Actions

Work Header

I Am the Storm

Chapter Text

The sky over Berlin was the typical early February Berlin sky: ten minutes of wind and clouds and snow, then ten minutes of bitter cold and pale sun, then again wind and clouds and snow, in an endless circle of bad weather.

Javier didn’t need to look out of the window, to know what the sky over Berlin was doing. He just needed to take a look at the shadows that the leaves of the huge chestnut tree out in the courtyard were casting over the walls: ever changing, restless shadows that seemed to make his all apartment move, and breathe. To him it has always been kind of a comfort, to see those moves, that breath: it was like living with someone.

Javier mechanically brought the cup to his lips, then took it hastily away after one sip: the coffee was cold as ice. Since when was this happening to him? Holding a cup in his hands so long that his beloved, precious coffee got cold? Easy: since the 18th of November. Since when…

All at once, Javier stood up. The abrupt motion caused him an immediate pain in his left hip, and he slowly limped to the kitchen. First he poured the cold coffee down the sink; then he changed the filter, spooned some fresh coffee into it, poured some water into the machine and switched it on. He’d better have some strong coffee available, if he was finally going to do what he wanted to do.

What he wanted to do…

From the kitchen, he could perfectly see the white, blank Word document. It looked like an eye, as if his PC was staring accusingly at him.

What he wanted to do…

He’d been wanting to do it for days, and he’d been avoiding doing it for days. Was he ever going to actually do it? Was he ever going to write that fucking e-mail? He wasn’t sure he could. But if he couldn’t, he was very sure he was going to feel for ages as he felt since the 18th of November.

Bad.

So bad that…

The coffee was filling the glass jug. Black. Hot.

Crucial.

Okay, Javier told to himself. Okay.

He took a clean cup from the cupboard, filled it with coffee, went back to his desk and sit in front of that white, accusing eye.

For Yuzu, was the empty file’s name.

Javier chose his favourite font, his favourite colour. And finally he begun to write.

Chapter Text

The tram turned right and suddenly the Helsingin jäähalli stood right there. Thank God – cause Javier had totally forgotten to count the tram stops, as Laura had suggested him to do. “You can’t be wrong” she had told him, “five stops from home”: strangely enough, she seemed to believe that her brother could focus for such a short period of time.

Javer threw his backpack on his shoulder and got in line with the passengers who were about to get off the tram: the most of them were Asian and had some Winnie the Pooh in their arms, in a bag, or hanging from the zipper of their backpack. They were all going to the ice hall, all to see one athlete: Yuzuru Hanyu.

“You know what?” Laura had told him only twenty days ago. “Instead of doing nothing but complaining and drinking coffee and playing solitaires on that damned computer of yours, just come and visit us. Here in Helsinki. Lula hasn’t seen her uncle in, what?, five months? Six? Come here, Javi. You spend some time with you niece, with me…”

“I’m not sure, Laura. I have physio, and all of my treatments to… better if I stay here in Berlin. Maybe”.

“Only yesterday you wrote me that you need a break from all of your treatments too. Look, Javi, I’m not telling you to move here. I’m just telling you to come and visit. Hey, it just came to my mind that there’s a Grand Prix event here in Helsinki. At the beginning of November or something”.

“Grand Prix of figure skating?”

“Grand Prix of figure skating. There’s such a big fuss about it… and guess why?”

Javier didn’t have to guess: because Yuzuru Hanyu would be there. The greatest skater of all time. His favourite one.

Javier had always loved ice skating: if he hadn’t chosen ballet, ice skating would have been his path. Actually, he had learnt to skate before learning to dance; from time to time, he had also considered to take some classes. Nevertheless, dancing was what Javier did all the time since he was a toddler; and dancing had become his life and his job. He still liked to skate and to watch ice skating; actually, it was the only sport he regularly watched; he knew quite well its rules, calendar and athletes; and he considered it a kind of antistress device: when things at his ballet company just didn’t work, he stopped watching videos with dancers performing manèges and tours en l’air, and devoted himself to watch videos with skaters performing toe loops and flying camel spins.

After one block walking, Javier found himself in front of the ice hall. There was no queue, and at the entrance his backpack was given just a quick glance: it was quarter past one p.m. and he was already inside. The men’s open practice was to start at three, though.

“Are you already leaving?” Laura had asked when she’d seen him getting ready to go out. “Won’t you have lunch with us?”

“I’m afraid there will be a long queue to get in” he had said while lacing his shoes.

“On the first day of practice?”

“You never know, when Hanyu is there”.

Hanyu.

As an ice skating fan, Javier had liked and still liked many skaters, especially if they were good ‘dancers’ as well: Kurt Browning, Oksana Baiul, Johnny Weir, Stéphane Lambiel, Yuna Kim, many ice dancers of course.

But then he saw Yuzuru Hanyu.

It was the end of 2011: at the Grand Prix Final, a seventeen year old from Japan skated to the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that also Javier had performed to that music: at that time he was twenty-one, he was in the Royal Ballet of Flanders and a neoclassical choreography to the soundtrack of Romeo+Juliet had been his first experience as a soloist – Mercutio.

Maybe it had something to do with Javier loving that music.

Anyway, he was mesmerized by Hanyu’s free skate.

Javier had never seen anything remotely comparable; at least not on ice. It didn’t depend only on technique (Hanyu’s positions in his spins, the magnificence of his triple Axel) or on artistry (how could possibly a seventeen year old be so soulful?) It mostly depended on something indescribable – but all so tangible – coming from that skinny, seemingly fragile boy. Javier had never seen any skater with such a perfect musicality. Of course, he had seen skaters follow the rhythm and move with grace; but he could swear that many skating programs could do and be more or less the same even with a totally different music. Not Hanyu’s programs. In his case, each and every crossover, each and every movement of his arms seemed to flow directly from the notes, to be sewn in the noted; then… then, there was something about him that went beyond technique and artistry. Something that reminded Javier of Nureyev: intensity. A gift of nature, impossible to be taught and learnt; a quality that Nureyev certainly didn’t show only on stage and that Hanyu probably didn’t show only on ice. A kind of impossibility not to melt with music, and steps, and the story behind – until it turned into lava, erupting and devastating everything and everyone, even the ones watching it on a tv screen, even Javier. That’s how Javier felt that day: burned down to his bones.

Later he saw Hanyu get the bronze medal at the World Championships 2012, and he cried silent tears: just like the first time he saw Baryshnikov.

From then on, Javier kept his eyes on Hanyu. Program after program, he saw that skinny boy getting better and better, more and more intense; he came to know more things about him as well. Hanyu was challenged by asthma. He had survived the great Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011. He had moved across the ocean, to Toronto, in order to improve his training. He could skate and medal after crushing into another athlete during the six minutes warm-up. He could win a competition on a broken foot. Seeing the steal in Hanyu’s willpower somehow helped Javier to face the problems that a young Spanish dancer in a foreign land bumped into: dancing on a sprained ankle, fighting for a good role, holding on when the winter in Berlin was freezing cold and Spain – and his parents, and all that meant home to him – seemed farther away than ever. Not giving up when one day he had done a grand jeté and felt a sudden, deep pain in his left hip, right before falling to the ground. Before understanding that the recurring pain he felt in his hip was a problem he would have to face, sooner or later.

 

 The wide hall of the Helsingin jäähalli was nearly empty. Somebody was eating or drinking at one of the several kiosks, somebody was taking a look at the sportswear stands. On the other hand, the sits around the rink were crowded with people watching the ice dance practice. Javier stood watching as well for a while. I should have come earlier, he thought regretfully. He would have loved to watch all practice of all category, just like he loved to watch a ballet company à la barre. Besides, he’d spent the whole morning playing with his niece – Lula had been allowed to skip kindergarten, that day – and it’d been so much fun… Javier smiled at the memory. Okay, being there for the actual competition was enough, after all.

He stopped watching the ice dance pairs and took his ticket out of his jeans pocket; he was hungry, but he was going to eat later. Now he wanted to find his seat and enjoy the Grand Prix as much as he could.

So: sector C6. He was standing in front of A3, so he had to go straight ahead and…

A shadow on his left, a fleeting blur of black hair. Javier turned his head.

Yuzuru Hanyu had just passed him.

Yes, Javier had no doubt about it: even from behind, he could tell that this black-haired boy was Yuzuru Hanyu. Javier would have recognized him even if he didn’t wear the black and white ‘Japan’ jacket, even if he wasn’t surrounded by a half dozen of people – bodyguards, members of the Japan Skating Federation, who knows. Maybe it was because of his slender neck and his elegant posture, which made him standing out and looking tall and ethereal; maybe it was because of that sort of aura lingering on him. Anyway, looking at him like that, from behind, was enough to feel a change in the air around him, as if it got rarefied, as if every noise faded away, every movement got slower and wider, and the light got incredibly clear. It was like looking an overexposed picture, forcing you to narrow your eyes and catch your breath – and that was what Javier instinctively did: he narrowed his eyes, caught his breath. And followed the boy in the balloon.

Yuzur Hanyu walked to a door with the sign ‘Press Centre’ on it, stepped inside and stopped some meters away from the threshold, chatting with a woman and a man while the half dozen of people who were with him proceeded to the unknown recesses of the Press Centre.

Javier stopped a few meters away from the door. Not even for a second he wondered if he could get in and ask for an autograph (it would have been impossible anyway: on each side of the door there was a gigantic Security guy); not even for a second, though, the possibility of going away crossed his mind.

Yuzuru Hanyu looked relaxed; he was talking and politely greeting anyone getting in or out of the Press Centre; and he often smiled. Nice, affable. Nonetheless there was still that inaccessible balloon of overexposed air, silence, and solemnity around him. Like a castle with a raised drawbridge and a deep, insidious moat, Javier thought. Meanwhile he watched him, and looked at Yuzuru Hanyu’s gentle smile, his bright skin, the blue glare of his hair.

He watched him.

Without realizing he was watching.

He watched him.

 

He stopped watching him only after Hanyu disappeared, then reappeared, got out of the Press Centre – he bowed to the fans gathered in front of the door and repeated several times “Arigato” – and finally disappeared again down a hallway.

Javier snapped out of his hypnosis, realized he was nearly the only man in a horde of adoring women, and finally headed for sector C6, with a pale, embarrassed smile on his lips.

 

Laura had got him the perfect seat: close both to the ice and to the Kiss&Cry, it overlooked the hallway connecting the rink to the locker rooms. With a content sigh, Javier hung his anorak on the handrail – his seat was the first of the frst row – and bit the sandwich he had just bought at a kiosk, watching the pairs practicing in front of him.

 

The first group of male skaters made its appearance some minutes to three p.m. Javier saw Mikhail Kolyada, Boyang Jin. And Yuzuru Hanyu, who stopped right in front of sector C6. Right in front of him.

Javier watched him shift his weight from one foot to the other, jump on the spot, chat a bit with his two coaches. Focused, effective. His slim but broad shoulders were the base of a perfect isosceles triangle whose vertex was composed by his tiny waist and his… Javier looked away. As long as he had watched Hanyu only on a screen – as long as Hanyu had been to him a sort of elf, able to do things that were scarily otherworldly and movingly human at the same time – Javier had never watched him that way; actually, it was a very long time that he didn’t watch any man that way; and now that he’d found himself doing so, he felt surprised and a bit uncomfortable.

“What you from?”

Unmistakably Japanese and unmistakably fond of Hanyu – she wore a pair of yellow, plushy Winnie the Pooh’s ears – the lady next seat was smiling at him.

“Er… from Spain” Javier said, smiling in return.

“You here for Yuzu?”

“Well, I… yes, I guess”.

“You take”.

It took him a while to understand that the lady was showing him the content of a large canvas bag lying at her feet. Magazines featuring Hanyu, ads featuring Hanyu, pictures featuring Hanyu.

“I take? What do you mean?”

“You Spain, no much Yuzu. I Japan, much Yuzu. I bring Yuzu to Spain and to Europe and to you”.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

The lady’s smile was so confident, so sweet; even if he had no intention to stack his backpack with merchandising, Javier couldn’t help complying. He rummaged in her canvas bag and quickly grabbed one picture: 2018 Olympics short program. Hanyu with his eyes shut, mouth ajar, one arm above his tilted head, and ecstasy all over his face – as if an angel was caressing him.

“So I think I’ll take this one… is it okay? Thank you”.

The lady half-bowed; then she pointed at the ring.

“Yuzu start” she announced.

His heart was beating slightly faster. Javier decided to ignore it and turned his head.

 

“So what?”

So what, what?”

His sister made an impatient gesture and nearly spilled her wine on the couch.

“Javi, today I worked, and I would like to highlight that working on the first of November is quite a bummer” she said. “Then I finally come home, where – hear ye! Hear ye! – I can enjoy some drink with my brother without having to look after my daughter and my husband… and you don’t tell me a-ny-thi-ng!”

“I told you!”

“You told Hanyu is amazing”.

“He is”.

“I know myself he is! Anyone watching some videos of him knows he is! Do you really have nothing else to say??”

Javier shrugged. He didn’t feel at ease; and knowing the reason why he didn’t feel at ease made him feel, well, even less at ease.

“I should have gone to the movies with Pietari and Lula” he muttered. “No questions asked, just popcorn and some Disney songs”.

“Javi…”

He raised his hands. “Okay, okay! Well, when all the skaters took the ice, first thing I noticed was that his blades sound different”.

“Different? How?”

“Different. Lighter. Cleaner. All the other athletes sound more… let’s say, aggressive. Their blades don’t make his same sound. They make kind of a scratch”.

“Maybe it’s because Hanyu’s so thin and light”.

“That’s what I thought too, but Boyang Jin is here competing as well, and he’s thin and light, but he sounds just like all the others. It depends on how Hanyu’s blades cut the ice, I guess. On how he skates, that is”.

Laura took a sip of wine. “Wow”.

“And…” Javier hesitated, and drank some wine to take his time. “Well, the truth is that you can’t take your eyes off of him. You just can’t. Let’s say there’s another skater doing his run-through, and… for instance, there was Kolyada doing his run-through. Kolyada, right? You know how much I like him. But there was Hanyu skating around the rink, doing jumps and spins and step-sequences and… no way. Who cares about Kolyada: you have to watch Hanyu, you need to. Even when…” Javier giggled, “even when he just blows his nose, or talks with his coaches. You watch him, no fucking way”.

“Wow” Laura said again. For a while she just stared at her glass of wine, then she moved her eyes back to her brother. “So that’s the reason why tomorrow you won’t have lunch with us in Helsinki best restaurant, isn’t it? Because you want to see Hanyu’s practice”.

Javier put his glass on the coffee table. He felt less and less at ease.

“Yes” he said, “that is the reason why”.

That, and what happened at the end of Hanyu’s practice – something he didn’t (and wouldn’t) tell Laura.

 

“Gentlemen, please leave the ice” the speaker said. The skaters stopped one by one, bowed to the audience and got in line to exit the rink.

Hanyu was the last one to get out. He put on his blade guards, then stopped right under Javier’s seat to talk with one of his coaches. Fans in sector C6 all ran to the handrail, squashing Javier against it; Hanyu didn’t seem to notice, though: he kept on talking with his coach, his back leant against the wall, one gloved hand caressing the yellow towel on his shoulder, the other gloved hand holding tight his Winnie the Pooh tissue box.

Then it happened.

Hanyu and his coach greeted each other; the coach disappeared down the hallway, and Yuzuru Hanyu straightened up and walked away. His yellow towel stayed where it was, though; hooked to some nail or protuberance in the wall, without his owner realizing.

Javier went on autopilot.

He stood up, grabbed the towel. “Hanyu-senshu!” he called.

The other one heard him and turned around. He looked at Javier. At his own towel. Again at Javier. Then he came back.

Javier handed him his towel, Hanyu took it.

They stared at each other for a while. Javier had always thought Yuzuru’s eyes were black. They weren’t. They were brown, with nearly reddish nuances.

 “Arigato” Hanyu said, and bowed.

Javier bowed as well, gave him an uncertain smile.

“You’re welcome”.

Hanyu smiled too, stared at him for some more seconds, then headed for the hallway.

Javier kept staring at the hallway for a long time. His heart was beating dramatically faster, and this time he couldn’t ignore it.

Chapter Text

Walking in the cold of Helsinki, queuing out of the ice hall, spending one long hour sitting motionless to watch some skaters’ practice – none of these had been good for his hip. Javier slowly limped to the nearest kiosk: he desperately needed a very hot coffee. And he needed to calm down his breathing.

While leaving the ring, Yuzuru had not looked at him. Yuzuru had not recognized him. If Javier thought he had, Javier was a fool. Yuzuru was focused on his competition. Every day he casually set his eyes on loads of fans.

Fortunately the kiosk outside his sector was not so crowded, and Javier got in line behind two girls with Winnie the Pooh backpacks on their shoulders.

Let’s sum it up, he told himself. When Yuzuru appeared from the hallway, he turned his head in my direction. Well, he turned his head right. And his eyes met mine. His eyes met and passed mine. They didn’t linger on mine. Don’t lie to yourself, Javi.

“A coffee, please” he said to the waitress.

Likewise, when Yuzuru had left the ice and turned his head in Javier’s direction, once again his eyes had met and p-a-s-s-e-d Javier’s. Neither had Yuzuru nodded, nor half-bowed towards him.

(And why wasn’t Javier calling him Hanyu, or Yuzuru Hanyu? Why was he calling him simply, familiarly, Yuzuru?)

“Sorry…”

Javier hastily swallowed the coffee he still had in his mouth and turned around. In front of him there were two Japanese: a tall sturdy man and a small smiling woman. Takayama Midori of JSF, told the badge pinned to her jacket.

“Are you talking to me?”

“Yes” said the small woman. “So sorry to bother you while you’re drinking your coffee”.

She had a very strong accent and Javier had some trouble getting her right; most of all, though, he had some trouble understanding why she was talking to him.

“You don’t bother me at all” he said. He was going to reach out and shake her hand, then he remembered she was Japanese and briefly bowed. “My name’s Javier Fernández”.

Both the tall man and the small woman bowed in return.

“I’m Takayama Midori, Japan Skating Federation” the woman said, “and let me introduce Muramoto Ytoshi-san, Hanyu Yuzuru-senshu’s bodyguard”.

No. He must have misheard her. Javier opened his mouth to ask for explanations, please, but the small women kept talking like nothing.

“We are here on behalf of Hanyu Yuzuru-senshu. He would like to express you his gratitude for helping him to retrieve an item that mean a lot to him”.

“I just told him he lost his to…”

“In order to express you his gratitude, Hanyu Yuzuru-senshu would be delighted if you would join him for an afternoon tea. Compatibly with your obligations and schedule, of course”.

“…What?”

Javier couldn’t say anything smarter than that: what? Yuzuru was inviting him to an afternoon tea. Were they kidding, those two grinning Japanese? Well, it certainly looked like a very complicate joke. But what if it wasn’t a joke?

“Like I said” the small woman patiently started to explain, “Hanyu Yuzuru-senshu would be deli…”

“Yes, yes, I got it… sorry to interrupt you. It’s just that I…” Lacking better ideas, Javier swallowed some coffee. Which unfortunately didn’t give him any idea at all. “I mean, it’s just very… it’s all really… er… unexpected”.

The small woman gave him a broad smile, as if she was literally thrilled.

“If you’re busy, we perfectly understand, of course” she said. “But if you could accept his invitation, Hanyu Yuzuru-senshu would feel extremely honoured”.

Javier swallowed some other coffee. Delighted. Honoured. Oh, what the hell.

“Well, I am the one feeling honoured here” he finally said. “I will be glad to join Yu… Hanyu Yuzuru-senshu for an afternoon tea”.

“Thank you, Fernández-san, thank you so much”. The small woman gave him a deep bow.

“Wouldn’t you mind to give us your mobile phone number, please?” the tall man spoke for the first time. “We will send you as soon as possible all information you might need about the meeting”. His accent was even thicker than Takayama’s, but at least he was just talking about some logistical details – about something that Javier could make some sense of.

“Yes, sure” he muttered; then he gave the tall man his phone number, and that was something making no, no sense at all.

 

6 p.m., Hotel ***. Please ask the reception for Muramoto-san.

Those were the words Javier had received via WhatsApp from a Japanese telephone number at 4.39. Now it was 5.55 and just a few yards lay between him and the revolving door of the hotel. A few minutes lay between him and Yuzuru.

The hours after the surreal meeting with Takayama and Muramoto had felt weird, with Javier trying to make sense of what was happening. Of what had already happened, too.

It was true, then: that morning Yuzuru had looked at him, Yuzuru had recognized him; then he had taken his time to think, make a decision, call the tall man and the small woman, tell them how Javier looked and wore, tell them to go and invite him.

Now what?

Javier had no idea about what was waiting for him.

At least he felt a little bit anxious about what was waiting for him.

He braced himself.

Come on, he wasn’t someone to back down just because he felt scared or insecure: he was a dancer, after all.

He took a deep, long breath; then he stepped inside the hotel.

 

One, two, three, four…

Nine seconds, and the door Muramoto had knocked at was opened.

Nine seconds, and Javier was feeling like he always felt right before entering the scene: trapped in a vacuum where only his heavy heartbeats existed.

Nine seconds, and Yuzuru was in front of him.

And Javier did what he always did right after entering the scene: he smiled.

“Habiel Felnandes-san” Yuzuru said, then bowed before adding in English: “Thank you accept my invitation”.

“Thank you for inviting me” Javier said, and bowed in return.

“Please come”.

Javier followed Yuzuru into the room – that is, the suite: on his right he could see the bedroom, while they crossed a small anteroom and reached the living room; it could have been as cold and impersonal as any suite in any hotel, but it wasn’t thanks to some details: an avant-garde laptop, some electronic devices (iPod, iPad?), and several earphone sets on a desk; a pile of notebooks and a pencil case on a corner table; some colourful cards – from fans, maybe? – on a dresser; four Winnie the Pooh plush toys, all dressed like Yuzuru in four of his programs, were scattered across the room.

On the coffee table in front of the couch there were two trays, one with teapot, three cups (three?), sugar bowl and milk jug, one with a selection of sweets and cookies.

Javier was astonished, even if he didn’t understand why: wasn’t he expressly there for an afternoon tea? Then he realized that he’d been waiting for kind of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, with Yuzuru dressed in a fine hakama. We’re in Helsinki and he’s in the middle of a competition, Javier told to himself; you idiot.

“Please”.

With a faint smile on his lips, Yuzuru (dressed not in a fine hakama but in sweatpants, V-neck T-shirt, and hoodie) was pointing at the couch.

“Thank you”.

Javier sat down, Yuzuru sat by his side; a few seconds later, Muramoto sat on an armchair.

“Muramoto-san stay with us” Yuzuru said. “My English is so bad, he help. I want that is clear what I think”.

Maybe he also wanted to make sure he didn’t invite some sort of madman ready to assault him, Javier thought.

“Alright” he just said.

“Okay, then, Habiel Felnandes-san…”

“Please, can you call me only by my first name, please? It would make me feel a bit more… I mean, we’re more or less the same age, aren’t we? You’re nearly twenty-four, if I’m not wrong. I’m twenty-seven”.

Yuzuru stared at him for a moment, then shrugged. “Yes, sure”. He reached for the teapot, his long fingers busy with the filter. “Habiel, I want thank you because yesterday you give back towel”.

His long fingers lifted up the teapot and proceeded to pour some tea in each cup. Javier realized he had been staring at Yuzuru’s hands for a while and immediately looked away.

“Well, thank you for thanking me, but there’s no need to. I just handed you your towel”.

“You don’t hand. You give back”. Yuzuru gave him a knowing look. “It don’t happen very much”.

Oh.

“You mean that… you got robbed?”

A brief, crystal clear laughter.

Robbed is too much. But they no give back. I don’t care, usually. But sometimes…”

“Sometimes you care”.

“Yes”.

Javier didn’t ask when and why he cared, and Yuzuru didn’t tell.

“Sugar?”

“Yes please. And some milk”.

Yuzuru obliged, then handed him the cup. Javier thanked him again, vaguely aware of how weird of a situation that was: Yuzuru Hanyu, the greatest skater of all time, was serving him. Then Yuzuru said something in Japanese to Muramoto: maybe something about sugar and milk, because he prepared a new cup and handed it to his bodyguard. So Muramoto wasn’t used to drink tea with Yuzuru. Good, Javier thought, and immediately felt his cheeks getting hot. Good? Why should it be good? Oh, Jesus.

“Can I ask you what doing in life, Habiel?”

“I’m a ballet dancer”.

Yuzuru, who was taking his cup to his lips, put it down on the saucer.

“A ballet dancer?” he said.

“Yes it’s me”. Javier smiled. “I’m a soloist of Berlin Staatsballet”.

“Wow, it sooooo fantastic!” Yuzuru put his cup and saucer back on the tray, like he wanted to pay his full attention to Javier. “In Berlin? But… you Spanish, yes?”

Also Javier put his cup back on the tray.

“I’m from Madrid” he said. “And I began learning ballet in Madrid. But when I was eighteen I started going to auditions all over Europe. First I moved to Antwerp, and danced with the Royal Ballet of Flanders for three years. Then I had an audition for the Staatsballet, where I could be a soloist… so that’s where I live now, in Berlin”.

“Ballet”. There was a smile lingering all over Yuzuru’s face. He looked authentically enthusiast, not only polite. “If I don’t skate, maybe I dance”.

“If I didn’t dance, maybe I’d skate”.

They stared at each other.

Then Javier picked his cup back up. The porcelain jingled on the saucer all the way from the tray to his lap.

“You surely take ballet classes anyway, don’t you” he said softly.

Yuzuru shook his head. “Two months when move in Toronto” he said. “Then some hip hop. That all”.

Javier nearly choked on his tea.

“What do you mean, that’s all? I can’t believe it!”

Suddenly Yuzuru’s eyes got darker, harder, and scorching. He looked like he could turn into ashes anything and anyone in his way – like when he was about to take the ice and compete.

“Why you not believe?” he asked. Also his voice was darker and harder.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean you’re lying, or...” Javier shooked his head. “It just sounds unbelievable. I mean, to me it looks amazing that someone who never took ballet classes can move like you do”.

All at once Yuzuru’s eyes got lighter and softer. Now he didn’t look like he was going to turn you into ashes, he just looked warm. Just? Javier swallowed.

“You serious?” Yuzuru asked.

How could he possibly care about some unknown Spanish dancer’s opinion? Apparently, he could. Quite much.

“I’m very serious!” Javier realized he was getting excited, and it couldn’t be helped. “One of the reasons why you are my favourite skater ever, ever, is the way you move your arms, hands, and fingers. With so much grace that... like they were talking, you know?”

Yuzuru didn’t speak. He was looking at his hands, gently resting in his lap.

“Also, the position of your free leg when you land a jump, especially a toe loop... your arabesque is just perfect. Even the foot position is perfect.

Yuzuru glanced at him from the corner of his eye.

“What you mean, the foot?” he asked softly.

“You keep your foot like a dancer would do. It... it doesn’t hang loose from your ankle, so to say. You don’t forget about it. You think about it. Look”.

Javier put down his cup, stood up, put a safe distance between the coffee table and himself, and got into position. He was about to lift his left leg but then considered it was better not, so he bent his left knee, lifted his right leg getting into an arabesque position and extended his foot, slightly flexing his ankle so that foot and calf would draw an upward curve.

“I’m like so, when I land toe loop?” Yuzuru clapped his hands – several times in a row, fast and light. Like a hummingbird fluttering its wings, Javier thought. “I cannot believe I am elegant like you! Wait”.

Javier stood still while Yuzuru stood up and joined him.

“I do with right leg, okay?” he said. “Because jumps I land on right leg”.

“Okay. But you got to get a move on, cause I’m getting tired”.

With a small giggle, Yuzuru mirrored his position.

“Like this?” he asked. “We look same? Really?”

“Really” Javier said, then he turned to Muramoto, who was still sitting in his armchair.  “What do you think?”

“Two peas in a pod” the bodyguard said, impassive.

Javier and Yuzuru burst into laughter.

 

And then everything was easy.

 

“Sprained ankle?”

“Yes! Just once, though. Right ankle, when I was a child”.

“I win! I not remember how many times I sprain ankle”.

“Okay... pulled muscles?”

“Yes yes yes! My back, so much, and then right quadriceps”.

“I win! Right and left quadriceps, several times, and my back, several times”.

“Damn... tendinitis?”

“Sure. My calves are a total mess. Dislocated shoulder?”

“No... Broken foot?”

“Never”.

“I win!”

 

Finding out so many things they had in common – they both had an older sister, and had travelled so far from home to make their dreams come true, and were athletes and artists at the same time, and knew what pain was even though they were so young – and so many things they didn’t have in common at all – fame and fans following Yuzuru everywhere, while Javier could leave unnoticed the theatre where he’d just performed; the team Yuzuru needed to work for him, while Javier had to make do every second of the day.

Everything was easy.

 

“Your family okay that you want be ballet dancer?”

“Well, when I was a child my parents didn’t think it could be my career, I suppose… then I kept on dancing, and everything came little by little, you know? There were other problems”.

“What problems?”

“Er…”

“Sorry, I ask too much personal”.

“No, don’t worry. But you’re a skater, so I guess we had to face at least some similar problems”.

“For me big problem to breathe”.

“You mean asthma? I read it got better over the years”.

“For me is always big problem, to breathe. But not only with nose and lungs”.

 

Even avoiding subjects they were not close enough to share – they had both grown up doing something that many people considered ‘girly’, they had both got necessarily used to different languages and cultures, they had both been tempted to give up, sometimes. At least Javier supposed Yuzuru had faced some of those issues and didn’t feel like talking about it, just like Javier himself didn’t feel like talking about his current main physical problem, the one that could cost him everything.

It was so easy.

 

“Why do you love earphones so much?”

“I not just love. I need earphones”.

“You need them? Why?”

“Too much noise. Also inside music around of me”.

“You hear noises inside the music?”

“In competition, when I hear music of other skaters, it always full of noise. Russ… rist…”

“Rustles?”

“Yes. Frr frr, tak tak tak, zzz… I can’t stand. My ear so sensitive. Sometimes is like I have asthma in my ear. Is no music, is pain. I hurt”.

 

Even what was complicated – Yuzuru was still surrounded by that impenetrable balloon of rarefied air which made him inexorably distant even as he was a few inches away, but somehow Javier didn’t feel scared, or rejected: Yuzuru was so bright, so beautiful that anybody would have been happy just to watch him; but Javier had been allowed to talk to him, to listen to him, to laugh when he made a joke and to make him laugh; and Yuzuru was friendly, easy going – in many respects, just a young nice man who liked to chat and banter. Sometimes, when their conversation risked to touch some delicate subject, his eyes turned black, but the darkness lasted only for a few seconds, and soon Yuzuru was that friendly, easy going young man again. That sweet, so sweet young man.

Everything was easy.

And so fragile.

 

There was a mobile phone in Muramoto’s pocket. Javier had caught its vibration quite often, but the bodyguard had taken out and checked it only twice; he had given a look to Yuzuru only once, slowly shaking his head.

Nevertheless, when his mobile buzzed for the nth time, Muramoto took it out of his pocket, checked it, then he apologized and answered the call; he listened for a moment, said something in Japanese, then addressed to Yuzuru, always in Japanese. When they stopped talking, Yuzuru turned to Javier.

“I sorry, but no more tea” he said, and he actually looked sorry. “Is eight o’clock. Late. Tomorrow I have competition”.

“Of course” Javier hastily said. “I perfectly understand. Me too, when I have to perform… of course”.

They remained like that for a while, motionless and quiet, without looking at each other. They were sitting on the couch again, much closer than they were at the beginning; their knees were no more than one inch apart. Javier realized just in time that he was absent-mindedly moving his hand towards Yuzuru’s leg, to gently pat his thigh, and sprang to his feet.

“So, I… I’m leaving”.

Yuzuru remained seated, his eyes down on his hands, his thoughts who knows where. He looked sad, but then he stood up and gave Javier a smile of shining sweetness.

“I go to door with you” he said.

Javier quickly bowed to Muramoto, who quickly bowed to him, then followed Yuzuru. When they were in the anteroom, Yuzuru put his hand on the door knob, but he didn’t open the door. They were looking at each other, now. Javier plunged his hands in his pockets. What am I going to tell him, he asked himself, how should I say good-bye? He wished he could tell him something true, something precious. He wished he could hug him, just like he would have done with a friend leaving for a long period of time.

Yuzuru spoke first, though.

“This was beautiful afternoon. I not expect beautiful afternoons, when I compete. This was very beautiful. So thank you, Habiel-san”.

“Javi”.

“Mhm?” Yuzuru tilted his head.

“That’s my nickname. You can call me Javi”.

Once again, the shining sweetness of Yuzuru’s smile.

“You can call me Yuzu”.

Javier smiled in return, held out his hand.

“Thank you, Yuzu”.

Yuzuru took his hand, with so much strength for such delicate fingers – then his eyes got darker but not harder, only more intense, so penetrating that Javier felt naked, body and soul. As if he was in the eye of a storm, illusory quietness in the middle of a hurricane, alluring and terrible. Later, Javier would have wondered if that was what one could feel when Yuzuru allowed them to get into his peculiar balloon of air; but at the moment all he could do was to stand still and silent, his mind a blank.

“Thank you, Javi”.

Yuzuru said Habi; Javier felt a pang of tenderness and the storm faded away. They were still holding hands. They let go. Yuzuru opened the door.

“See you” Javier said.

Yuzuru just bowed with a smile; then the door was closed.

 

That night, after telling everything to his sister, after playing with his niece, after drinking some beer with his brother-in-law, Javier was sitting on the edge of the sofa bed, awake in a sleeping apartment. He stood up, went to the window and put his left hand on the sill, like it was a barre.

First position, plié. No pain in his hip so far. Grand plié. Still no pain – well, just a hint. Fifth position, and Javier felt the familiar pain waking up. What should I expect, he wondered, what can I expect?

In his mind, he heard Yuzuru say ‘Thank you, Habi’; he saw the little mole that Yuzuru had on his neck, under his right earlobe. That’s how Javier would have liked to say good-bye: putting his hand on Yuzuru’s nape, caressing that mole with his thumb.

Javier dropped face down on the sofa bed.

Chapter Text

The boat was cutting fast through the grey Baltic waters. Grey the sea, grey the sky, a line drawn with what looked like a slightly softer, darker pencil in between. Javier wished he could get out of the cabin, feel the salty air on his skin and squint at the pale, annoying morning sun; but he couldn’t risk his health. He looked away from the window and on his right: above a white mask, two almond eyes had turned into merry crescents.

Javier smiled to Yuzuru.

 

He hadn’t heard anything from him anymore.

Of course he hadn’t expected endless phone calls, countless WhatsApp messages, daily meetings. Yuzuru had to compete there. But one phone call, one message, one quick glance after popping out of the hallway between the rink and the locker rooms… well, yes, he had expected that. A bit. At least, he had hoped for that: they’d spent together a beautiful afternoon, hadn’t they? Maybe it hadn’t been beautiful enough, for Yuzuru. Or maybe it had, but Yuzuru’s invitation had really, solely and exclusively been a way to express his gratitude: now, after thanking Javier, he could turn the page.

Javier hadn’t heard anything neither from Muramoto nor from the JSF woman. And Yuzuru had walked to the rink, a few yards from where Javier was sitting, without so much as looking at him. Not even once. And Javier…

On Saturday morning, Javier stood up at dawn to go and watch Yuzuru training at seven a.m. On his way he even tried (you fool, Javi, you idiot) a couple of half smiles, just in case: what if Yuzuru saw him and somehow greeted him, or acknowledged his presence? There was no need of any kind of smile though: Yuzuru entered the rink, trained, exited the rink, disappeared. Period.

Javier tried to convince himself it all depended on the competition, on Yuzuru’s need to focus; after the short program, maybe… and yet after the short program nothing changed, and Javier felt  his hopes blow out, slowly and wistfully like candles.

“For God’s sake, Javi, we’re talking about the greatest skater of all time!” Laura said that Saturday night, on the verge of exasperation. “And he has hordes of fans, not even the Beatles were so… what did you expect? Yuzuru cheerfully waving his hand at you from the Kiss&Cry?”

“Of course not, but…”

“There’s no but, Javi! He’s Yuzuru Hanyu. And he’s in the middle of an international competition. Can’t you just enjoy your weekend here? You spent some pleasant hour with him, you can go and see an ice skating competition, you’re on holiday… have a good time, estúpido!”

Laura was right, so right.

The afternoon with Yuzuru had been a very pleasant surprise. The competition was thrilling. Yuzuru on the ice was breath (and mind) taking. Have a good time.

Unfortunately, Javier went to Sunday morning practice, and waited for the free skate, and watched the second part of the competition, and clapped his hands at the victory ceremony, with his heart overwhelmed by a curious mixture of joy (Yuzuru had won) and disappointment (Yuzuru had forgotten about him).

Then, about ten minutes after the last press conference – Javier had watched it online, so hopeless and, really, so estúpido – his mobile phone rang.

 

The boat docked at a secondary pier of Suomenlinna about twenty minutes after leaving the South Harbour of Helsinki.

“Hey, this was fast!” Yuzuru said, springing to his feet. He looked excited. Javier stood up too.

“I told you, didn’t I? You’ll see, we won’t meet anyone at this time of the day”.

They all disembarked: Javier, Yuzuru, Muramoto and a member of the JSF called Ishiguro Akira, who didn’t look very pleased about that unscheduled trip.

“This way”.

Javier led them to the first tourist attraction: a small church at the top of a short slope. They didn’t meet anybody; the only visible presence was the line of people at the main pier, waiting for the ferry to Helsinki.

“See?” Javier pointed at their surroundings. “There’s nobody out here. It’s…” he checked his phone, “half past seven. At least we’ll meet a couple of hermits who don’t know a thing about figure skating”.

Yuzuru stared silently at him for a while, a serious curve on his beautiful mouth. Then he turned to their escorts and the three of them talked for a couple of minutes in Japanese – Ishiguro more and more displeased, Muramoto with a faint smile on his lips. Finally Yuzuru turned to Javier again.

“You say pub is close of pier?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah. Famous. An historical site, sort of”.

Yuzuru said some more words to Muramoto and Ishiguro, then the two men bowed and made their way down the slope, back to where they’d come from. Yuzuru smiled to Javier.

“We free!” He looked more than excited. Exhilarated – and Javier had to resist the temptation to take his hand.

“Let’s go” he said.

 

“Fernández-san? Here is Muramoto Ytoshi speaking”.

“Good afternoon, Muramoto-san”.

“So as you can imagine, I call you on behalf of Hanyu Yuzuru-senshu. Are you still in Helsinki, Fernández-san?”

“Sure”.

“Hold on, please”.

Javier held on, his heart hammering in his chest. It sounded like Muramoto had put his hand on the receiver, so that he could talk unheard with someone else – with him? As if Javier could understand Japanese.

When the bodyguard removed his hand, the breath in the receiver was all Javier needed to know who was going to talk.

 “Habi?”

Javier had to swallow before answering. “Hi, Yuzu”.

“Sorry I disappear. In competition always like so. Sorry”.

“I know. You don’t have to apologize”.

“I have”.

“Apology accepted then. Okay? And congratulations for your gold medal”.

“I not skate well”.

Javier tried not to chuckle. Yuzuru had won with a huge score – fourty points ahead of the silver medalist – but with some little mistakes too, therefore: I not skate well.

“You were fantastic, just face it”.

Silence, for a while.

“Habi”.

“Yuzu?”

“Now I have exhibition. Is over at eight. Then important dinner with Federation and big sponsor. Tomorrow I leave”.

Javier swallowed again, but his throat remained hopelessly dry.

“I understand, Yuzu. Really”.

“But I want see Habi!” Yuzuru spoke as if he was in a hurry, nearly screaming. “I would like” he corrected himself, more calmly. “Sorry for English. I would like see Habi”.

“And I would like to see Yuzu”.

“Maybe you can… you can come to hotel after dinner? At eleven or eleven and half, maybe?”

“You will be exhausted, though”.

Silence again. And Javier made a decision.

“Yuzu, about tomorrow… at what time do you leave?”

He heard Yuzuru speak Japanese with someone, probably Muramoto.

“I must be in airport at one” he finally said.

“So you know what we are going to do? There’s an island, about fifteen-twenty minutes by boat from Helsinki. Suomenlinna. World Heritage Site and stuff. It’s very nice, and in the morning there’s no one. Everybody goes to work to Helsinki, and tourists get there later on. We could go there. What do you think?”

Yuzuru hesitated.

“Habi, I don’t know. I not go out. Must think to my security”.

“Well, we can book a private boat, we don’t need to go there by ferry. Why not?” Javier felt more and more galvanized. “At least you can breathe some fresh air. Right? We take a walk to the ancient bastions, we have breakfast in the local bistrot, and…” Yuzuru was so quiet, and Javier quickly lost his enthusiasm. “Yuzu, I’m sorry. Of course you will have so many things to do before leaving”.

“Habi…”

“Look, tonight at your hotel sounds perfect. Just send me a message when…”

“No, I mean… I like island”. Yuzuru giggled – air whispering through a wind chime. “Let’s go in island, Habi”.

 

Actually there’s wasn’t so much neither to see nor to do, in Suomenlinna. A few streets, a few buildings, a lot of wind. The island was the only place Javier had been able to think of where Yuzu could bask in the sun without risking to bump into some exuberant fan; and yet, when they finally started their tour and headed side by side for the church entrance, Javier wondered how he was supposed to find something to do for more than half an hour. Yuzuru looked so thrilled, so trustful…

Everything was easy, though.

After visiting the church they decided to have breakfast at the bistrot, where they tasted some specialties of the house – Javier would have never forgotten Yuzuru’s look when he put in his mouth bear salami and reindeer pate – and just couldn’t stop talking all the time: about the competition and some behind-the-scenes Javier swore he would have never, ever told a soul; about the last Javier’s performance (the ballet was Petipa’s Don Quixote; he had played the main toreador with all his Spanish heart and Spanish soul, just to be addressed by a very important Staatsballet’s sponsor: “Ooooh, you Italians and your hot blood!”); and Yuzuru couldn’t have been more delighted to find out that so many ballet dancers – so many ethereal, angelic ballet dancers – smoked like chimneys and cursed like stevedores. They even cursed to wish good luck.

Shit?” Yuzuru, eyes wide open and the cup of tea halfway between the saucer and his mouth, could not believe it.

“Oh yes. You never say ‘Good luck’, no way. And ‘Break a leg’, well… better not. You must say ‘Shit’. Always. At least you can speak French, if you want to sound more… er, a little more chic. Merde”.

“So you… you too… you say Melde?”

“Sure! I wish lots of shit also to myself”. Javier wiggled his eyebrows. “I wished it to you, here in Helsinki”.

Yuzuru put his cup down. “No”.

“Yes”.

“No!”

“Yes! ‘Shit, Yuzu’: I said it right before the short program. In Spanish, actually: Mierda”.

“You serious??” Yuzuru’s laughter wasn’t crystal clear anymore; it was loud and mischievous. “And before of free skate?”

“Oh, well, then I said Mucha mierda. Lots of shit. Yes”.

“Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

And after laughing together so much, everything was even easier. They had a walk around the island, and Javier was able to describe it mixing reliable data and sense of humour; he was smart, ironic, and the more Yuzuru laughed and asked questions, the smarter and more ironic he got; he would have been smart and ironic forever, if only to make that boy laugh.

They were at the bastions. There, the wind blew harder, and the waters of the Baltic sea swelled more and more as they ran towards the island, crashing angrily against the rocks, foaming furiously, while the grass bent as if it was scared – of the wind and the water and the noise: a constant hiss, intertwined with the roar of dashing waves.

Javier and Yuzuru walked quietly for a while, until they found themselves at the top of the ancient fortress; there they both stopped, their hands on the wooden parapet, their eyes locked on the grey fury of nature.

“What you have in your leg?” Yuzuru asked out of the blue.

“I’m sorry?”

“Your left leg”. Yuzuru glanced at him for a moment. “When we have tea and you show me arabesque, you change leg. Like you not can use it. And now you… I don’t know word”. He limped a bit. “You do like so. Not always. Sometimes”.

“I limp” Javier said, his voice unsure.

“That. Sometimes you limp. What you have? If you want tell me”.

Javier looked at his hands. It wasn’t a question of wanting or not wanting to tell him: if there was someone who could understand, it was Yuzuru – an athlete. But he hated to talk about it. Talking meant acknowledging, knowing, and Javier didn’t feel like being constantly aware of what had happened to him. Maybe he was just a coward; but the more he acknowledged what had happened to him, the less he felt he could foresee what was waiting for him.

“I’ve… I teared a muscle in my groin”. It wasn’t so simple. And it was true, but not the truth. Under Yuzuru’s sincere, empathic gaze, Javier immediately felt guilty. Yet he just couldn’t help lying. “I teared it very badly. So I need a three months break at least. Then I’ll see, cause it isn’t… it’s not…”

“It’s not easy. And get on your nervous”.

Javier melted, and smiled. “Yes, it tremendously gets on my nervous. I feel so much frustration, and… how can you face it? How can you face it every time?”

“What mean?”

“You got injured nearly every skating season. As far as I know, there have been countless times when you compete injured, or sick, or… take last year, for example, when you injured your ankle a few months before the Olympics. How can you go on? You won everything, you got everything, and your body… how can you find a… a reason to go on? Yuzu?”

Yuzuru turned is back to the sea, leant with his elbows on the parapet.

“You know of earthquake and tsunami in Sendai in 2011, yes?”

Javier shivered. It was one of the first things he’d learned about Yuzuru Hanyu, that he experienced that tragedy first hand. “Yes” he said softly.

“So you know I am survivor” Yuzuru went on. “I am survivor. Fifteen thousand people not”.

Javier cringed. “That was not your fault”.

“No, but I am guilty”.

“Yuzu, you’re not!”

“I am, if I not deserve survive”.

Javier chose not to respond. Yuzuru kept quiet for a while. Javier waited.

“Anyway” Yuzuru finally said, “you know what survive, too? Cockroaches. I never see so many as after earthquake. In ruins, in streets, in things. So many, so many. More cockroaches than people, it seem. And I ask to me why they survive. City disappear, sea destroy everything, people die, but not cockroaches. Why?”

Again, Javier chose not to talk.

“So I read, and learn that cockroaches are strong. Very, very much strong. They resist. Always. Forever. You know? Dinosaurs disappear, so many animals and plants disappear. Probably one day we people disappear. Cockroaches, no. They resist, resist, resist. They remain the same, and they stay”.

“Maybe they resist because they remain the same. Because they… they don’t evolve” Javier finally said. He still wasn’t sure what the other was getting at.

Yuzuru looked at him, eyes dark and hard.

“Yes” he said. “Science tell you must… how you say? Evolve? Science tell you must evolve to go on, but cockroaches not evolve and go on anyway. I don’t want that I am cockroach. I don’t want that I resist, I don’t want that I just survive”.

Javier was looking at him. Yuzuru was gigantic in that moment, all-encompassing, and even the wind and the sea seem to silently listen to him.

“I want that I evolve” he went on. “I evolve and find a way to resist, but different from cockroaches. Different from their… quieting”.

“Quietness” Javier found the strength to stutter.

“Yes, right. Quietness, and resignam… resignation. Quietness and resignation, like cockroaches who are happy just to survive. I evolve and find a way to deserve that I live”.

The wind was blowing in Yuzuru’s hair, entangling dark locks in his eyelashes.

“You will evolve” Javier whispered, then he couldn’t help it: he took a dark lock of hair away from Yuzuru’s eyes. “That’s for sure”.

Suddenly, Yuzuru’s eyes turned sweet and bright, and he lightly stroked Javier’s cheek. His hand was cold and soft like snow.

“You too” he said. “You too”.

Javier leaned in his snowy hand and closed his eyes.

 

At eleven thirty they were back on the boat.

From the cabin, the wind and the waves didn’t look as angry as at the bastions of Suomenlinna anymore.

Javier and Yuzuru sat together on a bench; Muramoto and Ishiguro were standing and talking in a corner, as if they didn’t want to intrude.

Yuzuru was looking at the Baltic sea, lost in thoughts.

Javier was looking at the Baltic sea, counting down the minutes he still could spend with the boy by his side. Seven-eight minutes and we’ll arrive at the harbour, he evaluated; there will be a car waiting for us, probably the same one that took us there this morning. Will we drive straight to the hotel or will they take me home? The hotel is fine for me, from there I can walk to Laura’s place. So I will have to say good-bye to Yuzu in the hotel lobby, or while we are still…

“Habi”.

Javier turned to Yuzuru. “Yes?”

“You come to Moscow?”

Javier’s heart skipped a beat. Moscow. Rostelecom Cup. Second Grand Prix event for Yuzuru. In about ten days.

“I… actually I didn’t think about it” he said.

“So no ticket?”

“No”.

Yuzuru stared at his own hands, resting in his lap.

“But you like coming in Moscow?”

Javier hesitated for a second, then he reached out and put a hand over Yuzuru’s.

“Of course I’d like to come”.

Yuzuru raised his eyes on him. “Come, then”.

“It’s… not so easy. To begin with, I would need an all event-ticket, and I’m afraid…”

“I care for ticket”.

“Thank you, but if I want to visit Russia from Germany I think I need a visa. And it’s late, I could never make it on time”.

“You make on time, if I care for visa”. That black, frightening look in his eyes.

“You’re so nice, Yuzu, but…”

“But you not want come?” Yuzuru’s eyes were scorching him.

“Of course I want to come!” Javier nearly shouted. Muramoto and Ishiguro glanced at him, and he cleared his throat before talking again, in a softer tone of voice: “Yuzu, it’s not only a question of tickets and visa. It’s… look, I’m just a ballet dancer”.

“Yes?”

Javier took a deep breath. “I have no money. Not enough, I mean”.

“Oh”. Yuzuru nodded. Once, twice. “You have no money, and you are… noble or something, yes? You noble, and you not want that I pay for you. You prefer not come”.

That made Javier sound like an idiot. Maybe he was an idiot, who knows.

“You would like someone else to buy you everything?”

Yuzuru lowered his head. After a couple of seconds, he took Javier’s hand in his.

“Sorry” he said, “ my English so bad. I can understand, Habi. But please: you in Moscow is very easy for me. Easy organizing, easy paying. Paying little, you know? I have tickets for free. And we always book one more room in hotel, just in case. It very easy, it very much easy for me to have Habi in Moscow”. Javier was looking at Yuzuru’s hands, wrapped around his. Yuzuru’s fingers looked so delicate, but Javier could feel their strength. And their warmth, their softness. He had to take another deep breath.

“So, if Habi want…”

“Okay” Javier cut him off. “Okay. Javi wants. But only if I can pay for the flight”.

Yuzuru lifted his eyes and looked at him, the air around him fizzing and flashing.

“Okay” he giggled. “You can pay flight”.

And then Javier had to do it. Feeling a shiver raiding up and down his veins, he leaned in and gently kissed Yuzuru’s forehead. It was as silky as a petal.

“See you in Moscow, then, Yuzu”.

Yuzuru’s eyelashes fluttered against Javier’s chin.

“See you in Moscow, Habi”.

That was their good-bye. Their joined hands, an innocent kiss.

And a promise.

Chapter Text

It was a very nice room; not a suite, but it was big and comfortable, and it overlooked a lush garden, not a dark alley or a brick wall. Trying not to ask himself if and how close Yuzuru’s suite (cause he surely had a suite) was to his room, Javier begun to unpack. Better to keep busy. And yet, it didn’t work: his mind was an uninterrupted flow of questions, unanswered despite his brief conversation with Muramoto. As agreed via WhatsApp, when Javier had arrived to the hotel Muramoto was waiting for him in the lobby; after greeting him, the bodyguard had patiently waited for him to check in, taken him to his room, and said “I’ll call you”; he would have gone away then, if Javier hadn’t stopped him.

“Listen, I... I know, it’s competition time and I don’t want to bother Yuzuru, but...” Javier had searched for the right words. In vain. “I will watch each practice and the whole competition, and it will be great anyway, even if I won’t ever heard anything from Hanyu-senshu, but...” But what? But I’ll wait for a call, for a knock on the door? “Please just tell him that I’m happy to be here”.

“I will”. Muramoto, impassive.

“And that he can call me, or come to my room, whenever he feels like”.

“I will”. Even more impassive, somehow.

Was it really all he had to say to Yuzu, now that they could meet again?

“No, forget it. Please tell him: Mucha mierda. Only this”.

“Excuse me?” Finally there was something on Muramoto’s face: confusion.

Mu-cha-mier-da. He will understand”.

Muc-cha-miel-da. Okay, Fernández-san. See you later”.

Now, after wishing lots of shit to Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier had nothing else to do but putting trousers and jumpers in a hotel room’s wardrobe. Nothing else but waiting.

He waited for one hour – unpacking, taking a shower, downloading the competition schedule on his phone – then there was a knock on the door.

“Thank you” Yuzuru said when Javier opened the door.

Javier didn’t say anything. He had expected to see Muramoto; seeing instead Yuzuru’s smile had temporarily interrupted all connection between his mouth and his brain.

Mucccha mierrrda” Yuzuru said, laughing. “Best welcome ever. Can I come in?”

Javier took a step aside – and, as Yuzuru got into the room, he caught a whiff of his scent. Sandalwood, for sure, then… what? Javier had always been proud of his ability to catch and tell apart so many smells. But Yuzu’s scent was just like the boy emanating it: unattainable and dizzying.

“You come here well, yes? Have a good flight?” Yuzuru was cheerfully looking around, and Javier couldn’t help wondering if he, Javi, was accountable for that cheerfulness. He immediately felt much more cheerful in his turn.

“It was very good, Yuzu” he said. “What about you?”

“I well”.

“Ready for the competition?”

Determination ignited for a moment Yuzuru’s eyes, then it disappeared under a mischievous glimpse. “Mucho ready”.

Javier grinned. “Great. Make yourself at home then… I mean, if you have time”.

“I have time, now”. Again Yuzuru took a look around, then chose to sit not in the armchair near the window, but on the bed: hands at his sides, palms pressed on the mattress, swinging legs. A child, Javier thought. “But I must apologize” Yuzuru went on, “because these days I have little little little little time”.

“I know” Javier said. He was still standing just inside the room. “I knew it even before coming here. It’s alright, Yuzu”.

“But you here for me”. Yuzuru stopped swinging his legs. “I feel guilt because I leave you much alone”.

Javier decided it was time to sit by Yuzuru’s side.

“It’s alright” he said again.

Yuzuru smiled and patted Javier’s thigh.

“I have time now. Tomorrow I don’t know, but I not think so. Friday short program. Saturday free skate, then probably some free time”.

Javier was trying to focus on Yuzu’s words and not on the goose bumps he felt on his thigh.

“Don’t worry. When and if you have time, here I am” he said. “I’ll be happy to watch you practice and compete. And maybe, why not, I’ll go sightseeing Moscow a bit”.

“You never dance here?”

Yuzuru hadn’t asked if he’d ever been in Moscow, and Javier appreciated it: as strange as it could sound to some people, Yuzuru knew what Javier cared for.

“No, unfortunately” he said. “We’re in the Bolshoi town, they don’t invite the Staatsballet Berlin here. But I would have loved it”.

“For you, dance at Bolshoi must be like skate in Russia for me. The land of Plushenko-san”.

“Now that I’m here, actually I might go to the Bolshoi. Who knows”.

Javier was looking at his feet on the carpeted floor, yet he saw Yuzuru duck his head to meet his eyes.

“You go and just see the theatre?” he asked. “Or you want to see ballet?”

Javier hesitated.

“No idea” he finally said. “I’d really love to see the Bolshoi Ballet dance in its own theatre. But seeing someone dance when I can’t do it… I’m afraid it… it could hurt me”.

“Your muscle don’t heal?”

It wasn’t a muscle and it couldn’t heal. Why am I still lying to him? Javier asked himself.

“Lately, all I’m doing is going to physio and taking pilates’ classes” he said, “and they say it’s getting better, and that I should be patient. But it still hurts so much, so much. It’s hard to be patient”. To be hopeful. Javier shrugged. “So, about the Bolshoi… I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just take kind of an outside look at the theatre. Or maybe I’ll get in and ask if there’s some ballet on. I have no idea, really”.

Again, Yuzuru patted his thigh. Again, Javier felt goose bumps.

“When I have injury before Olympics, at beginning it’s hard to watch my training mates” Yuzuru said. “So I ask for train alone. But then I realize that… that watching is training. That I learn, if watch training mates”. He shook his head. “So I train again with them. And I realize other thing too”.

“What?” Javier asked, looking at his own hands, squeezed between his thighs.

“To see skating is beautiful”. Yuzuru’s half laughter, ringing like a spring of fresh water. “To skate is most beautiful thing. But second most beautiful thing is to see skating. Skating is beauty, Habi. Ballet is beauty”. He was whispering now. “And beauty never hurt”.

Javier finally looked at him. Yuzuru’s warm eyes, his bright skin, his soft mouth – always a bit pouty.

“Beauty” Javier said breathlessly.

Beauty is you.

 

Yuzuru had knocked at his door at about four p.m., saying he had time; he hadn’t said how much time he had, though, without looking worried at all about it. He had gone back to his room once to take a couple of videogames and he’d made a couple of phone calls, but that was all. Now it was quarter past five and he still didn’t look in a hurry. The console thrown aside, he was sitting crossed-legs on the bed and drinking a cup of tea. By his side, extremely aware that there were only a couple of inches between their legs, Javier was sipping a cup of coffee.

“It’s not fair” Javier said.

“What?” Yuzuru asked, a look of total innocence on his face.

“You perfectly know what. It’s not fair because you already knew those games, you already practiced. Such an easy win”.

“You say magic word: practice. You practice and maybe next time you beat me”.

Next time? Did Yuzuru really meant what he’d just said? Or was it just a manner of speaking? Javier took a last sip of coffee while the other reached out and put his cup on the bedside table. Javier stared at Yuzuru’s stretched right arm, at the veins running under the skin, framing the muscles. Then Yuzuru straightened up, looked at him, and Javier hastily looked away and put his cup on the bedside table as well.

“Uh, is five twenty!” Javier turned to Yuzuru: he was checking his phone. “Habi, you mind if I make call?”

“Of course not”.

Yuzuru dialed a number, and Javier felt his chest painfully tighten. Here we are, he thought: he has to go. Yuzuru spoke for a while, took his phone away from his ear to check the time, spoke again, hung up. Then he stood up. He smiled.

“Shall we go?” he said.

Shall we go? You and me?

“Okay” said Javier, and stood up. “Where?”

Yuzuru was smiling with his whole face, his eyes, his skin; he was blinding.

“To Bolshoi” he said.

“To…”

“Ballet is at six. Name of choreographer is Fulsati, Folsaiti…”

“Forsythe?”

“Him! In The Middle something”.

Javier swallowed.

In the Middle Somewhat Elevated”. Pretty much his favourite ballet from his favourite choreographer. “And you do have tickets for it?”

“Yes! I make call before and ask to buy tickets. Shall we go, then?”

Javier was stuck in the middle of the room.

“But… but you… you said you never hang out, you…”

“I must focus on skating. I cannot hang out”.

“Now you can?”

“Now I want”.

Javier’s throat was dry like a desert. How he wished he could hug the boy in front of him, how he needed to hug him. But he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. Yuzuru laughed.

“Come on, Habi, is late”.

Yuzuru grabbed his arm, and Javier meekly followed him.

 

It was all very complicated. The hotel lobby was occupied by a respectful but stubborn handful of fans, and that was Moscow, capital of a country in love with figure skating: Yuzuru risked to be recognized anywhere. Therefore he took the back stairs down to the hotel garage, while Javier crossed the lobby and walked to a street a couple of blocks away, where he got on Yuzuru’s car; as soon as they were close to the Bolshoi, Javier got down and walked to the theatre on his own, found their seats in a box; only when the lights went down he heard a rustle – Yuzuru was sitting by his side. Afterwards, right before the lights turned on, while the dancers were still bowing on stage, Yuzuru sneaked out of the box; once he got out of the theatre Javier saw Ishiguro from JSF across the square and walked in his direction, then followed him to the car.

The engine was on. Javier got in the car, a joke on his tongue about all those tricks (going to the theatre with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Titanic era would have been more or less the same?), but then he saw Yuzuru, the look on his face, and the joke slid down his throat, so bulky that Javier had some trouble swallowing.

Yuzuru looked... moved? Emotional? His eyes were larger than usual, shining with a thousand lights.

“You here, Habi”.

The car set off.

“When you understood you want dance?”

Javier had the feeling that the rarefied, bright air which always surrounded Yuzuru was now leaning towards him, and it was hard not to feel pulled – attracted. It was hard not to fall into it.

“I didn’t… there wasn’t a single moment” he said. “I’ve always been dancing, as long as I can remember. I was just a toddler and I danced every time I heard some music. Or every time I saw my sister dancing. She’d been learning ballet too, for many years. But she wasn’t good enough, and in the end she gave up”. Javier smiled bitterly. “She tells me all the time that she didn’t like ballet so much anyway, but I’m not so sure about it”.

“Saya liked skating too” Yuzuru said. He was looking out of the window. “I start skating because she skating. And because is good for asthma. Cold, indoor”. Yuzuru sighed. “Then I find that I like skating. Then I become good. More good than Saya”.

“So good that she gave up cause money was too tight to allow you both to skate?”

Yuzuru nodded slowly.

“I owe much to many people”. He looked at Javier. “To you too”.

“To me?”

All the lights shining in Yuzuru’s eyes started swirling.

“You here in Moscow, so I saw Bolshoi tonight. I saw beauty. I saw a… well, very beautiful beauty. Thank you”.

He put his hand on Javier’s.

“What you like about ballet?” Yuzuru asked. “Why you dance, when you were child?”

Javier was staring at their overlapping hands – his was bigger, Yuzuru’s smaller. What if their car would jolt, or steer abruptly? He worried himself sick at the sole idea of losing the feeling of Yuzu’s skin on his.

“I don’t know, I… well, I loved how the air around me moved when I moved… I loved how… how I filled the air. It was a bit like… like being a bird. Then I grew up, and started to love other sides of ballet as well. Being able to express so many feelings and emotions through physical efforts and technical challenges, most of all”.

“That what I think too!” Yuzuru cried out, and their hands lost contact. “If I do difficult technical things, and they look easy, and beautiful, and in perfect time to music… if I can do that, it help me to… to put fire in what I do. Yes? If technique easy, I not focus enough. I not work hard enough. And feeling is more… weak. How do you say? Travial?”

“Trivial. Yes”. Javier reached shyly for the other’s hand on the car seat, shuddered when Yuzuru interlocked their fingers together.

“Habi, do you ever dance In the Ma… Mi…

In the Middle Somewhat Elevated”. Javier smiled in the dark, and felt the lump in his throat melt a bit. “Yes I did. When I was in the Ballet of Flanders. It was one of the happiest moments of my life”. He quickly squeezed Yuzuru’s fingers. “What about you? What about the happiest moments of your life? Of your skating life, I mean”.

“Skating is life, for me. Happiest moment? Maybe… Hope and Legacy. My free skate at World Championships in 2017”. Javier had seen that performance. A creature of air and water floating on the ice and filling your heart with peace and tears at the same time. “More strong than Chopin at Olympics, or Seimei at Grand Prix Final in 2015”. Yuzuru sighed. “I start feel happy after second jump, quad Salchow. Feel calm. More than calm. Like nothing bad can happen anymore, never. And then everything melt. Music. Heart beating. Applause and shouts from the people. Lights. Exertion. The smell of ice, you don’t know how good and strong it is. And the sound of ice under blades. Shu-paa, shu-paa…” Each shu a jump, each paa a landing, painted in the air by Yuzuru’s free hand. “I wanted that it never end. But it end. While I do last spin. In that moment I know I did good, I did great. I know that all the others must catch me, if they can. And I know they can’t. And I am still happy, but is different happiness. You understand?”

Javier nodded. The air around Yuzuru was still leaning towards him, as if to incorporate him. Javier looked at the other’s starry eyes, felt their intertwined fingers, and knew it couldn’t be helped, he couldn’t help it: he couldn’t help falling into Yuzu’s air.

I will fall, Javier thought; I am falling.

 

Since it was quite late, Muramoto decided there was no reason for Javier to get out of the car and walk, so they got all together to the hotel garage and took the back stairs. On the third floor Yuzuru and Javier said good night to the bodyguard and Ishiguro, who had their rooms there, then went up to the fourth, and walked silently down the hallway. They stopped in front of Yuzuru’s suite.

“Hey”.

“Hey”.

“Look” Javier said, “I know it sounds like a cliché, but… thank you. I know how hard it is for you to plan some leisure time, especially when you have a competition. So I really, really appreciate the gift you gave me today. I can’t even start to tell you how much I appreciate it”.

Yuzuru was staring at him – assessing him, even.

“It don’t hurt you to watch ballet?” he asked.

“No”. Javier half smiled. “Someone told me beauty never hurts, and they were right”.

Also Yuzuru smiled, as Javier could tell seeing his eyes turning into two crescents: his mouth and nose were invisible, hidden under multiple loops of an endless red scarf. Red thick scarf, white beany, sleek dark bangs: Yuzuru was the poster boy for innocence. Fake naïve, provocative. Sinful, in a way, and Javier had to do it.

He reached for Yuzuru’s beanie and took it off, then brushed his hair from his eyes. Yuzuru let him. Then Javier started to unroll his scarf.

He unrolled the first loop of wool.

The second loop.

Yuzuru let him.

The third loop.

Then the fourth and last one.

The red scarf landed silently on the floor.

Javier looked at Yuzuru’s long neck, at the two necklaces that made him somehow look more naked than he actually was. He looked at the mole under his right earlobe. Then he did it: he reached out and caressed the back of Yuzuru’s neck, brushed his finger on that little mole. Yuzuru closed his eyes, unclosed his lips. Javier moved his fingers, stroked softly the thin hair on the other’s nape. Yuzuru slightly tilted his head, as if he wanted to lean against the hand that was caressing him. Javier was now staring at his mouth, at his small white teeth. He leaned in and kissed the silky skin of Yuzuru’s forehead.

Yuzuru let him.

Javier kissed his left temple, the eyelashes of his left eye.

Yuzuru let him.

Javier kissed his left cheek, the left corner of his mouth – and Yuzuru opened his eyes, moved away from him.

“I have to go” he said hastily, looking frantically for his room key card in the pockets of his jacket.

Javier needed some seconds to process what had just happened: his hand stroking Yuzuru’s skin, the glimpse of a kiss, and now this.

“I’m sorry” he said. He took a step back, raising his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t want to…”

“I must focus” Yuzuru interrupted him. Meanwhile, he had found his room key card. “I have competition, I must focus on competition. I am sorry, Habi”.

“You don’t need to. You’re right. I don’t want to sidetrack you, okay? It’s just that…” It’s just what, Javi?, Javier asked himself. It’s just that I want to kiss you. It’s just that I want to touch you. He took a deep breath, ran his fingers through his hair. “You don’t need to apologize” he said again. “Now go to sleep, and have a great practice tomorrow. And focus only on the competition. That’s how it’s meant to be. Right?” He smiled, somehow. “Have a good night, Yuzu”.

Yuzuru didn’t speak. Motionless, holding the key card in his hand, his eyes wide open and fixed on Javier.

Javier was still smiling, even though it was getting harder and harder to keep his mouth like that. His facial muscles were hurting, and he hoped his smile didn’t look like a grimace by now. “Mucha mierda” he finally said.

Yuzuru’s eyes softened.

“Thank you, Habi” he said; also his voice was softer. He raised a hand, lowered it. “Thank you for…” He raised a hand again, lowered it again – and one second later he grabbed Javier’s head in his hands.

Javier smelled Yuzu’s scent, felt Yuzu’s breath on his own skin. His heart sounded like it was beating wildly in every corner of his body. Javier closed his eyes.

“You” Yuzuru whispered, barely brushing his lips on Javier’s. “You”.

Another second, and he was gone; Javier heard him open the door, say “Good night”, the door being closed.

Javier opened his eyes. He stood still for a while, staring stunned at the suite door. Then he looked down to the floor: there was the red scarf, abandoned.

Javier bent down and picked it up; he hesitated for a while, then – to hell with it – he allowed himself that silly, wrenching cliché: he took the scarf to his nose and smelled it.

Sandalwood, and something unclassifiable and intoxicating – Yuzu.

It’s just that I want to kiss you.

It’s just that I want to touch you.

It’s just that I want you.

Javier straightened up and went to his room, holding the red scarf tight in his arms.

Chapter Text

It was half past eight a.m., and the short program of the first skater scheduled, Andrej Lazukin, was about to start. Javier took a sip of the coffee he’d just bought at a kiosk. Good. Lazukin, five more skaters, the ice resurfacing, then the second group’s warm-up. And Yuzuru. Who was scheduled to skate last. Javier took another sip of coffee. Was Yuzuru focused? Of course he was. Was he going to win the short program? Of course he was – the universe was supposed to follow its own laws, wasn’t it? And after the short program, maybe Yuzuru would have knocked at Javier’s door. Or after the free skate; or maybe after the gala? Javier had no answers; only hopes.

 

To watch men’s practice or not to watch men’s practice?

After tossing and turning all night long, Javier had woken up still tired and, most of all, unsure. Last night Yuzuru had refused his kiss because he needed to focus: that’s what he’d said, and Javier had been dancing for too many years, and he had been doing too many shows and auditions, not to understand him. What was better, for Yuzuru? To practice and see Javier at the ice hall? Or to practice and avoid any risk to be kind of distracted by Javier’s presence?

In the end, Javier had decided to go to practice: he was eager to watch it. He’d tried and focused on Yuzuru’s skating, and he had succeeded. It wasn’t very hard: Yuzuru on ice was mesmerizing, and Javier had followed his every step, spin, and jump with the mixture of emotion and surprise he always felt when he watched him. Every now and then Javier’s eyes had slid on Yuzuru’s nape, and he’d felt his fingers itch as if they were touching that silky skin again, but he could wait; he wanted to wait; Yuzuru was worth waiting.

When practice had been over, and Yuzuru had left the rink without giving any sign that he remembered a Spanish ballet dancer was there for him, Javier had taken a deep breath and said to himself that it was alright: Yuzuru-had-to-focus. Better go sightseeing Moscow and get back to the hotel as late as he could.

Javier had stood up and turned, and the woman who had been sitting behind him had given him a smile. Her son’s smile.

 

Just outside the rink, the second group was waiting for the six minutes warm-up. Javier could see Yuzuru’s profile, an earbud in his right ear, the mole beneath. Yuzuru was lip-synching, absorbed by the song. He was cute and scaring at the same time: was he just a crazy kid or a dangerous alien? Both, Javier said to himself; and, despite the lump in his throat, he smiled.

 

He would have figured out who she was even without Mrs Takayama of JSF by her side. Her smile, her eyes, her nose: Yuzuru’s mother was in front of him.

“Good morning” she had greeted him with a small bow. “Javier, right?”

Javier had bowed in return. “It’s me, yes. Good morning, Mrs Hanyu”.

She was still smiling, and he had no idea about neither what to think nor what to do. Did Yuzuru’s mother know that he, Javier, existed? Of course: she was always with her son. What did she think about the fact that he, Javier, existed? About the fact that he was in Moscow? Javier was feeling small and shy, no matter what the answers to those questions could be.

“Yuzuru told me about you” Yumi Hanyu had said after a while, as if she wasn’t sure about what to tell. “Nice to meet you”.

Javier had shaken her hand – so similar to Yuzuru’s. “Nice to meet you, madam. And it was so nice to meet your son”. Why, why saying something like that?? “I mean” he had added, “well, Yuzuru is… is…”

“Yuzuru is many things” she had said. Javier could have sworn there was now some bitterness in her smile. “Don’t be… try to be patient, if you can”.

Excuse me?

“Of course, Mrs Hanyu”.

Another bow, and Yuzuru’s mother was gone. For a while Javier had stood still where he was, in front of his seat, trying hard to make head or tail of their conversation.

Try to be patient, if you can.

Oh, he could. Of course he could. He even wanted to. But why did he have to be patient, exactly?

Javier had no idea. But he’d got back to the hotel, left the ref scarf in front of Yuzu’s suite door with a message – he had just written, of course, Muchísima mierda – and had gone sightseeing. Feeling a little lighter, kind of.

 

It was the third time that Javier saw Otoñal, the second one live; and every time it was like seeing something new. Not only because of some technical change – the counter back instead of the twizzles before the triple Axel, the different entry to the combination jump – but also because of the interpretation of the program. Okay, no human being can ever do the same identical thing twice; but one thing was to see some skater performing better or worse the same program, and another thing was to see Yuzu performing differently the same program – each gesture and move expressing different thoughts, different purposes, different feelings.

And yet, Otoñal remained what it had been at Autumn Classic and at the Helsinki Grand Prix: a choice. The choice to stop sticking to the past – to what you know, to what you’re sure about – and to decide it’s time to dive into the present and to look forward to the future, even if unknown and unsure. In his starting pose, Yuzuru held his right arm stretched out and looked in the same direction: towards what had been, as wistful and sweet as leafing through an old photo album. With his first steps and transitions Yuzuru was still stuck to the past, wrapped in it as if the past was a soft yet worn-out blanket; and the quad Salchow – that withdrawn, introverted jump – seemed to ratify Yuzu’s decision to linger in that cosy, warm cocoon. But cosiness and warmth were no cocoon, they were a bubble doomed to explode. The counter back before the triple Axel was the beginning of the battle between nostalgia and hope: Yuzu skated backwards on one foot, turned forward on the same foot and jumped. The battle went on with the transitions leading to the combo quad Toe loop-triple Toe loop: Yuzuru exited the combination going directly into a spread eagle, opening his arms as if to offer himself to the present, and to the future. Two spins – the last doubts, one last look backwards (Yuzuru kept his face was close to his shoulder, and his hand close to his cheek as if to dry some last tears) – then the step sequence: a brave, liberating and yet wrenching run towards the finale pose, with Yuzuru holding again his right arm stretched out, but looking into the opposite direction: towards tomorrow.

 

The Pooh storm started and Javier sprinted on his feet with everyone else in the ice hall, shouting and clapping his hands as loud and strong as he could. Beyond the red and yellow rain, Yuzuru looked happy: he hugged one of the kids picking the plush toys up, and bowed, smiling and laughing. Javier stopped shouting and clapping his hands, sat down to wait for the score, started to shout and clap again when he realized that Yuzu had set a new world record. And all of the time Javier felt his eyes sting and his throat tighten; all of the time, in a small, shameful, arrogant and irresistible corner of his mind, he kept on wondering whether Yuzuru’s happiness depended only on the competition or – just a little, little bit – also on the knowledge that Javier was there watching him.

 

Like in Helsinki, his mobile phone had rung about ten minutes after the end of the press conference.

Javier had pulled it out of his pocket, looked at the display and startled. Yuzu, was the name pulsing at each ring. It was Muramoto and not Yuzu, obviously, even if Javier – in a fit of romanticism and silly pride – had added it to his contacts under that name; anyway it was a communication coming from him, and it took a while before Javier could answer: his fingers were trembling too much.

It wasn’t Muramoto.

“Habi”.

Were Javier’s legs going to go weak each time he would have heard that voice butchering his name?

“Hi, Yuzu”. No sentimentality, Javi, come on. “Congrats! You were great”.

“Thank you”. Javier had heard Yuzu catch his breath. “You too”.

No sentimentality? It was so hard, listening to that small sweet voice.

“You’ll get in trouble if you apologize, okay? You were sublime. And you’ll be sublime in the free skate as well. And I will be there. So happy to see you and cheer for you”.

“You happy to see me today too?”

Javier had gasped. Seemingly, there was no more air to breathe, around him.

“No problem if you have other plan” Yuzuru went on, getting Javier’s silence wrong. “Moscow is…”

“No!” Javier had interrupted him with passion. For heaven’s sake, he had told to himself, calm down. Then he had added, with a calmer voice: “I mean, yes. Of course I’d be happy to see you”.

He had heard Yuzuru sigh. Of relief?

“I have many things to doing” Yuzuru had explained. “I don’t know when finish. At afternoon, I think. At three, four. You okay if we meet then?”

“I’m very okay. Call me or come to my room whenever you want. Whenever you can. Okay, Yuzu? I know you’re in the middle of the competition, there’s no…”

“You not worry. See you later, Habi”.

End of the call. Javier had kept on staring at his phone for a while, the tremulous warmth of a candle spreading in his whole body.

 

Javier opened the door at forty past four.

“Hi Yu… hey” he had to stop talking when the other cheerfully hugged him. “Wow, such enthusiasm. Are you happy to see me or just about how the competition is going?”

Yuzuru giggled on his shoulder. Through the fabric of his t-shirt, Javier felt the damp warmth of Yuzu’s breath, the light startling of Yuzu’s body against his own.

“110.53, Habi! For your opinion, Johnny happy?”

Javier needed a while to figure that out, distracted as he was by the curve of Yuzu’s back under his hands. Johnny Weir. Right. The skater Otoñal was dedicated to.

“Johnny must be happy since the first time you told he’s your idol” he said, “but today I’m sure he’s overwhelmed with pride. He must be moved, too”. He pull a little away from Yuzuru to look into his eyes. “Like anyone who saw you skate today. Like me”.

Yuzuru gently stroked his cheek. The air around him was beaming, and Javier closed his eyes. Not to be blinded. To enjoy the touch of Yuzu’s fingers on his skin. But Yuzuru stopped stroking his cheek and got into the room – leaving him there, on the threshold, desperately trying to tame the butterflies that were flying wildly in his stomach.

“I not disturb you, no?”

Javier opened his eyes, took a deep breath and spun around.

“Of course not”.

“But you… you doing something?” Hands on his hips, Yuzuru was looking at the furniture Javier had pushed along the walls to clear the centre of the room.

“Well… I did some exercises. You know, for the muscle I tore up”. Lying to Yuzuru was getting harder and harder, but Javier wasn’t going to tell him the truth – not now, when Yuzu was so happy.

Yuzuru turned abruptly to him, a serious and regretful look in his eyes, a serious and regretful curve on his lips. Those lips.

“I’m so, so not polite” he said. “I only talk of me and not ask about your muscle. How are you?”

How was he?

“Better, but I’m still not well”.

“When you must go back to ballet?”

“In one and a half month”. In theory. Javier shrugged. “Let’s wait and see”.

“You heal”. Yuzuru nodded vigorously. “And you dance well like before”.

Javier smiled, crossed his arms on his chest. “Oh, really? What do you know about how I dance, Mister Hanyu?”

A mischievous glimpse flashed in Yuzuru’s eyes. “I see you” he confessed, and laughed when he saw Javier’s jaw drop. He toed off his shoes then, with a childish little jump, he sat on the bed. “I go on YouTube and look for ballet we see here in Moscow” he explained. “I look for In the Middle Somewhat Elevated when Habi and Ballet of Flanders dance”.

“Did… did you find it?”

Yuzuru wrinkled his nose. “Yes, but quality sooooo bad, all is dark and I not see Habi. So I have frustration and write Javier Fernández. And I find other video”.

Javier held his breath. He knew what Yuzuru was talking about. For some weeks between April and May, the Staatsballet had worked for the first time with a choreographer whom Javier admired, Itzik Galili. One day, Galili had asked them to improvise. Javier had never been able to improvise: every time he had to do it, his mind went totally blank and he forgot even the simplest steps. Refusing to stand still amongst his fellow dancers – they looked all so convinced, all improvising without a care in the world – he had danced a brief choreography he’d created in his spare time, just to have some fun. Galili had obviously understood that he wasn’t improvising, and Javier had immediately confessed; yet everybody, choreographer included, had showered him with compliments; later on, Javier had found out that someone had filmed him and posted the video on YouTube.

“Did you see a video called Fernández – Our Next Choreographer?” he asked. Yuzuru nodded. “Yes, it’s a choreography I created months ago”. Javier sat by Yuzu, on the bed. “Maybe it’s not bad, but it’s a very small thing”.

“Not bad?” Yuzuru shook his head. “Habi, it’s very good. Okay, I know, I no expert of ballet and maybe I say silly thing, but…”

“You always choose outstanding choreographers for your programs, you can perfectly tell whether a ballet is good or bad. So, thank you”. Javier allowed himself to briefly squeeze Yuzu’s arm. “Actually, that’s what I was doing when you came here. I was… trying to create a new choreography”.

Really?” Yuzuru sat on his heels and, palms on the bed, leaned toward Javier. “What choreography?”

It was quite some time that Javier was thinking about it. Although he knew how little chance he had to make his way in the small world of choreographers, he was thinking about it anyway. Since when he had realized the pain he felt in his groin and hip wasn’t – couldn’t be – a minor problem. Since when Galili and Javier’s fellow dancers, even Polina Semionova – the étoile of Staatsballet, one of the greatest ballerinas in the whole world and, for a short period of time, Javier’s girlfriend –, had all insisted he was a gifted, truly gifted choreographer. Since when…

“Actually, the music I would like to use is Otoñal” he confessed, looking at his own legs. “And I would like to use also some steps of your choreography. I’m thinking about it since I saw it for the first time at Autumn Classic. It feels like… like your short program is talking about me”. About my regret for what I’m losing – or I have lost already; about my fear and desperation to get out of this horrible deadlock, to dive into the void I see in front of me. Javier lifted his gaze, met Yuzuru’s eyes. They were huge, in that moment. “It was just a faint idea, but then I got to know you. And now that I know you, and I saw Otoñal three times, I… well, I feel like… like it’s time to give some shape to my idea. I don’t know what I will do with this choreography. I don’t even know if I will ever complete it. Or if you will allow me to…”

“I allow” Yuzuru interrupted him. “Okay, must ask to Jeffrey Buttle too. The choreographer, you know. But… Habi, this is… great honour, for me”. He tilted his head and smiled – a dimple appeared in his right cheek. “Can I see?”

“What, my choreography? It’s just a rough try, so to say, I don’t…”

“Please?” Yuzuru insisted. “Pretty please?”

Wondering if someone able to say no to that dimple had ever existed, Javier sighed, stood up, and cleared his throat.

“Okay” he said while he reached for his iPad on the desk and searched for Raúl Di Blasio’s music. “Look, I mimicked some of your moves. And I can’t really dance, because of my muscle. And…”

“Okay, okay, stop with excuses”. Yuzuru was sitting graciously on the bed like he was in the parterre of a theatre. “Now you dance”.

Javier’s cheeks were on flame: fear, excitement, the joy of dancing in front of an audience, that audience. He touched Play on his iPad and took the same starting position of Yuzuru in his short program.

“So, at the beginning I’m mimicking you, as you can see”. He felt awkward like when he was seven and had held a barre in his hand for the very first time. He started to dance. “Here you start skating, and since I obviously can’t, I thought I could do some steps like this… something giving the same feeling of the quad Salchow…”

Feeling less and less awkward, Javier kept on dancing, and to hell his aching hip: the elements still missing and the final ones which were more or less ready; the steps closer to Yuzuru’s short program and the brand new ones. Until the final pose, right arm stretched out toward the past and eyes turned toward the future – toward Yuzuru, cause it was him that Javier saw as soon as he stopped dancing. Him, and his impossibly big and starry eyes, in that moment.

“This is it” Javier grumbled, suddenly shy. He rushed to the iPad and switched it off before some random music could start off. “Just a try, as you could see”.

“Habi, is beautiful!” Javier spun around and startled: he hadn’t expected Yuzuru to be there, right next to him, so close to him. “Is so beautiful, Habi. You must finish choreography. You must dance Otoñal”.

Javier’s throat was dry. “Well” he whispered. “We’ll see”.

“No no no, we not will see. You finish and dance”.

“Tyrant”.

“What mean, tyrant?”

Javier chuckled, and any tension that had been there faded away. “Someone always telling you what you have to do”.

Yuzuru shook his head. “You must tell me what do” he replied. “The steps you take from my short program, yes? You do better than me”.

What?

“Oh yes”. Yuzuru walked to the centre of the room, took the starting position. “See? Not beautiful like yours. You correct me, yes?”

Javier was staring at him. Was he serious? Yuzuru Hanyu was asking him, Javier Fernández Lopez, to correct him? Apparently, yes.

“Well, according to me you’re perfect, since you’re a skater” he finally said, “but if you were a dancer, I would correct a bit your left foot, the one you place on the ice behind the right one, because a dancer would keep the ankle somehow straighter, like that…” He crouched to fix Yuzu’s foot position, trying to ignore the electric shock he felt touching Yuzuru’s ankle, the neck of his foot. He stood up. “Hand, arm and shoulder are perfect, though”.

“Beautiful”. Yuzuru smiled. “But you do better other things too. For example, when I lift leg in the step sequence, like that…” He lifted his right thigh, stretched his knee until his whole leg was stretched up into the air, then he lowered it to the ground.

“Ah, yes, the développé”. Javier nodded. “It’s lovely, also because you’re very flexible and you can lift your leg so high, but the movement is a bit… rushed. Too fast. It could look like a kick. If the music gives you time enough, you should keep the movement a little longer”. Javier did a développé to show what he meant. Yuzuru’s eyes followed him, full of admiration and also of… what? Fire. Javier felt a shiver run down his spine. “Now you try” he said in a whisper.

Yuzuru did a développé, trying to keep his leg up a little longer. “Like so?”

“Yes, but what should be longer is the movement… the actual development, right?” Javier moved behind Yuzuru, put a hand on his left hip and slid the other one under his right thigh. He felt Yuzuru tense for a moment, then relax. “That’s it. When you lift your thigh, and then start to stretch your leg up and lift your calf and foot as well… go slow, care about the whole movement”. Javier lifted Yuzu’s thigh, helping him to keep his balance, and Yuzuru slowly stretched his leg up. “Yes, perfect”.

They stayed like that for a while, no more than one inch between their bodies, Yuzuru’s hip and thigh in Javier’s hands.

Then Yuzu lowered his leg and Javier took a step away from him.

“Also when I jump after hydroblade” Yuzuru said. Now there was no admiration in his eyes, only fire. “You jump more beautiful”.

“You’re talking about the saut de basque” said Javier, hearing the same fire in his own voice. “You just should care a bit more about your en dehors… I mean, you should rotate your thigh a bit more outward. Which leg do you lift?”

“Right leg”.

“Okay, let me see”. Javier moved closer, and this time he let no inches between their bodies. Yuzuru leaned against him. “So, when you jump you bend your leg behind you, don’t you?” He put again his left hand on Yuzuru’s hip to help him keeping his balance, he lifted again Yuzuru’s thigh with his right hand. “You can keep your leg a bit higher”. Javier felt Yuzuru’s solid ass against his groin. Does Yuzu feel my heartbeat against his back? Javier asked himself. “You can also keep your knee a bit higher, and a bit more rotated. Outwards. Like that”. He grasped more securely Yuzuru’s leg: it was now shaped in a perfect attitude derrière. “Am I hurting you?” Javier asked softly, his lips one breath away from Yuzu’s ear, his cheek brushing Yuzu’s hair.

Yuzuru sighed.

“No” he said.

Then he slowly turned his face to Javier.

He put his right hand on Javier’s on his hip.

Now Javier had his lips one breath from Yuzu’s lips.

“Good” Javier whispered, stroking with his thumb Yuzuru’s thigh. His fingers were burning – and his skin, and every corner of his soul.

Yuzuru lifted his left hand, reached back for Javi’s curls, caressed his nape. Javier put Yuzu’s leg on the ground, wrapped his arm around Yuzu’s waist.

And they finally kissed.

 

Javier lost any notion of space and time.

Days later, thinking about the first time he and Yuzuru had kissed, Javier would have realized the context wasn’t exactly romantic: two young men wearing socks and tracksuits, in a hotel room with its furniture stacked against the walls, a greyish opaque light seeping through the window.

And yet, in those moments only Yuzuru existed, for Javier. The light and warmth he was spreading. His soft lips, giving and taking equally, as generous as eager. His body, his lithe muscles, the strength and delicacy of his every movement. The taste of his mouth, sweet but with something pungent: hot chocolate with some cayenne pepper. The spicy smell of his skin. And his sighs, his voice – so soft, yet so dark with desire.

Nothing existed but Yuzuru. Inside Javier, desire enhanced each perception, isolated and excited each single atom, so much that he lost any notion of himself as a whole. Each particle of his body and mind was burning, a white fire that could have burned forever, if only Yuzuru had allowed Javier to keep kissing him. And there was nothing that Javier wanted more than that: kissing Yuzuru, forever.

 

It was early in the evening when Javier got out of the hotel and started walking. A random walk, without any planned destination. He didn’t want to go sightseeing. He just needed to somehow pour out the exhilaration which was making him electric, igniting sparkles on his skin and in his blood.

Yuzu wanted him.

Yuzu liked him.

He turned into the first street he crossed, his legs on autopilot, fast and restless.

They’ve kept kissing for a long time; Javier couldn’t remember having kissed anyone for so long. Kisses that weren’t just foreplay. Kisses between two persons looking for something more than sex. Kisses that were only kisses.

They’ve actually made out, with caresses and strokes and their bodies pressing and sometimes gently grinding against each other, but neither Javi nor Yuzu has tried or asked for more, and arousal had been just a background music, an subterranean river they both had chosen not to let emerge – and they both had devoted themselves to, and lost themselves into that one only thing: kissing.

The city was quiet – half past seven p.m.: maybe the Muscovites were home, having dinner or watching tv – but Javier’s senses were alive and responsive as if the world around him was assailing him with stimuli. But it was the world inside of him keeping him so vigilant, making him hypersensitive. As if he still had Yuzu’s skin under his fingers, Yuzu’s smell in his nose, Yuzu’s taste on his tongue, Yuzu’s sighs in his ears and Yuzu’s vision… God, that vision. Yuzu lying on the bed, hair spread on a pillow and lips so red, almost purple, eyelids half-closed on his scorching eyes, the skin around his mouth a little irritated from rubbing against Javier’s stubble. Yuzu. Who had lowered the drawbridge for Javier and allowed him to cross the moat which made Yuzuru Hanyu inaccessible to anyone else. Yuzu. Who had talked about the future.

 

“What we do now, Habi?” Yuzuru asked. They were lying on the bed, face to face, catching their breath. Javier frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“Tomorrow competition over. I go in Toronto, you go in Berlin. What we do?”

Javier understood at last, and his heart skipped a beat. So that meant…

“Are you talking about… meeting again?”

Yuzuru sat up on the bed.

“You not want?” His voice and eyes were already getting darker.

“Of course I want!” Javier took Yuzu’s hand and kissed his palm. Yuzuru sighed and lay back again. “I can come to the Gran Prix Final in Vancouver” Javier went on, brushing with his forefinger Yuzu’s right eyebrow; it was mysteriously thinner than the left one. And it was so mysterious and incredible that Javier was allowed to touch it.

“But Habi, you say…”

“…that I don’t have money. That’s true. But I’ll find a way. It is so much worth it”.

Yuzu was looking at him as if everything seemed incredible to him too.

“Why you not come to Toronto before?” he said.

“Toronto?”

“My life is complicated” Yuzuru went on. “It funny: I do one thing, only one thing, skating, and everything is complicated like I do million things. But in Toronto is more easy than when I competition or in Japan. In Toronto I can hang out, a bit. So I think… I think… if you want it too… you can come in Toronto, yes? In Cricket Club there is dance classes. There is physio. And” he gave Javier a shy smile, as if he wasn’t sure he was going to mention an added value, “there is me. You have one and a half free month, yes? If you want, you can come in Toronto. Can stay with me”.

With him. With Yuzu.

“It would be lovely”. Javier couldn’t say anything more, and just stroked Yuzu’s cheek – his pale skin, as smooth and sensual as silk.

“We can train together and hang out, hang out and train together” Yuzu added, his voice more and more convinced. “Or!” He sat up on the bed again, but this time he was radiating energy, and light. “You can come and teach. You can do stage, masterclass, what you call it?”

“Yuzu, I…” Javier realized he was stuttering, “I’m just an unknown ballet dancer, I don’t…”

“You soloist in Staatsballet Berlin. You dance with Polina Semio…“

“You know about Polina Semionova? How?”

“I do research”. Yuzuru shrugged. “Dance school of Cricket Club is small, not important. If you come, they sooo happy”. With a delighted giggle, Yuzuru straddled him, and Javier let out a sigh that sounded like a moan. “So they pay you, Habi! And you have no problem and can come”. Yuzuru leaned down, his mouth brushing Javier’s. “You like idea?”

I like you, Javier thought. And it seems to me that I never liked anyone as I like you.

“I like idea” he answered breathlessly; then he wrapped his arms around Yuzuru and kissed him.

 

Now Javier was walking randomly in the streets of Moscow, but it could have been any place – or no place at all, even. Around him there was nothing but Yuzuru, as if the air always surrounding the other one had included Javier too and was walking with him everywhere. Javier put one foot in front of the other and Yuzuru was kissing him, Javier turned a corner and Yuzuru grimaced while saying it was late – quarter to seven – and he had to go, Javier crossed a road and Yuzuru told him “See you tomorrow” with a last kiss and his fingers in Javi’s hair.

See you tomorrow.

And the day after tomorrow as well, Javier thought, allowing himself to slightly jump for joy. Tomorrow the free skating; the day after tomorrow the victory ceremony and the gala. Two more days of Yuzu, two more days with Yuzu…

Javier realized he had stopped in front of a pharmacy. Was it better to buy some condoms and lube? It was some time that he had no sex at all, and it was a very long time that he hadn’t sex with a man. Did he want to have sex with Yuzu? In his mind’s eye, he saw Yuzu straddling him, their groins pulsing against each other. Of course he wanted to. What about Yuzu? Did Yuzu want to have sex with him, Javi? Maybe. Buying condoms and lube could bring bad luck, though: never give anything for granted.

Wow, such a great problem…

Javier laughed out loud – and realized that, for the first time in a very long period, despite his hip and uncertainties about the future, he was happy.

Chapter Text

Watching the men’s practice that morning, Javier had time to feel thrilled twice. One time when he saw Yuzuru coming out of the locker rooms, stopping and waiting to enter the rink, focused on that crucial competition day. One time when his eyes lingered on Yuzuru’s slender body, on the embers in his gaze.

Watching the men’s practice that morning, Javier had time to take a look around him and notice that – like him, like in Helsinki – everybody couldn’t help watching the slim, all black-dressed boy flying on the ice, mesmerized by his presence.

Then Yuzuru fell.

 

Yuzuru fell, and he didn’t immediately stand up. Just a few seconds, then he got up on his feet, and the whole audience sighed of relief.

Javier didn’t.

Cause he too had fallen and hadn’t immediately stood up, when his hip had hurt so much that he’d missed his whole leg’s support and understood, once and forever, that this was not a temporary problem.

Cause he too had taken a few seconds to get up on his feet, and his fellow dancers had sighed of relief. Javier hadn’t. He had focused on what he needed most: doing damage control.

On the ice, Yuzuru was now only stroking around, oblivious of his free skate music playing on; he was looking at every inch of the rink, measuring, counting on his fingers. Javier couldn’t know Yuzuru’s real condition, couldn’t know the meaning of his gestures and measurements; but he knew the deep meaning of what Yuzuru was doing: damage control.

 

Five hours passed between the moment when Yuzuru left practice before time and the moment when he got back to the rink for the free skate.

Five hours amongst the longest in Javier’s life, although later on he would have felt them like a single blurred instant.

He remained at the ice hall, sitting in the audience, totally blind to what was going on down in the rink, his eyes glued to his phone: sport sites, YouTube, fan pages – he searched for news about Yuzuru anywhere he could think of.

Yuzuru had left the Megasport Arena. He’d told the reporters he was okay.

He was not okay, though. Javier knew that like he knew the sun raises every day. What’s wrong, Yuzu? Is it the same ankle you injured before the Olympics? Surely a physician had examined him, told him whether he could compete or not. Maybe he could; Javier desperately hoped he could: a strong bandage, some painkillers and, ready steady go, time to skate and win. But he knew that these things didn’t work like that. So what?

So, there was only one decision waiting for Yuzuru: to withdraw or not to withdraw. To withdraw meant not to perform his homage to Plushenko in the country of Plushenko while Plushenko was surely watching him; it also meant things that Javier could only vaguely suppose: issues with the JSF, issue with some sponsor, issues about costs and world ranking, issue about whatever. Nevertheless, not to withdraw meant to make Yuzuru’s injury worse, to maybe compromise his whole season – his whole career?

Oh, Yuzu.

Meanwhile, the five hours between Javier and the free skate were passing, had passed already, and no withdrawal from no athlete had been announced, and Javier found himself suddenly surrounded by people taking their seats, and realized that the first group of skaters was at the rink side, waiting for the warm-up to start.

So Yuzuru hadn’t withdrawn. A lesser injury? A half-sprained ankle?

Javier put his elbows on his knees, pressed his eyes on the palms of his hands. Please, let it be like that, he begged who knows whom; Yuzuru had suffered so much already, please leave him alone, please stop it. Let him skate, and live, and be happy. Please…

He opened his eyes.

Please.

The competition was about to begin.

 

He saw Yuzuru appearing from the hallway, on his face the dark, resolute look he always had before competing. He saw Yuzuru warming up, seemingly normal, in good shape. Finally, he saw Yuzuru in Origin.

 

Quad Salchow instead of quad Loop. Okay, preservative strategy. Yuzuru was playing defense: he was so many points ahead of the others, there was no need to stress his ankle or any other aching part of his body too much. It was the most beautiful Salchow Javier had ever seen.

Quad Toe loop. Sublime.

Triple Loop. As planned.

Triple Flip. Alright. Come on.

Quad Toe loop, single loop, triple Salchow. Not perfect but not bad. If only Javier hadn’t seen Yuzuru’s ankle tremble.

Triple Axel. Yuzuru fell. Doing his jump. But Javier had seen very well how he landed, he had seen very well Yuzuru’s ankle – Yuzuru’s whole leg – and it was like it didn’t exist anymore.

Single Axel.

Then the choreographic sequence, two last spins, the final pose, and Javier came back to his senses and remember he had a body that he could use – at least to wipe his tears away.

He did it, Javier thought. Yuzuru did it. Okay, there were a fall and an inaccurate jump sequence, and that single Axel, but two thirds of Yuzuru’s free skate had been impeccable. A program nearly improvised on the spot, literally performed on one leg.

Javier saw Yuzuru telling something with kind of a self-ironic smile on his lips, letting three girls hug him under the Pooh rain. Near the Kiss&Cry his two coaches were waiting for him; they looked serious, moved, and proud. When the three of them sat down, Javier tightened his eyes to see better: Yuzuru swallowing his tears – twice. Yuzuru apologizing while looking straight into a camera – was he apologizing to Plushenko?

“The score, please”.

Javier read the score. Yuzuru had won both the free skate and the Cup of Russia, thirty points ahead of the silver medalist. Javier couldn’t have felt more proud of him.

Followed by his coaches, Yuzuru stood up and left the Kiss&Cry, headed for the hallway leading to the locker room. And when he passed Javier, he raised his eyes.

Yuzuru stared at him for a second, an incomprehensible look on his face; then he left.

And, in one of those rare moments of absolute clearness, when everything becomes simple, understandable, even sensible – in that moment, Javier realized that he wasn’t proud.

He was in love.

 

Javier didn’t even feel ridiculous by now, only sad. And angry.

He had watched the press conference on the Internet while he was still at the ice hall; he didn’t really hope for Muramoto to get in touch with him, but he wanted to be physically close to Yuzuru as much as he could, and Yuzuru was still there.

Seeing how Yuzu had got into the press centre had made Javier gasp. Yuzuru walked with a crutch and his right foot was bare, a thick, very visible bandage around his ankle. Looking at that bare foot was what had hurt Javier most: the sole touching the cold, dirty floor; the slender toes and the delicate instep there for anyone to see. It was so unfair.

As usual, Yuzuru had been speaking clear, calm and smart. Yes, he had just injured his right ankle, as everybody could see. Yes, the same ankle as in 2017. No, competing had been a thoughtful decision: to him it was way too important to perform Origin in Russia. Yes, he was hoping he would be able to go back to the ice as soon as possible and compete as much as he could in the current season.

Then, there had been that moment. When Yuzuru’d let slip what also Javier had thought as he saw him fall. “What have I done to deserve this?” Yuzuru had more or less said – and even if he had kind of laughed it off, for a brief moment he’d caved in, and Javier had felt his heart tighten. What have you done to deserve this, Yuzu? Nothing, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair, and I wish I could give you my right ankle, which is strong and agile – but I can’t; there’s nothing I can give, nothing I can do for you. Nothing.

When he had realized Yuzuru was about to leave the Megasport Arena, Javier had rushed back to the hotel, and there he was since a couple of hours: sitting with his back against the door, trying to catch any noise or sign from Yuzuru’s suite.

Ridiculous, really. And desperate.

He actually had heard some voices, a couple of times: a woman talking Japanese (Yuzuru’s mother? Someone from JSF?) and two men – one sounded like the most famous coach, Brian Orser – unintelligibly confabulating in English.

Now there was only silence.

What Javier should, or could do?

Should he call Muramoto? He had dialled half of that number (saved under ‘Yuzu’: what a pathetic he felt) at least ten times, and each time he had given up. It didn’t make any sense to ask Muramoto to tell Yuzuru that Javier was there for him: Yuzuru knew that already. Should Javier knock at the suite’s door? What had happened was too big for Javier to feel allowed to burst into it. So what?

A door was opened, closed. Several voices, a mixture of Japanese and English. Was Yuzuru finally alone? Or had he left? If he was alone in his room, having Javier knocking at his door could be a pleasure, a comfort?

A door was opened, once again. Javier tried as hard as he could to hear: a distant Japanese whisper, two voices, a woman and a man – Yuzuru, Javier was almost sure about it. The door was closed. Stealthy steps on the carpeted hallway’s floor.

Javier stood up so abruptly that for a moment he felt dizzy; then he opened the door and stepped out of his room.

Yumi Hanyu, who was walking down the hallway, stopped in front of him.

“Good afternoon, Javier-san” she greeted him.

“Good afternoon, Mrs Hanyu”.

They kept silent for a while, as it happens when you can’t tell whether you have too many things or nothing to say.

“How’s Yuzuru?” Javier asked finally.

“He hurt here”. Yumi pointed at her right ankle. “He break ligament. Three week no skating”.

“Oh”.

“And he hurt here, so much”. She pointed at her heart.

“I’m sorry”. Javier shook his head, sorrowful. “I’m so sorry”.

“Maybe you can do something, for this”.

Javier kept his breath. Yuzuru’s mother was still pointing at her heart; and hers has been a statement, not a question.

“I wish I could be so sure about it” he whispered.

Yumi gave him a bitter smile. So similar to Yuzuru’s that Javier felt his whole ribcage collapse.

“You make Yuzu happy” she said.

What was it supposed to mean? Was it a request, an order, a statement of fact – what?

“He alone now” Yumi went on. “He need rest, and…” She didn’t finish her sentence. “But with you it’s different. You help him”.

Again, Javier couldn’t tell whether it was a request, an order, or a statement of fact. A hope, maybe. He gave her the only possible answer.

“I will try my best, madam”.

Her smile was a little less bitter now.

“Thank you, Javier-san” she said, and resumed walking down the hallway.

Javier kept on watching her until she disappeared, then he stood still on the threshold of his room, stunned.

You make Yuzu happy.

You help him.

He picked his room key up from the desk, closed the door behind him and walked to the suite. Yuzuru was in there, alone; and he must have heard Javi’s and Yumi’s voices.

Javier knocked at the door. No answer, no sound. He knocked again.

“Yuzu, it’s me, Javi”.

No answer, no sound.

Okay.

“I just wanted to tell you that I lied to you. I didn’t tear up a muscle in my groin. I have coxarthrosis”. He said it, finally. “You know what it is? Arthrosis of the hip. To cut short, the cartilage around the femoral head gets thinner, and it slowly disappears. So there are frictions in the acetabulum and kind of calluses can grow on the femoral head. Your muscles and membranes suffer from recurring inflammations, also because you don’t want to feel too much pain, so you unknowingly move and walk in many wrong ways. Many ballet dancers suffer from coxarthrosis, it’s almost an occupational disease. But it’s very, very rare at my age”.

From the suite Javier could catch nothing but silence. He chose to consider it as a clue that Yuzuru was listening.

“There’s no real treatment, it’s a degenerative process” he went on. “And one day I will surely need a hip prosthesis. Until then, I just can keep the inflammations under control and try to develop and use my muscles so that… well, so that they can hold my hip together. Therefore…” he swallowed, “I took a three months break, but I really don’t know if I can dance ever again. Not in an international ballet company, at least”.

Everything was still silent, and Javier felt like an idiot, there, talking to a closed door. But he kept on talking anyway.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t honest with you. Anyway, you’re the first person I tell about my disease. And I’m telling you because… what I want to say… I know what it means to have no more good ligaments in your ankle. What it means to lose such a necessary part of your body. Of your identity, cause when you can’t do what you want to do, what you’re doomed to do, it’s a question of identity, not career. I know”. He pressed his palm against the door. “Okay, that’s it. That’s all what I wanted to tell you. And also… I will be in my room”. He took his palm away from the door. “Bye”.

Feeling deeply, hopelessly useless, Javier went back to his room.

 

He had barely time to put the key back on the desk.

A knock – just one knock, resolute but gentle – and Javier opened the door.

Yuzuru was in front of him, looking exactly as he did at the press conference. Gelled back hair, the Origin costume peeping out of the black and white ‘Japan’ jacket. One only crutch, his right foot bare, and a bandage around his ankle. He looked exhausted, and also… furious. Wild. Raging like an incoming storm.

“Hi, Habi”.

“Yuzu”. Javier tried and swallowed the lump in his throat, took a step aside. “Come i…”

“Not talk, please. I talk all day, can’t do it anymore”.

“Okay. So, what…”

Javier couldn’t finish his sentence, cause Yuzuru grabbed him by the nape, leaned in and kissed him – on his lips the same rage that was firing up his gaze. Javier could only wrap his arms around Yuzu’s waist and deepen their kiss.

How different it was to kiss him now from yesterday, when everything was joy and sweetness, when arousal was just a music in the background. Now there were need and desperation; now it was like the subterranean river of desire had burst its banks and was flooding everything and anything in its rush.

Javier pushed Yuzuru against the wall, stopped kissing him only to run his lips on Yuzu’s jaw, earlobe, neck. Yuzuru let the crutch fall to the ground, unzipped his jacket to give Javi’s mouth better access. Javier bit him, wet small bites on that immaculate skin tasting of sweat, of sandalwood, of Yuzu. God, he would have never stopped. Yuzuru sank his fingers in Javi’s hair, forced him to kiss his mouth again, to kiss him as if it was the only way to breath, then ran his hands down Javi’s back. Javier felt Yuzu’s hands under his own t-shirt and gasped, and moaned, a shiver rolling down his spine.

“God, Yuzu…”

“Shut up”. Yuzuru caressed his back for a few more seconds – lightly, and yet Javier felt like they were digging scolding ruts in his skin – then clenched his fists around the fabric of Javier’s t-shirt and looked at him. Javier raised his arms so that Yuzu could take it off, then took off the ‘Japan’ jacket in his turn.

So it is going to happen, Javier thought, it is happening.

Yuzuru kissed him again. First he kissed Javi’s lips, while their naked chests met, exchanging sweat and quivers; then Javi’s chin, neck, and collarbone. Yuzu, Javier thought watching the black-haired head slipping down his body. Yuzu. He felt the other’s tongue and teeth around one of his nipples, and he didn’t think anymore. He reached for the Origin costume zipper on Yuzuru’s nape and lowered it slowly, every so slowly. Yuzuru buried his face in the crook of Javi’s neck. Javier kept lowering the zipper, forcing himself to go slow, Yuzu’s back like a slice of fruit appearing between the two opening peels of his costume. When the zipper was totally down – where Yuzuru’s back narrowed and gently arched toward his ass – Javier slowly took the Origin costume off. Off of Yuzu’s shoulders. Off of Yuzu’s arms. Inch by inch, Yuzuru’s golden body came into light. It was so beautiful, so glorious. As soon as he got Yuzuru naked to the hips, Javier stopped. He felt the frenzied need to touch him, as if to make sure that this body existed, that it was not only a dream. But when he started exploring Yuzu’s chest with his lips, Yuzuru stopped him.

“No” he said.

Javier stared at him.

“Sorry, I thought you…”

“Me”. Yuzuru held Javier’s head between his hands. “Please” he added, then kissed him again.

In that moment, Javier realized Yuzuru was crying. And he suddenly understood.

What was so badly injured was the ankle that Yuzuru landed his jumps on; despite all his work, his commitment, and his sacrifices, he wasn’t in total control over his competitive season anymore. He wasn’t in total control over what counted most in his life – over his life itself; now he needed to take control where he could. He needed to run the show. To gather his mental strengths.

“Okay” Javier said. “Hold on”.

“Habi!”

Javier grabbed him under his thighs and lifted him, carrying him quickly to the bed, sitting him gently on it. Then he straightened up, took off his trousers and underwear. Yuzuru was staring at him, his eyes darker than usual. Javier reached for the nightstand, took out of the drawer what he had actually bought in that pharmacy, and put the little bottle and a couple of small aluminium foil packs on the comforter. Then he lay down on the bed. Yuzuru’s eyes were black embers now, and Javier raised a hand, ran his forefinger on his Adam’s apple, his collarbone, a nipple. Yuzuru shivered.

“Take me” Javier said.

One second later Yuzuru was all over him.

 

“Why you not tell anybody of your hip?”

Javier sighed. He was dirty, covered in sweat and a bit sore, but he still felt some little aftershocks in his belly – and he felt Yuzu’s groin under his cheek, Yuzu’s fingers in his hair. He felt too good to talk about his coxarthrosis.

“I don’t know” he said finally. “At the beginning, I think, I didn’t talk about it cause I hoped I could heal before making some kind of big announcement. Much ado about nothing, you know? I thought some physio and anti-inflammatories would do, and I kept on dancing. Then, when I realized that time was flying and my hip hurt more and more…” He kissed softly Yuzuru’s inner thigh, lay again his cheek on Yuzuru’s groin. “I didn’t tell my family cause I didn’t want them to worry about me. Or maybe I didn’t want to worry about them worrying about me, who knows. And at Staatsballet… well, of course my teachers and the artistic director know about it. But I asked them not to tell anybody”.

“You afraid the other dancers look you with… how you say? Pity?” Yuzu asked, stroking his hair.

“Yes. And I’m afraid someone could steal my role, I guess” Javier confessed. “I’m usually in good terms with my colleagues, but… well, even in a ballet company everyone aims to win the competition, so to say”.

“But you must tell family”.

Javier sighed. “It’s not easy” he said.

“Truth is never easy. But easy and fair are not same thing. You must tell”.

“I know”.

They kept quiet for a while.

“What about friends?” Yuzuru asked then. “You have friends who not dance, yes?”

“They don’t know it either. Not even the girl I was dating when I found out I had coxarthrosis. God. The day I had to do an MRI, I told her I was going to Ikea to buy some shelves for the basement”.

Yuzuru chuckled.

“I knew it” he said.

“What? That I have a basement?”

“That you like girls”.

Javier lifted his head then, pushing on his elbows and knees, slowly slid along Yuzuru’s body, skin gliding on skin, running his lips in the vertical rut of Yuzu’s abs, until their faces were only inches apart. They kissed, then Javier lay by Yuzuru’s side, facing him.

“I like girls and boys. As you might figure out, perhaps”.

Yuzuru chuckled. He was so handsome, with his messy hair and his lips swollen and even too red, that Javier lost his train of thought for a moment.

“But you talk of girlfriend, before” Yuzu argued. He turned on his side to face Javier. He had some hair in his eyes, and Javi brushed it off, tenderly.

“Polina, yes” he said.

“Semionova??”

Javier nodded. “We’ve been dating for four months. But we were mostly friends, and in the end that’s what we chose to be, just friends. We still are”.

“You never in love? Really in love?” Yuzuru asked.

Javier looked at him. His cheek pressed against the pillow, the fine line of his ear. Javier brushed his thumb on Yuzuru’s upper lip. I’m in love now, he thought, feeling moved and astonished.

“I don’t know” he answered. “When I was a teenager, maybe? But my only love has always been ballet. There was never room for anything but ballet. Nothing was as much... crucial as ballet was”.

Yuzuru nodded. Of course he didn’t need further explanations.

“What about you?” Javier asked. “What about you and love?”

“Like you. I love skating more”.

Javier pinched his nose. “You know that’s not what I asked you”.

“I not know what to say”. Yuzuru sat up on the bed, elbows on his bent knees. “Like you. If I like someone, I not care if boy or girl”.

“Okay, but have you ever been in love?”

Yuzuru shook his head. “Just with skating”.

“But you’re not… I mean, to me it’s obvious that this was not your…”

“I no virgin”. Yuzuru gave Javier a mischievous look. “But people like to think I am. I know”.

Javier sat up too. “So, no love” he summed it up. “Just sex”. He realized his voice sounded bitter, even sad – but it was actually how he felt in that moment: a little sad. So that was what their intercourse had been, for Yuzu? Just sex? Okay, Javier knew it was too soon to assume anything sensible about their relationship; still, sadness was what he was feeling right now.

Yuzuru was staring at him. “You think is what I do with you?” he asked; he looked surprised. “Just sex to… to make frustration go away, or… oh, Habi”. He got up on his knees and, careful not to put much weight on his right ankle, sat astride Javier. Javier started – because of Yuzu’s testicles brushing his cock, because of the fond look in Yuzu’s eyes. “Baka. Silly Habi”. Yuzuru rubbed his nose against Javi’s. “You are not… how you say? Pope for drainage?”

Javier felt his sadness melt and turn into a fondness so huge he could have fall, if he wasn’t sitting already.

“Drainage pipe” he said, then he cupped Yuzuru’s face with his hands and kissed him deeply, incessantly, his senses slowly waking up while his and Yuzu’s groins pressed against each other.

When they pulled apart, Yuzuru buried his face in the crook of Javier’s neck.

“Love is complicated for me” he sighed. “I’m famous. And if I love, maybe I not focus. And if I lose competition, can you think what haters say about person I love? What they do to person I love? And now, I have injury again”. A shiver ran through all his body, then through all Javi’s body. “I not tell yet, but I know I not go to Grand Prix Final. I can’t. Maybe also Nationals, I not go. It’s three Nationals that I not go”. He pulled away from Javier and sat on the edge of the bed. “People love me and Federation help me and sponsor look for me because I skate. I skate. But what if I not skate? Many people work for me, because I skate. My family live in two different continents because of me, because I skate. But what if I never skate? If I have always injury? Cause my ankle can’t take it anymore, Habi, it’s… it not…”

“Hush” Javier interrupted him, rushing to crouch in front of him. “Yuzu, this is not the right moment. Everything you’re saying, everything you fear… you’re right. It’s true. I won’t tell you that you are making it bigger than it really is, because you’re not. But if you think about it now” Javier took Yuzu’s hands, firmly, “if you think about it now you don’t solve anything, Anything. You’re beyond exhausted, Yuzu. In the last twelve hours you’ve been through so much. Your mind and your body can’t face and work out anything, now. Now, all you need is to rest. To take a short break. You need to… well, let’s say that a bit of self-indulgence would do”.

Yuzuru didn’t answer immediately, his eyes on their joined hands.

“I know” he finally said. “But I… I must… for me, control is…”

“You can’t be in control, now”. Javier tried to meet Yuzuru’s eyes, in vain. “Yuzu, if you try and think about everything, figure out everything, decide everything now, you know how is it going to end? You won’t be in control. You’ll be in a panic”.

Yuzuru finally looked at him.

“I don’t know, Habi” he said, his voice smaller than ever.

Javier stroked his cheek. “I know though, if you trust me. Do you trust me?”

Yuzuru put a hand on Javi’s to keep it on his cheek, but he didn’t answer.

“It’s hard to trust someone, I know” Javier said, and he felt Yuzuru’s eyes on his inner thighs, still shining and sticky with lube. “But… can’t you trust me, just for tonight? Please”.

Yuzuru slowly lifted his head to look into Javi’s eyes, took both of his hands. He nodded.

 

Javier reached for his iPad and picked a playlist of slow songs, then, while Yuzuru was waiting in bed, he went filling the bathtub and taking a quick shower himself. He put on a fresh t-shirt and shorts, and as the tub was ready he took Yuzuru in his arms and carried him to the bathroom.

He plunged Yuzu in the water, caring for his bandage not to get soaked and for Yuzu to sit comfortable despite having his right leg propped up on the tub edge. Then Javier washed him lovingly. His hair, ensuring that no shampoo got into his eyes and no water got into his ears. His back, hands, feet, every inch of that young, beautiful, already broken body – just like Javier’s.

After rinsing Yuzuru, Javier helped him getting out of the tub, dried him off – gently but quickly, so that he wouldn’t be freezing – and finally helped him to wear the softest and cleanest t-shirt and shorts he possessed.

Only in that moment Yuzuru spoke. Until then they had been both silent, listening to the music from the main room, locked together in a warm cocoon of intimacy where they didn’t need words to feel close. And Yuzu, who had looked a bit uptight at first, had soon relaxed, trusting Javier like a new born child.

“I lucky that in Helsinki there’s a nail” Yuzuru said. He ran his fingers on Javi’s face, inch by inch, as if to check that everything was where it had to be – Javi’s eyebrows, eyes, eyelashes, cheekbones, nose, mouth, chin, jaw. “Without nail, I not lose towel and you not call at me and I spend all my life without I know that Habi exist”.

With his heart dancing and screaming and racing in his ribcage, Javier took Yuzu’s hand to his lips. “I definitely love Finnish nails” he said. “Come on, I carry y…”

“Habi, I can walk on one foot”.

“I’m carrying you”. Javier put one hand under Yuzuru’s knees, the other hand around his waist and lifted him; Yuzuru wrapped his arms around Javier’s neck.

Hey you, gender nectar

Javier stopped abruptly in the middle of the room. “Hey, this is Lust”.

“Mhm?” Yuzuru grumbled.

“This is Lust by Tori Amos, one of my favourite songs”. A sudden idea came to his mind, weird enough to make him smile. “Let’s dance”.

Yuzuru lifted his face from Javier’s shoulder to look at him.

“Dance? How? My ankle can’t…”

“Oh, you can dance, I tell you. Wait”. Javier put him carefully down on the floor. “So, put your feet on mine, weight obviously on your left one, and hold on to my neck”.

“Habi, I don’t know”.

“Come on, let’s try!”

Rolling his eyes with mock exasperation, Yuzuru obliged: he put his feet on Javier’s and held on to his neck, while Javier wrapped securely his arms around Yuzuru’s waist.

“Alright, just like that” he said. “Feeling uncomfortable?”

“No”.

“Good”.

Rolling and unrolling / Coiling emerging / Running free

Javier started moving to the music, slowly. Yuzuru pressed his face on Javi’s shoulder, took a deep breath.

Running through the underworld

Yuzuru’s body was so solid and warm against his. So warm was his breath too, his lips on Javi’s skin.

Is he real or a ghost-lie

Javier slipped his hands under Yuzu’s t-shirt, begun massaging gently the small of his back. He felt Yuzuru’s lips move, start to paint light kisses on his jaw, underneath his ear.

And the veil tears and rages

Yuzuru’s lips moved up to Javi’s mouth. Javier slipped his hands under the waistband of Yuzu’s shorts, grabbed his ass. A sigh started in Yuzuru’s mouth, ended in Javier’s.

Crystalline from the vine

Still moving to the music, Javier walked to the bed, put Yuzuru carefully down, then lay over him, their erections grinding against each other, hot despite the fabric in between. Javier stopped kissing Yuzuru for a moment to take off his and Yuzu’s t-shirt, then lay again over him. The touch of their naked chests made Yuzuru moan.

“Habi” he whispered, his voice hoarse.

“I’m here, Yuzu. I’m here”.

With desperate strength, Yuzuru held him tight.

 

Yuzuru was the first to go to the bathroom, and getting out from the bathroom in his turn Javier found him asleep, huddled in foetal position. Javier looked at him for a while, a fond smile on his lips: when sleeping, Yuzuru had almost nothing to do with the wild creature Javier had just made love to; he looked like he came from a fairy tale – the one where a very small boy leaves a path of pebbles in the woods so that he can find his way back home.

Still smiling, Javier slid under the comforter. Yuzuru was naked, and Javier couldn’t help pressing himself against Yuzu’s back and putting an arm around Yuzu’s waist, his lips on the velvety skin of Yuzu’s nape. Yuzuru probably picked up on something, cause he made a small noise and adjusted against Javier.

Javier sighed, air coming out of his lungs in a tremble. Yuzu, he thought. So beautiful, so wild. So sad. Now he was sleeping peacefully, though; a few quiet hours, distant from all the duties and the obstacle he would have had to face in the morning.

Buenas noches, querido” Javier whispered on Yuzuru’s skin, then closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

An awful hubbub – was someone throwing dishes on the floor? – woke him up all of a sudden.

How, what… Javier sat up on the bed and took a look around. 8.06, the alarm clock on his nightstand announced him. The light seeping through the window was somehow muddy, uncertain between night and day, and Yuzuru was not by his side. He wasn’t in the bathroom either – the door was open, no sound came from inside. Javier touched the pillow next to his: cold. Yuzuru must have left since quite a long while.

Trying to ignore a little sting of disappointment, Javier stood up and went shower. Yuzu has so many things to sort out, he told to himself, so many issues to resolve; he couldn’t waste any more time in bed. Then there’s the victory ceremony: he will be there anyway, won’t he?

Javier put some comfortable clothes on, checked the time of the ceremony (two p.m.) and walked out of his room (in the hallway, two maids were actually picking up porcelain shards, scattered all around a housekeeping trolley): he was starving, after drinking so much coffee yesterday and eating nothing, breakfast was an absolute must.

In the hotel breakfast room, he saw a couple of skaters – the tall silver medallist, an English guy whose name he couldn’t quite remember – but no one from Yuzuru’s entourage. When Javier had got out of his room, unable to resist he’d walked to Yuzu’s suite and put his ear against the door; he’d caught three different Japanese voices, two men and a woman, but none of them belonged to Yuzuru.

Javier stood up and went to the buffet to refill his cup of coffee. Javi, he told to himself, don’t play the fool: you needed to sleep and he knew it, that’s why he didn’t wake you up; moreover, what do you demand of him, given the circumstances? Did you want Yuzuru Hanyu to cuddle you all morning long – to hell the JSF, his coaches, his physicians? You are so insecure that you’re getting ridiculous, Javier Fernández.

But he didn’t feel ridiculous, not really. He felt anxious, a bad premonition running through his veins.

 

Since Javier couldn’t reach him on the phone – it was nonsense, but he still didn’t know Yuzu’s direct number – he opted in favour of knocking at his door: Yuzuru was free not to open, or to tell him it was not the right moment. Okay, it certainly wasn’t; but when was there going to be one single right moment? In less than twenty-four hours, they were all supposed to leave Moscow.

So Javier knocked. Waited for some of the longest seconds of his whole life. Then the door was opened, and the small JSF woman Javier had met in Helsinki appeared. He’d been hoping to find Yuzuru alone, or at least with his mother, his coach – someone Javier could feel like acting a bit more casual with. Oh well.

“Good morning” he greeted her, with what he hoped was a quiet but firm voice. “I was looking for Yu… Hanyu-senshu”. Oh, really? God.

“Hello, Habi”. Yuzuru appeared behind the small woman. With two crutches, wearing his JFS outfit, the bandage around his ankle hidden by a black sock.

“Hello, Yuzu”.

Yuzuru spoke briefly in Japanese with the small woman, who then nodded, bowed, said bye-bye to Fernández-san and walked out of the room.

They were alone, now. Face to face.

Javier stood still on the threshold, gobsmacked: it had been so easy; too easy, even.

“Come in, Habi”.

Javier accurately closed the door behind him, but he stopped in the antechamber, rubbing his hands on his hips.

“Sorry if I barge in here without forewarning you” he said, unsure.

“No, I am sorry” Yuzuru said in his turn. “This morning I go away and not greet you. Very not polite”.

Javier dismissed Yuzu’s apologies with a wave of his hand. Yuzuru was standing in front of a desk, one hand around his phone, one around the crutch handle. Javier closed his eyes for a second. That was not what he wanted. Those formal apologies, and such a physical distance.

“No problem” he forced himself to say. “I guessed you had many things to do”.

“I wake up early and I feel so worry”. Yuzuru was drawing circles on the floor with one of his crutches. “Costume must be clean for ceremony. I must do public statements. I must do many things. So I come here. You know how many lost call on my phone? Forty-seven”. He shook his head. “Forty-seven” he said again, softly.

“Yuzu, I perfectly understand, I mean it”. Javier tried to talk with a calm, confident tone, but he doubted he succeeded. He sounded like he was begging. “I came here only to check on you. Now I let you do your things, okay? Call me after the ceremony”.

Yuzuru wasn’t looking at him, his chin pressed against his breastbone.

“After ceremony I leave” he announced. Javier felt as if a cascade of ice had poured over his heart. “I not skate in gala, so stay here is useless”.

Useless, Javier thought; of course. We could be together, try and comfort each other, but what for? It’s useless. We all might as well leaving. Javier could hear the pounding of his heart in his ears, in his throat.

“By the way, I’m so baka and not ask” Yuzuru said. “You too want leave today? Or want see gala and leave tomorrow? If…”

“That’s nothing you should care about, isn’t it, Yuzu?” Javier interrupted him; he kept his voice down, but it was shaking. “You leave, and Habi can just fuck off”.

Yuzuru jerked his chin up.

“It non depend only on me” he said. Also his voice was low but shaking. “I have to do examinations, to…”

“Uh, right. Leaving half a day before is absolutely necessary”.

“I need go back in Toronto as soon as possible”. Yuzuru’s knuckles around his phone and the crutch handle were white. “Why you not understand? You, of all people?”

“Who’s this ‘you’ you’re talking about, Yuzu? The nearly former dancer with a broken hip? Of course, cause the nearly former dancer only ever has to understand you and support you. Who gives a shit about his problems and his needs”.

Yuzuru tightened his lips, lifted his eyes to the ceiling as if not to cry. Javier wished he could run to Yuzu, take his hands; forget what I said, he wished he could tell, I’m just an idiot terrified by what’s expecting me in Berlin, terrified by the idea of losing you. But when Yuzuru looked at him again, his eyes were dark and hard, and the air surrounding him was threatening like a deep black moat. The drawbridge was being raised, and Javier realized he was risking to be left outside. He gasped.

“Is you who not give a shit about hip” Yuzuru said. “Is you who keep run away. You say you love ballet, but you do nothing to dance. You have huge problem with ballet, but you turn your back so you not see it”.

“Fantastic. So I’m also a coward, right?” Javier buried his hands in his pocket and crooked his shoulders, defensive. “Well, sorry if I tried to comfort you. I thought it was normal to support someone you care for. As it looks, I was wrong”.

“Don’t use me, Habi. I not want that I’m your excuse to not think of ballet”.

Javier felt his heart sink down into his stomach.

“That’s what you think, that I’m using you?” he slowly asked.

Yuzuru shook his head, impatiently. “I just want that you focus on ball…”

“Just like you focus on skating? And then use me when things don’t go as planned?”

Javier regretted his words as soon as he said them, but it was too late: the drawbridge had been completely raised. Yuzuru put his phone on the desk – it was vibrating incessantly; it may have been doing it all the time – and wedged better his crutches under his armpits.

“I’m so happy we meet” Yuzuru said, although he didn’t look happy at all. “But I need to focus on only thing I must do. When I fall…”

“Wait” Javier interrupted him, blood ringing in his ears. “Are you saying it’s my fault? That you fell and got hurt because of me, because I… I was a distraction?”

One second: a short moment in time, but a long hesitation anyway. Too long.

“No” Yuzuru finally said, his lips so tightened they didn’t look plump anymore, but thin and pale. “Fault is mine. Only mine. What I meaning… oh, damned English”. He grimaced in frustration – once again, for a moment, Javier wished he could run to Yuzu and tell him they had to stop it, for the direction they’d taken was wrong. But Yuzuru went on: “Skating is my life. My duty. I survive earthquake and tsunami, but if I not skate, I not deserve survive. I already tell you, yes? If I not skate as I can skate. It mean, I must sacrifice many things. Many skaters can skate and no sacrifice much, I know. Also Plushenko-san, he two wife and two child. But I different, I… too much people die. Too much people do sacrifice for my skating. And my skating is good only if I give everything to it. Only if I control. Only if I accept that… to be happy in skating, I must accept I not happy in other things. It is balance. To take and to give. To get and to give… how you say… give…”

“To give up” Javier whispered, his throat dry.

“Yes. To get and to give up. I must be humble, I must accept the balance… harmony… can have sad things inside. So I breathe, and skate, and deserve. Can you understand?”

No, Javier couldn’t understand. Just one thing was crystal clear to him: Yuzuru had made up his mind, Yuzuru was leaving him, and it hurt so much. Javier ran his hands through his hair, as if to brush away what felt like a nightmare. Yuzuru wobbled towards him and put a hand on his arm.

“When things go well, is easy to think that you can do what you want, all you want” Yuzu’s soft voice said. “When things go well, is easy to be happy, and selfish. But now things not go well, Habi. Things go bad”.

Javier looked at the small, elegant hand on his arm.

“I can understand that” he said. “Everything is fucking complicated now, I know. It’s so complicated that you should care for me very much, to try and be with me. Cause there’s only one question that a person who likes another person should ask themselves: do I care for them enough to try, even if it’s complicated? You don’t care enough for me, Yuzu”.

“You have very bad opinion of you” Yuzuru sighed, pulling away from him. “And this make all more complicated”.

“What do you mean?”

“That…”

“Look, Yuzu, I’m not even sure why we’re still talking”. Javier crossed his arms over his chest. He felt suddenly cold. “You made very clear what you want, and most of all what you don’t want”.

“Habi” Yuzuru called. He looked much older than he was, now; and so endlessly tired. Javi’s heart clenched. “I see you not understand, and I not good in explain. But please, please try to understand. It not depend on what I want. Is just… I can’t, Habi. I can’t”.

No, Javier still didn’t understand. Or was it Yuzu, the one who didn’t understand? All that rambling speech about survival, deserving, breathing – what did it have to do with the two of them? Their relationship was complicated but not so much complicated, damn it. Javier felt like doing something – crying, shouting, telling Yuzu that he loved him and didn’t want to lose him; he would have done anything to feel less cold and less scared. But he also felt too hopeless to really struggle to make Yuzuru change his mind.

“No, Yuzu” he finally said. “The real question here is exactly what you want to do, not what you can’t do. And you want to be the greatest skater of all time. Okay, maybe it’s because of what happened to you, maybe you really think you have to be the greatest on behalf of all the people supporting and trusting you. But in the end… in the end you just want to skate. You don’t want to date anyone, you don’t want to care for anyone. If you feel sad, or frustrated, like yesterday, then you might need some comfort from someone you like, and some sex too, why not. But all in all, you just want to skate”.

 “I not understand why you not understand!” Yuzuru blurted out. He looked angry and sorrowful at the same time. “You are ballet dancer! You love ballet more than life! Why you not…” Yuzuru’s voice faded away as the tears started streaming down his face.

Javier watched Yuzu lower his head, cry quietly, and felt that he simply couldn’t be angry and disappointed; a couple of seconds later, he was holding Yuzuru tight, crutches lying on the floor.

“Don’t cry, please” he said. Yuzuru was still tense, but he was slowly relaxing, and he didn’t cry anymore. “I’m sorry. I’m not like that, I swear. Usually I’m more open, and calmer. Forgive me, it’s just that…” It’s just that I don’t love only ballet anymore, he wanted to say, I also love you, and you’re too much important, too much precious to let you go. But he couldn’t speak anymore; he smelled Yuzu’s scent and closed his eyes.

Yuzuru sighed shakily against his neck. “I know, Habi” he said. “You not must be sorry, really. It’s me. Please accept it. I can’t. I’m sorry, but I nee…”

There was a knock on the door, then a female voice ringed: “Laundry service!”

Yuzuru took a deep breath, clenched his fist around the fabric of Javi’s t-shirt for a second before pulling away. “Excuse me” he said, then he picked up his crutches and went open the door. Javier watched him talk to a pink-cheeked, tall young woman, take two packages in his arms, say ‘Thank you’ and close the door. Yuzuru turned to face him.

“Laundry” he said. He looked even more exhausted now, as if taking those two packages had drained him of any energy he had left. He lifted the package he held on his right arm. “Origin costume”. He lifted the other package. “T-shirt and underwear you give me yesterday night” he added in a lower tone.

For a moment, the hours they had shared were between them.

Real.

Lost.

Javier pressed the heels of his hands on his eyes. His heart weighed like an anvil.

“Perfect timing” he said. He took the package from Yuzuru’s arm. “Thank you”.

For a few seconds they just stood still, facing each other, each of them with a laundry package in his arms.

“I’m going” said Javier finally. “Don’t worry about my flight, I want to see the gala”. It wasn’t true, but at the thought of talking to Muramoto or anybody else about tickets and booking he felt like screaming. “Good-bye, Yuzu”.

Yuzuru looked at him. His eyes were full of pain and many more feelings – too many for Javier’s defeated mind to figure out what they were.

“Habi, if…” Yuzuru begun, but then he stopped, swallowed. “Good-bye” he said.

Javier reached for the door, but at the last minute he took a step closer to Yuzu, cupped his cheek with a hand and left a kiss on the opposite temple. Yuzuru closed his eyes. Then Javier opened the door and walked out of Yuzuru Hanyu’s suite – out of Yuzuru Hanyu’s life.

 

The red carpet lay on the ice, the podium was ready. Everything was just as it had to be in a victory ceremony. As usual, in the balustrade around the rink two small doors were open: one leading to the carpet, one at the end of the rink.

The authorities and the girls carrying the trays of flowers, gifts and medals entered through the first door, the bronze and silver medallists through the second one. What about Yuzu?

Javier wish he could tell where Yuzuru was, but when he got to the Megasport Arena he hadn’t taken his usual seat. It was too close to where the athletes waited just outside the rink, and he feared Yuzuru would look at him; he feared even more that Yuzuru would not look at him. Javier had found a free seat in the same sector, still with a good view but farer from the ice, and he couldn’t see the hallway to the locker rooms. So, when Yuzuru appeared at the door leading to the red carpet, Javier was caught unprepared.

Yuzu wore the Origin costume (the two laundry packages in his arms), he had his sneakers on and his hair was not gelled back (Yuzu in my bathtub, me washing him) while he was walking with two crutches (Yuzu letting his crutch fall to the ground and exposing his neck for my lips to kiss it).

The gold medal was announced in Russian and English.

“From Japan, Yuzuru Hanyu”.

Yuzuru bowed to the audience, reached the podium, then, propping himself up with his crutches, he climbed up on the podium without asking for help (My skating is good only if I give everything to it. Only if I control. To be happy in skating, I must accept I not happy in other things. It is balance).

In the entire ice hall, dozens of fans were holding each a paper sheet with the same ideograms: Javier couldn’t tell what they meant, but they were surely wishing good luck to Yuzuru. How could have someone produced and given out all those paper sheets in such a short time? (I’m famous. if I lose competition, can you think what haters say about person I love?) In another corner of the arena, several people in several rows were showing a message in English: ‘Yuzu we love you from all over the world’. (Also Plushenko-san, he two wife and two child. But I different, I… too much people die. Too much people do sacrifice for my skating). Yes you’re different, Javier thought, you belong to everybody and to nobody, this is your blessing and your curse, and it’s cruel but maybe fair: why on earth one single mortal should keep only for themselves something so beautiful?

Medals hanging from their necks, Kvitelashvili and Tomono started their lap of honour; Yuzuru was about to leave the ice, but the photographers in front of the podium called him back and he allowed them to take all the pictures they needed – available, smiling as if he wore his skates and could balance his weight on both his legs. Then, while the bronze and silver medallists were still waving at the audience and a bad pop song was playing, Yuzuru begun his slow journey towards the rink door.

In that very moment, Javier was struck by the full meaning of what had happened.

He would never see Yuzuru again.

Of course he would see him on YouTube, even live if he would be brave enough. But he would never talk to him again; he would never see him making a face again because he didn’t want to taste the bear salami; he would never hear him laugh again after trying to say ‘Mucha mierda’, he would never hold him again on his feet to dance. He wouldn’t kiss him, he wouldn’t caress the mole underneath his right earlobe.

Never again.

Never. Again.

Javier had to spring on his feet and rush outside his sector, stepping on too many feet and apologizing furiously, then he ran to the first restroom he could catch sight of and threw up all he had eaten at breakfast.

It was over.

The small, fragile story started by a nail in Helsinki had lasted only twenty days. It was over, and all Javi could do was crying, slammed into the wall of a narrow cubicle, while a new pain, so much bigger and stronger than the story behind it, burned every cell of his body, extinguished every spark in his soul.

Chapter Text

“Laura?”

“Javi! So nice to hear your voice!”

“Sorry if I’m calling you so late, I know that in Helsinki…”

“Don’t worry. I just managed to put to bed that naughty niece of yours. But I’m afraid Pietari will have to go and scold her a couple of times, before she finally, finally falls asleep. So, how are you doing in Berlin?”

“I’m not in Berlin. I’m in Moscow”.

“In Moscow?... Javi, what’s the matter?”

“Cool down, Laura, I’m okay. Well, I’m not okay, actually, but… I need to talk to you. About two things”.

“Which things? Javi, you’re making me anxious”.

“I know, and I’m sorry”.

“…so?”

“So, the first thing I need to talk to you about is called coxarthrosis. The second one is called Yuzuru Hanyu”.

 

It was a nice sunny day, almost warm even if it was early January; that’s why Javier had suggested a walk in the park: Berlin was hardly going to give them another chance to meet outside before March-April.

Polina had chosen a park in the district of Schöneberg, not too crowded and not too far from some cozy café, might the weather get colder, and Javier was sitting on a bench when she arrived. Beautiful, tall, with the graceful and noble posture of all ballet dancers – of Yuzuru. Javier dispelled the memory, stood up and made his way towards her.

“Hi Pol”. He hugged her. “It’s been a very long time”.

“Too long, Javi, too long” she said, and put three short, noisy kisses on his cheek, like adults sometimes do to children. “Why did we wait for the 2nd of January? We should have met much sooner. We’re so dummy”.

“We really are. But I’m more than happy to see you”.

“And so am I, Javi”.

They started walking along the gravelled path winding through the park.

“So, what’s new? How is it going?” she urged him. “I need updates about at least two months”.

“That’s why I wanted to meet you”. Javier caught his breath. “I need to talk to you about something I couldn’t face via WhatsApp”.

“I have to tell you something important as well”.

“You do? What is it?”

Polina wrinkled her nose mischievously. “You go first”.

“No, you go first. Come on, Pol”.

“Well…” Polina waited for a father pushing a stroller to pass them. “I met someone”.

You too?, was Javier’s first thought. She’d been luckier than him, though, judging from the way her eyes were shining. Javier couldn’t help smiling.

“I’m so, so happy for you” he said earnestly, and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “So, who’s the lucky one? A dancer?”

“Actually he’s a member of our company”. Polina was blushing. “Mehmet”.

“Mehmet? You both dance in the Staatsballet since ages”.

Polina shrugged. “No, not since ages. And being colleagues doesn’t necessarily mean knowing each other, does it? One month ago we started rehearsing together for Serenade, and…”

“Okay, okay, got it” Javier interrupted her, giggling. “Well, what can I say? Your children will be beautiful like the sun, if genetics is not a matter of opinion”.

Polina hugged him again.

“You’re the most generous, dearest, best former boyfriend in the whole world, you know?” She gave a friendly squeeze to his ass. “The sexiest, too”.

“Uh, don’t tell me”.

They laughed and started walking again.

“What about you?” she asked. “What did you want to tell me?”

“Nothing nice, unfortunately” Javier said, and when he saw fear in her eyes he hastily added: “Remember the muscle I tore up? The reason why I’m having a three months break?”

“Sure. Is it still that bad?”

“It is, cause it’s not a muscle”. Javier took her hand. “Pol, I have coxarthrosis”.

Polina was a ballerina, she didn’t need further explanations.

“Oh, Javi”. She stopped, caught her breath as if she was going to add something, but the she just walked to a bench and sat down, as if to regain strength. She waited for him to sit by her side, then went on: “At what stage is it?”

“Quite an early stage, but…”

“But you’re a ballet dancer”. Polina interrupted him. “Isn’t physio helping you? Pilates, all the treatments?”

“Everything would be very helpful and very effective, if I wasn’t a ballet dancer”.

She didn’t say anything to that and they kept silent for a while, holding hands.

“What are you planning to do?” Polina asked then.

Javier raised his eyes to the pale yet bright sun, and thought about – saw – Yuzuru again. So far I’ve been running away, the right answer to Polina’s question would have been; then someone made me understand that running away is not only cowardly but also wrong. That’s why I’m here, sitting on this bench with you.

“Yesterday I spoke with our artistic director” he said finally. “ He agreed to give me one more month for physio and stuff. Then I hope I’ll be able to join the company again and to dance for one or two more years. I’ll do my best to make it”.

Polina patted his thigh.

“Of course you’ll make it” she said with conviction.

“I will try, at least”. Javier smiled. “But it’s clear I need to think about starting a new career, in a not so distant future”.

“A new career? Totally new? With no ballet involved at all?”

At the mere thought, Polina was lost in bewilderment. And Javier, who had to consider it not just a thought, but an outcome, felt lost not only in bewilderment, but in a maze. It was time to get out of the hedge where he’d been hiding, though, and to look for the exit.

“I never liked contemporary dance so much, you know it” he said. “But maybe I’ll do some auditions for the best European companies. Preljočaj, Aterballetto. I might be able to dance a little bit longer”.

“Smart idea. And what about teaching? Would you like to be a ballet teacher?”

“That’s my plan B, if I won’t find the right company for me and for my… well, for my physical condition. Actually, teaching is plan C. Plan B is this one”. Javier took his phone out of his pocket.

This one what?” Polina hesitated.

“Do you remember the choreography I showed to Galili?” he asked while he scrolled through his videos. She nodded. “Okay, that’s what I wanted you to watch”. He handed his phone to Polina and, when she took it, he pressed Play.

It wasn’t Otoñal. It was a pas de deux on an extended version of Lust, Tori Amos’ song. The video lasted eight minutes; neither Javier nor Polina talked until the end of it. Polina kept silent even as the music stopped, though, and after a while Javier couldn’t stand it anymore.

“I don’t even know if I can use this song” he said, “and, well, the dancers are not so good. Me limping, and my sister stopped dancing about ten years ago. But…”

“It’s so beautiful, Javi” Polina interrupted him. “So beautiful”. She smiled at him. “You’re a fantastic choreographer”.

“Thank you”. Javier struggled to smile in his turn, despite his anxiety. “Would you like to dance this choreography, Pol?”

All of a sudden she looked serious, staring intently at him.

“I know, I shouldn’t ask you” he rushed to say. “I’m trying to take advantage of our friendship. It’s unfair to you, it’s unfair to any good choreographer out there who doesn’t have the right contacts. It’s just that… I really don’t know what to do”. Javier looked away, squeezed his hands between his thighs. “I bet my whole life on ballet, and now I don’t have much time to find another way” he went on. He took a deep breath, then turned to Polina. “Let me be very, very clear, Pol: if you don’t want to dance my choreography, I can understand. And I don’t want you to say yes out of pity, or friendship, or… but if you think it’s good, you might show it to someone else? And…”

“I will dance it, Javi. I will”. Javier took a better look at her, realized she was moved. “It will be a honour for me. Really”.

They hugged – and for the first time since he’d walked out of a Muscovite hotel suite, Javier felt that maybe something good could still happen to him.

“Thank you, Pol. Thank you with all my heart”.

“Thank you. Wait, I want to forward that clip to my phone, so I can begin studying it”. Polina started messing around with Javi’s phone, and frowned after a few seconds. “Oh no, I did something wrong”. Another music started off, and Javier felt a shiver run through his body. That was the video he took of himself dancing in his hotel room while he was waiting for Yuzuru after the short program. Otoñal. “Hey, this is not…” Polina said, but she went quiet as she watched the clip.

By her side, Javier hunched his shoulders and kept his eyes on his shoes until the music ended.

“What about this choreography?” Polina asked.

There were a few dark dots on his trousers, Javier noted. It wasn’t raining, though.

“It’s just a try”. Oh. Those dots were tears. “As you can see”.

“Yes, but it’s great! Don’t you finish it?”

He didn’t answer immediately. Okay, he told to himself. Okay. It was time to dive in his pain; and then to resurface, maybe. Hopefully. He gestured Polina to give the phone back to him, then he opened YouTube and searched for Yuzuru’s short program at Rostelecom Cup.

“That’s where my idea comes from” he said, pressing Play. He wish he could look away, but it was stronger than him – Yuzuru was stronger than him: even through the tiny display of a phone, the air surrounding him was a magnetic field with an irresistible power of attraction. God, Javi would have done anything to see him again. Anything. It wasn’t humanly possible, it wasn’t admissible, to want someone so much.

The short program was over. Polina gave him back his phone.

“It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen” she whispered, her voice trembling. “I can see why you were inspired by him. Why don’t you work on this choreography too, Javi? If you can’t use his same steps, you can always…”

“Oh no. I can use his steps, he gave me permission to”.

Polina raised her eyebrows. “You know him?” she asked.

Yuzuru under him, thighs trapping Javi’s hips and teeth biting Javi’s shoulder, while Javier thrusted deeper and deeper into his body. More, Habi. More. Javier just nodded. Polina sighed and touched his face with her fingertips, finally realizing his cheeks were wet with tears.

“I got the feeling that you still have to update me about a couple of things, Javier Fernández” she said, and Javi could only nod once again.

 

In the end they had taken shelter in a café in Akazienstraße – all in all, it wasn’t that warm outside – and there Javier had told Polina the whole story. His short, precious story with Yuzu.

“And you haven’t heard from him since then?” was the first thing she asked Javi when he finished.

Javier shook his head.

“It’s not easy, to call someone when you don’t even know their telephone number” he said.

“You could call that guy, there, Mura-something. The bodyguard”.

“Muramoto. Actually he called me, once. Right before Christmas”.

And when his phone had rung and the name Yuzu had appeared on the display, Javier had lost his balance and literally fallen on the ground. How ridiculous. Also because it wasn’t Yuzu, of course, it was Muramoto. Good evening, Fernández-san, I hope you’re fine. I’m calling you to inform you that, on your behalf, Hanyu-senshu asked Jeffrey Buttle-san his permission so that you can use some steps of Otoñal in your choreography. I’m pleased to tell you that Jeffrey Buttle-san gave his permission, so, if you could write me your e-mail address, the Japan Skating Federation will provide to send you Jeffrey Buttle-san’s written authorization. Javier didn’t even know how he was feeling, during Muramoto’s monologue: moved, cause Yuzuru had remembered something important for him and had done something to help him? Sorrowful, cause all that remained between them was a formal phone call from a bodyguard and a written document?

“Didn’t you ask him about Yuzuru?” Polina asked when Javier finished to tell her about Muramoto’s call.

Javier put his cup of cappuccino on the table. His hands were trembling, he realized.

“I did”.

“And…?”

“And Muramoto told me that he thought Yuzu was okay. Yuzu was and still is in Toronto, he trains there, while Muramoto was in Japan. He works for Yuzu only when there’s a competition”.

“Tell me that you gave him a message for Yuzu, please”.

“I told him to thank Yuzu for me, if he had the chance”.

“Nothing else??” Polina was so outraged that she nearly screamed, and some heads turned in their direction.

“What could I say??” Javier spoke softly, but passionately. “Please, tell Yuzuru to call me or something like that?”

“Exactly!” Polina leaned toward him. “Javi, if Yuzuru only wanted you to get that fucking authorization, his Federation would have called you. Instead he asked someone who knows you to contact you, to talk to you. He’s obviously trying to… to re-open a channel of communication with you”.

Javier shook his head. “In this case he could have called me, couldn’t he?”

“Don’t exaggerate, now. He gave you a sign. And you promptly didn’t catch it”.

Javier shook his head again. “I don’t know, Pol. I don’t think so. He was the one to tell that… that he didn’t want to be with me”. It hurt so much, saying it aloud.

“Well, that’s not what he exactly said” Polina gently corrected him. “He said something like ‘I can’t’, not ‘I don’t want’”. She reached for his hand across the table, squeezed it. “Javi, he must be scared. He never loved anyone, and suddenly he met you. Right in the middle of a competition and of a very hard moment too, when he’s extremely vulnerable. Then okay, he has this… this spirit of self-sacrifice, this belief that he has to deny himself anything beautiful in order to… to punish himself, or something like that. But it’s as clear as day that he cares for you. Very much”.

To be happy in skating, I must accept I not happy in other things.

Javier looked down. Yuzu, he called inside himself. Yuzu, I miss you so much. I know, we spent just a few days together, and we don’t know anything about our everyday life, about our habits, about so many of the details making us who we are. But I miss you, and I want you back. Do you miss me? Do you ever think that maybe you made the wrong decision? Javier raised his eyes to Polina. The temptation of hoping. The dread of suffering. “Do you really think so?” he muttered.

Polina chuckled.

“Do I really think so?” she echoed him. “Let’s sum it up: Yuzuru Hanyu, a great skater…”

“The greatest of all time”.

“Okay, okay, don’t be so fussy. So, Yuzuru Hanyu, the greatest skater of all time, a celebrity haunted by hordes of fans wherever he goes, someone who can’t blow their nose without being filmed and posted and clicked and liked thousands of times… in the middle of an important competition, Yuzuru Hanyu meets you. He should train and focus, focus and train, nothing more. Instead, he hangs out with you: tea parties, excursions… then he asks you to reach him while he’s in the middle of another important competition. He should train and focus and blah blah blah. Instead, he takes you to the ballet and spends much of his time with you. And before getting injured, he was planning for you a nice holiday in Toronto with him. What do you think, he cares for you or not?

It sounded true, coming from the voice of an étoile who perfectly knew what it meant to train, to focus and to give up – to give up on anything else.

“It’s just that… well, I can’t believe it’s possible. I can’t believe Yuzu cares for me” Javier said, staring at his by now cold cappuccino.

“And this is part of the problem”.

Javier jerked his eyes up on her.

“You lost so much confidence, Javi” Polina explained, and squeezed his hand. “It’s because of coxarthrosis, isn’t it? I can understand. The way you look, the way you talk… it’s like any certainty has been taken away from you. I never saw you, or heard you, as insecure as you look and sound now”. You have very bad opinion of you, Habi. “But you’re wrong. You shouldn’t doubt yourself. You shouldn’t doubt your talent and your skills. Believe me, Javi. You deserve to be an acknowledged choreographer. And you deserve to be loved, even by someone as exceptional as Yuzuru is. You do deserve to be loved”.

Javier held her hand even tighter. He felt the skin of his cheeks wet with tears, his heart fluttering. And he felt a small light – albeit weak, risking to extinguish at the first waft of air – waking up in his chest.

“So what can I do?” he asked.

“Now? Not much. First of all you have to gather your strength, pull yourself together and make some decisions about your life”. Polina smiled, as if to apologize for being so straightforward. “Then you can… let’s say, fight for your love?”

Javier had to chuckle, wiping his tears away with the back of his hand. “Oh, come on Pol, this is not a romantic comedy! I can’t take a flight to Toronto just like that, turn up out of the blue at the Cricket Club and go down on my knee in front of Yuzu and some other dozens of people. Should I call Muramoto? Write Yuzu a letter?”

Polina pondered for a while, her forefinger squashing her lower lip. Like Yuzu, Javier thought, and his heart skipped a bit. Jesus, he had it so bad. The she gave him a mischievous smile.

“You know that I danced with the National Ballet of Canada, don’t you?” she said. “Ad that the National Ballet of Canada is in Toronto?”

Chapter Text

Hello, Yuzu.

 

How are you?... God, such a trivial way to open a letter, isn’t it? But it’s a question I ask myself every day. Yes. Every day, many times a day, I ask myself so many questions about you. Some are pointless, even stupid: who knows which Under Armour shirt Yuzu is wearing today at practice; who knows if Yuzu already had dinner and what he ate. Other questions are quite weird: for instance, tonight I woke up because of an asleep leg, and I wondered if it ever happens to you too. Finally, some questions are more important (but pointless regardless, since I can’t ask you): how’s your ankle, if it still hurts, if you can skate; whether you feel positive or negative, determined or unsure, strong or weak. If you feel content, even happy.

Do you feel this way, Yuzu? Did the ‘scale’ you mentioned, the one with joy on one plate and sorrow on the other plate, find its balance again?

Talking about that scale: I thought about it so much, and I decided you’re right, yes you are. It does exist, and our only chance as human beings to live a decent and balanced life is to try and keep its plates more or less levelled off. That’s what at least I am trying to do: two weeks ago I started practicing à la barre again. (Actually I asked and got one more month out of the company, but I can’t take any serious ballet class if I don’t practice on my own before).

I’m not doing so well. I’m out of shape, obviously. And my left hip doesn’t help very much: it’s crystal clear that dancing will make my arthrosis worse (it is already making it worse, and quicker too); I’m pretty sure this is my last season in a ballet company. Since it will be the last one, though, and it will cost me so much, I’ll do all that I can to make it a great season, my best season ever. In a couple of months we’ll start rehearsing for a charity gala that will take place at the end of June; at the moment it’s only a rumour, but it looks like it will include an excerpt from In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, a pas de deux: if it’s true, I’ll do my best to be the man who will dance it. See? I stopped running away. And I’m trying to sort out my issues. It’s not easy, and I must admit that sometimes running away still looks like the best option: I don’t know whether I’m a coward or not, hopefully not, but I’m surely scared of all the pain waiting ahead of me. And yet ballet is my life, so I can’t give up: every day your braveness reminds me about that, it’s a model and an incentive. Thank you for that, Yuzu.

I can’t give up but I must evolve, as you would say, as you would do. So every week I take a look at any possible audition for a contemporary dance company: that’s a style I might be able to dance for one or two more years. We’ll see.

Last but not least, I’m going to debut as a choreographer. Yes! I created a pas de deux on Tori Amos’ Lust, and it will be performed by Polina Semionova and Alejandro Virelles (principal dancer at Staatsballet) at the charity gala on June. I have to thank you for that too. And if you are wondering about my choreography on Otoñal… well, it’s not a try anymore. I finished it. Then I sent a clip of it to a ballet company, and the artistic director there called me to tell me she liked it a lot and to ask me if we could meet and talk about it. Of course I said yes, and I’m actually leaving today.

Destination, Toronto.

Cause the person I will meet is Karen Kain, artistic director at the National Ballet of Canada. Are you wondering if I did it on purpose? If I got in touch with a ballet company based in Toronto because it’s the town where you live and train? Well, the answer is yes.

I’d love so much to see you, Yuzu, I’d love so much to talk to you. So much.

In a few hours I’ll take a flight and I’ll spent a few days in Toronto, so if we want to meet we can: it depends on you. And if you’ll agree to meet me, first of all I will apologize to you.

Sorry, Yuzu. I’ve been selfish and stupid. Very selfish and very stupid, to be honest. I said and did things I regret and I’m ashamed of. Unfortunately, I tend to behave like that when I’m scared. When we talked for the last time, in your suite in Moscow, I was scared to death of losing you. Okay, losing is the wrong word, I didn’t own you; nobody owns you. What I mean is that I was terrified cause I didn’t want to lose what I felt was growing between us. So I started acting and speaking as a perfect idiot. And of course I lost what was growing between us.

But… might I be wrong? Have I, have we, really lost it, Yuzu?

You see, I don’t think the plates of my personal scale of joy and sorrow will ever level off, without you. You’re right, we’re all seeking for harmony and peace, and we have no chance to find them if we don’t try to level off the good things and the bad things. It’s not an algebraic equation, though. The good and the bad don’t always weigh the same. There are joys so enormous they can reduce some pains; more often, I’m afraid there are sorrows so heavy that harmony remains out of our reach, no matter how much joy we put on the plate.

And this is where I am now.

It’s like not only that scale but the Earth itself was off-axis, not aligned, and to keep balance, to literally stay on my feet, I had to writhe and twist and overstretch all my muscles so much, in such an unnatural way. At night I’m exhausted; when I wake up in the morning and realize that I have to face this fatigue all over again, I feel like burying my head under the pillow and spending the whole day in bed. I think it’s called unhappiness.

How selfish I am, again. I know. Maybe it’s not the right moment for you. Maybe it will never be. And I care for your feelings and need, I really do, believe me. I don’t want to force you to do anything. But I don’t want to give up on you either, not before at least trying to talk to you. To seriously talk to you, not like in Moscow. I can’t give up on you, Yuzu.

Therefore, now I’m going to save this file and send it to Muramoto, asking him please to forward it to you. I think and hope that he will agree, and that you will read this letter: you’re too kind to move it to your trash bin without opening it. Meanwhile, I’ll be on a plane or in some airport terminal. By the way, sorry if I’m writing you this late, just a few moments before leaving: if I had written you earlier and you had ignored me, I feared I wouldn’t have found the strength to take a flight to Toronto. This way instead, as soon as I will switch my computer off, I’ll pick up my bag (it’s near the door, ready), walk out of my apartment and head for Flughafen Tegel. I hope that having to turn off my phone and to calculate different time zones will help me not to freak out while I’m waiting for your answer.

And if you will answer me… God, Yuzu, answer me. When I open the window and the wind caresses my face; when I walk through a noisy crowd and then suddenly I find myself alone on a subway platform; when I do something unimpressive like sitting at my desk, and when I do something important like dancing; every time, everywhere, I feel you.

Please, answer me.

Javi

 

 

Four hours later, when Javier turned off the airplane mode at a gate of the Frankfurt Airport, there were four lost calls from an unknown number, area code +1 647. Canada, Toronto. Karen Kain? Someone else from the National Ballet? Or…

With shaking fingers, Javier called back that number.

It rang. Once. Then, two syllables.

Just two syllables, short, small, butchered. And yet, they put the Earth back on its axis.

“Habi”.

Chapter Text

When the door of the cafe opened, Javier knew it was Yuzu even before he saw him. It was like the moment before a train leaves a tunnel, when a mass of thick, unstoppable air precedes it, chasing away the quiet air out in front. The door opened; a mass of shining, tingling air pressed and pushed and chased away the calm air at the entrance of the cafe, and Javier tried to prepare for the impact, doing what he always did before any performance: breathing evenly and deeply, relaxing every muscle that came to mind, from his forehead to his toes. Now his ritual proved totally useless, and when Yuzuru appeared Javier sprang to his feet, a swollen and heavy lump in his throat, waving his hand like a madman – and Yuzuru, who was looking all around the place to find him, saw him and moved in his direction. With a blinding smile on his lips. Without crutches. Without limping. Javier waited for him beside the table, his legs trembling so much that he had to hold on to the back of his chair.

“Habi!”

“Yuzu.”

Javier would have loved to hug him. So much. He was not sure he could though, and he just squeezed Yuzuru’s arm awkwardly through the thickness of his quilted jacket.

“It’s so nice to see you,” Javier said. He sounded like he had a bubble of spit in his throat.

“Is not only nice,” Yuzuru said. He looked down, as if he didn’t have the strength to both talk and stare at Javier – but after a moment he looked up. “Is important,” he concluded.

They stared at each other.

Yuzuru leaned in first.

Javier leaned in next. And shivered when they finally hugged.

 

“How lovely is this cafe?” Javier said as they sat down across from each other. He didn’t give a damn about that cafe, but he didn’t feel like talking about the reason why they were there, completely out of the blue. “Do you often come here?”

“This first time.” Yuzuru shrugged. “I not go out, you know. But TripAdvisor say is best cafe in Toronto, and I think is right place for Habi.”

Thank God Javier was sitting, because his legs were shaking like leaves on a tree. He was going to speak, but at that very moment a waiter came to take their order; only when he left – a green tea and a cappuccino written in his notebook – did Javier open his mouth again.

“How are you doing, Yuzu? How’s your ankle?”

The other shrugged again. “So and so,” he said. “But I can train. Is... one month that I training. And two days that I jump. Just double now. It hurt a bit. But I will jump quads.” For a fleeting moment, it looked like there were blades of steel and fire shining in his eyes – then that moment was over. “But I not know if I can jump quad Loop,” he said bitterly.

“Why?”

Yuzuru shook his head. “Is like quad Lutz. Before I fall at NHK in 2017, my quad Lutz so good. I put it in my short program, many difficult steps then quad Lutz-triple Toeloop with arms on head.” He rubbed his face with a hand, as if he felt like sleeping and was fighting to stay awake. “After I fall... my body remember falling. Ligaments not exist anymore, but I feel them. You know? Like ghosts. They live in ankle, these ghosts, and if I do Lutz, the jump that can kill them... well, they scream so much. I not hear anything no more, they scream so so so much. And I can’t do jump. You understand?”

Javier nodded. It hadn’t been quite so tragic, but years ago he had sprained his ankle landing an entrechat douze, and it had taken him a good while to do that jump again, even though his ankle had perfectly recovered.

“Now I scare is same with quad Loop. I try, but ghosts come and not let me jumping.”

Yuzuru had a bitter curve on his lips, and Javier took his hand on an impulse.

“But when you will try the quad Axel there won’t be any ghost, you’ll see,” he said, with a tentative smile.

Yuzuru smiled as well, but after giving a quick squeeze to Javi’s hand he pulled away. In silence, they waited for the waiter to bring them their drinks. Javier took his cup and sipped his cappuccino, watching Yuzuru’s hands dipping the tea bag in the hot water. Yuzuru’s delicate hands, seemingly fragile and yet so strong. Javier put his cup on its saucer.

“There are so many things that I want to say,” he finally declared, “but I really don’t know where to start.”

Yuzuru dropped the tea bag. “If you want, I tell where not start,” he said.

“Yes, please.”

“Apology.” Yuzuru looked very confident about it. “You must not apology. Our algum... argol...”

“Argument?”

“Thank you. Our argument in Moscow. Is ugly. We wrong, me and you. Not talk of it anymore, okay?”

“Okay.”

“And there one thing I need ask to you.”

Javier tightened his grip around his cup of cappuccino. “Ask me, then,” he said.

Yuzuru hesitated, taking his time to pour some tea into his cup. Javier waited. Yuzuru put down the teapot and stared at him.

“Why you so unsure of what I feel for you?”

Javier was caught by surprise. “What do you mean?”

Yuzuru lifted his eyebrows and opened his hands, as if he was going to say something very obvious. “I invite you for tea. I come with you on island. I ask you coming to Moscow. I take you in theatre. I spend much hours with you during competition!” He had raised his voice; he lowered it. “I have injury and come to you as soon as possible. Why you think I not care for you?”

Despite Yuzuru’s words, Javier still felt caught by surprise. Why did Yuzuru want first of all to let him know that? Back in Moscow, they argued mostly because Yuzuru didn’t want their relationship to go on – didn’t they?

“I don’t think that you don’t care,” Javier chose to say, very slowly. It wasn’t easy to explain something unclear even to himself. “I know you like me. And I know that, without your injury, we would have met again much earlier. Maybe I would have come here to give a masterclass of ballet at the Cricket Club, as you fantasized... what I don’t know is what would have happened afterwards. And yes, I actually think that... that sooner or later you would have told me that it was better to let go.” Javier had spoken with his eyes low on the table, but now he looked at Yuzuru. Who was staring at him with eyes wide open, full of whirling stars. “I think, no, I’m sure you like me, Yuzu,” Javier went on. “Maybe you even like me very much. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here, would I? But I’m afraid you don’t like me enough to... to really try. To try even if it’s not as easy as dancing and kissing in a hotel room, hidden away from the real world.”

They weren’t stars, the lights in Yuzuru’s eyes. They were tears.

“And you, Habi?” he said in a thin voice. “You like me enough to really try?” Javier was about to speak, but Yuzuru went on. “My life is very complicated. I must do so much things. Ice training. Off-ice training, gym and so on. Mind training, too. Image training. Keep up with Federation, sponsors, Japan. Phone calls, e-mails... every day, so many. So many. Much people working for me, and I need think, plan, pay. Then, university. I must study. I must think about much propositions every week: I accept or not? Shows, advertising, charity, visit, prizes, interviews. And my health, I have asthma, and allergies, and I always need treatments, always need be careful. Letters to write, presents to say thank. And I need right diet, and right sleep. Here in Toronto I have privacy, a bit. I can go to Cricket Club and people not follow me. Well, not always.” With a discreet nod, he pointed at the customers around them. “I can stay in a cafe with you and people not come and ask. But then I go to Japan and for months, months, I have difficult when I want to go out of my home. You understand? I can’t drive, you know why? Not because I no time to learn. Okay, also that. But I not have chance to drive. I need driver and bodyguard, so no one can assault. I can’t swim, too, because of health. And so many thing.” With the back of his hand, he wiped the tears running down his cheeks. “Everybody say I’m too much,” he said. His voice was trembling. “Too much good in skating. Too much sensitive. Too much crazy when I put earphone and sing, too much like killer in competition, too much child when I joke and play with skaters. Too much busy, too much famous, too much too much too much... everybody say just that: you’re too much, Yuzu. Maybe they right. You sure you want be with someone that is ‘too much’? With me?”

“Yuzu…”

“Don’t say now, please”. Yuzuru wiped some more tears away. “You not hurry, okay? Is important question, you need think, and...”

“... and now we get out of here.” Javier stood up and took Yuzuru’s hand. Not strongly, but securely. “We can’t talk about that surrounded by a crowd of strangers. Let’s look for a quieter place, come on.” Yuzuru looked at him – and he was so handsome, with his cheeks streaked by tears and his shining eyes and his slightly trembling lips. Javier smiled at him, took Yuzu’s other hand too and helped him stand up. “Let’s go.”

Yuzuru nodded and followed him meekly to the cash register. 

 

“Where are we going?” Yuzuru had wiped his tears away and was by Javier’s side, waiting for the taxi they had called. They weren’t holding hands anymore, but they were leaning against each other. “At home is my mom. We go in your hotel?”

Javier swallowed.

“I’m not in a hotel,” he said.

“No?”

“No, I... I couldn’t pay for the flight and the hotel, so...” He cleared his throat. “Have you ever heard of couchsurfing?”

“Couch what?”

“Couchsurfing. There’s a website where... I found a lad here in Toronto who needed to spend a week in Berlin, so I lent him my place and he lent me his.”

Yuzuru tilted his head. “Okay. And...?”

“The apartment looked gorgeous in the pictures. Well, it is gorgeous. It’s only...”

“What?”

Javier ran a hand through his hair, cleared his throat. “Well, it’s not so clean. Yesterday night, as soon as I got there, I was too tired and I only made sure the sheets were fresh. This morning I cleaned up the bathroom and the bedroom, but the rest of the apartment...”

“We not need rest of apartment.” Yuzuru smiled. “And there are no moms, I think?”

“Mhm, I wouldn’t be surprised if we found the mummy of the owner’s grandma in a closet.”

“Uh, we must check!”

 Yuzuru was laughing instead of crying, and when the taxi pulled up to the curb Javier gave the driver the address without caring too much about how dirty that apartment was.

 

“But this... this is...” Yuzuru stuttered. 

“It’s disgusting, yes.”

They were on the apartment’s threshold, staring at the sitting room in front of them. It would have been nice and cozy, without all the dust, stinking leftovers, and who knows what else.

“All apartment like that?” Yuzuru looked both incredulous and disgusted.

“Excluding what I cleaned already, yes,” Javier answered. He felt awkward, even if the filth was not his fault. “The reviews on the web site were quite good, but...” He shrugged. “Okay, don’t take off your shoes until we are in the bedroom. There I cleaned.”

Yuzuru didn’t move.

“Yuzu?”

“How much days you here?”

Javier hesitated. Yuzuru himself was the one who could answer that question. Javier could stay in Toronto until next Saturday: on Monday, he had to finally take his first class at the Staatsballet. Tomorrow he was going to meet the artistic director at the National Ballet of Canada. It depended partially on the outcome of his meeting with Karen Kain. But it depended mostly on the outcome of his meeting with Yuzuru. Javier had no certainties at all.

“Five or six,” he said finally. “It doesn’t... it doesn’t depend only on me.”

They stared at each other for a while, standing on a dirty doormat – it was cleaner than the wood floor, at least.

“Oh, Habi,” Yuzuru sighed then, and stroked his cheek. Javier held his breath. Yuzuru’s warm, gentle touch. On an impulse, Javier closed his eyes and took that small hand, kissed its palm. Yuzuru let him.

“I tell you is complicated,” Yuzuru said. Not bitterly though.

“So what?” Javier opened his eyes and caught an amused glimpse in Yuzu’s dark irises.

“So now we clean,” Yuzuru simply said.

 

At the beginning, Javier tried to talk him out of cleaning; he said Yuzuru was a top skater and should get tired practicing quads, not scrubbing some electric stove; he said that guests were supposed to be just that, guests; that all this dust was dangerous for someone suffering from asthma. While he talked, Yuzuru just stared at him with a patient and amused look on his face – like a father while his son is rambling about all the very good reasons why he played video games instead of doing his homework. Then he told Javier that he was used to cleaning up, since students do it at school in Japan; what if he took care of the kitchen? There was probably more grease than dust there, right? Right: Yuzuru took a white mask out of his backpack, put it on, patted Javier’s shoulder and put himself to work.

 

When Javier saw two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu scratching the dirt away from the shelves of a fridge, he felt like dying from shame, blushed horribly and went to dust the sitting room. After a while though, their situation became funny, even amusing. They found a radio station that broadcasted songs from old musicals, and everything turned into a game. Yuzuru singing aloud New York, New York, wearing a soapy pot as a top hat. Javier improvising a country dance on a track from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The best moment came when the radio played Suddenly, Seamour from Little Shop of Horrors: Yuzuru showed up with a mop on his head, wrapped in a bunch of rags and dust clothes, and shouted he was ‘the grand mummy of the cursed closet.’ Javier laughed so hysterically that he had to rush to the bathroom not to piss in his pants.

Why are we laughing so much? he asked himself, wiping his tears away; because of the tension between us, because of our still unresolved relationship? Or maybe it’s just a sign that we get along really well? He didn’t have an answer yet, so he left the bathroom and went to scold Yuzuru (he had put on all those dirty clothes!). But he had only time to start accusing him, and Yuzuru had only time to start defending himself (Your Honor, I found those clothes in a drawer, they were clean), before they burst into laughter again.

Meanwhile, the apartment was slowly going back to looking quite decent. While Yuzuru had cleaned the fridge and the kitchen’s cabinets, counter and table, Javier had dusted all the sitting room, vacuumed the floor, the couch, each carpet and armchair, and polished the wooden floor. Was he supposed to wash the French windows too, so that he would be able to look at the city skyline without going out on the balcony?

He stopped in the middle of the room, resting his chin on his hands joined over the mop stick. And after cleaning all the windows, and every corner of the apartment? What were they going to do? From the kitchen he heard the notes of Singin’ in the Rain and Yuzuru’s muttering. Javier put down the mop and went to the kitchen. Yuzuru was washing the floor, moving to the music, messy bangs of dark hair on his forehead and the line of his nose barely visible under the mask. Bewitched, Javier watched him silently until Yuzuru noticed him.

“Sitting room is clean?”

“Shining like the sun. Well, like the kitchen. Put down that mop and come here.”

“But...”

“Just come and dance.” Javier opened his arms, with what he hoped was an inviting smile – not trembling like his heart. “I always wished I was Gene Kelly.” He held out his hand. “So? Yuzu?”

Under the white mask Yuzuru was probably smiling, because his eyes had turned into two crescents with a spray of thin short lines at the corner.

“Gene Kelly dance this song alone, I know,” he said, “but okay.” He held Javier’s hand, and they started waltzing around the kitchen.

“This way, floor I just wash get dirty again. You know, yes?” Yuzuru said between pirouettes. His voice was smiling just like his eyes.

“I know. And I also know that I don’t have a silk handkerchief, but a dirty cloth in my pocket,” Javier said. “Use your imagination.”

“Ah, the things I do just for your art!”

What a glorious feeling

I’m happy again

“And now… cas-qué!” Javier made his partner lean on his arm and arch his back. Yuzuru shrieked, but then he burst into laughter, and kept laughing even when Javier finally allowed him to straighten up.

Javier wasn’t smiling though, and Yuzuru gradually stopped.

“Yuzu, I’m sure.” Javier gently removed the elastic band from behind Yuzuru’s ears, put the mask down on the counter and wrapped his arms around Yuzuru’s waist. “Of course you are too much, but that’s you. And I want you, I definitely and absolutely want you, with all your too and all your much. The complete package, as you would say. I’m sure. I’m sure it’s going to be hard, so hard. I’m sure we’ll argue, maybe sometimes we’ll even hurt each other. But most of all, I’m sure of what I feel and of what I want. I. Want. You. My only doubt is... if you want me too.”

Yuzuru didn’t say anything. He stared at Javier, his arms hanging down by his sides.

“As I told you, I know you like me,” Javier rambled on to fill the silence. “I guess you had to... to really revolutionize all your plans today, in order to spend so many hours with...”

“Is not plans or things, what I revolutionize,” Yuzuru interrupted him. “Come.”

Javier followed him into the bedroom, where Yuzuru had dropped his backpack, and watched him fumbling around until he found what he was looking for. A white envelope. Yuzuru handed it to him and Javier took it, but he didn’t dare to open it.

“Tickets for World Championships in Saitama,” Yuzuru explained. “I not know if my ankle be okay, in Saitama. I want win, so much, but can I do it? I hope, but no sure. Only thing I sure, I want Habi there. With me. Well, no, sorry,” Yuzuru shook his head, “I want that Habi is in Berlin and dance, but... one month ago they give me tickets, and I immediately know who I want with me. Habi. One month ago, I take tickets and think: if I win, I want celebrate with Habi. And if I lose...”

“So you don’t think anymore that you fell in Moscow because I was a distraction?” Javier couldn’t help asking. It was not meant as an accusation, it was just something he needed to be sure about, and he hoped his tone was soft, not sharp.

Yuzuru put a hand on Javi’s arm. Javier felt his skin suddenly warm up – and shiver at the same time.

“I never think like that, never,” Yuzuru said with conviction. “I never think is your fault. You not distract me, when I train. I’m great skater, I know how focus. Sorry if I make you thinking... I fell because it happen, when jumping. And I have injury because my ankle is weak. Not your fault, not my fault.”

Javier felt a knot untie in his guts. He put his hand on Yuzuru’s.

“It was bad luck,” he said. “Nothing else.”

“Yes.” Yuzuru pulled away, crossed his arms on his chest. It might look like a defensive posture, but he was staring at Javier openly, gently. “And if lose, I want Habi to comfort me. I need Habi to comfort me. Because... I say before: is not things I revolutionize, since I meeting you.”

Javier buried his hands in his pockets. He wanted to touch Yuzuru so much, but he still wasn’t sure he was allowed to.

“What do you mean?” he whispered.

Yuzuru sighed. “Since I meet you, my... how you write in your letter? Scale?”

“Yes.”

“Since I meet you, my scale of joy and sorrow... of pleasure and sacrifice... you know? Well, it not work anymore. No, not true. It work, but different. I work different, even when skating.”

Javier felt his heart beat wildly in his chest, his ears, his temples. He didn’t say anything, and closed his eyes as Yuzuru reached for his cheek and caressed it.

“You change me, Habi. From now, I can work well only if it work well with you. I can find harmony and balance only if there harmony and balance between you and me. This is revolution.” 

Javier was shivering. He felt Yuzuru’s palms on his temples, and opened his eyes. Yuzuru was so close. And he was light, and air, and sandalwood, and chocolate with Cayenne pepper, and wind blowing through chimes, and all the glory of beauty. 

“Is big revolution, and I know how is called,” Yuzuru whispered.

“How is it called?” Javier echoed him.

“Is called love.”

Javier felt a tear roll down his cheek, felt Yuzuru’s lips on that tear.

“Aren’t you afraid... aren’t you afraid that we’ll mess up?” Javier asked. He had never felt so vulnerable, so quivering and hopeful, so in love. “Because you know we’ll cause some disaster, sooner or later.”

Yuzuru smiled, softly kissed a corner of Javier’s mouth and then Javier’s lips.

“Of course we cause disaster,” he said. “But I not care. We can always clean up, yes?”

Javier couldn’t help holding him tight, opening his mouth to welcome Yuzuru’s kiss – to welcome the warm and salty taste of his own and Yuzuru’s tears, the warm and full taste of happiness.

Chapter Text

“Habi.”

It’s the same apartment, clean this time. In February, its owner fell in love with Berlin and decided to try and move there, and Javier was just too glad to couchsurf and not to pay a rent. It was early summer when they switched homes. Javier’s first, tough weeks in Toronto.

“Habi!”

After nearly four months, in each room there are stacks of cardboard boxes. Now that he’s finally earning some money, for Javier it’s time to move to a place he can call, and feel, only his. Theirs.

“Habi…”

“Yuzu.”

Javier brushes Yuzuru’s lips with his thumb, puts a hand on his nape and pulls him down to kiss him. They kiss forever, moaning, with draining tenderness. Then Yuzuru straightens up, keeping  his hips rolling to an internal, harmonic rhythm. With draining tenderness.

Javier watches Yuzuru riding him, a patina of sweat making his skin golden in the uncertain light of dawn; he watches Yuzuru’s hard nipples, his eyes closed as if to better focus on pleasure. Yuzuru is so fierce and beautiful; and he is with him. In one month, it will be one year since a nail in Helsinki made them meet.

“God, Yuzu.”

“What?”

Javier strokes the mole under Yuzuru’s right earlobe. It’s still too dark and Javier can’t really see it, but he knows it’s there.

“Only this. Yuzu. You.”

Yuzuru leans down again to kiss him, the change of angle and position making them both whine.

It’s been hard to get where they are now, here in this Toronto flat. Yuzuru losing at the Word Championships, then having endless, countless treatments for his ankle, and training madly in Toronto; Javier fighting against his arthrosis, fearing the day when he would have to stop dancing, desperately trying to keep up with his colleagues at the Staatsballet in Berlin: the first months of their relationship have been chaotic, expensive, straining, crazy, and complicated. They have travelled a lot, argued a lot, missed each other a lot. But Javier was in Saitama when Yuzuru lost and needed him, and Yuzuru was in Berlin when Javier left the company and needed him; day by day, month after month, they learned to accept each other, and fight for each other, and love each other – until finally Javier moved to Toronto. They can make it. They are making it.

Without stopping to kiss Javier, Yuzuru lifts his hips up – so much that for a moment Javier thinks he wants to change position, or torture them both – but then he goes down again in one smooth movement, taking Javier deeper inside of him, and Javier closes his eyes with a cry. In moments like this he feels like he’s not penetrating Yuzu, he’s surrounded by him; he’s not inside Yuzu, he has him around – as if Yuzu was everything, encompassing the whole world, engulfing sounds and smells and lights. Javier lost many things this last year, so many that sometimes he still feels like crying; but he’s positive about his future, and often happy, and he knows all too well that it’s mostly because he can be lost in Yuzu.

Javier soon realized that his last season with the Staatsballet would be his last season as a ballet dancer: too much pain in his hip even to think about going on. So Javier bit the bullet, took his fair share of anti-inflammatories and painkillers and did his best to get the male part in the pas de deux from In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. He made it: at least his career ended with a bang. Meanwhile, thanks to the success of Lust, performed by Polina Semionova, and Otoñal, performed at the National Ballet of Canada first and at the New York City Ballet next, Javier’s fame as a choreographer is steadily growing. He’s getting requests and propositions, some of them undefined but some others quite solid. He’s not getting much money yet, but he’s well paid for his ballet classes at the Toronto Cricket Club. And he still dances, he really does. Sometimes, on Sunday they go to the Club: Yuzuru trains alone – just stroking around and doing spins, in order to keep his muscles and ligaments elastic and toned up – while Javier tries to create a sort of new style he can dance despite his hip. Every now and then, Yuzuru takes a break – Javier hears his blade guards ticking on the floor, then Yuzuru is there, smiling on the dance room door; or  Javier is the one sneaking out the dance room and going downstairs to watch Yuzuru courting the ice, his blades composing such a delicate music.These Sundays are some of his favorite moments, in a life with many favorite moments – more than he could have guessed just some months ago. He can make it. He is making it.

 “Habi…”

Yuzuru’s fingers talk, when he has sex as well as when he skates. Now they’re no longer stroking Javier: they’re grabbing and clenching to his skin, as if Yuzu was afraid he may fall, and Javier knows what it means.

“Come here,” he says, although it’s actually him the one straightening up, taking Yuzuru in his arms and starting to meet the rolling of Yuzuru’s hips with fast, strong thrusts. Yuzuru moans, his voice getting higher as he approaches his orgasm, and Javier bites his earlobe, his neck, and holds him even tighter, as if he wanted their bodies to melt into each other.

“I love you,” he sighs, thinking: You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

“You are best thing that ever happen me,” Yuzuru pants.

Then they both fall over the edge.

 

“What would you like to do today?”

The light outside is brighter now, warmer. It will be a beautiful early autumn day. Yuzuru lifts his head and looks at the window, smiling.

“I like go to Niagara Falls,” he says, brushing his nose on Javi’s neck. “You like?”

Javier brushes his lips on Yuzuru’s hair.

“What happened to you? Until last August you had never been there, and now you always want to go to the falls.”

He feels Yuzuru sigh on his skin.

“I like... I would like, right... I would like see falls for last time before is too cold. But if you...”

 “Let’s go there, then. Wonderful idea.”

Yuzuru interlaces his fingers on Javi’s chest, rests his head on his hands.

 “But after I must go to home,” he says. “I need to study for exam, very much.”

 “Why don’t you stay here?” Javier runs a finger on Yuzuru’s cheek. It’s like touching something smooth as ice and warm as breath. “We can have dinner together, then you study and I pack some more things.”

“Don’t know, Habi. I like, but... tomorrow I train in morning, and...”

 “I won’t touch you, I promise.” Javier smiles. “You can study then sleep as if I wasn’t there. By the way, packing boxes is the less erotic thing in the world, I guess.”

Yuzuru chuckles. “You sure? Friday night...”

“That was your fault.”

My fault?”

“Absolutely.”

“I help you with packing!”

“You helped me barefoot, wearing a t-shirt with very short sleeves. How was I supposed to resist?”

Yuzuru giggles. “Baka.”

Yuzu rests his head on Javier’s chest, with a content sigh. Javier strokes his nape with a thumb, lightly.

“I’m serious, Yuzu. We can ask your mom to come and have dinner with us, if you don’t want her to be alone at home. Then you study and I keep packing. Okay?” And maybe, if Yuzuru says yes, Javier will be brave enough to give him what he has kept in a drawer since days: the new apartment’s keys. Maybe it’s too early to ask him to live together, but amongst all the things yet to be packed some belong to Yuzuru – underwear, some training clothes, a pair of backup glasses, toothbrush, inhaler – and when Javier bought some furniture for his new place he couldn’t help but think they were for Yuzu too; he chose them with Yuzu...

“Okay. I must call mom then. By the way.” Yuzuru pulls away, puts his head on the pillow near Javier’s. “Mom want go to Japan,” he says. “You remember Saya looking for new home? Well, she find it and need move.”

“Oh, poor thing.” Javier can’t think about anything more stressful  and tiring than moving. He moved so many times in the last five years. “Of course Saya will need some help. When is Yumi planning to leave?”

“In a week. And she like… would like, yes… to stay there until Rostelecom Cup.”

Javier does the math. “She’ll be in Japan for more than a month then.”

“She say she not worry to leave me alone because now you here.” Yuzuru looks vaguely indignant. “She think I not able to manage alone.”

Javier bites his tongue not to crack a joke: Yuzuru is a bit touchy about his talent, both as skater and as housekeeper. “I’ve always been everybody’s mother favorite,” he says instead. Yuzuru doesn’t smile though.

“I think…” He actually looks quite serious now. “I think that maybe I can… I could… stay with you, when she in Japan”.

Javier stares at him, heart beating off-key in his chest.

“You mean, stay with me at my place?” he asks slowly.

Yuzuru nods shyly. “If you like,” he says. “I can help you settle in new home. And we do… well, we try… how you say? Like warm-up before short or free program?”

“The dress rehearsal before the show,” Javier mutters. His throat is dry like the desert,  and he can’t swallow anymore.

“Yes. A warm-up, or a dress rehearsal before we…” Yuzuru blushes, uncertainty burning his face. “We live together, maybe. In future.” Javier doesn’t say anything. Yuzuru blushes even more, looks even more uncertain. “But… but if is not okay for you, then…”

“Wait,” Javier interrupts him. He stands up and walks to his desk, opens a drawer and takes out a set of keys. Yuzuru’s new apartment’s set of keys, as Javier considers it since the flat’s owner gave him three sets. Javier has been pondering in depth whether to give him two or three keys: the building main door, the apartment front door – okay, those are two keys you can give your boyfriend to make everything easier; it’s just logistics, not cohabitation, not really. But what about the mailbox? If you have the mailbox key you can ask anybody to send you anything to that address; you can collect bills and curse at how much you have to pay… the mailbox key has such a huge, deep meaning. Javier sits back on the bed. A set of keys – three keys – with a red ribbon is hidden in his fist. Would he feel more nervous and excited if he was going to give Yuzuru a ring? Impossible.

“For you,” he announces with slightly shaking voice, handing out the keys.

Yuzuru stares at the set. Then he slowly takes it.

“Is…” he says.

“It’s your set of keys, yes. For the new apartment". For our apartment, Javier can’t help thinking.

For a while, Yuzuru looks at the set in his palm. For a while, he strokes with his thumb the mailbox key. “Our apartment?” he asks, his voice so small that Javier wouldn’t have heard him, if there wasn’t a perfect silence around them. But he did hear him, and an unavoidable smile blooms on his lips.

“Our apartment,” Javier confirms. “Our home.”

Yuzuru nods, still looking at the set of keys. Then he puts it down on the nightstand, carefully and slowly. He smiles and turns to Javier – and suddenly he’s pressed against him, kissing him with all the fury of his happiness. Javier cupped Yuzuru’s face in his hands to ease their kissing, then he moves between Yuzuru’s legs and lies on him, desire waking up and swelling and roaring.

Later they will get up, have breakfast and get ready to leave for Niagara Falls; and when they’ll be on the Maid of the Mist, there will be a moment when they’ll be so close to the falls that the whole world will turn into water: they’ll breathe water, hear water, see water; they’ll have water on their tongues and on their skins. That moment over, Javier will look at Yuzuru, at his wet and oh, so alive face, and he will feel like breathing him, hearing him, seeing him, having him on his tongue and on his skin – a vision to treasure for  the days when they’ll be far away, or when they’ll have to overcome a new barrier on the way of their complicated relationship.

Right now though, Yuzuru lifts his thighs and crosses his ankles behind Javier’s nape, Javier slips inside of him and time stands still. A shred of their present frozen in time, the storm Yuzuru brings, the storm Javier needs, the love they feel.

“Habi.”

“Yuzu.”

Together.