked like as a toddler. (My best bet is adorable and very, very blonde.)

“Bowl cuts are hardly fashionable,” he sticks his tongue out at me.

“Please! Bowl cuts were the biggest trend of 2003 toddler fashion.”

“Whatever, you still had a mullet.”

“Show us the mullet!” Shepard chimes in.

I roll my eyes. “Over my dead body.”

 

SIMON

Baz was right about Nicodemus Petty; he’s absolutely ruthless. I had four hours of training this morning and I don’t think I caught a single breath during any of it. I am beyond exhausted – and the day is only halfway done. We still have to go to the venue and watch Baz, Penny and Ikumi compete. We already skipped the pairs event to rest for a bit, but I’m still tired, even after that.

I’d be mad about it (or at least annoyed) if Nico wasn’t also a fucking genius, just like Baz said. In those four hours we had today, he brought my short program to a whole different level and he gave me some really solid advice on my quad loop. With his corrections, I was able to land most of my attempts today.

So, despite him being an arse and leaving me half fucking dead, I’m very happy about my training session this morning. So is Shepard, even though he’s still groaning as we take our seats and wait for the competition to start.

Since we’re ISU registered, we were able to get the seats that are usually reserved for press, family members and skaters who are competing. Some reporters are curiously looking our way – it’s not typical for skaters to just attend a competition they’re not actually competing in, and I’m starting to feel nervous about the whole situation.

Then, as the competition starts and the men’s final group is rapidly approaching, I start feeling nervous for a whole different reason: Baz. I see him now, lining up with the rest of the warmup group to take the ice. Eric Walsh is right behind him and I’m suddenly reminded that despite this being a minor competition for him, he’s still going against one of his bigger rivals.

I wonder if he’s nervous – it’s hard to tell from where I’m sat, but Baz always keeps a stone-cold expression, so it’s not like I could tell even if I was closer to him.

I wish I knew what he was thinking. Maybe that would make me feel calmer.

Fuck, is this how he felt at Autumn Classic? Like his whole body was crawling with anticipation and nerves? Is this why he doesn’t want a relationship?

I try to imagine feeling those nerves combined with my competition nerves, but it’s overwhelming. Fucking hell. 

 

BAZ

I know approximately where Simon and Shepard are sitting, but I make a point not to look at their direction while I warm up.

I also keep my eyes away while going backstage again after the warm-up. I try not to think about them as I’m waiting for my turn to skate. I try not to look while I take the ice again. I kneel down, placing my hands on the cold surface.

Deep breaths.

“The score for Eric Walsh is 100.35, a new season’s best, which puts him currently in first place.”

Deep breaths.

100.35 – I can beat that.

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain: Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch!”

The crowd erupts.

“Go Baz!” Someone yells. Shepard. Definitely Shepard. (The man has some voice.) I smile a bit at that as I take my starting position.

100.35.

I can handle that.

The music starts and the arena gets eerily quiet – the only sounds heard are Vivaldi, the scratching of my blades against the ice and the cameras clicking. My body is alive with adrenaline.

I set up to do the quad lutz – outside edge, posture, toe-pick, rotation – but something goes wrong. My posture is off and consequently I can’t bring my rotation in and I land a single lutz.

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

That was the worst mistake possible.

 

SIMON

The crowd collectively gasps as Baz pops the quad lutz.

“Fuck,” Shepard and I mutter at the same time.

That’s bad news. That’s really fucking bad news. Single jumps aren’t allowed in the short program, so he’ll get zero points for this.

He just lost at least twelve points.

My heart is beating faster now and I don’t realize how hard I’m clenching my fists until my nails dig into the flesh of my palm.

If Baz is thrown-off by his mistake – and he most certainly is – he doesn’t show it. The rest of his program is foot-perfect. He’s probably fighting for every point now. How he doesn’t let his mistake affect the rest of his program is beyond me.

The audience erupts in cheers as he finishes, but everyone can tell Baz is not happy – and I don’t think anyone can blame him. Popping a jump in the short program is really the worst thing you can do and we all know it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Baz pop a jump in competition.  

“His posture was off,” Shepard says as the screen shows slow motion replays of his lutz. “He would’ve got it if he cheated.”

“Baz would never cheat a jump,” I say. He’s anal when it comes to technique, even if the judges wouldn’t call his cheating. (They never call cheated jumps and some skaters do it constantly. Not us, though. Before Mitali founded her own club, she was a technical coach at Watford, and she was very strict about us having proper technique – if you cheated a jump, you got push-ups.)

“Sometimes that’s a bad thing,” Shepard sighs sadly.

Despite the pop, Baz manages to score a 91.15, which is better than anything I’ve ever scored. That’s just how fucking good he is – he can get an element invalidated and still end up third after the short program.

 

There’s still the whole ice dance event before Penny is on, so Shepard and I stick around to watch it. I come to the conclusion that I should watch ice dance more, because even though it’s the only category without jumps, I could still learn a lot from it; the fact that they have to make a program interesting without jumps is in itself a lesson in what good artistry can do. And they’re so bloody fast .

Ice dance is scary.

“I could never do ice dance,” I sigh just as one couple finishes up their program.

“They’re something else,” Shepard agrees.

“And imagine if you fall, you also tank your partner. No thank you.”

“You do train to not resent your partner if they fall, Snow,” a cool voice sounds behind us. Both Shepard and I turn around quickly.

“Baz!”

“What are you doing here?” I thought Baz would go back to the hotel after that – I can’t imagine he’s in the mood to be around people right now.

“Came to watch Bunce, didn’t I?” he hops over the seats and sits next to me. “So where are we with these two? I reckon with that finn-step, that’s got to be at least a sixty-five,” he says. Shepard and I just stare at him.

“Um, are you okay?” I break the silence.

“What’s in the past is in the past, Snow. I’m here to watch ice dance and Bunce.”

He doesn’t really end up watching much ice dance, though – he spends the majority of it messing with his phone calculator and writing things down in a notebook and I know he’s trying to calculate how much he needs to score tomorrow to win.

Watching him like this makes me wish there was something I could do to help – but he clearly doesn’t want to talk about it and there’s not much else I can do to help.

I know he can still win this, though. I mean, he’s Baz bloody Pitch. He’s beaten Eric loads of times and that was before he had the quad lutz. This season, I reckon he’ll be the one who’s unbeatable, not Micah.

The ice dance event ends and Shepard and I eat the scones that my mum sent from London via Penny. Baz doesn’t want them, but he seems to be in a slightly better mood now at least. I guess he’s worked out the math for tomorrow.

“Gentlemen, shall we go stretch our legs?” he asks as the ice is being resurfaced for the ladies’ event. Shepard and I just look at him.

“Baz, I don’t want to compare our suffering since you just had a competition, but we had four hours of Nicodemus Petty this morning,” Shepard says. Baz just laughs.

“Which is why you should walk. Blood flow promotes recovery. Come on,” he stands up. Unfortunately, Baz is right – if we just spend the whole afternoon sitting, it’s going to be bad for our muscles. Plus, my back is starting to hurt from the uncomfortable plastic seats. We follow him, my legs complaining every second of the way.

“What did Nicodemus say?” Baz asks as we walk up and down the corridor behind our stands.

“That I pull too much of my rotation on the quad loop with my shoulders,” I shrug. (My shoulders hurt as I do so – maybe Nico is right but how else am I supposed to generate four rotations?)

“Huh,” Baz furrows his eyebrows.

“He also said he’s seen better posture in retirement homes,” I add. It makes Baz laugh, so I’ll count it as a win even if that comment did sting a little. (My posture isn’t that bad!)

“Amen,” Baz says. (I decide to let it slide since he’s laughing.)

“Basil,” a thick accent sounds behind us. All three of us turn around only to be met with the sight of a short, balding man standing in front of us. I recognize him immediately and glance at Baz in a moment of panic, but Baz seems bored as ever.

Rybakov offers his hand and Baz shakes it and then they immediately start talking in Russian. Shepard and I exchange looks – we have no idea what they’re saying, but I catch words like spasiba , davai and chetvornoy lutz . (I don’t speak Russian, but being in figure skating means I understand the common phrases like ‘thank you’ and ‘good luck’ well enough, and the names of jumps are pretty much universal so I know they’re talking about his quad lutz.)

Really, listening to Baz speak Russian is weirdly fascinating. He can do this soft sound with his mouth that sounds like wind blowing through leaves and I feel my cheeks flushing.

Fuck, do I have a thing for Russian?

No, it’s probably just a thing for Baz.

Actually, I shouldn’t be thinking about that. I definitely should not be thinking about that.

(But I still am.)

 

BAZ

“Well, good luck to you in the free skate tomorrow,” Rybakov says.

“Good luck to Sonya as well,” I nod. He shakes my hand and then he’s off. I look at Snow and Shepard, who are just standing there awkwardly. Shepard is scrolling through his phone and Snow is fidgeting nervously, looking a bit red in the face. I raise my eyebrow at him.

“Didn’t know you and Rybakov were still on good terms,” he sputters.

“Basic sportsmanship, Snow,” I say, even though I don’t know if I’m on good terms with Rybakov or not – I suppose it’s complicated. This is the first time I’ve spoken to him since March.  

“What even happened between you two?” Shepard asks.

“You’re making it sound like we had an affair,” I roll my eyes at him. Snow wrinkles his nose at that and I have to bite my lip to keep myself from laughing.  

“I mean, he was quite a hottie back in his day,” Shepard shrugs.

“Which was forty years ago ,” I remind him.

“No, seriously, what happened?”

“It’s not a matter I’m willing to discuss, Shepard, especially not when there are reporters around every corner here. Come on, let’s go back to our seats.”

 

The ladies’ short program goes on without any major disasters. Ikumi puts her hand down on her triple flip, but Bunce pulls through without any falls and they end up being in third and fourth place respectively. I still think Bunce is underscored and Shepard shares my opinion. (I think Snow does too, but he’s too ecstatic over the fact that Bunce skated clean to care about anything else.) (In retrospect, it’s kind of adorable.)

Ikumi still has a press conference to attend, but the rest of us are wiped out, so we all crowd into Shepard’s car and go back to the hotel. His car was not meant for four people – Bunce and Snow have to sit with their competition bags on their laps and I can barely see over the amount of luggage I have piled ontop of myself.

Maybe it’s for the better because it blocks my view of Snow, who’s currently chatting with Bunce, probably sporting that stupid grin of his. It does me no good to stare at him anyway. Especially now; I have to focus on the game ahead. I’m nine points behind Eric, which means I can’t afford any mistakes tomorrow if I want to win. My goal of winning both of my Grand Prix events depends entirely on tomorrow now.

I don’t have the time to pine over Simon Snow.

That being said, later that night, when my nerves are keeping me awake, I can’t help but think about how warm he felt in my arms and how wonderful it felt to kiss him. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s the only thing that seems to chase away all the pressure I feel.

He’s staying a few floors above me and I can’t stop thinking about how I could just go to his room and ask him to hold me close until my heart stops racing.

I won’t do that. I may be weak for Simon Snow, but I’ve never been one to show my weaknesses. It’s something I learned in the years of this sport; show weakness and you’ve practically lost already – and I have to win.

I turn around and hug one of my pillows, willing sleep to come.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: Like real people do

Banquets, champagne, Simon Snow’s godly method of curing a headache and March 1 st , 1810. You can’t skate to the Dracula soundtrack and expect people to just let it go.

 

SIMON

I am exhausted from this weekend. Between Nicodemus’s coaching and spending multiple hours at the venue, watching the competition, I don’t have an ounce of energy left.

I considered skipping the banquet altogether because it’s usually reserved for participating athletes anyway, but then I saw the food that they’ll be serving, so now I’m here, feeling very hungry and severely underdressed – although I suppose everyone would feel underdressed next to Baz. The fucker’s wearing a dark purple three-piece suit and his hair is slicked back, and if there wasn’t so much food here, I don’t think I’d be able to stop staring at him.

Baz didn’t end up winning the competition, which he wasn’t happy about. It was going so well until he made a mistake on the last jump, which ended up costing him the gold. I know silver is just as good for his prospects of qualifying for the Final, but this is Baz; he loves to win.

Penny ended up being fifth, which is great, but Baz was right about the underscoring. Even Shepard said she deserved a better score for her free program, and he doesn’t even know her that well. 

I haven’t seen Penny yet. She said she’d be here and I texted her to tell her where we’re sitting, but she’s not answered anything. I’m beginning to get worried.

“Have you seen Penny anywhere?” I turn to Baz.

“The banquet’s only been running for fifteen minutes, Snow, give it a rest. Half of the athletes aren’t even here yet,” he says in a bored voice, rolling the stem of a champagne glass between his fingers.

“Yeah. Right. It’s just… she said she’d be here.”

“And when does Bunce break her promises?”

“Yeah, you’re right. Where did you get the champagne?” I ask, my eyes still fixed on his fingers.

“You had your competition last week, you could’ve had champagne then,” he says.

“Oh, come on! It was in America and I’m not twenty-one yet!” I object.

“Unfortunate for you, Snow.”

“Guys, the cupcakes are amazing,” Shepard says, nudging in our booth with a plateful of orange-frosted cupcakes. I stick my finger out and steal some of the frosting. Baz looks at me with a disgusted expression on his face, but I don’t care. Frosting is life.

“Baz, do you want any?” Shepard offers.

“I’m good.”

“He’ll have his disgusting coffee, but frosting is where he draws the line,” Shepard says, turning to me. Baz cracks a smile at his words and rolls his eyes.

“I’ll have them if you won’t,” I shrug, taking a few cupcakes from Shepard’s plate.

“Suit yourself, Snow.”

“Hey, your friend is here,” Shepard nods his head at the door. Penny is standing there, wearing a yellow dress. She spots us and comes to our booth, sitting down next to Baz. She doesn’t look happy.

“Is everything alright?” I ask her.

“I talked to the judges about my score,” she sighs. “They said that I should expect my score to be lower given that I’ve just come back to competition, which I understand.”

Shepard and I nod, but Baz shakes his head.

“Your quality of skating hasn’t dropped, so I think they have no justification to give you lower scores,” he says.

“Yes, I know that, Baz, but that’s how it is. Trust me, if I could fight the ISU on this, I would. Anyway, then I asked him why I got an under-rotation call on two of my jumps, since they were very clearly fully rotated and he said I can’t rotate triples.”

Now we all just stare at her.

“Excuse me?” I sputter.

“Now that’s some bullshit,” Shepard says.

“Yeah, well, that’s not how they feel. I got under-rotation calls at Nebelhorn too, but those were actually a bit unclear, so I understand that. Now I’m just worried I’ll keep getting them,” Penny sniffles.

“First off, can I just say, your technique is really good, so this judge saying that you can’t rotate triples is really uncalled for and somebody should buy the judges some glasses,” Shepard starts. “Secondly, even if you do keep getting unjustified under-rotation calls, the best thing you can do is to push on despite what they say. Don’t let those stuck-up bitches discourage you.”

Baz and I just stare at him, but Penny manages to smile a little at his words. “Thanks, Shepard.”

“Now you’ve gotta try the cupcakes, they’re to die for,” he pushes a cupcake towards her.

“And the fans pick up on these things and call attention to it and the moment they start talking about it, there’s a pressure on the judges to do better,” I say.

“That’s true,” Shepard agrees.

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Penny sighs.

“And if the fans don’t do it, you have to do it yourself. I know there’s the etiquette to not talk about your scores, but if you’re putting effort in and not getting rewarded for it, it’s better to speak up,” Baz chimes.

“Or we’ll do it for you,” I add. 

“Or that,” Baz nods.

Penny smiles. “Thank you.”

“And have the cupcakes, Bunce. If they’re as good as Shepard claims they are, they’re practically serotonin in a little paper cup.”

 

We eat our weight in cupcakes while Baz is summoned off somewhere to take pictures with people. Penny and Shepard have launched into a conversation about the lack of people of colour in figure skating, and while I feel like this is a topic I should be listening to, my eyes keep scanning the room for Baz. Last time I saw him, he was talking to his Russian rink-mate, but that was fifteen minutes ago. His champagne glass is still on the table, but it stopped fizzing some time ago.

“Where’s Baz?” I turn to Penny as Shepard leaves to get more food.

“I think he left,” she says.

“Left?” Why would Baz leave? His champagne glass is still here and he didn’t tell anyone he was leaving.

“He’s probably tired, Simon,” Penny’s voice sounds very similar to what it did when we were fourteen and she set my Baz quota.

“Right, I’m going to go check on him,” I say, standing up.

“Simon, he’s fine.”

“He just lost a competition,” I object.

“He was second ,” she rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, but it’s Baz .”

Penny sighs. “Give the man a break, Simon.”

“I’ll just check on him. I’ll be right back,” I say and turn to leave the banquet hall. I bump into Ikumi on my way out – she’s been hanging out with the Japanese national team for the whole evening and they’re camped out right by the doorway. Perfect.

“Ikumi, have you seen Baz?” I ask.

“I think he went to his room.”

“Alright, thank you.”

 

Luckily, I know where Baz’s room is, because I helped him carry his bags there after the competition yesterday. It’s only as I knock on his door, that I realise I probably could’ve just texted him. I mean, what if he’s in the shower?

I try not to think about that.

He’s not in the shower. He opens the door seconds later and for a long moment I forget why I even came here, because he looks… well. If I thought Baz looked good in a three-piece suit, I clearly wasn’t ready to see him in just trousers and a white shirt with the top buttons undone.

“May I help you?” he asks, his voice bored.

“Um! Yeah! I just… wanted to check if you’re okay because you, uh, kinda disappeared on us,” I fumble, scratching the back of my head. Baz raises his eyebrow at me.

“I’m fine, Snow. I just have a headache.”

“Oh. Are you sick? Do you have a fever?”

Baz sighs and rolls his eyes. “Fucking hell, Snow, I’m fine. It just happens after a competition sometimes.”

“Right,” I say, biting my lip. “Because of the stress?”

“Yes.”

“Right.” I wish he didn’t feel this way. I wish I could take all of this stress away, somehow. “Can I come in?” I ask before I can stop myself. I expect him to roll his eyes and say no or snap at me to leave him alone.

Instead, he just steps aside and makes room for me at the doorway.

It looks like I caught him in the middle of packing – his suitcase is sitting open on one of the chairs and his suit jacket is draped across the other chair. Other than that, his room is meticulously tidy. He doesn’t even have things on his desk, other than a bottle of water, his silver medal and a plushie he probably got thrown on the ice. I step closer to examine it and smile immediately when I recognize it.

“Aw, look at him,” I coo, picking up the plush vampire. Baz scowls at the plushie like it has personally offended him.

“Four years, Snow. I skated to the Dracula soundtrack four years ago and people still won’t let it go,” he complains. I bite back a laugh. He doesn’t know it was Shepard who threw the plushie after Baz’s free program yesterday. Baz’s Dracula program was his debut senior free skate and it’s since become one of his most iconic programs, which annoys the hell out of him. (He says he’s done so many better programs since then, and he doesn’t understand why people have to latch onto Dracula. I think it’s because he was a dramatic sixteen-year-old who looked stereotypically vampiric with his hair slicked back and people like that sort of thing.)

We mainly bought the plushie as a joke and didn’t expect Baz to actually receive the vampire, but Shepard has one hell of a throw and it landed right by Baz’s feet, so he picked it up.

“I think it looks just like you,” I smile, holding the plushie up to his face. He scowls at me and snatches it out of my hand, then puts it back on the desk.

“Get that thing out of my face, Snow.”

“If you hate it so much why did you keep it?”

“I have little siblings, don’t I?” he rolls his eyes, turning away to tuck the plushie in his suitcase. I notice four other plushies already stuffed there.

“Aw, that’s nice.”

“Why are you here, Snow?” he turns to me abruptly.

“I can go if you want me to.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“I, uh… wanted to check if you’re okay,” I stammer. “Did you drink enough water today? Do you want me to get you some aspirin?”

“Christ, Snow, I’ll be fine. It’s just competitions; you don’t sleep well, you don’t eat well and there’s someone constantly firing off camera flashes in your face. Recipe for a headache. I just need to get some rest and I’ll be tip-top,” he rolls his eyes.

“Do you want me to leave you alone?” I ask. This time I’m dead sure he’s going to shoo me away. I don’t want to go, I want to stay here and make sure he’s fine, but I’ll go if he asks me to.

He doesn’t.

“Do you want crisps?”

 

BAZ

I have no idea what I’m doing or why I’m letting Simon fucking Snow stay in my hotel room indefinitely when we should be keeping our distance – but he looks so gorgeous in his grey blazer jacket over a white t-shirt (he calls it formal-wear), and I’m weak when it comes to him.

“Um, okay,” he says, looking nervous. He sheds his jacket and fucking hell, his biceps. It does me no good to stare. “Did you eat enough today?” he asks. I roll my eyes at him even though it kind of hurts to do so. (Fuck headaches, honestly.)

“Yes,” I say through gritted teeth. It’s a lie – I didn’t eat nearly enough today, courtesy of constantly being dragged in different directions by various reporters. But it doesn’t matter, because I’ll have crisps now. We’ll have crisps now. (Christ, sharing my crisps with Snow – I may as well propose to him.) (What am I thinking?) (Clearly, this headache is affecting my cognitive abilities.)

“Alright.” Snow sits at the edge of my bed. I grab the crisps from the safe in my wardrobe (Yes, I put them in a safe. They’re important.) and sit down next to him.

“I would just like to point out that this is my post competition snack, so I should get at least two thirds of it,” I say as I rip the packet open, offering it to Snow. He shrugs and takes some crisps. We eat them in silence and Snow definitely eats more than one third, but I can’t bring myself to snap at him about it.

“Does your head still hurt?” he asks once we’re nearly done with the bag.

“The crisps are good, Snow, but they’re not a cure-all,” I roll my eyes.

“Right. I, uh… know something that might help. Just bear with me.”

I raise my eyebrow at him as he shuffles himself around on my bed so that he’s sitting behind me. Dear lord, what is he about to do?

“What are you do—” I have to cut myself off to suppress the embarrassing sound that nearly escapes my lips as he presses his thumb in the muscle just above my shoulder. Fuck.

“They told us at uni that a lot of headaches come from muscle tension in the neck and shoulders,” he says, bringing his other hand up to my shoulder. I bite my lip as he starts working on the muscles. I’m pretty sure this is how I’ll go. Death by shoulder massage.

“That might be the most coherent thing I’ve ever heard you say,” I choke out, hoping I sound coherent. (I don’t feel coherent.) Snow chuckles while his thumbs do a thing that should definitely be illegal. I eat my crisps in an attempt to hide the fact that I’m definitely having a meltdown right now. I’m glad he can’t see me because I can feel my face burning from his touch.

“Fucking hell, Baz,” Snow mutters and I freeze, terrified that he’s picking up on what his hands are doing to me.

“What?” I try to sound annoyed. I don’t think I’m succeeding.

“Your muscles are like stone. No wonder you have a headache.” He presses down harder with the heel of his hand and I yelp. (Burn me now.) Snow suddenly stops. “Sorry. Did I press a nerve?”

“N-no,” I stammer. Then, as if my life isn’t embarrassing enough (and because I constantly have to sabotage myself), I tell him to keep going.

Simon keeps working on my shoulders and it’s almost as good as kissing him. (Almost.) I should really put a stop to this, but it’s so good. (So good.) (And it’s actually helping my headache, but I’d let him keep going even if it was making it worse.)

Then his hands move up to my neck, and if I thought Simon massaging my shoulders was good, I clearly wasn’t ready for him rubbing my neck. I think I could just about die right now.

“Um…” Simon starts again and I worry that he’s heard my breath hitch. “The, uh, neck is um… a sensitive place…”

I snort. Is he really getting himself so worked up about saying ‘sensitive place’ while his hands are positively sinful on my shoulders? (Well, about as sinful as a shoulder massage can get.) (Which, as it turns out, is pretty sinful.)

“Shut up,” he nudges me. “Just, um, tell me if anything hurts, okay?”

I swallow and nod. “Okay.”

This is definitely how I’ll die. How is he so good at massaging? I know he studies sports science, so he probably knows a thing or two about human anatomy and where different muscles are, but I’m positive that this isn’t in his curriculum. It might be better than any professional massage I’ve gotten and I can’t decide if that’s because he’s actually better or because I’m not normally hopelessly in love with the person massaging me.

He’s being gentler on my neck and I’m thankful for that. He does hit a few painful spots but I tell him and he makes sure to never go over them again. So attentive , I think. My heart is racing out of my chest.

It’s over too soon.

“Better?” he asks. I roll my shoulders back and stretch my neck. It is better, although one side of my head still hurts.

“Mostly,” I say, relieved that my voice doesn’t sound as shaky as I currently feel on the inside.

“Mostly?”

“It still hurts a bit. Probably residual. I can live with it,” I mutter.

“Where?” he demands. I hesitate, then touch my hand to my temple. “Right,” he says. “Turn around.”

“What?”

“Turn around.”

 

SIMON

This is a really bad idea, but I want to help. Baz shuffles on his bed so that he’s facing me and he looks very flushed.

Oh.

Okay then.

The sight of Baz’s flushed cheeks just piles on top of the reasons why what I’m about to do is a bad idea, but it’s also never been less discouraging. I can feel myself blushing now too, as I push a strand of his hair behind his ear. He bites his lip.

“If you have pain on the side of your head, that’s probably the temporalis muscle,” I say, surprised that my voice is somewhat steady. Baz swallows and his eyes aren’t quite meeting mine. 

I let my thumb brush against his cheekbone. “Can I?” I ask.

He nods so slightly that I almost don’t see it.

 

BAZ

Simon Snow is definitely going to be the death of me. We’re facing each other and his fingers are rubbing light circles in my temples. This is very much against our agreement, but I’ll be damned if I ask him to stop now.

I finally muster up the courage to look at his face (I’ve been staring at his cross the whole time) and his eyes are carefully studying me and his cheeks are tinged pink.

“Okay?” he asks quietly. I nod, not trusting my voice to be steady right now. I just look back down again as he keeps massaging my temples. (I could probably do this myself but I don’t want to.)

“Stop clenching your jaw,” Simon says.

“What?” I sputter.

“You’re clenching your jaw. I can feel it. Stop.” His fingers trail down from my temples to the spot by my ear, where my jaw meets my face. “Here,” he says.

I sigh. Try to find my words. Sigh again. Try to ignore that he’s essentially cupping my face. Try to ignore every thought in my head that’s screaming at me to kiss him.

“Do you want me to stop?” Simon asks. Yes , I think. No. “Baz?”

We’ve already breached our agreement on multiple levels. And I’m so weak when it comes to him. And I don’t want him to move even an inch further from me.

I lay my hand over his wrist and close the space between us.

 

SIMON

Baz is kissing me.

Was I expecting this to happen? No. Yes. No. I don’t know.

Did I want this to happen? Yes. Definitely yes.

He’s gentler than I’d expect him to be, given how hard he was blushing before. (Fucking hell, even if he didn’t kiss me, just seeing his reaction was worth every agreement breach.) I slip one hand around his neck while letting the other run through his hair, messing it up. Judging by the way that makes him jam his face forward, I’m certain he doesn’t mind.

Just as I think he’s finally about to start kissing me harder, he pulls away.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” he says. He’s out of breath. (We both are.)

“Do you want to stop?”

“Do you want to stop?” He raises his eyebrows at me.

“Fuck no.”

He does kiss me harder then, but now I feel a bit guilty, because what if he’s only kissing me because I said I didn’t want to stop? (Which I realize is a bit stupid, given that he’s currently running his tongue along my bottom lip and gripping my shirt in his hand, but still.)

“Baz, are you sure?” I say between kisses. He moves away from my lips, kissing my cheek, then my jawline and underneath my ear and…

“What do you think?” he mumbles as he starts kissing down my neck, which is coincidentally when I stop thinking because fuck ; nobody has ever kissed me here before and it’s so good .

I fall back on the bed, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him along with me. It catches him off-guard, I think, but he’s quick to return his attention back to my neck, trailing kisses up and down, then pulling at my shirt collar to give himself more access and tracing my collarbone with his lips.

He kisses a particular spot on my collarbone and I can’t help a gasp escape my lips. I freeze, mortified, but it only seems to encourage Baz further. He kisses it again and again and then he’s nipping and sucking and I feel like I might combust from the feeling. Every hair on my body is standing on end from what he’s doing with his lips.

He suddenly pulls back, furrowing his eyebrows and examining my collarbone.

“Maybe don’t wear low cut shirts for a while,” he concludes, then gets back to paying attention to the other side of my neck.

“What? Did you just–” I try to concentrate enough to ask him if he’s left me a love bite without it sounding weird, but it’s hard with his lips on my neck. Baz seems to pick up on what I’m trying to say, though.

“Probably. My bad,” he mutters against my skin.

“Christ,” I whisper.

“Don’t bring him into this,” Baz says and I huff out a laugh, that quickly dies out as he begins to kiss my neck again.  

He kisses me everywhere he has access to; my neck, my face, my arms – the only spot he doesn’t kiss are my lips. It takes me a while to pick up on his pattern, but when I do, my heart swells. He’s kissing my moles.

“Baz,” I mumble as he returns from my bicep to the base of my neck. “How long have you wanted this?”

He just keeps kissing me and I’m starting to think he won’t answer when: “March 1 st , 1810.”

What? No, seriously.”

He looks up at me and I take the opportunity to pull him closer, so that we’re lying face to face again. (As much as I enjoyed him kissing me everywhere, I’d now like to kiss him properly. On the lips. Right after he answers my question.)

“How long have you wanted this, Snow?” he asks, instead of answering.

“Um… I don’t know. I guess, I sort of…” I fumble. He raises his eyebrows at me, which only throws me further off track. “I think… when we got back from London was the first time it crossed my mind? But I don’t know, because I tried not to think about it and I didn’t really understand what I was feeling until I kissed you. So…” my voice trails off. “Um, how about you? And don’t say some random date now.”

“Excuse me, Snow, that was not some random date, that was Frederic Chopin’s birthday. Honestly!”

“You’re avoiding the question,” I say. He sighs.

“Okay. Let’s just say before this year’s training camp.”

“How long before that?” I demand. He sighs and rolls his eyes.

“Simon, with all due respect, I’d like less interrogation and more snogging please.”

He doesn’t have to tell me twice.

 


 

@figure_skating_daily: SKATE CANADA MEN’S RESULTS

1st: Eric Walsh (@eric.walsh.can), CAN – 283.63 – What a recovery from Autumn Classic! There were some mistakes in the FS, but he just brought it. I’m so happy whenever he has the confidence to skate well!

2nd: Baz Pitch (@the_baz_pitch), GBR – 281.78 – wow. Just wow. I know Eric won but Baz won my heart with that free skate. I’m still crying about his lutz in the SP though :’( wishing him best of luck at Rostelecom!

3rd: Adrien Laurent (@adrien.laurent), FRA – 264.33 – I wasn’t expecting Adrien to end up on the podium, but I’m so happy he did! What a wonderful senior debut for him! He improved so much over the summer, looking forward to the rest of his season!

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: Nothing ever changes

Press conference disaster, coming out, Mr (hetero)Sexual Awakening and the reason Simon Snow doesn’t lie. You think you can hide the truth from Penelope Bunce? Rostelecom Cup: T-minus three weeks

 

SIMON

“I have to tell you something,” I say, trying to swallow down my nerves. 

“I hope ‘something’ means an explanation as to where you were yesterday,” Penny doesn’t give me a second look, just resumes throwing her clothes in a suitcase. I’d feel bad for abandoning her if she wasn’t coming back to Montreal with me for two more days. (She managed to arrange the plane tickets with the federation.)

“I told you, I was with Baz. He wasn’t feeling well and he wanted to talk.” That’s not strictly a lie; Baz and I did talk a lot yesterday. We talked and kissed and then we fell asleep and, in the morning, we both acted like nothing had happened.

“That doesn’t sound like Baz,” Penny says.

“Even posh gits can be emotionally vulnerable.”

“Was he really that bummed out about second place?”

“No, there were… other things. The press was on his back and it was making him stressed,” I say. That’s also the truth. My mind drifts off to our conversation yesterday.

“Did I tell you about the absolute bullshit that happened at the press conference?” he asked, his fingers stroking through my hair. I shook my head.

“Are you familiar with the story of Rudolf Nureyev?” he asked then. Another no from me.

“He’s the one from your program, right?”

“Yes. He was a Soviet ballet dancer who defected from Russia and moved to France. Well, someone asked me if I’ve chosen The White Crow soundtrack because I relate to Nureyev in the sense that I also left Russia and if my program was meant to be a political statement.”

“What?!” I didn’t bother trying to hide my shock. (I’m still shocked. You don’t ask things like that! Basic etiquette.)

“Exactly. And then that set off a whole avalanche of questions about my coaching change. It was frankly exhausting. Especially because I can’t exactly explain it to them.”

“What, are you on some sort of a contract to not talk about it?” I asked. He shook his head and then he was silent for a while. Then he told me he left Russia because his coach was extremely homophobic, and I hugged him for a long time.

“Baz, that’s horrible.” It is horrible, that he had to endure all that – and that he now can’t even explain himself or get any justice without outing himself. And that he had to leave a really good training environment just because of who he is.

It made me want to seek out Rybakov’s hotel room and punch him square in the face. I didn’t. I just hugged Baz.

“Earth to Simon!” Penny’s voice snaps me from my thoughts.

“Huh?”

“Why is the press on his back?” she asks.

“Oh, the um… the coaching change. I guess the Russians are still speculating about it,” I stammer, trying not to let on that I know anything. Penny and I have no secrets pact, but this is Baz’s secret.

The pact reminds me why I’m actually here. “Um, actually, that’s not what I came here to tell you,” I say, suddenly feeling nervous again. I try to recall what Shepard told me in his car a few days ago. And I know Penny will be fine with it.

“Wait, you’re not here to talk about Baz?” she sounds like she doesn’t believe me.

“No. I um… I sorta…” I take a deep breath. Penny and I have known each other since we were eleven . How do I even go about this? “I like blokes. Too. I like blokes too.” I guess that’s how you go about it.

Penny turns to me abruptly, her eyes wide. “Oh! Okay. I’m glad you told me,” she smiles and then pokes my cheek, which is pretty much our equivalent of a hug. I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. 

“Does anyone else know?” she asks.

“Um… Baz and Shepard,” I say. I know Penny wouldn’t be mad at me for telling other people first, but I still feel a bit guilty. 

“Cool. How long have you known?” she continues, clearly not phased by it at all. 

“Uh… I mean, for sure? About a month now. But sometimes I look back and see all these things that make me think how did I not know this before , you know? Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, it does. Like how you had a crush on Baz?” she asks nonchalantly. I sputter.

“I did not have a crush on Baz!” I defend myself, feeling my cheeks turn bright red. Then. I did not have a crush on him back then.

“Simon, you talked about him all the time . I had to set a quota, remember?”

Fuck. Did I have a crush on Baz?

I decide not to think about it.

(I did miss him so much when he went to Russia, though.)  

“Anyway, how did you know? Did it just dawn on you one day?”

“No, I uh… sort of started fancying a bloke.” I guess I can get away with that much. I wouldn’t actually want to lie to Penny.

“Oh! Who is he?”

“No one!” I say, probably too fast. “He lives in my building. But he’s probably straight.”

I mentally apologise to Baz for that one.

“Oh,” she says, sounding deflated. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. I don’t have time for dating anyway.” I wave my hand dismissively. And Baz is still concerned about our careers.

To be fair, I am a bit too. I really want to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. I don’t think Baz is right about a relationship potentially affecting our ability to compete against each other, but on the off chance he is, it could damage my chances of qualifying.

Ebb said that I’m the only one who’s in control of my performance, and she’s right, but this also isn’t just about me. It’s about Baz too, because I realise how much performing well means to him. I already knew that he likes to win, and that he sets extremely high goals for himself (though they’re all goals that he can achieve), but I never realised that he gets so stressed he develops headaches, or that he spends most of his free time at competitions analysing his performances and calculating what he needs to do to win.

It stings, but I understand it. Our careers are too important.

“Yeah,” Penny sighs, snapping me from my thoughts for the second time today. “It seems like Agatha is the only one of us who actually has the time to date. Or does Baz have someone?”

“Baz has the ability to kill you with one look if you ask him about his love life,” I say. It makes Penny laugh.

“Yeah, that sounds like him.”


BAZ

I’ve been avoiding Snow since we got back to Montreal – partly because Bunce is here and I want to give them some time and space to catch up and partly because I’m starting to realise that I may have made a mistake about him. About us.

I told Simon I didn’t want this because I was afraid of how it would affect our competitions, but I was basing all of that decision on how I felt during Autumn Classic. I’d forgotten the feeling of bigger competitions. I’d forgotten how, once you’re out there, the pressure to do well is so big that everything else leaves to make room.

Even Simon Snow.

It took Skate Canada for me to remember that I can actually compete against him, even if I’m in love with him. (Well, I think I can. We’ll see in three weeks.)

And then there was the thing Ebb said on our way back from Ottawa. I was in the car with her and Ikumi, and Ikumi was scrolling her Instagram feed when she happened upon the news that Italian pairs skaters, Marco and Veronica, had gotten engaged this weekend.

I pulled out my phone to text them congratulations and I nearly dropped it when I heard Ebb and Ikumi’s conversation. 

“Aw, that’s really nice,” Ebb said. “I’m really happy that they managed to work out despite everything.”

“Oh, what happened?” Ikumi asked, dropping her phone back on her legs. I also started listening, even though I was still pretending not to.

“Well, you know. They’re a pairs team, so when they got together, their coaches were really against it. Said it would ruin their partnership, which I don’t really understand. I mean, they’re both adults, right? Whatever goes on in their dating life is not the coach’s responsibility. At least that’s my opinion.” Ebb shrugged. “And if you look at their parentship, it’s only made them stronger since they got together. They’re able to trust each other more.”  

I might be reading this wrong, but I don’t think Ebb would be against Snow and I dating, which was my second biggest concern. (Still there are some key differences between our situations; Marco and Veronica compete together while Snow and I compete against each other .) (Even if we’re teammates, he’s still my rival.)

Over the past two days, not only have I realised that my excuses for staying away from Snow are utterly useless, but I’ve finally fully appreciated that I’vebeen blessed with  something I had been wishing for since I was fifteen – to kiss Simon Snow until my lips were sore. I should be jumping for joy right now. I should be knocking on his door and asking him if he still wants to give this a chance.

I’m not.

Because it doesn’t change anything.

Because of what Simon told me when we moved on from kisses to talking. He said he was going to try qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. He has to be second at Rostelecom Cup to do it and he thinks he has a chance. (He definitely has a chance.)

Simon Snow is getting some of his confidence back.

And I can’t do anything to compromise that.

 

SIMON

It’s been so good to have Penny here. We spent our day off yesterday exploring Montreal –which is something I haven’t had the time to do yet since I moved here – and today, we went to the rink in the morning and spent most of the time there just messing around.

I’m making lunch for us now and considering whether I should make an extra portion for Baz. I haven’t seen him since we got back – granted, it’s only been a day and a half, but I’m still worried. He wasn’t exactly in a good mood when we got back.

At least I heard him playing the violin yesterday evening, so I know that he’s still alive. And he’s scheduled for practice tomorrow so I’ll see him then.

Penny won’t though, and in the end, she makes the decision for me.

“I think we should invite Baz over for lunch,” she says. I freeze.

“I think he’s busy,” I mutter, my desire to see him suddenly replaced by mortification.

“I’m going back home soon and we won’t see each other until December so I think he can put it aside. I’ll text him,” she says, already pulling out her phone. It’s useless to argue with Penny once she’s set her mind on something. (Especially since a part of me really wants to see Baz and check if he’s okay.)

All I can do is make an extra portion and try not to think about it.

 

Much to my surprise, though, lunch goes alright. Baz looks less tired than he did when we got back, and if he’s feeling any negativity towards himself for not winning this weekend, he doesn’t show it.

I try not to stare at him while we eat, which is proving to be difficult. Halfway through our meal, he and Penny fall into a deep discussion on the intertwinement of historical events and literature and I tune out.

Baz should talk about literature more. He gets this strange spark in his eyes when he does. Maybe I could get him to talk about it to me sometime, when we’re alone… but then again, I should probably work on keeping our distance.

My mind must’ve completely drifted off, but Penny’s next words snap me back in reality so fast I practically jump. 

“Say, Baz, do you know about the bloke Simon’s been pining over?” she asks. Both Baz and I sputter and choke on our bites.

“Penny!” I exclaim.

“What? You said Baz knows, right?”

“Yeah, but—”

“And he’s probably seen him if you two live in the same building.”

“Excuse me, have I missed something?” Baz asks, avoiding my eyes. I feel my entire face burning.

“Simon’s big gay awakening. He fancies his neighbour, but says the neighbour is straight. I was wondering if you knew something about it? Simon won’t tell me anything.”

Baz’s eyebrow shoots astronomically high as he finally looks at me. I can see the amusement in his eyes and I want nothing more than to be swallowed by Mother Earth right now. 

“The bloke Snow fancies is straight?” Baz asks, slowly, amusedly. Oh god, kill me now. This is why I don’t lie if I can help it.

“That’s what he told me,” Penny shrugs, completely oblivious to my current internal crisis and Baz’s extreme delight.  

“Lesson number one, Snow: never fall for a straight man,” Baz says patronisingly, his eyes still shining with laughter. I huff and send him a look. That’s rich, coming from him .

“Duly noted,” I mutter. “He’s an arse anyway.”

“Another piece of advice, if you want to woo someone, you probably shouldn’t call them an arse,” he says.

“What if he is one, though?”

Penny just looks between us, confused. “Wait, Baz, what do you know about wooing men?”

Baz smirks in a devilish way. “I have successfully wooed many men in my life, Bunce,” he says.

“No you haven’t,” I object. Pompous prick. I’m fairly certain I was his first kiss. Baz shoots me a look.

“I’ve successfully wooed one man in my life. A straight man.”

“He wasn’t straight!” I object. Someone end me now.

“What do you know, Snow? Apparently, you have the world’s worst gaydar,” he says and I can’t even argue with him on that because I did use to think Baz was straight.

“Whatever,” I mutter, shoving the last of my peas into my mouth. I decide I hate Baz and his stupid smirky face. (But I don’t, not really.)

“Wait, Baz, are you gay?” Penny is still trying to catch up with the conversation. (I don’t blame her. I’m slightly puzzled by it.)

“As gay as they get. Although Snow would probably pin me down as straight,” Baz shrugs. I hate him.

“Hey, at least I knew Shepard was bi!” I defend myself.

“Okay, but Shepard’s skate guards are literally the colours of the bisexual flag. It’s not exactly hard to tell,” Penny says. 

Baz raises his fork in her direction. “Amen.”

 

Penny goes to the bathroom after lunch and Baz immediately turns to me.

“You said I was straight ?”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t want to out you and—”

“You’re an idiot, Snow,” Baz laughs.

“Sorry for trying to be considerate,” I mumble.

“Don’t be. Your idiocy is almost endearing.”

I feel my cheeks burn bright red. “Shut up.”

“Bunce has probably figured it out now, anyway,” he says.

“Yeah, probably.”

 

Penny didn’t figure it out. Well, she didn’t figure it out immediately .

It’s not until a few hours after lunch, when Baz has already gone back to his flat and Penny and I are just sitting on my sofa, talking, when she sees it. I must’ve been tugging at my shirt collar absent-mindedly.

“Simon, is that a love bite ?” she suddenly interrupts me.

“What? Um…” Fuck. “Well… um. Yes. I, uh…”

“Who gave you that?” She grabs the hem of my shirt and pulls it down, fully revealing the purple bruise on my collarbone.

“Um…”

“Was it Baz?” she asks calmly and I nearly fall off the sofa. “Wait, is he the neighbour? The neighbour?”

“Wait, you didn’t figure that out already?” I ask, suddenly too surprised to be flustered. I really thought Penny had figured it out during lunch. (Or well, Baz thought that. I just took his word for it.)

“So that’s why he was acting so weird during lunch! It all makes sense now!” she exclaims triumphantly.

“It does?”

“Why didn’t you tell me it was Baz?”

“Well, um…” I’m fumbling again. “He uh, doesn’t really want to be open about this whole gay thing, and I wasn’t sure if it’s okay to tell you so I just…” I shrug instead of finishing the sentence. Penny seems to understand what I mean, though, because she nods. “I’m sorry.” I add.

“No, it’s okay, Simon, I understand. So, are you two together or?”

“Uh… no. We just… snog occasionally. Mostly by accident,” I say, feeling myself blush. If I thought the conversation at lunch was embarrassing, I wasn’t ready for this. Penny and I never talk about the details of our love lives. (Or lack thereof.)

“Wait, so you’re telling me I had to endure that whole flirt-fest during lunch and you two aren’t together?”

“Well, our careers and—” I start but Penny cuts me off.

“You’ve been competing against Baz since we were twelve. Do you really think it’s going to affect you two that much?”

“Baz does,” I mutter.

“Baz is too melodramatic for his own good. You should talk to him,” Penny says.

“I did talk to him!” I object.

“Was that before or after he went full vampire on your neck?” she asks, flicking my collarbone. I feel my face turning even redder.

“Before,” I mumble.

 “What?”

“Before,” I repeat. “Way before.”

“Well, then you should talk to him again,” she concludes. “Clearly, he’s had a change of heart.”

“Now’s not the right time. We have Rostelecom in three weeks and it’s an important competition for both of us.”

“Simon, there’s never going to be a right time. After Rostelecom, there’s going to be the Final and then Europeans and then Worlds. And after that, the Olympic season starts. If you let yourself wait now, you’re going to be waiting until after the Olympics before you talk to him.”

“Well, actually, that sounds like a plan,” I shrug. I don’t even see the pillow coming my way until it hits me in the shoulder. Hard. “Ouch!” I complain. Penny just tosses the pillow aside, no trace of guilt on her face. I swear to god, for someone who’s five feet tall, my best friend is downright scary sometimes.

“That is not a plan! Talk to him now!” she says, her voice demanding. It reminds me of all the times she told me to switch coaches. (And she was right about that. But I don’t think she’s right about Baz.)

“And what if the answer remains the same?”

“Well, then at least you’ll know it’s the same and you two can stop accidentally snogging and disgusting everyone with your flirting,” she says.

“We’re not disgusting anyone!” I object. “We don’t even flirt in front of anyone.”

“I was there, Simon. And so was Agatha, at the training camp. Honestly, how did I not see this sooner?”

“None of this was even happening during training camp!”

“Well, you two sure were taking your sweet time then,” Penny mutters.

“Do you really think I should talk to him?” I ask.

“Simon, ever since we were twelve, all I’ve heard is Baz, Baz, Baz . If nothing else, do it for me.”

That makes me laugh. “Okay, yeah. I’ll talk to him.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Except the things that do

Training montage, garlic discourse and goddammit, the Russian kid had a glow up. Rostelecom Cup: T-minus two weeks

 

SIMON

It’s only after Penny leaves that I realise I have no idea how I’m going to talk to Baz in a way that would change anything. Even if we put the competitions aside, he’s still worried about other things like how our coaches would take it.

I know I promised Penny I would talk to him, but our first day back at practice goes by and we don’t exchange more than a few words. That is, until Baz comes to talk to me in the evening.

It’s one of those rare instances where I’m actually doing uni work. (I usually ignore it during the Grand Prix part of the season.) (Well, I ignore it during most of the season, but I started it now to have an excuse not to talk to Baz.)

It’s no use tonight, though, because the knock on my door is all too familiar. (Baz is the only person I know who knocks in four raps.) Maybe he wants dinner.

He looks as bored as always when I open the door.

“Um. Er. Hi,” I stammer.

“Snow. A word?”

I feel my heart beating in my throat as he pushes past me and sits down on my sofa. He glances at my notes on the coffee table and raises his eyebrows at me.

“I’ve never seen you do schoolwork before,” he says.

“Yeah, well,” I shrug. I don’t actually know what to say, so I just sit down on the other side of the sofa. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Baz starts examining my notes. “Your handwriting is atrocious. Can you even read your own notes?

“Baz.”

He finally drops my notes. “Right,” he clears his throat. “I came here to talk to you because I think we’re in a position to help each other out. We have Rostelecom in a few weeks and we both have to do really well in it, so I was thinking we could prepare for it together. You know, help each other with eating right, doing our image training and making sure you stretch daily, Snow, not just once a week.”

“I do stretch daily!” I object.

“After practice doesn’t count. What are your other weak spots?”

“My what?” I ask.

“You don’t stretch. Do you at least do your image training daily?”

“Sometimes,” I mutter. Baz sighs in disappointment and I shoot him a look.

“Okay, so we make sure you stretch and do your image training daily. Anything else?” He doesn’t sound condescending, which is probably what finally gets me on board with the idea.

“Um, this doesn’t really affect me that much, but it’s still probably not a good idea to eat butter by the spoonful before a competition, right?” I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the last one, but butter is my comfort food. Baz scoffs.

“No, that’s most definitely not a good idea. Okay so stretching, image training, and moderating your butter consumption. And I sometimes forget to eat and I don’t get enough sleep. I think at least the food part could be helped because you can’t function without stuffing your mouth; so, I think it’s probably best that we make a meal plan, and then we eat together and make sure we do all the other things after dinner.”

“Okay, yes,” I nod, feeling a smile creep on my face. “That sounds like a plan.”

It does sound like a solid plan, both for our training and because spending a lot of time might make it easier to talk to him about us.  

Baz gets up from my sofa and heads to the door. “Brilliant. We’ll start tomorrow.”

 

The next morning, Baz texts me a picture of his oatmeal with the caption “breakfast achieved”. I smile and send him back a picture of my eggs and toast.

We soon fall into a routine. In the morning, he texts me a picture of his breakfast, we have dinner and lunch together, and then he makes sure I do my stretching and recovery properly before he goes back to his flat or I go back to mine for the night. I also text him goodnight, to remind him to go to sleep at a human hour, or he texts me to tell me that he’s going to sleep.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time around Baz without fighting or snogging him. Sometimes I think maybe that’s all that I needed, for us to just be friends, but I know it’s not, because I still want everything else. 

Because the other day, I had a therapy session and got back late and Baz had already made dinner for us and the domesticity of it all made me really want to kiss him. Because sitting on his sofa and just talking isn’t enough. Because every time I go back to my flat in the evening, I want to kiss him goodnight. And because his breakfast texts make me ridiculously happy.

I realise I should talk to him, but I don’t want to ruin what we have now. I know we’re just getting ready for a competition, but I think this is the most at home I’ve felt since I moved to Montreal – Baz has a way of doing that, making me feel less homesick. Less alone.

So I don’t ‘ talk’ to him. And I don’t kiss him, either. I just carry on making food for us, and texting him goodnight; and, somehow, that’s enough.

Until he breaks the routine.

 

BAZ

I can’t sleep.

I haven’t been able to sleep for a few nights now.

I do make an effort to go to bed at a reasonable hour, but after I text Simon, I usually just toss and turn late into the night.

I don’t know why I agreed to do this. Snow and I are spending so much time together now that it’s a miracle I haven’t snogged that adorable grin off his face yet. I compensate by imagining it vividly at night, which is why I can’t sleep.

I feel like I’m taking advantage of the situation, having us spend so much time together when I’m so hopelessly in love with him, but at least I know it’s helping him. It’s only been a week of us doing this, but it’s already having an effect on him. He’s stronger in practices, more determined. His short program has become more refined (which I’m sure is also Nicodemus’s doing) and he’s training to do four quads in the free skate. I’ve never seen Simon this strong; at this rate, he could easily qualify for the Final.

So he’s doing better. And I’m not doing any worse. And lovesick induced insomnia is a small price to pay for both of us qualifying for the Final.

By the time I fall asleep, it’s nearly three am.

 

Snow is not happy the next morning. I’m not either. All of the exhaustion must’ve finally caught up with me and I slept in and nearly missed practice.

“Where were you?” Snow demands as soon as I set foot in the changing room. “Did you eat breakfast?”

Shit. I forgot about breakfast.

“Whoa, Simon, stop interrogating the man,” Shepard says.

“Yes, Snow. Why are you suddenly so invested in my life?”

Simon sends me a glare that’s usually reserved for the moment before he tells me to go fuck myself. He doesn’t tell me that now, just stomps back to his bench and starts putting his skates on. Shepard looks back and forth between us, stretches his arms and gets up.

“Well, see you two on the ice,” he says.

“You’re such an arsehole,” Snow mutters as soon as Shepard is out the room.

“For not texting you the moment I wake up? Sorry Snow, but the world doesn’t revolve around you.”

He growls in frustration. “Sorry for being worried about you. Besides, this was your idea and now you’re not sticking to it.” 

“I’m an adult man, Snow, I can manage breakfast,” I respond, ignoring the way my heart swells when he says he was worried about me.

“You have dark circles under your eyes,” he says accusingly. I’m once again surprised by how ridiculously observant he is about some things while remaining completely oblivious about others.

“I’m wearing eyeshadow,” I deadpan. He growls again.

“Fuck off, Baz. How much did you sleep?”

His concern is almost too heart-warming to handle. I say almost because the whole time he’s glaring at me – which isn’t exactly the pinnacle of romance.

“Three hours,” I answer truthfully. He sighs.

“You watched Cup of China, didn’t you?”

Oh. I completely forgot Cup of China was on last night.

“Yes,” I lie, because I don’t want to admit that I actually couldn’t sleep because of how painfully in love with him I am. He growls again, grabs something from his bag and gets up.

“You’re a fucking idiot,” he says, tossing me a cereal bar right before he leaves the changing room. The door slams shut.

“Takes one to know one!” I call after him, but I doubt he hears me. Then I look at the cereal bar and I suddenly feel very much like crying.

 

Snow still brings me lunch later that day, but he doesn’t stay and eat with me like he usually would. It’s actually for the better, because it gives me some time to sleep during our lunch break, and then I feel slightly more human.

He knocks on my door again later that evening. Even though we now spend evenings together, I still never get used to Simon after practice. He usually changes into some looser clothing, takes his contacts out, and his curls are always still slightly wet from his shower. Sometimes he walks too close to me and I catch a whiff of his shampoo, which always makes my heart ache with the memory of how he spent the whole night in my arms before Skate America.

He also never bothers to put shoes on if he’s just coming to my flat – which I find slightly concerning – but he argues that it’s just down the corridor, and so his socks won’t get dirty.

“Dinner?” he asks, smiling in that ridiculous way that only Simon Snow can.

“I didn’t know you’d still be speaking to me,” I remark, because he’s right, I am an arse. He rolls his eyes.

“I may or may not have overreacted,” he says.

“You’re showing remarkable signs of self-awareness.” I step aside to let him in. He aims a punch at my shoulder as he passes me. (This shouldn’t make my heart flutter.)

“And you’re still an arse,” he says.

I settle on the sofa, watching him poke around my fridge. He’s gotten alarmingly comfortable in my kitchen – it’s heart-warming.

“So, how was Cup of China then?” he asks. Thankfully, I did actually re-watch a bit of the competition while eating my lunch, so I know how to answer him. (It is an important competition to watch; the Chinese skater, Huang Li, will be the main contender for a medal against the two of us in Moscow, and Kirill is just an all-around danger.)

I tell him about how Huang was good, despite making one small mistake, and that Kirill improved massively over the summer and nearly broke my world record.

“We can go over Huang’s score later, for Rostelecom,” I add. Snow shrugs.

“Maybe after the free program,” he says. “Do you think Kirill’s really going to be the first one to break 200 and 300?” He’s referring to the score barriers in the free program and combined score. Nobody has scored that high under the new judging system yet, and it’s an unspoken battle between me, Kirill and Micah to see who gets there first. (Well, it was unspoken, until Kirill said he wants to be the first one to break them.)

“He definitely could do it, but it could be any of us, really,” I shrug. Snow makes a face, but whatever he’s about to say gets cut off by a loud sizzling noise as he pours something into the pan.

“Do you want garlic in this?” he asks. “It would be much better with garlic.”

“You know how I feel about garlic.”

“You really wouldn’t be able to taste it!” he tries to convince me.

“Then why would you put it in if I wouldn’t be able to taste it in the first place? That just seems counterproductive, Snow.”

“It’s for the essence,” he argues, which sounds totally ridiculous.

“Garlic is the devil’s seasoning and I will not tolerate it in my food.”

Snow scoffs and shakes his head. “You’re so weird.”

“You’ll pay for that dearly, Snow,” I warn him. He turns to me, sporting that devilish smile that I’d very much like to wipe off his face.

“Oh yeah? How?”

“I’ll melt all your ice packs.”

He gasps in pretend shock. “Not my ice packs!” We both start laughing and I know damn well that I won’t be sleeping tonight either, because this conversation is going to be playing on a loop inside my head.

 

Or maybe I won’t be sleeping at all, because Simon bloody Snow insists on sleeping at my flat tonight. He went back to his place after dinner, but then he showed up again five minutes later, holding a blanket and a pillow and his phone charger.

“What are you doing?” I ask him as he pushes past me and starts setting up his blanket on the sofa.

“I’m sleeping here tonight,” he says.

“Oh no you aren’t,” I object.

“Oh yes I am.”

“I’m an adult, Snow.”

He straightens up to look at me, his eyes fierce. “We have an agreement, right? I help you and you help me. And if you’re not going to bed on time, then I’m violating my part of the agreement.”

“You’re violating my privacy,” I mutter. I’m not sure why I’m fighting him on this; I actually desperately want him to stay, even if it is just on my sofa.

“Close your bedroom door then,” he shrugs.

 

I do close the door when I go to bed, but it’s even harder to sleep knowing that he’s just in the other room. It doesn’t help that I can hear him tossing and turning. My sofa is not exactly the most comfortable place to sleep – the last time I fell asleep on it, it left my neck sore for the rest of the day. 

After what must be at least half an hour of both of us tossing and turning, I make a really stupid decision. I get out of bed.

When I open the door, Snow peeks up at me, squinting his eyes at the light coming from my room.

“You should be asleep,” he half whispers. I’m not sure why, since there’s no one else in this flat.

“Snow, this is ridiculous,” I sigh. “You can’t sleep on my sofa. You don’t even fit.”

“I’m not going back to my flat,” he says stubbornly. This is probably the point where I should kick him out, but I don’t.

“Come to my bed then,” I say instead. 

Maybe it’s the way the soft light from my bedroom lamp reflects on his curls, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m hopelessly in love with him and I’m too weak to have that self-control when I’m running on three hours of sleep and he’s tossing and turning on my sofa, but the words fly out of my mouth before I can stop them. Simon’s eyes open wide in surprise.

“Are you sure?” he asks. I nod.

“There’s room for two of us.” With that, I turn on my heel and get back into bed, before he can see the blush spreading across my face.

I hear him tossing the blankets aside and his footsteps following me. I wait until he slides under the covers before I turn off the light.

“If you steal my blankets, I’ll murder you,” I warn him. He huffs out a laugh.

“You have so many blankets that I don’t know what you have to be worried about.”

“I get cold. We live in Canada.”

He just scoffs again. “Goodnight, Baz.”

“Goodnight.”

I fall asleep to the sounds of his soft snoring, and it’s the best night’s sleep I’ve gotten this whole week.

 

Neither of us really talk about it the next day. Snow uses half of my egg supply to make himself breakfast and calls me a posh bitch for having avocado toast. Then he disappears back into his flat to get ready for practice and I try to pretend I’m not bothered by everything being so normal . I don’t know why I’m so disappointed; just because we shared a bed doesn’t mean anything would change between us. And nothing should change between us, not with the Rostelecom Cup approaching.

This is for his own good , I remind myself while I pack my skating bag. Still, my heart feels heavy with longing.

Today just so happens to be the day Snow usually has lunch with Shepard, so I’m left to my own devices. I pretend not to be bothered by it; I know Snow and Shepard have a whole list of food related traditions, their newest one being getting lunch together before either of them leaves for a competition. Shepard is leaving in a few days to go to Internationaux de France, so it makes sense.

Still, I miss his presence.

 

SIMON

I shouldn’t be so excited to spend time with Baz again, especially because it’s not like I haven’t seen him in practice today, but when I finally knock on his door for our dinner, my heart is pounding out of my chest with excitement.

Baz opens the door almost immediately.

“Dinner?” I ask.

“Since I’m yet to turn into a vampire or some other creature that doesn’t require sustenance, the answer is once again yes,” he says, letting me in. I roll my eyes at him.

“I’m pretty sure vampires require sustenance. I was thinking stir fry?” 

“For vampires or for us?” Baz raises his eyebrows at me. I laugh. 

“For us.” 

“Alright,” he says, dropping back on the sofa and picking up his book again. I notice my pillow and blanket are neatly folded on the coffee table. (I forgot to take them back to my flat this morning.)

I wonder if he’d let me stay the night again. He looks a lot better after a full eight hours of sleep – the dark circles under his eyes are gone and he did absolutely amazing in practice today. We have a day off tomorrow, which means he can sleep in, so I doubt he’d let me stay, but maybe the day after that…

I should stop thinking about it. I know how Baz feels about dating and us sharing a bed for one night doesn’t change anything. I tear my eyes away from him and get to cooking.

“You know what this would taste better with?” I ask while I slice the peppers.

“Don’t say it,” Baz mutters, not looking away from his book.

“Garlic.”

 

After dinner, Baz wants us to analyse the scores from Cup of China. I know the competition ended last night, while we were sleeping, but I was too nervous to check the scores. I know Kirill won because I saw him post about it on Instagram, but I have no idea how Huang did. He’s the one I have to beat in Russia to qualify for the Final, and I know his score is probably way above my personal best.

I generally don’t like to dwell on the scores too much – I’m not like Baz. He’s already gotten settled on the sofa with his notebook out and pulled up the scoring sheets on his laptop. He starts copying Huang’s program layout on one side and mine on the other, alongside the base value score for each element.

“Do you know these by heart?” I ask as he writes 13.70 next to my quad toe combination.

“Yes. Don’t you?”

“No.”

Baz rolls his eyes and gets back to writing out the scores. I take the time to check Huang’s score – which is a mistake. His total score is 290 which is over twenty points higher than my personal best.

I feel my heart sink. There’s no way I can beat him. 

“I think you can beat him,” Baz says at the same moment, looking at the scores he’s written. I bite my lip.

“There’s a twenty-point difference,” I mutter. “My personal best isn’t even 270.”

“Your personal best was set on a program with three quads, one fall and a very low program components score. You said you were going to do four quads in Russia, right? And your artistry has improved a lot since September, so I reckon you could even get some 9.00s or higher. The way I see it, Huang is probably going to beat you in the short program, but if you skate clean, you can overtake him in the free.”

If I skate clean,” I sigh.

“Snow, you can skate it clean. And look at this,” he points his pencil at the last jumping pass in my layout. “If you mess up one of your quads, you can change your triple axel-double loop combination into triple axel-triple toe and that gives you three more points. And it’s good because it’s right at the end, so you don’t have to decide until you see how the rest of your program goes.”

“Yeah, but that’s only three points. And Huang has two quad flips and almost never messes up his jumps,” I say. Why doesn’t Baz see that I don’t stand a chance? Why was I so foolish to think that I did stand a chance? Huang was fourth at the World Championships. If I’d have gone, I would’ve been fifteenth at best.

“Yes, but in a way, that’s his weakness. He’s so focused on landing his jumps that he tends to water down his spins and steps on purpose to save energy. That’s where he’ll be losing points,” Baz says.

“Forget it, Baz, I don’t stand a chance. It was stupid to think that I did,” I groan, pulling my legs up on the sofa and burying my face in my elbows and knees in an attempt to hide the tears pooling in my eyes.

“Don’t be an idiot,” Baz says coolly.

“He’s so good.”

“So are you.”

I don’t reply, just take deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself down. The anxiety in my chest is all too similar to what I felt at the start of my senior career. 

“Snow,” Baz starts. He sounds concerned and moments later, I feel his hand drop on my shoulder. “Snow. Simon .” That makes me finally look up. “Listen to me; you are good. Good enough to beat him. Hell, good enough to beat me , even.”

I scoff, but I’m still trying not to cry so it comes out more like a sniff. “Yeah right.”

“You’re right, I’d never let that happen. It’d be a huge blow to my dignity to be beaten by someone who once stole my butt pads,” Baz says, a hint of amusement in his voice.

That makes me properly laugh. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” I mumble, wiping at my eyes.

“You better be. Those things cost sixty pound.” He nudges me with his shoulder. “But seriously; with the way you’ve been improving and with how well you’ve been doing in practices lately, I think you’re more than capable of beating him.”

I sniffle. “And what if I don’t? I mean, I don’t even care about how well I’d do in the Final, I just want to get there because it’s, you know…” My voice trails off. Baz already knows that I want to go to the Final because it’ll be held in the same venue as the 2022 Olympics. 

(If you let yourself wait now, you’re going to be waiting until after the Olympics before you talk to him , Penny’s voice sounds in my head for the hundredth time this week. I push it away. Now’s not the time.)

“If you don’t qualify then I’m going to take pictures and videos of the backstage area for you and I’ll send them to you, okay? But I already know I won’t have to do that because you will qualify,” Baz says. His voice sounds so certain it makes tears swell up in my eyes again.

I bite my lip. “I just… I’m not that good.” My voice breaks at the end.

Baz sighs. “Come here, Snow,” he says softly, slinging his arm around me and pulling me closer to him, until I’m curled up in a ball against his chest, breathing in his citrusy scent. He grabs my knees and pulls them over his lap so he can hold me more comfortably and I wrap my arms around his middle.

“You are that good,” he says, stroking his hand through my hair. “You don’t even know how good you are, Simon. You learnt the quad loop in four months . Do you have any idea how hard it is to do that? Training with you is a fucking nightmare, because it’s infuriating how good you are. The first time you showed up to practice in Davy’s group, I thought to myself that you had no business being that good and I still stand by that.”

“You said I sucked,” I object. Baz laughs softly.

“I was jealous. I mean, you’d been training for what? A year and a half? And you already had most of your doubles. And you made the national team in four years. Nobody in their right mind would be able to do that, but you did. And you want to know why?”

“Because I wanted to?” I offer.

“Exactly. Because you’re a stubborn bastard and if you want something, really want something, you’re going to get it,” he says. “If you really want to qualify for the Final, the plane tickets to Beijing are practically yours already.”

I love him.

It’s the first thing that comes to mind after he finishes talking; and, for once, I don’t try to ignore it or push it back, like I have in the past. Maybe because it’s the truest thing I’ve ever felt. Suddenly, my chest feels heavy for a whole different reason.

I need to talk to him, but I think if I open my mouth now, I’ll just start crying. I don’t want to tell Baz everything that’s been on my mind while I’m sobbing.

So I don’t say anything. I just huddle closer to Baz and breathe in that citrusy scent of his, letting it calm me. I feel his arms tighten around me and the weight of his head leaning on top of mine.

“You can stay here tonight,” he says quietly. “If you want to.”

I do. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: Fine line

Burnt eggs, a missed opportunity and first snow in Montreal. Rostelecom Cup T-minus: it’s gonna be any moment now

 

SIMON

I wake up to something – hair – tickling my chin, which is weird because my hair is short. Then I open my eyes and there’s a Baz on my chest.

Well. That explains the hair.

He’s still asleep, judging by his breathing. That’s probably for the best. I don’t know how Baz would feel if he woke up and found us cuddled together, and I don’t know if it’d affect how things are between us.

Baz’s hair smells nice. Cedar and bergamot. I’ve seen the shampoo bottle in his bathroom – it looks like it costs more than my weekly food shop combined.

I press my nose in his hair, breathing him in. The smell reminds me of all the times we’ve kissed and leaves me with a faint ache in my chest. (An ache I’ve become all too accustomed with over the past week.)

I suddenly feel like I’m taking advantage of this situation. I mean, he’s asleep and he probably wouldn’t appreciate me cuddling him and smelling his hair. I carefully try to shimmy away from him, but the moment I start to move, he grumbles and his arm tightens around my chest.

Well.

I’ll take that as a yes to the cuddling then.

Baz’s breathing settles back to a sleeping rhythm, and I’m not sure what to do. The one thing I am sure of though, is that I don’t want to wake Baz up, so I just lay there, holding him. He needs the rest.

I don’t even notice that I’ve started running my hand up and down his back until Baz starts shifting. I stop abruptly, my heart suddenly beating faster in fear that I’ve done something wrong.

“Did I say you can stop?” Baz grumbles, burying his face in my shoulder. I laugh in relief, settling my hand on his back again.

“Are you always this bossy first thing in the morning?” I ask. His arm is sprawled across my chest, but he angles it just so that he manages to elbow me in the stomach. “Ow! Aggressive too!” I laugh.

“Shut up, Snow or I’ll push you out of this bed,” he says but his words have no effect because he chooses that moment to pull himself closer to me.

“If I go down, I’m taking you with me.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he mutters, making a whole swarm of butterflies rise up in my stomach. Fuck, I really should talk to him.

“Baz,” I start.

“Hm?” He still sounds sleepy. Maybe I should wait until after breakfast…

“Can I talk to you about something?” I blurt out and then immediately want to smack myself for not waiting. Baz scoots back slightly, so that he can look me in the eyes. Well, there’s no going back now, I guess.

“What is it?” he asks. His voice still sounds raspy from sleep.

“I just… um…” Fuck, what do I even say? “Remember when you said we shouldn’t do this because it might affect our competitions?”

The expression on Baz’s face changes immediately and he rolls on his back, completely breaking contact with me. “Fuck, you’re right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, I just… I’m sorry,” he fumbles, his cheek turning bright red. Baz Pitch is fumbling.

It takes me a moment to process all of this before I can think of a response. “What? No, no, that’s not… it’s not what I wanted to say. Quite the opposite, um…” Fuck, now I’m blushing too. Baz turns his face back to me, raising his eyebrows, but not in a condescending way. (I didn’t think that was even possible with him.)

I take a deep breath. “I was thinking and… I know you have a bunch of concerns about… this , but I don’t want you to be worried about me. Because, um, I think… I think out of all the people to compete against, you scare me the least. Which is ironic, because you’re fucking terrifying in competition, but you’re also the most familiar person there, if that makes sense. I mean, we’ve been competing against each other since we were twelve so… I don’t remember a time when we weren’t rivals. And I also don’t remember a time when I wasn’t completely obsessed with you.”

Baz is staring at me like he can’t quite comprehend what I’m saying. (Maybe he really can’t.)

“I understand if this doesn’t change anything and I know that’s not your only concern but I don’t want you to worry about me. Because I’ll be alright,” I say.

“Simon, I…” he sighs and pauses for a second, choosing his words. “It does change things,” he finally says. My heart stops.

“Oh,” is all I can think to say.

Baz turns his head away to look at the ceiling. “At Autumn Classic, I was so nervous for you I couldn’t put myself into competition mode,” he says. I feel my heart sink a bit, even though I expected this answer from him. 

“Yeah, I know,” I mutter. “I’m sorry.” 

“Let me finish, Snow.” There’s a slight edge to his voice, but at the same time, his hand finds mine between the sheets and he intertwines our fingers. “The thing is, I genuinely don’t know. I’ve never felt like this before a competition, and I’ve competed against you, even when I wanted this ,” he says, giving my hand a squeeze. “And it was never an issue before. I don’t know if something’s changed or if I just didn’t feel enough pressure to put myself into competition mode back then. But if you competed against me at Skate Canada, I don’t think your presence would affect me that much.”

“Really?” I don’t bother hiding the excitement in my voice. Baz smiles a bit and nods.

“But we’ll know in Moscow for sure,” he says. “And it’s not that I don’t want this, but I don’t want to compromise anything because this is a really important competition for you, and I want to see you at the Final.”

“I’ll be alright,” I tell him.

“Do I need to remind you of yesterday?” he asks, the edge returning to his voice.

“Yes, but that wasn’t because of you, was it?”

“But what if one day it is about me? I don’t want to make you feel this way.” Baz’s voice sounds pained.

Baz ,” I scoot closer to him. “You won’t.”

“You don’t know that,” he shakes his head.

“Baz. Remember the very first time I landed a quad toe?”

“Junior Grand Prix in Austria,” he says. I’m a bit surprised at that. I didn’t actually expect him to remember.

“I did it because I saw you do it before me and I wanted to one-up you.”

“You were an idiot back then,” Baz shakes his head. “Only a complete moron would try competing with a jump they never landed in practice.”

I roll my eyes at him. “The point is, competing against you didn’t make me nervous. It made me want to be better. That’s why I started learning the quad loop, too. I just… I feel like ever since we’ve been training together again, I have a reason to come to the rink every day and get better – a reason that doesn’t just revolve around my results and medals and all of that. You don’t make me nervous; you make me want to be better.”

Baz is quiet for a few seconds. “You can’t just say that,” he finally says. I realise what I just said might feel too much like a love confession.

I’m not sure it isn’t.

 

BAZ

I make him want to be better.

I could cry right now, just from how badly I want this. Just from the feeling of his hand in mine. I’m still staring at the ceiling, but I know he’s looking at me, waiting for me to say something.

I make him want to be better.

“Are you sure?” I finally manage to choke out and I’m not even sure what I’m asking him. Are you sure I make you want to be better? Are you sure you want this? Are you sure you’ll be alright?

“Yes.”

I finally manage to look at him. His cheeks are tinged pink and he smiles a bit when our eyes meet. He might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And he’s holding my hand. And he wants this. He wants this, even though it could ruin everything. Because he’s Simon; of course he does. He goes into things headfirst; he doesn’t sit and overthink like I do. He’s stupidly courageous.

And I’m so weak. And I’m so in love with him.

And I don’t know how to proceed.

Simon does, though. “We could, um… We could put it on probation? Until Rostelecom. And then after that is over, we decide if, you know, we want to keep it going or not?” he says.

I’ve thought about this before, but I never had the courage to say it out loud. “Just to be clear, by it you mean a relationship, right?” I ask, because I’m not sure that this isn’t another one of my daydreams and I’m not just hearing what I want to hear.

Simon’s cheeks turn even pinker. “Yes,” he says. “But only if you want to.”

“Simon, I've wanted this since I was fifteen,” I blurt out before I can stop myself. His face falls. 

Oh no.

“Since you were fifteen?” he asks, audibly shocked. I want to smack myself. 

I never planned on telling him how long I’ve wanted this – I knew it would creep him out. I swallow, trying to find my words, trying to somehow make this less weird, but all that comes out of my mouth is a quiet “yes.”

“Baz, that’s so long,” he says, shifting closer to me.

“I know,” I say quietly.

Simon’s free hand comes up to cup my face. I feel my breath hitch as his thumb starts stroking my cheekbone. So, he doesn’t mind that I’ve been in love with him for five years? He isn’t creeped out by it?

“Can I kiss you?” he asks softly. I don’t trust myself to speak properly, so I just nod and the next moment his lips are on mine, soft and sweet and perfect.

Simon Snow is an expert kisser, I knew that, but I was not prepared for the sweetness of his morning kisses. Both of his hands are on my face now and his lips are so soft and gentle against mine, it nearly makes me melt on the spot.

I could keep doing this all day. I could keep doing this all day… it’s our day off, so we have nowhere to be...

Just as I decide that we definitely should spend the whole day doing exactly this, his stomach growls loudly. He smiles and pulls away.

“Hungry?” I ask.

“A little bit.” He’s still smiling and it makes me press another quick kiss to his lips.

“Let’s get you breakfast then,” I say, getting out of bed. As much as I’d love to keep kissing him, I know better than to stand between Snow and his food. 

We can continue this after we finish eating.

 

Making breakfast proves to be harder than usual. I usually eat something that doesn’t require cooking, but Snow is a sucker for scrambled eggs. I lean against the counter, watching him cook, while I wait for the kettle to boil.

He looks up from his frying pan and smiles at me. (Snow’s smiles could well kill me one day.)

“You’ll burn your eggs,” I tell him.

“They’ll be fine.” He drops his spatula and closes the distance between us. I barely have time to react before he kisses me. He’s shorter than me, so he has to lift onto his toes and when I lean into him, he nearly loses his balance. It makes us both laugh.

“Swooning, Snow?” I raise my eyebrows at him. He grins and jabs me in the ribs.

“Shut up, that was your fault.”

“Was it?”

“Yes,” he growls, grabbing the back of my neck and pulling me to his lips again. “See, this is much better,” he says, breaking our lips apart.

I don’t say anything, just wrap my arms around his waist and start pressing kisses all over his face. It’s something I want to do every time I see one of Snow’s stupidly adorable grins, and I realise there’s nothing holding me back now.

Well. There’s Snow’s breakfast.

He starts squirming in my arms. “Baz, my eggs will burn.”

“Should’ve thought about that before you started kissing me,” I mutter, holding him tighter to me. He grabs my face and kisses me on the lips briefly, but firmly.

“After breakfast, yeah?” he says. I press another quick peck to his lips before finally letting him go. He immediately gets back to stirring his eggs (which didn’t burn, thank you very much) and I go back to watching him. I keep having to push back a smile – I feel like I’m soaring on the inside, just from the thought that we can do this now. I can kiss him whenever I want to. (His lips are going to be sore by the end of the day.)

“Are you going to make tea or are you going to keep staring at me?” Snow says, glancing over at me. I pretend to kick him in the shin.

“So bossy,” I comment, before turning around to grab two mugs from the cupboard. I feel something tap the back of my leg – Snow’s retaliation kick.

“Watch your mouth, Pitch.”


We go to practice on Monday, acting as if we didn’t spend our whole day off snogging and cuddling. I don’t think either of us are succeeding, but maybe I’m just paranoid.

It’s not like anybody’s paying attention to us anyway. There are only two days left until Ebb and Shepard go to France for the French leg of the Grand Prix series, so we’re all working hard, trying to make the best of what little time we have available until they leave. (The next time we see Ebb will be in Russia, since there’d be no use for her to come back to Montreal for one day before having to fly to Europe again. We’ve agreed that Snow and I will go to Russia next Monday, which will give us a few days to prepare with Ebb before the competition starts on Thursday.) (It is a bit unnerving that Ebb won’t be here for most of this week, but I’m used to it. The Grand Prix schedule is brutal and there’s nothing you can do.)

Practice is extra hard today, because we’re trying to get so many things done before Ebb leaves. By the time our last session ends, I’m about ready to fall asleep right there on the changing room bench – except I can’t because Ikumi and I foolishly signed ourselves up for extra ballet classes this week.

I watch with jealousy as Shepard and Snow pack up their belongings and bundle up for their way home (it’s been getting a lot colder in Montreal). Why did I have to sign up for extra classes? I could’ve easily been on my way to cuddling Snow right now, while complaining about how everything hurts.

I mean, I love ballet, but I also want to go back in the past and keep myself from making the decision about extra classes. I groan and lie across the bench, hoping to provide my muscles with at least some relief.

“See you later?” Snow asks as he zips up his coat. (It’s a Team GB puffer coat – half of Snow’s wardrobe is our national team merch.)

“Sure,” I say.

“You and Simon are much better friends lately,” Ikumi says after Snow and Shepard leave the room. I gulp. Does she know something?

“What do you mean?” I try to keep my voice bored and nonchalant.

“Well, I mean, you two could barely look at each other a few months ago and now you seem to be spending a lot of time together,” she shrugs.

“We’re neighbours so we usually eat dinner together. Saves money on food shopping.”

“Oh, that’s actually very smart.”

“All of my ideas are very smart,” I say, even though the food sharing was actually Simon’s idea, way back this summer when he first brought me curry.

Ikumi laughs. “Debatable. That Biellmann spin you did today? Bad idea.”

Oh, yeah. I tried doing a Biellmann spin today and ended up with a painful reminder of why most men don’t do this spin. (I got a cramp in my back that was bad enough to make me have to take a short break. Not my proudest moment.)

“The exception proves the rule,” I say. “Come on, let’s go get tortured for another hour.”

 

As the week goes on, I’m really beginning to regret my decision to take extra ballet classes. I know it’s all for the sake of polishing up the balletic components of my free program (I’ll be damned if I don’t do Rudolf Nureyev justice in his home country), but I’m already exhausted enough from our regular trainings and that extra ballet class at the end of the day really knocks everything out of me. By the time I get home, all I can do is groan and cover myself in icepacks while Snow laughs at my suffering. (Although most of his mockery is done while he’s cuddling me so I can hardly even be mad about it.)

I can’t wait to get home now and have him cuddle me. I know this whole probation thing between Snow and I has only been going on for five days, but I’m realising how foolish I’ve been to spend so much of my time trying to stay away from him when I could’ve been kissing him instead. He’s spent every night this week at my flat and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love his morning breath and his bed hair. (Which isn’t much better than his normal hair because Snow never does anything to his curls, but there’s something special in knowing that his hair is messed up from spending the whole night snuggled up to me.) (The only thing that can top that is when his hair is messed up from me running my fingers through it while I’m kissing him.)

I have another reason for wanting to get home as soon as possible, and that is that it’s snowing in Montreal today. It’s been snowing since our afternoon practice (one of the juniors noticed it and then everyone stopped their training to gape out the window as if snow isn’t an annual occurrence) and since then, a substantial amount of it has collected on the streets.

I can’t say I like snow. I definitely don’t like the cold temperatures that come with it. We get it, Canada, you’re very cold! I don’t need a reminder in the form of my fingers freezing off during the ten-minute walk home.

Simon, apparently, couldn’t be bothered less by cold temperatures, because once I finally reach our building, I notice that his bedroom window is open. The absolute madman. The temperatures are sub-zero and we’re flying to a competition in three days, but the idiot has his window open!

I creep up under his window, gathering some snow in my hand and shaping it into a ball. Then I step back, aim and throw the snowball through his window frame in one swift curve. (We live on the first floor so it’s not hard.)

“What the fuck!” I hear him yell. Moments later, he stumbles to the windowsill and looks down at me. “What the fuck, Baz? That landed on my bed!” He sounds more stunned than angry and I can’t help but laugh at him.

Simon gathers the snow on his windowsill and throws it at me. He doesn’t manage to clump it together properly, so it falls apart mid-air, making it harder for me to avoid.

“Agh!” I shriek, jumping back. “That’s not fair!”

“How is it not fair? You literally threw a snowball into my room !”

“I was trying to teach you not to keep your window open in a literal blizzard, you dolt!” I defend myself. Snow grins and responds by sweeping the rest of the snow from his windowsill into my general direction. I cross my arms in front of my face in an attempt to shield myself from his attack. “What are you doing?”

“I’m teaching you what a blizzard is,” he responds.

I bend down to make another snowball, but at that moment he disappears from his window. I throw the snowball anyway, but I miss this time and it hits the outside wall of the building. I expect him to mock me for my missed shot, but he doesn’t.

“Snow? Have you surrendered?” I call out. No answer. “Snow?”

Seconds later, I hear the front door of our building open and Simon Snow is outside, wearing his winter coat and already gathering snow from the flowerpot by the front door. 

Oh fuck.

I quickly start making another snowball, but he’s faster than me and hits me square in the back before I’m even halfway done.

He dodges my snowball swiftly and already has another one at the ready, so I decide my best option is to run. I disappear around the corner of our building, but Snow is at my heels the whole time and while he misses his shot with the snowball, he catches up to me rather quickly and tackles me in the snow. Our faces are only inches away and his warm breath is mingling with mine.

“My intention was to make you close the window, not come outside to fight,” I say, slightly out of breath. (I’m not sure if it’s from the running or the laughing or his close proximity.)

“I was out of ammo. It wasn’t fair play,” he shrugs. “Although it was quite a Romeo and Juliet scene, don’t you think?”

I furrow my eyebrows at him. “What?”

“You know, me, on the balcony, marvelling at whatever the fuck Juliet marvels at and then you throwing a snowball in my face.”

I start laughing. “You’re an idiot, Snow. You don’t even have a balcony.”

He grins at me. “Balcony, windowsill, same difference.”

“It’s really not. And if either of us would be Romeo, it’d be you. He’s an idiot at the best of times.”

“Wait, why is he an idiot?”

“He’s a man,” I say. “And I mean, he’s known Juliet for three days and he decided to end his life because of her.”

“I thought that was considered romantic?”

“Nope, that’s just poor self-preservation skills.”

“And you think I have poor self-preservation skills?” he asks, his face leaning closer to mine.

“You literally had your window opened in a blizzard,” I comment and he nudges me in the shoulder as a retaliation. “Is that the best comeback you’ve got?” I raise my eyebrows at him.

“No,” he grins and finally (finally!) presses his lips to mine. His mouth is so warm in contrast to the cold winter air and I don’t think I’ll ever stop being surprised by how good kissing Simon Snow is.

As much as I’d love to keep kissing Snow in the snow, I am getting very cold, very fast.

“We’re going to freeze,” I say, pulling away from him. He grins at me and helps me get up, then starts dusting my coat off.

“Come on, then, let’s get you inside.”

The building is much warmer and Simon doesn’t let go of my hand all the way back to his flat. He only lets go to unlock his front door.  

“I was thinking we could eat dinner at mine tonight? Since we always eat at yours,” he suggests, sliding his fingers through mine again. 

I smile and squeeze his hand. “Sure thing. I’d just like to pop by my place because I need a shower,” I say. I’ve had six hours of practice today, so I feel mildly disgusting.

“I’ll get started on dinner,” he says, handing me his keys. “Let yourself in when you’re done.”

 

When I get back to Simon’s flat, he’s nearly done with dinner, but I immediately notice the mood has changed. He was all soft smiles before, but now he’s biting his lip and looking nervous as he sautés the potatoes.

“Everything alright?” I ask, sitting on the counter. He sighs and furrows his eyebrows.

“I just checked the IDF results,” he says. Oh. I’ve completely forgotten that Internationaux de France started today. (Which is uncharacteristic of me because Micah is competing at IDF and I usually like to keep a watchful eye on his scores, but I’ve been otherwise occupied this week.)

“And?”

“Shepard is 7 th after the short program.”

Oh. Oh fuck.

“Fuck,” I whisper. 7 th place is bad – he won’t be able to recover from that, even if he does a perfect free program tomorrow. He’s in the same position as I am; 13 qualification points after the first Grand Prix competition, which means any place on the podium at the second Grand Prix competition would grant him a ticket to the Final, but it’d be impossible to get back on the podium after being 7 th in the short program.

“He won’t qualify,” Simon confirms what I’m thinking and he sounds genuinely sad. Neither of us will say it, but we both know Shepard not qualifying for the final might give Simon a better fighting chance. Shepard was ranked above Simon in the qualification standings and now that he’ll drop out, it’s likely that Simon won’t even have to beat Huang at Rostelecom to qualify for the Final, but it doesn’t even cross Simon’s mind to be happy about that. Sometimes I forget how compassionate he is and it makes me fall in love with him all over again.

“Have you talked to him?” I ask, pushing down the warm feeling in my heart. Now’s not the time.

He shakes his head. “I texted him but he’s probably asleep. It just sucks that… you know.” He shrugs and stares at his potatoes intently.

“It does,” I agree.

“And now I feel guilty because—”

“Simon,” I cut him off. “Don’t.”

He sighs and leans against me and I pull him into my arms, pressing a kiss to his temple.

“And I can’t get it out of my head that this could happen to me too,” he mumbles into my shoulder. I rub his back.

“It won’t,” I assure him. “You’ll be alright. We’ll be alright.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 25: Rostelecom cup

Moscow from above, the trials and tribulations of Russian traffic, Alyosha the houseplant and the Megasport arena. Simon has a fight with his laces. Let the games begin.

SIMON

I pull my earbuds out just as the flight attendant announces that we will be landing in Sheremetyevo airport shortly. (Baz had a field day trying to teach me that word.) The sun is just setting and I can see the lights of Moscow shining faintly beneath our plane. Somewhere down there is our hotel and the Megasport arena, where I’ll spend the next few days trying to qualify for the Final.

I’m trying not to think about it, but really, it’s all I’ve been able to think about for the past week. (Well, that and Baz.) I’m not entirely sure I can do it. I’m still freaked out after what happened to Shepard, and I still have to be second to qualify. (Shepard may be out of the game but the French kid, Adrien Laurent, did so well at IDF that he’ll be the one to take my spot in the Final if I don’t end up in second place here.)

I’m feeling anxiety rise up in my chest again, so I decide to focus on gathering my stuff for the landing. I tuck my Switch and my water bottle in my backpack, along with the napkin on which Baz wrote my name in Cyrillic when he was teaching me some basic Russian words and phrases. (Most of which I’ve already forgotten.)

Baz lifts his head up from his book and takes his earbud out. “Are we landing?” he asks. I nod and he closes it, leaning forward to put it in the seat compartment. Then he glances over through the window and I can see a faint smile stretch across his face.

“Excited?” I ask.

“It’s good to be back in Moscow.”

 

The ride from the airport to the hotel is awful. Baz must’ve expected this because he made me sit in the front. It almost didn’t make a difference, to be honest. I may not know how to drive, but even I know you’re not supposed to drive like that . When the taxi drops us off in front of the hotel, I don’t even bother hiding my relief. Baz laughs.

“I never want to experience that again,” I mutter, knowing full well that this will be my life for the next week. The hotel might be close to the venue, but it’s still driving distance. I can only hope buses here are less deadly than taxis.

Baz scoffs and passes me my bags before heading for the automated hotel doors. I follow him.

This hotel is fancy – much fancier than the hotels we usually stay at. Baz doesn’t seem phased by it at all, the posh bastard. I bet the hotels he stays at when he’s on vacation are at least twice this posh.

He does, however, seem phased when someone yells “Basil!” across the lobby. Before either of us can register what’s going on, a small figure in a red jacket runs towards us at full speed and crashes into Baz, making him emit a surprised oof sound.

The moment I realize that figure is actually Angelina Nuriyeva is the moment she starts speaking in fast Russian. I don’t understand a thing, but what she’s saying makes Baz laugh and he hugs her back.

I knew Baz and Angelina were friends, but I didn’t think they were this close. I mean, they’re exact polar opposites; Angelina is a ray of sunshine and positivity and Baz is… Baz. (He’s a big softie, I know that, but he goes through great effort to always appear bored.)

He ruffles Angelina’s hair and they start talking in Russian. (I realise that being in Moscow means I’ll get to hear a lot more of Baz’s Russian now. I am very much not complaining at this prospect, even if I don’t understand any of what they’re saying.)

Angelina is nodding along and she pulls out her phone to show him something, but that’s when Baz stops her, suddenly speaking in English.

“I think, out of courtesy toSnow, we should switch to English. He already looks lost enough as it is,” he says.

“No, no, I’m fine, by all means—” I start, but I’m soon cut off by Angelina.

“Yes, of course! I’m sorry, Simon, I just got happy to see Baz again. Come here, it’s so good to see you,” she says and hugs me.

“Good to see you too,” I nod.

“I was just talking to Basil about how his houseplants are doing. Do you want to see too?” she asks.

“Houseplants?” I don’t bother hiding the surprise in my voice. Since when does Baz like houseplants? His flat in Montreal doesn’t have any, other than the tiny cactus on his kitchen windowsill.

“I had a lot of houseplants when I still lived here, but I couldn’t take them with me when I moved, so Gelya took them in her care,” Baz explains as if he’s reading my mind.

“Georgy is doing amazing, but Ilya went a bit floppy. I changed his earth now, so I’m hoping he recovers,” Angelina says, showing Baz a picture of two houseplants side by side, one of them (Ilya?) looking slightly wilted. “Recover is the right word, right?” she asks.

“Yeah, it is,” Baz nods. “Although we say soil, not earth. But your meaning was clear, so don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you. It’s so much harder to learn English now that there’s no one here to practice with me,” Angelina sighs.

“You know you can call me any time and we can practice,” Baz offers.

“Wait, wait, wait,” I stop them both. There is so much new information I have to process. “You had houseplants? And you named them Russian names? And you taught her English?” (This would actually explain why Angelina’s English is so good.)

“Yes, Snow, are you keeping up?”

“And when he gave them up, he wrote me a whole notebook on how to take care of them,” Angelina chimes in. “And another notebook with English grammar.”

Maybe I do have trouble keeping up. Who is this Baz? (And why is he so attractive?)

“I never thought of you as a houseplant kind of bloke,” I shrug. “You don’t have any houseplants in Montreal.”

“I’m still mourning the loss of my old children,” Baz deadpans before turning back to Angelina. “Show me Alyosha. He was always my favourite.”

 

BAZ

After I’m done catching up with Gelya, Snow and I check into our rooms (he’s staying on the same floor as I am, but a few corridors down) and meet up with Ebb for dinner. She flew in from France earlier today and we were supposed to text her the moment we got to the hotel, but I got distracted.

It’s good to see her after almost a full week of not having her at our practices. We discuss how training's back in Montreal went and go over our strategies for this competition again. Rostelecom is one of those competitions where we’ll have a day off in between the short program and the free skate, which I’m very much not complaining about.

However, as we’re going over our plans, I notice Snow fidgeting nervously and biting his lip, and I’m starting to get worried about him again. (He got so anxious last night that he barely slept. He was passed out for most of our flight from Montreal to our layover, though, so I suppose he’s caught up missing sleep, but still.)

My worries only deepen after we call it a night and head back to our rooms and I get a text from him after he’s already wished me goodnight. I know Snow and I have decided to try and maintain a professional distance during the competition, but when my phone lights up with his text notification, I’m about ready to go into his room and hold him until he falls asleep.

I’m out of bed, already looking for my shoes, when I finally read his text.

SS: do u have melatonine?
SS: jet lag

I sigh in relief. He’s not having a mental breakdown; he’s just jet-lagged. (Which is a bit strange for Snow, but I suppose even his circadian rhythm can take a blow from time to time.)

BP: It’s spelled melatonin and yes, I have it. You can come get it if you still need it.
BP: Room 254

SS: yes ik where u r
SS: I’ll b right over

I sit on the edge of the bed until I hear Snow knock on my door. He’s already in his pyjamas (which are essentially just joggers and a t-shirt, and in this scenario, a Team GB hoodie over it) and wearing those damned glasses of his. (I’ve seen Snow in glasses many times over the past week and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how adorable he looks.)

“I thought you didn’t get jet-lagged,” I say, stepping aside to let him in. He settles on the edge of my bed while I rummage my luggage for melatonin supplements. (I should take some too – I always try to naively push through jet-lag without them, but they’re a god-send.)

“I don’t get sleep jet-lagged, but I do get food jet-lagged,” he says.

“What does that even mean, Snow?”

“It means it’s lunchtime in Canada and I’m too hungry to sleep.”

I bite back a laugh. He’s an idiot. (An adorable one, but an idiot nonetheless.) “You don’t need melatonin, Snow, you need this,” I say, throwing a granola bar at him. He startles but manages to catch it.

“You’re just giving this to me?” he asks, audibly surprised. (Which is ridiculous. He gives me food all the time , yet here he is, questioning my generosity over a fucking granola bar.)

“No, Snow, pay up. Fifty rubles.”

“I don’t know how much that is,” he laughs, tearing the wrapping open. He’s going to get crumbs all over my bed, but I don’t snap at him. Instead, I finally find the melatonin supplements and take one with water. I hold up the supplement bottle to Snow. “Do you still want one?”

“Do you have any more of these?” He asks, holding up the (already half-eaten) granola bar. I laugh and pass him another one before sitting down next to him on the bed.

“Are you nervous?” I ask because sometimes Snow is a stress-eater and I need to make sure he’s okay.

“Right now? I’m just hungry,” he says, tearing open the second granola bar.

“Right,” I nod.

“Baz. Are you doing that thing where you’re worrying about me again?”

“A bit,” I admit.

“Stop,” he says as if I can just turn it off like a tap. (I wish I could.) 

We sit in silence for a while, me resisting every urge to hug him and keep him here with me to make sure he’s okay, and him chewing through his granola bar. “I didn’t know you and Angelina were such good friends,” he finally says.

“We trained together for four years,” I shrug, but it’s not just that. The training environment in Russia was intense. It’s a bloodbath to even get on the national team there, so of course it’s intense, but I think every other skater at Rybakov’s rink was looking down on me, because I was an outsider. I wasn’t Russian, I didn’t speak Russian (yet) and I think they felt like I didn’t belong there. (I know now that I really didn’t.) They eventually accepted me and by the time I left Russia, even the ones who refused to speak to me during my first year there were sad to see me go.

But Gelya was nice to me from the start. She was only thirteen at the time and didn’t speak any English, but she clapped for me when I did something well and cheered me on when I was having a bad day. (Thanks to her, davai was one of the first Russian words I learned.) She brought me homemade pryaniki on special occasions; and, when I got injured and had to go back to England to have surgery, she sent me multiple get well soon cards all the way from Russia and she made the entire rink sign them. That’s just who she is . It didn’t matter if I was Russian or English, for her, I was just another person at her rink who she could bring biscuits to. Over the four years I lived here, she became like a little sister to me.

“Baz?” Snow’s voice snaps me from my thoughts. “You seem tired. I’m going to go.”

I fight the urge to ask him to stay. (We both know the competition is more important right now.)

“Okay,” I nod, watching him stand up and throw the granola wrappers in the bin. “Will you be able to sleep?”

“If my hunger doesn’t get to me again, yes,” he laughs. He’s already by the door.

“Wait.” I stand up and grab the last granola bar from my bag, offering it to him. “Just in case,” I explain. I want him to stay here so badly, but this is the least I can do.

“Thanks,” he smiles, tucking it in the pocket of his hoodie. Then he hugs me briefly and presses a kiss to my cheek. “Sleep well.”

“You too.”

And he’s out the door.

 


 

SIMON

The Megasport arena is huge. I’ve been here once before, two years ago, so it’s not like I’m seeing it for the first time, but the sheer size of it still knocks the air out of my lungs.

Even though official practices should’ve prepared me for how it feels to skate here, the arena was only a quarter full then. Now that it’s time for the short program, it’s packed . All fourteen thousand seats taken, judging by the noise.

I haven’t yet dared to peak out from behind the backstage curtain, but I’ll find out soon enough because it’s almost time for the six-minute warmup. I hear the applause coming from the arena now, which means the final skater from the previous group must’ve finished his program and it’s time for the second group to go on the ice.

My palms are sweaty and the material of my trousers doesn’t absorb it at all. Baz shows up out of nowhere and hands Ebb his water bottle. I look at him – his hair is pulled up in one of those fancy buns that he only does for competitions and there’s a cold look of determination in his eyes, the one he gets when he puts his focus to solely one thing.

He doesn’t look nervous, but Baz never looks nervous. He glances over at me and I quickly avert my eyes. We’ve been ignoring each other ever since we got to the arena, both of us trying to focus on our own thing.

The guy at the backstage curtain gestures at us that it’s time to go into the arena. I take a deep breath and step through.

It hits me all at once: the massive crowd, the deafening noise. The lady on the microphone is just announcing the score of the final skater from the previous group and people are cheering extra loudly because he’s Russian and he apparently just posted a personal best.

I take a deep breath and try to imagine all my anxiety moving to my lungs before I exhale.

You’ll be alright , I tell myself. Think about the Final, think about the Final .

“The skaters of Group 2 may now take the ice for their six-minute warm-up,” the lady announces.

We have to line up in our starting order, which means Baz is right behind me; I’m skating third and he’s skating fourth.

The moment I step on the ice, I notice my right skate doesn’t feel 100% stable. I test it out a bit and conclude that I probably didn’t tie it enough, which is a bit embarrassing; I’ve been skating for nine years, so at this point tying skates is something I could do with my eyes closed and it’s been a while since I under-tied. I feel my cheeks burn red as I kneel by the boards and retie it.

To make matters worse, I’m losing precious warm-up time. This is the only bit of ice time I’ll have before I have to compete my short program and I need to check all my jumps. I notice Baz sends me a worried glance.

Focus, you idiot , I think when I notice him looking at me. I double knot my laces and do half a lap around the rink, gaining speed before I do a quad salchow. I glance over at Baz, who’s no longer looking at me, but there’s a small smile playing on his face.

See, I’m fine .

I’m fine.

Not counting the incident with my laces, this might be one of the best six-minute warm-ups I’ve had in years. I don’t mess up a single jump and when we’re called off the ice, I’m almost sad to go. I’d love to skate my short program now, when I still have the confidence, but I’ll have to go backstage again and wait my turn.

“Good job, boys,” Ebb tells us once we’re behind the curtain again. “Simon, is your skate okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. I must’ve done a poor job tying it,” I say. I almost miss Baz calling me an idiot for this; instead, he just puts his earbuds in and walks away. 

I wish I knew what he was thinking.

 

BAZ

I’m so nervous for him.

What kind of an idiot doesn’t know how to tie his skates after nine years of skating?

 

SIMON

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain; Simon Snow!”

“You know what to do.” Ebb squeezes my hands.

“Have fun,” I nod. Qualify for the Final.

I take another deep breath and skate to my starting position. The cheers of the crowd are filling my ears. My knees feel weak.

I can’t do this .

No. I can. I can.

“Go, Snow!”

I smile. Only one person calls me Snow.

Baz is here.

I close my eyes and the music starts.

My first jumping pass, quad sal triple toe combination is one of the best ones I’ve done in competition and the triple axel is solid too, but something strange happens after I land it. I think my laces are coming undone again, even though I double-knotted them. They should be fine, but I feel that they’re not.

Oh god, please don’t let this happen now… I still have one more jump to go.

Come on. Focus. Focus .

It only gets worse after I land my quad toe, but I landed it. I landed it . I landed all my jumps. I only have to get through the step sequence now and two more spins.

I can push through that much, even if my laces don’t feel secure.

As soon as the music ends, I’m swallowed by the overwhelming feeling of relief. It’s over… I didn’t fall or fuck up despite something being wrong with my laces. (Maybe one of the lace hooks broke?)

“You did it!” Ebb pulls me into a hug as soon as I get off the ice. “That was beautiful! I’m so proud of you!” When she pulls away to give me my national jacket, I notice she’s a little teary eyed.

I smile, still trying to catch my breath. “Do you… do you think it’ll be enough?” (She and Baz calculated that I need to score over 95 if I want to overtake Huang in the free. I’m not sure I can do it, since I’ve never scored over 90 in my career, but I also never skated this well in my career.) (Maybe when I was a junior…)

“Definitely,” Ebb nods. “That was a joy to watch.”

I hope she’s right. I really hope she’s right.

I sit in the kiss and cry by myself because Ebb is with Baz. He’s on the ice, getting ready, and my attention alternates between watching him and watching the replays of my performance on the small screen. I’m so busy with it all, that I almost don’t notice that the camera is on me again, which means my score is about to be announced. Mere seconds later, the announcer speaks up.

“The short program score for Simon Snow is 98.73, a new season’s best, which puts him currently in 1 st place.”

I just stare at the screen, trying to comprehend my score, while the arena erupts in cheers. I’ve never scored over 90… and this is almost a hundred. This is ten points over my personal best.

It finally dawns on me and I start laughing with relief. I needed 95 and I got a 98.

I have a chance.

Fucking hell, I have a chance.

 

I’m still riding the adrenaline when we get to the hotel, but I can tell Ebb and Baz are exhausted. We’ve retreated to Ebb’s room to analyse our performances and make a plan for the free skate – which is the day after tomorrow. Ebb is yawning as we’re going through my scores and Baz plopped himself down on the bed as soon as we got here, and is now re-watching his short program with eyes heavy from exhaustion.

Baz did great – of course he did. He’s in first place right now, with 102 points and Huang is behind him with 101. I’m in third after the short program, but both Baz and Ebb predicted that this would happen, so I’m not too worried. I only need three points to beat Huang.

I try not to think about the fact that I’m four points behind Baz. I wonder if he’s thinking about it.

I hope he isn’t, because I don’t know what that would mean for us. I know we have to focus on the competition right now and I know this whole probation thing has only been going on for a week and a half, but I miss him so much. It’s weird, because we still spend most of our time together; we’re at practices together, we sit on the bus together, we eat together... but it’s not the same.

I hope he’ll still want to kiss me after this is all over, because I want to kiss him so badly my heart aches. I want to pull him into my arms and make sure he’s not stressed and sleeping enough and not over analyzing things like he usually is.

Baz’s eyes flicker up to meet mine and I realise I just sighed audibly. All my blood rushes to my cheeks and I look away.

“We should probably go to bed,” Ebb says, probably misinterpreting my sigh. “Practice tomorrow starts at eleven, so let’s meet for breakfast at… eight thirty? Does that sound good?”

Both Baz and I nod.

“Great. Now off to bed, both of you!”

 

Mine and Baz’s rooms are on a different floor to Ebb’s, so we walk down the stairs together. His hand bumps against mine and I almost take it, but stop myself at the very last minute. Despite the late hour, the hotel corridors are still relatively busy.

“You alright?” I ask. He hasn’t said anything since we left Ebb’s room and I’m starting to get worried.

 “I’m just thinking about my score. I should’ve scored higher. The lutz wasn’t as good as it could have been.”

“What are you talking about? You did amazingly!” I object.

“My score was the same as at Autumn Classic. I should’ve improved since then; and Micah scored 103 at IDF, so that means I don’t have the upper hand in the short program this season.”

Yet ,” I say. He’s acting like this isn’t only his third competition of the season. “You can still surpass him in the Final. And if you want to be the first one to break the 300 mark, that’s still doable in this competition, right?”

Baz smiles faintly. “It’s not impossible,” he agrees. We reach my room and Baz turns to me. “Are you alright?”

“Me? Yeah, I’m fine. A bit frustrated that I have to wait for the free skate. If I could, I’d skate it right now,” I shrug. For some reason, it makes Baz laugh.

“Where on earth do you get this energy from, Snow? The rest of us are wiped and you want to do your free skate. You’re a nightmare,” he shakes his head.

“Maybe I’m just plotting to use your tiredness to my advantage,” I say. Baz scoffs.

“You’re not capable of plotting.”

“Hey!” I jab him with my elbow and he starts laughing again. A giddy, tired laugh.

“We both know it to be true,” he says, then yawns.

“You should go to bed,” I say.

“You too, Snow. Get some rest. I’ll crush you at practice tomorrow,” He mumbles sleepily enough that it doesn’t come across as a threat.

I laugh. “I just need to re-lace my skates first, I think they've gone funny. Besides, you crush me at practice every day.” I expect Baz to laugh too, or look bloody pleased with himself, but he taps my foot with his.

“Give yourself some credit. You were amazing today,” he says. It makes my heart swell and before I can think about it, I reach for his hand and give it a squeeze.

“You were too.”

Baz smiles. “Goodnight, Snow.”

“Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: There’s always drama in Russia

Duct tape, a big crisis, and how to make random Russians drop on the floor at the sight of you. Where would the world be without Baz Pitch?

 

SIMON

Something’s wrong with my right skate. Yesterday, I thought it was just the laces, so I changed them back at the hotel room, but now, I can’t even lace my skate properly. I’ve taken it off and put it back on again twice already and it just doesn’t feel right.

I pull on the laces as hard as I can, but I still don’t feel the support that I should be feeling. I bend down to inspect the laces and that’s when I see a dent in my boot.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit.

I’ve been skating for long enough to know what that means. A dent means my boot is beginning to break down… and given that it definitely wasn’t there yesterday, it means it’s breaking faster than it should. My skates usually last me six months and I’ve had this pair for five, so they should be good until Christmas at least, but I guess the past few weeks of intense training must’ve taken a toll on them.

It’s okay. It’s not so bad. I’ll just put some duct tape around it. Duct tape fixes everything. I wrap a few layers of it around my ankle for extra reinforcement, and when I stand up, my skates feel almost normal. Almost.

I’ll search for a better solution once I get back to the hotel, but for now, I really need to get to the arena. Official practice starts in three minutes and everyone else is already there, waiting to get on the ice. I grab my water bottle and a roll of duct tape (in case I need a touch-up) and rush to the arena. Ebb and Baz are already there.

“Is everything okay?” Ebb asks, eyeing the black duct tape on my boots.

“My right skate’s a bit off but I think I fixed it,” I quickly explain, taking off my skate guards and handing them to her. The other guys are already lining up to go on the ice. Baz is looking at us with his eyebrows furrowed.

“Okay, we’ll take a look at it after practice. Go get in line,” she nudges me.

It feels almost normal when I step on the ice. The duct tape certainly worked miracles, but Ebb tells me to stay away from quads and triples until I’m sure my boot can take it. That’s the biggest problem; I land my jumps on the right leg, so if my skate doesn’t give me the support on the landing, I could be looking at a very serious injury – especially with quadruple jumps, where you land with the force equal to seven times your body weight.

Baz keeps glancing over at me and I give him a thumbs up. We don’t really talk during practices and I want him to focus on his own thing. He nods and looks away.

I do a few doubles and singles and the boot holds up well. With this information, and Ebb’s approval, I start doing triples – everything still looks and feels okay, even the triple axel.

“It’s alright, I think. Maybe I should try a quad,” I say the next time I stop by Ebb. She agrees that I should, but insists I be careful. I mean, the only way to know if my skates can handle quads is to actually try one, right? And I should’ve been focusing on my quad loop this training session anyway.

I gain some speed and do a quad loop, but the moment I land it, I know something’s definitely wrong. I throw myself back on the ice to get the weight off my right leg as soon as possible.

My ankle is okay… somehow. My boot, however, is definitely not . I do a few laps around the ice, just to be sure, but I already know it – my skate is well and truly broken.

I try not to panic as I skate up to Ebb.

“Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?” she asks, concern apparent in her voice.

“I’m fine. I fell on purpose. It—” my voice breaks. “It broke. I mean, fully broke.” Admitting it out loud makes me want to cry, but I won’t do it in an arena full of people. I take a deep breath to calm myself down. 

This is bad. Really bad. But I will not cry.

I will not.

“Shit,” Ebb says which doesn’t make me feel better because Ebb never curses.

“Yeah, so I think… I think I’ll just call it a day.” I grab my skate guards off the boards. There’s no way in hell I can finish a full practice session with my skate like this. I’ll just end up with a broken ankle.

“We’ll figure something out, okay? Don’t take your skate off, maybe we can fix it.”

I try to ignore the people staring at me as I get off the ice and leave the arena.

 

BAZ

I don’t know what happened. Snow fell, but it looked like an I’m-avoiding-disaster kind of fall, so I wasn’t too concerned. Sometimes, it’s worse to not fall, than to fall; and he’s taken much worse falls in practice and ended up being just fine, so I doubt he got injured.

But now he’s leaving the ice and I am concerned. Everyone in the arena seems to be concerned.

Did he get injured? A medic approaches him as he’s leaving the arena, but Snow shrugs him off, and he doesn’t seem to be limping. I skate up to Ebb. She looks just as concerned as I am.

“Is Simon okay?”

“His skate broke.”

“Fuck.” A broken skate is bad news. Really bad news. 

Maybe there’s a way to fix it, but it could seriously affect his chance of medalling at this competition. He’s either going to go out there on a skate that’s not 100%, or on new skates without having any adjustment period to break them in. 

That is, if he even manages to get new skates in the first place. I know Russia and I know most skating shops don’t carry all sizes of all models – often, you have to order your specific size from the manufacturer and wait for a few days for it to arrive.

Simon doesn’t have a few days. The free skate is tomorrow.

Ebb notices the panic on my face. “Freaking out won’t help him, Baz. Focus on your own practice now, and then, when it’s done, we’ll see what we can do.”

Simon’s free skate music plays, but he’s not here to do his run-through. The atmosphere in the arena has changed entirely and the audience is buzzing nervously. People are looking at me now as if I could tell them what’s going on. I try to keep my face neutral and not show that I’m dead worried on the inside.

I don’t know if it works.

 

When we get off the ice, Snow is sitting backstage, bouncing his leg nervously. He’s taken his left skate off, but his right one is still on, with duct tape wrapped around it.

“Alright, Snow?” I ask him. The other skaters are looking at him as they walk by and he doesn’t seem to properly register my question. It’s only when Ebb takes scissors and starts cutting the duct tape off that he snaps back to reality.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he says – not sounding fine. “How did practice go?”

“It was fine,” I lie, watching Ebb. She’s just pulled off all the duct tape and… his boot is well and truly fucked. Duct tape can’t fix that. How did he not know his boot is breaking? It’s usually a slow process, and it takes at least a month for it to get to that stage.

Although... I have had cases of my boot breaking down extremely fast too, especially when learning new jumps… and Snow’s been working extra hard on his quad loop this month, in order to have it ready for Rostelecom. Maybe that's why it broke so fast. 

Fuck this is all such a mess. What do you even do in this situation? 

We end up asking the security guard to call one of the people from the Edea stand in the expo area. Every competition has an area where different skating brands sell and advertise their products, and if anyone can help us now, it’s the people who are specialised in Simon’s skate brand.

The security guard brings back a woman in her thirties with her hair pulled up in a tight bun. “What seems to be the problem?” she asks in Russian. Both Snow and Ebb turn to me.

“His boot broke,” I say. The lady kneels down to examine his boot and we all hold our breath.

“There’s nothing to do here,” she confirms a few minutes later. “He’ll have to buy new ones.”

“What did she say?” Simon asks.

“You’ll have to buy new ones,” I translate, my heart breaking a little bit. 

Simon slumps back in his chair, biting his lip. I know exactly what he’s thinking; even if we get new skates on such a short notice, he’d still probably need some time for them to start feeling like his skates. I don’t know how long the break-in period is for Snow, but for me, new skates take at least a week to get used to.

“Can you call the dealerships in Moscow and check if anyone has his size available?” I ask the Russian lady. She nods.

“What’s his size?”

“What size do you have?” I turn to Snow.

“275,” he says sheepishly. I translate the answer to the Edea saleswoman.

“Okay, 275, Piano model, black, right?” she checks with me as she types in the information into her phone. “I’ll go check that now and I’ll get back to you.”

“Thank you,” I nod.

“What did she say?” Snow demands again.

“She’s checking the dealerships to see if they have your size in Moscow. If they do, then she’ll probably ask to put them aside for you and we’ll drive to that location.”

“We?” Simon asks. I shoot him a look. Does this idiot seriously think I’m not coming with him?

“Yes, we,” I say coldly. “I’m coming with you.”

“Baz—” he starts but I cut him off.

“I’m the only one here who can speak Russian. It’s going to be easier and faster for all of us if I come with you,” I say. Ebb nods.

“If we do manage to get you new boots, you’ll still need to get your blades mounted and adjusted. Baz probably knows where to get that done in Moscow,” she says.

“I do. I’ll call the guy who mounted and sharpened my blades when I still lived here,” I nod, pulling out my phone.

“Wait, we don’t even know if there are any skates in Moscow my size. What do we do if there aren’t any?” Simon asks, panic rising in his voice. I look at Ebb. She’s biting her lip.

“We can check a different model. Edea Ice Fly is also suitable for quads. Or we can check a different brand… Baz, you have Risport, right?”

“Risport is good,” I nod, but we all know it’s not that easy. Even with the same model, there’s still the issue of the adjustment period. With a different model or even a different brand, it would take even longer to adjust. The truth is, if Simon can’t get new skates that are the same as his own… well, then he has no choice but to withdraw from the competition.

 

SIMON

My heart starts pounding faster when the Edea lady comes back, but she’s smiling. She starts telling something to Baz in Russian and he starts smiling too.

“She found a shop that has your size,” Baz quickly translates. I jump to my feet.

“Oh my god, thank you so much! Spasiba!” I quickly begin thanking her. The lady laughs.

“You’re welcome,” she says in a thick accent. We all thank her profusely and she gives Baz the shop information which he writes down in his phone. “Good luck with your competition,” she tells us right before she leaves.

 

Baz calls a cab to take us to the skating shop and we all hunch together in the backseat, which I’m not a fan of. I normally feel a bit ill if I sit in the back, even when I’m not a nervous wreck and a witness to Russian driving. Baz says it’s ridiculous that I can do spins with more than twenty revolutions without a problem, but cars are an issue for me. (I think the problem is that when I spin, I’m in control of my movement and when I’m in a car, I’m not.) (Especially if that car is currently swerving through the streets of Moscow.)

Baz spends the whole ride talking in Russian over the phone. If things weren’t going so catastrophically badly, I might even be enjoying myself right now; I love it when he speaks Russian.

“Okay,” he starts as we exit the cab. (Oh, sweet freedom! No more Russian traffic!) “I talked to Kostya and—”

“Who’s Kostya?” I interrupt him. He shoots me a look and rolls his eyes when he sees my face. (What’s wrong with my face? I just want to know who this Kostya guy is.) 

“The skate sharpening guy. He’s agreed to mount your blades as soon as we get there and then apparently there’s a rink nearby so that you can go and test out your skates,” he says. “I also called them and they have a public session right now, so it might be a bit crowded, but they said they’ll put up cones so that you have your space.”

I could kiss him right now. If Ebb wasn’t here. And if we weren’t in one of the most homophobic countries in Europe.

“That’s great,” Ebb smiles. “Thank you so much, Baz.”

The urgency of the situation meant we couldn’t contact the federation about it. Usually they’d cover my equipment costs, but now I have to pay for my new skates out of my own pocket. They end up costing me nearly five hundred pounds and I still have to pay for Kostya to detach my blades from my old skates and mount them on my new ones.

 

Getting new skates is a whole process. You don’t just buy a boot, slap some blades on it and then you’re good to go, no – the blades have to be adjusted just right, and the only way you know they’re adjusted right is to step on the ice and test them.

That is why we’re now at some random public rink in Moscow, testing my blades. It sounds almost like the beginning of a joke; a world silver medallist, a two-time junior world champion and an Olympic legend walk into a rink in Russia, where everyone is obsessed with figure skating.

Maybe one day I’ll laugh about it. I mean, people’s jaws are actually dropping on the floor. Actual people are dropping on the floor (well, the ice) because they’re too busy staring at us to be focused on staying on their feet. I pray they don’t start asking for autographs or pictures because we’ll be here all day.

At least my new skates feel good. Well, they feel like new skates – hard and uncomfortable and alien – but they feel more secure than my broken ones. I have to do a bunch of jumps to test them out, which is really hard in a public rink. There are loose hockey children everywhere, and it’s a miracle I don’t knock one over.

Ebb also gives me a bunch of footwork exercises to help break in my new boots as much as possible in such a short time.

By the time we’re done, it’s already dark outside and I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. I also haven’t eaten anything since breakfast and I’m starving. Baz buys me a protein bar from the vending machine in the rink lobby while Ebb calls us a taxi to take us back to the hotel. 

We all huddle into the back and I try not to think about how my chances at a medal have practically gone down the drain; and with that, my chances of qualifying for the Final. I haven’t been able to do any quads or even triple axels in my new skates yet, because doing them at a public rink would be too dangerous. I’ll only be able to properly test them out tomorrow at official practice, which is only a few hours before the competition.

I’m usually able to do quads even on the first day of having new skates, but they’re not good. If I do land them tomorrow, they’ll probably get negative grades of execution and I’d have to be foot perfect to get ahead of Huang.

I sigh and lean my head against the car window.

I’m truly fucked, aren’t I?

 

BAZ

I stay with Snow after dinner and we try every possible trick in the book to break in his new skates. He’s currently walking up and down the hotel corridor, wearing wet socks because that will help the inside of his skates mould to his foot and prevent blisters. I’m lying on one of the wide window sills and pretending I’m image training because Snow wouldn’t let me be here if I was just “wasting my time” and “not preparing”.

I’m too stressed to properly focus on image training, though. I don’t understand how Simon (of all people) is so calm. Both Ebb and I have been visibly freaking out the whole day, but he calmed down the moment he got those new skates in his hands.

Maybe he’s gone into one of those stress reactions where he completely detaches himself from the situation.

Or maybe I’m reading him wrong and the equipment change doesn’t faze him at all. He could be one of those people that gets used to new skates in a matter of hours. (Maybe it’s an extension of his quick learning abilities.)

I’m still extremely worried about him, though. Not just because this might hold him back from qualifying for the Final, but because, if he does badly here, it could tank his confidence all over again. He’s been doing so well…

And it’s selfish of me to think, but I’m worried about us, as well. We said we’d wait and see how this competition affects us, but I don’t think either of us anticipated this . And now I’m definitely nervous and I have no idea what it means for tomorrow’s competition.

I close my eyes and try to shake some of my anxiety away, to no avail. A hand drops on my shoulder. Simon’s hand.

I pull my earbud out.

“It’s getting late,” he says, looking at me with concern in his eyes. “We should go to bed.”

I sit up and take my time wrapping my earphone cords around my phone in an attempt to mask my hands shaking. Christ, Baz, calm down . It’s not even my damn equipment that’s broken.

“Are they feeling any better?” I ask, nodding at his skates.

“Much. Wet socks always do the trick.”

That makes me crack a smile and Simon smiles as well. “Come on,” he nudges me. “We have to get up at half past seven tomorrow.”

Yeah, I probably won’t be sleeping at all if I’m being honest. I walk Simon to his room and I can’t think of a single thing to say that doesn’t sound like bullshit advice. Get some rest? Try not to worry? I love you? I want to hug him most of all, but I don’t know if I should.

I lean on the doorframe and pray he doesn’t notice how nervous I am. I swallow the lump in my throat.

“Right,” I begin, but he grabs my hand and tugs me closer.

“Come here,” he says softly and it’s probably not a good idea, but I let him pull me into his room nevertheless. I couldn’t say no even if I wanted to. (And I never want to say no to him.)

I don’t know what I expected to happen next, but it certainly wasn’t Simon’s lips pressing against mine as soon as the door closes behind us. Somehow, I’m not complaining, even though it’s probably a really bad idea to be doing this before a competition.

But Simon’s just pushed his hands under my jumper and I really couldn’t care less about the damned competition at the moment. His mouth is a very efficient distraction from everything, and I let myself get lost in his kisses.

It’s so good. He’s so good and I love him so much. I don’t know if it’s just the stress of today or the fact that we haven’t kissed since we left Canada, but I suddenly feel so overwhelmed with emotions I could cry.

I decide that if I’m going to cry, I’m going to do it in the privacy of my bed.

Which reminds me that we have a competition tomorrow and if I want Simon to get enough sleep, I should probably put an end to this soon, as much as it pains me to do so.

“Simon,” I mutter against his lips.

“Hm?”

“You do realise we’ll be competing against each other tomorrow?” I say in between kisses.

“Yes.”

“So you probably shouldn’t be snogging your rival.”

“This is my tactic for bringing you down,” he says. That actually elicits a laugh from me and I have to pull away.

“Your tactic for bringing me down should be at least eight hours of sleep,” I object. “Seriously, where is this coming from?” I pull back to look at him properly. He starts biting his lip.

“I just… if it wasn’t for you, I’d probably have to withdraw,” he says, looking more at my shoulder than at my face.

“I didn’t find you a new pair of skates, Snow.”

“No, but you arranged so many things that would’ve taken me and Ebb three times longer if we were on our own,” he objects.

“That’s just because we happen to be in Moscow. If we were anywhere else, I’d be of absolutely no use.”

Simon sighs. “What I’m trying to say is thank you.”

I feel a bit of blood rise to my cheeks and I let my hand reach out to caress one of his. He leans into my touch. “You’d do the same for me,” I say, observing him. He looks tired and a bit sad, but still so beautiful. If I could, I’d hold him in my arms and never let him go; but unfortunately, I don’t think we can really do that right now. I let my thumb stroke his cheek, though. I’ll allow myself this much.

“You should go to bed,” I whisper.

“You too.”

I lean forward and press a kiss to his cheek. “Goodnight, Simon.”

 

Falling asleep proves to be even more difficult than I anticipated, even if I did let myself cry before bed. I still can’t stop worrying about Simon, even though I know it won’t do either of us any good if I worry.

I toss and turn in my bed, trying to calm myself down, but to no avail.

Then my phone lights up with a text message.

SS: r u awake?

I sigh. Why is Simon still awake? I swear to god I’m going to march over to his room and make him some chamomile tea and glare at him until he falls asleep.

I realise he’s probably awake for the same reasons as I am. Maybe his anxiety is finally catching up with him.

BP: Yes

I watch the ‘message seen’ marker appear under my text and mere seconds later, there’s a knock on my door. I bolt out of bed. Of course, Simon Snow is standing at my doorway, wearing his pyjamas and looking nervous. His hair is tousled, like he’s been tossing and turning.

“I can’t sleep,” he says sheepishly.

“I noticed.”

“Can I… sleep here?”

So many thoughts are going through my head. Yes, Simon, you can sleep here. Please sleep here. Please let me hold you in my arms and never let you go. But no, we have a competition tomorrow. We can’t afford distractions, even if we already have a whole mountain of them.

I suppose I can lie awake and worry about him whether he’s in my arms or not. If it helps him sleep, he’s more than welcome here. I step aside to let him in and he breathes out a sigh of relief.

“Nerves?” I ask as he makes himself comfortable in my bed. It’s queen sized, so I’m keeping my distance as I crawl in, not sure if he wants me to hold him or not.

“Mhm. You too?”

“Yeah,” I nod and turn off the light.

“Baz?”

“Yes?”

“Come here.”

His arm reaches out towards me and pulls me closer, until my head is resting in the crook of his neck. He wraps both of his arms around me and I can feel his legs intertwining with mine.

“This works,” he mumbles softly, making my heart melt. I don’t say anything, just snake my arm around his waist. One of Simon’s hands comes up to brush through my hair and this gesture almost makes me start crying again.

He knows playing with my hair makes me sleepy. He’s trying to get me to sleep.

Fucking hell, I love this boy so much. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 27: Rocket man

Nerves, quads, tears and ice packs. Simon Snow won’t go down without a fight. Maybe Baz should realize not everyone knows what pryaniki are.

 

SIMON

I stare at the blank piece of paper in front of me. We’re supposed to fill out our planned program content and give it to the judges, so they have a reference of what to expect, but after the official practice this morning, I truly don’t know what to do.

I mean, my jumps are there, for most part, but they’re stiff and uncomfortable. I only landed the quad loop once during the whole practice session and that wasn’t for the lack of trying – it’s just so hard with new skates.

My run-through was a mess. I trained to have four quads in my free skate in order to beat Huang but I only managed to land two of them when I ran my program to the music.

Ebb notices my struggle and sits down next to me. “Simon, you’re not going to like what I’m about to tell you but I think you should tone down your program,” she tells me.

She’s right, I don’t like this idea.

“I won’t be able to qualify for the Final if I water it down,” I say. I expect Ebb to object, to say there’s still a chance if Huang makes a mistake, even though we all know Huang doesn’t really make mistakes. Much to my surprise, however, Ebb agrees with me.

“I know,” she sighs sadly. “But there are things more important than the Final. If you go through with this now, you could be risking an injury. You still have all this training in the bag and it won’t go away, so I think it’s better to pull back now and then you can do the four quads layout at the European Championships or Worlds, yeah?”

I don’t know what to say. She’s right (I know she is), but I really want to do it here. I don’t want to just give up , not when I’m so close to my goal. I sigh and bite my lip.

But Ebb is right. I’ve been injured enough in my career and with the way this situation is going, I don’t think I’ll be able to do four quads anyway. It’s safer to do a three quads layout and aim for third place, because that might still give me some chance to qualify for the Final. (There’s still the NHK Trophy next week and if either Eric or Kirill do badly there, it could give me a chance at qualifying. It’s a slim chance but a chance nevertheless.)

I take a deep breath.

“I guess my safest bet then is to go back to my Skate America layout?” I suggest. “And maybe if the loop feels good in the six-minute warm-up, I can do that as the first jump? And if I do triple axel-triple toe and triple flip in the second half, that would give me a few extra points.” (I’m suddenly thankful for Baz forcing me to analyse my score on the flight here.)

Ebb nods. “I think that’s the best idea, yes. I’ll write that down and you go change and I’ll meet you by the bus.”

I nod, ignoring the heavy feeling in my stomach as I rise from the table and head to the changing rooms.

Baz is already in the changing room, packing up his bag. Unlike me, he had no trouble writing down his layout (four quads, one of them the lutz – I’ll be damned if he doesn’t win this) and I’m pretty sure the only reason he’s not on the bus yet is because he’s waiting for me.

“What’s the conclusion?” he asks.

“Skate America layout but I’m switching out some jumps in the second half. And if the quad loop works in the warm-up, then I’m putting it in,” I say, untying my skates. Our submitted planned program contents will be made public shortly, so there’s no point in trying to hide it. (Not that I would – not from him anyway.)

“That sounds reasonable,” Baz nods, biting his lip. I can practically see the cogs turning in his head and I want him to stop overthinking this.

“Baz, can you please try not to be worried about me? I’ll manage,” I say. He sighs.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, just… focus on yourself, okay? You have to win this,” I tell him. Baz has had troubles with his triple axel in practice and I know it’s only because he isn’t fully focused. 

“And you have to be second,” he says even though we both know how slim my chances of that actually are.

 

Our competition starts later in the evening, so we return back to the hotel for the time being. Baz doesn’t stop by my room this time and I don’t ask him to; I want to give him space to focus on the competition ahead.

But being alone in my room gets me thinking.

I realise I’m playing it safe. I really want to qualify for the Final and the only way I can assure that this will happen is if I’m second.

The only way I can be second is if I beat Huang, and the only way I can beat Huang is if I do four quads.

So really, I have almost nothing to lose. If I do three quads, I won’t beat him and if I attempt four quads and fail, I won’t beat him either.

Right before we head back to the arena, I make a decision.

I’m going to do four quads.

 

BAZ

I’m the second person to skate in the final group, which means I don’t have much to do backstage other than try to get my brain into game mode – which is plain impossible in the current situation.

I could hardly focus during the six-minute warm-up because I was so worried about Simon. My triple axel still isn’t working – I only landed one attempt during the warm-up. If I don’t get my shit together in the next five minutes, I could end up losing the podium – and losing my Grand Prix Final ticket with it.

Ebb is with me, making sure nobody bothers me while I try to get my brain into at least semi-functional state. We go into the arena when the Korean skater is about halfway through his program and the sight of the crowd is enough to send a rush of adrenaline down my body. I take another deep breath and try to shake my nerves out.

 

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain; Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch!” The crowd cheers as my name is announced. I can hear a chorus of ‘Basil davai!’ all around me and it instantly makes me feel better.

This is Russia. I know this arena as well as my home rink. And I promised myself I’d do Rudolf Nureyev justice while performing here. When I take my starting position, I’m somehow able to let go of everything else. I know Simon is backstage, getting ready to skate in brand new boots and I know my axel isn’t anywhere near where I want it to be today and I know I have to be on the podium if I want to qualify for the Final.

But right now, I’m here to skate well. That’s my job and it’s the only thing I can do. I take a deep breath.

The music starts.

It’s not perfect. One of my axels is shaky and I step out of my quad toe landing, but those are minor mistakes. They shouldn’t cost me the podium. And I’ve managed to get the crowd on its feet, which is truly the greatest compliment a skater can receive. They’re still clapping as I settle in the kiss and cry. (Alone. Ebb and I only exchanged a few quick words before she rushed backstage to help Simon prepare for his performance.)

“The free program score for Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch is… 195.44, a new season’s best. His total score is 298.04, which puts him currently in first place.”

Okay, that’s good, really good. 298.04 is a new personal best for me and just two points under 300… Maybe if I push a little harder, I can break that barrier at the Final. (There are still four more skaters to go, but this result will surely keep me in the medal position, which is all that I need, really.)

I can’t really bring myself to be that happy about my score, though, because my brain immediately returns to worrying about Simon and doesn’t stop. I head backstage, where I’m swarmed by press, but they let me through fairly quickly because there’ll be a conference press for the medallists later. I couldn’t really focus on their questions anyway, because my mind is preoccupied with thinking of ways I can watch Simon’s performance. There’s got to be a livestream set up somewhere around here, right?

There is a livestream in the changing room and my throat tightens when I see it. The Russian skater who went on the ice after me is just finishing up, which means only one more skater to go and then it’s Simon’s turn.

I settle down on one of the benches and untie my skates, just so that I have something to do with my shaky hands.

Neither the Russian nor the Italian surpass my score, which means I’m still in  first place. There are only Simon and Huang left to go and whatever their score is, I’ll still be on the podium. It’s official now – I’m going to the Final.

Of course I’m ecstatic for that – I’ve worked so hard and it’s fantastic to see all my hard work paying off – and some skaters in the room congratulate me, but I couldn’t care less for celebrating right now because the camera just switched over to Simon standing by the boards, talking to Ebb. She’s telling him something, but his eyes are glazed over, like he’s not properly hearing her.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. He’s nervous.

Of course he’s fucking nervous. I would be too, if I was in his situation.

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain; Simon Snow!”

My own heart is racing as I watch him skate to the centre and do two single loops, checking his take-off one last time before taking his starting position. Fuck. Is he going to try the quad loop after all?

It makes sense, scoring wise, to at least attempt a loop, but he’s never done it in a competition before and he fell on all of his attempts in the warm-up.

The camera zooms on his face as he takes his starting position and he has this look in his eyes that I usually only see from him in practice after I piss him off and he wants to prove me wrong. Determination.

Simon Snow isn’t going down without a fight.

The music starts and I hold my breath as he does the entry steps to his first quad. Fuck, he is going for the loop. Come on, come on…

“Yes!” I half shout when he lands it. I’m not the only one; his quad loop elicits many impressed woah -s from around the changing room.

He lands his quad sal and his quad toe triple toe combination as well and I can feel myself breathe a little easier again. Whatever happens next, at least he’s done with his quads. His step sequence is actually beautiful. I can tell he’s in the zone – and when Simon is in the zone, he’s a force to be reckoned with.

He lands his triple axel sequence as well, but I notice his steps change after the jumping pass. He’s doing the entry steps for the toe, when his next jump should be the triple loop. He’s also racing down the rink with more speed than what is required for a triple jump. My heart rate quickens as the realisation dawns on me. He’s going for another quad.

It feels like the world momentarily stops for that split second that he’s in the air… but then he lands it. He lands it .

He’s an absolute fucking menace. I can’t believe he added another quad to his program. When this is all over, I’m going to sue him because that fourth quad just took five years off my lifespan. He’s actually going to be the end of me.

He only has two more jumps to go now, the triple lutz and the triple axel-double loop combination. He does his lutz just fine. (More than just fine. I know the lutz isn’t Snow’s favourite jump, but fuck is he good at it.)

I notice the whole room is now watching the livestream and I feel a small spark of pride in my chest. It’s soon replaced by anxiety, though, as he sets up for his last jumping pass.

Come on , I think. Triple axel… triple loop!

“Holy shit!” someone exclaims.

I think he’s actually rendered me speechless. He’s done it. He’s fucking done it . Whatever Huang does next, Simon is surely going to get enough points to surpass him. Fuck, he might even win.

Not only has he pulled through, he fucking delivered. The crowd rises to their feet as soon as his music stops and Simon collapses on the ice, gasping for air. His cheeks are flushed red and I can see the thin sheen of sweat on his face even through the TV camera.

I can’t really pinpoint all the emotions swimming in my chest right now, but pride is a big one. And relief. And a tiny pinch of anxiety in case what he did wasn’t enough. (It should be more than enough. I just hope the judges go with him on the artistry.) (They have to go with him on the artistry score. He was fucking brilliant.)

Simon seems absolutely knackered as he leaves the ice and I don’t blame him. He must be exhausted. His legs must be killing him.

The other skaters start chatting amongst themselves as the TV shows the replays of his performance.

“Did you know he was planning to do a quad loop?” the Russian skater, Petyr, turns to me.

I shake my head. “He trained for it, but he had problems with his skates, so I thought he was going to leave it out,” I say.

“He might beat you,” someone else chimes in.

I nod my head in agreement; that thought has crossed my mind as soon as he was done with his performance.  “Good,” I say. “He was better.”

“And did you see that triple axel-triple loop at the end?” Petyr turns to the skater who just suggested Simon might beat me. “I don’t even dare do that in practice!”

I don’t quite understand why Simon did that. Triple axel-triple loop is a killer combination, one that even he struggles with a lot in practice. He would’ve gotten enough points if he stuck to the triple axel-double loop or triple axel-triple toe, like he had planned. Adding another rotation to his loop was risky as hell, but it looks like it’s going to pay off.

The camera pans over to Simon and Ebb in the kiss and cry (Ebb is crying) and my heart starts beating faster again. The whole room quietens down.

“The free program score for Simon Snow is 200.07, a new season’s best. His total score is—”

I don’t hear his total score, because the room erupts in loud chatter as soon his free program score is announced – and justifiably so.

Nobody has ever gone over 200 points in the free skate before.

Which means Simon just broke the world record.

 

SIMON

I don’t know what’s going on. My legs feel half dead. My heart is still pounding and my mind is buzzing. The screen in front of me is showing my free skate score and I think it must be a mistake because it says 200.07.

But everyone is screaming and Ebb starts hugging me and she’s crying and I think maybe I’m not dreaming. Maybe this is really happening.

The screen switches over to show the total score leader-board now and my name is right on top with 298.80. Baz’s name is underneath mine with 298.04.

No, this must be a mistake. I don’t score higher than Baz. I don’t break world records. I don’t—

Apparently, I just did.

I don’t know how I get through the mixed zone. I don’t know how I can even walk . My legs are just a mixture of pain and jelly at this point and I’m still out of breath. I don’t even get to the changing room because Baz is already waiting outside and he pulls me in a bone crushing hug.

“Holy shit, Snow, you didn’t have to go that hard ,” he mutters into my shoulder. I slump against him and a part of my brain wonders if he’s thinking this through. There are people watching… but he lets go of me before I have the chance to be properly worried about it. 

He pulls back to look at my face. “Are you crying?” he frowns. I touch my hand to my cheek and it comes back wet. I shrug. It’s either sweat or tears. Probably a little bit of both.

Once I get to the changing room, the other skaters start congratulating me as well.

“I’m so dead,” I sigh, collapsing on one of the benches. Baz laughs.

“Yeah, I imagine so. Are you alright?”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t have any blood flow left to my feet anymore,” I say, making an effort to push myself in a sitting position and start untying my skates. The pain in my feet immediately gets ten times better, but it’s still a lot.

“Do you want me to get you some ice?” Baz asks softly, so only I can hear him. His hand is on my back. Part of me wonders if we look suspicious, but I’m too wiped out to care – and I know Baz wouldn’t do anything obvious. Besides, this is figure skating; everyone’s super touchy-feely with each other, even when they’re not secretly snogging.

“Nah, it’s fine.” I lean back and take a much-needed sip of water. “How did Huang do?” I missed most of his free skate because I was in the mixed zone and he’s just finishing up now.

“Snow, you just broke the world record. You’re not seriously worried about how he did, are you?” Baz asks.

“I mean you never know what might happen,” I shrug. Baz scoffs. 

“You’re an idiot, Snow. You’re going to win this one.”

“Basil went outside to wait for you, but Huang had one step-out. You are going to win this one,” the Russian skater (Petyr?) cuts in.

“Told you,” Baz says.

Huang’s score is announced a few moments later: 294.33, which puts him in third place.

It’s official. I’ve won.

I don’t even know how to process it, and I don’t have time to because everyone in the room starts congratulating me and Baz again and Ebb pulls us into a tearful hug and keeps telling us that she’s proud of us.

Mostly, I think I just feel weird. I haven’t won a competition in so long; and I’ve never beaten Baz, not even when we were juniors. It’s just… well I don’t quite believe it.

I wonder if he’s going to hold that against me. Baz says he’s not competitive, but he is, and I’ve beaten him in Russia, which is basically his second home.

I don’t have the time to talk to him, though, because I’m whisked off back to the arena for the winner’s interview while they set up the rink for the medal ceremony. My head is still buzzing.  

It doesn’t stop buzzing all throughout my interview (which I think I did tremendously bad at, but I can’t be arsed to think about that right now) and while I’m looking for Baz in the now dimly lit arena. I finally find him standing by the boards and I approach him.

“Are you mad because I beat you?” I ask. Baz’s head snaps up – he must have not seen me coming.

“What? No! Why would you think that?” He sounds mildly horrified. I shrug.

“I don’t know. You like to win.”

“Simon. You just went out there on brand new skates and somehow managed to break the world record. I can’t think of anybody else in this arena more deserving of gold than you. And we’ve been through this; if anybody beats me, I can only be mad at myself for not doing better.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want you to be mad at yourself either,” I mutter. Baz sighs. 

“I broke my personal best total score today,” he says. I open my mouth to congratulate him, but he keeps talking. “I did well, you did better. I’m not angry about anything. Now shut up, okay? I’m proud of you.” He slings his arm across my shoulder and pulls me closer for a brief second. “Although, if you must know, I’ve already started plotting to obliterate you at the Final,” he adds jokingly.

“I’m going to the Final!” It’s suddenly very hard not to smile – I think I’m just realising it now. Baz smiles too and his eyes are soft.

“You most certainly are.”

 

By the time we get back to the hotel, it’s already so late that they’ve stopped serving dinner. I’m absolutely starving and if my legs weren’t so dead, I’d probably set out on the streets of Moscow to find some food.

Maybe I’ll order room service after I’m allowed to move again. Ebb came into my room earlier with an actual bucketful of ice packs because I told her everything hurts and now I’m practically covered in them.

Well, she didn’t come in just because of the ice packs. She also came to say goodbye, because she’s leaving for Japan first thing in the morning to help Ikumi prepare for the NHK trophy and she forbade me to get up early enough to say goodbye to her.

She left about ten minutes ago though, presumably to say goodbye to Baz too. I don’t know where Baz has gone, but I’ve given him my hotel room key, so he can stop by later, if he wants to.

I wince as I force myself into a sitting position and decide that since I have nothing better to do, I might as well call my mum. I still haven’t told either her or Penny about my skates breaking, because I didn’t want them to worry  – although by now, they’ve probably found out from the press conference. (I know Penny always watches the press conference.)  

Mum picks up after two rings and she keeps telling me how proud of me she is. It almost makes me cry all over again.

About ten minutes into the phone call, I hear the door of my hotel room open and moments later, Baz walks in, holding a plastic bag and a cardboard box.

“Is that food?” I mouth at him. Baz furrows his eyebrows and raises the bag.

“Food,” he mouths back. I beam at him before returning my attention back to what my mum is saying. Baz plops himself next to me on the bed and gingerly steals one of my ice packs, pressing it to his knee. I observe him out of the corner of my eye.

He looks exhausted and when he leans on my shoulder, his hair is cold and wet against my cheek.

“Oh, by the way, mum, Baz says hi,” I say into the phone. Baz looks up and raises his eyebrows at me.

“Hi, Mrs Salisbury,” he says, speaking loudly enough for my mum to hear him. I put her on speakerphone.

“Oh, hi, Basil! What are you doing here? Congratulations on the medal!”

“Thank you,” Baz smiles. “I just brought Simon some food.”

“Ah, you’re so nice. Well, I’m going to let you boys eat then, so your food doesn’t go cold. Simon, you’ll call me tomorrow, right?”

“Yes, I will,” I nod.

“Great. Love you!”

“Love you too!” I say into the phone and hang up. Baz watches me.

“It’s kind of cute when you talk to your mum,” he says.

“Shut up,” I nudge him, feeling blood rise to my cheeks. “Your hair is wet,” I observe, reaching out to touch it.

“I was outside,” he says.

“Oh? Is it raining?”

Baz makes a face, strands of hair curling against his jaw. “Worse. It’s snowing.”

“How is that worse? You know what, actually, never mind.” I’m already familiar enough with Baz’s hatred for the weather. He could probably go on and on about how evil and vile snowflakes are. Yes, he let me kiss him in the snow last week, but then he spent the whole evening complaining about how cold he was. (Maybe he just wanted me to cuddle him.) (I would have, even if he wasn’t being an annoying git about it.)

“You said you brought food?” I change the subject. (The growling in my stomach is forcing me to change the subject.) Baz raises his eyebrow in amusement, as if he can tell exactly how hungry I am.

“Yes, I bought some sandwiches and then Gelya gave me some pryaniki,” he says.

“I don’t know what that means.” I grin at him.

“It’s a type of biscuit. Kind of like gingerbread. I think you’ll like it.”

I smile and lean over to press a kiss on his cheek. “Of course I’ll like it, it’s biscuits.”

Baz smiles at his knees and I can see his cheeks turning pink. “Of course you will.”

 

We end up lying in my bed with my head on Baz’s shoulder, just like we did last night; and neither of us is saying it, but I think things are moving somewhere.

I mean, we just had a competition and it didn’t end with either of us having a nervous breakdown or wanting to kill each other, like Baz was afraid it would. I beat him and he still wants to kiss me. He still did kiss me, a lot.

And I feel like maybe we should revisit the topic of our relationship, but I think Baz is already half asleep and he had a headache earlier (bad enough that a massage didn’t help) and I just don’t want to bother him right now. We’ll have plenty of time for talking on our way back to Canada in two days’ time.

For now, I decide to just enjoy his warmth pressed against me and his even breathing and the slow circles he’s sleepily rubbing into my shoulder blade.

“Simon?” he mutters then, turning his head to look at me.

“Hm?”

“I have a proposition.”  

“Mhm?” I hum, reaching up to stroke his hair. His eyes close in appreciation and he looks so sleepy I can’t resist pressing a soft kiss to his lips. He smiles.

“Let me say it, you nightmare.”

“Yeah, I’m listening.”

“Our flight isn’t until Monday evening. I was thinking we could go see a bit of Moscow before we leave. You know, I could show you. If you’d want to, of course.”

I grin. “I’d love to.”

Baz smiles sleepily and closes his eyes. “Brilliant. Make it a date?”

I press a kiss to his jawline. “It’s a date.” 

 


@figure_skating_daily: ROSTELECOM CUP MEN’S RESULTS

1st: Simon Snow (@simonsnowsk8er), GBR – 298.80 – HOLY SHIT! I’m speechless! I’m sure nobody was expecting THIS after what happened at yesterday’s practice! He said he had equipment problems and wasn’t sure he’d be able to skate his best, but that he really wanted to qualify for the Final. Well, Simon, I’m looking forward to seeing you in your first ever senior GPF!

2nd: Baz Pitch (@the_baz_pitch), GBR – 298.04 – yesss the 4Lz behaved this competition! Ugh, what is it with British men being absolutely amazing this season? I wouldn’t be surprised to see these two together on the podium again at the GPF. Now brb, I’ll be rewatching the Nureyev program and crying at the beauty of his jumps

3rd: Huang Li (@huang.li149), CHN – 294.33 – clean, consistent, snatched, just what we love to see from our favourite meme king. Shame about that 4T+2T combination but his programs are so entertaining this season. It must be so exciting for him that the GPF will be held in his home country this year! And it’s so exciting for us to see the entire Rostelecom cup podium competing at the Final! Gosh, this was such a good competition :’)

Chapter Text

Chapter 28: The bells of Moscow

The aftermath of breaking a world record, gala exhibitions and first dates in Moscow. Somehow, Hozier is here. Again.

 

SIMON

I can’t remember the last time I slept so well. When I wake up, Baz is already awake, his eyes studying me carefully.

“You don’t get to watch me sleep just because we’re snogging,” I mutter, pulling myself closer to him. A sharp pain shoots through my shoulder as I do so, making me groan. Well, that can’t be good.

“You were drooling on the pillow. It was mildly disgusting,” Baz says, his arms tightening around me. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, just sore. I suppose I slightly overdid it yesterday,” I mumble, making Baz laugh.

“You think?”

“Shut up,” I curl myself into him. He presses a kiss on the top of my head. “How long until we have to leave?” The longer I’m awake, the more my body is starting to feel like it’s made of lactic acid and the thought of spending the whole day at gala practice fills me with dread. I just want to stay in bed and never move again. (Especially if Baz stays here too.)

“We still have some time. Your alarm hasn’t even gone off yet,” Baz mutters into my hair. “Are you really that sore?”

“I’ll answer that question once I start moving properly. I think maybe my shoulder hurts, but I’m not looking to find that out just yet,” I say while pressing kisses to Baz’s cheek and jawline. I expected that that’d make Baz go all soft and start kissing me, morning breath be damned, but instead, he untangles himself from me and sits up. I groan at the sudden loss of warmth.

“Sit up,” he tells me. I send him a glare but do as he says, wincing as I force my body into a sitting position. Baz gives me a concerned look.

“I’m fine,” I insist – although I’m now noticing that I can’t really lean my weight on my right arm. That’s alright; God gave me two arms for a reason. Baz doesn’t seem to think so, though, because his gaze grows even more concerned.

“Snow…”

“I probably just pulled a muscle. I have some muscle rub in my backpack, I’ll put it on later. And it’s probably going to get better once I warm up and get moving,” I remind him. I’d much prefer to not pay attention to this now and return to cuddling. However, it's already too late for that because Baz is getting out of bed.

“Which compartment?” he asks.

“What?”

“Where do you have the muscle rub?”

“Oh. The middle one.”

He starts rummaging through my backpack and soon produces a large, blue tub. He holds it up to check with me. “This one?”

“Yes.”

I expect him to just throw it at me, but he crawls back into bed, sitting cross legged next to me. His fingers curl around my hip and I shiver. (I don’t think it’s because his fingers are cold, though.)

“Can I take this off?” he asks softly. I swallow and nod. I don’t know why I’m suddenly so nervous – Baz has probably seen me shirtless before (we do share a changing room), but it was never like this. Never in a place where we were alone and he could look at me freely.

I think he’s trying not to look at me, but if that’s the case, he’s doing a poor job of it. His eyes fly down to my chest and I see the faintest of blushes spread across his cheeks. I can’t help but smile – it’s not every day that you see Baz Pitch flustered.

Then, as if something’s snapped him from his thoughts, he suddenly repositions himself behind me.

“Which shoulder?” he asks.

“The right one,” I say, rolling my shoulder back. Yep, that definitely hurts. Baz puts his hand on my shoulder to steady me and I lean back into his touch.

“Come on, stay still,” he laughs, his breath close to my ear. “We need to get you sorted out.”

“We have time,” I object.

“You’re an idiot,” he says fondly and presses a kiss to my cheek. I expect him to pull away, but he wraps both of his arms around my waist and starts kissing down the side and back of my neck. My skin prickles from his touch and I angle my head, giving him more access.

“Didn’t you say we need to get me sorted out?” I ask jokingly, intertwining my fingers with his.

“Yes, we do. We definitely do,” he mumbles, burying his face in the crook of my neck. “A bloody gorgeous idiot,” he mutters against my skin, quietly enough that I barely hear him. My stomach flutters at the words.

“Baz…”

“Shut up. Now we’ll get you sorted out.” He pulls his arms back and moments later, I hear him messing with the muscle rub. My breath hitches as the cold cream makes contact with my skin and Baz starts to gently massage it in.

It’s so good. I once overheard Baz telling Agatha that he’s bad at massages, but I beg to differ. His fingers carefully work out the knots in my shoulder and I close my eyes, letting myself enjoy it fully. (So good. My skin is buzzing from his touch.)

“Alright?” Baz asks after a few minutes, his voice close to my ear again.

“Mhm,” I hum. I hear him chuckle right before he presses a kiss behind my ear. His hands fall back to his sides and I want to tell him to keep touching me, but I don’t want to seem that desperate.

I turn around to look at him instead. To my extreme satisfaction, he looks even more flustered than before, although I can’t imagine I’m doing much better.

“You have to wait for a bit, to let it be absorbed,” he says, looking down at my neck rather than at my face, his grey eyes wide.

“Okay,” I smile, leaning closer to him. I could think of a few ways to spend this time.

Baz’s eyes shift from my neck to my lips. I don’t know if he realises this, but for someone who kept his feelings hidden for so long, he sure is staggeringly obvious sometimes.

“And then I can also tape it for you,” he says, still staring at my lips.

“Baz.”

“What?” His eyes flicker up to meet mine.

I don’t answer him, just kiss him. He immediately melts against me, his hands coming up on either side of my waist, his lips moving hungrily against mine. I push my fingers into his hair, breaking contact just for a second, repositioning myself so that I’m sitting in his lap. I feel a gasp escape his lips as I press myself closer to him and he starts kissing me harder. One of his hands leaves my waist to grip my thigh and for a split second, all my brain’s attention is focused on that particular hand. (That is, until Baz’s teeth graze my bottom lip.)

Baz has never kissed me like this before. Even during our more heated snogging sessions back at home, he always seemed controlled, steady. I never made him gasp before. (I’m quite pleased with that achievement.)

Before, there was no urgency behind his kisses like there is now. Right now, he’s kissing me like he can’t get enough – like he could never get enough. Like I’m water and he’s just spent ten years wandering the desert.

I like him like this. Under my thumb. Dishevelled. Kissing me like it’s the only thing that matters.

His fingertips press into my thigh as his lips leave mine to kiss down my neck. Now it’s my turn to suck in a breath; Baz kissing my neck has always been so good. This time it’s no different, with the exception that he has considerably more access than usual – and doesn’t he know it. He starts working his way down my neck, along my collarbone, under my collarbone, making my insides melt and my breath come up short with every kiss.

I push my fingers under his t-shirt. I don’t know where this is going – realistically, probably nowhere, since we do have places to be this morning – but if I’m not wearing a top, I don’t think he should be either.

“Take this off,” I mutter against his ear. He pulls back to look at me.

“You sure?”

“Fair play.”

He scoffs and kisses me. “You’re an idiot,” he says, pulling his t-shirt off and tossing it aside, feigning nonchalance. (He can’t fool me, I see how his fingers shake.) nonchalantly.

I am definitely not straight , I think as I take him in. I mean, I knew Baz was fit, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for what the sight of his chest does to my insides. I trace my hands over his shoulders and the wispy hair on his chest and that’s approximately when he decides to put an end to my staring and knots his fingers in my hair, pulling me back to his lips.

An equally good option if you ask me. I still let my hand trace over the muscles on his stomach and I hear him suck in a breath. Oh. 

I do it again, sliding my hand upwards this time and his reaction is just the same, if not even better. I smirk.

The ruthless Baz Pitch likes belly rubs. This might be the best bit of information I’ve acquired about him. I wonder what his reaction would be if I kissed his stomach? I’d have to push him back on the bed then, and I’m not entirely sure my arm can handle propping myself above him, but it’d be worth it…

I’m considering my options, but it’s hard to think properly when Baz’s lips are so distracting and persistent against mine. He’s got his arm around my waist and his other hand is cupping my face and it’s so good that I decide to stop overthinking it.

Just when I’ve finally pushed him back on the bed, however, my alarm clock rings. I groan and bury my head in the crook of Baz’s neck and he starts laughing.

“Your phone has terrible timing, Snow,” he chuckles, grabbing it to turn the alarm off.

“Five more minutes?” I mumble against his skin. He wraps his arms around me and I think that means yes, but then he pushes us both back up in a sitting position and lifts me off his lap. I pout at him.

“As much as it pains me to say no, we both know you have no concept of time and if we end up staying for five more minutes, we’d miss the gala practice,” he says, running his fingers through my curls.

You have a concept of time,” I remind him.

“Not when I’m distracted, I don’t.”

“Are you distracted?” I ask, leaning closer to him. He rolls his eyes, but I can see that he’s blushing.

“Yes, Snow, you’re very distracting. Now come on, we should probably tape your shoulder before we go to breakfast.”

 

We do end up being a little bit late to breakfast.

 


 

Gala practice is a drag. Although my shoulder feels considerably better after Baz’s care, KT Tape and just general movement, it still hurts (as does every other muscle in my body) and there’s no adrenaline to block out the pain from my new skates either. I spend most of the practice sitting on the boards or circling the rink aimlessly.

The Russian skaters have taken Baz and haven’t let him out of their grasp since practice started. He spends practically every free minute of his time talking to Angelina and a pair of Russian ice dancers. They’re too far away from me to hear them – not that I’d understand what they’re saying anyway – but it’s fun to watch them. It’s not often that I see Baz so relaxed at the rink. (He’s usually always at least 40% in competitive mode, even in practice.)

His eyes shoot over to me every now and then and he smiles when he catches my gaze, in a way that’s barely visible in the dimly lit arena.

 

The gala itself isn’t much better than the practice. While performing in front of an audience certainly gives you an adrenaline rush (even in a non-competitive environment), it’s not nearly enough to block out all the muscle soreness that I’m feeling, and consequently, my performance isn’t very good. That’s okay though – I mean, it’s a little frustrating that I won the competition but couldn’t even deliver a half decent gala performance, but I guess it’s understandable, given everything. At least that’s what Baz tells me on the bus back to the hotel.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do your program justice today,” I say as he sits down next to me. (That’s a pleasant surprise – I thought he’d be sitting with the Russians.)

Baz just looks at me like I’m crazy. “Snow, you’re literally dealing with new skates and a bad shoulder, I think you’re forgiven.”

“Still.” I shrug, feeling bad.

“Okay, how about this: get yourself invited to the gala at the Final and you can do the program justice there.”

“I’d probably have to medal to get invited to the gala there.”

“Okay. Do that then,” Baz says, as if that’s something I could realistically do. (I guess I could, actually. If I skate like I did this weekend.) (I decide not to think about it, though. Stressful.)

I watch Baz as he leans back against the seat and closes his eyes. He doesn’t say anything else, but halfway through, his hand finds mine in between the seats and he holds it loosely for the rest of the ride.

 

BAZ

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the sight of Snow in a suit. Over the years, we’ve attended many banquets together and yet it still never fails to take my breath away. He looks stunning in grey. (Snow looks stunning in everything.)

He’s standing by the buffet, talking to some Italian skaters and struggling to keep his plate of bread rolls properly balanced. (Snow is a danger to this buffet. There weren’t any sandwiches, but there was bread and butter and apparently that’s enough for him.)

I’m sitting at the table with Gelya and the other Russians and I’m trying not to stare at him, but that’s proving to be more difficult than I thought. My mind is still replaying the events of this morning. Simon Snow, straddling my hips, kissing me like the world depended on it, his hands in my hair, on my chest, on my stomach (I thought my soul might leave my body right there and then), his breath catching when I tugged on his curls…

I try to shake the thoughts out of my head (this isn’t exactly the place); but at the same time, I’m already imagining grabbing him by his tie and pulling him closer to me once we’re alone again.

I don’t realise just how intently I’m staring at him until Snow turns his head and shoots me one of his dazzling half-smiles. (It makes me want to grab him by the tie now , banquet be damned.) I raise my eyebrows, trying to play it off, but I think he sees right through my bluff. I don’t have the time to find out though, because someone taps me on the shoulder and I’m dragged off to take pictures with someone I barely know.

That’s what banquets are for: socialising, taking pictures together, staring at your rival-but-also-kind-of-boyfriend looking absolutely breath-taking in a suit and thinking about snogging him senseless later.

Are we boyfriends? We said we were on probation until Rostelecom, but Rostelecom is over now, so we should probably revisit this topic. I could probably ask him when we get back to his room. (He’s given me his key again, the sneaky bastard.)

Or on our date tomorrow. Or when we get back to Montreal. (I’d like to be holding his hand when I ask him to be my boyfriend, but that’s not feasible on the streets of Moscow.) (Christ, when did I become such a romantic?)

I’m snapped from my thoughts when I realise I should be posing for pictures, not thinking about Snow. Again . (Always.) But, against my better judgement, I let my eyes wander across the room, finding Simon still standing by the buffet with the Italian skaters, laughing at something some of them said. I feel a flutter in my chest at the sight.

Christ, I’m so far gone.

 


 

SIMON

“I’ve never actually properly seen Moscow,” I tell Baz while we wait for the underground. It’s true; this isn’t my first competition in Russia, but I somehow never got round to sightseeing before. Baz raises his eyebrow at me.

“I can tell, Snow. Only a first-timer would choose to go see the Red Square,” he says.

“And the Kremlin,” I remind him. He smiles and rolls his eyes.

“And the Kremlin,” he confirms. “We could also go see the Bolshoi Theatre. It’s a good fifteen-minute walk away from the Red Square. That’ll be our train,” Baz nods at the train that just arrived at the station.

“Did your guy dance at the Bolshoi?” I ask as we board the train.

Baz gives me a puzzled look. “What?”

“You know, the bloke your program’s about. The one who ran away from Russia?”

“Oh, Nureyev. I mean, he auditioned for Bolshoi and was accepted, but ultimately chose to dance at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg.”

“Oh. Is Mariinsky like, better or something?”

A smile tugs at Baz’s lips. “Snow, for your own safety, I would advise you not to bring this topic up in public in Russia.”

“Fuck, sorry!” I look around, panicked, to see if I’ve upset someone but nobody is paying attention to us. Baz starts laughing. I glare at him.

“Are you just messing with me?”

“Yes,” he admits.

“Arse.”

 

Baz ends up making us exit the underground one stop earlier because he says it’s “logistically better”, which turns out to just be an excuse for him to get Starbucks. I’m too impressed with his knowledge of the Moscow Metro to really complain about it. (I mean, he did live here for four years, so it makes sense, but it’s a side of Baz I’m not used to.)

Plus, the café is actually really warm and Moscow is really cold. Baz orders us both coffees in Russian and he buys a pastry for me too.

“Alright, golden boy,” he starts, once we’re outside again.

“Golden boy?” I interrupt him, feeling my cheeks turn pink. I’m not sure it’s just from the cold.

“Well, you did just win a competition, didn’t you? Now, I’ve only been competing in this sport for fifteen years, but generally they give you a gold medal for that, right?” He raises his eyebrow at me sarcastically. Trust Baz to be a git about pet names. “Would you prefer the Chosen One?”

I make a face. “Please, no.” When I was a junior, some reporter twisted up my story of how I started in figure skating, saying that Davy specifically picked me from some Blackpool hockey team to come train with him – even though that’s not what happened at all. The article was titled Simon Snow: The Chosen One and I hate it with a burning passion. (Baz had a field day with it when it first came out. He still quotes it occasionally.)

He laughs now and takes a sip of his coffee, clearly pleased that he made me cringe. “Alright golden boy. Let’s go see Moscow.”

 

BAZ

Snow demands I take a thousand pictures of him on the Red Square. (His exact words were “Listen, I didn’t go to Russia just to leave my Instagram feed completely dry” which made me roll my eyes, but I still took the pictures.) (He looks adorable. Not that I’d say it out loud.)

“You better give me credit for those photos,” I remind him, giving him his phone back.

“I thought you hated it when I tagged you on Instagram. Last time I posted a story of you, you said, and I quote: ‘stop reminding people of my existence, Snow,’” he says, making his voice deeper and posher in an attempt to impersonate me. I roll my eyes. He’s ridiculous.

“Yes, but there’s a difference between crediting me for my brilliant photography skills and posting a picture of my post-practice hair for the whole world to see. Actually, now that I think about it, our whole national team has a strange obsession with posting non-consensual pictures of my hair. All of you need to go to therapy.”

“I’m already in therapy,” Simon retorts. “And the world loves your hair!” He reaches his hand out to ruffle it and I swat him away – not because I want to, but because we’re two blokes in the middle of Moscow. (This really is a terrible location for a date, PDA wise.)

“I have a reputation. You’re ruining it.”

“What, a reputation as someone with great hair?” Snow asks, grinning.

“Yes.”

“A few bad pictures won’t ruin your reputation, darling. If anything, it just shows you’re human,” he says. I can feel all the blood rise to my cheeks at the pet name. Here I thought Simon Snow was never going to call me darling, and the bastard chooses to do so right in the middle of Red Square – where I can’t even kiss him for it.

I clear my throat, trying (and failing) to hide the very obvious effect Snow’s pet name has had on me. He’s looking at me with an amused expression in his eyes. “Well, if we’re quite done here, let’s move on to the Kremlin,” I say.

Snow’s face falls. “What are you on about? The Kremlin’s right here!” he says, pointing at the cathedral in front of us. I send him a look.

“Snow, are you being serious right now?”

“That’s not the Kremlin?” the tone of his voice tells me that yes, he is in fact being serious. Oh lord help this poor boy.

“Snow, that’s a church.”

“What?”

“The Kremlin is a fortress. This is St. Basil’s Cathedral.” I watch with disappointment as Snow’s shocked expression merges into an amused one. Oh no. I already know what’s coming.

St. Basil’s Cathedral? Why didn’t you tell me you have a church named after you?”

I sigh. “You’re an idiot.”

“Can we go inside? I want to see if there are paintings of you on the wall.”

“An actual idiot.”

“I mean personally I wouldn’t put you down as a saint, but I guess you never killed anyone so that’s a start,” he rambles on.

“You might just be my first victim,” I warn him.

“And Russia loves you so it makes sense.”

“Shut up, Snow.”

“Is it open for visitors?” he asks.

“Do you want to go inside?”

Snow gets this devilish grin on his face, but before I can interpret it, he starts singing the chorus of Take me to church , looking too damn pleased with himself.

“You’re an idiot,” I roll my eyes at him, trying my best to hide the smile tugging at my lips.

“I don’t know the lyrics, something, something, knife!” he keeps singing. That finally makes me break my composure and I laugh and shake my head. God, I want to wipe that smug grin off his face.

“A colossal idiot,” I say. “Please don’t ruin Hozier for me.”

 

We don’t end up going inside the Cathedral. We check out the Kremlin and then head to Gorky Park, because Simon asked me to take him someplace I liked going when I still lived here.

They always set up a huge rink in Gorky Park in winter, and Snow is completely enamoured by it. His excitement is endearing; he looks like a child on Christmas morning. (I really wish I could hold his hand while we walk around the rink, not just because I’m so far gone for him but also because he looks like he might actually fly away at any minute from all the excitement.)

“We should’ve brought our skates,” he says, leaning over the wooden fence to inspect the ice. “Go skating here.”

“We just spent our weekend skating in a high-level competition, don’t you want a break?” I shake my head at him.

“I mean I do, but this is so cool . Look, there are ice paths!” he beams.

“I’m sure there are rinks like this in Montreal. We could go there,” I suggest.

“Oh, we’re definitely going there. Maybe it’s even better that we go in Montreal, because everyone here is so good,” he says, looking at the skaters on the ice. I just stare at him.

“Snow, between the two of us we hold two world records in figure skating. Are you seriously telling me you’re intimidated by some public rink skaters?”

He shrugs. “I mean, they’re good.”

“You’re an idiot, you know that?” God, I want to kiss him right now. This whole excursion has just been a testament to how good post-competition happiness looks on Simon Snow. He’s all smiles and banter and confidence. (It’s annoyingly attractive, but everything about Snow is annoyingly attractive.)

“Someone just did an axel!” He completely ignores my comment, still marvelling at the skaters on the ice.

“Okay, I’m taking you away before you start yelling molodec to people,” I say, grabbing him by the elbow and pulling him from the fence.

“What does that mean again?” Snow furrows his eyebrows at me. (How does he not know what molodec means when the whole arena was chanting it after his performance two days ago? Does he not have ears? Context clues maybe?)   

“Good job,” I translate. (I decide to let it slide this time. He was probably too out of it to pay attention to the audience.)

“Oh. How did I not know that?”

“You know nothing, Simon Snow,” I say grimly, trying to imitate a Game of Thrones character I’ve seen in memes. (No, I haven’t watched the show.) 

Simon beams at me. (He’s seriously torturing me right now.) 

“Game of Thrones. Nice!”

 

We explore the park a bit more, talking and walking close enough that our shoulders occasionally brush together. It’s very cold in Moscow today, but I still feel warm inside while I listen to Snow go on a tirade about the last episode of Game of Thrones. (I might never have watched it, but Snow is obsessed, it seems.) (Obsessed and very angry at the writers.)

He stops abruptly when he sees the big wheel and he grabs my hand in excitement. (I love him so much.)

“Is that the Moscow Eye?” he asks, letting go of my hand once he realises where we are. (It makes me want to go back to the Kremlin and kick Putin for every homophobic law he’s ever passed.)

“It’s most decisively not,” I say.

“Well, we’re still going,” he decides and grabs the sleeve of my jacket, pulling me towards the wheel. I wouldn’t be able to object even if I wanted to.

 

There’s virtually no line for the wheel, so we get through almost immediately. Once we get settled in the tiny compartment, I realise that this is the first time today that we have some privacy. I mean, there are other people on the wheel, but we’re alone in our compartment and I could take his hand and nobody would glare at us.

That’s exactly what I do. His hand is warm and he runs his thumb across my knuckles, making me shiver.

“You’ve been waiting to do this, haven’t you?” Snow asks, his voice close to my ear.

“It may have crossed my mind, yes.”

He gives my hand a squeeze. “This weekend didn’t go quite so badly,” he states, looking at the tree tops we’ve just risen above.

“Speak for yourself, Snow. I just lost to my lifelong rival and my childhood crush. I’m devastated,” I tease him. I expect him to laugh, but he bites his lip nervously. Oh no.

“Sorry about that,” he mutters, and I swear I’ll push him out of this wheel.

“Snow, that was a joke. I’m not actually bothered,” I say. (I am a bit frustrated because after analysing my program, I realised I threw away some good points due to foolish mistakes, but that’s not Simon’s fault. I just have to train harder and make sure to not repeat those mistakes at the Final.)

“Really?” he asks. Stupidly.

“Yes, you dolt. Do I need to go into another speech about how what you did was brave and stupid and magical and you’re an actual menace and possibly slightly superhuman?”

Snow cracks a smile at my words. “Magical?”

I blush. I hadn’t actually meant to say that. (It was magical, but that was one of those things that’s meant to go poetically unsaid.) “Watch your performance back and you’ll see what I mean,” I say flatly.

“So you’re really not bothered?”

I roll my eyes. “No.”

“Okay, because I was thinking, well…” his voice trails off and I can tell by his furrowed eyebrows that he’s trying to compose his thoughts. I hold myself back from making a snarky comment.

“Well, things didn’t go catastrophically wrong, right? I mean, they did, but it ended well. I’d dare argue it ended more than well. Anyway, uh… What I was thinking was… Well, we said we’re on probation, right? And now Rostelecom is over and I was just wondering if you’d like to be my boyfriend. You know, officially.” He squeezes my hand once he’s done talking.

“Snow…” I don’t even bother hiding the smile tugging at my lips. I can’t believe the bastard beat me to it.

“And I know I’m probably not the world’s best boyfriend and we’ll still have to work out a lot of things about our work and competitions and training, but I really like you, Baz. Like, a lot. And I really want this, if you do too, of course. And I know—”

“Snow,” I try to interrupt him.

“—that maybe this competition was so intense in many other ways and maybe it’s better that we wait until after the Final—”

“Snow.” I need him to stop talking before he rationalises himself out of this idea.

“—or maybe even until after Nationals—”

“Simon!”

He finally snaps out of it, looking at me like he’s just noticed I’m here. “Yes?”

“I would love to be your boyfriend,” I say, warmth filling my chest as the words leave my mouth. Simon beams at me.

“Really?”

“Yes, you nightmare. Now are you going to keep babbling or are you going to kiss me?”

He smiles so wide that it makes my chest hurt, but not for long, because the next moment, he’s cupping my face and pulling me to his lips. I sigh happily, letting myself melt into his warmth.

We keep kissing for the whole ride, stopping only just before our compartment reaches the exit stairs.

“Well, that was a shit ride,” Snow comments. “I didn’t get to see any of Moscow from above.”

“I’d argue that that was because you were otherwise occupied,” I say. (And because this wheel is too small to have any proper view. It barely rises above the tree tops.)

“I suppose.” He flashes me a devilish grin. “Want to go for another round?”

It’s only on the third round that we actually see any of Moscow.

 


 

[Instagram post by Simon Snow, dated November 23rd, 2020]

simonsnowsk8er: Saint Baz’s Cathedral (he’s not a saint)

[Picture ID slide 1: Simon is standing in front of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, smiling and holding up a peace sign. He’s wearing a puffer coat with TEAM GB written across it. End ID] 

[Picture ID slide 2: Basilton Pitch (@the_baz_pitch) is standing in front of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow - looking, for lack of a better term - grumpy. He’s wearing a black coat and holding a Starbucks cup. It is clearly windy in the photo, but his hair somehow still manages to look perfect. End ID]

Chapter Text

Chapter 29: Calm before the storm

Baz Pitch the sappy bitch, the struggles of being bilingual and why Simon did hockey before he did figure skating. The Grand Prix Final: T-minus two weeks.

 

BAZ

The first two days after coming back from Russia have been hectic to say the least. We were both exhausted, Simon’s shoulder was hurting and the British press finally realised the gravity of the events this weekend, so we’ve been swarmed by emails and phone calls--and, in between all that, Simon and I still needed to have a proper conversation about our relationship and how we’re going to manage that paired with the upcoming Grand Prix Final.

Even now that the press dust has settled, I still feel exhausted because our trainings have been getting more and more intense in preparation for the Final. Ebb is still in Japan with Ikumi, so Mathis is taking over our trainings for the week, and he’s ruthless. I never nap, but I’ve now fallen into the habit of crashing on the sofa every day after practice and having Snow wake me up when he comes back from his massage therapy for his shoulder.

We’ve kept our pre-Rostelecom routine of preparing for the competition together, with the key difference that he no longer sleeps at my flat every night. That was one of the things I suggested when we talked about our relationship (along with not telling Ebb and our rink-mates just yet), and as much as I hate myself for suggesting it, I think it actually might be for the better. We were practically living together that week before Rostelecom and while I do want to spend every second of my free time around Snow, I was worried about us moving too fast. I had to be the one to suggest it because Snow has no concept of taking things slow; and I don’t want him to get scared if we move too fast, especially since we’re in a rather uncertain position. (Simon qualifying for the Final means we’re going to have every competition until the end of the season together, so if we don’t manage to make this work, we’re fucked.)

The rest is all the same, though; he comes to my flat every evening, turns my kitchen upside down, tries (and fails) to persuade me to put garlic in our food and then kisses me until it’s time to go to bed. Despite the uncertainty of our situation, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Now that I know what it’s like to date Simon Snow, I don’t know how I spent all these years without his dorky grin, eyes twinkling at me behind his glasses, his sleepy kisses on the sofa, and his fingers playing with my hair. Being close to him is like a drug and I hope to every deity under the sun that we manage to make things work, because I don’t think I’d ever be able to go back to the way things were before.

That’s what I think about every time I want to kick myself after Simon kisses me goodnight and goes back to his flat and I desperately want him to stay. It’s better in the long run , even if every cell in my body wants him to spend the night. I hate being a responsible adult sometimes. 

At least this way, I can do my university work. Snow is too damn distracting and I never get anything done when he’s here. (Not that I’m complaining.)

I’m just reading my way through some literary theory when my phone buzzes five times in a row--which means it’s from Snow. (Nobody else I know sends this many texts in a row.)

SS: can i come to urs?
SS: sorry i know that like distance and shit but sth rly weird happened and idk what to do
SS: nothing bad i don’t think but like… weird
SS: so um
SS: yeah

I read through his texts twice before replying.

BP: Yes, of course.

A few moments later, there’s a knock on my door. Simon looks just the way he did when he left an hour ago, with the exception of his hair; his curls are messy the way they usually are when he’s nervous and keeps tugging at them.

I open the door wide as he pushes past me and plops down on the sofa.

“What happened?” I ask, sitting down next to him.

He bites his lip and pulls his legs up to his chest. “Um… my dad called.”

Oh.

This is only the second time I’ve ever heard Snow acknowledge his father. The first time was when we were twelve. We were fighting in the changing room and I told him to go cry to his dad about it. His voice got really quiet and serious and he told me to shut up.

I was twelve and a prick; but I had lost a parent as well, I understood from his reaction that his dad was no joking matter. It was only years later that I learned from Bunce that his father wasn’t dead, but estranged. That’s all I know about him, though.

I swallow. I don’t know how to proceed.

“Did you pick up?” I ask. He nods.

“I wasn’t going to, but he called three times. I thought maybe it was an emergency.”

“That’s a rational conclusion. It’s the middle of the night in England,” I remind him because Simon looks thoroughly disappointed with himself that he picked up the phone.

“He’s in Canada,” he says. “On a business trip. He saw the segment BBC Sports did on the Rostelecom Cup and now he wants me to come to Toronto to meet up.”

“That’s six hours away,” I blurt out and immediately want to smack myself. Great, brilliant. What if he actually wants to meet up with his dad and I’m being an unsupportive boyfriend right now?

“I know, that’s what I told him! I have a major competition coming up and I can’t just drop everything to go to Toronto and back just to meet up with him!” he erupts, his voice full of frustration. “But he wouldn’t hear any of it. He started telling me that if I really cared, I’d miss out on a couple of practices to go see him. And he said some other shit too.”

“Simon—”

“And the thing is, I actually don’t think I care enough. I mean, he barely acknowledged my existence after he left me and my mum--and half of the time, he doesn’t even remember my birthday! Now he suddenly wants to meet up because he saw me on the telly, and it just makes me feel like such a shit person because I don’t want to go see him!” His voice trembles at the end and he looks more and more worked up about the situation.

I take his hand. “It doesn’t make you a shit person, Simon. You’re allowed to say no to him; he doesn’t just get to waltz back into your life whenever he wants. And if he’s not willing to understand that you’re busy right now, that’s his problem, not yours,” I say.

Simon sighs. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”

“I’m always right.”

That makes him choke out a laugh. “I’m sorry I unleashed all of this on you,” he says, leaning his head on my shoulder. I nudge him.

“You’re being ridiculous, Snow.”

“I mean, you didn’t sign up for my daddy issues.”

I scoff. Never in my life did I think I’d hear Simon utter the words daddy issues . “I signed up for all of you, you insufferable git.”

“You’re the insufferable git,” he retorts. “Although right now, you’re just a sappy git.”

“I know, it’s horrible,” I agree. “You’ve forever ruined my reputation.”

He lifts his head up to press a kiss on my cheek. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”

I smile and squeeze his hand. “Thank you for telling me about your dad,” I say.

“Yeah, it’s not…” his voice trails off. “How do I say? It’s not a secret or anything? I just don’t like to even think about him because he’s a prick. I, um… I actually kind of want to see him just to see his reaction to me doing so well in a sport he tried so hard to keep me away from,” he shrugs. “But y’know, that’s just spite talking and I don’t actually want to see him.”

“Wait what? He tried to keep you away from skating?”

“Um, yeah. I, er… when I was five, I watched the Torino Olympics, right? And I saw figure skating and I begged my parents to take me, but my dad said figure skating was for girls and he put me in hockey. And then, after my parents got divorced and my mum and I moved to London, I asked her if could do skating instead of finding a new hockey club in London and that’s how I got started.”

I realise that after all these years of knowing Simon, I’ve never actually heard how he’d gotten started. I knew that that Chosen One article was at least a little bit fake, but I always assumed his origin story was just a more toned-down version of that. Maybe Davy didn’t find him but his hockey coach or his parents went out of their way to contact him and Davy agreed. (I always resented Simon because of that; it just seemed like he was taking a shortcut to the top group, even if his talent was undeniable.)

I never thought it was actually Simon who pushed to start figure skating, even after so many years of being held back. Anger bubbles up in my stomach – nothing annoys me more than parents holding their children back because of their own fragile masculinity. (You see it quite often in this sport, sadly; all it takes is to walk into a training group of little children and count how many boys and how many girls there are.)

“Your dad sounds like a prick,” I say. “It’s not fair that he held you back.”

“Yeah, well… in the end I still got where I wanted to be,” he shrugs. That’s true. Despite his father keeping him back in his early days and Davy not giving him the proper training, Simon still succeeded. He’s still won multiple competitions and broke junior world records and now his first ever senior world record, and he’s not even at his peak yet.

If he had the same chances I had, he’d be invincible.

“And also, keeping me in hockey all those years really paid off,” Simon continues. “I mean, I’m so straight now.”

I start laughing. Here, I thought he was going to talk about how it helped him develop a good skating sense, but no, this idiot is making a gay joke . Simon Snow is making a gay joke. While holding my hand. That’s a turn of events that fifteen-year-old Baz never expected.

“Oh, definitely,” I agree once I stop laughing. “Straightest man I know. Besides me, of course. I love women and fishing.”

Simon starts laughing with me. “That’s so weird,” he says through giggles.

“Wait, Snow, I have a question.”

“Hm?”

“If that’s actually how you got started, then the Chosen One article was a lie?” I ask, even though I knew it was a lie. (Or blown out of proportions, at least.)

“Utter bullshit,” Snow confirms.

“So you’re not the Chosen One?”

“I’m not the Chosen One.”

I make a disappointed sound and he elbows me in the stomach.

 

SIMON

This week has been positively exhausting. Between the press stuff and my dad and practices and all sorts of therapy for my shoulder, I don’t have an ounce of energy left in me. The same seems to go for Shepard and Baz, who look like they’re about to fall into a five-week coma any moment now. Thank god tomorrow is our day off.

Shepard throws himself down dramatically on the bench as soon as we walk into the changing room. “I am in pain,” he whines.

“Likewise,” Baz sighs, plopping himself down and leaning against the wall. He’s still slightly out of breath. We all sit in silence for a few seconds, listening to the loud chatter coming from the juniors’ changing room.

“How do they have so much energy?” Shepard finally asks.

“Beats me,” I sigh, finally mustering the strength to start untying my skates. Baz follows suit, but Shepard starts rolling up his trackies instead. He examines his knee and makes a tsk noise.

“This is hands down the biggest bruise I’ve ever had,” he declares.

“It will heal before the wedding,” Baz mutters. Both Shepard and I turn to look at him.

“What wedding?”

“Who’s getting married?”

Baz looks up from his skates, furrowing his eyebrows. “You know? It will heal before your wedding?”

What? Is Baz genuinely so tired that he stopped making sense? That might be worse than a five-week coma level of tiredness, at least when it comes to Baz . Where did he get the idea that Shepard was getting married?

“I’m not getting married, my dude,” Shepard confirms my thoughts. “I’m not even seeing anyone right now.”

Baz looks just as confused as we are. Then his eyes widen in realisation and he buries his face in his hands. “Ugh, I need sleep,” he groans.

“Obviously. Why did you think I was getting married?”

“It’s a Russian saying. I must’ve mixed it up,” he mutters to the palms of his hands. When he looks up, he looks thoroughly embarrassed. “In Russia, they say that it’ll heal before your wedding for any minor injuries. Rostelecom Cup must’ve messed up my syntax.”

“Or you just need sleep,” I suggest.

“Wait, so you just did that thing that Ikumi does all the time with Japanese?” Shepard asks. Ikumi is known for accidentally translating Japanese metaphors into English and confusing us all in the process. (She’s also usually disappointed that the English language doesn’t have that particular saying.)

“Well, somebody’s got to replace Ikumi now that she’s not here,” I say. Baz shoots me a glare, but it doesn’t last long because the next moment, Shepard claps his hands together so loudly that we both startle.

“NHK Trophy!” he exclaims. “We have to check the results!”

“We already did, remember?” I remind him. Since Japan is so ahead of Canada, Ikumi’s competition was long done by the time our morning practice began. (She was second, which means she qualified for the Grand Prix Final too.)

“No, the men’s event. Remember, it was still ongoing this morning?” Shepard says.

“Oh, right…”

“On it,” Baz says, already typing into his phone. “Kirill first, Eric second and Sung-Jin third. So Kirill and Eric will be going to the—” he stops mid-sentence, his face dropping.

“What?” I ask.

“Kirill broke the 300.”

“What?!” Both Shepard and I jump. “Are you serious?” Shepard asks.

Baz nods. “301.12 total. 102.89 in the short and 198.23 in the free. So Snow’s record still stands,” he says flatly.

“As does yours,” I remind him. Baz scored over 104 at the European Championships last season and nobody’s surpassed that this season yet.

“That’s a lot of points,” Shepard says.

“He did well,” Baz agrees, and I can hear it in his voice; disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I know you wanted to be the first one to break 300.”

Baz shoots me an odd look. “I’ll just have to break his new record at the Final, won’t I?” he says.

“You will.”

Shepard furrows his eyebrows at us. “Since when do you two have civil conversations where you acknowledge each other’s feelings and offer moral support?” he asks. I start coughing.

“We don’t,” Baz says, completely cool and composed. “All the tiredness must be getting to Snow if he’s finally being nice to me.”

“Hey!” I object. “You’re the rude one!”

“Aaand it’s back,” Shepard sighs. “This is why we can’t have nice things.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 30: If I stumble, will I fall? 

En route to Beijing, the Olympic arena and the elephant on your chest. Baz is manifesting. The beginning of the end of the Grand Prix series.

 

[Turning Edge Magazine – ISU Grand Prix Final overview – published on December 2 nd , 2020]

The senior men’s category will perhaps be the most intense in this ISU Grand Prix Final, with six of the top men going head-to-head against each other. A telling indicator of just how fierce the competition amongst senior men this season is, is the fact that two top skaters, Shepard Lee and Adrien Laurent failed to even qualify for the Final. The results of this competition will likely give us  good insight into who’s going to be the next World Champion or even the next Olympic Champion.

Sitting on top of the list, with the highest overall point sum and 30 qualification points is Russian Kirill Sokolovsky . This season marks Sokolovsky’s second season as a senior, and he already has an impressive list of achievements including a bronze medal at the World Championships, silver medal at the European Championships and silver medal at last year’s Grand Prix Final. Kirill also became the first man to break the 300-point barrier in the combined total score, which he did just a few days ago at the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan. At eighteen years old, he’s the youngest competitor in the senior men’s category of this competition.

The man to challenge the Russian prodigy is USA’s Micah Cordero . Much like Sokolovsky , Cordero also qualified for the final with 30 points, winning both Skate America and Internationaux de France by an impressive margin. He’s the reigning World Champion and Four Continents Champion, and he’s the defending Grand Prix Champion. He’ll be looking to defend his titles this year and reclaim his world records.

Canadian Eric Walsh has had an impressive start of the season and qualified for the Final by winning Skate Canada and placing second at the NHK Trophy, amassing a total of 28 qualification points. At twenty-six years old, Walsh is the oldest competitor in this year’s men’s Grand Prix Final, but that is by no means a setback for the Canadian, who has already reached the elusive Grand Prix Final podium three times in the past.

Basilton Grimm-Pitch, of Great Britain, placed second at both Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup and qualified for this year’s Final with 26 points. He is the main favourite for the podium, along with Sokolovsky and Cordero . Pitch is the reigning European Champion and World Championships runner-up. He placed third at last year’s Final and is looking to improve on that result this year. He set a world record short program score of 104.56 points at the 2020 European Championship, which is yet to be surpassed by anyone this season.

A surprise qualification is Pitch’s teammate, Simon Snow , who also qualified with 26 points. After placing third in Skate America, he went on to win the Rostelecom Cup with a world record free program score of 200.07, making him the first man to surpass 200 points in the free program. Snow has never qualified for the Final as a senior, but is the 2017 Junior Grand Prix Final champion. After a rough couple of seasons, he seems to be back stronger than ever and could very well find himself on the podium this Grand Prix Final. He is the only skater at this competition competing with a quad loop.

Last but not least to qualify is Huang Li of China, with 24 points after placing second in the Cup of China and third in the Rostelecom Cup. Li won a bronze medal at the 2020 Four Continents Championships and missed the Worlds podium by a smidge back in March. Much like Snow with the quad loop, Li is the only man competing with a quad flip at this Final.

 


 

BAZ

The British Skating Federation covers the costs of an adult guardian travelling with you to competitions if you’re under eighteen. It’s because of that that I spent my teenage years sitting on incredibly long plane flights with a grumpy Russian coach on one side and an even grumpier Fiona on the other – a true indication of my strength and patience.

Years of sitting with Fiona on long flights taught me one thing; I have incredibly bony shoulders. It’s all Fiona ever talked about. Basil, what’s the point of you being taller than me if your shoulders feel like spikes? and Sasha, make the boy do some push ups, he’s all skin and bones here. (Fiona was also the only person who dared call Rybakov Sasha, even though they weren’t close friends or family.)

Airlines provide pillows for long flights. That didn’t stop Fiona from complaining about my shoulders. Window seats didn’t stop her from complaining. Neither did neck pillows. If we were flying somewhere, she’d complain. It was almost like a pre-competition ritual.

It’s been years since I’ve last flown anywhere with Fiona, but I wish she could see me now; we’re halfway through a thirteen-hour flight to Beijing and I have Snow asleep on one shoulder and Ebb on the other and neither of them are complaining about it. (Mainly because both of them sleep like the dead, but I’ll take it.)

In fact, I think I might be the only person from our team who’s still awake. Ikumi’s sitting on the other side of Ebb, leaning against the window, also fast asleep. I don’t see Mathis, or the two juniors and their parents who are travelling with us, but I’m assuming they’re all also asleep since it’s midnight in Montreal right now.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to mentally calculate what I need to do to score over 300 and win the Final. Well, mentally recalculate. I’ve been doing this every evening, ever since I learned that Kirill broke the 300-point barrier. The more I do it, the more I can convince myself that I’ll actually be able to do it. When I explained it to Snow one night, he asked ift I’m trying to “manifest it” and I told him he hangs out with Shepard too much.

The general plan I have is to rely on the short program, which is my strongest event. The fact that I failed to score higher than 102 this season is more than a bit disappointing, since my world record is 104.56 and that was without the quad lutz. I’m aiming for at least 105 in this competition.

If I score a 105 in the short and do my free program as well as I did at Rostelecom, I could end up with a total of 303 points and that would be enough to win. I am, of course, planning to do my free program better than I did it at Rostelecom. (Rostelecom is only the bare minimum of what I have to do.) If that means breaking Simon’s world record, then so be it. It’s not like he’s not capable of re-breaking it himself.

I don’t think he realises it, but he’s a serious contender for the podium in this competition. Just a few weeks ago, he scored higher than Micah, Kirill and I have ever scored in our whole careers . If he repeats what he did at Rostelecom, he could very well find himself with a gold medal by the end of this week.

That bit is difficult to think about or plan for. I really want to win the Final (I’ve never won it before) and my boyfriend is one of the main contenders for the title. There’s no easy way to think about this, and it’s not like it’s going to get easier as the season goes on. After the Final, Snow and I are flying to England for Nationals; and while that competition is more of a formality for both of us, it concludes the first half of the season. After that come the two big ones; the European Championships and the World Championships – both of which are bigger and more intense than the Grand Prix Final and both of which I want to win.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely terrified for our relationship over the following months.

But at the same time, our relationship was the only thing keeping me sane in the week leading up to the Final… which is ridiculous on my part. I’ve qualified for the Final every year since I was fourteen , I should be used to the pressure by now. I am used to the pressure, but Kirill breaking the 300-point mark threw me off my game – it freaked me out more than it should have.

Whenever I’m nervous for a competition, I rely on analysing the scores to help settle my nerves, but even I know that it sometimes becomes too much. There were times in the past where all I could think about, all day, were the scores of my rivals. I’d go to bed and the numbers would be floating behind my eyelids.

It would have been like that this year too, if it weren’t for Simon. He was the one to drag me away from it every night and helped me to stop thinking about it, even if he didn’t know it. Kissing Simon Snow is a brilliant distraction – which comes as no surprise; he’s unfairly good with his mouth and I’m so far gone for him that his lips could distract me from a bloody apocalypse.

I’d love to keep kissing him. I’d love to kiss him now, if half of my skating club wasn’t on this plane. I’d love to kiss him when we get to the hotel, but this competition is too important. Snow and I agreed before we left: no distractions.

Really, him sleeping on my shoulder now is the closest I’ll get to be to him for the whole week.

I sigh and rest my head on top of his. His curls brush against my cheek and I close my eyes.

 

SIMON

Everything about China is big and alien. I’ve been here before, as a junior, but I’ve never felt more out of place.

The hotel is nice. Mine and Baz’s rooms are right next to each other, but we haven’t really been spending any time together.

The other guys are here too; Kirill, Micah, Eric and Huang. We haven’t talked yet, but I’ve seen them at meals and at practices.

The arena itself isn’t the biggest arena I’ve been to, but it still feels important and scary all the same, because this is where the Olympics are going to be held. I think everyone’s treating it differently than a normal arena; pausing for a second, taking it in. Yesterday, after practice, I caught Baz just staring at it.

I wonder if he’s thinking about the Olympics too. He must be – Baz has never said it out loud, but I can’t imagine he doesn’t already have the whole Olympics planned out. Maybe I’ll ask him about it after this is over.

This. The Final.

I’ve been to the Junior Final before (I won the Junior Final), but this feels far, far more important. You can tell by the way everyone’s holding themselves; determined, cold, closed off. You can never tell what’s going on behind their eyes. Even Angelina Nuriyeva, who’s usually a ray of sunshine, barely even smiled at me when I ran into her at the lobby yesterday.

It’s all so nerve-wracking and I’m starting to feel the bone-deep loneliness again. Like Baz said that night I kissed him; like I’m somewhere far from Earth, all alone.

I wish I could kiss Baz now. I wish I could see the softness in his eyes and know that it’s still here and hasn’t permanently been replaced by his competition face. I wish I could go to his room and fall asleep in his arms and then maybe I won’t feel so suffocatingly lonely.

That’s the thing about big competitions; despite all the press and the fans and the staff, you still feel so fucking alone. And all your fears just get magnified.

I tried to fight it. I called my therapist. I talked to Ebb. I did image training until my brain felt like mush. Hell, I even analysed my scores the way Baz taught me.

But now I’m lying alone in my hotel room bed and the short program is tomorrow and I can feel the loneliness pressing onto me like an elephant standing on my chest. The loneliness and the cold; it’s so cold here. I can’t help but think of Baz, who sleeps with two blankets unless I’m there to keep him warm. He must be freezing right now. I wish I could keep him warm and feel the weight of his limbs on me and the warmth of his breath.

My chest feels even tighter.

And the ceiling doesn’t look anything like my ceiling at home and the sounds of Beijing are completely different from the sounds of Montreal or London.

And I’m scared as shit.

My phone lights up with a notification.

BP: Goodnight, Simon

I stare at Baz’s text, trying to imagine him on the other side of the wall. I can see him lying in bed, typing the text on his phone. If I close my eyes, I can imagine the smell of cedar and bergamot right next to me. A wave of longing rises up in my chest… and something else too; warmth.

He’s just on the other side of the wall, and while I can’t go there and hug him, it helps knowing that he’s here. And that he’s thinking about me.

I clutch my phone to my chest, and for a moment, it’s a little easier to breathe.

 

The next morning, it feels like a whole horde of elephants has made permanent residence on my chest, never mind the one. I don’t know how I manage to keep down my breakfast, or how I don’t break into tears the moment I see that the arena is packed full.

If Ebb weren’t here to talk to me and calm me down, I’d probably have had a mental breakdown by now.

I’m skating first after the six-minute-warm-up; and while I usually like it this way, right now, I wish I could just go backstage and have a breather.

The other skaters are leaving the ice. I can see Mathis passing Baz his skate guards and Baz disappearing behind the curtain. Ebb is holding both of my hands and I’m trying to focus on what she’s saying. I’m trying…

I have to score over 100 to have a fighting chance for the podium. I’ve never scored over 100 before. I should want to. I should want to be on the podium but there’s just… nothing. No spark of determination that I felt at Skate America, no fighting fire that was coursing through my veins during the Rostelecom free skate. Instead, my chest just feels heavy. And empty.

I can’t skate like this , I think as Ebb squeezes my hands one last time. I can’t .

“On the ice, representing Great Britain; Simon Snow!”

The arena is so loud.

This is where the Olympics are going to be .

And so full.

If you mess up now, you’ll mess up the Olympics.

And my chest is so heavy.

Which would be just on-brand for you, to be honest.

I can’t breathe.

You mess up everything.

My knees are shaking so badly I don’t know how I’m still standing.

Shut up, shut up, shut up .

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I can breathe. I’m okay.

It’s going to be over in less than three minutes.

Any moment now…

The music starts.

 

BAZ

There’s a TV backstage that’s linked to the ISU competition website and displays live results. I told myself I’d stay as far away from it as possible.

I failed. Rather early on too, I’d say. I managed to stay back from checking the scores the moment Simon’s performance ended, but then I overheard Huang’s score coming from the arena and well… it was 97.48, which is low for Huang. He must’ve made a mistake somewhere. And if Huang made a mistake and Simon was aiming to score over 100, then Huang’s score should’ve put him in 2 nd place at the moment.

But Huang was in 1 st place. He scored beneath Simon’s personal best and he was still in 1 st place.

Pathetically, that’s all it took for me to practically sprint to the TV and check the scores. My heart dropped when I saw it.

Simon scored 90.36. He was training for 100 and he scored a 90, which means somewhere along the way, he lost ten whole points.

What happened?

“Baz,” a hand drops on my shoulder. Ebb. “Please stop looking at the scores.”

“What happened?” I manage to choke out.

“It doesn’t matter. You should start getting ready to go on the ice.”

Right. Kirill’s name has just been announced, which means I’m skating in less than ten minutes. And I have to break the world record. And Simon just lost 10 points somewhere.

I take a deep breath. Right. This shouldn’t affect me.

It shouldn’t affect me.

 

SIMON

I collapse onto the bench in the changing room, burying my face in my hands. How could I have done this? The triple axel is one of my better jumps!

And I messed it up. I messed it up so bad…

Hot tears well up in my eyes and I don’t make the effort to blink them away. It’s not like anybody else is in the changing room to see me.

Or at least that’s what I thought, until someone clears their throat across the room. I look up, panicked.

Micah. He’s stretched out across the bench on the opposite side of the room, so there’s no wonder I didn’t see him when I came in.

“Messed up, didn’t you?” he asks, swinging his legs off the bench. He slowly strides to where I’m sitting. “See, Simon, this is what happens when you try to play with the big kids. That world record you have doesn’t seem so shiny now, does it?”

My nails dig into my palm. Fucking bastard.

Before I can say anything back, Micah continues. “You, Kirill and Basilton have been funny lately, with all your world records. It’s almost cute, really. But I’m here now to take back my throne.”

“Baz’s record is almost a year old now,” I remind him through gritted teeth. “You had all the time in the world to break it and you couldn’t.”

Micah scoffs and rolls his eyes. (It looks nothing like how Baz does it.) “Please,” he says. “It’s not like Baz can re-break his own record either. It was pure luck when he set it. Like I’m afraid of someone who hasn’t even won a competition yet this season.”

“He won Autumn Classic.”

“Aw, defending your boyfriend? That’s cute, but Autumn Classic barely counts as a real competition. You’ll realise that once you stop shaking in your pants and crying in the changing room.” It takes me a minute to realise he’s just being homophobic and not actually insinuating that he knows Baz and I are together. And then my stomach fills with hot anger.

Don’t punch him, don’t punch him, don’t punch him , I remind myself. You’ll get disqualified if you punch him.

I almost do it anyway. I think the only reason I don’t is because the next second, the changing room door swings open and Micah’s coach peeks in.

“Micah, are you ready?”

Micah straightens up. “Yes, sir.” He turns to me. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Simon. There’s always the free skate,” he says, his voice dripping with fake sincerity. And then he turns on his heel and walks out of the changing room. His coach gives me a sympathetic look before closing the door.

I let out a shaky breath, my hands gripping the wooden seat beneath me. Fucking hell, what a prick.

I hope Baz obliterates him.

 

BAZ

My heart is racing as I step into the arena. Kirill is just taking his bows and if the applause is anything to go by, he did a mighty good job.

I step out on the ice as soon as he steps off and I try to imagine leaving everything else behind the boards. I try to forget about Snow and his score and the fact that this is the first time this season that I’m going against Micah and Kirill. I try to forget that this is going to be the Olympic arena.

It’s just me and the ice now. And it feels good underneath my blades. Good enough to break the world record.

When Kirill’s score is announced, I plug my ears so that I don’t hear it. And then Ebb tells me to go have fun.

And then I’m off.

“On the ice, representing Great Britain: Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch!”

The crowd roars and I let it echo in my ears. I let it feed into me. I imagine myself gathering all the pressure, all the expectations, and turning it into energy, like lighting a match inside my heart. It’s what my mother used to say: light a match inside your heart and blow on the timber.

And let the fire drive you on.

When the music starts, I’m finally able to skate this program how I’ve wanted to skate it since the beginning. All my jumps are clean. My spins should all be level four. I think this is the best step sequence I’ve done this season. Maybe in my life.

By the end, the fire in my heart burned out every ounce of energy that I have, but it’s worth it for the applause. It’s all worth it for the applause.

I take my bows in all four directions and I make sure to commit the sight to my memory for my image training – because that’s how I want the crowd to react after my programs at the Olympics too.

That’s what this is all about.

Ebb is crying when I get off the ice. She’s crying and she keeps hugging me and saying “good, good” and “I’m so proud of you,” while we sit in the kiss and cry, waiting for the scores. I’m still trying to catch my breath enough to speak.

And then the camera pans back to me, which means the scores are about to be announced and the whole arena gets quiet. I’m suddenly struggling to catch my breath for a whole different reason.

Is it enough? It has to be enough. Please, let it be enough.

“The short program score for Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch of Great Britain is 105.73 points, a new season’s best. This puts him currently in first place.”

The whole arena erupts in cheers and I smile.

It was enough.

 

It’s only after the scores are announced that my tiredness really begins to settle in. Suddenly, I feel like I can barely move my body. I’m only half-present as I go through the mixed zone; but thankfully, the reporters let me through fairly quickly as there’ll be a press conference for the top three men after the short program – and with my current score and only Micah and Eric left to go, I’m guaranteed to be in it.

It’s only when I get to the changing room and I’m practically tackled by Simon that I start to feel present again. Simon. I still don’t know what happened that made him lose ten points.

But he’s hugging me now, squeezing just a bit too tightly, and he doesn’t even give me a chance to speak.

“You did it, you fucking did it!” he practically squeals. “That was so great!”

My hands find his elbows and I slowly push him off me. (Even if it pains me to do so. This is the closest we’ve been in the past few days.)

He’s already changed back into his normal clothes – black joggers and the national team jacket – but his hair is still slicked back. (Not as well as that one time I did it for him.) I carefully study his face. Even though he’s grinning at me now, his eyes seem red and it’s just not good.

“What happened?” I ask. His face immediately falls.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It does.”

“Baz—”

“Snow. It does.”

Simon takes a deep breath. “Yeah, I know, I’ll… I’ll tell you. Just not now, okay?”

Fucking hell, what happened out there? I try to piece it together from his face, but he’s avoiding my eyes and I’m worried. Really worried. Ten points is no small deal. You don’t lose ten points from a fall; something worse must’ve happened.

But he doesn’t want to talk about it now, which is just such a Simon Snow thing to do, frankly. And before I can convince him otherwise, he grins at me again.

“Now come here you record breaking bastard.”

And he’s hugging me again.

 

The short program ended with me in first place and Snow in last. He still wouldn’t tell me what happened, but when I got back from the press conference, I noticed his mood had dropped significantly. He wouldn’t even eat properly during dinner; he just shoved his food around and then left early.

That set off alarm bells in my head. It’s not like Snow to turn down food.

I wanted to go after him, but Ebb sent me such a stern look that I sat right back down.

Then she got up and went after him instead.

 

SIMON

There’s a knock on my door and at first, I think it’s Baz. I’m not entirely sure I want to talk to him right now. He should be happy that he broke the world record, but instead, he’s worried about me and I feel so guilty. He shouldn’t suffer because of my fuck-ups.

“Simon? It’s me.” Ebb’s voice comes from the other side of the door.

Oh. So not Baz.

I crawl out of bed and open the door.

“Do you want to talk?” she asks. I swallow and nod, even though I’m not entirely sure if I do want to talk, or what I want to talk about . I fucked up – what else is there to say? I thought I was getting better with my anxiety, but the more I think about it, the more I think Micah was right; none of what you’ve done before matters once you get to the big stage.

Ebb walks in and settles herself on the hotel room desk. There’s nowhere else for me to sit, so I sit on the bed.

“I don’t really want to analyse my performance,” I tell her. I don’t want to relive the horror of it. That axel… I had no reason to pop it. Absolutely none at all. I never pop jumps, or well, I only pop them when I’m nervous.

I thought it was getting better. I really was.

“I’m not here for that. I just want to talk about what happened today. Was it your shoulder or something else? Nerves?”

“No, my shoulder’s fine,” I mutter. It really is fine – or  as fine as it can be, given that I had no time to recover it. It hurts when I’m not warmed up or if I’m lying down, but it doesn’t affect my jumps. A weird half-injury is no excuse to mess up one of your best jumps. “Everything’s fine. I should’ve made the jump, I just…”

“Nerves?”

I bite my lip and nod. Nerves might be an understatement for it. I was nervous for Autumn Classic and my Grand Prix competitions. I was absolutely terrified here. It was like last year’s European Championships all over again, where everything else left to make room for the fear that settled in my bones the moment I stepped on the ice.

“I couldn’t feel the crowd,” I say. “I couldn’t feel anything. You know like… when I competed at other competitions this season, there was always this… this feeling that I have to fight, you know? It wasn’t here this time.”

Ebb looks sad and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve disappointed her. I’ve disappointed everyone. For the first time in years, I felt like I had a good support system: Ebb, Mathis, Baz, Shepard, my therapist. And then my mum and Penny, who have always been there for me. (I suppose Baz has always been there for me too, I just didn’t know it.) They were all rooting for me, they all helped me get to the Final – and I fucked it up. I’ve let them all down.

“I’m just so frustrated,” I continue. “I’ve worked so hard to get here and then I messed it all up on the second jump. I shouldn’t even be here.”

“Okay, no, no, no,” Ebb cuts in, moving from the desk to my bed. “Listen to me now; you deserve to be here, just like everyone else. I’d argue even more than everyone else because nobody here had to work through what you had to work through at Rostelecom.”

“Yeah but what I did in the past doesn’t matter if I made a mistake now,” I mutter. “Breaking world records at semi-major competitions means shit if you fuck up on the major ones. I just… I thought I was doing better with handling pressure.”

“You are doing better, though. Think about it this way; this was the first major mistake you made this season. And despite it, you still fought on. You had the quad toe after your axel and you pulled it off. And all your other elements after the axel were level fours. Now I did watch your old programs, Simon; the old you would’ve let the toe-loop go as well. And the step sequence. You popped the axel and I know you knew how costly this mistake would be, and yet, you still fought to deliver the rest of your program clean,” Ebb says.

I stare at my knees, unsure how to respond. Yes, I suppose she’s right, but it still doesn’t change the fact that I’ve bollocksed up my chances at a medal.

Ebb continues talking. “You said you didn’t feel any motivation to fight here, but it still takes a great deal of strength and fighting spirit to stay focused after a mistake like that; so I think it was in you today, even if you didn’t feel it. And I know that you don’t feel this way now, but I’m still proud of you because you didn’t give up.”

I swallow. I feel like I might cry again.

“So what do I do now?” I ask.

“Now you get some sleep. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss our strategy. And then on Saturday, you’ll show everyone that you’re as worthy of your spot at the Final as everyone else here. Okay?”

“Okay,” I nod. Ebb pulls me into a tight hug.

“Everybody makes mistakes, Simon. It’s how you recover from them that matters. And you have all the strength needed to recover from this.”

I nod. I don’t feel like I can do it now – if someone asked me to do my free skate right now, it’d be catastrophic. But there’s still the day off, and the free skate isn’t until Saturday afternoon, so maybe I’ll feel better then. 

I already feel a bit better. The worst had already happened; I fucked up and lost my chance at a medal, but the world doesn’t hate me. It kind of feels like it’ll be alright, actually. Or like it could be alright. If I choose to make it alright.

I may have lost my podium position, but I can still win the free skate. After all, this is where I’m stronger than any of my other competitors.

“I think maybe I want to break the 200 in the free skate again,” I mumble. Ebb’s face breaks out into a grin.

“See! That’s the spirit, my boy! And you absolutely can do that! But, if you want to go on and do that, I’m sending you to bed right now. A good night’s sleep is essential.”

I smile. “Practice tomorrow at eleven?”

“Yes, which means your bus to the arena leaves at nine forty-five. Mathis and I will already be there because Sam has practice at nine.”

I nod, slightly in awe that Ebb has somehow managed to keep the schedules of all five of us in her head. (Well, I suppose Baz and I have the same schedule but still.) “Noted.”

“Great, now off to bed with you!”

 

BAZ

I’m snapped from my spiralling thoughts by the sound of a door opening.

“Baz? What are you doing here?” Ebb’s voice sounds from above me.

Fuck. I don’t have an excuse ready. Mainly because I’ve been spiralling about Simon – I finally had the chance to check where he lost those ten points. He popped the triple axel – one of his best jumps – into a single axel, and because single jumps aren’t allowed in the short program, he automatically got zero points for it.

I’ve known Snow since we were twelve; he doesn’t pop jumps unless something’s on his mind. This is a big competition – he must’ve been nervous. That’s probably what happened… but there’s this nagging feeling in the back of my head that this happened because of me. What if he realised that we can’t compete against each other? What if this is it?

That’s all I thought about while I was waiting here instead of preparing an excuse as to why I’m just sitting in front of my teammate’s room. (Because I’m hopelessly in love with him and the urge to go see him is so strong it might tear my heart out of my chest.)

“I wanted to make sure everything was okay,” I say instead of all that. Ebb narrows her eyes at me suspiciously. (Or maybe I’m just imagining it.)

“Everything is fine, Baz. Go to bed.”

I get up from the windowsill I’ve been sitting on. I don’t want to go to bed, but I do feel a bit relieved that Ebb was just in there with Snow. If the way she talked to me after I messed up at a competition is anything to go by, Simon should feel better.

“Is there anything you want to talk to me about?” Ebb asks.

“No,” I say, possibly too quickly. I wonder if she’s going to suspect anything. Fuck, I’m already probably acting suspicious enough. I clear my throat. “I’ll just… go to bed.”

“Okay, kiddo. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

 

As soon as I’m back in my room, I text Simon, because my brain is still too riddled with anxiety to go to sleep.

BP: Are you okay?

He answers almost immediately.

SS: Yes
SS: I mean
SS: I will b
SS: Don’t worry abt me

I sigh. Doesn’t this idiot know that I always worry about him? I stare at my phone, thinking what to say next, when another text flies in.

SS: I just wish comps weren’t so stressful
SS: And that I could see u

My heart gives a squeeze. I was so worried that maybe he didn’t want to see me anymore, that maybe I caused this, so his text feels like a weight off my chest.

BP: That would be nice, yes.

SS: oh I should tell u this
SS: abt ur world record
SS: u’ll find this funny
SS: so I ran into micah in the changing room and he was like “baz’s wr is just a one time thing, he’ll never break it again” so i think it’s rly funny that u literally went on to break it again like 30 minutes later
SS: i just wish i could see his face
SS: istg micah manifested ur world record

BP: I manifested it myself.
BP: You talked to Micah? When?

I swear to god if Micah was his usual arsehole-ish self and said something to Simon that threw him off his game, I’m going to—

My thought is interrupted by another text from Snow.

SS: yeah after my program in the changing room

Oh, so it was after Simon’s program. Good. Better for Micah.

SS: u were right he rly does turn into an arsehole the moment someone is a risk to his gold medal

BP: Micah Cordero wins the sore loser award of the century
BP: Now that’s the one medal you DON’T want to win

SS: for real
SS: pls beat him on saturday bc I want to see his face

BP: Don’t worry. I intend to. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 31: Fight to carry on  

Two mistakes and a medal, cupboards and closets, and who gets a Christmas present, according to Lucy Salisbury. Grand Prix Final, free skate event.

 

SIMON

Just like with Rostelecom, we had a day off in between the short program and the free skate events. Unlike Rostelecom, though, this day went by without any disasters. The official practice was alright – I had some problems with my triple axel at the start, residual from the short program, I think, but Ebb talked me through it and I was soon able to land it again.

Baz was on fire the whole practice, which wasn’t surprising; he lives to show off during official practices. I used to think he was a wanker for doing that, but now I think it’s kind of cool how he makes other competitors look at him even though they should be focusing on their own practice. (I don’t count. I’ve been staring at him during practices, for as long as I can remember.)

He didn’t know this, but it actually helped me too. With everyone staring at him, I felt like there was less pressure on me. And I tried to match him – I think everyone on the ice did. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been in an official practice session so intense.

The public, of course, picked up on it. My Instagram feed that day was full of clips from our practice, saying how intense the free skate is going to be and how likely Baz is to win this competition. (Which he is.)

Nobody knows that I want to win the free skate, though, not even Baz. We still haven’t talked much, and even if we did, I’m not sure that this’d be the best thing to tell him the day before competition. (I guess we’re still trying to work this whole thing out; what to say, what not to say, should we even talk to each other and all that.)

This morning, we barely exchanged a few words, but to be fair, our last practice before competition started too early for either of us to be fully functioning.

I expected things to be the same after practice, which is why I’m definitely surprised when we’re doing our cool-down laps around the corridors and Baz grabs my elbow, pulling me around the corner.  

“What are you—” I begin to object but he shushes me. He opens a random door and pulls me inside.

It’s pitch balck in here, but I must be in some sort of a tight space, because I feel my shoulder nudge against some shelves. I hear Baz fumbling, and moments later, the light turns on, revealing that we’re in a broom cupboard.

“Are you alright?” he asks.

“Did you seriously drag me into a cupboard just to ask that?” I sputter, still surprised by the sudden turn of events.

“It seemed like the most private place to do it. So?” He leans on the shelves behind him and I wonder how he still manages to look so cool, even surrounded by Chinese cleaning products. (I come to the conclusion that it’s his eyebrows.)

“I, um, yeah? I guess?” I am nervous, but not beyond the normal amount. Nothing like what I felt on Thursday. I think it’s because today, I have nothing to lose – I already lost my podium position.

“Sure?” Baz’s voice is softer this time.

“Yeah. Uh. Are you alright?”

The concern in Baz’s eyes is replaced by a devilish look. I feel my stomach lurch and I try to push it down. (Now isn’t the time to think about how good confidence looks on him.) (But fuck, it does.)

“Never better,” he says.

“Are you going to win?” I ask, because I want to see more of this.

“Fuck yes. Are you going to win?”

I recognise the glint in his eyes immediately; a challenge.

“The free skate? Yeah, I think I will.”

Baz nods. “Very well, Simon Snow. I look forward to competing against you,” he says solemnly. I bite back a smile.

“And I, against you.”

“Familiarise yourself with this cupboard.”

I furrow my eyebrows. “Why?”

“This is where we’ll be snogging at the Olympics,” he says and presses a kiss to my forehead. Before I can say anything, or even laugh, he pulls the door open and walks out, leaving me leaning against the shelves, smiling stupidly, all my nerves suddenly gone.

 

They come back before the competition. My nerves, that is. I’m skating second, right after Eric Walsh and my jumps are working in the six-minute warm-up, but I feel like they’re not working enough . I can’t remember what I did in Russia that helped me break the world record.

Well, I know what I did, element-wise, but I feel like doing that won’t be enough this time. I wish I was like Baz so that I could run the numbers in my head and feel reassured. Instead, I spend the five minutes before my performance going back and forth on thinking about how the quad loop isn’t worth as many points as a quad lutz, but a triple axel-triple loop is the highest scoring triple-triple combination in the rulebook and wondering if that’d be enough to overtake the other guys with their higher-scoring quads.

It doesn’t make me feel any calmer. Triple axel-triple loop is a very risky combination – it was a miracle I even landed it in Russia. I’m pretty sure that was the jump I pulled my shoulder muscle on.

“Simon, it’s time to go,” Ebb’s voice snaps me out of my thoughts.

Right.

I check that my skates are tied tightly enough one last time – even though I know they are – and follow Ebb into the arena, still trying to do the numbers in the back of my head. (It’s not going well.)

Eric takes his bows and skates off the ice, which means it’s my turn. I have about two or three minutes on the ice to warm up before Eric’s score is announced and my name is called.

I check my loop take-off about a billion times.

It’s not going to be enough , my brain insists.

No. It has to be enough. I do a single loop again, but I overthink it and the edge is not good. In the background, I hear Eric’s score announced – 172.73 for the free and 268.75 for the total score. He must’ve made a mistake somewhere then.

And you’re next.

No, no, shut up.

Ebb waves at me to come closer.

“Stop over-thinking it,” she tells me. “One element at a time, remember?”

I nod, trying to force that into my stupid brain.

“If you don’t have enough energy for an axel-loop combo at the end, do an axel-toe, okay?”

“Okay,” I say.

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain; Simon Snow.”

“Alright.” She squeezes my hands. “Have fun, kiddo.”

My heart is pounding. I check my loop take-off one last time before taking my starting position. The edge still doesn’t feel right.

The quad loop is my very first element – it makes sense to put your most difficult jumps right at the start – and the whole time leading up to it, I don’t think I’m going to make it. You have to lean on the edge of the blade just right and it’s never been an issue for me, but the more I think about it, the more I can’t remember how to do it.

I’m on the steps leading up to the loop now and I don’t even know how to shift my weight.

Come on, Simon, think.

No. Shut your brain off. Let your muscle memory do the job.

I stop thinking.

And then I hit the edge perfectly.

 

My brain turns back on the moment the music ends. It takes another moment to register that I just skated a clean program. With the triple axel-triple loop.

Oh shit.

It was fucking clean.

I only realise how badly my legs are burning once Ebb and I are sat in the kiss and cry. And my shoulder isn’t the greatest either, I think. I roll it back experimentally – eh, it’ll be fine.

“You good?” Ebb asks. I nod, still too out of breath to speak. The tiny screen in front of us is showing replays of my performance and watching it confirms it – it was clean. No falls. No under-rotations.

“Ffffudge,” I breathe, remembering at the last moment that I probably shouldn’t curse when I have at least two cameras pointed at me. Ebb laughs and I lean back on the wall behind me. “That was…”

“It was brilliant,” Ebb says.

“Do you think…” my voice trails off again because I’m still very out of breath.

“If it’ll be enough for another record?” Ebb asks. I nod and she shrugs. “Could well be. It’s going to be very close for sure.”

I nod. The replays have stopped, which means it’s time for the score announcement.

“The free program score for Simon Snow of Great Britain is… 199.90 points. His total score is 290.26, which puts him currently in first place.”

“Ah, so close!” Ebb exclaims. I smile and nod.

“That’s good,” I say. Yeah. It’s good. Not a world record but pretty fucking close . Enough that I could possibly win the free skate with it.

“It’s great. Great comeback, kid.” She hugs me. “I’m so proud of you.”

 

The press backstage won’t let me go and I’m getting  worried I might miss Baz’s performance. He’s skating last, so it’d be unlikely, but the questions just keep on coming. I think the reporters also assume I won’t medal here, so I won’t be at the press conference and they’re trying to get all the questions in now.

They’re right; it is very unlikely that I’ll medal here, despite my high score; Baz, Micah and Kirill are just too good and have too much of a lead. Maybe even Huang will overtake me, depending on how he skates. But my goal was to win the free skate portion of the competition and that might still happen.

I can hear Huang’s music end from the arena and they still won’t let me go. When Huang comes backstage, they just split between the two of us, dashing back and forth to ask us questions.

It’s almost comedic how quickly they let us go when Micah’s music ends, though. I guess the world champion deserves their full attention. I’m relieved, honestly; it means I won’t miss Baz’s performance.

“How’d it go?” I ask Huang on our way back to the changing rooms. He shrugs.

“Um… So-so. No medal,” he says. “You’re still first.”

“Oh,” is all I can think to say. I didn’t really expect that; my score was high, yes, but Huang had a seven-point lead from the short program. I wasn’t sure it’d be enough.

“Yeah,” Huang nods. “Big score, so, congratulations. You got very better from juniors. Good to see you at senior Final.”

I smile. Huang and I have been competing against each other since the junior division; he beat me at the Junior Grand Prix Final in 2016 and then I went on to beat him at Junior Worlds later that season. He’s fun to compete against, because he’s usually very consistent and because he’s very friendly. He doesn’t speak a lot of English and I definitely don’t speak Chinese, so we don’t talk to each other a whole lot, but every interaction I’ve had with him has been nice.

“You too,” I say, pushing the door to the changing room open. “Re-match at Worlds?”

Huang grins. “Definitely.”

Micah’s score is just announced when we get to the changing room: 193.89 in the free skate and 296.46 in the total score, which is a bit low for Micah, but high enough to push me into second place.

I settle on the bench and begin untying my skates while still keeping an eye on the livestream for Kirill’s performance.

Kirill is foot perfect, as usual. He earns a 199.01 in the free skate, which is just a smidge lower than mine and 302.84 total, which is a new world record. The crowd goes wild over it and I can’t help but think of Baz, who’s on the ice right now, listening to it all.

My heart starts beating faster with nerves. Baz knows how to tune it out, though, and how to turn pressure into motivation. If anything, this will only drive him on.

“Next to skate, representing Great Britain; Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch!”

The camera pans over to him – the look in his eyes is pure determination.

I take a deep breath, trying to settle my nerves for him. He can do it. He has a two-point lead after the short program.

Come on, Baz , I think. Win this.

 

BAZ

Two mistakes. I made two fucking mistakes.

It’s not going to be enough. Kirill skated before me and while I plugged my ears so as not to hear his score, the reaction of the crowd was still loud enough that I knew it was a world record. Again. ( How did he get so good so fast? Last season, I knew exactly where his weaknesses were – now I don’t even think he has any.)

I just hope it’s enough for second place. I’ll be damned if I finish the Final third again .

Two fucking mistakes.

I want to set myself on fire.

There’s still a faint ache in my hip from that fall I took on the quad toe. Fucking hell, why didn’t I just hold on? I hope the jump will at least be recognised as fully rotated because I can’t afford to lose any more points.

I bury my face in my hands in frustration.

“Baz, that was still a good fight,” Ebb says and I shake my head.

“Not good enough.”

“Good enough for second place. You’ll see,” she assures me. The TV screen in front of us is showing slow motion replays of my performance and I wince when it shows a fall on the quad toe. And then the hand down on the triple axel.

Why on Earth did I put my hand down there?

“That was a good call,” Ebb comments. “Because you were so off-centre that you would’ve fallen otherwise.”

“I can do better,” I groan. Fucking hell. It’s been almost three years since I’ve injured myself on the triple axel; why is it still my nemesis? I make a vow to myself to work extra hard on it during Christmas break, along with my core strength exercises.

“I know you can, but this was very good. Your lutz was the best I’ve seen from you this season and your other axel was gorgeous. You also did a really good job with the portrayal. It was a good program, Baz.”

Really good, but not my best. Not good enough for first place. (I can do better. I can beat Micah and Kirill, I know I can, but only if I’m foot perfect.) (And I can be foot perfect.)

I realise that the camera has panned back to the kiss and cry, which means the scores are about to be announced. I sit up straighter and make my face appear as bored as possible; no need for the whole world to know how frustrated I feel right now.

“The free program score for Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch of Great Britain is 195.42 points,” the announcer’s voice echoes around the arena. The display screen shows my score – not as bad as I expected. Maybe Ebb was onto something when she said my portrayal was good because my artistry score is the highest it’s been this season.

“That’s going to be enough for 300,” Ebb says.

“His total score is 301.15 points which puts him in 2nd place. This concludes the men’s free skate competition.”

Good enough for 300, but not good enough for gold. This is my personal best and it’s still not enough.

But, with two mistakes in my program, it means I can get even better. Maybe to 305 or 310 if I really push it both in the short and the free program.

The screen shows the leader board now and I was right; Kirill did break the world record right before I skated. He’s in first place with 302.84, which is a really small difference. If I just didn’t put my hand down on that triple axel landing, I would’ve won. (Fucking hell, why did I put my hand down?)

Because I was the last skater to go, those are the final standings; Kirill first, me second, Micah third (at least I’ve beaten Micah) (for the first time in my career), Simon fourth, Huang fifth and Eric sixth.

I realise that I’ve just pushed my boyfriend off the podium. I take a closer look at his total score; 290.26 is really good, given that he had 90 points in the short program. That must mean he scored over 200 again. Maybe he even broke the world record again. That’s exactly the kind of thing Snow is capable of when he really puts his mind to something.

If he skated clean in the short program, he might’ve been the winner today.

If I skated clean today, I’d definitely be the winner. Frustration surges up in my chest again. If I just didn’t put my hand down…

I notice Kirill step back into the arena for the winner’s interview and I shove my water bottle into Ebb’s hands.

“Just a moment,” I say.

My legs feel half dead, but I still get up and approach Kirill. He notices me and smiles sheepishly. (Kirill is kind of a shy person. I’m not entirely sure he realises he’s one of the best figure skaters in the world.)

“Congratulations,” I say in Russian, shaking his hand. Kirill smiles.

“To you too. That was a personal best, right?”

I nod. “By three points, I think.”

Kirill smiles widely. “Welcome to the 300-club.”

For some reason, it makes me feel a bit better. I may have lost, but I still broke the 300-point-barrier. And I know Kirill has a whole bunch of expectations on his shoulders, being the only Russian currently at the very top in the men’s event, so I’m happy that he won. (But also frustrated that I didn’t.)

“Thank you.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the volunteers waving at Kirill to come do his interview. I shouldn’t hold him back any longer. “See you at the press conference,” I quickly say and head backstage.

Backstage is chaos; it always is after competition. I try to spot Snow, but before I know it, I’ve got random people congratulating me on breaking the 300 and then I’ve got to hurry to get changed back into normal clothes before the press conference. (I could keep my costume on, but it’s very nice and not very warm, so I’d prefer not to sit in it for the next forty-five minutes.)

I spot Snow on my way to the changing room, but he’s giving an interview, so I can’t talk to him. He does spot me, though, and gives me a ridiculous wave. I roll my eyes and smile at the reporter’s confused face.

My exhaustion washes over me like a wave the moment I settle on the changing room bench. I think everything is finally catching up with me; the stress of the past few days, the pressure to score over 300, the jet-lag… I can already feel a headache coming on and I haven’t even taken my skates off yet.

I lean back against the wall and take a few deep breaths. At least it’s over now… and I didn’t win. A jab of disappointment shoots through my chest and I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to chase it away.

I’m startled from my thoughts by someone clearing their throat in front of me. I open my eyes and see a vaguely familiar man standing in front of me. I’ve seen him before, but I’m not entirely sure where. Must be someone on Eric Walsh’s team – he’s wearing a red hoodie with the Canadian maple leaf on it.

“Hey, um, did you see Eric anywhere?” the guy asks and that confirms it for me.

I’m about to tell him that no, I didn’t, when a familiar voice sounds from the other side of the changing room. 

“Ben? What are you doing here?”

Both me and the man – Ben? – turn around to see Eric, coming out of the washroom attached to the changing room. Ben crosses the room in a few long steps and the two of them collide into a tight hug.

I suddenly realise why the man looks familiar to me; he’s Eric’s boyfriend. I must’ve seen him before, on Eric’s Instagram.

Good for them , I think and bend down to untie my skates, giving them some privacy. When I look back up again, the two of them are sitting on one of the benches, talking quietly and holding hands.

It makes me think of Simon and how we’ll never be able to hold hands like that, at least not if we want to keep our relationship private.

I don’t mind keeping it private, of course, but right now, I just wish I could be close to him without having to worry that anyone would suspect anything.

I push the thought out of my head. I’m lucky enough that I even get to have a relationship with Simon Snow – I shouldn’t be wishing for anything more.

I grab my normal clothes and head into the washroom to change. I still have the press conference and the medal ceremony to go before I can finally see Simon and hold his hand in the privacy of one of our hotel rooms.

But it doesn’t matter because I will get to hold his hand, and that’s enough.

 

SIMON

Ebb told me to go back to the hotel, but I decided to wait for Baz to be done with his post-competition stuff. I wanted to see him immediately after the competition, but some reporter caught me waiting outside the changing room and decided this would be a good time for an interview. By the time he let me go, Baz was at the press conference already.

I don’t mind waiting. The athletes and the press have a special section of the arena seats reserved for them, so I sit there and watch the ice dance competition. The medal ceremonies here are held after every three events, so immediately after the ice dance event, the volunteers start setting up the podium for the medal ceremony.

The winning ice dance pair are giving an interview when I see Baz walk back into the arena. Well, actually, I see Kirill first because his hair is so bright that it practically shines under the dim arena lights, but Baz is right next to him and the two of them are clearly immersed in a conversation.

I smile. I know Baz thinks friendships are beneath him, but he’s actually friends with a lot of his rivals. Or well, half-friends, I guess. He, Kirill, Huang and Eric get on – it’s only Micah who’s a bad sport and doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Meanwhile, Baz is just as competitive as Micah and yet here he is, making friendly conversation with a guy he just lost to.

I used to think Baz was just pretending to be nice to his rivals. I used to complain to Penny all the time about how he’s faking good sportsmanship for publicity, because he was certainly never nice to me when we competed against each other in the junior circuit.

But he was, just in a very Baz way. He’d say things like “that step sequence was actually half decent this time” and “nice to know you can at least muck up a quad when it counts.” I didn’t realise he was complimenting me back then, though. His comments just made me angry, especially when he was polite to everyone else. (I think I was a little bit jealous.)

And they fired me up, pushed me to be better. Back when I was fourteen or fifteen, practically everything I did was to prove Baz wrong. He said I’d never be able to learn a quad, so I learned two of them. He’s the reason I qualified for my first ever Junior Grand Prix Final; he said he was looking forward to not having a competition with me for once (we had every competition together that season), so I made sure to qualify, just to spite him.

I don’t even know where my career would be if it wasn’t for Baz. He was the one who motivated me when Davy couldn’t. Yes, he did it by taunting me and calling me incapable, but it worked. Without him, I don’t think I’d be here, at the Grand Prix Final. I don’t even think I’d be good enough to be able to qualify for the Final.

Baz’s name gets called for the medal ceremony, and I’d like to think I’m cheering loud enough for him to hear me, but really, the rest of the crowd is cheering just as loudly. He’s clearly still the crowd favourite.

There’s still the ice dance and the junior pairs medal ceremonies after the senior men’s one, but I rush backstage as soon as Baz, Kirill and Micah get off the ice. I wouldn’t want Baz to miss me – he doesn’t know that I’m here and I can’t text him because he keeps his phone on airplane mode during competitions.

I wait for him in front of the changing room, hoping none of the reporters will notice me this time. I’m in luck; by the time Baz comes out, nobody’s even looked at me twice.

Baz is clearly surprised when he sees me. “Snow? What are you still doing here?”

“I wanted to see the medal for myself,” I shrug. Baz smiles and shakes his head, pulling his medal out of his pocket.

“You’re an idiot.”

I glance at the medal briefly before giving it back to him. “Good medal.”

“Such an insightful comment. You should be a medal critic,” Baz remarks.

“I’ll look into it if this figure skating thing doesn’t pan out,” I say. Baz snorts.

“I think it will. I heard you won the free skate.”

“Yeah. Still ended up being fourth, though, so clearly I have some catching up to do.”

Baz tsks. “Snow, you do realise what you did today was a very strong comeback? You should be proud of yourself.”

“Yeah, yeah, no, I am,” I quickly say. “I’m just thinking next time, I’d like one of those.” I point to his medal.

“Very well, Snow. I look forward to sharing the podium with you again,” Baz says, tucking the medal back in his pocket.

I grin. “Me too.”

“Even if your God Save The Queen is horribly off-key.”

I nudge him. “Hey!”

“I only speak the truth,” he says innocently. He doesn’t, but I decide not to argue with him; he’d probably start spilling music theory on me if I did. Wanker.

“Do you think we can make it to the bus without any reporters talking to us?” I ask instead.

“Probably not.”

Thankfully, he’s wrong.

 

The hotel already stopped serving dinner by the time we get back, so Baz orders room service. The food here is delicious and I haven’t had the time to fully enjoy it yet, because I tend to avoid new foods before a competition. (It’s torture but my digestion is thankful; the pre-competition stress is already bad enough for my stomach.)

I’m so full afterwards that I could happily fall asleep right there and then, but Baz wants to analyse his program, so I decide to call my mum in the meantime. It’s around dinnertime in England, so she’s already done with work.

She picks up almost immediately and spends a few minutes gushing about my program.

“We watched the livestream in class today and the kids rather liked it,” she tells me.

“Mum! I told you to stop showing my programs to your students!” I complain. I can see Baz’s smirk out of the corner of my eye and I nudge him with my foot. Well, I’m glad he finds my mum publicly embarrassing me amusing.

“Oh, come on, they think you’re cool! I promised some of the girls your autograph.”

I feel my ears turning red, like they always do whenever someone asks me for an autograph. You’d figure that after years of being in this sport, I’d get used to it, but no. “Um, yeah sure, I could… well I get back on Monday anyway so…” I fumble.

“I know, honey. I’m so excited to see you again!”

I smile. Baz and I are flying back to London first thing Monday morning, because British Nationals are being held next Saturday. I’m excited to go back home, even if our federation is doing a shit job at scheduling Nationals. (They must’ve known Baz would be at the Final at the very least. Why they scheduled Nationals a week after the Final is beyond me.)

“I am too.”

“Are you sure you can compete so soon after this competition, though?” my mum asks exactly what I’ve just been thinking.

“I mean, I’ll just have to, won’t I? Nationals are more of a formality anyway, since we have three spots for Worlds and only Baz, Premal and I meet the qualifications to actually go to Worlds. So even if I don’t make the top three, they’ll have to send me anyway,” I shrug.

Nationals haven't always been like this, though. Just a few years ago, they were considered a semi-intense competition, because the Natasha Generation was still competing. They all retired after the 2018 Olympics, though, and since then, Nationals are mainly just a showdown between me and Baz. (One he’s always won so far.)

“Oh, and Ebb won’t be coming,” I add. My mum seems properly shocked at that.

“What? Why? But I already bought her a Christmas present!”

I feel my ears turn even redder. “Mum! You didn’t need to get her a Christmas present!”

Baz scoffs and I nudge him with my foot.

“The woman’s been caring for you while you’re halfway across the world, of course I need to get her a Christmas present!” my mum objects. “You’ll take it to her when you get back to Montreal, you understand me?” she asks in mock sternness. I scoff and roll my eyes, which she somehow manages to hear over the phone. “Don’t give me attitude, mister!”

“I’m not giving you attitude!” I object before nudging Baz again, because I can see him trying to bite back his laughter. The two of them aren’t even on the same continent and yet somehow, it feels like they’re ganging up on me.

“Right, and Merlin’s not the most spoiled cat on the planet,” my mum says. It makes me laugh – she’s right about Merlin. (God, I can’t wait to see him.) “Okay, now tell me, why won’t Ebb be coming with you?”

I sigh. I don’t particularly enjoy explaining the bureaucracy of the British Skating Federation, mainly because I don’t understand it that well myself. “Um, it’s the whole competing-on-a-national-level thing. Like, when we’re competing internationally, we represent a country, but on a national level, you have to represent a club and our federation has a rule that this club has to be based in the UK, right?”

“Right,” my mum says.

“So Ebb’s club isn’t based in the UK, which means that I technically still represent Watford and Cresuet is just my training base. And since Ebb isn’t listed as a Watford coach, the federation won’t cover the costs of her staying here. And I mean, that in itself isn’t such an issue but she also has other skaters like Ikumi Takahashi, do you know her?”

“You’ve told me about her, yes.”

“Well, basically, Ikumi’s got Japanese Nationals in three weeks, and Nationals are a big deal in Japan because everyone is so good there. And they’re also held over Christmas, so Baz and I told her that she doesn’t have to come to our Nationals so that she can at least have some time with her family in December. And Penny’s mum already said she could look after us at Nationals.”

“Oh, so you’ve discussed this with Mitali, but not with me?” my mum asks in mock offence.

“No! I told Penny! Well, um, she actually explained the rules to me, because I didn’t know this whole club thing up until this year,” I say sheepishly. (And because when I asked Baz about it, he just kept saying “Honestly, Snow, how do you not know that?” and then I snogged him into the sofa to shut him up.) (The memory makes me blush.)

“It is a little bit stupid if you ask me, yes. But it’s nice of you two, letting Ebb have time with her family.”

“Well, you know, it’s just a small competition.” I shrug, even though she can't see me.

“Still. Also thank you for telling me. I’ll get Mitali a present too.”

“Oh my god, mum, no!”

“You can’t stop me, Simon. I live to embarrass you; it’s my function as a mother.”

I groan into the phone.

“Which reminds me of my other function.”

“Which is?”

“Isn’t it one in the morning in Beijing right now? Why are you still awake? Off to bed with you!”

I start laughing.

“I’m serious, Simon!”

“Yeah, yeah, alright, I’ll go. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight son. I love you!”

“Love you too!”

 

BAZ

I hear Snow drop his phone on the bedside table and moments later, he shuffles down the bed to where I’m sitting and rests his forehead on my back, both of his arms snaking around my middle.

I want to cry with how much I missed this. The past few days haven’t been easy, especially knowing that Simon was struggling and I couldn’t do anything to help. There were so many times when I almost said “fuck it” and went to his room – but I know he’d just tell me to focus on my own competition if I tried that.

I don’t cry though. “You kicked me,” I say instead. Snow scoffs.

“You were being a prick.”

“For thinking that it’s cute when you talk to your mother?” I ask, feigning innocence.

“Shut up,” Simon mutters. I intertwine my fingers with his.

“Does she know about us?”

“Not yet. I figured I’d tell her in person, y’know, over Christmas break. Is that alright?”

I smile. I want to tell him that it’s more than alright, that if he feels certain enough in our relationship to tell his mum, then I don’t mind if he calls her and tells her right now.

I don’t say that though. “You don’t need my permission to tell things to your parents, Snow.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just that you said you didn’t want to be out,” he says.

“Publicly. I’ve no issue with people from my private life – or yours – knowing,” I say and my mind goes back to Eric and his boyfriend. And how they’re able to hold hands and post their lovey-dovey selfies on Instagram and not have to worry about hugging for too long and people starting to suspect things.

It would be nice to do that with Simon, it really would. And if I came out, I could talk about why I left Russia and the press would finally get off my back.

But then they’d get on my back because I’m gay. Not in a homophobic manner, they just tend to think that once you’re open about your sexuality, your whole entire personal life is suddenly up for grabs. I’ve seen it happen before; straight blokes never get asked to make statements about their relationship status or their history of self-discovery, but when Eric or Shepard came out publicly, that’s all the press was on for months .

That’s the main reason I don’t want to come out – I don’t want my queerness to be a front-page story, because it’s not. I know one day I’ll probably have to come out, and I know there are many good aspects to that as well, but I just wish I could protect my privacy too.

Simon presses a kiss to my shoulder. “Are you sure?” he asks. “You’re all tense.”

It takes me a moment to remember what we were talking about. “Yes, I’m sure. I just have a headache, that’s all,” I say and it’s not even a lie – my head’s been hurting ever since the press conference. The food helped a bit, but I know I just need to rest.

“Hm,” Simon hums, then shuffles backwards a bit. My mouth goes dry as his hands settle on my shoulders and I realise what he’s about to do. “Alright?” he asks. I swallow and nod and he starts working out the knots in my shoulder.

I was supposed to be analysing the competition scores, but it’s hard to focus with Simon massaging me. I just stare at my laptop screen and pray he doesn’t notice the blush spreading across my face.

“Thank you for beating Micah,” he says. I sigh.

“I only beat him because he made a mistake,” I say. A brief analysis of today’s competition revealed that almost everybody made mistakes – Kirill and Simon were the only two people who skated clean. It was thanks to the other guys falling and my good short program score that I ended up in second place. My free skate certainly wasn’t up to par with my placement.

“You made two mistakes.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“No, I mean—” Simon’s hands drop from my shoulders and he shuffles forward so that he’s sitting beside me. He takes my notebook. “Micah fell on his quad lutz-triple toe combination, right? You fell on your quad toe and put your hand down on the triple axel and you still beat him by… five points.”

“Yes, but Micah fell because he under-rotated his triple toe, so he also got an under-rotation call. Technically, it was two mistakes in one,” I say. “He lost about eight points on this jump, so I wouldn’t have beaten him if he was clean.” 

“Yes, but you lost about…” he stares at my scoring sheet, eyebrows furrowed. “Let’s say six points on the quad toe and then, um… I guess four points on the triple axel? Is that right? So if you skated clean, you’d get about 311 and if Micah skated clean, he’d get… six plus eight is… 304.”

I just stare at him. Does this idiot know how much I love him? I know how much he hates score analyses, and even if he’s not 100% right, he’s trying for my sake.

Simon turns to me, furrowing his eyebrows adorably. “Right?”

“Right. That was surprisingly decent for someone so bad at math,” I finally say. “However—”

“Nu-uh. End of discussion,” he immediately cuts me off.

“Micah’s GOEs on his other jumps were—”

“Baz, literally, I did math for you, the least you could do is stop being a nerd and cuddle me,” he says. I stare at him and he stares back.

He truly is an idiot. An insufferable, needy idiot. Staring at me with the ferocity of a thousand suns.

“Fine,” I concede, shutting my laptop and putting it on the hotel room desk. “But I get to be the little spoon.”

 


 

2020/21 Grand Prix Final men’s results

Chapter Text

Chapter 32: Guide me home

Christmas hats, Aldi parking lot, condoms, the Royal Ballet School hoodie and how to fix jet lag, according to Simon Snow.  (Spoiler alert, it doesn’t really work on Baz.) British Nationals T-minus one week.

 

SIMON

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been jet lagged. Usually, I can handle time changes pretty well, but I guess even my sleep schedule gets messed up from being on three different continents within less than a week, especially if you throw a major competition in the mix. We’ve been in London for a few days now and I’m still so tired that all I do is eat, practice and sleep.  

I’m nowhere near as fucked up as Baz, though. He actually fell asleep on the changing room bench the other day. I can’t imagine how bad it must be for him to willingly sleep in public, especially on the uncomfortable benches at Mitali’s rink, but I imagine that’s pretty high up on the “Baz Pitch Sleep Deprivation Scale.” (We’re both training at Mitali’s during the week leading up to Nationals. Penny’s mum offered to watch over us since Ebb can’t be here, so it works out.)

In retrospect, Baz falling asleep was kind of adorable. Penny found a Christmas hat and put it on his head while he was dead to the world, which Baz was not pleased about when he woke up. The next training session, he retaliated by stealing both of our skate guards so we were stuck on the ice, presumably left to his mercy until we apologised, but I just took my skates off and walked to the changing room in my socks. (This prompted him to call me a menace to society, but what else are you supposed to do when your boyfriend is a grudge-holding prick?)

It hasn’t been like this since we all trained back at Watford together. Actually, I don’t think it’s ever been like this. The atmosphere at the rink is probably one of the few things keeping me from keeling over from exhaustion these days – both mental and physical. This is my third competition in the span of a month and at this point, I’d just like a break .

Baz seems to think so too, as he settles himself on the bench after yet another training session.

“Fuck this,” he sighs. “I’m not doing any quads this weekend. In fact, I might not even do any jumps. What are they going to do, not send me to Worlds? I might just go on the ice and take a nap for four minutes.”

It makes me laugh and causes Penny to roll her eyes at him.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Basil,” she says.

“I’m as serious as a heart attack, Bunce. It’s their fault for scheduling Nationals so soon after the Final, really.”

“They did it last year too and you ended up being just fine,” Penny objects.

“Yes, because last year, the Final was held in Italy . I know you don’t excel at geography, Bunce, but Italy’s a bit closer to England than China is.”

I should be mad at Baz for slandering Penny, but the truth is, she is remarkably bad at geography. As in “doesn’t know how big America is” bad. She used to visit Micah’s rink for a training camp every summer when they were still together, and when Agatha moved to San Diego, she thought she could make a day trip to visit her. It was the only time I’ve ever seen Penny be so catastrophically wrong about something.

She hates it when it’s brought up, though, as evidenced by her chucking her gloves at Baz just now.

“Bunce, I would appreciate it if you didn’t throw your stinky belongings at me,” he says, throwing them right back at her.

“Drama queen,” Penny scoffs. “Are you seriously going to tone down your program, though? Because there are going to be a lot of people watching and I think they wouldn’t appreciate you just taking a nap on the ice.”

“Well, they should enjoy me in all my glory. Snow watches me sleep all the time so I must look remarkable whilst I do it.”

His comment makes me blush and Penny groan.

“I’m happy for you two but I don’t need to hear about it,” she complains. “And I’m serious, Baz. Nationals are sold out.”

I nearly spit out the sip of water I just took. “Nationals are sold out?!

“Wait, don’t you two know about that?” Penny asks, confused. “People here have been taking interest in figure skating ever since Baz won Europeans last year, and now that Simon won Rostelecom, the press is talking about this big great rivalry between you two. And it’s the first time either of you will be skating on home ice since winning all those medals. I guess people want to see it.”  

“And you planned on telling us this when exactly?” Baz cuts in.

“I honestly thought you guys knew! It’s not my fault you don’t follow the news!” Penny defends herself. “I’m just saying; I know you two are tired, but you know there are no high-end competitions in England. This might be someone’s only chance to see skating at such a high level, so just do one quad. Please?”

Baz sighs and begins untying his skates. “Fine. Snow, how many quads are you going to do? If the media is advertising a showdown, I want to give it to them fair and square.”

“Oh, um…” I pause for a second. Baz isn’t going to like my answer. “Uh, I was thinking a full layout?”

I was right, Baz doesn’t like my answer. “Full layout? As in two quads in the short, four in the free?”

I shrug. “Uh, yeah.”

Baz groans and falls back on the bench theatrically. “You’re going to be the death of me, Snow.”

“I mean, I can tone it down if you want to,” I add.

“No, no. Six quads it is.” He extends his arm towards me. “Shake on it?”

It feels weird to be shaking hands with my boyfriend and I think Baz thinks so too because he smirks when we do it.

“Alright, Snow, six quads. I’m going to destroy you.”

I smirk. “I’d like to see you try.”

 

Baz apparently took this as a challenge, because he kept fucking pushing me the whole session. Well, he didn’t actually push me – he was just doing some crazy jump combinations right in front of me and I’m not one to back down from a challenge. (With the look he sent me, it was definitely a challenge.)

In the end, Mitali called us to the boards and told us off for jumping too much and Baz practically wiggled his eyebrows at me. I had to bite my lip not to laugh (or snog him against the boards.)

It’s for the best, though, because if we’d have kept our battle up, I don’t know if I’d have lived to see the end of our training day. I vaguely wonder how Penny has enough energy to go help her mum with coaching the littluns after our practice, because I’m absolutely knackered. (Although I suppose Penny isn’t dealing with an annoying case of jet lag.)

The three of us do our post-practice stretching together and then I watch as Penny gets back on the ice to coach Priya’s group.

“Snow.” Baz’s voice suddenly sounds behind me and I nearly jump. “The weather is horrible today.”

I turn around and furrow my eyebrows at him. “Are you seriously talking to me about the weather?

Baz rolls his eyes mightily. “I was going to offer you a ride home, but if you’re planning on being difficult—” he starts.

“No, no, I’ll take the ride home,” I cut him off quickly. I don’t even care about the weather, but Baz and I haven’t been alone together since we got back to London and it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to think about kissing him, especially when he’s testing my patience like he was today. It would do him good to shut up for once.

A small smile flashes across Baz’s face before he composes himself again. “Very well. But no feet on the dashboard.”

“When have I ever put my feet on the dashboard? I’ve only been in your car twice!”

“And I know you were thinking about it the whole time,” Baz concludes. Well, technically, he’s not wrong. There are few greater joys in life than putting your feet on the dashboard.

Once we’re in his car, I make the motion of putting my feet up just to mess with him. Baz sighs theatrically as he starts the car.

“You’re insufferable,” he says.

“I learned from the best,” I grin at him.

“Who, Bunce? Shepard?” Baz asks while backing up his car. It’s oddly mesmerizing.

“Shut up,” I huff.

“Or what, Snow?” he raises his eyebrow at me and I swear if he wasn’t driving right now, he’d be done for. (I won’t snog my boyfriend in the middle of the road, even if he is being an insufferable prick; I do have respect for basic road safety.)

“I’m hungry, can we get something to eat?” I quickly change the subject. Baz rolls his eyes.

“Anything for you, my dear,” he says sarcastically. I scoff and roll my eyes.

“Prat.”

 

As soon as he parks in front of Aldi, I lean over the console and smash my face onto his. Baz makes a small noise of surprise against my lips before grabbing my face and pushing against me.

It’s so good. We’ve not kissed since the night we left Beijing and it’s been driving me up the wall to be honest. Especially when Baz is being a right knobhead like he was today.

“You’re not really hungry, are you?” Baz asks as he pulls away. (Too fucking soon if you ask me.) I kiss him once more before answering.

“I’m always hungry,” I say. “But I can manage.”

“You’re a fucking menace, Simon Snow. Did you seriously just make me pull over so that you could kiss me?”

“Are you complaining?”

“Yes. You smell disgusting.”

“Shut up,” I say, poking him in the stomach. Baz squirms. “Oh my god, are you ticklish?”

No ,” Baz says, sending me his glariest glare, but it doesn’t matter because he so is ticklish. I poke again and he squirms and fucking giggles . I might’ve just discovered my greatest weapon against Baz.

Or maybe not, because the next moment, he’s holding my wrist and kissing me. And I guess that’s an effective counterattack because I’d much rather be doing this than ticking him. (It’s a narrow win, though.)

“You’re a fucking nightmare,” Baz breathes in between kisses.

“You like it,” I retort.

“I fucking adore it,” he says against my lips and I nearly melt from it all. My hand breaks free from his grip and I cup his face, pulling him closer to me. Baz kisses me harder for a second, then suddenly pulls away.

“Simon,” he says, sounding out of breath. (I am too.) “We’re not snogging in an Aldi parking lot in broad daylight.”

I stare at him, suddenly embarrassed. I mean, the rain is falling so hard that I’m sure nobody can see us, but he’s still right.

Baz puts his seatbelt back on (I hadn’t even noticed when he undid it), and starts the engine. “My aunt isn’t home,” he says as he backs the car out of the parking spot. “We’re going to mine.”

 

By the time Baz drops me off at home, it’s getting dark already and I’m wearing a Royal Ballet School hoodie that he let me borrow because my practice clothes did actually stink. My hair is probably all mussed, either from snogging or from us taking a nap together.

I’m feeling infinitely more human than I have since coming back to London. Who knew all I needed to combat my jet lag was a good nap and an even better snog?

Mum’s already home when I walk through the door, watching the telly in the lounge. Merlin is curled up on an empty armchair, fast asleep. He blinks awake as I retract the handle on my skating bag.

My mum puts the telly on mute and pats the sofa, motioning me to sit next to her. I do.

“You’re home late,” she says. Fuck. I still haven’t told her about Baz. I’ve been meaning to, but I’ve been going to bed extra early every night because of jet-lag and I just haven’t found the time.

“Yeah, I, um… I was hanging out with Baz,” I stammer. Should I tell her now? I know my mum wouldn’t react badly, but the thought of telling her still makes my chest tighten with anxiety.

Mum smiles again. “Ah, that’s lovely. I’m glad to hear you and Baz are friends. I remember how you couldn’t stand each other when you were younger,” she laughs.

We’re more than friends is practically on the tip of my tongue. My heart is hammering in my chest. Yeah, funny story, mum, Baz has actually fancied me since he was fifteen and I’m home late because we were busy snogging in his bed at his aunt’s flat.

“Yeah, um, well… things have changed,” I choke out. I’m not sure how my mum doesn’t pick up on how nervous I am – or maybe she does and doesn’t want to say anything.

What if she already knows? That prospect somehow seems equally mortifying. God, I should just tell her.

“We, um—” I start, but my mum cuts me off.

“Oh, are you getting ballet classes from the Royal Ballet School?” she asks, feeling the sleeve of my hoodie. Fuck, I’m still wearing Baz’s hoodie. Well, that makes it really obvious then, doesn’t it?

“Um, no, this is Baz’s. He went to the school for a bit before he moved to Russia,” I say.

“Oh right! Sometimes I wonder how this boy has time for everything. I mean, what? Ballet, violin, skating, football…” she starts counting on her fingers. “Am I missing anything?”

“He’s also taking a full course at uni,” I fill her in. And he’s dating me. (God, I’m dating Baz Pitch. Sometimes the realisation hits me all over again, causing a swarm of butterflies to rise in my stomach.) “Um, actually, now it’s mainly just uni and skating for him,” I add. And me.

“Yes, that’s good. Having too much on his plate can’t be good for his mental health,” mum nods. “Speaking of which, you’re doing okay, aren’t you? Any nerves for Nationals?”

I smile as she puts her arm around me. “Yeah, I’m doing fine. The therapy is really helping and so is the whole team in Montreal. It’s just much less stressful. Ebb has this rule, I guess, where she wants us to prioritise having fun while skating over our results. So that’s helped.”

“Simon, I don’t care what you say, this woman deserves a thousand Christmas presents.”

I laugh dryly and swallow hard. I’m going to tell her. “Actually, Baz has been helping a lot too,” I say.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I… he… um. Before we left for Rostelecom, er, you know how I really wanted to qualify for the Final and I had to beat the Chinese bloke to do it?” I ask. Mum nods and I continue. “Well, Baz is a massive swot for scores and all the math behind it. He, um, helped me analyse my program and showed me where I can get extra points to beat Huang and uh. I don’t think I’d be able to skate as well as I did if it wasn’t for him,” I say. I don’t say how he held me in his arms while I was on the brink of tears and shaking from anxiety and the realisation that I loved him. (I still haven’t told him I love him.)

My mum tsks. “Well now I’m going to have to get him a Christmas present too.”

I start laughing. “Mum, no.

“Sorry, Simon, good friends deserve presents. Those are the rules.”

I swallow hard. “We’re actually a bit more than friends,” I mumble. There, I said it. My heart feels like it’s about to race out of my chest and I’m fairly positive my face is burning.

“Oh?” my mum asks. She sounds surprised but not in a bad way. “Since when?”

God, I wish I knew how to answer that. “It’s a bit complicated,” I say, focusing on the hem of Baz’s hoodie. “Officially, it’s only been like a month, but um… we’ve sorta been going back and forth on it since September. We put it on probation for a bit. And then after Rostelecom, I asked him to be my boyfriend.” I’m definitely blushing now. “I didn’t say anything because I wanted to tell you in person,” I add.

She pulls me into a tight hug. “I’m glad you’ve told me at all,” she says. “This can’t have been easy, but you know I love you all the same, no matter the gender of the person you’re dating, right?”

And yes, I knew that, but I still feel my eyes prickling from relief. “I know,” I choke out.

“And you know that no matter who you’re dating, you have to practice safe sex, right?”

All the emotions I was feeling just a second ago are instantly replaced by mortification. “Mum! We’re not there yet!” I exclaim, my cheeks burning with embarrassment. It’s true; Baz and I have never gone any further than that morning in Moscow. Our practices are so physically draining that most of the time Baz and I are in bed together, we just kiss lazily or sleep.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t want more but…

No, I’m not having this train of thought with my mother right there, giving me the talk.

“Well, just remember it when you are there. I have some condoms upstairs if—”

I shuffle away quickly. “Oh my god, mum, no! We’re good!” (Are we good, though? I mean, I don’t have any condoms…) (Baz probably has them.) (I hope Baz has them.) (Why would Baz have them, though? It’s not like we’ve explicitly talked about sex.) (Maybe I should take the condoms.)

“Well, if you change your mind…” mum’s voice trails off. “Did you eat at Baz’s?” she swiftly changes the subject.

“Yeah, but it was a few hours ago.”

My mum grins. “Do you want pasta?”

I always want fucking pasta.

 

BAZ

I’m just crawling into bed when Simon calls me. I startle a bit when my phone rings and his name flashes across the screen. Simon doesn’t usually call me, and I immediately think something’s wrong.

My heart is racing as I answer the call. “Snow,” I say, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible.

“Hey,” Simon says from the other side. His voice sounds different over the phone, but the softness of it doesn’t escape me. I breathe out a sigh of relief; maybe he just wanted to talk to me. Maybe Snow never usually calls me because we’re neighbours and he can just pop by my flat whenever he wants to talk.

“Why are you calling at such an ungodly hour?” I ask, settling my pillow against the headboard and leaning back on it.

“It’s nine in the evening,” Snow objects.

“You know I’m still on Beijing time.”

“Did I wake you up? We can talk tomorrow if you’re tired.”

“Simon. It’s fine, I’m not tired. Why did you call me?”

“The hoodie smells like you,” he says and my heart just about fucking melts. I imagine him now, laying in his bed, wearing my hoodie and it’s too much for me to handle. He looked so adorable when I put it on him earlier today.

“And my pillow smells like your sweaty head,” I say, because I’m awful and I ruin everything good.

“Shut up,” he laughs. “Today was nice. I missed that.”

I swallow my heart beating in my throat. “It was adequate, yes.”

“I told my mum about us.”

I nearly drop my phone out of my hand in surprise. “And?” I ask, hesitantly.

“She was fine with it,” he says and I can hear the smile in his voice. I smile too.

“I’m happy to hear that,” I say earnestly, because I am. Simon deserves all the supportive parents in the world and I already know his dad is a prick, so I’m happy that at least his mum is a decent person.

“She offered me condoms,” Simon blurts out and Christ, he really does have a way of springing things on you out of the blue.

“Um.” I’m not entirely sure what to say to that. “Did you take them?”

God fucking dammit, Basil. Now he’s going to think you’re perverse.

“I, uh… no.”

I’m not sure why my heart sinks at that. I guess we’ve never really talked about sex or about what Simon wants. And he did spend the majority of his life thinking he was straight, so maybe he hasn’t even had the chance to think about that aspect of our relationship yet. (I’ve thought about it. Excessively.)

“Very well then,” I manage to say, pleased that my voice doesn’t give away anything that I’m feeling.

“I just… um. Figured that you probably have them.”

I nearly drop my phone for the second time this evening. “Why would I have condoms?” It comes out sharper than I intended.

I can hear Snow’s shrug over the phone. “I don’t know,” he says. “You like to be prepared.”

“We’ve not even talked about it! I don’t even know if you want that or not!”

“What? Baz of course I want that. I’ve just never done it before, that’s all.”

“You haven’t?” In retrospect, I should’ve known that Simon was a virgin. I knew there wasn’t anyone other than Agatha for him and I’m sure Agatha would’ve told me if they went anywhere past kissing because that girl can’t keep her mouth shut and I’m her “gay best friend” or whatever she calls it. But still, there was always a part of my mind wondering, what if?

No.

“Okay.” My heart is racing. I realise I probably should’ve focused on of course I want that instead of on I’ve never done it before. Fucking hell, Simon wants that. The thought itself is doing things to my insides. “I haven’t either. In case that wasn’t clear before,” I say, like an idiot. Simon knows he was my first kiss, so of course it’s obvious that I haven’t slept with anyone either.  

“Um, yeah, I figured,” he says, and he sounds kind of choked. Like he’s embarrassed. “It still isn’t entirely clear to me how you managed to do that but okay.”

“Excuse me, what?” I sputter. “How I managed to do what?

“Y’know, like… ugh, how do I say this? You’re just, um, fit,” he stammers. I take it back. This is what embarrassed Simon sounds like.

I laugh. “Snow, are you saying I’m too fit to be a virgin?”

I hear a scrambling noise from the other side and I can only assume Simon has dropped his phone. I’m thoroughly amused. (And a bit flushed.)

“I um. I mean,” Simon starts blustering. “I—”

I can’t help it; he sounds so panicked that I start laughing.

“Stop laughing at me!” Simon exclaims, which only makes me laugh harder. “Baz!”

“You’re a fucking disaster, Snow, you know that?”

“Shut up,” he grumbles.

“It’s adorable.”

Shut up. ” He seems to be laughing now too, and my heart swells with warm feelings for him. This whole conversation has been an awkward mess and I want nothing more right now than to pull him close and cover his ridiculous face with kisses.

“Or what?” I ask, to see how far he’ll go.

“Or I’ll beat you at Nationals,” he deadpans. I scoff.

“Alright, Snow. It’s on. If you beat me at Nationals, I’ll stop saying you’re adorable.”

“Wait, no, now I want to lose,” he says and it sends me into a fit of laughter again. “You don’t even call me adorable that often!”

“Then you won’t be losing much.”

“You can stop calling me adorable if Premal wins,” he says.

“Snow, we’ll be attempting six quads each and Premal’s only going to be attempting one. If he wins, we should just quit the sport.”

“I mean, you never know what might happen. I’m sure neither of us expected me to win Rostelecom Cup, but it still happened,” he says.

“You had all the means to win Rostelecom Cup. I did tell you that before we left,” I remind him.  

“Yeah, but the chances were very low,” he objects. I’m wondering if I can smack him through the phone.

“No, they weren’t. Your program had the same difficulty as mine and Huang’s.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Simon, stop talking yourself out of your godly displays of skating. You deserved to win that competition,” I cut him off. I’m not entirely sure how the conversation even took this turn, but I’m not just going to sit here and listen to him not giving himself enough credit.

“Okay,” he says and I can hear him smiling. “Well, either way, you should call me adorable more—”

“Vain, are we?” I cut in.

“—so I’m going to get some rest now,” Simon continues, ignoring my comment. “So that I can beat you this weekend.”

“Very well, Snow. I’d like to see you try.”

He huffs out a laugh. “Night, Baz.”

“Goodnight, Simon.”

He hangs up the phone and I lean back, staring at the ceiling. My bed sheets still smell like him, bringing back the memory of having him propped up above me, his hand under my shirt, from earlier today.

I shuffle into a lying position and press my nose against the pillow, breathing in his scent. I replay our conversation in my head while I’m drifting off to sleep, a smile creeping onto my face.

I’m so fucking in love with him it almost hurts.