It was near silent in the speed-skating arena. The tck sound his skates made when he planted them on the ice was almost deafening in the stillness. He moved into exact position and settled, waiting.
“Ready,” a voice announced. He crouched
The start gun was shockingly loud, but he didn’t flinch; just threw himself onto the ice, legs pumping, skates gripping the ice with every stride –
The tip of his skate hit the ice and he faceplanted onto the course.
Horatio’s laughter echoed in the arena. Hamlet groaned and stayed facedown on the ice.
“I’m so glad I came to watch you practice, my lord,” Horatio said cheerfully, hopping down off the barrier and walking over the ice with the certainty of long practice. Hamlet put up a rude hand sign, only to be hauled up by the hand and planted firmly on his feet.
“Are you alright?” Horatio asked, still smiling but with a faintly concerned tone.
“I’m fine,” Hamlet replied, “just lucky that it happened in practice. Can you imagine if that had happened at tonight’s event?”
Horatio almost said that it could still happen, but bit his tongue. Best not to jinx it.
“You will be there, won’t you?” Hamlet asked.
“Of course,” Horatio said. “Wouldn’t want to miss Denmark’s first medal since 1998, would I?"
“Flattery may not help you win your event, my dear Horatio,” Hamlet replied playfully, “but it will certainly help me win mine.”
“That is, if you don’t trip over your own enlarged ego,” Horatio returned. Hamlet gave him a shove across the ice.
“You wound me!” he said, mock hurt. He held out a hand. “Come, we’ve been here since dawn. I’m starved.”
“And I too.” Horatio took the hand and let Hamlet drag him off the course.
It was no surprise that Hamlet was here, at the 2014 Winter Olympics: he’d been at the top of the speed skating circuit for years, and had almost placed at the 2010 games. But Horatio still couldn’t believe his luck. He was only the second Danish Olympic-level snowboarder ever, after all.
He’d come fifth on the slopestyle snowboarding, but it didn’t bother him. The halfpipe was where Horatio was at his best. The halfpipe was where he’d get the medal, and if not there, then the snowboard cross event. Denmark’s second ever Winter Olympics medal - if Hamlet didn’t get that honour in his 500m speed skating, of course.
The crowd was screaming, and Hamlet’s coach was cheering directly into his ear, but all Horatio was paying attention to was Hamlet himself, wide-eyed as he glided across the ice, back to the team area.
“Third place! Third place!” the coach yelled. Horatio grinned as Hamlet skated up to the barrier and fumbled with the latch on the gate.
“Third place?” Hamlet repeated weakly. It was odd to see him so dazed and speechless - Horatio laughed despite himself, and threw his arms around Hamlet’s shoulders.
“There are still two others left… I could get knocked out of-” Hamlet murmured. Horatio squeezed a bit tighter and interrupted,
“Hamlet. Shut up. You’ve got the medal.” He grinned harder and buried his face in Hamlet’s stupid, feathery hair. “You got the medal, Hamlet, you did it!”
“You never doubted it, did you?”
“I never doubted you, my lord.” Hamlet laughed and kissed Horatio on the cheek.
“Your faith gladdens me! Now let me off this ice, Horatio; there’s still one more race to go until we can celebrate.”
A day after Hamlet stood on the podium, holding up his bronze medal and grinning to the crowd (eyes finding Horatio as Mulder accepted his gold, grin turning small and warm and secretive), Horatio was looking down the middle of the halfpipe and breathing out slowly.
“Give it all you’ve got, Horatio,” his coach said. “This is the finals – no time to be conservative about it. Stay in third and you’ll have some nice matching jewellry with your boyfriend, yeah?”
“Shut up,” Horatio muttered. His breath was clouding in the frozen Sochi air. He hunched further into his coat and fixed his goggles.
“Almost time,” the coach noted. “On your mark. Make us proud,” she added, clapping him on the shoulder. He nodded and steeled himself, then started down the hill onto the mark.
At the bottom of the hill, Hamlet was mixing with the crowd against the barrier. At any other time he’d be laughing at how apparently unrecognisable he was here - not royalty, just another athlete come to see the event. However, he was too worried for Horatio’s safety to even think about anything else.
“It’s fine, Hamlet,” Horatio had groaned earlier as they made their way to the course. “You needn’t worry. People have been falling on the course for days, and no one’s been seriously hurt yet.”
“How hypocritical of you, my friend, to nag and worry at me about my own safety, and yet brush me off when I express my own concern for you!” Hamlet exclaimed. Horatio blushed. “I just want you to be careful.”
“And I will be,” Horatio said, and linked their arms together. “Try not to worry too much, my lord,” he added, the amusement usually present in the nickname gone. Without it, the phrase sounded almost sweet. “It’s not as if I’m going to attempt anything like a YOLO flip,” he joked. Hamlet didn’t ask.
Now, standing at the bottom of the halfpipe, it seemed impossible not to worry - especially when he saw Horatio, in his distinctive red and white snowsuit, push off from the ledge above the pipe and slide onto the starting mark.
And then he was shooting off down the hill, heading for the side of the pipe. Hamlet’s heart rate sped up as Horatio plunged off the ledge of the pipe and into the dip, and he held his breath during the first jump - and he’d landed safely. He let out the breath, only to catch it again as Horatio flipped off the edge of the pipe and spun in the air, grabbing the board and seeming to hang in the air for a moment before plunging back into the pipe, landing perfectly balanced on the snow. It continued, Horatio throwing himself into the air and doing as many spins and flips as he could, until-
“Oh! The promising Danish snowboarder has stacked it,” an incredibly loud Australian commentator said as the crowd winced in unison. Horatio was lying in the bowl of the half-pipe, three-quarters of the way down the slope. Hamlet stood, frozen, as he moved an arm vaguely, then stood slowly and began boarding down the centre of the pipe, waving to the cheering crowd. He was out of the pipe when Hamlet finally shook himself and started pushing through the crowd to reach him.
“Horatio!” he called out as he reached the barrier. The other man was seated on the bench, staring at nothing. He didn’t even notice. After a moment’s hesitation and a quick glance at the cameras pointed their way, Hamlet placed a hand on the barrier and vaulted over it, trusting his glaringly bright Olympic uniform to dissuade any security guards from forcing him back. Horatio looked up as Hamlet hurried over and dropped onto the bench next to him, ignoring the camera one metre in front of them.
“The cameras are going to be all over this,” he said dryly, looking up at the dozens of media groups looking their way.
“Good for them. Are you hurt?”
“A little bruised, nothing worse,” Horatio replied, motioning for him to keep his voice down. The camera in front of them was still rolling, after all. “Hamlet, tell me you didn’t illegally jump over the barriers just to inquire about my health,” he said wearily.
“You’re infuriating, you know that?” Hamlet replied. Horatio shushed him as the judges started announcing.
The score came, and Horatio straightened, smiling at the cameras suddenly focused on him again, shrugging a little and waving. The second they swung away, he slumped again. “Seventh,” he said, voice hollow.
“There’s still the snowboard cross,” Hamlet began.
“I think we’ll have to be content with your bronze, my lord,” Horatio interrupted, with a small smile. He threw an arm around Hamlet and pulled him closer. “And really, I haven’t done too badly, for a first Olympics. Maybe next time.”
“2018, you’ll be bringing us the gold, mark my words,” Hamlet said, and Horatio threw back his head and laughed.