In The Middle of the Night
It had been chaos. Once the afterglow of the Grand Prix Final had faded, Yuuri and Victor had found themselves headed back to Japan—Victor to hurriedly pack up his belongings and return to St. Petersburg for Russian Nationals while Yuuri was to stay in Hasetsu to prepare for the corresponding Japanese competition. He would join Victor in Russia after Nationals were over. The fact that the two competitions were scheduled to overlap didn’t make things any easier.
The inn was a flurry of boxes; scattered suitcases and random closets were haphazardly spilling out their jumbled belongings. Yuuri’s parents kept smiling kindly, although Victor could see the worry in Hiroko’s eyes. Mari mostly stayed out of their way, volunteering to make the interminable trips to the post office to ship Victor’s boxes back home.
Yuuri vacillated between bursts of numb efficiency and pre-panic total shutdown. There was just so much to do and so little time. Forty-eight hours. That’s all the time he had left with Victor in Hasetsu before he was to board the early flight back to Russia. He and Victor had talked it over, planned it out and organized this whole move on the long flight home from Barcelona. That didn’t make it any easier, now that the time had finally come.
Victor and his multitude of boxes would go first—Russian Nationals were less than two weeks away and he needed to acclimate to the time change and continue to refine his new programs. Yuuri would stay in Hasetsu with Minako pressed into willing duty as his temporary coach, mentor and all-around cheerleader in Victor’s absence. The Nishigoris were her back-up and Mari would make sure Yuuri got some time to pack and would arrange shipping his things to St. Petersburg as well.
Hiroko and Toshiya would continue to do what they did best: provide gentle reassurance and unflinching support. There had been a tightness around Hiroko’s eyes when she spoke to Victor—she had grown used to having Yuuri home, with Victor at his side. The suddenness of their departure worried her, Victor could see that clearly, even with the multitude of other issues clamoring for his attention.
He pulled her aside the night before his flight, leaving Yuuri to painstakingly label boxes with Mari. “I will bring him back,” Victor promised. “It won’t be five years before he comes home this time, I give you my word.”
She gripped his hands in her own. “I believe you, Vicchan. But you must come too. My Yuuri is not happy when you are far away.”
Victor pulled her into his arms. “I couldn’t stay away. This has become my home too.”
Hiroko went up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, then squeezed his hands tightly. “Do your best, Vicchan. We will be here for Yuuri. Just a few weeks and he will be with you again.” She gave him a smile. “I know you will worry.”
So, she had noticed, Victor thought. He bowed his head, his voice far softer now. “If there were any way for me to stay here with him, I would.”
Hiroko interrupted him. “He can’t have it both ways. If he wants to compete against you on the ice he needs to learn how to let you go and do this on his own.” She smiled up at him, a sparkle in her eyes. “Our Yuuri is stronger now, because of you. He can do this, if he knows you believe he can.”
That was exactly it—Yuuri had said as much in China. He needed to know Victor believed in him—that made it easier to believe in himself. “I know he can do whatever he sets his mind to do,” Victor agreed.
“We will watch over him, Vicchan. Finish your packing and get some rest.” Hiroko gripped his hands tightly once more and then gave him a gentle shove in the direction of his room.
Victor left the next morning, exhausted by the time he reached his apartment and thankful he had called the service to stock his refrigerator and air out his rooms.
The days that followed were a blur of texts, Skype calls and Facetime chats with Yuuri; snatching much needed time between their hours practicing at their respective rinks and the six-hour time difference.
Somehow his programs were ready in time, to Yakov’s public surprise and Victor’s more private one. His costume designer made the impossible happen and his new skating outfits were ready the day before they were scheduled to leave for Yekaterinburg. The four-hour time difference there was an improvement but he and Yuuri still had little time to spend on the phone with each other. Yakov had shouted at the sight of Victor’s phone the first day of practice at the Yekaterinburg rink but had subsequently just shaken his head and given Victor an odd look—one that looked out of place on his craggy face—an expression that was both wistful and fond.
Victor had managed to make it onto the podium—a silver medal and only one point separating him from Yurio’s first Russian Nationals gold. He didn’t begrudge the younger skater his victory—Victor knew he was fortunate to even be on the podium, coming into the season so late.
He watched the Japanese skating online, late in the night alone in his hotel room. He knew Yuuri had won—from Minako’s nearly incoherent texts as well as from Yuuri himself, not to mention Victor’s own incessant rink-side Googling.
It was one thing to know the results though and another to actually watch Yuuri’s performance. There was so much he could read in Yuuri’s skating, his movements on the ice, the expressions that crossed his face. Victor was so proud of him. Neither program was flawless, Victor had to confess, and Yuuri’s free skate did not have the level of passion it did at the GPF but his performances were still better than the ones he had skated earlier in the season. Considering the stress of impending travel, no coach at his side and Yuuri’s own memories of last year’s disastrous performance—under those circumstances, it was truly a triumph.
Three more days. Yuuri would arrive in St. Petersburg on New Year’s Eve and they would ring in the new year together.
Yuuri had to stay focused on packing. Despite the fact that, in comparison to Victor, he had very little to actually pack the process itself brought him some moments of mindless calm. He hadn’t really brought much home with him when he returned from Detroit. There wasn’t much still left in Hasetsu though either—just old trophies, medals, photo albums his mother had made through the years, outgrown skating costumes.
And, of course, his Victor Nikiforov collection. Posters. Lots of posters, stashed in the darkest recesses of his closet where Victor couldn’t inadvertently stumble upon them. The magazines, newspaper clippings, fan club newsletters—Yuuri’s face grew hot at the thought of those boxes—those were stowed away under his bed. They were most definitely not coming to St. Petersburg.
His heart was racing but it wasn’t the sensation of his usual anxiety. Just like all those months ago, when Victor had first arrived in Hasetsu, Yuuri was happy. Happier than he had been in years, he had to admit, even with this separation from Victor looming ahead.
He was nervous about moving to Russia, no question about that. Yakov, Yurio, Georgi—they were all intimidating in their own ways. It would not be like Celestino’s training facility. But then again, no other facility would have Victor Nikiforov. Yuuri would be on the ice with Victor again—not just as his coach anymore but as his competitor and the love of his life. It was every teenage dream of his come true.
But if he wanted to compete against Victor this season he had to do well at Nationals. Without Victor. That was not a comforting thought. He knew Minako-sensei would take over the coaching duties—she and Victor had somehow found time amidst the chaos of Victor’s impending departure to go over a training schedule for Yuuri. Minako had also promised to send Victor daily videos of his programs.
Mari would travel to Sapporo with them too, to back Minako up and to be a steady, solid foundation of support for Yuuri as well. It would not be like last year. He was the Grand Prix Final silver medalist and the Free Skate World Record holder. He was ready for this.
The best and worst part of Victor leaving was that Makkachin was staying behind with Yuuri—terrible for Victor but reassuring for Yuuri. It would be comforting to have her around, able to revel in her snuggles since he wouldn’t have Victor to turn to for that.
Dropping Victor off at the Hasetsu station had been so difficult. He wouldn’t let Yuuri take him to the airport; Victor claimed it would obliterate his resolve to get on the plane, if Yuuri were there. It would be easier if they parted in Hasetsu—it wouldn’t seem as momentous that way. It was only for a few weeks, Victor kept reminding Yuuri although it seemed he was attempting to reassure himself as well.
Minako refused to let him wallow. She hovered a discreet distance away from them at the station and then marched Yuuri to the Ice Castle not an hour later.
His skating was terrible but Minako was relentless. “Leave it on the ice, Yuuri,” she said. “I don’t care how bad you feel, just keep skating.” She wouldn't let him run through his programs. He was so distracted she worried he would hurt himself, so she reverted back to his early skating years and set him doing compulsories. He tried to object but she leveled that look at him and he reluctantly complied.
It was the right choice. He fell into the mindless rhythm of it, muscle memory taking over, the sound of his skates on the ice his only accompaniment. By the time she ended practice the compulsories had proven their effect—Yuuri was calm. He could do this. Victor expected it and he owed it to Victor and himself.
The flight to Sapporo was easy. The hotel was nice, the rink familiar from previous competitions. He made polite conversation in the lobby with his fellow skaters, he spoke briefly to the reporters who followed him but he turned down all formal interview requests. He could do those after the competition.
Practices went surprisingly well. Minako was not as critical as Victor about his errors but also not as effusive about his successes. It made him miss Victor even more. He still found himself inadvertently searching rink side for Victor’s distinctive hair, his stomach dropping when he would remember Victor was in Russia.
They Skyped once a day and exchanged texts at all hours of the day and night. Even if it was only one of Victor’s heart emoji’s, it was enough to lift Yuuri’s spirits. The time difference was annoying but it was manageable.
Victor had worried a little about having his phone at the rink; Yakov was known to be a tyrant about avoiding distractions during practice. Victor had experienced that before and it was a common occurrence for both Georgi and Yurio to have their phones locked in Yakov’s office for the day.
But it seemed he had no reason to worry, as texts from Victor still came at times Yuuri knew he must be at the rink. Perhaps Yakov had mellowed. More likely Victor was just being more discreet about his phone use, as surprising as that might be.
What was unexpected and surprisingly heartening were the texts from Georgi and Mila—wishing him luck and bubbling with excitement for his impending arrival in St. Petersburg. They must have gotten his number from Victor.
He was stunned to wake up to a text from Yurio in the early hours of the morning of his short program.
YURI: Katsudon don’t fuck this up the geezer is driving me nuts worrying about you. Get it done so he can SHUT UP.
An angry face emoji followed soon after.
Yuuri burst out laughing and that made him feel a whole lot better. He typed a reply promising to do his best. He was surprised to get an immediate response.
YURI: you damn well better do your best. I am not going to deal with this idiot at Worlds if you aren’t competing there. He will mope and I will KILL HIM. NOT KIDDING.
Yuuri shook his head, smiling. He could read between the lines. For all Yurio's complaining, he truly cared about Victor--in his own inimitable, blustering, angry way.
His phone pinged again.
YURI: Yakov says to watch your free leg on your quad Salchow.
Yuuri stared at his phone. Yakov said? Yakov was watching the videos Minako was sending to Victor? Were they all watching them? He groaned at the thought.
He knew he needed to get in the shower. He needed to get ready for his short program competition today but instead he went to his videos and pulled up the one Minako had sent Victor from practice yesterday. He slowed it down and watched his quad Salchow. The third time through he caught it. Yakov was right.
He set his phone down and put his head in his hands, overwhelmed for a moment at the support he was receiving from people he barely knew, people he competed against. He hadn’t even moved to Russia yet but his future rink mates and their coach were already making him feel welcome. He took a few deep breaths and then texted Yurio back.
YUURI: tell Yakov thank you. Good luck to you!
He put the phone down. The other skaters here in Sapporo were good but none of them were of the caliber of Yurio. Or Chris. Or Otabek. Or any of the other Grand Prix finalists.
Yurio had beaten him by less than a point for the gold. He could do this. He was going to win and he was going to represent Japan at Worlds.
He tucked his gold medal carefully into the depths of his carry-on, cushioned by his hoodie and neck pillow. Victor already knew he had won but there was no question Victor would want to see Yuuri’s gold medal right away. He could just picture the smile on Victor’s face.
The flight was uneventful. Yuuri napped a little bit here and there. He tried to watch movies. “Inside Out” hit a bit too close to home in some ways but he watched it until the end and decided he actually liked it. It was interesting (and a little frightening) to consider what those characters would be saying if they were in his brain. That was something to think about, when his anxiety started ramping up again—maybe contemplating the reactions of Fear, Disgust and Sadness would make it a little easier to let things go? Because when he broke it all down his anxiety had elements of all of them in it, maybe a little bit of Anger too. Maybe more than a little. He’d have to think about that. Yuuri wondered if Victor had seen the movie. Joy had made him think of Victor more than once as he watched it.
He settled back in his seat and played some games on his tablet. The anticipation was too much for him to really be able to relax though. This was the longest time he had spent away from Victor; he ached to see him again, to feel Victor’s arms around him, smell his cologne, touch his hair. He shook his head. Better to keep his mind off that line of thought as well. He hoped Makkachin was comfortable down in the cargo hold. She was surely missing Victor too.
He leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes, tried to sleep again. No use.
He had his hands clasped, gently resting in his lap. He rubbed them together, trying to disperse some nervous energy when he felt the smooth, cool metal of his ring. His ring. He held his hand out in front of him, mindlessly mimicking the position he so often found Victor in, marveling at the ring on his finger and all that it meant and symbolized. He couldn't help the smile that came across his face. It was all worth it for this. Yuuri clenched his fist tight and brought the ring to his lips. For Victor. For himself. For their love.
He waited in line for customs, eventually got his passport stamped and then joined the crowd of travelers as they made their way to the baggage claim area. It reminded Yuuri of his return from the Rostelecom Cup, although this time he was arriving in Russia, not Japan.
He couldn’t help looking through the glass at the baggage claim on the other side, as he walked to the doors. A few scattered people were standing, some sitting on the hard, plastic furniture; several were hunched over their phones while others were looking anxiously towards the sliding doors where the travelers were arriving.
Suddenly, he found that silver hair. Victor caught sight of him at almost the same time. Their eyes met through the glass and that smile of Victor’s—the one that was only for Yuuri—came over his face. Yuuri watched as Victor began to run, his eyes on Yuuri just as they had been in the Fukuoka airport over a month ago. He found himself running too but there was a smile on his face to match Victor’s this time.
And then Victor’s arms were around him, the smell of his cologne filling Yuuri’s senses, the soft fall of his hair tickling his forehead. He rested his head against Victor, breathing him in, as Victor's lips pressed a discreet kiss into his hair.
He may be in St. Petersburg but this was what coming home felt like, Yuuri decided.
Yuuri sighed. He had been staring at the ceiling for hours. Victor was next to him, curled up against his side, arm around Yuuri’s waist, his warmth radiating towards him. He could hear Makkachin’s breaths coming from where she was curled up on the floor near them. There was just a hint of moonlight, shining between the curtains’ edges.
Victor had fallen asleep long ago. Yuuri glanced at the bedside clock again.
Sleep seemed like a lost cause tonight. He had gone to bed with Victor at ten-thirty but rest had continued to elude him. This wasn’t his typical anxiety. This was just the result of too much going on and not enough time to process it in his usual way. Too many new things, new places, new people, new words. Too much to do, too much to think about. His mind spun in one direction and then another, as his mind catalogued his ‘to-do’ list. He had been running through it all in his head as he lay in bed—so many boxes still left to unpack, emails to return, paperwork to fill out.
He may as well get something done if he wasn’t sleeping, he thought. Yuuri sat up slowly, careful not to wake Victor, determined to head to the living room and at least comb through the emails on his laptop.
He paused at the window. Victor hadn’t fully closed the curtains and a shaft of moonlight slid into the room. Yuuri pulled the curtains back a little more and gazed at the view of St. Petersburg in front of him. So quiet, so tranquil in the middle of the night. Nothing like the bustling city it was during the day. He should be used to big cities by now—Detroit had been nothing like quiet Hasetsu.
But Detroit was more spread out, like so many American cities it seemed. Quiet neighborhoods transitioned into busy business districts, trendy downtowns and then more neighborhoods beyond.
It was probably like that here too, he thought, but it was just that Victor’s apartment and the rink were about all he had seen. The rink was within easy walking distance so he had become more familiar with the immediate neighborhood but there had been little if any time for sightseeing; with the European Championships so soon Yakov was determined to get Victor back to the top of the podium. So was Yuuri. Victor was not about to give up another gold medal to Yurio.
Yuuri had been in St. Petersburg for almost two weeks now. Boxes were still arriving and Victor’s apartment continued to be a complete mess. It looked nothing like those pristine photos Yuuri had pored over in that shiny magazine spread from a few years ago. Boxes were stacked in every room, most of Victor’s opened but not emptied, belongings cascading haphazardly out of them. Yuuri’s were fewer in number but he had managed to find little time to methodically unpack them either.
The first week had been a whirlwind. The jet lag had hit him hard the first few days, magnified by the stress of packing, competing and the traveling that had occurred as well. Yuuri had slept most of New Year’s Day, either in Victor’s comfortable bed or resting his head in Victor’s lap on the living room sofa. But with the European Championships coming up so soon and Four Continents following not long after, neither of them really had any time to just relax.
He had joined Victor at the rink a day later, shyly greeting Yakov and Lilia, grateful for the friendly banter of Victor’s fellow skaters. It was strangely comforting to have Yurio growling at him again. They had pulled him into their conversations, their continual disagreements, their lunchtime table talk.
Now they had finally developed a pattern: Victor skated alone with Yakov early in the morning, he and Yuuri with the team during the day and Yuuri alone, with Victor coaching him, in the late afternoons. It made for long days but the camaraderie on the ice was different than back in Detroit. Yuuri appreciated Georgi’s gentle encouragement, Mila’s brash running commentary and Yurio’s barbed insults; it made him feel included. He was surprised to find Yakov gruffly providing him with pointers and offering completely unexpected praise, while Lilia’s vociferous reinforcement of how Yuuri’s ballet training positively impacted his step sequences and spins was welcome, even though he could tell it was starting to drive Yurio more than a little crazy.
But it was still just too much sometimes. Too many people, too much talking, too much noise, too many words he didn’t understand, just too much. He wasn’t used to such uninterrupted time around other people. Even in Detroit, sharing a room with Phichit—who was perhaps the most social person Yuuri had ever met—he had still found time to be alone, to put his headphones on and find some peace. In their shared room, in the library, at a coffee shop, under a tree on campus. Somewhere.
He and Victor had spent almost every minute of every day together in their eight months in Hasetsu, and by the end most nights as well. But it didn’t feel as intense as this. Victor had learned to sense when Yuuri needed time to himself in Hasetsu—he would take Makkachin out for a walk or go out for drinks with Minako, cajole Hiroko into letting him help in the kitchen or convince Mari to play a game of cards—giving Yuuri time to be alone but not making a big deal out of it. Victor would just smile that special smile of his, give him a wink and Yuuri knew he understood. There were many places for Yuuri to be alone back home.
But now . . . Victor could still sense it but their circumstances were different. He would still offer to take Makkachin for walks alone, putter about in the kitchen on his own, curl up with a book on the far end of the sofa but it wasn’t quite the same. He was still right there. Sure, Yuuri had those few hours to himself when Victor trained alone with Yakov early in the day but Yuuri had never been a morning person—he treasured using the time to sleep in instead. Maybe he should rethink that.
But truly it wasn’t Victor as much as it was the other skaters—it seemed Victor’s apartment had been a sort of haven for his rink mates before he had left for Japan. Georgi would drop by some nights just to chat, Mila joined them for dinner at least one or two nights a week and Yurio practically lived with them. The young skater would show up early in the day, while Victor was at the rink, or later in the evening, complaining loudly that Yakov and Lilia were insufferable and he could not wait to get his own apartment and get away from all the losers he was surrounded by. The fact that Yuuri and Victor were 'gross' and 'annoying' did not seem to diminish his visits in any way.
It wasn’t just at the apartment either; the Russian skaters were intimately involved in each other’s lives—eating together, socializing together after skating hours, making their way to and from the rink together. There was always someone making conversation with him when he wasn’t on the ice—sharing a meal, an Instagram post, a funny story about Victor. They were talkative, physically demonstrative, emotional and just plain exhausting sometimes.
He had to admit it was a little overwhelming. Maybe more than a little.
He knew they were being kind—trying to draw him out of his shell and make him feel a part of their extended family, make him feel welcome, for his own sake as well as Victor’s. It was kind but also a bit stifling.
Yuuri took a surprised breath as his thoughts were interrupted by warm arms circling his waist from behind and Victor leaned into him. “Can’t sleep?” Victor asked, unsuccessfully stifling a yawn of his own.
“Not really,” Yuuri answered. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t. I just felt the empty space instead of you in my arms.” Victor rested his chin on Yuuri’s shoulder. “Are you all right?” he whispered in Yuuri’s ear.
“I was just thinking,” Yuuri answered, tilting his head to gently rest against Victor’s.
“About what?” Victor asked, moving next to him, so they stood shoulder to shoulder, his arm still cradling Yuuri’s waist.
Yuuri closed his eyes. “Everything,” he said. “Being in St. Petersburg, being around everyone—it’s a little overwhelming.”
Victor pulled him closer, leaning into Yuuri, his voice barely above a whisper. “You’re going to be ok. I’m here for you. We all are.” He turned and gently stroked Yuuri’s unruly hair out of his eyes. “I know they can be a bit much,” Victor said, his eyes crinkling as he smiled at Yuuri. “A bit overbearing, a bit too loud. Maybe more than a bit.” His smile faded and his expression turned serious. “You don’t have to do this for me, Yuuri. We can always go back to Hasetsu, where it’s just the two of us.”
“No, you need a coach too, Victor. It’s not fair for you to be coaching me and be on your own, without a coach yourself,” Yuuri objected.
“I’m not on my own if I’m with you, Yuuri,” Victor said. “As long as I have you, I don’t need anyone else.” His smile returned. “Especially now that you’ve gotten better at telling me when I’m screwing up.” His smile widened as he looked at Yuuri fondly, his blue eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
Once again, Yuuri found himself marveling at how unbelievably fortunate he was to have Victor in his life—to be able to share these moments with him. He reached up to gently stroke Victor’s face. “No, I’m fine, really I am. There’s no place I’d rather be. I just need a little time to adjust.” He smiled back at Victor now. “It’s been a crazy three weeks, you know.”
Victor pulled him into his arms, Yuuri nestling just under his chin. “I know,” he whispered. They stayed like that for a moment, Victor’s arms around him, his warm breath in Yuuri’s hair as he gently kissed the top of his head. He swayed ever so slightly side to side as he held Yuuri.
He stepped back a moment later and took Yuuri’s hand in his own, tilting his head, a mischievous look in his eyes. “Dance with me?” he asked.
Yuuri shook his head, a fond look on his face as he spoke. “Victor, there isn’t any music.”
Victor pulled Yuuri close again, their body placement mirroring their positions on the ice during their exhibition skate a few weeks ago. “Who needs music? Your body makes the music, Yuuri, I’ve heard music in my head every time I’ve watched you--since I saw you skate on a silent YouTube video almost a year ago.” He leaned closer, his breath tickling Yuuri’s hair. “Since I saw you dancing at a certain banquet more than a year ago.”
Yuuri dropped his head on Victor’s shoulder, feeling his face heat up as he remembered those photos that were still saved on Victor’s phone. “Must you always bring up that banquet?” he murmured into the fabric of Victor’s t-shirt.
“Always,” Victor said. “It was the best day of my life. You changed my life. Why would I ever want to forget that?”
Yuuri shook his head but his eyes were shining as he looked up at Victor again. “You said something about a dance?”
Victor spun Yuuri around for a moment, gliding closer to the bed as he did. A quick sidestep and Yuuri matched his movement. This was no wide-open rink though—their legs bumped into the bed as Victor spun Yuuri around one more time.
“Careful!” Yuuri warned but Victor just tumbled back onto the bed, pulling Yuuri down with him, laughing as he did. They ended up tangled together on the rumpled sheets.
Makkachin lifted her head at the commotion, awake now, her tail wagging happily.
“Hush, my Makkachin,” Victor said. “Go back to sleep—Yuuri didn’t mean to wake you up too!”
“Victor,” Yuuri complained. “You know you are louder than me!”
His fiancé gave him a brilliant smile and a wink. “Not all the time, my Yuuri.” Yuuri groaned and covered his face.
Victor scooted on the bed, leaning over the edge to gently pet the old poodle until she curled up on the floor again, her eyes closing. He moved back to Yuuri, the smile still on his face.
Victor looked down at him, the moonlight shining through the window, between the still open curtains, highlighting his silver hair. “What are you thinking about now?” he asked Yuuri, his voice lower.
Yuuri looked at him, sinking his fingers into Victor’s soft, disheveled hair, and stretched his neck up to kiss him. “You,” he whispered, against Victor’s lips. "I'm so glad I met you."
“I like that thought much better,” Victor whispered back, his mouth covering Yuuri’s. His hands traveled down Yuuri's back, making him shiver, as he pulled him even closer.
"I'm still not quite ready to go to sleep," Yuuri said, his cheeks growing hot at his words but his eyes still focused on Victor's.
"Hmm." Victor's lips found his again. "I'm not ready to either," he said, as he pulled back for a breath. "I suppose I'll have to think of something for us to do."
Yuuri laughed and yanked him back down, his mouth sliding over Victor's, his hands gliding through Victor's hair. "I've got some ideas," he breathed as his lips moved to Victor's neck.