The airport was a blur of shouted questions in multiple languages, flashbulbs, and the usual Monday morning rush of travelers. The four of them were swept through to the most American-looking vehicle Yuuri had ever seen: a stretch SUV limousine.
They climbed in and found seats, to be followed by the Americans and Minako.
“They’re taking you back to the hotel,” Minako explained. “We’ll meet the skating officials there, and the Japanese sponsors. Someone arranged for a conference room.”
Yuuri nodded, dazed. He smiled nervously at the tall, grey-haired woman sitting next to him. She smiled back and offered a hand to shake. “Gloria,” she said. “You must be Yuuri.”
He nodded, shaking her hand. She looked past him, and said, “And Victor?”
Victor offered a media smile and shook the offered hand. “Lovely to meet you. And you are with?”
She smiled. “I’m with Versa. Let’s just say that your story fits our current narrative.”
“You’re not worried about backlash?” Yuuri asked.
She smiled. “Given the current political climate, our marketing department says the boost in business for LGBT-supportive companies far outweighs the backlash, and the narrative of spending money to do something priceless… it works for us.”
“It wasn’t actually all that much more expensive than what I’d have had to do anyway just to move there,” Yuuri said.
Gloria laughed. “That doesn’t matter. The optics of the romantic dash across the country to end up ‘just in time’ to surprise someone you love? That’ll appeal to a broad cross-section. We’re already sponsors for the event this evening, so we were happy to provide support to the event organizers to get you here.”
“I didn’t intend to put people out,” Yuuri said. “I honestly didn’t expect anyone to care so much.”
“Is he for real?” Gloria asked Victor.
Victor snorted and nodded. “He really has no idea.”
Yuuri frowned. “You’re the one who’s used to being a world champion. I’m just me.”
“Yuuchan, you’ve been an icon in Japan for years. You must know that.” Victor ruffled Yuuri’s hair fondly.
“I try not to,” Yuuri said. “It always felt like someone was confusing me for someone else.”
Gloria smiled. “Well, I can see why you like him. It’s adorable. Anyway. We would very much like to use footage from your skate tonight, with your permission, and if you’re willing to film some additional shots for us afterwards, we would be prepared to compensate you both.”
“How much?” Victor asked.
“One million US dollars for the coming year, each,” she said.
“It should be higher, and there should be a clause for each of us if either of us medals at other events this year for bonuses, higher if we both medal,” Victor said. “I won the last five world championships, plus several before that. Do I need to go into the others? And Yuuri is the whole reason you’re interested at all. Putting our story out there for public consumption appears to be unavoidable at this point, but if you’re going to capitalize on it, it should be proportional to the value we bring as top international athletes. Yuuri just beat my world record. And if you’re smart, you’ll talk to little Yuri here, as well. He came dashing over to Japan to get my help, and ended up taking the Grand Prix final because of it. And that’s a story that will play well even in markets where our story might be too challenging.”
Yuri stared at him. “You want me to be in a commercial?”
Victor made an expansive gesture. “Why not? You’re young. You’re cute. You have a following.”
“Does he have representation? I’m not sure we can negotiate with a minor,” Gloria said, frowning.
“I’m his guardian,” Yakov said. “We hadn’t planned on pushing endorsements for another year or two.”
Gloria was busily entering figures on a tablet.
“One million now. $50,000 bonus for international gold medals between now and the end of the contract. $25,000 for silver, $10,000 for bronze. If you two take gold and silver, in either order, an extra $25,000 for each of you. Little Yuri will get paid for appearances, $100,000 per commercial. $50,000 for personal appearances. We’ll broach the subject of ongoing endorsement from him pending analysis of our first efforts, and we will boost his per-appearance fee by 10% for gold medals, 5% for silver and 2% for bronze. This assumes we can get ISU permission to use footage from recent events. We’re not counting on the Russian government to be cooperative.”
“Neither are we,” Victor said. “I don’t think they will pull me from the Worlds team, and I know they won’t pull Yuri, but we’re going to have to play hardball to get them to allow my Yuuri back into the country.”
“We are aware,” Gloria said. “We had more than… selfish motivations for getting you out of the country when we did. If you’re determined to go back, we may have some ideas for you on negotiation tactics.”
“I will negotiate,” Yakov said.
“The owner of the plane that flew you here may have some… pull… with the Russian government,” Gloria said. “I hear he’s a fan of yours. I think he’s willing to provide you with personal security when you go back.”
“A bodyguard?” Victor said.
“Bodyguards,” Gloria amended. “There’s two of you. Three if you think little Yuri needs one too.”
“Call me Yuuri-san, if you must, to distinguish us, please,” Yuuri said. “I know he isn’t enthusiastic about being called little Yuri.”
“Yuuri-san,” she said, nodding. “In any event, it depends primarily on how vocal Yuri is about supporting you. If he is as vehement about it as he has already been, he should probably have security.”
“I’m not going back to Russia without them, and I’m not going back unless they’re protected,” Yuri said. “I’m young enough that if I wanted to persuade someone to adopt me, I could be skating for any country I wanted to at the next Olympic games. If Russia wants medals, they’ll let us all go back, and they’ll protect us.”
Gloria smiled. “That attitude will make you a hero in some circles.”
“I just want to skate,” Yuri said. “And I want to learn from the people who are capable of making my skating better. I’m not a hero. I’m just selfish enough to know that if I want to do my best, I need those assholes around to keep me on my toes.”
“We love you, too, Yuratchka,” Yuuri said.
“Shut up, Katsudon,” Yuri said, and stuffed his headphones in his ears, refusing to look at anyone.
“How old is he?” Gloria asked quietly.
“Almost 16,” Yuuri said.
The vehicle pulled to a stop at the hotel, and they all climbed out. One of the other Americans shook Yuuri’s hand and then Victor’s as they climbed out, saying, “I’m Simon Pershing, we all agreed to give Gloria first crack because they were the ones who managed to get you here, but I represent the You Can Play project, and we’re very much hoping that you’ll be willing to work with us. We don’t pay as well as Versa, but I think the cause is probably pretty close to your hearts.”
“Simon, it’s freezing out here. Let’s get up to the conference room before we completely overwhelm everyone,” another man said.
The conference room was on the second floor, behind a restaurant. “Have you eaten?” Gloria asked. “We can order from here.”
“Whatever is convenient,” Yuuri said. “We had breakfast on the plane, but something now would be helpful since we’re skating later.”
Gloria spoke to one of her assistants, who hurried off as they all sat down around a large conference table.
The Japanese men in suits, some of whom looked vaguely familiar to Yuuri, came into the conference room a few minutes later.
Yuuri gave them a polite greeting and one, who he realized abruptly was the head of the Japanese Figure Skating organization, said in rapid Japanese, 「We were very unhappy that you planned to skip the event today. We appreciate your willingness to come back, but please do not do that again.」
「Watanabe-san.」 Yuuri gave a small gesture of respect. 「It would be helpful if next year the Japanese event did not take place at the same time as the Russian event. After next year Victor may be retired, but if you want me to stay for a gala, making sure that I don’t have to be apart from my husband on his birthday would be helpful. I understand that you did not know this year, but if the situation is to be avoided in the future, this is important.」
「You are married?」 the official asked, looking perplexed.
「We will be by next year,」 Yuuri said. 「Whether or not this country recognizes it is irrelevant to my willingness to stay after Nationals are over.」
「I will see what I can do,」 Watanabe said. 「We have been advised that your presence today will likely boost our viewership numbers significantly. If that holds true next year, accommodations can likely be made.」
An American man standing behind Gloria said, in English, “You’re getting married soon then?”
“Probably just after Worlds,” Victor said. “Finland has legalized gay marriage. And who are you?”
“Oh, sorry. I’m Jack Reynolds, with Comte Agré Publishing.” Reynolds tapped something out on his tablet, and then said, “It will be legal starting that month. You might want to consider a country with a more established route for foreigners.”
“We were wanting to get married on ice,” Yuuri said, looking slightly bewildered.
“We can help with logistics. If you’re willing to allow photographers, I’m pretty sure that one of our publications would foot the bill and pay a consideration for publication rights. But we can talk about that later.”
Yuuri looked at Victor, eyes wide, overwhelmed. Victor slid his arm around Yuuri’s shoulder and squeezed, then said, “I’m sure talk of logistics can be saved for another day. Why don’t you make up a couple of suggestions and talk to us about it tomorrow?”
It was another hour and a half before the suits were done talking about baffling quantities of money and contracts. Yakov intercepted the contracts and said, “We must go over these in private before they sign anything. I’m sure you understand.”
“We do have an agreement in place already with the JSF,” Gloria said. “But we would much prefer to have more extensive participation.”
Victor looked at his watch. “It’s 10:30. If there is a hotel room where we can freshen up and store our things, we will talk to anyone who must have a contract before the event before we head over for warmups. Watanabe-san, when is the practice skate?”
“3 pm. We can give you dedicated ice time at 2:45 if you require it.”
“Yes, please. At 1:30 we will be available again for discussions,” Victor said. “In the meantime, please excuse us.”
Gloria looked at her assistant and raised an eyebrow. The young woman stepped forward and handed them a packet with hotel keycards inside. “Two rooms have been reserved for you on the penthouse level,” she said. “The room number is on the folder.” She handed another packet to Yakov. “We figured you and your ward might prefer separate accommodations. There is an adjoining double door which can be locked. Feel free to use room service.”