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Invincible

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Apolo’s on a plane as soon as he hears. First there’s a text from Jordan, than one from Travis, another from Simon. Soon there are dozens of them. But not one from JR. That’s what freaks Apolo out the most. He takes the redeye to Moscow, not even blinking at the cost. He tells his agent it’s an emergency. She stops bugging him when he tells her to google Moscow, Short Track. He knows she’ll make his apologies, clear his immediate schedule. He gets to Russia midafternoon the next day. As soon as he steps off the plane there is a barrage of new texts waiting for him. He gets to the hotel a half an hour later, and texts Jordan to find out the room number. Jordan’s waiting in the hall when he gets there. He looks exhausted, weary. He pulls Apolo into a hug that lasts too long. But neither of them seems to want to let the other go right away. Finally Jordan pulls back.

“I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too. How you doing?” Apolo asks. Jordan shrugs, frowning. “And him?” Apolo asks, nodding at the door. Jordan shakes his head.

“Maybe you’ll have better luck. Here. I’m bunking with Simon and Travis tonight.” He hands Apolo the keycard. “Text me if you guys need anything,” Jordan says and Apolo nods, watching Jordan head down the hallway and knock on another door. Apolo takes a deep breath, before using the keycard and stepping inside.

The room is dark, the curtains pulled tight, and the TV is on but the sound turned too low to be fully audible. Yellow sunlight filters through the dark fabric, but it’s muted, and it’s hard to make out much more than the vague shapes of the furniture as Apolo steps inside.

“JR?” he calls, dropping his bag and coat by the wall. He kicks off his shoes, eyes adjusting to the low light. He finds JR curled up in an unmoving ball, under the blankets of the far bed. He steps closer, hesitating only briefly before stepping closer, determined. “JR.” He sits down on the side of the bed, and waits for a response. The blanket is tugged down. And JR blinks at him, clearly confused.

“Apolo? What are you doing here?”

“You think I could hear about what happened and NOT come see you guys? Not come see you?” Apolo asks. JR’s forehead furrows.

“I’m fine. We’re all fine,” he struggles to sit up, and leans back against the headboard, rubbing at his blood shot eyes. “How’d you get here so fast?” he asks.

“I took the red-eye from LA. Got in about an hour ago,” Apolo slips a little bit closer, reaching out to run his hand through JR’s hair. It’s stiff and a little greasy and he grimaces. “Did you not shower after racing?” he asks. JR ducks away, smacking at his hand. He ignores the question.

“There is no way in hell you got here that fast. It’s only been a couple of hours,” JR says, pulling his knees up between them and wrapping his arms around them. Apolo blinks at him.

“Jesus, JR. It’s 2 in the afternoon. It’s been over a day since the accident,” he says. He presses one hand to JR’s knee, and feels the minute trembling there. “Have you slept at all?” he asks. “Have you eaten anything? No wonder everyone is freaking out!” Apolo says. He reaches for JR’s phone, sitting face down on the nightstand. He turns it on and finds dozens of text messages and missed calls.

“Why would everyone be freaking out about me?” JR asks. “I wasn’t even on the ice when it happened. I was in the heat box on the other side of the rink,” he seems genuinely confused with the notion.

“Come on. I’m ordering some food, and you’re taking a shower. Then calling your mother and getting some sleep. Ok?” he says. He picks up the hotel phone, startled by JR’s lack of objection. He orders up some food, enough for three or four people, not just the two of them, and then goes into the bathroom to start heating up the water in the shower. When he comes back, JR is sitting on the side of the bed, the blankets pushed away. He’s still in his gym clothes from the day before. Apolo watches him struggle to lift his arms up like they weigh a ton. Apolo tries to help him but JR jerks away.

“I’m not a child. I can do it myself,” JR says. Apolo steps back, shaking his head. He walks to the dresser to find something else for JR to wear. “Why did you even come? I don’t need a babysitter. And we’re not together anymore.” His voice is snappish, peeved. Apolo takes a deep breath to reign in his own temper. He turns to look at JR, who is already looking shocked at his own words.

“Just because you and I mutually decided that we as a couple weren’t working at the moment,” he pauses for effect, “while you were focused on the build up for the Games, and I was getting ready for my new book tour, does not mean that I stopped caring about you or worrying about you. Don’t pull this shit on me, JR. We’re still together. We’re just focused on other parts of our lives during a very busy time for the both of us!” JR looks away, and finally manages to tug the shirt off completely.

“I know. I’m sorry,” he says. He stands up and pulls his gym shorts and underwear off. “I shouldn’t have said that,” he tosses the clothes into the corner of the room, where a small pile already sits. “Thank you for coming,” he says quietly as he walks by, but he avoids meeting Apolo’s eyes.

The door to the bathroom closing softly between them, and Apolo lets out a long breath. He stands at the dresser, hands braced on the surface for at least 5 minutes, trying to breathe and not freak out. He’s a little out of his depth here.

He leaves JR alone to take his shower, going through the drawers to find a pair of shorts, some underwear and a shirt for him to wear when he reappears. He lays them out on the bed, and then looks around for something else to do to occupy his time. He pulls the curtains open, just a little, to let in a bit more light, and starts to straighten up the room. Jordan and JR aren’t the most organized of people. That’s always bothered Apolo.

He ends up sitting on the end of the bed, bent over and resting his elbows on his knees. He drops his chin to sit on his folded hands. And he waits.

JR, generally speaking, is a pretty fast shower taker. As the youngest of three boys he grew up getting short-changed on hot water. So he knows how to get in and out fast. It’s second nature for him now. So when Apolo glances at the alarm clock and sees that JR’s been in the bathroom for 15 minutes, he frowns. Standing he goes to the door, and listens. The shower is still going. Easing the door open he steps inside.

“JR?” he calls. No response. Stepping into the bathroom, he peeks around the shower curtain and finds JR huddled in the back of the shower tub, curled up with his knees to his chest, his face buried in his crossed arms. “Shit!” he says, reaching over to turn off the now lukewarm water. “JR?” he says, kneeling down beside the tub. He reaches out and touches JR’s shoulder. JR picks his head up, his eyes rimmed red. He lets out a broken sound and Apolo swallows back bile. “Come on, let me get you out of there,” he says. He reaches up for the towel hanging nearby on a rack, wrapping it around JR’s shoulders.

JR is compliant, and stands up at Apolo’s direction, stepping out of the tub and letting Apolo dry him off. Apolo leads him out of the bathroom and back to his bed, getting him under the covers with minimum fuss. JR doesn’t say a word the whole time, just starts to shiver, still crying silently. Apolo has fleeting thoughts that he’s going to catch pneumonia, wonders idly just how long ago it was that the hot water had ran out. He’s never seen JR like this before. JR is not a crier. And he doesn’t stress out about things he can’t change. It’s one of the things Apolo loves best about him.

He tucks JR in, unsure what else to do. He starts to pull away, intent on grabbing the phone and calling someone. Who? He’s not sure. Sue? Jordan? Jimmy? But JR’s hand closes on his wrist, keeping him from moving away.

“Don’t go,” JR says, voice shaky. Apolo nods. He pulls off his shirt, JR letting him go once he’s sure Apolo is not leaving. Apolo kicks off his jeans, pulling back the covers and sliding under them to face JR. JR presses close, still shaking and buries his face in Apolo’s neck. It’s only seconds before Apolo feels the wet slide of tears on his skin.

“I could have died. It could have been me. I could have been dead, Apolo!” JR sobs, and Apolo feels his heart break. He knows what’s happening now. Knows why JR won’t eat. Gets why he won’t sleep. Why he won’t talk about it, or leave his room. It’s hit him, finally, that he could have died. It’s been over 4 years since the accident at JR’s first Olympic Trials. Over four years since he sat on the ice, with a gaping wound in his thigh, and his blood pouring out around him, just like what happened yesterday. Only for JR it had never been life or death. Not from his point of view.

He’d never, during any part of the accident or his recovery, actually thought the words “I’m going to die!” Afterwards whenever he talked about it, he’d remembered being so unnaturally calm, almost fascinated by what was happening, and the pain. He’d remembered the pain. But the only fear he’d felt was centered on whether or not he’d be good to go to the Games. He’d been worried very briefly that he’d never skate again, might never walk again. But he’d never realized how close he’d come to dying. A quarter of an inch in one direction, and the slice to his leg would have hit his femoral artery. Just as it had yesterday. And watching it, seeing it happen right there in front of him, had hit too close to home. It had made something real for JR that had been horrifyingly real for everyone else who’d witnessed his fall four years before. JR might not have realized it, but they certainly had.

Sue had spent the entire 3 days JR was in the hospital in Marquette, sitting beside his bed. Bob had focused on taking care of Sue, while she took care of JR. The team had sat in shock for 20 minutes wishing and praying that JR would be ok after the last medal had been handed out and the team pictures taken, the huge gaping absence in the men’s ranks making them all edgy and uncomfortable. And Apolo knew it had continued to haunt them, could see in them the same little fleeting spark of terror he felt whenever they watched a bad fall take place for months afterward. They’d all been aware that JR could have died. And now JR was acutely aware of it too. And the knowledge of that hurt Apolo’s heart, made his chest feel tight with emotion.

Apolo wraps his arms around JR’s shoulders, holding him close, feeling his whole body shaking with his tears.

“You didn’t,” he whispers. “JR, you’re fine now. You didn’t die,” he says trying to reassure him. He knows JR. Knows how to cheer him up when he’s down, talk him out of his uncontrollable anger or resigned disappointment. He’s celebrated with him, taken care of him when he was sick or injured. But this? JR doesn’t do this. He doesn’t cry. Not with his whole body. Not with this much desperation or this type of fear.

“I feel like I’m frozen solid. Like I’m still sitting there on the ice. Like I’m dead,” JR says, and he continues shaking, curling further into Apolo’s chest, arms sliding around Apolo’s middle, legs twining around Apolo’s until they’re wrapped up in a human knot under the sheets. Apolo clings back, wanting to comfort, to reassure.

“You’re here. You’re with me,” he whispers. “It was four years ago, JR. You’re perfectly healthy again, all healed up and whole again.” He presses his lips to JR’s forehead, rubbing one hand up and down JR’s bare back. He locates one of JR’s hands pressing it into his chest right over his own heart. “Feel that?” he asks. JR nods. “You can feel my heart beating? Feel how warm I am?” he prods. JR nods again, pulling his head back, he closes his eyes focusing on the beat of Apolo’s heart and the rate of Apolo’s breathing. JR’s breathing starts to regulate as he matches it to Apolo’s, his tears beginning to slow. “You’re alive, JR. How could you feel those things if you were dead?” He opens his eyes to stare up at Apolo in the half light of the hotel room in later afternoon. Apolo’s eyes trace JR’s face. His eyes are red from crying, his forehead creased with pain, but the rest of him pale. He reaches up to smooth the damp hair on JR’s head. It’s standing up in awkward angles. JR’s eyes close at the familiar gesture.

“I’m sorry,” he says brokenly, sniffling. “I didn’t mean to have a mental breakdown,” JR explains. Apolo shakes his head, threading his fingers through the hair on the back of JR’s head to press his forehead to Apolo’s.

“What are boyfriends good for but getting all snotty and wet with tears?” Apolo asks and gets a huff from JR that’s accompanied by a grin that’s half grimace. He seems almost normal for a few minutes but then his face crumples again, and he buries it in Apolo’s shoulder. Apolo rubs his back with one hand, the other still buried in JR’s hair. “I love you,” he whispers. It’s not something they say often. It’s always there hanging between them, an invisible warmth they both feel, but it’s not something they vocalize on a regular basis. He’s not sure if he says it in this moment because he thinks JR needs to hear it or because he just needs to say it. JR’s shoulders relax, his body going limp against him.

“I love you, too,” JR says softly ducking his head down to bury in the curve of Apolo’s neck. They lay there for another ten minutes before there is a knock on the door. Apolo pulls away, aware of JR’s eyes, tracking his movements as he walks across the room to answer the door. Stopping at the dresser he pulls out a t-shirt. One of JR’s baggier ones, that covers him pretty well, before opening the door. JR’s sitting up in the center of the bed, arms wrapped around bare knees when Apolo returns pushing the cart covered in food dishes.

“You need to eat,” Apolo says sitting down beside him. He tugs off the t-shirt tossing it onto the end of Jordan’s bed before turning to the cart.

“What did you get? I want something disgustingly unhealthy. Preferably covered in cheese and/or gravy,” JR says. Apolo hides a smile of delight. That’s the JR he’s been hoping to see resurface.

Apolo watches JR eat a whole burger and half an order of cheese fries with gravy before his appetite fades and he slumps back against the pillows. Cleaning up the dishes, he pushes the cart back out into the hallway. He returns to find JR curled up under the covers again. Apolo hesitates unsure he’s welcome, but JR lifts the blankets back, staring up at him with unblinking eyes. He climbs back into the bed, curling up on his side facing JR. JR closes his eyes, but they snap open again when his cell phone rings. Apolo reaches for it, glancing at the name lighting up the small screen.

“It’s Jordan,” he says. JR makes a face, tugging the blanket up over his head. Apolo rolls his eyes answering the phone and bringing it to his ear. “Malone,” he says.

“How’s he doing?” Jordan asks. Apolo tugs the blanket down off JR’s head, studying his face as he presses closer, getting more comfortable.

“He’s doing better. I got him showered and fed. Now we’re working on sleep.” Jordan breathes a sigh of relief through the phone.

“That’s good to hear. Is he acting more like himself? Because I have to tell you, Ohno, Zombie!JR was kind of creepy.”

“Much,” Apolo says, reaching out to smooth his hand through JR’s messy hair again. JR reaches up grabbing the hand and pulling it under the covers. He plays with it, both his hands examining Apolo’s like it’s an alien thing he’d never touched before. Apolo lets the hand go limp, watching, intrigued, as JR bends and flexes his fingers, flipping the hand over, and tracing the lines of Apolo’s palm, with one long finger. “I think he’s going to be just fine. Tell everyone to stop freaking out.” Apolo hopes Jordan can read more into that suggestion that Apolo had expressly stated. There’s a momentary silence, and he can practically hear the wheels grinding in Jordan’s head, over the bad cellular connection.

“You want me to call his mother?” Jordan asks. Apolo narrowly avoids rolling his eyes.

“Yes,” he says simply.

“Okay, I can do that. Do you guys need anything?” Jordan asks. Apolo can hear Simon and Travis talking in the background, and the sound of the TV suddenly blaring in too loud Russian. “Jesus! Turn the fucking TV down, dipshit!” Apolo lets out an involuntary laugh, and JR’s eyes fly back to his face. He presses his palm flat to Apolo’s threading their fingers together. Apolo squeezes his hand, reassured by the squeeze JR offers in return.

“We’re fine. A good night’s sleep and everything will be a bit better in the morning,” Apolo explains. JR looks down again, studying the bracelet wrapped around Apolo’s wrist with new interest.

“Hmmm. I’m sure that sleep will be all you two are doing tonight,” Jordan chuckles.

“Ha Ha Ha,” Apolo replies sarcastically. Jordan’s laughter fades.

“I know you probably shouldn’t tell him right now. It can wait until morning. But they’re having a candle light vigil down at the rink tomorrow night and the entire Canadian team is flying out right after. They have us scheduled to fly out the next morning. We took a vote. We all want to go to the funeral, so the team is flying out en mass to Montreal. It’s scheduled for 4 days from now,” Jordan says this quietly, calmly, but there’s a hitch to his voice that betrays him.

“You doing ok, Maloney?” Apolo asks. JR glances at him again, his face blank, before looking away.

“I’m fine. We’re all fine. The guys say hi. The girls too. Lana, Emily, and Aly were all just here. We’re all doing ok. This whole thing just sucks,” Jordan explains. Apolo nods.

“Yeah. Yeah, it does,” he turns his hand, gripping JR’s wrist gently but firmly. JR’s eyes meet his and this time he doesn’t look away. “We’ll see you guys at breakfast, ok?” Apolo says. There’s a pause on the other end of the line.

“Yeah ok. We’re all really glad you’re here Apolo.” Apolo smirks.

“Me too. Goodnight, Jordan,” he says.

“Night.” Apolo ends the call, sets the ringer to silent, and sets the phone down on the side table.

“What did he say?” JR asks, voice quiet. Apolo sinks down in the bed, so he’s parallel to JR.

“Everyone is doing ok. They’re worried about you, thinking about you.” JR looks away.

“I’m not the one they should be thinking and worrying about.” Apolo just stares at him for a moment.

“What happened was a tragedy, JR. It was a horrible terrible accident. None of us are happy about it. We all wish it hadn’t happened. But you’re not the only person shook up over this. You’re not the only one thinking about what could have happened when you fell. Cut us all some slack ok? We were all pretty fucking terrified when you got hurt, and there was nothing we could do to help you. This whole thing is bringing up a lot of memories and what if’s for a lot of people,” he explains, voice firm, but resolute. JR ducks his head, hiding it in Apolo’s shoulder. Apolo hugs him close. “Let us all worry and maybe fuss a little bit. It’s how we show we care. And it reassures us that you’re still here with us.” JR nods into his neck, sliding one of his legs up over Apolo’s thigh.

“I’m so tired,” he murmurs. Apolo smirks.

“Well go to sleep then. I’ll still be here when you wake up,” he promises. JR nods again, relaxing against him. Soon he’s dropped off to sleep, curled into Apolo’s warmth.

But as tired as Apolo is, he can’t sleep. Because all he can think about, all he sees when he closes his eyes is JR sitting on the ice in a growing pool of blood, Sue’s voice screaming desperately for help. He doesn’t think the image or the sounds will ever leave him completely, just like he knows what happened yesterday will never leave JR. The thought makes him ache for the JR of two days ago who had no idea what this sort of terror or loss felt like, and now would never be able to unlearn it.

Tomorrow would be the vigil, and then the flight back across the Atlantic, followed by the funeral. Apolo intends to be with JR and the team through all of it. Yes he has obligations, commitments but this was the team. This was family. This was JR. And they meant more than a book tour. They always had. They always would.