Halfway through washing his face in the bathroom after the final Grand Prix competition, Yuuri hears a series of breathless sobs. He turns off the water. Tries to scan the sound for something familiar. Is that Victor? No, he just left Victor two minutes ago, and he’d been in a pretty good mood. Yurio? No, he just won a gold medal, he wouldn’t be crying in a bathroom stall. He probably wouldn’t do that even if he’d lost. He’d be punching something. Maybe his grandpa died? No, why would that have happened?
These morbid speculations speed up Yuuri’s heart. He shuts his eyes, breathes in for four counts, breathes out for four more. Pictures himself relaxing with Victor in his family’s onsen, everybody happy. Then he opens his eyes and listens harder.
It actually sounds kind of like JJ Leroy?
If it’s JJ, he probably should pretend he didn’t notice. Most likely, his girlfriend and his parents have already talked him through the implications of his public panic attack. Then again, if that were enough, wouldn’t it have worked already? Why would he be crying in the bathroom by himself? Yuuri eyes the door. Yurio isn’t going to burst in and start screaming, is he? He’d have no reason to scream at Yuuri, now, but JJ…he’d already heard Yurio grumbling about how Otabek should have taken third place. That JJ probably cheated and he’s a…Yuuri doesn’t want to repeat the insults, even inside his own head.
Everybody uses the bathroom post competition. Yurio will probably show up soon, needing to pee, and then he’ll probably barge in and do exactly the same thing he did to Yuuri the first time they met, and that’ll make everything worse, and and AND.
Maybe he needs to say something after all. He definitely needs to find out who it is.
He doesn’t have to wonder long, because the bathroom door opens and JJ emerges, shoulders sagging and nose running. He’s about to wash his face, but when he sees Yuuri he stiffens. Quickly wipes his damp face off on the back of his hand and holds his back straight as he can.
“How long have you been here?” JJ asks. His voice sounds like it crawled out of an oceanic trench.
Yuuri waves his hands and says it’s only been a minute or two. “I was just washing my face,” he says. “I, um…”
He almost says he didn’t hear anything. Though JJ is only two inches taller than Yuuri, the fear of what how JJ will respond if Yuuri gets this wrong makes him look massive. Yuuri’s knuckles go white gripping the sink, and he doesn’t say anything.
JJ sits on the sink, the back of his head pressing against the mirror. Takes a few deep breaths, as if trying to calm himself down. Yuuri thinks he’ll be able to leave the bathroom, go find Victor and pretend he didn’t hear or see anything.
That possibility flies out the window when JJ crumples into a sobbing, shuddering heap.
He’s a mess. Face flushed, nose running, sounds like he’s choking to death. No better than Yuuri when he did this at the last Grand Prix. The difference is that JJ doesn’t have glasses, so they’re not getting fogged up with tears Also, major difference, JJ is sitting on the sink openly weeping instead of hidden safely away in the bathroom stall.
Another major difference—Yuuri is the witness. Not Yurio. Yuuri has to be better than Yurio. He has to help. Whatever’s wrong. At least calm him down enough to pass him on to someone who can actually help, like his parents, or his fiancée.
“Are you okay?” asks Yuuri. Stupid question. Of course he isn’t okay. Who cries hysterically in a public bathroom when they’re okay? Then again, what the hell does Yuuri know? Maybe JJ isn’t even crying. Maybe he’s having a really bad allergy attack. Or he’s an actor on a soap opera and he’s warming up to film a death scene. That’s stupid. He’s obviously crying.
JJ cries for another minute or two, while Yuuri stands near the door, not really blocking it but sort of discouraging anyone who might try to open it from coming in. This is pointless, something he realizes pretty quickly. Instead, he offers JJ a brown napkin from the dispenser by the sink.
“Here,” he says. JJ stares at him, uncomprehending. “I’m sorry. I can um, I can leave, if you want to be alone, I just thought you’d probably want to wipe your face or blow your nose or something.”
“Thanks,” says JJ, taking the napkin. He blows his nose, tosses the thing in the garbage hole between the sinks.
“Do you want me to go? Or do you want to talk about it?”
Wiping his eyes on the back of his hand, JJ says he wants to talk about it.
This is good because it means Yuuri has the opportunity to do the right thing. To help someone. It’s not good because it means that he actually has to figure out what to say.
He doesn’t have to wait long, though, because very quickly JJ is explaining what the problem is. He’s talking so quickly, and mixing in so much French, that Yuuri actually can’t understand what he’s saying. Yuuri asks him to slow down, and try to stick to English if possible because Yuuri doesn’t understand French. After coughing and taking a deep, shuddery breath, JJ does.
“You saw what happened during my short program,” says JJ. “Right? You saw how badly I screwed up. How I was humiliated in front of everyone. You saw how pathetic I was.”
“You weren’t pathetic,” Yuuri says, hand hovering uselessly in the air because he thinks maybe he should pat JJ’s shoulder but also thinks that that’s crossing a line he shouldn’t be crossing. “You—”
“I was,” insists JJ. “I literally had a panic attack during a televised event, I can’t think of anything more pathetic than that! I’ve never had one in public before, and the first time it’s on television. Last time that happened I was in my bedroom, by myself. You can come back from panicking in your bedroom by yourself, but this? No way.”
“JJ, you did come back from it, didn’t you? You were amazing during your full skate. Really, amazing. You couldn’t have gotten third place if you weren’t amazing. Three people didn’t screw up their short programs, and you still got more points than they did.” Okay, good, this is logical, and if JJ remembers hearing it, it’ll help him out when people start saying Otabek should have taken third. Which they will. JJ will probably hear it as soon as he leaves the bathroom, if he hasn’t heard it already.
“Sure, I managed to put on a good show for the fans, and obviously I have good technical skills. I trained my ass off, of course I can do that.” JJ crosses his arms, squeezes his eyes shut. “Third place isn’t good enough,” he hisses. “Third place is pathetic. The son of two Olympic champions ought to do better than that.”
“What did your parents say about your short program?” Yuuri asks, lifting himself to sit on the other sink.
“Oh, they were perfectly nice and patronizing,” spits JJ. “Very invested in being kind and supportive and loving. Very focused on the fact that I tried my best and I just needed to relax and be more confident, and maybe make sure I take my fucking medication before the full skate, as if I wasn't already taking it, as if I’m some kind of idiot. Yeah, they were nice. They weren’t mad, or disappointed. Said they weren’t, anyway.”
Yuuri swallows, not sure how to address this explosion of resentment. After a stretch of silence he manages, “that sounds hard.”
“Honestly, it’d be easier if they were mad at me. They put so much effort into training me, they literally dedicated their whole lives to it, so of course it’s going to affect them if I screw up. Of course they’re disappointed. Probably angry, too. Probably wish they had a kid who didn’t lose his shit over literally nothing during one of the most important competitions of his life.” He grabs another paper towel, wipes his damp face, and throws it away. “They do, I mean, they have my siblings. They should just forget about me and focus on them.”
“JJ, you got third place? You didn’t screw up that badly. Most people probably don’t even remember that you freaked out a little.”
Yuuri peels an errand strand of skin from his nail bed. What he said is correct, but he knows it isn’t going to help. No amount of logic has been able to convince Yuuri that he’s worth Victor’s time or attention. No amount of logic has convinced him that his emotions aren’t written all over his face, blazing like fire in everyone else’s brains. No amount of logic has been able to convince him that he’s not an utter failure, even now that he’s gotten second place at the Grand Prix. Because he should have gotten first place. He was trained by the best skater on earth, Victor Nikiforov, and that’s got to be exactly how JJ feels, because he was trained by the great Alain and Nathalie Leroy. Legends.
Legends who didn’t only give JJ their time and their love and their knowledge, like Victor gave Yuuri, but legends who gave JJ their blood.
JJ’s talking again. He says, “oh, believe me, people noticed. I’ve been asked about it literally hundreds of times since it happened. Random people, fans, interviewers. It’s all over the Internet already and I haven’t even issued a statement.”
“Really? That’s…that’s kind of surprising…” Yuuri trails off, bites his bottom lip. Actually, it shouldn't be surprising at all. Yuuri hasn’t put any effort into developing a fan following for himself, and he still has one. He still gets interview requests about his personal life. He was bombarded with interview requests after he screwed up last year. For JJ, who has a massive, deliberately cultivated fan following, it’s likely way more extreme.
“It shouldn't be!” snaps JJ. Yuuri winces. He’s getting this wrong. He shouldn’t have started this conversation. He has no idea what he’s doing. He should leave, get someone competent to handle it. Can he leave now? He can hear footsteps outside the bathroom door. What if it’s Yurio? Or someone else who doesn’t like JJ? The last thing he wants to do is open the door and expose him while he’s still upset.
Then, JJ apologizes for snapping. “I’m sorry. You’re being so nice, trying to make me feel better, and I’m just being a huge jerk. It's just that, yeah, it’s become a big media thing. This isn’t the first time this has happened. One time, I was on a plane, and I got airsick and accidentally threw up on my girlfriend’s lap. Somebody took a picture and put it online, and the picture went viral. People were reporting about it for weeks as if it were an actual news story. This is actually something with content.”
“Yeah, no, I see how that could happen,” says Yuuri, adjusting himself so that the rim of the sink isn’t pressing up against his tailbone. All he can think to say now are trite, useless phrases like don't let it get to you. No one has ever been helped by don’t let it get to you.
Thankfully, JJ is changing the subject. “It’s just, what am I supposed to say to Isabella now? I told her I’d marry her if I got gold, and I didn't get gold, so what am I going to do? She doesn’t deserve to be with a pathetic loser who barely pulled off third place. She deserves to be with a king. That’s what she signed up for. Most likely she’s going to fucking dump me as soon as she gets the chance.”
Yuuri has no idea if this is based on reality, or based on JJ’s knot of neurosis. His own fear, that Victor will abandon him if he doesn’t achieve the goals they set together, are probably a mixture of both. He knows Victor loves him. He doesn’t know that Isabella loves JJ, and he doesn't want to tell him something that could be untrue. She seemed like she loved him, when she was cheering him through his worst moment out of the ice—but looks can be deceiving. Yuuri doesn’t know.
So he talks about Victor. He says, “you know, I made the same promise with Victor, and I didn't get a gold medal either. And, y’know, we’re not getting married right away. Not because I came in second, but because we both have more we want to achieve in our careers, and planning a wedding takes a lot of time that we won’t have until we’ve done those things.” Yuuri sighs, twists his engagement ring. Feels the slight tugging on his flesh, the cool smoothness of the ring itself. The physicality of it is proof that Victor did want to marry him, and not just for his skating skills, because they're in love.
This is either comforting or bragging depending on JJ’s situation with Isabella, and he hopes like hell that it’s comforting, because it’s all he has.
“Tell me about Isabella,” says Yuuri. “What do you love about her?”
“Everything! She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. She’s so smart—she speaks four languages! Four! She knows French and English from growing up in Montreal, she learned Mandarin from her parents, and she taught herself Spanish after we went to New York City and she decided she might want to live there one day. Having her here in Barcelona was a lifesaver because I can’t speak Spanish at all. I guess I’m kind of friends with Leo but I can’t ask him to translate everything, he’s busy and I don’t know if he even likes me in the first place, and…I’m rambling, sorry.” JJ scratches the back of his neck. “I don't know how to shut up. That’s another thing I love about Isabella. She says she likes that I talk a lot. Everyone else seems to find it annoying.”
“It’s really good that Isabella likes things about you that other people don’t,” says Yuuri.
“I guess? I don’t know, I’m worried that eventually I’m going to start getting on her nerves too. I get on everyone’s nerves. It sucks. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” Fresh tears bubble in JJ’s bloodshot eyes, and he wipes them off on the back of his hand. “She’s so much better than me. Much smarter. Everyone loves her. I can skate pretty well, and I can hype people up, but that’s it. Once I can’t do that anymore…I’m not trying to say she’s shallow or anything, but without that, there’s no reason for her to love me.”
He pauses, lets himself cry into his knuckles for another minute or so. Now, Yuuri, does place a tentative hand on JJ’s shoulder. When JJ doesn’t object, he rubs his shoulder in in slow, gentle circles. Hoping it helps, hoping it doesn’t hurt.
JJ chokes, “Isabella might give me another chance or two, but I don’t deserve more than that. If I’m not successful, how am I supposed to support her? What kind of husband can I possibly be to her, if I fail at this?”
“I mean…think about it this way,” says Yuuri. “What is Isabella trying to do with her life? What are her goals?”
“She…she doesn’t have any specific goals yet. She’s going to college, but she hasn’t figured out what to major in yet. That doesn’t mean anything bad about her, though, she’s in her first year and it’s totally normal.”
“Would you still want to be with her if she failed all of her classes?” asks Yuuri.
“Of course I would! What kind of shitty person would I be if I dumped her over something like that? No, what I’d do is I’d try to help her study if I knew the material, or if I didn’t know it, I’d help her find someone else who did, or, I don’t know, just let her complain about it until she could figure out how to fix it herself. Something, but I wouldn’t leave her over that.” JJ crosses his arms, taps the sink with his foot.
“Okay, so you think abandoning someone when they screw up is wrong, right?”
“And you think that Isabella is a good person, right?”
“Right.” JJ lifts an eyebrow.
“So, logically, she wouldn’t leave you just because you messed up a competition. If there are other problems that I don’t know about, that changes things, of course, but…do you see what I’m saying?”
Yuuri hopes this line of thinking works. It wouldn’t work on him—while Yuuri can’t imagine any failure on Victor’s part inducing him to leave him, he’s convinced that at the slightest misstep, Victor will be gone. This is true no matter how many times Victor assures him it isn’t. This is because Yuuri hates himself. He doesn’t know if JJ hates himself, or if he hates himself in the same way Yuuri does.
“Yeah,” says JJ, a small smile crooking his lips. “I see what you’re saying.”
Oh thank everything that is holy. Yuuri sighs, leans back with his eyes shut, then snaps them open and makes himself look at JJ again.
“I feel exactly the same way,” he says. “About Victor. So I don’t think it’s weird or stupid that you’re worried about Isabella, and I don’t think it means you think badly of her. Also, I’m constantly worried about losing competitions, about embarrassing myself in front of everyone, about my future, about everything. It’s the worst. I don’t have any advice for how to stop, just…I’m with you, I guess? We’re in this together.”
JJ hops off the sink, turns around and splashes water on his face. After wiping it off, he almost looks ready to leave the bathroom. “I’m sorry you feel the same way, Yuuri. I wouldn’t have guessed that you did, honestly.”
This is a surprise to Yuuri. He’d thought his own raging case of anxiety was plastered all over his face. Maybe JJ just isn’t all that observant. Or maybe it isn’t actually as obvious as he thinks Yuuri thinks it is.
“Yeah…I wouldn’t have guessed that about you, either,” he says. “But, look, talk to me again if you need to, okay? I’ll give you my number, and I’m serious, text me whenever you want.”
“Texting might not be the best method since we’re rarely in the same country. I’m still on my parent’s phone plan and I think we pay extra for international texts. Is Facebook messaging okay?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Let me add you.” Yuuri picks up his phone, and sees that his screen is full of notifications from Victor, who has been texting him for the past twenty minutes, wondering where he is. Some of the messages are impatient: Yuuri, I’m tired, can you hurry it up? Some are worried: are you okay? You went to the bathroom ages ago, are you getting sick in there? Some are just random emojis.
He sends Victor a quick, sry, be there soon! and then heads over to Facebook to add JJ. His profile picture is himself kissing Isabella on cheek, and his feed is mostly professional pictures and articles about himself. Not exactly content Yuuri would seek out on his own, but it’s actually sort of nice to look at pictures of JJ being happy.
Right now, JJ’s face is blotchy and swollen from crying, but he seems to have calmed down.
“Yuuri?” he says, twisting his shirt sleeve. “You can do the same, you know. If you’re having problems, you can talk to me too, if you want. Anytime.”
“Thanks—I might take you up on that, actually. It seems like we have a lot of the same problems.”
Yuuri’s phone buzzes again—Victor, sending him a series of aggravated question marks. JJ is scrolling through his, probably typing something to his family or his girlfriend about where he is.
“We should probably get going,” Yuuri says, hopping off of the sink.
“Yeah,” says JJ, walking towards the door. “Thanks for your help.”
They leave the bathroom, Yuuri hanging around and watching JJ leave, JJ heading for his girlfriend and his parents, who are sitting on a couch in the lobby. Yuuri can’t hear what he’s saying to them, but he does see JJ getting hugged by all three of them.
Yuuri turns the corner, confident that he’s left JJ in good hands. He texts Victor: I’m less than a minute away.