“Thank you Shoma,” he clasped the small hand in his and after a serious handshake he pulled Shoma into an embrace, it had been a while since the last time they had seen each other, “you were amazing out there.”
Where has time gone?
“Not good enough to beat you.”
Javier laughed, the Japanese skater reminded him of his rink mate back at home.
When has home become Yuzuru?
He didn’t know.
It didn’t matter.
“You are starting to sound like Yuzu,” he ruffled the smaller one’s hair with the usual affection, “it’s rubbing off on you.”
Shoma scrunched up his nose at the thought, “Do you really think I would turn into…that?”
The Spaniard knew fully well that Shoma didn’t mean half of his constant insults towards Yuzuru. If anything, Javier believed that the other skater nurtured a not so secret crush on him.
He wondered if it would ever become a problem in the future.
Perhaps we should have discussed this a while ago.
Time never seemed to be enough these days.
We have all the time in the world.
“How is he?”
Javier barely heard the quiet whisper that came from the small one, “I’m sorry who?”
Ah, there it was. That constant worry that sometimes threw Javier off. One second he could be bullying Yuzuru across the ice and in the next one he would be scolding him for pushing himself too hard.
“Right,” he took a deep breath and managed to keep the smile on his face, trying to not betray any sense of uneasiness, “He’s fine, last time I talked to him he was moaning about not getting Rostelocom this year.”
“I see.” Shoma fidgeted on his place by the boards and torn between wanting to ask something further and keeping himself in check. Javier didn’t know if he should help him and get it over with or just leave him to suffer.
Maybe I should wait and talk to Yuzu.
We will see each other soon enough anyway.
Javier never felt so grateful for being interrupted in his life. He turned to wave back at Brian who waited by the entrance of the rink, gesturing to the clock on his wrist.
It was time to go.
“Well, it seems I have to go.”
“Yes, you should go…please tell-”
“I will tell him you said hi, don’t worry,” Javier winked at Shoma feigning ignorance. Knowing perfectly well what the other wanted him to convey to his rink mate.
Maybe another time.
When we can properly talk about all of this mess.
He didn’t wait for Shoma’s goodbye, he just skated over to his coach who handed him his guards silently. Javier noticed how he was looking over to the figure still lazily stroking around the ice.
Brian seemed to be pulled from his thoughts and focused back on his student.
“I just…about that kid..”
“I like him, I could even consider him my friend if not for our fucked-up situation.”
Both coach and student exited the rink and made their way towards the changing rooms, “What do you mean?”
Javier stopped walking and looked around them, suddenly realizing something was missing, “Hey Brian where’s my bag?”
“The one with my clothes on? That I gave to you before the performance?”
Brian laughed at himself and shook his head, “Sorry, of course, it must be with Tracy, I’ll walk you to the changing room and while you shower I’ll get it for you.”
“Thank you and I mean the obvious crush Shoma has on Yuzu.”
“Well, if you talked to Yuzuru and decided to work things out once and for all, then maybe Shoma would get the point.”
Javier turned to Brian with a confused expression, “You knew?”
“You were both obvious, all three of you,” he put a hand on his shoulder and with a patient tone that Javier had never heard before he kept going, “You should talk to him, make things clear, what are you waiting for?”
I’m waiting for a sign.
Something that will tell me when the time is right.
“What if he doesn’t want the same things that I do, Brian? I want a family, I want forever and he just doesn’t…think that way,” he hated how even after all this time he sounded completely defeated.
“Did you ask him that?”
“No, I’m trying to find the right time…sometimes it seems like something is holding him back like he’s waiting for something to happen and I can’t figure out what.”
Brian looked back towards the direction of the rink that they had just left behind.
“Only you can change your own fate.”
The first thing he noticed leaving the venue after the gala were the scattered white spots all over the grey floor.
What on earth is that?
After realizing that it seemed like some kind of fabric, he kneeled down and carefully touched the white foreign material on the floor, examining it closer.
Shoma noticed how the fabric stretched between his fingers and he smiled.
The Japanese skater almost dropped the content he so preciously held on his hands and faced the other side of the corridor. Satoko smiled at him and without even sparing a glance at the mess around him, she walked closer to Shoma.
“You’re still here?”
Glancing at the clock now resting on his wrist he figured it had been hours since he left the changing rooms.
“I guess I am,” he pocketed the feathers quickly and asked her, “why are you here though?”
Once again she smiled.
“I just finished an interview, what are you doing down there?”
“I was going to take some of these and give them back to Yuzuru so he could sew them back or something.”
Her arched brow told him that she didn’t buy any of it.
“Fine, I was going to shove them at him and make jokes about it.”
“That’s more like it, you could take this chance and talk to him you know?”
He cleared his throat and put on his best poker face, a skill that he envied Yuzuru for, “What do you mean?”
“Shoma you like the guy, just tell him for God’s sake.”
Shoma almost choked on air. He had never discussed this matter with Satoko or anyone for that matter. He would rather stab himself first.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Listen, it’s been years, you need to man up and just tell him before…”
She seemed to stop herself from going further and he was actually curious about she could possibly mean by that, “Before what?”
Her smile seemed to be back on its place and somehow it made Shoma’s skin crawl.
What the hell is going on?
“Before someone else snatches him up.”
“Well, if someone really snatches him then I guess it doesn’t matter if I talk to him or not now does it?”
He realized what he had just said a minute too late.
The triumphant look on his teammates face could not be ignored, “Took you long enough to admit that, now you need to take another step and tell the person that matters.”
Could it be possible?
Can I really still have time?
Am I not too late?
“You really think I have a chance?” he knew he sounded weak, but he trusted her. He always had.
They had been through a lot together and he couldn’t think of a better person to confide his feelings in. Shoma mentally kicked himself for not realizing this sooner, he could have had someone to talk to instead of driving himself crazy.
Satoko put her hand on top of his head and gently petted his unruly hair, “We were all born with the same chances, what makes the difference is who is brave enough to take them.”
She cupped his cheek and kissed his forehead gently, “Goodbye Shoma, good luck. I’m actually rooting for you.”
What on earth does that mean?
“Hey, there champion.”
“Shoma!” He didn’t expect to be greeted in such a way yet he didn’t pull away from the sudden hug. He unconsciously tightened his hold on the older one as if trying to make the moment last. Surprisingly Yuzuru didn’t pull back.
Did he just bury his face on my neck?
“You look way too happy to see me,” it had been only a few hours since the last time they saw each other, he was exhausted after all the media attention and he hadn’t even won the gold. He suspected Yuzuru was in a very similar state given the tired look on his face and how he barely seemed to stand on his feet, “here, you lost these.”
Yuzuru looked at the pristine white feathers on the other skater’s hands and took one of them, “Where did you find them?”
“Right outside the locker room,” he gestured to towards the now empty corridor, “there was like enough feathers to stuff ten pillows and a mattress.”
He expected Yuzuru to at least hit him over his head but instead, he looked worried and somewhat confused.
“Yes, but I’m sure your magic seamstress can fix the duck costume in no time.”
If it made you happy I would sew the damn feathers myself.
He almost laughed at himself and changed the subject, “I found Satoko outside, I guess we were not the only victims to be left behind.”
“Satoko?” Shoma nodded, “That’s weird.”
“I didn’t know you would be held back too so I asked her if she had any press left to do, maybe we could head back to the hotel together,” he recalled, “and she said she was done for the day.”
“Well, she must have forgotten and come back some last-minute schedule.” Shoma tried to reason. If he were to be honest, he was way too tired to even question his friend's attitude.
“That must be it,” Yuzuru seemed to accept the possible explanation and quickly discarding the white feathers into a trash can, he grabbed his bags and headed to the door, “you coming?”
“You are not keeping those?”
“No, I rather not.”
This is it.
“Yuzuru I need to tell you something.”
His senior tilted his head in expectation. Such a typical gesture. It didn’t help Shoma to brave the words out of his throat.
“Congratulations, you deserved that medal.”
Yuzuru didn’t look away from his eyes as if searching for something more, finding nothing he sighed and smiled, his eyes disappearing into crescents, “Thank you, that means a lot to me.”
I can try again next time.
“Don’t you think it’s unfair?”
Misha didn’t stray his eyes from the two unsuspecting figures playing around on the ice, golden ribbons all around them.
“Unfair to who exactly?”
“To all of us.”
“We tried our best.”
“It was not enough.”
“There’s no such thing as borrowed time, the sooner you realize that the sooner we all move on.”
“Maybe if I-”
“Enough,” Misha faced his companion and shook his head, “Things were not to end this way but that’s not on us, some things are just not meant to be.”
The young swan cried not for what would be.
But for what could have been.
Time is the only constant in this life.
Slowing it will always be Humanity’s goal.
Stopping it will always be Humanity’s downfall.
I can do this.
I need to try.
I need to-
“What the hell…Yuzu?”
Yuzuru looked around the room and quickly rose to his feet, “I don’t know what happened, the costume just needs a bit of fixing-”
He never managed to finish the sentence before a fit of coughs wrecked his body making him go down on his knees again. Javier immediately ran to him, he hadn’t seen the other skater have a crisis like this in months.
“Do you have your inhaler? Do you want me to call someone?”
Yuzuru signaled for him to help him up and sat on one of the wooden benches, “It’s fine, I’m just tired, it’s been a tough day.”
Javier touched his forehead and wiped the sweat off his skin that had covered his brow due to the strain. Yuzuru almost seemed to tremble under his touch.
“You are the world champion Yuzu, you can rest now, it’s over.”
“It really is, isn’t it?”
The Spaniard cupped his face on his hands and before his lips could touch Yuzuru’s soft ones, he felt his rink mate’s hands softly push him away.
“I forgot that my inhaler is with Tracy, I keep forgetting about it, I should go get it before she leaves.”
Javier tried to his best to hide his disappointment and nodded, “Yes, you should.”
As soon as he was out the door Javier noticed what exactly Yuzuru had been doing on his knees. Almost every part of the floor was covered by something grey that reminded the skater of ashes. How could the other skaters not have noticed this?
He noticed how the trash bag on the floor seemed almost completely full.
Why was he even cleaning this up?
He bent down and could barely believe what he was seeing in front of him.
He dropped the soft object on his hand and turned to the person by the door, “Yes?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m just…waiting for Yuzu, he was actually trying to find you to get his inhaler.”
“Oh right, I talked to him already,” she closed the door behind her, “but have you?”
She closed her eyes and sighed, “About whatever is going on between you too.”
Does everyone know about this by now?
“How do you even know-”
Tracy raised her hands to her face, completely exasperated, “I’m your freaking coach I notice things Javier, I’m not fucking blind.”
Javier had been a student at TCC for many years now.
He had never heard Tracy swear.
“Are you feeling okay?”
He didn’t dare to prod further in her current state, she seemed ready to give up and march out of the room and it actually reminded Javier of those moments when Tracy had to control herself after some Yuzuru stunt. Maybe she was just stressed out. She was their second mother, she must be worried about them.
That must be it.
She has been putting up with us for so long.
He reached out for her and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, a usual gesture between them.
A silent thank you.
A silent I owe you everything.
“I will talk to him one day I swear, I just need to be sure before…I’m scared, Tracy…” Her expression softened and she pulled him into a hug, caressing his curls.
“I understand Javi, but sometimes we just need to follow the signs, even if it scares us to the core and it goes against everything we believe in. we must fight with everything that we have for what we want.”
I’m sorry I’m such a coward.
I’m sorry I’m weak.
“Or it might be too late.”
"We really did it."
Shoma looked to his side, Yuzuru still completely high on adrenaline from all the frenzy around his hard-earned victory.
"You did it, I just woke up and tried not to fall out there."
Yuzuru playfully swatted his shoulder, "Tried not to fall my ass."
They both had managed to drag themselves out of the ice when Shoma realized that this was his last chance to talk to Yuzuru before they went on their separate ways for months. They would probably see each other on ice shows, but why wait any longer?
"Yeah?" The taller one had bent down enough so that both could be on the same level, Yuzuru looked expectant.
"Can we talk?"
Shoma didn't know if it was still the rush running through Yuzuru's veins or his imagination but the smile the older one threw at him, somehow managed to give him something that he hadn't dare to think about for a long time.
"I - "
He was interrupted by the shrilling ring of a cellphone, from somebody's phone. It kept ringing incessantly till Shoma realized how close the sound actually was, "Yuzu it's your phone."
Yuzuru looked at Shoma and apologized, "Give me two seconds just to check this."
From the look on his senior's face, it didn't seem like good news.
"Is everything okay?"
Yuzuru brushed off his concern immediately, "It's just Javi wondering where I am, he was waiting for me back at the hotel room but apparently he’s coming here."
"Yes, he has access to my room, apparently he has something really urgent to tell me that can't wait, why?"
It all came crashing down to him in waves. The first bringing him the memories of what had happened just the day before, when the three of them had shared a moment behind the boards and Yuzuru couldn't stop crying after Javier's announcement.
The second one reminded him of something he already had come to realize along the years.
He never stood a chance.
He had been a fool.
He needed to get out of there. Fast.
"I should go, we will talk later."
He felt slender finger wrap around his wrist before he could escape, "But it seemed important? Please, Shoma?
"It's not as important as to what Javi needs to say to you, trust me."
He knew he had probably hurt the other as he pulled free from his grasp and ran through random corridors until he could no longer distinguish any familiar faces.
Shoma just let his body collapse against a wall and let the tears fall.
He needed something to distract him from the pain, he clenched his fist so hard he could already feel the torn flesh under his nails. Shoma let his fisted hands hit the floor as more sobs escaped from him. Still, they landed on a soft surface.
His hands could only feel some incredibly soft and he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
It was something black.
Why were they black?
The young skater didn't expect for someone to find him that quickly and whipped his head towards whoever had called for him.
Daisuke Takahashi stood in front of him.
"Shoma what are you doing here?"
"Shoma why are you here and not there?" Daisuke gestured towards the way he had just come from. Towards Yuzuru.
"I needed to leave...I just...how can you be here?"
“Congratulations again son, I’m so proud of you,” Javier’s father smile seemed to shine so brightly that it made the skater forget every single struggle that had led him to this moment.
"How did you even find me here?"
Antonio seemed almost embarrassed to reveal his antics, "Your mother seems to want to adopt half of the team Japan skaters so it wasn't that hard to sneak around, someone told me they had seen you come up here," he looked around the floor and stopped to think about their whereabouts, "now I realize I have no idea where we are."
"This is actually where the apartments for the Japanese team are," he gestured to the room down the hall, "That's Yuzuru's."
"Ah, that boy of yours, right?"
Javier almost stopped breathing at his father's words, "My what?"
"Javi, I might be old but I'm no fool, you have a soft spot for that boy."
He supposed it would be pointless to keep lying about it, "Yes, but I'm not sure he feels the same, hence why I'm here waiting for him like a fool myself."
"He's still on the arena?"
"Yes, I just sent him a text-"
Did he just swear under his breath?
"Is everything okay?"
"Son, why would you even wait? Wouldn't be better to just tell him as soon as possible?"
"There's plenty of time, we don't need to-"
His father moved almost too quickly for him to properly notice, he put both hands on his face and looked into his eyes, "Do you trust me?"
Javier might have been confused out of his mind but the answer was clear, "Yes."
"Then please go back, please go to him."
"But, why?" Antonio's eyes were pleading and he found himself without the will to question it further, "Okay I'll go, but will you explain everything later?"
"Yes, now go!”
"I don’t understand-"
"You don't need to understand, you need to tell me why you are here and not there, this wasn’t supposed to happen!"
The sound of the sirens was deafening and Shoma had to cover his ears in an attempt to battle the pain of the loud screeching, he looked around, behind him people in strange uniforms seemed to run towards them, all of them carrying bags and shouting orders.
Then all of a sudden everything slowed down. Shoma gasped and turned around to look at Daisuke and check if he was indeed losing his mind, the older skater’s face was marred by tears that slowly fell from his eyes. The look on his face completely foreign. He cried silently, he could hear no sobs coming from the suddenly statuesque figure.
He didn’t seem to cry for his own pain.
He cried in sorrow for what was to pass.
For what he couldn’t stop in time.
He cried for lost chances and lost time.
Time that no one would be able to take back that day.
He slowed the clock in order to give one last message of hope to the trembling figure in front of him. It was against the rules, yet so much would be taken today that he couldn't bring himself to care.
There would be time for punishments. Now it was the time for comfort.
"We don't have much time so please listen carefully, don’t give up on love Shoma. Despite what’s about to happen today, you are capable of loving again and you are worthy of being loved."
"I’m sorry, we tried but in the end, it wasn’t meant to be,” he fixed a few stray hairs on the skater’s head, kneeling in front of him, “please don’t think about what could have happened, please move on and accept what is about to pass.”
Shoma didn’t understand any of the comforting words his senior uttered but the raw pain that laced his voice made his own face become wet out of a sudden. He touched his face with his hands and looked at them, when did he start crying?
He didn’t remember.
“Please, you're scaring me, what's happening? What-” his voice became choked and he found himself unable to speak without some effort, why was he crying?
He didn’t know.
“Don’t be afraid little one, it will all be over soon enough.”
For once Daisuke’s words didn’t bring any comfort and Shoma could feel the panic settle in. He looked behind him and the rushing staff seemed to no longer move unnaturally slow, suddenly everything seemed to go back to its original speed and he knew he was going to get sick at any moment.
“Shoma?” The still kneeling skater looked back at him and in the place of a weeping expression, he found the most radiant smile, “It's time for me to go but please remember my words and the lesson you have learned. Time is precious and waits for no one. Use it wisely from now on."
"Who are you? What's happening-"
He didn't get to finish as the paramedics seemed to reach their destination.
A bit too late.
Far too late.
There were screams and anguished cries all around him.
He didn't know what was happening or who had called the medical team.
He didn't know how Mihoko had gotten to him and cradled him in her arms, whispering soothing words into his ear.
He didn't know where Daisuke was, when he tried to call out for him.
He didn't know where the black feathers had gone to when he tried to show them to her.
But the moment he saw Javier fall to his knees surrounded by Tracy and Brian.
“It takes time, or does time take it?”
― Anthony Liccione