JR fought the urge to ring his hands together, and swallowed down his nausea. He was fairly sure he’d only been this nervous one other time in his life: watching Carrie, the surrogate they’d chosen to carry Malixi, as she struggled through labor. But yeah, this was right up on par with that day. He sighed, taking a deep breath, and sticking his hands in his pockets. Arms went around his waist, threading under his arms and wrapping around him. A pointy chin nestled into the space where his neck met his right shoulder. JR swung his head around only to find Malix’s head resting there, big brown eyes looking right into his own. Malixi smiled.
“Seriously Dad, you need to like relax already!” he laughed. JR shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m relaxed!” he protested. Malixi merely grinned bigger, tightening his arms around JR’s middle. JR pulled his hands from his pockets, letting them rest on his son’s hands where they sat on his stomach. “I’m relaxed!” he said again. Malixi snickered.
“It’s just a race!” Malixi said, snuggling closer. JR smiled, slumping against him, his eyes returning to the ice being resurfaced in front of them.
“Just a race, huh?” he asked. Malixi laughed, his chest rumbling against JR’s back.
“Yep, just a race!” Malixi chirped, tightening his arms around JR for a moment before pulling away. JR turned to look at his son. Malixi was taller than both JR and Apolo, but not by much. He stood at 5’9” and had the perfect short track build. JR figured that since he’d been training for the Olympics since he was 12, that that made sense. He looked at Malixi’s face again. Malix was looking at him with an all too familiar expression. It was Apolo’s smirk, the cockiest one in Apolo’s arsenal staring out at him from his sons face. His long dark hair hanging in his eyes. For a moment, he thought he was staring at Apolo from 2002, only younger, his face rounder, his eyes a bit darker, and no stupid soul patch. JR reached up running a hand through the front of Malix’s hair. “We should have gotten this cut before the freakin’ Olympics!” he growled. Malixi ducked away laughing.
“Dad stop it! If we had had the time, we would have, but Grandpa Yuki only got here yesterday! He hasn’t had time to cut it for me!” Malixi whined, running his own hands through the dark wavy hair. JR frowned at him.
“He’s cutting it tonight then. That is entirely too long!” he ordered. Malixi rolled his eyes.
“I can’t cut it now!” he said. “That would be bad luck!” Now it was JR rolling his eyes.
“Don’t try and act all superstitious with me! I know better,” he said wagging a finger in Malix’s direction, making his son smile. The truth was, Malixi liked his hair longer. He liked that it made him look more like Apolo from 2002. He figured that if people were going to compare them anyway they might as well have some extra fuel to add to the fire. He refused to grow the soul patch though. Okay, so that wasn’t exactly true, he’d tried, but couldn’t even mange to grow that much facial hair. JR smiled at him.
“Fine, but as soon as the games are over, we’re having him cut it, before he has to go home to Seattle!” Malixi nodded reluctantly.
“Fine!” he said in exasperation. JR studied his face again. Malixi frowned at him, raising one dark eyebrow, “What?” he asked. JR grinned.
“My little boy, at the Olympics!” he gushed, pulling Malixi into a hug. Malix just sighed, putting his arms back around his Dad and letting himself be petted and sighed over.
“Dad this is embarrassing!” he hissed after a minute or two. People were seriously pointing. JR let him go.
“Where’s Apolo?” he asked. Malixi frowned.
“Terri was puking, he and Uncle Jordan are trying to talk him down again,” he said reluctantly. JR frowned.
“That boy has the weakest stomach! I don’t know how he ended up national champion!” he said quietly. Malixi nodded laughing. JR checked his watch. “You skate in half an hour. You should start warming up. I’ll go see if I can get him to eat a cracker or something.” Malixi nodded, looking suddenly a bit anxious. “What’s wrong?” JR asked, stepping closer and talking quietly.
“I’m a little nervous,” his son replied, just as quietly. JR gripped his shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“It’s just a race,” JR echoed back at him, making him smile. “That’s all it is, in the end, Mali!” he whispered. “Just a race. One of hundreds you’ll race in your lifetime. If you win, we’ll be so proud. And if you lose, we’ll still be so proud of you. This is your first Olympics, and it’s your first final. Do your best, give 110% and leave everything on the ice!” he said. After a moment, he smiled. “How was that? Good pep-talk? I can always go get your PoPo,” he asked, pointing back over his shoulder with his thumb. “He’s like way better at them than I am!” Malixi laughed, throwing back his head in amusement.
“I love you, Dad!” he said shaking his head, and heading for the stationary bikes set up behind the heat box. JR watched him go smiling fondly and went to find Apolo, Jordan, and a probably still puking Terri Petra.
Pulling Apolo away from the gruesome sight, they went to get Malixi ready. There would be time to deal with Terri in a moment. Let the kid finish puking, and compose himself for a minute. Malixi saw them coming, carrying his gear, and looking serious. He finished his last minute on the bike and climbed off, following them to the heat box. They watched as he pulled on his skates, tying them carefully, securing the lace covers and straps in place. Then it was his turn to watch.
JR stood silently by as Apolo carefully folded Malixi’s sky blue bandana for him. He watched as Apolo folded the square in half corner to corner, then folded back the point, measuring carefully so that the whole thing would be the perfect width for Malixi’s forehead. Apolo handed it over, and watched as Malixi tied it on like he always did, tugging it into the appropriate place. JR handed over Malixi’s helmet, watching him put it on, and buckle it in place. The three of them looked at each other, Malixi bouncing his legs to keep them warmed-up.
“You ready?” Apolo asked. Malixi pulled himself up and nodded, his game face in place. ‘So like Apolo,’ JR thought. He reached out and hugged Malixi, and was hugged in return. Then it was Apolo’s turn. The two of them hugged, Apolo patting Malixi’s back. Malixi then turned to JR like he always did. JR smiled at him.
“Skate good. Don’t fall,” he said simply as was expected of him, he handed over Malixi’s gloves. Malixi fought back a smile but nodded, taking them from him and pulling them on. He turned to the pads surrounding the ice, and taking a deep breath lined up to be let out onto the ice. Apolo looked to where Jordan was now sitting with a pale Terri in the heat box. He groaned, running a hand through his hair. JR stepped close. “I have an idea,” he said quietly, passing something into Apolo’s hand, and nodding at Terri. Apolo narrowed his eyes at him. “Just do it, he looks like he’s going to piss himself!” JR hissed. Apolo sighed, but nodded. Squaring his shoulders he marched over to where Terri sat, hunched in on himself, taking deep gulping breaths.
“Stop it!” Apolo hissed. JR thumped him in the back of the head. Apolo’s face softened. “Terri?” he called. Terri looked up at him pale, and shaky.
“Sorry, Coach!” the boy said quietly, and JR was forcibly reminded that Terri was only a few years older than Malixi. He poked Apolo in the back of the shoulder, and watched Apolo squat to be at eye level with the kid.
“Don’t say you’re sorry. But you have to skate. Pull yourself together, kid!” he said. Terri looked up at him.
“I don’t think I can do this…”
“That’s not what we want to hear,” Jordan said. “If you don’t believe you can win, you won’t win!” JR shot him a look. Apolo sighed, turning to watch as Malixi bounced in his skates, ready and waiting to go out onto the ice.
“Ok, you can’t tell Malixi that I’m giving this to you!” he said conspiratorially. Terri’s eyes went wide, as Apolo unfolded the dark blue bandana JR had slipped him. Folding it carefully into the appropriate shape, he tied it around Terri’s head. Terri watched him do this with wide eyes, reaching up to touch the bandana with awe. “It’s a special one,” Apolo said quietly, sticking the kids helmet down on top of it. “You can’t lose with it on!” he said, looking into the kids eyes. JR bit his lip to keep from laughing. “Now take a deep breath, square your shoulders and go skate!” Apolo ordered. Terri sat up straighter doing as ordered, and stood up marching determinedly over to stand with Malixi. Malix glanced at him, noticing the bandana, recognizing it, and forcing his own face not to react. He nodded at Terri, the two of them bumping fists as they stepped out onto the ice to start their laps. Apolo plopped down in the empty seat, folding his arms, and watching the two boys enter the ice. Jordan turned to look at the two of them.
“Was that what I thought it was?” he asked. JR smirked, nodding. Jordan groaned, rubbing a hand down his face. “Whatever works,” he said quietly, pulling himself up and going to stand at the pads, shouting instructions at Malixi and Terri as they skated slow warm-up laps around the ice.
Apolo took JR’s hand as they stood by the pads watching as the skaters were called to line up and were each individually announced. JR and Apolo cheered loudly when both Terri and Malixi’s names were called for the 1000m final. Terri was in the second position, with Malixi right beside him in the number three. The Chinese skater was in 1st position, with the Japanese and Korean skaters in 4th and 5th. The gun went off, and JR sucked in a deep breath, holding it, as Malix skated, his hand clenched in Apolo’s. The start was good, Malixi made it into third, behind Terri and the Chinese skater, turning the corner well, and keeping up. The group sped up in the straightaway and turning at the end of the rink Terri passed into first. Malixi was quick to follow, getting up into second position. Terri pushed gaining distance over the rest of the skaters, Malixi leading the pack following him. Several laps were completed with no change in position. Then in the 6th Malixi was passed by the Korean skater falling back to third. JR gasped for air, his chest burning, and pressed closer against Apolo. There were only 3 laps left, not much time!
Turning into the 8th lap, Malixi passed on the outside, scrambling to get in front of the Korean. He made it past him, which started Apolo mumbling under his breath careful encouragement. Jordan was screaming orders from beside them.
“PUSH, MALI! PUSH!!!” he screamed, jumping up and down. Terri had gold locked, but the Korean was RIGHT behind Malixi. Malixi moved his legs faster, pushing harder, and skated across the line, well behind Terri and just a few feet ahead of the Korean skater. JR had never felt a rush like that before. Screaming his hands came up to rest atop his head. GOLD AND SILVER! Their guys had just one GOLD and SILVER. Their SON had just won SILVER! JR’s eyes followed Malixi around the ice, as he caught up with Terri, the two high-fiving each other, both looking to the scoreboard. The official results were posted, no changes. JR watched Apolo throw his head back, his hands going up in the air. Then Malixi was skating toward them at nearly full speed. He flung himself up on the pads, and was soon surrounded. Jordan was shouting congrats in his ear, Apolo and JR clutching at the teenager tightly; all of them beaming with joy.
JR and Apolo pulled back to find their son beaming at them from under his helmet. His smile was huge, his eyes wet with tears. JR laughed, leaning forward to press a big wet kiss to his son’s cheek, one hand gripping his shoulder. Malixi made a face, wiping at the area with pretend disgust. Apolo laughed, gripping Malixi by the back of the neck.
“You did it!!” he cheered. JR grinned, his free arm going around Apolo’s waist, leaning into his side. Malixi beamed bigger.
“I did! I did!” he cheered. His eyes got bigger. “And Terri got Gold! Can you believe it?” he asked.
JR looked up to where Terri was skating around with a large American flag thrown to him from someone in the audience. His smile widened.
“TERRI!” he called, waving him over. Terri’s eyes lit up when he saw them all waving and he skated right over. Jordan got a hold of him first.
“I knew you could do it, kid!” Jordan yelled, slapping him on the back. Terri hugged him and then moved on to Apolo and JR too.
“It worked!” he said, pointing to the bandana wrapped around his head. Apolo laughed.
“That thing didn’t do anything! That was all you, Terri! Every bit of it!” he promised. Terri looked confused.
“But you said I couldn’t lose with it on! That it was special!” Terri said. JR grinned.
“You needed a confidence boost. We bought that this morning in a little shop in town! Malixi lost his dark blue one after practice the other day, and we found a pretty similar one while we were out shopping this morning, after the press conference. There’s nothing special about that bandana, Terri! This was all you!” JR explained. Terri looked pale, like he was about to faint, and Apolo yanked him closer to lean on the pads.
“You did this, Terri! All by yourself!” he promised. “Never doubt your ability again. You are USA’s National Champion. And today you became the 1000m Olympic Champion and it wasn’t because of a little piece of cloth! Do you understand?” he asked. Terri nodded frantically, his smile growing huge and confident on his face. He stood up straighter, his shoulders going back with pride.
“Yeah, I get it. But I’m still going to wear this thing for every competition for the rest of these games, just in case...” he teased. Malixi laughed loudly in response. Apolo shook his head. Reaching for the chair behind him, he pulled out another American flag and wrapped it around his son’s shoulders.
“Will you two go take your victory lap already? The next race starts soon,” he admonished. Malixi saluted and skated backwards, tugging on Terri’s arm.
Apolo turned to JR, who was shaking with suppressed laughter.
“Those boys,” he said quietly, shaking his head. Jordan nodded in agreement.
“I know we were never that bad,” he said with a straight face. There’s a beat of silence between all three men broken out in laughter once again.