Shoma turns his phone off every time someone enters the living room. That’s what they’ve taken to calling the room between the bedrooms that has two couches and a small table in between. The couches are new and therefore a little too springy to be entirely comfortable.
Yuzu is sitting on one of them, back leaning against one plush arm and toes tucked into the fold between the other and the cushion. He’s taking up the entirely of the two-seater, but he doesn’t feel too bad about it, because Shoma is spread over the entire three seater opposite. Shoma is short, he shouldn’t take up that much space, but even so he’s spread out on his stomach, chin propped up on his forearm, headphones on. He uses awful, awful headphones, but Yuzu will not judge him for it.
Yuzu can’t see his screen or hear what he’s listening to. It can’t be a game, because all Shoma does is stare, eyes moving rapidly, only tapping something once in a while. He hasn’t looked up since Satoko crossed the room, which prompted him to drop his phone face down.
He blushed, as if embarrassed by even the possibility of someone seeing what he’s looking at so intently.
Yuzu is intrigued.
Satoko, now by the door to Kana’s room, turns and throws Yuzu a look. She’s not a woman of many words, but man, can she express clear sentiments with just a glance. Clearly, she, too, would like to know what it is that makes Shoma fidgety and even more awkward than usual.
“Hey,” Yuzu says, after a few more minutes of Shoma staring intently at his phone and Yuzu idly reviewing his notes of the last three practices.
Shoma startles so much he gives a full-body jerk and almost falls off the couch. His phone does, landing face up.
All Yuzu can see is flickers of soft colours before Shoma has snatched it up and pressed against his chest.
Shoma is blushing, again. It colours his cheeks a blotchy pink, and the longer Yuzu looks at him, the more intense the colour becomes. It’s very fascinating. The tip of his nose is capable of blushing.
“Yuzu? What did you want?”
Shoma fumbles his earphones down, and his eyes are very dark and curious and pretty.
Oh. Right. Yuzu was going to subtly ask about whatever it is that is keeping Shoma so occupied. Subtly, because if he asks Shoma directly, he’ll shrug or give a nonsense answer.
That’ll put Shoma at ease. And really, his shoulders sink and his blush recedes slightly. Shoma bites his lip, shrugs.
“Oh,” Yuzu smiles, because that must be the reason Shoma isn’t lounging on his bed as he probably would like to. That’s where Yuzu usually finds him. “It’s nice of you to give him space.”
Shoma shrugs again, settling back on the couch in a mirror position to Yuzu. He draws his knees up to his chest, chin leaning on top, arms wrapped around. His phone pressed screen-down to his calf, tight enough that Yuzu worries about an imprint.
“He wanted to talk to a girl,” Shoma says, like this is a big secret.
“That’s nice,” Yuzu finds himself saying.
Shoma scoffs, but he doesn’t mean it. Yuzu can tell. “I’ve been dislocated because Keiji wants to flirt. That’s not nice.”
“Well,” Yuzu says. “At least you didn’t cockblock him. That would be even less nice.”
Shoma’s eyes widen. “Do you think he’s having sex ?”
Yuzu grins. This is the Olympic village. Lots of people have lots of sex here.
“But that’s our room ! We share !”
Yuzu has trouble keeping his grin to a minimum. Shoma sounds legitimately shocked, maybe he truly didn’t know. They’ll be here for weeks . People will need orgasms. Yuzu doesn’t partake, but he knows.
“Well I don’t know,” he says, and he doesn’t mean to sound teasing, but Shoma’s wide-eyed outrage is too delicious not to,. “he may be just talking. But I doubt it. It’s been a week, people have needs.”
Shoma’s eyes grow even wider. The blush has return with a vengeance. But Yuzu can see the wheels in his head turning.
“Wait,” he says. “How do you know that?”
And wow Yuzu did not expect to be judged, here. But Shoma sounds accusing, and Yuzu is not above defending himself. He has seen things, okay. Besides, Yuzu, too, has needs. He just doesn’t. Well. He has a single room, anyway, there’s not way people would know.
Does Shoma think Yuzu has none? Is that why he’s staring wide-eyed and accusing? Yuzu swallows, watches Shoma lick his lower lip where it’s chapped and dry.
“I’ve been here before. I’ve seen too much.”
“Oh,” Shoma says, sounding punched out and a little overwhelmed, “so... people do that?”
Yuzu shrugs again. “Sometimes. You know how it is, little Shoma. When two people like each other very, very much…”
Shoma jerks as if startled, again. Yuzu meant to tease him a little, but he looks legitimately attacked now. He’s getting up and heading first in the direction of his own door, but before Yuzu can tell him not to go there, he’s turned and, throwing his arms up in despair, headed out the door.
Yuzu watches him leave.
He didn’t find out what it was that distracted Shoma so much. Yuzu sighs, and goes back to his notebooks. The consistency of his quad Sal could really be better.
He determinately does not try to listen to any noises coming out of any rooms, not even when there is a low moan and then a less low moan.
Shoma had the right idea to leave.
Kaori comes out of the room she shares with Satoko.
Yuzu swallows. She’s just a kid. She cannot know. Yuzu will protect her.
“Wanna go get ice cream?” he asks. It’d be better to get her out of here, because whoever she is looking for will be otherwise occupied, currently.
Kaori smiles, big and lovely, and nods.
“We should ask the others if--”
Yuzu shakes his head. Kaori frowns. “Why not?”
“Oh, they’re… busy.”
“Even Shoma?” she laughs. Disbelief is clear in her voice. Yuzu wants to defend him but, well, it’s true.
Kaori smiles, wry. “Sure.”
She shrugs and goes to grab her phone and wallet. She’s good company though, and has excellent taste in ice cream.
Talking to Yuzu is hard. Talking to Yuzu while he is all blasé about sex is even harder. Shoma may not survive this month. He thought it would be easier after not seeing Yuzu for months, but instead, it’s like he is noticing every small detail about him anew.
This is worse than hanging out during practice, or at the hotel, at banquets. This is Yuzu with his feet tucked under his thighs, biting the inside of his cheek while he thinks. This is Yuzu, walking around with a small bucket of cherry tomatoes, popping them into his mouth one by one. Offering them.
Shoma walks down the street of the Olympic village. It’s lovely, clean and new and everybody looks so happy to be here, beaming and talking in a dozen languages until every crowd sounds like the Sims, indiscernible and comfortable.
Shoma doesn’t know where to go. He knows the others took the first few days to explore, but he skipped out on that. Keiji complained about his laziness, but Shoma was so tired, he barely managed to go from practice to his bed. He knows it’s the change in place, people, the overwhelming muchness of it all, and that he’s fine now that everything has settled.
The team event is soon, and he’s focusing on that, but it’s hard to stay focused when Yuzu is right there all the time, asking him to play games and sitting on the edge of Shoma’s bed while Shoma relaxes, talking idly to Keiji.
The only thing that helps distract Shoma is the cook. He found the cook months ago, after his second grand prix, when everything felt like too much and Shoma would have liked to lock himself in his bedroom and never come out.
Second. To Javi. It sucked. Then the second place, this time to Nathan. He won Nats, but it wasn’t a winning performance, at all. With Yuzu there, it would have been another silver.
He doesn’t remember how he found the channel, and he can’t quite explain why he loves it. It should be boring. It’s just some dude, making food that Shoma wouldn’t eat anyway. But it’s calming. It’s so different from his own life, and he likes watching the cook’s hands.
He pulls out his phone, where a video is halted at the two minute mark.
He doesn’t know who is on the other side of that camera, calmly chopping and measuring in a way that feels almost choreographed. Or maybe habitual, similar to how Shoma falls into a cantilever easily, because he has done it a thousand times.
The music is soft, the text on the screen minimal. Sometimes, there’s no sounds but the quiet thock and clacks of the knife against the cutting board, the low rasp and tempered simmering of food on a stove.
Shoma forces himself to keep walking. He doesn’t know when Keiji will be done with his call, and he doesn’t want to walk past Yuzu in the living room.
He runs into the Americans on accident: they are crossing the road just as Shoma is, and he recognizes Nathan, and Maia and Alex. There’s a girl with them, short and pretty, and the man who was also at the Grand Prix Final. Shoma can’t quite remember his name. Jason isn’t with them because Jason did not qualify, and the others don’t speak Japanese.
This doesn’t stop Nathan from calling out to him, big smile and shy eyes. Shoma smiles back, bows at the group of them. They’re in the middle of the walkway, it’s very awkward, and the man grabs Shoma by the shoulders and steers him in the middle of their little group.
Shoma catches Maia’s eye, and he must look overwhelmed, because she pulls out her phone and says something, and the phone, like magic, produces letters Shoma can understand.
“Dinner?” Nathan asks, from behind him. It’s not really late enough for that, but Shoma nods, smiles, bows.
On the way, he learns that the man’s name is Adam, and the girl is Karen. He wishes Mirai was with them. Mirai is very nice, and Mirai doesn’t laugh every time Shoma bows. It’s fine, though. Adam has a warm hand on his shoulder, and Alex is speaking English very slowly, so Shoma can pick out words he understands.
The food in the big cafeteria is good enough. Shoma takes the broccoli even though his stomach turns at the sight of it.
The group speaks faster amongst each other. Shoma feels himself slipping away from the conversation, not even attempting to follow at all. He pokes the broccoli with his fork, pushes it around his plate. He’s eaten all the meat, so there’s nothing he really wants.
“You okay?” Adam asks.
On Shoma’s other side, Nathan looks up. He isn’t saying much either. Shoma realises that he’s been effectively sandwiched by them, with Maia, Alex and Karen sitting opposite. They are trying very hard to include him.
“Yes,” Shoma says, and, more uncertain, “thank you.”
“Do you want that?” Adam says, and points at Shoma’s broccoli. Shoma doesn’t. Shoma should eat it, though. It’s probably frightfully healthy.
He shakes his head, and Adam grins, mischievous, and stabs the green gross thing with his fork. He fits the entire thing into his mouth. Shoma doesn’t know whether to be disgusted or amazed. Nathan laughs.
“Gross.” Adam grimaces, chews, and pushes a piece of fresh, red bell pepper onto Shoma’s plate. Shoma eats it. It’s a gift, it would be rude to reject it.
It’s not bad. Not good, not something Shoma will seek out, but infinitely better than the broccoli.
Shoma manages to talk a little to Nathan, halting and awkward. He backs out of whatever they have planned next. It’s been an hour, and Shoma can feel exhaustion setting in. He has practice in the evening, and he needs to prepare.
“Practice,” Nathan says, “yeah, true. I should prep, too.”
Shoma doesn’t expect him to walk with him, but Nathan does. There’s nothing awkward about it, though. He just walks, and now and then, they grin at each other. Shoma points at his building.
“Yeah, we’re on the other side, it’s just around the block.”
Shoma only understands about half of his words, but he makes sense of Nathan’s gestures. He isn’t expansive, talking with his hands before his chest rather than with the entirety of his arms.
“Team Japan is here,” Shoma says, when he arrives at the right entrance door. He doesn’t know how to explain that they are on the fifth floor, but Nathan doesn’t seem to care. He just grins and nods and says, “See you later, then.”
Nathan walks off, and Shoma turns to go in.
He doesn’t expect Yuzu and Kaori there, apparently also heading in.
“Was that Nathan?” Kaori asks with a smile. Shoma nods. He can’t quite look at Yuzu without getting a weird sinking feeling low in his stomach. It used to only happen once in a while, but it is growing more frequent. Shoma can feel him looking, though. There’s no way to avoid that.
“Did you go out to meet him? That’s so cool, I wish I had more friends from other countries!”
Yuzu snorts. “I wouldn’t say that they’re friends.”
It cuts a little. He doesn’t say it viciously, but it still cuts. Like Shoma is incapable of making friends. Like Yuzu would know.
Shoma shrugs, ignores him. He turns to Kaori, whose smile has slipped. “I met the US team on accident, we went for food. I’m sure they would take you, too? I think Karen is your age, even.”
“Ok,” Kaori says, determined. “I will befriend her.”
It makes Shoma smile as he helps Kaori concoct a plan to infiltrate the American girls. This involves, apparently, snacks, and music, and face masks. If Shoma could befriend Kaori anew, he would. It’s a sweet deal.
Keiji isn’t in their room when Shoma returns, so he flops down on his stomach and plugs his phone into the charger. It’s too easy to start the video from the beginning.
Part of what is so interesting about it is that this cook is also an athlete. He doesn’t openly state this, but his diet and what he writes about his dietary requirements line up a little too closely to the print-outs Shoma’s trainer gave him.
Shoma does not live according to these print outs, but this cook certainly does.
Maybe that’s why he has a waist so narrow, and hands so elegant. Shoma could watch him all day, fingers dancing as he explains the recipe step for step. By the end of it, Shoma still does not know what goes into Korokke.
“What are you watching?” Keiji asks.
He’s lying on his bed.
He did not lie on his bed before, so he must have come in while Shoma was watching.
“Nothing,” Shoma says, and closes the app.
Keiji grins, broad and satisfied, and shakes his head. “Whatever it is, it can’t be that embarrassing. The more you hide it, the more curious everybody will become, you know that, right?”
Shoma shakes his head. Keiji’s grin grows.
“Satoko is already scheming. So is Yuzu.”
Keiji is rolling around on his bed, trying to find a comfortable position. Shoma places his face gently on his duvet and breathes in. The air is hot and stuffy, pressed through the fabric. It feels soothing, like some of the warmth that seems to creep into Shoma’s face every time he thinks of Yuzu might stem from that, instead.
“He’s weird around you, lately.”
“I know,” Shoma says, to the duvet.
“You’re weird around him, too.” He can hear Keiji laugh. “That’s no reason to asphyxiate yourself, though, Shoma. Unless you’re into that.”
Shoma grimaces. At least he has enough ammunition to fire back.
“I’m not. Are you? Phone sex is kind of kinky, already, I don’t know if you should add to that.”
Keiji bellows a laugh, and procures a smelly bunched up sock to throw at Shoma. He misses and it sails in a high bow to land in the corner of the room. Shoma grins at him, tongue out and silly with it.
It’s good, rooming with Keiji. They’ve done it so often, it’s like being around Itsuki, the same kind of silly and dumb arguments, subtle comfort and familiarity. There wasn’t any question when they distributed the rooms. Their laughter peters off. Shoma stretches, twists to lie on his bed.
The ceiling if off-white coloured yellow by the lights. There’s no cracks, no patterns from basketballs thrown at the ceiling by playful, precocious children. It isn’t like home at all, lacks all the marks of a lived-in comfort.
“I’m sorry if I am making things awkward,” Shoma says, and Keiji snorts.
“Things always are,” he says, “at least, when you’re there, I can laugh about it.”
Shoma looks over, but Keiji is looking at the ceiling as well. “Are you nervous?”
It’s an understatement that is utterly familiar. Shoma has asked this question often, over the years, and Keiji has answered the same way every time.
“I’ll do my best,” he says. “And so will you. And it will stop being weird.”
Shoma breathes. There’s truth in that. Routine will set in. First, there is a competition to focus on.
Satoko corners Yuzu after practice. Shoma practices earlier, Keiji later. Yuzu doesn’t know who sorted them this way, but he is a little disgruntled about it. It would have been nice to have someone familiar with him. There is always Javi, of course, but that is almost too familiar.
Brian looked concerned, switching focus from one of them to the other until Yuzu turned to Tracy instead. Practice was going better for him than for Javi, who was already jittery with nerves. There was a sense of relief in all of them, after that. Yuzu nailed jump after jump, never faltering.
There’s electricity in the air, at practice, everybody intense and focused and Yuzu thrives in it, can feel certainty sinking into his bones.
“Let’s go for tea,” Satoko says, and takes Yuzu by the arm. For someone so tiny and fragile, she has a surprising amount of upper body strength. Yuzu shouldn’t be surprised by this: she is a figure skater, too. He knows what it takes.
“I don’t have my wallet,” he says, helpless.
“You don’t need it. Just come with me.”
Yuzu is still sweaty and he all he really wants is to go to his room and change and check his notebook and then maybe go bother Keiji and Shoma.
“Exactly,” Satoko says when Yuzu mentions this to her, “that is what we are going to talk about.”
Yuzu frowns. Satoko smiles, sweetly. Her gaze is steely, though.
They find themselves at the cafeteria: there is little other possibility to get food, unless one is willing to go to the convenience store and prepare it in the apartment. And cooking there is impossible: there’s a kettle and that’s pretty much it.
Yuzu lives off tomatoes and microwave rice whenever he is too lazy to leave his room. He misses his kitchen, his mom’s presence, the stocked fridge and the familiarity of his utensils.
It’s not full, because the space is huge, and it’s easy enough to find a quiet corner away from other athletes, Japanese or otherwise.
Satoko is quiet, studying Yuzu. He finds it difficult not to squirm. Thankfully, there are several granules of salt on the table that require the entirety of Yuzu’s attention.
“I think,” Satoko says, quietly, “that you need to give Shoma and Keiji some space, maybe. Shoma, at least. He looks so awkward around you, lately.”
“Don’t be mad,” she whispers, and reaches out to wrap her small hand around Yuzu’s bony wrist. “It’s nothing bad, I just think… he needs some time. You’re being a little bit... overwhelming.”
“What should I do, then?” Yuzu asks, sharper than he meant to. “I’m not, like, infringing on them. They can tell me to leave!”
Satoko smiles. “Keiji? Or Shoma?”
And yeah, Yuzu knows. They would never. Keiji is too polite, too happy to be here, to risk stepping on anyone’s toes. And Shoma.. well, he’s Shoma. He just shuts down, withdraws. Confrontation isn’t exactly his forte. And yet.
“Shoma managed just fine today,” Yuzu tells her.
“We talked about… some stuff, and I must have upset him. I want to apologize but he’s so.”
It makes Satoko smile at him, softly. He can tell she means it, this time, because she isn’t undermining it with a statement that cuts him to the bone. She just waits, quiet and holding back. That’s the Satoko he knows.
“He’s so strange. We were... friends? Last season, I thought we were close, and now he’s treating me like I’m a stranger, or... worse, like I’m upsetting him every time I talk. It sucks.”
“I know,” Satoko says. “May I ask what you talked about?”
Yuzu feels himself blush. He doesn’t want to admit that he baited Shoma, that he wanted, in a way, to embarrass him as if it would turn back time to when Shoma was easily flustered and Yuzu could tease him gently and make him laugh.
Shoma still laughs at Yuzu’s jokes, easily even. But he doesn’t… it’s not enough anymore.
“What were you doing with Kana?” Yuzu counters.
It’s Satoko’s turn to blush. “What do you think?”
Yuzu nods. “That’s what we talked about…”
“Me and Kana?” Satoko looks shaken.
“No, no, don’t worry. I don’t think Shoma and the others know about that. He complained about Keiji skyping with some girl, and I made a joke about the amount of hooking up that happens in the Olympic village.”
“Oh,” Satoko says, and a grin grows on her face. When her expression turns mischievous she looks a little like a gnome. A very cute gnome. “Was Shoma very embarrassed?”
Yuzu nods. Satoko’s grin grows impossibly bigger.
“Then I know just what to talk to him about,” she says. When she smiles like that she uncomfortably reminds Yuzu of Kanako. “So did Shoma tell you what he’s watching all the time?”
Yuzu shakes his head. “You wonder about that, too?”
“Of course. I’ve never seen him so invested in anything, not even the games he plays all the time. He’s obsessed.”
Shoma isn’t easily invested in anything: the only thing he truly seems to love is skating. It’s why Yuzu liked him even early on when Shoma was just a kid. It is charming, the way Shoma throws himself into learning and movement, his dedication to the craft. His willingness to do what is necessary to progress, to succeed.
“Yeah, I want to know, too.”
Satoko looks at him, something curious in her gaze. Yuzu feels like she knows something he doesn’t. Something about himself, at his core, that should be obvious to him. He can’t quite figure out what it is she sees.
Neither of them got any tea at all.
Yuzu hasn’t been to Keiji and Shoma’s room in a few days. It’s becoming strange, like he’s avoiding them, so Shoma knocks on his door. It feels strange, like he is intruding. The same spike of excitement and nerves that precedes a new challenge. Entering the cave of the dragon, fighting the last villain of a videogame, quad lutz.
It’s the early afternoon. They both have practice later, Shoma earlier than Yuzu, which will give him a chance to escape in case this turns awkward. Again.
“Are you busy?”
Yuzu is lying belly down on one of the beds.
“No, I’m not doing anything.” He waves with one hand. The other bed is made, pushed to the far wall. It’s too far away to sit on and speak comfortably, so Shoma sits down on the floor next to Yuzu’s head.
Yuzu turns to the side, pillows his head on his arm. His hair is a mess, like he’s been running his hands through it. There’s a crease on his cheek that Shoma wants to trace with a fingertip. He isn’t wearing his glasses, but Shoma spots them on his bedside table. If he hasn’t put in his contacts yet, he hasn’t really gotten up and started his day.
It’s a weird thought to have.
Yuzu smiles, a little. He’s lovely, like this, when he’s comfortable. Shoma must look blurry to him. It makes the softness a little easier to bear.
“How was practice?” Shoma doesn’t know what else to say. Skating is safe. Yuzu always wants to talk about skating.
“It was okay. Good, even.”
Shoma nods. He can feel Yuzu’s eyes on him, but Shoma’s eyes follow Yuzu’s hand as he pushes his shirt down where it’s ridden up when he shifted, as he pushes strands of hair back. Yuzu shifts, stretches, sighs.
They’re at an impasse, the silence stretches until it feels like band around Shoma’s chest. He makes to get up when Yuzu speaks.
“Wanna play a game until you have to head to practice?”
Shoma nods. There is little he wants to do more than not feel so terribly awkward. He’d also like to stop noticing all these small details about Yuzuru. It’s uncomfortable.
Yuzu shifts, pats the mattress next to him. He pulls his handheld out from under the pillow, which is funny enough to make Shoma laugh a little.
Yuzu shoots him a look, something pleased and happy, and Shoma takes the hint and gets up.
“Here, it works like this: we have to play one after the other, but we have to hand it over really fast, otherwise we’ll die.”
Shoma sits next to him for approximately five seconds: it is much easier to play like this when they are both on their bellies, propped up on their elbows, leaning over the console. Their fingers tangle as they throw it back and forth, cursing and praying every time they hit the cue too late and the avatar almost dies.
Shoma forgets how close he is pressed to Yuzu, hip to hip, warmth down his entire side, because Yuzu is laughing, the whinnying gleeful sound he makes when he completely forgets himself. It’s an honest, ugly sound that is fully delightful. Shoma laughs back, nose scrunching and rough.
He’s forgotten just how hard Yuzu can make him laugh, how easy this can be.
When he returns to his room to collect his stuff for practice, Keiji is lounging on his bed, skyping someone. Shoma tiptoes, whispers, “Ssorry, sorry.”
Keiji looks up, smiles. “Come say hi,” he offers, and Shoma tiptoes around. It’s just Keiji’s mom on the screen. She waves, cheerful.
“Shoma! You look happy, are you well?”
Shoma nods, bows. “I am, thank you. I have to head to practice, but I wish you and your family well.”
Keiji laughs at him when his mom exclaims, “Oh, how polite. Of course, of course. Have a good practice!”
Keiji is still laughing when Shoma heads out the door.
“Yes, mom, Shoma is a wonderful roommate.”
Shoma can just hear the sarcasm in that statement. He is, though. He’s trying very hard to be considerate. And to fart as little as possible.
Practice is rough, and the team competition is getting closer. Shoma feels frayed at the edges. Mihoko keeps him together on the ice, but off the ice, he’s on his own. He used to be better at this but it’s harder to stand with each passing day: he sleeps a little less, frets a little more.
He has watched every video on his favourite channel several times. It may stop working if he overuses it.
He feels tired, exhausted all the time. Distraction doesn’t come easily, and the tension rises with each passing day: not just within Shoma. The others are feeling it as well.
In his practice sessions, Shoma notices how Nathan is falling apart more and more, and it has become a competition between them to see who can suck less. They deal in grins, pained and stubborn and sympathetic. It’s a kind of friendship, Shoma presumes, between the practice and the meals they share, now and then, in the company of others.
Satoko stoically drinks milk, eats yoghurt, does her stretches and her physical therapy and turns up in Shoma’s room in the evening to talk to him in whispered voices about her doubts, with a tense expression and shaking hands. Shoma knows she tells Kana more, but Kana smiles and distracts her, while Shoma holds her hands in his and doesn’t speak until Satoko runs out of misgivings and begins to put herself together again.
Different things help at different times. Kaori laughs more, with an almost panicked edge to it, distracts herself by aggressively befriending the ski jumpers in the apartment over. She comes back elated, and sinks into a nervous frenzy that only recedes after practice, when she has emptied her body of energy by jumping combinations and combinations of triples.
Yuzu isn’t competing in this event, and yet he is withdrawn in a way that Shoma wishes he could be. He seems to be living entirely in his head. Sometimes he sits in the common room, toes tucked into the couch cushions, headphones in, hands moving and moving and moving. If Shoma stays too long, Yuzu’s gaze will catch at him, pin him to the wall. Shoma rarely stays.
Keiji skypes home more and more, and Shoma leaves the room to give him privacy. Shoma sips at his disgusting vegetable drinks in an attempt to be healthy, and runs through his programs in his mind. It leaves him even more restless.
He wants to curl up in bed and pull the covers over his head, wants to live in the reality of the nice cook’s videos. At night he dreams of hands, bigger than his body, curling around his limbs, holding his body and mind together.
And then the first step is done, competitions passing in a rush of adrenaline and anxiety. They have fought, they won, lost, something in between, never quite satisfied, a little disappointed, still hungry for more.
They get together after the team competition, everybody collected in the living room, squished together on the couches, spread out on the floor.
After this, everybody fights for themselves.
“I didn’t expect much,” Miu says, “But I’m glad it worked out like it did for us.”
Kana nods. “It’s good to go in with a realistic goal. You worked really hard. We’re proud.”
Kaori smiles and nods, and Keiji claps Ryuichi on the shoulder.
Shoma winces. Worked hard.
He wants to sleep for a thousand years. He wants to go back on the ice and prove that he can do more. There’s a hand on his knee, keeping Shoma from shifting in his seat.
“You did good,” Yuzu says, like that means anything. “You did your best.”
Shoma snorts, a little bitter. “As if you’d be happy if someone told you that.”
Yuzu shrugs. “You’re not me. I thought maybe you should hear it.”
Satoko, on Shoma’s other side, turns and gifts him with a smile. “We all worked hard. I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who should beat themselves up about anything.”
It’s a nice sentiment. Shoma lets it rest, allows it to sink into his bones. He watches the group shift: Kaori talking to Miu, Keiji and Yuzu deep in a discussion, Satoko and Kana sharing a corner of the couch with barely an inch between them. Chris, sitting a little isolated to the side, but he has his phone in his lap, typing furiously.
It’s a lovely picture, a plateau of fighters. Shoma thinks about describing it to his grandfather thinks about asking him to paint it, perhaps. He won’t experience anything like this again: his chances at a second Olympics are small, and even if he does it, it won’t be with these people.
He’ll lose Keiji, Kana and Chris have already spoken of retirement, Satoko as well. Kaori will fight to return in four years, but she is realistic about the future. Everybody is planning a second life. Yuzu...
He watches him and Yuzu is radiant. It would have been better if Yuzu had been on the ice. Instead, he was in the stands, cheering. It’s all wrong like that. It’s frustrating, to try and try and never quite measure up. He could have done better. He should have done better.
Shoma blinks. There’s a lump in his throat. He hadn’t noticed it forming, hadn’t realized the tears gathering, and now Satoko is wrapping an arm around his shoulder as if shielding him from it all.
He cries openly, usually, unashamed: his frustration and his disappointment and his happiness all turning into pressure, turning into tears. It’s natural.
This time, the suddenness, the unexpected rush of feelings, drives heat into his cheeks.
“Oh, Shoma,” Kana coos, and brushes his hair back.
“I’m fine,” Shoma says, and, “It’s just…”
There’s hands on his shoulders, and Satoko’s shoulder is bony and oh, her head is on his shoulder as well, face pressed to his neck and she’s breathing like he’s breathing, hitched and wet. He knows her like he knows himself, sometimes. In this, they are the same: wasted potential hurts them more than any fall.
It only lasts a few minutes before Shoma can collect himself again. Satoko moves back, and goes to hug Keiji, who also looks misty-eyed before she returns to Kana. Shoma turns to the person rubbing his back, and opens his arms. Yuzu moves into the embrace easily.
Nothing between them has come particularly easily lately, but this. This is just what it is. They hold each other for a long time. Yuzu doesn’t cry. Shoma has stopped by the time they part and Shoma goes to bother Keiji, hanging himself over his lap and stealing Chris’ phone from him to leave a voice message for Cathy.
Nathan and Adam ring the next morning.
“Yo,” Nathan says, “we wanted to ask if you want to come watch the biathlon with us?”
Shoma blinks. Behind him, toes tucked between the couch cushions as usual, Yuzu looks up. He waves. Adam smiles, waves back cheerfully.
“What?” Shoma asks.
“Biathlon?” Nathan mimes skiing, then shooting something. Shoma asked only to see him do that. He’s a bit goofy, it’s very cute.
Shoma nods, and turns to get his jacket and his phone. Yuzu, from the couch, frowns.
“You’re going with them?” he asks. If Shoma didn’t know better, he’d think that Yuzu sounds hurt. But that’s impossible. Why would he mind?
“Yes. It would be rude not to?”
Yuzu frowns. “You say no to Keiji all the time?”
At the door, Nathan and Adam are watching. Nathan looks outright curious. Adam is harder to read. Shoma crosses his arms over his belly.
“That’s Keiji. He doesn’t mind if I say no.”
That doesn’t wipe the frown of Yuzu’s face. If anything, his expression tightens further. Shoma doesn’t understand what he wants or what to do, and he doesn’t want to stand here and wait until Yuzu says something more or until Shoma figures it out so he asks. He just asks.
“Do you want to join? They won’t mind.”
Yuzu’s face relaxes, for a precious second it looks like he wants to say yes, before the cloud returns. He adjusts his notebook on his lap. “I’m busy.”
“Okay,” Shoma whispers, and walks to his door. “Okay then.”
Biathlon is fun to watch, and cold. So unexpectedly cold. The shooting is exciting though, the athletes skilled and fast, and when Adam starts cheering for every single biathlete, his enthusiasm is infectious. Neither Shoma nor Nathan are loud, but with Adam there to deflect attention, it’s easier to cheer and clap and celebrate a success entirely independent from theirs.
Adam films them for his Instagram, checking with both of them that the video is alright. Nathan insists on a selfie. Both of them wrangle Shoma’s phone out of his frozen fingers and snap a photo with that, too. After a little bit of consideration, Shoma sends it to his family, and to Sota and Kanako. They’ll both laugh at his expression.
It’s nice. Shoma almost forgets about himself, his performance at the team event. It returns when he enters the apartment.
Yuzu has abandoned the couch. It’s too quiet, so Shoma checks his phone. The group chat has filled up with updates: Keiji is meeting up with the ski jumpers that Kaori befriended. Satoko is hanging with the Canadians, and so are Kana and Chris. Kaori is practicing. Miu and Ryuichi are out for food. There is no message from Yuzu.
It’s so quiet, Shoma feels fully alone. Spreading out on the couch, belly up, arms and legs dangling, feels like heaven. He opens youtube before he can fully decide to, habitual. There is a new video uploaded.
He’s too lazy to go get his headphones from the room. Moving a centimeter would be too much. Moving his finger to tap the screen on his phone is too much. He turns the sound down until the cheerful, simplistic music is barely audible. There’s enough joy in just seeing those familiar hands be competent and strong.
The food looks nice, too. But it’s the composition of it all that makes Shoma return again and again. He must account for about half the hits on every video by now. This isn’t the most popular Japanese cooking channel: it is too impersonal for that. The cook provides neither name nor location, doesn’t show his face or talk. But that is nice in its own way: the anonymity is reassuring, like this person on the other side of the screen has their life to themselves. The only camera pointed at him he points himself.
It shouldn’t be a detriment. There has been not a single video that felt impersonal: instead, the focus is fully on the process of learning, of cooking. And with every video, he improves. The quality looks nice, and all shots are nicely framed, the light is pretty and the music fits the movements on screen so well that sometimes Shoma thinks of it almost as a performance program, perfectly choreographed.
There’s a noise from the other side of the room.
Shoma presses the power button so hard, he almost breaks his phone. He doesn’t mean to hide this. He didn’t mean to make this a thing, but the idea that Yuzu might see that Shoma watches a stranger on the internet make vegetarian sushi is too embarrassing.
Yuzu is leaning on the doorframe to his room, watching. He’s wearing headphones. He can’t possibly have heard anything?
Shoma’s face must be very, very red. Tomato red.
“What are you watching?”
Yuzu walks closer. For a moment, Shoma imagines him wrangling the phone out of his hands, body close, heat and touch and rough housing that turns into...
But Yuzu just sits down on the couch opposite, in his usual spot. He looks curious, but there’s something darker there, hidden behind the kindness of his words.
“You don’t have to tell me. I’m just curious about what you spend your time with.”
He wants Shoma to tell him. Better yet, he wants Shoma to show him. Shoma shrugs, means to divert, but something in Yuzu’s expression shifts, something that diverges from disappointment, even. Nothing so clear-cut, but something tense and-
“It’s stupid,” Shoma says, and Yuzu grins.
“Is it anime soundtracks?”
It isn’t. It is so much more embarrassing than that. But perhaps Keiji is right. Perhaps admitting to something will satisfy Yuzu, and Satoko, and Kaori, who has also been sneaking around, trying to peak at Shoma’s screen, enough to let him be.
“It’s cooking videos,” Shoma says, and keeps the rest of it to himself.
Yuzu blinks. Stares. Blinks again.
“Oh,” he says. And then he doesn’t ask any more questions. He just swallows, gets up again, paces to his room, turns around to look at Shoma.
He opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again, in an impression of a koi fish, and then he walks into his room.
He comes out with his jacket in hand. “I need to... uh, go do something.”
This was not the reaction Shoma expected. He thought Yuzu would ask a few polite questions, perhaps. Maybe some teasing, gentle ribbing. Potentially, if unlikely, Yuzu could have demanded Shoma show him his favourite recipe or something.
Not this. Not Yuzu, turning white and then red, and leaving.
Yuzu doesn’t mean to go straight to the US team apartment. He meant to text, first. Maybe meet them in the cafeteria. But in his hurry to get away from Shoma and his eyes and his nervous blush and his phone, on which he watches videos of people cooking with quiet intensity, he forgot it.
A blonde girl Yuzu knows in passing opens the door.
“Maia and Alex?” Yuzu says. He doesn’t even ask, he nearly bellows.
There’s something queasy and soft in the pit of his stomach that feels like it is climbing up and up and up and there’s Maia.
She looks worried.
“Hey Yuzu. What’s up?”
“I have... questions about something.”
Maia frowns at him, head tilting. Yuzu is so, so lucky she is home.
“Let me get Alex,” Maia says, and leads Yuzu into the room.
It looks like the mirror equivalent of Yuzu’s apartment: a common room in the center from which a bunch of doors diverge, two couches in the middle, one longer than the other. Unlike his own team, the Americans have pushes the table in the middle to the wall. Nathan is sitting on one couch. Adam, on the opposite side.
It takes Yuzu a few minutes to parse what they are doing.
“Hey,” Nathan says, and catches popcorn with his mouth. “Want some?”
Adam holds up the bowl on his lap.
Yuzu shakes his head. Nathan shrugs. “You okay? You look kinda shaky.”
Yuzu watches Adam take a fistful of popcorn and stuff his cheeks with it. He does it with an urgency that betrays him: this is a man who is trying very hard not to say something.
“Yuzu!” Alex says, and then, “Nathan, Adam, leave the man alone.”
Adam looks affronted. “We weren’t doing anything!”
He pouts. Nathan pouts. Alex, not one to be outdone, pouts back at them, exaggerated, and pulls Yuzu into his room by the arm.
“I room with Vincent,” Alex explains, and deposits Yuzu on the foot of his bed, “he’s out with Wenjing, I think. I didn’t want to ask, I do not want to know.”
“Are they…?” Yuzu begins, and stops himself immediately. “No, wait, I do not want to know.”
“Long lost siblings?” Maia answers, and closes the door behind her. She smiles, kind and calming and a little bit mischievous. “I hope that’s how you meant to end this sentence.”
Yuzu feels heat rise into his cheeks.
“So.. it’s unlike you to just turn up like this. What’s up?”
She sits down on the bed opposite, Alex sits on the floor between the beds. They both have a way of looking at you that is entirely too knowing. Like Yuzu is fully transparent. Satoko has it, too. Maybe she is their long-lost sibling. He considers asking, but there are more pressing matters.
“What would you do if you had a secret youtube channel and someone found it?”
Maia’s chin drops. It’s like it happens in slow motion.
Alex, on Yuzu’s other side, laughs. “I thought your crazy fans found your youtube in like, 2011.”
“No, that’s not the one. I made a new one. I make… these videos?”
Maia’s chin drops another centimeter. She looks at Alex, Alex looks back at her, and simultaneously, they start talking.
“In 2014--” “Yeah, he asked a billion questions--” “About cameras, yes I know,” “I thought he was just interested--” “I didn’t think Yuzu would have the time for--” “Oh, but that explains why Misha!” “Yeah Misha must--”
They turn to Yuzu.
“Does Misha know about this hobby of yours?”
Yuzu shakes his head. Alex looks at Maia. Maia looks at Alex. Alex and Maia turn to Yuzu.
“What kind of channel?”
“I just... cook things.”
Alex’s jaw drops. Maia grins. “Oh, cool.”
“No, wait, Maia what. Yuzu, you cook? You have a cooking channel where you make... food? Edible food?”
Yuzu shrugs. So he doesn’t talk about it. It’s secret for a reason.
“This is brand-new information.”
It isn’t though. They have definitely eaten stuff Yuzu has cooked. Maia laughs when he mentions that little fact.
“We thought your mom made it,” she explains.
“But my mom wasn’t travelling with me?”
“Yeah, okay, but how would we know that.”
And that’s a fair point. After a few minutes of Maia and Alex making surprised noises and finding Yuzu’s channel and subscribing to him from their unofficial accounts, they settle down.
The queasy feeling in Yuzu’s stomach settles, too. If this is how Maia and Alex react, other people will probably not react worse. Nobody will be weird about it.
Yuzu is weird. Yuzu is being so, so weird. He leaves and Shoma lies himself down and breathes because he doesn’t know what else to do.
In the end, his problem solves itself: Satoko and Keiji come in, talking quietly. They take one look at him, and come to sit down on either side of him. The sofa dips, and Shoma sits up, making space for them.
“What happened to you? You look awful.”
Shoma just looks how he feels, then.
It shouldn’t bother him, that Yuzu apparently thinks he’s super strange and that his hobbies repulse Yuzu so much.
“I told Yuzu…”
“Oh,” Satoko says, and reaches out to him. He allows her to take his hand, and press it. “It’ll be alright.”
Keiji frowns. “Was he mean about it? I can go talk to him, he should have let you down gently.”
“Let me… Keiji what? I just told Yuzu about the cooking videos.”
Satoko blinks. Keiji looks like the earth should open up and swallow him.
“What did you think I told him?” Shoma asks, slowly.
“Well…” Keiji begins. Satoko shifts. She has let go of Shoma’s hand.
“I didn’t confess to Yuzu!” Shoma says. “There’s nothing to confess! And even if there was, why would I do it now, here, when everything is so--”
Awkward. Everything is awkward and he doesn’t know how to talk to Yuzu anymore because his heart is in his throat and he notices the smallest details about him, like the way he holds his wrists and the curl of his upper lip when he smiles and how he eats tomatoes in the most disgusting way.
Yuzu bites them open just a little, and then sucks. It’s awful. Shoma has to leave the room every time, because his cheeks hollow and his eyes close and it is tomatoes. Tomatoes are gross! And yet, Shoma wants to stare every time, stared until Yuzu tried to offer him some.
It’s been awkward except for the moments in which Shoma allowed to let himself just be, and then he felt warm, and calm, and happy. Yuzu makes him so happy when Shoma isn’t tripping over his tongue and when Yuzu isn’t…being weird.
“Oh,” Shoma says.
“Shit,” Satoko says, and takes his hand again. Keiji joins her, but he doesn’t hold Shoma’s hand. He awkwardly pats Shoma’s shoulder, instead.
A minute passes in silence, in which Shoma contemplates his own blindness and Satoko and Keiji regret ever asking him what was wrong.
Shoma might as well tell them.
“Yuzu asked me what you all have been so curious about, and I thought if I told him a little bit he wouldn’t snoop, but he just. Ran off? I don’t know what I said wrong, maybe Yuzu just hates cooking, or youtube, but he’s friends with Maia and Alex so I don’t think so?”
“That is weird,” Satoko says. “Unlike him.”
She looks at Shoma, closely, like she is trying to look inside him.
“I will find out for you,” she says and squeezes his hand. “Kaori will help, too, and Kana.”
“I’ll help, too,” Keiji offers. “We’ll figure this out.”
He knocks his fist into Shoma’s shoulder.
“I assume you’ll hide from Yuzu from now on until we solve it?”
He’s right. Shoma will start by burrowing down in bed and thinking about all the signs that have pointed towards his huge, giant, ginormous crush on Yuzu. When did it start. How can Shoma not have noticed?
When he asks, Keiji cracks up. Satoko offers no answers, either. Shoma is on his own, in that. Well, they can hunt down Yuzu, and Shoma will nail down his feelings. He isn’t sure who has the more difficult quest.
“How high are the chances he is watching my videos?”
“Kind of low,” Maia says, slowly. “There is so much content out there. And there are quite a few cooking channels.”
Alex frowns. “You do have a decent amount of subscribers, though, especially considering how rarely you update.”
He has Yuzu’s statistics pulled up on his laptop. Yuzu knew they were the right people to go to.
Maia laughs. “I like this comment. You should answer!”
“I don’t do that,” Yuzu says. “I try to interact as little as possible.”
“Why do it at all,” Alex wonders, and Maia kicks him. It should be physically impossible, with the distance between them and the length of her legs, but she makes it work. Alex winces.
“No, but for real, why put videos on the internet when you don’t care who watches them.”
“It was just something to do? I wanted to learn how to.”
“Cook?” Maia asks. “Or edit videos?”
She clicks one. It isn’t a quiet one. For this one, Yuzu actually arranged music. It’s soft, piano-like but not quite. He’s a little bit proud of the composition of it all, how the music and the tempo of his knife handling match.
Maia notices, of course.
“All of that, and then some. Every time I think I know what I’m doing, I find something to improve.”
“So like skating,” she laughs, and Yuzu shrugs, but it is easy to smile back. Like every skill he picks up. He can’t say that without sounding arrogant, though.
“Yeah. But entirely unlike skating. It takes my mind off it.”
They both nod.
“So why does it freak you out so much?”
Yuzu shrugs, again. If he knew, he wouldn’t have come here. It isn’t something he has words for. It’s a mix of feelings, too mashed together for him to identify. Fear, for course. Worry, if Shoma really has found Yuzu, and what he thinks of it. Something like excitement, perhaps. Something more positive than that.
Something connected to the way Shoma kept this to himself, a secret.
He wants to know, no, needs to know, what Shoma is watching. Whom Shoma is watching. And oh, the thought untangles something inside of him.
It’s jealousy. It’s been jealousy, every time Shoma turned to his phone, every time he turned his phone face down, every time Yuzu heard him talk quietly to Keiji, or Satoko, heard him joke with their friends, every time he headed off with Nathan and Adam.
“Somebody just had a realization,” Maia teases.
“Is it world-shattering?” Alex asks, and Maia laughs.
Yuzu nods, slowly.
It is, though. One puzzle piece that finally makes sense. No wonder things have been so uncomfortable. No wonder Yuzu only really felt at rest when he was alone with Shoma. Their past conversations run through his head. Most of it is stilted, some of it makes Yuzu flush.
Maia laughs, and gently taps her foot against the side of his knee.
Yuzu, head burning and with the drama the situation deserves, drops backwards onto the bed.
“That’s Vincent’s,” Alex says. “I don’t know what he does in it.”
Yuzu shrugs. “Can’t be worse than this.”
“It’s not that bad,” Maia smiles. “He probably wasn’t watching your videos at all.”
Yuzu can’t quite decide if that is good or bad anymore.
“Can you help me find out?”
Maia and Alex exchange a look. They say more with one glance than Yuzu could in half an hour. They look at Yuzu. “We’re asking our team mates for help.”
“YO NATHAN!” Alex hollers.
“So,” Satoko says. Kaori giggles nervously. They are standing in the door to Yuzu’s room. Yuzu meant to change, go shower and get ready for bed, but that is kind of impossible when two pairs of eyes study him.
“I was going to be subtle,” she starts, and Kaori interrupts. She pushes Satoko into Yuzu’s room and closes the door behind them.
It reminds Yuzu of a situation days ago. Shoma, on the couch, sexiled. Satoko, in Kana’s room, doing god knows what. Moaning.
He keeps the sigh in. It’s difficult. Yesterday seems like a completely different life.
“I told her no,” Kaori says. Yuzu appreciates her. “I said, Satoko, if we beat around the bush, Yuzu will just get frustrated and then he won’t tell us anything.”
Kaori sits down on Yuzu’s bed, and Satoko, without much choice, is pulled along. Yuzu watches with some amusement as she pries her arm out of Kaori’s grip.
“What should I tell you?” Yuzu asks.
There’s a knock at the door. Keiji sticks his head in.
“Oh! Conference in Yuzu’s room! Great.”
He goes in, and closes the door behind himself, and wanders to the free bed on the other side of the room, collapsing into it as if he had no care in the world. Yuzu envies Keiji, sometimes. His life seems very carefree.
“We were saying,” Satoko ignores the interruption as if it never happened, “that there is no point in subtlety.”
Everybody’s phones buzz in the exact same moment.
Yuzu doesn’t have his, so he doesn’t know what is happening.
“Oh,” Kaori says, “wait I’m texting them.”
“Can this wait until I’ve showered, at least?”
Yuzu is sweaty. And disgusting. And he would really, really like to get out of his training clothes and into something that doesn’t stick to his skin.
Satoko and Keiji exchange a glance that, terrifyingly, reminds Yuzu of Alex and Maia. They are learning. It can’t be good.
“Sure,” Keiji says. “Just come back here. Kana, Miu and the guys want to join this conversation, too.”
Yuzu grabs a towel out of his open suitcase, a change of underwear from the drawer, and the jeans and t-shirt he wore yesterday. He’d like to put on his pajamas, but this does not seem like a conversation to be had in Winnie-the-Pooh-themed clothing.
Why have a team meeting in Yuzu’s room, anyway? But it doesn’t seem like a team meeting at all? Satoko and Kaori seemed to have something different in mind, initially. But what would they need to be direct about?
Yuzu peels the sodden shirt off himself and clicks the bathroom door shut. At least he is getting his shower now.
He washes up quickly. Part of him wants to take his time, enjoy the hot water and the white noise of the water hitting the tiles. But the other half wants to get this conversation to be over already. The faster Yuzu gets out of the shower, the faster they will tell him what they need and Yuzu can give it to them.
Or that’s the plan.
He doesn’t expect Shoma to be standing in the living room, jacket on, hair a mess. He looks sort of blank, like someone pushed his mind into standby but his body is still going.
They haven’t spoken since yesterday, when Yuzu rushed off in a tizzy. He knows Shoma has plans with Nathan, Adam, Maia and Alex now. He instigated those plans, he’s pro-plan. The look Shoma gives him, something between puzzled and hurt, still rankles.
“Hey,” Yuzu says.
Shoma’s eyes go wide. His cheeks go pink. His mouth forms a round shape and his fingers tighten into fists. He’s lovely. Yuzu fidgets, t-shirt sticking to his skin because he didn’t take the time to dry off properly.
He can see Shoma brace himself for whatever Yuzu is about to say.
“Are you going out?”
He watches as the fight goes out of him, Shoulder’s sinking and face turning towards the floor. He merely nods.
“Have I...” Yuzu hesitates. But casual and friendly seems the right path to follow. At least until he knows. Once he knows he can deal, but. “Have fun, Shoma.”
Shoma nods, again. There are noises coming from Yuzu’s room that make Yuzu flinch. His headphone collection is out in the open and there are too many people in there. But Shoma is just standing there, like his strings have been cut and Yuzu can’t just leave him here.
He steps closer. Shoma swallows. Yuzu can see his Adam’s apple bob, just above the collar of his team Japan jacket. He can see Shoma’s eyes move, twitching from Yuzu’s eyes to his neck where Yuzu can feel his hair dripping onto his skin. The droplets run down into the hem of his t-shirt.
“Uhm,” Yuzu says, and Shoma looks up again. The blank look is gone from his face, replaced by a sort of flustered, panicked expression.
Yuzu remembers wanting this reaction from him. He looked like this all the time, early in their friendship. Overwhelmed by Yuzu’s attention, the crowd’s, the lights at galas and the audience’s cheers at practices. It’s probably too late to regret wanting this. It feels like a step back.
“I need to know,” Shoma says, and his eyes go even wider. “Go. I need to go! Bye.”
He bows awkwardly and rushes past Yuzu so fast, Yuzu can feel the air move with him.
In Yuzu’s room, spread across every possible surface and some of the less possible ones, is his entire team. Save Shoma, of course.
That is what tips Yuzu off, in the end. The fact that no one bothered to make Shoma stay for this. He’s not being excluded, he is actively running away from whatever is about to happen.
Adam and Nathan usher Shoma into the apartment. They look shifty.
Mirai, coming out of the room she shares with Karen, doesn’t. Shoma turns to her, bows.
“Hello,” she bows back. Mirai is a blessing. She also wraps a friendly arm around Shoma’s shoulder and pulls him right out of the apartment again, leaving the rest of her team to scramble after them. “How’s your lovely aunt? What is she currently crafting? I haven’t heard from her in a while.”
Shoma is happy to explain. Anything to distract himself from the way Yuzu looked, with his wet hair hanging into his face and his shirt sticking to his chest and his imploring eyes and the way he curled his fingers of one hand around the wrist of the other, around and around.
“Hey, Shoma, can I use your phone real quick?” Adam asks, casually, sidling up beside Shoma. He’s explaining the oversized ocean animals his aunt is currently knitting. Mirai is nodding and smiling. She translates when Shoma looks confused at Adam’s open palm.
He watches as Adam stares at his phone, then turns to Nathan and loudly proclaims, “See, they do make them in Japanese.”
Nathan nods, profusely.
“So, your aunts makes octopuses?” Mirai substitutes the English word when she can’t remember the Japanese, which is very cute. Shoma attempts to answer in English, which makes her giggle.
“Here,” Adam hands Shoma his phone back. Shoma sees him exchange a significant glance with Mirai, who takes it out of his hand immediately.
“What,” Shoma says.
“I just want to check something,” she says. And immediately, “Shit, I can’t read well enough for this.”
He hears Nathan sigh. They’re in the middle of the road, walking, Shoma realises, nowhere in particular, and Adam is blowing up his cheeks.
“I don’t want to tell Maia we failed,” he explains to Shoma. “She looks all cute but she is scary when her plans fail.”
“Maia?” He hasn’t spoken to her a lot in the time he’s been here. It’s a little sad how little their paths seem to cross. He should remedy that, but he doesn’t quite know how to approach her. They are next to strangers, after all.
“Yeah,” Nathan sighs, again. “Maia’s gonna kill us if we come back without results.”
Shoma blinks. There were too many foreign words in that sentence, but he thinks he got the gist of it because Maia and kill and results, coupled with Adam’s statement gives him enough of a clue.
“Let’s just tell him,” Mirai says, matter of fact. “Can’t hurt, can it?”
“What, no.” Adam yells, jumping between them as if to heroically take a bullet for... well, whoever does not have a gun.
Nathan laughs at his antics, but then he shrugs.
Mirai, over Adam’s shoulder and his protests, keeps talking.
“So, Yuzu came by yesterday. He said some interesting things, and now we have to find out what channels you are subscribed to.”
“Oh,” Shoma says. Why didn’t they just ask instead of trying to trick him. Besides, he’s pretty sure the youtube app on his phone looks just like the western one? So they didn’t try very hard at all. “It’s for Yuzu?”
“Yeah,” Mirai says. “We can’t tell you why he needs to know, but he needs to know.”
Shoma nods. “I’ll tell him, then.”
Adam frowns, exaggerated and pouty. “Not us?”
Shoma shakes his head, but he can’t suppress his own grin. “You tried to steal information from me,” he says, “You don’t deserve to know my secrets.”
Adam keeps pouting, so Mirai knocks her shoulder into his, unbalancing him enough to stumble and break into a real smile. Nathan comes up to Shoma’s side. He hasn’t said much, so far.
“Don’t be mad at us, alright?”
Shoma shrugs. “A little mad?”
Nathan grins, playful and soft around the edges. “Fair enough. But not for long?”
“Okay,” Shoma says. “Only until after competition.”
Nathan laughs, surprised. “That’s pretty harsh, Sho. We can watch the ladies together, though. It’s after our competitions, after all.”
It’s nice of him to offer. Most likely, Shoma will want to lie in bed and sleep for seventeen years after comps. Nathan laughs, when Shoma tells him that. He keeps joking all the way back. They hadn’t made it very far, after all.
Yuzu sits down at the foot of his own bed. Keiji, who has moved from one bed to the other when Yuzu left to shower, pats his head.
His reaction is so normal, so unsurprising, it makes Yuzu laugh.
“Do I want to know what you do in the shower to not get your head wet?”
“No,” Keiji answers. “I do unspeakable things.”
“Okay,” Kana says, “None of us want to know this. Besides, there are children present. Behave.”
Keiji snorts. “The children in this room know way too much anyway.”
Kaori looks like she wants to protest, but then she decides against it. Yuzu plied her with ice cream and bubble tea for nothing, it seems. He blames the ski jumpers. Maybe the Americans, too.
“What we said before,” Satoko says, quietly. Everybody turns around to her. Her ability to control a room, to pull attention, is unparalleled. “To get to the point.”
Yuzu nods. It must be about Shoma. If it is about Shoma, then it is likely about Yuzu storming out on him yesterday.
“I can explain,” Yuzu begins.
Kaori looks at Kana and laughs.
“We knew you’d say that,” Kana says. “And no, you can’t.”
Keiji interrupts. “We get the feeling that you only have about, uh, a quarter of the picture, here.”
“Oh,” Yuzu says. “Wait. Is this an intervention?”
Half of his team looks down, guilty. He doesn’t quite know what they are intervening?
“All I did was panic about Shoma finding my secret youtube account?”
“Wait what?” About four people spoke at once. It’s kind of hilarious.
Yuzu’s secret channel is destined to be more of an open secret, then. That’s… fine. Probably. It was nice while it lasted.
“He... mentioned that he watches the types of videos I make, and I had a brief moment of insanity,” Yuzu jokes. Attempts to joke.
“That,” Keiji says, slowly. Satoko nods. “That is not what I expected.”
Yuzu shrugs, helpless. He hadn’t intended for this to be a big deal. Nobody was meant to find out, after all. It was just meant to be a thing between Yuzu and his mom, maybe Saya.
“Does he, though?” Chris speaks up for the first time. He says it in English, gruff and very amused. “Does he watch your videos?”
“I don’t... know?”
Chris shakes his head at that.
“But I have people on it!” Yuzu points out. In hindsight, Maia’s plan isn’t as foolproof as it seemed when she presented it, but it may work.
“And what will that change?”
Satoko looks serious. Everybody else has started growing silly after realizing that the crux of the matter isn’t some deep, moving thing. It’s just videos. Something that was meant to be shared, anyway.
Yuzu doesn’t know why it struck him so hard, yesterday. The possibility of Shoma accessing a part of him without Yuzu knowing, perhaps.
There is a knock on the door.
Everybody’s heads swivel to it. Shoma, hesitantly, sticks his head in.
“Oh,” Yuzu breathes. “Hi.”
Shoma smiles, flustered and embarrassed by the focus he’s inspired.
“Hey,” he says. “I appreciate what you’re doing in here, but. Can we talk for a minute?”
Nobody moves. Shoma inches a little more into the room.
“Who?” Ryuichi asks. “Who do you want to talk to. There is a lot of us sitting here.”
He sounds a little pissed off. Shoma wonders how long they’ve been cooped up in that room. If he was forced to share two beds and very little space with so many people, he’d be irritated, too.
Even his name is hard to say. Looking at him is even harder. But Shoma has something to tell him, for better or worse. And he has questions. He has a few, very important questions.
Yuzu looks like he is swallowing against the same lump of nerves in his throat that Shoma feels with every breath. It would be funny if he wasn’t so nervous.
Yuzu follows him out of the room and into Shoma’s. It’s pretty much the same room, there’s just more dirty laundry on the floor, and it smells like febreeze because Keiji is a madman with the bottle. It isn’t Shoma’s fault. He makes fewer fart jokes nowadays.
Yuzu is looking at him. There’s something careful in his gaze, hesitant in a way he never has been, not since Shoma was a kid and Yuzu pulled at his cheek to make him laugh.
When did he stop doing that? When did this change? Last season? The season before that? In the past months, when everything that was usual and routine in their lives turned haywire? Yuzu injured, Shoma rushing from competition to competition and not enjoying a single one.
“Here,” Shoma holds out his phone. He has his subscribed channels open. Whatever Yuzu is looking for, whatever startled him so much he had to leave like he did: he can check. “Why do you need to see this?”
“Oh,” Yuzu says, and scrolls through. He taps on Shoma’s history, after hovering, waiting for Shoma’s nod of permission.
It feels like being naked, to reveal this to him. Shoma has been keeping this part of his routine to himself.
“You watch them a lot,” Yuzu whispers. “I thought maybe you’d seen one, or two. But.”
He takes the phone from Shoma’s hand, and scrolls, faster and faster. “You’ve seen all of them?”
“I don’t know what--” Shoma starts, because he doesn’t. He might, given a little more time. He might get it, he might jump to the right conclusion. But he doesn’t want to wait for his brain to connect the dots, not when Yuzu is staring at his phone with disbelief, and at Shoma’s face with something much stranger than that.
“This is my channel,” Yuzu says. “I make these videos.”
It’s a revelation. He thinks of the hands, of the way he’s been studying every knuckle, and how he’s held those hands. It doesn’t quite sink in.
“I didn’t know you could cook,” he whispers.
“You don’t watch any other channels,” Yuzu counters.
Shoma shrugs. So maybe he is a little obsessed.
This is worse than being naked. This is being cracked open and examined to the core.
“So I do,” Shoma says. “How… how do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know,” Yuzu says. “Weird.”
Everything has been awkward between them, lately. Shoma can’t quite tell if this will make it more or less so, but there is nothing but jumping in with both feet now.
“They make me feel calm,” he says, “I didn’t know why. I couldn’t pinpoint it. It isn’t the noises, or other videos would have worked. It isn’t the cooking, or any chef would do.”
Yuzu looks like something is dawning on him.
Shoma has had this realization yesterday, sandwiched between Satoko and Keiji. Everything is already weird. He can’t possibly make it worse, can he?
Yuzu doesn’t react. For a long, drawn-out moment, his face is just slack. Then life returns to it with a vengeance, lighting him up from the inside. Yuzu has been hard to look at for a while, Shoma realises. He thought he could grow comfortable with it.
Now that he’s stated his truth, arrived at something real and palpable, it isn’t less difficult to meet his eyes. He still notices every little detail: the shape of Yuzu’s lips as they draw into a smile, the creases in the corners of his eyes. The way he cranes his neck, the way he moves his wrists.
“I’ve been so jealous,” Yuzu laughs, “every time you were paying attention to your phone instead of me, I was so jealous.”
Shoma steps closer, just to try. Yuzu’s laughter abates into a big smile.
“They asked me what it would change, if you watched my videos, and I couldn’t say. But this is it. The focus you put into watching them. I don’t want you to treat just anything like that.”
Shoma shakes his head.
“Except maybe skating,” Yuzu adds, eyes going wide. “Or, like, of course you can have interests, I didn’t mean it like that, I’m glad, just--”
He talks faster, more rapidly, like he has to fit all of his thoughts into a single moment.
“I understand,” Shoma says. “I get it.”
He steps a little closer, yet, and it’s like Yuzu suddenly gets the hint. He leans in. Shoma leans up. Closer. Yuzu’s smile fades, but his lips look soft and his eyes look even softer.
“I want you to myself, too,” Shoma whispers. Just because he can. Just because he knows, with a certainty that should be surprising but isn’t, that that will turn Yuzu’s eyes a darker shade of brown, pupils blowing out.
Any closer, and they’ll be pressed together chest to chest. Shoma wants that. He leans up, and it’s like magic, like reading clues, how they come together. Shoma’s arms wrap around Yuzu’s waist, Yuzu’s arms around Shoma’s shoulders.
He smells like the shower and moist cotton and skin. It shouldn’t be this pleasant, but it is.
Sometime between Yuzu’s confession and their hug, they’ve moved to the bed. Just laying, side by side. It is still a little awkward, because Yuzu doesn’t quite know what to say. Neither does Shoma, though.
“I missed you,” is what Yuzu settles on. Shoma’s eyes close, in a slow blink. “I missed this.”
“We never had this before,” Shoma says, snark audible even when he’s nearly asleep.
“No, but. Being comfortable with you.”
Shoma sighs, turns until he is laying on his belly, head propped up on his forearm. “It has been a little awkward,” he admits.
Yuzu feels himself smiling, blushing.
“When did everything change,” he wonders.
“I don’t know,” Shoma says. “I’ve been trying to figure it out.”
He blinks, again, slow. Shoma’s lips are chapped, perpetually. Every time Yuzu watched a stream, he wanted to slather chapstick onto him. Shoma’s tongue laps over his bottom lip, sneaky and quick.
“I think it was gradual,” Shoma says, quietly, as if to himself. “I think we didn’t notice because it was gradual.”
Yuzu shifts onto his side, too. He can see Shoma’s eyes wander, catching at his eyes, his lips, his shoulders. It feels like a compliment, like warmth spreading from Yuzu’s cheeks to the rest of his body.
“Which is your favourite recipe?” Yuzu asks.
Shoma laughs, leans up from where his face is half-buried in the duvet. He is flushed, too. Yuzu wants to place a hand on the back of his neck, so he does. It makes Shoma shiver, press into it.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve never tried to make any of them.”
“Wow,” Yuzu says, and tightens his grip. “Rude.”
It makes Shoma laugh, a little, nose scrunching and eyes closing again. Before he knows it, Yuzu is leaning towards him, guiding Shoma closer by the nape. Shoma’s laughter fades as Yuzu moves, slowly, gradually, closer, until it’s just the ghost of a chuckle on Yuzu’s lips.
It’s a good first kiss. Shoma’s lips don’t feel rough. His hands don’t, either, where he’s grasping at Yuzu’s shoulder.
The closer Yuzu presses, the more frequently Shoma makes delicious noises. He never wants to stop, but they have to part eventually. Shoma is breathing a little harder, but he’s smiling.
“I’ll cook for you, then,” Yuzu says.
Shoma shudders. “That isn’t a promise. That’s a threat.”
“Hey!” Affront is hard to fake, especially when Shoma is already leaning up again, fingers hooking into the fabric of Yuzu’s t-shirt to pull him closer, to kiss him softly, once, twice.
“This is enough,” he says.
Yuzu giggles. He can’t help it. Shoma smiles, kisses him again.
There’s a noise from behind the door. Faintly, Yuzu thinks, he can hear Keiji groan about being sexiled. It’s easy to ignore.