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Holiday Greetings

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It’s almost 1 PM when Yuuri gives up for the day.

He’s been there since morning. A rough night of on-and-off sleep finally ended with his turbulent mind refusing to shut down again around five-thirty in the morning. He hadn’t really scheduled any rink time before 10 AM, but it wasn’t like anyone would be around to use the space anyway.

It was Christmas Eve, after all. Everyone was either going home to their families, or out finishing their shopping.

Yuuri had shipped off the last of the few presents he was sending during All Japan a week earlier.

A disappointing season made for a tight budget. He knows that if this is to change, he will have to do well at Four Continents, and in order to do well, he needs more time.

He needs to practice, to perfect his programs for the remainder of the season. Get the step sequence just right. Make sure his entrance into his triple axel goes smoothly. Nail his only quad so that he can have a chance at placing in Four Continents.

So he had made the decision to go straight back to Detroit after nationals. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and he had, after all, done the same the previous three years. He’d get the rink time in without having to worry about his schedule conflicting. He’d get the time to focus on skating, and only skating. He always performed best during these last weeks of December. Fewer distractions. Fewer spectators.

The loneliness weighs a bit heavier this year. It’s been four years since he’s been home.

But the skating helps.

The ice helps. The dancing, the choreographing, the compulsory figures others can’t be bothered with anymore. They help.

He just has to focus.

He has a copy of the keys to the rink, a helpful birthday present from Celestino after three years of being under his tutelage, so he no longer had to wait for the venue to open.

The rink, predictably, was deserted when he arrived around six-thirty, a quick breakfast of a tasteless, high-fibre cereal and an apple already churning in his stomach.

He had warmed up in an empty dance studio. He’d picked a decent sized one with proper mirrors and a barre. The floors had been freezing when he came in, but he’d worked through it, done his stretches and his warm-ups while the radiator did its best to rebalance the temperature. Once his muscles were loose and warm, he had danced.

Dancing helped a lot when he was in his own head. He’d done it regularly back home, gone to Minako’s studio for help to calm down or work through something at some ungodly hour. She had never denied him and always stayed with him for as long as he needed.

He had danced for an hour, possibly longer, until the room was warm and the air heavy with his breathing. At eight o’clock, he broke off for another quick meal—a smoothie and a diet-approved protein bar—before heading down to the rink.

The first employee had arrived at 8:16 to open the reception. A few minutes late. Not that Yuuri would say anything about it.

He had changed out of his sweaty dancewear and put on his skating gear in the locker-room reserved for the Detroit Skating Club. He tied his laces rink-side and did some more stretches before finally hitting the ice—blissfully empty and untouched since it was resurfaced last.

Time sometimes becomes a foreign concept when he is on the ice. He could have skated for minutes or hours, and he wouldn’t know the difference unless he grew hungry or began calculating how many times he had run the programs through in his head.

He had worked on his own programs to begin with, painstakingly gone through every part, but when they didn’t take him where he needed, his feet began to move to a different step sequence; to  different choreography.

Yuuri’s rink mate had once told him he probably knew Victor Nikiforov’s programs better than his own.

He hadn’t really denied it.

By the time his belly had rumbled loud enough to break him out of his trance, it was already past noon. Even Yuuri was surprised with how long he had been going for—very ill advised, and Celestino would scold him if he knew—but there had been no one to interrupt him. In the whole time he had been there, no one else had come.

It had felt good.

Now, though, his feet ached and his clothes were drenched with perspiration. If he stayed much longer, the sweat would cool and become very uncomfortable.

He stretches in the locker rooms so that he won’t freeze by the chilly rink side. Once satisfied he won’t be too stiff later, he hits the showers and rinses away the efforts of the morning all while his stomach rumbles away.

He considers what he should eat, but nothing diet-approved calls out to him at all.

Before he knows it, his feet have carried him out of the rink and to a local café and he is eying the Holiday Special – a bacon, brie and cranberry ciabatta option – while his mouth waters.

It’s Christmas, he reasons. He should allow himself a little break.

So he orders a large sweetened gingerbread latte as well. Whipped cream on top.

He knows he’ll regret it, but he’s leaving those feelings of shame and guilt for his future self to deal with.

His order arrives, and he finds a seat in the corner, by the window and a radiator, where he shrugs off his coat and digs in.

It’s heavenly. The smoked bacon and sweet fruits melts perfectly with the cheese; the spices from his drink tickle pleasantly in his nose. The café is warm and inviting, nearly empty except for him, and playing soft instrumental music in the background instead of the regular holiday circus that every single station insists on playing from November through to December. It’s a good day.

He sighs contently as he finishes his food, wipes his mouth on a napkin and leans back in his seat. He pulls out his phone from his pocket and connects to the café Wi-Fi.

Yuuri begins browsing through his various apps.

The only new message from today, received at 9:03, is from Celestino telling him not to work on jumps without supervision. Too late.

He shrugs and sends back an affirmation and a holiday greeting.

On Instagram, he likes Phichit’s many pictures from his winter break in Bangkok, commenting playfully on the ones displaying plates filled with Thai delicacies with a joke about Celestino finding out.

Christophe Giacometti has posted a risqué selfie from a Jacuzzi in a cabin somewhere up in the Swiss mountains, celebrating his gold at nationals a week previous. Yuuri flushes a little, but reluctantly likes this one as well.

He pulls up his newsfeed, but finds nothing interesting there except for supposedly heart-warming holiday stories. On twitter, there are some new speculations about the upcoming competitions and the competitors, but he quickly loses interest.

He takes another sip of his slowly cooling latte, and is about to pull up a game app to distract him when a new notification banner pulls up on his screen.

New message from “+7-9XX XXX XXXX”. Picture attached.

Yuuri frowns at the unfamiliar digits. Having dealt with several international contacts before, he recognises the country code. It’s a Russian phone number. He’s suspicious it might be spam from when he had tried to access several Russian news articles and live videos from the Russian Nationals with moderate success. (Enough success that he didn’t mind having to clear out all the junk in his mailboxes for the next weeks).

But it is just a message.

It’s not like a text message can contain malware. Or, at least he thinks so. A quick google search tells him not to click links or download files, so he should be ok.

He opens the text with every intention of deleting it, when he is faced with… the unexpected contents.

There is a single picture of an absolutely gorgeous poodle. It’s fur is smooth and brown, its large, attentive eyes, black and shining. He can’t quite tell the size from the lack of context, but it looks just like his own Vicchan; a pang of longing shoots through his chest as he thinks it. The caption underneath is a short greeting:

Happy holidays x

He stares at the photo for a while. It seems perfectly innocent. Nothing scam-like about it at all, though he would not be surprised if scammer really did stoop to using perfectly innocent dogs for their business nowadays.

Met with this rather strange situation, Yuuri contemplates what to do for a long minute. Then, deciding why not, he shifts through his photos and finds one taken ages ago, one of those few saved between his last two phone switches because of its sentimental value. It features Vicchan and himself, out playing in the snow. The dog is almost whiter than brown at the point the picture is taken, and Yuuri, too, is wrapped up in several layers of thick, winter clothing.

No one in Russia should be able to recognise him from this photo. Even if he is a figure skater competing on the international level, it’s not like that makes him a celebrity or anything. It would be conceited to think that anyone would recognise him.

With a huff, he captions the image with "Merry Christmas to you, too x" and presses send.

He watches as three dots show up beneath the recipient’s side of the messaging app. A moment later, a new message pops in.

Unknown: well that’s embarrassing I seem to have the wrong number

Yuuri's heart sinks a little as he reads it. To be fair, he had guessed as much, so he should actually be happy that the stranger realised this so that they can send it to the correct recipient.

He is about to type in a short “don’t worry hope you get the right one next time” when another message pops in.

Unknown: you're very cute though. Both of you. Do you like men by any chance?

“What…?”

Yuuri isn’t even embarrassed that he’s gasped out loud. He reads the text again, rereads it a third time, and simply stares.

The stranger—a man, it seems—had just told him he was cute.

How does one even reply to this?

His fingers hover shakily over the keyboard as he bites the inside of his cheek, trying to come up with something to reply with, but before he can even begin to function again, another text pops in.

Unknown: sorry, that was a bit forward maybe.. please ignore that

A sigh of relief rushes through him. Not that he would have been obligated to answer anyway, but…

Another ping sounds from his phone.

Unknown: what’s your name? I’m Niki

Yuuri: I’m Yuuri. Nice to meet you.

He presses send before he can even consider that giving his real name might not be that smart. Before he has the time to regret it, he receives a reply.

Unknown: it’s nice to meet you too Yuuri!

Unknown: brb setting up your contact ;)

His heart thumps in his chest as he tries to comprehend what’s happening. Someone he’s just met over a wrong text is adding him to their contact list. Instead of thinking more on the implications of this, or even consider that he should be rushing to the nearest mobile store to get a new number, he gets the idea that he should probably do the same for “Niki”.

His fingers move across the add contact options and sets the name to the number. It’s simple and clear, with a non-descript white ‘N’ in a grey circle for the icon. He considers the option to change it: it seems only natural to make it the one he had received just earlier, of the gorgeous brown poodle.

Niki: Done! Welcome to my contact list Yuuri (confetti emoji)

Yuuri can’t help but smile a little at the enthusiasm, as if having him in a contact list is some sort of achievement. He types a reply.

Yuuri: thank you for having me

Yuuri: So who were you trying to text earlier

Niki: just someone

Niki: no one important

The answer is somewhat deflective, but he gives it some more time when he sees the three dots still buffering in the corner. After half a minute a new text pops up.

Niki: we met briefly a little while back in the states so I thought I’d send a greeting, see if they remembered me

Niki: and if they like dogs

Yuuri’s mouth twitches up a little.

Yuuri: number 1 criteria for a boyfriend

Niki: RIGHT? I agree!!!

Niki: wait so you do?

Niki: like men I mean

The only man Yuuri has actually considered liking is unobtainable to him. He has been attracted to a fair share. But is this really something you tell a stranger you’ve just met?

His bottom lip receives another round of worrying from his teeth as he considers what to answer. In the end, once he sees the three dots return to the screen, he sends a quick reply before Niki can send his next message.

Yuuri: I do

Niki: OH

Niki: Great! :D

Niki: I do too

Niki: but you already knew, sorry I’m rambling

Yuuri feels his face heat up with prickling embarrassment… for himself or for Niki, he can’t quite decide.

Niki: SO what are you up to? Are you celebrating Christmas with anyone?

This one is easier. He sucks on the inside of his cheek as he composes a reply.

Yuuri: I’m having lunch at a café. I don’t really celebrate Christmas so I don’t have any plans

It takes Niki a moment to respond. Yuuri tries to drink his coffee again, but it has gone cold by now and isn’t very appetising. He carefully pushes it to the side. Soon enough, his phone vibrates on the table.

Niki: Oh yeah, it’s still kind of early in the US. What time is it for you? It’s a bit after 10 here now

Niki: I don’t either. We don’t really celebrate it in Russia.

Yuuri feels a little relieved, in a sense. There is no making a number of him not observing this rather western tradition. There is no pity that he isn’t home with his family. It’s rather… refreshing.

He types another message.

Yuuri: Cool I didn’t know that. It’s 2pm here now

Yuuri: I’m originally from Japan, so Christmas isn’t really that big… New Year celebrations are more important.

Niki: wow! That’s amazing! Konnichiwa!

Yuuri bites his lip not to snort.

Niki: I love Japan! I’ve only been on short trips though. I’d love to stay for longer and try more of the food! And hot springs!!

Yuuri: My parents own a hot spring resort actually. We make lots of food too

Niki: WOW

Niki: I want to go! We could go together and you could show me all your favourite dishes!!

Yuuri smiles at the fantasy of it. He can imagine his family opening their arms for anyone he would bring to Hasetsu and introduce as his friend. Knowing his mother, they certainly wouldn’t go hungry. It would be nice, in a sense, to show off the place where he grew up to someone truly interested in seeing it.

He taps up another message.

Yuuri: That would be nice :D

Niki: I look forward to it!

Niki: So what’s your favourite food to eat?

And so Yuuri begins the familiar attempt at explaining the concept of katsudon to a foreigner. He’s done it several times by now, so he feels like he can express it a little better. Texting does help, as he can easily find a photo to send to illustrate. Niki seems very enthusiastic over food—Yuuri is certain he would love staying at Yutopia.

From there, their conversation just evolves. Soon enough they’re talking about Russian and American cuisine, compared to various Asian dishes. From there, they go on to talk about various places in the world and about traveling and seeing them. Niki seems to be rather well travelled from his accounts of places he has visited, but his work keeps him from spending too much time seeing the sights or trying out the food he’d like.

Yuuri can empathise. Being an athlete, he can’t give in to temptation when he’s somewhere for his competitions. Even though he is technically cheating right this moment, his diet is an important part of staying in top shape. Most of the time, travelling to compete means seeing the airport, a taxi, the hotel and the rink he’s competing at, and any scenery between the four—one could hardly consider that sightseeing.

As they talk, a barista collects Yuuri’s plates. At one point, once they begin exchanging memes, he has to change seats to find a socket to plug his phone into. He gets a second drink after an hour passes, cheeks aching from smiling and mind still racing as he keeps texting Niki while he orders and while he waits for his drink. It’s passable green tea this time.

At one point, he even reveals that he figure skates.

Niki in turn replies that he is very enthusiastic about the sport and sometimes follows the competitions. They talk a little about some of their favourite skaters, but once Niki asks what he thinks of Victor Nikiforov, Yuuri keeps to a practiced “He is one of the best skaters currently out there” and quickly steers the topic back to missing his Vicchan and dogs in general.

By the time it’s nearing 4 pm, Yuuri is the only person left in the café and the baristas are side eying both him and the clock with impatience. He decides he can’t linger in the café much longer without troubling them; it’s a slow day, and they might be wanting to close up early before Christmas.

He gets home a little past four after navigating traffic while texting Niki about the latest game he has been playing. Once inside, he puts down his bags and shrugs off his coat while giggling at another vine Niki has sent him of a poodle dancing to some American pop song.

Yuuri: isn’t it quite late in Russia now

Niki: yeah, it’s just past midnight in my city

Yuuri is just about to ask if he’s alright staying up talking to him when another message pings in.

Niki: it’s actually my birthday today

The suddenness of it makes him freeze up for a moment. He fumbles a little with the phone before composing a reply.

Yuuri: Oh! Happy birthday!

Niki: thanks Yuuri \(^ヮ^)/

He smiles, but feels a little awkward with this new piece of information.

Yuuri: are you celebrating?

There is a bit of a pause.

Niki: actually my friends are a bit busy with preparing for work things. I don’t really feel like going out so it will just be me and the puppy today

The sudden echo of loneliness that resounds through the words that pop up on his screen makes Yuuri’s heart twist and ache in his chest. He feels it sour in his veins. More than anything, he wants to reach out to him, to Niki, who he has known for no longer than a few hours, because, in that moment, he really feels how it must be to be so… alone.

Without thinking, his thumbs fly across the keyboard.

Yuuri: hold on

His thumb hovers over the record button on his camera. He takes a deep breath and presses it before he can get cold feet.

Softly, still wearing his winter hat and scarf, with his slowly heating shared Detroit flat in the background, Yuuri sings the generic happy birthday song for his new friend. Because he wants to say that, that’s what this is. The start of an unlikely friendship made out of coincidence.

He ends the recording with a smile and presses send before he can even watch the preview.

Niki has sent a smiling emoji and an ‘ok’ while he’s waited, and now it’s Yuuri’s turn. As expected, Niki doesn’t reply for a bit. Yuuri spends the time putting away his things, trying to distract himself from the embarrassment and lingering regret that begins creeping up on him.

And then, his phone pings with a new message. It’s a voice message.

Yuuri feels a rush tingle through him; he plays it, at once.

“Thank you, Yuuri. Really, thank you so much. That meant a lot to me.”

The accent is quite strong. He butchers the pronunciation of his name. The voice is rough—perhaps from staying up late, but there is also an emotional twist to it that makes Yuuri’s heart ache even more, and he almost feels his own eyes tearing up as he replays the message again. And again.

-

Yuuri: anytime

-

Throughout the last few days of December and holiday cheer, Yuuri finds himself keeping in touch with Niki.

When he wakes up in the morning, there is always a text (or a horde of them) waiting for him, wishing him good morning and a fantastic day. When he goes to bed, he always leaves some for Niki to find in return.

They learn a lot about each other.

Perhaps it is the anonymity, but Yuuri feels more at ease talking to him than he does with anyone else. It’s elating, being able to speak of the things that bother him, about skating fees, about not seeing his family, about disagreeing with his coach but not being able to figure out why or put words to his feelings.

About his nerves. About feeling like he’s failing, while also feeling like he should be able to do so much better.

With Niki, he can be as vague or specific as he wants. Niki doesn’t know the people he’s talking about, so he can listen, unbiased, and he can be honest and receive honesty in return.

It feels good. Very good.

It feels far, far away from ‘lonely’.

It’s like that for Niki, too, Yuuri thinks. He tells Yuuri about work and of how it’s always consuming him. He doesn’t have a lot of family, though he has a dog whom he cares for more than anyone in the world (but even if he tells her everything, she can’t be much help other than to cuddle at night when he gets home, exhausted). And although he gets along fine with his colleagues and his supervisor, he can’t really… talk to them.

They won’t understand, Niki insists when Yuuri asks about it. It’s about work, but it’s also just me. They wouldn’t understand what it’s like for me.

But he talks to Yuuri. He talks about feeling like he can’t get further, no matter how hard he tries. His projects are losing their shine and their excitement, and even if people tell him that they’re good, that’s not how he feels about them.

And though some of the topics they discuss are heavy and difficult, they also talk about whatever else might fall into mind.

Niki likes to take pictures, Yuuri discovers quickly, and he is awarded with lots of photos of food, or views, and of the previously mentioned puppy. Yuuri does his best to return them, sending him photos from around the dull, tired December-Detroit, which suddenly doesn’t seem that dreary when he is telling Niki about it. Occasionally, he sends a video of him practicing at the rink, and he gets a surprising amount of understandable feedback that turns out be somewhat… helpful, actually.

Even when Phichit returns from Thailand the day after Boxing Day, Yuuri still finds himself spending a considerable amount of time chatting with Niki. He retells him the best of Phichit’s vacation tales, and the strangest of Celestino’s Italian proverbs. His phone is suddenly always close to him during breaks, and his rink mates have been side eying him when he tries to convince them it’s “just a friend from abroad”.

Yuuri thinks it’s good to have his own secrets sometimes.

When New Year’s Eve finally creeps up on them, Yuuri feels his homesickness peak. He tells Niki about it the day before, but doesn’t hear from him until much later.

He is out with Phichit at a student house party, trying to enjoy himself despite not being nearly drunk enough for any social interaction, which has ended up in him occupying the outdoor terrace close to the gas heater, when he receives a text.

Niki: Happy New Year from the future!

With the simple greeting, his mood increases drastically and he quickly tugs his glove off to text back.

Yuuri: Haha thanks

Yuuri: I’m at a new year’s party rn

Yuuri: Did you go out yesterday?

Niki: I did! It was ok

Niki: ended up going home early, fell asleep readin your texts

Yuuri smiles as he imagines Niki crawling into bed, exhausted from being out, yet still checking his phone for Yuuri’s texts before sleep overtakes him.

Yuuri: I’m considering the same…

Niki: aww Yuuri you should stay up and see the fireworks at least

Niki: it’s soon, isn’t it?

Yuuri chews his lip and checks on the time.

Yuuri: yeah, 23:50 now

Niki: ok! Stay a little longer then. You could leave right after and it would still be socially acceptable

He chuckles a little, deciding that he is right and that surely he can stand to suffer a little longer for decency’s sake.

Yuuri: ok I will

Niki: Good! :D

Yuuri: did you see any? Fireworks I mean you said you left early..

Niki: I can see them from my apartment! I have a really great view from my window

Niki: Here, I took a video

Video attached

Yuuri watches it. It is taken from a wall-to-ceiling window with a splendid view over a large, unfamiliar Russian city. Hundreds of lights erupt in colourful bursts in the night sky, polluting the air further with their smoky aftermath. It really is a great view.

Yuuri: that’s amazing!!

Niki: right?? I love watching it from here. Puppy doesn’t like it very much though…

Yuuri: lol I can imagine

Vicchan doesn’t like the fireworks either, he remembers.

Yuuri: I would love to be there for new year’s sometimes

Niki: You definitely should!!

Yuuri smiles. It’s a nice idea, even if he knows it will ever happen.

Niki: Do you have any new year’s resolutions?

Yuuri: I really want to place in 4cc.

Yuuri: the skating competition.

Niki: Wow! I’m sure you can do it Yuuri! I’ll cheer for you!

There is something genuine to be felt, even from such a simple text, that warms Yuuri from inside. He’s just about to send a heartfelt “thank you, I’ll work hard” when his phone pings again.

Niki: do you want to hear mine?

He considers it for a bit, deletes the message and is about to type “sure” when a new one pops in.

Niki: There is someone I really like.

Yuuri’s heart thumps. Oh.

Niki: I haven’t known him for long… but he’s the sweetest man!

Niki: very hard working

Niki: and he loves my dog, which has me so sold on him. Number 1 quality right? :D

Yuuri feels his heart sink with each new message that pops into his phone. He bites his tongue as his fingers move over the keyboard.

Yuuri: he sounds like a nice guy, congratulations!

Niki: He is!!

Niki: for my new year’s resolution, I want to ask him out

Yuuri feels something in his chest ache and sour.

He’d known it wouldn’t be possible of course, they were strangers after all… he had even told himself time and again that nothing would ever happen, that they would never meet and they would never see all the places they had made “plans” to visit together.

But he had really felt like they connected—in their pain, their dedication, even their loneliness.

And perhaps, even through all the thoughts of “never”, Yuuri had dared to let himself hope…

But he tells Niki none of this. Instead, the message he sends is this:

Yuuri: Good luck! I’m sure he’ll say yes!

Niki: REALLY???? :D

Niki: Yuuuri I’m so happy

Niki: Ok, I’ll do it now

Yuuri isn’t sure what to reply to that. The dots telling him that Niki is writing a message keeps buffering on the screen.

People begin pooling out onto the terrace. He is faintly aware of the countdown beginning around him.

10…9…8…

His phone vibrates in his hand.

He quickly fumbles to unlock it, and is met with a new message on his screen.

6…5…4…

Attached to it is a picture of a strikingly familiar figure. Bathed in the morning light of the new year that streams through his large, wall-to-ceiling windows—in Saint Petersburg, Yuuri grasps—sits a man with distinct silvery hair, fringe cast over shimmering blue eyes, dressed in a white and blue striped sweater, smiling carefully at the angled camera. In his lap lies the poodle Yuuri could kick himself for not recognising earlier.

Niki: Yuuri, Happy New Year! I hope I haven’t scared you off with my horrible morning face, but I promised myself I had to tell you like this. This past week had been amazing, and I can’t pretend let this chance slip away from me, so… You’re the most caring, sweetest man I’ve ever met who is also extremely cute AND also likes poodles. Will you please go out with me? xxx

3…2…1…

The fireworks go off around him.

Yuuri almost drops his phone as Phichit comes to hug him and wish him happy New Year.

Only a minute later does he gain enough wits about himself to get away from the noise and the people crowding around him.

He stumbles through the house, out the front door, away from the party. On his phone, in a new message to “Niki”, he types out, shakily:

Can I call you?

He presses send at 00:04.

Not a second later, his phone lights up.

Niki

Remind me       Message

Decline              Accept