Evan looked at his phone, confused and surprised, for a long moment before he looked up at the ice, where Sara was spinning, down in a cannonball sit spin with her gloved hand in the air, and for a moment, as he always did when she hit this one right, he thought of Stephane and a lump formed in his throat, but this time he smiled because the brim of the damn hat was touching her leg and she was spinning like a record, but the hat was staying on.
Later, after they'd photographed the configuration of hatpins with all of their phones and removed it to reveal that Sara's scalp hadn't actually been pierced, Evan sent her out to practice her triple flip and Mirai leaned against the boards next to him and watched.
"Lebed' isn't a name," she said. "Or it's a really rare one if it is."
"Mm," Evan said.
"Is he a booty call?" Evan didn't dignify that with a response. "Is he the booty call you ditched Sara for the other day?"
"I did not ditch Sara for a booty call!" Sara stumbled, and he called, "Keep skating!" Mirai laughed and laughed. "You're a horrible person," he accused.
During Evan's divorce, he'd gone against his publicist's advice and told Jenna the truth about why he was divorcing her--and she immediately started threatening to use that information. Evan hadn't been ready to be 'out,' and had pretty much panicked. Mirai had found him freaking out at the rink one day, got the story out of him, and pretty much took charge. He still didn't know how she'd gotten Jenna to keep her mouth shut until the divorce was final. She'd been all of twenty at the time, and even now she wasn't, like, scary, so it wasn't that. Then, having bought him all the time she could, she'd thrown the ambitiously named 'Evan's Coming Out Party, A One-Day Twitter Event.'
Mirai was pretty much Evan's favorite person, even when she was trying to pry personal information out of him.
"How long has it been since you got laid? Because I might actually be okay with you ditching Sara for a booty call at this point. Just not, you know, in the middle of a strange city where she doesn't speak the language."
"She made it back to the hotel okay. And it wasn't a booty call." Mirai didn't say anything. "It wasn't!"
"If you say so."
"Hang on. Keep your upper body up! It wasn't."
"You're adamant about this, and you know I don't care. So I believe you," Mirai decided as Sara started a lap of back crossovers. "She could be tighter in the air. Her free leg's too loose."
"Yeah. I'll talk to her about it. She's not normally that sloppy."
"I know. So if it wasn't a booty call, why is a Russian with a code name calling you?" Mirai turned to him, looking dorkily excited. Evan braced himself for nonsense. "Are you working for the CIA?" And there it was.
"No, Mirai, I'm not working for the CIA."
"So what is it? Tell meeeee."
"I'm not ready yet." He wasn't ready, Johnny wasn't ready, same difference.
"Oh, my God," Mirai said. "It's serious, isn't it?"
"It's not serious." Not the way Mirai meant, anyway. The situation was drop-dead serious, but.
"But you want it to be," she interpolated.
He thought about Johnny's soft eyes after he'd kissed him, and he said, "Maybe. Yeah."
"Oh my God, Evan, he doesn't even speak English. How did you meet this guy?"
"I told you. He's a friend of Evgeni's."
Evan ignored her, watching Sara's next triple. "That was much better. I might not have to cut your hair off and dress you up as her to preserve our honor after all."
Mirai snorted. "I'd get my ass handed to me. You can't even contend these days without the triple axel. And you wouldn't fit in her costumes."
"If you think I can still do a triple axel you have not been paying attention to my knees. Which you really should, what with them being at your eye level and all." Mirai smacked him in the arm, and Evan laughed.
When Johnny got back from the market, Evan was sitting in the hallway outside his apartment, his long limbs tucked up neatly around him. "Hi," Evan said.
"No, seriously, don’t you have a student?"
"And I have to be back with her in about..." Evan checked his watch. "Four hours, but if I skated her all day she would mutiny or fall and be horribly injured, and either way that's not how you win a medal." He stood up, unfolding himself gracefully, and said, "I'd like to kiss you again."
"Not here. The neighbors will talk."
"I don't think the neighbors care."
"No, but if they did, they would talk," Johnny said, and unlocked the door and ushered Evan in. He set his bags on the postage stamp-sized counter, put the milk in the fridge, and then turned and went back to Evan, still standing by the door. "Okay," he said.
He smiled. "Okay."
And Evan kissed him.
It wasn't like the kissing Johnny had been doing, these past few years, when there was kissing. A lot of the porn he shot was the sort where no one gave a fuck about kissing. There was no camera, and even if there had been Evan wouldn't have cared about it. He was kissing Johnny because he wanted to be kissing Johnny, slow and gentle and easy, his hands light and warm cupping his jaw.
It was strange, in a way. It definitely wasn't the hottest kiss Johnny had ever been a part of, but it was like he was waking up, remembering what it was like to kiss just because you wanted to, just for the hell of kissing. He licked into Evan's mouth, kicking things up a notch, and wrapped one hand around the back of Evan's neck, pulling him closer. The kiss went on and on, and when Johnny had to break away to breathe, he was startled to realize he was getting hard. Evan was gulping air, too, his forehead resting against Johnny's hair. "Hi," he said, and Evan laughed, a soft rumble Johnny felt down in his dick.
"Hi." And then, "Can I touch you?"
No one asked him that. Can I slap your face, sure, but can I touch you? Unheard of. He thought about it, Evan's hands sliding over his ribs, his hips, his cock. His mouth went dry. He hadn't wanted like this in so long. "Yeah," he decided.
And he did, at first just his hands sliding under Johnny's shirt and dipping into the edge of his pants as he kissed him, the heat sweet and building into that delicious wanting ache Johnny's body, somehow, seemed to remember. Evan undressed him by feel, only breaking the kiss when he absolutely had to, fumbling and clumsy and wonderful, and Johnny ran his hands under Evan's sweater, feeling the softness of his skin and the hard planes of muscle, then pushed it up and over Evan's head, getting it out of the way so he could feel skin on skin. He unbuttoned Evan's pants and used both his hands to shove them and Evan's boxer briefs down at once, mumbling into his mouth, "I have a bed."
"Bet the mattress is terrible," Evan said, dropping kisses along his jawbone between words.
"Yes," Johnny agreed as he tugged on Evan's hand, leading him toward it. "But it's flat."
The bed was too small, really, for both of them, especially considering Evan's height, and they didn't do anything creative. Just touching, and kissing, slow and easy, their hands exploring each other, Evan doing his best to be careful of Johnny's wrecked body, Johnny learning the parts of Evan their sport had been less than kind to--he grunted with pain, not pleasure, when his knee got bent wrong. Johnny came, eventually, with something like a sob, his face pressed to the side of Evan's neck, and Evan followed a few minutes later, sighing as he spilled over Johnny's hand.
It was perfect.
Johnny lay there for a while, letting Evan hold him, and then he said, again, "Don't you have a student?"
Evan sighed and said, "I should go," and didn't make any effort to move.
"You're not going," Johnny pointed out.
"I don't want to leave. I'm scared if I do you'll disappear," Evan admitted. Johnny blinked back tears, because that was--fair.
"Not until after your kid wins or loses, remember? I won't do anything until then. That's the deal."
Evan turned to look at him, their faces bare inches apart, fear and something else, something almost tender evident in his eyes. "Promise?"
"Yeah. You can go. You need to go, Evan."
Evan ducked his head for a moment, and then he kissed Johnny again, a hard press of lips and a swipe of tongue, and got up, careful of that bad knee, and got dressed. He came back to the bed and kissed Johnny one more time before he left. "I'm not going to say goodbye," he told him. "That might jinx it. So, I'll say, see you later."
"Maybe," Johnny refused to agree. "But I'm not going to say goodbye either."
For the first time in eight and a half years, Johnny was deliberately watching a figure skating competition.
Evan's Bosnian was in the second flight of women, skating third. She was tinier than Johnny had expected. Of course, most people, Johnny included, looked tiny standing next to Evan, but she was wearing skates and he wasn't, and there was a notable height difference between her and most of the other girls. Her costume was pretty generic, a floaty red chiffon number with gold scrollwork embroidery. Her skating, though, wasn't generic. Not watching a competition in eight years meant he'd missed a lot of the changes, but he'd gotten the general idea very quickly. The triple axel had become standard among the top female skaters, and a few would even be attempting a quad. Sara Demeter had clean jumps and strong spins, but the real star of the show was her footwork. She had the speed and the surety to pull off a piece as fast as this one was. She was more of a performer than most sixteen-year-olds, too. Most kids right of Juniors didn't have enough life under their belts to really emote their routines yet, Johnny had noticed. It helped that this routine was on the sassy side of classical, and from what little Evan had said of the kid, Johnny was pretty sure she had sass.
He wondered if the little hip shake toward the beginning of the routine had been her idea or her choreographer's, because he was certain it hadn't been Evan's.
She struck her final pose, one arm up in an elegant, look-at-me curve, and her face broke out of her 'yes I'm better than you' smirk to a full-blown grin as she took her bows and skated over to Evan, who was grinning like a goofball.
"Representing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sara Demeter," the announcer said in Russian, not that it mattered. It was always the same format, drilled into their bones. Johnny had heard, 'Representing America,' and 'Will the following skaters please take the ice,' and, 'It is the end of the three minute warm-up, will the skaters please leave the ice,' and 'The scores, please, for Johnny Weir,' in languages he'd never speak, and knew exactly what was being said.
Johnny grabbed his phone and texted Evan: How short is your kid?
Evan didn't respond right away, of course. He was on TV, grinning and telling his skater how awesome she was as they sat in the Kiss & Cry. Sara had a stuffed polar bear about the same size as she was in her lap, and a dozen white roses, and after a few minutes she had a score that put her into first and might actually hold up to at least a few of the next three skaters. Johnny turned off his tiny, crappy TV and went to bed. He was drifting off when his phone buzzed with a text: Five one. And a half. I'm told the half is important. Not that I'd know.
He smiled sleepily and texted back, What's that in metric?
Like I know?
Men's and women's competition practices weren't that different, really. All the same intimidation techniques still applied. One of the two Americans in Moscow, Hannah Fremont, was in third after the short, and she was shadowing Sara, skating her music and circling her, during their practice session Thursday morning.
Of course, Evan thought as he stood by the boards and watched, that sort of intimidation technique only really worked if the other skater gave a fuck about what you were doing. He and Johnny had harassed each other over half the world's ice rinks, it seemed like sometimes, because they both knew exactly how to get under each other's skins. There had been a time when he hadn't known Johnny's favorite color, but by God he knew how to piss him off and get him off his game.
Fremont was nineteen, old enough that she hadn't been on the Juniors circuit with Sara in a few years, and with Sara's circuit being Europe, not the Four Continents, they hadn't faced off. Fremont didn't know that Sara didn't give a fuck about her, that she'd scoffed and said it wasn't any of her business when the older girl said in an interview that she thought it was unpatriotic for Sara to skate for somewhere other than America. Sara's main concerns were the girl ahead of her, reigning Olympic silver medalist Park Sun-Yu, and Sofia Groshkova, who Sara had battled it out with all through Juniors, in fourth.
Of course, Sara and Sofia being Sara and Sofia, if Evan and Viktor Petrenko didn't pay sharp attention, they'd find the two giggling and talking about boys instead of practicing their elements. Two years ago, at Junior Worlds, Sara and Sofia's parents had decided no harm would be done by letting them have a sleepover in Sofia's room after the ladies' competition wrapped...until they showed up the next morning at breakfast with pink streaks in Sofia's hair and Sara's hair dyed green to match her exhibition costume. (Galina had made Sofia dye her hair back as soon as she got back to New Jersey. Neither Evan nor Sara's father had said anything against hers, so it stayed green for a few weeks, until it faded enough to bear a disturbing resemblance to swamp water, when she had her dad take her to a salon.) The practices might not be that different, but the actual rivalries were an entirely different story.
"Caroline and I were like that, except no one's hair ever wound up the wrong color," Mirai said fondly, getting Evan's attention off trying to get the cap off a bottle of water and onto Sara and Sofia synchronizing their lap of back crossovers, the one tall and blonde, the other small and dark. He glanced over at Viktor, who shrugged.
"She's doing what I told her to do. I cannot complain."
"Maybe they can skate pairs if they ever go gender neutral," Evan muttered, shaking his head.
"Sofia would have to do the lifts."
Sofia stopped first, throwing her triple axel-double toe combination, and then another quarter around the rink it was Sara's quadruple salchow. She two-footed the landing, sending her over to Evan.
"You know what you did wrong," he said, handing her the bottle, finally open.
"I didn't have enough acceleration," she agreed.
"You and Sofia can get back to being BFF in another half-hour, okay? Get out there and show me and these other girls a perfect quad." As she skated off, he asked Mirai, "How is Caroline these days?"
"She's good. I get panicked 'why did I ever go to grad school' e-mails about every twelve hours, but I'm getting pretty good at those by now." Evan's phone went off with a text, and he pulled it out of his pocket, glancing at the screen. Personal best =/= winning, btw, he read, and something in his face must have changed, because Mirai said, "Is that the boyfriend?"
"What?" Viktor said, and something in Ukrainian Evan suspected of meaning 'finally.'
"Evan has a boyfriend. Or, well, almost boyfriend. He doesn't speak English and he's in his phone as Lebed-apostrophe, and that's all I know that isn't suspect."
For a long moment, Viktor just sort of looked at Evan, his expression disbelieving, shocked. Evan cursed Mirai's big mouth, and then Viktor said, "Will you excuse us for a moment? Mirai, you know how to yell at Sofia," and then he grabbed Evan by the upper arm and dragged him off into the hallway until he found a quiet, out of the way corner, and, "What the fuck?"
"Viktor, listen, I--"
"How long have you--I--God. Is he all right?"
"No. But I'm working on it. I've known where he was for eight days. He's. Scared to come back, okay?"
"It's been so long, and--I think he's done some things he's not proud of."
Viktor cursed. "None of us care about that. We just want to know that he is safe and well."
"I know. I made a deal with him, if Sara wins he'll think about coming to the reception; I'm pretty sure I can get him to, and once he's there he can't run away again, because if nothing else I figured you'd handcuff him to something."
Viktor did some mental math and said, "I'm going to have to Tonya Harding the Park girl."
"Because that won't be obvious."
"Sofia is in fourth, and this is her only assignment. Bronze will do her little good."
"I meant to Johnny."
"This is true. Fremont is no concern; she is too much with creating drama, not her skating. And she is not a long program skater. But the Park girl..."
"I'm hoping for a repeat of that wipeout on her triple-triple, honestly."
Viktor scrubbed one hand over his face. "Fuck. Does Sara know?"
"Shit, no, Viktor, I might as well take her out back and Tonya Harding her. It'd be kinder to her in the long run than letting her go out with that on her." And screw up went unsaid. "No one knows. You can't tell anyone."
"If she loses--"
"Even if she wins, he might not come. He might have just been trying to buy time to pack up his crap and get out of town so he can run away from everything for another eight years. I don't know. But I have to try."
"By putting your faith in a sixteen-year-old Bosnian who thinks leggings qualify as pants outside of an ice rink."
"Apparently," Evan sighed. He couldn't talk about this any more, but he couldn't go back to the rink right now. Probably people were wondering where the hell they'd gone. Maybe they thought Viktor was giving Evan the safe sex lecture, now that he finally had a boyfriend. The girls had about fifteen minutes left. Whatever.
"You have to deal with Mirai," Viktor said. "Eventually she's going to tell someone else who knows enough Russian to recognize 'Swan.'"
"I know. Fuck. Okay. Let's go make sure our girls haven't managed to skate into the boards."
"Sofia only did that once," Viktor said with great dignity, but he hurried on the way back.
The Russian girl Viktor was coaching--and God, Viktor looked like he'd aged so much more than eight years, and for the first time in a while Johnny let himself wonder about Galina--went just before Sara Demeter, and as one was leaving the ice and the other going on, they squeezed hands, just for a moment, and one of the commentators noted that they were, of course, great friends as well as great rivals, the other agreeing with a comment Johnny didn't understand about the 2017 Junior Worlds.
Johnny wondered what it would have been like, if it could have been like that for him and Evan. If they could have been real friends back then, instead of people who'd been fighting it out for so long they knew each other better than their own mothers did.
She was a little jittery, first-big-competition nerves that hadn't been in evidence for the short, when she had been just discovering how she measured up, not competing for the spot on the top of the podium. And for something she didn’t even know was on the line.
Johnny couldn't decide if he wanted her to win or not.
Evan handled her perfectly when she finished loosening her legs and shaking her head to test the hat and skated back to the boards for last-minute instruction and a quick drink of water. "Breathe," he told her, barely audible. "You've got this."
She nodded and said, "I wanna do it."
"Then do it," Evan agreed, and Johnny thought they were talking about winning pretty much right up until she threw the quad salchow. The announcers started babbling about how she'd been landing it in practice but hadn't done it in competition before, and Johnny started really thinking about what it would mean to go to the reception, to walk into a room full of the people he'd run away from. He wondered who was doing the American commentary; Evan hadn't said and he hadn't thought to ask before.
The performance ended with her up on her toepicks, knees bent, the classic pose, the gloved hand splayed across her opposite hip and her bare hand pulling down the brim of her hat, and the crowd went wild.
Johnny didn't know what to do. What to think.
Her score put her in first, and there was just one skater left to go. Park Sun-Yu, of South Korea.
It was a great result, for her first international senior event, her first Grand Prix event. Evan thought he was doing everything right, smiling and hugging his skater and telling her things like, "Good job," and, "Great job on the quad," but something must have shown on his face, something that cut through Sara's giddy happiness. The flash of comprehension on her face was a disaster.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing's wrong," he scoffed. "You just won silver at the Cup of Russia."
"Something's wrong. What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," he insisted. "You skated great, you did the best you could."
"I did skate great," she agreed, her voice rising, "so why are you upset? Did something happen? What aren't you telling me?" People were starting to look at them. Evan caught sight of Viktor, who looked like he'd aged another five years since Park's score had gone up. Sofia didn't seem to have noticed, but then, anyone who trained with Viktor and Galina these days learned pretty quick that they might turn them into a champion, but there would be moments when they looked like their heart was breaking for no apparent reason, through no fault of their student's.
They'd coached Johnny and Stephane both, after all.
"Sara, nothing's wrong. I promise, okay?"
"Your face is saying nothing's wrong and your mouth is saying nothing's wrong and your eyes are saying I just kicked your puppy," she accused. "You can't say I skated great and then be all passive-aggressive upset that I didn't win, that's not fair." There wasn't actually logic in that statement, but then, Sara had no clue why he was actually upset, so he couldn't hold that against her.
"You're right," he said, and then, the words thick and bitter on his tongue, "I should practice what I preach, right?" He was always telling her you couldn't win every single time, that any given day someone could be better than you, that all you could do was skate your best and leave it on the ice.
But Sara, being distressingly insightful for someone who did, indeed, think leggings counted as pants, said, "Oh my God. Did someone die? You can tell me. Where's my dad, is my dad okay?"
"Your dad is either still in the audience or trying to get through security to come see you. Your dad is fine. Everyone is fine. I'm just being irrational. Even coaches do that sometimes."
She looked at him suspiciously for a moment, then said, "Okay," but she didn't buy it. Fuck.
"Come on, they'll be lining you up for the medal ceremony any minute now."
Well, Johnny thought as he watched Evan's Bosnian teenager, minus the hat but still wearing the glove, smile and wave and pose for pictures with her new silver medal. That was that. He didn't have to decide, because fate and a Korean had taken it out of his hands. He could just…keep living his non-life, and never have to figure out what to do with whatever pieces were left of the life he'd left.
That sounded horribly unappealing, actually.
Evan pretty much wanted to die, but that didn't stop Mirai from pounding on his door at seven o'clock in the morning. "There's no practice!" he said when he tore open the door to make the unholy racket stop and found a tiny Asian woman standing there glaring at him.
"How drunk did you get last night?"
"Over a silver at Cup of Russia?"
"...Evgeni Plushenko is in your bed."
"Zdrasvui, Mirai," Evgeni said without lifting his head, then mumbled something in Russian into the pillow.
"He asked you to kill him," Evan supplied helpfully.
"You got drunk with a Russian?"
"I drank the Russian under the table, I'm pretty sure," Evan said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Parts of the previous night were a blur, but he was pretty sure about that part.
Evgeni mumbled, "You weigh more than me," in Russian.
"Go fuck yourself."
"You are taller than me, also, so you weigh more than me. Is not fat."
"Well, you both seem to have all your clothes on, so his wife won't kill you, I guess," Mirai said. "Anyway, your phone's turned off, and I wanted to tell you that Sara's going out with the Groshkovs today. Trying to hammer some culture into them, I think. Sergei and Yelena'll totally have them back in plenty of time for the reception, so no worries."
"The Groshkovs? What about her dad?"
And then he understood why Mirai was so chipper and pounding on his door at this hour, because her face lit up and she vibrated, just a little, like she always did when she had gossip hot off the press. "Tomas has hooked up with Tanith Belbin!"
Evan thought about it. "Yeah, I can see that," he decided.
"Tomas?" Evgeni asked his pillow.
"Why are you both drunk and miserable? Your skaters did great!"
Evan hesitated. "Listen, Mirai. You know that guy in my phone?"
"Right. Could you just maybe...not mention that to anyone? It didn't work out. Like. A lot."
"Oh. Oh, yeah, sure," Mirai said. "No problem." 'Evan's love life is finally looking up' was cause for rejoicing, but 'Evan's love life has found a new way to crash and burn' was nothing anyone needed to know. "But, yeah, the Demeters are taken care of, I'm going shopping, you guys can go back to bed, but you should probably drink some water or something."
Once she was gone, he detoured into the bathroom to get the bottle of aspirin, then back into the main room, where he got two bottles of water out of the minifridge. Evgeni was sitting up by then, and Evan sat down next to him, wordlessly handing him one of the water bottles. Evgeni drained half of it, then said, "Maybe. You have his phone number and address, da? Maybe I could--I don't know. Check in on him."
"I'm terrified he'll take that as, like. A betrayal of trust. Fuck. I don't know how to handle this, I don't know what to do. I just. Maybe I should go over there, try to talk to him again?"
"And what? Beg? Although, this is Johnny Weir we are talking about, I cannot believe he has changed that much. Maybe he would like that." Evan snorted. Evgeni scooted over an inch or two, so they were shoulder-to-shoulder. "You did good, eh. More than any of us have managed in eight years."
"I can't. I can't leave him like that."
"You cannot save him from himself. You can only try. And try you did."
"Yeah, well," Evan said. "It didn't work."
They sat there in silence, drinking their water, for a few minutes before Evgeni said, "This Tomas, your Sara's dad, he is good man?" After Tanith's first marriage had gone down in even more of a flaming wreck than Evan's, a lot of people were a little protective of her.
"Yeah. Yeah, he's a great dad, at least, from what I've seen, and he's a really great guy. I mean, I would've been out the door to go cut him if he wasn't, Zhenya, you know that."
"What happened with his first marriage? Sara's mother."
"Took off with the real estate agent who sold them their house when they moved to California. Sara was six, I think?"
"Yeah." Evan stared at his water bottle for a moment, then decided, "Coffee."
"Coffee," Evgeni agreed.
Evan had never really understood why people stuck around for the reception; had always thought it would be better to hold it before the competition. Maybe the organizers thought it would be better with the absence of nerves, but the only people happy were the medalists, usually, so three-quarters of the attendees were in a bad mood and drinking to get drunk, except for the teenagers, who tended to huddle in the corners and get sullen about watching all the adults have adult fun.
Unless, it turned out, you had Sara and Sofia around, in which case one corner of the reception room had become teen central for a little while, a chattering, giggling mess of kids--some of whom, to the best of Evan's knowledge, had never spoken before outside of skating-related matters. They'd moved their party upstairs to the Groshkovs' suite, where there were diet soda, iPods, and nail polish, about an hour into the reception.
Probably half the guys would have painted nails and stunned expressions in the morning, but Evan figured it was an important life lesson for them: girls were dangerous.
Evan was sitting at a table with Viktor and Evgeni and a bottle of vodka when a shocked silence started to ripple through the room. Somewhere, a glass broke, and they turned to look for it before turning to look at what everyone else was looking at: the huddled, nervous figure in the doorway.
Tanith broke the silence with a shocked gasp of, "Johnny."
"Um," said Johnny. "Hi."
For another long moment, no one moved, like they were all afraid that if they did they'd frighten him away, he might vanish in a puff of smoke for another eight years. Then Viktor rose on unsteady legs and walked slowly over to him. "Johnnik," he said.
"Johnnik, our Johnnik," Viktor said, and reached out and pulled Johnny to him, and held on tight. Johnny faltered for a moment, then wrapped his arms around Viktor, too, like he was hanging on for dear life.
"Sorry," Johnny said. "I'm so sorry."
"Ah, Johnnik," Viktor said, and then he was speaking Russian, and Johnny was replying in the same language, and they were both crying.
Eventually, Viktor let go and Tanith swooped in, and cried and cried and finally pulled away, swiping at her eyes and saying, "God, Johnny, Johnny, we thought you were dead."
"I did, too, for a while," Johnny said. "But I wasn't. I'm not okay but I'm getting better," he said, and then he raised his voice, meant to be heard, like the entire room wasn't straining for every syllable already. "I don't want to talk about where I've been," he said. "Not yet. Right now I just want to come home." Tanith hugged him again, and he hugged her back for a moment before saying something in her ear that made her let him mostly go, keeping one arm around his waist as they came over to the table Evan and Evgeni were still sitting at. Johnny sat down next to Evan and swiped his glass, pouring himself a double and slamming it back with the ease of long practice.
"But I lost," Evan said stupidly.
"I realized I didn't want you to lose," Johnny said, and smiled at him. "Not this time."
Sara toyed with the zipper of her warmup jacket for a few minutes after broaching the subject before saying, "Maybe I could just...you know. Not go."
"To Europeans," Evan said, carefully not allowing any inflection at all to color his words.
"I don't know. Maybe?"
"You are going to Europeans. Johnny might decide to stay home once he finds out where it is, but you are going to Europeans."
"But--I don't--I just." She sighed, and apparently gave up on finding the right words.
"I know. You're a good kid," Evan said, ruffling her hair. "I'll talk to Johnny, okay?" She ducked her head, nodding. "Good. Give me three laps."
Evan had flown home from Russia with Johnny, providing moral support while his family and Galina cried all over him, and then Johnny had pretty much run out of steam; had no clue what to do next. Evan had offered his spare room in LA until he figured it out, and Johnny had taken it gratefully, since the alternative was his parents' spare room and he was a man in his thirties. His mom hadn't touched any of his things or his money, and had transferred it all back to him as quickly as possible, but he didn't know what he wanted to do with it.
His third night in LA, Johnny had shuffled into Evan's room in the middle of the night, said, "I don't think I can sleep alone any more," and Evan had flipped back the covers so Johnny could crawl in next to him. It was just sleep, though. They'd kissed, made out like younger men with much younger bodies on the couch, even, but they hadn't gotten back to sex in the weeks since they'd come back from Russia.
Johnny cried a lot, but he claimed he hadn't, for most of nine years, and Evan believed him; figured this was to be expected. Johnny had sealed over the wound and let it fester, and now it was ripped open. Johnny was ripped open. But that meant he could finally begin to heal.
Johnny was seeing a doctor, who said he would need multiple surgeries to repair his hip and back. They'd decided to wait until the off season for the first one, a joint decision, and in the meantime Johnny had PT. Some days, he came with Evan to the rink and sat in the stands, watching Sara or Evan's more junior students skate. Some days, he didn't. He'd gone with them to Bosnian Nationals, which were usually Sara and two or three other girls she beat by more than fifty points, but they were still her nats and they all treated the competition seriously and with full respect. When they went to Japan for the NHK Trophy, where Sara came fifth after a disaster of a short, he'd stayed behind, instead flying out to see his parents.
Johnny had sort of a patchy understanding of the last eight years of figure skating. He'd spent a lot of time on YouTube and Wikipedia, and sometimes he'd ask Evan about something the internet didn't cover, or else covered in a particularly tinhat manner: when had Tanith and Charlie broken up, when did Scott and Tessa finally got together, what was Joubert doing these days. But Evan was pretty sure he didn't know where Europeans were this year. Maybe it hadn't even occurred to him, as a product of the Four Continents like Evan. Sara spoke Romani and Bosnian with equal fluency with her father, but in English she sounded like any California girl. Sometimes people forgot.
That night, while they ate dinner, Evan said, "I have to get the rest of the paperwork in for Europeans, and book the plane tickets and things."
"Okay," Johnny said.
"So, I just need to know if you want to come."
"I don't know," Johnny said. "Where are they holding it, anyway?"
Evan refused to look up from his plate as he said, "Lausanne."
"Oh." Johnny was quiet for a while, then he pushed his plate away, still not saying anything. Evan waited, let him think it out. "I feel like I should," he finally said. "Like I need to. I want. I need to see Stephane's grave. But I'm not sure if I can."
"There'll be other times, if you decide not to this time," Evan said. "Just let me know by, like, Thursday."
Johnny sighed. "You're so damn nice about it."
"Well, I could be an asshole about it, but I try not to be a horrible human being most of the time."
"That's not what Sara says."
"Most of the time."
Johnny looked at his hands as he said, "I don't mean to make you compete with him."
"I'm not. I can't. He was your first love, and I can't compete with that, and I wouldn't know where to begin competing with his memory. I don't want to take that away from you, Johnny. You're always going to be in love with him. I get that. I just want you to heal, and then...I guess I'm hoping your heart's big enough to love someone else, too."
"When did you turn into such a romantic?"
"Tanith thought I was plenty romantic."
Johnny smiled. "Tanith." Then he looked up at Evan and said, "Let's go to bed."
"Yeah, Evan," Johnny said, already out of his chair and pulling him by the wrist. "Yeah."
Evan's knees were wrecked from years of wrenching them into and out of triple axels and quad toes, and while surgery had done a lot, they were never quite one hundred percent. Johnny sometimes had to make himself not say bitchy things about how he'd known someone that tall shouldn't have been figure skating. It wasn't like Stephane's knees had been in good shape, either. Even without Johnny's problems, they were neither of them eighteen, and hell, even at eighteen they'd both probably been nursing one bad joint.
So there was a certain amount of negotiation, a careful, awkward sort of dance, that went into sex, something Johnny hadn't really experienced before, since half the porn directors he'd worked with hadn't realized he had a problem until something was just not going to happen, and then the only allowance made was 'how little can we change this to make it possible to shoot this scene?' There was a difference, a huge difference, between that and having sex with someone just because you wanted to, someone who was committed to giving you pleasure with as little pain as possible, someone you felt the same way about.
It helped that Evan had a California King with one of those amazing memory foam mattresses (Johnny kind of wanted to marry Evan's bed), a far cry from Johnny's crappy bed in his crappy little apartment back in Russia, but still. There were ways Johnny's hip could bend without him wanting to die, and there were ways Johnny's hip could bend that put him in a world of pain.
So: slow, and careful, hands and skin and mouths, Evan opening Johnny up with his fingers and his tongue, and after a while Johnny closed his eyes, because who cared what it looked like when he could just feel. And then, eventually, both of them on their side so Johnny could rest on his good hip, and they couldn't kiss like this, and Evan couldn't get as deep as either of them really wanted, but that was okay, because this was enough. More than enough. Johnny didn't know if Evan loved him yet, but he wanted to find out, and he didn’t know if he loved Evan yet, but he thought he wanted to.
Evan came first, his mouth warm and wet and open on the back of Johnny's neck, shuddering through it, and then he wrapped his hand around Johnny and said, softly, "Come on. Come on, Johnny."
And for just one moment, everything was perfect.
Johnny didn't bring flowers when he finally went to his lover's grave. He only brought himself.
He'd put it off until their last day in Switzerland, leaving Sara, the newly minted European bronze medalist, frantically trying to pack up and her father trying to wrangle her back at the hotel as he and Evan took a cab to the cemetery. Evan stood apart, hands shoved into his pockets against the winter chill. This was between Johnny and Stephane and God; he had no part in it, except for to promise the empty air, "I'm doing my best. I'm trying to take care of him."
Johnny sat in the snow for a long time, leaning against Stephane's tombstone, talking or not, Evan didn't know. He worried about Johnny's bad hip, but as long as he didn't freeze to death, he could be put back together. He could take as long as he liked.
Eventually, Johnny got up, moving slow, clearly in pain, and limped over to Evan. "Hey," he said, his voice hoarse from crying.
"Hey," Evan said back.
Johnny held out one hand and, when Evan took it, shifted so that their fingers were interlaced. He looked down at their hands for a moment, then he looked up at Evan and smiled. It was a shaky smile, but it was real.
It was like the sun coming out.