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Can't Be Helped

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After three years at TCC, Javier was well accustomed with the meaning of Brian Orser’s facial expressions. He could tell when his coach was pleased with him, or when he was searching for words to (ever so diplomatically) tell him his efforts weren’t good enough. He could also read Brian’s reaction in answer to other people; when he was frustrated with bureaucracy but (again diplomatically) tried to disguise it under well-mannered jokes, when he was reluctantly impressed by something extraordinary but reckless that Yuzuru did (usually in direct contradiction to Brian’s own advice). So as Brian finished his long conversation at the reception desk and started to make his way across the hotel lobby to where he and Yuzuru sat, Javier could tell by the look on Brian’s face alone that something annoying had happened. Javier found himself hoping it wasn’t about lost luggage again. He was looking forward to a nice long nap, as the jetlag was already messing with him. Next to him, Yuzuru had his earphones on and was beating an absent rhythm on his thighs with his fingers, lost in his own world as usual.

Brian finally reached them, and offered a small, strained smile, as he took a seat right across from them. He leaned forward, clasping his hands together.

“Right,” he began.

“Did you check us in?” Javier interrupted him, figuring that, whatever this was, it could wait until he’d slept for at least a few hours.

“Uh....yeah.”

“Great. Give us the keys. I don’t know about Yuzu but I need like, at least 5 hours of sleep right now. Then I’m probably gonna need some food, then I think I’ll need about 10 more, give or take.” As he was speaking, Javier half-rose and extended his hand expectantly to Brian.

“Sit down for a minute, Javi”, Brian said on a patient tone, and Javi flopped back down on the couch with a dramatic sigh.

Brian turned to Yuzuru:

“Yuzu, can you take your earphones out, please? I need to talk to both of you.”

“What happen?” Yuzuru asked, removing his earphones, and looking curiously at Brian.

“The hotel is packed for this event and they couldn’t book us separate rooms. You two will have to share a room.”

Yuzuru made a face like that was not super cool but not super inconvenient either, while Javier merely shrugged.

“Eh, that’s not such a big deal. I share rooms with other skaters during ice shows all the time.”

“Yeah, there’s another problem. Seems like the reception made a mistake and you got a double room instead of a twin.”

Javier frowned and Yuzuru merely looked clueless.

“Of course I complained at the reception”, Brian continued, “and threatened to raise hell.” (Javier found that hard to believe). “But it seems there’s just no way they can switch you to a twin for at least a few days.”

Brian looked at his skaters for a reaction. Yuzuru nodded politely, obviously not having understood much. Javier looked a bit miffed, but seemingly too tired to care.

“Whatever, just give me – well, give us, the key to the room. As long as there is a reasonably sized bed in there, we’ll be good I think. You don’t kick in your sleep, right, Yuzu?”

Yuzuru raised his eyebrows at Javi, blinking repeatedly.

“I’m just worried that you won’t be able to rest well”, Brian sighed, handing Javier the key. “I’ll keep on trying to solve this.”

“You should get some rest as well”, Javier told Brian, yawning, as he stood up. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.”

 

“Where is the second bed?” Yuzuru asked later, confused, having made a thorough inventory of the room.

“No second bed”, Javier replied, with a forced smile. “That’s what Brian’s been saying.” He was sitting on the edge of the one and only bed in the room, while silently debating whether to shower or just sink face-first into the pillow. There were arguments for and against each option, which Javier’s brain was doing its best to process. His eyes finally snapped up when he felt Yuzuru’s fixed stare on him.

“One bed...for both of us?” Yuzuru said, pronouncing each word carefully, his tone rising incredulously.

It grated on Javier’s exhausted nerves, so he answered sarcastically:

“Yes, your highness, you’ll have to sink as low as to share with me. Tough luck.”

Yuzuru didn’t reply, just kept staring at him blankly, and Javier gave a tired sigh:

“Look, if you have a problem, talk to Brian. I’m gonna take a shower”, he finally decided and stood up.

The shower made Javier even sleepier, if that was even humanly possible. He crossed the room mechanically, eyes half-closed, and rummaged through his luggage for a clean pair of boxers, put them on, then trudged towards the bed.

“Shower’s free”, he called in what he hoped was Yuzuru’s general direction, then fell face first onto the nearest pillow.

He was halfway on the road to dreamland, when he felt the bed dip - opening one eye blearily, he saw Yuzuru, hair still wet from the shower, dressed in a full set of pijamas, carefully climbing into bed, as far away from him as possible.

“You’ll fall off the bed”, Javier mumbled. “You can come closer, since I don’t bite, or kick. I hope you don’t either. It’s fine.” His eyes closed of their own accord, and he was off like a light.

~

Yuzuru watched Javier for a while as he slept, knowing that he shouldn’t, but unable to resist the temptation. There was something so alien and exciting about seeing Javi sleeping right next to him, in the same bed, he could almost imagine they were together.... No, it was better not to imagine – it was downright wrong to imagine that right now. But he wanted to save the mental image of it so he could think about it later, in the solitude and safety of his own room back home. Even with the weight of Yuzuru’s gaze on him, Javi slept on, deeply and peacefully. Yuzuru could admire at leisure his team mate’s beautiful, familiar features, made soft and vulnerable by slumber, long eyelashes fluttering slightly in god knows what dream. Yuzuru bit his lip and hesitantly reached one finger towards Javi’s face, tracing his brow, then down his cheek, pressing just a tad at his bottom lip, then pulling abruptly away, frightened by his own action. Javi’s even breathing didn’t falter, but Yuzuru’s courage did. He scurried further away on the bed, and lay down facing away from Javier, closing his eyes tightly and willing sleep to come.

~

Javier grunted in his sleep, as he turned from one side to the other in bed. His arm reached out and settled on a warm body – instinctively he curved his arm around the slim waist he found and pulled it rather rougly towards him with a groan of satisfaction, settling the warm, solid body closely against him, fitted to his own, his actions not breaking through to his consciousness.

Yuzuru almost yelped in surprise as he was abruptly dragged backwards along the length of the bed and into Javi’s hold. His heart started beating frantically and his breathing sped up. He fought to keep it down, but it was difficult when Javi was holding him so close to his maddening heat. Yuzuru could feel his training mate’s body behind him in a way he never thought he’d have the chance to.

Yuzuru writhed a little, trying to get Javi’s arm off him, but his half-hearted attempts had the opposite effect, as Javi tightened his grip around Yuzuru’s waist with possessive intent. Yuzuru could feel the warmth of deep, regular breathing on the back of his exposed neck, making him shiver from head to toe – and was Javi actually nuzzling his hair?.... and oh... oh - he could definitely feel something poking at his lower back. Yuzuru didn’t fool himself, he knew that Javi getting an erection while he was asleep was a simple biological reaction and it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he happened to be holding Yuzuru at the time and probably everything to do with the dream he was having, most likely about his girlfriend. That also explained why Javi was suddenly so handsy and since Yuzuru just happened to be there, well... as Javi said himself, tough luck. Yuzuru mouthed the strange expression to himself, followed by the more familiar Shiyou ga nai. He decided their meanings must be similar. It couldn’t be helped but still, this was exquisite torture for Yuzuru. It was like getting what you always wanted, and being told you cannot keep it. But the worst of it was yet to come, as after a few seconds, Javi sighed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders, mumbling something in Spanish that Yuzuru had no hope of understanding, and pressed his hot lips right there, on the nape of Yuzuru’s neck, in a lingering kiss that had just a hint of tongue. Yuzuru jolted, eyes widening in shock. There was no way Javi could do this and not be awake. Or was it? Yuzuru tried to quiet his heartbeat which sounded deafening to his own ears, and try to be as still as possible, focusing on Javi. There was the swell of Javier’s erection pressing ever so insistently, that Yuzuru had to rely on all his willpower not to push his ass back against it, and the deadweight of Javi’s arm around him keeping Yuzuru practically trapped. There was also the feel of Javier’s lips still lightly pressed against Yuzuru’s neck, in the aftermath of the kiss, but there appeared to be no change in Javi’s even and peaceful breathing or in his posture – aside from his swelling erection, Javi’s body felt soft and relaxed, devoid of any tension. Yuzuru was frustrated at not being able to tell for sure.  What if Yuzuru were to wake him up right now? A slight smile played on his lips as he imagined Javi’s reaction, even if Yuzuru himself would end up sharing his team mate embarassment at their predicament. After all, Yuzuru didn’t do anything to stop Javi’s increasingly questionable actions, so that would also reflect badly on him. Not that he could, without outright kicking Javi and Javi had said not to kick... He wondered if using that actual excuse would earn him a laugh or Javi would just get mad at him. ‘It couldn’t be helped, Javi, I tried pushing you away gently, and you wouldn’t let go, and you did say not to kick you, so...’  Yuzuru knew his team mate pretty well, so he could imagine that, in answer to that, Javi would just give an embarassed laugh while avoiding Yuzuru’s eyes, and he wouldn’t get mad at Yuzuru for not stopping him sooner, but instead he’d get quietly mad at himself. And, what’s worse, it would mess up with Javi’s head during competition, and Yuzuru definitely did not want that. Yuzuru always wanted Javi at his best; he wanted to win over Javi but not in an unfair fight.

The problem was that Yuzuru wasn’t going to get any sleep at this rate. His heart was still beating like he’d just finished a long and exhausting program. In what seemed to Yuzuru a mockery of his own predicament, Javi started snoring lightly against his neck.

~

Javier blinked awake slowly, wincing slightly at the artificial light that greeted him. For a few seconds, he was confused about his whereabouts and the time of day. He seemed to be in a nondescript hotel room - the lights were turned on, but he appeared to be alone. He yawned and stretched, palming his crotch absently. He was hard, but he felt too lazy to take care of it. A glimpse out the window presented him with a dismal view of a grey sky, with a steadily pouring drizzle, which almost convinced him to go back to sleep. He groaned in misery and buried his face back into the sheets. The pillow smelled really nice. It took him a while to realize that the same scent was all over the bed, and he experienced a second of momentary panic, before his mind caught up with the events of the previous day. Now fully awake and aware, Javier realized that some of the noises he attributed to the rain were actually coming from the running shower. Yuzuru must have woken up before him. Javier yawned again and made himself comfortable, waiting for his team mate to finish so he could hop into the shower as well and hopefully shake off the last vestiges of sleep. He vaguely wondered what the time was; to his surprise, he felt pretty well-rested. Despite any misgivings he might have had, it turned out alright to share a room, and even a bed with his team mate. Yuzuru didn’t kill him in his sleep, and he had no new bruises to show for it. He stretched again, luxuriously, then he self-indulgently pressed his nose back into the pillows, inhaling at leisure the unfamiliar scent – fresh, flowery and spicy, which he tried to connect to Yuzuru. Javier’s curiosity about his team mate was all the more pervasive since even after a few years of training together, he knew so little about him. His thoughts were interrupted as the door to the bathroom opened and Yuzuru appeared.

“Morning”, Javier greeted him, cheerfully.

“Good afternoon”, Yuzuru answered pointedly.

“Oh, is it? Afternoon already?” Javier groaned. “How late? How long was I alseep?”

“You slept 16 hours”, Yuzuru grimaced. “We must go down for late lunch. We have practice time in 2 hours.”

“Woah”, Javier reacted, and shot out of bed. “Well, at least I got a good rest.” He started rummaging in his bag for clean clothes. “Did you sleep well, Yuzu?” he asked.

“It was fine”, Yuzuru answered quietly.

Javier looked up at him, taken aback at his unusual quietness.

“Did you get good rest?” he pressed on.

“Yes”, Yuzuru lied pitifully, the dark circles around his eyes mocking his words.

“I hope I didn’t kick you in my sleep”, Javier went on. “I slept like a log, it feels like I just crashed and lost consciousness.”

“No, you didn’t ... kick....”

“What did I do then? Did I snore?”

“No.”

“Sometimes when I’m very tired, I snore, or so I’ve been told. Cortney especially used to make a big fuss of it”, Javier gave a wistful smile at the memory. “But usually, if I change positions, I stop. So that’s – hey hey – Yuzu, take it easy!”

Yuzuru stood up so abruptly at the mention of Javier’s former girlfriend, that he got dizzy. For a few seconds, the room swayed – he was so exhausted, he had a weird sense of deja vu, and tripped over his own feet. Javi reacted quickly, grabbing Yuzuru’s elbow, saving him from an embarassing fall and guided Yuzuru upright with an arm around his waist.

“What is with you?” Javi asked concerned. “Brian is gonna kill me if you didn’t get enough rest because of me. Although I still don’t know why.”

“Not because of you”, Yuzuru answered, smiling at Javier sweetly, vacantly and oh so falsely. “Just – nervous because of competition.”

Javi’s arm still looped around his waist tightened in sympathy, burning Yuzuru like a secret brand.

“Just don’t get injured”, he said, still sounding worried, and Yuzuru couldn’t resist turning and pulling Javier into a tight, demanding hug. Javi held him gently, as he always did, whispering words of encouragement into his ear.

~

It was only later that Yuzuru realized – tonight they’d have to sleep together again. He kicked at the ice despondently, and Brian, standing rinkside, misinterpreted his gesture.

“Ice not good? I heard a few other skaters complain...”

“Ice a little soft”, Yuzuru answered, because yes, that was also an issue, if not the foremost one in his mind.

“Mhm, that is a slight disadvantage”, Brian continued in his calm voice, “but fortunately one that everyone else has to deal with as well. Equal conditions for all.”

“Yes, equal”, Yuzuru nodded. ‘Does anyone else have to sleep with someone they’ve had an unrequited crush on for years, and who fondles them in his sleep?’ he continued in his mind. His eyes involuntarily searched for Javi across the rink. His training mate seemed absorbed in his choreo sequence, out of which he launched into a nearly perfect quad toe.

“Yuzuru”, Brian called, on a warning tone. “Try to focus on yourself, not on others, alright? It doesn’t matter what they do, it only matters what you do.”

Except Yuzuru doubted he could land even a simple jump in his sleep deprived state. He knew the limits of his body and right now something was telling him that he shouldn’t push himself. Fortunately Brian was someone who understood that, and supported such decisions coming from his skaters, and Yuzuru had no qualms telling him that he wasn’t going to try any jumps in today’s practice, strange as that may seem to the onlookers.

He skated off, and circled the rink a few times, before he veered off course, in preparation for a spin.

His breath caught in his throat when he turned and brushed close – too close - to Patrick Chan, who was sliding fast from the opposite direction, getting ready to launch into a jump, but thankfully managed to spot Yuzuru out of the corner of his eye, and aborted the attempt just in time. Yuzuru and Patrick both veered abruptly away trying to avoid each other, and fortunately, an accident was narrowly avoided. Shaken, Yuzuru skated towards the boards, taking deep breaths while trying to fight back a panic attack, traumatic memories of his Cup of China collision suddenly flooding him. He barely even noticed that Patrick had joined him at the boards. Patrick was in a similarly ruffled state, his chest rising and falling rapidly – it appeared that he had a scare as well.

“You should pay more attention out there”, Patrick said, abruptly. “There’s many of us and only that much ice to skate on, you know.”

The words could have sounded reasonable, friendly even, if not for the condescending, patronizing tone.

“Sorry,” Yuzuru answered quickly, and bowed.

“It’s like, you always act like it’s just you out there”, Patrick continued, as if Yuzuru’s words and gesture made him even angrier. “Everyone has to look out and get out of your way, because you can’t be bothered.”

Yuzuru was shocked into silence by the open hostility in Patrick’s voice and words. He knew Patrick didn’t like him, but still, he usually made a point of being polite to Yuzuru. Apparently, today, the Canadian skater was having a bad enough day to disregard any such formalities, but Yuzuru lacked both the vocabulary, as well as the energy, to launch into an argument. Instead he mechanically repeated that he was sorry, and turned to skate away.

 “You’re not the best, you know”, Patrick threw one last dagger at him. “Just because you act like you’re larger than life, doesn’t mean you’re the best.”

Yuzuru actually stopped in his tracks at that, the venom of those words striking him to the core. Satisfied at having struck a nerve, Patrick skated off from the boards with gusto, while Yuzuru remained behind. He suddenly felt dangerously close to crying, his vision blurring and his lower lip trembling - his frayed nerves, weakened by the close call and his lack of sleep, making him even more emotional than usual. There was no way he’d show weakness like that, not before a competition. Abruptly, he turned and stepped off the ice.

“Everything alright?” Brian questioned.

“Yes”, Yuzuru answered mechanically.

Brian gave a resigned sigh, which seemed to signify ‘I can’t help you, if you don’t tell me what’s wrong’, but didn’t push him further.

Not so Javier, who, came into the changing room with a set look on his face, just as Yuzuru had finished his shower and was getting ready to leave. Javier took in Yuzuru’s red-rimmed, puffy eyes, and asked him directly:

“What did Patrick say to you?”

Yuzuru looked at Javier and knowing him well, noticed immediately that his team mate wasn’t in the mood to play around and delaying the answer would only make him angry, so he decided to give him a truthful but abridged version:

“That I should look where I skate and not cause more accidents. I apologized.”

“That’s a dick thing to say, but then again, it is Patrick, so I can’t believe you’re surprised.”

“Not surprised.”

“You left in a huff after that. Didn’t even bow to the audience or touch the ice goodbye like you usually do.”

“I’ll see ice again. And audience.”

“What else did he say to you that got you so bothered?”

“Not bothered. Just tired.”

“It’s obvious you’ve been crying.”

“Why not ask Patrick what he said?”

“Because I’d like to listen to your side of the story before I maybe go and punch him in the face.”

“Not punch. Patrick is friend with you.”

“I can punch someone for being a dick and still consider him a friend,” Javier said with a smile, and Yuzuru relaxed slightly.

“It’s okay, Javi. You don’t have to play big brother for me always.”

“I just want to know what he said”, Javier stubbornly insisted.

Yuzuru did not want to remember, much less voice out loud the last words that Patrick threw his way, out of a magical fear that their hateful venom would spread in his veins and influence him.

He shook his head from one side to another firmly.

“No”, he said resolutely, realizing he looked every bit like a stubborn kid, like someone who was acting out, as Patrick had accused him. He tried to step around Javier and leave, but Javier grabbed his wrist to stop him.

“Yuzu, hey, come on. It’s fine if you don’t wanna tell me, but just don’t let it get you down. Don’t put it all to heart, whatever it is,” Javier’s kind voice, interlaced with something like pity was what stopped Yuzuru from fleeing, more than the hand holding his wrist.

“Here’s what I think”, Javier went on. “Do you wanna know what I think or not, eh, Yuzu?”

Yuzuru was again forcefully reminded that he loved this man with all his heart, and for all that had happened or might happen between them, Yuzuru would always remain a fool for Javi’s bright, sweet smile, his honeyed accented voice, his genuinely kind and playful nature.

Yuzuru looked down at where Javier was still holding his wrist, now in a warm, loose hold, a slight reassuring pressure that Yuzuru could have shaken off at any time, but instead he stood extra still, hoping that Javi would leave his hand exactly where it was. He replied with a teasing smile of his own, and wondered out loud:

“What does Javi think?”

Javier laughed.

“Well, first of all, Yuzu - everyone knows Patrick is a bit of a jerk and if he said things to hurt you, then I’m really very sorry. But I believe, and you should know this, that he doesn’t really mean them. He doesn’t hate you – he may act like he does, but in fact I don’t think he even dislikes you –“ Yuzuru gave a loud snort, but didn’t otherwise react, and Javier continued, “He can get frustrated, and his brain to mouth filter is zero. What’s more, he just doesn’t know how to act with you. And I think that’s true of all of us at times.”

Yuzuru looked at him questioningly, and Javier laughed softly.

“Yes, even me.”

“I don’t understand”, Yuzuru said, coldly. It hurt that Javier talked like he was one of a mysterious grup of ‘them’, which left Yuzuru on the outside, like a strange creature. Javi and him were supposed to be a team.

“Hey, you’re giving me one of those killer looks, I’m scared to say anything more”, Javier joked, shaking his arm playfully, as if trying to get Yuzuru to loosen up.

 “What you mean?” Yuzuru asked again, a little warmer, but unwilling to let the matter go.

Javier sighed.

“Well, to tell you the truth, Yuzu, I am actually kind of scared”, he said, with a sheepish grin.

 “Of what?”

“Of you. It’s just that, you’re so above and beyond the rest of us that it hardly seems real sometimes. And I get the feeling you’re trying to set me up as your perfect rival, you hold me in such high esteem that I just crumble under the pressure – I can’t deal with the weight of the expectations you always place on me. Not any one of us can come close to you on a good day, me least of all. I kinda miss the way we used to be – when you came to train with us, remember? This cute confused kid who was far away from home and didn’t speak English, who stubbornly practiced until he collapsed on the ice, it was easy to play the big brother to you, to be protective of you, and tease you and push you around, while you laughed at my silly jokes and teased me too... But now – I don’t know how to be around you anymore. I try to read your moods and your wishes about how you want me to act with you, and it’s difficult, because you’re unpredictable and kind of intimidating... it’s like, you’re cruising this game on insane level, Yuzu, and keeping us all at arm’s length, and I guess that makes us uneasy about you, and some, like Patrick, also downright bitter.”

Javier stopped abruptly, frowning, as if he couldn’t believe he had let loose that entire tirade. He looked half relieved but half regretful to have done so.

Yuzuru nodded carefully, as he always did when being spoken to, even when he didn’t understand what was being said.

“You see me everyday”, he answered simply, and Javier had to wonder if he understood anything this time.

“What do you mean?”

“You see me”, Yuzuru repeated, “in practice. You know what I do. I work hard. No surprise. I work hard, I win. I’m not better than you or others. I just work hard.”

Javi bit his tongue.

“Yes, Yuzu, I see how much work you put into every little thing every day, how focused you are. I’m not trying to take that from you. But we all practice hard. I practice hard”, he added a little sadly. “But I could work myself to a raw nerve, turn my feet into open wounds and bleed into my fucking boots, and I still couldn’t touch you when you’re at your best.”

Yuzuru nodded again, to show he understood, and replied, immediately:

“Yes, you can. If you work hard enough.”

Javi laughed, shaking his head self-deprecatingly.

“You can, Javi. You can!” Yuzuru repeated, with intensity, as if convincing Javi of this was the most important thing in the world to him.

“Why do you always do this?” Javi asked him, his gentle smile still lingering at the corner of his mouth. “Poke and prod at me until I’m in a frenzy and I get bruised black and blue trying to reach you? Is it really that lonely up there at the top?”

A beat of silence, while Yuzuru studied him with the same intense focus which never failed to make Javier’s heart pound, in animalistic fear and excitement. Then Yuzuru lowered his eyes, and seemed to turn, under Javier’s bewildered gaze, into the vulnerable child whom Javier had confessed he felt the need to protect.

“No”, Yuzuru answered finally, choosing his words carefully. “To get to the top, you must be lonely.”

 Then he freed his wrist abruptly from Javier’s loosened hold, and left the room.

 

Chapter Text

Yuzuru arrived at the hotel only to realize the only key to the room was with Javier, and he berated himself for forgetting that. After some debate whether or not to inconvenience the staff, he decided to ask at the reception desk, and was immediately provided with a second key, along with many apologetic smiles and blushes. Yuzuru offered profuse thank you’s and quickly bowed his way out. Upon arriving in the room, he changed into pijamas and got into bed. He was that tired, he thought he would crash into a deep sleep immediately, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, Patrick’s and Javier’s words kept circling in his head like angry vultures. He was taken aback when he realized that he was more hurt by Javier’s words - although not said out of spite, they uncovered a side of things which Yuzuru did not like to acknowledge.

Yuzuru had been brooding for quite some time, when he heard a key in the door, followed by hesitant steps inside.

“Yuzu, hey? Are you sleeping?”, he heard Javier call out.

Yuzuru did not answer or turn around. He could sense that Javier felt just as unsettled and awkward about their previous conversation, perhaps regretting that he had said too much, maybe guessing how it affected his younger team mate. Yuzuru figured that meant Javier would have his guard up even more, and tiptoe around Yuzuru for a while. Good; a spiteful part of Yuzuru would be bitterly satisfied at having Javier warily keeping distance and bowing out of any confrontation with him. He heard Javier settle something on the table with a clink, then he heard him climb on his side of the bed. Yuzuru still did not move, although he could feel Javier’s eyes on his back. Pretending to be asleep had some advantages, such as not having to continue their conversation from the locker room. But Yuzuru also did not want to step on the ice tomorrow with that strange tension still between him and Javi. And it was very likely that Javier also wanted some reassurance that they were okay with each other before the competition – Yuzuru knew that Javi was easily affected by anything amiss in his personal life, enough to let it damage his performance.

“Are you really asleep?” Javier asked very quietly.

He followed his words with a soft palm pressed on Yuzuru’s spine, which would have met with a non-reaction if Yuzuru was actually asleep, but which made the fully awake and oversensitive Yuzuru flinch violently.

“Sorry,” Javier said, and immediately took his hand away.

Yuzuru huffed and turned on his back.

“I was asleep, but then you came into the room and made noise”, he complained, acting the mercurial child again.

But Javier didn’t fall into his own role this time, there was no ‘suck it up, princess’, only again a quiet “Sorry.”

Then: “I got some tea from the restaurant, if you want some.”

Yuzuru was intrigued enough to turn around fully and look at his team mate. Soft brown eyes met darker ones.

“You hate tea.”

“Hate is a strong word, no, it’s more like I think it’s completely lame. Actually I got it for you. I heard Brian praising it to high heaven and he’s a tea man too, so I figured, since we missed breakfast, and now you appear set on missing dinner too...”

I care for you enough to think about these things, was what Yuzuru heard, and his heart leapt in his chest, thinking about how surreal it was to face Javi in bed, on a late rainy afternoon, the shadows cast on the walls lengthening with each passing moment. And have Javi bring him tea. In bed. His eyes almost welled up with tears again, which reminded him of how absolutely exhausted and wrecked he was.

“Are you alright, Yuzuru?”

His full name on Javi’s lips meant that his team mate was very serious, maybe serious enough to start another insufferable conversation, which would remind Yuzuru that their relationship is not as he likes to imagine, that they’re near strangers to each other, and there’s no point of connection. He rolled his eyes and answered on a casual tone:

“Yes. Of course.”

“Good. I don’t want to beat you when you’re not at your best,” Javi said lightly, but Yuzuru thought he could detect a hint of concern in his eyes, although maybe it was the obscurity playing tricks on him.

“Why?” Yuzuru demanded, a little petulantly. “Some people say, win is win.”

“I know. But it feels strange to win like that,” Javi admitted.

“How is it strange?” Yuzuru demanded.

“Hm, I don’t know”, Javi hesitated, while he thought about it. “Like when the anticipation is sweeter than the thing itself, I guess? Like when you have your eyes on a girl you like and you think that when you finally get her, it’s gonna be the hottest thing ever, but when it comes down to the real thing, it’s not mindblowing, just okay.”

“I have no idea what that feels like”, Yuzuru answered honestly. “But I understand, you mean it’s less satisfying.”

“Actually that was a really weird example. I don’t know why I thought of that. And it makes me sound like a total dick. That doesn’t happen to me often, by the way, in case you’re wondering.”

“Which part?” Yuzuru piped up with a cheeky smile. Javi was really easy to tease sometimes. “Beating me when I’m not good, or girls not satisfying you enough?”

“Haha, very funny. Both of them don’t happen very often, alright? But you know me, I’m a pretty chill guy. At the end of the day, I’m okay with it. Sex is sex therefore it’s good. Same as winning.”

“How wise!” Yuzuru mocked.

“Don’t you agree, then?” Javier challenged.

“I - have no idea”, Yuzuru answered vaguely, averting his eyes, suddenly hyperconscious of the situation - the two of them facing each other on a hotel bed, in the comforting dusk, where they couldn’t see each other’s faces clearly, speaking in subdued voices about stuff they’d usually never touch with a ten foot pole.

“Oh, right,” Javier studied him curiously. “You have no idea if the comparison fits because you lack experience, or-? Sorry if this is too personal, it’s just, I’ve been wondering lately how little I actually know about you.”

Yuzuru stayed silent.

“Maybe it’s a cultural thing, not sharing any personal stuff, and I totally respect that,” Javier hurriedly added.

“But you’re curious”, Yuzuru realized.

“Not exactly about this particular thing, but I won’t lie, I am very curious about you in general.”

“Why ‘very’?”

“Always with the why’s! Because. I don’t know. I just am. Maybe precisely because you don’t share much.”

“You think you can know my weaknesses?”

“What? No, it’s nothing like that. People don’t just want to get to know you for nefarious purposes, Yuzu.”

“What means - ?”

“Bad purposes”, Javier clarified. “Like, to use against you.”

“Everyone wants to know more about me so they can find my weak points and use them against me,” Yuzuru argued, generalizing dramatically.

“I don’t know what you mean by everyone, but I’m not like that”, Javier replied with a hint of hurt in his voice.

“....No”, Yuzuru finally admitted. “Not you, Javi. You’re special – caring and kind-hearted.” Too soft and gentle to play games, Yuzuru added in his mind. That’s why you can’t understand me, Javi. “So you want to know if I ever had sex, then?” he added brusquely.

Javier’s eyes went wide with shock at Yuzuru’s bluntness.

“No! I mean, you don’t have to tell me if it’s too personal, it’s just, in general, I don’t know much about y-“

“I never had sex”, Yuzuru interrupted him. “So nothing to tell. I think I’ll have some of that tea now.” He got up and went to pick his cup from the table.

“I see”, Javier answered, with some surprise. “Well, it’s difficult to find opportunities for a relationship, what with doing what we do...”, he trailed off, searching for words.

Yuzuru found it incredibly amusing how Javier tried to make excuses for the fact that a 21-year old was not having sex at all. He returned to the bed and sat up against the headboards, taking a few unhurried sips of the tea, before he took pity on Javi, and said:

“Don’t feel sorry for me. It’s fine. I could feel just as sorry for you, because you choose to waste precious energy and focus on that.”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it wasted”, Javi argued defensively.

“It makes you lose your mind and act like a fool.”

“That it does”, Javi smiled. “Still worth it.”

Yuzuru shrugged.

“You know what I think. To be the best, you must make sacrifices. This is one of them. Thank you for the tea, by the way, it’s good.”

“No worries. But how about other stuff, I mean, not full-on sex but like – making out?”

Yuzuru frowned: “Making out?”

“Like kissing, petting, stuff like that,” Javier elaborated.

“Not really”, Yuzuru shrugged again. “There were a few girls in school, but it was more like pecking.” He stopped abruptly, and worried his lip between his teeth for a few long seconds, as he pondered something, it was like having a big red button in front of him that he knew he shouldn’t press, but at the same time he was sure he’d end up self-destructively smashing it. Yuzuru took a deep breath – okay, let’s ‘Play’ - and continued: “Actually there is one thing I just remembered, but it’s not exactly what you had in mind when you asked.”

Javier raised a curious eyebrow.

“Do you want to hear it?” Yuzuru asked.

“If you want to share it”, Javier nodded.

Yuzuru stood up and went to place the finished cup of tea carefully on the table, then he returned to bed to lie back down, facing Javi. He spoke in a hushed tone, barely above a whisper, that Javier had to strain to hear.

“Okay. Just please don’t tell anyone about this. When I was hospitalized in 2015 after the Nationals, I was sick with worry and shame and pain. I thought I might die after all.” Yuzuru paused dramatically so he could soak in the sympathy and affection clearly painted on Javier’s face. “I was not easy to be around. I snapped at my mother which only tried to make things better for me. I tried hard to be nice and pleasant to the staff, but being polite never felt so difficult. Everyone at hospital was very kind, they cared for me so well. The day before the surgery, the doctor assigned to my case held this long speech by my bedside – telling me things like how he was honoured to look after me and promising he’d do his very best to make me well again. He looked intensely into my eyes and I thought, he is an honest, hard-working man and he admires and respects me. I felt reassured by his serious, earnest manner and I expressed my gratitude and respect, in turn, with polite words and sweet smiles which came easier to me than they did that entire week. As he stood up to leave, he reached out towards my face and stroked my lips pointedly with his fingers.”

“What the fuck?” Javier reacted, stunned at the direction the story had headed. “Why?? And more importantly, what did you do?”

“Nothing. It was a daring gesture, but somehow I didn’t think it was out of place. He left quickly afterwards. As for why, I think maybe he wanted to show some affection?”

“You - you think??” Javi sputtered. “Well, I think he’s a creep, and I hope you at least reported him afterwards!”

“I didn’t. What good can that do? No good to me, and all bad to him.”

“I don’t understand”, Javi frowned. “Are you saying you actually liked that guy or something?” his voice rose with almost hysterical incredulity.

“No. At least, not like that. But his touch helped me a little then – even if it was inappropriate. It took the burden off my shoulders for a while. He didn’t know me, not the real me, so he was reacting to the public image of me, that I take so much pains to create and present, without flaws. And that I owe to my country and its people. In a way, it was like he was saying to me ‘you’re a precious thing to all of us, and we take care of our possessions, you have nothing to worry about, we’ll make you well again.’”

“I really don’t really understand, Yuzu. As for the whole ‘owing people’ thing, you know I disagree. It’s your life and only you -”

“...gets to decide how to live it, yeah yeah. You and Brian told me this often enough. But if you just try to see it from my side...”

Javier shook his head resolutely:

“It just goes against everything I believe in. I am my own person. My country and federation help me, yes, but I don’t owe them anything. I will do my best to bring home medals and do good to my country and the sport, but I won’t sacrifice my health and my life for it. Besides, I think you’re reading way too much into this guy’s so-called motivation”, Javier went on, his lips twisting in a sneer. “I think it’s poor impulse control and he was an immoral creep to act so unprofessional, especially when you were feeling low and vulnerable. Even if you say it wasn’t so bad, you shouldn’t have let him get away with it. It sends the wrong message.”

Yuzuru lowered his eyes, suddenly very downcast.

“I see”, he mumbled. “But I don’t think I’m wrong about his reason. You weren’t there, you can’t know.”

“But if you’re wrong, Yuzu...I’m not trying to sound patronizing here, so please don’t take this the wrong way. You may not have known or thought about this but these things have a way of escalating, and god knows what that creep might do to other patients of his who aren’t as high profile as you... By the way, Yuzu – is that really all he did? You don’t have to be ashamed to tell me if there’s anything else.”

Yuzuru shook his head.

“No, I mean, there was also the thing the next day, but that’s all.”

Javier’s face became the very picture of horrified disbelief.

“What thing next day?” he asked through gritted teeth.

Yuzuru’s mouth twitched a little upwards in an amused smile. Javier was looking at him like he had just grown two heads and it was satisfying to sweep the rug from underneath Javi’s feet just like Javi had previously done to him.

“Well”, Yuzuru started to recount the experience, “the next day I was starting to wake up after the operation and they put me on IVs. The drugs made me feel woozy, so I was drifting in and out of sleep. When I wasn’t asleep, I was somewhere in between, not unconscious, but not fully alert either, it was a really good place, although a little confusing. But I was aware – I could hear the nurses talk about me, my mother kept coming and going. And the doctor came to check on me, he asked the nurse about how I was and then asked her to leave. He didn’t say anything to me, I’m sure he fully expected me to be asleep. I heard his approaching steps, and the sound of curtains being drawn around the bed. The next thing I heard was his heavy, uneven breathing, and I could smell his cologne. Then I felt the sudden pressure of his lips crashing over mine. It was fast and frantic, a gradual increase of pressure and movement, and then it was abruptly over, before I could even properly acknowledge that it really happened. And that was it. The next, and last time I saw him was when I left the hospital - he shook my hand and wished me the very best for future competitions, and I thanked him for taking care of me.”

Javier sat up against the headboards, shaking his head in absolute bewilderment, seemingly at a loss for words. Yuzuru had to bite the inside of his cheek hard to keep from laughing.

“That’s... that’s....uh - wrong on so many levels, Yuzu, I -“, Javier finally stammered, gesturing wildly, “I’m... I’m shocked and – upset, and I just can’t believe it, how can you not know that this is very bad, it’s harassment, abuse... it’s not too late to report him, please at least consider it!”

“It felt a lot like a weird dream. It didn’t affect me in the slightest. You know how dreams are neither wrong, nor right, they just are. Sometimes I think it really was a dream, because the drugs were making my head fuzzy. Maybe I dream it and it did not happen.”

Javi sighed deeply.

“Please tell me you made up this crazy story as a joke to mess with me. I won’t even be mad if you do.”

Javi’s comically desperate tone made Yuzuru’s lips twitch again. He hesitated, then his laughter finally bubbled out:

“Sorry, Javi. It’s all true. But don’t be so tragic about it, this is not a bad memory for me.”

“It’s tragic that you think it’s okay to just let people do things to you, out of god knows what intricate reason you think up yourself, and which, trust me, more often than not, has nothing to do with reality! You have this way of overthinking things which freaks me out sometimes...”

“I know Javi is afraid of me, Javi said so before”, Yuzuru drawled a little contemptuously, but mostly with good humour.

“That’s not all, I’m also worried about you. Hey Yuzu.... has anything like this ever happened before? Or since?”

Yuzuru hesitated, the self-destructive part of him seriously considering to tell Javi about last night, even though Javi’s reaction to Yuzuru’s story clued him in that it was the worst possible idea. Even though Yuzuru hadn’t been the active agent last night, he felt acutely like the one who took advantage, who derived shameful enjoyment out of their intimacy. Javi, encased in the vulnerability of sleep, was the victim. Javi’s possessive embrace, his sensual kiss, wouldn’t have been freely given to Yuzuru if Javi had been aware.

“...Yuzu?!”

Yuzuru was snapped out of his introspection, realizing that Javier was staring at him with mounting anxiety, interpreting his lengthy silence in all the wrong ways.

“Ah, no”, he hurried to answer. “I was thinking about something else. I – I’m not a good person either, Javi. Really I’m not.”

And that would have to be all for tonight, because Yuzuru refused to carry this conversation any further and wanted to save his energy and get a good rest for tomorrow’s competition. He was set on forgetting about Javi entirely and focus only on himself.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Javi asked, looking at him strangely.

“I’m tired, Javi. Don’t want talk any more now”, Yuzuru answered childishly, and turned away from him pointedly signalling that their heart-to-heart was over.

He heard Javi sigh again, with some exasperation, but his team mate ended up giving in, as usual. Yuzuru lay as still as possible, eyes closed, and tried to catch up on sleep. He ended up listening intently to the noises Javier made as he left the bed and moved around the room, the muted rustles of someone inhabiting a shared space. It didn’t look like Javi would go to sleep for a while, having slept so much the day before. Yuzuru wasn’t used to having someone in his space and he found it fascinating. He wasn’t sure if he would like that all the time, but for now, it was novel, an interesting experience. Especially since it was Javi  – Yuzuru could hear from time to time his team mate’s subdued nervous cough, the way he sometimes sang under his breath a few notes of an unknown song, or chuckled quietly at something he saw on his phone. Eventually, Yuzuru did end up falling asleep, and only woke up with a start when his phone started ringing. He sat up abruptly in bed, his first thought being that it was the alarm, even if he couldn’t remember setting one. His bleary eyes fell on Javi who was sitting in a chair at the table, a carton of takeaway in front of him. Javi smiled at him fondly as Yuzuru just kept staring around in comical confusion at having been awakened.

“I think it might be your mom”, he said, motioning at Yuzuru’s still ringing phone.

“Hai!” Yuzuru reacted, automatically, and stumbled out of bed to answer.

A quick conversation followed, his mother knew Yuzuru didn’t like to be nagged before a competition, that he needed time to himself. Yuzuru hadn’t told her about the sleeping arrangement, it was a little white lie he did not feel guilty about. Maybe he’d tell her later, when it was all over. Ending the call, he checked the time. 22.05 pm. Time to go back to sleep then.

“You don’t want anything to eat?” Javi asked, when he saw Yuzuru getting back into bed without another word. “Brian brought us food earlier. You were sleeping like the dead, so I took yours too.” He motioned towards an unopened carton on the table.

Yuzuru yawned.

“Thanks. I’ll eat it tomorrow, though. Don’t want to go to sleep on a full stomach.”

“Have you actually eaten anything since lunch?” Javi insisted.

“No, but lunch was seriously heavy. The local food sits in your belly like a ....”, Yuzuru gestured in frustration, words failing him in English. “A big stone? Also, I had food conversation already with mom”, he added pointedly.

“Right”, Javi grinned. “Sorry. I’m just looking out for my little brother, you know”, he said, making a funny face.

Yuzuru’s laugh was loud and shrill.

 

It was late when Javier finally got into bed and this time it was him who kept as far away from Yuzuru as possible, risking almost to fall off the bed. However, Yuzuru was certain that wouldn’t last. During sleep, Javi’s guard would be down, and at some point, he’d roll over in bed and –

A rather evil idea was beginning to form in Yuzuru’s brain. What if he prevented Javier from touching him in his sleep by touching him first? Javi’s words sounded in his mind warningly - ‘harrassment’, ‘abuse’ – would it be that bad? Yes, it would, a sober voice inside him answered. Brothers also touch each other, they embrace each other, another voice replied, resentfully. It’s very bad. Dangerous bad. No it isn’t. – Stop overthinking, said Javi’s voice in Yuzuru’s mind.

Yuzuru slid quietly into Javier’s space and embraced him from behind, his face against Javier’s back, his hand lightly around Javier’s shoulder. As Javi didn’t react, Yuzuru gradually pressed his entire body closer, and brought his hand to rest lower on Javi’s hip and thigh. It was a possessive gesture which felt domestic, intimate, but somehow also chaste. Yuzuru’s body was too tired and overwrought to react with pure lust, like it did the previous night. Now he lay quietly, listening to Javi’s deep breaths, which soothed his inflamed senses and made him positively weak with affection for the man in his arms – Javier Fernandez, European Champion, World Champion, not quite GPF champion by Yuzuru’s doing – so strong and skilled but thinking so little of himself. Yuzuru wished he could reach into Javi’s mind and take out all those thoughts of inadequacy, all those alien beliefs about how winning is out of his reach whenever Yuzuru is around, and replace them with a taste of Yuzuru’s own iron will, which would propel Javi forward to heights previously undreamed of. Yuzuru wished he could have the magic to do that, like a powerful onmyōji. He was starting to drift off, fueled by comfort and warmth. Eyes closed, Yuzuru mouthed words in Japanese against Javier’s shoulder blade, that sounded like an incantation: “You can do this, Javi. Better than me. You can do it all. You can do what you wish for and more. You can exceed your wildest dreams. We’re in it together, Javi. We’ll do it together.”

Chapter Text

Javier woke up in the morning wrapped in an enticing scent and a warm embrace. He slowly became aware that a delicate hand was drawing strange patterns on his thigh, in a gentle caress. Javier sighed contently, and closed his eyes again. He didn’t want to wake up, but he would have to, soon. It was the day of the short program and he felt – he took a moment to assess his condition – rested, relaxed, but also energized, confident, and ready. Yes, ready to take on... His eyes startled wide open, as it finally dawned on him – he was at a competition – not in his bed at home – then what – who ? Oh no. Oh no no no.

He fought his first instinct of just launching out of bed and as far from Yuzuru as possible. He also did his best to fight the feelings of comfort and pleasure, which were derived from his team mate’s steady closeness. All things equal, and he still wouldn’t want to be thinking along those lines before a competition, when Yuzuru was, essentially, his competition. But there was also the shadow of what Yuzuru had told him yesterday, which had shaken Javier and still lingered on the outskirts of his mind, evoking a mixture of pity and unease. Whatever the reason, their intimate embrace made Javier itch with bad and wrong, feeling like he needed to be away – far away - from Yuzuru right now.  However, he didn’t want to wake his team mate up, the kid needed his rest. With a mumbled swear word in his native language, he fought to extricate himself quietly from Yuzu’s light but surprisingly strong hold, without jostling him too much. It was difficult and Javi wasn’t at his best in the mornings. He ended up shaking himself like an angry cat to dislodge Yuzuru, then firmly took his hand, which was still pawing at Javier’s hip, and pushed Yuzuru to make him lie back on the bed none too gently. That’s when Yuzuru opened his eyes, and Javier almost fell on his butt in his haste to back away.

“What are you doing?” Yuzuru asked.

“I – sorry, but you were kind of – on top of me, and I wanted to get up so...”

“Oh. I’m very sorry.”

“It’s not a problem.”

“Sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable.”

“I’ll live. Just don’t let it happen again,” Javi answered mock-sternly. He laughed when Yuzuru looked at him darkly. “I was joking!” he clarified, then he stretched and yawned. “I’m feeling really pumped up for today! Let’s go down and get breakfast, hey? Dibs on the shower!”

 

“How are the sleeping arrangements coming along?” Brian asked down in the restaurant breakfast room, his eyes scanning each of his students in turn.

“Just fine”, Javier answered.

“Is it exhausting, being in each other’s space like that? Are you butting heads?”

“Nah. You know us. We’re cool with each other.”

“Javi is afraid of me. He thinks I’m too good.”

“Shut up, you little –“

“...Like a god, or something-ow!“ Javier caught him in a headlock. “You can’t kill a god, Javi!”

“Alright, alright. I get it, you two are thick as thieves. Just as well, because I spoke with reception again and it looks like you’ll have to share a room until the end of the competition, gala and all.” Brian shook his head in silent exasperation. “Well, at the very least, it will be an experience for you.”

“Yes”, Yuzuru agreed, smiling sweetly. “An experience.”

 

The morning practice went well enough for Javier, even though he stumbled on a few of the jumps – however, there were no falls, and the feeling of quiet confidence flowed through his veins like a secret potion, making him glow. Brian remarked on it, as his student approached the boards to take a sip of water.

“Looking great, Javi!”

“I feel great!” Javier answered earnestly. 

“Give me a quick runthrough of the choreo, and just the step sequence, no jumps.”

“Okay!” Javier said brightly, skating away and launching into a passionate rendition of his SP choreo, which, even without the rousing music, had an enthralling effect. Scattered applause and cheers sounded across the arena, from the few sleepy spectators present at the morning practice. Yuzuru paused momentarily from his increasingly frustrating attempts at a clean quad loop, which had been stubbornly evading him all morning, his unreadable gaze settling over his team mate minutely, as weighty as an actual touch. Javier didn’t pause and his glance did not stray once in Yuzuru’s direction – he was an expert by now at avoiding Yuzuru before a competition.  

Javier skated back to Brian when he was done.

“You’re feeling it marvelously today”, Brian said, happily. “You can practice whatever you want now, maybe a few jumps, but you can take it easy if you feel like it – just do what your body tells you. I think you’re ready for tonight.”

Javier was grateful to Brian for being the considerate man that he was. His experience with Morozov allowed him to appreciate even better what a treasure of a coach Brian was. Smiling at him, Javier made to skate off, just as Yuzuru was approaching the boards like an oncoming storm, bits of ice flying from underneath his skates, his hip bearing the brunt of his impact with the boards as he veered to a halt. Seemingly unaware of Brian and Javier’s startled reaction at his abrupt appearance, he nonchalantly picked up a tissue from his Pooh tissue box and blew his nose.

“All good?” Brian asked him. Yuzuru nodded emphatically. “Alright, why don’t you lay off the quad loop for a while, since it’s giving you trouble today. Maybe practice the quad sal, since that’s-“ Javier skated off, allowing Yuzuru to have the privacy of Brian’s advice in this potentially crucial moment.

As he changed direction, Javier caught sight of Yuzuru still standing by the boards, his face expressing, in that rare moment, nothing short of dejected futility.

No, Javier told himself. For once, don’t think about him. Just let him be. Focus on yourself.

 

Javier spent the few precious moments before his performance as he always did when he was skating after Yuzuru – headphones in his ear, listening to his favourite music and hoping it would drown out the enthusiastic screams that inevitably accompanied and followed any of Yuzuru’s performance. Recently, he had a song which he was really fond of, never wasting an opportunity to listen to it, and he ended up replaying it over and over, feeling more and more enchanted by it with each re-listen.

And then he was on the ice, and Brian was facing him with an openly fond smile, one which Javier could mirror today, without a trace of hesitation or anxiety.

“Vamos Javi!” Yuzuru shouted from the kiss and cry, and clapped energetically. “You’ll do great”, he added on a lower voice, but with the same conviction. Javier instinctively looked up, smiling, hand raised in acknowledgement, unwittingly breaking his unwritten rule of not looking at Yuzuru before his performance, and was rewarded with his team mate’s bright smile – there was nothing false or forced about Yuzuru’s smile, as he sat there in his Team Japan jacket, clutching his Pooh, his little smooth face, glistening with sweat, openly unguarded and happy, as he cheered Javier on. Javier felt a momentary surge of affection, staggering in its intensity, well up inside him, but he had no time to dwell on it, since it was time to begin his program.

As soon as Javier stepped into position – he knew: this was going to be one of those magical times, when everything turns out even better than in practice, even better than you thought it possible. Magnified by the center stage, shaped by the watchful eyes and sharp intakes of breath of the people watching him, a spark of something is kindled, and it’s like you can’t miss – the jumps are flawless, the spins perfectly centered, the step sequence engaged in with gusto, and best of all, you become one with the music. Javier had experienced this magic only a precious couple of times before, but he immediately knew this was going to be a blessed third.

The spellbound spectators watched how Javier became the program, living it through every fiber of his being. Let the judges note how his jumps were smooth and effortless, his landings were strong, his posture exquisite, because the perfection of the technique was only a part of it. There was a liveliness and a charming abandon to Javi’s performance – sensual and compelling, as he drew the audience into his world with unremitting confidence.

“Yes!! Perfect, Javi!” Brian shouted ecstatically, as Javier hit his final pose with a flourish.

Yuzuru smiled with undisguised admiration and retreated quietly behind the curtains backstage, as Javier was basking in the cheers from the enthusiastic crowd.

Javier was in first place after the short program with no one left to skate. He had no real curiosity to see how the others have fared, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway to his resolution of giving his absolute best tomorrow. He was sure that Yuzuru, at least, was trailing him very close behind and he wasn’t going to make it easy for him to catch up.

After he was done with press, Javier had a late dinner, then went up to their room. Yuzuru wasn’t there yet, and Javier turned on the tv, idly switching channels, smiling slightly when he found a porn channel. There was a busty blonde on screen, not really Javier’s type, but she was enthusiastically deep-throating some guy and Javier found he really appreciated her efforts. He still felt a restless sort of excitement, which he supposed was a remnant of his earlier performance, and wondered if he shouldn’t rub one off. It was always a tricky decision – whether to indulge like this or not during a competition – on the plus side, it relaxed him, but it could also de-energize him. He remembered Yuzuru’s disdainful accusation of ‘wasting precious energy on that’ – Javier snickered at the memory – his younger inexperienced team mate pretending that the sex he did not engage in was essentially not worth it. It seemed to Javier a ‘sour grapes’ kind of reasoning. But Yuzuru had a single-minded attitude towards winning, so maybe not. The memory of Yuzuru’s confession of the time he was abused (Javier still called it that, even if Yuzuru didn’t), came to his mind, turning his smirk into a frown. He couldn’t believe the lengths to which that naive, clueless boy could go to in his mind to give higher meaning and justification to what was essentially a sordid situation. Although clever and inspired, Yuzuru could be shockingly immature at times, and everything had to make some grand sense in the epic story of his life. Javier distractedly turned off the tv, since it couldn’t hold his attention anyway - his scattered thoughts kept circling around his team mate. ‘I’m also a part of the story of his life’, Javier realized suddenly. ‘But I’m not settling for being a supporting character. I’m going to be the guy that makes a mark. A deep indent in the smooth paper which spells out Yuzuru’s success story.’ Javier still felt keyed up, and a little strung up with a strange sense of anticipation. He went to his laptop to look up his competitors’ scores and standings after today. He knew it was probably a bad idea, and Brian himself had advised him not to do it, but he suddenly needed to know exactly what he’d be up against tomorrow.

Javier’s jaw literally dropped when he finally learned that Yuzuru was not in fact, that close behind him as he had automatically assumed – he wasn’t even second, or third – in fact, he was some solid points below the 100 barrier. Javier searched for a replay of Yuzuru’s performance and watched it, dumbfounded: it was riddled with technical flaws, which was unusual for the Japanese, but not unheard of. However, Javier’s thrill at placing first was now slightly marred. It was like he had confessed to Yuzuru yesterday - winning over his team mate when he was abysmal wasn’t very satisfying, and the adrenaline still coursing through his body turned his whirlwind emotions from exalted joy to something closer to resentment and frustration.

Javier was still brooding when the door opened and Yuzuru entered the room.

“Hey, Javi!” He flopped on the bed, and closed his eyes, sighing in relief. “Finally done with press!” he mumbled. “Interviews in English so exhausting!”

That served to annoy Javier even more since he was the leader after the short program and the press was done with him hours ago.

“So, Yuzuru, what was that?” Javier demanded brusquely.

“What was what?” Yuzuru asked, confused at Javier’s words and the sharpness of his tone.

Javier left his chair and started pacing around, as he talked, gesticulating wildly, while Yuzuru sat up cross-legged on the bed, watching him with wide eyes.

“I was half a point away from your world record. I would have beaten you today, even if you had been near perfect.”

“Maybe not”, Yuzuru quipped. “Maybe I set new world record and still beat you.”

“Ah, but you didn’t, did you? You were far from perfect today! I didn’t need my best game to take you on, and it’s like I came out with guns blazing and rounded up on someone who didn’t even put up a fight-“

“Or like sleeping with a hot girl, who doesn’t satisfy you?” Yuzuru broke in, with a devious smile, “isn’t that what Javi said yesterd-“

“Stop trying to turn this into a joke, Yuzuru, I’m serious now and I – I half feel like a fool, you know? Like, what’s the use, you know? I can never win the way I want it. You’ll make sure of it, won’t you – one way or another?” Javier complained bitterly, and kicked at one of his bags on the floor, in a rare display of anger.

Yuzuru looked up at Javier, dismayed.

“Javi, I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough this time. But you did so good, you were amazing, and you should be happy. I want to congratulate you, because I was very happy seeing you skate so well. I stayed to watch. You were the best. Perfect jumps, beautiful performance – it was all so you, so Javi. I’m really proud of you.”

“Thank you, but this is cold comfort. Even now, this is less about me winning the short, and more about your dramatic failure to place in top three after the short. At least that’s what the press, and the fans all seem interested in. It’s like – I can never get what I really want as long as you-“, Javier stopped himself just in time before his frustration led him to utter the impulsive words he would undoubtedly regret later, and rephrased lamely, on a noticeably more subdued voice, “it’s like I can never get what I really want with you.”

But his cut-off remark was not lost on Yuzuru, who asked, in a steely voice:

“You mean - as long as I’m around?”

Javier’s anger deflated instantly, hearing the words he had barely stopped himself from uttering, spoken in Yuzuru’s cold tone of voice. They fell like an ice storm, melting the fire of his anger.

“...as long as you’re the one that everyone wants, no matter what”, he stammered, not a denial, but not an acceptance, either. “I – god. I mean, I can understand them. It’s not fair, but – it’s – I just – hey, you know what? Look –“ Javier flailed around, his thoughts jumbling in his head, not bothering to censor them, but unable to make any coherent sentence out of them. Yuzuru watched Javier as he struggled, not an ounce of pity in his stern gaze.

Finally, Javier stopped rambling and came to sit on the edge of the bed gingerly.

“I’m sorry, Yuzu, I don’t know what came over me”, he said, tiredly. His whirlwind of emotion had all but left him and he felt drained. “I didn’t mean to be a dick.”

Yuzuru shrugged:

“You’re always so happy for me when I win, I just didn’t expect this sort of reaction from you when I lose.”

“I’m sorry”, Javier repeated, and lifted his hand as if to touch Yuzuru, but thought the better of it, and let it fall back down.

It was Yuzuru who finally bridged the gap between them, by touching Javier, hand caressing his back in soft reassurance.

“You were being very silly”, he said, affectionately.

Javier turned, as if electrified by the voice and touch and enveloped Yuzuru in a tight hug, which knocked the wind out of him.

“Yes, I was”, he all but groaned. “I didn’t mean all that shit I said, Yuzu. I always want you around, always.”

“You did mean it, somehow – but it’s okay. I understand. I want you with me always, too, Javi, I can’t do it without you”, Yuzuru answered, clinging just as tight. He silenced Javier’s protests by snaking a hand through his curly hair, and pulling slightly. “Shhh, Javi. Tell me about today. I want to know how it felt. It must have been glorious. Tell me.”

Javier laughed, muffled against Yuzuru’s shoulder, then he pulled back, to look at Yuzuru with bright eyes.

“Something magical happened today, Yuzu. It was like – everything was right. Ever had one of those days? Ah, you probably have them all the time. But it’s like – I couldn’t miss. I knew before I even launched into the air that I was going to nail the jump and land it perfectly. And knowing that, I could be free to play it like I wanted to, skate the program like I was supposed to, hitting all the notes. I was sure of myself like never before. I soared, Yuzu. It was wild.”

Javier’s bright smile was mirrored by Yuzuru’s wide grin, which turned his eyes into little moon crescents.

“I’m so happy for you, Javi. I knew you could do it. I never doubted you, and now you know it, too. Magic can happen, but only if it’s already there.”

The Japanese pointed to his heart, then to Javier, and nodded sagely. Javier laughed.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Really, Yuzu, thank you for your support. It means a lot.”

“I told you, I want Javi with me”, came the answer. “On the podium”, he added.

This reminded Javier of Yuzuru’s less than fantastic performance today, and curiosity gnawed at him anew.

“So what really happened today?” he prodded. “At practice, you didn’t seem your usual self. You aren’t injured, are you? And hiding it?”

“No!” Yuzuru bristled at the accusation, and Javier refrained from arguing that it wouldn’t be the first time. Instead he watched Yuzuru more closely and realized he was even paler than usual, with a redness around the eyes and nostrils, and his lips were chapped.

“You look like hell, though. Are you coming down with something?”

Yuzuru shrugged.

“Allergies, I think. Stuff.” He patted his chest and made a face, Yuzuru didn’t like talking about his weaknesses, except when he overcame them.

“... Did you tell Brian?”

“Of course.”

“Well then, that explains it –“

“No, it doesn’t”, Yuzuru interrupted him fiercely. “That is no excuse. No reason not to do good.”

“Right”, Javier answered warily. “Anyway – I’m so sorry, Yuzu.”

“You said sorry before. And I don’t want your pity, Javi!”

“It’s not pity. I just meant I’m sorry to hear you don’t feel well”, Javier answered gently. “And I know you’ll fight back in the free.”

Yuzuru lifted his chin defiantly:

“I will crush you in the free, Javi.”

“You can try”, Javier challenged. “This one’s mine.”

“No. They’re all mine”, Yuzuru answered resolutely, a familiar darkness in his eyes. “All of them.”

Javier fought back a shiver, but held his gaze.

“Not this one”, he answered, matching his team mate’s serious determination.

Javier could feel his heart hammer in his chest - whenever Yuzuru looked at him like that, he wanted to do something, something violent and passionate that will answer that challenge - or simply freeze that moment forever, because it gave him a rush like nothing else could. 

“I’m claiming this one for myself,” Javier continued, and in that moment, he fully believed that he would.

Yuzuru’s upper lip curled in amused defiance – “We’ll see-“

Javier’s eyes ran over his team mate and rival and he felt again that momentuous anticipation, fraught with anxiety. He realized he was leaning towards Yuzuru and the space between their bodies on the bed was nothing short of intimate. He straightened, but didn’t back away in panic, like he’d done this morning.

“Hey, Yuzu”, he said, having suddenly remembered something. “What did you mean yesterday, when you said you weren’t a good person?”

Yuzuru gave a start, then lowered his eyes, averting his gaze.

“It has nothing to do with skating”, he answered, evasively.

“Doesn’t matter. Tell me.”

“This is not good time, Javi. I’ll tell you another time.”

“When? That’s just to say you won’t ever tell me.”

“I’ll tell you – after.”

“After this competition? After what?”

“After we retire.”

Javier snorted.

“You’re ridiculous.”

Yuzuru smiled as well, and Javier felt a momentary surge of relief – maybe he was better off not knowing. What if it proved to be too much? It was Yuzuru, so chances that it’d be too much were pretty high. Everything with Yuzuru was already so complicated. And Javier had enough on his plate as it was. He stood up and stretched.

“Fine, keep your secrets.”

 

 

Javier woke up in the night and realized the bed was shaking. ‘There’s a monster underneath my bed’, was his first thought, chilling and certain in all its irrationality.  Still bleary eyed with sleep, he jumped off immediately and actually crouched down to look underneath. There was nothing under the bed, but the bed was still shaking.

“Javi!” he heard someone shout.

What kind of insane dream was this? He felt someone grab his arm and then he was dragged underneath the high table. When he wanted to escape, he was dragged right back, and pinned to the wall.

“Javi!” the same voice shouted, commandingly, but with an edge of despair. “Stay here.”

“....Yuzu?” Javier asked tentatively, as he began to gradually regain some consciousness from his abrupt wake up call. He could feel a headache coming on. He heard the noise of glasses breaking and then the sound of something heavy falling, in the room adjacent to theirs. “... An earthquake?” he mumbled.

Yuzuru made a small noise of assent. Javier could hear Yuzuru’s loud, ragged breathing and hoped it didn’t signal an asthma attack. By now fully awake, Javier’s first instinct was to comfort. He pressed closer to his team-mate’s crouched body, and put his arms around him in a loose hold.

“Shhh. It’s alright.”

“I know it’s alright”, Yuzuru answered, a little dully.

“Your heart is beating so fast,” Javier whispered, as he could feel Yuzuru’s heartbeat hammering wildly underneath his fingertips.

“It woke me up. Never had one wake me up before.” A pause, and a shuffle. “Never had one happen to me while not in Japan.”

Javier moved his palms up and down on Yuzuru’s sides soothingly.

“It woke me up too. I thought a monster was hiding under the bed”, he reminisced, chuckling. “But I think it’s over now.”

“No, we’ll stay here. There may be aftershocks.”

“Yuzu, we can’t stay here under this table all night.

“Yes, Javi.”

“Let me at least get my phone...”

“No.”

“Yuzu”, Javier laughed incredulously.

He gently unclenched Yuzuru’s fingers from where they were clutching at his t-shirt, with the spasmodic grip of a scared child.

“I’ll get my phone and come right back here, I promise.”

There was a sudden knock on the door which made them both jump. Javier, who had managed to crawl from underneath the table, stood up, but Yuzuru startled so bad he banged his head on the table.

Kuso!” he swore, while Javier approached the door and spoke out:

“Yes?”

“Are you guys alright?” came Brian’s voice from outside.

“Ah yes!” Javier answered, wondering why his coach didn’t come right in. “How about you?”

He walked towards the wall and after a momentary hesitation, pressed on the light switch. The lights came on and it seemed everything was alright. There were a few shards of glass scattered on the floor, and several overturned items – the chairs seemed to have moved several feet from their original position, but other than that, Javier couldn’t see anything wrong. He opened the door for Brian.

“All well?” his coach said, as he came in, and surveyed the room. “Gave you quite the scare, huh? Where is Yuzuru?”

“Under the table”, Javier answered.

“Yuzuru, are you okay?” Brian asked tentatively, as if afraid of the answer.

“Yes! I’m alright!” Yuzuru answered furiously, still not moving from his safe space. “I am sitting here because this is where you’re supposed to stay when there’s an earthquake, not move around and turn on lights!”

“He’s right”, Brian said soothingly. “It’s us who are behaving like we shouldn’t”, he told Javier, and Javier nodded seriously.

“But it’s....over now, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I think so. There could be aftershocks, of course – but on the news just now they said any possible aftershocks will have a lower magnitude, and this one was a 5.8, so...”

Brian trailed off and he and Javier both looked at Yuzuru, who gave no sign of moving.

“It’s gonna be a long night”, Javier quipped. “Oh well, I’m going back to sleep.” He lay down on the bed pointedly and stretched his limbs all over the place with relish, sighing happily: “I guess this means this bed is all mine.”

Yuzuru glared at Javier but still didn’t move from his spot. Then he looked up at Brian, as if expecting him to leave.

“Please, try to get some rest, Yuzu,” Brian told him, calmly. “I did my research and trust my words, there’s no chance of danger this time. I wouldn’t lie to you about something like this. You’re gonna have to trust me, okay? Please go to bed and try to sleep. It’s safe.”

There was a pause while Yuzuru looked at Brian steadily, then at Javi who was settled in bed and didn’t give any sign of coming back underneath the table like he promised. He pursed his lips and ran his fingers thoughtfully over the sturdy legs of the table. Finally, he seemed to reach a decision, and he crawled slowly back from under the table, making his way hesitantly towards the bed.

“Move over”, he told Javier sullenly, and Javier shifted, with an amused nod at Brian.

“That’s my brave boy”, Brian smiled, and turned to go. “Shall I leave the lights on for you?”

“No”, Yuzuru answered shortly.

“Alright. Goodnight, Javi, Yuzu. Sleep well.”

“’Night”, “Goodnight, Brian”, were mumbled in Brian’s wake, as he closed the door behind him.

“Alright, Yuzu?” Javier asked after a few moments of enforced silence.

“Sure”, Yuzuru answered loudly. “Except if big aftershock happens and we aren’t protected, then we could die”, he ended forcefully, exaggerating for resentful effect.

“You won’t die”, Javier said gently. “You still have things to do. Gold to win, records to break, people to crush into submission...”

Yuzuru snorted. When he spoke again, some time after, his tone was quiet and apologetic.

“I know I’m silly about this. I know. But I can’t help it. It’s one of the things that can’t be helped. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize, Yuzu. We understand.” Javier shifted on the bed, and his hand landed in Yuzuru’s hair, brushing gently through the thick strands. “Do you want to come closer?”

“Mmm. But not like in the first night, Javi,” Yuzuru mumbled unthinkingly.

“Hmmm?” Javier asked confused. “What do you mean?”

A lengthy pause.

“Do you mean the first night here?” Javier insisted. “Hmm? What happened then?”

“Need sleep, Javi. Sleep”, Yuzuru’s voice raised a little too high, and Javier didn’t want to get him more worked up than he already was, so he let it be for now. His hand still resting lightly on Yuzuru’s head, Javier closed his eyes and tried to sleep. At some point, he felt Yuzuru’s fingers brush against his hip and crumple his t-shirt in a vice-like grip as Yuzuru hung on to Javier for dear life, like he did earlier, when they were sitting under the table. Javier smiled, a sudden wave of fondness welling up inside him, not as intense as when he had seen Yuzuru cheer him from the kiss and cry, but steadier and more filling. You care, it whispered to him, you care a lot – but Javier was already asleep, a faint smile still playing on his lips.

Chapter Text

Yuzuru woke up in the morning to Javier’s face only inches away from his. His team mate was already awake.

“Did you know you sleep with one eye open? Like, literally, with one eye open?” Javier asked him without preamble, his own eyes twinkling with amusement.

“Errr-“, Yuzuru answered eloquently. “Yes, I do.”

“It’s freaky. And fascinating ... Mostly freaky.”

Yuzuru glared at him, but Javier just went on:

“Why does it happen? Do you know?”

Yuzuru groaned.

“Come on, tell me,” Javier insisted, curiously.

“When I was little”, Yuzuru answered seriously, “my mother pissed off a powerful witch. She cursed me over my cradle to always sleep with one eye open so that any girl who likes me is afraid to sleep with me, so I will always remain single.” He tried to keep a straight face and a deadpan voice, but burst into laughter towards the end, and Javier joined him. They cackled like maniacs, until Yuzuru was out of breath and Javier wiped his tears helplessly.

“It’s a good thing I’m not that easily scared”, Javier said, then clamped his mouth abruptly shut, when he realized how that came out. Yuzuru’s smile faded slowly and he gave his team mate a long look. Javier jumped out of bed, choosing to ignore Yuzuru’s gaze on him, and said, brightly:

“I can’t help but notice we’re still alive, too. After last, night, you know.”

“Oh....Yeah”, Yuzuru answered sheepishly. “Sorry for....”

“Shhh. No apology, I told you. It’s alright.” He ruffled Yuzuru’s hair and stood up. “So, are you ready for today?” he asked pleasantly.

Yuzuru lifted his shoulders minutely.

“Not yet. But I will be.”

“Of course you will be. If anyone can do it, it’s you.”

Javier smiled at Yuzuru, then discarded his t-shirt and threw it carelessly on the bed, as he went into the bathroom.

Yuzuru waited until the shower turned on, then picked up Javier’s t-shirt from the bed. He pressed it to his nose, as he closed his eyes, inhaling the scent, then fell back on the bed, still holding it.

Yuzuru didn’t know what to do with the quiet, tender love which Javier always showered upon him, through soothing words and soft touches and heartfelt praises. It clashed in his mind with his own powerful desire for Javier and his even more violent desire to win. But it was all there, and ignoring it would be a crime. He had to take it and weave it into the story of his life, let it seep into his veins and empower him, just like everything that had ever happened to him – good or bad. The ice breaking under his feet, his mother singing to him softly under a sky filled with stars, the heady rush of his olympic gold medal, Javier helping him up after a fall, hands gently rubbing at his abused muscles, a violent crash and a struggle to breathe, a stranger’s intimate touches received with dispassionate calm, the stubborn pain in his ankle which made him cry with frustration at not being able to skate like he wanted to, like he knew he could and must do, the joy and relief of being at his best when it really mattered, the gaze of people on him, shining with love and admiration, Javier’s light jokes and bright smile whenever Yuzuru felt himself shatter under the weight of everything he was, Javi’s lingering touches like Yuzuru was something precious, Javi crashing and falling and Yuzuru having to watch his sinking dissappointment that his team mate always tried to mask under a careless smile, Javi holding Yuzuru under a table as the earth shook beneath their feet, Javi muttering in Spanish against Yuzuru's neck as he embraced him like a lover on a hotel bed, and wouldn’t remember a thing in the morning, Javi – Javi – he was like a force of nature in Yuzuru’s life that couldn’t be denied and Yuzuru’s thoughts would eventually turn towards him, and all thoughts about Javi were a mix of sweet and bitter, of suffering and pleasure. It was like fearlessly throwing himself into jumps, long after his body had stopped cooperating and the pain threatened to overwhelm him, because any nasty fall wouldn’t come without the safety and comfort of Javi’s arms around him and his encouraging words. Did Javier know how much he meant to Yuzuru, how much his words and actions were like the precious air that filled the younger’s lungs? No, and he must never ever know, because he would feel uncomfortable by the intensity of Yuzuru’s feelings for him, since this was just the way this wonderful lovely man was with everyone. The noise of the shower stopped, and Yuzuru reluctantly let go of Javier’s t-shirt. He folded it carefully and laid it on the side of the bed, caressing it gently, as he whispered to it, like he couldn’t to Javi: Everything you do for me, all the care and joy you give me, won’t be wasted.

“What are you smiling about?” Javier asked, as he came out of the shower, drying his hair with a towel.

“I feel happy today”, Yuzuru answered, with a grin.

“At least one of us is doing well. My head still hurts since the earthquake last night.”

“Javi just not used to earthquakes.”

“No, and I thank god for that”, Javier said, rolling his eyes dramatically as he sat on the edge of the bed, pressing the towel into his forehead. “I’m gonna go ask Brian for a pill.”

Yuzuru sat up suddenly, and came closer behind Javier.

“What are you doing?” Javier asked, as he felt Yuzuru's hands into his hair.

“Head massage. Stay still”, Yuzuru said commandingly, as Javier had started squirming. “It helps.”

“Really”, Javier said sarcastically, but fell quiet as Yuzuru started stroking his forehead slowly with both hands, palms sliding gently towards the temples for the finishing touches. Javier remained still, while Yuzuru followed up with light, circular motions across his head, back to front, then front to back, rubbing gently with the tips of his fingers. “Mmmm”, Javier sighed, closing his eyes, his head falling back slightly. “You’re kinda good at this... it actually helps... I think... except I’m getting sleepy again...”

“Shut up”, Yuzuru interrupted Javier’s mutterings, as the latter chuckled. Yuzuru placed his hands at the base of Javier’s neck and edged closer to get more leverage, as he started to stroke up his neck towards the back of his head, applying more pressure. Small puffs of breath were brushing through Javier’s wet hair, and Javier shivered involuntarily from the array of sensations.

Javier’s eyes snapped open as he heard the door open and close, and Brian came in, preoccupied. He stopped in his tracks in the middle of his ‘Good morning’ and changed it to:

“Uh, what are you guys doing?”  

“My head hurts”, Javier explained, a bit sheepishly so Yuzu offered to –“ he moved slightly, dislodging Yuzuru’s hands, who let them fall to his sides with a small huff of frustration.

“I was helping!” Yuzuru told Brian petulantly.

“Yuzu, you know Javi does have a physical therapist of his own, and everything. It’s sweet that you wanna help, but it’s free skate day, try to focus on yourself.”

“I am focused”, Yuzuru argued, jumping off the bed. “I go shower”, he announced and disappeared into the bathroom, cutting off any further remark from Brian.

“Hey don’t look at me”, Javier shrugged at Brian, “All I said was that I had a headache and he got right to it.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad you guys are close, but you’re starting to get so close it’s making me uncomfortable”, Brian joked. “What’s the catch?”

“What?” Javier asked, confused. “There’s no catch.”

“...that you know of”, Brian shrewdly threw in.

“What the hell are you talking about, Brian?” Javier bristled, and Brian sighed:

“Maybe it’s nothing. But I just want to make sure that my two top students aren’t playing any mind games with each other”, Brian answered honestly. “Seeing as, you know, the stakes are high, and they’re only gonna get higher, what with the olympic season coming and everything.”

“Wow ok... What’s that even supposed to mean?”

“Just... don’t get sidetracked, Javi. Keep your eyes on the prize.”

“You think Yuzu is trying to get me sidetracked so that he can win?” Javier asked, bewildered. “You’re crazy, Brian. I can’t believe you think so little of Yuzu. Ugh, and my headache just got worse.”

“Don’t worry, Yuzuru is going to get his own personalized version of this speech when I warn him in regards to you”, Brian answered enigmatically, making Javier goggle at him. “This is your custom-tailored one. Even if Yuzu maybe doesn’t mean to, you can’t deny that he’s got a habit of running hot and cold when it comes to your interactions, and I know that has hurt you in the past”, Brian elaborated, on a reasonable tone. “More than anything, I just don’t want to see you hurt, Javi. Speaking of which, I’ll go get you a pill.”

 

The screams were deafening. Javier promised himself he wouldn’t watch, but no matter how deep he shoved his earphones into his poor ears and turned up the music, he could feel the arena shake each time the crowd stood up to cheer – he could feel their restlessness and the momentous quality of the moment – so better than to brood and imagine, he found a tv and watched from backstage. If Brian were there, he’d tell him not to look. But Brian wasn’t there, he was rinkside, probably screaming himself hoarse as well, and Javier spared a small resentful thought for his absence.

The moment he saw Yuzuru staking his claim upon the ice with such effortless confidence, skill and technique, Javier knew. It was one of those moments, one of those magical ones, like it happened to him in the short program, except now it was happening to Yuzuru, who was mesmerizing even on a bad day, and that meant the sky was the limit for him at this point. It also meant that he, Javier was fucked – they were all truly fucked and with the way everyone would feel the fire nipping at their heels after Yuzuru's performance, it was up to whoever was better at dodging the flames. Javier would have to fight seriously for a medal now – maybe more so than in the short. If he could – he felt his knees tremble already with nerves and knew he should step away and try to focus on himself. But he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Yuzuru, so he kept on watching, awe-struck. On top of nailing every element with superb technical quality, there was a serenity about Yuzuru’s performance, an ethereal beauty that complimented everything, that was the shining jewel in the crown. It was all too much for Javier – it was like Yuzuru had taken Javier’s short program performance as the challenge that it was, and was showing him, Javier, as well as the rest of the world, that at this particular game, he’ll always be unbeatable.

Javier remembered his earlier words to Yuzuru - ‘“I’m claiming this one for myself,” he’d said, and meant it. What a complete fool he’d been. Did he really believe that? As Javier sat there in their hotel room, in the aftermath of his triumph and Yuzuru’s breakdown, the very air around them teeming with palpable possibilities, yes - he totally did. But now, it seemed that Yuzuru would have the last word after all. He couldn’t beat that, there was no way he could even bring himself to try. Because as an awe-struck Javier watched Yuzuru hit his last pose with almost vindictive magnificence, Javier felt powerless and helpless. It hit him full force, a wave of fear and dizziness that was almost physical in quality. His stomach felt tied up into knots and his mind was fuzzy. There was a strange ache in his chest.

“What the fuck”, Javier muttered to himself. “Oh no. No, no. Fuck. I’m an idiot.”

This was the worst time ever to be having an epiphany of this sort, yet there he was – catching up on all the past moments that should’ve clued him in, and with the aching, delirious certainty of the present moment, Javier realized that he was in love with Yuzuru, that perhaps he had always been, and that had to be a joke, except that it hurt too much for Javier to think of laughing. Turns out Brian was right – well partly right, anyway – about the effect on Javier, but not about how it happened, which meant that Javier couldn’t have done anything to prevent it anyway. Because Yuzuru didn’t do anything to Javier, not consciously, and certainly not maliciously. Yet there Javier was, hopelessly sidetracked, as Brian had euphemistically chose to phrase it, and it was in fact, ever since Yuzuru came to the Cricket Club, one long epic story of Javier getting progressively more sidetracked, until he was off the rails altogether. And the train had long since left the station. There was nothing to be done, Javier thought, defeated, and he found himself glad all of a sudden, that none of his coaches were there with him at this time to witness what felt like his complete and utter ruin.

 

 

“What are you doing?” Javier asked, bewildered, as Yuzuru took off his gold medal and put it around Javier's neck.

“I owe it to you. I wish I could share it with you.”

“Well, you can’t,” Javier said, with some bitterness, through clenched teeth, as he kept on smiling, acutely aware of the cameras clicking around them. “Don’t be a child. Only one of us can win.”

“I know. But I wish it could be. Because without you, I wouldn’t have-“

The handler was insistently tugging at Yuzuru’s sleeve, saying something in Japanese.

Javier took off the medal abruptly and pressed it into Yuzuru’s hand.

“You need to go”, he said, with a measure of impatience. “They want you.”

Yuzuru flung his arms around Javier’s neck and pressed close, holding him impossibly tight for one moment, before he let go, and turned around, letting himself be swept off into the sea of people waiting for him.

Javier tried to keep his smiled fixed firmly in place, even as his face hurt. He was exhausted and his head throbbed. All around him, people smiled, endeared at what they had just witnessed. Javier knew he’d have to answer another string of questions about what had just happened, and his shoulders slumped further. Since he had woken up this morning, it felt like he had been lagging behind, a phantom feel of the earth literally shaking under his feet mirroring his confusion of how everything seemingly conspired to throw him off. He lost the gold, he lost the podium, he lost faith in himself, he realized he was in love with his greatest rival. On top of everything, Yuzuru treated him like Javier was a hero wounded in war, with a mixture of respect and sober affection, and an undertone of pity that made Javier’s blood boil. And putting the medal around Javier’s neck, what sort of grand insane gesture was that supposed to be? Like a consolation prize for poor Javi? ‘I owe this medal to you’, what did that even mean?

“It is so rewarding to see how the two of you can be both rivals and friends. How do you see your relationship and how has it motivated you?”

Javier blinked, as he realized the woman was looking steadily at him, patiently expecting an answer. Belatedly, he saw the microphone inches away from his face.

Javier imagined himself answering the question with disarming honesty:

‘Funny you should ask because I was just wondering along the lines of ‘why did Yuzuru Hanyu had to come into my life’? Because I was doing just fine before that. I had a coach who yelled at me for being a lazy bum (and it’s true, I was a lazy bum), but I was content, and I was walking that fine line, where I was reasonably good, I had a relatively reliable jump that no one else had, and I was cool with that. I knew I could be better, but I didn’t want to bruise myself too much for it. And look at me now – I haven’t known contentment in years. There’s always something driving me from behind, something keeping my eyelids peeled open at night. I fight like a drowning man, skate a flawless short, break the 300 point barrier, and what does that get me? Not even the podium, not this time. But that’s perfectly alright, because Yuzuru Hanyu, the god of figure skating, has decided that he owes his medals to me, so I should just shut up and be grateful for the supporting role, right? Right, you fucking vultures? Write that in your stupid magazines!’

“I think it’s very rewarding, because we support each other and we make each other better”, Javier said out loud. “I am very happy for him when he wins and I know he is happy for me when I win.” After he's done crying and raging with frustration, so in like, a week or so.

“You skated a marvelous short program. But in the free, there were quite a few errors, and you didn’t seem ‘all there’. What happened?”

“Well, you can’t always deliver at your best”, Javier said, piqued. “You train really hard, but some days just...aren’t good days.”

“Do you think you can beat Hanyu when he’s at his best?”

Several gasps followed that question – at its rudeness, its irreverence, its straightforwardness? Javier merely snickered:

“I think anyone can beat anyone, on any given day”, he answered shortly. He paused, then gave them what they wanted: "But if he skates a clean short and a clean long, I think he may be unbeatable."

As he continued to answer the questions, with the same well-practiced answers, as if in a haze, not having to concentrate, because he didn’t really have to think about answering, he realized that neither of these people will ever know what it's all truly like for him and Yuzuru, nor could he ever hope to make them understand, so what was the use even trying. The same endlessly repeated questions, the same endlessly repeated answers. Javier had to get out of there, he had a mighty need to get deliriously drunk, even though Brian would probably yell at him, and it certainly wouldn’t help his headache. Then perhaps, some friendly Finnish pub owner would let him sleep there, so he wouldn’t have to come back to the hotel and face Yuzuru.  

 

Javier beat a hasty retreat to the locker room as soon as he could escape the swarming journalists. There had been more of them now, wanting to hear how the two-time world champion missed the podium entirely, than after his short program, he realized with some measure of bitterness.

He slammed the door with a little too much force behind him, before he realized the locker room wasn’t as deserted as he’d hoped. But Shoma quietly made his way past him with a bow, looking in a hurry to be out of there, and that just left Yuzuru, whose face lit up as he saw him, as he said Javier’s name with an upwards lilt to it, like he always did:

“Javi~!”

Javier was going to say something, anything, like ‘are you done with press?’ or ‘what are you doing down here?’ or ‘why are you still in costume?’ or maybe even ‘why for the love of god would you put your gold medal around my neck in front of the media?’

But the locker room was deserted and there was no media there, and no cameras, and there was still the strange ache in Javier’s chest, burning him from the inside, and the empty room still resonated with the sound of Yuzuru saying Javi's name. Yuzuru always butchered his name, turning the v into a b, something which had always made Javier smile fondly, because having listened to his fair share of Middle Eastern music, he knew habi meant ‘my love’.

On an impulse, Javier took Yuzuru’s arm, and dragged him around a corner, so they’d be out of view of anyone who would open the door. He cupped Yuzuru’s face into his hands, thumbs caressing his cheek, looking down at his lips, as he edged closer, leaving Yuzuru no way of mistaking his actions for anything else. Javier couldn't read Yuzuru's look, or else his mind was too clouded with desire, so he actually took the time to say: “For god’s sake, stop me if you don’t want this,” before leaning in, a little fearfully, half expecting to be kicked. Yuzuru’s hands slid up against Javier’s chest, pulling him closer in a desperate grip, as their lips finally touched. Javier experienced again the phantom feel of the earth moving under his feet, but this time he knew it was brought on by the surreal quality of the moment. He decided to forgo any thought about the meaning or consequences of what they were doing and focus on the simple fact that he was kissing someone he liked, someone who was responsive and whose soft inviting lips positively begged to be lavished with his attention. This was a game Javier was very good at, a game he’d always win. Remembering Yuzuru’s self-confessed lack of experience, Javier smiled against Yuzuru’s lips and seductively deepened the kiss, fully intent to make him dizzy with pleasure, hands roaming all over Yuzuru’s body, frustrated at not being able to reach skin. Yuzuru quivered under his ministrations, and tried to speak, words which were kissed away from his lips before they took flight, and it took a while before they registered to Javier’s ears.

“Not here. You’re crazy. Not here,” Yuzuru kept saying against him.

Javier pulled back slightly, a little amused that Yuzuru had suddenly caught up to the surreal nature of their situation.

“Have press conference to get to”, Yuzuru said, but his heated, heavy-lidded gaze fixed on Javier told him differently.

“So what”, Javier answered, carelessly, and leaned in for another kiss, which was returned, and then another, and another.

“Javi”, Yuzuru whispered breathlessly between kisses, “Javi... Javi”, on a reverent, wondering tone, as if he still couldn’t believe it, as if he needed to ground himself in the reality of it actually happening.

The sound of his name did things to Javier, who pushed forward, needing more, suddenly drunk on Yuzuru’s taste and closeness. Despite his earlier words, Yuzuru remained pliant, letting him, and returning his advances with a surge of innocent enthusiasm – his hands were pawing at Javier, touching him wherever he could, in a frenzy of squeezes and caresses. Everything was just right, and Javier found himself dizzy with all the possibilities that might arise from this.

‘So sweet’, Javier mumbled nonsensically against Yuzuru’s lips, pushing them open with his tongue, moaning in pleasure as he was granted entrance, thrusting his tongue inside, staking an unmistakable claim as he got their tongues entangled in a sensual dance. Javier’s body was pressing Yuzuru into the wall, and his hands were at his favourite place at Yuzuru’s waist, gripping with possessive fervour. A small voice in the back of his mind screamed at Javier that he was mad, this was madness.

A distant sound of a door opening and closing with a bang made them jump apart with similarly frightened expressions on their faces. They braced themselves for the door to the locker room to open but it didn’t. Javier ran a hand over his face, his heart thudding in his chest.

“Okay”, he said. “Okay, we should probably stop for now, yes?”

Yuzuru nodded, with some disappointment.

“Stop now, but then, later...we can? Continue? If you want?” he asked tentatively.

“If you want,” Javier echoed. He stepped back, suddenly awkward.

Yuzuru nodded at him, with a warm, tender smile, then stepped around him and made his way out of the room, stopping twice to look behind at Javier, smile still firmly in place. Javier remained there for a while longer, so as not to raise suspicion, staring at the nondescript wall decorations, and trying to come up with some reasonable explanation as to what the hell he was doing and how far he was going to take this. None came to mind.

Chapter Text

“There you are”, Brian said. “I thought you drowned yourself in the shower.”

Javier’s laugh was a little forced and loud.

“That bad, huh? Look, Javi, don’t overthink this, okay? Let it be for a while. Then move on from it.“

Javier stared at Brian, before he realized that his coach was talking about his fourth place finish. Of course he was. Javier shook his head: he didn’t want to be reminded of that on top of everything else, although he couldn’t deny his final placement was nagging at the back of his mind like an itchy scab that he was trying his best not to scratch at.

“It’s difficult to move on when everyone keeps reminding you of it”, Javier said, pointedly. His distracted gaze found Yuzuru in a crowd of people milling around him, as if drawn into his orbit by the sheer force of his magnetism, some overtly staring, others stealing furtive looks and pictures. Someone from the Japanese team was talking to him and Yuzuru was nodding repeatedly, look vacantly flitting around the room. Javier’s eyes hardened.   

“Are you angry at him?” Brian inquired, having followed the line of his gaze.

Javier wished it were that simple.

“No”, he answered automatically. A slight resentment did linger for Yuzuru stealing Javier’s title right from under his nose, but realistically, Javier knew he only had himself to blame. And somehow, that was still the least of his problems.

Brian nodded in understanding, as if he was aware of Javier’s thought process. Javier hoped he wouldn’t bring up their conversation from this morning, with an ‘I told you so’ note attached.

But all Brian said was:

“Next year is Olympic season, and you need all your focus and determination. Lose the anger, keep the hunger.”

Lose the anger, keep the hunger, was a classic Brian line. Brian had recounted to Javier long ago how his own coach had first told him that in one of his difficult moments, and it had helped Brian to focus. In addition, Brian seemed to like the ring of it so he imparted it to his students whenever he felt it suited the situation. It didn’t usually help Javier much, as he was more likely to feel depressed and disappointed, rather than angry, in the aftermath of a defeat. And depression and disappointment didn’t come with a hunger to work harder – it came with a yearning to let go and take longer to get out of bed in the mornings. But Javier never told Brian that, and he wouldn't tell him now either, because he knew Brian was fond of saying that line. Instead, he just smiled reassuringly: 

“Oh, the hunger is always there, Brian.” It wasn’t even a lie, except for once it wasn’t about winning; there was a different kind of hunger gnawing at Javier right now, one that might potentially be satisfied by having Yuzuru bent in half underneath Javier on an unmade hotel bed which by now bore their mingled scent.

“That’s great”, Brian reacted happily, “how about we get you some dinner, then, eh?”

He then clasped Javier’s arm and turned him around, Javier laughing out loud with genuine fondness at Brian’s dad joke. Before allowing himself to be led out, Javier unthinkingly turned his head for a last glance at Yuzuru, and Brian squeezed his arm briefly. It seemed to Javier like another warning, but Brian didn't say anything, so Javier paid it no mind.

 

Struck by the force of his epiphany, Javier felt like he wanted everything, all at once, but now that he finally had Yuzuru in the privacy of the hotel room they had been forced to share the last few nights, he felt confused and out of his comfort zone. What does one do, with one’s friend, adversary, team mate, impossibly talented young man with whom the relationship was already so complicated? First an awkward frail kid whom he wanted to protect, then a strong rival he wanted to conquer, and now a legendary skater he felt lucky to share the ice with. Yuzuru was still all of these things and neither contradicted the other; and neither could stand as arguments against the fact that Javier now wanted to take him to bed like a lover. Neither could the fact that, incidentally, Javier's gender of choice had so far been female. The primal part of Javier that lusted after Yuzuru, in an effort to forestall his inevitable identity crisis, focused on the fact that Yuzuru had a kind of beauty that was almost feminine in quality, he was lovely in a way that Javier found particularly attractive, but as Javier thought about it more, he realized, with some measure of panic, that he would have succumbed to the same inevitable attraction even if Yuzuru’s looks hadn’t been quite so molded to his personal aesthetics.

Yuzuru seemed to want or expect Javier to take the lead, and just stood there, smiling.

“What do you wanna do?” Javier asked him softly.

“I don’t know... I want a lot, but I don’t know what exactly...”, Yuzuru worried at his bottom lip, seemingly frustrated that he was not in his element for once. “What do you want to do?” he asked back, looking at Javier for cues.

“I have...uh”, Javier chuckled lightly, “too many ideas. But”, he pointed out, “I’m also very nervous and ... well – this is strange, for me because...”

“You’ve only been with girls?” Yuzuru guessed.

“Yes”, Javier answered, relieved that Yuzuru was partly getting it and not sounding judgemental. “I may need some time to process my identity crisis while I’m at it. But that’s not everything, though.”

Yuzuru came to sit next to him on the bed.

“What else?” Yuzuru asked. The words did not sound pressing but encouraging to Javier’s ears, yet he hesitated to answer. Yuzuru edged closer to him on the bed, and cupped his cheek, caressing it, and making Javier look up at him. “Why else does Javi feel strange?” he asked, smiling sweetly/

“Jesus”, Javier sighed. “Because it’s you.”

“You are not happy it’s me?”

“Not really”, Javier answered automatically, before he could stop himself. Yuzuru dropped his hand abruptly. “Wait, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant, things were complicated enough between us before. And now this will complicate things even more.”

“You’re right, it will”, Yuzuru agreed, nodding seriously. “But it will make us happy, too.”

“Sounds so simple when you put it like that. And if it were literally anyone else, I’d jump at the opportunity. I don’t usually overthink things when it comes to sex, you know...”, Javier said, mouth running away with him again and stopped abruptly as he noticed Yuzuru was watching him with narrowed eyes.

“So many things wrong with what you said....so many,” Yuzuru said, with a fierceness Javier wasn’t used to seeing directed at him.

Javier paled a little, and searched frantically for words. The situation was familiar to him and yet not, and he couldn’t help but fall into old patterns. Usually in this kind of situation, with someone he liked and the possibility of sex very palpable in the near future, if he’d say something wrong he already had something like a script ready. Back down – apologize – ‘I didn’t meant it’ - sprout some romantic lines – crank up the charm volume even higher, that usually worked. If that didn’t work, look vulnerable and lost - keep apologizing – back away – show you’re ready to walk away. That was finally guaranteed to work. But Javier didn’t want to act like this right now, he didn’t want to lie to Yuzuru about himself – deep down he knew their only chance out of this mess they found themselves in was by staying completely honest with each other.

“I’m....sorry”, Javier said finally. “But it’s the truth. I’m not perfect, you should know.”

“You must not look, or think about anyone else if you’re with me”, Yuzuru stated definitely.

Javier flinched slightly.

“Of course. It goes without saying”, Javier mumbled. “Define ‘look’, though, because that is a really broad term and I kinda need to use my eyes to navigate my surroundings”, he tried to joke.

“You know what I mean. You don’t look, touch, or think about anyone who is not me. Except in friendly way.”

“That makes sense”, Javier said, a little relieved. “Any other ground rules?”

“I’ll think about it. This is the most important rule for now.”

“Okay. Can I tell you mine?” Javier said, suddenly serious. Yuzuru’s jealous demands brought a sort of light to Javier’s mind – it was suddenly clear to him what he wanted, and he anticipated in pessimistic foresight that Yuzuru would never grant it.

Yuzuru was a little taken aback to hear that Javier had some demands of him, but graciously nodded:

“Yes. Tell me please.”

“If we’re going to do this, then I’m going to want everything from you. Everything.”

“You mean – sex?” Yuzuru answered on a hitched breath.

“Not just, although it goes without saying I’m going to want sex, too - eventually”, Javier shrugged. “I’m hardly one in favour of abstinence, unlike you, I think it would distract me, rather than help me. So this is also something to consider. But more importantly, what I mean is, I don’t want to be someone who gets a little bit of your time, once a day if I’m lucky or whenever you can fit me in between your other engagements – you know what I mean. Like, you put me in a box that you open whenever, oh look it’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday, that means Javi time. I want us to be together for real, and I want you and everything that you are to be mine. I know I’m asking for a lot, but I know that anything less wouldn’t satisfy me. Not quickies in locker room showers before you go home to study or whatever, and then you ignore me when you want to put on a show for someone else, and play fake cute for the media, and push me away and act all unreachable before competitions or just whenever it suits you. I want you with me, sharing everything with me, living together, doing things together, not hiding from anyone, and both of us making compromises to make things work. And if that means that you have to topple down from your high heaven, if that means you have to be more of an ordinary human being with mundane issues on his mind, instead of your single-minded focus on achieving the impossible, you have to be okay with that. Do you understand, Yuzu?”

Yuzuru narrowed his eyes again, as he considered this. Unconsciously, he pulled back slightly.

“Are you ready to give me that, Yuzu?” Javier pressed, assessing his reaction with a sinking heart. He needed to know right away, even if it broke him.

“Right now”, Yuzuru answered slowly, “I want to give you everything you want, and more. I need you so badly, Javi, and you make me so happy. I’ve loved you for so long and never imagined I’d ever get you... and now that I have you, I don’t want to let you go.”

Javier stared, not having expected this reply, but then Yuzuru’s first words registered in his mind:

“Right now”, Javier repeated sadly. “Right now when you’re still high on all that’s happened – your world record, unexpectedly pulling back from the brink to emerge victorious against all odds, your gold medal, finally beating me at worlds after two years, getting me in the way you’ve always wanted...it feels like a moment of euphoria suspended in time, doesn’t it? But when you finally come down from this high, you’ll realize that it’s not what you really want after all. Not if it means giving up even a little of who you are”, Javier said, and marveled at his own words, because he had never actually thought about this before, but he realized even as he uttered them that they were the truth.

Yuzuru looked at him, a little apprehensively.

“Javi....How-?”

“How do I know you so well?” Javier guessed. He smiled sadly. “Oh, I payed lots of attention. Turns out I didn’t even realize how much of my attention was given to you all through this time... I was a fool not to realize it sooner. Perhaps me not realizing has something to do with the fact that I thought I was straight. Obviously that’s something I need to revisit as well.”

“Oh... Javi – “, Yuzuru said, sympathetically.

“Yeah, not the best time to be having an identity crisis on top of everything else, is it?” Javier tried to joke. “Oh, everything is such a mess!”

What Javier didn’t say was that he’d find a way to get over any identity concerns of him suddenly realizing he liked men, as long as it meant Yuzuru would give him the everything Javier wanted. Yuzuru hadn’t told him a definite no, but didn’t contradict Javier when he pointed out Yuzuru's reluctance for a full-scale commitment. Javier felt the silence acutely like a rejection. Even though Yuzuru had reacted favourably to his advances, there was an essential part of whatever made Yuzuru his fascinating complicated self that was and would seemingly remain unreachable. Yuzuru seemed very disposed to give him anything physical, but even that fact became questionable to Javier, as he remembered that Yuzuru had literally no experience with intimacy. Did Yuzuru even want Javier, or just imagined he did, with the same dramatic and romantic spin he always put on things?  What if Javier was only a step above that nameless creepy doctor, whose advances weren’t stopped either, so that afterwards Yuzuru could rewrite the story in his mind about how precious and adored he was, so he could feel better about the whole thing?

Perhaps it was unfair to think along those lines, but that was another thing Javier couldn’t help – when he loved, he did so possessively and completely. It was just Javier’s bad luck that Yuzuru loved selectively – and as he believed that everyone who admired him was worthy of receiving his attention and affection, he bestowed these wholeheartedly, but only in small rations. Problem was that Javier wanted more than just a spoonful.

And from there, it was just one dejected thought away from Javier fully doubting that Yuzuru felt for Javier anything remotely resembling what Javier felt for him. Was Yuzuru merely reacting to Javier’s own desire? He felt bereft and heartbroken.

Seeing Javier quietly churn in his own self-absorbed bitterness, Yuzuru fidgeted nervously.

“Javi, don’t be upset. What are you thinking about, Javi?”

Javier ran an unsteady hand through his hair and then let it drop aimlessly on his knee. Yuzuru tentatively reached out and tickled playfully at Javier’s fingers. A slow smile bloomed on Javier’s troubled face, even as he fought to stifle it. Yuzuru took courage enough to ask:

“Javi...can I tell you something?”

Javier nodded absently and Yuzuru inched closer and cupped his cheek gently, like Javier had done to him so many times, lifting his head so their eyes met. He held Javier’s gaze as he caressed his face, and started to speak, but at one point, it became too much to him, and then he lowered his gaze, blushing deeply, but continued on the same tender tone, telling Javier more than he ever hoped to hear:

“I’ve been watching you long before we knew each other, Javi. I look at you and I think, how beautiful and elegant and strong you are. How attractive. I thought: I want to be like Javi – later, I realized that I also want to be yours. But it wasn’t only your beauty that attracted me, it was your playfulness, your charisma, your skill, you were one of a kind and nobody could compare, and I wanted so badly to know you better. Your quad sal was a thing of beauty and it drove me crazy trying to decipher your skill when you were being so casual and humble about it.”

“Ah, I was wondering when you’d get to the quad sal”, Javier interrupted him with a self-deprecating smile, but Yuzuru only continued seriously:

“You’ve always been so dismissive of your own talent, Javi... Many times I wondered about you – how can Javi, lovely Javi, give so much and expect so little in return? I came to train with you so I could steal from you, to watch more closely what it was that made you Javier Fernandez, the skater from Spain who conquered the world. And you just let me...More than that, you helped me. And i took advantage, so much advantage, I could never get enough of the attention and care you gave me. It soon became a necessity, to have you around, and sometimes even the knowledge that you were close by, or going through the same thing that I was, gave me the will to go on. I crashed to the ground and you came to pick me up, and I stared at your face, so close to mine that I could see the light reflect off your eyelashes, and the sweet caring smile that was for me alone, and I realized that I had been falling for you all along. I would have loved to be the one who made you happy, but you were only interested in girls, and besides, I had my own destiny to fulfill, and we needed to be rivals. Still I couldn’t help but watch you, with worry and fascination, the way you soared and then crumbled under the weight of your misgivings, and I wanted to be there to save you – only I didn’t, because I had to look after myself. But it seemed unfair, I wanted everything for you, all the things you were due to get but never managed to properly claim, and it was awful to realize that, for you to get them, I had to lose them, and suffer. It was complicated, but at the same time, simple, because at the end we held each other close and there was nothing but love between us and I was healed. I see it now, being drawn to you was unavoidable, something that can’t be helped.”

Yuzuru stopped abruptly, as he was out of breath. Out of  habit, Javier rubbed at Yuzuru’s chest gently.

“Alright?” he asked. “You don’t have to talk so fast, you know. We have time. I’m not running off anytime soon.”

“I hope not”, Yuzuru answered seriously. “I don’t want to imagine my life without you.”

“Yuzu...”, Javier said, voice and heart quietly breaking.

“You have to listen to me, you have to believe. That I love you and want you so much. But you can’t have such demands, you can’t ask me to change so much, it would kill me.”

Javier averted his look, biting his lip, more affected by Yuzuru’s entire speech than he cared to let on. He felt dangerously close to crying, and Yuzuru was already crying and being overly dramatic, as usual, and there was no way they could have a reasonable discussion right now, they were both way too emotional.

Yuzuru seemed to reach the same conclusion, because he stood up, and made for the bathroom. Javier heard water running, and Yuzuru's stifled sobs, and the tears he had been trying to force back, suddenly filled his eyes to the brim. He stopped fighting it, and just allowed them to fall, finding some bitter comfort in them. 

And then, Javier heard a knock on their door. He froze and swallowed hard, wiping at his eyes briskly. He checked the time - 22.43 pm, surely a little late for Brian to drop by?

"Ehm, come in", Javier called, after he cleared his voice.

Brian came in with a piece of paper.

 "I finally got your schedule for the gala practice right here", he said, waving the paper. "Where’s Yuzu?"

"He’s...in the shower."

"Have you been crying?"

"No", Javier lied transparently. 

Brian nodded and placed the paper on the table.

"I’m going to need you two to sort out your issues, alright?" he said, evenly, and without waiting for Javier’s reply, he went out, closing the door quietly behind him.

Yuzuru came out of the bathroom not long after Brian left. He was no longer crying but his face was tired and sad. He looked so fragile in his dejection that Javier wanted nothing more than to hug him tightly to make the pain go away.

“I heard voices. Was that Brian? What did he want?” Yuzuru asked.

“To give us the practice schedule for tomorrow. And to warn us to sort our issues.”

“What?” Yuzuru startled. “He knows?” His eyes widened in panic and his face flushed with shame.

“You know how Brian is”, Javier said, evenly.“He knows everything.”

“I’ve kept things from him. I’ve kept this from him for so long”, Yuzuru argued.

“Well, then it’s my fault, I guess. I’ve always been easy to read, and I’ve only had my epiphany about you today. I guess I’ve behaved weird enough for him to notice?”

“But this is –“, Yuzuru wrung his hands desperately, ready to start crying again. “this is not good! What if other people know too?” He looked at Javier, who gave a brief shrug. “You  - you don’t care if people know!” Yuzuru realized suddenly, voice rising in shock.

“I'll be honest, I’m not really bothered if they do”, Javier answered, however, he frowned a little in concern, as he took in Yuzuru’s mounting panic. “But I don’t think anyone knows – how could they? Even Brian doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, except that we have issues we need to sort out. And that could mean anything. Please, just try to calm down, Yuzu.”  

“I just...feel trapped. Don’t you feel the same? It’s like the universe is trapping us. Even in this room, with this one bed – it’s all a trap. Shikata ga nai.”

Javier laughed:

“We still have to sleep together for two more nights, but we’re not teenagers anymore. We’ll keep away from each other.”

Yuzuru muttered something that sounded sarcastic, annoyed that Javier wasn’t indulging his dramatic conclusion.

“What did you say?” Javier demanded.

Yuzuru shook his head innocently, with the hidden implication of ‘nevermind, I’m an angel who forgives everything’.

“C’mon, let’s not be like that, you got something to say, say it.”

“I said”, Yuzuru bit out, “that’s not what you did that first night.”

“Ohh”, Javier said, intrigued, remembering previous bits of conversation that pointed to that mysterious ‘first night’, which left him curious and bewildered. “So tell me, then: what did I do? Because I don’t remember doing anything other than sleeping.”

Yuzuru hmpf-ed in an exaggerated manner, and looked at the walls.

“Don’t be like that...”, Javier repeated, coaxingly, picking up Yuzuru’s hand and stroking at his knuckles.

Javier was out of his element and unthinkingly he resorted to the mannerisms he used whenever he wanted to appease one of his moody girlfriends. He had no idea if it would work on Yuzuru. It didn’t. But Yuzuru seemed to get an idea of his own, and his face lit up, as he exclaimed:

“Okay then, Javi – I will tell you – but only if you do it again. I tell you – and you do it.”

“Ummm”, Javier said, with a frown. “But I -  Can’t you at least give me a hint, so I know what I’m getting into?” he pleaded, anxiously.

Yuzuru’s eyes were hard when he answered:

“Okay! Hint: Javi thought he was sleeping with his girlfriend!”

Javier paled.

“Ay dios mio. Yuzuru please – don’t. Leave me some peace of mind. I don’t want to know. And I’m so sorry! I hope I didn’t do anything too bad, I hope I didn’t hurt you, but let’s not talk about this anymore.”

“Javi, it was nothing so bad, you’re imagining worse”, Yuzuru said gleefully, snickering at Javier’s horrified reaction. “And I really liked it. A lot. Which is why I couldn’t sleep. Which is why I was out of sorts the next day. Now you know.”

“I’m sorry”, Javier repeated.

“You can make it up to me”, Yuzuru reminded him. “Please. I just want to know if it feels the same when you’re doing those things consciously. Because you were so tender, so sweet. I thought, is this what it’s like to be with Javi? Why is fate so cruel to show me this then take it away?”

“Yuzu, you’re killing me here. I can’t. We can’t.”

“Why?”

“You know why. I don’t deal in half measures. You’re not willing to give into my demands, so why should I settle for less?”

“Maybe you need to persuade me”, Yuzuru said, blinking at him, coyly. He pressed his entire body against Javier and kissed his neck, one hand travelling down Javier’s body to fondle his cock through his pants. The reptilian part of Javier’s brain was starting to take a definite interest in the situation. “I may need an incentive”, Yuzuru continued, and pushed Javier’s t-shirt up, exposing his chest, Yuzuru’s trembling hands eagerly exploring Javier’s chest muscles with prolonged squeezes and subdued moans. The rest of Javier’s brain was beginning to wonder why on earth he was supposed to resist this. Yuzuru pulled back briefly and attempted to pull his own t-shirt off seductively – it caught somewhere above the neck, and Yuzuru scrunched his face like a child as he inelegantly pulled at it, until it finally came off. Javier grinned at the adorable display, he leaned over and kissed Yuzuru’s exposed forehead, and the mood shifted, but only slightly. They were looking at each other appraisingly, with warm but wary gazes, each wondering about the other. Both confused and awkward, but absolutely smitten with each other – maybe it really was inevitable, there was no way they could keep their hands off each other now, and consequences be damned. Yuzuru’s fatalistic words from earlier ‘can’t be helped’ resounded in Javier’s mind, and this time they sounded like an absolution.

“Okay, Yuzu, okay... We’re going to play this game, on one condition. If either one of us wants to stop, for whatever reason, it all ends and with no explanations required.”

Hai”, Yuzuru nodded, in mechanical assent.

“Right then”, Javier opened his arms. “I’m in your hands.”

 

Chapter Text

Yuzuru took Javier’s wrist and led him to the bed, laying him down on his side, then slithered up on the other side of the bed, some distance away, his back to Javier.

“I was sleeping like this, away from you, and suddenly you grabbed me and pulled close.”

He reached behind and took Javier’s arm, wrapping it around his middle.

“Tighter”, Yuzuru directed. “Like, really tight.”

“I had my t-shirt on though – didn’t I?” Javier managed, as he dragged Yuzuru into his arms as directed, their upper bodies now pressed against each other.

“Do you want to get your t-shirt now?” Yuzuru asked disdainfully.

“....No.”

Javier was holding him more or less gingerly, careful to avoid touching their lower bodies, and Yuzuru sighed:

“That’s not close enough. It was more like this.”

Yuzuru pushed back until their lower bodies were also pressed tightly together, and rubbed his ass against Javier’s erection teasingly, because now he could. They both moaned. Javier’s breath was hot against his hair and Yuzuru smiled to himself – it was like that first night, only so much better. 

“Was I hard against you, like this?” Javier spoke, on a low voice.

“Yes.”

“And you – you were hard, too?”

“Yes.”

“Did I touch you?”

“No”, Yuzuru said, with some disappointment. “You just held me.”

Javier sighed into his hair.

“Now what?” Javier whispered, a little roughly, and Yuzuru remembered he had to give directions.

“Then you kissed the back of my neck – like a lover. Not a peck... more like a....”, Yuzuru struggled to explain, but words weren’t forthcoming, not in English anyway. He stopped trying to explain when Javier pressed his lips against his neck, with an impetuous passion that made Yuzuru instinctively melt back against him.

“Like that?” Javier asked, alternating between sucking and nipping expertly at the sensitive skin.

Yuzuru shuddered and gasped.

Yes”, he answered. “Better.”

“Hmm”, Javier hummed, pleased with the reaction. “I can’t believe how sensitive you are”, he mused, running his lips in feather-light caresses at the back of Yuzuru’s neck in aimless patterns. Yuzuru whined, rubbing back against Javier like a cat, trying to increase the pressure.

“Nuh-uh”, Javier laughed, as he pulled his lips away entirely, but then placed them right next to Yuzuru’s ear, as he whispered, “Tell me, what else did I do to you.”

“You— you said something in Spanish, I think”, Yuzuru stammered.

“Yeah? What was it?”

“I don’t know, I’m not even sure it was Spanish, but it sounded like it was, and you sighed so deeply when you said it, that I wanted to comfort you, and your voice was rough with sleep, and had this lovely, intimate tone, and it made me almost cry”, Yuzuru babbled.

Javier felt absurdly moved by the image painted by those words, even as he had no memory of them. Half driven by a natural impulse, half goaded to mimic his previous actions, he sighed and tightened his arms around Yuzuru, struck by a wave of affection and want.

“Me encanta abrazarte fuerte”, Javier whispered. “Yo quisiera que fueras mi querido. Eso fue lo que dije, cariño?”*

“What did you say?” Yuzuru demanded immediately, trying to twist in the tight circle of Javier’s arms to look at him.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Javier pressed a languid kiss at the junction of Yuzuru’s long neck and a sharp bite at his round shoulder, then turned Yuzuru on his back.

Without pausing for thought, Javier mouthed at his chest, tongue trailing sharply over his nipples, eliciting tortured little gasps from Yuzuru, who tangled his fingers in Javier’s hair, pulling to the point of pain.

“Javi!...too good... it feels....too much!” Yuzuru complained petulantly, twisting his body underneath Javier, who laughed silently against his skin, then pulled back to dislodge Yuzuru’s grip on his hair.

“That can only be taken as an incentive, Yuzu”, Javier smirked, but he slowed down, pressing only chaste kisses along Yuzuru’s chest, down to his stomach.

Yuzuru settled back with a happy sigh and looked down at what Javier was doing, through half-open eyes, pupils dark with arousal. Javier looked up at him just as he reached the waistband of his pants. Their gazes, similarly heavy with want, met and held. Yuzuru grabbed Javier and pulled him up almost desperately to crash their lips together. The kiss was passionate and intense, with no other purpose than to draw as much pleasure from the taste and feel of each other. Yuzuru groped at Javier’s naked back, pressing him closer down, his legs wrapping themselves around Javier’s waist. Javier grunted in surprise into the kiss, as Yuzuru canted his hips upwards into him and he could feel his erection pressing into his belly. Javier felt a momentary panic and broke the kiss, as Yuzuru continued to rub against him, gasping, seemingly too far gone to realize that Javier was zoning out. There was something about this which seemed not okay to Javier – maybe because they were still half dressed, and it all felt too rushed and impersonal, or because Yuzuru was too compulsively driven to reach his climax, after years of abstinence - but what if he then decided it wasn’t all worth the effort? After all, coming in one’s pants after 5 minutes didn’t make for the best sexual experience.

Javier squirmed uncomfortably, and tried to get Yuzuru’s attention:

“Yuzu – wait. Stop a moment.”

Javier reached back and gripped Yuzuru’s ankles, forcing him to relinquish the hold. 

“I said stop.”

Yuzuru’s eyes widened and his hands fell lifeless from around Javier, seemingly too stunned at being stopped when he was so close. Javier sucked in a breath when he looked at his face because Yuzuru looked like he had been forcefully pushed away from the very brink of climax and was still teetering on the edge of it. His cheeks were flushed a dark pink, his lips bitten red, sweat was pouring down his face and neck and his eyes were impossibly dark.

“Uhh”, Javier stammered, as he tried to remember why he had stopped Yuzuru in the first place. “So, are we gonna do this?” he wondered out loud. “Really we’re gonna do this? You look wrecked already. Maybe we should stop.”

“Don’t you dare!” Yuzuru almost sobbed, tracing the line of Javier’s face with trembling, desperate fingers. “You’re so cruel! Please touch me! You were going to touch me earlier, right?”

“I was going to ask your permission”, Javier answered pointedly, with an underlying note of ‘you should have, too, before you started humping me.’

“I thought... Javi might have issues with...,” Yuzuru trailed off a little shyly.

Javier blinked at him, trying to get his blood-deprived brain back on track. It took him a while to realize that Yuzuru thought Javier might still have issues with the fact that Yuzuru was a man, and wanted to postpone the moment when he’d be confronted with that particular part of Yuzuru’s anatomy. It made Javier chuckle.

"Why don't you let me worry about that, eh?"

Strangely enough, that never crossed Javier’s mind, who was actually very excited at the prospect of seeing and touching Yuzuru’s cock. Once he realized this, he spared a second of tight-lipped commiseration for what he had long believed to be his sexual orientation, and a warm welcome to his newly found sexual fluidity, and then pushed Yuzuru’s pants down eagerly. Javier threw the clothes aside carelessly, and greedily looked his fill. Yuzuru’s cock jutted out amid the dark fine pubic hair, curving up towards his belly, pink and leaking.

“Now, just let me take care of you, okay? You just watch me. And I know you’ve got years of pent up sexual frustration but try not to come too soon.”

“I want you naked too, Javi.”

“Okay.”
Yuzuru sucked in a sharp breath when Javier’s cock, hard and throbbing, popped out from the constraints of his boxers. Yuzuru’s hand strayed towards his own cock and he pumped it slowly, watching Javier kick off his remaining clothes aside and join him back on the bed, then his hand was slapped away.

“As much as I liked seeing that, I want to be the one to touch now.”

“Please”, Yuzuru keened, a little desperately.

“Shhh,” Javier quieted him, and took him in hand, gently rubbing the foreskin up and down the shaft. He brushed a little precum off the tip to make the glide smoother, as his movements became more purposeful. 

Yuzuru’s gaze was still glued to Javier’s cock, even as Javier was stroking him intently, so Javier prompted him:

“Go ahead and touch if you want to.”

With considerably less skill, Yuzuru’s fingers closed around Javier’s full length, then moved upwards and circled only around the sensitive smooth tip with a ghost of a touch.

“Don’t tease”, Javier said, discontentedly. “Handle it properly.” He lifted his eyes to Yuzuru’s only to notice that he was looking from Javier’s penis to his own, with an assessing gaze which Javier knew all too well. Javier groaned, and he immediately let go of Yuzuru’s cock, torn between laughter and annoyance.

“Yuzuru, please don’t tell me you’re comparing, that’s ridiculous!”

It was one thing to compare the size of their jumps or their biceps, but Yuzuru’s competitive spirit was taking the comparison game to a whole new level.

“Yours is bigger, thicker,” Yuzuru pouted, with a long-suffering sigh.

Javier rolled his eyes:

“They’re both within the normal range, other than that, who cares?” Apparently Yuzuru did, so Javier added, lamely: “Yours is prettier.”

“What is a pretty penis good for?” Yuzuru frowned sarcastically.

“I don’t know”, Javier answered. “Yuzu, you’re making it really difficult for me to.... I’m trying to get you off here.”

“But I thought we were going to...”, Yuzuru made a vague motion with his hands, then licked his palm and took Javier’s cock in hand again. It twitched and throbbed eagerly at the wetness and warmth, as Javier mindlessly pushed into Yuzuru’s hand. “I thought we were going to have sex, for real.”

“We are having sex”, Javier protested weakly, as he tried to make sense of their conversation.

“But don’t you want to – have actual sex, like with your girlfriends?”

“That would be impossible, considering you’re a man.”

“You know what I mean,” Yuzuru reddened furiously.

“Yes”, Javier answered, amused, as he finally realized what Yuzuru was getting at. “And I do want that. But I don’t think either of us are ready for anal sex right now. Especially you.”

“I’m ready!” Yuzuru protested. “I have lube and condoms. You only needed to ask, Javi.”

“...That’s not the kind of ready I mean, Yuzu.”

“You’re being silly.”

“You’re being more silly.”

“I’m just gonna leave you like this.”

“Oh yeah? Then I’m just gonna leave you like this.”

“Now who’s being childish?”

“I didn’t say you were being childish, I just said you were not ready. And I really don’t feel comfortable going all the way with you, until I feel you’re ready,” Javier explained earnestly.

“So you’re really just gonna leave me like this?” Yuzuru’s voice rose, his eyes shooting daggers at Javier.

Javier sighed, and lay down on the bed, on his side.

“Come here”, Javier prompted, pulling Yuzuru down so that they were facing each other. He hugged him close, pressing their naked bodies to each other. He kissed Yuzuru unhurriedly, lips moving slowly, in gentle exploration.

“...Too slow”, Yuzuru voiced his frustration, as he broke the kiss.

“This isn’t a race”, Javier replied gently. “Or a competition.” His hands trailed over Yuzuru’s body and he hummed in pleasure. It had been a while since Javier touched someone like that and he loved these moments of sensuality as much as the actual sex. “That’s something that you have to learn,” he murmured.

“What do I have to learn?” Yuzuru demanded.

“That this is different.”

Yuzuru huffed, still a bit contrary, but his hands were already moving, persistently and possessively over Javier’s naked body, almost mirroring how Javier was touching him. Yuzuru’s caresses still lacked optimal pressure, as he alternated between grasping too hard at Javier or brushing his skin with the lightest of touches. Still, Javier found himself incredibly turned on, despite, or maybe precisely because of these inexperienced touches – he could feel that Yuzuru was freely giving reign to a passion which he had kept bottled up for years. It had been right to suggest taking it slow. He wanted to give Yuzuru space to explore and to learn. Javier pressed kisses along with the touches, on his neck, on his shoulders, on his belly, even on the inside of his thigh. He lay back as Yuzuru surged forward, to have his share, his eager lips pressing against Javier’s chest, suckling softly at the skin. Javier let Yuzuru do what he pleased, smiling contently and running a fond hand through Yuzuru’s already messed up hair as Yuzuru tweaked and squeezed Javier’s nipples in timid fascination. Javier’s eyes rolled in the back of his head as Yuzuru moved down, pressing wet kisses all along his treasure trail, stopping to nibble at his hipbone. Javier’s eyes widened as he briefly felt Yuzuru’s lips on the side of his cock. They were gone in the next second, and Javier looked down, stricken, just in time to see Yuzuru dive in to press his lips against his cock again, brow furrowed in concentration, as if deciding how best to tackle it. Javier couldn’t stop the desperate plea that rose up in him:

“Please take it in your mouth, only for a bit, please just try it, baby...”

Yuzuru looked up at him, eyes sparkling with mischievous satisfaction to see Javier reduced to begging like this. He tugged at his cock a few times, watching Javier, who could only stare back at Yuzuru helplessly.

“I will, Javi”, Yuzuru whispered. “I want to.”

Yuzuru positioned himself between Javier’s legs, knees under him and ass up in the air, the view alone enough to chase downwards whatever blood remained in Javier’s brain, followed by a wave of blinding white pleasure as the hot wet cavern of Yuzuru’s mouth engulfed him almost completely. Javier moaned loudly, losing track of everything that weren’t the sensations surrounding his cock. His hips twitched madly, aching to thrust, Javier’s restraint hanging by a thread. Yuzuru wasn’t moving, except to try and take more of Javier into his mouth, apparently with little success, making little muffled sounds of frustration which further tested Javier’s patience. All too soon, Yuzuru began to reluctantly pull back, Javier nearly sobbing with the loss. Yuzuru kissed the tip of Javier’s penis in apology and Javier gritted his teeth, and tried really hard not to hold him down and mindlessly fuck his mouth until he came. Instead he pulled Yuzuru back up with him and caressed his hair.

“That wasn’t very good, was it?” Yuzuru asked, anxiously.

“It was fantastic”, Javier replied truthfully. “Because it’s you. Everything I do with you is like that.”

“Javi, I want you so bad, and I just don’t know what to do.”

“I do. It’s okay. Relax. Let’s do it together.”

Javier rubbed the tip of his achingly hard cock, getting his palm slick, then he took the both of them in hand and started pumping. Long, sure strokes. He wasn’t messing around now, they were both too strung up to make it last and they both desperately needed to get off. Yuzuru buried his face in Javier’s neck and bit at the tender skin he found there, as the pleasure built up.  “Javi!” he shouted, panting, bringing his hand down over Javier’s to dictate the rhythm as he got closer to climax.

Javier tried to pull him back.

“Look at me”, Javier tried to say, only to find that the faster rhythm Yuzuru was imposing and the pressure of his hand over his own made him lose all power of speech. He was hurdling towards the breaking point with alarming speed, and he lost it completely as he felt Yuzuru claim his lips in a passionate kiss, tongue rubbing against his own, moaning and pressing closer like he couldn’t get enough. Yuzuru broke the kiss as he came with a violent shudder and an unrestrained screech, and then fell back on the bed like a stone, limbs askew, taking deep, ragged breaths. Yuzuru looked so alluring in his completely wrecked state, that Javier didn’t even think before straddling Yuzuru’s hips, to get himself off and mark him all over in the process. He didn’t need more than a few tugs before he was finishing with a loud moan, painting Yuzuru’s chest and stomach with his release.

“You’re making a mess”, Yuzuru said, voice slow and relaxed in the afterglow, turning his head with a chuckle, as another spurt landed on his face. Javier reached out and rubbed some of it over Yuzuru’s lips, eyes burning in challenge. Yuzuru merely smiled lazily at him, and licked his lips briefly. Javier groaned, and then fell back on the bed next to him, closing his eyes.

“What are we gonna do, Yuzu?” Javier said quietly. “What are we gonna do?” He didn’t really expect an answer form Yuzuru, it was like he was asking himself, or life itself what else it had in store for them.

“Sleep,” Yuzuru answered, looking steadily back at him with a warm, unguarded gaze and a soft smile which made Javier’s heart clench. It was so unlike Yuzuru’s public smiles that it made Javier wonder how many other smiles like this he could unravel if he could only get his wish.

“You’re beautiful”, Javier said instead, rather stupidly.

Yuzuru burst into his loud laughter, eyes crinkling.

“Do you say that to all your girls after you sleep with them, Javier Fernandez?”

“Stop comparing yourself to ‘my girls’, you brat. I didn’t even have that many.”

“You’re trying to charm me like I’m a girl! Doesn’t work on me.”

“I honestly didn’t mean it like that. Nevermind. Let’s just sleep.”

Javier suddenly felt exhausted and drained and in no mood for Yuzuru’s teasing. He suddenly remembered that they didn't decide anything about their relationship, only postponed the discussion. It had been a very long day and sleep sounded like the perfect idea – a period of blissful respite and unconsciousness when he wouldn’t have to think or worry about anything. He turned on his back and closed his eyes. A few seconds passed, before he felt Yuzuru’s hand on his arm.

“Javi, you know, I... I think you’re beautiful, too,” he heard Yuzuru’s voice, small and uncertain. “Don’t be upset with me, Javi. I’m trying to learn. I’ve just never been in a relationship before, so I don’t know how to act.”

Javier pondered those words, and his heart jumped in his chest.

“Does that mean that you’re willing to try? Are you agreeing with my terms?” He was afraid to open his eyes and look at Yuzuru, so he addressed those words to the darkness.

“Yes, right now I feel I want to give you everything, Javi,” came the barely whispered reply.

There was that blasted ‘right now’ again; and Javier should just turn over and remind Yuzuru that it was all or nothing with Javier, and then put some space between them and sleep on the floor, or maybe pack up early and leave, who cares about gala exhibitions anyway, the competition was over. But Yuzuru was right about the inevitability of it all, and Javier was starting to feel like a butterfly caught in a net. He knew there was only as far as he could run – he couldn’t stray too far away, and Yuzuru would always pull him back, somehow, because Javier wanted to be pulled back. So he would take what he could get, for now, and worry about the ‘later’ when it came. He turned and gathered Yuzuru into his arms.

“Let’s sleep, Yuzu.”

Chapter Text

“Are you going back to Japan?” Javier asked.

It was their last night in that hotel in Helsinki, and that single-bed room which had started everything between them. They had been making out on the bed, in no hurry to take things further than kissing, both of them too tired after the gala and the banquet, but still chasing each other’s closeness.

“Yes, and so are you,” Yuzuru answered, immediately. When Javier raised an eyebrow inquiringly, he clarified: “Season’s not over yet. There’s still World Team Trophy, remember?”

“Ah. Well, that isn’t for me. Not much of a team for Spain to speak of. It was nice of you to invite me last time, though.”

“You are invited again”, Yuzuru said, on a tone which implied that Javier was silly to ever doubt it. “Actually, the first time I invited you was for all team trophy events forever.”

“Really?” Javier laughed. “All events, forever? You have such power?”

Yuzuru shrugged.

“Japan hosts. Japanese people love you. And, no one says no to me if I ask.”

“Well then, I’d better not say no to you, either,” Javier teased.

“Yes. Never say no to me,” Yuzuru agreed, seriously. “Unless you have a very good reason.”

“I’ll come to WTT. But I need to go back to Spain first. I haven’t seen my family in a while, I miss them.”

“Alright”, Yuzuru nodded.

Javier kissed his forehead.

“I’ll miss you, too. But I’ll see you soon.”

Yuzuru lifted his head for a proper kiss and Javier indulged him.

“Don’t worry”, Javier said, guessing Yuzuru’s mood. “We’ll have time for this.”

“We will?” Yuzuru asked, looking doubtful.

“We will, if we really want to.”

 

*

Yuzuru’s hand searched for Javier’s underneath the table and grasped it. Javier grasped it back, finger lightly caressing the back of Yuzuru’s hand, without turning to look at him, or pausing in the conversation he had with Patrick and Gabrielle. Yuzuru smiled to himself, and glanced aimlessly around the room, tightening his hold on Javier’s hand.

 

“Do you want to tell people about us?” Javier asked later, when they were alone in Yuzuru’s room.

Yuzuru was silent for a long time.

“I want, but I can’t, Javi. Please try to understand. Not yet. There are many people who count on me. I can take risks for myself, but not for those people. And this is a risk.”

“You’ve been listening to too many of Johnny’s stories. Try listening to Adam and Eric instead. Times have changed.”

“Not that much. You know how I feel about you, Javi. Why does everyone else have to know, too? This is a private thing.”

“It’s not that. To me, it feels like it’s less real if it’s hidden. Like it can stop at any time and leave no impact.”

Yuzuru reflected on this.

“I think it’s even more precious if it’s hidden,” he answered.

Javier shrugged slightly, but didn’t say anything more.

“Javi, don’t be upset”, Yuzuru said, wrapping both arms around Javier’s waist tenderly. “Hmmm. Tell you what! Watch me during gala tomorrow. I’ll do something special just for you, and everyone will know.”

 

*

“I hope you were watching me carefully, Javi!”

“Sure. But I’m not sure I got your message...?”

“Javi, I blew you a kiss!”

“Oh, that kiss was for me? I was actually a few metres to the left, but I’m happy, it’s the intention that counts”, Javier laughed.

“Ugh”, Yuzuru reacted with frustration, “it’s actually surprisingly difficult to pick people out in the darkness and when you’re moving fast on the ice!”

“Or maybe you need glasses”, Javier taunted him. “Anyway...thanks”, he said, still laughing.

 

*

“Cat ears?” Javier wondered, as he surveyed the costume.

“Meeeow”, Stephane said, pointedly.

“It’s a cat themed song”, Nobunari piped in, cheerfully.

“’Kay then”, Javier said, with the underlying implication that it still wasn’t the strangest thing he’d been made to do, and since everyone knew he’d been coached by Morozov, that came as no surprise to anyone. “They’ll probably fall off anyway, small mercies.”

Yuzuru looked over at Javier who put on his ears with a flourish and turned around.

 

“And what are we supposed to do with these?” he asked, pointing at the matching ribbons.

“I dunno.”

“I’ll tie mine around my neck”, Stephane announced.

“Kinky”, Johnny said. "Me too.”

Javier twirled the ribbon around his fingers thoughtfully. He looked round, almost everyone seemed to be following Stephane’s advice.

“Yeah, no – I’ll pass on that”, he decided, and tied the ribbon around his wrist instead.

He glanced over at Yuzuru, who had finished putting on his cat ears and was now trying to tie the ribbon around his neck, with little success. Javier approached him.

“May I help?”

“Mhm”, Yuzuru nodded. "I'm not good with ties. Or ribbons, apparently."

“This needs to be a little higher, I think. How’s this? Is it okay? Shall I tie it like this?”

Their eyes met in the mirror. Yuzuru nodded again.

“I’m gonna be a wild cat. No ribbon around my neck”, Javier proclaimed, tying the ribbon gently.

Yuzuru snorted.

“Fine, you go wild, Javi-cat.”

Javier had finished tying the ribbon but his fingers still lingered at the back of Yuzuru’s neck, brushing gently. Yuzuru’s eyes met his in the mirror again.

“Do you like playing kitten, Yuzu? You like being a cute kitten?” Javier asked him half-playful, half-teasing, but with an undertone of something that seemed to imply Javier wouldn’t mind if Yuzuru played the cute kitten for him.

Yuzuru could feel his hackles rising in annoyance. He wasn’t in the mood to play with Javier now that he already had him, now that he could finally unapologetically be himself around Javier. So he shrugged, and answered in a deadpan voice:

“People like.”

“I see”, Javier said, instantly grasping Yuzuru’s mood, and dropping the act. “It is a bit silly”, he agreed. “But, well, it’s acting.”

“Exactly”, Yuzuru replied. “It’s what we do.”

“Give people what they want.”

“Their fantasies. It’s called ‘Fantasy on Ice’ after all, right?”

Javier nodded:

“I get it. And I like it. I always get such a big rush out of pleasing people.”

Yuzuru couldn’t help but smile at Javier’s choice of words, and raised an eyebrow.

Entertaining them”, Javier rectified with a grin. “You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do. And me too.”

“That could almost be my fantasy. Being loved and appreciated for what I am.”

Yuzuru was always amazed at how Javier was never afraid to appear so honestly vulnerable. It made Yuzuru want to treat Javier like something precious, and at the same time it left him at a loss for words. He didn’t know how to tell Javier that he was so loved, by everyone – fans, other skaters, and – fiercely and awkwardly but steadily, by Yuzuru himself.

“I think you know that you are”, Yuzuru finally said. “Loved,” he added in a quiet murmur.

Javier smiled his self-deprecating smile, even as his eyes went soft with affection at Yuzuru’s words. Yuzuru suddenly wanted nothing more than to lay him down and cover every inch of his skin in sweet, heated kisses.

There would be time for that later.

“Hey, what would be your fantasy, Yuzu?” Javier asked, as if reading his mind.

“Winning the Olympics again”, Yuzuru answered promptly, and Javier choked on a laugh.

 

*

“Does it hurt?” Javier asked brokenly.

“No”, Yuzuru answered. “Harder, please.”

There was actually a slight pain but the excitement of finally doing this with Javier was melting it and transforming it into arousal. Yuzuru was watching Javier intently, laser focused on every change in his expression, any flicker in his eyes, any hitch in his breath, and was displeased when he was turned over on his stomach.

“It’s easier like this for you”, Javier explained. “You’ll see it’s also very pleasurable.”

Of course Javier was right, it was easier for him to penetrate Yuzuru in this position and the jolt of sensation Yuzuru felt was so intense, that his body seized up, overcome with this new sweet high. Yuzuru closed his eyes. He could only imagine Javier’s face by the way he gripped his hips and the hitched desperate sound of his breathing.

“Oh, es muy deleitable”, Javier stuttered out, voice wrecked, “me está matando.”

Javier’s fingers were trembling where they gripped Yuzuru’s hips bruisingly, his cock delving cock deeper and deeper inside him. Yuzuru reached back, placing his hand over one of Javier’s and dug his nails in. Javier swallowed audibly and asked:

“Do you like it? Is it good? Tell me, what do you need?”

“It’s good but I want to see you.”

They had shared such intimate closeness up until now, staring into each other’s eyes as they made each other come, lavishing each other with focused sensual attention. Now they finally got to the actual sex, and they weren’t even facing each other, and that felt strangely impersonal to Yuzuru.

“Just a little more like this, baby”, Javier murmured coaxingly. “Only till you loosen a little.”

Javier pressed hot open-mouthed kisses on his shoulders, and it was so easy for Yuzuru to get lost in all these sensations, reach a hand to touch his cock and come like this embarrassingly fast. But he didn’t want that, he wanted to see Javier and then he’d allow himself to feel everything. Finally after a while, the glide was easier, and Javier pulled out and turned Yuzuru on his back.

“Open your legs more. Keep them like this”, Javier said, then pushed back inside slowly. “Good?”

“Harder”, Yuzuru demanded, arching his back. “Faster.”

“Nah”, Javier answered, with a strained smile. “We’re going at my pace this time.”

That pace was deep, slow strokes that fanned the fire in Yuzuru’s belly and stole his breath with every push and pull, tearing needy, desperate sounds from his throat that he would’ve been embarrassed by if he weren’t so turned on. Yuzuru felt like he was running a high fever - sweaty, trembling and breathless, ears ringing with white noise, his entire body was one raw nerve, sensitive to Javier’s every touch and the agonizing push and pull of his member in and out of his body, hitting that spot inside him that made him moan, but only enough as to keep him on the edge. His glazed eyes were fixed on Javier, hungrily reading every change in expression on his passion-ravaged face. Yuzuru reached up and pulled Javier down to him into a messy kiss.

“You’re gonna have to...go faster soon”, Yuzuru whispered as he let go, but not before he sucked at Javier's earlobe, with just a hint of teeth.

Javier groaned and lost it, giving Yuzuru what he wanted, driving into him with unrestrained lust. That was it, the pressure was finally right, a little on the side of too much, but perfect, when combined with the beautiful, wrecked look on Javier’s face, like having Yuzuru like this was the only thing keeping him from drowning – Yuzuru gripped his own cock, and tugged at it desperately, because it was too much, and the need to come was overwhelming. As the climax hit him with almost unbearable sweetness, Yuzuru opened his mouth to cry out, but he had no air left in his lungs to make a sound. He gasped, trying to gulp in air, choking on a soundless scream, as his climax stretched further, into a blinding light of pleasure as he could never imagine feeling before, clutching at Javier who thrust into him fiercely a few more times, and then came as well, shuddering. Yuzuru felt it like a mirror image of his own extended climax, overcome with the feeling of Javier utterly losing it in his arms.

“I never thought it could feel like this – so incredible”, Yuzuru whispered, when he finally found his voice.

“It only ever feels like this with me”, Javier whispered back.

He looked over at Yuzuru seriously, then burst into laughter when he saw Yuzuru looking back at him, eyes wide. Yuzuru smiled, understanding both the joke and the serious message behind it.

“And I’m just supposed to take your word for it?” he teased, affectionately.

Yes”, Javier answered. “And in return, I promise you that it will always feel like this.”

 

*

“It’s about time to focus on your own program, Javi”.

Javier startled. He had been distractedly watching Yuzuru for a while now. The sad thing was that he didn’t even notice he was doing it. Because yes, there had been other times when he had stared consciously, with intent.

Those words from any other coach would have been a sign of amusement, but Javier knew Brian well enough to tell when he was close to being genuinely annoyed, and veiling it under a mask of sarcasm and politeness.

He nodded briskly at Brian and started working on his jumps with added zeal, to make up for it.

That night in bed, Javier kissed Yuzuru tenderly, and said, choosing his words carefully:

“I think I should work at practice more. I feel I’m not doing enough.”

Yuzuru hummed in approval. That was something he could always agree with, the desire to work harder.

“At times I stop and realize that instead of doing what I’ve been told to do, I’m stuck watching you for a minute or so. And it’s not even that kind of watching where I analyze your skating or try to get something useful out of it for myself. I’m just...watching you, mindlessly.”

“You’ve always been watching me”, Yuzuru murmured, pulling Javier closer and settling comfortably against him, with a happy sigh. “And I’ve always been watching you. Why is this a problem now?”

“Because apparently it’s been happening often enough to interfere with my practice now”, Javier explained, calmly but seriously, caressing Yuzuru’s hair. “Brian told me off a few times already. And it’s Olympic season. I need to be serious about what I’m doing. Not that I wasn’t serious before....you know what I mean.”

Yuzuru’s eyes were closed as he pushed into Javier’s hand caressing him, enjoying the touch, but as he reflected on Javier’s words, he opened his eyes, blinking in confusion.

“So, what are you saying?” he asked.

Javier took a deep breath, and went with it:

“I think we should train separately this season. I think it would help me focus.”

There was a small pause, during which Javier prayed Yuzuru wouldn’t take this the wrong way. But Yuzuru looked  up at him and smiled warmly. He kissed Javier, gently and reassuringly, stroking his face, then he said: 

“I think it’s a good idea, Javi, if it helps you. You should do your best. You’re right, it’s Olympic season and we must all do our very best.”

Then Yuzuru settled back down in Javier’s hold and entangled their legs together.

Javier smiled and tightened his hold briefly in silent gratitude for Yuzuru’s quick and complete understanding.

 

The next day, Javier went to Brian and told him of his decision to train separately from Yuzuru.

“I’ve already talked about this with Yuzu and he agreed.”

“Interesting”, was Brian’s only comment. “If that’s what you want, I’ll arrange it. But you’ll still have some classes together, like stroking, for instance. Can’t work it out otherwise.”

“That’s fine, no problem,” Javier reassured him. He didn’t want to bother Brian too much, he thought his coach looked particularly tired and hassled lately.

“What are your goals for the Olympics, Javi? I know we’ve been talking about this, but I’ve never asked you outright.”

Javier thought about it.

“I want to medal”, he answered.

“That’s it?” Brian said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong – these are your goals, and we’ll work with what you want, to get you there. But I figured you’d want more. At Sochi you were only a step away from the podium.”

“And if I had got on the podium then, I might have retired”, Javier shrugged. “An Olympic medal is what I want, the colour doesn’t matter. It’s crazy difficult to get it, in any case. I’m being realistic. If I could get a medal for Spain, I would make the news. Then people back home would pay attention to the sport, maybe. I can hope, right? That’s what I want.”

“I understand”, Brian smiled. “It’s all good, Javi. We’ll get you there.”

 

*

Everything seemed to be going great, but the wheels were already set in motion for that to change, everything poised to fall apart like a delicate well-balanced glass teetering on the edge.

It started with Brian falling ill. He had been stressed and overworked lately, although he was always masking it with his innate geniality, but it seemed to come to a head just as the Grand Prix season was underway. His health issues could no longer be ignored and he was hospitalized  and scheduled for surgery.

His students were suddenly adrift. They never felt neglected, under the watchful eyes of the other coaches, but Brian was a steady, comforting presence in the daily routine of their practice and without him, they suddenly saw the impending Olympics not as an exciting challenge, but a source of crippling anxiety.

Javier was taking it the worst. He was moody and veered between working himself into a frenzy and slacking off entirely.

“It’s getting more and more difficult”, he complained to Yuzuru one evening. “I feel like my body hardly listens to me anymore. It’s giving up on me.”

“No, it doesn’t”, Yuzuru answered distractedly, but sternly. “You have to make it listen to you”.

Javier looked over at Yuzuru, who was sitting up in bed, laptop on his knees, surrounded by papers and pencils. He was wearing his glasses, which further emphasized his aura of merciless authority. 

“You look funny like this”, Javier snickered.

He watched Yuzuru for a while, as he carefully wrote down a series of symbols, with the same childishly focused attention and care he gave everything. When he got bored of watching, Javier climbed on the bed next to him, and kissed Yuzuru’s neck.

“Don’t, Javi”, Yuzuru said. “I’m busy. And very tired.”

“I only kissed you”, Javier said, argumentatively. “I’m not allowed to kiss you now?”

“Kissing usually leads to other things and right now I’m not in the mood.”

That wasn’t true, there were many days when they both came home tired and wanted to do nothing but kiss and fall asleep in each other’s arms. Javier didn’t mention it, because he knew it was useless to try and reach Yuzuru when he was like this. Yuzuru hadn’t said an affectionate word to him all evening, seemingly ignoring how messed up Javier was. Even now, as he was rejecting him, Yuzuru could have added something like ‘but we can cuddle instead’ or ‘stay close to me.’ Didn’t he know Javier was reaching his breaking point, doubting everything, including what he was doing in Toronto, when he could be at home right now, in the warm comfort of his parents’ house, without the pressure and pain that came with expectations to achieve the impossible? Maybe Yuzuru was so unreceptive to Javier when he was like this because he himself never had such moments. Or maybe Yuzuru was having one of those very moments at the same time, but needed to deal with it differently. He sat quiet and still as a statue, seemingly having forgotten entirely about Javier’s presence next to him, and he was replaying the same performance over and over again, zooming in and slowing down a specific jump. He looked so focused that Javier doubted Yuzuru would notice if Javier were to stand up and leave the apartment altogether. Something clenched in Javier’s heart, even as he did his best to ignore it. He needed affection and reassurance, needed it like air in that moment, but Yuzuru was entirely unreachable, shutting Javier out completely, as he was in the habit of doing from time to time – and it always drove Javier mad. Except this time, it just made him feel sad, and hopeless, and too proud to ask for what he needed. 


*

Javier falling apart at the Cup of China momentarily shook a dazed Yuzuru from his self-absorbed focus. He was waiting for Javier back at his apartment, when he arrived from Shanghai, exhausted and depressed, dark circles under his eyes.

Javier nodded when he saw Yuzuru, too tired to react otherwise, dropped his bags on the floor, took off his jacket and slumped on the bed. There was silence for a while, and Yuzuru tiptoed quietly to pick up a blanket and place it carefully over Javier’s motionless body, smoothing it down, glancing to see if Javier was already asleep. When he saw that Javier’s eyes were open, Yuzuru sat on the bed, hovering over him, concerned. He ran a slow hand through Javier’s hair, and asked, his words as tentative as his touch, because Javier might not want to talk at all about his disastrous 6th place finish, but Yuzuru had to ask:

“Are you alright?”

“No”, Javier answered truthfully. “I feel sick. And humiliated. And I want to cry.”

Yuzuru put both arms around him and rocked him slowly.

“Poor Javi. Cup of China is cursed, I told you.”

Javier gave a wet laugh, as he struggled to reign in his tears.

“You can cry, Javi”, Yuzuru said, rubbing at his chest lightly. “It does good to cry sometimes. Does your stomach still hurt? Want some tea?”

“No.”

“I want to take care of Javi like a good little wife, right?” Yuzuru said lightly, to brighten the mood.

“Please don’t say that, it still makes me cringe that those idiots took it so literally. Bunch of dicks. I hate journalists.” Javier punched the pillow, channeling all his desperate frustration into anger at the faceless nameless media. But he didn’t have the energy to go on and his anger dissipated. Instead, he was left drained and bitter – no amount of anger from himself, and no amount of affection from Yuzuru could drown out the sorrow and regret gnawing at his insides.

“I’m so sorry, Javi,” Yuzuru said, voice tight, like he was about to cry as well.

Javier sniffed, and tried to shrug.

“Me too. But there’s nothing to be done about it. Nothing to do but pick myself up and keep going.”

“Yes, keep going, Javi. We’ll be together on the podium at the Olympics. I just know it.”

“... I’m not thinking that far. I hope I’ll do well at Europeans. And at Nationals.”

“Of course you will. And keep thinking about the Olympics, Javi. You can do it. I believe in you. I trust you. There’s no one who deserves it more.”

“...I think I’ll sleep.”

Yuzuru stood up and picked another blanket, wrapping Javier in it, arms and all trapped inside, like in a cocoon. Yuzuru lay back down and pulled the Javi-wrap tightly into his arms.

“Sleep, Javi,” he murmured. “I’ll take care of you.”

“...Why have you made me into a burrito, Yuzu?”

Yuzuru laughed loudly.

“Because you need to be wrapped up and held tightly, like this.”

“I can’t move my arms.”

“Why do you want to move your arms for?”

Javier huffed. Despite everything, it felt good. Yuzuru was holding him safe and warm, and he was a source of steady strength. Maybe Javier could borrow some of it.

“Nevermind. Good night, Yuzu.” He gave in and leaned back against Yuzuru, who kissed the side of his face softly.

“Good night, Javi.”

 

*

Javier reached automatically for his ringing phone in the darkness, and clicked accept, muttering something nondescript in greeting, still half asleep. There was a silence, in which the phone wasn’t ringing anymore and the person at the other end of the line wasn’t speaking, and Javier almost fell asleep again, phone abandoned on the pillow. Then he heard:

“Javi...?”

The sound was familiar yet alien to his own ears, and it took him a while to process it. It was Yuzuru’s voice, but small and broken and so thick with tears, that it made Javier’s blood run cold. For a few long seconds, he believed he had woken up from a nightmare which still lingered on his mind, but the shuffling at the other end of the line told him this wasn’t a dream.

“Yes....?” he whispered, heart beating wildly from being abruptly awakened in the dead of the night by a crying Yuzuru. “What’s going on?” he asked, terrified of any possible answers. His first thought - as irrational as his mindless panic, was of Brian, who was in hospital, having surgery - ‘Please God, let him be okay’, Javier thought.

“Javi”, Yuzuru repeated. “Something bad happened to me today...” – he trailed off into a series of heartbreaking sobs, and Javier sat up in bed, beside himself with worry.

“Yuzu, what happened? Where are you? Are you alright? Do you need help?”

Javier could hear Yuzuru’s heavy breathing over the phone, as he was trying to speak through tears.

“I’m sorry I woke you up, Javi”, Yuzuru said finally. “I know it's night in Toronto. But I really needed to hear your voice.”

“You are scaring me, you know. I’m about to start crying myself. Tell me what happened! Are you hurt?”

“Yes, I... jumped the quad lutz today in practice. I fell and my ankle was twisted underneath me. I think I broke it. Not sprained, broken.”

“The doctors...”

“They said they don’t know – that I should see how it feels.”

Javier was rubbing at his temples, frowning, trying to restart his still fuzzy brain.

“What do you mean they don’t know? They didn’t do an x-ray?”

“....The venue doctors, Javi”, Yuzuru sighed, impatiently, as if this was not relevant.

“But you didn’t go to a hospital afterwards?” Javier voiced out, bewildered.

“Not yet”, Yuzuru said. “I somehow know it’s bad, worse even than before, and I’m afraid. Hurts so much, hurts all the time, even with painkillers.”

“It probably came right on top of your old injury and it’s worse than it would’ve been if this had been your first”, Javier mused. If only you’d listened, he wanted to say.

“I’ll deal with it”, Yuzuru said, his voice a little stronger, with a hint of his usual determination. “Thank you for listening, Javi.”

“Wait, Yuzu – what are you going to do?”

“What do you mean? I just said I’ll deal with it. Oh and please, don’t tell anyone about this. No one must know how bad it is.”

“Yuzu...”

“I feel better already. It helped me, to listen to your voice, Javi. I knew it would. I love you so much.”

“Yuzuru, if you love me so much then listen to me, please: No more skating while injured.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m saying you should withdraw.”

“Withdraw?? From NHK?... Javi is funny.”

“If you skate, and the injury is as bad as you say it feels, even if you do manage to bear the pain, hell, maybe you’ll even win, but you’ll be paying an unknown price every time you land a jump. And who knows when it all comes due? At the Olympics maybe?”

Yuzuru was stubbornly silent.

“I thought about this, Javi. But if I take the time off now to take care of this injury, then I won’t make the Olympics. My best hope is to manage it and trust that my will is stronger than my body. After the Olympics, I can deal with how bad it is.”

“This is insane! You need to get proper investigations, and if the doctors say you need rest, then you must rest!" 

“I’ve skated through pain before. So have you. So has everyone.”

“I’m not talking about pain. I’m talking about ignoring an injury when it can only get worse.”

“I’ve skated through injury before as well. And won.”

Javier was suddenly blinded by fury. He couldn’t keep his voice down anymore, even if he wanted to.

“So what are you gonna do then, Yuzu? Cover it up and pretend it doesn’t exist? Take painkillers to numb the pain and do everything you’re not supposed to? Act like a fucking martyr and ride the high of winning against all odds? What about when the big low comes, huh, Yuzu? Wasn’t it you who said, that after every big high comes a big low?”

“I’ll – deal with it!” Yuzuru shouted, voice rising in annoyance as well.

“Oh, you will, won’t you? And meanwhile, you’ll just lie to everyone about it – me, Brian, your personal trainer, even your mother?”

“Well, I already told you, and now I regret it!” Yuzuru shrieked. “I thought you of all people would understand! Just forget about it!”

“Yuzu”, Javier mellowed down, as it became clear to him what he had to do. “Thank you for telling me. It was the right thing to do.”

“What do you mean?” Yuzuru asked, for the third time that night, suspicion in his voice.

“Meaning I will tell Brian. No more skating while injured, Yuzu.”

“Javi, you can’t tell him – please –“

“Actually, not Brian just yet, although he’ll find out eventually too, but Ghislain, who’s there with you.”

“No, don’t – he’ll make me withdraw.”

“Exactly. I’m hanging up now so I can call him - I’ll call you right back afterwards.“

“Javi don’t do this to me, I’ll never trust you again – you hear me? Javi?”

Javier muttered:

“It’s for your own good, Yuzu”, and ended the call.

After he had finished talking with Ghislain, Javier’s compassion for Yuzuru had all but given way to a familiar feeling of frustration, like he was dealing with a troublesome child. He found out that it was worse than he thought, Yuzuru was going through the competition while suffering from a persistent high fever which had yet to break. He was given medication for it although the underlying cause could not be determined. That made the ridiculous quad lutz attempt in practice even more ill advised. It was again that insane determination with Yuzuru to conquer his body like its aches and needs did not matter. It made Javier seethe with fury. He called Yuzuru and let his phone ring with the patience of the righteously angry until Yuzuru finally got tired of ignoring it and answered:

“Why did you jump the quad lutz when you had a fever?” Javier demanded immediately as the call connected. “What exactly are you trying to prove? And to whom?”

Yuzuru remained stubbornly quiet.

“You still have a fever, don’t you? Ghislain told you specifically to take it easy. Do you ever listen, Yuzu?”

“So you really did call Ghislain...”, Yuzuru finally said, mournfully. “You betrayed me, Javi. I’ll never forgive you for that.”

“Why did you jump the stupid quad lutz, Yuzu?” Javier insisted. “Ghislain told me, you tried the quad loop several times too, and made mistakes, and instead of sticking to the basics like a normal person would’ve done, you decided to tempt fate-“

“You can’t possibly understand this,” Yuzuru bit out, “but it’s NHK, the people expect me to –“

“Expect you to what? Break your fucking neck? You could’ve won with just the toe and sal! You should know better than this by now! God, I wish I had been there, I'd have stopped you!”

This seemed to enrage Yuzuru as well:

“Stopped me how? You don’t own me! And I’m not your responsibility! You’re my rival, not my coach! Why don’t you look after yourself instead, Javi! You messed up so bad in China, you blew your chances to get to the final!”

“Yeah, well, at least I’m not in crutches!”

“I wanted to confess to you because I couldn’t tell anyone. But I wanted to tell you, and hear your voice saying that it’s going to be okay. I was stupid to trust you!”

“No, Yuzu, you did very well to trust me. And it is going to be okay. We’ll help you now. It’s okay to ask for help sometimes, you know.”

“Goodbye, Javi.”

The line went dead. Javier looked at his phone and sighed. He fell back on the bed and tried in vain to get back to sleep.

Chapter Text

“No, stop”, Yuzuru shouted as Javier crashed into him, arms tight around his body.

“Finally you’re back! I missed you so much”, Javier groaned, and buried his face in Yuzuru’s shoulder.

Yuzuru twitched in annoyance.

“Cut it out,” he said, coldly.

“I was really worried about you. I know you’re angry with me, but did I really deserve this total radio silence, huh, Yuzu?” Javier rambled on. He still hadn’t registered Yuzuru’s cold tone or the fact that Yuzuru wasn’t hugging him back. “But I’m so glad you’re alright, and back on the ice.”

“I’m not”, Yuzuru said. “Not alright, and not back on the ice. But soon I will be, and then nothing will stop me. Not you, not anyone else. Now let me go, or I kick you.”

“What?” Javier reacted, stunned. His arms dropped from around Yuzuru and he took a step back, hesitantly, as if still expecting to be told that this was all a big joke. His bewilderment and hurt morphed to concern as he finally took a good look at Yuzuru, who stared right back at Javier with a fierce expression which bordered on frightening. Yuzuru looked gaunt and gloomy, pronounced dark circles around his red-rimmed eyes, the corners of his chapped pale lips turned firmly down, a cluster of pimples on his forehead marring his normally flawless skin.

“You look awful”, Javier blurted out. “Please, I just – “ he reached out a hand instinctively, to soothe and comfort.

“Stay away from me”, Yuzuru said, voice breaking only slightly. “I don’t need your help, or your worry. I want to be alone.”

 

^

“How is the pain now? And please don’t lie to me, Yuzuru. Lying to me never ended well.”

Yuzuru hesitated.

“Like pins and needles in my feet everytime I skate”, he answered, truthfully. “Much worse when I spin or jump. When I land, it’s like treading on sharp knives.”

Brian winced, and was quiet for a while, as he digested that. He looked at Yuzuru warily, as if gouging his reaction to his own words.

“But I’m okay with it”, Yuzuru went on, in a rush. “I can deal with the pain. I want to win the gold medal. I have to. I don’t care if afterwards I can’t walk, I have to get to Pyeongchang and win.”

“Okay... Okay. We can work with this. You had some solid training before this happened and it will pay off. But you have to listen to me, and do what I say. You train what I say, when I say. When I say stop, you stop.”

Yuzuru nodded.

“And no more playing the hero. We will go about this rationally, mathematically even.”

“Yes”, Yuzuru nodded again, energetically.

“But if you try going for new records or attempt the lutz again, then you’ll not only fail, but most likely never skate again.”

Yuzuru shuddered at that, but answered, defiantly:

“I get the Olympic gold - I don’t care what happens afterwards.”

“So you keep saying. But I agree, one step at a time. Do we have a deal, Yuzu? Are we gonna work together on this, and are you going to listen to me?”

“Yes. Thank you. I will.”

Yuzuru extended his hand and bowed slightly. They shook hands, in their usual way, formal, yet affectionate.

“There’s one more thing, Brian. This stays between us – what I’ve just told you....about the pain. No one else must know, or soon the media will be all over me. And then everyone will know how weak I am.”

“Do you want to tell them you’ve healed?” Brian asked bewildered.

“They already know I’m injured, but they must not know how much or that I can barely set foot on the ice without screaming.”

“So what do you want to tell them?”

“Nothing.”

“That will make them even more suspicious. They might even say you’re faking your injury.”

“Why...why would they even say that?” Yuzuru asked, frustrated.

Brian shrugged:

“Because they’re journalists. They need stories to live. If you don’t give them a story, they’ll make one up.”

“Let them make it up then!” Yuzuru exclaimed furiously. “Let them think I’m actually healthy and training quad axel in secret! Let them worry about what I’m going to do! Maybe I’m gonna turn into a bird and fly at their faces!”

“What about Javi? Are you going to keep him in the dark as well?”

Yuzuru drew in a shaky breath.

“I’ll deal with Javi.”

“Yuzu, I need you not to mess with him, please. Not now. You’re both emotionally ruined and the stakes are high for the both of you. It wouldn’t be fair. I just want the both of you to do your best.”

Yuzuru clenched his teeth.

“I bet he’s happy to see me like this. No matter how he says he isn’t... He’s thinking about it – with me out of the way, he can deal with the rest, who are younger and the pressure of their first olympics will probably get to them. I’m sure he thinks about it. He’s one step closer to his ‘impossible dream’. But he won’t get it. So you won’t tell him, what I just told you. Javi mustn’t know how bad I’m doing.”

“He’ll see you and work it out for himself,” Brian said, looking at Yuzuru a little coldly, to hear him talk about Javier like this.

“Not if you change our schedule so that we have no ice time at all together.”

“You know I can’t do that. I’ve already changed schedules around to give you more private practice time and to keep you training separately. You have to come to group practice with Javi if you want to keep working with me.”

“There has to be another way.”

“Then I suggest you work with Ghislain instead of me, and then you’ll have a different group practice and possibly more practice time.”

“Fine”, Yuzuru agreed immediately.

“Very well”, Brian said. “I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”

 

^

“I’m tired of being ignored like this when all I did was help you. You somehow arranged it so we never cross paths these days.”

“You’re the one who asked for separate training time first. You should be happy.”

“How can you say it like that? You know why I asked for separate training time back in July. In fact, you agreed. We both needed to focus.”

“You got your wish, I’m not there to distract you anymore.”

“You’re ridiculous. Everything is ridiculous. I have to move rinks like twice a day because you won’t share even group practice with me.”

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“You’re acting like a spoiled child.”

“Please go away, Javi. I can’t focus.”

“Not until you agree to meet me. Come to my place today after practice.”

“Not in the mood for sex.”

“Me neither. We need to talk, Yuzu.”

“Talk here.”

“You just told me to go away.”

Yuzuru sighed in annoyance.

“I wish you’d stop pretending to be such a nice guy, Javi. I know it, everyone knows it – you see the gold so close, you almost feel it in your hands. Finally, with me injured, it’s a real possibility.”

“Maybe you should stop projecting”, Javier said, voice laced with bitterness and scorn. For a second, his face softened and he looked like he was going to say more, but then his bitterness won out. “You know what, have it your way. You want to be alone, you just got your wish.”

He turned on his heels and left abruptly, Yuzuru staring after him, mouth open in surprise.

 

^

“What are you doing here at this hour?" Javier asked, a little coldly, as he opened the door to find Yuzuru on his doorstep one night. 

“You told me to come, or did you forget already?"

"That was last week. Also, I believe I said 'after practice' not 'after midnight'."

"Can I come in? There’s hell raging outside and I’m soaked to the bone.”

“Did you walk here?” Javier asked, stunned, stepping back to allow a very wet and bedraggled Yuzuru to step inside.

“Missed the last bus.”

Yuzuru sneezed, scaring Effie who had come to inspect him. Javier rolled his eyes and helped him peel off his wet coat. Yuzuru took off his similarly drenched gloves with a wince, then his shoes, and then made straight for the dresser where he kept his clothes when he stayed over.

Javier held back, no matter how much he wanted to fuss over him, or maybe scold him for going out at night during a blizzard.

“You’re going to catch a cold”, Javier said instead, rubbing at his face awkwardly.

“Can I take a shower?” Yuzuru asked over his shoulder.

“Sure”, Javier shrugged.

Yuzuru disappeared into the bathroom without another word.

Javier shook his head, and resumed his seat on the couch, in front of the playstation he’d abandoned when he had heard the doorbell ring. At some point he nodded off and woke some time later – his game was on pause, and Effie was curled beside him. Yuzuru sat a little further away, face glowing in the dim light of the lamp. Javier gradually became aware of soft hands running through his hair, as Yuzuru edged closer. As Javier’s eyes adjusted to the light, he saw that Yuzuru was naked. Stunned, he searched Yuzuru’s face for an explanation.

“Javi,” Yuzuru whispered. “I miss you.”

Javier grunted and pulled Yuzuru into his lap. He kissed him violently, with Yuzuru giving as good as he got, pulling at Javier’s clothes in a frenzy, whipping his shirt over his head. Javier pushed him aside suddenly, and stood up.

“Where are you going?” Yuzuru asked.

Javier ignored him, as he rummaged into the bedside cabinet for the lube.

“I already...” Yuzuru started, then trailed off. “I’m all ready, Javi.”

He blushed furiously and Javier’s brain short-circuited when he realized what he meant.

“When...when did you?”

“In the bathroom...just now.”

“Were you so sure, then? That this would happen.”

“I knew what I wanted and I was sure you’d want it too.”

“But then... does this mean-”

“Everything has to mean something with you...”, Yuzuru drawled. “This doesn’t mean what you think.”

“So why are you here, then?” Javier asked, affronted.

Yuzuru gestured at his naked body impatiently and looked at Javier pointedly like it was obvious.

“You want it, too,” he challenged.

“This is exactly the sort of thing I didn’t want  when we first started this relationship, Yuzu”, Javier shook his head, smiling sadly at the memories.

“Okay”, Yuzuru said. “I’ll go.”

With deliberate slowness, he stood up and and made a show of looking around for his clothes – there was a slight smile playing on his lips even before Javier had grabbed him, and he bit his lip to hide it as Javier turned him around.

“You’re not going anywhere tonight. If you came here for this, you’ll get it, and more.”

Yuzuru’s smirk faded as Javier’s hands framed his face, the touch familiar and laced with meaning between them, as he continued: 

“But you owe me a talk, and an apology, or tomorrow we go our separate ways.”

“Fine by me,” Yuzuru answered.

Javier pushed Yuzuru face down on the bed and spread his legs a little clinically. He didn’t bother taking off his own pants, he just took his cock out and stroked it a few times for good measure.

He knew Yuzuru wasn’t fond of this position. Well, if he wanted differently, he should say so. Yuzuru said nothing, but keened when Javier bottomed out inside him, followed by the choked little gasps that Javier liked so much, as soon as he started moving. In the end it was Javier who gave in. He wanted to see Yuzuru’s face wrecked with pleasure and know that Yuzuru wanted him, even if only for this moment, even if everything went to hell afterwards. Javier pulled out abruptly, making Yuzuru gasp in shock at the sudden loss. He stood up and pulled Yuzuru up as well in a smooth motion, turning him around, and pushing him against the nearest wall. Yuzuru’s eyes widened in surprise, but his hands landed on Javier’s shoulder, squeezing with encouragement.They had experimented with many positions, but they had never done it like this before.

“Legs around me”, Javier guided Yuzuru, and Yuzuru wrapped his legs around Javier’s waist immediately, propping one arm on the wall behind him, and another around Javier’s neck, pupils entirely black with arousal, breathing fast and shaky. Javier entered him in one swift thrust. He didn’t know how long he could keep this position, but he wanted to make the most of it, especially since Yuzuru seemed to love it, judging by the myriad of blissful expressions that showed on his face and the way his legs tightened around Javier’s waist like a lifeline.

“Mine”, Javier challenged with every thrust. “Mine.”

Yuzuru hated that overbearing side of Javier in the cold light of day, as much as he loved it in bed. A jolt of hot arousal pierced him through even as he wondered if Javier meant it as an affirmation, a wish, or just something randomly voiced out in the heat of the moment.

Thud. Yuzuru’s head hit the wall. “Mine.”

“Javi!” Yuzuru screamed, tightening his legs around Javier’s waist further, ankles pressing into the softness of Javier’s ass. A stream of unintelligible Japanese escaped him, then Yuzuru buried his face in Javier’s neck, lips and teeth attacking it as he came, jerking in Javier’s hold.

Si, si eso es-”, Javier mumbled, too far gone to care what he was saying. Yuzuru went limp, as he always did in the aftermath of an orgasm, his legs slipping from around Javier’s waist, and they both slid to the floor.

Javier gripped Yuzuru’s hips tightly as he chased his own climax - dimly aware that being pounded against the hard floor wasn’t ideal for Yuzuru’s back, but again unwilling to do anything about it, unless he was specifically asked. He wasn’t. Yuzuru seemed content to lie accommodatingly still, breathing shallow and eyes half-closed in bliss, as he allowed Javier to do as he pleased until he finally reached his climax, with an unrestrained cry.

“Beautiful, Javi”, Yuzuru mouthed the words, but didn’t utter them out loud.  

 

Yuzuru winced as he stood up, on shaky legs. His muscles were pleasantly sore all over, but it was the good kind of pain, like after an intense workout. It seemed that Javier had missed him just as much as Yuzuru had missed Javier, despite the fact that he had essentially given Yuzuru an ultimatum. Or maybe precisely in the aftermath of that, Javier wanted to make sure he’d leave them both with some lasting memories. Yuzuru didn’t get more than a few minutes of fitful sleep last night, in between being screwed within an inch of his life against all available surfaces in Javier’s apartment. It had been wonderful and exactly what Yuzuru had wanted. A healthy dose of Javi medicine to take the edge off. Yuzuru felt calm and strong, despite the lack of sleep. Far from being hazy, his mind was clearer than usual. He knew exactly what he had to do, and for the first time, he saw his path to Pyeongchang, straight and laid out in front of him. It was all so simple: he needed to make himself believe that he could do it, get his mind and body to work in unison and then the reality in his mind would reflect on the outside.

He went into the shower quietly, careful not to wake Javier. When he emerged, he was still pondering his resolution and so absorbed by it, that he entirely missed that Javier was awake and watching him.

“You’re leaving”, Javier said brusquely, startling him. “So that means no talk.”

Yuzuru froze momentarily in the middle of putting on his t-shirt, but then his lips set and he finished pulling it down firmly.

“I can’t forgive you, Javi”, he said.

“Forgive me?” Javier laughed humourlessly. “It’s you who should ask for my forgiveness, for the way you’ve been treating me.”

“You don’t understand, what I’ve been through, and what I’m still going through –“

“Tell me, then, damn it, I’m here, I’m listening-”, Javier interjected.

“... and you never will, you lost that right to know when you betrayed me. The pain, the uncertainty, the fear – they’re mine to bear. I won’t make the same mistakes again.”

“...Why did you come here, Yuzuru? Was it because I was the one who turned my back on you, for once?”

“No”, Yuzuru shook his head, dismissing the accusation. “You were my first, Javi. My only. It’s not so easy to let you go –“

“Right”, Javier interrupted. “This to say, you want me hanging around, giving you what you need, but only when you decide that you need it, and you only give something back when you feel like it. You’re easily the most selfish, self-centred person I’ve ever met.”

“You knew how I was before”, Yuzuru argued disdainfully. “First time I hear you complain.”

“You told me things, hurtful things”, Javier went on. “You pretty much accused me of preventing you from training so I could beat you at the Olympics. When in fact, everything I did was out of concern for your well being.”

Yuzuru paused.

“I'm sorry about that. It was stupid to say. I know you want to win, but you’d never want to win unfairly.”

“But you still hate me. I look into your eyes and I see so much resentment, it’s scaring me.”

“I don’t hate you”, Yuzuru muttered. “I wish it were all that simple.”

There was a pause.

“I’m tired of complicated things”, Javier sighed, and he did look, in that moment, utterly exhausted. “Let’s try and be”, he made a vague gesture – “if not friendly, then at least civil, until the Olympics are over. It’s gonna help both of us.”

“Yes, it will help us. I don’t want to go to Pyeongchang with any bad thoughts.”

“Great. Finally, we can agree on something.”

^

“Congratulations for the Europeans”, Yuzuru told Javier, as the latter walked into the locker room, his first day at practice after returning from Russia.

“Thank you”, Javier smiled brightly.

“You look good”, Yuzuru offered.

“I feel good, actually. Feels great to medal, finally. I needed it.”

“Builds confidence”, Yuzuru agreed, busily tying his skates. “For the Olympics.”

Javier turned to face him, and looked at him for a few seconds, appraisingly, before he gathered his courage, and coughed, a little awkward.

“Listen”, Javier began, “I’ve been wanting to.... There’s something I need to say.”

“Can it wait? I have to start warm-up.”

“It won’t take long. Thing is this...well - I met someone. Actually, I’ve known her for a while, but recently, it’s been... I realized it’s turning into something more than a warm and steady friendship. I realize we’re looking at each other now and we both want more. I.. I told her that after the Olympics, we will -”

Yuzuru fixed Javier with an inscrutable stare.

“Why are you telling me this?” he interrupted.

“Because I’m starting something new with this woman. And I don’t want it to be built on a lie.”

“Do you love her?” Yuzuru asked bluntly.

“Y-yeah, I think I do”, Javier stammered. “At least I want to give myself the chance to.”

“I’m not asking about the future”, Yuzuru interrupted harshly. “Who knows what may happen in the future. I may die. I may never walk or skate again, and then no one will love me. But now. Now. Do you love her more than me?”

“Fuck. Yuzu”, Javier closed his eyes briefly. “I don’t – I don’t even know....”, he stammered, blinking rapidly at the onslaught of Yuzuru’s words.

“You don’t know if you love her?” Yuzuru insisted, coolly keeping his composure, while Javier was breaking apart. “Do you miss being with a woman?”

“No – Yuzu – that’s not it.”

“Someone who speaks your language and understands you better, someone soft and comforting who doesn’t challenge you...”

Javier flinched, as if Yuzuru’s sharp words were a vivisection. In a way, they were. He didn’t deny that last part.

“....Someone uncomplicated”, Yuzuru went on, doggedly. “Someone who is there for you, instead of asking you to be there for them....”

“What do you want me to say?” Javier looked up at Yuzuru, eyes wide with raw pain.

There was an answering flicker in Yuzuru’s eyes, before it faded.

“That it’s true”, he replied.

“Then, it’s true”, Javier agreed, exhausted. He rubbed a hand over his face. “Happy now?”

“No, I’m not. But it doesn’t matter. I wanted the truth.”

“I never want you to be unhappy. Really, Yuzu, I care about you so much. But I feel like.... maybe we should just pick a continent, you know what I mean?  I know which one I’ll pick.”

Most of what Javier said didn’t register or was lost in translation in Yuzuru’s mind, but Javier’s last words echoed vividly: ‘I know which one I’ll pick.’ Of course he did. And whatever Javier picked, didn’t include Yuzuru any longer. 

^

Javier was acutely aware of all the cameras in the green room as Yuzuru started shaking and crying convulsively in his arms. He was himself close to crying for a myriad of reasons, the most important of them being that he realized, with a comforting finality, that this was it – possibly his last time in a competition. The thought was nostalgic and bittersweet. He wondered what Yuzuru would make of it.

As they waited for the venue ceremony to start, Javier had reached the decision that it was common courtesy to impart to his fellow medalists the decision he had reached. He pulled in both Shoma and Yuzuru, thinking nothing of it, as he shared his emotions and explained that this competition would be his last. Shoma nodded, with his usual distracted air, and Javier wondered how much he actually understood. Nevertheless, he smiled at him warmly, and Shoma smiled back. He would miss all this, he’d miss it so much, but – Javier suddenly became aware of his shoulder being shaken so desperately, he momentarily feared it would be pulled out of joint. He turned to see Yuzuru, face twisted in a grimace of sorrow, tears pouring alarmingly fast down his cheeks.

“No”, he was repeating, shaking Javier and twisting his head from one side to another in childish denial. “No, no, no. I can’t – I can’t do this without you-“

Javier was briefly alarmed at the fact that Yuzuru was too far gone to care about the cameras, or else seemed intent to make a spectacle of it, and pulled him in, to give them some privacy. Yuzuru buried his face in Javier’s shoulder and dissolved into unrestrained tears. Javier mumbled to him, as he held him:

“Of course you can, and you will, you’ll be alright, I’m so proud of you, shhh- stop crying, please, there are so many cameras around and I’m nervous, how do you even have any tears left at this point, you’ve been crying for hours-”

He didn’t know how much of his words registered to Yuzuru, who was in a full-blown crisis.

“It will all come due for me, at the Olympics – you said, and you were right – it’s over for me, I’m done for, it’s over”, he blabbered nonsensically, muffled by Javier’s shoulder.

Javier blinked, confused. He hadn’t expected such a hysterical reaction, but as he pondered a little, he realized he should have seen it coming. Yuzuru had probably been hovering on the edge of a complete breakdown for months, and now, his goal finally achieved, he allowed himself to fully let go. The pills that he was taking, the pain he still had, it all served to amplify his emotions. And what Javier had just told him was the drop that spilled the glass. And Javier didn’t know what to do except shush him and tell him it would be alright.

Yuzuru’s convulsive crying nearly triggered an asthma attack, and he pulled away from their embrace, taking deep breaths, in what appeared to be a valiant effort to calm down. Somewhere behind them, Brian thought it was a good idea to film all this on his phone, in case the 10000 cameras and phones in the venue failed to capture it. Shoma looked at Yuzuru with a mixture of fascinated disbelief and embarrassment. An official came to formally shake their hands and Yuzuru smiled convincingly through his tears as he undertook his social duties with his usual grace. Javier was torn between fond amusement and nostalgia, at the thought that he’d soon have to say goodbye to all this craziness. He absently brushed away a stray tear of his own.

When Javier’s name was called out, and Javier made ready to step onto the ice for the ceremony, Yuzuru bowed to him – a deep, formal bow, held for more than a few beats, that struck Javier as more meaningful than anything Yuzuru had done for him. Somehow this gesture, even more than Yuzuru’s earlier words and hugs, meant the most to Javier, although he couldn’t have articulated why. With the corner of his eye, he saw Yuzuru clapping for him fiercely, as Javier skated off, and as the cameras moved to follow Javier, Yuzuru stepped further back into the shadows, his face twisting childishly as he started crying again in earnest. Javier soaked in his tears like an offering.

^

“You have a problem”, Javier told Yuzuru, as he held the door open for him. “You ignore me most of the time, except when I walk away. And then you cling to me. It’s getting predictable.”

“Yes”, Yuzuru said, as he stepped inside Javier's hotel room, pretending that he wasn't hurt by Javier’s casual tone. “I remembered as well, that snowy January night in Toronto. You were happier to see me then.”

“I wasn’t in a relationship then.”

“I didn’t come here for sex this time.”

“Why did you come?”

“To have that talk you wanted, and somehow never got to have. It’s late I know, but I just wanted to say I’m sorry. And that you were right. And that I was a jerk. And thank you. Mostly thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“You’re right, it is late. It’s one Olympic gold medal too late. Which, by the way, you could just as easily have failed to get, and then you wouldn’t have been so thankful to me. Still, I’m happy it turned out like this. I hope you can find some peace and satisfaction with yourself now. But, knowing you, that probably won’t happen.”

Yuzuru’s lips had tightened angrily when Javier mentioned the possibility of him not getting the gold medal, but when Javier finished speaking, all he said was:

“I don’t want you to retire, Javi.”

“Not this again. What do you expect me to do? I’m 27. Kids half my age are landing quads I’ll never learn.”

“Not with this attitude, you won’t.”

“I’m tired, Yuzu. Truly, deeply, bone-weary. I’m looking forward to settling down like sinking into a warm, soothing bath. No more early mornings, no more pushing your body to the limit and beyond, just quiet and peaceful domesticity.”

“With her.”

“Yes.”

“I’m happy for you, if this is what you want. But we have some unfinished business between us, I can’t let you leave until you know how terribly important you are to me.”

Yuzuru reached into his pocket and pulled out a small card, placing it in Javier’s palm.

“What is this?”

“An invitation.”

Javier scanned the card.

“An ice show?”

“The design is a work in progress”, Yuzuru said, his nose scrunching. “It’s my own ice show. I want to invite all the people who are important to me, and let all the world know what they mean to me. You are one of the most precious people in my life. Please come.”

Javier turned the small card around his fingers thoughtfully.

“Thank you for the consideration, Yuzu. But I’m going to have to pass.”

Yuzuru flinched, as if he’d been slapped.

“It’s not that I’m not grateful”, Javier hastened to explain. “I am, and deeply touched that you’d consider me as one of the people who are important to you and influenced you. But I don’t belong there with the rest of these people. I don’t have their status, or their achievements.”

“Javi”, Yuzuru sighed, in fond exasperation. “There you go again, belittling yourself!”

“More importantly”, Javier went on, “I don’t feel like I belong in your life anymore, so it wouldn’t be fair or right to pretend like I do.”

Yuzuru stopped trying to hold back his tears. It seemed like this was the day of crying because of Javier. It should have been the day of crying in happiness for winning the second gold medal – and it was that, too. But strangely enough, it was also the day which Javier had somehow taken from Yuzuru and made it about himself. If this was payback for all those times when Yuzuru took one of Javier’s days and made it all about Yuzuru, then Javier could be proud because it was an exquisite revenge.

“But just because I won’t be around you anymore, doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring for you”, Javier said, in an attempt to sweeten his rejection, “I think you know that I will always... support you and wish you the very best. From my heart, I wish you to be happy, and healthy.”

“Javi....please don’t tell me your decision now. You still have time to think about it, and I hope you will decide to come. I’m sure you’ll come. I’ll wait for you.”

^

Yuzuru sat in the stands and watched the practice for his ice show absently, clipboard in hand, his thoughts everywhere and nowhere. Johnny came off the ice and dramatically flopped on a seat close to him, taking a few sips of water, and checking his phone. Yuzuru smiled at him. He felt grateful to the people who answered his invitation but it was difficult to ignore Javier’s glaring absence. Yuzuru briefly pondered how it would have been to have Javier there as well, fooling around during warm-up, the tension of competition gone from his shoulders, the lazy, easy smile back on his lips. As if on cue, he became aware of the song that had just started – a song in Spanish, soulful and melancholy, the singer pouring his heart out. It was the kind of song that Yuzuru usually found annoying, but now, even without understanding the words, Yuzuru felt tears well up in his eyes. He knew next to nothing of Spanish, but could instinctively tell it was a breakup song, full of sadness and longing, and he couldn’t help but remember Javier speaking to him in Spanish, words he couldn’t understand but which sounded sweet and passionate, in moments when they were intimate – and now Javier was gone, really gone from Yuzuru’s life, his decision not to be at Yuzuru’s ice show more definite and revealing than any breakup letter, and it was suddenly all too much.

The song played on in the background, while Yuzuru tried to at least keep his breakdown as quiet as possible.

Hasta que te conocí vi la vida con dolor

No te miento, fui feliz, aunque con muy poco amor

Y muy tarde comprendí que no te debía amar,

Porque ahora pienso en ti más que ayer, mucho más -

Yuzuru wiped his tears furiously. He felt ruined, like Javier had taken him and changed him irredeemably. It reassured him somewhat that he was still himself enough to feel angry about it.

“Ah this song”, Johnny said, half turned towards Yuzuru, knocking his foot rhythmically into the boards. “Hasta que te conoci. Juan Gabriel. What a singer! Brings back memories. I made a program to an edit of this song. It was called, quite fittingly, I thought, I love you, I hate you. Remember it?”

“Yeah”, Yuzuru said thickly. It was no use hiding and he couldn’t stop his tears. “I thought it sounded familiar.”

Johnny turned to him in alarm, at the sound of his wrecked voice.

“Yuzu-kun...? Sugar, pet, what is it ?” Johnny asked anxiously, as he dropped to his knees in front of Yuzuru, and gasped at the sight of his tear-stained face.

Yuzuru tried to lift him up as non-conspicuously as possible. They were in a dimly lit section, but Johnny had a penchant for drama and for drawing eyes to him.

“Johnny, please don’t make a scene”, he begged.

“No scene shall be made, Yuzu-kun, pinky promise”, Johnny said, sitting back down, to Yuzuru’s relief. “But you must tell me what has put you into this state.”

“Just...this song. Makes me emotional.”

“Uh-huh”, Johnny said, pointedly. “I see. Well, who is she, then? Or - he?”

“What?” Yuzuru asked, trying to play dumb.

“Don’t ‘what’ me, honey. So many times I was turned into a crying blubbering mess like you are now, just by listening to a song, and it was always when I was in love, and he was a dick.”

Yuzuru snorted.

“He’s not a dick.”

Johnny’s mouth went comically wide, and Yuzuru almost mirrored him as he realized what he had basically admitted to.

“Please don’t ask! It’s complicated. And please, please, don’t tell anyone, Johnny”, Yuzuru begged, suddenly desperate. He really hoped Johnny would restrain himself from sharing this information.

Johnny’s delicate features set in a hard determined line.

“Don’t worry, Yuzu-kun. I won’t tell anyone.”

“Not even Stephane?” Yuzuru fidgeted, not wholly reassured.

“Not even him. I promise. And you don’t have to say any more. I think I understand everything all too well.”

Yuzuru looked at him anxiously. He wondered how much Johnny understood, and if he did, then who else might have reached the same conclusion.

But just then, Jeffrey came over, and made a face:

“Don’t slack off, Johnny!” he shouted, with a pout.

Johnny squeezed Yuzuru’s shoulder reassuringly, and went off, leaving Yuzuru to compose himself.

^

After the practice finished, Yuzuru pulled out his phone and looked up the lyrics to the song, translating them into English, then into Japanese, to make sure he didn’t miss any nuance. It was melodramatic, and it fit his mood perfectly. The ending gave him pause because it fit the gloomy path of his thoughts so well, it almost made tears well up again:

Ahora quiero que me digas

Si valió o no la pena haberte conocido,

Porque no te creo más,

Y es que tú fuiste muy mala, sí, muy mala conmigo

Por eso no te quiero, no te quiero ver jamás

He remembered Johnny’s program skated to this music – ‘I love you, I hate you’ – how very fitting indeed for what he felt for Javier in these moments. As he pondered his relationship with Javier, Yuzuru thought he could see it all clearly in retrospect, with the same resigned fatalism that made him think they had no choice but to fall into each other’s arms – they also had no choice but to eventually hurt each other and fall apart. It really couldn’t be helped – any of it. Of course, there was this or that which could have been done differently, but even so, Yuzuru reflected, the inevitable would only have been postponed.

Yuzuru knelt slowly and rummaged through a bag of clothes. He found the item he wanted at the very bottom. It was the t-shirt that Yuzuru had held in bed on that morning in Helsinki after the earthquake, that day when everything changed between Javier and him – the last time he held something of Javier’s as a substitute for the real man. Yuzuru had stolen it long ago, out of a childish impulse, to have with him during competitions when he was far away from Javier, and never gave it back. Javier had never asked for it back either and Yuzuru was sure he had forgotten about it.

Angry with himself for being so silly and childish, Yuzuru still held on to Javier’s t-shirt, crumpling it between his fingers - he fell on the bed and brought it close to his face, and he felt a little better, even though it was nothing but a piece of cloth, long-washed and plain.

^

“You have to come to Ciontu tomorrow”, Johnny said without preamble immediately after Javier answered the call.

“Uh – Excuse me?”

“Get on a plane right now, Javier.”

“What’s this about, Johnny? I already told Yuzu I couldn’t make it.”

“Well, he wants you here.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“...not as such. But he does, trust me.”

“Ohhh well, in that case, let me start packing right away!” Javier said, sarcastically. “Look, I recorded a video message. Stephane couldn’t make it either. Why are you picking on me?”

“Stephane does have other business he can’t opt out of. Can I maybe ask”, Johnny said bitchily, “what other pressing business do you have, Mr. Fernandez, that keeps you from attending?”

Javier sighed noisily, nearing the end of his patience.

“Okay, first of - I do have an event scheduled tomorrow. Second, even if I were crazy enough to cancel it, I couldn’t possibly make it in time for the show, anyway. And third, my birthday is on Sunday.”

“We’ll buy you a cake”, Johnny said, morosely.

“No, you won’t because I Won’t Be There. I’m sorry, Johnny, I have to go.”

Wait. Look, I don’t know what’s going on between you and Yuzu-kun, but if you’ve done something to him –“

“I haven’t done anything. Why do you immediately assume I’m the one who does bad things, and he’s always blameless?”

“- you’ll have me to deal with, Javier, and I’m sure you’ve heard stories about how very not nice I am-“

“I'm confused, why am I suddenly in 'Everybody loves Yuzu' sitcom and why am I the only one with self awareness?”

 “I’m watching you,” Johnny said menacingly.

"Not right now surely, unless you have a superpower that allows you to see over the phone. But, make sure you do, I hope you like what you see”, Javier snickered. “Yuzu does,” he couldn’t help adding, just to rile up Johnny.

There was a pause, during which Javier wondered if he had gone too far, but then Johnny spoke, on a different, thoughtful tone:

“Hmm. I just had an idea, Javi.”

“Oh no. Should I be scared? Your ideas are always wild.”

“You can make it to Yuzu-kun’s show after all, and not even have to get on a plane.”

“Teleport?”

“No, a more accessible kind of modern technology. The bad news is the time zone difference is gonna be a bitch... But you’ll do it, for Yuzu-kun. If you care about him at all, Javi – you’ll do it.”

^

“Did you have anything to do with this, Johnny?”

“With what, Yuzu-kun?”

“Javi couldn’t make it to my show. Now he called to tell me he will be on live camera during third day.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about, Yuzu-kun,” Johnny said, airly, but then he suddenly turned to face Yuzuru with a pointed smile: “But yes. I had everything to do with it, sugar. No one says no to me.

Yuzuru couldn’t help smiling fondly at that, even as he protested:

“I told you not to tell anyone, Johnny!”

“And I didn’t – tell anyone - who didn’t already know.”

“I don’t even want to know what you two talked about.”

“Probably for the best!”

“Oh no. What did you tell Javi?”

“Relax, Yuzu-kun. I only told him that you want him here. Now, was that a lie?”

“It wasn’t a lie. But – it’s complicated.”

“So you said. Love is complicated. But also really simple,” Johnny smiled wistfully. “Yes, quite simple and beautiful, sometimes.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it”, Yuzuru sighed dejectedly. “You see, Johnny – Javi is actually an angel. It’s me who’s the dick. And I’m so sorry. But by now it’s too late. And the worst part is, I don’t even know if I can change. Or that I want to.”

Johnny was silent for a while, as he seriously considered this.

“Change is overrated”, he finally said. “Be whoever you’re meant to be, Yuzu-kun. The people who love you will continue to love you. The people who don’t...won’t. Love can’t be merchandised or bargained.”

“So what should I do?” Yuzuru asked, wide-eyed.

Johnny reached out a hand to arrange Yuzuru’s bangs, as aesthetically as possible.

“Whatever you want,” he answered, with a cheeky smile.

^

Yuzuru entered the TCC locker room and banged the door firmly behind him. Javier startled and looked up.

“Hi, Yuzu, didn’t know you were here too-“

“I’m doing all the ice shows you’re doing.”

“What?”

“Yeah. Try ignoring me now, Fernandez.”

Javier smiled.

“I’m not ignoring you.”

“Well, I’ll be ignoring you.”

“Fine”, Javier chuckled.

Yuzuru watched him with narrowed eyes, on the lookout for any sign of contrariness, but Javier only blinked at him, open and sunny.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Yuzu.”

“I’m not.”

“Still.... doing so many shows, it means you’re even a little better. I’m happy, Yuzu. It will be alright. You’ll see.”

Javier’s smile was contagious. Despite himself, Yuzuru relaxed a little.

“Speaking of which...someone translated for me the speech you gave at your ice show... and that thing you said, about trying to die many times... I was so upset to hear that, Yuzu. How come you never told me this? You said I was one of the most important people in your life, and there was a time when I might have foolishly believed I was....and yet you’ve kept something like this hidden from me, something so crucial. It feels like I barely ever knew you at all, Yuzu. Maybe I was blinded by you. Maybe we were both blind, and never knew each other for real.”

Yuzuru’s face clouded.

“Javi...”, he said shakily. “Everything you say lately....makes me cry.”

“I’m sorry”, Javier said, honestly. “Just one more reason why we’re not good for each other, I guess.”

Yuzuru felt a sharp pain in his chest at those words, that couldn’t be soothed by any tears. He took a few deep breaths, and tried to focus on the topic at hand, to distract himself from it.

“About what I said in my speech... I only said it because...because I wanted to share – with the people who cared about me, I wanted to give something back. It was supposed to be a good thing, how I overcome the bad times in my life. But now I think it was a mistake to say, people just worry.”

“Of course we worry”, Javier said quietly, “we care, and we want you to be well, and happy.”

“I’m sorry that I made you all worry about me again.”

“Come here.”

Javier stepped close and enveloped Yuzuru in a wholesome bear hug. Yuzuru felt the warmth of it right down to his bones and hugged back fiercely.

“I really want us to stay friends, Yuzu. It would make me so happy. Do you think we can?” Javier spoke, softly and hesitantly.

No, Yuzuru wanted to scream. I want all of you, and if I can’t have all of you, then I want to hurt you, and then push you away. But that meant no more of Javier’s hugs, no more Javier’s lovely eyes watching him with bright candor, no more Javier’s warm smiles and silly jokes, no more Javier at all.

“...Yes, Javi,” Yuzuru answered unhappily. “Sure.”

Javier held him tighter for a beat, then stepped back, and looked at him with a smile.

“Cheer up, Yuzu. And never doubt what you still mean to me.”

The people who love you will continue to love you, Johnny had said.

If only that could be enough for me, Yuzuru thought.

Chapter Text

 

^

Javier had moved most of his stuff out of the Toronto apartment by the beginning of May. He was practicing a new program, set to a romantic Spanish pop song, watched furtively by a Yuzuru who roamed the ice restlessly, not yet allowed to jump. Javier didn’t do much jumping either. He worked on his program with emotional intensity, fine-tuning its artistry.

“Your new program is really good”, Yuzuru took courage to tell Javier one day. “It’s...different.”

“Different from Super Javi and Chaplin, ey?” Javier laughed good-naturedly.

“Serious good. This style suits you. Really, it does.”

“Can you tell what it’s about?” Javier asked.

“No”, Yuzuru lied.

“I guess I’ll have to keep working at it then. I want to make it so that people who don’t understand Spanish know what it’s about just by watching me.”

 

^

Brian and Javier got together one day for drinks before Javier left to begin his tour of summer ice shows.

“I hope you’ll reconsider”, Brian said, as he poured another glass. “You’re really good with kids, and good as a teacher.”

“That’s exactly what I plan to do in Spain. Cricket Club already has the best specialists. You don’t need me.”

“We always need new blood,” Brian said. “Oh, alright, I confess. It’s just this selfish old man’s wish to keep you here. And not just me. Everyone wants you to stay. I can’t imagine what it would be like without you.”

“It’s gonna feel weird for me, too. It’s like...we were like a family, no?”

Brian nodded.

“Exactly. But I understand...you want to start your own real family in Spain...”

Javier played absently with the ice cubes inside his cocktail glass.

“How is Marisa?”

“Fine, she’s just great. Happy.”

“Good.”

Brian watched him, thoughtfully.

“A little late but I need to know, Javi – if only to learn from my own mistakes- if you’ve ever felt neglected by me paying more attention to Yuzuru.”

Javier snorted slightly and shook his head in a definite no.

“Never, Brian”, he accented. “You were the best coach. The best friend. But I guess it’s fate, too, me living in someone’s shadow. Maybe I’m tired of that. But now things will change. I’m changing things.”

Brian nodded. Javier smiled into his drink.

“It’s hard not to feel overshadowed when your training mate is Yuzuru Hanyu. My own mother asked me if I could please introduce her to this ‘talented Japanese boy’.”

“Really?” Brian chuckled.

“Yeah, I didn’t tell you?” Javier smiled at the memory. “That was before Sochi. And a year later, I did - when the GPF was held in Barcelona. After the competition, we had a family dinner, cooked traditional food, and I invited Yuzu and his mom.”

“You had one for me too, but before the competition”, Brian smiled at the memory.

“I didn’t want Yuzu to think I tried to slow him down by feeding him Spanish delicacies, before a competition”, Javier laughed. “In fact I half expected them to refuse the invitation anyway, but they didn’t.”

“And how did it go?” Brian asked, amused.

“It went surprisingly well, actually. Everyone was determined to like everyone, so they did. The atmosphere was cozy and relaxed. Yuzu was very shy and polite. Of course, mom and sis thought he was ‘muy adorable’, even though he barely said a word.”

“Oh gosh. I remember only too well – he’d just nod politely, and agree to whatever we were telling him. Thank god his mother was always there to interpret when needed.”

“Yeah, it was mainly her and Laura who carried the conversation. But there were a lot of smiles and appreciation going back and forth among everyone at the table. Good times.”

“They were indeed.”

“After dinner, it was still early, so me and Laura went out with them to show them a little of Barcelona. Yuzu was so tired by the end, that he almost fell asleep on his feet. He yawned and tripped, but he still didn’t want to say goodnight. Just like a child. So I told him ‘you can’t see all of Barcelona in one day, it’s too big and beautiful. You’ll have to come back.’”

“And he did,” Brian smiled.

“Yep. Next year’s GPF. You know all about that, we went in town together.”

“Oh, don’t remind me”, Brian sighed in mock exasperation. “It was like being responsible for two hyperactive children. I was so exhausted that day I went to bed at 8 pm...and actually fell asleep.”

“To be fair, you were probably tired out by the whole competition”, Javier said, laughing. “But yeah, we were a bit too much that day, weren’t we.”

“I have never seen two people more excited to be doing mundane things, like looking at shop windows or petting stray cats”, Brian said seriously, making Javier chuckle. “You were cute, though.” He smiled in fond reminiscence. “What else did you do after I left? I know you had Yuzu back to the hotel by 10 pm, which was good of you.”

“Hmm, after you left, let’s see if I remember... we went inside Sagrada and stayed for a bit to listen to the Christmas choir. Then Yuzu insisted we went back to the magic fountain, you know how much he loved it. We bought hot chocolate and stayed there to watch the light show until closing time. Yuzu’s mom called by that point, so I took him to the hotel.

“Did you go out to celebrate with your mates afterwards, like I remember you saying?”

“Nah, didn’t feel like it – but I didn’t feel like being shut in either. It’s a funny thing, showing people around a place. You start seeing familiar things differently, imagining how other people might see them. So I wandered around a little, seeing old places through new eyes. Then I returned to the hotel and slept like a log.”

“Like someone with no care in the world”, Brian smiled.

“Yeah”, Javier nodded. “Now I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep”, he muttered, then froze momentarily, as if regretting having said too much.

Brian looked at him again, searchingly.

“In retrospect, you have to admit I was a little bit right”, he said carefully, as if ready to change the subject at any moment. “About you getting hurt. About getting sidetracked.”

Javier didn’t seem surprised or angry at the change of topic, he only smiled sadly, his eyes lowered.

“I achieved my goal at the Olympics”, he answered. "I brought home a medal. That’s all that matters to me at this point.”

“That time in Helsinki-“, Brian said, tentatively.

“That’s when everything started between Yuzu and me,” Javier admitted.

“I had a suspicion it might have. I didn’t want to presume. And it ended sometime after Rostelecom...”

“It ended when Yuzu was injured at the NHK. He called me to tell me about it, how serious it was. He wanted to keep his injury secret from everyone, continue just like before. I called Ghislain immediately. Yuzu could never forgive me for that, and for all that happened after – at least not until he got that second Olympics gold medal. I don’t know how or why. We don’t talk much these days.”

“That’s sad.”

“Not when it comes to Yuzu and me. It’s actually a good thing. I get the feeling so much between us has been lost in translation.”

Brian nodded.

“Some of us are better at expressing ourselves...not through words. Speaking of which... I watched the Pyeongchang gala. When you and Yuzu briefly held hands as you circled the rink, was that choreographed?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I want to put it in one of the shows at FAOI this summer. It seemed meaningful to me, he reaches out to you, pulls you close, you skate together for a while, then you push him ahead and stay behind. It’s symbolic of your careers and the support you’ve always shown each other. And now with you retiring, it seems particularly bittersweet. Maybe it’s the right time to remind people – and you two as well, of all that’s been.”

“Of all that’s been?” Javier repeated. “Like, the time we trained together?”

“Of all the good times”, Brian answered vaguely.

Javier made a face.

“That little gesture you find so meaningful first happened at the Sochi gala. At some point, Yuzu reached back with his hands and looked at me expectantly – I knew he wanted a high five, so I complied, and he laughed, delighted at having been understood without words. Then at Pyeongchang, when he reached back, it was the nostalgia of that moment in Sochi, and everything that had happened since – it felt like a throwback to better times and in a sense I suppose it was bittersweet. I could have ignored it. I wanted to ignore it. I reacted on an impulse. It was less playful now, so I placed my palms solemnly over Yuzu’s outstretched ones. I was about to pull back when his hands closed over mine, and he wouldn’t let go. I could hear people screaming to see us holding hands like this, and for some reason, it annoyed me. I wanted that moment encased in silence, no music, no screaming. I’m sure Yuzuru loved it, though. He always thrives on making a lasting impression.”

“That’s not bad per se”, Brian said tentatively.

“Not, it isn’t bad at all”, Javier acknowledged.

“So are you ok with it, if we include it into the finale of FAOI shows?”

Javier shrugged.

“Why not? It doesn’t matter to me.”

 

^

Javier slept restlessly that night, his alcohol-fevered mind replaying disjointed bits of old conversations, brought to the forefront of his mind by his conversation with Brian.

~

“I want to skate with you forever.”

“You want too much. You always do.”

“And I always get! Yes, Javi? I work hard, I get what I want!”

~

“I think sometimes...what if I just....stop. I think, are people going to hate me much if I do.”

“But you love skating.”

“Don’t mean skating.”

~

“You didn’t need to get all that for us.”

“Want to. You do so much for me. Never hope to repay you.”

“You’re always welcome here, Yuzu.”

“I love it here.”

~

“This is something... just for Javi. Please wear it and think of me!”

“That’s sweet, Yuzu, thank you! Oh, you have one just like it!

“Yes. Because we’re friends. Friends forever, yes?”

“For sure! Fistbump! C’mon Yuzu, just like I taught you – Eeey!”

“Yaaay!~”

~

“I like this song, is so well with the lights!”

“You’re right, it’s pretty spectacular. Hey, Yuzu – aren’t you cold? Is this okay?”

“This very okay, Javi.”

“You sure? Cause it’s pretty cold, and you’ve been coughing, I don’t want your asthma to start acting up again. Your mom would kill me.”

“It’s not Javi fault I have asthma. Anyway, it’s fine.”

“These steps are really cold to sit on, too. You know what, you can sit in my lap. C’mon, there we go. You can see even better like this. This okay?”

“...Very okay.”

~

Javier woke up with foreign words on his lips like petals. Between sleep and waking, he was aware and accepting of the truth: ‘I love you so much’, Javier whispered to his memories. ‘I suppose I always will. It really can’t be helped.’

^

“Did you watch? Did you like it?” Yuzuru asked.

“What?” Javier returned, pretending he had no idea what Yuzuru meant. He stepped back abruptly when Yuzuru came closer. Even though he was the one who had proposed they’d stay friends, he found it increasingly difficult, once he realized his feelings for Yuzuru were as strong as ever before. Yuzuru didn’t seem to notice Javier’s reluctance and stepped forward again, in Javier’s space.

“My new program, Javi!” he said, eyes shining with expectation.

Yuzuru had rehearshed it in full before the evening’s performance, and everyone watched it, everyone had words of praise. Except Javier, who had hoped his omission would go unnoticed, among the general effusion. Not so by Yuzuru.

“It’s a lovely program,” Javier answered. “Your skating is beautiful. I’m sure you don’t need any more praises from me, Yuzu – you have quite enough.”

“Can you tell what it’s about?”

“What, your program? No, not really”, Javier answered. His heart had clenched painfully as he was watching Yuzuru skate, but Yuzuru didn’t need to know this.

“I guess I’ll have to keep working at it then”, Yuzuru answered pointedly. “I want to make it so that people who don’t understand Japanese know what it’s about just by watching me.”

Javier narrowed his eyes at him slightly, vaguely remembering their similar conversation back in Toronto about Javier’s own new program. Javier debated whether or not to take Yuzuru up on that, however, the decision was made for him as Yuzuru said:

“By the way, about your program, Javi – I think I’m starting to understand what it’s about.”

“Do you now.”

“Yes. Keep working on it. And I will do my best with mine.”

 

^

Javier had developed a fondness about sitting on the roof of buildings. He liked how they were peaceful and remote, and pleasantly cool in the evening breeze. As yet another show was over, he looked forward to climbing on the roof of the building to take in the surroundings, and relax for a while, without anyone around. It had been a hot day and the evening was pleasantly breezy. Some of the skaters had gone into town, but for once, Javier didn’t feel like joining them. He felt pensive, almost melancholy, and he knew he wouldn’t be good company. He didn’t want to bring anyone down with his mood, or worse – have to answer a string of questions about why he was like this. Skaters were a nosy bunch, and no gossip went undiscussed. Worse of all, Javier had noticed that Johnny was giving him occasional meaningful glances, which were rather unnerving. Javier decided to ignore them, in order to avoid a potential confrontation. He climbed the steps, and emerged out into the open, exhaling happily. That is, until he realized that he was not alone. Someone was already there, crouched low, as far from the edge as possible.

“Oh – I didn’t know anyone was here. I thought almost everyone was off to –“, Javier started automatically.

Then the silhouette stood up and turned and Javier saw that it was Yuzuru.

“Oh?” he said, on a tone of complete surprise, revealing how extremely unlikely it was that Yuzuru would be there on the roof of all places at that hour.

“I don’t like it here”, Yuzuru said, confirming Javier’s impression. “I’m afraid of heights.”

“So then why are you....?”

“I heard you like to come up here in the evenings. And I never get to be alone with you, so...”

Javier sighed with some annoyance. He’d done a really good job at avoiding Yuzuru so far, and felt annoyed at being cornered like this.

“Right”, he said. “Actually, I think I should go.”

“No, please don’t leave. I didn’t mean it like that. Let’s just sit together for a bit and talk...catch up...”

“Okay....well, I usually like to sit on the parapet over there and look down, swinging my legs over the edge”, Javier lied, “so you’re definitely not gonna like this.”

“It- it’s no problem!” Yuzuru said, bravely, and went to sit down tentatively on the parapet, but facing the other way.

Javier shrugged and sat down as well, some distance away from Yuzuru.

There was silence for a while, Yuzuru playing nervously with the string of his hoodie.

“You don’t mind if I....”, Yuzuru said, after a while, as he slid down from the edge, the parapet wall now solid and reassuring at his back. He sighed in relief. “Much better now.”

Javier didn’t smile. He swung one leg over the edge, with a pointed lack of concern, and Yuzuru gasped in anguish. Javier waited for Yuzuru to ask him to get down from there as well, so Javier could reply that if Yuzuru didn’t like it, he could always leave. But Yuzuru didn’t say anything, and curled himself again into a little ball. After a while, when he couldn’t stand the silence any longer, Javier spoke:

“So what did you want to talk to me about?”

His tone made it more than clear that he didn’t feel like talking, but Yuzuru didn't seem to mind. He looked up at Javier, and answered:

“Just to catch up... We don’t talk much these days...I thought you wanted us to stay friends... maybe it’s my imagination, but it looks like you’re avoiding me.”

There were a lot of things Javier would have liked to reply to that, but instead, he stayed silent.

“....I have so many things I want to talk to you about...”, Yuzuru went on.

“What kind of ‘things’?”

‘Well, Javi... I heard something. Please don’t be upset, I really didn’t mean to pry. I heard Scott and Tessa talk about it by chance.’

‘About what?’ Javier asked with a sense of foreboding.

‘You and your girlfriend. Tessa was saying something like ‘I could never do it’, and I was curious so I stayed to hear more. Then Scott said, ‘This kind of thing could have benefits. And after all, it’s not really about who you fuck, it’s about who you come back to.’ And then Tessa-“

“Okay, okay, enough”, Javier interrupted. “Not that it’s anyone’s business, and I now regret telling Scott this during a night out when I had obviously too much to drink... but yeah: me and Marisa have an open relationship. This kind of thing does happen, no need to make a big deal out of it.”

“But that means that....”

“It means that if we really want to, we can sleep with other people, because she feels that having sex with other people, if it’s just sex with no strings attached, doesn’t affect our relationship. She’s right, too. Our relationship has a long history of affection and support, it’s rich beyond just sex. She also told me she thinks it’s liberating not to censor our desires and that sometimes we can feel chained by obligations, and that can lead us to be unfaithful. So yes, she decided that I can sleep with whomever I want and so can she, but we have to be honest with each other about it.”

“But-,” Yuzuru sputtered, bewildered.

“I don’t ask anyone to approve or even understand”, Javier said, a little defensively. “It is what it is, and it’s strictly our business.”

But-,” Yuzuru went on, undeterred. “Don’t you feel jealous?”

“Well, so far Marisa hasn’t taken advantage of her own rule, so I don’t really know, when faced with that reality, if I’d be jealous... I like to think I’m more mature than that, but I probably would actually feel jealous. I don’t know,” Javier answered, honestly.

“How about you? Did you take advantage...of that...rule?” Yuzuru asked, looking up at Javier through his eyelashes.

“No”, Javier chuckled. “I guess a few years ago, when I was younger...and crazier too, I might have. Also, now I realize... most of the times, it’s about temptation and the fact that a certain thing is forbidden – that’s what makes you want it. Marisa was smart to take that forbidden element out of the equation.”

Yuzuru shook his head.

“I agree with what Tessa said. I could never do it.”

“I know. I remember you had an opposite rule. Never look at anyone as long as you’re with me.”

“Yes. You remembered.”

“And I obeyed it. I never wanted or expected any differently.”

“You didn’t obey it entirely. You looked at Marisa – while you were still with me.”

Javier shook his head.

“Were we really what you’d call ‘together’ by that point? Anyway, I looked at Marisa and I saw a good steady friend. She looked at me and saw someone who was falling apart. She wanted me and cared for me when I needed it so much. Soon the softness of her hair and the smell of her skin meant comfort.”

“Stop talking,” Yuzuru interrupted fiercely.

Javier sighed.

“You started this discussion.”

“You know, I’ve fucked other people, too”, Yuzuru challenged.

“Okay,” Javier answered mildly.

“Yeah, it was....”

-In a flash, Yuzuru remembered the one and only time when he had been close to actually having sex with someone who wasn’t Javier, someone he picked up from a gay bar in Toronto, in an agony of pain and desire for Javier. The highlights of the conversation between Yuzuru and the guy he decided was going to be Javier’s substitute for the night, had been something like this:

“Do you know who I am?” Yuzuru asked.

“Am I supposed to know?” Easy laughter, a slight accent – Italian, not Spanish, but it would do. Curly hair. Beautiful brown eyes.

“No. Come with me.”

“It hurts”, Yuzuru had complained by the time the man had three fingers up inside him. “Javi always used to...”

“I’m not Javi, and I’m sick of hearing about this guy. Now do you wanna do this, or what?” Impatient. Rushed.

“Aren’t you supposed to do what I say?”

“You’re a bossy little bottom, you know that? Lucky you’re cute. Let’s try something else, then.”

“Nnnn. Don’t shove it in my face, I’m not gonna suck it.”

“...You really don’t go out much, do you?” Mocking. Impersonal. Wrong.

“You can suck me, if you want.” I do need something. Do I really need it?

“Fine. And then I fuck you. Deal?”

I need Javi. Beautiful brown eyes, but not him. Not him. I don’t want this. I want Javi.

“...Actually, I changed my mind. I don’t want to do this. Sorry. I’m sorry for this. I have to go.”-

 

“...it was so hot”, Yuzuru lied through his teeth to Javier.

“Good. I’m glad you’re happy.”

Yuzuru watched Javier carefully for a sign that he was jealous or displeased, even a clench of his jaw would’ve done it, but Javier’s face was blank and earnest. And, just like that, Yuzuru felt furious and desperate. He wanted to howl.

“You idiot”, he lashed out viciously. “You know I didn’t. I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t! There’s no one!”

“Please, keep your voice down, Yuzu”, Javier said, still strangely unaffected, but casting an uneasy glance below. “We’re out in the open here.”

Yuzuru was screeching by now, and sobbing, and Javier seriously considered heading back inside where at least they wouldn’t be heard by anyone passing down the street.

“There has never been anyone but you, Ja-vi!! please, Javi, I want you, I need you so bad-“

“Okay”, Javier said as he stood up. “I’m leaving.”

“Don’t!” Yuzuru wailed, grabbing Javier’s arm. “Look – look, it’s alright, you have permission to- your own girlfriend gave you permission!“

“You have to realize, that even with my girlfriend’s blanket approval, you’re the last person I’d choose for a round of casual sex. Now please let go of me.”

“Just don’t leave, Javi – please –“

“I’ll only stay if you calm down, and let go of my arm.

Yuzuru unclenched his fingers from Javier’s arm, and with a final trembling caress, he let go.

Javier resumed his seat on the ledge, and Yuzuru sat crosslegged on the floor, facing him.

“Does your girlfriend know about us?” Yuzuru asked, voice low. “I mean, before.”

“Yes, she does. I told her everything.”

“So then what if she came up with this open relationship thing because she wanted to give you a way out, in case you change your mind.”

“Or maybe she just trusts me.” 

“Javi, please just hear me out... I want us to...try again. Please, let’s give it one more chance”, Yuzuru said, wringing his hands, anxiously, looking up at Javier with pleading eyes.

Javier was silent for a few seconds, and Yuzuru’s heart started beating wildly, in hope and excitement – he could almost feel Javier softening, he must say yes, he will say yes, there’s just no way that he can refuse me-

“It’s not only about what you want, Yuzu”, Javier finally said, articulating each word carefully. “I’m sorry. I really have to go.” He stood up and took several deliberate steps away.

“Then what was that all about? Your new program? What is it really about?” Yuzuru shouted after him.

Javier paused briefly, hesitating.

“A goodbye. And a fantasy. It’s called Fantasy on ice, after all.” He shrugged, and gave a slight smile, remembering another similar conversation, long ago. “People like it.”

His words sounded hollow. Javier went off, deliberately not looking back at Yuzuru, although he could feel his eyes burning into his back, and could hear his abrupt intakes of breath.

But before he could reach the door, Yuzuru positively leapt at him from behind:

“I said I was sorry!” he screamed. “How many times more do I have to say it?”

“I get that you’re sorry”, Javier answered, backing off to avoid Yuzuru’s touch. “It’s just that I’m afraid now. It’s like a wound that has barely begun to crust over. I don’t want to go picking at it. Please understand.”

“What do I need to do? Javi, just tell me. I’ll do anything to convince you.”

“It really isn’t about you doing anything to convince me. No grand romantic gestures or words. It’s not about that.”

“What is it about, then? You have to give me another chance, Javi – you have to.”

“...I’ve thought about this, Yuzu. You don’t know how many times I’ve thought about it. But I always reached the same conclusion. The pain I feel being away from you is manageable. The pain I’d feel if I were to be hurt again by you...I’m afraid it might end me. So if it’s between choosing between one pain and another, then I choose to stay alive.”

“But I....I’ll never hurt you again, Javi. I swear it. It’s going to be different now. We are going to be different.”

Javier shook his head.

“I can’t take the chance. You told me once, spitefully, that I’ll never know what you went through, that I lost all rights to know.”

“Oh why must you bring up all the bad times between us?? We had some good times too!”

“Yes, but my point now is that you were right to say it. And I want to tell you the same, not with spite but with sadness. You also will never know what I went through. Not because I don’t want to tell you, but because no one can feel another’s suffering, no one can understand another’s sorrow. We imagine we can reach one another, but in reality – we're all drifting by, trapped in our own world, like ghosts.“

“Please Javi, stop, it’s terrible what you’re saying – did I do this to you, did I make you see the world with so much sadness, so much fear? Have you really lost so much faith because of me? I’m an awful person, I hate what I’ve done, you don’t know how much I wish I could go back and change it, only I can’t, and now it’s all ruined!”

Yuzuru crumpled to the ground and started crying with loud sobs, face buried in his hands, his entire frame trembling with the force of his misery.

Javier closed his eyes briefly, clenching his jaw, his features twisting in pain, before he schooled them into a smile:

“Come on, Yuzu – hey, don’t be so dramatic. It’s not all ruined. I told you, didn’t I – that I want us to stay friends. Calm down, please. You’re always crying around me lately, and it’s making me really really uncomfortable.”

Yuzuru lifted his face, pale and blotchy with tears and tried to control his sobs, but his attempts seemed to have the opposite effect, as his erratic sobs turned to wheezes.

“I’m – so sorry, Javi – so sorry-I-“ Yuzuru began, but had to break off abruptly, as he was unable to go on. He was heaving huge breaths, trying to forestall the attack he could sense was rapidly approaching, but to no avail. The wheezing got alarmingly louder.

“Yuzu?” Javier said, worried, getting down on his knees in front of Yuzuru. “Are you okay? Please try to calm down.”

Yuzuru leaned on Javier’s shoulder as he tried to stagger to his feet, but immediately fell back down in a heap, dizzy with the lack of oxygen. He curled up, tortured by each empty intake of breath, as his lungs constricted, preventing precious air from getting in.

“Yuzu, do you have your inhaler? Where is it?” Javier shouted, now in a full-blown panic himself.

Yuzuru shook his head frantically, clenching his tear-filled eyes briefly shut.

“Dizzy...”

“Focus! Is it in your bag? I’ll go get it-“

Yuzuru grabbed Javier’s sleeve to make him stay.

“Not -”, he managed, his lips turning blue. “It...Toronto.”

“What?!” Javier yelled. “Do you really want to kill yourself, you stupid child?!” He pulled back, tugging hard at his own hair in distress. “I’m calling an ambulance.”

Yuzuru shook his head again, grabbing his sleeve. Javier ignored him, and took out his phone. He was trembling so badly, it took him three tries until he finally unlocked it. Yuzuru held on to him fiercely while Javier talked on the phone, as if wanting to make sure Javier wouldn’t run off. As he ended the call, Javier seemed a little calmer.

“Okay”, he muttered. “Okay. They’ll be here soon. And I got a few tips. First of all, sit up. No crouching down like this. You should know this, Yuzu.”

“S-stay wi-with m-me”, Yuzuru barely managed to force out, through alarmingly violet lips.

Javier wondered if Yuzuru could even hear him, or understand him. Nevertheless, he answered:

“I’m here. Here, you see. Come on”-

Javier reached and pulled Yuzuru up in a sitting position, trying to ignore how Yuzuru’s head lolled back and his arms dangled loosely like those of a rag doll. Javier propped him up against his body and placed an arm around him, pressing his chest to Yuzuru’s back.

“Here we go. Let’s breathe together. In – out. Breathe, Yuzu. C’mon. Breathe with me. Like this.”

Javier started to take long, deep breaths, hoping to lead by example for the body in his arms. It took a while, but Yuzuru’s wheezing finally began to subside. Javier felt an absurd sense of accomplishment – he wanted to shout in relief, but he deliberately kept his breathing calm and even.

Yuzuru suddenly grasped Javier’s hand, squeezing his fingers tightly.

“I’m not leaving”, Javier said automatically. He squeezed back. “It’s okay. Just be well.” Stupid child, he mouthed soundlessly in Yuzuru’s hair. Stupid child.

There was the sound of a siren getting louder and louder. Javier looked down from the roof and he glimpsed the ambulance approaching.

“It’s here. Come on. Let’s go. Can you walk?”

“No. I need to be carried”, Yuzuru whispered, a shaky smile on his face, as he rolled his eyes.

“You wish”, Javier teased him. He supported him as Yuzuru stood up, and hovered close, a hand on his waist, as Yuzuru staggered towards the exit, unsteady like a young colt barely familiar with walking. “I don’t want everyone to see me like this”, Yuzuru said, frowning. “I’m better now. Don’t need the hospital. Tell them there was a false alarm.”

“We’re going to the hospital in that ambulance”, Javier cut him off on a tone which allowed no contradiction.

“Are you coming with me?” Yuzuru asked, surprised by the ‘we.’

“Of course. Someone needs to explain clearly what happened, and you were mostly out of it.”

“Alright”, Yuzuru agreed. He took Javier’s hand and interlocked their fingers, and Javier let him.

 

^

The next morning, Javier couldn’t have stopped himself from visiting Yuzuru in the hospital even if he wanted to. But neither his rational mind, nor his sentimental side had put up a fight. He simply needed to see him. Last night, he had left Yuzuru as the latter kept insisting he was fine, when it was too late for the nurses to pretend that the visiting hours weren’t over, and guiltily he realized that in all the commotion he had forgotten to call Yuzuru’s mom. But Yuzuru had told him not to worry, he would call her and explain everything. Javier would have liked to call her himself. There was still a nagging concern at the back of his mind, not as much about Yuzuru’s current condition, but regarding the fact that Yuzuru had left his inhaler behind in Toronto. It wasn’t like Yuzuru to be careless, or forgetful, and he wondered about that little annoying detail like a piece of a puzzle he couldn’t place. As he stepped into the ward, still lost in thoughts, it took him a while to realize Yuzuru’s mother was sitting by his bedside. Yuzuru was sleeping. Javier stopped abruptly, and took several steps back.

“I’m sorry-“, he gestured.

Yumi stood up and bowed to him, deeply. Absurdly, it reminded Javier of Yuzuru bowing to him before the venue ceremony in Pyeongchang. He automatically bowed back, and lifted his eyes, dazedly following her movement, as she bowed again, even deeper. Then she grasped Javier’s hand.

“You saved my son’s life”, she said. “Please accept my undying gratitude.”

“I didn’t –,” Javier stammered, “I only – it was like-“ He took a shaky breath, his eyes stinging. “I’m just glad I was there, that’s all. Although, you should know, that I think it was our conversation which brought on the panic attack, which then triggered his asthma attack. So I don’t know if I should be thanked. I was probably the one responsible.”

Javier cringed, expecting retribution, but Yumi only looked back at him, inscrutably.

“I’m sure you weren’t”, she replied politely, with a friendly smile, as Javier seemed to expect her to say something.

“A- Also”, he went on, confused, “he needs a new inhaler. He told me he left – or forgot the one he had, back in Toronto.”

Yumi’s eyes hardened.

“Yes. I already had a talk with Yuzuru about – that. I will make sure he will not forget such vital things any more.”

There was a resigned bitterness to her voice. Javier stared, curiously, but didn't ask for more details.

“Anyway, I apologize for the trouble,” she said, with another bow.

Javier looked over at Yuzuru who was still sleeping.

“He’s going to be okay, right?”

“Yes”, Yumi smiled. “The doctors want to keep him for one more night. Do you want to stay? I can have them bring another chair.”

“No – I – just wanted to see him and know he’s alright. Thank you. If there is anything you need, please tell me. I can get you a coffee, or -?”

“No, please don’t bother. Anyway, it’s fine. Thank you, for taking care of my son.”

Javier stepped out of the hospital and walked slowly back to the hotel, buzzing with a whirlwind of emotions that he was afraid to examine too closely. 

 

^

“How is Yuzuru?” Johnny asked fretfully, as they gathered for drinks in the evening.

“Better. Good. They’re just keeping him under observation for one more night and they’ll release him tomorrow, if no other symptoms appear.”

There were several relieved sighs and words from across the table.

“I’d take a whole week off skating, but of course there’s no way Yuzuru is not going to do the next show.”

“He’s a fighter”, Zhenya Plushenko said, with a note of pride and approval. “Can’t keep him down.”

“There are more important things in life than skating”, Javier said, trying to sound casual, even as a sharp note seeped in. “Your health, for one.”

“And that’s what makes the difference between a gold medal and a bronze medal”, the Russian smiled.

Javier raised his head sharply at the insinuation. Zhenya smiled apologetically, perhaps realizing he had gone too far, and Javier debated whether or not to take offense. Zhenya was an old friend, after all. In the end, he waved a hand.

“We’re just different people, I guess”, he said, dismissively. “I wouldn’t risk my health, my life, for skating.”

“I would. And so would Yuzu.”

“I don’t think Yuzu would do that anymore. Not unless he really hasn’t learned anything from all that’s happened to him so far.”

“It doesn’t matter what he thinks he learned”, Zhenya said with calm certainty. “When the moment comes – if it comes, the moment that stands between greatness and comfort, with pain and glory on one side, and being right and safe, on the other – Yuzuru will always make the same choice. The choice of champions. It’s what Lyosha chose even when he knew it would ruin him – and I understood him – I’d have done the same. Actually, I did the same. My spine is all held up by stitches, I’d be rushed to hospitals for yet another surgery immediately after medal ceremonies were over.”

“Inspiring”, Javier commented, sarcastically, under his breath.

“Apparently, one boy from Sendai, Japan, did think it was inspiring.”

“It doesn’t have to be like that for him. Just as it didn’t have to be for you.”

“It does. Ice is a cruel mistress. Like I said there’s a choice – between gold and everything below it. You’re out there in the rink, alone and you have to make your choice. If you can’t stand the thought of anything but gold, you can’t be a weakling, you can’t deal in halves. It’s all or nothing. With your shield, or on it-“

“I think you’ve had a tad too much to drink, Zhenya”, Johnny interrupted, with amused affection.

“You know who Yuzu reminds me of –“, Scott piped in. “This story one of my friends told me, about his uncle who had cancer. So had cancer, advanced stage, he was scheduled for surgery, and he told his nephew about his biggest fear. Wanna know what this guy’s biggest fear was? It was ‘dying on the operating table.’ That’s fair, right? We all agree? But the thing is why. He was like ‘I’m afraid I won’t experience the process of dying.’ Imagine – being deprived of that, right! Most of us would be thankful! But he’s like ‘I’m afraid I won’t get to know what it’s like, because I want to learn all I can from it’ -“, Scott downed his drink and shook his head, snorting, “Learn all he can from it, hear? Be a pro at it, riding off into the afterlife...yeah, that’s Yuzu alright-“

“Yeah....I think we’ve all had enough to drink”, Jeff said, meaningfully.

“I agree”, Javier said. “Which is good and all, but why can’t we just talk about football when we get drunk, like normal people?”

“Ah, this reminds me”, Zhenya said. “I was offered tickets to the world cup, but I had to turn them down because I had already committed to FAOI.”

He sighed heavily, with a gesture of frustration, and everyone laughed.

^

Javier stared.

He had been avoiding even looking at Yuzuru for too  long, that to stare at him like this was an unhoped-for indulgence. He felt himself crumbling, even as something deep inside him sighed in relief – the very sight of the familiar features being like a balm on his patched-up heart. It was still him – his miraculous, ever-evolving Yuzuru, who could be a fierce warrior one moment, and desperately vulnerable the next – and no matter what, always uncompromising. There was a distance between them now that allowed Javier to see clearly – his earlier attempts to make Yuzuru play by Javier’s rules were doomed to fail, just like one couldn’t cage a wild bird for long, even if the cage was gilded. And if that bird scratches you violently through the bars, drawing blood, as you reach in to caress it, can the bird really be blamed?

Coloured by their recent experience, Yuzuru's program felt different now to Javier. He had understood its nostalgic but hopeful yearning, but now he was struck by a sense of the ephemeral of the beautiful but fleeting sakura petals – here today, gone tomorrow – and maybe to return again next season. Or maybe not. Yuzuru embodied all that with heart-wrenching emotion and distinction. There was a daring wildness to his skating tonight, which seemed to evoke in everyone’s minds that nothing else mattered, but this, the here and now – and everyone was held under a spell, in a world of their own, but one shaped by Yuzuru’s own magic. Javier was aware of the emotions of those around him, he could hear their sharp intakes of breath, could almost read their thoughts, as they reflected on their lives, their hopes and fears, even as his own thoughts traveled a thorny path of their own design.

When he was a boy, Javier had a dog – or rather, his family did, but after a memorable event, the dog, Lucita, became Javier’s dog first and foremost, and no one would refute that. One spring, Lucita had a painful miscarriage – she lost a lot of blood and became very ill. The vet said that it was touch and go. If she didn’t resume eating in a week, she was going to die and nothing could be done. As Javier passed by her improvised lair of pillows and blankets, he’d see her lying there as she did the day before. If she had been human, Javier would assume she had just given up on life. The week was nearly over and Javier became frantic with worry – he couldn’t envision losing his childhood friend like this. He brought a bowl filled with warm milk next to where she lay, weak and listless. Javier dipped his fingers into the milk and rubbed them over Lucita’s muzzle, coaxing her gently, hoping to get her interested in drinking it. There was no reaction. The third time he did it, there was a definite reaction, however, as she growled in anger and bit straight through Javier’s hand, a definite warning to be left alone. Immediately as she had done it, she cowered and whined pitifully – she hadn’t meant to hurt Javier but he kept pestering her when she just didn’t want to be bothered. Blood flowed, and there was a great deal of pain, but Javier’s gentle tone didn’t falter. He only hurried to wrap up his hand in a bandage so blood wouldn’t spill and then got right back to coaxing his dog to drink the warm milk. She still refused, but didn't bite Javier any longer, and her pretty eyes were no longer dull, but anxious with guilt. And Javier had been hoping for it, but still couldn't believe his eyes when Lucita finally dragged herself towards the bowl and licked a little of the milk. Why had she done it? Did she want to appease Javier, grateful that she wasn't scolded for what she had done? Was she shocked back to reality by her own violent action, by the smell and taste of blood, reminding her that life is something to fight for? Javier didn’t know, and truthfully, he didn’t care – all he cared about was that Lucita was finally eating. Because the warm milk made her crave more, and soon she finished the bowl. And then, it was like the vet had said - she turned the corner. Soon, she was completely recovered. All because Javier didn’t give up on her.

He didn’t get mad, nor did he stop trying. And in those moments when he kept trying to get her to eat, the pain of her bite meant nothing to him, just something to be endured and ignored. Because he loved her.

And after that, there was a bond between them that everyone acknowledged. They had gone through something together, something they each understood as significant, something beyond words or intelligence.

There was a jumble behind Javier’s eyes, as many things clashed together, fighting for consideration – his mind a battlefield. The story about Lucita, random but powerful in the emotions it evoked, Brian’s words ‘some are better at expressing themselves...not through words’, Yuzuru clinging to him desperately on the roof of a building, can't be helpedleft it in Toronto – stupid child, --I had a talk with him – thank you for taking care of him -don’t leave me – sometimes I wish I could stop – you’ll never know what I went through 

 

Oh spring, far off spring – if I close my eyes, it’s there,

I can hear you, whose voice gave me love –

 

Javier stood rooted to the spot and he couldn’t believe he had ever let go of Yuzuru - even if Yuzuru had ripped him apart inch by inch like a mad dog, Javier should have just sutured his wounds and kept trying to reach him, instead of recoiling, resentful and afraid of the pain. He’d always known Yuzuru was difficult. He’d accepted that without a second thought. He never tried to change him, because he couldn’t, and wouldn’t. Did he hope Yuzuru would change because of Javier, that Javier’s tender and unassuming love would change him? That was a nice fairytale, and Javier wasn’t born yesterday and he should know life didn’t work like that. Everyone knows that. Marisa knows it. Brian knows it. Johnny knows it. And Javier too knows it deep down, and somehow managed to bury it and try to move on, because it gave him some bitter satisfaction, seeing Yuzuru squirm, bereft of Javier’s long-standing affection, like being left out in the cold, he who was always so sheltered. But for how long? How long until Javier realizes it is not only Yuzuru he is punishing, but also himself, with the cruel, unrelenting drive of a tyrant or a self-flagellating monk? Was really the pain of being away from Yuzuru less than the pain of being hurt by him again? Was it even worth finding out?

Javier lifted his tired eyes and looked at Yuzuru – really looked at him, with a distant longing that precluded any thoughts of possession or physical desire – only an aching wish to reach his callused fingers under Yuzuru’s eyes and tenderly trace the dark circles he found there – soothing the memory of tears and sleepless nights and rough mornings. A tender touch that was a step beyond friendship, but not daring enough to count towards anything more. And Yuzuru would be free to do whatever he wanted, and so would Javier, and they would part ways with the knowledge and certainty of the undying affection that would forever bind them. Would this be enough for Yuzuru?

And would it be enough for Javier?

Chapter Text

Javier waited patiently until Yuzuru was done with press, selfies, and all his other social duties. It took a considerable time.

He thought about what he wanted to say to Yuzuru – mostly he just wanted to see him, and ask how he was. He wanted to tell Yuzuru that his performance moved him deeply, but he also wanted to ask him about that night on the roof, about the forgotten inhaler, what had he been thinking, if at all. Why are you always too much for me to handle, Javier wanted to, but could never ask Yuzuru. Too much, in good and bad, so brilliant and yet so destructive.

After what seemed like hours, Javier glimpsed Yuzuru heading into the locker room to change. He waited a bit, then knocked and entered, catching up with Yuzuru just as he prepared to come out, trailing his trolley bag behind him.

“Yuzu, hey – I wanted to tell you-“

“Javi!” Yuzuru exclaimed joyfully, his face lighting up and Javier grinned back automatically – for a second it was like old times, except they didn’t jump into each other’s arms in greeting.

Yuzuru went back inside and sat down on the bench, looking at Javier expectantly.

“How are you, are you okay?” Javier asked, still smiling faintly, as he sat down next to him.

“Yes, yes!” Yuzuru answered, nodding. “Doctors said I was fine, so I’m good.”

“I – I just wanted to congratulate you on a great performance tonight.”

“Thank you very much!”

“Really, I thought it was incredible...magical, enticing, like a dream. It brought back memories and feelings I’d forgotten I carried around...but which were – well, which still are, very important to me, and um-“

“Pleasant ones, I hope,” Yuzuru interjected.

“Yes, but more importantly – sharp, vivid—“, Javier shook his head, “and your skating, Yuzu, it was sublime, it carried so much weight, even as it expressed such fragility- I’m sure everyone felt the same and probably told you, but I wanted to let you know as well”, Javier finished, in a rush.

“Thank you, Javi. Your support means so much to me, you know that. If you liked it so much, then I feel happy.”

Yuzuru’s tone was warm and tender, but Javier couldn’t help thinking that his manner was a little formal. But then Yuzuru looked up, smiling sweetly at Javier, and Javier’s previous impression vanished, replaced only by a powerful desire to kiss Yuzuru there and then. For a terrible second, Javier almost gave in – he could almost see himself bridging the space between them abruptly - a sudden and violent descent into madness, not unlike their first kiss in a deserted locker room halfway across the world. Javier could almost feel the ghost of the remembered pressure and taste of Yuzuru’s lips on his own, the warmth of his slender body under Javier’s over-eager fingers. He imagined bruising Yuzuru’s long neck with lips and teeth and tongue, as Yuzuru moaned, overwhelmed, palms kneading Javier’s naked back, underneath his shirt.

Javier blinked fast and looked away. It finally registered to him that Yuzuru was talking.

“...I want everyone to look at this program and think about what it means to them,” Yuzuru continued. “I know what it means to me, but I don’t want to impose my thoughts on others...”

“Yuzuru”, a female voice called suddenly, and Yumi appeared in the doorway. She said something in Japanese, and Yuzuru replied, on a petulant, but appeasing tone. Yumi looked from Yuzuru to Javier, and back again, pursed her lips, then retreated, with a bow in Javier’s direction.

“Mom doesn’t want me being alone with you,” Yuzuru explained, with a sad smile.

Javier saw an opening to discuss the aftermath of Yuzuru’s asthma attack and his conversation with Yumi, but in the end he decided not to take it.

“We’ve been alone plenty before, and she didn’t have a problem,” he said instead.

Yuzuru hesitated.

“She’s afraid I bother you.” He sighed. “And she’s right. So I am sorry for the trouble I caused. You don’t want me anymore and I should save what remains of my dignity and accept it.”

“Yusu”, Javier whispered. He hadn’t expected that. He stared at Yuzuru unblinkingly, until his vision began to blur.

“I just wish it didn’t hurt so bad all the time”, Yuzuru said, looking down at his hands, instead of at Javier. “Every day, I say to myself ‘it will get better’, but instead, it just seems to hurt more, and it makes me so mad and furious. I can’t do anything, I can’t conquer it. It can’t be helped.” 

Yuzuru didn’t sound mad, however – he sounded tired and resigned.

Javier could reject a wild, forceful Yuzuru, like he had been on the roof that night, but was powerless against a soft Yuzuru, who looked so defeated and sad.

Slowly, Javier lifted a hand, and pressed the pads of his fingertips underneath Yuzuru’s eyes, like he had wanted to do earlier that night. Yuzuru smiled contently, eyes crinkling.

“Like in Pyeongchang”, he said. Then, because Javier looked confused, he clarified: “I did the same gesture to you before the medal ceremony in Pyeongchang.”

Javier didn’t remember, but he supposed his subconscious must’ve.

“Why did you do it then?”

“It’s from the Onmyoji movie. Abe no Seimei does it to Hiromasa. I don’t know exactly what it means. Some say that Seimei grants Hiromasa the power to see the spirit world with that sign. I just thought it looked cool.”

Javier chuckled.

“They were friends, weren’t they, these two.”

“Best friends”, Yuzuru nodded.

Javier moved his hand, gently caressing Yuzuru’s face, and Yuzuru leaned into it.

“It’s funny. I achieved my dream – to win the Olympic gold again, and it’s like my story is over. Do you know, I didn’t even think beyond this date? It’s strange to me, like living beyond my time.”

Javier made a slight noise of dissent, but Yuzuru continued:

“It’s like I wiped the storyboard clean, and now I start over – from nothing. I’m re-learning everything... the jumps, one by one. And I have to learn again how to love you, so that it doesn’t hurt.”

Yuzu –“, Javier almost choked. “Why do you say things like that, do you know what you do to me?...you think I’m made of stone? I try so hard—“

Yuzuru didn’t answer, and didn’t look up at Javier, but his fingers were trembling slightly on his knees.

“What are you doing to me”, Javier said again, flatly, the lack of intonation making the words sound like dazed wonder.

Yuzuru’s cell phone rang, breaking the moment.

“It’s mom”, Yuzuru said, confirming Javier’s suspicion. “I should go.”

“Okay”, Javier nodded.

Yuzuru hesitated.

“We’ll see each other tomorrow”, Javier continued, trying to sound reassuring.

“For a while, still see you, yes”, Yuzuru nodded. “Soon, you’ll be gone.”

Javier didn’t answer.

Yuzuru picked up his trolley bag and left the locker room quietly.

 

^

There were traffic noises in the background as Javier’s call connected, his girlfriend was probably out in the street.

He didn’t waste any time on introduction, it was late at night and he was tired, so he said without preamble:

 “Marisa...angel, you have to help me.”

“Did you sleep with him?” she asked, immediately.

Javier wondered what it said about him that his girlfriend had immediately known this was about Yuzuru and that she thought it likely enough that Javier would sleep with him, first chance he got.

He sighed, and tried to be as honest as possible.

“....No. No but I wanted to. And it’s not just that, but....I want more. I’m sorry. I still love him so much. I’m so sorry. What am I going to do?”

“Shhh, Javi. It’s okay, we’ll work it out together. Tell me everything.”

And so Javier recounted the events of the past few days to her.

“Javier, you should get as far away from Yuzuru as possible,” said Marisa after he finished. “You can’t give in again, you just can’t. ”

“That’s the right thing to do, isn’t it? But I can’t. My heart bleeds knowing that he suffers, and I suffer too, being away from him. Deep down I know, I think I’ve always known, I can’t rip him from my life more than I can rip my arm off.”

“The difference being”, Marisa explained patiently, “you would never emotionally blackmail your ex lover into staying with you, like he did.”

“.......”

“Javi, what he did was wrong.”

“I know- I know it was wrong. But he’s regretting it now, he apologized for it, and he-“

“Is that what he told you?” Marisa laughed shrilly. “And you believed it?”

“Why would he be lying?”

“Why wouldn’t he be lying? He’s playing you like a fiddle! He’s lied to you many times before, so forgive me for doubting his honesty! And asking for forgiveness for emotionally blackmailing someone....that’s like...here, have some more emotional blackmail!” She laughed again, humourlessly, and Javier winced.

“It’s not-“

“Oh call it what you like”, Marisa interrupted him furiously, “but leaving his inhaler behind like that, when he has a serious medical condition....that counts as a suicide attempt in my book. And all that so he could get you back.”

“That’s a bit of a stretch, Marisa.”

“You mean, the fact that you were there when his attack happened, that you were arguing and you were about to leave – all these don’t strike you as too much of a coincidence?”

“I don’t think he planned it”, Javier replied, still stubbornly defensive of Yuzuru. “He just got very worked up, and it triggered his asthma. That can happen.”

“It can”, Marisa agreed. “But he could have also exposed himself to a trigger on purpose, with you none the wiser.”

“Yuzuru wouldn’t do that.”

“Are you so sure? I used to think he was childish and spoiled, but now he seems downright neurotic and manipulative to me. It looks like he’ll stop at nothing to get you back, and that scares me. And it should scare you.”

“You don’t know him”, Javier cut her off harshly. “Yuzu is not like that. He’s usually very sweet and caring, and genuinely friendly. He’s also kind and polite and well-mannered. He’s really clever, and funny. Of course he can be overly sensitive, and he’s also fiercely competitive, and hard working, turning obstacles into challenges, but manipulative, neurotic? No way-“

There was the sound of a cigarette lighter flicking, and the noise of Marisa exhaling smoke noisily.

“Gosh, do you even hear yourself, Javi. Write him a fucking poem while you’re at it.”

“Oh, and I forgot a very important thing: he’s incredibly talented. A genius.”

“I’ll have to take your word on that, since I know nothing about skating. In fact, I have to take your word on everything, it seems”, she added coldly. “But that means you also have to take the word of someone who works a regular 9 to 5 job and can see beyond all that glitter”, she added maliciously. “And right now that person is me, Javier.”

“Look – my point is: about his recent actions – they don’t define him. He’s just been going through a rough patch.”

“And so have you”, Marisa countered. “And even so, if you had acted to me like Yuzuru did with you, I wouldn’t have cut you any slack. I’d have been out of your life faster than you could say woosh!”

“No, Marisa, you don’t mean that. You put up with me plenty!”

“Yeah, when you trail mud into the house, or when you get drunk and put your shorts on your head during a football match, and even when you think a random chick is hot and you’d like to bang her. That’s pretty much harmless stuff in my book. You’re a lovely man and I couldn’t ask for any better. But Yuzuru is just devious. He’s playing you, and you’re falling for it everytime.”

“I call to ask for your help and I get a lecture....”

“Remember when he blackmailed you into doing his show? You never woke up at 4 am in the morning in your life, Javi! And on your birthday too! What does this say about you, eh? That you’re whipped! Only because it was your birthday did I refrain from giving you a lecture back then. I told myself, ‘Chica, at least be thankful he didn’t fly to Japan on a whim!’”

“That wasn’t Yuzuru who ‘blackmailed’ me into doing it, it was actually the idea of one of our friends. And I did it because I wanted to,” Javier replied, affronted.

“You’re whipped, Javi”, Marisa repeated, viciously. “A long time I thought it was because you’re so very nice, too goddamn nice sometimes, that you just can’t say no to people, even when they treat you bad. But the stuff you’re willing to put up with from Yuzuru goes beyond anything and everything!”

“Don’t you think you’re exaggerating a little, Marisa?”

“What is it that you want from this guy? Do you want to fuck him? Go ahead! I told you I don’t mind, so just do it as many times as it takes to get it out of your system!”

“You don’t understand, Marisa... Why are you being so mean now, when you were so understanding before? I need you to be there for me now, like you used to...I feel so lost and sad...”

Javier heard Marisa sigh noisily over the phone and the sound of a door and the clink of keys as she entered the apartment.

“Why am I being mean? Maybe because I’m tired, Javi. And I’m angry....yes, angry on your behalf, since it seems you’re not. I’ve been very patient so far, I know, I’ve been a regular Mother Theresa. But I’m nearing the end of my patience when it comes to your relationship with Yuzuru.”

“Marisa please. I’m sorry I’ve been so selfish. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t want to lose you either, Javi”, her voice softened. “That’s why I’ve made so many compromises. But I can’t make anymore.”

She sank into a cushion and turned on the tv. Javier could hear the low noise of the news in the background of their conversation.

“You want to go back to him, it’s obvious”, Marisa continued. “You want to throw everything in the wind, all the months you’ve cried, all the hurt you’ve felt, everything you told me about – forgotten. You’re ready for it to happen all over again – and worse. I hope you’re not fooling yourself that it’s gonna be different this time. He’ll hurt you just the same, sooner or later. And now he knows how to make you stick around, even if he hurts you. Cause hey, it worked once, right? Is this the life you want, Javi?”

Javier stood up and paced, hitting the light switch angrily as he passed it. The room was plunged into darkness. He slid against the wall, biting his fist. He knew Marisa wasn’t right – she didn’t know a lot of things, she was simplifying things....but she wasn’t wrong either.

“Think about it, Javi”, Marisa said into his ear. “See, I think deep down you know going back to him is wrong. Otherwise you wouldn’t have called me. You called me so I could change your mind, help you to do the right thing. And I will.”

 “Please, Marisa.”

“Put some space between you and Yuzuru. Some time and space. Come back to me. I’ll make you forget about him. I promise. But you’re going to have to want to. You’ll have to really give it your best.”

Javier stared into the darkness.

“Okay...”, Javier whispered, clutching the phone.

“How many shows do you still have in Japan?”

“Just these three.”

“Okay. That means in a week, you’ll be home. That means... I have a week to think about all the things we’ll be doing together when you arrive”, said Marisa teasingly, and Javier could hear the smile in her voice. “I can’t wait to see you again, Javi. I can’t wait until you come back to me.”

Javier smiled.

“Marisa, what did I do to deserve you...”

“Some very naughty things, no doubt!” she laughed.

 

^

By the end of the program, Javier was trembling with the vivid image of Yuzuru lifting his eyes skywards, only to abruptly lower his gaze, and body, towards the ground, in abject surrender and dejection. He felt like it might as well have imprinted itself on his eyelids forever.

He knows. He knows it’s over. Marisa was wrong. He’s done trying to hold me to him. This is goodbye.

Of course he wasn’t the only one who noticed Yuzuru’s emotions.

Steph and Johnny surrounded him like mother hens, as soon as he stepped off the ice, despite the fact that they were on in less than 2 minutes and Yuzuru had to go change and join them, too.

“Yuzuru – how can a song about hope....be so sad?”

“Yuzu-kun...”

“I’m sorry. I failed.”

“Sweetheart...!”

“Let him go change, guys”, Zhenya intervened. “You did not fail, Yuzu. You have an entire season ahead to perfect it”.

Javier felt like he couldn’t be there anymore – he felt like the air was stilted with pain. He knew he was being absurd and selfish – but he wanted to run. If anyone called him to ask why he missed the finale, he could always tell them he had a plane to catch and apologize for the inconvenience. But of course he couldn’t and wouldn’t do that.

Everyone was hugging and taking pictures in the finale, so it was okay to let Yuzuru hug him under the bright show lights. Yuzuru gripped perhaps a bit too tight, melting into Javier for a long moment, then pulled back, briefly closing his eyes with an air of solemnity. Javier nodded slightly. He waited for the curtain to fall behind him so he could wipe that smile which didn’t reach his eyes off his aching face. And then finally, run.

 

 

 

Seven months later

“I can’t believe I forgot them...”

“Javi, you told me you forgot your skates once... your entire costume even...”

“That was actually my luggage going missing. But, point taken.”

“Is there anything I can do? Find them and send them to you by airmail? Will you even receive them by tomorrow?”

“That would be great, Marisa, thanks! I think they’re in the main closet of my dressing room – they should be in the first drawer....unless I’ve left them somewhere in sight, and just nearly forgot to pack them in.”

“Got it, Javi.”

Javier smiled gratefully at her from the screen. They were skyping since Javier was in Minsk for the European championships, and having unpacked, he realized that he had forgotten his gloves at home.

“Anyway, if you don’t find them, that’s not such a problem.”

“I’m sure you can win without them”, Marisa joked. “But I’ll do my best to send them to you. In fact, I’ll go look for them right now, why waste time?”

“Sure”, Javi nodded, leaning back in his seat. “I’ll wait.”

Marisa went up to Javier’s dressing room. It was improperly called, since it was more of a storage space where Javier kept all his costumes, trophies, skating equipment, all in one place so it wouldn’t clutter the whole house. She rarely entered here, so she took some time to look around. ‘Big closet, first drawer....’, she muttered. She flipped through whatever she found there, socks, tights, dance belts, bracelets, a santa hat. No gloves. She opened the other drawers, as well. Practice clothes in one, a pair of gloves but the wrong colour...she dug deeper, and her hand suddenly landed on a hardcover. There were several magazines there as well but this one did not have a glossy cover. Intrigued, Marisa picked it up from among the cloth, and studied it closely. It wasn’t a book, it was a notebook. She flipped the pages. It was covered in Javier’s neat cursive handwriting.

Was Javier really keeping a journal, like a teenager? Oh, she was going to tease him silly! She flipped through the pages, and her attention was drawn by her name written there. He was writing to her? But she was right there with him, why not just tell her directly? ...Oh. Oh.

Marisa”, she read, “what happens if...after all this time, I can’t stop thinking about a certain someone? Would you think I'm being unfaithful? Would you think your love was wasted on me?  Would it hurt you to know that my heart leaps every time I read about him on the news, and not just hearing that he’s broken yet another record, but silly unimportant things, like him doing a commercial, or attending some event. That I watch his every performance religiously and I even made an account on one of his forums so I could better keep track of what he’s doing. That sometimes I lie in bed, looking up at the ceiling and think of him, halfway across the world. Yuzuru was right, the pain doesn’t go away with the passing of time – it’s not true when people say it does. It grows and grows until it cannot grow anymore and then it turns into something different – a heaviness on the heart, a torpor of the mind, that you can live with, like you learn to live with an inoperable tumour.

I sometimes imagine he’s here with me – for instance, when I go shopping, or out for drinks with my mates (even though Yuzuru always refused our offers to hang out in bars), or when you and I take a walk in the evening, Marisa – I don’t imagine he’s there instead of you, Marisa, that would be wrong, I just imagine he’s there too, and we’re strolling around, the three of us, maybe stopping at a cafe, and we’d order in Spanish, and Yuzuru would make a face because he doesn’t understand and we’d laugh at him, and tell him he’ll like what we ordered for him – that kind of thing. Imagining these things make me happy, so why should I stop? It’s not like I can replace them with the real thing, so if I stop I have nothing. That’s not true – forgive me: I have you, Marisa. You, who loves me steadily and warmly and believes in me, a constant source of strength in my life. Truly I don’t deserve you. It is your liveliness, your charm, your gentleness and comforting affection that has kept me going all this time.”

Marisa blinked away tears with the ghost of a smile, and flipped a few more pages, her eyes settling on another paragraph:

“Sometimes I want him physically, with a frightening intensity – I feel like I’ll go mad if I don’t get to touch him, taste him – I wonder if he tastes the same as I remember, although my memories are starting to fade, and it drives me crazy to think I can never replace them with new ones...”

Marisa closed the notebook abruptly, and shut her eyes, briefly, with a grimace of pain. She heard a noise outside and snapped the notebook shut on instinct. That's when she raised her eyes and noticed the pair of gloves Javier had forgotten - they were right there, in plain view, on the chair next to the closet, and she had somehow neglected to spot them when she came in. She carefully replaced the notebook back in the drawer, picked up the gloves, and went out, to let Javier know she had found them and to go by pretending nothing was wrong.

^

Javier had won the European Championships again, and had said his official farewell to competitive skating. 

Marisa didn’t watch skating unless it was Javier, but the news had informed her that Yuzuru had won his own regional event, the Four Championships, and she couldn’t help but look at Javier carefully that day. Was he happy for Yuzuru? Was he happy in general ? Javier never watched skating with her present, but now that she knew that he watched Yuzuru, that he kept up with every news about him, probably when she was away at work, it coloured her perception of Javier. Where he had previously appeared attentive, now he seemed to her distracted, although she was sure Javier couldn’t have changed from one day to the next. Had he always been like that?

The World Championships in Saitama were now approaching, and the anticipation was high. It was rumoured that this was going to be Yuzuru’s last competition, and everything seemed set up for something grand.

When Marisa read that Yuzuru had to retire from the World Championships due to pneumonia, she felt a twinge of pity. She remembered whenever Javier had to miss competitions due to illness, the frustration, sadness and helplessness that came with it. She could only imagine how Yuzuru must feel, having to miss such an important event, and in his home country, too, bogged down in an illness he couldn’t control. She felt sorry for him and, moved by an impulse, she left a comment on the article, wishing him well, one comment in the myriad of others doing the same. She wondered if Javier had done the same. Or perhaps he had already called him? While Javier was taking a shower that evening, she looked through his phone, guiltily. He hadn’t called, nor did he send any messages.

However, Javier seemed very preoccupied by this piece of news, as much as to stop pretending he was doing anything else but following the news on Yuzuru. The next day, Saturday, they were sitting on separate ends of the couch – Marisa watching tv, Javier with his laptop on his knees, switching fervently between what looked like several open tabs. Marisa couldn’t see what he was reading, but his tense mood made her restless with anxiety, even as she still stubbornly refused to say anything to him. She couldn’t help the gnawing feeling that things were coming to a head, but didn’t want to be the one to break their delicate balance.

Javier played a video, sound barely piercing through the louder sounds from the television. Marisa surreptitiously turned the tv volume down and pricked her ears to hear. It appeared to be a news report in English.

“....was admitted to the emergency department of the local hospital due to complications arising from his asthma. Earlier this week, Hanyu had contacted a pneumonia which forced him to retire from the World Championships in Saitama, which are taking place this weekend. We received reports that Hanyu’s condition is now stable, but he remains in hospital under observation and treatment.”

Marisa found herself thinking about karma – it was mere months since Yuzuru had essentially played with his dangerous medical condition to coerce Javier into staying with him (despite not having been there, from what Javier had told her, Marisa remained certain that this is what had happened) – and now the entire thing came back to bite him when he least wanted or expected to. She found it equally ironic and sad, and almost voiced the thought out loud, but stopped herself in time.

Marisa looked at Javier. He had gone pale and still. His hand strayed imperceptibly towards his cell phone, then back again. She was sure he could feel her eyes on him, but he didn’t look up at her.

 

“I’m going to Japan”, Javier announced, the following morning.

Marisa didn’t look up from her coffee. She felt something like relief, if only because the tension was beginning to feel unbearable. Still, she was sure there’d be regret to follow.

“Did you hear me, Marisa? I have to go. I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t. Nothing matters more to me in this moment.”

Marisa trembled slightly.

“I know”, she said, quietly. “I’m sorry, Javi...Sorry for everything.”

“No”, Javier left his chair and knelt, taking her hand and pressing it to his lips. “Don’t be sorry. Marisa...my angel....”

She shook her head, absently.

“I’m really not...”

“You saved me. You were perfect. Much more than I deserved. It’s my fault. It’s all muddled and wrong, but it is what it is, and - and it can’t be helped.”

“I know”, Marisa repeated. She ran her hands through Javier’s hair. “I love you, Javi. And I’ll always be your friend. You know this, right? Now, go.”

Javier straightened and pulled her into a hug. They stood in each other’s arms for a few seconds, breathing into each other. Marisa was the first to pull back.

“Go”, she repeated. “If you hurry, there’s a plane to Tokyo in a few hours.”

 

^

It was an early rainy morning when Javier finally showed up at Yuzuru’s house, without any prior announcement, and asked, without preamble:

“How is he?”

Yumi, who had opened the door, was frozen with shock, but recovered enough to understand, and answer honestly:

“Not well.”

She moved aside and Javier came in, removing his rain-soaked coat, and bowed to everyone gathered around the table, having breakfast.

“Would you like to eat something?” Yumi asked him.

“No, thank you.” Javier swayed on his feet. “I just want to see Yuzuru.”

Yumi hesitated.

“Please”, Javier said desperately. “I know I should have called first – I’m sorry I didn’t – but... long story. I’ve been travelling for almost two days straight and... I have to see him, please.”

“Of course”, Yumi nodded, inclining her head.

She motioned to him to follow and Javier did.

“Please tell me more about Yuzu – how is he doing?” he asked, as they were climbing the stairs.

“Yuzuru had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic we gave him for his pneumonia. It’s worsened his asthma, and we had to take him to the hospital where they put him on a respirator and stabilized him. They switched him on another antibiotic, but so far he’s not responding to it and the infection is worsening. I am very worried about him.”

Javier’s own breath quickened in panic.

“I know you’re doing all you can”, he said, automatically, to reassure her.

Yumi paused before opening the door.

“I had Yuzuru brought home because I couldn’t stand leaving him in hospital alone. So I had the doctors set up here – IV’s, respirators, everything that’s needed. A specialist comes to see him once a day and I have a nurse who lives close on speed dial. Fortunately, he’s not contagious, or I wouldn’t let you see him. Here –“, she opened a side door. “Please wash your hands very well before going in.”

 

“Javi, you’re here...? Is this another dream?” Yuzuru slurred, when he saw him. His eyes burned glassy and dark in his pale, ravaged face. He was hooked to an IV line, but thankfully not to a respirator. Javier, who after Yumi’s speech, had half expected to see him unconscious, breathed a sigh of relief. Yuzuru tried to stand up, and started coughing. Yumi pushed him back down, arranging the pillows at his back, feeling his forehead at the same time, and shaking her head in distress.

Javier crossed the room hurriedly, and sank to his knees beside Yuzuru’s bed, grasping his outstretched hand.

“No, not a dream, Yuzu. I’m really here. Finally here with you.”

“I don’t want you to see me like this.”

“Like what, baby?”

“I’m all sticky and gross and sweaty....haven’t washed in days...I’m sure my breath smells bad...”

Javier chuckled. Yuzuru aggressively patted his hair which was sticking up at all angles.

“Ugh, my hair is all wiry – why won’t it stay down-“

“Yusu, cariño, none of that bothers me -  when you love someone, none of these things matter....I’m happy, I’m so happy to be here with you...”

“Am I so bad...so bad, that you came?” Yuzuru asked, delirious with fever. “Have you come to say goodbye? Am I going to die?”

“No, Yuzu. I didn’t come to say goodbye. I came to start again. With you.”

 “I don’t believe this. Javi. This is...too good to be true. Now I know this is a dream, or that I’m going to die. I’ll die of a pneumonia of all things... How humiliating....it’s ridiculous...” Yuzuru scoffed, even as another fit of coughing wrecked his body.

“Shhh...you’re going to be alright... we’re going to take good care of you, and you’ll be well again, and then we’ll be together. I promise, I won’t leave you, ever again. Please trust me, cariño.”

“Javier, I’ll make you warm tea”, Yumi interrupted abruptly. “And then you have to rest.”

“No, no”, Javier protested, still clutching Yuzuru’s hand. “I’ll get some take-away coffee. Please don’t bother on my account.”

“No coffee, and no take-away. Tea. Home-made”, Yumi repeated, sternly. “And you will rest like I say. I don’t want two sick children to take care of. Take off your wet clothes and sleep. We have a spare room.”

“No way”, Javier replied, just as definitely. “I didn’t spend 40 hours travelling so I could sleep in a spare room.”

“We’ll bring a futon here”, Yumi sighed. “But you won’t be getting much sleep. Yuzuru coughs all the time, day and night, and he has a lot of trouble breathing. His fever is still very high and I’m wrapping him up in cold wet sheets to try and bring his body temperature down. They become dry in mere minutes. It’s been almost a week since any of us slept properly.”

“It’s humiliating”, Yuzuru mumbled. “Don’t want you to see me like this”, he repeated.

“Please don’t shut me out”, Javier begged, glancing from Yuzuru to Yumi, pleadingly, and deciding she’d have the last word, addressed only her: “Please – I want to help. I want to be with Yuzu – I’m not a guest here, I came to be with him, I love him and I can’t bear the thought of being away from him right now... I want to help him get better, even if it means seeing him at his worst.”

“Javi”, Yuzuru gasped, “do I have to get sick for you to love me back?”

“Hush, silly child”, Yumi snapped. “You’re raving.” She added something in Japanese more gently, and caressed Yuzuru’s hair.

“Yuzu, if only you knew how many times this year, when you were happy and healthy, I wanted to leave everything and fly to you...”, Javier said, bitterly.

“And why didn’t you?” Yuzuru cried out, voice ragged. “Why didn’t you?” His voice broke, and he coughed again, pressing his fist against his chest and gasping for air.

“It doesn’t matter anymore”, Yumi intervened. “Javier is here now. Javier, go shower. I will bring you new clothes, and tea. You still have time to change your mind about the spare room.”

 

Javier didn’t change his mind about the spare room. Night came and he was lying on the futon beside Yuzuru’s bed, having promised to wake Yumi if anything happened.

Yuzuru was watching him intently with a glassy stare, as if afraid Javier was going to vanish if he looked away.

“You look so good, Javi. So lovely...I don’t ever want to take my eyes off you. If you’re the last thing I see, then it’s fine.”

Javier stood up and slithered next to Yuzuru in bed, who gasped, and shifted to make room for him, even as he protested again that he was sick and gross.

Javier wrapped an arm around Yuzuru’s waist and placed his head on the same pillow and they breathed the same air for a while, as Yuzuru stopped trying to turn away. Javier spoke calmly but persuasively, trying to break through to Yuzuru’s mind, muddled by fever, past his ravaged body, to his fierce spirit.

“Yuzu – I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. If you get better, you can have me. So please, get better. Now’s the time to fight – with all your strength and willpower and audacity and stubbornness, which made me admire and love you, and then leave you in despair, that very same which won you two olympic gold medals against all odds. Use it now for this. I will be very, very disappointed in you if you fail.”

Yuzuru was quiet, breathing raggedly. Javier squeezed his fingers. Yuzuru squeezed back.

“Javi, I want to tell you...how sorry I am about all the things I did...”

“Forget about all that Yuzu....it’s alright, I forgave you a long time ago. I did bad things, too. Neither of us are perfect. We’ll try to be better.”

“Yes. I want to try and be better for you, Javi. I’ll do my best.”

“We’ll be better together.”

“I love you, Javi. I had lost all hope, I stopped trying to win you back, and now you’re here for me. Life is surprising and beautiful sometimes,” Yuzuru said, sniffing, with a wistful expression on his face.

Javier kissed his forehead, ignoring how the wispy strands of hair clung to the pale, clammy skin.

“You’re such a child, Yuzu”, he smiled fondly.

Javier climbed down from the bed eventually, turned off the light and settled on his futon.

“Javi...”, Yuzuru whispered, after a while. “I’ll fight for you.”

“I know you will”, Javier answered. “My fierce warrior.”

“My beautiful gentle knight”, Yuzuru replied, slow and serious, like in a dream.

Javier smiled in the darkness.

Yuzuru was fighting for him.

And if there was any hope and justice left in the world, he’d win.

They both would.

Chapter Text

It had been raining almost continuously for five days. From where he lay on the futon, Javier could glimpse out the window the cherry blossoms, wilted and bloated with rain, nearing the end of their season. The sky seemed eternally downcast, a muddy grey with smoky clouds.

It was almost noon but Yuzuru had a bad night, and now the house was quiet. Yuzuru was awake, Javier could hear his coughing from time to time, although more subdued than it had been last night. Javier turned to look at him and saw that Yuzuru’s face was also turned towards the window, looking outside.

Javier edged closer and reached for Yuzuru’s hand outstretched on the bed, covering it with his own, thumb absently caressing the exposed wrist.

“I wanted so much to be there”, Yuzuru said, and Javier didn’t have to ask because he knew Yuzuru meant the world championships. “Perhaps I wanted too much. It’s been like this recently for me.”

“I know”, Javier said, voice low. He moved his hand in a more purposeful caress up Yuzuru’s arm. The skin still felt damp and feverish. “But there will be other competitions.”

“Will there be?” Yuzuru asked, voice a little high.

“Of course”, Javier said.

“It will go on without me”, Yuzuru sighed. “Maybe that’s not so bad. If I stopped.”

“...Skating?” Javier asked, with a strange sense of deja vu.

“No”, Yuzuru answered. “I mean, stop everything.”

“Yuzu, you promised me you were going to fight.”

“I am, Javi. And that’s just it: If I stop everything, then you can have – everything.”

Javier shook his head, confused, but having an inkling about what Yuzuru wanted to express.

“You don’t owe me anything, Yuzu. I just want you to be well. I’m not leaving you, and I’m not asking you for things that you can’t give me. So quit worrying about that. Okay?  We’ll talk about all this when you get better, yes?”

Javier pushed a few loose strands of hair behind Yuzuru’s ear gently.

“It all makes sense to me now”, Yuzuru went on, stubbornly. “I know what I have to do. I have to let it all go.”

“Shhh.”

“I’ve been selfish.”

“Nnnnn,” Javier said, noncommittally, inclining his head with a smile.

“Maybe I can be happy....differently”, Yuzuru said, eyes widening, like he just had a big revelation.

“Mmmmm”, Javier agreed.

“It’s gonna be so great”, Yuzuru rambled on, breathlessly. He coughed for a solid minute, but then went on as if there had been no interruption. “We’re going to do ice shows, and coach, and get married, and adopt children. Where will we live, though? We’ll have to settle this with janken, as usual... Anyway, it’s fine. I know you like it here in Japan, Javi. I love Spain, too. And we can go on holidays-“

“It’s almost time for your meds, Yuzu. But let’s not wake your mom, I’m sure she’s exhausted. I’m gonna go downstairs and heat up the potage she made yesterday, so you can eat before you take the meds. Okay?”

“Okay, I’ll come with!”

“You don’t have to, I can bring it here afterwards.”

“No, I want to! And – Javi, are you listening?” Yuzuru asked, as he stumbled his way out of bed.

“Of course. Careful you don’t trip over those wires.”

“Then what did I just say? Hmmm?” Yuzuru’s voice dropped down an octave as they made their way into the hallway.

“Something about janken and adopting children,” Javier said, matching his low voice.

Yuzuru snorted inelegantly, then coughed. Javier placed one arm around his waist securely, and another on his arm, as they went slowly down the stairs.

“I can walk, Javi~”, Yuzuru said, with mock annoyance, but his eyes were crinkling in joy, even glazed and unfocused with fever.

“I know you can, I just like holding you.”

Having made it into the kitchen, Javier closed the door and set about making tea and heating the delicious corn potage Yumi had made yesterday. It was a pity Yuzuru would only eat a little of it. His illness had made him lose his appetite and his taste, barely even registering the difference between hot and cold. He had trouble swallowing so his mother only made soft foods.

“I love watching you do house stuff, Javi”, Yuzuru commented, watching Javier’s every move attentively. “I want to help, too, but when I get better”, he added much to Javier’s relief, who was spared from babysitting a sick but enthusiastic Yuzuru while he fumbled with kitchenware. “I think about what you said, about hiding, and now I think you’re right, Javi – hiding is stupid, makes you feel like you’re doing something bad,” Yuzuru went on, and the way he jumped from one topic to another reminded Javier again that Yuzuru’s mind was still foggy. “...so, we’ll announce it to everyone in a press conference, that we’ll get married,” Yuzuru ended triumphantly, swaying from one side to another on his floor chair.

He stared at Javier expectantly, obviously awaiting a reply. Javier, who had spent the past few days seeing only Yuzuru, Yumi and the branches of the cherry blossom tree that could be glimpsed from the window, saw no problem with that. It was the longest he had ever spent isolated from the outside world, caught up in a bubble of unreality with Yuzuru, whose own mind was wandering, clouded by fever. He felt strangely remote from other people and their possible reactions.

“Sure”, he agreed. “As soon as you get well again.”

 

Javier opened his eyes with the feeling that he’d slept a century. He blinked slowly, his eyes refusing to open. When they finally did, his vision focused on an empty bed. Yuzuru’s bed – empty, and carefully made, not a wrinkle on the newly changed pristine white sheets. The medical equipment was gone as well. Javier’s eyes opened wide, as he jumped up immediately, frantic. He checked the bathroom, which was empty. He went out into the hallway, and knocked at Yumi’s door. No one answered. Javier felt like crying in panic and frustration. He knocked harder – then, throwing every bit of consideration to the wind, pushed the door open. The room was empty. He went down the stars like a mad whirlwind. The entire house was empty. What was going on?! He returned upstairs to grab his cell phone and call someone, anyone who could throw any light on what happened, and his eyes fell on a piece of paper, which he hadn’t noticed before. It read:

“We’re in hospital. Didn’t want to wake you. Nothing you could have done. Call when you wake up - Yumi “

Javier broke into a cold sweat reading the message, and fumbled for his cell phone to call her.

Yumi gave him the name of the hospital in a tired, defeated voice, and explained to him how to get a cab. She didn’t say anything about Yuzuru and Javier was too afraid to ask.

As Javier entered the ward, and saw Yumi sitting by Yuzuru’s bed, he was struck by a sense of deja-vu, although he knew that Yuzuru wasn’t asleep, as he had been back then, but unconscious. He was hooked to a respirator which was breathing for him. Javier stepped in quietly and pulled up another chair to sit in, too shaken to say anything.

A doctor came in after a while, to check up on Yuzuru. He bowed deeply to Yumi and had a heartfelt conversation with her. Yumi nodded towards Javier, and the doctor turned to him and said in English, for his benefit:

“I promised we will do everything in our power. We are considering several options, including an artificial lung. We will not give up without a fight.”

Yumi smiled sadly and shook the doctor’s hand warmly, but Javier could see that she was losing hope. It seemed as if everyone was desperately engaged in a losing battle.

Javier sat in the uncomfortable chair as the day wore on, and looked at Yuzuru’s still face. At some point, Yumi broke down and started crying, with subdued, yet heartbreaking sobs. Javier moved his chair closer to hers and put an arm around her. They didn’t say a word to each other.

It seemed strange, but Javier had no tears to cry. He felt like now was not a time for tears, and with a sense of anticipation, he sat, as if suspended in a limbo. A late afternoon sun was shining through the window, casting a golden light into the ward. The rain was still falling, gently, glimmering like a shower of petals.

Javier remembered what Yuzuru had said about adopting children, and started imagining that future. Eventually, he fell asleep and dreamt he was showing them around Barcelona and taking them to see the magic fountain. He woke up with a stiff neck, but strengthened by a strange happiness, and resumed his vigil with renewed hope, even though Yumi seemed to become even more despondent as the darkness fell. Sometime in the night, a nurse came and brought comfortable chairs for Javier and Yumi to spend the night in. Javier felt grateful for the kind-hearted gesture. Yumi huddled in her chair, her face still wet with tears, the tea Javier had brought her still untouched on the nightstand. Javier wanted to comfort her but felt that any such attempt would be presumptuous. He had nothing to go on in his hope except his faith in Yuzuru who had promised to fight and a long history of not underestimating Yuzuru even at his worst. He couldn’t explain what he was feeling and why it was important, but he was filled with overwhelming love, for Yuzuru, for the nurse who had brought them chairs, for the doctor who promised to fight, for Yumi, for Marisa – and he felt warm and strong with all that love, which whispered to him that it was there to stay, even if the person who inspired it faded away. 

Javier must have fallen asleep again at some point, because when he opened his eyes, the room was again bathed in light.

His first thought was, ‘the rain had finally stopped.’

Then he saw Yuzuru. He was sitting up in bed, smiling fondly as he watched Javier, who struggled to clear the sleep from his eyes and make sense of his surroundings. 

“....Yuzu?” Javier gasped.

“Hey”, Yuzuru answered. He looked the worse for wear, but his smile was genuine, if a bit shy, and his eyes were clear.

 Javier’s heart leapt in his chest, not daring to give voice to his hope.

“Yuzu!....Y-you’re... okay?” he stammered, foolishly.

A wider smile, still a little sheepish, lit up Yuzuru’s face.

“I think so”, he answered, then added on a low, meaningful tone: “I guess I didn’t want to disappoint you, Javi.”

“He woke up a couple of hours ago”, Yumi broke in, beaming, and Javier turned to look at her. “They took him off the respirator. He’s breathing more easily and his fever is breaking!”

Javier gave a shuddering sigh of relief.

“You- you gotta stop letting me sleep through important events!” he jokingly told her.

“Sorry, sorry”, she said with a bow, and Javier laughed to show he really was not upset at all.

“And you...”, he stood up and went to sit on the side of Yuzuru’s bed, “let me look at you.” He cupped Yuzuru’s face in his hands gently. “Gosh, you look like hell, baby. You need a long rest. No skating for at least a month!”

“Aw”, Yuzuru said. “And I was hoping to go to the rink tomorrow,” he pretended to pout.

Javier hugged Yuzuru carefully - he was afraid to squeeze to hard, because Yuzuru's body felt awfully frail and breakable under his hands, so Javier was afraid to squeeze to hard, but at the same time he had an instinctual need to hold Yuzuru as tightly as he could. The close call of almost losing him forever crashed into Javier's mind with a delayed but fierce intensity. He made a visible effort to sit back, his hands crumpling the bed sheets instead.

“You have to get stronger”, he mumbled, half-audible. “Eat a lot. And then, after you’re fully recovered, we're gonna do everything you told me about. Don't think I'd forgotten, or that I wasn't listening.”

“I barely remember what I said, Javi”, Yuzuru said, smiling softly, but hopefully. “I must have said a lot of crazy things. I had a fever.”

Javier kissed his cheek.

“I'll remind you, then.”

 

^

“Ready, Yuzu?”

“Not really. Actually, I’m very nervous, Javi”, Yuzuru said, eyes wide.

“Oh, come on. You love me, right? Then you have to do this for me. You’ll see, all will be well.”

“What if it isn’t?”

“Hey, I sat with you through the press conference from hell, you have to do this one little thing for me.”

“But Javi, what if she hates me?”

“If she really does hate you, then you won’t have to see her again.”

“But you will.”

“Marisa and I have a long history together. We’ll always be friends. But it would mean a lot to me, if you two at least got along. You don’t have to be super friendly or anything. But just, you know....civil? Please, Yuzu, at least give it a try. For me.”

Yuzuru nodded, slowly.

“Okay, Javi. For you.”

“All right. I’ll drop you off, then come by in an hour. If anything goes wrong, call me.”

Yuzuru nodded, then nervously tucked a strand of hair behind his ear, as Javier parked the car in front of the coffee bar where they were due to meet Marisa. Javier stepped out briskly and went straight to a woman who was already standing there on the pavement. He hugged her and kissed her on both cheeks in greeting. She was facing the other way and Yuzuru couldn’t see her face. She and Javier exchanged a few words, then Javier turned, still smiling, and came back towards the car, motioning to Yuzuru to step out. Yuzuru took a deep breath and prepared a smile – the sweet, childish smile he usually offered to older women, in the hope of charming them by stirring their maternal instinct. But this was a young woman, only two years older than he was, and who was in love with another man – a man that Yuzuru had laid claims on. He had no smile for such an occasion. He stepped hesitantly out of the car, and Javier laid a comforting hand on his arm. Then Javier climbed in the car and drove away.

Marisa had turned around and was watching him, and Yuzuru forgot about preparing himself, as he studied her curiously. She was a head shorter than him, dressed in skinny jeans and a leather jacket. She had long brown hair and beautiful almond eyes which reminded Yuzuru of Javi. She wore vivid red lipstick on her large, mobile mouth. Despite her apparent nervousness, there was something about her which exuded warmth and radiance. Yuzuru had expected to dislike her but found he was reluctantly charmed. He lowered his eyes and hesitated, as he bowed, with a nervous smile that mirrored his mood.

Marisa’s first impression of Yuzuru was that he looked no older than her teenage brother, with the same casual, lanky, underfed look, an impression highlighted by the plain black t-shirt he wore over a pair of faded jeans, and his ruffled hair. She was taken aback. This guy – this boy, the famous two time olympic gold medalist, genius and living legend in his sport, whom Javier is hopelessly smitten with... all that fierce spirit and larger than life personality hiding under such an unassuming exterior. Yuzuru stepped closer, and she studied him more carefully. His face was pale and drawn and his eyes were a little dull and wary, but there was no mistaking the distinctive beauty of his features. Even dressed so plainly, there was a striking, intrinsic elegance about him. He bowed to her, with a shy, uncertain smile. Her initial impression shifted, reluctantly impressed, her curiosity awakened.

“Good evening”, Yuzuru said politely, straightening from his bow. “I’m Yuzuru, nice to meet you.”

“Hello, I’m Marisa. Nice to meet you, too”, she said. “Shall we go in, then?”

Yuzuru nodded.

The place was elegant and cozy, coloured in warm red and beige, with mood lighting. A flowery calligraphy on the left-side wall proclaimed that ‘Everything happens for a reason’. On the opposite wall, there was a traditional-style drawing with the caption ‘Vivo como quiero’. Yuzuru looked around curiously, taking it all in, as Marisa guided him to a table for two near a window.

“What shall we order?” he asked, as they sat down.

“They have a a good latte macchiato here. I recommend it.”

“I don’t drink coffee. I think I’ll have a milkshake. This is with strawberry, yes?” Yuzuru pointed with his finger at an item on the menu.

“Yes”, Marisa confirmed. “Don’t let me stop you from ordering anything stronger, if you want.”

“I don’t drink alcohol either.”

“Right. I’ll place the order then, yeah?”

“Please, thank you.”

“Well, then”, Marisa began, after the formalities were taken care of. “Javi was very insistent that we should meet. It’s very important to him for some reason.”

“He told me that....we are both very important to him”, Yuzuru said, carefully. “I don’t think he wants to....have to keep us separate. Sorry, I don’t know how to say.”

Marisa nodded:

“It would make him happy if you and me got along, because this means that he could spend time with both of us.”

“Yes. Javi deserves to be happy”, Yuzuru said, decisively.

“Yes, he does.”

“We can be nice to each other, for him. He likes you a lot, you know. I ... like you, too. I want us to be friends.”

Marisa narrowed her eyes, considering him. This was all nice and good, but she wasn’t going to make this easy for Yuzuru. She wasn’t at all sure she liked him yet and she wasn’t just going to pretend that all was fine and dandy just to please Javier.

Their order arrived, Marisa absently pouring an extra helping of sugar into her latte macchiato and stirring, while Yuzuru’s eyes widened at the sight of his milkshake, which arrived in a transparent jar, generously topped with sprinkles over the rich foam, and a colourful straw.

“Wow, it’s huge!” Yuzuru laughed helplessly. “Amazing!” He turned the jar over, looking at it from all sides, eyes shining with mirth, then he carefully extracted the straw and licked it tentatively.

Marisa realized she was watching him with an amused smile.

“Good?” she asked.

“Mhhm! Very!”

Yuzuru lifted his eyes and noticed her staring. He blushed and lowered his eyes again, with an awkward smile.

“You’re curious about me”, Marisa said, bluntly.

“So are you,” Yuzuru immediately replied.

Fair enough, Marisa thought.

“Tell me something, then”, she challenged. “Something that proves you really want to be my friend. Tell me about that night after an ice show, when you had an asthma attack and Javi had to take you to the hospital.”

Yuzuru stiffened.

“Javi already told you about that”, he ventured to guess.

“Yes, but I want to hear it from you.”

Yuzuru played nervously with the straw in his glass.

“For a long time, it was equal to me whether I lived or died because I thought I wasn’t supposed to be alive in the first place. The reason for this is...something I don’t want to talk about right now. I bought my time with my achievements – if I was alive when so many others had died, then I would have to prove worthy. I don’t expect anyone to understand or agree with me, but living in dishonour is worse than dying.”

“I don’t understand”, Marisa replied. “But I want to. Please help me to understand.”

“That time on the roof with Javi was not the first time I thought that dying would not be so bad. But I didn’t....I never actively tried to end my life with an act of violence. It was more like...like I was giving up.”

“Like...not looking both sides when you cross the road?” Marisa asked. “Or better yet, leaving your inhaler at home?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“So it wasn’t like, you were threatening Javi to commit suicide if he left you?” Marisa said, and winced at her own words.

Yuzuru looked horrified.

“No! I would never do that! Is that really what Javi thought of me?”

“No, he didn’t think that”, Marisa admitted. “But I did.”

Yuzuru drew in a shaky breath.

“Marisa, you don’t know me but... I tell you the truth, if you want to believe me. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I should do. I was scared and so, so sad. I was losing Javi – not only as a lover, but as a friend too – he was leaving altogether, moving to a different place and I would never see again. He was very important to me, and I felt lost, it was such a blow. And I know it was because I had treated him so badly, and I was wrecked with guilt, but at the same time I felt I deserved a second chance. Everyone in this world deserves a second chance, don’t you think? Otherwise, how can we get better?”

Marisa blinked, moved, in spite of herself. She tried to gather her thoughts:

“So, let me see if I got this right – you don’t care if you live or die?”

Yuzuru shook his head.

“For a long time, that’s what I thought. But I don’t think so anymore. I do care, I realized I’ve always cared, I was just stupid not to see it.”

Marisa raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“I care because of how the others would feel”, Yuzuru continued, on a low voice. “My mother, most importantly. She’d be crushed. The people who love me. I can’t let them down like this. I do care what people think about me, I care a lot. Even the people who don’t like me – their opinion still matters. So if I die, on a whim, what is the legacy I leave behind? A promising string of broken world records, followed by a pointless, senseless death. What a ridiculous way to end my story! They wouldn’t think dying of a broken heart is romantic, or tragic. No, people would just call me silly.”

“And they’d be right to”, Marisa interjected. “It’s a good thing you realized this.”

She took a sip of her drink, as she pondered what Yuzuru had told her.

“My turn now”, Yuzuru said, breaking the momentary silence. “Why did you propose to Javi to be in an open relationship?”

“Ah”, Marisa reacted, with a pained smile. “That’s.... guess I had that one coming, huh? And now I have to be honest, don’t I?“

Yuzuru nodded, seriously.

“Where to start....”, Marisa pondered. “I’ve known Javi for a long time....we were part of a group of friends who got together since college days. I suppose I always had a bit of a crush on him. I wasn’t blind, I saw the way girls, and even some boys, looked at him. He didn’t even have to try, he’d have girls throwing themselves at him left and right, but his relationships never lasted long. I was careful never to act like that around him, and that paid off. As time wore on, and even with the distance between us, we always kept in touch and we got together when he was home. When he came to me...after you hurt him...I felt an overwhelming need to take care of him, make sure he wasn’t hurt again.”

Yuzuru made a noise like a small sob, which he quickly muffled.

“I guess I did show my feelings, then”, Marisa continued. “And he responded. At first, I couldn’t believe that he would want me, after all this time. It seemed unreal. But I – I’d have done anything to keep him. So I figured – maybe this is what it would take, for our relationship to last – to give him some freedom. I have a friend who has an open relationship with her husband and it’s working for her. She says sex is just something to scratch an itch, but love is eternal. I wish I had her conviction, because I was always jealous and afraid that Javi would one day take advantage of that-“

“A-ha!” Yuzuru exclaimed, with some satisfaction, then muttered to himself, “I knew it...”

“...but he never did. The days when he’d have small brief affairs were long over. Now he was thinking only of you, and it wasn’t even only about sex. I see it now - no matter what I did, it was never meant to last, it was a crazy dream.”

“I’m sorry”, Yuzuru said, because he felt the situation warranted it.

“No, you’re really not”, Marisa smiled, then shrugged. “I guess that’s life. Olvidarlo...”

“It can’t be helped”, Yuzuru said. “You’re right, I’m not sorry Javi came back to me. And I’m definitely not sorry I love him. But I am sorry that you were hurt. And if it’s not too painful for you, I would really like us to be friends.”

 

^

“Marisa likes you a lot, you know”, Javier said, as he entered the apartment, after driving her home. “You charmer.”

Yuzuru tried to pretend like he hadn’t nervously awaited Javier’s return. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was unsure of whether or not he had made a good impression. He closed his eyes briefly, in grateful relief.

“That is good, because I like her, too. But I was honestly not trying to charm her. I was just being myself. She’s a cool person, open and honest, and she laid all her cards on the table straight away. I couldn’t have fooled her anyway.”

“That’s right, you couldn’t have. But you made a good impression. She told me she didn’t expect you to be so thoughtful and intelligent.”

Yuzuru rolled his eyes.

“I don’t want to know what you told her about me before”, he joked. “But I’m glad she likes me because I meant what I said – I want us to be friends, and not just to make you happy.”

Javier grinned brightly.

“I knew you two would get along!” He took off his jacket and shoes, and crossed the room in a few steps, to pull Yuzuru into a close embrace.

“You deserve a reward”, Javier said huskily, “for being so good for me.”

“Ah – Javi –“, Yuzuru reacted as he was lifted off the ground, Javier nuzzling his neck.

They fell on the couch together, and Javier got his hands underneath Yuzuru’s t-shirt and his lips on every surface of skin he exposed, and there was no more mistaking his intentions.

“Ah – Javi- I thought you....didn’t want me anymore.”

“What could’ve possibly made you think that?”

“You barely touched me ever since you came back... I know I was ill and... don’t look as good....mmhh... but-“

“I wanted you to get fully healthy, Yuzu. Sex was the furthest thing from my mind while you were recovering from that terrible illness, and I guessed it was the same with you.”

“Actually, ah, it wasn’t –, I mean it was – I’ve been wanting to have sex so badly for quite a while now....”

“Why didn’t you say anything, then?”

“I didn’t want to drive you away-“

“Silly...I missed you so much....Gonna show you....how much I still want you-”

Yuzuru arched his body with a shuddering sigh under Javier’s relentless caresses. He wrapped his legs around Javier’s middle, their erections rubbing together through their clothing.

“I’m not gonna last long”, Yuzuru panted, throwing his head back. “I’m close-“

“Already?” Javier smiled. “I barely got my hands on you.”

“I – Javi....please-“

“Shh, it’s okay - I’ll take good care of you. I got you. Let go.”

 

Later that night, they made love slowly, all sense of urgency gone, and only the need for closeness remaining. Hands clasped, they moved together in a rhythm they felt deep inside, looking into each other’s eyes, discovering each other with a new-found tenderness.

Dawn was breaking when they finally fell asleep in each other’s arms, still craving each other’s touch and warmth. Yuzuru remembered the last time they had sex, more than a year ago in Toronto – how different it had been – passionate, but impersonal, pleasurable but almost violent, with the unspoken knowledge that it would be their very last. He felt a pang of remorse and pity for the person he was back then – so caught-up in a vision of self-importance and self-pity, that he was suffering and he did not even know it. He felt so lucky to be here now with Javi, a Javi who still loved him and wanted him, despite everything. Yuzuru truly felt like a bullet had whizzed just past his ear, and narrowly missed him – and not just because of his near-brush with death a couple of months ago. He was lucky, to be alive, to have the man he always wanted, to have achieved so much, against all odds – he still didn’t know whether it was fate, or the strength of his spirit, or maybe a combination of both. But having Javier sleep contently in his arms after so many months of pain and despair over his absence, seemed nothing short of a miracle, and Yuzuru felt humbled and almost terrified by the prospect of such happiness lasting. But this time, he was certain that he’d be fighting with all his strength to make it last – if he could pull himself from the brink of death, then he could fight for his happiness. Or maybe fighting wasn’t the way to go about it – he had an inkling that this sort of thing required less taking and more giving. He would learn – he was a fast learner, and very motivated. Maybe Javi would teach him, like he always did.

 

~ Epilogue ~

One year later, at a cafe in Madrid

“Can’t believe you’re thinking of making a comeback. My beautiful fierce warrior.”

“My beautiful gentle knight,” Yuzuru replied, smiling.

“Hey – does that mean I play a supporting role?” Javier mock-pouted in Spanish to Marisa.

“Knights never play a supporting role, Javi”, Marisa argued. “Ever read Knights of the Round Table?”

“No, I haven’t. But I’m sure you have. So you’ll tell me if I’m missing anything.”

Yuzuru laughed loudly.

“Did you understand all that, Zu?” Marisa asked.

“Claro que si.”

“Yuzu’s Spanish is getting better,” Javier commented.

“Zu’s Spanish will soon be better than his English,” Marisa agreed.

“That shouldn’t be too hard to achieve,” Javier laughed.

“Hey!” Yuzuru whined, kicking his  leg under the table.

“Soon we won’t be able to tell any secrets around Zu.”

“Ya sabes lo que quieres pedir?” a waiter interceded on their conversation.

“Si” – Javier grinned broadly. He quickly gave the order, and added: “Por nos tres, por favor.”

“What did you order, Javi?” Yuzuru asked, his face scrunching.

“Hmm, what’s that? I thought you understood Spanish.”

“I didn’t understand that.”

“Then you’ll just have to see, won’t you?”

“For sure you'll like it, Zu."

Marisa's eyes met Javier’s briefly, and she nodded with a smile, seeing the grateful warm affection lighting up his face. He wasn’t hers anymore, but she’d never really lose him. In fact, as she sat on the cafe terrace in the golden afternoon sun, a breeze playing through her hair, faint street music playing nearby, surrounded by happy smiles and chatter, she didn’t feel that she had lost anything. Life was strange like that.

As they were waiting for their order, the three of them started discussing, in a mix of Spanish and English, their surprise trip to a local ice rink.