Thirty-two years since the last time he had visited the country. The memory of a bustling arena in Barcelona full of screaming adoring fans, barely present in the back of his mind by now. The rush of the win was already muted and pushed back by recent achievements and by the course of life itself.
His retirement had come suddenly and unexpectedly when his last Olympic adventure had taken too much from him and his body had finally decided that it had enough. Years of self-inflicted abuse for the sake of gold were coming to get their dues and it was just time to stop before his body decided to stop him altogether. Every doctor had warned him about the possibility of never skating again and that would mean life without the only constant he had ever known, it hadn’t been a hard decision, not really. Yuzuru would even say that he had never regretted it or any other important decision he had taken in life. Everything happened for a reason after all.
Well, that wasn’t completely true.
If it were so, he wouldn't be sitting on a plane, about to land in a foreign country with a backpack full of basic belongings, a gift, and many plans on how to find someone he had never thought would be lost to him like this.
It hadn’t been easy to find him.
His first try had turned out to be pointless, as Javier’s mobile phone number was out of service, and he no longer had the easiest and most obvious route to reach him. Had it been that long since the last time that they had texted each other?
Yuzuru didn’t remember, but time hadn’t stopped. It never had, not for them.
His next attempt at locating his former training partner hadn’t ended up any better. Javier’s best friend Jorge had moved out of Madrid and refused to talk about his friend’s current location. It hadn’t helped that he didn’t believe for a second that it was indeed Yuzuru Hanyu talking to him on the phone after so many years of no contact. Jorge had always liked Yuzuru.
Memories tended to tangle up sometimes, but he remembers how after their last night in South Korea, Javier had tried to give him Laura’s phone number. He had said that if someday Yuzuru couldn’t reach him, he could always call his sister. Yuzuru had laughed and brushed it aside.
Yuzuru would never lose contact with Javier.
The Spanish press had been his last resort, and they had been of no help either, surprisingly. Their most recent records went back a year at least and none of them talked about his former rival’s location. Neither did they mention a major change in Javier’s life.
How could someone disappear like that?
Yuzuru had almost given in to despair, he was not used to helplessness and being stuck with begging strangers for slivers of information here and there. It had gotten to a point where he believed that this was simply his punishment for what he had done or what he hadn’t done.
But then a reunion happened.
He hadn’t had the chance to come back in the last twenty-four years. As he looked around the rinks and the grounds, he could still remember every crook and cranny by heart. Things hadn’t changed that much, only the people had.
The cafeteria that served the worst waffles he had ever tasted, the locker room door that never got fixed by Mr. Carson, the indoor garden only a few people noticed, the benches in which he had thrown a tantrum or two before walking off, and the boardless rink that had given him a home for more than ten years. They were all still there.
The Toronto Cricket Club was still completely operational after so many years and even if it had taken a toll after the great pandemic and the war, it had come back to its former glory with just a little bit of help.
There hadn’t been a real excuse for him to not come back earlier, not really. Yet he had found reasons to stay away. At first, because he was afraid of a confrontation, then because he was always too busy, and later because the thought of entering the club without Brian hurt more than he could have ever anticipated.
Everything had looked just like he remembered it and still, it would never be the same. He desperately wished that the club had changed completely so he wouldn’t look at every wall and remember.
Remember what he had worked so hard to forget.
“The club is doing well.”
Chloe sounded and looked so much older than he imagined. Most of their contact had happened through texts, emails, and the occasional call but still, he had been incredibly glad that they could finally meet in person.
“That’s good,” he had answered her and shook her hand, like a partner perhaps? But they knew that what had brought them together, had been so much more than that.
“You don’t need to keep wasting money on us, Yuzu. We are fine, I promise.”
Ah, Chloe never really stopped trying to dissuade him. It had gotten to a point that even though Yuzuru knew perfectly well that the club was doing more than fine, he would send the means to renovate a lounge just to annoy her. He might have been older, but he had never really lost his stubbornness. It had been one of his favorite things about Yuzuru.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Yuzuru had pouted and looked away feigning his best innocent expression, Chole had always “seen” through him though, in a very uncanny familiar way that only Brian had mastered. “Even after I’m gone, there are instructions to keep it going. My family made sure of it already so you should stop trying.”
His family hadn’t been that happy when he had told them that he would be taking care of his will at the age of thirty, but he had learned that some things didn’t really have a proper time in life to be taken care of. The world had learned it the hard way after years of watching lives being cut down far too short and too fast.
“Is everything really in your calculations?” she had asked, her mischievous streak no doubt inherited by one of her adoptive fathers. He could imagine Brian telling her all the awful stories about their days together and all the horrible things Yuzuru Hanyu put the poor coaches through.
Most of the stories wouldn’t be a lie.
“Obviously,” he had answered with his most disturbing expression. Yuzuru had been glad it had worked to bring some laughter out of Chloe, the young woman had taken on a lot on her shoulders lately with the new adjustments that were bound to happen. After the world had somewhat righted itself, the scandals and downfall of the highest institution in the sport had turned things around, and not always for the best: blame had been thrown to every corner of the world and federations struggled to keep the trust of their athletes and future students. The sport itself had been at risk of falling apart.
Things were starting to get hectic and that had been one of the reasons why he had flown to Canada in person after so long, he had failed to be present on some of the hardest moments of the club’s history, choosing to stay in the shadows. Perhaps he could start atoning for it, somehow.
He had taken his first slap back to reality as soon as he had entered the club, this time no longer as a member, but as an outsider for most workers there.
But then he had presented his credentials and quickly turned into Yuzuru Hanyu again. It made him realize how outside Japan, people had moved on and there was more to the world than his own small reality. We all become irrelevant someday.
“How will we ever repay you?”
Yuzuru had shrugged and tried to change the conversation around, he still disliked it when things were too focused on something that he had done to help. He had never done any of it for acknowledgment, he had enough of that already.
“Just make sure that your father would be proud of this place. And more importantly, that he would be proud of you,” he had replied as he scanned the crowd in search of any old faces. He had ended up looking up to the legendary plaques that still rested above the rink, their number had increased significantly as he noticed that right next to his name, there were a dozen more names and dates, “Also, please don’t forget to dust our plaques over there.”
That had earned him a light smack and Yuzuru wondered again how much alike father and daughter had become. He missed it all, the scolding and the father figure that Brian had turned out to be when he hadn’t been able to rely on his own father. The helping hand that pulled him up whenever he just sat down in the middle of the rink and cried, hoping that his mother wouldn’t notice anything when he left the club to meet her outside. She didn’t deserve to see his weakness when she had sacrificed so much for him already.
“I moved those by the way.”
Yuzuru had looked up to whatever Chloe was pointing at, and a smile grew on his face almost instantly. The Japanese flag was now right next to the Spanish one, their contrast a nostalgic image from every shared podium throughout the years.
But, it had never been about the podiums, had it?
“I like it better now.”
And just like the club, the students, and the rest of the world, maybe it was time for him as well to move on, and perhaps one day try again.
There’s no rush, we have all the time in the world.
Yuzuru had last seen Chloe five years ago. He had finally replied to an invitation that was sent to him every year without fail and despite his lack of response, he had never been forgotten.
Every year, the Toronto Cricket Club insisted on hosting small gatherings for the former members to have a chance to interact with the younger students. It was a simple way to bring together different generations of skaters and at the same time, to reconnect with students that had left the club a long time ago, a chance to remind people that this had been their home no matter how short their stay had been.
A couple of years after his meeting with Chloe, Yuzuru had decided that he would give it a chance. To finally start looking for the person that he had lost contact with and yet never managed to gather the strength to change things around. He tried his best to reach out, but all his attempts were frustrated, and even if decided to just catch a plane and fly over there…where would he go?
When he got the invitation though. Maybe it would turn out to be a sign.
The shock of walking around the halls without being instantly recognized had somewhat diminished after his last visit and now he had a goal in mind. He just had to find her.
“Took you long enough.”
Ah, there she was.
Yuzuru hadn’t been able to see her the last time, only receiving a message with welcoming wishes once the news of his arrival to the club had spread. Apparently, Tracy no longer taught classes full-time, only keeping a small class of young students even though she had officially retired almost a decade ago. He suspected that she mostly tried to help Chloe run the club before she completely started enjoying her golden years.
Despite fully knowing that it would be a shock to see his former coach again, in person, Yuzuru couldn’t help but feel a slight burn in his eyes. She was the only thing, the only person left in Toronto from back then, a living memory that assured him that he hadn’t dreamed all of it.
It had been real and so were the tears escaping without permission.
“I’m sorry,” what else was he supposed to say after everything? It sounded like a weak excuse even to his own ears but, he was trying.
“He always asked for you, you know?” she said, reaching out to touch his no longer soft cheeks that Tracy loved to pinch whenever he decided to act cheeky or talk back about recommendations that everyone knew were appropriate except for Yuzuru.
Had Javier attended every gathering since then? Would he be there?
Yuzuru had so many questions, he could have just come to the gathering earlier on and save himself many sleepless nights. Then again, he was sure he could-
“He always asks if you would come.” Tracy looked down as if she regretted telling him all of this without Javier’s permission. It didn’t matter, Yuzuru would meet him soon. “I told him to stop hoping.”
An opportunity lost. Another one.
“I guess he finally took my advice and stopped coming.”
It had felt awfully frustrating that they wouldn’t meet after all, but to know that Javier had come to the gatherings hoping for a chance of an encounter…made that guilt come out all over again. He would make it right though, he would apologize and perhaps spend the rest of his days making up for everything.
“I’m sure you will meet soon enough. Did you know that he moved? He now lives right by the sea! We visited him last summer and it was amazing, his nephew works nearby so he keeps an eye on him.”
So that was why he couldn’t get a hold of him as easily as before. Still, it was so uncharacteristic of him to move out of Madrid and just leave his life in the city behind, to leave his school and club. And what about his family? The children would be fine on their own but why let him leave like that?
“His kids agreed to let him leave to God knows where all by himself? He’s not exactly young anymore.” Yuzuru knew he was overreaching but, he was getting more curious by the second.
“Javi’s kids?” Tracy asked, looking confused at the question, which in turn made Yuzuru a bit lost as well. Had they not met?
“Well I assumed that he probably had a few more kids, I only know about Santi because he showed me his picture as a baby. Javi wanted me to meet him.”
It was remarkable how he could remember the conversation so clearly, all those years ago. The pain that he had felt, the rage, and the pure spite that led him to cut off someone so important to him. He could remember it all now, surrounded by mirrors that didn’t reflect a man willing to fight but a shadow of himself that had given up a part of his life, because he couldn’t get what he had wanted. Who he had wanted.
“Santi? You mean Laura’s youngest son?”
They hadn’t seen each other in person for four years.
That didn’t mean that they hadn’t kept in touch. It had actually been Javier the one to force Yuzuru to get apps like Telegram and what-not so they could communicate better after spending a few weeks without any contact. That just wouldn’t do. They both had known that this would happen, that it would get to a point where it would be almost impossible to meet in person, but it had been okay for both of them to have what they could at the time
Yuzuru had had many important things to say to Javier back in Toronto, but it hadn’t been the right time yet, he still had some gold to chase after and Javier agreed that they would meet in person one day and talk about everything that they had left on hold. For Yuzuru that had been enough of a reassurance. Enough of a reason to keep going, because, in the end, he would have someone waiting for him.
He barely remembers what he had been doing that day. He just recalls getting a very formal email from a Spanish email address and a lot of words he couldn’t understand. What had stopped him from ignoring the message altogether was the following ping on his phone from a number he already knew by heart and yet decided to never identify in case someone got hold of his phone somehow.
I sent you the Spanish version, didn't I?
Fuck, I suck at this.
Wait a second.
His phone warned him about a new email, same address but now written in perfect English. The message was clear: the organization of Revolution On Ice was formally inviting Yuzuru Hanyu to their show that would happen on the 9th of December 2028, right after his birthday.
Yuzuru had laughed at the whole formality for something he had been actually waiting for... It had finally come.
You have to send pretty email? Can’t Javi just ask.
I can’t just tell the producers that I ringed Yuzuru Hanyu.
You pretend you don’t have my number?
Of course. I value my life.
Anyways, what do you think? Is it too close to your bday?
I wait forever for Javi to ask.
Of course I’m going.
Wait, you want me to perform right?
No, I just want you to sit there and look pretty.
Sadly that would still sell out the venues, fml.
That was a joke.
Pease perform, yes.
First time Javi says I look pretty.
Don’t worry, I can do both.
Javier hadn’t answered after that and Yuzuru had thought that perhaps he had gone too far, that his joke laced with some truth had been too much. They had never acknowledged the subtle teasing that always seemed to happen spontaneously between them from time to time, one too scared to act upon his feelings and the other afraid of rejection. Javier had taken the easy way out and tried to forget about what their relationship could be and found love and comfort with others.
That had never been enough of a reason to give up for Yuzuru. Not after the disastrous break-ups that Javier seemed to go through almost every year. He had been there every single time, holding him as Javier asked what was wrong with him.
Their undefined relationship as teammates, rivals, friends, and confidants had always been a comfortable constant. They were someone that they could always count on to push each other forward, give each other a helping hand when they fell - which was not always caused by a bad landing. They couldn’t afford to act upon what they felt, so they kept going as what they could be.
Even far away from him, Javier hadn’t hesitated to send him a message of support right before the Olympics, wishing him the best of luck and a certainty that he would still be the best no matter the color of his medal. If he got a medal at all this time.
It had been a chaotic couple of years and after the Olympics had come and gone, time just seemed to fly. He had finally established himself as a champion, a coach, a choreographer, and as a leader that would fight for the sport in order to help the next generation succeed as he had.
He thought that he would feel burdened by his new roles, the new expectations but if anything…it actually made him feel lighter, less lost, and more focused on one thing at a time. That meant that he had enough time to stop once in a while to think about everything else that he had left unfinished.
And that meant Javier and thousands of lost moments that never got a final resolution.
So, now that he had a motive to fly to Spain, he would apologize in person for the time lost, hopefully, Javier would understand his need to figure himself out and everything around him before acting on his own selfish desires. Javier had always understood him better than himself.
He could already imagine how they would talk after the show and Yuzuru would finally tell him about the pent-up feelings that had threatened to come out for years and were never really acknowledged. It sounded so simple.
Actually, I have some big news for you.
I’ve been waiting to tell you this for a long time now
There’s someone that I would love you to meet.
It was almost midnight when his phone flashed with a notification again and Yuzuru couldn’t unlock it fast enough.
He has gotten so big.
I should have shown you pictures before.
He could barely make out Javier’s face in the pictures but, there was no mistaking the small child in his arms. A baby, looking comfortable leaning against Javier’s chest, peacefully sleeping while someone took the picture. The baby’s hair a mess of curls contrasting against the white of Javier’s shirt.
Isn’t he precious?
He looks so much like me and nothing like his mother.
He has seen videos of you and he’s in love with the sparkles.
I can’t wait for him to meet uncle Yuzu.
And just like that, everything had ended. How could he have been so stupid as to think that Javier hadn’t moved on? On that cold night in Italy, he should have caught a plane to Madrid instead of Tokyo. He shouldn’t have waited for so long. He should have told him.
But he hadn’t and now four years later, Yuzuru had deluded himself that he could still go back in time and try to get Javier to look at him again, somehow. As if his life revolved around his.
He was pathetic.
I’m sorry Javi.
I just got bad news, I can’t go to your show.
I will tell manager to take care of everything and compensate.
Did something happen? Are you okay?
I just don’t think we want the same thing.
Better to say goodbye now, right?
I need time before we see each other again.
It took him four months to make a decision.
He didn’t wait for more than a second for a response before blocking Javier’s number.
“Are you Santi?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“My name is-”
“Yuzuru Hanyu. You look exactly the same even after all these years.”
“No, but uncle showed me a lot of pictures. From your time together, you know? Come in please, sit anywhere.”
Santi’s apartment, even if located in the middle of nowhere, had a beautiful view of the sea. The distant nothingness and the endless horizon scared Yuzuru, who was used to living in the middle of concrete walls and busy streets. According to Tracy, Javier had moved far south from Madrid and settled in a small town near the coast where his nephew had also taken up an offer in the local hospital. Santi had decided to become a doctor despite being surrounded by athletes (his father a football player, much to Javier’s happiness), then again it made sense since his mother was a nurse. Or in this case, had been.
“I was actually trying to get back in contact with you uncle. It’s been a while.” Yuzuru says as Santi walks around the worn-out couch and offers him a cup of tea, without even being asked. Almost as if he knew exactly what he liked.
As if his visit would be inevitable.
“Right. If you wish, I could take you to his house?”
“I would like that.”
Yuzuru found himself trying to breathe slowly, his heart was racing so fast that he got reminded of how it was like to be a second away from entering an arena, the pressure, and the adrenaline. But right now, all of that sounded easier in comparison. The wooden box in his hands probably shook as he took each step carefully, trying to follow Santi as they took a short walk to the seaside.
They had reached their destination, and surprisingly, Santi didn’t ring a bell or knock. He just took out his keys and opened the front door with an ease that was unsettling.
The small house looked exactly the same as Javier’s old apartment in Madrid, despite being located hundreds of miles from the capital. The couch where he had sat with Javier’s mother as she tried to make him eat more cakes than he ever had in his life, the table where he had learned to play Go Fish with Laura, and the chairs with their leather seats completely scratched off by Effie – they were all there.
He looks at the frames hanging on every wall and smiles at all the baby pictures spread around, some with Javi and his mother, with his father and some show Santi with an older man that Yuzuru can’t recognize at first.
The years hadn’t been kind to either of them but, Javier was still the most handsome man he had ever seen, that would never change.
All around him, he found evidence of a life lived fully. But still, the house was deadly silent.
“I don’t understand,” Yuzuru says as he picks up a picture of a students' class all in their skating gear. The first class in Javier’s own rink.
“Uncle Javi lived here for the last decade. We wanted him to move in with us, but he refused. He wanted to be alone with his memories it seems.”
Yuzuru sat down and waited. There was nothing left to do but wait.
“I had just returned from a conference last month when my mother called me. Uncle Javi decided to leave us early. Far too early.”
Santi’s eyes began to shine against the dying afternoon natural light that surrounded the whole house, for a moment Yuzuru wanted to just stop. Wanted it all to just stop for once and to wake up from this reality. It was not true, how could it be? The frame that he had held onto slipped from his fingers but he never heard the crash or noticed the glass shards that spread around his feet.
“Before I left, I think he knew it would be the last time we would see each other.” Santi reached for the highest shelf behind Yuzuru and took out a small tin box. It looked worn out and probably older than Santi himself. “He made me promise to give something back to its rightful owner. This box has been sitting on that shelf for as long as I can remember…I’ve always been a curious child and I couldn’t help but peek inside, I never understood what it meant or why it was so important.”
He tried to shake some of the gathering dust off the rusty metal but it was a pointless effort with how he was shaking and trying to wipe the tears that kept falling from his face. Yuzuru wanted to comfort him somehow, such pain seemed so out of place on such a young face. But Yuzuru was used to empty words that only lead you to some illusion of comfort before you needed to go back to reality, he was sure that Santi had enough of pretty lines and promises that everything would get better with time.
Yuzuru was no stranger to loss after so many years, but to try to make people believe that your pain got better after some determined amount of time was cruel in his opinion. It never got better, you just learned to live with it and lived in the best way that you could.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds; it only makes you stronger to bear the pain that they inflict and right now Yuzuru didn’t even know what he was feeling. Emptiness? Regret? Anger?
His head felt like he was suddenly thrown underwater and Santi’s voice became muted as he went on, “When he told me to return it, I was completely lost…I didn't know who it belonged to, it was too small to fit me or any of us. Trust me I made everyone try it on.”
He finally opened the box and inside it held a black piece of fabric, Yuzuru couldn’t really make out what it was supposed to be without reaching inside himself and bringing it to the light.
He hadn’t seen that glove in thirty years. The black satin hit the floor and joined the crystal shards as Yuzuru covered his mouth with his hands, not sure if to stop a scream from escaping or to muffle the wracking sobs that seemed to take over his body. Had he been crying this whole time? None of this made sense.
“I asked why he didn’t just return it but, he kept telling me that he was waiting. That one day he would meet the owner again and give it back in person, so he could apologize for taking it by mistake and…to apologize for other things.”
For how long had Javi kept that glove in some sad attempt of keeping something as a memory?
A last memory.
Somehow this reminded him of their entire relationship. Yuzuru had given everyone parting gifts to remember him by, had kept the TCCC afloat when it struggled, as payment for everything that he had gotten out of it, had asked for Javier’s signature when he left so that he could keep it close to him at all times. In Japan, he made sure that the next generation of skaters would get support from a federation that had once given up on him.
He had taken care of everyone.
But he had given Javier nothing but a lifetime of waiting.
“Was he waiting for you?”
Yuzuru wanted to say that no, he didn’t know what that glove was, that he was the wrong person. But the question seemed pointless as he shakily got the pristine glove back and slipped it on easily, like he had done many times before, ready to incarnate one of his most beloved programs, Seimei.
Such a silly memory, yet so painful to think about, now that both his mother and Javier were gone.
Yet, he had also brought a gift. It made less sense now that he couldn’t really relive the best memories of his life with the only person that had ever understood him the best, he couldn’t spend the rest of his life catching up on what he had missed.
“I bought something with me. I wanted to share it with him and tell him…tell him the stories that he missed. But now, I can’t.”
But he couldn’t take it back home with him either. Yuzuru was sure that every time he looked at it, he would be reminded of the person that he had failed, the only person he had left behind.
“Will you give it to him?” he asked Santi, hopefully, it would be the last time that he would be of any bother to him.
“I can show you-”
“No. I think fate really didn't want us to meet after all. I’m sure I will see him again when we are meant to.”
Santi took the wooden box from him, and taking Yuzuru’s small gloved hand in his, he tried to smile through his own pain.
Twelve hours later, Santi found himself on his way to the cemetery of Almudena. He knew the way around the place almost as well as the back of his hand by now. Sadly, over the years his visits had become more frequent and not only because of his uncle.
Within minutes he found what he was looking for, but before he opened the small door and placed the wooden box inside, his curiosity won over.
Inside the heavy box, right on the top of a pile of metal, there was a small note written in colorful paper and delicate handwriting, like it was supposed to be a surprise gift to the one receiving it. The message was short and clear. He hoped that his uncle would still be able to read it somehow, wherever he was.
I owe what I won to you
A box full of memories.
A box full of gold.