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Odile

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Pitch-black, even in the middle of the day. The room might as well have housed a ghost; the furniture sat unused, an unpacked bag tossed in the corner, the dishevelled and empty sheets lying cold. Even the air was stale, specks of dust hanging weightless in the draftless apartment. Between the curtains, a single sliver of light pushed through; it cast a long, bright line across the floorboards, eventually falling onto a patch of pale skin.

Satoru could feel the heat of the sun against his toes. He forced his eyes open, staring through his smudged and unclean lenses. From his place curled on the floor, he could see his foot, still ragged and bruised: the result of countless hours spent on the ice, blades strapped against his soles. His reward for the thousands of jumps and spins he’d practiced and rehearsed.

His only reward at all. He sighed and pressed his face back into his knees, tugging his foot out of the light. He didn’t want to see it. If he could, he would wipe his memory clean, until his thoughts were as smooth and blank as fresh ice. He wanted to forget the sound of the music in his ears, wanted to forget the eyes of the audience, wanted to erase the sight of the podium from afar.

His phone was abandoned by his side, its screen facedown and ringer silent. Satoru didn’t need to read it anymore—he knew what the world was whispering about him outside of these walls. The words had been carved behind his eyelids, as sharp and biting as any cold he’d ever known.

Technically proficient, they wrote. But Fujinuma lacks feeling and emotion in his skating.

He has the skill, they said, but not the heart.

A metronome on ice.

And the worst thing—worse than coming in last, worse than staring at his competitor’s backs, worse than the pitying look from his mother when he stepped off the plane—the worst thing was that they were right.

Be it in Sochi or in Ishikari, no tears came for him. He couldn’t even rouse the anger to refute their voices, to challenge their dissection of his mind. There should be a crack in him somewhere, something that made him sob or scream or fight. So he locked himself away in his apartment, dully waiting for some reaction or response. But there was only—nothing.

Some part of him noted that he should probably be concerned; that this apathy that had settled over him wasn’t normal, wasn’t safe. He could distantly remember a time when gliding on his skates had stirred something in him, had meant something, but—

(Two brown eyes stared up at him, her lips shivering blue. “You’ll never stop skating, will you, Fujinuma? Promise?”)

—that died, a long time ago.

Satoru shut his eyes, his fingernails digging into the flesh of his shins. Slowly, he raised his head. His skating bag stared back at him, untouched ever since he sequestered himself away from the world. Sluggishly, unsteadily, with his legs crying out beneath him, the skater forced himself to his feet. His fingers found the strap of his bag, and he shrugged the familiar weight onto his shoulder, letting it settle against his side.

With nothing else, he might as well skate.

 

 

Airi had given him the key to OasiRink years ago, with Takahashi’s blessing. They said was an honour to have a top skater call their rink home, claiming it was good for business. After his last performance, Satoru didn’t know how much longer they would feel that way; he might as well take advantage while he still could. The rink’s business hours were already over, the parking lot empty. So Satoru slipped the key into the backdoor, the hood of his sweater covering his head as he slipped inside, unseen.

By the time he had changed and laced up his skates, the sun had already set. Satoru didn’t bother turning the lights on in the rink: the dark was comforting, anonymous. It didn’t care about medals or scores, about victories won or lost. The darkness could see nothing, could say nothing. So Satoru slid out onto the ice with only the moon for company, taking a moment to watch the heavy snow falling beyond the windows. His lungs took a long inhale, savouring the sterile, cold air.

Slowly and ceremoniously, he removed his glasses, leaving them folded atop the boards.

And then, he skated.

He didn’t want or need music; Satoru let himself move outside the confines of rhythm or melody, his blades scraping across the ice. His loose shirt fluttered around his torso, the black fabric brushing against his stomach. As he always did, he allowed his mind to go blissfully blank; he let the feeling of gliding whisk him far, far away from Ishikari, from himself. His feet danced alongside each other, tangling and separating, trapped in a lonely pas de deux.

Every so often, he kicked off the ice, his body turning weightless as he jumped. In those few heartbeats, he could feel the weight of the world dropping off of his skin. Satoru revelled in it, wanted to let that feeling swallow him whole. In that nothing, suspended beyond the confines of gravity, for the briefest of moments—Satoru could pretend that he was gone, too. That—

(“There could be town,” she said, breathing onto her frozen fingers, “where only I am missing.”)

But reality always came surging from underneath him, his blades crashing down onto the ice.

Satoru wasn’t an idiot. He knew what was wrong with him; knew that he was a coward, someone who refused to look into the heart of his own mind. Knew that he was too scared to think about those memories, that girl, a red coat without an owner. It was pathetic, pathetic, because he couldn’t even remember the sound of her voice anymore. Couldn’t even remember the last time her name had ever graced his tongue.

But at least this feeling, this empty nothing that defined his everything—at least he still had that left.

His feet took him flowing backward, his spine hunched forward and arms extended like wings. Yes, just like that; glide away from it, skim the surface but go no deeper. Satoru raised one leg and allowed himself to twirl on his axis, spinning until the world became a moonlit blur. He could feel his heart breaking against his ribs, the breaths clawing out of his throat, the sweat kissing his temples—and he embraced it, closing his eyes and letting it steal him away.

Satoru dug his raised skate into the frost, feeling the ice shave away beneath his blade. He jerked to a halt, arms raised above his head as he gasped for air, head tilted back. And for a couple of seconds, he just stood there, letting the comforting frozen air seep into his skin.

And then he heard it: clapping.

Satoru jerked towards the sound. Between the low light and his imperfect eyes, he couldn’t see the person’s face; only the outline of their shoulders, a tan trenchcoat sitting among the empty bleachers. It was enough for Satoru to know he didn’t know the stranger, and his every muscle tensed, his chest still heaving as he dropped his arms.

“Who are you?” he snapped, before adding, more concerned: “How did you get in here?”

The man’s hands stopped, the sound of leather striking leather echoing throughout the empty hall. With a dedicated slowness, he stood, taking the steps one at a time as he descended towards the rink. Those long, gloved fingers disappeared into his pockets. “A friend of Takahashi’s father,” he called back. Something about that deep voice was sickeningly sweet, sending a shiver crawling down Satoru’s spine. “He said you would come here. Eventually.”

Satoru silently cursed the rink’s manager, biting painfully down on the tip of his tongue.

The stranger stopped by the entrance of the rink, the moonlight falling across his shoulders. “My name is Yashiro Gaku,” he continued, plucking Satoru’s glasses from their perch. He turned them over in his hands, inspecting the frames and running his thumbs against the branches. “I will be your new coach.”

Satoru glared across the ice, his hands curling into fists at his sides. “I don’t need a new coach.”

“Because you’re so attached to Shiratori Jun?” he asked, sarcasm dripping from his lips.

“Because I’m retiring.”

Yashiro didn’t respond to that, still staring down at the glasses clutched in his hands with a non-committal hum. Then, languid and unhurried, he began to move; he stepped away from the entrance, his feet following the boards as he trailed along the rinkside. “Do you know what the problem is with your skating, Fujinuma Satoru?”

He didn’t answer, following the other man’s steps as he circled him like prey.

“It’s true that it’s empty,” he noted. “Some might even call it vapid. There’s no true emotion when you touch the ice: only the cheap imitation of it. A shell of what some would call ‘real feeling.’ But,” he added, his finger gently tapping against Satoru’s lenses, “that is not what makes you lose.”

Yashiro had slipped behind him now. Satoru didn’t turn to look at him; he only stared forward into the darkness of the rink, his shoulders rising and falling with every breath.

“You can have a void,” Yashiro explained, his voice floating into Satoru’s ears, “but you cannot hide it. You can layer all the civilities you like on top of it, you can try to bury it, but it is always there. The only answer,” he said, his eyes trailing along the curve of Satoru’s neck, “is to accept it.”

“And you would know?” Satoru asked, honing in with a glare as Yashiro slipped back into his field of vision.

“Yes,” he replied, tearing his eyes away from the skater. “I would.”

The admission took Satoru by the slightest surprise, and he raised a single eyebrow, his body standing stock-still in the middle of the ice. “What do you want from me, Yashiro?”

“Isn’t that obvious?” he countered, a slick smile playing across his face. The man tilted his head slightly back, staring up and ahead at something only he could see. “I want to show the world the depth of your void, Satoru. The beauty that comes with that emptiness, should you choose to embrace it.”

The man stopped by the entrance of the rink, the moonlight falling just short of his eyes, leaving them in shrouded by the dark.

Yashiro raised his arm, the glasses extended towards the young athlete. “I want you to skate for me. One last time.”

Satoru stared across the distance, trepidation coursing through his veins. “And then?”

“And then,” Yashiro offered, his smile widening. “I will help you disappear.”

Silence descended between them, thick and heavy. Satoru stared with blurred vision across the ice, letting the cold sting his sweat-soaked skin. At his back, the moon still hung and the snow continued to fall, the shadows of the flakes falling across the ice. Without a sound, his blades glided across the distance, carving thin lines towards the stranger at the edge of the rink.

Satoru couldn’t help the feeling that he was moving towards something treacherous, something dangerous and dark and deep. But he also couldn’t muster the effort to be afraid, so he softly slid to a stop in front of the devil before him, tilting his head up and exposing his neck to the monster’s maw. “One more season.”

(When he slipped his glasses back on, he was met with Yashiro’s smile, twisted and triumphant.)

 

 

Training underneath Yashiro was torture, and Satoru thrived on it.

His lungs burned in his chest, his limbs cried out in agony, his heart felt like it was on the verge of splitting apart. The aching in his muscles was nothing compared to the ever-present ache in his being, but at least it was real. It was something tangible, something Satoru could clutch and hold onto, something people could see. The world could feast their eyes on the crimson soaking on his feet every time he peeled off his skates, could behold the bruises forming after the fifteenth failed jump in a row.

He wondered if this is what it was like: if this ever-present pain felt anything like a mother’s uncaring hand. Satoru chased after that suffering, desperately committing it to memory, locking it inside his bones. This, this feeling—the desire to hurt, to know that hurt—he cannot call it something as noble as penance or atonement. It was something more selfish than that, needier and uglier. But it tied them together, like a string across the years between.

Every pain was an extension of that gaping nothing in his soul, and he drowned in it.

And when Satoru crashed onto the ice for the thousandth time, his battered body bearing and breaking the fall, Yashiro was always there.

He could never find it in himself to call the older man his coach; the title felt superficial and insulting when applied to Yashiro, like calling a predator a pet. He was—something between a shepherd and a warden, urging Satoru forward while clutching onto his chains. With kind words and a gentle hand, leading him to the slaughter.

The skater forced himself onto his elbows, the blood dripping down his face and staining the frozen water red. Through his wincing eyes, he could see a pair of black skates gliding to him, languid and slow. When Yashiro crouched down, his eyes were as cold as the ice beneath their feet. Gently, he cradled Satoru’s swollen cheek with a soft smile, smearing the blood across his skin with his thumb.

And then he whispered, his hot breath beating against Satoru’s wounds: “Again.”

 

 

Yashiro called Satoru’s routine many things. An ode to the imposters; a requiem for the cursed souls like theirs; a chance to rip off his mask and show the world the wet, beating emptiness inside. But above all of them, simpler than the metaphors and symbols that Yashiro liked to weave, was the effortless phrase whispered into his ear.

“This is your swan song, Satoru,” he hummed, gloved fingers trailing along the skater’s jugular veins. “So sing.”

And he did. Satoru sang with every limb, every step, every salchow and spin. He let the void he tried to bury grow underneath his skin, let it soak into every cell; he paraded the naught that had come to define him, letting it cover him like the sweat of his brow. He savoured this: these few moments where he didn’t need to pretend, where he could be nothing and feel nothing, because after this season, there would be nothing at all.

But still, that phrase stayed anchored in his mind. Swan song.

One of Yashiro’s hands was suspended below Satoru’s wrist, the other on his waist. Slowly, they danced through the motions together, their blades skating beside each other in perfect time. Satoru let himself be moulded underneath those hands, following the fingertips, his footwork intricate and precise. Losing himself to the familiar motions, he whispered: “Do you know the story of Swan Lake?”

“I do,” the other man replied, his breath hot against Satoru’s ear. He could feel the Yashiro’s chest against his back, solid and warm.

“Do you remember,” Satoru asked again, his eyes falling closed, “the black swan?”

He didn’t wait for Yashiro to reply, the words escaping his lips in quiet puffs of air. “She’s an illusion by the sorcerer to trick the prince,” he explained, listening to the sound of his blades scratching the ice. “She pretended to be the swan queen at the ball, and when the prince proposed to her, it broke his promise of true love.”

Satoru lets his skates slide to a stop, and Yashiro stops with him, their breaths beating as one. He allows his eyes to flutter open, but he doesn’t turn to look at the man behind, even as hands move to caress at his wrist and waist. “I wonder what she was thinking about, in that moment.”

He could feel Yashiro’s lips brushing against his neck, hot against his throat. “And what do you think, Satoru?”

He let his head roll back against his keeper’s shoulder, his body limp and compliant. “I think she knew,” he muttered. “How empty she really was.”

 

 

When Satoru qualifies for the Grand Prix series, he goes through the motions. The reporters descend upon him, eyes alight and microphones poised. They ask: about his training regimen, about his new coach, about his loss the year before. Always, he wordlessly slides his eyes over to Yashiro, giving him a knowing look through his glasses before turning his attention elsewhere.

His “coach” plays his role well, better than Satoru ever did. He can slip into a kind façade as if it’s as simple as breathing. He smiles at the cameras with a hand resting on his chosen skater’s shoulder, tugging Satoru against his side with fake paternal affection. The rumble of his voice speaks them both, and he answers their questions with all the right platitudes in all the right places.

Until one of reporters asks about the theme. Only then does Satoru tense under Yashiro’s hand, his voice quiet but firm.

“Odile.”

 

 

They don’t talk about the other competitors, because they don’t matter. Satoru didn’t come to win: honestly, he couldn’t care less about the colours and titles they give him on the ice. The accolades, the cameras, the spotlight—it all means nothing, nothing, nothing. He let Yashiro to spin his lies about a fighting spirit that wasn’t there, all the while allowing himself to sink into that cold water spreading through his veins.

A distant voice was announcing his name, and Satoru shrugs off his jacket. The material catches on some of the black feathers, but Yashiro’s hand is there, gently smoothing them out. The cape around his neck barely goes past his shoulderblades, short enough not to interfere with his program—but Satoru can feel the plumes billowing out behind him with every step, like wings.

He stops by the boards and looks over at Yashiro. The man leans in, his eyes half-lidded as he grips Satoru’s chin, pulling them deathly close.

“Show them what we’re made of,” he whispers, grip tight enough to bruise. “My Odile.”

Satoru feels the leathered hand retreat, and locks eyes with Yashiro one last time before pushing off onto the stage.

A hush descends around him; he takes a soft, slow breath, letting his head fall limply forward. There’s a long, echo of silence—and then he hears it, the first notes gliding across the ice. They buffet over him like wind, and Satoru allows himself to be pushed by it; he holds out his arms and lets it catch between his feathers, lifting him off the ground.

He closes his eyes, and sees her there.

And Satoru isn’t in the auditorium anymore; he’s far from Paris, from Europe, from the Trophée de France. No, his wings carry him back to that Ishikari, always to there: the Ishikari of his memories, to the snow falling on a cold night long gone, a lamppost spreading its glow against ice. Still, he skates: he skates for the girl who is sitting on the bank, watching him with brown eyes far older than her age.

Her first words to him are still in his ears, haunting him. “You’re faking. Just like me.”

And he wants to tell her always, always. They’re both pretending, their masks sitting heavy on their young, round faces. He tries to reach out to the girl with the bruised thighs, with the swollen cheek—but his fingers find only air, and he spins, his blades scratching circles into the frozen river under his feet.

“Everybody is fake, living in their fake lives,” she whispered into her scratched knees. And he thinks of how young she was, how young they both were—children, only children when they had to learn. As he always did, Satoru skates for her; he skates because it makes her smile, skates because it gives her something, skates because like this, they can just not pretend for a while. They can open their naïve, fluttering chests and see each other, sharing the emptiness inside.

If they are to be condemned to the void, let them be there together. Please, he begs, at least that.

You always look real, on the ice,” she noted, her eyes wistful and soft. “I hope that while I'm pretending… it'll become real, somewhere along the line.”

Satoru sings a swan song. Not for himself: he sings for the girl who was forced to pretend. The one who danced through the motions without knowing why; the child who hoped that maybe after tonight, after tomorrow, after all this is done, something might change. The curse would finally break and she could be human: someone whose bruises didn’t hurt, who didn’t need to hide at the river every night, who didn’t know that her mother was going to kill her someday.

“I think if you keep going, you might,” she admitted, her eyes wet and voice cracking. “You can be real one day. So, you’ll never stop skating, will you, Fujinuma? Promise?”

Satoru wants to scream her name, but it only comes out Odile.

The music stops, and Satoru opens his eyes.

The audience roars, but Odile isn’t there to hear.

 

 

Satoru can feel Yashiro’s arm around his shoulders, leading him out of the skating hall. The world feels like it’s hidden behind glass: he can see it, but the sounds are muddled and it all seems so far, far away. There’s the weight of a medal around his neck, and he can feel it dragging him down by the throat. For now, Satoru does what he can—he focuses on breathing; one in, and one out, letting Yashiro lead him away.

Until there’s a hand, tugging on the back of his jacket.

Slowly, he turns to look behind, feeling Yashiro’s arm fall from his shoulders. Satoru blinks for a moment or two, sluggishly recognizing the person in front of him. A competitor, one with hair as gold as the medal he’d claimed at the last Grand Prix final. Kobayashi Kenya stares at Satoru with brown eyes that are far too similar to her, and it’s pathetic but Satoru doesn’t want to look away. Even when those eyes cut deep, making something inside of him bleed.

“Fujinuma Satoru, right?”

Satoru can feel Yashiro at his side, a constant looming presence just over his shoulder. So he abandons any attempt at formality, muttering: “What do you want?”

The blond’s body tenses for a moment, his face hard for a second before melting into something—softer. If Satoru didn’t know better, he’d almost call it concern. “Your program,” he begins, his voice murmuring low. “What were you thinking about? When you skated?”

Satoru stares at him. He’s tired, so tired. Too tired for pretexts and masks, for pretending he has some noble ambition in his skating. So he answers and truthfully as he can, the word slipping past his lips, cracking and broken. “Nothing.”

He leaves, but can still feel Kenya’s eyes on his back, following him for days.

 

 

Yashiro’s fingers are on his calves, his thighs. Satoru leans back against the headboard, his hair and body still soaked with bathwater. The towel around his waist isn’t enough to fight off the chill, and his limbs shiver under the heat of Yashiro’s hands. Still, Satoru stares blankly past the man’s shoulder, feeling his tense muscles steadily unknotting under those palms.

The rest of him follows soon after. He can feel the Yashiro lowering him down against the hotel bed, his eyes searching Satoru’s own for something. Not affection or love, and certainly not permission—but whatever it is, he must find it there. There’s an inherent satisfaction, something like reverence, when he looks at Satoru. Yashiro kisses him as if he has found something divine, tracing his adulation into Satoru’s skin with his fingertips.

Those same fingers make other parts of Satoru come undone; he gasps soundlessly as he throws his head back, his hands gripping the sheets. Yashiro’s lips are feather-light, brushing away the wrinkles in Satoru’s brow. The skater hands himself over the foreign feeling, his chest stuttering for air as Yashiro delves into him with his hand.

And all is silent except for the word that Yashiro whispers against his skin: “Beautiful.”

Satoru stares up at him, with his hands twisted into fists in the linen and toes curling. There’s no words really for what they are, but he can see himself, reflected in the black of Yashiro’s eyes. Satoru was—is—nothing, but the hands on his skin have at least made him a void with a voice; a black swan, his feathers skimming the surface of the ice. In this moment, this bed, with this man as empty as he is—his mask can be abandoned, at least for a little while. And the freedom is enticing, alluring, addictive; Satoru leans up and pours his appreciation onto Yashiro’s tongue, moaning against his lips.

There’s an emptiness at the heart of Satoru’s mind, but if there’s any trace of something real—anything genuine behind an illusion, carved and crafted to deceive—then Yashiro can have it.

A cry rips itself from Satoru’s throat, and Yashiro takes.

 

 

At the Grand Prix Finals, Satoru is scheduled to perform last. Some deep and distant part of him notes that that means he had the highest qualifying score—and for a split second, he things he can feel a trace of something, a spark of a feeling—but it slips through his fingers and is gone, leaving him hollower than before. Yashiro is by his side, a constant presence, a gentle hand pressed against the small of Satoru’s back; he guides him forward, and Satoru still feels nothing when he steps up to the rink. His jacket is open and hanging off his shoulders, the black feathers rising and falling with every breath.

There’s one last competitor ahead of him, and he stares forward without seeing—until a halo of blond hair catches his eye. Kobayashi offers a polite wave to the audience as he takes his starting position, head held high. His ensemble is as white as snow, the gold trim catching the spotlight. When the music starts, it flows like honey, swelling into a crescendo; the man on the ice moves with it, his arms conducting an invisible symphony.

The audience is immediately taken in by the performance, following Kobayashi’s every movement with bated breath. Even Satoru finds himself tugged by invisible strings, his head tilting to follow the melody of Kobayashi’s skating. Even pragmatically, he has to admit that it’s beautiful: the word ethereal comes to mind, something formless and untouchable. Satoru thinks that it’s far too bright to look at, but he also can’t make himself turn away.

Whatever drives Kobayashi to skate, it’s blinding and beautiful.

And Satoru knows it can never be his.

The gates holding the emptiness at bay suddenly burst open, the dark and unfeeling water flooding inside of him. It’s insurmountable, invincible, so Satoru doesn’t try to fight it; he hands himself over the void, letting the nothing consume him, filling his chest and growing beyond his skin. A soft exhale, and it pours from his lips, leaving his lungs in a fog of white. If Kobayashi exited the rink, Satoru didn’t see it; he sees nothing, hears nothing but the echoes of himself in the empty caverns of his mind. The only thing that reaches him is a deep, familiar voice, whispering in his ear.

“One last dance,” Yashiro promises. And then you can disappear.

Satoru nods, and exits onto ice. The black hole in his heart has already taken everything; the skating hall, the audience, the lights. All there is, all that exists are the blades under his feet; they carry him until they deem it the right place to stop, his head hung low and wings curled tightly against his chest. For a long moment, there is nothing—that wonderful, comforting, familiar nothing—and his own heartbeat, loud and constant, resonating in empty space.

Then he hears it: the first few notes trickle through the void, and Satoru inhales deeply, welcoming the melody. He embraces the requiem like an old friend, spinning with it, letting it lead him by the hand. It feels like the tears of a young girl; like the gaze of a stranger in the dark—and he allows himself to be spirited away, shedding his human form and feeling his feathers flutter in the wind.

Satoru had tried to seduce the world, once. Burying the darkness of his down, he tried to play the white swan. He slipped unseen into this ball and danced, until his feet were bloody and raw; he donned the mask of someone real and asked them to indulge in the fantasy. He knew he was a forgery, only a pale imitation—they didn’t need to tell him that, they didn’t, did they think he didn’t already know?—but he wanted to trick them, all the same. Because if they had believed it, then—then maybe—

“I think if you keep going, you might. You can be real one day.”

Kenya Kobayashi dances behind his eyelids, striking and beautiful and white.

Ah. Odile could never be Odette, could she?

Satoru can feel the slightest of smiles grace his lips as he soars, spinning in the air and skidding across the surface of the lake. It was foolish to even try, he knows that now. The black swan is nothing but an illusion, designed to deceive; an empty marionette who does her dance and nothing more. A mirage sculpted by an evil sorcerer, destined to live and breathe for a single purpose, a single night. The prince may have been fooled for a moment, but it can never last; in the end, the mask is always ripped away, the pretender’s act finally called to an end.

And what becomes of poor Odile, then?

The answer is obvious, isn’t it?

“I will help you disappear.”

He feels the blades under his feet scratching the ice, and Satoru raises his wings above his head. If his pitiful existence is truly set to end, then please—for once in his life, just for one night, just this moment—he wants to dance as Odile. Not as the illusion the world longed to see, not as the beautiful white swan they adored; even if the prince has condemned him, even if the ball is done—before his body melts away into a wisp of smoke—let him dance just once as himself, empty as he may be.

Let that be his swan song.

The melody slows, the notes falling away one by one like dying leaves—and Satoru knows his time is coming to a close. He lifts one of his feet off the ground, his body throwing itself into one, final spin. It’s strange, he thinks, how unafraid he is. A part of him thought that he would feel something here; regret or dread, maybe, some last hint of sentimentality. But all there is is a quiet acceptance, comforting and warm in his blood. Like it was the most natural thing in the world.

His spin slows to a stop, and Satoru goes still, his head tilted back and gasping to the sky.

The audience is showering him in applause; he knows because he can feel the vibrations trembling up his spine, not because he can hear it. His ears are full with the sound of that one, singular clapping—the constant and consistent sound of leather striking leather, like a metronome. Satoru drops his eyes and stares across the ice, seeking and searching for that twisted and triumphant smile.

The blue of his gaze meets Yashiro’s swirling, empty black, and it feels like coming home.

 

 

Among the crowd of reporters and staff, Kenya finds him. The gold around his neck matches the details of his costume, and there’s a flush to his cheeks—something like pride and joy and adrenaline all at once. But when he looks at Satoru, it gets swallowed down, something serious taking its place. They don’t have much time, but he needs to say it, needs make sure; Kenya jumps straight to the point, gripping the other skater’s elbow tightly in his hand.

“I’ll see you at the banquet tonight,” Kenya promises, staring into those two blue eyes. “Okay?”

Satoru watches him for a long moment, his face weary and blank. Then—slowly, softly—a fragile smile falls onto his lips. Kenya blinks at the sight, feels something in his chest constricting and breaking; he doesn’t notice when his grip on the other skater falls open, but his ears just barely manage to catch Satoru’s quiet, one-word reply: “Okay.”

That’s all that’s said before Satoru’s coach descends, his eyes cold as he steers the silver medalist away.

Kenya stands there, motionless, and watches as Fujinuma Satoru disappears.

 

 

The news breaks in a matter of hours.

A broken-down door, a hotel room torn to shreds, the signs of violence splattered on every wall. Immortalized in police photographs is the shattered furniture, the slashed mattress, the crimson stains seeping into the pristine carpet. The officers tried to be discreet, tried to investigate as silently and subtly as they could—but Fujinuma’s absence from the banquet doesn’t go unnoticed for long.

The news sites are running with the story before the night is done. First, they say it’s a robbery gone wrong—but it quickly becomes clear that the wallets of both Fujinuma Satoru and Yashiro Gaku are still there, tucked safely into the pockets of their bags. Their passports and valuables as well. Even the silver medal was left behind, sitting on the coffee table, untouched.

The investigation turns towards foul play. At first, the skater’s coach is the prime suspect—the pair’s fingerprints are the only ones in the room, and they were last seen together, exiting the skating hall side-by-side. But they quickly realize who all the blood in that room belongs to, and a tan trenchcoat is found soaked and red in the hotel’s dumpster.

Fujinuma’s mother is the first to come forward. She gives a heartfelt plea, asking for someone—anyone, if they saw anything, please—to contact the police. In her hands is a picture of her son from years gone by: legs wobbling on his first pair of skates, his round cheeks beaming up at the camera with a wave. A girl from the local skating rink is by the woman’s side; she describes the skater as quiet, but gentle. Dedicated. They explain that the finalist’s home rink has set up a reward for anyone with any information leading to the whereabouts of Fujinuma Satoru.

But more often than not, it’s Kobayashi Kenya who speaks out. His family came from wealth, even before the accolades and fame; he doubles the reward easily, and his appeals to the public ring with authority. As the face of the figure skating community, his words circulate far—and the world listens. The name Fujinuma Satoru is on every news station, the replays of his program adorning every screen.

Not that Satoru hears any of it.

He doesn’t hear anything but the sound of his blades, scraping across the ice. The frozen lake is nothing like the serviced rinks he’s used to: the surface is uneven and unkept, marred by awkward ridges and thin cracks—but he embraces it all the same, imperfections and all. As always, he skates without want or need of music; he lets the mountain wind become his melody, listening to it weave through the hills, the trees. The air is viciously cold this far north, but he revels in it: he lets the frost bite at his nose and ears as he jumps, his feet grazing the ice as he touches down.

Before long, he hears it again: that tell-tale clapping, shattering the silence.

He skids to a stop, chest heaving from the effort and his bangs soaked against his forehead, and turns.

Yashiro is at the water’s edge, standing at the shore with a thick scarf tied around his neck. Satoru doesn’t hesitate before gliding over, his blades carrying him across the frozen water. The moment he’s close enough, he can feel Yashiro’s hands on either side of his face, the cold leather cradling his jaw. Satoru keeps his hands hanging by his sides, even when Yashiro’s warm breath lands against his skin, thumbs trailing along the skater’s cheeks.

“Do you despise me,” Yashiro asks, leaning close, “for stealing you away?”

“No,” Satoru answers truthfully, his eyes fluttering half-closed. Only barely joking, he adds: “You’re the one who made me into a swan, aren’t you? You’re supposed to trap me to a lake.”

An amused hum escapes the other man’s throat. “Then,” he continues, gently tilting Satoru’s head back, “are you waiting for someone to come save you?”

Gently, he shakes his head in Yashiro’s grip. Steadily, he leans forward, balancing himself on the tip of his blades, until his lips are brushing against the heat of Yashiro’s own.

“No one,” he whispers, “ever saves Odile.”