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Trust Me, I'm an Alchemist

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He’s minding his own business, that’s the kicker. Minding his own business, skating, just doing his job and not a damn thing that’s illegal, antisocial, or even questionable. For once.

So of course this is the moment everything goes to hell.

The skater known as Yuri Plisetsky stares down at the dark-eyed, dark-haired man who just emerged from a dazzling rip in space-time and fell down at his feet in the middle of the rink. The man is dressed in an Amestrian military uniform, covered in blood, and calling him Edward Elric, and Yuri (who is sometimes known as Edward) thinks…

Well, he thinks this is going to be a pain in the ass to explain to Yakov, for one thing.

* * *

* * *

Looking back on it, Ed’s not sure what he was expecting to happen when he and Al cavalierly broke all the rules of alchemy. For everything to go perfectly, probably. He was just so convinced he was the smartest person around, that he knew everything better than anybody. Including Teacher.

That level of stupid is amazing.

But whatever he was expecting when he tried to bring his mother back to life, it definitely wasn’t to be sucked into a weird, white, nowhere dimension, have his brain stuffed full of enough knowledge to just about make his head explode, and then be sneered at and have his leg ripped off by some super-powered white shadow thing calling itself Truth. To say nothing of Al disappearing and being replaced by the broken, nightmare, dying version of the thing that was supposed to be their mother.

To be fair, he’s pretty sure nobody would’ve seen that coming. Disaster in general, though, shouldn’t have been any kind of surprise.

And this was his idea, which means it’s his fault. So now he has to fix it.

* * *

“Welcome back, Alchemist,” says Truth, smiling unpleasantly.

Ed’s just lost his brother and one of his limbs, and then seen a tortured, mangled version of his mother die again, because of him. He’s too tired for games.

“Give me my brother back,” he says, forcing the words out through a tight throat. “You can take anything you want from me.”

Truth laughs, but the laughter trails off into a vaguely peeved expression, which may actually scare Ed more.

“Normally, Alchemist, we’d have a deal,” it says. “But I can’t have four of you running around. Two was bad enough, and three barely acceptable. He only needs five, after all.”

“What the hell are you—”

“I’m afraid I’ll need to change your price.”

The sense Ed gets from Truth isn’t quite regret—he doesn’t think a thing like Truth can regret—but it’s…dissatisfaction. Like maybe it wanted to take more limbs off of Ed, but now it’s going to have to do something less fun. Ed doesn’t kid himself that that means he’ll find the change pleasant.

But that’s fine. He was willing to give up another body part for Al. He was willing to give up his life for Al. He said he’d give anything, and he meant what he said.

“On the bright side, you can have your leg back,” says Truth, not sounding like it thinks that’s a bright side at all. “And you can have your brother.” It smirks unpleasantly. “If you can find him. Consider finding him part of your fee.”

“What’s the rest of it?” Ed asks suspiciously, because his price now apparently covers Al, all the knowledge he’s gained, and a lost leg besides, and he knows he’s not walking away from this without pain.

“Oh,” Truth sneers, “you’ve always wanted to travel, haven’t you? I don’t see why you can’t enjoy an entirely new dimension. One without alchemy at all, I think. Wisest to prevent you two from getting up to this sort of thing again.”

What—” but Ed isn’t able to protest any further, because he’s too busy screaming in agony.

Getting his leg stitched back on may actually hurt more than getting it torn off had, which is bullshit.

* * *

When Ed opens his eyes, he’s cold, covered in blood (his own, his mother’s), and entirely alone in a strange place.

The rebirth motif isn’t lost on him, but he can’t say he appreciates it. Plus, people are starting to crowd around him and ask sharp, alarmed questions in a language he doesn’t understand. They don’t seem very friendly about it, either.

How does this look to them, anyway? Did he appear in a blinding flash of light? Are they going to decide he’s magic and evil now? Or, depending on the level of technology in this world, scientifically advanced and/or alien and therefore useful in a laboratory? He knows what kind of shit government labs get up to—Teacher’s told them stories. And he can see cars around, which means decent technological advancement, which means labs, probably.

And hell no. Ed’s not sticking around for that.

But if he’s gonna bolt, he needs to make himself stand out less, and that means being less gory. He can’t do much about the stains on his clothes, or the fact that he’s wearing shorts in what seems to be winter—the better to display the massive scar where his leg was once torn off. Still, he grabs a handful of snow—because of course he landed in the fucking snow, hilarious—and cleans the worst of the blood off his arms and legs. Then he realizes that was stupid, because the last thing you should do when you’re freezing and half-dressed is rub freaking snow all over yourself.

And now there’s an authority figure approaching. Ed doesn’t know what flavor of authority he is—military, guard, police, or (worst case scenario) military police—but regardless, Ed sure as hell doesn’t have time to deal with him. He needs to find Al. All this world’s bullshit can just hold the fucking phone until he finds Al.

And that’s how Ed, at eleven years old, ends up cold, bloody, deprived of alchemy, ignorant of every language on the planet, and on the run from Russian cops in a dubious part of Moscow in January.

(It will later be explained to him in detail how terrible all of his choices here had been, but whatever. He did what seemed best at the time.)

It takes him a while to shake his welcoming party thoroughly enough to stop and take stock of what he has. Which is basically nothing: his ruined clothes, his brain, his body, and that’s it. And much good it does him, because intelligence isn’t a lot of help if you don’t speak any of the local languages, so really he’s just an alien kid who can’t communicate, and whose only asset is being good at fighting. And he somehow needs to leverage that into food, clothes, a safe place to sleep, and a way to find Al—and in a fucking hurry, too, before he freezes to death.

Experimentally, knowing damn well it won’t work, he claps and tries to transmute something. Nothing happens. Out of grim determination to be thorough rather any actual hope, he scratches out a transmutation circle and tries it that way, too.

Nothing. So. No alchemy, as advertised.

Fuck. He needs to find some criminals to hang out with, doesn’t he? And he needs to do it without getting himself maimed or killed or, like. Sold to somebody. He needs to find relatively decent criminals. That’s just fantastic. Plus, he’s never been to a big city before even in Amestris, so all he has to go on are Granny Pinako’s horror stories. She would not be thrilled to know he’s gonna head straight for all the parts of town she told him to avoid.

He has to believe that Al’s okay. Al’s just as badass as Ed, and has better common sense besides, so he should be fine if Ed is, but still…Ed’s the big brother. He’s supposed to be looking out for his little brother, and he’s fucked that up twice running. If anything happens to Al, if he freezes to death in the snow, if he gets killed by assholes, if he starves—that’s on Ed.

Ed let his mother die twice. It’s not a stretch to think he might lose his brother twice, too.

But he doesn’t have time to brood on that right now: he has to find Al. He can have all the screaming meltdowns he wants after he finds Al. He takes a deep breath, pushes himself away from the icy wall he’s slumped against, and marches off to look for a warm place to hide, dry, non-bloody clothes to wear, and people to hang out with who are shady but not murderously shady.

This is exactly the kind of plan Al wouldn’t like.

* * *

When Nikolai Plisetsky went out for groceries on a cold night in November, it wasn’t any part of his plan to collect and bring home two feral children as well.

And yet that seems to be what’s happening.

“We don’t need your help, old man,” grumbles the one with long hair, who is nonetheless obediently following along behind Nikolai. He and his brother both speak Russian with a curious accent—one Nikolai’s never heard before.

“We need someone’s help, brother,” the short-haired one says impatiently. “If you weren’t so stubborn—”

“I’m not stubborn, I’m reasonable!

“You don’t even know what reasonable means, and I’m not letting you turn down help from the only nice person we’ve met!”

“He is not the only nice person we’ve met! Sergei’s nice.”

“Sergei is an arms dealer.”

“That’s not the only thing he does! And everybody’s gotta make a living somehow.”

Brother. No.”

“Al—”

No.”

Nikolai is unsure if they’re bickering in truth, or if they just want him to be aware that they know dangerous people before they allow themselves to be alone with him. Either way, he’s glad he chose to bring them along. They clearly need a home. Besides, they’re fierce little survivors, and Nikolai admires that.

Then, too, Nikolai is…very tired of living alone. His wife died of lung cancer, which was a hideous, drawn-out nightmare, but at least it meant she hadn’t lived long enough to see their daughter die in a car crash the next year—young, far too young. She’d hardly had time to live at all.

That was six years ago, and Nikolai has been alone ever since, working, eating, sleeping, but feeling none of it, little more than a ghost haunting his own life.

So yes, he’s perfectly willing to take in suspicious children who are friendly with arms dealers. What’s the worst that could happen? They could kill him? Ha. They’re welcome to it. Though it doesn’t seem likely. Dubious friends or no, he rather suspects these are good boys.

His wife always said he was too nosy and interfering for his own good.

“What’s your story, then, the two of you?” he asks once he’s brought the boys in and fed them piroshky. (Not a proper meal, but the only thing he had on hand—he didn’t think they’d give him time to actually make something with those groceries he’d bought.)

“What’s your story, old man?” demands the one with long hair. “Why are you picking up random shady brats and bringing them home with you? That’s weird.” It should’ve been a rude thing to say, but something about the way the boy says it makes it sound mostly concerned on Nikolai’s behalf.

“Why do you think I did it?” Nikolai asks, amused and curious.

“I figure either you’re some flavor of extreme creep, and these awesome piroshky are drugged, or else you’re the saddest, loneliest old guy ever.”

“Brother,” sighs the one with short hair, disappointed, but clearly resigned to this kind of tactlessness.

“It’s the second one,” Nikolai allows.

The long-haired boy nods thoughtfully. “Fair enough. I mean, we’re basically sad, lonely orphans, so we can’t judge you. I guess we can be pathetic together.”

The other boy sighs again and closes his eyes, pained, but Nikolai just nods back, because he’d suspected as much. “And what if I’m lying to you?”

“Yeah, that’s the reason I’ve only had one piroshky and Al hasn’t had any. Al could kick your ass easy if I keel over, see.”

“Oh. Good.”

“Good?”

“I was worried you didn’t like them.”

At this, the long-haired boy throws his head back and laughs, bright and loud and unafraid, and his brother—Al—starts giggling quietly. Given what Nikolai suspects about their lives, the fact that they can still laugh like this is almost miraculous.

“They’re awesome piroshky,” the long-haired boy says eventually. “If I go a whole day without any signs of drugging, maybe we’ll both have some tomorrow. I’m Ed, by the way. Edward Elric. And this is my little brother, Alphonse. What’s your name, old man?”

“Nikolai Plisetsky. What were you two doing out in the cold?”

“Making money,” Edward replies with a scowl. “You could’ve left us there for another ten minutes. We almost had that guy.”

“So you’re…con artists.” This explains a lot. “How do I know you’re not conning me?”

“You don’t,” Alphonse allows, looking apologetic.

“No, we can’t be conning you,” Ed argues. “Because we haven’t even done anything yet. You’re making it too goddamn easy on us, old man. It wouldn’t be conning with you, it’d be stealing candy from a baby.”

Nikolai is mildly offended by that.

“We only take money from bad people, Mr. Plisetsky,” Alphonse puts in quietly, ignoring his brother entirely. “Equivalent exchange.”

“Call it vigilantism,” Ed puts in. “Sounds more exciting.”

And this is how Nikolai’s relationship with the Elric brothers begins. He will never be able to claim, in later years, that he hadn’t been forewarned.

* * *

It takes Nikolai three months to convince the Elrics that it’s both safe and reasonable for them to move in with him. Interestingly, Alphonse is the more difficult one to persuade. Ed seems to be initially suspicious of everyone, but if you haven’t killed him within the first twenty-four hours, he decides you’re friendly.

Alphonse, on the other hand, holds on to his careful, polite mistrust for almost a year. Nikolai feels a real sense of accomplishment the first time he gets a smile from Alphonse that has no shadows behind it. He feels an even greater sense of accomplishment when Alphonse feels safe enough to start bringing stray cats home and making pets of them. Or at least, he feels accomplishment at first. Once the number of cats surpasses three, it turns into mild panic, instead.

And that’s the thing about the Elrics—even earning the trust of both brothers doesn’t make living with them exactly easy. The cats are the least of it. Trying to keep them from engaging in criminal activity is a near full-time job, and seeing as Nikolai already has a full-time job, he is not succeeding. And their reaction to being told that they no longer need to be criminals is…well.

“Please stop robbing violent thieves,” Nikolai tries once again, exhausted but stubborn. “It may be only fair, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly dangerous.”

“Old man, don’t play like you can afford to keep us without us bringing in some cash,” Ed insists, at least equally stubborn. “These fuckers have way more money than they deserve, anyway.”

“Edward, don’t speak like a thug,” Nikolai counters calmly.

“I am a thug.”

“You were a thug. We’re trying to trick everyone into believing you’re a respectable member of society now.”

Al starts giggling, thereby cutting off any response Ed might have had. This does not, however, mean that Al is on Nikolai’s side. It just means that Al is endlessly prepared to enjoy the absurd.

“We don’t even have legit ID for this…country,” Edward declares after a sidelong, sour glare at his brother. “So how are we supposed to be respectable members of society?”

“If you need identification, I can…” Nikolai sighs, because he’s aware that this is him throwing away all of his moral high ground. “I can get that for you.”

As expected, both boys’ eyes sharpen with terrifying interest.

“Oh really?” Ed says, grinning insanely. “That’s not a very ‘respectable member of society’ thing to say, is it, old man?”

“I can explain,” Nikolai tries.

“I think you really ought to explain, Mr. Plisetsky,” says Alphonse with an extremely polite smile. It’s so very polite that Nikolai isn’t sure why he’s reading it as threatening, but there it is. That’s Alphonse’s way.

“I had a misspent childhood, and because of that, I have unsavory acquaintances,” Nikolai tells them, which is honest, if incomplete. “And so I know precisely why you shouldn’t do the same thing.”

“I dunno,” Ed throws back, still grinning. “You say unsavory acquaintances, but all I hear is useful connections.”

Nikolai scowls, but decides they can put off that conversation until the boys have identification and are at least in the market for honest living. By dishonest means. The whole thing really is ridiculous—no wonder the boys keep laughing about it.

* * *

Ed thought the bug old man Nikolai got in his ear about them getting legal identities would wear off eventually. It seemed like too much of a pain for him to contact his shady acquaintances and pay a fuckton of money just to lend legitimacy to two weird kids who weren’t even his.

Ed thought that, but that was because he wasn’t taking into account how goddamn stubborn the old man is. And now here they are, studying a bunch of ID-related paperwork spread across the kitchen table, having a house meeting about the finer details of their new fake identities. Ed can’t believe this. Even when he finds a nice person to hang out with, that nice person turns out to be borderline criminal. It’s like he and Al have some kind of homing device.

Come to think of it, Nikolai never once asked why they were living wild and conning people. That should’ve been their first clue.

Anyway, filling in their new life details goes pretty smoothly. Almost all the information is just the truth, since there’s no reason to change it—it’s not like they’re on the run or anything; the problem here is that people don’t know anything about them. So everything’s easy until they get to names, because Nikolai feels like the names have to be Russian. Ed and Al silently agree to let him decide. He has a broader background in Russian names, and anyway, he’s handing them whole new lives, here. It’s only right that he choose the new names that go with them. So they both get the last name Plisetsky, because that’s Nikolai’s name, and he’s claiming them as family. He is actually pretending that they’re his beloved, dead daughter’s children. It’s surreal.

“You will be Alexei,” Nikolai decides eventually, patting Al on the head. “This way, Edward can still call you by the same name.”

Al smiles and Ed nods, impressed. “Good. What about me?”

“Yuri,” Nikolai declares.

“What,” Ed says flatly.

“Yuri was my brother’s name,” Nikolai continues unrepentantly. “He died when we were young. I have always wanted a son or grandson to name Yuri, but you are enough.”

Well, crap. Now Ed’s torn between feeling seriously annoyed and uncomfortably honored.

“Cool, okay, fine. Whatever,” Ed grumbles unhappily, while Al laughs at him and Nikolai smiles indulgently. “Yuri, then. So now we’ve got good Russian names, the old man’s shady friends are gonna hook us up with papers, and then I guess we can get legal Russian jobs, right? But we’re kids. What jobs are there for kids?”

Nikolai looks delighted that the idea of legal employment even crossed Ed’s mind. He seems to think Ed and Al are born criminals. Granny Pinako would have such a conniption if she could see them now, man.

…Ed feels like Teacher might be proud, though.

“You are both very athletic,” Nikolai is saying enthusiastically. “You could easily make a living through sports.”

“Sports?” Ed is dubious. “I quit the whole cage fighting thing because that was too messed up even for me, and now you’re telling me there’s a legal version? For kids?

Nikolai gives him an old, familiar look. It’s the one that says he does not appreciate it when Ed insists on confirming all of his darkest suspicions.

“He probably means sports with less blood involved, Brother,” says Al, who is totally laughing at him again. Brat.

* * *

All this talk of sports reminds them that they’ve been letting their training go completely since they took up with Nikolai. Teacher would be unimpressed. With that in mind, they start working out and sparring again, to get themselves in shape for whatever professional sport the old man thinks they’re up for.

Still, it may have made them lazy, but life with Nikolai has also given them time and space to fatten up, heal, and think. And that means they’ve had time to start looking for a way back to Amestris. There’s no alchemy to work with here, so Al takes up physics with history on the side, and Ed takes up physics with chemistry on the side. By silent, mutual agreement, neither of them looks too closely at biology.

They do have to tackle English, French, and German, though, since an annoying number of publications never get translated from those languages into Russian, and they have a close encounter with Latin, too, because that’s what all the old-school science is written in. Ed seriously resents the time it takes to learn all these goddamn languages. That is months of his life he could’ve spent on physics. Annoying. And it turns out that Al’s better at languages than Ed, which is even more annoying.

Science in this world seems to be about eighty years ahead of science in Amestris, which is very cool. It’s like getting a glimpse into the future. Besides that, Ed can tell that Amestris cut some corners in the other sciences because it always had alchemy as a kind of cheat, to get around the weirder concepts.

This world has no such cheat, so they’ve had to do everything the long way, and it’s made them more thorough. Ed’s learning all kinds of weird shit he didn’t know, and failing to understand even more, which is a new and exciting experience.

Quantum mechanics, fuckers. He’s gonna get it eventually. He feels like it’s probably the key to getting out of here, anyway.

No automail though, weirdly. Prosthetics in this world are just barely starting to not suck. Ed is dead lucky he got his leg stitched back on by that Truth asshole. Making a living through sports would be a lot tougher if he had to do it on one of Earth’s half-assed prosthetics.

(He’d have done it anyway, though. He’d have done it just to fuck with people.)

It does mean that he and Al are talking obscure physics in a whole array of languages at unholy hours of the night all of a sudden, and that means they should probably explain themselves to Nikolai before he gets more freaked out than he already is.

Nikolai takes the news that they’re actually goddamn aliens a lot better than Ed would’ve expected. He only yells a little, and only checks them for fever twice. It’d be nice if they could do alchemy to prove the whole thing to him, but no such luck.

In the end, Nikolai throws up his hands and declares that being aliens isn’t even the most alarming thing about them, and that’s the end of that.

Ed and Al decide to start calling Nikolai Grandpa. If he can take that much weirdness onboard and roll with it, he’s basically family.

* * *

Two months after the boys declared themselves ‘totally weak’ and began their terrifying training, and one month after Edward was persuaded to test out figure skating, Nikolai walks past the study in time to catch Edward at the end of what sounds like a definitive argument. Or at least, what Edward feels is a definitive argument. (Nikolai is pleased that the brothers have taken a break from physics and are touching up their Russian skills at the moment. It means that, for once, he understands what they’re arguing about.)

“…and it’s got mountains, and plains, and then China—which we agreed is basically Xing but bigger—is to the east of it, and also once upon a time it had a king named Xerxes and a queen named Amestris. That was back when it was called Persia, though. So if we were from this world, we’d be from, like…Persia-as-was. So we’re Persian. Basically.”

“No, brother, we’re not Persian by any stretch of the imagination, and people who actually are wouldn’t like it if we claimed we were. Because we’re aliens from another dimension.”

“That doesn’t matter. The point is, Iran is the closest analog to Amestris. Because Queen Amestris! She was totally Persian. So we should go. Maybe we can open a Gate from there.”

“With what alchemy?”

“I think physics can do it. We might have to blow something up.”

“Ed. Have you read any of the modern history of this world at all?”

“…I’m getting to it.”

“Right. You are absolutely not prancing off to Iran to blow things up—”

“I don’t prance—”

“—because if you do that, someone will definitely shoot you. Because you’ll deserve it. You know better than this, Ed. You wouldn’t wander around Amestris blowing things up, would you?”

“Uh, yes? I absolutely would. Come on, Al, we’ll be fine. We’ll tell them it’s for science. And then I could make friends with scientists in Iran! It’ll be great. I’m good at making friends.”

“And you’re good at making enemies, too. We’re not going.”

Nikolai is more pleased every day that he decided to bring these wild children home. They’re worth keeping around for the surreal arguments alone.

Still and all. “You’re not going,” he informs them, sticking his head into the room. “Not while I’m alive. Wait until I die and can’t witness the fallout, please.”

“Nobody has any faith in me,” Ed grumbles, but he seems to have given up on the idea of experimentally blowing up parts of the Middle East (for now), and that’s all Nikolai wanted.

* * *

Ed’s nearly thirteen when Grandpa and Al decide he has too much time on his hands and join forces to send him unwillingly to a special training camp for skaters. Apparently now is officially the time to start making money by means of sports, and it’s Ed who has to do it.

He can’t even argue. He and Al rock-paper-scissored fair and square, so Al gets to be the one who studies all the cool new world science and goes to school, while Ed only gets to do that on the side while professionally…doing improbable physical stuff. Which is cool too, he guesses, though he still doesn’t get why people get paid for it. But fine, he’s not questioning it when it works for him.

Still, he’s gotta say, if he’d been planning on doing sports for a living, he would’ve picked, oh, a martial art of some kind—especially once he worked out that legal martial arts involve a lot less blood and death than cage fighting did. Failing that? Gymnastics. He could see his way to gymnastics.

But Nikolai only knows people in figure skating, so that’s what Ed’s doing, whether he likes it or not. Because knowing people means discounts, and that’s pretty critical. Ed already knew how to skate—most Resembool kids do—but that doesn’t mean he wanted to make it his life. Not that he has a stellar track record when it comes to making life choices, so maybe this is for the best.

He got bounced from local coach to local coach for a while, and apparently he’s pretty damn good—which is something. If he’s gonna be railroaded into a sport specifically to make money off it, seems like the least he can do is be above average.

And now, almost a year into his new, official life as a skater—skate camp. It’s run by this guy named Yakov, who knows someone who knows Grandpa, and who is apparently hot shit in the skating world.

Ed hates it from the very first day.

“I could kick all these guys’ asses,” Ed declares bitterly. “I could bang their smug, smug faces right off the barre and there’s nothing they could do to stop me.”

“Why are they so bendy?” asks Otabek, obviously exhausted. Otabek is, so far, the only person here that Ed can stand to be around. At first Otabek was awkward about it, but Ed is relentless, and after a few hours he just gave up and accepted Ed’s presence. “How does that work? Even you’re bendy.”

“Whatever, that’s just how people’s bodies are. Some more bendy than others. But how do you all make everything look pretty? You do it too! All flowy and smooth and shit. Ugh, I hate everything.”

“You do move like you’re always about to beat someone up,” Otabek informs him, as if Ed doesn’t know that, as if it isn’t the result of extensive training. “That could be good. You could skate frightening programs. More power, less grace. Use it.”

“Huh.” That…is actually good advice. And Ed feels like it would be rude not to reciprocate, but there’s a problem. “Thanks. I’d pay you back with life advice of my own, but I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, so I’m useless.”

Otabek comes dangerously close to laughing. Ed feels this is progress.

“So what are you in for?” Ed asks, feeling like they might actually achieve understanding, here.

“…In for?” Otabek asks, confused.

“Yeah. Why’re you doing horrible skater camp with me?”

“…I love to skate.”

They’re not achieving understanding, Ed sees. Otabek seems way more confused now than he was before Ed started talking. Ed continues to try anyway.

“That’s cool,” he allows. “Following your dreams and all that. I’m kinda jealous.” Ed’s dreams all involved alchemy and his mother. And then he lost the right to have dreams.

Apparently Ed’s face is a picture, because now Otabek looks worried. Or at least as worried as a guy that stoical can manage. “What are you in for?” he asks.

Ed waves a hand dismissively. “My vision’s not pure or anything. I’m in it for the money.”

Otabek considers this. “We’re not making any money.”

“Don’t I know it,” Ed agrees sourly. “Grandpa’s such a fucking liar. He sold this shit as a get-rich-quick scheme, but so far it’s been nothing but a huge money suck. So now Grandpa’s working, Al’s working, and I’m working two jobs, only one of which pays, and we still live in a shithole apartment and eat food out of cans. And the only way we’re crawling out of this situation is if I get, like, world-class good at skating in a big fucking hurry. Have I mentioned that I hate everything? Because I hate everything.”

Otabek blinks slowly several times, like he’s trying to digest all that. “What’s your second job?”

“Uh.” Ed clearly can’t be trusted to have conversations with normal people. “Okay, it’s not so much a job. It’s maybe more of a vice or something. Like, I beat up assholes and take their money?”

“I think that’s more a crime than a vice,” Otabek corrects delicately.

“Well, it pays the bills.”

“Ah.” Otabek goes quiet again. Ed can’t tell if he’s a naturally quiet guy, or if it’s just the horror of dealing with Ed that’s driving him to silence. “Do you beat people up at random, or do you pick ones out for a reason?”

“Oh, I have reasons,” Ed informs him grimly.

Otabek nods and asks no further questions on that subject.

Ed definitely likes Otabek, and so will Al. They’re keeping him.

In the end, it turns out that Otabek is the best thing to come from Yakov’s summer camp. The second best thing is the realization that even if Ed can’t do graceful poetry in motion shit, he can at least do smooth, which is close enough for Novices and Juniors, apparently. Or so he judges from the fact that Yakov volunteers to take him on as a student.

“What the shit?” Ed demands of Otabek indignantly. “What did I do to get singled out by this bad-tempered old man? Why isn’t he taking you on as a student? You actually know what the fuck you’re doing!”

“He thinks you have a lot of potential, Yuri,” Otabek explains with a level of patience Ed probably doesn’t deserve.

“Why aren’t you mad?” Ed asks, suspicious. “I’d be furious if I were you.”

“I think you have a lot of potential, too,” Otabek explains, smiling faintly. “I want to see what you can do in the future. I’ll find my own way.”

“You better,” Ed informs him. “Because I’ll be goddamned if I’m doing this weird sport all alone without you. Also, you might as well call me Edward. Ed for short.”

“…Edward.” Otabek repeats, confused.

“Don’t question it, just accept it,” Ed instructs him. “And get your shit together so we can both be kickass skaters. Competing against you would be fun.”

Otabek tries to answer, but can’t, because he’s laughing too hard—which seems to be a surprise to him, which is hilarious. Ed can’t wait to introduce him to Al.

* * *

Ed and Yakov never actually kill each other, and Al thinks that’s probably the nicest thing that can be said about their relationship. He might wish that Ed didn’t look at every single male authority figure he meets and immediately go all father-issues on them, but at least Yakov seems able to handle it.

As if the weird relationship with his coach wasn’t enough, Ed is also being strange about the people he skates with. Al hoped he would find another Otabek at his new rink, but the closest thing he seems to have is Mila, who is, according to Ed, ‘practically Rockbell’ in her coolness. Other than that, though, he only tolerates his rinkmates. Even Viktor Nikiforov. Al’s spent long enough in Russia that he really hoped Ed would like Viktor, and talk about him all the time, and maybe take Al to the rink so he could meet Viktor in person.

He should’ve known better.

“He’s useless,” Ed announces, which is almost the opposite of what Al wanted to hear.

“Brother!”

“What? He is. Flighty and airheaded and useless. You know how his skating is, his skating’s awesome, but other than that? The guy’s a mess.”

This is the last time Al allows Ed to be his connection to famous people.

Ed is good at figure skating, though. Very good. He definitely doesn’t realize how good, because if he did, he’d never stop bragging about it. Still, Al’s not sure Ed’s enjoying it at all.

Ed loves his family and friends; he loves physics and alchemy and fighting. He loves food and sleep. He loves meeting interesting people and going new places. And when Ed loves things, he loves them with his whole heart, and it lights him up, and makes other people happy just to look at him.

He seems to think of skating as something between a job and a penance, which isn’t fair. If one of them is repenting, then both of them should be. Both of them, or neither one. Because they committed a terrible sin together, but it seems like Ed’s the only one still paying for it, and that makes Al feel hideously guilty.

He can’t talk to Ed about it, though. Every time he tries, Ed gets all…Ed about it, and starts a fight or sneaks off. Al misses Winry so much. Winry wouldn’t let Ed get away with this. She’d make him talk—she was always good at that.

(It feels like Otabek could make him talk, too, if he felt like it. But he doesn’t. He seems to think silent observation is good enough. That’s nice for him, but it doesn’t help Al. He can’t just look at Ed and know what he’s thinking, and it’s frankly unfair that Otabek, who is completely new on the scene, can. Unfair, and yet also very funny. Al’s torn.)

Hopefully Ed will like international competitions. He definitely likes winning local competitions, but that’s just because he likes winning anything, not because he likes the sport. Maybe when he starts making money? Or maybe that’ll make him feel even more like it’s a job. Lately, the only time Al sees Ed light up is when they’re talking about people Ed likes, Grandpa’s food, or Earth science.

And the first two are fine, but honestly, even though he’d never admit it to Ed, Al thinks science is a dead end. Not in itself, obviously! Science on Earth is really cool and different, and definitely interesting to learn. It’s just. They’re so far from dimensional travel on this planet that it isn’t even funny. They’d need alchemy for that. They’d need alchemy, and help, and a really scary amount of sacrifice. Something equivalent to losing their original world in the first place.

So what it comes down to is this: Al doesn’t think they can do it, and even if they could, it wouldn’t be worth the price they’d have to pay.

It was a long year Al spent alone and away from Ed, and even though he didn’t have it as hard as Ed did, he maybe got a little…jaded? Or not jaded, exactly. But he is tired of hoping for things and trusting in people, only to be disappointed at every turn. If he ever told Ed that, though, Ed would beat himself up forever, and think it was all his fault for leaving Al alone.

Al, though…Al thinks those were things about life he needed to learn. He also thinks that Ed would have tried his best never to let him learn them if they’d been together.

At one point, Al told Grandpa all of this, since he needed to tell someone, and Grandpa smiled and said that it’s the hardest thing about loving someone: knowing when to let them make mistakes, and even hurt themselves, in order to learn.

Al sort of feels like that with Ed now, about skating. Because Ed doesn’t like skating, and yet he’s determined to do it, for Al, for Grandpa. Should…they let him? Or should they stop him? If they stopped him, would he run off and do something worse?

In his darker moments, Al wonders if Ed really believes they can get home. Maybe not? Because when Ed is chasing after something everyone says is impossible (like bringing Mom back to life, say), it’s his whole world. He obsesses. If he really thought Earth science was going to get them out of here, he’d be studying it at all hours, and not just at night and on weekends, as skating training allows. He likes science, but he’s not obsessing. And that may be more mentally healthy, but Al’s not sure he can handle the idea that Ed is capable of giving up on something. And then punishing himself for it.

He’s such an exhausting brother. Al’s going to have to visit him all the time to make sure he isn’t making himself miserable on purpose.

* * *

Ed’s only a novice for now, but he’s already being trained by Yakov. People are very jealous of this. Ed thinks that’s because they don’t realize that Yakov has no idea how to train novices, and is only training Ed because Grandpa has some kind of blackmail on him (probably). It’s not fun for anyone.

Ed doesn’t like Yakov on a personal level, either. He’s not sure why, but it’s just—he can’t bring himself to listen to the guy. Like he’d be selling out somehow if he did. He actually has an easier time listening to Mila, which is dumb, because Yakov is a thousand times more experienced than Mila. (Not that Mila isn’t great, because she is, just—she’s a kid too. Ed should definitely not be listening to her advice over their coach’s advice. And yet.)

Ed asks Al what he thinks about all this, and Al produces a massive psychology book, seemingly out of thin air. That’ll teach Ed to ask Al for help. He’s not reading that damn thing, and he definitely doesn’t want to hear that he’s not listening to Yakov because brain problems.

Amestris doesn’t study psychology at all and it gets by fine.

…Okay, no, Ed can’t even think that thought with a straight face. Amestris is a big old parade of psychological disasters, most of them in charge of the military, and that’s definitely led to a lot of misery, not to speak of the gory, wholesale death.

Ed’s still not reading that damn book, though. He’ll figure something out.

The Yakov stuff is the least of his problems anyway, because it turns out that settling down into a stable routine means that Ed’s brain has decided it’s a good time to have a full-on meltdown over everything he and Al have lost. Because it’s convenient now.

Ed’s sure his dorm mates have been enjoying all his screaming nightmares almost as much as he has—the walls aren’t that thick. They might as well be sharing a room. The looks he’s been fielding from his neighbors have progressed from deep concern to sleep-deprived murder-faces, but there’s not much Ed can do about it.

He hasn’t had this many nightmares since he first landed on this shitty planet. It’s stupid. And it doesn’t help that Al spends most of his time in Moscow with Grandpa hundreds of miles away, which means that when Ed wakes up from a nightmare there’s no easy way to check that Al’s okay. Not that he wants Al to know how many nightmares he has. Basically, everything sucks.

Plus, the stable routine may be making him feel safe, but it’s not what you’d call fun—get up ungodly, eat, train. Eat and study, train more. Eat and study. Call Grandpa and Al, or, if Al’s visiting, call Grandpa and hang out with Al. Then study until he drops. There’s also some socializing in there, mostly at the same time as training or food. Sometimes he beats up an asshole or two on his day off.

It’s a life, and Ed’s lived worse. Still, it’s making his skin crawl. Resembool may have been a tiny farming town in the middle of nowhere, but Ed never once felt as trapped there as he always does in frigging St Petersburg. It’s bad enough that six months in, when he shakes down a guy who has more cash on hand than usual, Ed takes the money and uses it to bolt off to Kazakhstan to hang out with Otabek’s family for a week.

The Altins are just as awesome as expected, if very confused about why he’s there. They feed him, though. Otabek’s sisters keep braiding shit into his hair, which he’s willing to tolerate in exchange for food, and they all call a bemused Otabek once a day to chat about his life in America. (They call Otabek ‘Beka.’ Ed loves that. He’d feel weird using it himself, since he’s not family, but it’s cute.) The only downside to the trip is the worried way Otabek’s parents keep asking Ed about his parents or guardians. Eventually he lets them call Grandpa to ask him what the hell in general. Ed can hear Grandpa laughing about it from clear across the room.

But the extent to which Yakov overreacts to that surprise vacation means Ed won’t be doing it again in a hurry. It makes him nervous to be all up close and personal with law enforcement like that. He can’t believe Yakov sent cops after him. What the hell?

Since spontaneous world travel is out (…for a while), Ed’s only distractions are Al, when he’s visiting, and starting shit with assholes on his day off, when Al’s not visiting. Followed by stealing all the assholes’ cash. Hey, it’s not like skating has started funding itself yet, so Ed (and more importantly Grandpa) needs the money even without surprise vacations.

Yakov doesn’t catch onto Ed’s vigilantism for months, which Ed’s pretty proud of. Couldn’t last forever, though. One day he messes up—he underestimates a pimp and gets a split lip. It looks pretty bad. (But not as bad as the pimp did by the time Ed was done with him, obviously.)

And everybody in the rink freaks the fuck out.

Okay, no, not everybody. Most everybody in the rink is scared of Ed for some reason, so the only people who comment on his shit at all are Yakov, Mila, Georgi, and Viktor. But they’re epic enough on their own, wow.

Yakov goes ballistic. Too ballistic, really. If he was just protecting an investment, he wouldn’t get this worked up about it—he cares about Ed. Ha!

Mila drags him to her room and patches him up while demanding gory details about what went down, because she’s surprisingly bloodthirsty. So that’s all fun up until she calls and tattles to Al about it.

Georgi bursts into tears every time he sees Ed’s face for a week. It starts out funny, but gets very old very fast.

And Viktor. Most of the time, Viktor’s totally oblivious to anything that’s going on with anyone else, but it looks like this time Ed managed to traumatize him. He doesn’t ask, though, that’s the thing. His eyes drift to Ed’s split lip, and then he abruptly gets all cheerful and fake and over-the-top about an unrelated subject while looking utterly freaked out around the eyes. The guy just isn’t equipped to deal with life.

“He’s like a happy snail,” Ed informs Al the next time he visits. “The only happiness he’s got is this hard shell on the outside, to protect his sad, messed up, squishy insides.”

“Stop telling me horrible things about Viktor Nikiforov,” orders Ed’s unsympathetic brother. “And stop getting into fights with random people—you’re so violent! And especially don’t get into fights if you’re only going to get yourself beaten up. What would Teacher say?”

If Teacher were here, he’d go straight from getting beaten up by random pimps to getting beaten up by her. No words necessary. Still, Al’s got a point: Ed’s getting sloppy. There’s no excuse for letting amateurs get a hand on him. He needs to shape up.

Maybe it’s just as well Otabek moved to America. Even from America, he’s making unhappy noises about Ed’s messed up face. (Someone tattled. Ed suspects Mila. He suspects Mila because it is always Mila.) If Otabek were still in St Petersburg, he’d be trying to follow Ed around every time he went anywhere, and that would swiftly end in disaster.

Still, hopefully he’ll get to see Otabek in person again someday soon, because Yakov’s promised that Ed will be out of Novices any minute, and ready for international Junior competitions in a few more months. It’s about time Ed started making money. Plus, the travel will be nice, give him something to think about—stop him from feeling like he needs to chew off a limb to escape the trap that is his life.

Yeah. He’s looking forward to the big leagues.

* * *

Ed was right—he does love international competitions. It’s been a year now, and he still loves them—they make it feel like the whole world’s opened up. He even got to visit Otabek on Yakov’s dime when the wandering asshole moved to Canada. (Otabek loves Canada, and it’s adorable. He’s even got a cheap entertainment rinkmate to amuse him. The guy’s name is JJ, and he’s an alien from Planet What the Fuck. Ed’s sad he didn’t get a chance to meet him this visit.)

Bonus, Al’s somehow talked his way into a university in St Petersburg (Ed’s genius brother, damn), so Ed’s almost never alone, now. The nightmares are way down from what they were a year ago. Life is looking up.

And now, at fourteen, he’s made it to the GPF in Sochi, which he’s proud of, definitely. Anyway, Al and Grandpa are ridiculously proud, and Ed’s happy to make them happy.

That said, Ed’s not exactly…excited about being in Sochi.

It’s not the city itself. The city is fine. It’s just that some of the smugglers Ed used to hang out with used it as a kind of fallback position because it was otherwise so low-crime, and they had family here, and like. Ed doesn’t want to run into them. Not with Viktor or Yakov around, anyway. That would be seriously hard to explain.

Realistically, it shouldn’t happen. It shouldn’t. Hundreds of thousands of people live in Sochi, to say nothing of all the tourists—statistics and also Al insist that Ed should be totally safe from running into shady acquaintances who only spend a month or two a year here.

Statistics have nothing on Ed’s luck, though, and yeah—just as they approach the front door of their hotel, there goes Sergei the arms dealer, walking right past them on the sidewalk.

Ed’s life is always this way to such an extent that he thinks that bastard Truth probably made it so. He’s sharing this theory with Al at the earliest opportunity. But at least Yakov’s already inside checking them in. There’s only Viktor to witness this, and Viktor doesn’t pay attention.

Sergei doesn’t make it a thing, either—he’s always been cool. He just nods casually at Ed as he passes by. And Ed nods back, because…well, because of all the sketchy bastards he used to run with, Sergei was by far the closest to a decent human being. Ed owes him a lot. He doesn’t deserve to be snubbed just because Ed’s gotten above himself.

It’s still a mess that Viktor was there for that. Practically decent Sergei may be, but he’s also huge, scarred, tattooed, and generally terrifying to look at. He’s not the kind of person you can imagine doing respectable work. He’s the kind of person, in fact, that an allegedly innocent young skater like Yuri Plisetsky should definitely not know.

“Why does that man know you?” Viktor whisper-squawks on cue, looking incredibly alarmed. “Why do you know that man?!”

“What’s it to you, asshole?” Ed demands sharply, not in the mood for Viktor’s off-and-on willingness to give a shit about him.

“I worry about you sometimes, Yura. And Mila worries about you always.”

“Mila worries about me never, thank you very much, because she knows I can take care of myself. And you—can’t you go back to forgetting I exist? You’re easier to deal with like that.”

Oh, crap. Viktor looks briefly both hurt and ashamed before pasting on his press smile. And yeah, okay, Viktor is a genuine asshole, but on the rare occasion that someone manages to shame him, he holds on to that shit forever. And…that’s not fair, not now. He doesn’t deserve to be shamed for asking about Ed’s well-being. It’s not equivalent. Al would pitch a fit.

Also, how will they ever train Viktor to be a real person if Ed keeps smacking him down every time he tries?

Ed blows out an exasperated breath. “We used to work together.”

Viktor blinks his way out of his funk. “What?”

“We used to work together, idiot. We can’t all be infant skating prodigies born with beautiful faces. I didn’t start making money from skating until I was thirteen, and grandpa fucked up his back and got laid off from the factory when I was twelve. People gotta eat, okay?”

Viktor responds by standing there with his mouth hanging open. It makes him look like a dumbass, so truth in advertising.

“Was…was Alyosha working, too?” Viktor asks finally, expression shading from shocked to horrified.

Ed rolls his eyes. Al always brainwashes everybody into thinking he’s all sweet and innocent, and it’s ridiculous. “Yes, but not like that. Al has this cute, lying face, see, so he got them to under-the-table hire him at a library when he was ten. How’s that fair? He gets to shelve books after-hours, and I’m like. Smuggling shit. He’s such a brat.”

“You weren’t really a child smuggler, were you?”

“I really, really was. You know why? Because it was an improvement on cage fighting, that’s why. I didn’t have that many marketable skills as a kid. Hey, stop making that face, asshole. You said you wanted to know.”

“Is that where your scars come from? Cage fighting?

“…Some of them.” The rest come from Teacher, Al, the Gate, and his first couple months on this planet, during which he didn’t speak the language and persisted in seeking out criminals. Hopefully Viktor will never figure any of that out. Ed really wishes he didn’t have to share a locker room—it makes life awkward.

“And your grandfather let you do that?!”

Let nothing. We didn’t live with him yet, so he didn’t even know until way later—and don’t you dare tell Yakov about it. My ears can’t take the screaming. I mean it.”

Viktor eyes him dubiously. “Do you really think Yakov doesn’t know?”

“I think Yakov hasn’t asked, and as long as nobody tells him, he can pretend he doesn’t know. That’s how he and I both like it, okay?”

Viktor doesn’t seem to believe this, but that’s fine. Ed gives him about fifteen minutes before he’s distracted by a shiny thing and forgets all about this conversation. Possibly it’s Viktor’s intense focus on his own misery that gives him an attention span like that.

Which is…kind of worrying, honestly. Al went through a phase of pointedly reading psychology books out loud to Ed, and he’s pretty sure he remembers increasingly scattered focus being a bad sign. Somebody needs to fix Viktor. Not Ed, though. Viktor is not Ed’s problem, thank God.

…But maybe he’ll say something to Yakov about it.

* * *

Awkward Sergei moment and the fact that Al’s too busy with mad physics to be here notwithstanding, Ed has a pretty good GPF. He wins, for one thing, which is a decent amount of cash to send Grandpa, a good advertisement for sponsors, and also an excuse to go on to Seniors next year—where the real money is.

He’s totally going to win Worlds, too, which means Viktor’s choreographing him a program for next year. He promised. Whether he remembers the promise or not is irrelevant, because it is happening.

This means that Ed watches the Senior skaters with interest, since they’re gonna be his competition soon. It’s not as interesting as he’d hoped, though. He’s followed the seniors through rumor long enough that there aren’t many surprises.

There aren’t many, but there is one. Yuuri Katsuki, at least, is worth watching, and Ed had no idea. This is partly because Viktor can’t be bothered to retain information about people, and partly because the media can’t be trusted either, apparently. All they ever say about Katsuki is that he’s a pretty skater, but unreliable on jumps. And they say it dismissively.

It’s not that they’re wrong, exactly, because yes, Katsuki’s fucking up his jumps all over the place, and getting increasingly frayed thereby. But bitching about his jumps is missing the point, because even if he’s a technical mess out there, his step sequences are beautiful. They are beautiful. And if this is what Katsuki looks like when he’s fucking up, he must be magic the rest of the time.

Ed can do jumps, okay. Jumps are like fighting: there’s nothing to them but strength, balance, and physics. But making it all smooth and graceful, like. He gets that it’s important, everybody’s lectured him about that for years, but up until right now, he didn’t get why.

So, yeah, he follows Katsuki around a little bit after his skate. Not in a weird way—he just wants to talk to him. Like, how do you make scooting around on the ice look so much like flying-meets-dancing? Also, if Katsuki’s in a good mood, maybe. You know. He could give Ed some tips or something.

They have the same name—or at least, Katsuki has the same name as Ed’s alias, close enough—so they should be friends, right? Of course right. Which means Katsuki should teach Ed how to dance on the ice, because Teacher was scary awesome, but she did not have the soul of a dancer in any way. Ed needs help here, and Yakov is vague, Viktor is useless, and Mila can’t help because she has a totally different style and body type from Ed. (Actually, so does Viktor, but Ed’s not generous enough to give him a break because of that.)

So maybe Ed follows Katsuki into the bathroom like a creep—but he waits until the guy’s had a chance to pee and everything, it isn’t that creepy—and finds him crying in one of the stalls.

Crying. Over skating.

What the fuck is this guy’s problem, because Ed would kill to skate like he did, fucked up jumps and all. Also, it’s not like Katsuki just lost his brother, his world, and his alchemy, to pick a random example. It’s not like he’s currently crawling toward the bloody, mangled, twisted remains of something that was supposed to be his mother. Is it? No. So he needs to get a goddamn grip, because whatever’s wrong with him, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as Ed’s entire life. And Ed never cries.

Kicking the shit out of the stall the guy’s hiding in is maybe not Ed’s classiest move, and angrily lecturing him afterward about how he needs to get the fuck up and keep walking, complete with possibly alarming remarks about how lucky he is to have two legs to walk on, is even worse. But hell. The guy managed to piss Ed off five different ways in less than a minute. Ed flips out on him a little.

(Al later points out that Katsuki owes Ed nothing, that Ed holding his own expectations against a stranger was unfair and ridiculous, and also that Ed is a real dick sometimes. Ed wants to know why he can’t trade Al in for a more sympathetic brother. Like, why isn’t that a thing Truth does? Why’s it always gotta be horror and nightmares and blood, huh, and not nicer brothers for trade? Unreasonable.)

Anyway, that’s how he and Katsuki first meet, so Ed has a certain image of the guy. Namely, that he’s a very beautiful skater, but an equally pathetic person.

And then the banquet happens. Ed could not have predicted a single thing that Katsuki does at that banquet. He’s so confused by everything about the guy; he thinks he’s getting a Katsuki-induced migraine. Plus, Ed hates losing at anything, even something as stupid as dancing, and Katsuki kicked his ass all over the floor in that dance battle while shitfaced drunk. So that’s annoying.

Ed’s Katsuki-related crisis is as nothing compared to Viktor’s, though. Viktor’s toast.

(Over the next four months, Al changes Viktor’s ringtone to “You Give Love a Bad Name” no less than ten times. And yet somehow everyone thinks that Ed is the asshole brother.)

* * *

<Ed>
what do you know about yuuri katsuki?

<Leo>
Nothing. He’s a beautiful mystery.
The only one who knows anything about him is Phichit.
Why?

<Ed>
because stupid shit is happening, that’s why
damn. PHICHIT is a beautiful mystery to me
I swear I know everybody he knows, so how have I never met the guy?
I HAVE QUESTIONS FOR HIM

<Leo>
For what it’s worth, Phichit is a good man and I’d trust him with my life
and Phichit would die for Katsuki.
So…there’s that.

<Ed>
good. good to know. thanks.

<Leo>
You’re seriously not going to tell me anything, are you?

<Ed>
No.

<Leo>
What kind of friendship is this?

<Ed>
the kind where I also don’t tell guang hong you’ve written poetry about him.

<Leo>

Fair point well made.

<Ed>
I thought so.

* * *

Due to The Banquet, it is no surprise to anyone but Yakov when, four months after the Grand Prix Final, Viktor up and runs away to Japan. Yakov is surprised enough for the whole rink, though, and outraged enough for all of Russia. It’s amazing.

But yeah, the only thing Ed found surprising about that was that it took four whole months. To be fair, that was the end of the season, and hey, maybe Viktor was waiting for a sign. Which he got—Katsuki skated Viktor’s routine and then told the whole internet about it. His routine called Stay Close to Me, of all the sappy, ridiculous bullshit. Katsuki’s so out of control. It’s like he’s trying to get himself murdered by rabid Viktor fans. Ed feels compelled to inform his own fans that they, at least, are to be kind to Katsuki, because he’s clearly a little touched in the head.

That said, the routine wasn’t half bad. Katsuki downgraded some of the jumps, which is good, because at that weight, he’s asking to break an ankle even doing triples. Even so, the man really is an annoyingly good skater.

(Meanwhile, Otabek got freaking bronze at Worlds, how badass is that? And what makes it even better is that he spent the entire wrap-up interview panel looking like he was actively being flayed. Otabek is the best.)

Whatever, so first Katsuki impresses Ed, then he disappoints him, then he seduces Viktor away from Russia just when the asshole was going to make himself useful for once in his life and choreograph something for Ed. And, fine, it’s not like Ed didn’t see this coming—it’s the reason he started resentfully teaching himself Japanese after the GPF—but that doesn’t change the facts of the matter.

And the fact is that this is bullshit.

Okay, yes, the drunken dance battle thing was hilarious. All the people Ed hated at that party looked like they might die of apoplexy, and all the people he liked were delighted, so it was a complete win.

But still. Banquet notwithstanding, it’s bullshit.

“I gotta go to Japan and kick some asses,” Ed informs Al.

“Okay, brother,” Al replies absently, tinkering with the laser array in his lab. Ed doesn’t get Al’s fascination with Bose-Einstein condensates (why freeze stuff when you could be blowing it up?) but fine, everybody has their interests. “Do you want the Katsukis’ address?”

“Why do you know the Katsukis’ address?” Ed demands suspiciously. “How do you even know that’s where Katsuki is?”

“He’s directionless, off-balance, and hurting, Ed, and by all accounts, he loves his family. Of course he went home.” Al gives Ed a second to process that casually gutting statement, then continues, “And the Katsukis run a business; they’re not exactly hard to find. I’ll book you reservations at their inn. Two weeks?”

“Sure, for now.” Al is a scary person. “You decided I’m going right now, huh?”

“You have to.” Al abandons the lasers to fiddle with his phone for a minute, then holds it up. It’s showing a picture of Viktor and Makkachin hanging out in front of a castle. “He tagged his location,” Al explains. “It’s a cry for help.”

“What, the love of the century isn’t going smooth?”

“Apparently not. So you’re going. Katsuki has his whole family for support, but Viktor’s only going to have you, God help him. Just make sure you tell Yakov where you’ll be before he panics and calls Interpol. Again.”

“I’m pretty sure normal humans aren’t able to call Interpol,” Ed mutters resentfully.

“Yakov knows people,” Al points out.

“Why are our teachers always terrifying?” Ed demands of the universe. As usual, the universe doesn’t answer.

Which is better than that one time when the universe did answer. There’s that.

* * *

One of the annoying things about Viktor Nikiforov is that he never remembers a promise. One of the amazing things about Viktor Nikiforov is that he never breaks a promise, either. Ed worries about that sometimes, actually. Because the thing is, if you walk up to Viktor and claim he promised you something, and that thing is anywhere within the bounds of reason, he will assume you’re telling the truth and do the thing for you.

The idiot is begging to be taken advantage of.

Or…maybe not. He only makes promises to people he considers friends, and he’s pretty discerning in his choice of friends. Chris might fuck with him a little, but nothing bad should happen. In theory.

Al says Ed worries too much. Which is rich, coming from Al of all people.

Anyway, what this means is that Ed’s not worried about Viktor backing out on choreographing a routine for him. He’s…a little more worried about how the Katsuki family might feel about Ed showing up and stealing Viktor’s time. Like, their kid seduced Viktor away from Russia fair and square. They might not appreciate a tag-along.

And that’ll teach him to try to predict how any Katsuki is going to react to anything, ever, because the Katsuki family is delighted by every single thing about him. They love that he’s a skater, they love that he knows Viktor, they love that he’s a paying customer, they love that he speaks a little Japanese. They’re just big old extroverted balls of delight, is what they are. If it weren’t for the fact that Katsuki looks just like his mom, he’d wonder if the guy was adopted. The Katsuki parents are totally unbothered by his bafflement, and they eagerly show him to his room, offer him food, and then happily direct him to the rink.

Apparently their daughter is out on a supply run. Maybe, Ed thinks as he jogs toward the rink, maybe she’ll hate him. It would almost be a relief.

* * *

“Katsuki,” comes a sharp voice from behind Yuuri.

Yuuri turns in dread, because he’s sure he recognizes that voice. And yes. Yes, that is Yuri Plisetsky, inexplicably in Hasetsu and scowling at him, like a slightly surreal nightmare come to life.

Plisetsky rolls his eyes and shoves forward, bodily pushing both himself and Yuuri through the glass doors, where the crowd and the triplets won’t be able to hear them (much to the obvious disappointment of the lot of them). “Okay,” Plisetsky says as soon as the doors close behind them, “I was an asshole to you at the GPF and I’m sorry. Even if I did have a point, it was shitty timing, and it was none of my business anyway, and I’m a dick, okay? I’m sorry.”

This is…completely unexpected and absolutely bizarre. Also that speech sounded a little rehearsed. Did someone lecture Yuri Plisetsky into giving that apology? Who would dare?

That said,” Plisetsky goes on, “I need to borrow Viktor for a minute. You can have him for the rest of forever for all I care, but I need him to choreograph at least one program for me first. Fucker promised. And then you seduced him away from Russia at exactly the wrong time, so you’re just gonna have to live with me too for a while. Think of it as payback.”

“What are you—? I didn’t seduce him away from—”

“Yeah, whatever,” Plisetsky interrupts rudely, striding purposefully toward the rink. “And you’re teaching me how to skate pretty, asshole! Make yourself useful.”

Yuuri stands blinking in the lobby for a long moment, trying to digest the fact that Yuri Plisetsky apparently…admires at least one thing about his skating? He’s increasingly convinced that he’s dreaming this. It’s a feeling he’s had with alarming frequency lately.

He shakes his head and follows Plisetsky into the rink, where the boy is watching Viktor skate with avid interest.

Yuuri’s briefly distracted by Viktor’s amazing skating himself, but then he pulls his mind back into line, decides to take advantage of Plisetsky’s apparent good mood, and says, “If I teach you to…skate pretty. Will you teach me how to land a quad salchow?”

Plisetsky smiles at him. It’s the first time Yuuri’s ever seen Plisetsky smile, and it’s unexpectedly endearing. “Sure,” Plisetsky says approvingly. “Equivalent exchange, right?”

“R-right. Equivalent exchange,” Yuuri agrees.

Yuri Plisetsky is even stranger than he’d thought. But in a far more pleasant way?

Of course, no sooner does Yuuri think this than Viktor spots Plisetsky and they start screaming at each other across the rink. Like children.

What has Yuuri gotten himself into? Or, more accurately, what has Viktor gotten Yuuri into?

By the time Yuuri tunes back into the conversation, Viktor, Plisetsky, and the triplets have all decided that they’re doing an ice show, and Yuuri’s lack of argument has been taken as agreement. This is why Yuuri needs to pay more attention to what’s going on around him. This is exactly how the pole dancing lessons with Phichit happened. You’d think Yuuri would have learned from that disaster, but no.

There’s a lot less practice that day than Yuuri had hoped, and a lot more of Viktor scheming with the triplets than he could have imagined in his worst nightmares. At least Plisetsky seems almost as alarmed by the scheming as Yuuri is. He’s not alone in this. He’s…he’s in it with Yuri Plisetsky.

The possibility that he’s dreaming seems more likely all the time.

Eventually, they head home for the day, Yuuri dazedly trailing after the mad Russians who’ve invaded his life. Then Viktor darts off to collect Makkachin from the Nishigoris, and Yuuri is left alone with Plisetsky. Plisetsky seems content to glare silently into the middle distance, but Yuuri can’t stand the awkwardness.

Unfortunately, he’s still flailing around for a topic of conversation by the time Makkachin finds them. Or, more accurately, finds Plisetsky. And tackles him joyously to the ground, then sprawls on top of him, pleased with her capture.

This human is my human, her happy, doggy face seems to say, and I am keeping him here with me.

“Why,” Plisetsky demands, a little muffled under fifty pounds of dog. “Why is it always like this?”

He stays still, though, squashed and making no attempt to move. Yuuri tries very hard not to laugh at him. He’s glad he’s not the only one Makkachin likes to tackle.

“Makkachin!” Viktor calls, jogging up to them. “Don’t love Yura to death. You know he doesn’t like it!”

Plisetsky makes vague complaining noises, but puts no actual effort into freeing himself.

“You could push her off?” Yuuri suggests diffidently.

“No, she loves that,” Plisetsky says sourly. “Thinks it’s a game.”

It takes them almost ten minutes to coax Makkachin off Plisetsky. Who stays flopped on the ground the whole time, defeated, and glares when Viktor laughs at him.

Yuuri is trying to wrap his mind around the idea that he’s almost glad Plisetsky came to Hasetsu. He’s having a very strange month.