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Chasing Fate

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Yuuri Katsuki was twelve when he presented as an Alpha, to the shock of his family and everyone who knew him. They had fully expected Yuuri to be a Beta like his father, or if anything, an Omega like the mother he took after.

“Well,” his mom said with a thoughtful hum as the nurse approached Yuuri with a distressingly large needle, “our family tree is littered with early bloomers.”

“That’s true, that’s true,” his dad agreed genially. “When I married into the family your grandfather wouldn’t stop telling me all about the time your grandmother made a dozen people kneel when she was only eleven. Isn’t that right, Mom?”

Yuuri missed his mother’s reply as he whimpered and turned his face away while the nurse drew his blood. “There, there,” she said, smelling strongly of rubbing alcohol and soap. “An Alpha shouldn’t be afraid of a needle, right?” Yuuri scowled and bit his lip hard. “All done!” she chirped and put a plaster on his arm.

“The blood test isn’t really necessary,” Dr. Yamada kindly reassured them later as Yuuri leaned against his mother’s side, irritable and wishing that this entire week was just a bad dream. “Just following procedure, but Yuuri-kun here is a pretty cut and dry case even though he is presenting a little earlier than usual. I’ll update his medical files and register him as an Alpha-Dominant with the NRO. You’ll get a call from them later this week to confirm the presentation and to schedule his control classes, and that will be that!” He turned to Yuuri with a smile. “Congratulations, young man. You’re an Alpha! How does it feel? Are you excited?”

Yuuri, who for the past four days had suffered from presentation fever and chills and had to miss school and ballet and skating— “No!” the little boy snapped, finally fed up with it all. “I don’t want to be an Alpha and I think this is all stupid and I don’t want to be sick and I want to go skate so you can just go away!”

And when Dr. Yamada—who had been Yuuri’s pediatrician since he was a baby and who Yuuri actually really liked because he gave the best lollipops ever—fell from his chair, eyes blank and glazed over from the strength of Yuuri’s push, his forced compulsion tasting like burnt sugar in his mind, so horrible and suffocating Yuuri threw up, it cemented in Yuuri’s mind that being an Alpha was the worst thing to have ever happened to him.

--

“So, what’s it like, being an Alpha?” Yuuko asked.

Yuuri looked away, brow wrinkled as he focused on tying his laces. It was the first time she’d seen him in weeks, all his free time lately taken by mandatory classes and home training on how to control his dominance. “I don’t like it,” he said quietly.

“Oh,” Yuuko’s voice was soft with sympathy. Yuuri didn’t really change much since becoming an Alpha. She thought maybe it was because she herself hadn’t presented yet, or was probably a Beta like her parents, but she couldn’t sense anything like dominance from him. If anything Yuuri seemed more shy and closed in on himself than he was before. “Do you still have to go to those classes?”

Yuuri only shook his head, head still bowed. She exchanged a worried look with Takeshi. There had been some bullying incidents that she and he had stopped back when they were all in the same middle school.

“Well whatever,” Takeshi declared loudly. “I don’t care if you are an Alpha or what, you’re still chubby little Yuuri to me!”

“Takeshi!” Yuuko scolded, but Yuuri only looked at him with wide and grateful eyes.

“Really?”

“Yeah!” Takeshi snorted. “And I’ll whap anyone who makes a big deal of it.”

“Okay.” He was smiling a little now. “Can we go skate now?”

“Yeah, let’s go!” Yuuko grinned, heart warm as she watched Takeshi sling an arm over Yuuri’s shoulders. Two and a half hours later Yuuri was more like himself, sweetly happy and pink cheeked as they started taking off their skates. “Yuuri-kun, you know you can tell us anything, right? Me and Takeshi, we’re here for you.”

“Thanks Yu-chan,” Yuuri said, fiddling with his jacket zipper. Then he blurted out, “It’s just… I really, really wish I wasn’t like this! I don’t want to be an Alpha and I don’t want to tell people what to do and everyone keeps telling me I’m lucky but I hate it.”

“You don’t have to tell people what to do—“

“But that’s what all the kids in the class said!” Yuuri said, all worked up now. “They said that if I’m not strong and brave and tell people what to do then I’m a bad Alpha. They said that there must have been a mistake because I’m so little and, and…”

“Yuuri-kun…” Yuuko didn’t know what to say and Takeshi looked just as lost as she was. She wished she knew how to make Yuuri feel better… “Oh! You missed it because you were busy with your extra classes, but look at this!” She went to the TV and turned it on to the recording she had made last week, a figure skater with long silver hair, wearing an elegant black costume, filled the screen as he performed in front of a packed and cheering audience. “He’s Russia’s Victor Nikiforov, and he just won the gold in the Junior Worlds with the highest score in history!”

Yuuri, who loved anything related to figure skating, stared rapt at the TV, eyes wide as saucers behind his glasses. “Wow…”

“And you know what? He’s an Omega.” Yuuko revealed delightedly.

Yuuri gasped. “Really?”

“Yup! He’s sooo cool! He beat all the other Alphas in the competition, even though everyone said he wouldn’t be able to do it because he’s an Omega.” Yuuko smiled at Yuuri’s expression; he was so focused on the screen he’d stopped breathing. “Isn’t he awesome?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri said, shining eyes glued to the screen. “Yeah, he is,” he whispered, awed.

Yuuko smiled, glad she was able to cheer Yuuri up.

--

That woman was here again. Yuuri knew it as soon as he came back from the rink and walked inside his house. She had long dark hair, a calm manner, and smelled like an ordinary Beta, but Yuuri still didn’t like her. Something about her just rubbed him the wrong way.

Her name was Nagisa Doumeki, and she was from the Nature Registration Office.

“Yuuri, welcome home,” his mom greeted him with a smile. “Doumeki-san is here to visit you.”

“I’m home,” Yuuri mumbled, dropping his backpack on the floor and sitting across from Doumeki, who had an empty bowl of what had been katsudon in front of her. Yuuri could tell by the smell. “Hello, Doumeki-san.”

“Yuuri-kun, it’s good to see you,” she said in a soft, pleasant voice. “How have you been?”

Yuuri hunched his shoulders. “Okay.” He had wanted to go straight to his room and look up everything that he could about Victor Nikiforov on the internet, but he wasn’t about to do that with her in his territory. “Why are you here? I finished all my classes already.”

“Yuuri!” his mom scolded, but she sounded more surprised than angry.

“It’s okay, Katsuki-san,” Doumeki said, “Actually, I came here to talk about the classes. Did you like them?” And when Yuuri said nothing, “Did you hate them?”

Yuuri was silent, sullenly staring at his hands.

“As I told you before, the classes are mandatory for all newly presented Alphas,” she continued as if he’d answered her. “They teach the basics of what their nature is, and how to conduct themselves properly in society in their day to day lives.” Yuuri didn’t know why she was talking about it, he already knew this stuff. “That’s what the classes are, at the surface.”

“At the surface?” he asked, curious in spite of himself.

Doumeki smiled at him. “Their real purpose is to accurately rate the dominance levels of the students. Yuuri-kun, you scored the highest in your class. In fact, you’re in the top 10% among all Alphas in the country.”

“…I am?” He looked at her, then his mom. “I don’t understand.”

Doumeki hummed a little. “Perhaps it’s best to show you.”

Then, it was as if a lake had appeared right in the middle of the room. Yuuri felt like he had fallen, was submerged in cold water: a mental pressure strong enough to drown him. He struggled against it, something deep inside him instinctively rebelling against the threat, the presumption of this outsider. How dare she think he was weak. That he wasn’t strong enough to fight.

He finally broke through the surface of her push only to hear his mother make a small sound, sitting frozen where she was. Then he was between her and the threat, worry and fear and anger and something else, something he didn’t have a name for, welling up fast inside him as he looked at the other Alpha straight in the eye—and shoved.

Doumeki blinked, looked down, and the pressure was gone, disappeared like it had never been there. Yuuri collapsed to his knees, gasping, hands shaking and forehead beaded with sweat. “Mom? Mom, are you okay?” he asked, voice high and strained. That had been so scary!

“Yes, I was only a bit surprised there.” Then she looked at Doumeki and said, “Oh dear, I see what you mean.”

“What—what’s going on?” Yuuri cried. “I don’t understand!”

“Yuuri,” his mom said kindly, wiping his tears away and hugging him. “This means you’re a very strong boy, and really take after my side of the family!”

“Huh?”

“I’m very sorry for scaring you, Yuuri-kun, and for my rudeness in your home.” Yuuri looked over to see Doumeki’s head bowed. He blinked, suddenly feeling less prickly and angry toward her, and also less uncertain. He stopped crying. She raised her head and smiled at him. “Do you feel better now?”

“Um, yeah… what did you do?”

She laughed a little. “It’s not what I did, but what you did. You didn’t like me in your home because you unconsciously knew I was a very strong Alpha, like you. You automatically saw me as a threat,” she explained. “But just now you protected your territory against me and since I acknowledged you as the Alpha here, you don’t see me as an enemy anymore.”

“Oh,” Yuuri said, frowning as he thought. “But you don’t smell like an Alpha at all!”

“I use soaps and lotions to neutralize my scent. It makes it easier in my job to deal with newly presented Alphas if I don’t smell like competition. Normally, that is,” she said with a shrug. “You’re strong enough that a trick like that won’t work on you.”

Yuuri fidgeted, a bit flustered. He wasn’t used to being told he was strong. Usually it was the opposite.

“Now we can move forward and discuss your future, Yuuri-kun,” his mom said cheerfully.

“Huh? My future?”

“Yes,” Doumeki said. “Because you have such a high rating, you automatically qualify to a, well I guess you can think of it as a scholarship. Part of the NRO’s job is to make sure that powerful Alphas like you have the necessary resources and support to succeed in their chosen paths in life. I know you’re a little young, but I don’t think it’s too early for you to consider what you want to do—“

“Figure skating!” Yuuri blurted out.

Doumeki and his mom blinked. “You don’t have to make a decision now,” she began, but Yuuri interrupted her again.

“I already know what I want to be,” Yuuri declared, voice ringing with conviction. “I want to be a professional figure skater.”

“Well, if you’re sure…”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

She considered him for a long moment. Yuuri didn’t look away and kept his eyes directly on hers. “I guess you are,” she finally agreed with a smile.

“Mom, can I?” Yuuri implored his mother.

“Well…” she wavered, then turned to Doumeki. “Doumeki-san, is that all right?” she asked, sounding a bit concerned.

After a short pause she said, “It’s not unusual for Alphas to go into professional sports."

Yuuri grabbed his mom’s hands. “Please, Mom. Please let me!”

“…All right,” she said, smiling. “You know your father and I will support you in whatever you choose, Yuuri.”

“Thank you!” He hugged his mom joyfully. He still hated being an Alpha, but if it meant that he could become a professional figure skater, then he guessed it couldn’t be all that bad.

Doumeki pulled out her phone. “I’ll start making arrangements. I hope you’re ready to work hard, Yuuri-kun.”

Yuuri nodded vigorously. “Yes, I’ll work very hard! This is the best,” he said excitedly. “Today Yu-chan told me all about this amazing figure skater, Victor Nikiforov. And now I can become just like him! What a coincidence!”

“I see…” Doumeki said slowly, then she smiled. Yuuri blinked. There was something mysterious and otherworldly about her, just then. “It’s not a coincidence, Yuuri-kun. It’s hitsuzen.”

Fate.

--

Three Years Later

Celestino Cialdini sat in the bleachers and ignored the noise from the rink below him, of the skaters practicing and the occasional shouted instruction from their respective coaches, and considered again the contents of the email he had up on his phone.

Yuuri Katsuki

Nationality: Japan

Age: 15

Nature: Alpha

He skimmed the CV quickly: trained in ballet and a variety of other dance disciplines, in the last three years gained a lot of experience with varying degrees of success in the domestic Novice and Junior circuit, but to date hasn’t participated in an international event.

Celestino tapped the screen of his phone thoughtfully. He had already agreed to take him on this season, but…

“Um, Mr. Cialdini?”

Celestino turned. Yuuri Katsuki stood on the aisle, a slim, pretty, brown-haired woman a step behind him. It seemed his smile was just as shy in person as it was in his photo.

“Yes, that’s me,” Celestino said, standing up to shake the kid’s hand. He had a surprisingly strong grip for such a thin, little guy. “Ciao ciao! You must be Yuuri Katsuki. Welcome to Detroit! I saw your videos, they were very good! You show a lot of promise.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said, fidgeting. “Uh, this is Minako Okukawa.”

Celestino shook her hand and exchanged greetings. “Okukawa… that sounds familiar.”

Minako laughed, a gregarious, engaging sound. “Maybe from my old touring days.”

“Ah!” Celestino said, remembering. “With the American Ballet Theatre, wasn’t it?”

She looked pleased. “You have a good memory! That was a very long time ago.”

Celestino laughed. “Surely not,” he said, then connected the dots. “So, you are the source of young Yuuri’s excellent ballet skills.”

“Yes, Minako-sensei is my ballet instructor and dance coach,” Yuuri said warmly. “You noticed?”

“Of course! All your programs scream ‘ballet!’ I look forward to seeing what we can do with such a strong foundation.”

The kid nervously pushed up his glasses. “Um, thank you for taking me on, Mr. Cialdini.”

“Please call me Ciao Ciao, everyone does.” Minako chuckled but Yuuri only blinked owlishly at him. “Or Celestino, or Coach if you prefer,” he continues affably. “Now, first things first. Go ahead and show me what you can do.”

“Yes, Coach.” Yuuri nodded firmly, spine straightening up with grace. Celestino raised his brows. All of a sudden Yuuri Katsuki didn’t look so small and nervy.

“When it comes to figure skating, Yuuri becomes almost like a different person,” Minako said conversationally as they watched him stretch by the boards, voice ringing with clear pride for her charge.

“So I see,” Celestino said. “I saw his last programs. He got silver with them at the Japan Junior Nationals, didn’t he? He’s got the necessary skills to compete at the ISU level already, so…”

“So why hasn’t he?” Minako said, taking a seat. Celestino joined her, but kept his eyes on Yuuri as he put on his skates.

“That’s right.”

“There are a lot of reasons,” Minako began. Celestino listened carefully even as he watched his newest student step onto the ice, his strides sure and his posture upright. He had specifically scheduled their first meeting today when he had no other students so he could focus entirely on him. “There’s school, of course. And, since he was so young when he presented, it was best to stay near his family for a year or so.”

“Ah. I thought that was a typo,” Celestino said. “So he’s really an Alpha? I couldn’t tell.”

“He is,” was all Minako said. On the ice Yuuri began what Celestino recognized as the step sequence for his Burgmuller free skate. He leaned forward; either Yuuri was a lot better in person, or he had improved since the video was taken. “But the real reason is because he doesn’t want to just compete in the Junior Grand Prix. He wants to win it.”

Yuuri jumped, and nailed a double toe loop, double axel combination clean.

Celestino grinned, delighted. This was going to be a more interesting season than he thought.

--

Minako thought that after she retired from performing and came back to Hasetsu to settle down permanently that her days of traveling for work were over. And yet here she was in an airy two-bedroom apartment in Detroit in the middle of January, surrounded by half-unpacked boxes of her and Yuuri’s things.

“Eep!” Yuuri squeaked. “Uh, I think I found your, um,” he shoved an open box at her, lacy frilly things spilling out of it. “This is yours!” His face was a solid bright red.

Minako laughed and took the box from him. “Here, I found your treasures,” she said, handing him a large cardboard tube, carefully sealed, which she knew from experience was full of Victor Nikiforov posters.

“Thank you,” Yuuri said, still slightly blushing.

“So,” Minako began, “how do you like your new school?”

Yuuri shrugged. “It’s okay. The classes are a lot easier than back home.”

Minako hummed and looked thoughtfully at him. Yuuri was smart, and did well enough in his classes, but she knew his main priority by far was his skating. She was surprised that he had chosen to transfer in the middle of the school year rather than wait until the new one started, but he said he didn’t want to graduate high school any later than he had to, and if transferring meant he could graduate sooner then all the better. So he had enrolled as a sophomore and was somehow admitted as such.

“You must look really young compared to your new classmates.” Although he was an Alpha, Yuuri had not gone through his growth spurt yet and would likely not be very tall, even after he was done growing. His slight frame, combined with an innocently sweet face, made him look younger than he was.

“I get mistaken for a freshman a lot,” Yuuri confessed. “And once a teacher actually thought I was a middle school student who had gotten lost.”

“But no one’s bothering you, right?” Minako couldn’t help but ask. No matter what, Yuuri was still just a kid, and she couldn’t help but worry about him.

“Don’t worry, Minako-sensei. I can take care of myself,” he said with a small smile. Minako blinked. Sometimes even she forgot what Yuuri was. He used special soaps and lotions to soften his scent almost to the point of neutralizing it, and was so shy and gentle that it was easy to forget that he was probably the strongest Alpha that she’d ever met.

She had been as shocked as everyone when Yuuri presented as an Alpha three years ago. She was even more surprised when a few months later someone from the NRO approached her with a job offer to be Yuuri’s personal full time dance coach and manager, to travel with him for training and competitions. She had been of two minds to accept it, but the salary offered was very good and when Yuuri himself had asked her, nervously fidgeting the whole time… well, naturally she couldn’t refuse.

She didn’t regret her decision of giving up her studio even now, three years later and living so far from home again, but sometimes she thought she would have been just as happy to simply be Yuuri’s fan, cheering him on from the stands instead of by the boards. Well, at least this way she got to meet a lot of fit and handsome professional figure skaters…

“Minako-sensei, it’s not good to be thinking of weird things,” Yuuri said, voice flat.

“Yuuri-chan,” she teased, tackling him and ruffling his hair while he struggled against her, “you’re still such a child aren’t you? Don’t worry, you’ll understand soon enough, hahaha!”

Then the two of them yelled simultaneously as Vicchan, who had been napping quietly in a corner all this while, finally woke up and decided it must be play time, jumping all over them and officially making a mess of everything.

--

“Jim, Cathy, this is Yuuri Katsuki, and he’ll be your new rink mate from now on.” Yuuri tried not to look too nervous as Celestino introduced him to two skaters, his other students. “He’s come all this way from Japan to train with us, so give him a warm welcome, okay?” Yuuri smiled wanly at their curious looks. With the exception of while he was skating, he was never comfortable being the center of attention.

“But Ciao Ciao,” the girl said, an Omega with short purple hair. “I thought you didn’t take on Novices.”

Yuuri flushed with embarrassment even as Celestino corrected her. “No, no, Cathy. Yuuri here is fifteen and he is already confirmed to be Japan’s one and only men’s singles entry in the next JGP.” He slapped Yuuri in the back, making him stumble forward in his blade guards. And now they were looking at him even more closely.

“Wow,” said Jim, a Beta who had to be in university already, Yuuri thought, based on the amount of facial hair alone.

“Yuuri, Cathy and Jim will be competing in the senior divisions this year. And now that you all know each other…” He spent the next few minutes going over what he wanted them to work on. “You three go out there and make me look good in front of the other coaches!”

Yuuri hung back as Jim entered the rink, but Cathy stayed with him. “So, Yuuri, right? What jumps can you do?” she asked as she leaned into his space, and he knew it was so she could figure out his nature.

“All the doubles—“

“Of course,” she waved a hand airily in dismissal.

“Um, and I’m working on the triple axel and toe loop right now.”

“Oh those are my favorites! Want me to help you with them?” she said. Then, with a glance at him, “Ah, but you probably don’t want to get help from an Omega, right?”

“No, that would be—I’d appreciate it.” He smiled, she blinked in surprise, and then he looked back at Celestino who was watching them. “But doesn’t Coach Celestino teach us all our jumps?“

“What are you two doing standing around?” Celestino called out.

“Flirting!” Jim yelled back without missing a beat. Yuuri startled, face red, but Cathy only flipped Jim off and stepped onto the ice.

“Yeah, but we can help each other during our own practice time.” She waited for him to get in the rink. “You’re cool, Yuuri. We’ll chat more later,” she said with a wink before skating off and away.

Yuuri watched her for a moment before furrowing his brow. Can he really do this? He looked back to the bleachers, past Celestino, to see Minako sniggering at him. He sighed.

People were exhausting, he thought as he glided further out. Skating was easier.

--

“Oh. He’s good.”

Jim looked up from his water bottle at Cathy standing beside him by the boards, taking a break with him. “What?”

“The new kid. Look.” He turned, then forgot all about the bottle still pressed against his mouth.

The new kid was running through what was obviously an old program, movements sure and graceful as he glided across the ice, automatically avoiding other skaters… who began to move, to give him more space, so that they could watch him, too.

Jim wasn’t a great figure skater. He was okay. Good, even, on a lucky day, when the stars aligned or whatever. In every competition he’d been in, he’d always consistently placed somewhere in the middle. When he was sixteen he placed 4th in the Nationals, and that was the highest he’d ever flown.

He knew he wasn’t anything special. But he still loved the sport so much he was going to keep doing it until he couldn’t. If that made him a bit of a moron, then so be it.

But this new kid. Jim could tell he was someone special. More than his technical skills, which Jim could see still needed work, he had that undeniable, undefinable something that made people sit up and take notice.

It would be annoying, if it wasn’t so beautiful.

“What’s his name again?”

“Yuuri,” Cathy said, still staring. “Yuuri Katsuki.”

--

“Yuuri, let’s talk about your programs,” Celestino said as he sat at Minako’s dining table, finishing up the last of the pizza.

Yuuri didn’t even glance up from the TV on which Victor Nikiforov’s record breaking free skate program at Worlds was playing. Celestino and Minako exchanged a look and without saying anything she brought out a bottle of wine and two glasses.

A woman after his own heart, this one.

“That must be the twentieth time he’s watching it,” she said, fondly smiling at Yuuri, curled up on the sofa with his dog in his lap. “At least.”

Celestino chuckled, pouring for the two of them. “I’ve never seen a bigger fan.” They clinked their glasses together. “Then again,” he said, taking a sip, “if he had to be a fan of anybody, Victor’s a good choice. The man changed the game in a lot of ways. First Omega World Champion, Grand Prix Winner, world record holder… but more than that, he’s really just a damn good skater. A true genius. I honestly don’t think he’s hit his peak yet.”

Minako kicked up her feet on the chair beside him. “Hmmm really? But he’s won everything already at least once by now.”

“If he was satisfied with winning gold medals, then I wouldn’t be calling him a genius,” Celestino said, swirling the wine in his glass. Minako had good taste in liquor. “You don’t see an athlete like him come along often. Not even once a generation.”

Minako raised her glass to her lips, eyes darting to Yuuri. Celestino shifted in his seat. He wondered if he had been perhaps too blunt. Yuuri was good, yes, and there was a strength in him that surprised Celestino sometimes. It was what made him agree to take Yuuri on. Celestino was sure that Yuuri was going to go far, that he was going to make it all the way to the Junior Grand Prix Final and probably win it. That he was going to move on to the senior division and do well there, too. But.

But Celestino knew, just as every figure skating coach knew, that until that incredible shining talent, that monster that Yuuri idolized… until Victor Nikiforov stepped off the podium, no one would even come close.

He had to admit, it was a bit disheartening, even for him—

“Coach.” Yuuri’s voice brought him back to the present. Celestino turned around. Yuuri hadn’t moved from the couch, and his eyes were still staring at the TV screen. But Celestino had to put down his glass; there was a strange pressure in the air. Something he’d never felt before. Like the calm before a storm. Vaguely he was aware of Minako smiling a bit smugly across from him. But he didn’t, couldn’t pay her any mind. It was as if the whole world had stilled and the only thing that existed was Yuuri sitting on the couch, watching Victor Nikiforov perform.

“About my programs. I’m going to produce them.”

Suddenly he remembered. Yuuri was an Alpha.

Wasn’t he?

Chapter Text

Sala Crispino hunched down inside her jacket and practiced the breathing techniques her and Mickey’s coach taught them. In. Out. In. Out. Focus on the air filling your lungs, imagine it bringing courage to every part of your—

“This isn’t working!” she cried, hugging herself. She wished with all her might that Mickey was here, but he was back home and very sick; he had just started presenting two days before she had to leave for Japan for her first JGP event. Thankfully her own presentation had come earlier in the summer and she was mostly recovered. But this was the first time they didn’t have each other around during a competition and Sala felt adrift and much more nervous than she usually was.

Bitterly she wondered if the real reason she felt this way was because she had presented as an Omega. Her parents and her coach kept reassuring her over and over that it didn’t matter, that she was going to be just as strong and skilled as an Omega as she would have been as a Beta or Alpha. Just look at Victor Nikiforov! they said.

But everyone knew that there was a difference between the three natures. And no matter how much they threw Victor’s name and achievements at her, she knew very well that before he came along figure skating was dominated by Alphas and Betas only, and that it was common for Junior competitors to drop the sport and not move on to the senior division if they presented as an Omega.

Victor Nikiforov was some kind of figure skating savant, that’s why he succeeded where all others like him—Omegas—failed, but was Sala Crispino the same as him?

She didn’t know.

She fumbled for the pot of special peppermint cream that supposedly helped Omegas block out scents around them and smeared some under her nose. There were so many Alphas in any professional sport, so Sala thought she was used to them, but now that she was an Omega it was different. She didn’t think the cream was helping but she didn’t know what else to do. Even her coach was an Alpha and so was keeping his distance from her, looking at her worriedly from a few feet away.

As far as she knew she was the only Omega competing in this event, since many hadn’t presented yet.

Maybe she should have dropped out.

She screwed her eyes shut as the thought insinuated itself in her head. She didn’t want to think that, didn’t want to drop out, she didn’t want to quit skating. She loved figure skating.

She—

“Um, are you okay?” Sala blinked, the world suddenly snapping back into focus around her. She looked up. A short boy with dark eyes and dark slicked back hair stood in front of her. He was obviously wearing a costume under his jersey, so he must be a competitor.

“What?” Sala said, stupidly. For some reason her heart stopped feeling like it was about to jump out of her chest.

His face took on an apologetic look. “Sorry, it’s just that you were kind of… projecting, really loud.”

“Projecting?”

“You’re an Omega, right?” he said, and Sala blushed at having it pointed out so bluntly by a boy she didn’t know. “You had this,” he waved his hand around like he was trying to describe something he didn’t have a word for, “hanging over you, if that makes sense. It didn’t look good. Um, I’m sorry if I’m intruding!” He turned bright red and looked like he was about to bolt.

“Sala, is he bothering you?” her coach asked, walking toward them with a face like a thundercloud.

“No!” she blurted out, then looked down to see that she had actually grabbed the boy’s wrist. She immediately dropped it, embarrassed. “I mean, he’s not bothering me, Coach. Actually I’m feeling a lot better.” She surprised herself by realizing that it was true.

Her coach eyed her with relief. “Okay, that’s good. You’re up in ten minutes.” Then his phone rang and he left to answer it.

She looked back at the boy, who looked awkward but wasn’t moving away, either. “I’m Sala Crispino. What’s your name?” She held out her hand.

“Yuuri Katsuki,” he said as they shook hands.

“Nice to meet you. Sorry I was weird earlier. It’s my first competition as an Omega and I guess the nerves just got to me.” Sala wasn’t sure why she was telling all this to a kid she had just met, but for some reason there was something about him… Idly she wished she could figure out what his nature was, but all she could smell was peppermint.

He didn’t feel like an Alpha, didn’t have that vaguely oppressive air that she was still trying to get used to, but at the same time he didn’t feel like a Beta either. Maybe he hadn’t presented yet. But somehow she knew that wasn’t right, either.

How strange.

Yuuri smiled shyly. “I understand. This is my first time competing in the JGP, so I’m really nervous too.”

“Me too.” Sala smiled helplessly. “It’s scary, isn’t it?”

He nodded.

“Sala!” her coach called, “it’s time.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said to him, then put her hand on Yuuri’s shoulder. “I’ll cheer for you later, okay?”

She took a deep breath and started walking down the corridor toward the rink, but it seemed that every step she took brought back all her uncertainties little by little.

I can do this. I can do this. I can—

“Sala!” she looked behind her to see Yuuri with his hands around his mouth. “You’re going to do great!”

Sala gasped. It was as if a spring wind, fresh and crisp, blew right through her, scattering away her unease like flower petals, leaving behind nothing but the sure certainty that everything was going to be all right, that she knew her program like the back of her hand, that she had the skills to stand here amongst her peers, these Alphas and Betas, and compete with them on equal footing. 

She grinned at him. “Thank you!” And when she stepped out into the lights, as she took off her jersey, as she ignored the eyes of the other girls around her, who were maybe hoping she was going to do badly, or thinking they were better than her, she could only think smugly that she was going to show them all what Sala Crispino could really do. She’s going to soar to the top of the leaderboard.

She was going to do great.

--

Minako frowned at Yuuri as she joined him in front of a TV to watch Sala Crispino, the fourteen-year-old from Italy, skate into the ice to start her short program, her smile bright enough to light up the entire venue. “You gave her a push, didn’t you.” It wasn’t even a question. Even though Minako was a Beta she had been around Yuuri long enough to know when he did that, if by nothing else but from the reactions of the people he did it to.

“I didn’t compel her,” Yuuri said softly, his eyes on the screen. “I just encouraged her.”

Minako sighed. She could press the issue, of course. Should press it, as it was technically part of her job, according to the NRO. Yuuri knew better than anyone that his words held a lot more weight than a regular person’s, even another Alpha’s. It was why he was so careful about not making any demands on anyone, or of saying anything that can be misinterpreted as an order. That, combined with his naturally shy and gentle personality, was the reason why he came across as so diffident to people who didn’t really know him. Even Celestino who had been working closely with him for over six months now still occasionally underestimated him.

But he sometimes did this, too. Went out of his way to, as he put it, “encourage” people. Usually Omegas. Minako would like to think it was the Alpha in him that couldn’t leave a distressed Omega alone, but in her life she’d known enough Alphas who liked to use whatever amount of dominance they had to compel Omegas—and even Betas if they could get away with it—to do things against their will.

So now she just snickered at him mischievously. “She’s pretty cute, isn’t she, Yuuri? Did you fall in love?” she teased. “Cathy will be very disappointed to find out she has a rival now.”

Predictably Yuuri sputtered and flailed. “Minako-sensei!”

And on the screen, Sala Crispino took her bows to thunderous applause after a perfect, flawless performance.

--

“Mickey, it was awesome!” Sala said excitedly as she spoke to her brother on the phone. Apparently he was finally able to stop throwing up long enough to give her a call. “A personal best! Yes—yes… no! No one is hitting on me… Mickey!” she laughed, giddy with elation at ending in first place after the short program.

The next skater, representing Japan: Yuuri Katsuki!

“Mickey I have to go, I’ll call you later okay?” she disconnected the call, cutting off Mickey’s squawked protests.

Finally it was Yuuri’s turn. She leaned forward, eyes glued on Yuuri as he glided out into the rink in a… school uniform? Sala blinked. His costume was very similar to a standard blazer-style school uniform, down to the emblem patch on the left breast pocket and the tie loosely knotted around his collar.

“That’s clever,” her coach murmured beside her as he opened the event program. “That’s the boy you were talking with earlier isn’t it? Fifteen year old Yuuri Katsuki from Japan, huh.”

Fifteen? So he was one year older than her. She had been sure he was her age and the only reason why she didn’t think he could be younger was because of the age eligibility requirements for the JGP.

“He wasn’t in the JGP last year. Hmm. His theme is ‘Yearning,’” her coach said. “Let’s see what he can do.”

The opening notes of his music washed over them like raindrops, and suddenly Sala was transported:

It was a story about a boy. A boy who starts out alone, a piano solo, going through his days in ordinary monotony until someone enters his life to change it all. As the violin joins the piano it becomes an almost overpowering presence, practically taking over the boy’s life: in Sala’s mind she sees a figure with long hair bring the boy into a world he’d never seen before. Sees the figure dance around the boy, and the boy turning this way and that as the figure runs circles around him; she sees the figure run off, and the boy trying to catch up, chasing in playfulness, chasing in joy, chasing in love.

Yuuri shared with all of them this story, the boy’s journey, through his skating.

As Yuuri wound his way across the rink in a step sequence she saw the boy take his first hesitant steps in a different path than what he had been in before, as Yuuri spun she saw the boy start to realize that he’s found someone special, as Yuuri jumped she saw him start to fall in love—

Oh, Sala thought, breath suspended in her chest…

“How beautiful.”

--

“’Could Yuuri Katsuki be the next Victor Nikiforov?’”

Yuuri winced, burying his face in his hands. “Coach Celestino, please stop.”

“What?” Celestino asked, gesturing with his phone from which he was reading the article. “Can’t I be proud of my pupil?”

“Sure,” Cathy said, voice dry as the desert. “But you’ve been ‘proud’ for the last month straight and I’m sure everyone in this rink can recite that article in their sleep by now.” She waved a hand behind her at the dozen or so people practicing.

“I know I can,” Jim muttered, then good naturedly ribbed Yuuri, who smiled wanly at him.

It was hard, Jim thought, to resent Yuuri, even though he made the GPF on his first run in the JGP, even though Ciao Ciao and the entire figure skating world were going nuts over him, even though he was so much better than Jim had been at his age and would likely be so much better than Jim when he would be Jim’s age.

Yuuri was just so damned shy and awkward and earnest that it was like having this younger kid brother that you couldn’t help but watch over. Although he was a freaking beast on the ice, everywhere else he was like Bambi, stumbling around on shaky legs with wide limpid eyes. Apparently he was an Alpha, but that had to be some kind of clerical error, because Jim had never met anyone who was any less of an Alpha than Yuuri.

So instead of feeling bitter, Jim couldn’t help but feel so fucking proud of him.

Jim only had one Grand Prix assignment this year, and he knew it meant that he was on his way out. But Cathy had two: Skate America with Jim, and then the Trophee de France.

Ciao Ciao, when he wasn’t busy gushing over Yuuri, was entirely focused on Jim and Cathy’s programs and had been ever since Yuuri officially qualified for the GPF by winning the gold again in his second event.

Skate America was only a week away and normally this close to a competition Jim would be stressing a lot and drinking too much because of it. Especially since Victor-fucking-Nikiforov himself had been assigned to the event and that just meant one less spot on the podium for everyone else to fight over. But this time around Jim hadn’t had anything more than a beer here and there with his buddies after class and he couldn’t even remember the last time he was actually, decently drunk.

Jim knew it was partly because of his new rink mate. Somehow knowing Yuuri would be at the next morning practice, looking up at Jim and Cathy with those Bambi eyes and occasionally asking for their advice with his homework or even his skating… well, it made Jim want to be a good role model for the kid.

And the harder Jim saw Yuuri work to nail his jumps, to perfect his spins and step sequences, the more motivated Jim was to push himself also. He knew that his and Cathy’s programs this year were the most difficult they’ve ever attempted in their skating careers. Ciao Ciao’s eyebrows practically hit his hairline when Jim told him he wanted to have three quads in his free skate, and to even include the quad salchow.

If Jim was going out this year, he was going out with a bang.

“By the way, Minako-sensei and I already bought our plane tickets,” Yuuri said, grinning at him and Cathy. “We’re going to come cheer you on!”

“You better,” Cathy grumbled playfully.

“Oh yeah?” Jim said, smirking. “Are you sure you’re coming to cheer for us and not Nikiforov?”

Yuuri blushed bright red. “I can cheer for all of you,” he said earnestly. “We already made banners and everything.”

Jim laughed and gave him a noogie. The kid was just so damned precious.

--

“Uwaaa, look at these people. You’d think it was the final,” Minako said. The lobby of the Sears Centre was incredibly crowded. She glanced at him with concern. “Are you going to be okay?”

Yuuri nodded, even though he could feel the corners of his eyes tightening up. He wasn’t good with big crowds; too many scents in too small a space so even with the specially treated mask he was wearing and the best air conditioning it can be a little overwhelming for someone as sensitive to other people’s natures as him. With this many people it was also a guarantee that there would be more than a few Omegas and maybe one or two above average Alpha-Dominants. Thankfully Coach Celestino had gotten him and Minako professional passes so once they register they can break away from the general audience. While there was a higher ratio of Alphas among the competitors, it was still easier to deal with than a mob like this.

He was able to breathe easier once he had the blue badge around his neck and he and Minako were waved inside the area restricted to competitors and other professionals. He took off his mask as soon as they were through; the oils infused in the cloth made him dizzy if he inhaled them too long.

“Better?” Minako asked.

Yuuri nodded. “Now let’s find Coach Celestino and—“

“Yuuri! Minako! Over here!” They looked over and saw Cathy waving at them from the other side of the hall. It was easy to spot her. She had dyed her hair a bright, flaming red for this event. “It’s a madhouse out there, isn’t it?” she said when they joined her.

“It’s crazy!” Minako said.

“Yeah,” Cathy said, rolling her eyes. “Everyone wants to see the World Champion. Sucks for them, Nikiforov doesn’t usually show up until the men’s competition starts.” Which wouldn’t be until after the ladies’ short program was finished, Yuuri knew.

Yuuri tried not to look disappointed. He wanted to ask if Cathy had seen him in practice or something, but now that his senses weren’t blocked he could tell that she was actually really nervous. He put his hand on her arm gently, opening himself up just a tiny bit to calm her. “How did your practice go?”

She blew out a breath and smiled at him. “It went well enough. Had some problems with my triple loop, but I think I’ll be fine for the real thing.”

“I know you will,” Yuuri said, pushing a little.

“Thanks,” Cathy smiles gratefully, leaning slightly toward him. Yuuri knew she probably wasn’t even aware of it.

He ignored Minako’s look and said, “You’ll really wow everyone with your program.”

“Awww Yuuri,” she squealed, hugging him as he sputtered, his face red. “You’re the best, you know that?”

“What about me?” They turned to see Jim looking very well groomed and dapper with Celestino beside him.

“What about you?” Cathy said without missing a beat. “Wow, you really do look like a respectable human like that.”

“Looking good, Jim!” Minako said appreciatively.

“You look cool!” agreed Yuuri.

Jim laughed. Then a reporter approached Celestino to interview Jim and Cathy so Yuuri and Minako stepped aside.

Yuuri watched the interview curiously. He noticed that there were definitely a lot more reporters in a senior event. A lot more cameras and TV crews too. He had been interviewed a few times before, especially after winning his events, but it hadn’t been like this. He wondered if he was going to be able to get used to having a dozen mics shoved at him like that.

“Excuse me, but aren’t you Yuuri Katsuki?” He and Minako turned to see a man with a reporter’s badge wave over a camera man. “You’re training under Celestino Cialdini. Would you like to say a few words? Are you here to support your rink mates James Macintosh and Catherine Lacey? How do you feel about being compared to Victor Nikiforov?”

Yuuri was taken aback. The reporter was an Alpha, a decent one, and was clearly trying to push him into an interview. He frowned, mentally batting away the attempted compulsion easily. The reporter blinked.

“Sorry,” Minako said, jumping in between Yuuri and the confused man. “But Yuuri is here as a guest, not a competitor. Here’s my card. Contact me if you want to schedule an interview.”

Yuuri sighed in relief when the reporter left. “Thank you, Minako-sensei.”

“It’s what I’m here for, Yuuri,” she said, eyeing him with concern. “He was pushing you, wasn’t he?”

Yuuri looked at her mildly. “Trying to, anyway.”

“Hey Yuuri,” Cathy said as she came over. It looked like their interview was done. “You promised you were going to be at my kiss and cry, right?”

“Yup!”

“What about mine?” Jim asked.

“Of cour—“ Yuuri broke off as his body all of a sudden stilled and his senses snapped to attention, as if they were trying to home in on something but couldn't quite catch it. What…?

“Yuuri, what’s wrong?” Minako asked, looking closely at his face.

Yuuri shook his head to clear it. “Nothing.”

Then they turned when they heard a commotion at the entrance and the reporters around them became frenzied.

“It’s Nikiforov!” “What, really?” “He’s early!” “Where’s my camera man?”

“The star of the show has arrived,” Jim muttered under his breath as their group was pushed toward the wall to make room for the press flocking around the new arrival.

“It’s like a celebrity appearance or something,” Minako said.

Celestino shrugged. “It’s always like this around Victor.”

Yuuri only vaguely heard them. He was standing on his tip toes, darting side to side and jumping up and down, trying to see past the reporters. He wished he was taller, then he would be able to see him.

Victor Nikiforov, the person he admired more than anyone else in the whole world.

The person who inspired him to become a figure skater.

After three long years, an entire country, and countless, countless hours of practice later...

He’s here!

Right here!

But Yuuri couldn’t see—

If only he could see

If only these people would move

Then suddenly the reporters in front of him parted as if an invisible hand had shoved them aside.

“Yuuri!” Minako hissed urgently, but it was too late.

And Yuuri’s first real image of Victor Nikiforov was that of his handsome face staring at him in shock, a hundred flashbulbs going off around them.

Chapter Text

Minako had seen Yuuri fall apart only once before.

He had been twelve, just on the verge of turning thirteen, and competing in his first “big” event: the Novice National Championships in Kyoto. At that point Minako had only been coaching Yuuri full time for a few months and there were still some doubts floating in her heart. Not about Yuuri, sweet thing that he was, but about herself. If this was the right career choice in her life at this time, if she could really be satisfied with having one and only one student, if she was good enough for the job… if she could do right by Yuuri.

They had experienced a string of bad luck leading up to the competition, too. First Mari started presenting a week before and so no one from Yuuri’s family would be able to attend, then old Kinoshita—the long retired figure skater who had been Yuuri’s skating coach at the time—fell and broke his hip two days before and so couldn’t be there either, and then on the morning of the competition itself they received news that Yuuri’s new puppy had to be taken to the vet because of worms.

Needless to say, the poor kid was a wreck even before they left their hotel room.

It hadn’t gotten any better when they arrived at the Kyoto Aquarena either. Up until then Yuuri had only competed in small local and regional events where there were maybe five entries for his division. Seeing an enormous event venue and a program that listed over two dozen competitors was very intimidating for him, especially since at the time he had only been seriously training for eight months.

Then Yuuri had drawn first for his group.

Minako remembered looking down at the top of Yuuri’s head as he stood in his blade guards by the boards, waiting for the last competitor of the previous group to finish. His hair had been quivering in fright. He was so stressed that he was projecting an almost overwhelming amount of anxiety. People around them were looking at him and inching away. The NRO agent that Minako had pretended not to see—who was there to evaluate Yuuri’s progress and make sure that he wasn’t going to be a risk to others—was looking at Yuuri with an assessing eye.

“I’m scared,” he had whispered, soft enough that she almost didn’t hear the words.

It was at that moment that all doubts left her.

Because she realized that if she hadn’t been Yuuri’s coach, if she hadn’t been there, then Yuuri would have been all alone. Yes, one of his parents could have gone with him, but they wouldn’t be able to give him the kind of support that he needed. The kind of support that only she could give.

Minako Okukawa had been eighteen years old when she left the small seaside town of Hasetsu in Japan where she had lived her entire life to attend the Julliard School of Dance in New York. She had been twenty-two when she passed the audition to become part of the American Ballet Theatre. And she had been twenty-three when, as the understudy to one of the principal ballerinas, she was told she was going to have to perform on opening night because that principal had collapsed from stomach ulcers.

She remembered standing where Yuuri was standing, shaking all the way from the top of her head down to the tips of her pointe shoes. Waiting in the wings, listening to the music and dreading, dreading, dreading every second that passed. Fearing failure and knowing it was almost inevitable.

Yes, she knew exactly what Yuuri had been feeling.

So she did the same thing her Madam at the time did.

She slapped Yuuri across the face.

“Mi—Minako-sensei?” Yuuri said, shocked and confused, holding a hand to his cheek.

She looked at him coldly. “Don’t be so conceited. Do you think you have the luxury of fear? Right now your body—the entirety of your self—does not belong to you. It belongs to the performance. You are only the tool, the vehicle through which your performance will tell a story.” Yuuri had stared at her with wide, unblinking eyes—the same eyes she had shown Madam an entire lifetime ago. “These next moments do not belong you. Tell me: to what do they belong?”

And Yuuri straightened and said in a high, clear voice, his spirit calm and unwavering: “They belong to the performance.”

Minako smiled. “That’s right. Don’t forget that.” Then she stepped aside as the announcer called Yuuri’s name and said: “Go, enter the stage and tell your story.”

Yuuri Katsuki had won his first gold medal that day.

And Minako Okukawa, who had already begun to grow soft since coming back to Hasetsu, who had already resigned herself to a life of quiet and comfortable leisure, found herself reborn as she watched her pupil shine on the ice.

Now she looked at Yuuri, again shaking in fear and falling apart as he stood unmasked and laid bare in front of the whole figure skating press corps, his friends, and Victor Nikiforov, and cursed herself.

In the last three years Yuuri’s training as a figure skater went hand-in-hand with his training as an Alpha. And while his NRO liaison taught him control and impressed upon him the responsibility he carried, so did Minako learn about the restrictions that dominants like Yuuri were placed under. Until they moved to Detroit—until they were cleared to move to Detroit—Yuuri was almost under constant surveillance. Part of Minako understood that it was necessary: Yuuri was so powerful and so young that he could really cause problems if he went wild or became truly emotionally unstable. She still couldn’t help but be mostly angry on his behalf.

Yuuri was the most gentle person in the world. He wasn’t some kind of nearly rabid animal that needed to be monitored. With the exception of his habit of “encouraging” the people around him—relatively harmless, more of a quirk than anything else—Yuuri was a model example of control and normally didn’t even let people sense how strong he was.

She hadn’t considered that Victor Nikiforov would be so irresistible to him that he’d forget years of training for a chance to look at his idol. This was her mistake.

All of this she thought in an instant even as the reporters around them started talking, their cameras pointed at Yuuri who seemed to have shrunk into himself.

“Did he just…?” “Did you feel that?” “Isn’t that the kid who won two gold medals in the JGP?” “Alpha

“Dominant.”

Yuuri visibly flinched as soon as he heard the word. He was starting to project his anxiety—he already hated being in the spotlight under normal circumstances, it was infinitely more stressful when it was because of his nature, which he was deeply sensitive about. Minako reached for him; she needed to get him out of here now.

“Yuuri!”

Minako’s hand stopped mid-air as her eyes, everyone’s eyes, were suddenly drawn to the person who spoke.

Victor Nikiforov tucked back a long lock of hair behind an ear, smiling warmly all the while at Yuuri. “It is Yuuri, isn’t it? Yuuri Katsuki? I watched your programs from the Tallinn Cup—I was so moved!”

--

Yuuri had lost count of how many times he imagined this moment would go.

The moment he would meet Victor.

Since he first became aware of “Victor Nikiforov,” that existence defined Yuuri’s life. Sometimes Yuuri thought Victor was an even bigger influence on him than his nature. Because even if he hadn’t been an Alpha, if he’d presented as an Omega or Beta or—in his more fanciful daydreams—if there were no such things as natures at all, somehow Yuuri knew that he would still have become a figure skater. And it would all be because of him.

His favorite fantasy was meeting Victor for the first time on the podium of the Grand Prix Final, when Yuuri would finally be just like him: a winner in his own right. Of course it was a silly dream, Yuuri knew that there would be no way that that would be the first time they would meet, not if they were both in the senior division and he was good enough to place at the GPF.

But ridiculous scenarios aside, what Yuuri really wanted more than anything else was to meet Victor for the first time as a real competitor, someone who Victor can respect. Yuuri had wanted to meet him on equal ground, to be able to look him in the eye as a figure skater.

Not like this.

Yuuri had only wanted to catch a glimpse of him, to see if he was really as handsome in person as he was on TV and in pictures, if his eyes were really that blue, if his smile was really that bright. He hadn’t been ready to meet him yet! He was still in the junior division, still a year away from competing in the same events as him, still wasn’t as strong as he needed to be.

Yuuri tried desperately to reach for his training, but Doumeki’s lessons were slipping through his fingers like water in a sieve and all he was aware of were the dozens and dozens of eyes on him, of the cameras and the scrutiny and the whispers, of the taste of burnt sugar in his mind. He could see the edges of his vision blurring as he started to lose control of himself.

This was his worst nightmare come true. That Victor would meet him when he was at his worst, when his nature betrayed him, when he wasn’t in control. Now Victor, who had risen and succeeded in their sport in spite of his nature—in complete defiance of his nature, would only know and see Yuuri as an Alpha of the very worst kind: one who would compel people against their will.

How humiliating.

“Yuuri!”

Yuuri gasped, a sharp hiccup, and suddenly fell back into himself, the ground once again steady under his feet. Victor was looking at him and his eyes—which really were that blue—only had kind warmth in them. And then he was opening his mouth and saying something and Yuuri heard the words, knew that Victor was talking to him, asking him something, but all Yuuri could truly understand was one thing.

Victor could pull.

Two years ago Yuuri had finally asked Doumeki something that had been bothering him for a while. “Why can’t I compel my mother?”

Doumeki had raised her brow. “You want to compel your mother?”

“No!” Yuuri denied vehemently. “I mean… it never seems to affect her. My words. Even when I’m not careful.” He thought back to when he asked his mother if he could be a figure skater, when he begged for it, when he wanted it so much he could taste it. And yet his unconscious push had slid from her like mist, as if it couldn’t find anything to latch on to.

Doumeki looked at him for a moment then said, “It’s because some Omegas are capable of their own form of compulsion and so aren’t susceptible to ours. Oh yes,” she continued when Yuuri gaped at her. “It’s not something that’s common knowledge, but it’s true. People will call it ‘charisma’ or ‘charm,’ but you will be able to tell that it’s not quite the same. You’re too familiar with your mother to recognize it in her, but when you meet another like her, you’ll know.”

Yuuri blinked, coming back to the here and now, and somehow managed to say, “Yes, that’s me. Um, thank you.” It was easier to think now that everyone was looking at Victor and not at him. He took a deep breath. “I’m really sorry about… it’s just I—I’m a big fan.” He flushed, horribly embarrassed at admitting it but Victor only looked delighted.

“Well that’s only fitting because I’ve become a fan of yours!” And it must be a lie, he must have only said it to make the moment less awkward, but he said it so guilelessly that Yuuri was grateful anyway. Because suddenly the people around them stopped whispering about Yuuri and started laughing good naturedly, amused at how funny that was. Victor Nikiforov, the World Champion, the man who had won gold at every major ISU event before he was even twenty, was a fan of a rookie Junior skater.

Yuuri could feel the air clear almost instantly, the atmosphere turn friendly and positive once again. And when Victor walked up to him and held out his hand, saying with complete sincerity, “I look forward to competing with you, soon,” Yuuri could only shake his hand in a daze, this time completely unaware of their audience, of the cameras around them.

--

“Maybe I should send him a bottle of wine or something,” Minako said, snacking on her chips and guacamole with one hand while quickly scrolling through her phone with the other. “He really saved your butt back there.”

“He’s not old enough to drink in this country,” Yuuri reminded her tiredly, too exhausted to even lift his head from the table. They were currently hiding at a nearby Chipotle. They had managed to sneak out after Victor had moved further down the hall, taking the press along with him. “How bad is it?”

“Hmmm, actually not bad,” she said distractedly. “Anything about your slip-up got buried fast by Victor saying he’s a fan of yours. It’s the only thing people want to talk about. A couple of places mention it, but the only pictures that are getting any kind of traction are the ones of him shaking your hand.”

That was good, at least. Yuuri sighed. “Do you think they’ll notice?” Meaning the NRO.

Minako stopped chewing for a moment. “Probably.”

Yuuri felt his spirits drop even more.

“Don’t worry,” Minako said, “it’s not like you caused a riot. We’ll maybe get a sternly worded email, but I doubt it will be anything more than that. Just behave for the rest of the event.”

“Jim and Cathy. Are they...” He couldn’t finish what he wanted to ask. They had left so fast that Minako barely spared them a ‘we’ll be back later!’ But while Celestino had already texted Yuuri asking if he was alright, neither of his rink mates had, and Yuuri was too scared to text them first.

He listened to Minako crunch on her chips some more.

“Maybe I shouldn’t go back,” Yuuri said.

“Of course we’re going back.”

Yuuri lifted his head and looked at her. “But what if they don’t want me there? What if I’ll just distract them?“

“Yuuri. We’re going back.”

Yuuri looked away from her. “Okay.”

Minako finished her chips and said, “This is good, you know.” Yuuri frowned at her, but she just smirked at him. “Figure skating is such a selfish sport. You can win medals while only thinking about yourself. But you’re not a selfish person, Yuuri, and you always do better when you care about other people. Anyway, don’t think too much of yourself,” she said, throwing a scrunched up napkin at his head. “Jim and Cathy are professionals and also older than you. You shouldn’t underestimate them.”

Yuuri blinked. “That’s right,” he murmured, smiling down at his lap.

“So,” Minako said, propping her chin on one hand, “What do you think of him? Your Victor Nikiforov?”

And because this was Minako, he could finally give voice to the honest truth.

“He’s terrifying.”

“Huh?” she raised an eyebrow, confused.

“He’s so far ahead of me, and not just as a skater. I’m not sure I’ll ever catch up to him, or if I’m always going to be staring at his back.”

“You really want to catch up to him?”

“Minako-sensei, I want to surpass him,” Yuuri confessed quietly.

--

It was strange to be backstage at an event and not be a competitor, Yuuri thought as he walked around, looking for Celestino and his rink mates. In his own events he was always somewhat aware of the competitors around him of course, it was impossible for him not to be, but he’d be so focused on himself that he’d block them out, or try to. Now that he didn’t have to concentrate on his own performances he opened his senses up a bit, just out of curiosity.

“What’s wrong?” Minako asked a few moments later.

“Everyone knows,” he whispered, brow furrowed as he avoided people’s eyes. Their wariness of him was an almost physical presence.

“Of course they know. Victor may have been able to keep it out of the media, mostly,” she said with a shrug, “But you know how gossip travels in the community. And an Alpha who can do what you did is rare enough that people will talk about it. Oh, there they are.” She raised a hand to greet Celestino, who waved them over. Jim was leaning against a wall nearby while watching Cathy do her warm ups.

“Just in time!” Celestino said with a wide grin. “Cathy is going on soon.”

“Um,” Yuuri said, “I’m really sorry about before!” He bowed his head in apology, even though it wasn’t something that Westerners did.

Celestino laughed. “Yuuri! It was the first time you were meeting your idol, it’s natural that you were a bit over excited. Now raise your head,” he said, and once Yuuri did, put his hands on his shoulders. “You’re a good lad. It’s fine. It’s all fine.”

“Coach…” Yuuri said, feeling his eyes sting in gratefulness.

“Yeah, Yuuri,” Cathy piped up from where she was doing the splits. “Don’t make such a big deal of it.”

“At least now I have proof that you really are an Alpha,” Jim said with a smirk. “I had my doubts.”

“Thanks guys,” Yuuri said, incredibly relieved. But he still noticed that there was a distance between them that wasn’t there earlier this morning, as if they were keeping themselves away. He looked down. Well, he supposed that was only to be expected.

“Ciao Ciao!” They turned to see a man in a sports jacket approach them. Another coach, judging by his badge.

“Davidson!” Celestino said, shaking his hand. “It’s been a while!”

“Not since Four Continents,” the man—a Beta—agreed, and Yuuri was confused to see both Cathy and Jim stiffen up and scowl. “I hear you have an interesting bunch this year.”

“Nonsense, you’ve met Cathy and Jim,” Celestino said genially.

But Davidson smiled down at Yuuri. “I’m talking more about your newest addition here. Yuuri, right?”

“Yuuri’s still in the Juniors though,” Celestino laughed, but Yuuri could hear a thread of steel in his voice. “Not someone you have to worry about, yet. Cathy and Jim, however…” he trailed off with a smirk.

Davidson laughed. “That’s right, that’s right. And I saw that this year you two,” he said to them, “have very ambitious programs. A departure from type, isn’t it. Seems like you’ve found some new inspiration.” Then his eyes slid deliberately to Yuuri.

Suddenly Yuuri understood. Saw clearly what this man was really saying. Cathy and Jim weren’t invited to the World Championships, Cathy and Jim have significantly more difficult programs this season, Cathy and Jim have a new rink mate—an Alpha Dominant.

This was the reason. This was why the other competitors were so wary of him, why his rink mates—his friends—were staying away from him. Because Cathy and Jim didn’t want people to think that Yuuri was the reason why they’re different, why they’re better this season. Because these people thought that he would actually—

Yuuri was furious.

“Yuuri…” Minako said warningly, but Yuuri ignored her.

“Sir,” Yuuri said to the man, “If you are implying that Cathy and Jim aren’t capable of performing the programs they have this year, then you are mistaken.”

And very deliberately, Yuuri let himself go. This wasn’t something he had done since his last session with Doumeki, but now, here, he allowed his strength to fill every part of his body, then to spill over until it was practically a tangible thing, flooding the entire hallway with his presence. With his potential. He didn’t hold anything back; he wanted even the most sense-blind Beta to be able to see what he was capable of, if he only wished it.

I can make you all kneel.

“Every day,” Yuuri said, knowing that everyone around him wasn’t just hearing his voice, they could feel it too, there in the most primitive part of their brains, resonating. Waiting for his command. “I saw them work hard, I saw them push themselves to their limits, and then push themselves beyond that. I saw them fall, then get up, then try again. And again. And again.” Yuuri seized all his power, held it like a note suspended in air, took a deep breath and said: “They’re going to win.”

And the words held no compulsion. Not even a hint of it. They were only words, and the strength that loomed beyond them was a threat completely unrealized.

“They’re going to win,” Yuuri said again, “because they’re great skaters, not because of anything else.”

Then he vanished his presence until nothing remained.

The man stood there with sweat beading his brow, staring at him in shock just like everyone was, and Yuuri suddenly felt self-conscious. “Um, yeah. So there.”

“Yuuurriii!”

He yelped as Cathy tackled him in a hug, squeezing him so hard he squeaked. “You’re totally crazy, you know that?!”

“Jesus, Bambi,” Jim said, shaking his head ruefully, grinning ear to ear. “What the hell was that? It was like something out of a movie. How did you even do that?”

“Yuuri,” Minako groaned, “what did I say about behaving?”

Celestino just laughed and laughed.

“Sorry,” Yuuri said apologetically, “I kind of lost my temper.”

“Okay, remind me never to make you mad.”

“Hey, Yuuri, can you do that thing on my ex-boyfriend? I promise he deserves it.”

--

“That’s interesting,” Yakov said, frowning at the noisy group at the other side of the hallway. “I don’t think I’ve ever met an Alpha who can do that. Do you think he’ll choose to skate in the senior division next year?”

Victor only tapped a finger to his lips in thought, eyes still trained on the short, dark haired figure flailing in the center of a group hug. He smiled.

“I hope so.”

Chapter Text

As Cathy glided into the rink to applause, her arms raised, her smile bright, and her hair a fiery beacon against the ice, Celestino thought back to the day three years ago when she told him she had presented as an Omega. It had been a very cold February morning when she called him, voice weak from crying and fever, and told him she was quitting figure skating.

It wasn’t the first time he’d received such a phone call. In his long career as a coach, he has had a handful of students quit because of this. Talented young people whose potential he was barely able to nurture because of a quirk of fate; a shining career in figure skating cut cruelly short. It had been such an accepted thing in the sport—which he saw now was a horrible and backwards way of thinking—that he hadn’t even protested when Cathy had informed him the news. All he had felt at the time was a deep and familiar regret. He had been so excited for her, so hopeful for her future. She had the determination, the skill, and the flair of a winner.

If she had quit on her own volition he would have wished her well and easily moved on. But her voice had broken so much when she told him that his heart broke for her, too. It was truly unfair.

What a tragedy, he had thought while he withdrew her from the Junior Worlds, it was the first time she had been selected, too.

And then, with his own two eyes, he had seen Victor Nikiforov perform at the same event he had withdrawn his student, and was shamed.

As a Beta of no great sensitivity, Celestino saw the world exactly as it appeared. Only the physical and tangible mattered to him, he “felt” nothing of the invisible and insubstantial other world that affected the Alphas and the Omegas—and some Betas, so he was told—around him. Things like “compulsion,” and “dominance,” and “push”… they were only as real to him as the Hollywood movies that romanticized them. Which was to say, not at all.

It was the one area he had no firsthand knowledge of and so did not question what he was told. By the movies, by the media, even by his own students. Seeing the sixteen-year-old Victor Nikiforov, newly presented Omega, completely obliterate what he had previously accepted as truth and fact… it opened his eyes.

And so Celestino had gone to Cathy’s house as soon as he arrived back in Detroit, his suitcase still in his hand, and told the fifteen-year-old girl to grab her skates because he was taking her back. Back to the rink, back as his student, back to figure skating. If some Russian boy could do it, then by God so will Catherine Lacey.

The next few years were challenging, for her and for him, and Celestino gained a new understanding why it was that Omegas had chosen to quit before.

That other world that he was insensate to, they were not, and so were very clearly affected by the presence of the Alphas that thronged the sport. And with the additional demands of their bodies, of their natures, and the fact that the environment of competitive figure skating was highly stressful enough on its own…

Celestino only had the utmost respect for any Omega that chose to continue this path.

The path that Cathy now thrived in as she perfectly completed a short program inspired by punk rock and Patti Smith. He grinned at his student, clapping and punching the air in elated pride. She had come so far and endured so much to get to this moment. She deserved every bit of the cheers that rent the air.

Cathy! That was great!

Celestino glanced at the unassuming boy beside him, yelling his bespectacled head off. He could only feel grateful to him for opening his eyes yet again.

If Victor Nikiforov had shown Celestino that Omegas were capable of winning in this sport, then it was Yuuri Katsuki who had shown him how truly difficult it was for them to do so.

It was only because of Yuuri that Celestino could now understand, firsthand, the pressures that Omegas were constantly under. Those very rare instances when he chose to display his power or, just recently, temporarily lost control of it—these were the only times in Celestino’s entire life that he had felt a little of what it must be like to be an Omega.

And when he thought of the fact that it was not only Alphas as strong as Yuuri that Omegas had to worry about, and the fact that there must be Alphas as strong as Yuuri who were not kind and gentle hearted…

While Celestino truly and sincerely admired Omegas, he couldn’t help but also be selfishly relieved that theirs was not the world he lived in.

--

“So, Bambi, any tips on how not to be nervous?” Jim asked with a smirk as he watched the competitor before him—Alejandro Espinosa, twenty-three, won bronze in the Euros—start his program, the complicated strings of classical Spanish guitar thrumming through the air. Oh, that’s good. Shit. Well at least Nikiforov was going after Jim and not before him too. “Or is that also some kind of special Alpha super power?”

Yuuri frowned at him, a slightly confused look on his face. “I get nervous.”

Jim looked at him, then blew out a breath. The kid was so pure he didn’t even know when someone was being sarcastic at him. “Yeah, I know. Sorry. I kind of become a bit of an asshole when—“ he made a vague hand gesture in the air, indicating the entire Sears Centre arena laid out before them, filled with people. And judges.

The pressure was on now, this close to game time, especially since both his rink mates have done so well, with Cathy finishing second after the Ladies’ short program and of course Yuuri already qualified for the GPF. Jim didn’t want to be the only dud in the group.

Fuck.

He could feel Yuuri’s eyes on him but Jim ignored him, tried to ignore everything. The crowds, the cheers, the music, that quad toe loop Espinosa nailed—shit!—and even Ciao Ciao who was being surprisingly passive standing beside him with a confident smile. Usually he would be pumping Jim up right about now, talking his ear non-stop about how he was going to kill it or whatever, but today he was being strangely quiet. Jim didn’t know what that meant—

Shut up. Shut up. Focus on yourself. Just, focus. Focus!

“These next moments do not belong to you.” Jim’s head snapped at the softly spoken words. He turned to Yuuri. “They belong to the performance.”

“What?”

 “That’s what I tell myself before I go on,” Yuuri said. “I think for me it helps me a lot to not think about me but the program. I—I’m not sure if that makes sense—“

“No,” Jim said, feeling suddenly a bit calmer. It’s not about him, huh? “I get it, I think. Don’t care about yourself, care about the performance. Or something like that, right?”

Yuuri grinned. “Right! Minako-sensei said that.”

“Oh yeah?” Jim couldn’t believe he was having a conversation normally like this literally minutes before he went on. On the ice Espinosa finished to screams and applause, waving to the crowd as flowers rained down into the rink. “What else did Minako say?”

“That’s it, really,” Yuuri replied thoughtfully. “Well, she also slapped me before I went on.”

Jim boggled. “What the hell? She slapped a fifteen-year-old?”

“Actually,” Yuuri pointed out, matter-of-fact, “I was twelve at the time.”

“Yuuri, buddy. You know that’s like, a crime, right?”

Yuuri and him stared at each other for a long moment, then burst out laughing. They were laughing so hard that Jim completely missed whatever score it was that Espinosa got.

“Wait,” Jim continued, still trying to catch his breath, “are you serious?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri said, nodding and grinning. “After my program the organizers got really mad at her and wouldn’t let me leave with her until my parents spoke to them on the phone.”

“Holy shit, that’s hilarious.”

Yuuri snickered. “So, do you want me to slap you, too?”

Jim grinned and took off his blade guards, stepping into the ice. “Nah, that’s okay.” He ruffled the kid’s hair. “I got this.” Then he looked at Celestino and the two of them exchanged a bro nod.

Representing the United States of America, James Macintosh!

And if the crowd’s applause when he pushed off toward the center of the rink was more polite than exuberant, that was just fine with him. He wasn’t a medalist, wasn’t one of the big names, and they probably couldn’t wait until he fucked off so that they can finally watch Nikiforov perform, but he’d be damned if they weren’t going to remember this program long after he was off the ice.

He grinned.

Watch this, motherfuckers.

--

Yakov Feltsman watched Celestino’s oldest student perform with narrowed eyes. Macintosh wasn’t a particularly inspired or inspiring skater, or at least he hadn’t been. But this year he opened his short program with a clean and sharp quad salchow, immediately getting everyone’s attention. It seemed that the aggressive and ambitious composition that Yakov had seen from the twenty-two-year-old during practice was no fluke: Macintosh, after years of appearing to be satisfied with relative mediocrity was now aiming for the top.

Yakov had been a coach now for long enough that he recognized the air around Macintosh—barring exceptional bad luck, he was going to do his program justice. So Yakov allowed his eyes to wander to the side where Celestino stood with his youngest student.

Yuuri Katsuki.

A name he had not even been aware of until about a month ago when Victor had burst into the rink unusually late for practice, hair in a haphazard ponytail, waving his phone in the air.

“Yakov, look, look! Isn’t he amazing?” he had gushed, shoving his phone under Yakov’s nose and exuding enough excitement that everyone in the rink turned to him like flowers to the sun. “See here—“ the muted video showed a young dark haired boy execute a step sequence; Yakov had blinked and taken a closer look “—yes, you see? Doesn’t he look like he’s creating music with his body alone?”

It was just like Victor to say something fanciful like that, but Yakov understood what he meant. The boy—fifteen-year-old Yuuri Katsuki from Japan, he learned—was able to imbue his skating with much feeling and emotion; it was rare for Yakov to see such a refined expression in someone so young. In fact he had only encountered it once before in a Junior skater: in Victor himself. It was more typical of younger skaters, and some older ones, to focus on the technical elements and lose sight of the performance. Though Katsuki seemed no slouch on that end also, Yakov thought as he saw him nail a triple axel, double toe loop combination.

“This is from the Tallinn Cup?” Yakov had asked. He was in the middle of some… personal issues, and so was not perhaps as current with the news as he normally was, though the Tallinn just ended yesterday.

“Yes,” Victor said, eyes still on the small screen, “someone tweeted me the videos of his programs. Do you know him?” Yakov ran a summer camp every year for Novice and Junior level skaters and it was not uncommon for majority of the new hopefuls in the JGP to have been his students at one point or another. But Yakov had shaken his head; he was sure he had not had this boy in any of his camps, or else he would have likely insisted to take him on more permanently.

In any case Victor’s interest in the rookie was… odd, to say the least. It was very unusual for Victor, whose love for figure skating was the purest but also the most selfish Yakov had ever seen, to be so curious about another skater. It had always been the other way around, where other skaters would be drawn to him—partly because of his skill, and partly because of what he was.

Since that day Victor had not once mentioned Katsuki again, but Yakov had a suspicion that his most decorated student’s recent peculiarities were somehow connected to the younger competitor.

And now that Katsuki had revealed himself to be an Alpha of extraordinary strength… Yakov frowned at Victor, who had his fingers contemplatively resting on his lip. He had been thoughtful for some time now, since his remarkable first encounter with Katsuki, in fact, and Yakov had learned from experience that this kind of look on his face could only mean one thing: a massive headache for Yakov himself.

“I hope you’re not planning anything unwise, Vitya,” Yakov grumbled as they watched Macintosh on the kiss and cry bracketed by his coach and young rink mate.

Victor didn’t even glance at him. “I’m sure I have no idea what you mean. Oh! He broke the hundred point mark—a personal best!”

Yakov scowled at Victor while on the big screen Macintosh burst into tears, hugging his companions joyfully. Around them the audience’s cheers pitched into an even louder frenzy. Yakov sighed as he took Victor’s jacket and blade guards. “Just remember,” he said as Victor faced him on the other side of the boards. There was a strange light in his blue eyes, and already Yakov could feel it, the sensation of looking at Victor and feeling as if you were standing at the edge of a cliff, yet somehow anticipating the fall. “Skate without regret.”

Victor smiled. “Always.”

As Victor pushed away from him, Yakov thought fatalistically that although a headache may be in his immediate future, he was also certain that Victor was going to give them all performance that they would not likely forget.

He had that air around him.

--

“Yuuri, Minako wants you to pick up your phone,” Celestino said, looking down at his own phone with a frown.

“I’ll call her back later,” Yuuri said distractedly as his eyes turned to the figure that just entered the rink to wild applause. The crowd was really fired up now, especially after Jim’s performance.

Finally! He was finally going to see Victor perform in person.

“All right,” Celestino said, raising his voice slightly to be heard. “I’m going with Jim for his interviews. Are you staying here?"

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Celestino said easily, “make sure to join us in the stands after.”

Yuuri nodded as Celestino and Jim left him alone by the boards. One of the event staff made a move as if she was going to approach him, but Yuuri put up a mental wall forbidding enough that she walked away from him instead. No force on earth was going to take him from this spot. Yuuri was going to see Victor perform his new program as close to the ice as he can possibly get without actually being on it.  

Yuuri had always admired Victor’s costumes, but he thought that this was even more beautiful than usual: a glittering blue the same color as his eyes, with silver mesh cutouts following the line of his body. There were blue ribbons woven in his hair, which fell in one smooth plait down his back. The whole look was utterly fantastical and gorgeous—an instant classic in his mental “Best of Victor Nikiforov’s Costumes” list.

Yuuri was so overwhelmed that all he could do was squeak when Victor looked in his direction for his starting pose—just a coincidence, just a coincidence, just a coincidence!—with both hands splayed over his heart.

This was really happening.

Truly, actually happening.

He was going to watch Victor perform in person while standing right here by the boards.

Yuuri stopped breathing as the first strains of music filled the air. He felt his heart jump in his chest when Victor began, his body moving in that lyrical, magical way that Yuuri has always tried to emulate. Yuuri tuned out the crowd, their cheers fading from his consciousness until all that was left in his entire world was Victor Nikiforov and his music. A whimsical, almost playful piece, bright and colorful and bursting with joy.

It was music that could carry you away.

Music that could entrance you.

A siren’s song.

Every movement of his arms, of his legs and feet, they all seemed to speak directly to something deep within Yuuri. Resonating.

Look at me. Victor seemed to say. Look at me and adore me.

Aren’t I beautiful? Aren’t I lovely?

Watch.

And suddenly he was passing almost directly in front of Yuuri, preparing to jump—

A quadruple flip.

A perfectly executed quadruple flip.

Look at me and chase me.

Yuuri stared, eyes wide and stinging with tears as Victor skated away from him backwards, smiling, coy, one arm outstretched to Yuuri as if… as if…

He watched the rest of Victor’s program in an almost trance-like state, devouring the performance with his eyes, watching as Victor jumped again in a combination quad-triple landed clean, then an enchanting step sequence, and then an impossibly elegant spin combination…

As the music ended and Victor tilted his face up into the sky, arms held up as if beseeching the heavens, Yuuri felt such a mess of emotions inside him that he was barely aware he was shaking.

Elation.

Envy.

Devotion.

Greed.

Want.

What was this? What was this? What was this—

Suddenly there was a cloth pressing roughly directly over his nose and a familiar cocktail mix of chemicals and oils invaded his nose and his lungs and his head. Clearing it.

“Breathe,” a voice said, and it was a voice that had for the last three years given him guidance and stability. It was a voice that he listened to. A voice he obeyed. He breathed.

“Mi—Minako-sensei?” Yuuri said, voice small and confused and muffled by the medicated cloth over the lower half of his face.

“Just breathe, Yuuri. Just breathe.”

And with every breath he gradually became aware of his surroundings again, of the deafening applause of the crowd, of Victor and his coach sitting at the kiss and cry, of the announcer declaring a new world record set.

Victor Nikiforov. 110.19.

--

Minako cursed a streak in her head that only a professional ballerina could: imaginative, vicious, and in five different languages.

What the hell. What the hell.

She glared at Nikiforov who was sitting at the kiss and cry, her arms around her trembling student. It was as if the man had been purposely egging Yuuri on during his program. Pulling Yuuri into a mental state she had never seen or felt before from him. Even though she was in the stands above she had felt it when Yuuri had started to generate so much pressure it was like he was a storm vortex in miniature; she had actually been afraid to touch him until Nikiforov had gotten off the ice. Who knows what Yuuri might have done, in the throes of… whatever that was.

And it actually looked like Nikiforov had thrived off of it, his performance becoming sharper and sharper as the program went on. Even now she could see him looking in her direction, looking at Yuuri. Thankfully Yuuri had his eyes closed as he tried to pull himself back together.

She was definitely not sending him a bottle of wine.

“First ever quad flip, and he totally nailed it,” Jim was saying as he came up behind her, “Un-fucking-real… Hey, what’s wrong? What happened?” he asked as soon as he tore his eyes away from the big screen and noticed Minako and Yuuri.

“Is Yuuri okay?” Celestino said with concern, appearing beside him.

“Just over-excited from seeing his idol perform in person,” Minako said, forcing a smile. “He’s alright. We’re going to have to go back to the hotel though, so that he can rest.”

“No,” Yuuri said finally, pushing away the cloth and Minako’s hand. “I’m okay now. Sorry.”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Jim said kindly as the next competitor stepped into the ice. “Cathy and I are finished for the day anyway, so you’ve done your duty as a good rink mate. Besides, I don’t think anything is going to top that.”

Yuuri smiled wanly. “Your program was awesome too, Jim.”

And with that, Minako could now breathe easier herself. If Yuuri was concerned about someone else, it meant he was definitely back in control.

Jim laughed. “Hell yeah. I may not end up in first after today, but I think I have a good shot at second.”

“Definitely,” Yuuri smiled, and Minako quickly herded him away from the rink and away from Nikiforov.

They stopped briefly to say goodbye to Cathy, but after that Minako made a straight bee line to their rental and booked it out of there. The silence inside the car was heavy.

“I lost control again. I’m sorry,” Yuuri said quietly.

Minako sighed. “It’s not your fault.” If anything it was Victor Nikiforov’s fault. “Could you tell me why that happened?” While she should could sense what had happened, she couldn’t tell why.

Yuuri was silent for a long time that Minako thought he’d spaced out as he looked outside the window and the passing Illinois suburbs.

“I didn’t really notice it when I shook his hand,” he said, “because he hides his scent very well. But when he started performing, that’s when I could, um… smell him.” He blushed. “He’s a really strong Omega.”

“Stronger than your mom?”

“Yes,” Yuuri said, then shook his head. “No, maybe. I’m not sure. I can’t accurately judge how strong Mom is, and she’s also older and bonded to my dad. That makes a difference.”

This was going to be a problem, Minako thought, was in fact already a problem. Until now Yuuri has had no trouble with Omegas, even ones that chose not to hide their scent. Yuuri hadn’t seemed to have any interest in them. She had assumed it was because he was still young or something.

Minako knew that the loss of control earlier this morning was clearly because he had been over-excited. Just as she knew that the loss of control that happened before they left the Sears Centre was because of something completely different, and a lot more dangerous.

“I have a lot of missed calls from you,” Yuuri said, looking at his phone.

“Yeah.” Minako wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news, but she didn’t have a choice. “Doumeki-san contacted me. She wants us to go home right away.”

“Home?” Yuuri’s voice was high and panicked. “To Japan?”

Minako shook her head and smiled reassuringly at him. “No, just Detroit. She’s going to meet us there and you’re going to continue your training with her all the way leading up to the Final.” She sighed. “Though this call was before Nikiforov’s program, so… Don’t worry about it,” she said at Yuuri’s nervous look. “She’s on your side, remember? And a refresher course is probably just what you need right now.”

“Okay.” Yuuri looked down. “I’m not going to be able to see his free skate in person, am I? And I’m not going to be able to cheer Jim and Cathy.”

“Sorry, Yuuri,” Minako said regretfully.

He sighed, then after a long moment, said, voice lifting in excitement: “But Minako-sensei, wasn’t Victor beautiful when he performed?”

Yes. This was definitely a problem.

--

Chapter Text

“You’re late,” Minako said as soon as she opened the door. The woman in the hallway wore a long black coat with a blood-red scarf of a striking design around her neck.

“So you’ve told me a dozen times already,” Doumeki said mildly as she put away her phone. “My flight was delayed, there was nothing I could do. How is he?” She asked as Minako let her in and quickly closed the door.

“Not good,” Minako replied, “his fever has only gotten worse and he wasn’t able to rest well all night. You can just leave your suitcase there,” she pointed to a spot by the sofa. “I hope you don’t mind sleeping on the sofa. We don’t have a guest bedroom.”

Doumeki took off her outerwear without comment and laid them over the arm of the sofa. “Let me see him,” she said instead.

“Through here.” Minako lead her to Yuuri’s closed bedroom door. “Do you want a mask?” Predictably Doumeki shook her head no. Minako pulled her own mask back on before opening the door. Even with the medicated cloth, and Minako being only a Beta, entering the room made her stomach flip uncomfortably as her hind-brain lit up with red warning signs everywhere.

Danger! Her instincts seemed to scream at her. Unbonded Alpha detected. Danger!

She flinched and fought through the urge to turn back, focusing instead on the miserable lump under the covers, Vicchan curled up protectively at the foot of the bed.

“You said he started feeling ill as soon as you got on the plane back?” Doumeki asked, immediately going to Yuuri and bending down to examine his unnaturally flushed face. He looked awful: his eyes were closed but his face was screwed up as if in pain, his breathing was labored and uneven, and his hair—which was in almost desperate need of a trim—was matted down with sweat.

“Yes,” Minako said through the mask. “It started out as a headache but we thought it was just because of the mask… Thank God the fever didn’t hit him until we were back in the apartment.” She looked worriedly at Yuuri. “Do you think it’s—“

“Minako-sensei?” Yuuri rasped, his eyes slitting open. “And…Doumeki-san?”

“Hello, Yuuri,” Doumeki said kindly. “It looks like Minako got you back here just in time.”

“My whole body… hurts,” Yuuri whispered hoarsely. “What’s happening to me?”

“Presentation sickness,” Doumeki answered gently but surely, and Minako closed her eyes. She had been afraid of that. Damn it. This was not good.

Yuuri frowned, confused. “Presentation… but I’m already an Alpha. I presented years ago.”

Doumeki nodded. “You did, yes. Your nature made its mark on your mind, but not in your body. At least, not entirely.”

“What—“ he gasped, wincing. “What do you mean?”

“A person’s nature makes itself known during his or her mid- to late-teens,” Doumeki began. “This happens for a reason. It’s because at that point both the mind and the body are ready for the change. But for you, Yuuri, that wasn’t the case. You were only twelve. And while your mind accepted what you were becoming, your body wasn’t completely ready for it.” She put a hand to his forehead. “Now your body is ready, and your nature is telling it it’s time.”

“But my body did, um, change back then,” he said, face briefly turning redder than it was before.

“Do you remember how long your sickness lasted three years ago?” Doumeki asked.

Yuuri closed his eyes, forehead wrinkled in thought. “Um, four days.”

“Now think back to your lessons. How long do Alpha presentations usually last?”

That did it. Minako saw that Yuuri finally understood what Doumeki was saying. “Weeks,” he said, voice starting to waver. “Sometimes a whole month. I thought… I thought I got lucky, that mine wasn’t that long.” Then he started to get up, struggling under the weight of his blankets. “No, no, you have to be wrong, Doumeki-san.”

She put a firm but gentle hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down. “You’ll just have to endure—“

“No! No, you don’t understand,” he said, voice rising, and Minako winced at the panic he was suddenly projecting. Vicchan whined, reacting to his master’s distress. “I can’t be sick for weeks! I have to practice, I have to—Minako-sensei, tell her!”

“The Japan Junior Nationals is in a month,” Minako said softly, “and the Grand Prix Final is three weeks after that.”

Doumeki was quiet, then sighed. “I’m sorry, Yuuri. We can just hope that this ends quickly, but there’s nothing I or anyone can do to stop it. Your body will simply let us know when it’s finished.”

“I hate this. I hate this.” Yuuri stared at the ceiling, tears sliding down the sides of his face. Minako looked down, her heart aching for him. “Minako-sensei, what time is it?”

“A little bit past noon,” she answered.

“Can you call Jim and Cathy and wish them good luck for me?” he said softly. “And tell Coach Celes—“ his voice broke.

“I will,” Minako assured him. “I’ll do that right now.”

“Thank you.” Then he pulled his blankets over his head. “I’d like to go to sleep now, please,” he said through them.

Doumeki looked at him then sighed. She and Minako left his bedroom, closing the door gently behind them.

After a long moment Minako ripped her mask off her face. “I’m going to kill him,” she growled.

“Who?”

“Who else? Victor Nikiforov,” Minako hissed between gritted teeth. “He’s the one who triggered this. Him and his…” Minako gripped her hair with both hands and made a high-pitched noise of frustration.

Doumeki just looked at her and said nothing.

“If Yuuri misses the Final because of this, I will seriously hunt that punk down and deck him,” Minako swore with conviction. She blew out a breath. “I knew this was bound to happen one day, but the timing couldn’t be worse. I guess I should just be glad that we’re back home and not in some hotel room. That would have been a complete nightmare. It was really a lucky coincidence that you told me to get him home when you did.”

“There is no such thing as coincidence,” Doumeki said. “I was visiting my parents and my tea leaves told me this would happen.”

Minako stared at her. “Your tea… you know what, I’m not going to ask.”

Doumeki ignored her. “You shouldn’t stay here while he’s going through his growing pains,” she said, now rooting around their kitchen for food. The woman constantly ate like a day laborer on lunch break for all that she was as long-limbed and skinny as a rail. “It’s not good for you to be around him while his scent is unstable and changing like this. I’d also like to take this time to work on his control and focus fully on that. It sounds like he needs it.”

Minako glowered at her. “You just want to kick me out so you don’t have to sleep on the sofa.” Doumeki didn’t answer her as she had apparently found the ice cream that Yuuri liked to hide behind the frozen vegetables. “Fine. I’ll figure something out. I have to make a call now, anyway.”

This wasn’t going to be a fun conversation, she thought with a sigh.

--

“Is he here? Is he back?” Jim looked up from his phone as Cathy burst into the rink, her voice echoing through the empty stands and the green scarf she had bought in France during the Trophee fluttering around her neck.

“Not yet,” Celestino answered. “Minako said they needed to stop and buy new skates for him first.”

Cathy joined the two of them by their usual spot rink side and put down her practice bag beside Jim’s on the bench. “New skates…” Cathy murmured, sharing a worried look with Jim. Competitive figure skating was so dependent on the smallest details that even a new, unfamiliar pair of skates could seriously mess a skater up.

“Don’t look so glum, you two! I have complete faith in Yuuri. So don’t show him those sour faces when he gets here,” Celestino said, waving his hands to make his point.

“You’re right, Coach,” Jim said as he and Cathy nodded in agreement.

“What’s that?” Cathy asked, looking at his phone. “I thought I saw Yuuri’s name.”

Jim showed her his screen where he had on an article that had just come out. She peered at it, reading out loud: “’Rookie sensation Yuuri Katsuki withdraws from Japan Junior National Championships because of undisclosed health reasons, will he make it to the Grand Prix Final?’ What the hell kind of bullshit is this?” she cried, grabbing his hand.

Jim yelped. “Hey, watch it!”

“Why are you reading this crap?”

“It just popped up on my feed, okay? I know it’s trash!”

“Delete! Delete! Del—“ she broke off suddenly, her whole body freezing up, and Jim frowned at her.

“Cathy? What’s wrong?” Jim asked as she whirled around to look at something behind them. Jim turned too but all he saw was Minako walking toward them with some guy—

“Fuck me sideways,” Cathy breathed, eyes bugging out.

Jim blinked as the guy slowly looked more and more familiar to Jim as he got closer... Holy shit, was that—

“Yuuri!” Celestino exclaimed joyfully, rushing forward, almost knocking Cathy and Jim down in his excitement to get to his long absent student. “It’s so good to have you back with us!” he said, giving Yuuri a bear hug. “My God look at you—you must have grown two inches taller!”

The guy who Jim was still trying to convince himself was actually Yuuri Katsuki laughed, and it was that shy, earnest, and completely familiar sound that finally did it. Jim snapped out of it and grinned. “Holy shit, this is some kind of teen movie transformation magic or something!” He clapped Yuuri on the shoulder.

The kid—he wondered if he could still refer to him as ‘the kid’ now—was not just taller, but also seemed more solid, his frame less childlike and more like—well, if not precisely like a completely grown man, then closer to the man he would undoubtedly become. “Last time I saw you you were like this—“ Jim put a hand somewhere at his waist “—and now you’re practically my height!”

Yuuri scrunched up his face and that slightly flustered expression was so like the old him that Jim couldn’t help but smile. “Hey,” he said, “I wasn’t that short before and I’m not even 170 cm now.”

“Sorry, could you translate that to American?” Jim said, teasing.

“Just a bit under 5’7,” Cathy said, finally joining the conversation. “Well, you were definitely shorter than me last month, and now I’m the one looking up, so it’s a pretty big change.” There was a strange, almost hesitant tone in her voice that Jim hadn’t heard from her before, and he glanced at her curiously. “I think more than the height though, it’s just that you definitely look older.”

“Yeah,” Jim agreed, “I mean, you were fifteen but basically looked twelve, you know? And now you look… well, a lot older than twelve.”

“It’s the haircut!” Minako chimed in, slinging an arm around Yuuri. “And he’s not wearing glasses. It’s the ultimate unplanned makeover.” She sniggered at Yuuri’s belligerent look.

“You didn’t have to tell the hairdresser to take off that much hair, Minako-sensei,” he said, “And my new glasses won’t be ready for a couple of days still…”

Cathy hummed, peering at him. “Yeah, the shorter hair definitely makes a huge difference. But anyway, enough about that stuff, the important part is,” she said, finally sounding more like herself, “welcome back, Yuuri!” She threw her arms around him and Jim joined in, laughing. “We’re so glad you’re all better now.”

“Yeah, it’s good to have you back,” Jim said, grinning.

“Thanks guys,” he said, looking very relieved. “I’m so happy to be here again with all of you. And,” he looked at Jim and Cathy, “Congratulations, you two.”

Cathy grinned. “Wanna see ‘em?”

“You brought them?” Yuuri asked, excited.

“Of course!” Jim said, the usual smile splitting his face at the thought of his medal. Even one month later he still almost couldn’t believe it. “We wanted to show them to you as soon as you got back.”

“Though I’m pretty sure Jim sleeps with his at night,” Cathy said with a roll of her eyes while rooting around her bag.

“I can neither confirm nor deny.”

As Celestino and Minako looked on with indulgent smiles, Cathy and Jim proudly showed Yuuri the proofs of their awesomeness:

Two silver medals for Cathy.

And one gold for Jim.

“That is soooo cool!” Yuuri gushed, admiring their bling.

“You should have seen Yuuri cry when he watched you guys win on TV,” Minako said, smiling.

“I’m really sorry I missed it,” Yuuri said softly.

“Hey, no worries,” Jim said reassuringly, “It’s not like you could help it. We knew you would have been there if you could.”

“So now I’m officially competing in the Final!” Cathy winked at him.

“And I’m unofficially going as moral support,” Jim said with a grin, making the other two laugh.

“And now, Yuuri,” Celestino said, rubbing his hands together, “you have exactly twenty days to practice before the GPF. Think you can do it?”

“Yes, absolutely. I’m not backing out,” Yuuri said, his expression hardening in resolve. Jim blinked; it was going to take some time to get used to this new look of his.

“You’re still Bambi to me, though,” Jim said, grinning and slapping Yuuri hard in the back as they went to put on their skates.

Later, as Jim watched Yuuri fall again for what had to be the tenth time, he exchanged a concerned look with Celestino and Cathy and called out, “Hey, Yuuri, let’s take a break!”

Yuuri sat beside him on a bench, frowning down at his shiny new skates. There was a look in his eyes that Jim didn’t like, a look that Jim was very familiar with, himself. It was a mix of low level panic, dread, nervousness, and fear. It was the last thing that Jim wanted to see on Yuuri.

So Jim said to him, “I’m surprised, you know, that you didn’t ask about Nikiforov.”

Yuuri looked at him. “I watched the stream,” he said, voice strangely expressionless. “He didn’t make any mistakes, but you were better, Jim.”

“I skated my heart out, you mean,” Jim said, grinning ruefully, “and it was still only just enough to beat him by a point in the combined total.” He thought back to that day, thought back to that exact moment when he realized that he was going to win the gold. That he was actually going to stand above Victor Nikiforov, World Champion, on the podium.

And it wasn’t when Nikiforov got his score, or during the middle of his performance.

It was when Nikiforov was just about to step on the ice.

“Listen, I’m going to tell you something you won’t catch me admitting to anyone else,” Jim said, leaning back on the bench and looking at the ceiling. “But Nikiforov could have easily beaten me. I went before him. He knew what score I got, and he knew exactly what score he needed to get to win gold. It would have been a score he’d gotten dozens of times before, so no problem there.” Jim looked at Yuuri, who was staring at him with an almost affronted expression. “And yet he still only decided to have two quads in his program, and he didn’t bust out that quad flip, either. All he needed to do was increase the difficulty of just one of his elements, and he would have beaten me. And yet he chose not to.”

Yuuri stood up, looking angry. “What are you saying? Are you saying Victor lost on purpose?”

Man, the kid really was gone for the guy, Jim thought. It was as if the man had never gotten silver before or even bronze, back a couple of years ago before he started to win everything.

“No one steps on the ice looking to lose,” Jim pointed out calmly. “But I am saying that in that moment, in that exact moment, I don’t think he wanted to win all that much.”

Yuuri scowled. “What—“

“Do you know why?” Jim interrupted.

Yuuri frowned at him but was silent.

“Because I don’t,” Jim said with a shrug. “But I do know that just before he went on, he grabbed me as I left the kiss and cry and asked me one question.” And here Jim raised his eyebrow at Yuuri, just for effect.

“He asked me where you were.”

--

As Yuuri stepped back into the rink, all he could think about was his conversation with Jim.

Victor noticed he wasn’t there? Victor looked for him?

What did it mean?

Yuuri didn’t know the answer, and he understood that unless he shaped up, unless he learned to skate with these new unfamiliar skates and more importantly, this new unfamiliar body, then he will never find out, because he wouldn’t be able to look Victor in the eye and ask him.

Victor had won the gold at the Rostelecom just three days ago, which meant he was going to be competing in the GPF. This was going to be the one and only opportunity that Yuuri was going to have to be in the same event as him until next season, and even if they were in different divisions, Yuuri was determined he was going to be able to stand tall in front of him.

He took a deep breath and started skating in wide, ever expanding circles around the rink, focusing on the feel of the ice under his feet, the smooth motion of his strides.

Patience, Doumeki’s voice told him inside his mind. Patience. Your body knows what it’s become, Yuuri. You have to let it teach you how to move. Trust it. Let it guide you. Stop fighting it, stop struggling against your nature, and it will bring you to greater heights than you have ever imagined.

Deliberately Yuuri forced himself to relax, to let his body move as it wanted. No jumps. Not even a single. Not yet. Right now he needed to re-familiarize himself with what he’d become.

Needed to accept it.

Yuuri lost track of time as he continued to skate, slowly performing more and more complicated elements on the ice. First his short program step sequence, next a sit spin, then after that a camel spin with a flying entry.

And after that he had fun with it. Didn’t think about his programs at all and simply did whatever he felt like doing.

A spiral. Not something that was even in any of his programs but he wanted to see if he was still flexible enough to do it. He was.

A layback spin with flying entry, because why not. Then he decided to push it into a camel spin with a change of foot, then push it even further into a sit spin before exiting with a flourish.

That felt good, he thought as he vaguely heard a smattering of applause from somewhere. He smiled, and let his body gain momentum for a jump.

A triple axel.

Nailed it.

--

Celestino breathed a sigh of relief as he watched Yuuri land his first jump since coming back. A triple axel too, very nice.

“Thank God,” Minako muttered beside him, blowing out a breath herself. They exchanged a smile, knowing that Yuuri was now—while not entirely out of the woods—at least not in danger of completely self-destructing.

Celestino didn’t plan to interrupt Yuuri at all today unless he went to him with a question. He understood well enough that the only thing that would fix what had been… not broken, necessarily, but rearranged in his body was time alone. Unfortunately with only twenty days to work with time was not something they had an abundance of, but that Yuuri had been able to nail a triple on his first day back was a very good sign indeed.

“I really have to commend you,” he said to Minako. “Yuuri’s mental resilience is astounding for any athlete, but especially for someone his age, and I can see that it is the product of years of coaching and training. I’ve known many competitors who would have outright withdrawn in a situation like this.”

Strangely enough Minako got an odd expression on her face, somewhere in between fond and wistful. “Well Yuuri did all the heavy lifting of course, and I wasn’t really the one who trained him in this, so you’re thanking the wrong person. Besides,” she said softly, “sometimes I wish he didn’t have to become so strong so young. But he didn’t really have a choice, because of what he is.”

To this Celestino could say nothing, and so the two of them lapsed into a comfortable silence while they watched their students—for naturally Minako had of course become Cathy and Jim’s ballet instructor, even though she refused compensation from either them—on the ice.

Hmm. Celestino frowned. Cathy was looking oddly distracted, which was unlike her.

“Cathy!” Minako called out, waving her over. “Sorry, is Yuuri bothering you?” she asked when Cathy reached them.

Celestino frowned. Yuuri hadn’t spoken to Cathy much at all since getting on the ice and was even practicing almost on the other side of the rink.

But Cathy only looked a little embarrassed, so she must have understood what Minako was asking. “It’s just weird. I never used to be able to smell him at all, and now he’s like all…” she waved her hand in the air vaguely.

Minako frowned apologetically. “Sorry,” she said again, “his new soaps and lotions won’t arrive here from Japan until the end of the week. So it’s only for a little while.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Cathy said with a rueful grimace. “It’s actually kind of nice, except when I remember that it’s Yuuri and then I feel like Chris Hansen is going to pop up right next to me and ask me to take a seat over there.”

And now both Celestino and Minako looked confused. “What are you talking about?” Celestino finally asked, completely lost.

“Yuuri,” Cathy said wryly, “kind of smells like what I imagine Steve Rogers would smell like if he was, you know, a real person. It’s kind of distracting. At least I can't feel anything from him here," she tapped her head lightly with one finger, "even when he got upset talking with Jim earlier. Anyway, it’s fine. I’ll deal with it, so don’t worry, okay?”

Minako blinked at her. “Uh, okay… but if you want, I have some medicated face masks that you can wear to block him out. They may give you a headache though.”

Cathy thought about it. “Thanks, I’ll let you know if I need one, but for right now I’m okay,” she said then skated off.

The two stared after her.

“Sometimes,” Celestino admitted after a long moment, “I feel very out of touch with the young people.”

--

Four days later Yuuri asked Celestino to record him going through his entire short program. He had finally been able to again reliably execute all his elements; now it was time to see if he can properly chain them together as he was supposed to.

He skated without music, and started from the very top and didn’t stop until his final ending pose.

Afterward he studied the video with Celestino and frowned.

“Something’s wrong.”

“You landed on the wrong edge on your triple lutz, and you under-rotated on your triple axel, but other than that you didn’t miss any of your elements,” Celestino said mildly.

“No, something’s wrong with the overall performance,” Yuuri said, rewinding the video again and watching it from the top. It just looked slightly off… Nothing concrete, but half of his score would be based on subjectivity, after all.

It had also felt off when he was performing it.

“Don’t think about it too hard,” Celestino advised. “Let it come to you.”

Yuuri closed his eyes and breathed in, playing the video in his mind’s eye…

His eyes snapped open. “I look too old.” Yuuri turned to Celestino who only smiled at him. “The performance is about a boy’s innocent first love, which matched how I looked before. But now I can’t pull it off in the same way looking the way I do now.” He frowned at the video. “I have to find a new focus.”

“Not necessarily,” Celestino said, “You just have to shift things a bit. Look at the performance from a different perspective; what you’re searching for is there, I assure you.”

Yuuri nodded slowly. “But do you think I have enough time to figure that out? I also have my free skate to work on.”

“That,” Celestino said, “is entirely up to you. If you want to compromise on your performances or not.”

Yuuri looked thoughtfully at the wide expanse of the rink.

He hated making compromises.

Chapter Text

“Why are we even here this early, Sala? Your practice session isn’t for another two hours.”

“Mickey, I told you I want to say hi to someone,” Sala said as they showed their badges to security and were waved inside the Sochi Iceberg Skating Palace. “You didn’t have to come with me if you wanted to sleep in. Oh, wow, look at this place, it’s so pretty!”

“As if I’d let you come here alone. You’d be surrounded by creeps and jerks in no time,” her brother grumbled, shoving his hands in his coat pockets. Sala didn’t say anything because to be honest having Mickey around was a comfort for her, especially since he presented as an Alpha. Having him nearby made it easier to bear being around all the unfamiliar Alphas during competition. It made her feel protected, somehow.

She still wished he wasn’t so aggressive at chasing them off though; she couldn’t help but always feel a little embarrassed when he puffed up like a teenaged angry rooster, projecting dominance and pushing people away from her.

They followed the posted signs and made their way to the section set aside for people to view the practice sessions. Since her own wasn’t until a bit later she wasn’t allowed in the competitors-only area yet. She put her skate bag down on an empty seat closest to the rink, Mickey settling down beside her. Not that the audience area was in any way crowded. Because the morning was set aside for Junior practices only, which were a lot less popular than the Senior practices, there really weren’t many people watching at all: only her and Mickey, a man in a puffy jacket and hat, and a group of giggling girls taking selfies of themselves.

“So?” Mickey asked, “Which one is he? This ‘Yuuri Katsuki.’”

“Hmm…” Sala peered at the six skaters spread across the rink. Strange, there wasn’t anyone who looked like Yuuri among them. Then the skater to the left of them began a step sequence that immediately grabbed her attention… She blinked. “Yuuri?!” she exclaimed in surprise, her voice carrying clearly. She gasped, covering her mouth as every one of the skaters turned to her curiously and a staff member glared at her. “Sorry!”

All the skaters went back to practicing except for—well, he must really be Yuuri, because he waved at her with a smile before starting his step sequence again.

“That’s him?” Mickey said with a frown, squinting. “I can take him.”

But Sala wondered if that was true. Yuuri looked almost nothing like how she remembered him back in September. He had been shorter than her and looked young enough that she had thought he was her age at first. Now she didn’t think anybody would mistake him as fourteen. He was definitely what her mother would call ‘a handsome young man.’

Sala had seen this kind of drastic physical change in a person before, most recently with her own brother. So Yuuri must be an Alpha too.

Sala blushed at the thought and sank further into her seat, feeling suddenly self-conscious. Mickey looked at her with a frown, then back at Yuuri with a fierce scowl on his face.

Some time later a woman’s voice piped over the speakers, announcing: “The Junior men’s practice session has now ended. Skaters please exit the rink. Thank you.”

Sala watched Yuuri leave the rink and go to his coach, a man she recognized as Celestino Cialdini, an Italian based in the United States. Yuuri put on his glasses and changed out of his skates before leaving his coach to approach her and Mickey. There was a new steadiness in the way he walked, she thought, though his expression and the air around him was exactly as she remembered it: openly kind and gentle.

“Sala, it’s good to see you again,” he said with a hesitant smile. He was close enough that Sala was able to scent him, but instead of the typical—and to her, off putting—‘Alpha’ scent profile, his was a light, barely noticeable scent, even though he was obviously still sweating a little from exercise.

He smelled… good. Kind of like Mickey in that she instinctively knew that she would be safe and protected with him, that he wouldn’t hurt her. It was the first time she’d ever encountered an Alpha toward whom she felt like this who wasn’t Mickey or another family member. How strange.

Sala bounced up from her seat, flustered at the turn of her thoughts. “Hi, Yuuri! It’s nice to see you again, too! Um, this is my brother, Michele—“ who of course seemed to take that as his cue to go right up to Yuuri and snarl directly into his face, “Yeah, that’s right, I’m Sala’s older brother so you better watch yourself, Yuuri.”

“Mickey! Stop it!” Sala scolded, but of course he didn’t listen to her and too late she felt him draw up his dominance and shove it at Yuuri. She reached for his arm to pull him back, but then realized that instead of backing off—or running away like some boys have before—Yuuri simply stood there looking at Mickey with a slightly confused expression on his face before huffing out a small, amused breath.

“Um, I’m not really sure why you’re pushing at me,” Yuuri said as Mickey stared at him in apparent shock. “But I promise you don’t have anything to worry about. Sala’s great but we’re just friends.”

And if a fledgling, largely unnoticed thing inside Sala’s heart died at his words, at least the feeling had been small enough that the pain was fleeting and easily brushed aside.

“That’s right, Mickey,” Sala scolded, “Stop it. You’re embarrassing me, geez. Anyway,” she continued cheerfully after Mickey sat back down with a thump, “I just wanted to say hi. There were rumors that you might withdraw.”

Yuuri ducked his head, embarrassed. “Yeah, I was sick for most of November,” he said, “but I’m all better now.”

“Most of November?” Sala said worriedly. That was a long time so close to the GPF to be out of commission. “But what about your practice? Are you going to be okay?”

“I’m still working some things out,” he answered vaguely as he looked off to the side. “But I think I’ll be fine.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to cheer for you extra loud then,” she declared.

“Thanks, Sala,” Yuuri said with a smile.

The two of them, and Mickey when he finally unbent enough to join in, chatted for a bit more before Sala picked up her bag. “Come on, Mickey, they’ll probably let me in the prep area now.” She waved at Yuuri as they left him at the stands. “I wonder if he will really be okay,” she mused out loud to her brother. “Being sick for an entire month before a competition is no joke, especially the Final.”

“That guy,” Mickey said, his voice oddly serious, “is really strong.”

“Huh?”

“Really, really strong.” Mickey shook his shoulders as if to release some tension. “He’ll be fine.”

--

“I wonder if I’ll be fine,” Yuuri murmured to himself as he sat down at the seat that Sala had just left. He put his practice bag between his feet and stared at the rink where the second group of pair skaters were practicing.

Though he had won the gold at both his JPF events—which to be perfectly honest had surprised even him—the Final was a completely different matter altogether. Not only was he the youngest in his group since the age cutoff in the Juniors was nineteen, he was also the only one who didn’t have a single quad in his free skate.

Point leader or not, he was now fully aware that all of them had mostly written him off, probably because of his element composition and his recent illness; combined with his sudden growth spurt, he was sure everyone knew why he had withdrawn from the Junior Nationals. But while shaking off his competitors’ largely unconscious mental pressures was of course easy enough, Yuuri had a harder time ignoring the painfully obvious fact that every one of them had focused on their quads during the 40-minute practice session while he practiced triples and step sequences.

He had begun to work on learning the quad toe loop after his last JPF event with the intention of including it in his free skate for the Final, and had been making good progress too, landing it about 2 out of 3 times during practice, but of course getting sick put a very definite stop to that. The last twenty days had been entirely devoted to pretty much re-learning things he could do with his eyes closed before, and on recalibrating his performances to account for his new build. He knew, and both Celestino and Minako agreed, that it had been the right thing to do; it would have done him no good to be able to land a quad toe loop in the GPF and then fall flat on his face in the middle of a camel spin.

But simply knowing that he’d be the only competitor without a quad and actually seeing proof of it during practice were two totally different things.

Certainly having quads in your free skate doesn’t necessarily guarantee a higher score and Yuuri was confident his programs were good enough to do well on their own, quad or no quad. But Yuuri isn’t in the GPF to ‘do well’: he was here to win.

He sighed, closing his eyes. “But can I really win without a quad?”

“Of course you can!”

Yuuri just about jumped out of his skin.

He turned and stared, bug-eyed, at the man who had somehow completely snuck up on him and was now sitting beside him. “Wha—How… What!?” he sputtered incoherently.

Victor Nikiforov grinned at him and his blue eyes, which were fixed firmly on Yuuri’s gobsmacked face, were dancing in clear amusement. “Hello, Yuuri.”

V—V—Vic—“

Then, shockingly, Victor put a finger to Yuuri’s lips. “Sssh. I’m here incognito,” he said, voice pitched low, before sitting back and smiling enigmatically at him.

Yuuri’s brain short-circuited as it struggled to comprehend the fact that an Omega, that Victor Nikiforov, had actually touched his face. That was—that was—

Thankfully, his training held strong and aside from freezing up for a moment, he was able to keep in full control of himself, his foundations never faltering.

Thank you, Doumeki-san, Yuuri thought fervently.

And when Yuuri’s heart finally settled back in his chest instead of somewhere in his throat, he could see that Victor’s hair was stuffed under a hat and he was wearing a puffy jacket as if to disguise himself…

Hat. Puffy jacket.

In a series of lightning fast flashes, Yuuri remembered just beginning his practice and then suddenly looking up at the stands, his senses for some reason drawn to the figure in a puffy jacket and hat who sat down alone to watch them. He remembered shaking his head to clear it and then firmly focusing back on his practice. He remembered seeing the puffy jacket from the corner of his eye as he left the rink, as he spoke to Sala and Michele, as he sat down to contemplate his programs…

“You’ve been here all morning,” Yuuri said in dawning realization.

Victor stared at him for a moment before breaking out into a wide smile. “Yes!” he said, “I wanted to see you practice. But you didn’t notice me at all, not even when I sat down beside you; you know you’re very focused when you’re concentrating on something. I was worried,” he kept on saying casually as if the words coming out of his mouth weren’t completely unbelievable, “when you left all of a sudden after my short program and weren’t there for the free skate. Jim said you had to go home because you were sick, and then you even withdrew from the Japan Junior Nationals, so I was afraid you wouldn’t be here, and I didn’t have your number so I couldn’t ask you, so I was really glad to see you were still on the competitor list—“

“Wait, wait, wait—stop!” Yuuri said as he held both hands in front of him in a desperate move to break the torrent of speech, feeling more than a bit overwhelmed and untethered. He was again indescribably grateful that his control was so much more improved now. He didn’t think he would have been able to survive this conversation if it had happened a month ago. “I feel like we’re skipping a lot of steps here,” he said weakly.

Victor tilted his head at him curiously. “Hm? What do you mean?”

“Why are you talking to me like we’re friends?” which was, Yuuri thought, the obvious question.

But Victor’s eyes only grew large and shiny and Yuuri was alarmed to feel a very real distress emanate from him. “Yuuri, you don’t think we’re friends?”

And what else could Yuuri say to that but, “O—of course we’re friends…”

“Really,” Victor said, voice pouting, “it’s like you don’t remember Skate America at all.”

“Huh?” What did he mean? For Yuuri Skate America had been one horrifying embarrassment after another.

Victor wrinkled his brow. “Didn’t I say I was a fan of yours? I mean,” he said, “granted a fan isn’t a friend, but since we’re both fans of each other I thought…”

Yuuri’s heart thumped loud and hard in his chest. What was this? This feeling.

He looked at Victor’s face which held an unsure, almost hesitant expression, something that Yuuri had never seen before in all the pictures and videos he had of him—Oh, Yuuri suddenly understood, I’m happy.

“Of course we’re friends,” he said again, this time with conviction, and—Doumeki’s training or not—he couldn’t help but let his words ring with the sound of something true and precious. The clouds blew away from Victor’s eyes and Yuuri felt something warm and soft brush against his mind—

He flinched back.

Victor blinked in confusion.

Yuuri cleared his throat, looking away from him and knowing his face must be burning red. “Um, d—do you really think I can win without a quad?” That was a safe enough topic, although Yuuri did hate that it seemed as if every time Victor came across him it was when Yuuri was being lame: twice while he lost control of his dominance, and now when he was worried about his skating.

“Absolutely!” Victor said, his expression turning professional as he looked toward the rink. Yuuri hadn’t even noticed when the practice session had switched over; it was now the Junior ladies’ turn on the ice. “Quads aren’t allowed in the Junior short so the playing field is level there. Your program is one of the most technically difficult in your group, too, so as long as your performance is perfect you have nothing to worry about.”

Yuuri nodded thoughtfully. “So I should use my short program to widen the gap.” If he had a big enough lead he wouldn’t be overtaken after the free skate, even if his competition nailed all their quads. It did mean, however, that it would be all over for him if he didn’t place first after the short. Not only first, he thought grimly, but first by a large margin.

“I definitely believe you can do it.”

Yuuri looked at Victor gratefully, feeling as if his words were drawing away all of Yuuri’s earlier uncertainties.

Then he frowned.

“You’re really free with your pulls, aren’t you?” he remarked drily. Victor had to know what he was doing, even if Yuuri only just noticed it now.

Victor didn’t even have the grace to be embarrassed at getting caught out. “Not usually,” he chirped, “but it’s so much fun doing it to you, Yuuri!”

Yuuri stared at him, face blank, then broke into peals of laughter. After a moment, Victor started laughing too.

And Yuuri wondered if it was always going to feel like this, when having Victor Nikiforov as a friend.

--

Minako gripped her hands together as she watched Yuuri skate out to the center of the rink to applause.

“Don’t worry,” Celestino said beside her, his smile as confident as always. “I’m sure Yuuri’s performance will touch the hearts of everyone here.” And while Minako agreed with him, she also knew that Yuuri didn’t want to just do that.

Yuuri wanted the gold medal in a way that Minako hadn’t quite seen in him before. As if he didn’t want to simply win, he wanted to prove a point. Sometimes she even had the feeling that he wasn’t really competing against the other Juniors in his event… that he was instead chasing after someone else, someone who had come a long time before he stepped on this stage.

Her eyes flicked up to the audience section reserved for competitors and found Victor Nikiforov.

Something weird happened to Yuuri yesterday. She wasn’t sure what it was, but the look in his eyes had completely changed after he came back from the Iceberg Skating Palace hours after his practice session ended.

Yuuri had been looking more and more worried as the GPF approached, and she knew it was because of his quads. Or rather, the lack of them. Simply speaking, all things being equal, his free skate program had the lowest base value total out of all the six Junior men skaters. He was so concerned about it that Minako knew if he had had the chance to practice the quad toe loop at all in the last twenty days she wouldn’t be surprised to see him attempt it here, but he never had even an hour to spare for it. And while Yuuri can be reckless, even he wasn’t going to attempt a jump he had not touched in almost two months during competition. So she had watched him become increasingly worried as he studied his competitors’ programs, and he was the most concerned about Hunter Nichols, the eighteen year old Canadian who had three quads planned in his free skate.

It was a real compliment to Doumeki’s training that not once did Minako ever sense Yuuri lose control, even as stressed as he was.

But then suddenly the tightness around his eyes was completely gone when he came back to the hotel yesterday. And during lunch he was his usual ravenous self, speaking to Minako excitedly about his plans to call his family and friends back in Hasetsu after eating and did she want to join in? Maybe they should do a video call!

Now she eyed Nikiforov suspiciously. Her intuition told her that Yuuri’s drastic change in mood somehow involved the nineteen-year-old.

But she had no time to wonder about that right this moment, because Yuuri just started his short program, the familiar sound of his music filling the venue.

Minako was proud of the work Yuuri had done to fine tune his program to not just take in consideration his new build and new body but actually take advantage of it. His costume had changed too, and while it was still a school uniform the sleeves were constructed to look as if they were rolled up, exposing his forearms, and the first two buttons of his ‘polo’ were undone to emphasize the line of his throat and the base of his neck. Along with his shorter hair, the combined look came across as effortlessly masculine and appealing.

In the course of his short program Yuuri will tell the story of a young man who finds love only to lose it.

Love and heartbreak.

Minako smiled.

No matter what score he got, she knew that there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the audience once Yuuri was done.

--

Christophe Giacometti hid his distaste behind his champagne flute as the bloviating politician in front of him refused to shut up. As much as he loved a good party, in some ways the banquet was his least favorite part of a competition. Christophe and Adelaide Dubois, one half of the Senior Pairs gold medal winners, exchanged pained looks as Mr. Blowhard exclaimed, “Ah there he is!” and waved over another poor soul to join the little group he had gathered in this corner. “The Alpha of the hour, Yuuri Katsuki!”

Katsuki approached them, looking hesitant and uncomfortable in his stylishly cut dark blue suit, and said, “Hello, sir.”

Christophe sipped his champagne as he watched Mr. Blowhard sling an arm around the younger skater, hand waving expansively as he started to deliver the same speech he had given Christophe and Adelaide about how it was ‘about goddamn time Alphas like us’ dominated the sport again and wasn’t it a shame that more and more Omegas were becoming competitors, don’t they know their place? Blah blah blah…

Merde, but he hated misomegists.

So he tuned the asshole out and instead focused on the enigma that was Yuuri Katsuki.

The miracle rookie.

The first-time ISU competitor who had broken the world records for the Junior Men’s short program and combined total scores previously held by Victor Nikiforov.

And more importantly, like Victor, had done so without including a single quad jump in his free skate.

Katsuki had sailed to the top of the leaderboard twice on the strength of his program components and by putting all his jumps in the second half of his performances. It may not be something that would work in the Senior division but in the Juniors, Katsuki had stood out from the other competitors like an orchid among daisies.

No one had even heard of his name before this season and now he was the only thing anyone can talk about. Well, him and Victor who had again won the gold and also set a new world record in the men’s free skate. The ink on the old one hadn’t even had a chance to dry in the record books yet, Christophe thought with a sigh.

It was going to be interesting next year when Katsuki joined them in the Seniors as everyone expected him to. Christophe didn’t know if he should feel unlucky or blessed to be bracketed by two such extraordinary skaters.

Though, he thought as he eyed the line of Katsuki’s body, he wouldn’t mind being in the middle of those two.

Too bad Katsuki was such a shy, cute thing; he preferred his Alphas more aggressive…

He blinked. Mr. Blowhard had stopped talking and was now staring at Katsuki with something very much like fear in his eyes. Christophe frowned and exchanged a confused look with Adelaide. What happened? A second ago the florid faced man was blattering along as he usually did, getting increasingly obnoxious the more he drank, but now he was white as a sheet and looked sober as a nun.

Then Katsuki spoke.

And the hairs on the back of Christophe’s neck stood on end.

“I became a competitive figure skater because of Victor Nikiforov.”

And the politician suddenly collapsed onto his knees as if an invisible force had slammed him down into the floor, his wine glass falling from nerveless fingers and spilling blood red on the carpet.

Around them all conversation stopped as every pair of eyes turned to look at their little tableau.

This close Christophe could see the man on the ground shake as if he was trying to desperately pick himself back up, could see the tendons on his neck flex as he tried to lift his head but couldn’t.

“Don’t ever insult him again.”

And with that Katsuki turned on his heel and left, walking straight across and out the ballroom, people silently jumping out of his way. Christophe stared, mouth open, his eyes suddenly landing on the figure standing frozen just a few feet away. But Christophe only had a moment to appreciate the sight of Victor Nikiforov looking utterly shocked and flabbergasted before he ran out and chased after Katsuki, his hair flying dramatically behind him.

Slowly conversation picked back up among the guests, and one of the hotel staff helped the humiliated asshole to his feet as he cursed a blue streak that Christophe ignored.

Ah, Christophe sighed ruefully, Victor won the prize yet again.

Chapter Text

Yuuri sat by the edge of the pool, hugging his bent legs to his chest the same way he did back when he had been a child, and stared into the water. The indoor pool area was empty except for him and he savored the luxury of being completely alone. No people, no scents, no mental pressures around him.

It was nice.

But naturally it couldn’t last, so he didn’t even bother to sigh or react at all when he heard the door open somewhere behind him, when he heard soft footsteps and felt a now increasingly familiar presence come closer. Instead he just huddled tighter into himself, nose and mouth pressed against his drawn-up knees.

Of course it was him. Of course he would be the one to find Yuuri being a complete loser, again.

Victor sat down beside him on the tile without saying a word. After a couple of minutes, he took off his shoes and his socks and rolled up his pant legs. Yuuri watched from the corner of his eye as he leaned back on his hands and put his feet in the water, swinging his legs lazily to make ripples on the surface. “You know I never thought I’d like being an Omega,” Victor said, his voice contemplative. “But now I can’t even imagine how my life would be if I wasn’t. If I couldn’t feel, if I couldn’t experience, the world the way I do now. It would be like missing an eye, I think. Like I wasn’t complete somehow. Do you feel like that too?”

For a long moment Yuuri simply watched the way the pool lights filtered through the water.

“Back in Japan there was this girl a year above me who was really pushy,” he finally began, voice soft, “She kept pushing at people after she became an Alpha, and wouldn’t stop even when the teachers scolded her. She kept picking on the Omegas a lot, really awful stuff… and one day she decided to pick on me. She knew I was an Alpha, but I was smaller than her, so I guess she thought it would be fun to see if she could make me bow to her.” He took a breath and for a moment listened to the gently lapping water. “I made her kneel in the middle of the cafeteria, made her lower her head until it touched the floor, until she was crying.” He could still see it clearly in his mind: the girl crumpled on the ground at his feet, her voice rising in fear and panic while around them there was nothing but silence.

Victor’s feet stopped swinging. “Wow,” he said, “what happened?”

“One of the teachers grabbed my arm and dragged me away,” he said quietly. “I heard she stopped coming to class and transferred to another school. Everyone avoided me after that.” He put his chin on top of his knees. “Minako-sensei and my family and friends back at home… They’re the only ones who aren’t scared of me at all, and never treated me any differently, even knowing what I can do,” he sighed. “I’d hate for people to think that I’m the kind of person who would push people just because I can. I don’t want Coach Celestino and my rink mates… I just don’t want people to be afraid of me.”

“No one’s afraid of you, Yuuri,” Victor said gently, his voice warm, and Yuuri saw and felt only honest sincerity from him. “I’m not afraid of you. I’m your friend, aren’t I?” He tucked his hair behind one ear and smiled, and Yuuri could only watch the way the water dappled light on his face.

Yuuri felt his heart lift, and he didn’t care if it was because of a pull—he knew Victor was telling the truth. Yet Victor’s words somehow didn’t feel quite right, at least not at this moment… “You’re not a friend… You’re Victor,” he blurted out, feeling that he had something that he needed to say but couldn’t find the right words for it. Yuuri turned to him and sat crossed legged, hoping that he was getting his message across. “To me, you’re… you’re Victor. I—is that okay?”

Victor blinked, then beamed. “Of course!” He nodded happily, eyes shining. “And to me, you’re Yuuri. No labels. Simply… Yuuri.”

Yuuri smiled in relief. Good, Victor somehow understood him… “Um,” he fidgeted, suddenly self-conscious, “do you think I have to go back to the banquet?”

Victor hummed, splashing his foot a bit. “Well we are supposed to mingle, especially since both of us won…” Yuuri groaned; he was afraid of that. “But,” Victor continued cheerily with a wink, “I think we can play hooky, just this once.”

Yuuri smiled at him gratefully. “I turned off my phone,” he confessed. “I’m kind of afraid what I’m going to see when I turn it back on.”

Victor sputtered, then laughed, and Yuuri couldn’t help but marvel a bit at the sight: Victor Nikiforov relaxed and carefree, his long hair loose around his shoulders, his tie half-undone, and his pant legs rolled up, swinging his feet in the pool like a kid.

Right now, Yuuri thought with wonder, I’m the only one in the whole world who knows the Victor that exists in this moment.

It was a heady thought.

--

“All right Bambi, close your eyes and turn this way,” Jim said, holding up the eyeliner. Yuuri immediately closed his eyes and tilted his face up toward Jim.

Seriously, Jim thought with a shake of his head, for an Alpha strong enough to be able to make a grown ass man kneel, he was amazingly docile and obedient.

Around them the prep area was buzzing with the low-level chaos typically found backstage just before exhibition galas. A couple of feet to their left Minako had her hands shoved down the back of Cathy’s costume, adjusting something, while Cathy herself put on bubblegum pink lipstick. He could hear Ciao Ciao laughing uproariously somewhere nearby—it seemed as if the party atmosphere from last night’s banquet had carried over to today, and everyone was having a great time and looking forward to putting on a good show for the fans out there.

“Hey Jim! Hi Yuuri!” Jim turned to see Sidney Robards—Ice Dancer; bronze—wave at them as he passed by wearing a wig and fake mustache.

“Hey Sid,” Jim said before turning back to put eyeliner on Yuuri’s left eye.

Yuuri startled, the same way he kept on doing every time someone greeted him. “Um, hi!”

“Don’t move,” Jim warned.

“Um,” Yuuri mumbled, eyes closed, “why are people…”

“Why are people what?” Jim asked, taking a step back to see if the eyeliner was even. “Open your eyes.”

Yuuri opened his eyes. His very confused eyes. “Why are they—“

“Hi Yuuri! Oooh,” Cecilia Booth—Ladies; gold—said, giving him the once over, “I like it. Good job on the eyeliner Jim.”

“You don’t think it’s crooked?”

She tilted her head to one side. “Nah.” Then someone called her name and she wandered off.

“That!” Yuuri suddenly burst out, waving his hands around vaguely. “Why is everyone being so nice and friendly to me?”

Jim blinked at him. “Because they like you?”

“But—but why?”

“Why?” Jim asked, kind of confused himself at where this was coming from. “Because you’re a good skater and also not an asshole?” In the world of competitive figure skating that was usually more than enough to make a lot of friends.

"What are you guys talking about?” Cathy piped up. Jim saw that Minako had left them to join Celestino and his group of grown-ups.

“Yuuri’s wondering why he’s suddenly so popular,” Jim told her.

Cathy furrowed her forehead. “What’s there to wonder about? He’s a total sweetheart!”

“But last night,” Yuuri babbled, flustered, “I—um—with that guy… I really messed up!”

“Wait,” Jim said, the light dawning, “are you talking about when you smacked that bigoted asshole down?”

Cathy laughed. “Oh my God, as if anyone would be mad at you for that. In fact that’s probably why everybody’s so nice. If you’d come back to the party we’d all have welcomed you with cheers.”

“Well, well, this is a new look,” Christophe Giacometti—Men; silver—said, slinking over and eyeballing Yuuri more thoroughly than Cecilia did. “Is this your handiwork, Jim?”

“Yup.” Jim nodded. “Yuuri’s skating to something I choreographed for him.”

Christophe’s eyebrows went up. He knew Jim’s usual style, of course. “Oh, really?” he said, stretching the word out.

Jim chuckled. “Well, it’s probably going to be more ad lib than anything, we really only had what—five days?—to work on it.” He had been honestly shocked when Yuuri had insisted on being ready with an exhibition piece, and asked Jim to choreograph it while he worked on his competition programs. He thought that if Yuuri had any time to spare it would be to practice the quad toe loop. But the kid had been stubborn, saying that he wanted to be able to give something back to his fans if he ended up placing.

“Don’t worry, Jim, I’m not going to mess up,” Yuuri said, his face taking on that earnest, determined look that Jim, as his rink mate, was used to seeing.

“I’m sure you won’t,” Christophe murmured with a look in his eyes that Jim had no problem reading. It was a look that he’d seen in all the Senior men skaters as they looked at Yuuri: a kind of careful wariness that came from knowing that here was a new threat. Jim smirked.

Yeah, you all better watch out.

“Um, C—Chris, I’m really sorry about, you know, last night,” Yuuri was suddenly saying.

“Last night? I don’t think you did anything you should be apologizing for,” Christophe said, voice dripping with innuendo, “and trust me, I think I’d remember.”

“He’s talking about when he made that douche bucket almost pee himself.”

“Cathy! I did not!”

“Oh, that?” Christophe waved a hand airily. “Honestly if you humiliated him enough so that he stops showing his face around here then you did all of us a favor. Adelaide and I were already going to talk to the organizers about him. And I’m pretty sure Victor’s coach was about to put out a mob hit on the guy, too.”

“Oh, I see,” Yuuri said, looking incredibly relieved.

“It was very sexy and romantic, really,” Christophe continued, leaning into Yuuri, “even my heart beat a little faster. Tell me, Yuuri, do you like making men kneel for you?” And that was definitely Jim’s cue to rescue the furiously blushing kid—

Then Victor Nikiforov—Men; gold—suddenly appeared out of nowhere, saying, “Yuuri! Are you excited for the exhibition?” and Sala Crispino—Junior Ladies; bronze—bounced over, laughing, “Yuuri, are you actually wearing makeup?” and even goddamn Cathy—Ladies; silver—was latching on to his arm, telling them all, “Yeah, he’s performing a program Jim, our rink mate, choreographed for him; it’s gonna knock your socks off!”

Jesus. In the blink of an eye their little corner was full of the figure skating Omega glitterati, and Jim was kind of afraid to get in the middle of that and pull Yuuri out, even if the poor guy was looking increasingly wide eyed and overwhelmed as the conversation went on. Naturally Christophe had done the smart thing and retreated with a snicker and a saucy wave.

“Um, yeah,” Yuuri was saying now, “Jim made my exhibition program. It’s really cool.”

And Victor was saying, “I’m looking forward to it,” with a smile, but his eyes cut into Jim with a glance. Jim raised a brow. What the hell? The man hadn’t eyed him like that when Jim had placed above him in Skate America.

Yuuri was giving Victor a confused look, too, so it definitely wasn’t just Jim’s imagination either.

But he had no more time to wonder about it because right then one of the staff members came by to let them know that the show was starting and for everyone performing to please get in position, so the whole place immediately devolved into a mass of organized chaos…

And then it was show time.

--

Hisashi Morooka had once wanted to be a professional figure skater. Then at thirteen he finally admitted to himself that he had all the grace of an elephant and so gave it up. However his love for the sport remained firmly fixed and now years later he was starting to make a name for himself as a reporter specializing in figure skating.  Then a string of lucky breaks landed him an internship with NHK to join the team sent to cover the Grand Prix Series and now he was currently preparing to provide the commentary for the Final’s exhibition gala.

It was like a dream come true.

But perhaps the luckiest break to happen to him was that it seemed it was this year that Japan was finally on the cusp of getting a real contender in the Senior men’s division after half a decade of drought.

Hisashi had been following Yuuri Katsuki’s career since the sixteen-year-old’s appearance at the Novice National Championships three years ago. Like all Japanese skating otakus, Hisashi had been praying and waiting for the day when their flag would once again grace the podium at a major international skating competition in the Senior men’s, so he always made a point to see if there were any new talents rising up from the ranks.

He first noticed Katsuki as he stood by the boards at the Kyoto Aquarena and gradually became aware of a growing mental pressure. Competitions always had some level of projected anxiety floating around, but the amount this one kid was generating was starting to reach the point where it was a real presence that he could feel at the back of his head, pushing in. But before he could follow through with the decision to move further away from him and his coach, the woman had actually slapped her student across the face, and the shock was apparently enough to stem the tide of his nervousness.

And then the kid stepped on the ice, and that was when Hisashi started to really pay attention.

Even at twelve Katsuki had a grace and confidence in his movements that was head and shoulders above skaters one or even two years older than him. He was a natural dancer, and what must have been years of training shone through his program with a childlike enthusiasm that had immediately charmed Hisashi, the audience, and the judges.

Hisashi became an instant fan that day.

So it was with an almost proprietary pride that he watched Katsuki get introduced as the second-to-the-last skater in the exhibition gala, just before Victor Nikiforov.

“—and here is Yuuri Katsuki, Japan’s young rising star, who won the Junior Men’s in a spectacular fashion,” his co-commentator Genma Tendou said.

“Indeed,” Hisashi smoothly joined in, “breaking two world records in his first appearance in the Final, including the combined total score, and without having a single quad in his free skate, it’s really no wonder why he’s being hailed as the ‘Miracle Rookie.’ Those two records were in fact previously held by the man stepping onto the ice now: Victor Nikiforov, gold medal winner for the Senior Men’s.”

“Who also set a new world record yesterday, for the free skate,” Tendou pointed out.

“Yes, it was truly an exceptional Grand Prix Final this year,” Hisashi said with a chuckle as all the medalists circled around the entire rink, wearing their exhibition costumes and waving to the cheering audience. “But it seems that Nikiforov has no hard feelings about his records being broken, as he is skating right beside Katsuki, the two of them waving to their fans together.”

“It’s not surprising to see them so friendly,” Tendou said, “as both Nikiforov and Katsuki have gone on record to say that they are fans of the other.”

“Very true,” Hisashi agreed, “and in fact this morning Nikiforov had been observed giving Katsuki tips and advice during practice…”

“It will certainly be very interesting when both of them are in the Seniors next season.”

“Oh, absolutely. And now we see all the medalists take one final bow before exiting the rink and leaving behind Sala Crispino, the Junior Ladies bronze winner and the youngest medalist in the Final, to begin her exhibition program, which is set to the song ‘Let It Go’ from the Disney movie, Frozen.”

An hour or so later Hisashi leaned forward in his seat in anticipation as Katsuki finally stepped into the rink to loud applause. “It seems that Junior Men’s gold medalist Katsuki has garnered quite a following in the short time he’s been in the international competition scene.”

“Or,” Tendou remarked, “it’s perhaps a reaction to his costume, which is markedly different from his usual very sincere, very ‘pure’ style.”

“It could be,” Hisashi agreed. Katsuki was wearing black faux-leather pants and a stylishly tight blue shirt. With his gelled hair and black lined eyes it was a big departure from the earnest look he was already beginning to be known for. “But it’s no wonder as the sixteen-year-old Katsuki is performing a program choreographed by his American rink mate James Macintosh, who is famous for his modern ‘sexy’ routines.”

Katsuki skated to the center of the rink and cocked his hip for his starting pose, eyes half-lidded and one hand cupping the back of his neck in a manner that somehow managed to appear both bashful and flirtatious. As the music started and Katsuki began his performance, Hisashi said, “Katsuki is skating to the song, ‘Bad Things.’”

Immediately it was clear that Katsuki was channeling a very different energy for his exhibition. To Hisashi it seemed like this was the other side of the coin to his competition programs: if those were about a young man discovering ‘love’ for the first time, then this was about a young man discovering ‘lust.’

“A very impressive step sequence here.“

“Yes, complicated and really eye-catching; looks to be inspired by hip hop street dancing.” Katsuki ends the sequence provocatively with his legs more than shoulder width apart as he bends backwards and lowers his back until it almost drags across the ice, one arm flung behind him—“Listen to that crowd, they love him.”

Katsuki rises up smoothly in a remarkable display of core strength and starts to gain momentum, clearly preparing to jump. But then he does something odd: he points at something outside the rink just before he goes into his approach—

And lands a quadruple toe loop, clean.

--

It was inevitable that during interviews Georgi Popovich would be asked the question: “How does it feel to be the rink mate of Victor Nikiforov?”

Georgi knew what the true question was, of course, what they were really asking him.

What is it like to always be in the shadow of Victor Nikiforov?

It was a valid question. Being a Russian male singles skater only two years younger than Victor was a difficult path to walk, and Georgi has known more than one contemporary who had chosen to become a pairs skater or ice dancer or even quit the sport entirely rather than have nothing to look forward to but to be an afterthought to ‘Victor Nikiforov, Russia’s top skater.’

And PR approved responses aside, the real answer to that question was very simple: it was painful.

It was painful to think that he would always be looking up at Victor, from either a lower step on the podium or from the crowd, as he won medal after medal, accolade after accolade. And if he was then asked, “So why continue? Why subject yourself to the pain of never being the best?” The answer to that was equally as simple.

Because he loved figure skating.

He loved skating the same way he loved a woman: wholly and with his entire being. And like a woman, if skating treated him cruelly, if skating made him cry, if skating broke his heart… well, such is love.

He would love her until the day he died.

In a way he pitied Victor. Because while Victor’s love for skating was as pure as his, it was also a selfish kind of love. Victor knew nothing of true love, of pain and of heartbreak, and so while he played at being in love on the ice, while his programs espoused it and glorified it—it was all mimicry.

A feeling he was able to portray—granted, portray better and more perfectly than anyone in the world—by just using his imagination and the gift he was given by being an exceptionally powerful Omega.

And so Georgi was content to train with Victor, to win the silver or the bronze sometimes, for he understood that eventually—perhaps not any time soon—but eventually Victor’s seemingly inexhaustible well of talent will run into an obstacle it will not be able to overcome.

Ennui will be Victor’s downfall.

It was only a matter of time.

Georgi had thought this. But then he had stood beside Victor as he waited for his turn on the rink for his exhibition performance, watched alongside him as Yuuri Katsuki seemed to discover sex on the ice, and Georgi had seen something he never expected to see.

He had seen Victor affected.

And when Katsuki had pointed directly at Victor just before he nailed his first official though non-competition quadruple jump, for a moment Georgi had actually felt the backlash of Victor’s emotions as he had stood there staring as Katsuki soared in the air, his hands over his mouth as if in prayer.

So now, as he and Victor and Yakov made their way through the lobby of the Iceberg Palace, he mourned the loss of a dream but also quietly savored the knowledge that Victor would at last become human like them after all.

Because, hilariously, it seemed that Yuuri Katsuki had absolutely no clue.

Thus Georgi felt nothing but schadenfreude as he watched Victor’s eyes dart this way and that looking for Katsuki.

At least he was not stupid enough to use his pull to find him in a space as crowded as this, Georgi thought.

“Yuuri!” Victor called out, finally spotting his target.

“Victor,” Katsuki said cheerfully, his smile wide and friendly as Victor joined him, his coaches and rink mates barely sparing the two of them a blink. “Are you leaving for St. Petersburg now?”

Victor’s smile dimmed a bit, though Georgi only noticed because he was watching the drama unfold very closely. “Yes, and you’re leaving for Detroit?”

Katsuki nodded, also looking a little disappointed. “Our flight leaves in five hours.”

The two of them said nothing for a moment, but Georgi knew what they were thinking: with Katsuki still in the Juniors there was likely no chance of them meeting until next year’s Grand Prix… if they were assigned to the same events.

“Um,” Katsuki ventured, his voice forcibly bright, “but I have your number so we’ll text all the time, right?”

Victor blinked, then smiled. “Yes, of course!”

Katsuki touched his arm, then asked, “Want to take one last picture?”

“A commemorative photo? All right.” Then of course he turned to Georgi and asked him to take it. Well, Georgi was glad to take it—with both Katsuki’s and Victor’s phones, even—because it was one more chance for him to be amused at how stupid the two of them were going to be about this.

It was like something out of a romantic movie, Georgi thought with a small internal smile as he watched Victor stare at Katsuki’s back as he walked out of the lobby surrounded by his friends. Then he turned and left Victor to his thoughts and went back to Yakov who was, as usual, arguing with his wife on the phone.

Suddenly Georgi realized that he was the only one among them who wasn’t having love problems.

Time to find a new girlfriend, he thought.

--

Yuuri woke up on December 25 and after checking his phone for any new messages from Victor—which had quickly become a habit after the GPF—went to the kitchen to fix himself some breakfast, Vicchan trotting along at his heels. He expected to spend the whole day alone in the apartment, as the rink was closed and everyone else had plans with either family or their significant others, but Yuuri was actually looking forward to the day for a couple of reasons.

It was Victor’s birthday and that of course naturally made it a great day by default. Yuuri had already greeted him last night before he went to bed though he hadn’t received a reply back yet.

Also, he was planning to spend the whole day re-watching the Russian Nationals, which Victor had won yesterday. He didn’t break any records this time, and Yuuri’s heart practically leapt out of his throat when he touched down on his quad flip during his short program, but his free skate was as polished and beautiful as ever and he won the gold by a margin of 5 points. And while Yuuri wished he had been able to watch the competition in person, it was a lot of fun texting Victor back and forth during the event. At one point the camera was on him backstage as he was on his phone and Yuuri actually saw him laugh at something Yuuri had just sent him.

It made something golden and bubbly burst in his chest and that was when Minako had rolled her eyes, made a disgusted sound, and left him to watch the rest of the stream alone. He had barely noticed her leave.

He queued up the recording he had made on the TV and snuggled with Vicchan on the couch, a bowl of cereal in his hands. While he missed having good Japanese breakfasts, there was something to be said about being able to eat what was essentially chocolate candy for a meal.

He was just getting to Victor’s free skate when Vicchan perked up in his lap and started barking at the door. The knock came a second later.

“Just a second!” he called. It must be Amazon again. Minako had become addicted on ordering stuff online and there was already a small tower of messily opened brown boxes in the corner, waiting to be thrown away.

It wasn’t until he opened the door to find Victor standing there that he remembered Amazon didn’t deliver on Christmas day.

“Yuuri!” Victor cried, flinging his arms around him until Yuuri overbalanced and the two of them fell down on the floor. “Merry Christmas! I’m going to be your rink mate!”

Chapter Text

Celestino woke up to a foot kicking his shin and a muffled voice saying, “Your phone’s ringing.”

Blearily he turned over and grabbed his buzzing phone from the nightstand. It took a second for the words on the screen to make sense to his sleep fogged brain, but when they did he immediately answered it. “Yakov?” he rasped, clearing his throat from sleep. “Ciao ciao. Merry Christmas.” He could count on one hand the number of times the Russian had actually called him instead of simply texting or e-mailing. This must be important.

“Merry Christmas, Celestino. I’m sorry, it seems that I woke you,” Yakov said. He sounded tired.

Celestino rubbed his face and got up to continue the conversation in the living room. “It’s alright, my friend. What’s happened?”

Yakov sighed. “You know I’ve been having some…” he man trailed off. However Celestino understood completely; marital problems were very difficult, especially when one was still very much in love with one’s wife.

“Say no more,” Celestino said. The normally private man had opened up to Celestino over drinks after the first day of the GPF. He and Yakov were not exactly bosom friends, for all that they’ve known and respected one another for many years, but sometimes it was easier to speak of such things with a person one was not so close to. “What do you need?” Personal issues or not, Celestino knew that Yakov would not call if it was not related to a professional concern.

“I decided to take the rest of the season off.” Oh, this was serious. For Yakov to do this… “I arranged for Alexei Baryshev to take over coaching my students,” Yakov continued, “but it seems that Victor has other ideas.” He paused. “I’m very sorry, Celestino, but he is insisting that he train under you.”

Celestino’s eyebrows flew up. “Me?”

“Da. I know this is an enormous imposition, and very sudden, but would you take him on? Just until Worlds.”

Celestino quickly considered all the implications of such a thing. “Yakov, my friend, you know I would do anything in my power… but I already have three students, two of whom will be at the US Nationals—“

“I understand completely,” Yakov interjected. “However, for all his idiosyncrasies Vitya is remarkably self-sufficient. At this point in the season you will mostly be babysitting him—though I am sorry to say that will be troublesome enough.”

Celestino sighed. “And he is truly insisting on me? You cannot change his mind?”

“Celestino,” Yakov answered drily, “he has already flown to Detroit.”

“Good Lord,” Celestino said, shaking his head. Then, “You know that I am not likely the real reason he wants to train here, yes?”

“I am well aware.”

Celestino sighed again. There was no use for it. Minako was going to tear a strip off his hide for this. “Alright. Send me all the details. You owe me a very good bottle of vodka for this,” he added wryly.

Yakov snorted. “Believe me, I owe you an entire case.” They spoke for a few more minutes, Yakov assuring him all the details will be in his inbox within the hour, before saying their goodbyes.

Celestino went back into the bedroom and got under the sheets, still wondering if this wasn’t a big mistake. Minako turned to him, sleepily sliding one slim leg over his thigh. “What did he want?” she murmured, still half-asleep but curious nonetheless.

Maybe she won’t be angry, Celestino thought optimistically as he kissed the top of her head. “He’s taking a leave for the rest of the season.”

Minako was quiet for a moment. “His wife?”

“Yes,” Celestino said, marveling again at how insightful the woman was.

“That’s sad,” she said, looking up at him, a sympathetic expression on her face… that slowly morphed into suspicion. Yes, very insightful. “What does that have to do with you though?”

“He wants me to take on Victor in his place.”

What?

Well, maybe she won’t be too angry. “Apparently the boy is insisting on it.”

“That boy—“ Minako bit back her words then said, “You didn’t agree, did you?” Then at the look on his face, “Celestino! You know—“

“Yes, of course, cara,” he quickly said, his brain automatically switching to ‘girlfriend is angry, appease appease’ mode. “But it seems Victor has already taken a flight here—“

“He’s already here? Fuck!” She scrambled out of bed, hastily pulling on her clothes so naturally Celestino did the same. He decided Yakov owed him two cases.

Minako pointed a finger at him and snarled, “We are going to have a conversation about this later.”

Make that three cases.

--

“Maccachin is so cute,” Yuuri said, grinning and taking pictures with his phone as the larger dog lowered his head and barked at the smaller Vicchan, instantly starting a play fight between the two brown poodles.

“And Vicchan is so tiny! Like a forever puppy!” Victor laughed and picked the dog up, scrunching his face as the toy poodle licked his nose and Maccachin climbed up into his lap trying to join in. It was so adorable Yuuri started recording a video instead.

The four of them were on the living room floor, having moved the coffee table aside so that the dogs would have more space to play. “Are you taking a video?” Victor asked and when Yuuri nodded said, “Here let’s switch,” and gave him Vicchan.

Yuuri felt his cheeks warm when their hands touched, and felt them heat up some more when Victor pointed the phone’s camera at him while Vicchan squirmed in his arms. Then Maccachin jumped on his chest and he fell down onto the rug laughing, glasses knocked askew. He heard Victor laugh along and then without warning Vicchan jumped out of his arms and ran into Minako’s bedroom, where he sometimes hid his favorite chew toy. Maccachin bounded after him with a bark. Yuuri grinned and adjusted his glasses, sitting back up.

Victor was still looking at him through his phone’s screen, a happy smile on his face.

Suddenly Yuuri felt a bit of vertigo: less than twenty minutes ago he was watching Victor on TV, and even now the screen was paused on a close up of his face as he smiled and waved at the crowds at Moscow yesterday moments before he began his free skate… yet right now he was here, in person and in Yuuri’s apartment, with his dog and his luggage and his scent slowly mixing in with the smells of home. It was… Yuuri didn’t quite have a word for it, but it felt like his heart was beating loud enough that surely Victor could hear it himself.

“You look nervous,” Victor said, putting aside Yuuri’s phone with a wink. “Don’t worry, Yakov is taking care of everything, and tomorrow we’ll officially be rink mates.”

Yuuri smiled weakly, still feeling a bit like he wasn’t quite on solid ground. “Just until Worlds, right? When he comes back from his break.”

He smiled. “Yuuri, tell me,” Victor said, crawling over until his face was inches away. Yuuri stared, bug eyed. “What kind of rink will we be skating at? What are your favorite things about this city?” And there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary about his words, but it was as if Yuuri’s world had shrunk to have only Victor in it. He was saying something else, but Yuuri could barely understand what he was asking…

Yuuri could see nothing but Victor’s half-lidded eyes and his coyly curved mouth, could hear nothing but the coaxing cadence of his voice, and when gentle fingertips touched his chin Yuuri gasped, Victor’s scent filling his head so that he felt almost drunk with it.

In the back of his mind his training clamored to be heard, but Doumeki’s voice seemed so very far away, and Yuuri didn’t feel particularly motivated to reach for it, not when Victor’s face was now so close he could see the black rings around the bright blue irises of his eyes, could count the individual strands of long hair brushing his cheeks where they escaped its ponytail…

Vaguely Yuuri remembered those lessons he had, the ones about how in ancient times wars had been fought and entire civilizations ruined, all for the affections of one Omega. It had seemed like so much exaggerated fiction at the time but now he finally understood, understood them perfectly, because at this moment he felt like a thousand ships would have been too few and a small price to pay, if it meant winning Victor for himself.

“Yuuri, won’t you tell me?” Victor murmured, and he was so close Yuuri could feel his breath on his own lips.

Yes. Of course. Anything.

A loud sound—like a gunshot—startled Yuuri, abruptly bringing him back to himself. What

Victor blinked and looked toward the door with a frown.

Minako stood at the entrance, door flung wide open and slammed against the wall, her face like wrath itself. “You,” she yelled, pointing right at Victor. “Hands up and off. Now.

Celestino poked his head around her. “Ciao ciao,” he said almost apologetically.

--

Minako pushed down the rising wave of worry at the sight that greeted her when she burst into the apartment. She had almost been too late. Shit. This was not good. Even now Yuuri looked half gone, his expression slightly confused though she was relieved to see his eyes were clear and unclouded. Victor of course was looking at her like she was something he wanted to scrape off the bottom of his shoe.

Well, too bad for him.

“Yuuri. Go and take Vicchan out for a walk.” She was more than a little proud that she was able to say that so clearly. Omegas didn’t have the same kind of compulsion that Alphas had, but it still took an immense amount of willpower to step inside the apartment and in between a pulling Omega and his target Alpha.

To Yuuri’s credit he only blinked once then said, “Um, Victor brought his dog, Maccachin,” just as two brown poodles came out of her bedroom to sniff around her legs.

She absently patted the much larger one on the head. “Take him along, too,” she said.

Yuuri looked at Victor uncertainly, “But—“

“Now, Yuuri,” she said, meeting Victor’s eyes directly and making sure he knew that she was not playing around. “Victor and I need to talk.”

An expression, too fleeting for her to catch, passed Victor’s face, but when he turned to Yuuri his face was... Oh.

“No, she’s right,” he said, smiling. “And Maccachin will be very happy to get some real exercise after being in a carrier for so long.”

A heavy silence descended as soon as Yuuri and Celestino left with the ecstatic dogs already pulling on their leashes. Minako stared at Victor, who seemed perfectly content to simply look back at her. Somehow she knew that he would be more than able to just stand there mute the entire time it would take for Yuuri to come back. She sighed.

He’s just twenty, she reminded herself, running an exasperated hand through her hair. Just a twenty-year-old brat.

She dumped her purse and her coat on the kitchen table and went to Yuuri’s closed bedroom door. “Come here,” she told him, and went inside. She crossed her arms and waited for him. “See those?” she asked as soon as he entered, flicking her eyes to the posters on the walls and ignoring the way he surreptitiously sniffed the air. “That’s your face on those posters, and that’s your face on the TV in the living room. Do you know what ‘Vicchan’ is short for? Did Yuuri tell you?”

Victor’s lips thinned. That’s right, she thought, you’re getting it now, aren’t you? “No,” he said, unusually curt.

Minako smiled humorlessly. “Take a guess.” And when he said nothing, “Victor. It’s short for Victor.” She let that sink in for a few seconds. “You know that he’s a fan of yours, and I know you heard him say that he became a figure skater because of you.” She raised an eyebrow. “You understand, don’t you, what I’m getting at?”

He didn’t try to play dumb. He looked her right in the eye and said, “Yes.”

Minako was impressed. He had guts, she’d give him that. “Good. So you tell me why I shouldn’t kick your ass for trying to take advantage of a sixteen-year-old kid who idolizes you.”

That did it. Minako tried not to take too much satisfaction at finally seeing his always perfectly composed face go slack with mortification. It made him look younger, look more like the teenager that he just stopped being as of today. “I—I would never—“

“Oh really?” she interrupted him, merciless. “Because that’s not what it looked like to me. Yuuri may be the Alpha, but both you and I know what exactly you’re capable of, what you were trying to do back there—“

“I would never hurt him!” he burst out, voice slightly hoarse, and Minako could see that his eyes were suspiciously shiny.

And seeing that, seeing his emotions laid bare, finally let Minako breathe easy. Well, easier, at least.

She had become steadily more and more concerned as the GPF went on and it seemed that their relationship was progressing fast, too fast for her comfort. The only thing that had stopped her from outright panic, even when Yuuri and Victor had disappeared together after the banquet, was the absolute certainty that neither of them would do anything that may in any way jeopardize their performances during competition or the gala.

So she had kept her mouth shut, didn’t get in the way—the last thing she wanted to do was trigger some kind of Romeo and Juliet scenario between them—and counted the hours until she could shove Yuuri into a plane and get him back to Detroit. She’d hoped that Victor’s interest, which she was sure was only because Yuuri was an exceptionally strong Alpha, would fizzle out once Yuuri was an entire ocean away, but that didn’t happen. Instead in the last two weeks Minako had gotten used to the sight of Yuuri constantly looking down at his phone, grinning to himself and blushing.

And she was fine with that, truly. Because a long-distance texting relationship was exactly what she thought they needed. If their attraction and infatuation with each other survived half a year or more of that, then their feelings must be true and not just a product of their hormones and compatible natures.

But then Victor actually flew all the way here… Minako sighed. Between her and Hiroko she was the one who never wanted kids in the first place, and now look where she was.

She glared at Victor, who was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at the floor. He looked sincerely upset. She sighed again, rubbing a tired hand over her face. This was not how she wanted to spend her Christmas.

“I believe you,” she said finally. Victor looked up at her, clearly surprised. “I don’t think you’re a bad guy, Victor, but you have to prove to me that you’re not just after Yuuri because you’ve found an Alpha you’ve fixated on.”

“I don’t care about any of that,” he said fervently, and Minako raised her brows. “I don’t,” he said again. “I liked Yuuri since I saw him skate. He looked… I thought he was amazing. And then I saw how he cared about his friends and…” he trailed off, and seemed at a loss for words. “It’s not because he’s an Alpha,” he finished quietly.

She looked at him and considered her options. “All right. I assume you haven’t made any arrangements about where you’re going to live for the next three months, right? No, of course not,” she answered for him. “Okay, you can stay here,” and at Victor’s shocked and delighted look, “but there are going to be rules, do you understand?”

He nodded so enthusiastically his ponytail bounced. “Yes, of course.”

Minako groaned, visions of how the next three months are going to go parading in her mind like a bad rom-com. “Seriously, why couldn’t the two of you have found each other seven, eight years later? I wouldn’t have cared, then,” she whined. “Did it really have to be now?” She shook her head wearily and went back out to the living room. “Come on, let’s sit down and talk.”

--

“—and that’s why,” Celestino said to Cathy and Jim, their faces comically frozen in identical expressions of dismay, “Victor is going to be training with us here for the next three months, until Worlds and the end of the season.”

There was an almost profound silence after his pronouncement, as Victor stood beside him smiling genially and Yuuri stood beside him fidgeting with his excitement to get on the ice. At least Minako had taken some time off from glaring murderously at him to answer a phone call outside. Inside the rink other skaters were passing by them and staring blatantly at the current men’s World Champion dressed in practice clothes, his long hair in a ponytail.

It was Cathy who recovered first. “Are you shitting me?”

“I’m looking forward to being your rink mate!” Victor chirped happily, seemingly oblivious to the undercurrents. “Let’s all work hard to go to Worlds together!”

Celestino hoped that he could count on Jim to help him restrain Cathy if she launched herself at the Russian. As Victor had won gold at his country’s Nationals he was already guaranteed to be participating at both the Euros and Worlds, but both Jim and Cathy still had about three weeks until the US Nationals from which the USFS will be making their selections for the Four Continents and Worlds.

“I know you’ll all make it,” Yuuri said, eyes shining with confidence and excitement. Celestino sighed with relief as Yuuri diffused the situation in a way only he could. “I’m going to cheer you all on!”

Jim smiled crookedly at Yuuri. “Thanks, Bambi.”

“But Yuuri, of course you’re competing with us, too,” Victor said with a smile.

Yuuri blinked, confused. “You mean the Junior Worlds?” he asked. “But I missed the Junior Nationals because I was sick, so I wasn’t selected for it…” he blushed, embarrassed. The JSF had released their list for the Junior Worlds just a few days before and Celestino had spent a good hour consoling the deeply disappointed Yuuri about it, though nothing had made him feel better until he was able to watch the Russian Nationals on TV.

“No,” Victor said, tilting his head to one side. “I mean Worlds. You already meet the age requirement for it so the only thing you have to do to be eligible is to make the TES minimums during the Four Continents.”

Yuuri shook his head, frowning in confusion. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Japan only gets one entry into Worlds this year, why would they give it to me, there are other senior skaters—“

“Because of the Olympics, of course.”

Celestino blinked and looked at Victor, comprehension dawning.

“No male singles skater from Japan has placed above fifteen in the last five World Championships, and that includes anyone from the current lineup,” Victor explained, voice nonchalant as he sat down on a bench and began to pull out his skates from his bag. “Normally there would be no cause for impatience to see you in any of the senior championships, except that this coming Worlds is going to decide how many entries a country will get for the next Winter Olympics.” He stood in his blade guards. “That means that they’re going to take a chance on you, Miracle Rookie, especially since you've proven you can land a quad,” he said, smiling widely at the open mouthed Yuuri. “If you place higher than the other two senior skaters in the Four Continents—which you definitely will—they will choose you to be their one entry into Worlds.”

“Wh—what—“ Yuuri sputtered as Cathy and Jim stared at Victor in shock.

Naturally this was when Minako burst into the rink, screaming excitedly, “Yuuri! That was the JSF! They want to name you as their third entry in the Four Continents! Are you going to do it? You’re going to do it, right?!”

Yuuri stared at her, then back at Victor, who clapped his hands and cheerily said, “Now, as Coach Celestino is undoubtedly busy with Jim and Cathy to prepare them for the US Nationals, why don’t I help you rework your choreography to be ready for a senior championship?” He turned laser bright blue eyes at Celestino. “Right, Coach?”

And Celestino looked at Victor, at his charming smile and open countenance, and thought how formidable this boy was going to be in a few more years. Too bad Celestino won't be retired by then.

He smiled and shook his head, giving in. “If Yuuri agrees,” he said, but of course Yuuri was already throwing his arms around Victor in joy.

It seemed that Victor didn’t come to Detroit to be his student, but instead to be Yuuri’s coach.

Chapter Text

Yuuri frowned at the red ink on his Math test and tried not to feel bad. His grades have never said he was anything more than an above average student, but he knew that he could do much better if he only spent more time in his studies than his skating. Not that that was ever going to happen, of course, but occasionally he did feel a little down when he got back a test he didn’t do well in. Thankfully the feeling only lasted for as long as it took him to get on the ice for his next practice session.

“What did you get?” the girl who sat beside him asked.

“Um, Eighty-six,” he answered, putting his test in his bag as the bell rang and most of his classmates rushed to the door in one wave.

“That’s really good! I mean, considering you were gone a lot for competitions and stuff for most of the semester.”

“Yeah I guess,” Yuuri said, ducking his head at the attention. She, like pretty much all of his classmates, had never given him a second glance until the school put out an announcement about him winning the Junior Grand Prix and being a world record holder on the first day after coming back from break. It was strange having people he barely knew greet him in the hallway. He preferred it when they had completely ignored him, to be honest.

She was still talking to him, and walking close enough that their arms sometimes brushed, as he pushed past the school’s main doors. The air was sharp with cold but the sky was bright and clear, as good a winter’s day as it’s ever going to get in January. “Bye,” he said with a small smile. “See you on Monday.”

But she grabbed his arm and said, “Hey, I know you’re really busy with, um, competitions and stuff… but do you think we can have, I dunno, dinner some time?”

Yuuri stared at her, not really knowing what to say. Of course he had to turn her down, but having absolutely  no experience with this kind of thing made him more tongue tied than usual. “Oh, um, w—well, I’m—“

“Yuuri!” Yuuri turned at the sound of his name and grinned to see Victor, pink cheeked and red nosed, walking toward him.

“Victor,” Yuuri said, grateful for the excuse to interrupt the uncomfortable conversation. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be at the rink by now.”

“I forgot I had an essay due today. I had to stay home and write it,” he explained, his breaths puffing out white in the cold. “So I decided to come pick you up, since your school is on the way to the rink anyway. Hello,” he added, addressing Yuuri’s classmate with a smooth, polished smile, “I’m Victor Nikiforov, Yuuri’s rinkmate.”

“Wow, uh, hi,” she said, looking a bit star struck. It was an expression Yuuri had gotten used to seeing by now. Even people who didn’t follow their sport seemed to realize that Victor was someone special—just the other day the lady behind them in line at the grocery store asked if he was an actor and insisted on getting a picture with him. It was fascinating to observe how people reacted to him, Yuuri thought as he watched his classmate—an omega herself—blush and trip over her words then walk off with a smile and a wave goodbye, apparently completely forgetting that she’d just asked Yuuri out.

“Thanks,” Yuuri said with a relieved sigh as they started walking to the rink. “I’m really no good with that kind of stuff.”

Victor only hummed in a noncommittal way. “How was school?” he asked.

“Well, I’m not failing any of my classes,” Yuuri said, wry. “Did you finish your essay?” With his relocation happening so suddenly there hadn’t been time for him to arrange any kind of study abroad with a university in Detroit, but it seemed that Victor had somehow arranged something with the St. Petersburg State University so that he was able to continue his studies remotely. Yuuri didn’t really understand how that worked, but it involved Victor watching lectures online and doing a lot of independent study.

“Turned it in before I left,” Victor said as they waited for the pedestrian light to turn green at an intersection. “It was about Diego Rivera’s murals, so it was easy to write.” They had seen the frescoes in the Institute of Art last week and Yuuri had been impressed by how much Victor knew about the Marxist artist; he had been even more knowledgeable than the tour guide. “Well, I am a Russian Philosphy major,” he’d said, laughing.

From there the conversation flowed naturally to the other works of art they had seen at the museum, then to discussing if they had enough time to maybe do a little more sightseeing before the championship season kicked off. They didn’t really have a lot of free time in between skating and their studies, but both Minako and Celestino insisted that Yuuri take one day off a week from practice, and on those days Victor would invariably drag him off somewhere, even if it was for a couple of hours after school.

Jim and Cathy were already in the middle of practice when they arrived at the rink, Celestino and Minako observing them closely. With only less than a week left until when they had to leave for the US Nationals they were maximizing their practice time to the limits of what they could physically endure. Their dedication only made Yuuri more motivated than ever to show that he was worthy of standing in the same space as them when they all went to the Four Continents.

And to Worlds.

“What’s on the agenda today?” Minako asked as they put on their skates. She directed the question to Victor. She had been the most reluctant to let Victor effectively take charge of Yuuri’s training, but after a few days even she had bowed to the inevitable. Victor’s reasoning was true after all: Celestino already had his hands full with Jim and Cathy to spare the amount of time it required to choreograph two new programs for Yuuri and teach him the necessary elements to make him competitive in a senior championship. Victor, having already qualified for both the Euros and Worlds, was the logical person to coach him.

“Yuuri’s free skate,” Victor answered immediately. “Specifically, his jump combinations.” Yuuri winced. As expected, he was having the most trouble with incorporating the quad toe loop in his combination jumps. And it was especially important since Victor’s program called for him to open with a quad-double right off the bat.

Minako hummed, brow furrowed. “Are you still insisting on doing the—“

“Yes,” both Victor and Yuuri said simultaneously, definitively. There was no chance that Yuuri was scaling back the difficulty of the programs that Victor made just for him; if Victor believed he was capable of it, then he will be.

“Alright, alright.” Minako blew out a breath. “But Victor, I don’t have to tell you that the Euros is getting close. And you’re flying out two days before we come back from Nationals, so you won’t get any time with Celestino after we leave for Minneapolis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that you’re doing all you can to make sure Yuuri’s ready for the Four Continents, but not at the expense of your own prep.”

Yuuri frowned at his laces. It was something he was quietly worried about too. Every time both he and Victor were on the rink together it was almost always to work on Yuuri’s programs, and that meant a significant block of time that Victor wasn’t working on his.

Victor shrugged away her concern. “My schedule is more flexible than Yuuri’s. I practice when Yuuri’s in school, and that’s enough. More importantly,” he added, “have you decided you’re going with Cathy and Jim after all?”

“Figures you would catch that. Yeah, I’m going with them. With you training Yuuri I can leave for a few days without worrying. I hope,” she finished pointedly.

“I won’t slack off while you’re away, Minako-sensei,” Yuuri assured her.

“Yeah, that’s not really what I’m worried about,” she said with a sharp glance at Victor. “Go on and get in there, we can talk more about this later at home.”

Training with Victor and having him, for all intents and purposes, as a coach was nothing like anything Yuuri had experienced before. He’s had a total of three coaches including Celestino, which was a lot considering how short his professional career was, and between them he thought he’d had a taste of it all, from Kinoshita-sensei’s too lenient grandfatherly style to Coach Matsuura’s drill-sergeant like harshness. Even Celestino who fell comfortably in the middle being neither too slack nor too stern didn’t come close to how Victor was as a “coach.”

Yuuri didn’t quite know how to categorize Victor’s way of training him was and to be frank he’d forced himself to stop thinking about it a few days in, especially when trying to put a label on things was having a negative impact on his concentration on the ice. Victor never got angry or frustrated with him, though when he wanted to his sarcasm was sharp enough to make Yuuri wince. Thankfully it seemed that he stopped giving Victor reason to scold him once he pulled himself together and started focusing like normal.

So now he simply shoved all his recently developed uncertainties under the “Victor” tag and accepted them as the way things were, at least for now. It was really testing his mental fortitude though, among other things.

Well.

At least his performances were looking sharper than ever. He thought he was really able to convey the whole “desperate first love” feeling that Victor told him he should be going for, anyway.

--

“Rather than a ‘desperate first love,’” Cathy said, voice dry as the desert, as the four of them—and most of the people in the rink—watched Yuuri and Victor go through Yuuri’s free skate step sequence side-by-side. “Doesn’t it just look like sexual frustration?”

Jim choked on his water.

“Be grateful you’re only seeing this side of it,” Minako said with a tired groan. “Last night Victor actually fed him a line about how they should take baths together as part of their ‘training.’” And at the looks on their faces, said, “Yeah, I stepped in at that, don’t worry.”

Seriously?” Cathy said, looking scandalized yet disturbingly invested in the answer. “How’d he try to explain that? What did Yuuri say?”

“Something about experiencing quintessential Japanese customs first hand and gaining an appreciation of Yuuri’s cultural heritage—“

“Pfft. I bet,” Cathy muttered.

“—would give him a better understanding of him as a skater, etcetera. He got us talking about Yuuri’s family’s onsen a lot first, so I almost bought it myself.” She sighed. “That brat can sell water to a fish. Yuuri just laughed and said the bathtub in our apartment is too small for that and they can take baths together in Japan when they visit his family.”

For a moment they watched the topic of their discussion grin at each other as Yuuri nailed a triple lutz, double toe-loop, double loop combination with flair. Damn, Jim thought with a mix of pride and unease, the kid was going to be a serious threat in the Four Continents if he kept this up.

“Are you sure they aren’t actually dating?” Cathy asked.

“Yeah,” Minako said, “though at this point I think the only difference between ‘dating’ and Victor’s version of ‘training’ is that skating is involved.”

“Remind me again why you’re letting him bunk out in your living room rather than making him stay at a hotel or something?”

“Look, you remember being sixteen and infatuated, don’t you? If Victor had his own place I’d bet my life savings Yuuri would be hanging out there all the time instead even if I enforced a curfew, which never stopped me from fooling around when I was sixteen and infatuated myself,” she grumbled. “At least this way I can keep an eye on both of them.”

Jim considered her. He’d thought it for a while now, but really—“You’d make a good mom.”

Minako seemed to deflate against the boards. “Ugh. Shut up. You’re making me feel old.”

Jim laughed at her while Cathy smirked at Celestino, who cleared his throat and said, “In any case there’s no denying that letting Yuuri work with Victor was the right decision. I’ve never seen a skater learn two new programs so quickly. Yuuri’s really flourished the last few weeks.”

“You make it sound like you have nothing to do with it,” Jim pointed out. “In the first place the programs aren’t totally new since Yuuri’s still using the same music. And sure the elements are different, but Victor essentially built his choreography on the foundation of the programs you developed with Yuuri for the JGP.”

Celestino smiled. “True enough. But Victor clearly put in a lot of thought into them, to make them work so well with Yuuri’s music and theme. I couldn’t have put together better programs myself.”

Jim had to admit that Celestino was right. It was no secret that Victor choreographed all his programs himself, so it wasn’t a surprise that he was able to make them for Yuuri. What Jim was a bit surprised about was that he had obviously made them with a lot of consideration for Yuuri, both with regard to his skill level as a skater and his old programs which he had spent months on perfecting. Victor’s programs for Yuuri felt like an evolution instead of a substitution, and while the distinction may be lost on some, it wasn’t lost on Jim or any of them who were closest to Yuuri and cared for him sincerely.

Victor’s programs couldn’t be a clearer declaration of love than if he actually went ahead and yelled it out loud.

They watched Yuuri start his free skate from the top, Victor watching him intently from the side. This time he stayed on his feet during the quad-double and they heard Victor call out, “Amazing!” while a couple of people at the other side of the rink clapped.

“Woo! Go, Yuuri!” Cathy called out. Jim grinned, clapping himself.

“Yeah, Victor’s really gone above and beyond for Yuuri,” Minako said with another sigh. “There’s no use denying it. I feel like I’m just delaying the inevitable.”

“Is that why you’re going with us for Nationals and leaving them alone in the apartment together? I mean,” Jim asked with a raised brow, “is that really a good idea?”

“Hell if I know. But I do know that if I have to stay one more week watching the two of them flirt and dance around each other I’m going to seriously hurt someone. Probably you,” she said, stabbing Celestino with her index finger.

“Ouch!”

“Well I for one am still going to give him the ‘hurt Yuuri and I’ll kill you’ speech,” Cathy declared belligerently.

“By all means,” Minako said, lazily gesturing with her hand.

Celestino checked his watch. “Five more minutes, then both of you get back out there. Cathy, I want you to pay attention to your transitions,” he began as he turned to her, switching gears to focus on them now. Jim did some light upper body stretches while he waited his turn and continued to watch Victor watch Yuuri. There was just something that he couldn’t quite put his finger on… as if there was a thought, half-formed, floating at the edges of his brain that he just kept missing.

Minako glanced at him. “What’s up?”

“Do you really think Victor’s gonna hurt Yuuri?”

“Well, I stopped thinking he’d do it on purpose anyway,” she said, “but that’s not what you’re getting at, is it?”

Jim shrugged. “Not really sure I’m getting at anything… just.”

“Just?”

“I dunno. I’ve been a sixteen-year-old guy, and I’ve been a twenty-year-old guy, too,” Jim said. “I was definitely less of an idiot at twenty than at sixteen, but I think I got my feelings hurt just the same at either age.” He shrugged at Minako’s surprised expression, as if the thought had never occurred to her. “I’ve only really gotten to know Victor for a few weeks, but I’ve known Yuuri for almost a year now so I know how strong he is. If you’d asked me a month ago I’d have agreed that Victor held all the cards, but now?” He looked at how Victor kept his eyes on Yuuri, as if nothing else existed beyond him. “I don’t think he’s as invulnerable as I first thought.”

--

“Victor’s asleep already?” Yuuri asked when he got out of the shower to find the living room lights off and Victor a lump on the futon bed that had replaced their old couch. His hair was still fluffy from the hair dryer and fanned out around his head while Maccachin and Vicchan were both curled up at his feet.

“Conked out as soon as he lay down,” Minako said quietly, her face lit up by the light from her laptop screen. “Good thing we stopped to eat on the way back.”

Yuuri sat beside her at the table and put his head down with a thunk. “I feel bad.”

“Don’t. He’s the one who decided all on his own to train you while being a competitor and a college student too.”

“I still feel bad,” Yuuri mumbled.

“Well the schedule he’s made for himself is pretty brutal,” Minako said. “Celestino would probably make him take a break for at least two days leading up to the Euros, if he thought Victor would actually do it. He’s worried if Victor pushes himself any more than this that he won’t be in peak condition when he flies to Finland.”

Yuuri sat up. “Okay. I’ll make him take a break.”

Minako frowned at him. “You’re going to—“

“Of course not,” Yuuri said, shaking his head. “But I’ll figure something out. Maybe if I take a break too…”

“I’m not sure I should be encouraging the two of you to skip practices, but okay,” Minako said with huff. “You have enough time before the Four Continents anyway, considering how much you’ve progressed with your programs. But are you sure can resist him? He’s been pretty good at pulling you around these last few weeks. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

“I know,” Yuuri said, feeling his face heat up. “But it’s only because I let him.”

Minako groaned. “Oh my God, Jim was right.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” she muttered then got up. “I’m going to bed.”

“Um, Minako-sensei, are you really going to Nationals?” Minako nodded. “But why? I didn’t think you’d leave me and Victor… um, alone.” And now his face must really be red.

“Well I guess I’m just following Doumeki’s suggestion.” Minako smiled and patted his head. “She told me to stop trying to deny fate.”