Michele stood with his back to the ice rink as he took a drink of water during the practice session. His short program music had just finished, and he was not satisfied with his performance this morning. Poor landings, quads turned into triples… The NHK Trophy was his second event and he needed to win either gold or silver to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Sochi. Losing was not an option. He gulped down the water and sighed in frustration, turning around to observe the other skaters. The music playing was of a skater he recognized as the one who was flirting with Sara before the practice started. To be precise, the one who was trying to flirt with Sara, since he arrived just in time to protect her from further advances. He cursed quietly at the memory and surveyed the rest of the rink. Emil was at the far end, jumping a perfect quad-triple toe.
Michele was impressed at the boy’s determination. Emil had next to no chance of qualifying for the Final because he placed 6th in his first event, yet he was clearly giving his very best. Michele still didn’t approve of his friendship with Sara or of his attempts to befriend him, but he had to admit, he respected Emil as a fellow skater, if nothing else. “Mickey~,” Sara sang, snatching the empty water bottle from Michele. “Practice time will be over soon. What’re you doing?” Michele shook his head and glanced at his sister before smiling.
“Right. And you must be hungry, so I’ll take you to lunch afterwards.”
“Che bello! Let’s try some local food!”
Michele laughed, and glided away still facing Sara, “Thanks for being here.”
“Are you dumb?” She asked. “There’s no reason to thank me, and you know why.” She then smirked, “Now will you practice to join me at the Final or stand around talking? Go get that gold.”
Michele laughed and turned around, practicing with renewed determination his program, heart set on one thing alone: winning. The day went by in a blur as Michele, Sara and their coach made the necessary preparations for the performance that lied ahead.
The crowd was quite vocal during the six-minute warm up, gasping in unison when a skater fell and cheering loudly when one of them landed their jumps. Once that as over, Michele went to stand by his sister and wait for his turn to skate. Emil was skating first, he was skating third. As Emil walked by the Crispino siblings he paused a little, and Sara wished him good luck with a small grin. Michele glanced at him with a questioning look. What, he paused for Sara to cheer him on? The nerve. Emil looked at Michele with a hopeful expression for a few awkward seconds, but being met with the same cold look, kept walking towards to entrance of the rink and took to the ice. “Mickey!” Sara exclaimed quietly, “You could’ve wished him good luck too, and you just… Stared at him with that face! How… Impolite!” Michele stood there shocked at his sister’s reaction, “Sara?!” What does she mean, wish him good luck? Why was she so indignant? She’s the one who is apparently a good friend of his, to be cheering for him and all. His thoughts were interrupted by the hush of the crowd as music filled the stadium.
Emil began skating with the same ease as in the morning practice, but it wasn’t long before he touched the ice during his first jump and lost his flow. Michele watched him intently as Emil struggled to keep up with the program. At the end, he made a lot of mistakes that resulted in a low score. In the kiss and cry, Emil smiled and waved at the crowd that cheered for him despite the low position he was sure to end up in after the short programs were done.
When Emil came down from the kiss and cry, he went directly towards Sara and Michele, sporting a sad smile. “Well, that’s that! You skate next, right, Mickey?”
Michele almost hissed at the other man, “Don’t call me Mickey! We’re not friends!”
“Oh, that’s what you say but we really are!” Emil laughed sheepishly and a slight red tinted his cheeks and as he was about to add something, Michele interrupted him.
“No, we are not. All you’re doing is trying to get on my good side so you can go out with Sara and break her heart! Let me warn you, I will not let you keep going after her!” Michele said pointedly.
Emil blinked a few times before asking cautiously, “Going after Sara? We’re just friends, I promise! To be honest, I--” His words were interrupted again, this time by the crowd going wild as the last spin of the skater currently on the ice ended and the music stopped.
Michele turned to watch the final pose of the skater and then turned back to Emil, sighing nervously, “Hmph… Hold that thought.”
Michele walked towards the entrance of the rink and took a few deep breaths as the other skated took his bows and grabbed a few tokens from the ice. He closed his eyes and focused on his goal, repeating it in his head time and time again: win, win, win.
As soon as the announcer called out his name, a familiar voice shouted over the cheers of the crowd, “Hodně štěstí, Mickey!!” Looking around for the source of that weird shout, he glanced over at Sara and saw Emil beside her, cheering again even louder, “Hodně štěstí!”
As much as he wanted to appreciate what was most likely a cheer, he was insanely annoyed by the foreign language. Emil kept shouting repeatedly the same string of sounds that made no damn sense to Michele. His irritation clearly showed in his face and he was sure he’d lose presentation points already. How could he express calm and grace, as his SP demanded, with those hostile sounds echoing in his head? His body kept up with the music and he landed all his jumps poorly, and the rigidity in his body because of the irritation made him lose a considerable amount of points. He sat in the kiss and cry, eyes cast down to hide the glower that he couldn’t completely conceal. His score was above Emil’s, but below the previous skater by 12 whole points. When all the performers were done, Emil sat at 6th place and right above him, having placed 5th, was Michele.
Mixed emotions filled Michele’s heart. Confusion as to why he had been so irritated, frustration at having failed to place 3rd or higher in the SP but the anger… God, the anger that coursed through his body was overwhelming. In his hot-headed mind, if it hadn’t been for Emil’s shouting, he could’ve expressed the emotions that fit the music of his performance. Logically, this did not make sense, of course. This blame of his loss was his alone, for not perfecting the landings and for letting anything else besides the program get to his head as he performs, and for every other thing that went wrong. But emotionally… He sighed. Dejected, he retreated to his room after agreeing to have dinner with Sara and Emil in an hour.
As they ate, Sara tried to comfort Michele without making it obvious; she was aware he’d take it as pity. Emil, on the other hand, was completely confident Michele would turn his luck around the next day and qualify to Grand Prix Final. He wasn’t keeping quiet about it either. “Aw, come on, Mickey! It’s not like you won’t kill it at the free skate!” He said as soon as he had taken a big chug of water, “You’ll do so well at the free skate, you’ll easily qualify. Easily.” He took another bite of his food as soon as he was done talking and Sara looked at Michele nervously. Maybe Emil hadn’t noticed, but Michele had been struggling to hold back his anger and frustration, but his last comment had sent him over the edge. Standing from the floor where they had been sitting in a circle, and scattering some of the plates, he looked at Emil with a scowl, tears almost falling from his eyes, hanging precariously from his lashes. “What do you know if I’ll make it tomorrow, Emil?” Michele whispered before snapping, “What do you know, when you’re already shit out of luck?”
“God, Mickey! What are you saying?” Sara exclaimed loudly before Michele kept lashing out at Emil, “Oh that’s right! You love confusing people with your noisy yelling right before they perform!” By now, Sara and Emil just sat there horrified at the ranting Michele, who was clearly stressed for the next day. When there was a small chance during Michele’s rant, Emil explained, “Hodně štěstí means good luck, Mickey! All I wanted was to cheer for you, but it was my first time doing so. I got nervous and said it in Czech. I’m so sorry...”
Michele felt his face get hot from the embarrassment, up to his ears and stood there silently glowering at Emil. Michele knew he was angry at the wrong person for the wrong reason, but he couldn’t stop himself, “Ti piace non capire quello che ti dicono? Allora poi, vaffanculo!” And with that, he walked over to the door, left the room and slammed the door behind him.
Sara cleared her throat and reassured a surprised Emil. “He’s just nervous and angry, he didn’t mean to be unkind.” Taking out a small plate with a dessert, she winked at Emil, “Now let’s chow this down and leave before Grumpy comes back.” Emil smiled and thanked Sara for her gentleness, to which she replied, “Mickey is quite gentle too, but he’s under pressure right now. Cheer for him tomorrow?” With an enthusiastic nod, Emil agreed before taking a bite of the chocolatey cake.
As the free skate was about to begin the next day, Emil looked around for Michele and Sara but had no luck finding either of them. Having placed last in the SP, he was the first to perform the FS. As he skated around the rink before taking his initial position, he heard a pair of voices calling out to him, “Emil! In bocca al luppo!” Michele and Sara stood side by side near the rink’s entrance, and shouted again and again in Italian what Emil knew were cries wishing him good luck. He finally took the initial stance in the middle of the rink and began his free skate. Emil skated wonderfully, landing his famous quad loop in the cleanest manner. When he was done and had left the kiss and cry with a satisfying score he ran to Michele, who was about to take to the ice. He was visibly nervous, and before he skated to take his initial stance, Emil grabbed him by the hand and said a little too loudly, “Hodně štěstí, Mickey! Věřím v tebe!”
Michele stared incredulously at Emil, who was still holding onto the Italian skater, and he smiled as he replied, “Crepi, Emil,” and skated onto the ice for the decisive performance. As the crowd fell into a hush and the melody of soft piano keys poured unto the rink, Michele began gliding with certain sweetness and gentleness. The music was of longing, his coach had told him, but Michele was failing to transmit that feeling while training. However, today his skating flowed marvelously, the jumps seemed almost effortless, the transitions were clean and swift. Usually Sara reigned in his mind as he skated, his sister being one of his biggest loves and inspirations, but not tonight. Tonight, he was skating for a Czech boy who only wanted to be cheered on despite the odds. Who knew why Emil had chosen him? Lord knows Michele couldn’t at times stand the overly optimistic and enthusiastic attitude of Emil, but tonight he skated for the spark that had just been ignited in him by the soft touch of a boy who believed in him with all his strength.
When the music was over and Michele stood still on the ice, there was a second of quiet murmur and the stadium suddenly erupted in cheers and shouts. The ice filled with flowers and tokens, and Michele simply stood there gasping for air, surprised at himself and the performance he’d just given; surprised at who it was that filled his thoughts as he skated this program. In the kiss and cry, he couldn’t believe his eyes: he had broken his personal best record. He tightly hugged Sara, who had agreed to sit in the kiss and cry along with their coach for the free skate, and looking behind the cameras facing him, he saw Emil clapping with a smile Michele had never seen before; it was such a gentle smile, and despite all the eyes that surrounded them, Michele knew this smile was only between him and Emil, an intimate secret that sent a chill up his spine.
Sara shook him out of the trance with a soft slap on his back, “You’re so close, Mickey, with this score you will definitely qualify!”
Michele offered his sister a huge grin, “I am certain of it, too. Thank you for your support!”
“I think we both know it was not just my support what got you through tonight, Mickey~” Sara commented mischievously and chuckled at her brother’s scowl. “Let’s join Emil and watch the rest of the competition. It’s not over til the fat lady sings~”, Sara said grabbing Michele by the wrist and pulling him out of the kiss and cry.
Once the Crispino siblings had found Emil, they went up to the bleachers to watch the other skaters. Michele felt slightly flustered and timid, and inwardly wondered why. He was sitting between Emil and Sara, and while they were casually commenting on the other skaters’ performances as they usually did, he felt uncomfortably conscious about Emil’s presence next to him. He was deep in thought, reflecting about the new sensations that were quickly flooding him when Emil suddenly shouted with his hands up in the air, “Blahopřeji,Mickey! You’ve qualified!” As Sara realized what Emil meant, she gasped, “Mickey! Congratulations!” She shouted and hugged Michele in his seat, “You’ve secured silver, you’re at the top and there’s only one skater left to perform!”
Michele sat in silence with Sara holding his shoulders as he stopped paying attention to the last performance and looked at the scoreboard. They were right. He had qualified. He stared at the screen for what felt like seconds when the loud cheering startled him, and he realized he’d stared for the remainder of the last skater’s performance.
The went back down to the rink as they announced the final results. Michele had won silver and Emil had placed 4th. After the medal ceremony, Michele approached Sara and Mickey, silver wrapped around his neck and a bouquet held fast on his arm.
“Blahopřeji, Mickey!” Emil said with a small smile, “Before you cuss me out in Italian, I’m just congratulating you.” Michele was nervous and shuffled his feet while Emil chuckled quietly, “I think your free skate was one of the best performances I’ve seen. You’re a truly marvelous skater.” Looking at Michele in the eyes, Emil gifted him a smile like the one shared secretly in the FS kiss and cry, “I can’t wait to see you perform in the Final.”
Michele broke eye contact and stared at the floor for a few seconds, feeling as if letting Emil delve into his eyes was not a good idea for his heart. He then looked back at Emil with genuine concern in his expression, “I’m sorry for my behavior during dinner last night. It was not fair to you or Sara.”
Emil was not expecting an apology and, taken aback by it, simply smiled and assured Michele, “It’s fine. It was just nerves, right? Could happen to anyone!”
Michele was shocked by just how gentle and kind Emil was and, in an impulse, hugged him tightly. Emil turned a thousand shades of red before hugging Michele back and happily remarking, “Ah, isn’t this nice? We should do this more often, Mickey!”
Michele opened wide his eyes and pushed Emil away before huffing, “It was part of the apology! Don’t think too much of it!” He began to retreat and, after a pause, came back and grabbed Sara by the hand, “Come on, walk with me, and you!”, he added pointing at Emil, “Stay away from my beloved sister!”
Emil laughed lowly and placed a hand softly on Michele’s shoulder, “I think I already told you, I’m not after Sara at all.”
A slight red tinted Michele’s cheeks at Emil’s comment, and he huffed as the three of them left to grab a bite.