Phichit had accepted a long time ago that love was not something to expect back. Growing up in a large family, he often needed to wait for his parent’s attention. Moving to America to train had been an easy choice. Celistino had less skaters than his parents had children. It also meant when he did come home he actually got a bit of love from his overworked parents. Though he’d never quite voiced this feeling, even to himself.
Yuuri had come into his life like a hurricane, the quiet, shy, anxious boy would have never understood this if Phichit had told him this phrase, but it was too. Phichit’s life had been pulled up and around as if in a twist of wind, it was as if he had only seen in black and white before and now saw full colour. Yuuri showed him so many ways to live that he had never considered before. His flatmate helped him learn not just to dream, but to reach for those dreams.
It had been easy to fall for him, with hindsight. It was the closest thing that brought bitterness to the young man, whenever he thought about it, he swallowed the bitterness down with the bile that gathered. Yuuri had never been his, he hadn’t even bothered trying. He’d thought perhaps once they’d retired, when the ice was no longer their first love. But first, Yuuri went home, and then, Viktor arrived.
He had a google alert set to his friend, along with notifications for all of his fellow skater’s accounts. He had been asleep, and woken up to them. When he checked his phone and saw Viktor Nikiforov and Katsuki Yuuri in the same headline, the string holding his heart tentatively together snapped. He cancelled practice that day.
But now, two years later, he had accepted his love was not to be returned. Phichit was always aware that love was not an expectation, it was a promise. He knew he would always love Yuuri and standing on the podium at Four Continents was close enough. Realistically, Phichit knew they would have never worked anyway. He was too outgoing. Ironic, almost, he thought to himself, as he looked up to Yuuri with his gold medal, and across to the bronze medalist, whose media smile was almost painful.
“Drinks to celebrate?” He grinned at his two fellow medalists.
“Phichit.” Yuuri sighed.
“Why?” Seung-gil asked.
“Look, I know neither of you are social butterflies, but I just thought it would be nice. How about my room? A sponsor upgraded it so there’s a sofa and everything. If we each bring one guest? Or two I guess so Yuuri can actually bring a guest and not just his attached to hip husband?” Phichit was desperate to have fun that night but also wanted to maximise his time with his best friend.
“Fine. I’ll see you at seven. Instagram me your room number.” Phichit was shocked at the response, instead of Yuuri speaking, it had been Seung-gil. Phichit had been fully prepared to badger the Korean skater after debating with himself if he actually wanted the quiet, standoffish man there.
He watched, slightly shocked, as Seung-gil skated off, before turning to Yuuri.
“Now you have to say yes. Even Seung-gil said yes.” He pointed out.
Yuuri rolled his eyes, “I could never say no to you, Peach.” Phichit smiled back, each time Yuuri reminded him of this lie, the lead in his stomach lessened over time. Phichit knew Yuuri didn’t mean to lie. Yuuri just couldn’t comprehend what Phichit would ask for, if he was silly and brave enough.
Later that evening, Phichit’s room felt surprisingly homely for a hotel in Taiwan. He looked around at his friends. Yuuri and he had jointly invited Leo and Guang-Hong, whereas Seung-Gil had opted to invite Otabek, who with the absence of Yuri had mostly been around Viktor and Yuuri, so it worked well. Phichit was secretly glad JJ was absent, and wondered if Seung-Gil had invited Otabek more for Otabek, than for himself, given the lack of a second guest.
Phichit had dragged Yuuri to a supermarket and bought Taiwanese snacks and drinks for the skaters, it was something they used to do at competitions, before Viktor. A lot had changed, since Viktor, but Phichit only looked at the positives out of choice. The positive this time round was Viktor’s credit card. He had offered to pay and almost insisted, but he knew even second place at Four Continents wouldn’t easily cover his skating fees and rent. His sponsors preferred doing things, like upgrading his hotel or paying for flights, they were less fond of cold, hard cash. He hoped the banquet tomorrow would help change that.
The snacks were delicious, even if they’d avoided anything too banned for their diets. It was still midseason, after all. Phichit was genuinely surprised at Seung-Gil’s presence, even if the man mostly sat and possibly listened. The conversation flowed well, the two years of Viktor’s constant presence around most of them having eased the stardom. They all knew he was, at his core, an absolute dork. A loveable one, who was still terrifyingly good on the ice, even if both his age and his husband had created challenges for him, but Viktor was far more human these days. Unlike Seung-Gil, whom Phichit noticed his thoughts kept drifting to. Phichit disliked people not smiling around him, and aimed to include everyone. Well, everyone apart from maybe JJ. The Thai man knew while he enjoyed engaging everyone, he didn’t have the gold heart Yuuri did. He had enough of a wall built up to be catty. Wall. Was Seung-Gil’s attitude his wall?
Right now, they all seemed to have paired off. Leo and Guang-Hong were close to realising their feelings were mutual, Otabek was texting - Yuri, no doubt. Viktor and Yuuri were… well, whatever it was, they were doing it. That had left the quiet and stoic Seung-Gil looking across from his seated position to Phichit. The more social of the two, eagerly introducing his hamsters via pictures.
“Do you think they would get on with my husky?” Seung-Gil asked, a teasing lilt to his tone that made Phichit do a double take.
“They love Makkachin, so I don’t see why not!” At the mention of his dog, Viktor pulled away from his husband.
“Makkachin was so sweet with Phichit’s hamsters!” The Russian squealed, instantly reaching for his phone. Phichit noticed Seung-Gil flinch slightly, but the Korean leaned forward to look at the photos.
“This is Arthur, correct?” The question was carefully worded, and for some reason, it made Phichit’s chest tighten.
“Yes! How could you tell? Even Yuuri can’t tell them apart and he lived with them!”
“His nose is just slightly different, I guess.” Seung-Gil shrugged. It was the most the man had spoken all evening and Phichit was touched he had paid such close attention.
“See, Yuuri? It really isn’t that difficult.” Phichit stuck his tongue out at his ex flatmate.
Seung-Gil retreated back to himself as the group conversation struck back up. Otabek shared a few memes that had been created around Four Continents and sent to him by the bored Yuri who had been left back in Russia to work on his programmes. The night continued until later than it ought have for competitive athletes, but earlier than most in their early twenties would consider a fun night. Viktor insisted on carrying Yuuri back to their room across the hall when he had drifted off on his husband’s shoulder. Leo, Guang-Hong and Otabek all got in the lift to go to the lower floors together. It was a small lift, so Seung-Gil stayed for the next one.
Phichit couldn’t recall a single moment when he had been alone with the other boy. He was about to say something, something witty, he was sure - he just hadn’t quite worked it out, when the Korean man yawned. It was a squeak, more than a yawn. It was adorable.
“You sound like one of my hamsters!” Phichit piped up in delight.
“What?!” Seung-Gil sounded almost offended.
“Sorry, it was just, kinda cute but-” Phichit yawned himself, he supposed it was reasonable late. “Now you’ve got me yawning!” His fake outrage caused a twitch in Seung-Gil’s face. The sombre man looked close to a smile.
“Human evolution will do that to you.” The man pointed out. Phichit rolled his eyes as a ding pulled their attention to the lift.
“See you tomorrow.” Seung-Gil said, quietly, as he pressed his floor number.
“Bye.” Phichit said, keeping eye contact with the man until the lift doors closed, making it impossible.
What a weird evening, Phichit thought, as he retreated to his room, did a cursory tidy, and flopped into bed. He was asleep within minutes.
The banquet was, well, a banquet. It was nothing like the infamous Grand Prix of 2015 - but then again, no banquet had lived up to that. No other banquet had quite been a romantic catalyst for the love story to beat all love stories, afterall. Dancing was more commonplace now, at least. Or it certainly was when Viktor and Yuuri were around. JJ and Isabella often also danced alongside them, JJ eager to both show off and compete with the two figure skating legends. The increased norm of dancing had led to this situation. Seung-Gil was currently leading Phichit in a waltz. If he’d been asked what was on his bingo card for Four Continents….well, it wouldn’t be this.
“Thank you for including me last night.” Seung-Gil’s voice was so quiet, Phichit wasn’t entirely convinced he had heard.
“Of course, you’re always welcome.” Phichit grinned back. When nothing was said, he followed up, “I know you enjoy your own company but… sometimes other company can be nice, too.”
“Yes, you showed me last night.” The reply was short, but the emotion in the usually stoic man’s face shone volumes.
Soon, the two men were separated by their coaches and called to talk to sponsors. Phichit so rarely had such short conversations, but this one looped in his head as he smiled and nodded to a rich looking white man.
Worlds in Italy was almost two months away. Not much time in terms of training, but a lot in terms of Phichit trying to understand what his heart and head were doing post Four Continents. Back in Bangkok, he was close enough to go home regularly but far enough to justify an apartment near the rink, he could have a two bedroom luxury flat for half the price he’d spent in Detroit. America had made him snobby, his father told him. But now his hamsters had their own space. Phichit facetimed Yuuri a lot, but didn’t say why, until less than a fortnight away from Worlds.
“Seung-Gil is interesting, hmm?” Phichit brought it up casually. Yuuri was instantly onguard, Phichit did not do casual.
“How so? He hasn’t done anything, right?”
“What? No! Why would you think that?” Phichit quickly corrected.
“Honestly, no reason. He seems nice enough. Cold sometimes, I remember my first competition with him two years ago. But… he cares for the ice. I saw him cry that day.”
“Yeah, not that I can judge, I’ve cried plenty after skating.” Yuuri smiled into his phone camera.
“Yuuri!” A Russian accent off screen called. Yuuri sighed.
“I ought to go, call you tomorrow?”
“Sure, bye, Yuuri.” Phichit allowed his phone to darken after Yuuri hung up, as he considered this new information.
It wasn’t a shocker. They all poured their hearts and souls into the ice, who was a cruel mistress. Only one person could get a gold medal, only three could medal at all. There were many amazing figure skaters on the circuit at the moment and even with Viktor’s impending retirement, the two Yu(u)ri’s were so beyond most others talents, even if no one liked to say it. 2015’s Grand Prix Final had a 100 score difference between 1st and 6th. In 2016, Phichit was only 40 away from Yuri’s score, and had he skated that in 2015, he’d have been the bronze medalist. Instead, he came last that year. He had taken it on the chin and was proud of his progress, but he also accepted silver as his achievable goal in Asian competitions as long as Yuuri skated, and any international event bronze was a coup. Hell, top five was enough of a mountain to climb.
All in all, Phichit had definitely cried almost as much as he had celebrated, even taking the celebrations for his best friend into account. So it shouldn’t be surprising to hear Seung-Gil cried. But somehow… somehow, it was. The knowledge felt like the final piece of a puzzle. The quest to humanise Seung-Gil was over. The man Phichit thought of was now so adorably human and not dissimilar to the man he had just said goodbye to.
A thought struck him; Yuuri and Seung-Gil were very similar. Both were shy, passionate and hard working. In fact, if Phichit had not lived with Yuuri, he suspected he may view the two men similarly. Even fellow rinkmates considered Yuuri standoffish, when that was the least true thing. Now he thought about it, they even looked similar. He recalled the time a reporter had confused the two. A white European who couldn’t tell Koreans and Japanese apart. It had led to an article highlighting all the times the Asian skaters had been mistakenly taken for each other and Phichit had found it fascinating. Yuuri just hated the attention and Seung-Gil accidentally slammed a door in a reporter’s face.
Yuuri accidentally broke the nose of a hockey player once, when he’d been overwhelmed with the man asking him out and slammed the door too quickly.
Phichit groaned. These comparisons he was making himself were bad. Just as bad. It was unfair to Seung-Gil.
“I can’t stop being in love with my best friend by falling for someone because they’re similar.” He spoke aloud, talking to Arthur. Phichit froze. He had never said those words aloud. It struck him as funny, as it was almost no longer true. Almost.
He needed to think before Worlds, so maybe he should be glad it was still a while away.
Worlds came and went. Phichit was 5th. He was incredibly proud. He was even prouder of Yuuri’s gold - something he kept staring at, then glancing towards his husband’s silver. Viktor was a mix of glee at his husband’s achievement and joke annoyance that it was his first defeat during his last competition.
“Well, I had to beat you once.” Yuuri teased back. Phichit loved the confidence Yuuri had gained, Yuuri never said aloud he wanted to beat Viktor back in the day, he barely thought himself good enough to skate on the same ice as his idol.
Yes, Phichit was satisfied with 5th. Seung-Gil surprised everyone, gaining yet another bronze and pushing Yuri Plisestky to 4th. The first time the boy had not medelled since his senior debut, the recently 19 year old was unimpressed, but had the grace to take it on the chin. Phichit, likewise, couldn’t really be too miffed at being beaten by such amazing skaters.
After the medal ceremony, the skaters all agreed to go out and Phichit was excited. He had heard good things about Milan. Then he noticed the one skater who hadn’t finished packing up as the group all fell out of the changing rooms. He bounced up, calling out,
“Hey, are you coming? I can wait for you.” Before realising it was Seung-Gil. What an idiot, he was. Of course Seung-Gil wouldn’t want to-
“That would be nice, thank you.” The clipped tone responded.
“I, you- you actually want to?” Phichit didn’t hide his confusion out of shock.
“If… if that’s okay?” The bronze medalist froze in the act of folding his last item of clothing.
“Of course it is!” Phichit actually jumped up in excitement, Seung-Gil’s shoulders relaxed and he resumed his task. “I just didn’t think you’d wanna hang out with losers.” He winked.
“Eh, maybe I’ll leave after Viktor and Yuuri do.” Came the deadpan response. Phichit froze, then looked into his fellow skaters eyes. A small, shy smile shone through in apprehension.
“Oh my god was that a joke?!”
“I…yes, I tried, was it okay?” Phichit began laughing,
“Yes, it was good. I’ve just never heard you make one before.”
Phichit grabbed Seung-Gil’s hand to drag him out of the changing rooms now his bag was packed. It wasn’t until he let go as he took both hands to push open the heavy front door to the ice rink that he realised. A blush suddenly creped up his copper skin. He was so used to being handsy with people. Seung-Gil was looking down at his hand and Phichit swallowed in fear.
“So, have you been clubbing before?”
“Um, no. I’m not sure what to wear, if I’m honest.
“Would you like to borrow some clothes?”
“I…think so.” Everything Seung-Gil said sounded so calculated, like he was afraid of getting the words wrong. Phichit knew it wasn’t due to his grasp on the English language though - Seung-Gil had a side career of translating Korean academic articles. Predominantly maths related.
“We’ll drop stuff off in your room then go get ready in mine then?” Phichit grinned, then it widened at the nod from his friend.
The journey back was short, and they walked so fast they just caught the slow moving mass of the other skaters up as they reached the hotel lobby. Yuuri gave Phichit a raised eyebrow, which was returned with an innocent smile. The getting ready process was as fun as it could be with the awkwardness of being the first prolonged time the two were alone, but Phichit thought Seung-Gil actually smiled. Twice. It was fun and they both ended up looking great. Seung-Gil had even let Phichit add some mascara, eyeliner and some glitter highlighter. They were ten minutes late, but the group was still only half in the lobby. Those who were on time were taking selfies and signing autographs for fans rich enough, smart enough (and had the right contacts) to be in the same hotel as the skaters.
Finally, enough people turned up for them to leave into the nightlife of Milan. Phichit stayed close to Seung-Gil the whole time, both out of choice and determination to have a good time. They did, he thought. Or, he did at any rate. The exhibition and banquet was tomorrow, so no one went too hard, but they were all mostly lightly buzzed.
Seung-Gil was a surprising natural at clubbing. He could navigate crowds, communicate with the bar staff and his moves were pretty good. He had danced exclusively with Phichit, and Phichit was loving it. Both the dancing, and the attention. He thrived off it in a way he’d never realised. Ironic, his buzzed brain thought, given your career is being in front of a crowd, it figures you enjoy attention.
“Phichit?” Seung-Gil said his name, a sound that he didn’t think he’d heard before. His heart clenched in a way it hadn’t since 2015.
“Yes?” The two inches height difference suddenly felt like a lot as he looked up into the other man’s eyes.
“Can I kiss you?” Phichit stared into the eyes of the man who’d just asked to do the one thing he’d been thinking about for half of the evening.
“Kiss…me?” Phichit’s voice was quiet, shocked.
“If… that’s okay?” Seung-Gil’s confidence was evaporating.
“Yes! It is. I would, I would like that.” Phichit smiled up and stepped, if possible, closer. He snaked his arms around the man’s neck and glanced down at his lips.
Seung-Gil placed his hands on Phichit’s hips and bent the small amount to capture his lips. It was chaste, to begin with, the glossed lips meeting each other with the hint of cherry and vanilla. Then it deepend, a tongue, Phichit couldn’t tell you whose, poking out cheekily, searching for the flavour of alcohol on the other’s. They pulled apart, both gasping slightly. And smiled. Seung-Gil smiled, fully, properly, for the first time Phichit had seen. It was beautiful. He was beautiful. The quiet man, who Phichit slightly worried he had overexpressed to, was smiling down at him as if he was the only light in the world.
Phichit saw, out of the corner of his eye, an eager best friend smiling at him before going back to his husband. For the first time, his chest was free of any tightness, he only felt happiness for his best friend. Then his attention went back to the man whose arms he was in. Maybe this was his own happiness. If not forever, it certainly would be tonight. Phichit leant back in for the second kiss, engulfed in warmness and amber spices, tuning out the loud, sticky club filled with his friends, in favour for Seung-Gil. Seung-Gil, who was more than happy to give everything back.