Yuuri tells his family he’ll be moving to St. Petersburg to train with Victor, and his mother’s smile only falters for a moment.
“We’ll be cheering you on from here!” his father declares brightly, and his mother nods along.
“You’ll take care of Yuuri, won’t you, Vicchan?” she says.
Victor doesn’t know what to say, so he just lets out a breathless, “Y-yes.”
“All those Saga-ben lessons for nothing,” Mari teases Victor as she helps him box up his belongings (again, again, Victor has never moved this much in a single year).
Victor laughs along with her, but it gnaws at him--not a specific question, but a general sense of unsettledness.
Mari scolds him for having so many clothes, asks how he's planning on carrying a hundred suitcases by himself (“Are you going to make Yuuri carry them?”), and a question comes to Victor in a flash.
“Aren’t you going to…” Victor realizes he has no idea how to end the sentence--how do you say “miss” in Japanese? “Aren’t you sad that Yuuri is going to Russia?”
Mari hums, carefully stacking packed boxes on top of each other to conserve room. “No.”
“It’s good to see him having motivation again,” she says, keeping her words slow and simple so that Victor can follow them. “He was sad when he came home. I thought he was going to quit. But now he’s decided to keep skating, and he needs to leave in order to do that.”
“But aren’t you sad?” Victor asks again, and he’s not sure why he’s still harping on this point, but it seems important, tugs at him in a way he can’t quite explain.
Mari frowns, clearly searching for words Victor might understand. “Yuuri is...is like a bird. A baby bird, it stays at home, right? And then,” a series of words Victor can’t make head or tail of.
“It leaves the nest?” Victor guesses in English. “It flies away?”
Mari nods. “Right, right. He came home, and now he’s stronger and he’s leaving. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Victor says, even though he doesn’t. He knows that this is not a linguistic misunderstanding, but rather a gap in empathy, an inability to imagine being happy watching someone he loves leaving him behind.
“Anyway, I’ll keep cheering him on,” Mari says, decisively, reaching for another empty box to fill.
“Ganba, Yuuri,” Victor says, passing it to her.
“Ganba, Yuuri to Vikutoru,” Mari corrects him.
Victor comes home to St. Petersburg with Yuuri at his side, comes home to his apartment, comes home to his neighborhood, comes home to his rink. He comes home to his favorite coffee shop and his second favorite bookstore and his favorite route for taking Makkachin on walks.
St. Petersburg feels like it hasn’t changed in his absence--some buildings have been repainted, some bits of sidewalk are more worn, his favorite bookstore is gone, but it is, more or less, how he left it. He returns to the rink, and other than Yuuri at his side, nothing has changed, Georgi and Mila and Yurio welcoming him back with varying levels of hostility. Yuuri formally thanks Yakov (in Russian he practiced with Victor, Russian he drilled over and over until he could repeat it smoothly) for his help at the Rostelecom Cup and for taking Victor back as a student, and Victor laughs himself sick at the expression on Yakov’s face. Georgi has a new girlfriend, Mila teases Yurio mercilessly about whoever it is he keeps texting during breaks, and Victor lets himself get swept up in choreographing new programs for himself, in preparing Yuuri and himself for their respective Nationals. Victor comes home after eight months away and steps right back into the flow of things without missing a beat.
Victor comes home, but for some reason it doesn’t feel like home anymore.
Victor missed cheese. He ate cheese in Japan a few times, but he always found it deeply unsatisfying--sort of rubbery and tasteless. He missed cheese and sour cream and high quality vodka, so, of course, those are the first things he consumes when he gets back.
Now he finds himself missing soy sauce and miso, missing a dozen varieties of seaweed and fresh squid and sweet potato shochu. He misses pointing at food, asking, “What is this?” and the answer clarifying absolutely nothing.
He drags Yuuri to a Japanese restaurant on one of their rest days--“I don't really eat Japanese food outside of Japan,” Yuuri says, but he humors Victor anyway. Somehow, it just makes the itch worse; the flavors are all, more or less, there, but it's a pale shadow of what he ate every day in Hasetsu. “This is why I don’t eat Japanese food outside of Japan,” Yuuri explains, holding back laughter as Victor tries to puzzle out what, exactly, about the recipe is off, what is missing.
Homesickness is an unfamiliar feeling for Victor. He never thought he would leave St. Petersburg, other than the brief, brilliant interludes when he went abroad for competitions. Leaving St. Petersburg always felt like an adventure, a breath of fresh air, a chance for him to experience a small slice of the world before returning to stability and constancy.
Then, of course, Victor uprooted himself to chase after Yuuri, to answer his call and become his coach. He missed St. Petersburg, from time to time, was reminded of it by seagulls and the ocean and the smallest, most unrelated of things--a shopkeeper’s apron, the quality of the air in the early morning, a glimpse from the corner of his eye of someone riding past on a bicycle. But missing St. Petersburg was a twinge, not a sustained ache, was a moment of nostalgia for a place he knew so well that it had soaked into his bones and become part of himself. Hasetsu was exciting, Hasetsu was bright and warm and full of adventure, and Hasetsu distracted him every time his momentary homesickness for St. Petersburg threatened to morph into something heavier. Hasetsu had Yuuri, and Hasetsu had Yuuri’s family, Yuuri’s friends, Yuuri’s people, and Hasetsu welcomed Victor, pulled him into its embrace and integrated him into its community. So homesickness flitted in and out of Victor’s life, never staying particularly long or digging in particularly deep, held at bay by life and love.
“Do you miss Hasetsu?” Victor asks Yurio one day, when they’re both on break.
“What?” Yurio snaps, wiping sweat from his eyes.
“Hasetsu,” Victor repeats patiently. “Do you miss it?”
“Have you finally gone senile?” Yurio stomps away, and that’s the end of that conversation.
Victor comes home to St. Petersburg with Yuuri at his side, but for some reason it doesn’t feel like home anymore. He can’t put his finger on what has changed, what has shifted when he wasn’t looking, but he can feel it, a strange dissonance in an otherwise familiar space.
St. Petersburg through Yuuri’s eyes, though, St. Petersburg with Yuuri at his side is something new. St. Petersburg is much larger than Hasetsu, much brighter and louder than a sleepy town by the sea. It feels like time flows differently here--in Hasetsu, Victor was always rushing ahead as time tried to coax him into following its lazy, meandering path, pulled at his limbs like honey, sticky and sweet. In St. Petersburg, everything feels faster, an endless torrent sweeping past him, and Victor has to run to keep himself from falling behind, from being pulled under. Victor drags Yuuri to all the tourist spots, the ones that are so familiar that he never thought twice about them as well as the ones he’s never visited (because what local ever goes sightseeing?). He rediscovers St. Petersburg with Yuuri at his side, so many things exciting or terrifying or bewildering through Yuuri’s eyes when Victor has barely given them a moment’s thought.
St. Petersburg used to feel dull and constraining, used to feel like a shackle around his neck or a flat, grey background from which to escape for competitions. St. Petersburg felt like home, but home was cold and isolating, a pedestal to stand upon and a legacy to uphold. Now Victor looks at St. Petersburg and sees bits of color amidst the greyness, something exciting blooming where there used to be nothing. It does not feel like home anymore, but with Yuuri at his side, it almost feels like an adventure.
“If you had retired,” Victor asks in careful Japanese on their walk home from practice, skate bags slung over their shoulders and scarves wrapped tight against the wind, “if you had retired, would you have stayed in Hasetsu?”
“Ah,” Yuuri says, and his cheeks are pink, but not from the cold. “No.”
“I was going to come here with you,” Yuuri says, looking everywhere but at Victor. “If I retired. If you would have had me.”
“Oh,” says Victor, because he can’t think of anything better to say. He reaches out and intertwines his fingers with Yuuri’s, doesn’t drop his hand until they get home.
It’s not that Victor is unhappy with life in St. Petersburg. He wakes up every morning beside a sleeping beauty, gets to coach him and watch him grow and blossom and reach ever higher. He has new inspiration for his choreography, pushes himself to excel and surpass his old self, the Victor that existed before Yuuri and life and love. He enjoys training with others again, enjoys the camaraderie and friendly (and occasionally not so friendly) competition, the audience of critical eyes to keep him motivated. He missed St. Petersburg, too, missed the city and the lights and the feeling of belonging. He missed being able to communicate easily, missed never having to worry about hitting his head on low doorways, missed being able to move through the city without getting stares or double-takes, without the omnipresent whisper of “gaijin da” following him. St. Petersburg is large enough to lose himself in, large enough to accord him some measure of anonymity, and for all that Victor has never shrunk from the spotlight, he also breathes easier without the (admittedly friendly) scrutiny of an entire town.
Yuuri seems happy as well, seems to settle in at the rink alright despite how shy and reserved he can be. Yuuri and Mila hit it off almost immediately, practicing Russian together when their breaks coincide--“I’ll teach you all the swear words I know if you teach me Japanese swear words!” she offers brightly, and Yuuri demurs (but somehow winds up learning all of them anyway). Yurio begrudgingly introduces Yuuri to his favorite bakery--“You need to have proper bread, not that mostly-air Japanese stuff!” is his excuse, but he looks delighted when Yuuri declares it “vkusno.” Yuuri seems intimidated by Georgi, but, well, who can blame him? Yakov treats Yuuri like all his other skaters, criticizes his performance and Victor’s coaching relentlessly, but Yuuri listens carefully and thanks him politely, and Victor catches Yakov’s considering look, his momentary flashes of pride when Yuuri takes his advice to heart and improves.
Victor sees Yuuri’s awe at cathedrals and canals Victor has never paid any attention, and Victor wonders if this was how Yuuri felt watching Victor’s excitement at fake castles and mountain temples. Victor wonders what word to put to the emotion that fills his chest, that threatens to overflow his rib cage and drown him--he’s proud and utterly in love, seeing Yuuri trying his best, venturing out of his shell to try to connect with Victor’s world, but it also feels bittersweet, Yuuri making tentative in-roads into a world where Victor no longer feels he entirely belongs.
Victor and Yuuri have three shared languages between them, and their conversations inevitably hop from one language to the next without regard for syntax. Victor speaks Japanese without a filter, words bubbling up and spilling over, grammatical structures discarded in the rush to convey his meaning. Yuuri’s Russian is much more hesitant--he has not had eight months of immersion, has not quite reached the breaking point of caring more about getting his ideas across than speaking the language perfectly. Language is a tool for communication, of course, is a way to make meaning, but there are some words that feel untranslatable, that Victor will reach for automatically regardless of the language he's currently using. Food is always “vkusno,” something impressive is always “amazing,” and Yuuri is always “makezugirai.” (“Do you even know what that means or are you just repeating what Takeshi called me?” Yuuri asks incredulously, and Victor pulls up pictures of the dance battle on his phone until Yuuri admits defeat.)
“Pick a language and stick to it, damn it,” Yurio grumbles when he overhears a particularly egregious bit of code-switching, as though he doesn’t do the same, peppering his Russian with English profanities, sliding comfortably from one to the other. (Victor speaks only French for the next hour, just to spite him.) But Victor can’t help but notice the way Yurio will switch into English when he notices Yuuri struggling to keep up, the way he’ll hold back on slang when he’s speaking Russian around Yuuri and watch Yuuri’s reactions carefully to make sure he understands exactly how badly he is being trash-talked.
Yuuri is not as physically demonstrative as Victor in public, is slower to reach for his hand, hesitates before pressing a kiss to his cheek. Victor can attribute some of the hesitancy to Yuuri’s natural shyness and some to being in an unfamiliar city surrounded by unfamiliar people, but he never feels a lack; Yuuri shows intimacy, lets Victor into his space and his heart, in other ways. Yuuri uses language as another form of intimacy, is much more comfortable being emotionally vulnerable in Japanese. He makes himself vulnerable in a different way, opens himself up to ridicule, when he speaks Russian, but he’s so earnest, so sincere in his desire to meet Victor on his home turf that Victor loves him all the more for it, even when he garbles a word or mixes up his declensions. English slowly becomes their language for business, a marker dividing their personal and professional lives, as well as their fallback when one of them wants to express something but is afraid the other won’t understand.
Yuuko texts Yurio sometimes in English, as Victor finds out when he peeks over his shoulder to discover Yurio drafting a text to complain to her how sappy Victor and Yuuri are being. “Yurio, don’t you want photographic proof?” Victor teases, before waving Yuuri over to pose for pictures. (Yurio takes pictures in the end, muttering darkly, and then uploads them with the caption “LOSERS.” Victor responds with every cat-related emoji on his phone, Phichit challenges Yurio to a selfie battle, Chris hurls himself into the fray for some inexplicable reason, and Yakov yells at all of them for wasting their time on social media when they should be practicing.)
Yuuri calls his parents at least once per week, pacing the apartment, phone to his ear. Victor can catch words here and there, little moments of understanding in the deluge of fluent, comfortable back and forth. Yuuri catches him up afterward, Victor’s head in Yuuri’s lap, Yuuri’s fingers combing through Victor’s hair as he regales him with second-hand stories of the triplets’ latest antics, switching between hesitant Russian, native Japanese, and fluent English.
Mari texts Victor in Japanese, and Victor copies and pastes each unfamiliar character into a dictionary. He struggles with formulating responses, types them out and then deletes, double-checks each word and sprinkles liberally with emojis when he’s not sure he’s getting his meaning across with just words.
“What does ‘Mt. Fuji,’ ‘dinosaur,’ ‘man disco dancing,’ ‘fire’ mean?” Yuuri asks, leaning over the sofa to peer at Victor’s screen.
“First of all, it’s Godzilla, not a dinosaur,” Victor explains, in the most withering tone he can manage, “and second of all, it’s how well you’re going to do at Nationals.” He carefully adds one last emoji of a gold medal and hits send.
Victor is used to long-distance relationships, to keeping up friendships through social media with the very occasional in-person meeting, liking Chris’s pictures after Chris has gone to sleep and waking up to find that Chris has commented on his. Victor is used to being isolated when he’s away from the rink, used to going home and cuddling with Makkachin as he scrolls through his feeds one-handed. Now, though, now he has Yuuri, and with him, Yuuri’s family and Yuuri’s friends and Phichit videochatting him out of the blue when Yuuri’s webcam malfunctions. It's incredible how Yuuri draws others in, how he unknowingly creates communities wherever he goes, how Victor is inducted by association.
“I think I'm being adopted,” Victor says after the third text from Mari in a week (“Mom says the weather report says it's very cold in St. Petersburg. Please stay warm” to which he replies with a series of snowman emojis), and Yuuri just laughs.
Victor isn’t sure if he’s allowed to be homesick for Hasetsu. He lived there for less than a year, is aware of just how rose-tinted his view of the town is.
Victor isn’t even sure he’s homesick for Hasetsu. When he tries to articulate what he’s missing, it’s not the geography of the town, not particular places or even the culture of the town, whatever that might be. He misses Ice Castle Hasetsu not for the rink--his home rink in St. Petersburg is much nicer--but for the Nishigori triplets and the Animal Game, for Yuuko and Takeshi dropping in to chat, for the stillness of the rink in the morning, broken only by the sound of his blades on the ice. He misses Ice Castle Hasetsu for the feeling he got being there, not the physical location. He finds himself thinking fondly of the hot springs, the path leading to the beach, the local convenience store--not necessarily places he has a deep emotional attachment to, but places that were part of his everyday life, that mattered in however small a way. He finds himself thinking fondly of time spent with others, cheering on Yuuri with the Nishigoris, quiet evenings with the Katsukis, going out drinking with Minako.
Maybe he doesn’t miss Hasetsu so much as he misses who he was in Hasetsu--Victor on an adventure, Victor learning a new language, Victor chasing after love and accidentally stumbling into so many other things along the way. Maybe he misses the possibilities stretching before him, the sense that there were so many paths open to him. Victor knows who he is in St. Petersburg, grew up in the city and chiseled space for himself from stone and ice, has a role to play and a crown to wear and expectations to meet. Victor in Hasetsu, on the other hand, was constantly learning and adapting and growing, trying to find his feet and space beside Yuuri, in whatever capacity he would have him. There was no room in Hasetsu for Victor when he arrived, but he made room, intentionally carved out a place for himself in the town even as those around him imperceptibly reconfigured their lives to accommodate his presence. Maybe Victor doesn’t miss Hasetsu so much as he misses that ability to evolve, to change, to break cleanly with the past and become someone new in a place where no one knew the old him.
“I miss Moscow,” Yurio says, suddenly, which makes no sense, because they’re in Moscow, waiting to catch a plane back to St. Petersburg after the Russian Nationals, Yurio and Victor left to guard the luggage while the rest of the contingent goes on a bathroom and coffee run.
“We’re in Moscow,” Victor points out.
Yurio grits his teeth in irritation. “No, you asked if I missed Hasetsu. I miss Moscow. Sometimes.”
“Why don’t you move to Moscow then?” Victor asks, tone light and careless.
Yurio snorts. “The rink is in St. Petersburg, moron. I can’t go back and keep skating.” The knowledge that skating is the most important thing in their lives, more important than family or friends or emotional attachments, lies unspoken between them.
There’s a lull in the conversation, and Victor leans back and listens to the flight announcements while Yurio visibly struggles to decide whether to keep speaking. A year ago, Victor would have dragged the words out of him, poked and prodded until Yurio spat them out, but living with Yuuri has made him patient, taught him how to keep quiet while others try to arrange their thoughts into something they can verbalize.
“Otabek says,” Yurio starts, and Victor perks up immediately. “Otabek’s been moving rinks every few years, and he says that when you live somewhere it’s like...it’s like you leave part of your heart there, so if you’ve lived enough places, even when you go home it’s not really home anymore.” Yurio’s voice gets quieter and quieter until he’s mumbling the end of the sentence, shoulders hunched. “So even if I moved back to Moscow, I would probably just wind up missing St. Petersburg.”
Victor imagines part of his heart tied forever to St. Petersburg, part of it left behind in Hasetsu, and part of it carried with Yuuri wherever he goes. It’s an unsettling image.
“Anyway, you need to stop moping because it’s fucking annoying,” Yurio concludes, without any real heat, and Lilia reappears at just that moment, cardboard tray of coffee balanced on one hand, to reprimand, “Yuri Plisetsky, do not use ugly words!”
“Aww, you love me, Yurio,” Victor teases, because he may have learned to be patient, but he’s also learned that embarrassed Yurio makes the best strangled rage noises. He snaps a celebratory selfie of the two of them (Lilia unamused in the background), and captions it “YURIO LOVES ME” followed by a string of multicolored hearts, as Yurio snarls and tries to wrench Victor’s phone from his hands.
It only takes Victor ten minutes to decipher the text from Mari: “You should come home for New Year’s.” At least five of those minutes are staring at “come home” and wondering if it is a typo--shouldn’t it be “come” instead of “come home”? He cannot claim that his Japanese is anywhere near fluent, but he remembers this drill from an elementary textbook, denoting relative location in space with directional action verbs.
As he’s squinting at the characters, his phone vibrates, signalling the arrival of a second text. “Mom says to bring Yurio too.”
“Don’t you want to go back to Hasetsu for New Year’s?” Victor asks Yuuri in Japanese. “New Year’s is a big holiday in Japan, right?”
“Hmm,” Yuuri says, answering in English and not looking up from petting Makkachin. “It’s the middle of the competitive season, so.”
“But you miss Hasetsu, right?” Victor prods.
This time Yuuri does look up, frowning. “It’s the middle of the competitive season, and we haven’t been gone long. I’ll be fine.”
“I lived in Detroit for five years,” Yuuri snaps, “and I missed New Year’s then. It isn’t any different now.”
Victor has had enough arguments with Yuuri, has unknowingly misstepped and shoved his foot in his own mouth around Yuuri enough to know to back off, to let them both cool down and come back to the topic later. He’s known Yuuri long enough to be able to distinguish anger at Victor from anger at himself expressed like anger at Victor. So he just says, “Okay,” and waits for Yuuri to be ready to talk.
“I miss Detroit, sometimes,” Yuuri whispers, right as Victor is sliding into sleep.
Victor pulls himself back from the brink of unconsciousness, blinking rapidly in the warm darkness of his--their--bedroom. He clutches at English, but it slips from his grasp. “Hhh?”
“It’s not even...it’s not even Detroit I miss, though, I think,” Yuuri continues, rubbing little circles into Victor’s back--it’s a nervous tick, a transformation of anxious energy into motion, but Victor isn’t going to complain. “I miss Phichit, I miss our apartment, I miss the rink, I miss…” He trails off. “But that’s not there anymore. Or, it is there, but it’s...not. If I went back, it wouldn’t be there.” Victor can feel Yuuri’s body stiffen and pull away as self-consciousness suddenly washes over him. “Sorry, I’m not making sense.”
“No,” Victor says, pulling Yuuri close and anchoring him in place with his embrace, “that does make sense.” Maybe it’s not homesickness so much as it is an emotional attachment to a place and its people and the memories they made together. Victor doesn’t know if it’s better or worse to miss something that doesn’t exist anymore, a moment in time that has passed and won’t come again. “I thought I could come home to St. Petersburg but everything is different,” he offers. “Or maybe I’m different.”
Yuuri laughs weakly. “I felt the same way when I returned to Hasetsu.”
“I miss Hasetsu,” Victor confesses, and he feels something inside his chest give way, feels a dam break after so long trying to pretend it wasn’t there. It feels messy and overwhelming, an emotion too big and nebulous for words, but it feels good to let it out, even if only for a moment.
Yuuri sighs. “I miss Hasetsu too.”
They’re lacing up their skates side-by-side, bumping knees and pretending it’s accidental, when Yuuri says, “Going back felt like failing.” It feels like the continuation of a conversation, but Victor has gotten used to the way Yuuri will start voicing his inner monologue in medias res, acting as though everyone around him has heard it from the beginning. Victor hums, waiting for Yuuri to continue so that he can catch up to his train of thought, and Yuuri adds, “Going back to Hasetsu felt like I had lost.”
Yuuri keeps his eyes trained on his skates, carefully tightening the laces one eyelet at a time. “I moved to Detroit in order to become a champion, and I came back having wiped out.”
“But then you made a comeback,” Victor reminds him.
“Then I made a comeback,” Yuuri agrees. “But Hasetsu still reminded me of failure.”
“Oh,” Victor says. He thinks of St. Petersburg, dull and constraining, a shackle around his neck loosening, a grey landscape slowly dotted with color. “What does St. Petersburg remind you of?”
Yuuri finally straightens up, looking at Victor. “You. St. Petersburg reminds me of you.”
Victor can’t stop himself from cradling Yuuri’s face in his hands and leaning in to kiss him.
Yurio chooses this exact moment to enter the locker room, and shrieks, “Oh my God, get a room!” before turning on his heel and stomping right back out of the door.
“Hasetsu reminds me of you,” Victor confesses breathlessly, as Yuuri pulls away.
“No wonder you love it,” Yuuri says, and then flushes red at his own boldness.
“No wonder I love it,” Victor echoes back.
“Do you want to go back to Hasetsu for New Year’s?” Yuuri asks in hesitant Russian when Victor emerges from the bathroom, towel slung over his shoulders. He doesn’t look up from his phone, keeps his tone light, but Victor recognizes the gesture for what it is, Yuuri offering to meet him halfway.
“Yes,” Victor admits, and once the word has left his mouth, he doesn’t understand why it was so hard to say, why he held back for so long.
“Okay,” Yuuri says, and he calls his parents.
Yuuri hesitates before the gates of Yu-topia. Yurio dashes ahead, dragging his suitcase, but Victor slows beside his fiancé, squinting up at the sign through the falling snow. He’s proud that he can read it without hesitation, without second guessing.
“Does it still…?” Victor asks, trailing off and hoping that Yuuri can follow his line of thought.
Yuuri smiles at him, small but warm, and reaches for his hand. “No.”
“Okaeri nasai!” Hiroko calls when they enter the inn, her face lighting up as soon as she catches sight of Victor and Yuuri shaking off snow and wrestling their luggage inside.
Victor can’t stop the smile that pulls at the corners of his mouth. It doesn’t feel like coming home, but that doesn’t make it any less sweet. “Tadaima.”