Actions

Work Header

Trust Me, I'm an Alchemist

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

“You’re coming with us to Yuuri’s house, Yura?” Viktor asks Ed, curious, when it becomes obvious that he has no plans to split off and go anywhere else.

“Yeah. Because I’m staying at Katsuki’s place. Why?”

Viktor eyeballs him. It’s irritating. “I’m not sure they have room for you.”

“Unlike some people, I’m capable of booking a room in advance,” Ed says scornfully. “So I have a room—an actual room—of my own. Thanks.”

“You mean Alyosha booked you a room,” Viktor corrects, smug asshole that he is.

“Shut up forever,” Ed instructs him, choosing to ignore Katsuki, who’s sneaky-laughing at them both. Katsuki’s really eased up over the course of the afternoon. Ed’s glad. He didn’t want to make the guy miserable in his own house. It wouldn’t be right.

They arrive at the inn, and the entire Katsuki family persists in being as superhumanly welcoming and friendly as they were when Ed first got there. Even the sister, Mari, who Ed had pinned all his hopes on, shows up to serve dinner and immediately decides he looks fun and interesting. She does interrogate him a little, but in a friendly way, and in Japanese, which is nice because it means Viktor can’t chime in with his opinions.

“What’s your name, anyway?” Mari asks, after she’s finished demanding to know how much weight he can bench press, why he speaks Japanese, and why he decided to come here to train. (She responded favorably to, ‘I had to after your brother seduced Viktor into coming here. Viktor owes me choreography.’ Katsuki, on the other hand, did not respond well to that at all. He’s still hiding under the table with Makka and making weird noises about it, in fact.)

“I’m Yuri Plisetsky,” he tells Mari.

“Well, we can’t call you that,” she decides. “It’s confusing.”

“Call me Ed,” Ed suggests, a little terrified of where this is going. “It’s the name of my favorite physicist.”

It’s even true. Ed is his own favorite physicist.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Japanese people have trouble saying Ed, which he should’ve known, since the terminal d appears nowhere in their syllabary. And it turns out that Mari calls all the shots in this house, which he also should’ve known, because she is basically the exact same person as Granny Pinako, only younger.

He’s getting called Yurio. He doesn’t have to like it, but apparently he has to live with it.

* * *

Yuuri would really like to know why Yurio is so determined to joke about him seducing Viktor. It’s mortifying. If there’s any seduction going on here, it is absolutely the other way around.

Except that that can’t really be happening either, can it? Why would Viktor want to seduce someone like Yuuri? No, it’s too ridiculous. Maybe Russians are just a really tactile people. Except that Yurio doesn’t seem to be. Maybe Viktor is just really tactile. Anyway, whatever is going on, Yuuri desperately wishes that Yurio would stop talking about it casually and in public. Or at all.

Yurio doesn’t care what would be good for Yuuri’s sanity, though. In fact, he seems determined to be baffling at every turn.

“Give me that,” Yurio snaps after dinner, snatching a tray of dirty dishes from Mari and whisking them off to the kitchen. “You work too hard. And if your lazy-ass brother can’t be bothered to help, I’ll do it. And so will Viktor, won’t you, you free-loading bastard?”

“I am actually paying for my room,” Viktor points out, smiling faintly. “And I’m also coaching Yuuri. But I’ll certainly help if you like!”

“No,” Yuuri insists. “You don’t have to—”

Yes, he does,” Yurio growls from the direction of the kitchen. “He’s upending your entire life here, Katsuki, and mooching off your parents to boot. The very least you should do is make him work for it. Equivalent exchange.”

“…Thank you for your support, Yurio,” Viktor says distantly, looking a little strained.

“I like him,” Mari declares. “I think I like him better than you, Yuuri.”

Yuuri sighs, glad she at least had the decency to say that in Japanese. “Thanks, my loving big sister.”

“Viktor, get your ass in here and start washing dishes,” Yurio demands.

“…But we have a dishwasher?” Yuuri is honestly so confused right now.

“Then he can get his ass in here and put dishes in the dishwasher,” Yurio, who apparently has excellent hearing, shouts back.

Viktor trails into the kitchen looking bemused, and Yurio continues to shout at him and boss him around, and they’re just…so obviously family to each other. It’s only natural that Viktor would choreograph routines for Yurio, who is his little brother, or near enough. And they both fit here so well, entertaining Yuuri’s family, helping Mari out, and it’s just…

If there’s anyone who doesn’t belong here, it’s Yuuri.

He listens to the complaints and nagging and laughter from the kitchen, and the thought that he’s unneeded and unwanted builds and builds until he has to leave the house to skate before he has a meltdown in front of everyone.

Because that would really make everyone believe he was worth having around.

* * *

By the next morning, Yuuri is feeling more calm and optimistic about things in general—after all, both Viktor and Yurio came here, didn’t they? Viktor must believe in his skating at least a little, and even Yurio thinks Yuuri has something to teach him about ‘skating pretty.’ So he’s going to be calm. He’s not going to brood over the worst possible interpretation of every single thing. He’s not.

And it’s easier to stick to that than he thought it would be, because Yurio is nothing if not a huge distraction.

Just for a start, on the run to the rink, it quickly becomes apparent that Yurio knows more people in Hasetsu than Yuuri does.

Yuuri grew up in this town. It is his hometown. Yurio has been here for something shy of two days.

Ohayou, Tanaka-san!” Yurio calls to yet another man Yuuri doesn’t recognize. “Okusan wa genki?

Yuuri makes the effort to catch up with Viktor. “Why does Yurio know more people in my hometown than I do?” he gasps.

Viktor gives him a serious, sidelong look. “Because he always knows everyone, Yuuri. It is an evil magic he has. You could also ask why he speaks Japanese, because I don’t know that either, and can’t think of a single reason why he should. He’s terrifying!”

Viktor seems oddly pleased with how terrifying Yurio is. Or maybe he’s just pleased to find somebody to be terrified with him.

* * *

Viktor can’t decide whether it’s a relief to have Yurio here, or a disaster. If this trip had gone anything close to the way Viktor had hoped, Yurio would certainly have been a disaster—but Viktor’s carefully planned wooing of Yuuri through nudity and gorgeous choreography had thoroughly run aground even before Yurio arrived, so maybe it’s lucky he’s here. Maybe he’ll provide Yuuri with a distraction and a chance to calm down, or…whatever it is that Yuuri needs. Because it’s obvious that Viktor’s misunderstood something.

He’s currently trying to convince himself that Yuuri is just cripplingly shy, incredible though that seems, given what the man is like when he’s drunk. He doesn’t want to think that all Yuuri really wants from him is coaching—not that it’s not flattering that he wants Viktor to coach him! That’s very flattering. It’s just that Viktor had been sure there was more to it. Viktor’s certainly never danced with any of his coaches like that. (Dear God, no.)

And it doesn’t feel like Yuuri is playing with him, despite initial suspicions in that direction. Viktor’s had more than his fair share of being played with, and he’s almost completely confident that the problem is just that Yuuri is shy when sober. Very nearly confident. Either that, or Yuuri’s decided a relationship with Viktor would be a mistake, and is trying to distance himself, in which case Viktor either needs to give up on the whole idea, or else try to win Yuuri back. But since he has no idea which of these many possibilities might be the real issue, he has no idea what to do.

Maybe Yurio is a good distraction for Viktor, too.

(He does miss drunk Yuuri sometimes. He misses him so much that he feels guilty about it. If he’s proposing to be serious about Yuuri, he needs to love him in every mood, not just the mood most flattering to Viktor.)

“Have either of you ever thought about love?” Viktor asks when they arrive at the rink, and is unsurprised when Yuuri shakes his head. Disappointed, but unsurprised.

Yurio’s dangerously narrowed eyes and angry silence are a surprise, however. A slightly frightening surprise.

Viktor decides to firmly ignore that reaction for now and move right along. He explains about the two arrangements of On Love, then plays them for his two Yuris. He even encourages feedback. He’s not so bad at this coaching thing after all! At least, he hopes he’s not. He’s not sure he’d be able to live with himself if his coaching disappointed Yuuri—the very first person who has ever believed Viktor capable of anything other than skating. This is doubly true if coaching turns out to be all Yuuri wants from him.

“Well, I’m obviously not doing Eros,” Yurio announces grumpily, interrupting Viktor’s increasingly troubled thoughts. “So I guess I’m stuck with the other one.”

“Why do you say that?” Viktor asks, intrigued. He’d rather been expecting Yurio to insist on Eros.

Yurio, however, is staring at him like he’s an idiot. “Because I’m an actual child,” he says slowly and carefully. “It would be weird.”

Yuuri has to turn away and cover his mouth to hide laughter. Viktor wishes he could do the same, but he can’t, because Yurio’s laser eyes are still on him.

“As it happens, I agree,” he confirms hastily. “You will perform Agape, and Yuuri will perform Eros!”

Yuuri has now stopped laughing in favor of looking completely horrified. Viktor is…confused by that. If there’s one thing all three of them know Yuuri excels at, it’s Eros. It is true that he’s never done anything like it in competition before (which is a terrible waste, frankly), but since he knows perfectly well that he can, where’s the problem?

He’s a very difficult person to understand, is Katsuki Yuuri.

And maybe it’s the confusion and frustration and general sense of despair that causes Viktor to announce that if his Yuris don’t skate up to his standards, he won’t coach either one of them.

He’s almost sure he doesn’t really mean it, and he certainly didn’t mean to make Yuuri look so worried and pale. But it’s clearly a motivating threat, so he’s not backing down on it.

(Yurio, of course, immediately declares that he wouldn’t let Viktor be his official coach if they were the last two people on Earth, so that puts Viktor right in his place.)

* * *

Ed’s not sure choreography is worth all this.

Don’t get him wrong—it’s damn good choreography, even if Ed’s not a fan of the music. He can tell, too, that Viktor modified his original idea pretty heavily to fit Ed’s body type better—Ed doesn’t have Viktor’s (or even Katsuki’s) long, elegant lines. He’s more of a tank. Different things look good for tanks than for these freakishly tall, skinny types, and Ed’s amazed that Viktor took that into account, considering he’s never choreographed for anybody else before.

So that’s the one hand: he’s impressed all over again with Viktor’s skating genius.

But then there’s the other hand: the hand where Viktor continues to be a giant, embarrassing disaster when it comes to anything other than skating. And Katsuki is no better. Katsuki may be worse.

The only reason Ed hasn’t run off screaming is because of Katsuki’s childhood friend, Yuuko, who is just. Cool. Seriously, the coolest person in Hasetsu. (Except maybe for Katsuki’s ballet teacher, Minako. She’s extremely cool, but she also seems like the person most likely to kill Ed for interrupting Katsuki and Viktor’s inept seduction of each other, so he’s trying to steer clear of her.)

Yuuko’s only flaw is that she’s weirdly obsessed with Viktor’s skating, but lots of people suffer from that affliction. Even Ed suffers from it a little. She’s maybe even obsessed with the idea of Viktor, but she’s not obsessed with Viktor himself, and that’s all Ed asks. God knows Katsuki is doing enough of that for everybody.

So yeah, given the way things stand, Ed should’ve known better than to be in the rink when Viktor first demonstrated the sexy program he made up special for Katsuki. And yet he has no choice. He has to be here because they’re practicing after this. Some time. Eventually. He hopes.

But for the moment, here they are: Viktor molesting Katsuki’s face while Yuuko watches with shiny eyes and picks names for their future children, with Ed off to the side seriously wondering if they’re ever going to get to work.

Ed is the most professionally behaved person in this rink right now. That is damning.

* * *

Al’s noticed, over the years, that Ed is very weird about phone calls. He doesn’t like them, and he isn’t good at them, either. If Al puts him on the phone with somebody when he’s in a ranting mood, he’ll at least rant for the length of a normal call, but the instant he’s finished, he abruptly hangs up. If he has nothing to rant about, he generally manages to mutter about five awkward sentences before hanging up.

It’s doubly weird because Ed’s perfectly happy to text at all times. He’s such a strange person.

What all this means is that Al is deeply alarmed when he notices an incoming call from Ed. Surely something terrible has happened—hospitals, arrests, freak encounters with the Gate.

But no, it turns out that Ed’s just being ridiculous.

“Hey, Al,” Ed begins absently. “So Viktor is stupid in love with Katsuki, and it’s a huge pain in my ass.” Al can already tell this call is going to be memorable. “And Katsuki doesn’t seem to get that, so he’s accidentally trampling on Viktor’s feelings all over the place, and Viktor’s smiling and pretending to be fine and then going off and getting shitfaced drunk, same as when Yakov makes him sad. He cares about Katsuki to a Yakov degree. So basically, his ass is never coming back to Russia, and I need to squeeze all the choreography I can get out of him right now. So I’ll be staying a little longer than I thought. We’re doing a whole sexual frustration ice show or something. But then I’m out. I don’t think I can stand to stick around long enough for him to choreograph my free skate—the second-hand embarrassment is too strong.”

“Why don’t you just tell Yuuri that Viktor’s in love with him, brother?” Al asks, amused. “Why doesn’t Viktor tell him?”

“Viktor can’t communicate like a person, you know that,” Ed sighs. “And I can’t tell Katsuki because he’d never believe me. There’s a chance he wouldn’t even believe Viktor, because he is that kind of mess. No, it’s their problem, and they can figure it out on their own. Preferably without my having to watch, because it’s painful. They’re supposed to be adults, for fuck’s sake.”

This is…a bit of a pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation. Then again, Ed does have a point—Viktor and Yuuri are adults. Surely they should be better at this than Ed, of all people. It’s sad that they’re not.

“Do you like your choreography, at least?” Al asks hopefully.

“Eh.” Long pause. “It’s okay, I guess. It’s about, you know. Agape.”

“…Okay. Well, you know a lot about agape.”

“Yeah, and where the fuck did it get me? Where the fuck did it get you?

“It got me here alive, Brother,” Al insists firmly.

Ed grumbles incoherently. Only Ed could manage to resent his own generous capacity for love, speaking of people who are embarrassing disasters. Al wonders if Ed’s noticed yet that he’s come to love Viktor and Yuuri and, from the tone of his latest text messages, the entirety of the Nishigori and Katsuki families as well. Al’s guessing no. Not any more than he’s noticed that the prospect of serious competition from people he respects means he’s honestly enjoying figure skating for the very first time.

Not huge on self-awareness, Al’s brother. Just self-recrimination.

“Anyway, that’s all I wanted to tell you—I’ll be here an extra week. But you’re good? No lab explosions?”

“I’m fine, Brother. I’m not the one who blows things up in this family.”

“Hey!”

“And Grandpa’s fine, too.”

“Okay. That’s good. Later.”

“Talk to you later.”

And Ed hangs up.

Al sighs. Ed can make fun of Viktor for not being able to communicate all he wants, but he’s standing on very thin ice.

* * *

<Ed>
if viktor gets any more passive-aggressive about my disproportionate upper-body strength he’s going to disappear up his own asshole.

<Otabek>
…Colorful.
Every coach and trainer you’ve ever had has hated your disproportionate upper-body strength.
It makes you top-heavy.

<Ed>
yeah, well, all my other coaches just yelled at me about it
viktor’s smiling and giving me backhanded compliments
I’m going to use all that upper-body strength to throw his ass off a bridge
see how he likes that

<Otabek>
That seems a disproportionate response.

<Ed>
well then it’d match my DISPROPORTIONATE upper body strength
which it isn’t even, by the way
my arms are about as muscley as the rest of me
it’s just that figure skaters have little stick-figure t-rex arms

<Otabek>
I don’t have stick figure t-rex arms.

<Ed>
and that’s one of the many reasons we’re friends

<Otabek>
Really?

<Ed>
maybe

<Otabek>
Edward.
No one’s saying your arms need to be weak.
They just want you to be more balanced.
And flexible, too, while we’re talking about this.

<Ed>
I need the arms for fighting assholes

<Otabek>
You could fight fewer assholes.
Or none.
You could just not get into fights with people.

<Ed>
then I wouldn’t be me at all

<Otabek>
If you want to succeed in figure skating
you should probably define yourself as a skater
and not as a vigilante
or a physicist
or anything else, at least for now.
That can wait until you retire.
A bad fight could end your skating career instantly.

<Ed>
don’t be reasonable at me
you know I hate that

<Otabek>
I do know you hate that.

<Ed>
…now I feel like you’re fucking with me

<Otabek>
:)

<Ed>
Asshole.

* * *

Possibly as a fuck you to everybody bitching about his strength ratio, Ed is arm-wrestling Nishigori behind the counter at the rink again. They’ve done this many times. Every single time Nishigori loses, and every single time he refuses to believe he could possibly have lost. Ed’s pretty sure Yuuko is going to hurt something from laughing so hard.

Ed wins. Again. Nishigori throws a quiet but sincere fit. His wife and daughters all laugh at him.

This is what Ed would be giving up if he let his arms get weak.

Then again, Otabek’s right, as usual—nobody said his arms had to be weak. They said he had to be balanced…which, come to think of it, Teacher would like better, too. Balance makes you faster.

Ed’s core is already almost as solid as his arms—that’s important for fighting, too. But his legs…they’re fine for running and dodging and kicking, but probably not as outrageously badass as a skater’s really should be. So Ed needs to step up his leg training, huh? But while keeping every bit as flexible—or, if Otabek is right, even more flexible. Somehow.

Crap, he needs to ask Viktor for training advice.

No, fuck that, he is absolutely not asking Viktor for advice on anything other than choreography. He could never live that down. He would rather ask Katsuki—and how sad is that? So sad.

“Katsuki!” he shouts, abandoning the Nishigoris and storming into the warm up room. “I need advice!”

Yuuri looks up from stretching and blinks at Ed in adorable confusion. He needs to stop being adorable—it makes it impossible to resent him as much as Ed would like to. “…From me?”

“Yes, from you, asshole,” Ed snaps. “You’ve got ten years’ experience in skating on me. Do I look like I know what the hell I’m doing? Because I really, really don’t.”

Yuuri doesn’t seem to have any idea how to take that, but Yuuko laughs—because she’s followed Ed in here for the free entertainment. (Yuuko’s the best.)

Ed chooses to ignore all the bullshit and steamroll ahead—so he lays out his problem for Yuuri. And Yuuri, once he gets over the idea that Ed gets into fights on the regular (Which takes half an hour. Half. A goddamn. Hour.), is actually pretty useful. Very useful. Useful to the point where Ed’s gonna have to do something nice for him, because equivalent exchange.

Actually, he’s supposed to be teaching Yuuri to land a quad salchow, isn’t he? And he’s running out of time to do it in. Looks like now’s good, then.

What this all boils down to is three solid hours of Yuuri entirely changing Ed’s training routine, followed by hardcore and seemingly endless jump practice. Because Yuuri is a machine. Meanwhile, Ed’s whole body is gonna hurt for a month.

“Why would you come to me for help and not Viktor?” Yuuri asks timidly at the end of the day. Yuuko looks interested, too. And so do all three of the triplets, who ninja’d into the rink as soon as jump practice started. (Nishigori’s probably still nursing his wounded pride in the back office. Heh.)

“Because Viktor is useless,” Ed informs Yuuri. “You haven’t noticed yet, but you will. Good luck getting coached by that disaster.”

“Viktor is not a disaster,” Yuuri insists severely.

Ed should know better than to try to reason with the infatuated. “Yeah, okay.”

Yuuri makes a face at Ed that is honestly pretty scary. Ed beams. He knew Yuuri had it in him.

“What do you mean by that, Yurio?” Yuuko asks, interrupting the staring contest. “Viktor’s the most amazing skater in the world right now. I wouldn’t call that useless.”

Ed turns to face her and waves his hands, batting that idea away. “I don’t mean his skating is useless. I mean he’s useless at explaining shit to other people. Or maybe it’s just me. That could be. I don’t get him, he doesn’t get me—I can’t ask him for help on this. It wouldn’t do any good, and even if it did, I could never live with the shame.”

“…You asked him to choreograph a routine for you,” Yuuri points out.

“Yeah, well, he doesn’t have to explain choreography. He just has to show it to me. That’s different. You’re the one getting full-on coaching from him, and like I say, good luck.”

“…Unless I don’t skate well enough and he leaves,” Yuuri says sadly.

Ed rolls his eyes so hard it hurts a little. “He’s not leaving you, Katsuki.”

“I still don’t understand why he came here in the first place,” Yuuri admits, showing a lot of vulnerability by Katsuki standards. And to Ed of all people.

Ed likes to think of himself as unapproachable. Someday he’s gonna manage to get other people to agree with him, and hopefully to stop sidling up to him and dumping their insecurities all over him all the time.

“It’s because you’re pretty and Viktor’s stupid,” Ed explains. And, in the spirit of fairness, adds, “Also he was probably, you know. Depressed or whatever.”

Yuuri treats Ed to some judgmental side-eye. “Ha. I’m not pretty. And Viktor’s not—”

“Are you calling me a fucking liar?”

“What? No! I just meant—”

Yuuri-kun,” Yuuko says in a weirdly threatening way, staring at Yuuri with the basilisk stare that only mothers are cool enough to use.

Yuuri apparently knows what the stare means, because he shifts uneasily and says, with deep resentment, “Thank you for calling me pretty.” With a strong implied addition of but I’m not actually pretty and you’re either a liar or a moron for saying so. Nice. “But Viktor’s not stupid. And he’s not—”

Oh, there it is. Yuuri just let himself actually think about it. Because if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you can’t look at the Viktor Nikiforov of the last couple years and say that he’s been even a little bit happy. Whether it’s textbook depression or not is debatable, but happy? Definitely not.

“That’s right,” Ed says, satisfied. “Don’t go thinking you’re the only giant mess in that relationship.”

“Yurio-kun,” Yuuko says, and now Ed’s getting the basilisk stare.

“What?!” he squawks, indignant. “What did I say? I just told him the truth!”

The triplets all snicker meanly at him. And here he thought they were friends.

“It may be true, but that doesn’t mean you needed to say it to him,” Yuuko chides, ignoring Yuuri’s yelped protest. “He’s very sensitive about Viktor. I know you know better than to poke at sensitive topics.”

“I don’t know anything,” Ed snaps waspishly. “I’m not even from this planet—how am I supposed to understand your alien ways?”

Yuuri frankly stares and Yuuko and the triplets laugh even harder. Because that’s what happens when you tell people the honest truth around here.

* * *

<Ed>
other yuri is getting called katsudon from here on out.

<Al>
Do I even want to know why?

<Ed>
because last night viktor asked him to think about what his eros was, right
for his program
but also because VIKTOR right now
and he’s like, I dunno, what is eros, I have lived my whole life for skating and have literally never thought about this.

<Al>
So basically he IS Viktor.
Viktor from two years ago.

<Ed>


…you’ve got a point.

<Al>
You’re not a lot better yourself, brother.

<Ed>
shut up. because you know what else I am?
FIFTEEN YEARS OLD
these assholes are meant to be adults
we talked about this
anyway. viktor’s like: go THINK about what your EROS is
because he wants katsudon to say ‘oh, it’s YOU viktor.’
obviously

<Al>
Obviously.
I’m guessing that’s not what Yuuri came up with, though.

<Ed>
you guess right
because katsudon thinks about it for like hours and then, eureka moment!

<Al>
Oh no.

<Ed>
he’s like: MY EROS IS KATSUDON.

<Al>
And katsudon is…?

<Ed>
it’s food, Al. it’s not even fancy food. it’s really good, but like
NOT A SEXY FOOD, AL
it’s like saying beef stew is my eros

<Al>
…Wow.

<Ed>
yeah. wow. this is viktor’s real life right now. he’s dying.
and it’s the best thing
that has ever happened to me

<Al>
Don’t be mean, brother.

<Ed>
you are totally laughing as hard as I am don’t pretend that you’re not

* * *

“I thought he was on social media, but he’s actually always texting, isn’t he?” Yuuri asks Viktor. He’s watching Yurio up in the stands, tapping rapidly away at his phone with a horrible little smirk on his face. Yuuri’s eyes are shining with curiosity, which is a particularly beautiful look on him. “Who’s he talking to?”

Yuuri is killing Viktor here, he really is, what with being gorgeous, talented, fascinating, and now sincerely interested in Viktor’s favorite people as well. And also with his flat refusal to acknowledge any of Viktor’s romantic overtures in any way. By now, Viktor’s also firmly decided that having Yurio here to watch it all play out with knowing, mocking eyes is making the experience even more unnecessarily painful. And Viktor had such hopes of Yurio’s ability to be a distraction! He feels betrayed.

“He talks to all sorts of people,” Viktor explains, dismissing his worries to brood over later, as usual. “He really does seem to know everyone. And not just know them—practically everyone he meets would be happy to punch him in the face, willing to die to defend him, or both, and in any case, they all seem to have a lot to say to him about it.”

In response, beautiful Yuuri actually makes eye contact with a smile, which is rewarding, reassuring. “Punch him in the face or die to defend him? Which one are you?” he asks, clearly amused.

Viktor blinks. “Me? Both. Absolutely both. At the same time. It’s confusing.”

Yuuri laughs. Yuuri is lovely when he laughs. He is going to be the death of Viktor.

“Most often, he talks to his brother, Alexei,” Viktor continues, since talking about Yurio seems to make Yuuri smile. Which is distressing in its own way, but Viktor’s willing to work with anything at this point.

“Really? I didn’t know he had a brother.”

“They’re very close,” Viktor explains. “Which is odd, because they are nothing alike. Alexei is a charming, quiet, polite boy, studious and humble. Also horrifyingly manipulative and a master class liar. He frightens me badly, Yuuri. I am terrified of that boy.”

Yuuri is laughing again. This is officially the most successful conversation they’ve ever had while Yuuri was sober. Blessings upon Yurio and his entire house.

“You said you were terrified of Yurio, too,” Yuuri points out, still smiling. “Though I guess that’s fair. I heard he once tried to kill Jean-Jacques Leroy during a practice session.”

“That is a gross exaggeration of the facts,” Viktor insists piously. “And while I am a bit terrified of Yurio, it’s as nothing compared to my fear of Alyosha. What you see is what you get with Yurio. If that…Jean-Jack?...had been paying any attention at all, he could’ve easily avoided the situation. It’s like taunting a tiger. What happens to you next can’t really be considered the tiger’s fault.”

“Ah. But what you see isn’t what you get with Yurio’s brother?”

“What you see is exactly what Alyosha wants you to see, and he’s been that way as long as I’ve known him. He was an especially unnerving twelve-year-old.”

Yuuri is looking directly into Viktor’s eyes now, something unusually calm and steady in his expression. “And how long have you been that way?” he asks, very quiet.

“What?” Viktor responds, more out of shock than lack of understanding, but it’s too much for Yuuri, who bolts out onto the ice, babbling something about jumps.

Viktor’s known all along that Yuuri is a fan. Despite his sudden, upsetting reluctance to let Viktor anywhere near him, he still does all the fan things—blushes when Viktor’s close, hesitates to contradict him, incorporates parts of Viktor’s programs into his own. But he’s also done some delightfully non-fannish things, of which this is only the latest.

It’s been a long time since someone saw through any part of Viktor’s mask and admired him anyway. In fact, Viktor’s not sure that has ever happened before.

Katsuki Yuuri. Always a surprise.

* * *

It’s a sad fact, but in a minute, Ed’s going to have to kill Viktor Nikiforov. All of Russia will mourn.

“Agape is a feeling. You can’t put it into precise words,” Viktor says, looking as vague and useless as he knows how—which is really goddamn vague and useless. “Do you really think of things in that much detail while you’re skating? You’re so strange, Yurio!”

As if Ed doesn’t know that Viktor choreographed Eros while blatantly obsessing over Katsuki Yuuri the entire frigging time, and no doubt in horrifying detail. He based it on their GPF dance, for God’s sake. It doesn’t get more specific than that.

Ed has a sneaking suspicion that Viktor choreographed Agape while obsessing over Katsuki too, but he’s trying not to think about that because it depresses him.

“You’re so full of shit,” Ed tells him. “Then give me vague words to describe this feeling you think I ought to be having.”

“Agape,” Viktor repeats in an agony of uselessness, waving his hands around. “Endless, unconditional love, free of expectation, hopeful, but also at peace with itself.”

“Yeah okay, great. Except that I don’t love like that!” Ed finally yells at Viktor’s stupid face. “I know what unconditional love is, asshole. I’m pretty sure I know better than you do. But this music is hopeful and sweet and innocent, and that’s bullshit. Love isn’t any of those things. Love is grim, desperate shit, it’s planting your feet and taking whatever comes and dealing with it, it’s being prepared to bleed and die to defend your loved ones. This springtime, fairytale crap—this is, I don’t know, falling in love, maybe. Back when you’ve still got hope, before life burns it out with acid.”

There is dead silence for a very long time, while Ed scowls indiscriminately around the rink. And then, proving once again why she’s his favorite person here, Yuuko says, “Well…he’s not wrong.”

Viktor, meanwhile, has that look he always gets whenever Ed’s childhood is shoved into his face. Like he really wants to scream and flee the building, but is forcing himself to stick around by enormous force of will. Ed sneers at him.

Katsudon, though, has to be just as weird and unpredictable as ever. “Yurio, I think you’re wrong about the music,” he says quietly. “I understand what you’re saying, and…the beginning could be hopeful, and maybe…naïve. But as it goes along, it becomes more…committed, maybe? Desperate? It’s how you hear it, I think. But the main point of it is just…abandoning yourself. To this feeling, this…um. Devotion? Like you’d leave behind every part of yourself and never look back, if it would make them happy. And there’s something beautiful in that.”

Fuck, is Katsudon—‘my Eros is katsudon’ Katsudon—explaining love songs to him now? This is ridiculous. And it doesn’t help that Viktor’s staring at Katsudon like…Ed doesn’t even know. Like he’d throw away every part of himself if he could just get Katsudon to make sense, maybe.

Katsudon is probably right about the music, too, which definitely makes everything more annoying.

“Okay, but the lyrics are sappy bullshit and you can’t take that from me,” Ed says firmly. Fores occultas his ass. You don’t open doors that hide things; Ed learned that the hard way. You leave them closed.

“…You speak Latin?” Viktor asks, sounding tired for some reason.

“No, I understand Latin,” Ed snaps, impatient with Viktor’s everything. “Only diehard nerds speak dead languages.” Ed and Al had to learn to read it, though, because it’s the language all the old alchemy books are in. Only after they went to the trouble of learning it did they discover that Earth alchemy was at best a proto-science and at worst blatant quackery. What a goddamn waste of time.

“Heaven forbid anyone should think of you as a diehard nerd,” Viktor murmurs.

Ed graciously chooses to ignore this comment. Which is more than can be said for Katsudon, who’s smirking. Ed considers knocking him down and sitting on him, see how he likes that. But no, he’s here to skate. No distractions!

“Fine,” he decides. “I’m skating this bastard like there’s something beautiful about willingly climbing onto a rack for your loved ones, and I’m doing it while ignoring every single word of the lyrics.”

“I look forward to it!” Viktor says, beaming like a guy who wants to walk out of this rink carrying his teeth in his hand.

Ed skates the damn thing anyway. He starts to skate it thinking about what he’d sacrifice for Al, but that’s…that’s not it, is it? Katsudon said if it would make them happy, so Ed focuses in on that. He stops thinking about what he’d give up for Al, and starts thinking about making Al happy. And Winry happy. Granny Pinako and Den, Teacher and Sig, Grandpa, Otabek, Mila, Yuuko and the triplets and Nishigori, the Katsukis, and even stupid Viktor and Katsudon. He thinks about them living their lives, peaceful, safe, and well—and then he thinks about how much he’d give for them to have that.

“Very good,” Viktor tells him afterward, sounding serious for once in his life. “Now we can move on to the next level.”

Ed’s not exactly pleased that Viktor liked the way he skated that, because emoting all over the ice is exhausting. Seriously, he just thought about the past more in a few minutes than he usually allows himself in a month. And Viktor wants him to do this shit every day? While also doing Katsudon’s new strength-training routine, so he can be physically wiped out as well as emotionally wiped out?

Ed’s gonna die.

* * *

Yurio is apparently too exhausted to argue about bathing with other people today, because he just follows Yuuri, zombie-like, into the onsen changing room without complaint.

Yuuri has a sudden insight into why public bathing might be an issue when Yurio drops his robe. For one thing, he has a huge tattoo on his back—a cross with a snake wrapped around it, wings to the sides and a crown on top, a bit like a medical symbol? Yuuri has no idea what that’s about, though he’s reasonably sure you can’t legally get a tattoo at Yurio’s age in Russia or anywhere else. Also, he is intensely glad that his parents don’t ban people with tattoos from the onsen the way so many places do, because he would not want to have that conversation with Yurio. God.

For another, more distressing thing, Yurio has…really a lot of scars. That would be alarming enough on its own, but everything else pales by comparison to the horrifying scar on his left leg. It looks like someone tried to hack the leg off just above the knee, which—surely that can’t be what happened, but that’s what it looks like.

But Yuuri shouldn’t be looking at all, and he has absolutely no business asking. Most scars are the result of something traumatic or embarrassing, and people almost never want to talk about them. So Yuuri’s not going to look, and he’s not going to ask.

So he doesn’t ask, and he doesn’t look. Not in the changing room, or as they clean off, or as they get into the onsen. It’s actually Yurio who breaks first.

“Oh my God,” Yurio groans, sinking low in the water. “I can hear your brain frying from here. I fucked up, okay? That’s why my leg’s a mess. I was a stupid, stupid kid, and I let myself believe that I could save my mother’s life without sacrificing anything, and I was just—I was wrong. It almost got me and my brother both killed right along with our mom, that’s how wrong I was. How arrogant. So fuck agape, you know?”

Yuuri now has a thousand questions and is too afraid to ask any of them. “I’m so sorry,” he says instead.

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry too, but that doesn’t fix anything. All you can do is get up and keep walking. So now you know, and that means I’m using the hell out of this bath, because it’s amazing.”

Get off your ass and keep walking, Yuuri remembers. Be grateful you still have two good legs to walk on. It’s the first thing Yurio ever said to him, and now he finally has context for it. He’s probably going to have nightmares.

“…I’m glad you like it,” Yuuri says hesitantly. “Does…does Viktor know about…?”

“My fuck ups in life? No. He knows about the mess I made of my body because we share a locker room, but he doesn’t know how any of it happened. Every time I tell him anything about life before Yakov he gets this look on his face like I just murdered Makkachin, so I try not to tell him anything. No one likes to see a grown man cry, Katsudon.”

“…I cry all the time.”

“That’s different. You’re not weird about it.”

Yuuri’s pretty sure he just got complimented. On crying. By Yurio.

Fortunately he’s not called upon to process the situation any more than that, because Viktor chooses this moment to barge in and draw all the attention to himself. It’s a relief.

* * *

It takes Ed an embarrassingly long time, but he eventually figures out that Katsudon isn’t actually a coward. He would feel worse about this, but Katsudon is a confusing hot mess, and figuring him out at all is an epic challenge. Ask anyone. Ask Viktor.

Katsudon, see, he’s afraid of everything. Some things more than others, yeah, but still, everything. Which means that walking out the front door, for Katsudon, is about as terrifying as charging an armed man bare-handed would be for Ed.

And still, Yuuri does it every morning.

Figuring this out leads to an uncomfortable few days in which Ed is kind of in awe of Katsudon, but then he watches the guy climb one of the hills outside town with reckless disregard for his own wellbeing, and he comes to another awful realization.

Most of the things Yuuri’s afraid of are irrational, and because he’s not stupid, he knows that. The kicker is that he can’t reliably tell the difference between a rational fear and an irrational one—they feel the same to him. So he mostly treats them the same. Like they’re all irrational. On a day when he’s feeling strong, he just pushes on past any and all fear and does whatever.

So basically what this means is that Katsudon is a maniac, and he can’t be trusted with his own safety. Which is awesome, because that’s just what Ed needs—another person to worry about.

“Pretty sure he’s more afraid of living than he is of dying,” Ed complains bitterly to Otabek. “What the hell is that about? Also his self-esteem is garbage. I just want to grab him by the throat and shake him until he believes me when I say he’s talented and hot and fun to be around.”

“I’m pretty sure grabbing him by the throat and shaking him wouldn’t help,” Otabek points out gently. He can be such a killjoy. “And you should be careful, telling him he’s hot. He might get the wrong idea, there.”

“No, it’s fine. He thought I was joking. Like mean joking. Why doesn’t he know he’s awesome? It’s so annoying, Beka. Thank God you and Al know you’re awesome and I don’t have to fight with you about it.”

“I’m glad to be of help in any way I can,” says Otabek. And he’s trolling, but he’s also serious. That’s why Otabek is the best. (Even if he did answer the phone with the words Are you dying? So Ed doesn’t call people on the phone much—so what? Otabek and Al are such drama queens.)

“Did you ever decide what went wrong with Katsuki at the GPF?” Otabek goes on.

“Oh, that. Yeah, his sister told me.” Ed might’ve written long, babbling text messages to Otabek about his curiosity concerning this particular mystery in the past, so he deserves an update. “So it turns out it was a lifelong dream of his to skate on the same ice as Viktor, or some such bullshit—but fine. It was a stupid dream, but it was his, so he buried himself under a mountain of pressure about it. Everything had to be perfect for Viktor. Viktor, of all people. So he was a stressed out mess on the edge of a meltdown anyway, and then his dog died between his short program and his free skate. And that was it. Catastrophic system failure.”

“…That’s awful,” Otabek allows.

“It is,” Ed agrees grudgingly. “And, I mean…his dog died, he fucked up his dream skate with the whole world and Viktor watching, he went off to cry about it in what he thought was privacy, and then I found him and yelled at him for crying. So I guess it’s not surprising that he got drunk off his ass at the banquet.”

“I would have,” Otabek allows. “Maybe you should yell at people less.”

“I should wait to yell at people until I have context,” Ed corrects. He does not appreciate Otabek’s long, exasperated sigh in response. So he hangs up on him.

He does feel bad, though. Like, he meant what he said to Katsudon back then—you gotta get up and keep walking no matter what the fuck happens, and that’s the truth. But maybe he could’ve given the guy a day to process before yelling at him. It’s not like Ed has a history of dealing gracefully with the loss of loved ones.

And that dog was seriously loved, to an extent Ed finds a little weird. It’s the same way Viktor is about Makkachin, and like…Ed’s not sure if it’s his farm-kid upbringing or what, but he doesn’t get it. Because when you get a dog? You already know you’re gonna outlive that dog, unless you’re super old when you get it, or unless you get hit by a train or something. So isn’t part of you preparing for that dog’s death from the moment you pick it up as a puppy?

If Ed had been around to see Den die, he would’ve been really sad, obviously. He’d have cried and helped bury him in a nice grave and all that. But he can’t see himself being shrine-in-the-house sad. That seems extreme. Although, fuck, what does he know about this planet? Maybe everybody here puts up shrines to their pets, and Amestris was just cold about it because humans were dying left, right, and center. Could be. (Although, truth: Ed valued Den a lot more than a lot of humans. So…)

That’s not Ed’s only issue with that shrine, either. It’s not even the most serious one. The most serious one is this: it makes him very uneasy that the picture of the dog also has Yuuri in it. Like, isn’t everybody featured in these shrines supposed to be dead? Ed thought they were supposed to be dead. And if they are, that would mean that during the five years Yuuri was gone, the Katsukis started, like. Treating him like he was dead. Or at least lost to them. That is…scary in ways Ed can’t coherently define.

It may be that he’s taking it too personally. Would Winry and Granny Pinako have a shrine with a picture of him and Al in it, if they did shrines?

(He knows they would.)

On the other hand, if the people and/or animals in the pictures are just ones you miss and want to send good wishes to, Yuuri’s presence in the picture is sweet, and not creepy at all.

Maybe Ed’s a coward, but he’s definitely too afraid to ask and make sure.

* * *

The less said about the costume debacle, the better. For one thing, Viktor’s drinking again (the hell did Katsudon say to him this time?). For another thing, Ed wasn’t allowed to choose anything badass as a costume, because Mari insisted it didn’t ‘suit his theme’ or whatever, so now he’s in some silvery white thing that looks blatantly ridiculous on him, in his humble opinion. And it’s a very humble opinion too, because for damn sure nobody else gives a shit about it, up to and including Ed’s very own traitorous brother.

And then there was the experience of watching Katsudon fanboy uncontrollably for ten minutes and then pick out the lingerie bondage costume for his sexy program. Which was. Special.

The good news is, in just a week, Ed’s free to run away back to Russia and leave this awkward shitshow behind him.

He’s not going to miss these idiots at all. He’s not. He doesn’t care what Al says.

* * *

They’re finally getting ready to skate their whole Sexual Frustration on Ice bullshit, and Yuuri’s freaking out. They haven’t even left the house yet, and Yuuri’s freaking out. Ed is almost impressed. Like, this is an ice show that doesn’t count for shit, and yet Katsudon seems to have convinced himself that if he fucks it up, Viktor’s leaving him. He’s such a mess.

Meanwhile, Yuuko (who’s come to drive them to the rink) and Mari (who can’t even be bothered to watch them skate) are treating Katsudon’s whole emotional crisis like a spectator event of its own. They’re awful people, really. It’s probably why Ed likes them.

Though…sometimes Ed wonders if Mari doesn’t low-key hate her brother. Like, she definitely loves him, but, well. It can be complicated with family.

Mari is stuck here in this small, possibly dying town, and looking to inherit a small, possibly dying family business. She doesn’t seem to hate her life, but she doesn’t seem to love it, either. Meanwhile, her brother is internationally famous for doing the thing he loves best, and now his goddamn idol and childhood crush has followed him home to coach him and dote on him and be with him forever. And Katsudon isn’t even enjoying it right.

Honestly, it’d be weirder if she didn’t hate him a little.

As soon as they get to the rink, Ed immediately informs the nearest reporter that he’s going to crush Yuuri because there only needs to be one of them. The reporter seems delighted, which is all anyone needs to know about reporters. But Ed said it mostly because he’s curious what Katsudon’s reaction will be.

There isn’t one. Not a flicker of an eyelash. Katsudon doesn’t have a single fuck to give about Ed’s threats, and Ed has been known to terrify actual hardened criminals. This from the guy who goes off into spirals of insecurity if a stranger says something bad about his hair.

Katsuki Yuuri is a goddamn weirdo, and Ed approves.

* * *

Katsudon kicks Ed’s ass all over the ice (metaphorically). Ed would be more upset about it if Katsudon weren’t so obviously, ridiculously relieved and happy. It’s impossible to begrudge him anything when you’re looking at his stupid, charming, delighted face. Ed will just have to destroy him later, when he’s feeling more secure in himself.

Viktor’s going to be impossible all goddamn season, Ed can tell.

Anyway, it was a learning experience, and Ed’s glad he came to Japan. He’s glad he got to hang out with Katsudon and family, too, because they’re pretty cool, and he’ll have to bring Al around to visit them sometime.

That said, it’s past time for him to go. Katsudon and Viktor are getting handsy now, and Ed’s not watching that shit. Not during the awkward courtship phase, anyway.

Why is it that settled couples being cuddly is adorable, but brand new, not-quite-couples being cuddly is uncomfortable as hell to be around? Ed doesn’t know, but he doesn’t want to see these bastards again in person until they’re basically married.

With that in mind, he starts packing his stuff as soon as they get back to Yutopia. Al booked him a flight for odd-ungodly tomorrow morning, and since it’s out of Fukuoka, he feels like he might as well leave Hasetsu tonight and just sleep in the airport.

Of course Katsudon manages to walk in just as Ed’s packing up his knives, which is uncomfortable for everyone. And Ed has to go and make it more uncomfortable by freezing like a prey animal and staring up at Yuuri in shock. He probably looks like a lemur in a spotlight. Not that Yuuri looks much better.

So, hey, this is awkward. What do you say in a situation like this? I’m sorry I brought a small arsenal into your country where it’s totally illegal, but I had to because I can’t sleep without at least five weapons in grabbing distance? Ed feels like that’s the kind of comment that makes things more awkward, not less.

Life would be so much easier if he still had alchemy. If he had alchemy, he wouldn’t bother to carry weapons. He wouldn’t need to, because he could make weapons out of anything. God, he misses that. He even misses living in a place where people thought being heavily armed at all times was normal, though he gets that that’s a fucked up thing to miss.

“Are you…okay to get those through customs?” Katsudon asks eventually, looking very lost and disturbed, but also concerned about Ed’s welfare. And not afraid at all.

He makes no sense.

“Yes,” Ed tells him, deciding less is more in this kind of explanation. I learned from the very best smugglers would not make this less weird.

“Well…if you’re sure.” Katsudon hesitates, looking all constipated. Ed waits for the questions about why the hell he has a mini-arsenal. But no, of course not, because he’s dealing with Katsudon, who instead blurts out, “Are you safe?

“What?”

“I mean…you wouldn’t have all that if you didn’t need it, would you? And, um. Should you be traveling alone? Because it seems like…you won’t have those on the plane, and that might not be a good idea. If someone’s. After you.”

It takes Ed a minute, but he eventually manages to recall that Yuuri spent the last five years living in Detroit. Ed’s heard things about Detroit. Given what he’s heard, he’s probably not the only person Katsudon knows who owns an arsenal. (Maybe Ed should move to Detroit.)

Okay, that actually makes sense. For once, Katsudon makes sense. Ed lets out a relieved breath, because this makes life a lot easier. He can tell the truth, for one thing.

“I’m fine,” he reassures Yuuri. “I was definitely not safe for a while, but things are fine now. It’s just that I got into a lot of habits back then, and I haven’t managed to shake them.”

Katsudon nods in sympathy. Ed’s not sure how he feels about having Mr. Anxiety totally get him, but he should probably just count his blessings. This could have gone way worse.

“Does…Viktor know you have all this?” Katsudon asks.

Case in point: what if Viktor had caught him? The screaming would have been endless. “No, because like I said, I try not to shock the guy to death. And by the way, it’s cracking me up how much more chill you’re being about this than he would be.”

Yuuri gives a guilty little smirk. “Viktor is very…ah. Set in his ways?”

…Has Katsudon been fucking with Viktor on purpose this whole time? No. No way. That would be cruel, and whatever else is wrong with Katsudon, he would never be deliberately cruel. But apparently he notices more than Ed’s been giving him credit for, at least when it comes to Viktor. Interesting.

Maybe these two will get themselves sorted out faster than Ed thought.

“So…knives and, and physics books?” Katsudon points out leadingly. “And skates.”

“Skates are knives, Katsudon.”

“…Right. And the physics books?”

“We all gotta plan for the future sometime. Also, skating? Not exactly an intellectual challenge. If I weren’t doing something on the side, I’d be bored out of my mind. Hey, don’t make that face. You know I’m right, college boy.”

“Is this what you were doing when you’d sneak away and hide in your room after dinner?” Katsudon asks, light dawning. “You were…studying physics?”

“And sometimes chemistry,” Ed agrees. “And I was not sneaking or hiding, asshole. You never asked.”

Before Katsudon can think of any follow-up questions, Ed finishes packing his incriminating shit away, hoists his incriminating case onto his shoulder, and pulls his less-incriminating suitcase after him.

“Okay,” he says. “I’m out. See you in a few months. Try to keep Viktor from making an ass of himself on TV.”

Katsudon makes a dubious face at him. “Try not to get arrested.”

Ed shrugs agreement. He feels like his job is a lot easier than Katsudon’s, but fine.

* * *

Mila pounces on Ed the second she learns he’s back. And in what ought to be the safety of his room, too. Tragically, Al won’t be back from his latest physics conference for two more days, so there’s no one around to protect him.

“How was Japan?” Mila asks, grinning her scariest grin. Which is pretty damn scary, Ed has to say.

“It was nice enough that we’re never getting Viktor back,” he informs her.

“I’m a little surprised you came back,” she admits. “Did you make friends with everybody in town?”

“I was there for less than a month.”

“That’s never stopped you before, Yura.”

“I met a few people. I wasn’t staying there any longer, though. You haven’t seen uncomfortable until you’ve seen Viktor trying to woo somebody who doesn’t believe he’s being wooed. It’s so stupid, Mila. Worse than Georgi.”

“No one and nothing is worse than Georgi,” Mila informs him severely.

Ed has to concede that this is true. “Okay, but…as bad as Georgi.”

“So who was your favorite person there?” Mila asks, flopping comfortably down on Ed’s bed like she owns the damn place.

“Yuuko,” Ed tells her, kicking his less incriminating suitcase under his bed and hiding the more incriminating one behind the false back wall of his closet. “She and her husband manage the rink Katsudon skates at. They have triplet girls, and they named them all after jumps.”

Mila sits up, blinking. “Jumps.”

“Yeah. Axle, Lutz, Loop.”

“Wow. Um, why?”

“Because Yuuko just doesn’t give a fuck, that’s why. She’s awesome. Her husband and kids are pretty great, too. And Katsudon’s sister! She’s so mean; you’d like her a lot.”

“You’re gushing and it’s weird,” Mila points out, now sprawled on her front and kicking her feet idly in the air.

“I gush sometimes!” Ed insists defensively.

“Yeah, about your brother and Otabek,” Mila tells him. “That was it. But now it’s suddenly half the population of Hasetsu, too, out of nowhere.”

“I gush about you too. I just don’t do it to your face because you’d make a scene.”

“Yuraaa!” Mila cries, lunging off the bed to tackle Ed in a hug, thereby proving his point. “I knew you loved me!”

“Yeah, yeah, now stop squashing me, woman.”

“So what’s the love of Viktor’s life like?” Mila interrogates mercilessly. “I’ve seen him skate, and I’ve seen him drunk, and seeing as those two states are nothing like each other, I don’t even know where to start with him.”

“He’s a mess,” Ed informs her. “A huge mess. For unknown reasons, he thinks he’s ugly, talentless garbage, and the only times he doesn’t freak out and sabotage himself are when he’s motivated by spite. He’s meek and shy except for when he’s a sarcastic little shit. Also he reacts to fear in very weird and probably unhealthy ways.”

Mila leans back from the hug the better to stare at Ed incredulously. “Wow, you love this guy. Does Viktor know he has competition?”

“Viktor has no competition,” Ed insists. “I like Katsudon fine, but he makes me so tired, Mila. So goddamn tired. You go, ‘Hey, Katsudon, good skate,’ and he freaks the fuck out and decides that you’re lying and you secretly hate him. What the hell? When I tell people they’re awesome, I want them to shut the fuck up and accept that they’re awesome. I’m not wasting my breath telling them they’re awesome and then arguing about it.”

“It’s true that you’re not a naturally affirming person,” Mila agrees, absently resting her head on top of Ed’s to torment him with her superior height.

“Anyway, I wish him and Viktor all the joy of each other,” Ed grumbles. “They’re both huge messes of human beings. Your turn. Catch me up on rink news. How bad did Yakov blow a gasket when he figured out I’d lied about coming home after a week?”

Mila laughs, hugs him tighter, and tells him all the gossip worth knowing.

* * *

Yakov has no idea what Yuuri Katsuki (the single greatest impact on Russian figure skating in decades) did to Yuri. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t care. He is, quite simply, grateful. And gratitude is not something he’d ever expected to feel toward Katsuki.

Yet here they are—in a strange, beautiful place where the desire to beat Katsuki has actually motivated Yuri to care more about skating than about science, travel, engaging in vigilante justice, or whatever the hell else he’s been doing with his life prior to this. Yakov is honestly ready to send Katsuki a fruit basket. He’s never sent anyone a fruit basket. Ever. In his life. That’s how maddening training Yuri has been up until now.

The one thing Katsuki hasn’t managed to improve is Yuri’s deep-seated hatred of male authority figures who aren’t his grandfather. (Yakov would like to have a chat with Yuri’s mysteriously absent father one day. A long, serious chat.) But this is fine. If Yuri is willing to work, then Yakov is willing to help him avoid all male authority figures, including himself. If that’s what it takes.

Lilia’s always enjoyed the more crazed students, anyway.

This does not, however, mean that Yakov is ready to forgive Vitya. For retiring? There’s nothing to forgive. Everyone retires, and Vitya is justifiably burnt out. No one can say he hasn’t achieved enough, sacrificed enough. For running off to another country without consulting his coach? A bit more difficult to forgive, but not impossible, particularly since Yuri has spent years wearing Yakov down on this topic. Though it’s also true that Yuri is a feral thing who trusts no one but his brother, while Vitya is practically family, and being disregarded this way hurts with Vitya in a way it never has with Yuri. Still, Yakov is a grown man, and he’ll get over it.

But for potentially ruining a promising skater’s career by dragging him into Vitya’s flamboyant journey of self-discovery? That, Yakov thinks he might not ever forgive. Taking reckless risks with one’s own future is a choice, even if it is a poor one. Taking reckless risks with someone else’s future is a sin.

Over the course of his career, Vitya has exasperated, infuriated, and even enraged Yakov, but he’s never disappointed him before. It is surprisingly painful.

* * *

“Where are we going, Brother?” Al asks curiously, because wherever Ed’s leading him, it’s not the skaters’ dorms.

“So Yakov shunted me off onto this ballet lady named Lilia for coaching. I guess I pissed him off for the last time. Anyway, she forced me to move into her place.”

When Al arrived in St Petersburg, Ed’s first comment was, Hey, Al, was the conference stupid? It emphatically was not what it should have been, i.e., I’ve recently been dragged off by a strange woman and forced to live in her house. But this is Ed, so Al’s hopes of civilized behavior were never very high.

“Lilia…?”

“Baranovskaya.”

Al closes his eyes, pained. “Lilia Baranovskaya, the world-famous ballerina and choreographer?” Who Ed just referred to as ballet lady, oh God.

“Sure,” Ed agrees absently, tugging at Al’s suitcase as soon as they get inside the outrageously nice house that Lilia Baranovskaya lives in.

“Do you like her, Brother?” Al asks, relinquishing his luggage to Ed with a sigh of relief. Ed gleefully drags it off to his room like he’s gotten away with something. It’s a really nice room, too.

Ed puts off answering the question for a long time, busying himself with unpacking and organizing Al’s stuff, which Al takes to mean yes, even before Ed says, “She reminds me of Teacher. Like a lot. I mean, she hasn’t chucked me bodily across the room yet, but…she might.”

Al stares at Ed in wide-eyed sympathy. “I’m so sorry, Brother.”

Ed stares back, traumatized. “I’ll…I’ll be okay. I mean, probably. I mean, we lived through Teacher, right? She can’t be as scary as Teacher. She can’t. Can she?”

“She’s never going to throw a knife at you and then yell at you about your reflexes,” Al points out encouragingly. “That’s illegal here.”

“Right?!” Ed agrees, encouraged. “And she can’t transmute me into the ground up to my neck and then leave me there for an hour.”

“She can’t transmute a spike and stab at you with it!”

“Or make me cook dinner while also making me dodge rocks she’s throwing at me.”

“Or leave you on a deserted island for a month with nothing but a knife!”

They beam at each other happily. Life on this planet is so soft, it’s amazing.

Of course, it only takes a few seconds for Ed to start looking worried and unhappy, because that’s just how Al’s brother is these days.

“We’re super-weak now, aren’t we, Al? Teacher would kick our asses to the moon.”

“Teacher would murder us the second she figured out we’d performed human transmutation,” Al points out, because that is just a fact.

“Yeah.” Ed shudders. “Yeah, she would. But even if she didn’t, how long would we last in a spar with her? You’re all academic now, and I’m only good for gliding around on ice, of all the stupid things.”

“It’s not stupid, Ed,” Al corrects him severely.

“No, it’s stupid,” Ed insists. “I know stupid when I see it.”

Al rolls his eyes and struggles against the urge to smother his brother with a pillow. “Why do you think that?”

“Because it’s making me weak, and that means I can’t protect us anymore. You don’t condition your body the same way for fighting and skating, so the better I get at skating, the worse I get at fighting. I’m exchanging safety for the ability to scoot around on the ice in a way that looks pretty. Explain to me how that’s not stupid.”

“You’re making money at it,” Al explains. “And money is power. And it also provides access to research materials.”

Ed blinks at him. “Oh.”

Al’s brother is a disaster. “So when do I get to meet Lilia Baranovskaya?”

“Not today. She and Yakov are out for dinner, so you won’t see them ‘til breakfast. You’d think dinner out would be romantic, but not the way they do it. I think they just need a weekly break from my presence so they can bitch about me in private.”

At least Ed is somewhat self-aware. “In that case, cook me dinner,” Al orders firmly.

“Bossy,” Ed grumbles, but obediently wanders off to Lilia Baranovskaya’s outrageously nice kitchen to cook dinner. Al knows it’s wrong to take advantage of Ed’s trauma about that time Al lost his body for a few hours and then they didn’t see each other for a year and Ed thought he was gone forever, but Ed’s a good cook (thanks, Teacher), and it’s too easy.

While Ed crashes around in the beautiful kitchen, Al takes the opportunity to shamelessly investigate Ed’s room. (If Ed would just be honest about his feelings, Al wouldn’t have to stoop to this. But as it stands, Ed barely understands his own feelings, so here they are.)

He finds all the usual nonsense. Extensive physics notes and alchemy theory. Angry, half-written letters to Viktor and Katsuki, because Ed still sometimes writes letters out on paper before converting them to email or text. What amounts to a list of interrogation questions for various people—Otabek, Mila, Lilia Baranovskaya, wow. The interrogation list is even about skating, for a change.

In fact…there’s a lot more skating happening in the detritus of Ed’s life than Al is used to. It’s kind of everywhere. Even the margins of Ed’s physics notes are full of sketches and equations having to do with force, momentum, rotational speed, angular velocity. It takes Al a minute, but he eventually works out that Ed’s trying to math his way through a quad axle. Absentmindedly, when he should be focused on other things. Ed is, in short, obsessing. Over skating.

Al smiles, relieved. It’s about time Ed stopped being miserable.

* * *

The next morning Al meets Lilia Baranovskaya, and Ed’s right. She is like Teacher to an alarming degree.

Happily, Al’s going back to Moscow in two weeks. As for Ed…well. Ed’s on his own.

He’ll be fine. He’s a strong person.

Chapter Text

Viktor isn’t sure what possessed him to call Yurio. His Yuuri’s been avoiding him and he doesn’t know what to do about it, yes, true. It’s also true that he doesn’t yet feel in a position to ask Yuuri’s friends or family for help on this subject, and that Yakov is still very angry and needs time to cool down, and so can’t be asked, either.

But did Viktor really, honestly believe that Yuri Plisetsky would be helpful?

“Man, you are some kind of moron,” Yurio informs him. Viktor more or less agrees.

Still. “But why is he hiding from me, Yurio?”

Yurio sighs angrily into the phone. “I don’t know why that weirdo does anything. Probably because he hates himself and has decided you hate him too. That seems to be why he does most things.”

Well. That was…shockingly helpful and likely not entirely wrong. Viktor decides to reward this answer by violently changing the subject away from emotions, since Yurio prefers to pretend emotions don’t exist. “Hm. How’s your free skate coming along?”

“What is wrong with you?” Yurio demands. “Never mind, I don’t even want to know. My free skate? Fine. Lilia picked the music yesterday.” He sounds conflicted.

“Oh?” Viktor smiles. “And do you like it?”

“I dunno.” Awkward, adorable pause. “I’m gonna send it to you, okay? And you tell me what you think. Because what I think is, this is music that basically says, ‘Your recklessness is going to get you killed one day, but damn, the crash and burn will be glorious to watch.’ And I feel like I don’t know her well enough for her to know that about me. It’s creepy.”

Viktor manfully resists the urge to laugh out loud, because that will make Yurio hang up on him. “Maybe Yakov’s been telling tales out of school.”

“And why didn’t I know Yakov used to be married, by the way?” Yurio demands irritably. “Why can’t any of you communicate?

“What does Alyosha think of the music?” Viktor continues blithely, ignoring Yurio’s last complaint while also confirming it, because Yurio’s howls of rage are a thing of delight.

Obligingly, Yurio howls in rage. But he answers anyway, bless his angry heart. “Al says the music suits me. Of course he says that, because fucking with me is his favorite thing in the world.”

“Your brother terrifies me.”

“That’s because you have some common sense, much as that’s an endless surprise to me. Oh, and today Lilia told me I have the build of a bar brawler and the grace to match it. That’s just unnecessary.”

“You’re actually very graceful, Yurio, in your way. Have Lilia watch one of your horrifying fights with your brother. She’ll understand then.”

“Our spars, you mean? Our totally safe, very chill spars, which are not horrifying in any way?”

“I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.”

“Whatever, loser. I’ll try it and see if it impresses her. If it does, it’ll be the very first thing that has. She’s so scary, Viktor. She seriously reminds me of—anyway. I’m just saying, every costume she’s okayed has a fire theme. All of them. She thinks I’m going down in flames, and she’s not even trying to be nice about it!”

Viktor knows it’s wrong to laugh. He still can’t restrain himself from laughing uncontrollably until Yurio growls and, as expected, hangs up on him.

Yurio is a gift. He’s an irascible, impatient, abrasive gift, but a gift, all the same. Viktor doesn’t think he’d have survived in this sport long enough to meet Yuuri if it hadn’t been for Yurio.

The thing is that Yurio doesn’t seem to notice fame, not in any real way. He uses his own, certainly, but seems to view it as a kind of amusing mass delusion that happens to benefit him. Yurio’s only ever seen Viktor as Viktor, and whether he’s impressed with what he sees or not is entirely dependent on Viktor himself.

And yes, the way he cackles at the Living Legend title is a bit hurtful, but. It’s far less stressful than being treated like a tin god. After all, it’s impossible to disappoint someone who sees you as a talented skater, sure, but also a massive social disaster. And who is not shy about pointing these things out, whether to you, your coach, or the world at large.

Yurio is the most angrily reassuring person Viktor knows.

* * *

Lilia isn’t entirely sure what to make of Yuri Plisetsky. Professionally, he’s nearly ideal—driven, strong, flexible, receptive to criticism—even borderline meek in the face of criticism at times, which is wildly contrary to everything Yakov has told her about him. He’s tough, stubborn, and inclined to deranged grins and insane suggestions. He is, in short, everything Lilia would expect from one of Yakov’s hand-picked students.

It’s the way he reacts to her that is…unusual. He’s not afraid of her. Lilia is not accustomed to people not being afraid of her. And the lack of fear doesn’t stem from a lack of respect, or even a lack of observational skills. If she had to guess—she most certainly isn’t going to ask—she would guess that he’s previously been trained by someone like her, but more frightening.

This makes her feel oddly competitive toward a person she’s never met, and who may not even exist. After all, it might have been his childhood life of crime that inured him to fear. But somehow it feels more personal than that.

Experimentally, she makes her training style just a little more harsh and arbitrary. Yuri Plisetsky does not seem concerned or even surprised by this; he simply accepts it.

He is not afraid of her.

She considers his lack of fear. She considers his rare but alarming nightmares, but also the true joy in his eyes when he fights with his brother. She considers the way he skates Agape, and his frighteningly focused expression when he studies his university-level science books—which he does, diligently, every day.

She turns over all of these things in her mind, and the choreography for his free skate comes to her piece by piece, and stitches itself together into a satisfying whole.

* * *

Here’s the thing:

Ed loves the free skate Lilia made for him.

He doesn’t want to admit it, but it’s true. Even though Otabek told him years ago that he ought to skate like he’s fighting, he’s never gotten the chance to try. That’s what this is, though: it’s a routine that’s a fight.

It goes pretty well with agape, too, like…in his life story. Ed’s pretty sure Lilia did that on purpose—she understands him way too well in general, even if he doesn’t get how. So yeah, the programs make sense together. His short program is all about love—and his free skate is about what he’d do to anybody who fucked with his loved ones.

They’re his favorite routines ever, individually and together, but he’s too embarrassed to tell anybody. Except maybe Katsudon. God knows Katsudon can’t judge him.

“Katsudon,” he says in response to Katsudon’s confused voice on the phone. “My free skate is awesome.”

“That’s…good?” Katsudon replies, clearly befuddled. “It’s five in the morning here?”

“No, you don’t get it,” Ed tells him with what even he recognizes as unnecessary aggression, pointedly ignoring the comment about the time. “It’s the best damn free skate of my life. It suits me down to the ground. It’s perfect.”

“Um. I love my free skate also?”

“Yeah, but you and Viktor made your free skate together, so that makes sense! You should love it! Mine was made by some lady who’s known me for like a month. What the fuck, Katsudon?”

“…Lilia Baranovskaya is a famous choreographer, Yurio,” Katsudon points out. “Famous all over the world, for exactly this. People spend a fortune to hire her. I don’t…really understand why you’re surprised that she’s good at the job she’s famous for.”

Well, when he puts it like that, it sounds stupid.

“Okay. Sorry. Go back to sleep.” He hangs up, feeling better.

And now he needs to do something nice for Katsudon, because he didn’t mean to wake him up at five. Fuck.

* * *

The next few months are an endless stream of pre-season practice craziness. It’s worth it, though: Ed’s finally starting to not suck at his awesome programs. Even if he’s getting a distinct vibe from Lilia that she’s going to make him graceful if she has to break every bone in his body to do it. (She is just like Teacher. How has Ed managed to find two of them?!)

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t curious about how Katsudon’s doing, though. People are keeping him updated, sure, but it’s not the same as seeing it. So he’s pretty excited when it finally comes time for Katsudon’s first competition.

That said, Ed doesn’t have the time or patience to figure out how to stream a local Japanese competition in Russia, so he just has Yuuko text him the play-by-play with pictures. He can find a place to watch the whole thing later, probably. If he can’t, Mila will take pity and find it for him. For some reason, she thinks his relationship with Katsudon is hilarious and needs encouragement.

Seems like Katsudon’s competition is going great right up until the part where he does a header into the boards. Head injuries are no fucking joke. Even one concussion drastically increases your chance of dementia. Does Katsudon know that? Does Viktor know that?

Apparently not, because the next thing Yuuko sends him is a picture of Katsudon leaping into Viktor’s arms, both of them beaming like there isn’t blood all over Katsudon’s face.

Morons.

Ed responds by texting Yuuko ten different links to articles about head trauma. Katsudon’s lucky he’s not fucking dead.

* * *

Viktor wakes up to discover that he has what amounts to a novel in text form from Yurio, which alarms him. Yurio doesn’t generally initiate conversation with Viktor, which means he thinks this is important. Viktor isn’t sure he wants to know what Yuri Plisetsky considers important enough to text a novel about. But he takes a deep breath and reads the texts anyway, because Yurio being annoyed with him is an even more alarming prospect.

<Yurio>

<3:05am>
I didn’t want to involve myself in this
because it’s your stupid problem
but
did you watch katsudon’s interview?

<3:08am>
good news: if you were waiting for him to make a move, he did
bad news: it was by announcing his love for you on tv in a language you don’t understand

<3:09am>
why did you have to fall for such a weird guy?

<3:15am>
I’m only telling you this because the katsukis totally didn’t because they’re too busy laughing at you right now. and also they’re probably pissed at katsudon
because he was all oh viktor who I met a few months ago is the first person I ever wanted to hold on to I guess that’s love
my family? it’s complicated.
IT’S COMPLICATED
Mari is going to straight-up murder his ass

<3:17am>
I mean he said you were complicated too but
that’s different. you ARE complicated, you hot mess.

<3:18am>
anyway, good luck getting him to talk about any of that in a language you CAN understand, because he’s gonna fight that every step of the way
he probably only said it in the first place because of the head injury
hahahahahaha your life is a trash fire

<3:38am>
learn your future husband’s language, asshole

Viktor closes his eyes and firmly presses the edge of his phone to his forehead, struggling to process any of that. It’s such a mixed blessing to have Yurio on your side.

It is also very difficult to believe Yuuri said those things with such a confident look on his face. Then again, it’s impossible to believe Yurio would make any of it up. Yurio can’t be bothered to make things up. Alyosha is the one who lies to people for their own good.

God, Viktor really does need to learn his future husband’s language. He doesn’t think any relationship could withstand having Yurio as a translator.

* * *

<Ed>
so I watched skate america
you did awesome
could be better
still awesome though

<Otabek>
Thank you.

<Ed>
and I can’t fucking believe you let leo beat you

<Otabek>
I’m going to tell him you said that.

<Ed>
say what you have to say, loser
but you’re better than leo
your programs are better than leo’s
you’re stronger than leo
you’re cooler than leo
get your shit together

<Otabek>

As always, I appreciate your support, Ed.

<Ed>
you’re welcome
did you see leo drooling over guang hong the whole time, though?
because that shit was hilarious

<Otabek>
I don’t even know where to start.

<Ed>
so what’s phichit like?

<Otabek>
Actual human sunshine.

<Ed>
huh
I guess that makes sense

<Otabek>
Does it?

<Ed>
it’s like he and katsudon cancel each other out or something
sunshine and gloom

<Otabek>
The way you’ve described Katsuki,
he seems more thunderstorm than gloom.

<Ed>
…good point
how did detroit survive?

<Otabek>
This is going to be a hell of a season.
On an unrelated note:
Ed.
Why is my mother complaining that you call her more often than I do?

<Ed>
because you don’t call her enough, obviously

<Otabek>
She says you’re a better son than I am.

<Ed>
yeah, and I’m not even her son
so think about what you’ve done

<Otabek>
How often do you call my mother, exactly?

<Ed>
idk like once a week

<Otabek>
Why do you call my mother once a week, Ed?

<Ed>
I think the important question here is
why DON’T you call your mother once a week?

<Otabek>
Stop making me look bad.

<Ed>
uh huh
or, hey, how about this:
CALL YOUR MOTHER

<Otabek>
Dear God.
You are the better son.

<Ed>
yeah, so shape the fuck up.

* * *

<Otabek>
My mother has taken to complaining that I need to call her more often.

<Leo>
As mothers do.

<Otabek>
That I need to call her more often
THE WAY ED DOES.

<Leo>


Ed calls your mom?

<Otabek>
He calls her once a week.

<Leo>
…why?

<Otabek>
Only God and Edward know that.
I asked him why,
and he said the real question was
why DIDN’T I call my mother once a week.

<Leo>
Dude.
Your life is very weird.

<Otabek>
He said CALL YOUR MOTHER.
Like that.
In all caps.

<Leo>
…I have good news for you?

<Otabek>
?

<Leo>
You don’t have to wonder what it’s going to be like to be married to Ed.
I mean
you basically already are.

Otabek?

Otabek?

Aw, come on, don’t ghost me like that.

Seriously, it’s been 6 hours.

OTABEEEEEEEK.

U mad?

Man, maybe I see your mom’s point.
I’m texting Ed and complaining about you right now.

* * *

Katsudon gets to skate, and then Otabek gets to skate, and then finally, finally it’s Ed’s turn. And he’s happy about that, he is. He wants to show off his stuff, he wants to see the kinds of scores he’s starting with.

But it had to be Skate Canada.

Canada. With JJ. And not just JJ, but JJ and a stupid number of the guy’s ridiculous Canadian fans. Ed feels like he’s being punished for something.

The worst thing about JJ is that he’s a huge disappointment, because Otabek always made it sound like he was the funniest guy in skating. And then Ed finally met him, and sure, he’s funny. If you have the most twisted sense of humor since Anton Chekhov.

“Please don’t terrify JJ Leroy,” Al instructs firmly. “Not more than you’ve already terrified him, anyway.”

“I barely touched him last time!”

“You hit him so hard you flipped him right over the boards, brother. If he hadn’t convinced everyone it was an accident, you would’ve been banned!”

…Okay, this is true. But the creepy thing is, JJ actually seems to believe it was an accident, which makes Ed worry that the guy might have legit brain damage. Like, maybe too many hits against the ice or something. And if that’s the case, Ed didn’t do him any favors by flipping him over the boards right onto his already injured head. Ed secretly feels bad about it. He didn’t expect the guy to just stand there like an idiot and let himself be flipped, is the thing.

Otabek swears most people don’t have any martial arts training at all, and that’s why that happened. Which Ed finds really fucking hard to believe, but okay.

Then again, maybe it’s not so much that JJ believes it was an accident as that JJ’s in denial about the whole thing, because now the guy’s behavior around Ed is basically like a small, yappy dog that’s mad as hell but also terrified of getting kicked. He does the human equivalent of snapping at Ed’s ankles and running away every time they see each other.

It’d be best for everyone if Ed could just ignore the poor, possibly brain-damaged bastard, but damn, the guy makes it hard.

There is one nice thing about Canada, though, and it’s that the vice-president of his fanclub lives there. She creepy-stalks his flight and meets him at the airport, as she always does if they’re on the same continent. He’s been pretty successful so far at not wondering how she manages it.

He’s never met the president of his fanclub. Sometimes he worries that it’s Sergei. He hopes to God it’s not someone worse than Sergei.

“Elena, good to see you,” Ed says with a nod.

“Edward,” Elena responds, holding a clipboard and pen and looking bloodthirsty. “Tell me everything.”

His fans call him Ed or Edward because one time an interviewer asked what he liked to be called by his friends—as if he’d let this strange asshole interviewer use a diminutive on him, for fuck’s sake—and Ed had responded with the truth, just to be a dick. Anyway, that interview ended in complete confusion, but from then on, all his fans have called him Ed. Or Edward, which is an assumption on their part, but since it’s an accurate one, he’s letting it stand.

They still call themselves Yuri’s Angels, though. He’s pretty sure it’s a reference to Charlie’s Angels, so that’s. Alarmingly appropriate.

“You want to know everything about…Japan?” Ed asks, waving an unhappy Yakov away. Ed’s relationship with his fans makes Yakov uneasy for some reason.

“Everything about Viktor’s relationship with Yuuri Katsuki, at least,” she declares.

“You know I can’t do that, Elena. I try not to give Viktor actual reasons to hate me. Anyway, it’s not like the giant spaz is going to be able to keep any of it under wraps, so you’ll know soon enough. I give him…say three months before he does something really damning in public.”

“Katsuki’s already said he’s in love with Viktor. On national television.”

“Oh, I know. I didn’t mean to say that Viktor was the only spaz around. He’s in good company.” Ed smiles reminiscently. “We like Katsuki a lot, okay? Write that down.”

Elena dutifully writes that down. “Several people have already written articles about what a waste of time Katsuki is. Most of them are being mildly catty, but at least one has accused him of outright prostitution.”

“Catty is fine. Show me that last one,” Ed asks. She pulls it up on her phone. He reads it. It’s about what he expected. “End him,” he instructs firmly.

She gives him a ruthless smile. “Consider it done.”

Ed nods. “You know Phichit Chulanont?”

“Only peripherally,” Elena admits, frowning in disappointment at herself.

“He’s starting Seniors this year, and he was Yuuri’s roommate in Detroit.”

Yuuri,” Elena repeats in delight.

“Shut up. My point is, Chulanont’s all over social media, and he’ll be very helpful in the destroying someone’s life department.”

“Good to know,” Elena murmurs, making new notes.

Ed’s fanclub is maybe not so much a fanclub as it is a giant group of scary, trolling co-conspirators that Ed’s vaguely in charge of. Ed bets they all have martial arts training. And some of them are possibly actual criminals.

…Okay, maybe Yakov’s not wrong to be worried.

Ed likes his fans, though, potentially dangerous though they may be. He picked up his first batch of them when he informed an interviewer that the key to Viktor’s success was his marketable face. It means his fans are the kind of people who like someone who would say that on TV. Ed’s kind of people, basically.

(He didn’t mean to drag Viktor’s skating. Viktor’s a one-in-a-million, stunningly good athlete and nobody can argue that, but that’s not what they asked, is it? They asked about the key to his success, like, financially. And if Viktor weren’t so pretty, he wouldn’t make so much advertising money, and that’s all there is to it. People kicked up a huge fuss about it, but not Viktor—he just thought it was funny. Because it’s true.)

Elena waves Ed off, preoccupied with ruining somebody’s life, and absently orders him to do his best or be murdered by the club president.

It’s nice to be respected.

* * *

Most of the people competing at Skate Canada are skaters Ed’s never met before, or, in the case of JJ, hoped never to meet again.

And then there’s Emil Nekola. Ed’s never actually met the guy, but he knows him by reputation and is inclined to like him. He’s just so…cheerful. While simultaneously choosing to skate harsh, brutal programs that could easily kill a lesser person.

Ed appreciates his style.

“Welcome to Seniors!” Emil says happily once they’ve finished their warmup and Ed’s introduced himself. “I’m pretty scared you’re going to murder me on the ice, but it’s still nice to see a new face.”

“Thanks.” Ed gives him an appreciative nod for the honesty. “I’m gonna do my absolute best to murder you on the ice, but it’s still nice to meet you.”

Emil laughs. Ed wonders if this is the kind of person who eventually snaps and goes all Tonya Harding on his competitors’ asses. It’s cool if he is, though. Ed could take him. He smiles back.

“Hey, so—you’re Viktor Nikiforov’s rinkmate, right?”

Ed nods warily, smile fading. He hadn’t pegged Emil as a rabid Viktor fan, but he’s been disappointed before (Katsudon).

“Ah. So…has he really retired, or has he lost his mind, or what exactly is going on there? And why is Katsuki going along with it? Because it always seemed like Katsuki had good sense, before.”

Oh, okay. He’s just here for the gossip. Ed respects that.

“Ha! No, see, Katsuki doesn’t talk much, and we all figured that was a sign of good sense and serious focus, but actually he’s just shy—and also a goddamn maniac. He and Viktor totally deserve each other. I have no idea what kind of wild shit they’ll get up to this year, but it’s gonna make me look tame. It’s gonna make Chris Giacometti look tame. You have any events with Katsudon?”

Emil blinks. “…Rostelecom?”

“Oh yeah? Me too. Well. Get your camera ready, that’s all I can say. Oh, and you wanted to know if Viktor’s lost his mind? You can’t lose something you never had. So no.”

Now Emil is beaming at Ed like he’s the best thing ever. Which is only right, frankly. Ed is the king of stupid Viktor gossip.

“I’m glad you’re not secretly in love with Viktor,” Ed informs him. “There’s way the fuck too much of that going around.”

Emil laughs. “No, no, not my flavor, thanks. Michele Crispino, now. Mm.”

Ed eyes him curiously. “Really?”

“Really.”

“…Michele Crispino? Like. Sara Crispino’s Michele Crispino?”

“Well said, and I see your point, but the heart wants what the heart wants. What about you, Yuri? Do you have your eye on anyone?”

Ed’s mind drifts to Winry, and the life he once thought he was going to have. Then he thinks about women he knows now, who are either too old for him, too sane for him, or prostitutes with no intention of settling into a monogamous relationship—and especially not with a hilariously virginal virgin like him. Finally he thinks of the men he knows, and manages to hastily cut off that line of thought before doing more than vaguely picturing Otabek’s face.

He scowls at Emil, who throws his hands up defensively with a laugh.

“Yuri Plisetsky,” bellows JJ, marching up behind them and thoroughly disrupting that conversation. For a moment Ed’s almost grateful, but then JJ starts talking again, and the moment is gone. “I hope you’re not tired after all the travel you’ve been doing this year!”

Ah, JJ. Always trying to charge onto the psychological battlefield without any weapons at all.

“Excuse me, I have to go drown myself in the nearest sink,” Ed hastily explains to a laughing Emil, and flees.

Al would call this behavior immature, but Ed has never in his life pretended to be mature, so he doesn’t see the problem.

* * *

Ed got a pretty good score on his short program. The best score he’s ever gotten in his life for a short program, if he wants to be technical about it, but he doesn’t, because that would be validating Viktor somehow. Ed privately decides to assign Lilia all the credit for it.

His fans went ballistic. There was actual fucking weeping going on. If Ed had known that all it took to make his fans cry and throw a hundred roses at him was to wear white and skate pretty, he’d have…avoided doing that for the rest of his life, actually. But it’s too late now.

This puts Ed two points behind JJ going into the free skate. He can’t fuck this up. He’s not losing to goddamn JJ. And…yeah, he wants to show off his free skate, too. Partly because he loves his free skate, but also because he feels the need to remind people that he’s scary after they saw the embarrassing emotional mess that is his short program.

Though he’s gotta say, as much as he loves his free skate—he’s not into the costume.

“I’d be basically naked,” he’d told Lilia back when she first showed him a sketch of the thing.

“Your body will be almost entirely covered,” she’d countered, bored.

Which was technically true. It’s even in the rules—no “excessive nudity.” And it’s not excessive nudity, technically. It’s just…

“Almost entirely covered—except for the big gaps over the parts of my body that I least want people to see, and definitely do not want to talk about.”

“You mean the scars?” She’d blinked at him, catlike. “Then lie about them.”

So there you go. That’s the kind of life advice Ed gets from the adults around him. He’s going to grow up so weird.

He got what she was after, though. The costume she’d sketched matched his program perfectly—it was the bedazzled version of something somebody who’d just crawled through hell might be wearing. It gave the vibe of being burnt and bled on and torn, but still functional. Even the scars fit the theme.

Fine,” he’d snarled. And then, “But you have to make them put some skulls on it.”

And that’s how he’s ended up skating a routine basically naked (except for the tattoo. At least that’s still covered). The gaps have mesh in them, of course, but some of the scars are pretty gnarly and still show right through. The costume does at least have cool skulls and flames and stuff swirling around it, but even so, he would rather have his dick hanging out than this.

…Nope, that’s a goddamned lie, he just remembered about ice. Still though.

He knows he could’ve pushed back harder on the costume, and if he’d pushed back hard enough—if he’d freaked out hard enough—Lilia would’ve given in. She’s not here to break him.

She is here to test him, though, and he doesn’t want to let her down. That’s why he’s doing this incredibly stupid thing. Because he decided to play a game of chicken with Lilia Baranovskaya.

Al is never going to stop laughing at him.

* * *

Ed skates the most kickass skate of his entire career, even if he does do it half-naked, and he gets his all-time best score. (He darkly suspects this is partly because he’s half-naked. He knows what fucking perverts judges can be.)

He does all this, and he still loses to goddamn JJ Leroy.

He’s going to blow something up in Canada before he leaves. Nothing important, but something. To relieve his feelings.

* * *

“Are the scars your costume reveals real, or did you apply them with makeup to fit your theme?” a reporter asks him after the awards ceremony. It’s the first question he gets. It’s not about his kickass skate, or even about that one time he sort of accidentally attacked Leroy a little bit—it’s about his nudity.

Reporters. Christ.

Ed stares at the reporter and tries to imagine the kind of person who would spend ages painting fake fucking scars on just for the privilege of getting harassed about it by the media. Then he realizes this lady thinks he is that kind of person. He’s pretty sure he’s mortally offended, here.

“What can I say? Fights didn’t always go my way when I was a kid.”

There’s a moment of ringing silence, and then all the reporters start bellowing questions at once. Ed can’t make out a thing they’re saying, but he’s pretty sure he’s losing hearing. He sticks a finger in the ear closer to the reporters and grimaces, shooting a pleading look at Yakov, who just gives him the ferocious scowl of No, You Can’t Flee the Reporters Yet. Unsympathetic bastard.

“What happened to your leg?” one reporter manages to shout louder than the rest. The rest instantly go silent to hear the answer.

Ed shrugs, figuring what the hell. “I made a very bad deal to travel to this planet, and that’s why the leg is like that. Believe me, I regret it every day.”

The reporters go ballistic, and Yakov drags Ed away by his hair.

Ed doesn’t know what Yakov’s so upset about. The people deserve the truth.

* * *

<Otabek>
…You’re from another planet?
Actually, that makes sense.

<Ed>
the truth had to come out some time

<Otabek>
I enjoyed your dramatic free skate eyeshadow, by the way.

<Ed>
hahahahaha
go fuck yourself

<Otabek>
Congratulations, though, Ed.
JJ won’t have a hope by Worlds.

<Ed>
Thanks.

there may have been a small explosion in the meantime

<Otabek>
I’M TELLING MY MOTHER

<Ed>
Traitor!

* * *

<Viktor>
I can’t believe Lilia put you in that costume.

<Ed>
YOU talk to her then

* * *

<Yuuko>
That was a really cool way to handle those people asking you rude questions.
Much better than the time you said Viktor’s success was based on his face.
You’re improving! :D

<Ed>
we’ll make a real boy of me yet

* * *

<Mari>
Wow.
You made more of a mess of an interview than my brother ever has.
I didn’t think that was possible.
I’m impressed.

<Ed>
then I can die happy

<Mari>
You want me to punch anybody for you?

<Ed>
nah
I want the satisfaction of punching them myself
thanks, though

<Mari>
No prob.

* * *

<Beka’s Ma>
I am mailing you a sweater.

<Ed>
…okay
thanks
why?

< Beka’s Ma >
You will wear the sweater.

<Ed>
I’m confused

< Beka’s Ma >
WEAR THE SWEATER.

<Ed>
Yes, ma’am.

* * *

<Al>
Brother, call Grandpa.

<Ed>
No.

<Al>
Don’t make me come over there.

<Ed>
FINE

* * *

<Katsudon>
Are you okay?

<Ed>
do I seem not okay?

<Katsudon>
It just seemed like the reporters asked a lot of questions that you didn’t want to answer.
I know what it feels like when they do that to me.

<Ed>
yeah, well
I knew what I was signing up for
or what lilia was signing me up for, anyway

<Katsudon>
Ah.
I didn’t think you’d chosen that costume.
Except for the skulls, obviously.

<Ed>
nope.
except for the skulls, obviously
and now assholes think they know me
it’s great

<Katsudon>
So you’re not okay.

<Ed>
you and my brother should never meet.
I’ll be fine, katsudon
it’s stupid shit, not life-ruining shit
trust me when I say I know the difference

<Katsudon>
That doesn’t make me feel better at all.

<Ed>
I’m not here to make you feel better.
anyway, focus on your own shit, weirdo
have fun in china
try not to freak the fuck out
I know how you love doing that

<Katsudon>
I really don’t.

<Ed>
then don’t

<Katsudon>
That’s the least helpful advice anyone’s ever given me.

<Ed>
you’re welcome.
here’s more advice:
if you cry, make sure you cry all over viktor
then HE’LL freak out
it’ll be hilarious

<Katsudon>

…I’ll bear that in mind.

* * *

<Mila>
*laughs for half an hour*
*takes a deep breath*
*CONTINUES LAUGHING FOREVER*

<Ed>
you are a true friend.

* * *

“So…” Elena trails off, tapping her pencil against her clipboard. “What the hell was that.”

Like a fool, Ed agreed to meet Elena in a coffee shop after the competition was over. He wouldn’t have if he’d known how out of control everybody was gonna be about everything. He has to wear a hat and sunglasses everywhere now. Because he’s not safe from the mob unless he’s in disguise. Fucking unbelievable.

“Which part did you not like?” Ed asks, thoroughly exhausted from human interaction.

Elena leans forward, intent. “I loved every part. But that doesn’t change the basic what the hell of it all, Ed. Because what the HELL. The scars! The claiming to be an alien! That heartwarming short program—that terrifying free skate. It’s like I don’t know you at all!”

“Because you don’t,” Ed points out. “We’ve talked for like three hours total over the course of our whole relationship.”

Elena waves this extremely relevant point away. “I still ought to know basic facts about you, or what kind of fan am I? I feel like the club president has been holding out on us.”

That’s…yeah. That’s another point in the column for the president being somebody Ed knows personally. Somebody Ed knows who doesn’t want Ed to know they’re involved in the fanclub.

Fuck, it’s totally Sergei, isn’t it? “Do I have a bratva-managed fanclub?” Ed asks in despair.

Elena gives him a bright, happy smile and says nothing.

…Yakov had better never find out about this.

* * *

YURI’S ANGELS MONTHLY
The monthly newsletter for fans of Yuri “Edward” Plisetsky

Hello, Angels!

As you all know, it has been a VERY exciting month for Angels. I’m so happy to be bringing you exclusive details acquired by our brave Vice President, Elena, who managed to catch up with Ed at Skate Canada. Let’s review the highlights!

 

“We like Katsuki a lot, okay? Write that down.”

At long last, we are getting some tiny clue as to what the hell happened in Japan. And, contrary to all expectations, it sounds like Katsuki Yuuri did almost as good a job seducing Ed as he did seducing Viktor. Hats off to you, Katsuki! Where has all this sex appeal been hiding all these years? (I’m…actually really looking forward to watching him skate in China. Is that traitorous?)

Ed has now given us explicit instructions to be kind to and even to protect Katsuki. So the author of This Article? That’s right, Angels. DESTROY HIM.

Elena informs me that Phichit Chulanont will be a good resource for Destroying Katsuki’s Enemies purposes, and so we should all become friends with him. (We should anyway, honestly. Have you seen that boy’s Instagram? He’s a legend.)

 

“Don’t tell Viktor I like it. He’ll be so goddamn smug I’ll have to kill him.”

Ed’s short program. I think I speak for us all when I say, where the hell did that come from?

Yes, it’s a technically grueling program—no surprise there. Viktor Nikiforov choreographed it, and technical difficulty is an area Ed’s always excelled in. But where did this grace come from? This deep emotion? Ed skated a gorgeous, moving program, Angels! Did you see him? Did you?! I cried in public! It was like looking at the skating version of his relationship with his brother! (What does Alexei think of that program, anyway? Elena will do her best to find out!)

Now, I loved his old programs—we all did, that’s why we’re here, obviously. But this is a whole new side of him, one that takes his old strengths and builds on them, and I just.

We need to send Lilia Baranovskaya and Viktor Nikiforov flowers, Angels. Really nice flowers.

 

“It’s actually my favorite program so far. In my life.”

And that free skate.

…Wow.

We all knew Ed could be scary, Angels. We knew that, but we’d never seen him actually try to murder the ice before. Who knew his face could have expressions that frightening? I think the judges gave him extra points out of fear that he might kill them otherwise.

Technically speaking…not as stand-out as his short program. A few bobbles on jumps, and then at one point he got so enthusiastic about violence that he straight-up forgot which spin he was supposed to do, apparently, but this is definitely going to be a hell of a program by the end of the season.

Then, too, there is this to say about that program:

 

“Fuck, I might as well be naked out there.”

The costume.

That Costume.

Mme Baranovskaya, who we were all inclined to love in any case, for taking our boy under her formidable wing and making him graceful despite himself, has truly outdone herself by forcing him into That Costume.

As a fan, I’m torn. He clearly hates That Costume. On the other hand…well. Angels, you all know what the other hand is. Just remember he’s underage, and if we go too far our mysterious President will definitely murder us.

Still, I think we can all agree that Ed in That Costume is…special. You can tell he had a say in the pattern, at least, by the way it looks more like it belongs on a motorcycle than a person. (Demon skulls on fire? Really, Ed? How did he talk Mme Baranovskaya into that?) Dem Strategic Rips, though. And on the topic of things those strategic rips revealed…

 

“Fights didn’t always go my way when I was a kid.”

???

Elena interrogated him pretty thoroughly on the subject of his, well. Health and safety and bodily integrity. And he philosophized at her about the value of life and overcoming setbacks and otherwise said nothing helpful whatsoever. (Full text here. Read at your own risk, and only if you’re prepared to scream in worried frustration.)

Older fans inform me that this is not the first time he’s said things like this, either. So. Open season on panicking about Ed’s life, everyone!

 

“I made a very bad deal to travel to this planet, and that’s why the leg is like that.”

…And then there was the moment Ed confessed to being an alien. On international television.

We’re honestly not sure where to go with this, Angels. Is he trolling at a truly stunning level? Is he delusional? Is he…actually an alien? It’s Ed, so any one of these things might be possible! Or even a combination of them.

He refused to speak with Elena on the topic at all, which I think we can all agree is not sporting.

 

“Do I have a bratva-managed fanclub?”

And in conclusion, a word from our mysterious President:

“Yeah, he’s got scars. Everybody’s got scars. Just leave it be and don’t ask him about cage fighting.”

You heard the President, Angels! No asking Ed about cage fighting. Because cage fighting…is apparently a thing that Ed has done. And does not wish to discuss. Which is fair! I would not wish to discuss cage fighting either, if I’d ever done it.

Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

See you next month, Angels!

* * *

<Leo>
YOU KNOW SOMETHING.

<Yuri>
I know everything.
what’s your point?

<Leo>
What HAPPENED to Katsuki?
He was never like this before!
And Viktor!
And…NUDITY.
Guang Hong is still blushing and it’s been hours!

<Yuri>
hahahahahaha
WELCOME TO MY LIFE
they’ve been like this for months
I can’t tell if they’re a great influence on each other
or the WORST influence on each other
but they don’t give a fuck what we think
so, you know. LIVE WITH IT.

<Leo>
Should…should I be excited about Katsuki’s programs or scared?

<Yuri>
let me put it this way:
katsuki’s sp music is On Love: Eros
viktor based the choreography on a drunk-ass dance they did together
at the gpf banquet last year
right before katsuki started mostly-naked pole dancing with chris

<Leo>

So I should be excited AND scared
…and kind of turned on?

<Yuri>
sure, if that’s your thing

<Leo>
Don’t judge me bro I have seen you in the same room as Otabek Altin.

<Yuri>
WHAT’S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN

* * *

Mila is very excited for the Cup of China. Extremely excited. She’s probably never been this excited about a competition she’s not participating in. Because firstly: Sara Crispino.

Sara Crispino needs no further explanation. Sara Crispino.

And secondly: watching Viktor be a big gay disaster all over international television. Mila’s a big gay disaster herself, but had previously been under the impression that Viktor had some kind of chill. And then the GPF banquet happened and she found out she was dead wrong. It turns out that Viktor’s never had even the tiniest bit of chill, he’d just never been tempted before. And when he is tempted? He’s a big gay disaster of such epic proportions that he makes the rest of them look positively Zen by comparison.

So yes. Thank you Sara, God, and Yuuri Katsuki, this is going to be the best Cup of China the world has ever known.

She drags Katya along to watch it with her, because Katya does not realize just how epic this is going to be and needs guidance. And then Yuri comes to watch it with them. Yuri. Mila’s expectations were already sky-high, and now she’s getting Yuri commentary? She’s not sure she can handle this much perfection and no one’s even skated yet.

Yuri comes bearing food, too. Yuri basically always comes bearing food, which is just one more of his many charms. Sometimes it’s even homemade food. Also, he once taught Mila how to throw a larger opponent over her shoulder and onto the ground, which has already come in handy. If he weren’t so gone on Otabek, she’d be trying to set Katya up with him.

The Cup of China begins. The men’s short program is first, and the first skater is Phichit Chulanont, who Mila has never met. Well, it’s his first year in Seniors, so that makes sense. She likes the look of him. He’s cute and peppy and has a great program.

And that’s all she’d know, except that she’s sitting next to Yuri.

“Man, never fuck with that guy,” he declares as Phichit sits in the kiss and cry with his coach, looking sweet, cuddlable, and incredibly innocent. “Don’t fuck with his family, don’t fuck with his friends,” Yuri goes on, clearly impressed. “He will fuck you up.”

“…He looks like he wouldn’t harm a fly,” Katya puts in hesitantly.

“Maybe he wouldn’t,” Yuri concedes. “Physically. But you let that asshole loose on the internet? Shit happens.”

Mila learns so many interesting things from Yuri commentary. Almost none of them are about skating.

Next up is Ji Guang Hong, who Yuri also knows for reasons unclear to Mila. Maybe they just know each other from Juniors, but it’s usually weirder than that with Yuri. (His only comment, however, is, “Look at Leo mooning every time a camera catches him. Man, his crush on the guy is just sad.” As if Yuri has room to speak. As if they haven’t all seen him in the same room as Otabek Altin.)

And then there is Yuuri Katsuki.

Mila almost forgets to pay attention to Yuri’s mutterings, because since when is Katsuki sexy? In public, that is. He’s never been sexy in public before. God knows they’ve all seen him be sexy as hell in private, but Mila figured he was too shy to show off that side in public while sober. But wow. What has Viktor done to him?

And that’s a terrifyingly good score he gets, too.

“Hah!” says Yuri as Katsuki leans forward and squints in suspicion at the scoreboard. “He doesn’t even believe it! Typical Katsudon.” Viktor seizes Katsuki in a hug, and Yuri mutters, “They better be the fuck over that awkward handsy phase by Rostelecom, I swear to God.”

Mila has questions about that little aside, but doesn’t ask them because she’s too distracted by Georgi. Being just as Georgi as he can be. In front of everyone. Complete with actual tears.

“I think he broke up with that ice dancer he took all the kissy pictures with,” Mila muses. “And then she hooked up with someone else. Do you know about that, Yura?”

“Oh yeah,” Yuri says unhappily. “Her name’s Anya. And she’s competing in the Cup of China, how fucking awkward is that?”

Watch this, Mila mouths to Katya, then turns to Yuri and says, casually as she can manage, “How bad was the breakup, anyway?”

Ugh,” Yuri groans. “Poor Anya. Poor me! I said, Anya, don’t make him cry. I said, Anya, we have to share a rink with the asshole. You know the drama we’ll come in for if he has a bad breakup. And she was like, you’re hilarious, come with me and watch this. So I did. And she was sweet like honey, okay? She was like, I’ve loved our time together, but I just think we have different goals in life—all this bullshit that’s meant to make people feel better, right? And he started ugly sobbing right there in the restaurant, clinging to her jacket like a baby. The waiter had to pry him off her and shove him out the door. He’s an embarrassment.”

“Wow,” says Katya, probably not for the reason Yuri imagines. Katya’s only been with Yakov’s group for a year, and Yuri’s spent most of that time in Japan or with Lilia, so this is her first real encounter with Yuri’s…Yuriness. Even the GPF banquet was just a hint at the whole picture.

“Then what happened?” Mila prompts shamelessly, determined to give Katya the full experience.

“Then we had Georgi crying all over the ice and making a spectacle of himself from that day on, you know that.”

“No, I mean what happened after Georgi got dragged away by the waitstaff?”

“Oh. Anya and I had dinner. Might as well, since we were there. Man, the waiter was scarred by it, though. He still texts me sometimes complaining. Why?”

Yuri is the most magical thing that’s ever happened to Mila, she’s sure. “Just curious,” she says, carefully not laughing.

“Uh huh.” He eyes her suspiciously, but then shrugs, letting it go. “I’m gonna go get more food before Leo’s up. You guys want anything?”

Mila and Katya place their orders—one does not simply turn down Yuri’s food—and wave him out. The instant he’s gone, Mila turns to Katya, who is staring back at her with wide eyes.

“He knows absolutely everyone, and he’s like this with everyone,” Mila explains. “He just goes around the world making people cry or punching them—and then fixing all their problems. No one has any idea what to make of him.”

“And yet he has fans…?” Katya asks.

“An army of fans. Maybe actually an army. He sends them forth to do his bidding sometimes, I am not even kidding. It gives us all nightmares.”

Katya seems impressed, but before she has time to comment, Yuri returns with snacks. Mila accepts her no doubt delicious snack, vaguely resenting the way Yuri seems to eat every hour on the hour without ever gaining fat. It’s probably because he more or less vibrates in place even when he’s holding still.

The next skater is the aforementioned Leo—the one with a crush on Ji Guang Hong. Apparently Yuri lived with him for a few weeks one of those times he ran away from Yakov. Which is hard to picture, because Leo seems very earnest and sincere, while Yuri is…Yuri. Interesting. Anyway, Leo has a good skate.

Last of all, there’s Chris, who is apparently mad about Katsuki infringing on his sexy territory, because he’s just…going all out today. Yikes.

Yuri knows Chris too, but that doesn’t mean anything. Everyone knows Chris. Yuri’s actually behind the curve on this one because he doesn’t know Chris biblically.

And that’s the men done. Very exciting it was, too. But tomorrow is going to have Sara Crispino, and there’s just no contest.

* * *

Sara never disappoints.

Mila is serious about almost everyone’s skate, watches nearly all of them with a competitive eye, but Sara Crispino is a pure delight and Mila can’t be expected to focus properly while watching her.

It’s a little strange to see her at a competition without Mickey, though—they’re such a double act. Mila mentions this to Yuri, who she chooses to believe already knows all the people involved.

It’s a safe bet.

“Did you know Emil Nekola actually has a thing for that guy?” Yuri demands incredulously. “What the hell.”

Mila understands Yuri’s point, of course, but personally, she appreciates Michele Crispino. He’s so aggressive about scaring men away from Sara that Sara barely has any shot at being a practicing heterosexual. He is, in short, doing half of Mila’s work for her. Bless him.

Sara gets a fantastic score because she is flawless. She’ll probably win the whole damn Cup of China because she’s flawless. Mila would almost not mind losing to Sara. Meanwhile she’s pretty sure she could crush everyone else under her heel. In a friendly, sportsmanlike way, of course.

Day three is the men’s free, with delightful Yuri commentary and Katya company as always. There aren’t too many surprises. There aren’t, that is to say, until Katsuki comes along.

Mila doesn’t know who to thank for the existence of Yuuri Katsuki, but she thanks them with all her heart.

* * *

It’s kind of a relief to go back to watching the guys, because Mila’s swooning over Sara Crispino is embarrassing. Like, Ed hopes she gets her girl and all that, but…does he really have to watch the whole cringeworthy process? Ugh. He wishes his friends would just get their love lives sorted out already.

Today Guang Hong is up first, because he fucks around at practice and isn’t living up to his potential, and yeah, he has a pretty good skate, but it could be better. Ed’s nice, though, so he doesn’t text Guang Hong and tell him as much. He texts Guang Hong’s coach instead.

After that is Chris, who is a fucking train wreck, but he’s a talented fucking train wreck. You have to give him that.

Then Phichit, who does great. Ed’s inclined to like Phichit anyway, just for being a better friend to Katsudon than Katsudon probably deserves, and it helps that the guy skates programs tailor made to endear him to everybody. He kicks ass with a happy smile. It’s cool.

Next is Leo, who’s not having his best day—and with Guang Hong right there watching, too! Yeah, Ed’s thinking no GPF for Leo this year. Which sucks, because Ed wanted him there. Well. Next year, anyway. Ed texts him encouraging things about how suffering makes you stronger.

Then there’s fucking Georgi, who really is the world’s biggest embarrassment, and the less said about him the better. Hey, but respect to the dick who decided to cut away from Georgi’s program in the middle to instead zoom in on Anya storming out of the building. That’s Ed’s kind of asshole. Mila and Katya are big fans, too.

And finally, there’s Katsudon. To the surprise of no one, he looks like he’s been crying.

That is to say, it doesn’t surprise Ed. It surprises Mila, who wants to know what’s wrong with the guy. As if Ed has time to get into that whole list today.

He gives the reader’s digest version, anyway. “It’s his first big competition with Viktor as his coach, he came out of the short program in first, and now the whole world’s waiting for him to fuck up. I’m impressed he’s not still crying.”

“Well, when you put it like that…” Mila concedes.

On the bright side, Viktor looks hilariously freaked out. And then Katsudon fakes him out with a snot rag and bops him on the head, and it’s possible Viktor’s never been so baffled. Fucking Katsudon, making it impossible not to like him.

Then Katsudon skates to the center of the rink and proceeds to be a complete maniac out there.

He is a little all over the place, sure, but it’s early in the season. And he’s being all over the place with his whole heart, in a way Ed’s never seen from Katsudon before. Apparently crying on Viktor drained him of all the fucks he had to give. This is goddamn amazing.

Asshole pulls a quad flip out of nowhere at the end of a free skate, holy shit.

Ed’s feeling all proud and happy and…whatever, honored that he gets to compete against a maniac like Katsudon or something. And then those positive feelings get totally derailed by goddamn Viktor.

Because Viktor just tackle-kissed Katsudon to the ice.

He tackle-kissed him. On the ice.

Mila’s screaming. Katya’s screaming. Ed is very concerned about Yuuri’s back. Seriously, he’s gonna have bruises. Like, Viktor couldn’t have grabbed him and pulled him off the ice for this kiss? At least he had the basic decency to protect Yuuri’s head, but fuck.

“Your stupid drama causes bruises, asshole,” Ed shouts at Viktor, who is thousands of miles away and definitely can’t hear him. Ed remembers that, and promptly texts the idiot the same thing.

Ed’s a big fan of bruising people when you’re mad at them or training them. If you’re bruising people when you’re trying to show you love them, that’s a huge fuck-up. Unless they’re into that. He’d be surprised to find out Katsudon was, though. Even if Katsudon is, currently, beaming up at Viktor like an idiot, clearly perfectly happy about being tackle-kissed.

Oh, God, Ed hopes he never finds out anything at all about Katsudon and Viktor’s sex life. What an awful thought. He immediately texts Al to complain about the entire last five minutes of his life.

Things had been so nice for a minute there. Katsudon had totally kicked ass and it was oddly satisfying. Leave it to Viktor to mess things up. Well…not mess them up, exactly. Ed’s all in favor of the losers being happy. He just wishes they could be happy without his having to worry about Katsudon’s back pain and possible kinks, for God’s sake.

On the bright side, this should move them out of the awkward handsy phase and into a more comfortable cuddly phase, which will theoretically make them bearable to be around. And in good time, too. Ed didn’t want to have to worry about their awkwardness all the way to Rostelecom.

In the midst of pondering this, he gets a text from Katsudon. He’s pretty sure this is the first time Katsudon’s ever texted him first. He’s just letting it all hang out today, huh?

<Katsudon>
So. I cried all over Viktor.

<Ed>
and…?

<Katsudon>
And it was HILARIOUS.

<Ed>
AHAHAHAHA
god bless, katsudon
you do such good work for the cause

<Katsudon>
Thanks.
…I think.

He thinks. Hah.

And with that, the men’s portion of the Cup of China is over, and all that’s left is Viktor stealing the spotlight and yammering about coaching while Katsudon stands shoved off to one side, the words why do I even love this asshole writ large across his face.

Ed thinks that reaching the point where Viktor annoys the shit out of you is an important stage in any relationship with Viktor. He’s proud of Katsudon for getting there so fast, given the whole hero worship thing he started out with. Give them a few more months, they may even be kind of functional.

Ed mentions all this to Mila and Katya. It’s only the truth, so he feels like the way they laugh about it until they can’t breathe is an overreaction.

He texts his theories on Viktor relationships to Katsudon, too. He likes to think of it as his way of showing support.

Chapter Text

<Ed>
watched nhk trophy

<Otabek>
And?

<Ed>
you get better all the time and kicking your ass at the gpf is gonna be rough
congratulations on first
you deserved it

<Otabek>
Thank you, Ed.

<Ed>
also michele crispino is a fucking freak

<Otabek>
Rude.
But correct.

<Ed>
why is he like this?
why does emil like him?
how does sara even survive?

<Otabek>
All important questions,
but I don’t have the answers to any of them.
Unfortunately.
Emil Nekola likes Michele Crispino?
Really?

<Ed>
he says the heart wants what the heart wants

<Otabek>
I suppose.
But if my heart wanted Michele Crispino I’d ask it to reconsider.

<Ed>
RIGHT?

* * *

Nikolai has been looking forward to Rostelecom for months. He’s been feeling very deprived of Yuri in his life lately—not that he’s ungrateful! Yuri’s been sending him a small fortune every year for three years, and he’s not about to belittle that effort. Not even the parts of it that were illegal. Maybe especially not those.

Still, it’s nice to see his second adopted grandson every once in a while. Nikolai keeps thinking the boy can’t possibly be as strange and overwhelming in person as he is in memory, and then Yuri arrives and Nikolai remembers that he’s actually more strange and overwhelming than that.

It’s delightful.

Alexei, happily, has largely been home in Moscow since shortly after Yuri ran off to Japan. How he managed that, Nikolai has no idea. Alexei seems well able to talk his way into a grant and a lab anywhere he wishes to be whenever he wishes to be there. In his darker moments, Nikolai suspects there may be something not entirely legal about that, as well. But he knows better than to question it.

Not that Alexei would ever, ever answer him if he did ask. It’s debatable whether this is better or worse than Yuri, who answers all of your questions, thus making you incredibly sorry that you asked them.

What Nikolai would give for the chance to meet their mother. She must have been incredible.

“Did you just ditch poor Mila with all of your luggage?” Alexei demands after Yuri has tackled him into a hug, given Nikolai a much gentler hug, and then herded them into the car. Nikolai hastily drives off before Alexei can develop notions of going back to help with said luggage. If Yakov can’t handle the luggage of one chronic wanderer, what is Nikolai paying him for?

“Hi, Grandpa,” Yuri says brightly, ignoring his brother completely. “How’s your back?”

“No worse than usual,” Nikolai informs him. “And how are your ankles, Yurochka?”

“Not as bad as Viktor’s, I’ll tell you that for free,” Yuri says, rolling his eyes.

“Viktor’s twelve years older than you, so I’d hope not,” Alexei mutters in the back.

“Anyway,” Yuri says firmly, “they’re not any worse than usual, either. So we’re all functioning, that’s good.”

Nikolai drifts slightly, distracted by the question of whether any of them can honestly be described as functional, and only starts listening again when the discussion has progressed into a tiny war between the brothers on the topic of whether Yuri properly deserves the piroshky Nikolai made for him.

Nikolai dead-ends the argument by handing Yuri a piroshky himself. Yuri crows triumphantly while Alexei stares at Nikolai in shocked betrayal.

As much as they are entirely feral cats in personality, both brothers are much more cheerful when they’re together. Nikolai isn’t sure either of them has noticed.

Yuri inhales two piroshky in quick succession. It’s nice to know one’s cooking is appreciated. Even if Nikolai does have to give him a hard time for waxing lyrical over other people’s cooking while eating Nikolai’s. Those are the kind of manners you get when you’re raised by criminals.

They all eat dinner at home together, a happy change, and Nikolai gets to listen to the brothers squabble over nothing, gossip and complain about their acquaintances, debate theoretical physics, and fret over Nikolai’s health and happiness. Just like proper family.

Nikolai’s decision to snag two tiny criminals off the street and bring them home was one of the best he’s made in his life. His only regret is that his wife and daughter couldn’t be here, watching over these peculiar little aliens with him.

* * *

Ed has to leave Grandpa and Al after dinner because Lilia ordered him to sleep in the hotel, which, why? She thinks he’ll sleep better in a hotel than at his own fucking house?

Okay, truth: Ed can sleep equally well anywhere. Also if he’d stayed home, there’s a good chance he and Al would’ve stayed up late bullshitting about Earth science. But Lilia doesn’t know that.

He comes back to the hotel anyway because he’s terrified of Lilia. And then he manages to walk right into an impromptu Viktor Nikiforov press conference in the lobby. Crap.

He can’t quite bring himself to walk on by, though, because Viktor’s looking…unhappy. That’s a pre-Katsudon face, right there. Plus the idiot’s wearing sunglasses at night, like the world’s least effective camouflage attempt. Ed has to edge closer and check what the damn reporters are even asking to get him to look like that.

Turns out they’re asking him if he wants to skate, and when he deflects that onto Katsudon, they turn and ask if he wants to skate against Katsudon. Ed starts to roll his eyes—seriously, the man’s old for a skater. Stop trying to force him back into skating! Think of his ankles!—but then he catches the look on Viktor’s face.

And fuck. The idiot does want to skate against Katsudon. But he can’t, right? He can’t ditch Katsudon as his coach, not now. Katsudon needs Viktor coaching him to skate his best, but Viktor apparently wants to skate against Katsudon at his best, so that’s a great little catch-22. Ed actually feels bad for Viktor.

For a second, until the fucker throws him under the reporter bus to get out of answering that question. At that point, Ed goes right back to his regularly scheduled fury.

He lets it happen, though. He guesses he doesn’t want reporters interrogating Viktor about the mess he’s made of his life, either. Guy has enough problems without people writing articles about them. Then, too, Viktor took his sunglasses off when he spotted Ed, which means he doesn’t feel like he has to hide when Ed’s around, and that’s…well, Ed likes feeling useful.

It takes almost twenty minutes to shake all the assholes off and escape, though, and by that time Ed’s pretty much burned through any happiness and goodwill he’d built up hanging out with Grandpa and Al.

And then, to top off the evening, Ed reaches the elevators just in time to catch the Crispino twins getting into a huge argument with Lee Seung-gil about how rude you’re allowed to be when rejecting a lady’s advances (with Emil off to the side, highly entertained). Even for the Crispinos, this is a special kind of what the fuck.

It says something about Sara Crispino that, although there are hordes of men who would throw themselves off a cliff for her, the only guy she’s interested in is a cranky hermit who won’t give the time of day to anyone at all. What’s that about? But fine, Ed guesses he can respect Sara’s weirdness (which is more than he can say for her brother’s weirdness). Far be it from him to judge somebody for insisting on doing things the hard way. Still, if she’d asked him, he’d have recommended Mila over the cranky hermit. Like, that would be Ed’s personal life advice.

Thankfully, the Crispinos aren’t Ed’s problem. Ed has enough problems—like, say, Katsudon, who’s just skulked his way onto a different elevator and is hiding from all conflict in there. Ed barges in to join him, partly because Katsudon needs a little conflict in his life, but mostly because the Crispinos are freaky and Ed doesn’t like to spend too much time near them. It might be catching.

“What’s up, asshole?” Ed asks cheerfully, because it’s nice to see Katsudon’s face in person.

“Please don’t give me any more relationship advice,” Katsudon says, looking terrified because he’s weak.

“Speaking of your relationship,” Ed says mercilessly, “I saw your lover down in the lobby getting cornered by a bunch of reporters. They were like hyenas circling an injured gazelle, Katsudon. You guys sharing a room? Be nice to him, he’s fragile.”

“…But Viktor loves reporters?”

“Viktor loves reporters if they’re asking about you, or coaching, or coaching you. He gets all dead-eyed and uncomfortable if they ask him about himself, and he’s been like that for at least three years. Fucking pay attention, Katsudon.”

Katsudon is eyeing him shrewdly now. “Did your brother tell you that?”

“…Maybe. What the fuck, you’ve never even met my brother.”

“I’ve heard stories,” Katsudon says, scooting out of the elevator on his floor and beaming like the asshole he can be when the mood strikes him. “Good luck tomorrow!”

“I hate you, sleep well!” Ed calls back as the door closes, just catching Katsudon’s laugh in response.

Ed thinks he’s gonna enjoy Rostelecom.

* * *

“Wow. What the fuck is he wearing?” Yuri demands of Lilia, staring at Lee Seung-gil on the screen in the ready-room. Staring, in fact, at one of his most serious competitors, in open horror. In front of cameras.

It’s as if Lilia’s taught him nothing. “An eye-catching costume that fits his theme,” she informs him severely. It’s even approximately true.

Which is why it’s offensive when Yuri eyes her in blatant doubt. “Aren’t you always saying beauty is truth and truth is beauty?”

“Aren’t I always also saying that babbling whatever nonsense crosses your mind in front of cameras is a poor life choice?”

Yuri beams at her, clearly delighted. Lilia refrains from glaring at the cameraman creeping closer only by enormous force of will. “Gotcha,” says Yuri. “Diplomacy.”

This is going to be an internet-wide meme within the hour, Lilia knows it. “Pay proper attention to your competition,” she tells Yuri. “Arrogance is unattractive.”

“I’m not arrogant!”

She looks at him.

“Okay, I’m a little arrogant,” he admits, apparently not noticing the cameraman’s gleeful grin. “But not so arrogant that I don’t watch my competition!”

And he does, dutifully, watch Emil Nekola, who is up next. Nekola is a very talented skater, but he isn’t a dancer at all, and Lilia has no time for that. Call it a bias.

Yuri, however, is personally fond of Nekola, or so Lilia deduces from the way he flees her presence and scampers over to harass the boy the instant he leaves the kiss and cry.

Yuri is a fine student: strong, flexible, disciplined, increasingly graceful, and receptive to criticism. But the boy is devoid of professionalism, and Lilia really does despair of him sometimes.

* * *

“Good skate,” says Ed, sidling up to Emil and incidentally escaping Lilia, who is clearly in a Straighten Up and Fly Right kind of mood.

He feels a little bad—Emil had been calling out to Mickey, trying to give him some loving encouragement before his skate, and Ed maybe shouldn’t have interrupted that.

Or maybe it was doomed from the start, seeing as Mickey’s too busy getting uncomfortably intimate with his sister’s hand to pay attention to any reasonable romantic interests. And then he goes off and skates that insane short program of his, probably also uncomfortably about his sister, definitely about pretending to be a knight.

Ed knows this about a man in a tin can: he could kill that guy in under a minute.

“Okay, but I feel like you could do better,” Ed says eventually.

Emil, unsurprisingly, laughs. Because that is his way of expressing everything, all the way from delight to towering rage. “I told you, Yuri! The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Ed shrugs. “Good luck, then, I guess. Maybe get Sara on side.”

Emil taps his lips thoughtfully with a finger. “Not a bad suggestion.”

“I know from siblings. Though I like to think my brother and I are nowhere near as creepy as the Crispinos. I like to think that no one is as creepy as the Crispinos.”

“Hm. You say that because you haven’t met my siblings.”

Ed stares. “…That explains a lot about you.”

Emil beams.

* * *

<Al>
Bad news, Ed.

<Ed>
oh, come on. don’t lead with that.
what the fuck happened?
who’s dead?

<Al>
Brother, don’t be so dramatic.
No one is dead.
I mean. No one we like is dead.
People we don’t know are dead, though. Probably. All over the place.

<Ed>
I will kick your ass, al. I’m your big brother, and I can still kick your ass.

<Al>
Grandpa’s sick.

<Ed>
WHAT

<Al>
He’ll be fine!
He’s only got a stomach thing—no big deal.
Not great for attending a sporting event, though.

<Ed>
you could’ve put that another way

<Al>
Sorry.

<Ed>
like
grandpa has a stomach bug
not
GRANDPA’S SICK
PROBABLY DYING
DON’T WORRY
JUST WANTED YOU TO KNOW RIGHT TH EFUCK BEFORE YOU SKATE
IT’S COOL

<Al>
You are SO DRAMATIC.
No wonder you and Georgi don’t get along!
It’s like trying to put like poles of two magnets together!

<Ed>
did you just scare years off my life and then compare me
to FUCKING GEORGI?
that’s it. you’re disinherited.

<Al>
Good luck on your skate, Brother.

<Ed>
and don’t be a passive aggressive little shit about it

<Al>
I hope you do well. :D

<Ed>
unbelievable.

tell Grandpa to feel better.

* * *

Ed’s trying to focus on his skate, but it’s hard when he’s low-key freaking out about Grandpa in the back of his mind—and probably unnecessarily, too. Fuck.

Further screwing with Ed’s ability to focus, Viktor’s decided to make a spectacle of himself by getting down on the floor and kissing Katsudon’s skate. In front of everyone.

Out of academic curiosity, Ed wonders if Viktor’s even capable of acting like a functioning adult for the length of a competition. He used to be, Ed remembers. Katsudon has a lot to answer for.

Though he did just skate an awesome program, Ed has to give him that. Ed particularly liked the part where he almost strangled Viktor with his own tie, and blowing that fuck-you kiss to the judges was a nice touch, too. Katsudon’s sassy days don’t mess around. And then he got his personal best score, to top it off.

As for Ed, he tries. He tries to think about Al, but that makes him worry about Grandpa. He tries to think about Winry and Granny Pinako and Teacher and Sig, but that makes him fucking sad. He tries to think about Otabek, but he misses Otabek and that’s not the right vibe for this. He tries to think about stupid Katsudon and Viktor, even, but they’re such morons that it’s hard to feel non-exasperated affection for them.

He gets through it, and technically there’s nothing really wrong with it. But he knows he can do better than that. Lilia’s making a face at him and everything, fuck, he’s gonna get killed.

And then JJ smirks at him and says something about his height. Ed may or may not scream in his face, and it all ends with Lilia violently dragging him by the ear to the kiss and cry. Even Ed’s good score doesn’t make up for that. Partly because it’s a good score he only sort of feels like he deserves.

JJ proceeds to further insult Ed personally by skating the world’s most boring program and still getting a better score than Ed. Again. And then he kisses his reflection in the ice like somebody who needs a brick to the head. This day fucking sucks.

But wait, it gets worse, because then Katsudon’s unbelievable family calls him and tells him they tried to kill Viktor’s dog. Holy shit.

This is nowhere near the worst day of Ed’s life, because that is a high fucking bar, but it is putting November on his shitlist to keep company with October just out of sheer being annoying.

To relieve his feelings, Ed writes an outraged text to Mari about appropriate and inappropriate moments to spill bad dog news. Then he sends a text to Yuuko asking how she feels about dogsitting.

* * *

Ed lurks in the lobby that evening waiting for Viktor to appear, because he wants to, whatever, see him off. Though he has to hide behind a pillar when Viktor and Yuuri have their whole emotional goodbye, because ugh. Then he has to sneak out the side door and chase Viktor to his taxi, not because Katsudon’s not allowed to see him talk to Viktor, but just because the whole thing is awkward now.

Everything ever is Viktor’s fault.

“I love Katsudon’s family,” Ed announces abruptly, causing Viktor to jump and turn away from the taxi driver. “You know this.”

“…Yes?” At least now Viktor’s looking more confused than miserable and stressed.

“Yeah, they’re the best, but here’s the thing: they cannot be trusted with dogs.”

“Yurio—”

“First they kill Katsudon’s dog, and then they call him and tell him about it in the middle of a competition. Why would anyone do that? The dog is already dead. At that point, you shut the hell up and pretend it died the day after the competition, seriously. I am disappointed in Mari.”

“Yurio, I’m sure—”

“And now they’ve almost managed to kill your dog, and once again they feel the need to bother Katsudon about it in the middle of a competition, like there’s anything you or he can do that a vet can’t. Why are they like this? Was putting the manju on a slightly higher shelf too hard for them? It’s a good thing they’re better with kids than they are with dogs or else Katsudon would never have survived childhood, maniac that he is.”

Viktor seems a little stunned. (The taxi driver, meanwhile, looks surprisingly invested in this cheap entertainment.) “…What is your point, Yurio?”

Ed gives him a serious look. “Next time, leave Makkachin with Yuuko. Or Minako. Or literally anyone other than the Katsukis, because they’re great people, but they’re accidental dog-murderers.”

“Yurio—”

“And don’t worry about Katsudon. Me and Al got this.”

Viktor blinks, bemused. “Got this?”

“Yeah. If Katsudon has a meltdown because he talked his coach into ditching him mid-competition, we got him.”

“You’re offering to…give my Yuuri emotional support?”

Well he doesn’t have to sound so fucking skeptical. “If I can’t do it, Al can. He’s staying in the hotel with me the night after the free skate, so he’ll be around.”

“Oh. That should be fine. As long as Alyosha’s there.”

And there you have it: Viktor is a dick.

* * *

The next day starts off well—Grandpa arrives bearing both Al and frigging katsudon piroshky, possibly the coolest food Ed has ever eaten.

Things only go downhill from there, though. There’s a swarm of reporters who want to know Ed’s feelings about Katsudon, a topic he is not ready to address even in the privacy of his own mind or to Al, so definitely not to any reporter bastards.

Add to that, Mila’s having some kind of weird, Sara Crispino-related crisis that Ed is trying so hard not to pay attention to, but it’s, you know, there. Maybe she just figured out Sara has a thing for Seung-gil? Whatever. It’s not stopping her from skating like a badass, at least.

And lastly, there’s this increasingly awkward vibe as the day goes on, because Ed’s safe in the bosom of his skating family, but Katsudon’s all alone. It’s making Ed feel guilty. He gets that Yakov and Katsudon have no idea how to handle this, but Christ, even reporters are noticing it’s weird.

While Ed’s distracted with brooding over Viktor’s failures, Lilia gets bored and wanders off to terrify people somewhere else (“assess the competition,” she says, but Ed knows what she’s really up to), which leaves Ed all alone with a shouty Yakov. So he bolts at the first opportunity. He’s…below average height (he’s young! He still has time to grow! Fucking JJ), which makes it easy to disappear into a crowd. And it’s not like running away from Yakov will make a difference in how pleasant this competition is going to be, anyway. Yakov’s been maxed out on rage ever since Viktor ditched him; he can’t actually get angrier.

Meanwhile, Katsudon’s off in a corner aggressively making himself miserable. Ed can’t be having with that, so he marches over to harass the man into a good mood.

“Katsudon. Have you ever wondered if you and Viktor have lives that are too dog-centric?” Ed inquires. “Maybe?”

Katsudon stares at him like he’s speaking Amestrian. “There is no such thing as a life that’s too dog-centric,” he says with absolute conviction. With, in fact, the most conviction Ed has ever seen him have about anything.

Ed grins, delighted. Katsudon is the biggest weirdo in figure skating, which is a pretty huge achievement, and he should honestly get a medal just for that. “Yeah, okay. You do you.”

“You’re more of a cat person, right?” Katsudon asks, and look at that, he’s almost smiling. Ed is a fantastic distraction. Where’s Al, anyway? He should be admiring this.

“I am not a cat person,” Ed corrects severely. “Al is a cat person. I’m a cat-adjacent person, whether I like it or not.”

Katsudon gives him a tolerant look, like he doesn’t believe that for a minute, the weasel.

Unfortunately, that’s when people start skating, which seems to bounce Katsudon out of his momentary good mood and back into a state of panicked despair.

Ed tried, okay?

Emil skates first, and he’s deranged. And it’s Ed saying that. He kind of falls apart at the end, what with trying to do all the world’s jumps in one skate, but still. It was a freaky awesome program at Skate Canada, and it’s even more freaky awesome now. Even Mickey seems impressed, so, you know, progress.

Speaking of Mickey, Ed overhears Sara sibling breaking up with him before his skate. He responds by skating a beautiful program that has strong Georgi overtones, and Ed is not okay with it, not any of it, why are the Crispinos so goddamn weird?

Next it’s Seung-gil, who falls all over the place and is actually upset about it, poor bastard. If he’s only gonna have five emotions, it seems unfair that one of them is this.

Then it’s finally Ed’s turn, and he’s going to be prouder of this skate than he was of his short program if it kills him. And it might, because after Skate Canada he talked Lilia into letting him make the jumps way crazier, and he hasn’t tried that out in competition yet. Fortunately angry determination is a good thing to feel for this program, so he doesn’t try to reign it in at all.

He maybe rolls with it too much, in fact, because by the end, he feels like he’s going to collapse, puke, or puke and then collapse into the puke. And sponsors would not like that look.

Lilia looks proud, though. She would. She’s always been about pushing past mere limitations of the human body. God, she is so much like Teacher.

Ed gets a damn good score, and he’s happy about it. He’s almost sold on this naked costume thing, because he’s increasingly convinced it’s giving him at least a two point boost. He turns to gloat at Katsudon, but Katsudon’s already on the ice.

On the ice and looking like he’s in the middle of a waking nightmare, fuck. And Ed can only be so pissed off at Viktor about this, because Katsudon did literally order his ass back to Japan.

There’s nothing really wrong with the skate. Not wrong wrong. But it does feel like Katsudon’s sleepwalking through it. He’s graceful, because Katsudon is graceful falling down a hill, but there’s none of his Cup of China passion. Well, not until the end—he does seem to pull it together toward the end. Sort of.

Then Katsudon gets to the kiss and cry and freaking hugs Yakov, of all people, and Ed is officially concerned.

Meanwhile, JJ has no idea how close to death he came when he made fun of Ed for worrying about Katsudon. It’s lucky for him that Lilia thinks murdering competitors is tacky.

Ed doesn’t bother watching JJ. He knows already. Of course the fucker wins, because that’s this year’s Rostelecom all over.

Still, Ed makes the Grand Prix Final and so does Katsudon. That’s what matters, here.

Mickey doesn’t make it. Ed…tries really hard not to be relieved about that, but he totally is. He feels bad.

* * *

Ed walks into the hallway leading to the locker rooms after the award ceremony, and Katsudon immediately tackles him in a hug out of nowhere. This is very uncharacteristic behavior for Katsudon.

“Okay, what the hell is wrong with you now?” Ed demands, hugging back automatically, and noting with alarm that Yuuri’s actually shaking, just a little. Ed knows Yuuri by now. Whatever this is about, it’s nothing so simple as not skating as well as he wanted. Things are never simple with Katsuki Yuuri.

Ed eyes the crowd over Katsudon’s shoulder, because apparently everybody who skated today felt the need to congregate in the hall just now. Seung-gil looks emotionally scarred, JJ and his parent-coaches look baffled, and Sara Crispino and Emil, both bewildered but amused, are physically supporting Michele Crispino, who looks like he’s about to pass out on the floor from trauma.

“Did you just run around hugging everyone?” Ed asks suspiciously. Yuuri murmurs back incoherently. “Did he just run around hugging everyone?” Ed demands of the crowd at large.

“Yes,” Sara replies, looking increasingly delighted as she thinks it over. “Yes, he did.”

Sara and Mickey were at The Banquet too, Ed remembers. That explains why they’re being the way they are. Meanwhile, Emil is also starting to look delighted, because that’s the kind of asshole he is.

“Alright, well, show’s over. Don’t you people have hotel rooms to go back to?” Ed asks, shooing them impatiently away with one hand, but keeping hold of Katsudon with the other. Who knows who the maniac would hug next if Ed released him? “I’m taking Katsuki back to my brother and we’re feeding him. I got this.”

The crowd breaks up, some more reluctant than others, but after what Ed feels is far too long, they finally clear out, gossiping all the way. He gives Katsudon another thirty seconds or so, then says, “Okay, they’re gone. Are you cool to stop hiding now, or do you need a minute?”

Yuuri pushes his face more firmly against Ed’s shoulder and says nothing. Which, fine. Hiding it is. Ed’s brain problems and Yuuri’s may be on opposite ends of the spectrum, but Ed thinks he’s getting pretty decent at knowing when to shut the fuck up and leave it.

It takes another five (honestly sort of boring) minutes before Katsudon mutters, “We can’t just stand in the hallway all night.”

He doesn’t move, though, and he said that in Japanese, which is his language for family and for secrets. Which means he’s not ready to leave yet, even if remembering that the outside world exists is a step in the right direction. “What do you mean, we can’t stand here all night?” Ed demands. “I dare anybody to come here and say to my face that the silver medalist is not allowed to stand in the hallway of the very venue where I kicked ass.”

Yuuri snorts quietly.

“Anyway, whenever you feel like leaving, we’re just gonna go hide in my room with Al, who has food. You could go catatonic or have violent hysterics or whatever, and it wouldn’t impress Al, because he’s lived with me for years. As for me, I already know what you’re like, so it’s too late to impress me. Bottom line: you won’t have to deal with anybody, because me and Al will be the only ones around, we don’t care what you do, and we don’t welcome strangers in our room. Like, we really don’t. I don’t know if you know this, but I have knives.”

Yuuri sighs at Ed, which takes some nerve. “You brought knives to Rostelecom?”

“Katsudon, I bring knives everywhere. I can’t believe you would even ask me that.”

Yuuri actually laughs a little. “Okay,” he breathes, finally straightening up, looking nearly calm. “It was probably bad for my back to be bending over that far anyway.”

“Who are you calling so short you have to bend double to see his face?!” Ed snarls, shocked and enraged.

Katsudon just smiles an untroubled smile because he has no sense of self-preservation.

“You are so lucky it’s practically your birthday,” Ed complains bitterly, grabbing the front of Katsudon’s jacket and dragging him toward the door. “Serve you right if I drop-kicked your ass directly out a window. Ungrateful.”

“I’m very grateful, Yurio,” Katsudon says softly and sincerely, and stuff like this is exactly why it’s impossible to hate the weird bastard.

Ed manages to get Katsudon back to the hotel and into their room, anyway, and shoves him onto the couch next to Al. The room this time has a tiny kitchen cubbyhole with a microwave, and Ed’s halfway through heating up Grandpa’s piroshky before he realizes Katsudon and Al have never actually met before. Oops.

Well, Al’s good with people. Ed and Grandpa are more good with food. Everybody should focus on their specialties, basically.

And yeah, when Ed comes out with nice, hot piroshky, Al and Katsudon are having a comfortable chat about Al’s goddamn cats. All seven of them. Al needs to be stopped.

Katsudon is appropriately appreciative of Grandpa’s awesome katsudon piroshky (which Ed is totally going to learn to make), so that’s good. Ed lets him eat in silence punctuated by pet stories as a reward.

But then he feels like he’s been patient enough, so he goes ahead and asks for clarification on what the hell is wrong with Katsudon this time.

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” he says, the lying fucking liar.

“Don’t bullshit me, Katsudon,” Ed snaps impatiently. “You were hug-attacking competitors. And Yakov. That’s not your normal.”

Katsudon hesitates, then says slowly, “Viktor told me that if I needed help, I should hug Yakov, and he would help me.”

Viktor apparently hadn’t realized that Yakov would treat a skater who is basically his son differently from a skater who he barely knows and finds vaguely suspicious. Viktor is useless.

“So when that didn’t happen, you just went around hugging everybody in the hope that somebody would help you?”

Annoyingly, Yuuri smiles. “It worked, didn’t it?”

Ed does not deign to respond to that. He is also firmly ignoring the entire thing that Al’s face is doing right now. Whose side is Al on, anyway? “I told Viktor we had you! He should’ve told you to come to us. Bastard has no faith in me.”

“No faith in you? Did he say that?” Al asks, amused, while Katsudon seems weirdly bewildered.

“He asked in this tone of disbelief if I was planning on ‘providing emotional support.’ He only calmed down when I promised you’d be there. He’s a dick.”

“Viktor winds my brother up whenever he’s bored or stressed,” Al explains to Katsudon completely unnecessarily. “Brother is so predictable, I think Viktor finds it soothing. Like a clockwork toy.”

“I’m killing Viktor and then I’m killing you,” Ed announces.

“You would die for me, brother,” Al counters with casual, total confidence. And he’s right, too, the weasel.

Also, Katsudon can stop beaming at them like they’re adorable any time. Ed is not adorable.

Anyway. So you needed help and hugged everybody. Why did you need help?” Ed asks, taking the heat off himself and throwing it violently at Katsudon. “You and Viktor aren’t that codependent. Plus, you’ve been weird since before the short program. What’s the deal?”

“You don’t have to answer him,” Al cuts in.

“Uh, yes you do, Mr. Hug Attacker. I had to rescue you from yourself in the middle of a hallway; I deserve to know why.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Al insists, casually dragging Ed down onto the couch with them and attempting to smother him with a throw pillow. “He was raised by thieves and wild animals.”

“No, it’s… I don’t mind if he knows,” Katsudon insists, all hesitant and awkward. “I just…it’s hard, being in Russia, realizing…I don’t have a right to keep Viktor to myself. I can keep him for a while, but. I can’t steal him from the world. Not forever. And that’s…I don’t know what will happen after this season. I don’t know.”

“Get a grip, Katsudon,” Ed suggests, successfully fighting off the pillow.

Al sighs, disappointed. “Stop helping, brother.”

Katsudon chokes out a laugh, even if it is a sad laugh, which Ed feels proves that he is helpful.

“What? He’s fine, he knows I’m right. He’s just doing his whole I’m worthless spiral, and it’s bullshit. Anyway, nobody gets to do this forever, not even Viktor. We all gotta have plans for afterward, and you’re Viktor’s entire plan, so don’t fuck that up for him.”

Katsudon slow-blinks at that one, but does not engage. “What’s your plan, Yurio?” he asks, like that has anything to do with anything. But fine, Ed’s probably interrogated him enough for now.

“I’m gonna go work at CERN and see if I can punch a hole in the fabric of reality,” Ed declares.

“It’s going to be the most amazing grant proposal ever written,” Al murmurs.

“…Wow,” says Katsudon. He doesn’t even know what to say after that. Ed’s plan is so awesome it makes people speechless.

“It’s not quite as ridiculous as it sounds,” Al announces, which, rude. “Ed has had about five minutes of formal education in his life, and yet he’s somehow involved in an ongoing theoretical physics death feud with my advisor. Every time I see my advisor, the first thing he asks is, ‘How’s your brother?’ with an alarmingly manic expression, and it always devolves into twenty minutes of me fighting Ed’s battles by proxy.”

“But you take my side, though,” Ed points out, pleased.

“Because I know you’re right,” Al agrees, because he’s the best brother. “The second you’re wrong, I’ll throw you to the wolves of academia without a moment’s hesitation.”

Damn, Ed raised this kid so right. He’s proud.

Katsudon, on the other hand, looks troubled. “No formal education,” he murmurs. “So when you said Yurio was raised by thieves and wild animals…”

“Only the wild animals were an exaggeration,” Al says brightly. “And I’ll be honest, they were only a slight exaggeration. Also I left out the smugglers and the prostitutes.”

“You make me sound so shady,” Ed complains. “The wild animal thing happened to you, too. And so did the smugglers!”

“And yet you’re still far more shady than I am, Brother,” Al informs him. “And every friend you’ve ever made on your own except Otabek is just as shady.”

“How did…was that…” Poor Katsudon. Poor Ed. They both thought they were sticking to Katsudon’s personal problems today, not Ed’s fucked up history. But you can’t stop Al when he’s on a tear.

“We were separated as children,” Al says, going all the way on this thing. “I won’t go into the details.” Of course he won’t: that would make him look almost as bad as Ed. “But we wound up in different parts of Russia with no family, no money, and no idea where the other one was. We made it out alive, which is pretty good, I think. But there was some collateral damage. You’ve seen Ed’s scars.”

“How did you find each other?” Katsudon asks, now extremely alarmed.

“I found him,” Al says with a smirk. “He was just staggering around the country hoping to bump into me, apparently.”

In fact, Ed had been researching and ruining all the human trafficking operations he could get his hands on. He and Sergei rescued a shitton of kids in between running guns, even if none of them were Al. He still sends Sergei’s guys any relevant information he picks up. He’s never mentioned any of that to Al, though. It implies a lack of faith in Al’s ability to survive, and Ed doesn’t want to have to justify that.

“You did not find me,” Ed corrects. “The cops found me.”

“The police I made friends with specifically so that they would help me find you, yes.”

“You don’t have to be so smug about it.”

“I had a pretty good idea he’d immediately turn to a life of crime given half a chance,” Al confides to Katsudon.

“Shut up—”

“So becoming friendly with police seemed like the quickest way to catch him. Unfortunately, Russian police are harder to befriend than I thought they would be, so between that and Ed’s habit of moving from one side of the country to the other every few months, it took almost a year to find him. Because he was being unnecessarily difficult—”

“Because I didn’t want to get arrested—”

“But we got there in the end.” And Al beams happily.

The good news is, they sure got Katsudon’s mind off his own problems. The bad news is, he may never recover from this short summary of Elric problems.

…Is Viktor going to be pissed off about this?

* * *

<Yuuri>
Yurio tried to comfort me after my skate.

<Viktor>
Yuuri, I’m so, so sorry.
I abandoned you to that.

<Yuuri>
It’s not your fault!
And he actually did an okay job? At first.
But then he and his brother started telling me stories about their childhood.
Have they ever told you stories about their childhood, Viktor?

<Viktor>
Oddly, no.

<Yuuri>
Oh, that’s right.
Yurio thinks you’re too fragile.

<Viktor>
…DOES he?

<Yuuri>
Why don’t they think I’M too fragile, Viktor!?
Because I am!
Too fragile for their life story!

<Viktor>
I’m so, so sorry, Yuuri!
I will meet you at the airport
and comfort you after your Plisetsky trauma!

<Yuuri>
God, I can’t wait.
See you in 13 hours.

<Viktor>
<3 <3 <3

<Yuuri>
:)

<3

* * *

In December, Ed competes in the Golden Spin of Zagreb. He likes Croatia in general and Zagreb in particular, so walking around the city is fun.

Bonus: the only person he really knows at this competition is Guang Hong, and that makes for a surprisingly stress-free event. Guang Hong’s kinda terrified of Ed, for one thing, so he’s almost unnervingly quiet and polite in Ed’s presence. (He’s gonna have to get over that if he ever starts dating Leo.) For another thing, the guy’s only serious flaw is a tendency to dick around on his phone too much, and since he got burned in China, he’s pretty much straightened up on that. And hey, Ed likes Guang Hong’s coach too. It’s all win.

Literally. Ed also wins. No goddamn JJ Leroy in sight.

Ed hasn’t had such a chill competition in…well, not since Katsudon arrived on the scene, that’s for sure. Admittedly, it doesn’t feel like a real win since he didn’t beat JJ or Katsudon or, say, Viktor. But a win is always better than not a win.

It’s probably a bad sign that he’s looking forward to seeing all his favorite emotional wrecks at the GPF. What do they call that in Al’s books? Stockholm Syndrome?

* * *

Ed barely makes it into the lobby of the hotel in Barcelona before getting accosted by 1) his fans, who may or may not collectively have rabies, and 2) JJ goddamn Leroy.

Seriously, can a guy not have five freaking minutes to relax before being thrown into the shark tank? He hasn’t even found Al yet! But Lilia gives him a Look as she grabs his luggage and abandons him to his fate, so now he has to more or less behave himself.

And he does! He chats. He socializes. He’s in the middle of handing over a list of people who have said unfairly vicious things about his friends and therefore must be destroyed to the Angels when he gets interrupted by JJ and company, and that’s not his fault. He’s not the one being rude.

“Wow, he’s so popular!” says JJ’s fiancée, who Ed presumes is seriously damaged just by virtue of wanting to be married to JJ.

“Yuri’s Angels are famous,” JJ explains pompously.

“Oh? But I think JJ Girls are better about obeying the rules. And we’re cuter!” the fiancée announces to everyone in the lobby.

Ed narrows his eyes at the fiancée, who is kind of…smirking at him. Is he…is he being trolled by a JJ affiliate? Is that what’s happening here?

Huh. Looks like somebody’s still pissed about that time he flipped JJ over the boards. Well, Ed can respect loyalty.

“My fans could eat you guys alive,” Ed says all the same, because it’s just the truth. “I really wouldn’t get into it with them if I were you.”

His fans make a sort of…ominous mob noise. It’s not a loud sound, but it is a worrying, skin-crawling one—the sound a crowd makes right before it starts throwing rocks, breaking glass, and setting shit on fire. Ed is so, so proud that his fans have taught themselves to make that noise without any intention of following through on it.

JJ discreetly steps in front of his fiancée to shield her, proving he’s not a complete asshole. He’s still got a stupid smile, though, and he’s about to open his mouth and start yammering again when a much more welcome voice cuts him off.

“Edward,” Otabek says, sounding tired. “What have I told you about threatening people?”

“…Not to get caught doing it?” Ed tries, smiling despite himself because he hasn’t seen Otabek in person for ages. He’s gonna have Otabek and Al in the same town at the same time! This is awesome.

Otabek sighs. “We’re going to dinner.”

Ed beams. “Okay. Let me call Al and tell him where I am before he freaks, then we’re good. And you guys.” He turns and points at the Angels. “Do your worst.”

They nod seriously and scatter. It’s so nice to have minions. Even if they did manage to take about five hundred pictures of him talking to Otabek that will doubtless be all over the internet complete with creepy speculation about their relationship within the next five minutes.

You can’t have everything.

“Otabek,” JJ says, sounding shocked. “I didn’t know you were friends with Yuri!”

Otabek stares blankly at him and does not respond. Ed snickers and calls Al.

“How long have you known each other?” JJ persists, much to the interest of the lone, lingering Angel who thinks she’s hiding from Ed behind that potted plant, but he sees her. He points a threatening finger her way. She smirks unrepentantly. What a fail minion.

“Years,” Otabek responds unhelpfully, after an uncomfortably long pause. JJ seems nonplussed.

“Al,” Ed says when Al answers. “Otabek and I are going out for dinner. See you in an hour? Unless you want to come too.” (He says this in Russian, so Otabek can understand, as opposed to Amestrian, which is the usual Elric language.)

“Ah, so that’s why you’re laughing,” Al says, smirk somehow audible. “I’ll stay in tonight. I need to unpack, and you two need time to catch up. But please don’t get yourselves arrested this time.”

“We didn’t get arrested last time!” Ed insists. “…Technically.”

Crap. The Angel was probably close enough to hear that. Now it’s gonna be all over social media and Yakov is going to scream for a week. Ed should’ve used Amestrian. (It’s funny to read people on the internet desperately trying to figure out what language it is. He thinks he likes the advanced twinspeak theory best.)

“Uh huh.” Al is clearly unimpressed. “See you in an hour, Brother.” Then he hangs up on Ed. And he’s meant to be the polite one.

“Al ditched us,” Ed informs Otabek.

Otabek nods. “Tapas?”

“Oh my God, that’s right, we’re in Barcelona. Tapas. Let’s go.”

Whenever they find themselves in a restaurant that serves lots of little-plate type dishes, Otabek always lets Ed order one of everything on the menu (if that’s a physically possible amount to eat), and politely never asks how he can afford it. Possibly for reasons relating to plausible deniability.

This dinner’s already fantastic and they haven’t even eaten yet.

* * *

The next day is just practice and relaxing, and it’s shockingly calm for this crowd of divas. Nobody’s crying, freaking out, or making a public display of themselves. Except JJ, obviously, because making a scene is his only setting.

Ed turns to look at absolutely anyone other than JJ, and spots Katsuki goddamn Yuuri giving Viktor a sassy wink. Ed has to hurriedly look down at the ice before somebody catches him grinning proudly at Katsudon. He has an image to maintain.

He does march over to bother Yuuri and Viktor before they escape the rink, though. He hasn’t said hi to them yet. It’s polite to say hi.

Except Katsudon looks unholy gleeful to see him, which is alarming, and immediately drags him over to meet Phichit. Well, officially. Unofficially, Ed already knows everything there is to know about Phichit and has taken ruthless advantage of that fact.

“Hello, hi, oh my god,” says Phichit, practically bouncing in enthusiasm. “You are a walking meme, and I love your work so much.”

“Thanks?” Though the more Ed thinks about it, the less he’s sure whether that was a compliment or an insult.

“Also, your fans totally hunted me down online and asked me to help them murder everyone who doesn’t like Yuuri,” Phichit goes on chattily.

“What,” says Katsudon, obviously horrified.

“I told them to do that,” Ed admits. “Should’ve asked you first, probably—”

“No, no, your fans are a blessing,” Phichit assures him. “A scary blessing, but still. They’re not actually killing anyone, are they?”

“…No?” Ed hopes not, anyway. Sometimes wishing makes things happen.

What,” Katsudon repeats, even more horrified.

Ed and Phichit ignore him, and they chat their way through showering and changing, through the halls, and out onto the street where they find Al. Phichit’s just as likable and secretly evil as Ed suspected.

(Meanwhile, Viktor has been suspiciously quiet and amused this whole time, and therefore is probably planning something stupid, while Katsudon looks like he bitterly regrets introducing Ed to Phichit. That’s what you get for plotting, Katsudon.)

“Al,” Ed says cheerfully. “This is Phichit. He kicks ass.”

“I recognize him,” Al says, smiling. “Nice to meet you, Phichit. I’m Ed—uh, Yuri’s brother, Alexei.”

“Nice to meet you, too!” Phichit replies, clearly fascinated.

“Hi Yuuri. Hi Viktor,” Al goes on. “Looking forward to kicking my brother’s ass?”

“Yes,” Katsudon says instantly, and Viktor laughs, and damn, Ed has no friends here at all.

While Ed was getting picked on, Phichit was busily tapping away on his phone, and now he’s sidling over to Ed, apparently eager to share the phone news.

“Yurio. Yurio, your brother is famous,” he hisses loudly, staring incredulously at whatever his phone is telling him about Al.

“You’re goddamn right he’s famous,” Ed agrees proudly. “He’s a genius.”

You’re a genius, Brother,” Al insists, rolling his eyes. “If you had more than a couple of hours a day to spend on science, you’d be way ahead of me.”

Ed eyes him thoughtfully. “I don’t think so,” he says. “We’ve always been about square, even when we were kids. You being a year younger should’ve made a difference back then, but it didn’t. Pretty sure you’re smarter than I am, Al.”

“I’m really not—”

“Don’t argue with your big brother.”

Phichit makes a high-pitched squeeing noise of pure delight and starts typing frantically. Ed thinks about trying to contain that situation, but decides it’s not worth the effort.

“Anyway, we should go to lunch,” Ed announces.

“It’s early for lunch,” Katsudon protests feebly.

“Brunch,” Ed insists, staring determinedly into Katsudon’s eyes.

“Brunch sounds like fun!” Viktor says brightly, pretending to be oblivious to the psychic get me out of this messages his boyfriend’s trying to send him.

And so they go. Viktor spends the whole meal being himself, and apparently nothing can be done about it. But at least he seems happy. Katsudon, though, is unusually high energy and nervy, like he’s working himself up to something insane. Troubling. Still, Ed’s pretty sure they can’t make their problem into his problem. Though God knows they’ve managed before, so it’s not a sure thing.

Meanwhile, it takes Al and Phichit about half an hour in each other’s company to become lifelong friends and co-conspirators. Katsudon looks worried about this, but not as worried as he would be if he knew Al better. Ed, for example, is horrified.

* * *

Yuuri isn’t sure what he thought would happen when he introduced Phichit to the Plisetsky brothers. Not this, though. Because this is Rostelecom all over again—it seems like Alexei’s been waiting for the right kind of sympathetic audience to rat his brother out to for years, and that’s why Yuuri is in the process of learning far too much about Yurio’s life. He thinks he’s almost as distressed about it as Yurio is.

He also doesn’t appreciate the way Alexei always waits until Viktor’s gone off to the toilet or outside to chat with an acquaintance before coming out with the truly awful stories. Yuuri wants to know what it takes to be considered fragile by the Plisetskys, because he would love it if they thought of him as fragile.

How has his life come to this?

“…and then Ed beat up the john, but then the john’s brother came by with his friends and they had so many guns, and anyway Sonya—that was the prostitute—had to hide Ed under her bed until they went away.”

“It was gross under there,” Yurio mutters, shuddering. “Sonya was at Rostelecom, by the way. She didn’t tell me until it was all over or I would’ve introduced you.”

“And he’s always like this, and he’s always been like this,” Alexei informs them matter-of-factly.

“So you…make a habit of hanging around with prostitutes so you can beat up anyone who tries to hurt them?” Yuuri asks, desperately hoping, despite all the evidence, that he’s misunderstanding this. “And then you steal all the cash from the people you beat up?”

Yurio stares at him, blank-faced. “It’s a hobby,” he says.

“This is the best day of my entire life,” Phichit insists tearfully. Of course, Phichit also said that when the most recent The King and the Skater movie came out, when he took his first selfie with Viktor, and when he discovered spicy curly fries. Yuuri decides not to read too much into it.

“It’s too bad,” Yurio marches relentlessly on. “Because in a minute I’m gonna look old enough to be a threat, and that means johns won’t wanna pull that shit in front of me anymore. I’ll have to get a new strategy. But that’s life; you gotta adapt. You know how it is.”

Yuuri does not know how it is, and he doesn’t want to know, either. This is like Detroit but worse, because most people in Detroit have a sense of self-preservation. “Please pick a different hobby,” he says firmly. “This one seems really dangerous, Yurio.”

Yurio mutters something incoherent, followed by, “be thou for the people.”

“Be thou for the people?” Yuuri repeats, confused. “What’s that from?”

Yurio shrugs off the question impatiently. “Whatever, I’ve been kicking the asses of guys twice my size since I was ten, okay? Johns are almost never scary, and when they are, I can outrun them. It’s not like they’re my Teacher or anything.”

“…Teacher?” Yurio put a certain, ominous emphasis on the word, and it’s just one more thing that’s worrying Yuuri about this conversation.

“Yeah.” Yurio and Alexei both shudder and go pale. Yuuri tries not to think about what kind of person could make Yurio shudder in horror. “Lilia reminds me of her so much, you don’t even understand.”

“Ms. Baranovskaya will never throw knives at you,” Alexei says in a soothing voice.

Yuuri turns to Phichit, horrified, but Phichit just beams unhelpfully back at him with the gleam in his eye that means he’s mentally composing hashtags. Yuuri turns to look for Viktor, but he’s been waylaid on his way back to the table by a fan. Viktor would be horrified too if he were over here, and he would definitely not be composing delighted hashtags.

“Anyway!” Yurio says loudly. “What are you guys up to after this?”

“Sleeping,” Phichit says fervently. And Yuuri understands his feelings completely, but this time, it looks like he’s going to be the social one. How strange.

“Viktor and I are going sightseeing,” he explains.

“And I have to proof a paper, Brother,” Alexei says apologetically.

“Cool, cool. No, that’s fine. You can all just ditch me,” Yurio says with an incongruous grin.

“Think of all the trouble you can get up to in Barcelona without me monitoring you,” Alexei responds, eyebrow raised.

“Oh, I am,” Yurio declares, throwing down money and bouncing out of his seat. “See you losers tomorrow, when I kick your asses on the ice.”

“Your brother thinks it’s going to be the other way around,” Yuuri points out. It’s true, after all.

“Put your skates where your mouth is, Katsudon,” Yurio says in parting, waving over his shoulder as he walks away, bumping Viktor’s shoulder in passing, and ignoring his brother’s scolding for rudeness.

If Yurio were as deadly on the ice as he is in casual conversation, no one would stand a chance.

Chapter Text

Ed has Angels tailing him, and usually he’d be cool with that, but at the moment he’s maybe slightly planning to start something (something low-energy! No fights the day before a competition), so he parkours his way out of that situation. The Angels are good at a lot of things, but high-speed chases through city streets are not one of them. (That’s mostly true, anyway. A couple of them are keeping up suspiciously well, but they’re still not quite at Ed’s level. The baby criminals.)

Of course, no sooner does Ed shake off the Angels and drop back down to street level than he runs headfirst into that trouble Al accused him of. And he didn’t even get to start it himself.

“Sergei,” he says, torn between horror and laughter. “Imagine meeting you here. In Barcelona. Where you do no business at all, ever.”

“Edward,” says Sergei, nodding back and smiling. Probably smiling. The Glasgow smile makes it hard to tell sometimes. “Perhaps I enjoy skating.”

“You’re totally the president of my fanclub, aren’t you?” Ed asks in despair.

“Betting on skating is surprisingly lucrative,” Sergei informs him, dodging the question like a pro. Because he is a pro.

“Yeah, sure. How’s business?”

“Booming. You know how it is. People are always looking for new and more efficient ways to kill each other.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” That said, Ed doesn’t approve of enabling it. Not that he’d bring that up with Sergei. It’s easy for Ed to get precious about it now that he has a reliable source of income, but he sure wasn’t asking moral questions when he was hungry, was he? He’s the last person who can judge Sergei. He’d choke on the hypocrisy.

Anyway, arms dealing isn’t the reason he’s worried about Sergei probably being the president of his fanclub. There’s a more personal reason, and now that he’s face to face with the guy, he’s gonna have to bring it up. “Hey, Sergei.”

“Yes, Edward?”

“Weird question, but what, uh. What happens to my crazy fans?”

Sergei doesn’t change expression. “Crazy fans?”

“Yeah. Everybody has ‘em. The stalkers and creeps and ‘you belong to me and only me’ types. But I’ve never clocked one, ever. So. Where are they?”

Sergei considers Ed for a long, uncomfortable moment. And then he says, “I think you ought to ask your brother that question.”

Which, fuck. Is Al burying the corpses of Ed’s stalkers in the empty lot behind Grandpa’s place? Is he? He wouldn’t, right? He’s a good person.

A good person who is deeply, almost fanatically loyal to his best-loved people.

Shit, is Ed too scared to even ask? He thinks he’s too scared to ask. It was one thing when he thought an arms dealer might be killing his stalkers, but if it’s Al who might be killing his stalkers, that’s much worse.

It’s at this moment of existential crisis that Otabek pulls up on his motorcycle out of nowhere and just…observes. With no expression on his face. Asking no questions at all in the loudest silence Ed’s ever heard.

Otabek is so fucking cool sometimes. And his timing is fantastic—Ed was in dire need of a distraction.

“Otabek, this is Sergei,” Ed says before anybody decides to do anything rash. And hell, he always did want to introduce these two to each other. They are two of his favorite people. “He kept me from getting my stupid ass killed when I was a kid. Also he’s probably the president of my fanclub, but he won’t admit it.”

Otabek nods, accepting this in stoical silence.

“Sergei, this is Otabek. He’s a kickass skater who’s been helping my brother keep me in line since I was…I don’t know, thirteen or something.”

“Twelve,” Otabek puts in, still expressionless.

Sergei, on the other hand, is outright grinning now. “Always nice to meet another member of our secret society,” he says, clearly finding himself hilarious. He’s always had a shitty sense of humor.

“Is there a secret handshake?” Otabek asks with a very serious face, causing Sergei to laugh out loud. Otabek has also always had a shitty sense of humor.

“I’m glad he has someone sensible keeping track of him,” Sergei is burbling on unhelpfully. “He only lets me watch over him from afar.”

Otabek nods wisely, but Ed says, “Hey! Al’s sensible.”

Sergei stares for a while, like he’s trying to decide if Ed’s serious. And then he says, “No.”

Just that. Just No. What the hell has Al been doing? Also Otabek needs to stop snort-laughing about it. It’s unattractive.

“Well, I’ll leave you two to your rest day,” Sergei says, sidling away, damage accomplished. “Skate well tomorrow, Edward. Or I’ll make you sorry.”

“Death threats are tacky!” Ed howls after him as he disappears down a side street, laughing.

“You know a lot of interesting people,” Otabek says after a moment. “Want to go with me to check out the weird park?”

“Park Guell?” Ed asks, brightening immediately. “Hell yes. I already saw Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo. Gaudi. I love that guy. He was such a weirdo. And a genius. A genius weirdo.”

“I see why you like him,” Otabek murmurs, so quiet Ed almost misses it as they arrange themselves on the motorcycle.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ed demands.

“I mean what I say,” Otabek informs him calmly, and then takes off like an asshole, because he knows Ed won’t distract him when he’s driving a damn motorcycle.

Ed doesn’t remember to bring it up again at the park, either, because the park is so fucking cool and bizarre that he forgets everything else. In fact, he barely even remembers Otabek’s with him until they’ve wandered back around close to the entrance again, and are standing looking out over the city together.

At which point, out of nowhere, Otabek says, “You’ve been an inspiration to me since the first time I met you when we were children. I thought we were alike, but you were…ahead of me. A goal.”

“…Thanks?” says Ed, at a loss. Because it’s cool that Otabek thinks he’s cool? But also this may be the most embarrassing moment of Ed’s life.

And besides, Otabek wouldn’t think he was such an inspiration if he knew all the things Ed’s done.

“I see you in your life, in your competitions, in your studies, and your eyes are always full of purpose. Determined, ready to do whatever it takes to succeed. You remind me of a soldier,” Otabek tells him.

“A soldier, huh,” Ed says thoughtfully, figuring Otabek must know a lot fewer dick soldiers than Ed does. But he’s met the kind of soldier Otabek means, too, even if they’re not the first ones he thinks of. The ones who war burned down until all that was left was determination, strength, a terrifying sense of duty, and…usually a healthy dose of slow-burn rage and/or self-loathing, too, in Ed’s experience, but that last part’s probably not what Otabek’s getting at.

It’s interesting that Otabek would think those things of Ed, that he thinks it’s something they have in common. Otabek is a quiet, calm badass, while Ed is…well, also badass. But that’s it. It’s nice that Otabek thinks they’re similar, flattering, but Ed’s not sure how right he is.

“I would’ve been, probably,” he finds himself saying, inexplicably. Maybe it’s just that Otabek seems so unflappable, like he can take it. And Ed’s been wanting to admit this to someone for a long time, because God knows he can’t talk about it with Al. “I’m not actually…my brother and I, we’re not really Russian, we’re from…somewhere else.”

“Another planet,” Otabek agrees, nodding thoughtfully.

Ed’s line of thought is momentarily derailed. “Wait, you believed that?”

Otabek shrugs. “It does explain a lot. About you and you brother both.”

Ed is not sure how to take that, so he’s just leaving it there. “Uh huh. Well, we think it’s more another dimension…but anyway. Where we’re from, and with the shit we’d done, the government would’ve found out about us. I’d have been in the army by thirteen, I bet.”

“Is that why you left?” Otabek asks, curious, but not freaked. About the alien thing or the military thing. This is why Otabek is perfect.

“No. We did something incredibly stupid, wrong, and so we were…I guess you could say banished. We had friends there, family, and we wouldn’t have left them if we’d had a choice.” Ed lets himself think about Winry and Granny Pinako and Teacher and Sig for a while, just long enough for it to hurt. God, Winry would love Otabek. They would gang up on Ed so much, it would be fantastic. It’s also impossible, would always have been impossible, no matter what Ed did. “They don’t even know we’re alive. And there’s no way to tell them.”

“You were sent here,” Otabek points out quietly. “So there must be a way to get back.”

His voice is remarkably judgment-free. Ed can’t tell whether Otabek would miss him or not if he and Al went home, and that’s…well, it’s not a happy feeling.

“We got here through alchemy, and the most fundamental rule of alchemy is equivalent exchange,” Ed explains distantly, trying not to think about anything but natural laws. “Last time, we lost our ability to do alchemy, our families, our lives as they ought to have been, and our native world. There was a whole lot of physical trauma, too, come to think of it.” He turns to Otabek, feeling very tired. “What do you think it would cost to gain all those things back?”

Otabek considers this in silence for a long time, gazing out over the city. Then he turns abruptly to Ed and says, “Too much.”

Ed smiles painfully back at him. “Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

“…What did you gain?” Otabek asks in a soft, hesitant voice.

“Knowledge,” Ed tells him. He doesn’t tell him that it wasn’t what they asked for. “Of alchemy, which is useless here. Of science. Of how much arrogance can cost.”

It was valuable knowledge, too. Just not valuable enough.

Otabek has no further comment, and actually seems a little stunned. He probably needs food. Ed steers him to his motorcycle and orders him back to the area around the hotel.

* * *

Otabek understands that one of Ed’s favorite things about him is his composure, possibly because Ed himself has no such thing as composure. Usually this is fine, because Otabek generally has trouble forcing emotions to show up on his face.

Ed has a real skill at testing that tendency, however. He would not, Otabek knows, appreciate it if Otabek suddenly had hysterics or started crying. That said, the temptation to do those things is very strong. This talk has only given him the barest hint of what Ed and Alexei have been through, and already Otabek can’t cope.

Ed, meanwhile, has moved on. He’s told his terrible life story, he’s over it, he’s ready for dinner.

Otabek follows him to a restaurant in something of a daze.

He should have seen this coming, really, once he knew the Plisetskys weren’t from Earth. That he could accept without much trouble. Meet Edward and Alexei, particularly together, and it becomes harder to believe they aren’t aliens than that they are. But it had never occurred to him to wonder about their original home, about what they’d lost or how they’d lost it. Or when.

The when does at least explain why Ed’s unbothered. It’s old news as far as he’s concerned. He was probably well accustomed to the weight of this burden by the time he first met Otabek.

They did something stupid, he said, something wrong. When Otabek met Ed, he was twelve years old, and he wasn’t new to the planet then. What could small children possibly have done that was so wrong they were banished, probably forever, from their home?

Otabek knows he’ll never ask.

The screaming nightmares Ed used to have make a lot more sense now. Otabek’s mother was seriously alarmed by the screaming nightmares. She would beg him to tell her what Ed was dreaming about, tears in her eyes. Otabek always thought it must be Ed’s missing parents, or possibly his criminal childhood. When he first set eyes on Sergei, he was prepared to blame him for those nightmares, at least in part.

The missing parents might still have something to do with it, but childhood crime is apparently a footnote in Ed and Alexei’s litany of trauma, and Sergei probably more of a help than anything. This is something Otabek can never tell his mother—that cage fighting is not the worst thing that ever happened to her beloved Edward. That it’s not even close. Otabek still doesn’t know the details, but he can see the shape of the nightmare now, and he doesn’t know how the brothers can bear it.

And yet they do bear it. Cheerfully.

Otabek has always known Ed was incredibly strong, so this shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as it is. Still, there’s a difference between being strong and being made of pure steel all the way through.

Otabek more or less daydreams his way through dinner, and Ed allows this, even seeming a little sympathetic. Sympathetic because he knows he’s traumatized Otabek with his own life story. Because that’s the kind of life he’s led. The kind that causes other people trauma by proxy.

“Don’t look now,” Ed says, interrupting Otabek’s increasingly morbid thoughts, “but Katsudon’s crew are plastered to the window staring at us.”

Otabek is grateful for the distraction. He’s also grateful for his slow reaction time, because he does manage not to look. Well, he manages to look slowly and out of the corner of his eye, anyway. And yes, there are two Japanese women at the window, staring shamelessly and avidly. “Why?” he asks. It seems to cover everything.

“You don’t hang out with Katsudon unless you’re some kind of freak,” Ed explains unselfconsciously.

Otabek continues to observe as Nikiforov and Katsuki himself approach, only for Katsuki to be flying tackled by both of the women.

Otabek’s life hasn’t been what you’d call normal since he first met Ed, but today is managing to stand out.

“I’m texting Al,” Ed announces. “His paper must be proofed by now. And anyway, he has to eat sometime, and we need the moral support.”

Which means that soon Otabek is going to have to look Alexei in the eye and try not to think of him being violently ripped away from his home and family and cast alone into a strange new world as a tiny child. Wonderful.

* * *

Ed ends up texting Phichit as well as Al, because Katsudon’s Teacher is here, and he doesn’t know how scary she’ll turn out to be. He wants a buffer.

At least Mari’s around, even if she’s distractedly staring at Otabek. Ed can sympathize with that. Though it seems like she mostly finds Otabek interesting because she didn’t realize Ed was capable of having normal friends, and that’s just insulting. She also says she made a banner special for Ed. He doesn’t know what’s on it, but he’s already scared.

As for Minako, well. Ed’s never really talked to her before, which was right and proper—she’s Katsudon’s Teacher, not Ed’s. But damn, she seems to want to make up for lost time now. First she wanted to chat about Lilia, then his skating, then his costumes, and now she’s moved on to his street clothes.

“I like your sweater,” she announces. “It looks handmade?”

“Yeah, Beka’s mom made it,” Ed tells her proudly, happy enough with this topic. It’s the sweater Beka’s mom sent him after Skate Canada—it’s knitted, and sure, it doesn’t look professional or anything, but it’s soft and warm and, most importantly, all black with a big old red demon head with its tongue sticking out on the front. Ed loves it. It is his favorite item of clothing.

“My mother made you that?” Otabek demands, clearly having Emotions right now. It’s so rare for Otabek to show emotions, and yet here he is, emoting over a sweater. He may be taking the whole banished from home story harder than Ed first thought. Which…makes sense, actually. Looking back on it, Otabek used to get all agitated whenever Ed got hurt in a fight, too. He always and only freaks out when Ed is hurt. Huh.

“If you called her more often, maybe she’d make you cool sweaters, too,” Ed tells Otabek, shelving that revelation for later.

Mari is looking teary-eyed and delighted. Ed doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t like it, either.

Thankfully, this is when Viktor comes in dragging Katsudon, who was apparently outside also frantically texting for backup. Viktor’s presence is enough to derail any conversation: he’s instantly the center of everybody’s attention. It means Chris and Phichit arrive on the scene almost without comment, which isn’t normal.

Skating really attracts big personalities. Or maybe it’s just sponsors who like big personalities, so quiet people like Otabek get screwed over. Is Ed going to have to have a conniption right now over the possibility of bias against quiet people in skating?

Chris takes this moment to sidle up and squeeze Ed’s ass, possibly detecting the oncoming storm of brooding and trying to fend it off. Ed can’t believe Katsudon texted for backup and chose Chris.

Still, Ed does like Chris. He probably shouldn’t like Chris as much as he does, but…well. Chris lives his entire life at the extreme limit of what he thinks he can get away with, and Ed feels that. The biggest difference between them is what they want to get away with.

That said, Ed would really love some personal space.

“If you touch my ass again, I’m going to break your fingers,” he informs Chris.

Chris gasps theatrically, clutching his hands protectively to his chest, because he’s a dick. (But he makes no move to touch Ed again—whatever else he is, he’s not a stupid man.) “Yuri! I thought we were close! I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends,” Ed agrees. “That’s why I warned you before I started breaking parts of your body.”

“Such violence, young Yuri,” Chris says sadly. “That’s going to end with you banned, you know.”

And that, right there. Such a Chris moment. Not ‘violence is wrong,’ but, ‘violence could mess up your career.’

Yeah. Ed likes Chris. The only problems are the personal space thing, and also the thing where Chris is unbelievably freaking weird about Viktor.

What is it about Viktor, seriously?

Anyway, he introduces Chris to Otabek, even though they both medaled at Worlds and so probably know each other already. Otabek needs all the distractions from Elric drama he can get, and Chris is professionally distracting.

It’s a distracting dinner in general, which is good. Mostly it’s the Katsudon and Viktor show, which Ed’s embarrassed to find he’s actually missed.

And hey, it turns out Katsudon was too drunk to remember The Banquet. He actually thought he’d never even talked to Viktor before Viktor showed up naked at his house. Fuck, that explains everything. He must have been so goddamned confused that whole first month when Russians invaded Hasetsu. Almost as confused as Viktor was. And yet he just…rolled with it? Didn’t dare question a good thing?

Ed can’t decide whether that’s sad or hilarious. Al firmly informs him that it’s hilarious. Ed tries not to wonder if this attitude is a sign that Al is the kind of person who disappears other people’s stalkers.

Meanwhile, Chris has noticed that the idiot duo are wearing rings, because of course he noticed. Ed himself hadn’t noticed. He carefully and deliberately hadn’t noticed, mostly because Viktor so clearly wanted him to. Al also Hadn’t Noticed, complete with annoyingly vacant smile.

Anyway, Chris notices and comments, thus delighting Viktor and ruining the whole game. And then Phichit, hero of the people, announces to the entire restaurant that his best friend got married. Everyone freaks, especially Katsudon, who can’t screech out denials fast enough. Everyone freaks, that is, except Otabek, who instead sits there clapping expressionlessly like the magnificent bastard he is.

“It’s an engagement ring!” Viktor announces, looking ridiculously pleased with himself.

“Oh thank God,” Ed says, prompting several confused glances in his direction. But the thing is, he didn’t believe they were secretly married. Passing up a fancy ceremony and going to a courthouse on the sly? Viktor would never. Engaged is believable, though, and that means they’re basically married. So they’re gonna stop being so weird around each other, right?

…Katsudon’s awkward flailing isn’t making him feel confident, actually. But at least it’s flailing about Viktor and not at Viktor. That’s gotta be an improvement.

And then Viktor throws down a skating-related gauntlet on Katsudon’s behalf, Katsudon freaks yet again, and everybody else looks all Challenge Accepted. Except for Al, who is clearly annoyed at Viktor for putting Katsudon on the spot. (Al hasn’t been around Katsudon enough to know that he thrives on challenge. Ed’ll have to tell him before he disappears Viktor and makes Katsudon sad.)

In short, the whole dinner’s about to go to hell in a hilarious way when JJ shows up and ruins everything. And then everybody has to leave. Fucking JJ.

“JJ thinks you’re plotting to kill him,” Otabek informs Ed as they walk back to the hotel together.

“Seriously?” Ed rolls his eyes. “I don’t think about him often enough to plot about him. Besides, I’ve never killed anybody, and I sure as hell wouldn’t start with JJ Leroy. How pathetic would that be for a first kill?”

There’s a long pause while Otabek digests that. Never rushes to judgment, Otabek. Ed’s always admired that about him, being pretty much the opposite way, himself.

“I’m a little surprised you’ve never killed anyone,” is what Otabek eventually comes out with.

“I know, right?” Ed replies. “It was hard work sometimes. I’m proud of it.”

Up ahead of them, Viktor makes a strangled, horrified sound, and Chris laughs delightedly. Ed ignores them both with the ease of long practice.

“Congratulations,” Otabek says gravely, which is why Otabek is Ed’s second favorite person.

“Thanks!”

“Is he joking?” Minako asks Al up ahead.

“What do you think?” Al asks, laughing. Minako nods and smiles, relieved, taking this as confirmation that Ed is joking. Al is the best liar Ed knows, which is part of why he’s Ed’s very favorite person.

“I told you,” Viktor murmurs to Katsudon. “Terrifying.”

Ed’s pretty sure Viktor’s talking about Al this time, which is refreshing. And Viktor doesn’t even know about the epic lecture Al’s composing for him on the subject of pressuring your skater yet.

R.I.P., idiot.

* * *

The first thing Ed notices after warmup the next day is Mari’s banner, which is huge, and says YURIO in red, sparkly letters. The O is a tengu face, and there are giant, creepy arms flexing their biceps on either side of the name. Ed would like to know what is wrong with the entire Katsuki family.

Further to that thought, Katsudon’s up first for the short program, and in Ed’s opinion, he does great. But Katsudon’s not happy about it at all, because it wasn’t perfect.

Although, to be fair, Ed can’t really judge him for that. They all want to beat JJ, here, and JJ has a habit of being obnoxiously perfect. Also Katsudon’s score is frustratingly low. Fucking judges. He put a hand down, he didn’t skid on his face across the ice. Whatever.

Then there’s Phichit, but Ed can’t pay attention to his skate no matter how fun it is, because he’s up next. He’s gotta focus.

For once, though, he’s not too stressed about his short program. In fact, he’s probably more emotionally ready for this routine than he’s ever been before. Because this is a skate about his loved ones, and he has a surprising percentage of them right here, and has spent the last few days talking about and fondly remembering the rest.

And there isn’t a damn thing he wouldn’t do to make them happy.

Every once in a while, there’s a skate where everything comes together perfectly. It’s the right kind of day and the right kind of ice, you’ve gotten just the right amount of rest and you have the perfect attitude, and for once, after all the hours of pain and tedium that led to this—for once, everything is…easy. Natural. Smooth. It hardly ever happens, but it’s an unreal feeling when it does. Like you were made for this moment.

Ed finishes his skate, and for a second he doesn’t even know where he is. Man, he zoned.

But he thinks back over what he just did, and damn, he zoned in the good way. He actually started kicking up the difficulty level on jumps partway through just because he could. Did he really do all that shit? He did.

Oh fuck, Lilia is crying. He did amazing.

Not normal amazing, either, as it turns out. World record setting amazing. He can hear Al screaming himself hoarse from here. Holy shit.

It takes Ed a while to calm down from that, and by the time he and Al stop babbling at each other over the barrier and Ed changes clothes and hauls himself up to the skaters’ section of the stands (why is Michele Crispino here? He’s not competing. Is this allowed? Someone needs to save Ed from this), he’s totally missed Chris’s skate.

He catches Otabek’s, though, which—no offense, Chris—is more important. And Otabek does fantastic. Even if he’s a giant nerd who gives Ed a weird thumbs-up before he starts. Blank face, weird thumbs-up. Otabek.

Last is JJ. Ed’s already tired. And not just because of JJ—Katsudon’s been giving Viktor worried looks ever since Ed got here. Yesterday they were married, today they’re weird? They need to be better adults.

Ed steals Katsudon’s glasses for a minute, mostly to distract him, partly out of curiosity. Katsudon flails at him trying to get the glasses back, but age notwithstanding, Ed is an older sibling and Katsudon is a younger sibling, and he’s not getting these glasses back until Ed feels like giving them back. It’s not like anybody’s gonna help, either. Viktor has a noninterference policy when it comes to Ed and Katsudon, so he’s just watching with a smile. And the Crispinos are siblings themselves, even if they are freaky ones, so they get it, and wouldn’t dream of stepping in.

Wait. Ed actually thinks of Yuuri almost like another brother. Oh, shit, when did that happen? He’s never admitting that out loud.

“How fucking blind are you, Katsudon?” he demands, squinting through the thick glass. “You wear contacts on the ice?”

Katsudon sighs, resigned. “Yes, Yurio. I usually wear contacts.”

“Huh.” Ed did not know that. Yuuko’s letting him down on Katsudon gossip. He’ll have to text her and complain. She did tell him about Katsudon’s Viktor Wall of Shame, though, and that’s earned her a lifetime of leeway.

“JJ’s about to start, Yurio. I can’t see him skate without my glasses.”

“Ugh, why would you even want to see him?” Ed demands, but he hands the glasses back. Unfortunately, this means he can see JJ now.

JJ, who seems kinda…subdued, by JJ standards. He sleep weird or something? Because there’s the subdued, and then there’s the fact that he starts his program, and his first jump’s…off. But it’s fine, mistakes happen. He’ll pull it together.

Except it’s not just a mistake, and he’s not gonna pull it together. JJ is going to fuck this up.

This is the exact opposite of Ed’s skate. This is when it all goes wrong and you don’t know why and every attempt to fix it makes it worse. Obviously it’s better when it happens in skating than when it happens in life, but it sucks unbelievably no matter what, and Ed wouldn’t wish it on a single skater here, not even JJ.

It’s brutal to watch. JJ never gives up, which is impressive, but damn. That was painful. And so is the score. They are seriously walking out of the short program with Ed in first and JJ dead last. This is not the way he wanted to kick the guy’s ass.

So that’s awkward and kind of a shame, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ed broke a world record, and he wants somebody to be happy about it with him. The skaters are all out, though. Skaters get weird and anti-social mid-competition, and fair enough. There’s always Al, obviously, but Al might resist going out with Ed alone. He seems to think Ed needs adult supervision during competitions, for some reason. Yakov is a definite no, and Lilia…well, Ed loves Lilia, but she’s not exactly a party person.

Then Ed catches sight of Mari in the hotel lobby. She’s hanging out with Katsudon’s Teacher, which makes sense, and Katsudon’s old coach, which doesn’t. She spots him and beams happily. “Yurio!” she says, “Want us to take you out for a celebratory drink, world record boy?”

And the thing is, she thinks she’s joking, but actually she’s exactly what Ed was looking for, and he’s not letting her escape. Anyway, he likes bars—people do all kinds of wild shit in them. What the hell, he’s got all tomorrow to rest.

“Sure,” he says. “I mean, obviously I’m not drinking. But yeah, I’ll go.”

Mari looks a little shocked, but Minako laughs, delighted. Lilia is eventually going to hunt Ed down and drag him away by the ear, but it’s gonna be a good time in the meantime.

He’ll call Al on his way out the door. That way it’ll be soon enough for Al to catch up, but too late for him to put a stop to this without looking rude.

* * *

<Katsudon>
Why are you and your brother at a bar?
Why are you at a bar with Minako and Celestino!?

<Ed>
idk seemed fun
I notice you didn’t mention your sister
don’t trust her to be a calming influence, katsudon?

<Katsudon>
Yurio.
It is the middle of a competition.
Also you’re nowhere near old enough to be in a bar!
And your brother is even younger!!

<Ed>
jesus will you calm down
I’m not drinking or anything
we’re just talking
about you actually
you should be worrying about that, pal

<Katsudon>
You two are OBVIOUSLY UNDERAGE.
They shouldn’t have even let you in the door!

<Ed>
people can’t even keep me out of bank vaults, katsudon
this bar had no chance at all

<Katsudon>
!!!
????????
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

<Ed>
don’t have a fucking heart attack about it
anyway barcelona barely pretends to give a shit about stuff like drinking ages

<Katsudon>
You should be in bed!

<Ed>
sure but consider this:
SO. SHOULD. YOU.

* * *

Day three of the Grand Prix Final begins with Ed bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and well-rested, while Viktor and Katsudon are clearly worn down and in the middle of some kind of relationship crisis. Again. So really, who’s the irresponsible skater here? Is it Ed? He thinks not.

JJ’s first up. Ed almost can’t watch, but JJ actually does okay? He falls one time, but then he throws a quad loop in at the end like a lunatic. Which is pretty cool, Ed has to admit.

Still, it feels like the judges score him too high. They scored him too goddamn high yesterday, too, out of pity, probably. Though…Ed gets the impulse to give the guy a break. He doesn’t like it, but he gets it.

Next is Phichit, who is a fucking delight as always, but he falls. Given the difficulty level of his skate, he’s probably not looking at a medal. Still, it’s his first year in Seniors. To make it to the GPF at all is damn impressive.

Says Ed, who is going to throw five kinds of tantrum if he doesn’t medal in his first Senior GPF. Luckily nobody can hear what he’s thinking, so nobody has to know what an asshole he is.

Katsudon is up next. He and Viktor are making a display of themselves at rinkside, as usual. Ed hopes this is a sign they’re over their issues and not the opposite. Getting engaged was supposed to make them less of a problem, the bastards.

Katsudon’s skate is fucking fantastic, though. Yuuri at his absolute best. Ed still doesn’t get how he’s so goddamn beautiful on the ice, not even after Katsudon’s best efforts to explain. It’s plain old magic.

It’s world record setting magic, as it turns out. Ed’s not surprised. So that’s Katsudon with a medal. Ed had a pretty good lead on the guy coming in, but world record setting free skates are tough to beat. Ed’s gonna have to get crazy.

Oh, and Chris is having a fit about that world record, Ed can tell just from his skate. God, the guy is so weird about Viktor—and Katsudon, too, now. It’s like just being Viktor-adjacent is enough to make Chris weird about you. Skaters are nuts.

Ed leaves the warm up room a little early because he wants to catch some of Otabek’s skate in person, but instead he gets accosted by fucking Viktor. Apparently Viktor’s going to start skating again (yeah, screw you ankles! Deal with it), but Katsudon’s threatening to quit. And Viktor only wants to skate because he wants to skate against Katsudon.

And that’s why Ed is standing in the hallway hugging a freaking out Viktor. To think, not too long ago, he was in a hallway hugging a freaking out Yuuri, and for pretty much the same reason. Does Ed look like a fucking relationship counselor? Does he? He is a child. He would like to point out that some people get paid to deal with shit like this, and also that he is not one of those people.

“So you’re saying you don’t know if he’s quitting?” Ed demands.

“…He’s going to decide. Later,” Viktor says in a tiny, un-Viktor kind of voice. Damnit, Katsudon.

“Well, I’m not letting him quit,” Ed informs Viktor.

Who laughs weakly, and releases him. “Work your magic, then, Yurio,” he says, tugging at Ed’s sleeve like an anxious child and then walking away. Lilia and Yakov watch him worriedly, but they herd Ed toward the rink without comment.

Viktor thinks they can’t change Katsudon’s mind, and it’s true the guy is stubborn. But Ed’s got him figured out—when it comes to skating, anyway. All he needs to do is piss Katsudon off.

Katsudon is competitive as fuck. He will not want to go out on a silver medal, world record or no. And he doesn’t actually want to quit, either, the loser, he just wants Viktor to be happy and is incapable of communicating. In view of all that, Ed will be damned if he lets the idiot win.

It’s always convenient that this program calls for Ed to be murderously enraged, because he has yet to get to the end of a competition and not be super pissed off about something. In this case, there’s the whole Viktor and Katsudon situation, but there’s also the fact that their angst caused him to miss all but a few seconds of Otabek’s awesome free skate.

So he’s nice and mad at everything when he starts his skate, and that’s perfect. He may fall on his face a little bit, but he’s also moved most of his jumps to the end of the program and is just very good at skating angry.

It’s enough. Barely, but it’s enough. Ed actually wins gold at his very first Senior GPF. He is going to be smug about this forever.

(Also Ed’s plan worked, and the idiot duo have collectively decided that Viktor’s going to coach Katsudon while somehow competing himself. Which means that in real life Yakov is going to have to coach both of them while also navigating their stupid relationship. There goes the last of that guy’s hair.)

* * *

Barcelona has been fantastic, and Ed’s enjoyed basically everything about it right up until this moment. The moment where he’s sitting at a table with Katsudon and JJ, getting blinded by camera flashes and interrogated by idiots.

Yeah, this part fucking sucks.

“You’ve had some tension with skater Jean-Jacques Leroy in the past,” a reporter says, eyes gleaming like a shark sensing blood in the water. So basically, looking like a reporter. “How would you say you feel about him after his Grand Prix Final performance?”

“I’ve never liked him, and I still don’t,” Ed informs the guy. “But I have to admit he handled that fuck up of a short program with grace I didn’t know he had, and then he got back on his feet and fought through the free skate like a badass, even if he was totally overscored and Otabek was robbed. Still, the scoring thing isn’t JJ’s fault. He did all the right stuff. I almost have to respect him now, which is making me uncomfortable.”

Katsudon claps both hands over his face and bows his head, shoulders shaking. Ed honestly doesn’t know whether he’s laughing or crying.

Meanwhile, JJ, to his left, looks totally blindsided by this show of honesty and basic human decency. Come on, Ed’s not that horrible to the guy. Is he?

“And what are your feelings about Katsuki Yuuri?” asks another reporter. Ed recognizes this one. It’s Morooka, the guy who’s obsessed with Katsudon. Ed likes it when reporters are obsessed with Katsudon—it’s probably good for the weirdo’s self-esteem. “You claimed at the beginning of the season that you were going to destroy him because the world only needed one Yuri,” Morooka goes on. “Do you feel you’ve accomplished that?”

Case in point—why does this guy even remember that conversation? Obsessed. Also, Katsudon’s shoulders are all frozen up now, like he’s panicking about what Ed’s going to say. Why? Ed would never say anything terrible to reporters that he hadn’t already said to Katsudon’s face, so it’s not like it could come as a surprise. Christ, everybody in this room must think Ed is some kind of asshole.

“Obviously a tenth of a point isn’t destroying somebody,” Ed points out, because reporters are drama queens and take any excuse to dive off the deep end, so you have to make things clear. “A tenth of a point just means one of the judges liked my hair better. I’ll kick his ass for real eventually, but I haven’t done it yet.”

Morooka beams. Ugh, and now Yuuri’s giving Ed one of his stupidly sweet smiles. In public! Why, Katsudon? Don’t let reporters see that shit and get the idea I’m going soft.

Ed treats the guy to his most intimidating scowl, but Katsudon just keeps on beaming at him because Katsudon is a maniac.

“How does Viktor Nikiforov’s announcement that he’s returning to competition affect your future plans?” asks a Russian, because all Russian reporters are as obsessed with Viktor as Morooka is with Katsudon, but it’s nowhere near as cute.

“Gives me the chance to kick his ass officially, which I appreciate,” Ed informs her. “And it gives Katsu…ki a chance to kick his ass, and Otabek, too.”

“I’ll be the one to defeat Viktor Nikiforov!” JJ declares, not that anybody asked him. And like. Borderline respect or not, Ed can’t let that comment stand.

“Yeah, okay. Dream on, dreamer. Have you ever broken a record of his? No. He still doesn’t even know who you are,” Ed tells JJ and also the world.

Katsudon’s hiding his face again. He’s definitely laughing this time, though. Ed can hear the snickering from here. At least this stupid press thing is making somebody happy.

Ed wonders how murdery Lilia will be if he just bolts at this point. Will there be knives? There haven’t been knives so far, so…

“How did it feel to come so close to losing after setting a world record in the short program?” asks some reporter who was born without a sense of empathy, and also without a sane understanding of what constitutes loss.

Ed sighs and thinks knives might be worth it.

Which gives him an idea, actually.

* * *

Viktor collects a traumatized Yuuri from the press after the panel and escorts him back to their skater friends, who will be sympathetic. Usually he’d blame the reporters, but seeing as Yuuri was just on a panel with Yurio, well. He knows whose fault this is.

And indeed.

“I didn’t understand what it was going to be like to talk to the press with Yurio,” Yuuri tells Viktor in a hesitant, almost dazed voice. He’s still a little pink from second-hand embarrassment. Dazed and pink is a very good look on him, Viktor notes. He’s noted it before, but it’s always a pleasure to be reminded. “Can’t anyone do anything to stop him?”

“No, Yuuri,” Viktor informs him. “It’s quite impossible. Hadn’t you ever seen any of his interviews?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “Before…I didn’t know him well enough to look them up. And once I did know him, I was afraid to look them up.”

“Wise,” Viktor concedes.

“You should see him talk to sponsors,” Mila puts in dreamily. “It is an education.”

“But they keep giving him money?” Yuuri marvels.

“Witchcraft,” Chris suggests. “Possibly mind control.”

Yuuri’s friend Phichit, who has been tapping away on his phone, now proudly holds it up for inspection. It’s showing a video from when Yurio was about thirteen, after he’d won his first Junior Worlds. Viktor remembers this interview well. Not as well as Yakov does, though. Yakov may still be having nightmares about it. The poor man spends so much time trying to bury interviews in which Yurio admits to something incriminating, but they will keep resurfacing. And now that Yurio’s in Seniors and winning international competitions? Oh, there’s no hiding anything.

Viktor worries for Yakov’s health sometimes.

Are…did you…” Phichit’s picked the interview up in the middle, when the reporter’s started to realize what she’s dealing with and is turning into a stammering mess in response. “Are you saying you lived a life of crime before you began skating?

Yurio stares at her, impassive. “I’m gonna have to check the statute of limitations on a couple things and get back to you on that.”

Phichit cuts the video off there and beams at everyone triumphantly. “See?” he says, oddly cheerful. “He’s improving.”

The truly horrifying thing about that comment is that it’s true. Ah, Viktor remembers his innocent youth, back when he thought Yurio was only making up stories to shock the reporters. Happier days. “Where is Yurio, by the way?”

“He and Al ran off together,” Phichit informs him. “I think they grabbed Otabek, too. Al was saying something about damage control.”

“Well,” Viktor says brightly, “I wish him the best luck in the world with that.”

He says that, but Alyosha must be managing some kind of damage control—otherwise Yurio’s career would have been over the first time he opened his mouth in front of a reporter.

Alyosha is a menace and Viktor swears he will never anger him. Or let Yuuri anger him, either. Though he seems predisposed to like Yuuri, thank God. One less thing to worry about.

In any case, everyone has more or less survived the interviews, so there’s nothing left of the GPF except the exhibition skate (Viktor honestly can’t wait) and the banquet. The banquet! It’s their anniversary.

And this has been the best year of his life.

* * *

It’s no surprise to Chris that Yuri’s exhibition skate is absolutely terrifying on every level. The music, the stunts, the costume…his face. To say nothing of the whole thing where Otabek stood at the edge of the rink throwing knives at him. Is that legal? Maybe it’s just that no one thought they needed to make it illegal before now. Chris hopes this exhibition isn’t going to involve police. With any luck, the authorities will assume the knives are props and therefore won’t do anything about them. The poor fools.

Also, Chris thanks God once again that all that backflipping around on the ice scares the judges and is therefore forbidden in official programs, because if it weren’t, Yuri would be the reigning world champion of everything for life.

But no, none of that is surprising, not even the knives. What is surprising is Yuri’s brother’s reaction to his skate.

“Brother,” Alexei says sternly after the exhibitions are over, when they’re all standing around outside the locker room waiting on Viktor and the less alarming Yuuri to head out for pre-banquet drinks. “What if it had worked?”

Intrigued, Chris pretends to be absorbed in his phone and eavesdrops shamelessly.

“It wasn’t ever going to work, Al,” Yuri argues, exasperated. “If it was gonna work, we wouldn’t still be here, would we?”

“It would be typical of your life if it had decided to work just once, just now.”

“Yeah, sure. Very scientific, little brother.”

“Where were you planning to get the carbon from, anyway?”

“From the antifreeze. Obviously.”

And then blessed little Phichit, who is even more shameless, in his way, than Chris, just up and asks the thing. “What are you two talking about?”

And Alexei says, “Brother was trying to transmute the rink into diamond.”

To which Yuri responds, “I just said I was going to transmute the antifreeze into diamond. Because there’s no carbon in H2O.”

“I mean, there are definitely impurities in the—”

“Not enough to make enough diamond to coat the whole—”

“And if you had made enough diamond to coat the whole rink, you would have broken your skates and probably your stupid head!”

“Excuse me,” Phichit cuts in, now recording this conversation on his phone and not being as subtle about it as he seems to think he is. “Maybe my English isn’t as good as I thought…‘transmute’?”

Yeah, that’s a new one on Chris, too.

“It’s a specialty word, don’t worry about it,” says Yuri dismissively, completely missing the point.

“I’m curious, though?” Phichit. Chris may be starting to love him a little.

“It’s when you change a substance from one thing to another,” Alexei explains. “Especially through alchemy.”

Alchemy,” Chris repeats, unable to stay out of this conversation any longer.

“Yeah, alchemy. Which doesn’t work on this planet, so Al is just being a big baby about it.”

God, so they really are aliens, or at least they firmly believe they are. Chris had thought that was a joke, but this seems too elaborate for a joke. What kind of world is this? Chris is upset. He checks on Otabek—standing slightly behind Yuri and to his left, as usual—but Otabek is displaying all the expression of a sphinx, also as usual.

“Um, and how did you know Yuri was trying to…transmute?…antifreeze into diamond?” Phichit persists, a stronger man than all of them.

“He was skating the array for that transmutation,” Alexei explains more or less completely incomprehensibly. “That’s the pattern he was skating—just that array, over and over. To see if he couldn’t manage to maim himself on a sheet of diamond, apparently.”

“I didn’t feed any energy into it, did I?” Yuri grumbles. “It was just an inert array. For fun! And it wouldn’t have worked anyway, so you need to let it go.”

“You also forgot to take temperature into account, Brother,” Alexei informs him.

“I did not,” Yuri howls indignantly.

It’s at this point that they switch to their apparently actual alien language and become officially incomprehensible, which is something of a relief.

Phichit stops recording, sighs with deep satisfaction, and sets about posting that video absolutely everywhere. That should be fun.

Otabek may, perhaps, be smirking slightly. Maybe.

Wow. Viktor and Yuuri need to stop canoodling and get the hell out here already, because Chris needs a drink immediately.

* * *

Katsudon cuts Ed away from the crowd outside the door to the banquet hall and lectures him about the knife thing at length. Why now, Katsudon? Also, Ed doesn’t remember asking for a Katsudon-shaped mom at any point, but here they are, anyway. Doing that mom thing.

Ed pretty much ignores the whole lecture until Otabek’s name comes up. “And how did you talk Otabek into throwing knives at you?! He seems like such a responsible person!” cries Katsudon, obviously stressed. Way more stressed than Beka’s mom, who texted Ed immediately after the skate and clearly thought the whole thing was hilarious. Ditto Yuuko, actually. Ed’s own mom would’ve been a little worried, but mostly impressed that Ed managed to dodge all the knives. Katsudon is more of a mom than any actual moms Ed knows.

“It was easy, Katsudon,” Ed explains. “He knew I could dodge the knives, and he knew it would freak everybody else out. That’s the magic of Otabek. He’s quiet and he’s chill, so everybody assumes he’s responsible. They’re wrong, though. In real life, he’s a goddamn trolling asshole, and that’s why I love him.”

And then Otabek laughs, because apparently Otabek’s been standing behind him for a while, which at least explains why Katsudon was staring wide-eyed over his shoulder making panicky little hand-gestures.

“And Ed is so loud and abrasive that everyone assumes he’s a violent maniac who hates humanity,” Otabek counters, smiling faintly. “But in real life, he’s one of the most caring people I know, and that’s why I love him.”

Ed may be blushing. Ed is going to firmly pretend that he is absolutely not blushing. “So there you go,” he explains to Katsudon, who now has an expression unacceptably close to the one people get when they’re looking at baby ducklings. “Assholes unite! You and Viktor should know all about that. Anyway, dinner. Are we eating fucking dinner or just hiding in a corner gossiping all night?”

And he storms away without waiting for an answer, ignoring Otabek’s laughter and Katsudon’s concerned follow-up questions, both.

Once he gets to the table, he also firmly ignores Al’s smirky face. He needs better loved ones.

* * *

The banquet this year is nowhere near as fun as last year. Admittedly, it’s possible that nothing will ever top The Banquet, but Ed was hoping for some entertainment. Sadly, Katsudon is sober as fuck, which leaves nothing to amuse Ed but an insufficient amount of food and far too many sponsors. Sponsors everywhere. Babbling. Asking invasive questions. Asking stupid questions. Making weird demands. Breathing right in Ed’s face like fucking creeps.

At least that’s true for the first hour and a half, but blessedly that’s about the time Katsudon snaps and physically drags Ed away from a sponsor mid-sentence without a backward glance. Apparently he can’t even handle this shit sober. Katsudon is kinda the best.

“I’m so sorry to have interrupted when you were talking to sponsors,” he says once he’s successfully towed Ed into a corner where nobody should overhear them, lapsing into overly polite Japanese and clearly on the verge of hyperventilating. This sure is Ed’s night to get dragged into dark corners by Katsudon. People will talk.

“It’s cool,” Ed tells him, and it really is. It would’ve been even if Katsudon didn’t obviously need help, because the sponsor Ed was talking to had grabby hands and the plastic, self-satisfied expression of the unrepentant hypocrite. Basically, if their talk had gone on much longer, Ed would’ve punched him, and that would’ve been much worse than being dragged away.

“So…Viktor just…um, we’re getting married.” At least he’s dropped the polite, but he’s kept the Japanese, so…this is meant to be a secret? Somehow?

Ed bites back the first thing he wants to say, which is, Aren’t you already married? He bites back the second, third, and fourth things, too, and settles on, “…Congratulations?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Katsudon still seems panicky. More panicky, it has to be said, than the time he walked in on Ed with a suitcase full of knives. The guy’s priorities are so broken. “I…Phichit…that.”

“Spit it the fuck out, Katsudon, before I kick you in the gut and make you miss your flight.”

“I want you to be in the wedding, but I don’t know how!” Katsudon basically wails, clutching at his hair. “Viktor wants you in the wedding, too! But Chris is going to be best man, and Phichit, and then there’s Alexei—oh no, we can’t leave Alexei out! He would be so upset! And then Mari and Yuuko—”

At this point, Ed smacks Katsudon’s hands away from his hair, then grabs his cheeks and squeezes them together, rendering Katsudon incoherent until he gives up on talking altogether and just breathes short, panicky breaths onto the inside of Ed’s wrists.

There are not many ways to make Katsudon look unattractive, but this is one of them. Ed stores the knowledge away for future use. “Katsudon,” he says, “Al and I will not be offended if we’re not in your wedding.”

Katsudon’s eyebrows go all distressed and he pries Ed’s hands away enough to say, “But we want you in the wedding.”

Ed firmly squishes Katsudon’s face again so he’ll shut the hell up. “So make Phichit do it. He’s your best man, right? That’s what you were trying to babble at me? Just tell him who all you want involved, and he’ll make it happen. He loves this party shit. And you, you just…have a fucking drink—but not twelve drinks!—and try not to think about it until the actual day, okay? You’re such a disaster. Why are you even getting married? Our parents never got married. Marriage is weird.”

Katsudon mumbles something, and since Ed actually wants the answer to this, he reluctantly releases him.

“Viktor is mine,” Katsudon declares.

“That’s creepy,” Ed informs him.

“I’m Viktor’s, too!” Katsudon counters, indignant. Ed nods, reluctantly accepting this as equivalent. “But I want everyone to know it,” Katsudon continues. “Also, I want the law to recognize it. And immigration, and tax agencies. And hospitals. And…in general, marriage would make living together simpler.”

So there’s a weird, possessive reason, and then there’s a good, rational reason. Ed would be lying if he said he didn’t get both reasons.

“Whatever makes you idiots happy,” he concedes. “Talk to Phichit.”

“Phichit,” Katsudon agrees, looking bizarrely serious and determined.

Ed nods back—mission Don’t Panic About Weddings accepted. And then he steers Katsudon toward the banquet, because Viktor is the one who signed on to deal with Katsudon’s wedding nerves, not Ed.

* * *

YURI’S ANGELS MONTHLY
The monthly newsletter for fans of Yuri “Edward” Plisetsky

Hello, Angels!

Well, it has been a glorious Senior debut for our Ed, and we haven’t even made it to Worlds yet. In this issue, we’ll go over the highlights of the Grand Prix Final, which Ed. WON. Ed won the Grand Prix Final. During his Senior debut. This is a real thing that happened. I was there, and it was amazing. (Details collected by myself and many enterprising Angels on the spot—thank you so much, Angels!—and also by our mysterious President, who was apparently there and deliberately told no one. ~*~*Mysteriously*~*~)

 

“Every once in a while you get a perfect day.”

Ed is a world record holder, Angels.

He is fifteen years old, this is his Senior debut, and he broke a world record.

And for that program of all programs! His beautiful, moving program based around the theme of his devotion to his loved ones. I don’t know how he can make that any more flawless before Worlds, but this is Ed, so we know he’ll try.

His free skate was also fantastic, and at any other competition would take center stage. How does he keep getting more and more vulnerable and endearing in his short program, but simultaneously so much more terrifying in the free? Mysteries!

 

“We didn’t get arrested last time! …Technically.”

Speaking of Ed’s loved ones, let’s…let’s just discuss Ed’s relationship with Otabek Altin for a moment, shall we? We’ve known for years that Otabek was close to Ed, though whether that closeness has become romantic or not lately, nobody knows. (Especially not Ed, one feels.) We all know Otabek as a quiet boy, a solid but not outstanding skater, and, if we’ve taken the time to stalk him especially hard, a DJ. So maybe that last thing was surprising, but not the kind of surprising that would lead us to expect a) his surprise bronze at Worlds last season, b) his amazing performance this season, and c) his apparent history of COMMITTING CRIMES WITH ED. And yet? These facts are our new reality?! (Not to mention the thing with the knives. THE THING WITH THE KNIVES.)

Then, too, our mysterious President has this to say about Otabek: “He’s a good boy. Solid. The kind of guy you want at your back in a fight.”

This is like the cage fighting thing all over again.

 

I almost have to respect him now, which is making me uncomfortable.

Oh, JJ Leroy. Thank you for being you. Thank you for not being able to read a room to save your soul. Thank you for your great skating, your resilience, your seemingly genuine kindness, and your total inability to play the mind games you are always trying to play. Thank you, most of all, for bringing out the best/worst in Ed at all times. We Angels salute you.

 

I’ll kick his ass for real eventually, but I haven’t done it yet.”

Meanwhile, Ed really respects Katsuki Yuuri, doesn’t he? Here he is, winning his very first Senior GPF (!!!), and still he’s refusing to imply that he’s better than Katsuki. I don’t think we’ve seen him show this much respect for anyone before, not even or perhaps especially not Viktor Nikiforov. They’re going to be such wonderful rivals—both successors of Viktor in a way. Both world record holders. Both deeply, deeply strange people.

Watching Katsuki interact with Ed is intriguing, too. How many people have we seen who become less nervous in the presence of Ed? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking Katsuki, Alexei, and Otabek. They’re the only ones, Angels, unless we count Lilia Baranovskaya, who has probably never been nervous in her life.

Simply braver people than the rest of us.

I’m excited and scared to see how Viktor plays into Ed and Katsuki’s rival dynamic when he’s skating as well as coaching (which, by the way…how?). So much to look forward to, Angels!

 

I’m telling you, don’t fuck with Phichit.”

And now an overheard comment from Phichit Chulanont to Ed:

“Hello, hi, oh my god. You are a walking meme, and I love your work so much.”

Phichit Chulanont: one of us. ONE OF US. We’re so proud. And we love his skating! And his Instagram! And his vengeful spirit when his friends are threatened! Angels, we’re adopting him.

 

AND FINALLY:

Brother was trying to transmute the rink into diamond.”

Have you all seen the video? THIS VIDEO? In the extremely unlikely event that you haven’t, you must, immediately. Go. We’ll wait.

…Yeah. Still not sure what to make of any of this, Angels. Trolling, insanity, actual alien invaders? Jury’s out. But Phichit did good work helping Ed and Alexei break the internet with that conversation, so once again, bless that boy.

(Alexei, meanwhile, has successfully evaded any Angel attempting to interview him for the third year running. It’s deliberate, Angels. There’s no way it isn’t. Ed has a criminal history and his brother is a ninja. They may both be aliens. These are the facts we’re working with.)

Look forward to Worlds, everyone! Who knows what wild things Ed will have done to amuse us by then?

The answer is no one. Literally no one knows what Ed will do next. That is the beauty of our fandom.

See you next month, Angels!

* * *

“Pack up your shit, Al, we’re moving to Japan,” Ed announces. “I’m thinking six months a year. Definitely over winter. What do you think?”

Ed took a week after the GPF to go back to Moscow with Al and visit Grandpa. Yakov didn’t like it, but that’s never stopped Ed before. Lilia didn’t seem to mind, which is what matters.

“…Does Yakov know about this?” Al asks suspiciously instead of answering the question.

“Yakov’s hair is all falling out because of Viktor already. I’m easing him into this one. Honestly, Grandpa’s gonna be the harder sell. And so is Japan, because Japan’s got buckets of old people already. They’re not gonna like us moving in Grandpa. We may have to smuggle him in.”

Ed. No more smuggling people. You promised!”

“It’s not like I’d be doing it personally! C’mon, Al, those connections are just sitting there going to waste. I should use them.”

“It would absolutely not be healthy for Grandpa to switch countries every six months! And that’s twice as true if you’re smuggling him in and out. Don’t be more ridiculous than you are already.”

Who’s ridiculous?”

You are ridiculous. You spend so much time with Viktor you’ve forgotten what normal looks like!”

“Ooh, burn.”

“You go back to St Petersburg and skate with Viktor and Yuuri, like we planned. I will go to Hasetsu and pick out a house, because I don’t trust you to pick anything livable on your own—”

“Man, you are lashing out today.”

“And then I will visit you all the time when you move there. And maybe I’ll bring Grandpa sometimes, but not too often. You know he doesn’t like flying.”

“Fine,” Ed allows, because the house is the important thing. He’ll talk Al into more when he’s in less of a mood. “Why are you in a mood, anyway?”

At first it seems like Al’s going to deny it, at which point Ed will flip his shit, but eventually he sighs and says, “I’m happy.”

Ed fails to see the problem.

“And you’re happy. It’s been five years, Ed, and we’re happy here. At this point…would we go back home even if we figured out how?”

Oh, well, that’s a bleak as fuck conversation for a pleasant afternoon. “Not until after Grandpa dies, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, but by the time Grandpa dies, you’ll be married to Otabek.” Al states this like it is just a fact.

“I will not—”

“And we’d have to leave everyone behind. Otabek and Viktor and Mila and Yuuri and Sergei and Yuuko and Lilia and Yakov. Phichit and my advisor and my classmates and the police who helped me find you—”

“Okay, stop.”

“But we’d gain back Winry and Teacher and Sig and Granny Pinako…if Granny Pinako’s still alive by the time Grandpa dies—”

“Shut up.”

Al shuts up. He shuts up, but he looks goddamn miserable about it, so Ed slides down the wall of their room—the room Grandpa gave them in the nice apartment Ed bought for him—and pulls Al down to sit next to him. So they can stare at this room, think about what they have here, think about what they lost by coming here, and math this shit out.

So far, Ed’s only given up on Amestris on his bleakest days. But it’s past time to face the possibility that getting back there might do more harm than good, for one thing, and not even be what they want, for another.

“I want to see Winry and everybody,” Al says in a tiny, helpless voice, like he’s ten years old again. “I want them to know we’re alive.”

“Me too,” Ed admits, probably not sounding much older.

“But I also want to do Earth science and live with Grandpa and see all our friends here.”

Yeah, Ed wants that, too. But one thing he’s damn sure of is that there’s no way to get any of that through the Gate, even if they figured out a way to the Gate. The cost would be crippling—probably literally. Even if they could get their hands on a philosopher’s stone to offset the cost (which they can’t), the Gate showed signs of being irrational and petty in any case.

So fuck it. They’re gonna have to do it the Earth science way. “I wanted to punch a hole in space-time anyway,” Ed murmurs.

Al goes tense beside him. “What.”

“Let’s do both!” Ed decides, jumping up. “Let’s just open a fucking wormhole and jump back and forth between worlds.”

“Ed,” Al says in a quiet, serious tone of voice, like he’s talking to someone who might be dangerously unstable. “We have no idea how to do that. Earth science is probably hundreds of years from knowing how to do that. No one’s even proved that wormholes actually exist.”

“Good thing we’re smart.”

“Even if we could do it, we’d have no idea where our hypothetical wormhole would go. It could go anywhere. Assuming we managed to reach alternate universes, they must be infinite. How would we ever find ours?”

“We’ve gotta be connected to it somehow. There’s gotta be something in us that’s unique to our universe. We just gotta figure out what it is and how to track it.”

“And then open a wormhole—or something—between dimensions.”

“Probably a lot of wormholes.”

Al stares at Ed for a while, then slides sideways down the wall, collapses onto his back on the floor, throws his arm over his eyes, and starts laughing helplessly. For a long time. Maybe a little hysterically.

Sounds like agreement to Ed.

It’s good to finally have their future plans sorted out.

* * *

Today is Yuuri’s first day skating in Russia. He’s a little nervous. Very nervous.

Okay, he’s terrified, and Viktor’s out walking Makkachin one last time before they head to the rink, which means the only person available to panic at is Yurio, who is just. Really unlikely to be sympathetic. But you have to work with the material you’re given.

“Yakov’s going to hate me,” he informs Yurio.

Yurio dramatically rolls his eyes. “No, he’s not, Katsudon. Are you going to listen to me if I tell you why he’s not, or are you gonna keep freaking out no matter what I say until I have to punch you in your stupid, perfect face?”

…Now Yurio’s claiming that Yuuri has a perfect face. As Viktor would say, wow. “I’ll try to listen.”

“Yeah, well, you better fucking listen. Or else,” Yurio says, holding up a demonstrative threatening fist. “You’re gonna be Yakov’s favorite, okay? You don’t even have to do anything special to earn it—all you have to do is be less of a diva asshole than the rest of us. Which you are, just, by nature. You could fuck up every single jump all practice long and then burst into tears and you would still be less annoying than Georgi. Who is less annoying than Viktor.”

“…Where do you rank in all this?” Yuuri asks, still worried, but also a little entertained.

“I’m probably tied with Georgi,” Yurio decides after some consideration. “I have a problem with authority,” he adds, as if this might be news to Yuuri. “Mila’s probably the least annoying of all of us, and even she’s a giant, shameless troll who lives off the suffering of others. Most everybody else falls somewhere between Mila and Georgi. You’re going to be the best one, I’m telling you. You’re a pain in the ass, sure, but you’re not on our level.”

It almost feels like Yuuri should be insulted by that. But that’s Yurio’s way: comforting people by means of insults. It’s his brother who actually knows how to be comforting. “Speaking of people who aren’t annoying, is your brother moving back here, or is he planning to stay in Moscow with your grandfather?”

Yurio looks slightly shifty. “Uh. Usually he switches off between us.”

Of all the things for Yurio to be cagey about, Yuuri wasn’t expecting this to be one. “Usually. But not now?”

“Well.” Yurio makes a determined study of the clouds outside the window. “Right now he’s in Hasetsu.”

“…Why is your brother in my hometown, Yurio?”

“He’s buying a house, I guess.”

He guesses. Yuuri stares in complete bafflement until Yurio stops looking sheepish, starts looking belligerent instead, and snaps, “Shut up. We’re planning for the inevitable moment after you and Viktor get married when you drag him off to Japan with you. You’re not leaving me here with Yakov all alone!”

“Why…How…” Yuuri has so many questions he can’t get traction on any of them. “Why do you think we’ll end up in Japan instead of Russia?” There. That’s a start.

“Because who would put up with these fucking winters if they didn’t have to?” Yurio asks. “No one, that’s who. Not even Viktor’s that dumb. Also you have a real family, but all Viktor has is Yakov. Real family wins. Yakov can just shift his ass to Japan if he wants to see Viktor. Fuck knows he can afford it.”

Yuuri feels there are some flaws in that logic, but fine. “You’re sixteen. Your brother is fifteen. Is it even legal for you to own property?”

Yurio frowns at him in honest confusion. “Does that matter?”

Yuuri sighs and hides his face in his hands. Yurio’s criminal tendencies are so exhausting. He doesn’t want to have to fight legal battles to keep Yurio out of prison. That would be ridiculous, and the press would have a field day. The internet would implode.

On the upside, he’s not worried about skating with Yakov anymore. Leave it to Yurio to put things in perspective.

“Yuuri!” Viktor calls out, walking happily through the door with Makkachin, bright and eager as if they haven’t seen each other for years, rather than the half hour it’s actually been.

Viktor. Viktor will protect him from Yurio’s…everything. Yuuri turns, grabs Viktor’s shirt, and hides his face against Viktor’s shoulder, squashing Makkachin slightly between them before she darts away and tackles Yurio to the floor. Viktor puts a comforting arm around Yuuri’s shoulders.

“Save me,” Yuuri instructs Viktor, ignoring Yurio’s grumbles about death by dog.

“Oh, come on. Save you from what?” Yurio demands indignantly, pushing Makkachin to the side. “I was helping, you ungrateful—hey, stop laughing at me, Nikiforov, because I will break your face with my fist, see if I don’t. Katsudon, you stop laughing, too!”

All things considered, and Yakov-related panic notwithstanding, Yuuri has amazingly few regrets about the past year of his life.

* * *

Roy Mustang opens his eyes after closing them on the whiteness of the Gate, and sees…white. Is he still…?

No. No, this is ice. And he’s getting blood all over it. Hawkeye’s blood, his own blood. Where the hell…?

There are voices raised all around him, shouting, demanding, but in a language he doesn’t know. He tries to stand, but can’t manage it. He looks around, recognizing no one and nothing. This is not ideal. Words are his best weapon, followed by information, with alchemy coming in third and guns coming in fourth, and if he has none of those things

He snaps, and nothing happens. He claps and slams his hands to the ice, and nothing happens. So it’s true. He’s alone here, and he is all but defenseless.

Before he has time to violently panic, a wild-eyed blond boy skates over to him, ignoring the people calling out to him, and comes to a sharp, proficient stop right in front of Roy, spraying ice into his face. Which feels deliberate, so this is an excellent start. The boy is wearing skin-tight, black clothing, with no obvious place to hide weapons—but he hardly needs them, seeing as he has knives strapped to his feet. Then, too, he looks like the kind of person whose body is itself a weapon. The way Havoc used to be.

“Yo,” he says, looking down at Roy. “You must be confused as fuck.”

And he says it in Amestrian. Thank God, he speaks Amestrian. The boy may be extremely dangerous and a brat besides, but it’s impossible for Roy to feel hostile toward him in view of a common language.

“That is completely accurate,” Roy agrees.

The wild boy grins at him. “Well, good news: the Gate didn’t take any of your body parts. It loves doing that shit, okay? I think it has a fetish. Bad news: you did something that unbalanced the balance of the world, or what the fuck ever, so. The Gate sent you to another world. One where alchemy doesn’t work.”

Roy had, of course, heard some of this from Truth itself. It all seems much more relevant and horrible now that he’s living it.

“How do I get back?” Roy asks immediately. Because that’s all that matters. The rest is a distraction.

“Eyes on the prize, nice,” the boy says approvingly. “But my brother and I have been working on that for five years, and no joy. Feel free to help out, though. We can put you up in the meantime, fake you an ID. All us aliens together, right? Grandpa should love that. You’re gonna have to learn a new language or two, though, and then get your ass a job to pay your way, so be ready for that. Equivalent exchange.”

Five years ago. Dangerously illegal alchemy, a blood-soaked array in an empty house, photographs of two golden-eyed, smiling children. Children he’d been certain were dead. “Edward and Alphonse Elric,” Roy realizes, incredulous.

“Ha! Wow, it’s been a while since I heard my actual name. Why do you even know my name? No, never mind, I think I can guess. Bet we’re some kind of cautionary tale for alchemists, huh?”

“I saw your house,” Roy informs him.

Elric abruptly loses every hint of friendliness. “Oh? And what the fuck were you doing at our house?”

“I…” God, that feels like a lifetime ago. “There was a mistake in your documents. You two were listed as being adults, so I was going to recruit you.”

“Huh.” Elric looks briefly distant, picturing an alternate life and not, apparently, finding the vision pleasing. “Weird. Yeah, I’m Edward Elric, and my brother’s Alphonse—he’s sitting over there in the—nope, he’s coming down here now. Anyway. Nice to meet you…?”

“Colonel Roy Mustang, State Alchemist.”

“Figured you for a dog of the military.” Elric makes a face. “Great.”

“Yes, well, we all have our flaws,” Roy snaps impatiently, though he ought to know better than to antagonize his only hope of aid. He’s having a difficult day. “Who are these people?”

Two men have skated up behind Elric, and a boy has walked hesitantly onto the ice to stand beside them. All three are watching Roy with varying levels of bafflement, but the boy is the only one whose eyes promise potential violence. That must be Alphonse. As for the men, for all that this is apparently a different world, one of them looks surprisingly Xingian, and the other surprisingly Drachman. This is useful. It means Roy won’t stand out.

Both men also look frankly appalled by Roy and everything to do with him, which is a little insulting. In terms of threat level, though, they are nothing to the quiet, steady menace of Alphonse, or the barely contained wildfire that is Edward.

“Oh,” Elric says, glancing back at them. “This is my brother, Alphonse.” Alphonse nods to Roy, losing none of his slightly hostile wariness. “Me and Al were the only Amestrians in this world up until you, which means the other guys are actually from here, and…yeah, there’s no alchemy here, and you just fell out of the Gate right in front of them. They’re freaking out. But the guy with the dark hair is Yuuri, and the other one is Viktor. Friends of ours. I’m gonna have to answer a thousand uncomfortable questions from them because of you, so thanks for nothing.”

It is perhaps fortunate that Roy has temporarily lost the ability to transmute fire. “Elric. I need to get back to Amestris quickly.”

Edward Elric has a distinctly unnerving stare. “Oh yeah? Well maybe you shouldn’t have done human transmutation, then, because the party’s definitely gonna be over by the time you get back. Like, I get why you’d do it. I get why. But it’s a sin, and the thing about atoning for sins is that you’re not supposed to enjoy it.”

“Brother,” Alphonse sighs, chiding, though he doesn’t look away from Roy for a second.

Roy has been trying not to wonder what the Elric brothers’ lives were like when they first landed in this strange world as children who knew nothing about the place, not even the language. Children who had lost everything, from their parents to their home to their alchemy. But every comment they make forces him to think about it.

“Welcome to Earth, Colonel Roy Mustang,” Edward says with a horrible grin. “You’re gonna hate it here.”