Warnings: implied/referenced homophobia.
Bend The Bow
If there is one thing Dazai hates about the Olympics, it is the separation of winter and summer sports.
It isn’t even because his own happens to be part of the winter section, and therefore less popular worldwide. If he wanted popularity he would have picked something other than figure skating in the first place; he knew the moment he decided to make a career out of jumping on ice that he would never gain the prestige that, say, runners did. He’s dealt with enough man-in-tights jokes through his life. He knows all the glitter comments by heart, twice. This is at least something he can laugh about with Kunikida whenever he shares a drink with the national gymnastics team.
No, he thinks, fanning himself with a pamphlet in a futile effort to ward off the crushing heat of summer in Tokyo—Tokyo, whose brilliant idea was that—the real issue lies in his being unable to bother Chuuya as much as he wants to, for three weeks every two years.
He’s not sure Chuuya shares his feelings on the topic, but that is of little importance.
Just because he doesn’t have access to his favorite vaulter’s hotel as freely as he does when they’re home doesn’t mean he can’t make a valiant effort. The pole vault final is only ten minutes away, and Dazai has slithered his way to the very front row, a place reserved for coaches and press and teammates. He doesn’t quite cross the line into forbidden territory, so Rimbaud only gives him one very unimpressed glance, which he counts as a victory.
He’s close enough to see Chuuya anyhow. The stadium is full to bursting with people, as it has been for the past couple weeks now, though from the side of the vault lane the sound that those thousands of spectators make is less overwhelming than one would think. Dazai is unused to such public but not unused to attention; already a few of the journalists have noticed him and are gravitating toward him, a few to ask about his presence, a few more to ask about the rumors.
Dazai smiles gleefully.
Chuuya has undoubtedly noticed him. He can turn his back to them all he wants, earbuds blasting whatever inane rock song he chose for the occasion, but he could never ignore Dazai. Dazai answers questions without taking his eyes off of him, starting at his back and arms as he stretches in preparation for his jumps.
He’s in excellent shape, of course. Chuuya is nothing if not religious in taking care of his body.
One cannot delay the inevitable forever. Eventually all vaulters are called to their coaches’ sides, and Dazai is conveniently placed on the way to Rimbaud.
“What the fuck are you doing here,” Chuuya mutters, tearing his earbuds out and messily shoving them into the bag where he keeps his water and phone. “Why are you even in Tokyo.”
“How mean, Chuuya,” Dazai replies, “I happen to love this city to death. Couldn’t spend more than a few months away if I tried.”
His forehead is already gleaming with sweat under the harsh sunlight. Temperatures are reaching a very unfortunate high in the last days of July, and many an athlete has already suffered for it. Chuuya’s lucky he’s not a runner. His long hair is up in a very tight bun, his body free of adornments save for a few piercings in his ears and the full sleeves tattooed over his arms. The shorts and T-shirt which make his mandatory uniform are somehow very flattering on him.
Leaning against the fence separating him from Dazai with all the nonchalance in the world, he looks positively edible.
“I came to see you try and break Verlaine’s record, of course,” Dazai says, trying not to sound as parched as he suddenly feels. “And to celebrate when you fail lamentably.”
Chuuya grimaces. “Don’t jinx it, for fuck’s sake.”
“You’re so superstitious!”
There’s a hand in his face before he can do much more. Dazai takes the annoyed bump to his forehead in good grace, still grinning lopsidedly.
“You already cursed me once, bastard, I’m not taking any chance.”
I’m only fifteen, I’ll grow more!
Then I’ll curse you. I’ll keep growing, but you won’t.
Dazai can see cameras turned toward them in the distance. He may be part of a dying discipline, but his gold title in the last world championships has made his name worthy of tabloid headlines anyway. Not to mention Chuuya’s position as a favorite in the competition. He knows many have picked up on their unusual relationship and are on the lookout for more.
He looks at Chuuya. Chuuya’s eyes are turned, unsurprisingly, to the flock of reporters eyeing them like birds of prey.
“I almost wish no one was watching this shit at all,” he mutters.
“Woe is you. Celebrity is such a burden.”
“You are such a—”
“Chuuya,” Rimbaud calls from a few meters away, pointing to the watch around his wrist. A vaulter from Canada, one of the competitors in the final, is already taking his marks at the start of the lane.
“Gotta go,” Chuuya says with sudden tension. “Don’t bother anyone, shitty Dazai.”
Dazai grabs his wrist before he can fully pull away.
He can see the tremor that runs through Chuuya’s body at the contact and almost regrets it. Chuuya is a few minutes away from competing in his final; he needs all of his focus and strength, not to worry about what journalists may or may not say of their relationship for the whole world to read.
Dazai’s thumb strokes along veins, bumps into the swell of Chuuya’s palm. He finds the heartbeat there quicker than he would like, and not because of the warm-up.
“You’ll beat him,” he says softly.
Chuuya takes a moment to answer. “Is it another curse?”
“It’s a promise.”
“Last I knew you were a figure skater, not a fortune-teller.”
Dazai chuckles. There is nowhere for them to hide here, in the middle of the stadium and with the world’s attention set on Chuuya, but he still brings Chuuya’s hand to his face to press a kiss into his palm.
“Good luck,” he says, releasing Chuuya’s hand.
Chuuya turns his back to him with beet-red ears, but he doesn’t look upset.
Dazai makes his way toward Rimbaud after that, deliberately ignoring every call of his name along the way. Thankfully, the Canadian vaulter attempts his first jump—six meters, fail—and grabs their attention instead by the time he makes it to Chuuya’s coach.
“You better not have scared the lad,” is what Rimbaud says in lieu of a greeting.
“As if short stuff over there were capable of feeling scared,” Dazai retorts, leaning against the bannister. “He’ll be fine.”
“He better be. If Paul wins again I’ll never hear the end of it.”
There are three more vaulters before Chuuya. The second one jumps at six point ten meters and manages not to make the bar drop, though his chest makes it shake dangerously in its holds. He jumps upright and raises his fist toward the public, his supporters echoing the gesture with cries of enthusiasm. Dazai vaguely recognizes him as the runner up of the last European championships, a man from Croatia with coarse hair and laugh lines around his warm brown eyes.
“Paul’s next,” Rimbaud grumbles.
Verlaine’s appearance at the end of the lane is met with roars of applause. The thrice-world champion, twice olympic gold and winner of countless nationals and Europeans is a spectacle unto himself, stretching his ankles and placing his grip around the pole in a well-practiced dance. He always takes a long time to prepare for his jumps, but no one dares make fun of him for it after everything he’s achieved; he is the favorite with Chuuya despite how long he’s been in the competition, a promise to all that though he may not break another record, he will deliver near-perfection.
In the warm-up area, with his own pole resting against his shoulder, Chuuya is watching him attentively. Verlaine will jump at six-sixteen, his own previously established world record.
The first jump is taken too early. Dazai has spent enough years watching Chuuya practice to notice the slightest mistakes in this sport, and much as Chuuya could probably comment a skating event with the expertise of a jury, he can tell that Verlaine is not going to make this one. Indeed his thighs hit the bar and take it down with him; Verlaine does not falter, does not pay mind to the moans of his disappointed public, simply rises from the mat and makes his way to the end of the lane once more.
The second jump is perfect. He flies over the bar in one beautiful, precise arc, a good five centimeters ahead of the limit. His smile is peaceful as he stands from the mat again and waves to the public, whose cheers are so powerful they ring through Dazai’s head.
Another Canadian vaulter is preparing his own jump. Verlaine takes a sip of water and talks to his coach for a second before walking toward where Dazai and Rimbaud stand.
“Congratulations,” Rimbaud says, sounding not congratulatory at all.
“Thank you,” Verlaine replies with a sweet smile.
Their conversation, short as it is, delves into French after that. Dazai doesn’t know enough of the language to keep up with it, and he doesn’t care enough about whatever kind of break-up happened between the two to try anyway. He has better things to look at.
The second Canadian athlete has completed his first jump—six-ten—and now Chuuya is the one getting ready.
He always strikes a sharp contrast with the other participants. All are at least a foot and half taller than him, for once, but more than that Chuuya has always had a style. It was the object of much discussion and laughter when his name started being known—the five-foot Japanese man with piercings and tattoos jumping higher than many Europeans, the long-haired young man photographed wearing leather pants and driving a hot pink motorcycle in his home town of Yokohama in-between training sessions… Dazai cannot remember how many articles, tweets, comments he has read speculating on Chuuya’s sexuality, on his manhood, on his worth as an athlete in such a well-respected discipline. This isn’t gymnastics, they say. This isn’t ice-skating. The fact that such comments have dwindled over the years and with Chuuya’s success isn’t enough to make him forget them—or the face Chuuya made upon reading them.
What Dazai remembers most of all is training at his home rink at fifteen during the open hours of the day and seeing Chuuya, already pierced and dyed back then, come in as a visitor with his friends. What he remembers is the both of them colliding on the ice and arguing long into the evening hours, coffee in hand and smile on their lips, not wanting to go home at all.
Chuuya’s body is packed with power. His arms and shoulders look wide enough to belong to a Greek statue, his legs lean and tough from years of training, his face tense with concentration. He doesn’t dance around on his feet like Verlaine does. He doesn’t fidget with the pole in his hands.
He raises it, takes a breath, and starts running.
Dazai’s own hands tighten around the barrier separating him from the participant area without thought. It seems to him that all the air in the world has vanished, that his empty lungs have forgotten how to cry for air; Chuuya gains in speed and momentum with each passing second, the silhouette of him a blur of golden skin and red hair as he nears the jumping point.
His pole latches into the dip at exactly the right time. Muscles thicken under his skin, widen his shoulders and upper back as if ready to sprout wings, and then Chuuya is flying.
This is what makes Chuuya so special at what he does. Not his looks, not his attitude, not his relationships; but that instant of grace in which he flies higher than any human ought to, that single second of weightlessness in which he seems to have slipped out of gravity’s hold.
Chuuya passes the six-sixteen mark with ease. One of his hands accidentally touches the bar upon his descent, but it is barely enough to make it move, and when he lands onto the mat set to reception him, not a step in his performance could be taken as penalty.
He’s grinning when he stands up, one arm raised to the public and nary a hair out of place, his chest moving haltingly under the shirt wearing their country’s colors.
“Good job,” Rimbaud exclaims when Chuuya joins them. Verlaine is long gone, preparing his next jump with his coach murmuring into his ear, and Chuuya doesn’t spare him a glance as he takes the water offered to him and gulps it down greedily. “Paul’s gonna try for six-eighteen like you, but he has one more jump behind him. You’re in better shape.”
“Don’t jinx it,” Chuuya laughs. He splashes his face with some of the water, and Dazai could not avoid looking at the drops running down his neck if his life were on the line. “I’ve never managed six-eighteen.”
“You can do it. You’re already secured for silver at the very least, there’s nothing to lose.”
Chuuya turns his face toward Dazai. Dazai, still high on the feeling of watching him jump, gives him a smile which he hopes is more encouraging than lustful.
The other athletes’ jumps fly over his head entirely. There is nothing on the public’s mind now but the fight between Verlaine and Chuuya, the attempt at a height not yet recorded in human history. Chuuya went over six-sixteen with a smaller margin than Verlaine; he is shorter, heavier, than the French vaulter. Dazai can hear the commentaries of the press around him, the prognostics being made in favor of Verlaine for his experience and stature. His smile doesn’t leave his face, but it turns colder.
Verlaine fails his first attempt. This time he jumped too late, his torso hitting the bar and taking it down with him. He doesn’t seem to mind extremely much, judging by the easy focus on his face. The second failure has him tenser and less jovial, his dance routine before the third jump more hurried than usual.
He runs. He pushes himself into the air, the pole bending under his weight, his feet high over the bar. Dazai does not see much of his time in flight, only seems to regain consciousness the moment Verlaine’s back hits the mat and sends its surface waving with shock. For a terrible second he thinks that the man has made it; but then the bar falls, landing onto his outstretched legs with no sound at all.
This is it, then. Verlaine did now break his record, though there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he could. All will come down to whether or not Chuuya does it. Verlaine obtained a better score on the six-sixteen jumps than him; if Chuuya cannot beat it, then Verlaine will keep gold.
Chuuya is bent over his knees at the start of the running lane. Dazai sees his back swell with each deep breath he takes, feels his own lungs match the pace with which Chuuya’s work, as if to share over some peace of mind. His blue eyes are very bright even from that distance. He takes his mark with every tendon in his body tense, the lines they make under his skin akin to steel cables keeping buildings upright.
Chuuya’s first jump does not go high enough—his feet hit the bar dead-on, and he is still up in the air when his face scrunches in disappointment. Dazai feels his heart beat like a drum against his ribs as Chuuya makes his way to the starting line again, Olympic assistants handing him another pole for his second attempt.
This time he goes over, and Dazai’s chest is in freefall, but his hands betray him again. Their touch is enough to send the bar tumbling down and make Chuuya’s expression shift from worry to panic.
This is bad.
“Shit,” Rimbaud mutters under his breath, his wide hands clasped so tightly around his elbows that Dazai can see his skin bruise. “He’s angsting.”
“He’s not,” Dazai retorts without much faith. “He can do it.”
The issue is not that they don’t believe Chuuya can, however—they all do, Rimbaud and Dazai and the rest of the Japanese delegation, even the reporters who for years defamed Chuuya for attention. Chuuya has the technique. He has the strength. He can do it, there is no denying it.
But Chuuya, in vaulting as in all things, holds himself up to impossible standards.
“Chuuya!” Dazai calls before he can think of it.
For a moment it seems that Chuuya did not hear him. He stands frozen at the foot of the jumping area, his face blank but for the stress now easily-seen by all, his shoulders so tense that the patterns drawn onto his skin look a second away from breaking apart.
Finally, he turns his head toward them. Dazai waves at him to come closer, hoping that Chuuya will decide to move before staff is done putting the bar back in place. It is with immense relief that he sees him walk forward, stiff as his gait is.
“I know what you’re going to say—”
“Come closer,” Dazai cuts in.
Chuuya’s mouth snaps shut. He looks at Dazai in a mixture of confusion and fear, no doubt unable to think of anything but his very last chance at securing gold.
“Come on, Chuuya.”
Chuuya obeys after another second. Rimbaud doesn’t try to stop them. Dazai extends a hand forward once Chuuya is within touching distance, his fingers brushing over sweat-slick skin and finding hold above the man’s elbow.
“What do you want?” Chuuya asks.
Dazai bends over the barrier separating them and presses their mouths together.
Chuuya stiffens all at once. His elbow jerks backward as if to draw away from Dazai, and Dazai’s belly digs painfully into the bannister, a grunt of discomfort escaping his lips in the process. It is at this point that Chuuya seems to change his mind; instead of pulling back, his upper body leans in. His head tilts to the side to allow for better contact between them, slants his wet mouth against Dazai’s more fully, one of his talc-dry hands finding refuge at Dazai’s nape to bring the both of them closer.
It doesn’t last very long. There are still reporters around them, all of whom now have their cameras turned to the sight they make. Dazai cannot find it in himself to care that he is undoing years of careful self-preservation. He cannot care about anything but the feeling of Chuuya’s shoulders finally relaxing in their embrace, of his anxiety blowing out like a candle. When they separate, Chuuya’s face is only red from embarrassment and pleasure.
“Give a man some warning, asshole,” he mutters.
Dazai laughs. “Come on,” he says. “You’ve got a world record to break.”
“You’re paying for dinner tonight.”
“Only if you win.”
It is Chuuya’s turn to breathe out in laughter. His hands leave warm imprints on Dazai when they leave his skin. He doesn’t answer any of the hurried calls that the reporters yell after him, only picks up a new pole and makes his way to the field again.
Dazai ignores them as well, though they are now crowding him. “Are you here for the games or are you here for gossip?” he asks them in English, and that is the end of that.
Chuuya balances the pole between his hands with more certainty than ever before. His eyes close for a long second as he breathes his last full breaths, and then he is off.
His speed is admirable. His form all but perfect. Dazai once again loses track of anything that isn’t Chuuya, anything outside of the powerful swell of his body as he lifts himself up into the air. The pole bends and straightens beautifully, carrying him up where no one else but him has gone. Chuuya flies over the stadium, his face gleaming with sunlight, his wingspan greater than the sky.
He makes the six-eighteen. The bar, untouched, does not tremble upon its perch.
In the midst of the following celebrations, neither of them cares much that half of the questions asked of Chuuya have to do with their kiss. Their decision to keep their relationship private was unspoken; for years they chose not to answer any pointed inquiry, any bigoted jab, and there is no reason for them to change that now. Things will blow over. Chuuya’s mark in history will remain his own achievement.
They walk side by side at the end of the day, roaming the busy streets of the city in search of a place to eat. The gold medal still hangs around Chuuya’s neck like a beacon, and the people they cross paths with stare at him in recognition, some going so far as to ask for autographs and selfies. Chuuya only indulges about half of them.
“I suppose you’ll be expecting me to kiss you before the free skate at the four continents,” Chuuya says once they are sat inside a restaurant, in a booth away from the rest of the dining room. “Now that the cat’s out of the bag.”
“Well, if you’re offering,” Dazai replies, eyes roaming the menu.
A waitress comes to take their order. Chuuya picks only light food, as always after a competition—his nerves tend to carry over the night and sometimes day following big events, whether he wins or loses. Dazai congratulates himself with steak and an assortment of side dishes.
Under the table, his fingers link with Chuuya’s.