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Rivals - Past, Present and Future

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The first time that Celestino Cialdini and Yakov Feltsman met, Viktor Nikiforov had just broken a world record in the Junior Grand Prix Final.

It had been expected that Viktor would win but even so, Celestino had privately been cheering the young skater on as he watched the competition. None of his own skaters had made it into the final that year but he had gone along to watch it anyway, determined to gain knowledge from the more experienced coaches that would be present and to scope out the up and coming junior talent. During the competition he had watched Viktor Nikiforov perform, not able to outwardly show too much enthusiastic support for a skater who had beaten some of his own students that year but still feeling a thrill of satisfaction when the young skater’s scores were announced all the same.

Viktor was young, talented and the next big thing in skating, if rumours were to be believed. Some described him as flighty and arrogant but Celestino had seen the steely flint of determination in his eyes as he performed, the utter commitment to the sport and to perfection. He was fascinating to watch and Celestino felt no guilt at being pleased at seeing a victory well deserved. Viktor was the kind of skater that every coach dreamed of having, although he had already been snapped up by Russia’s prestigious Yakov Feltsman long ago.

After the competition was over, Celestino decided to approach the older coach, wanting to congratulate him on his skater’s victory. Yakov Feltsman was as famous in the coaching circles as his skaters were in the public eye, often even more so. He had been producing gold medallist since before Celestino himself had even finished his skating career and any young aspiring coach could do well to be on his good side.

“Congratulations on Nikiforov’s win,” Celestino told the older man when there was finally a lull in the hustle and bustle around them, watching as Yakov turned to him with a neutral expression on his face.

“Thank you,” he replied, voice gruff but polite all the same.

“He truly deserved to win gold, his routines this year were very impressive,” Celestino added. “You clearly coached him well.”

“He rarely listens to anything I say but I’ve managed to drill some sense into him at least,” Yakov replied and even though Celestino could hear the exasperation in his voice, he could see the glint of fondness in the older coach’s eye as he spoke.

“Where is he anyway, I’d have thought after a win like that he’d be caught up with reporters for hours,” Celestino added out of curiosity, looking around for the young, silver-haired skater who was conspicuously absent from the rapidly emptying arena.

“He’s outside with his fans,” Yakov responded, sounding less than pleased at the statement. “He went out there as soon as he could and he’ll be out signing posters and taking photographs for hours if I let him.”

“Interacting with his fans isn’t so bad, there are much worse things that he could be doing” Celestino pointed out and Yakov made a reluctant noise of agreement. Celestino wasn’t sure why the older coach seemed so displeased with his skater spending time with his fans. It was unlikely that anything bad would happen to a young skater when out signing autographs, apart from perhaps acquiring an over-inflated ego that some athletes were prone to. Celestino didn’t see that there was much to worry about.

“Will I be seeing any of your skaters at Worlds this year, Coach Cialdini?” Yakov asked and Celestino startled a little at the rapid change of subject. He and Yakov had been at competitions before of course but Celestino was still a relatively new coach compared to the other man and they had never interacted personally before now. He had no idea Yakov had taken any interest in the skaters he was coaching or their prospects at future events. Although it made sense for a man like Yakov Feltsman to keep a close eye on all of the competition.

“I hope so,” he replied, instead of voicing any of his thoughts out loud. “And I look forward to seeing Nikiforov there too. Word is that he’s moving into the senior division after this season and I’m sure it’ll be interesting to see where he future career takes him. A skater like him has the potential to be something truly special.”

Yakov was silent for a moment and Celestino watched as his eyes flickered away briefly, over to the ice where his student had just performed. There was something in his eyes, a softness that was unexpected in a face like his and for a second his looked almost lost in thought, or in a memory. Then he turned back to Celestino again and this time his face was far less guarded than Celestino had ever seen it before.

“He already is,” Yakov told him with the hint of a smile.

 

 


 

 

 

The second time that Celestino Cialdini met Yakov Feltsman, it was several years later and Yuuri Katsuki and Viktor Nikiforov were standing together on the podium for the first time.

Celestino had been Yuuri’s coach for a little under a year and he was immensely proud as he watched his student smile for the cameras with a bronze medal draped around his neck. He knew that Yuuri had been bitterly disappointed when he didn’t make it to the podium during his senior debut at the Grand Prix Final earlier that season but Yuuri had always been far too hard on himself for a skater so young and with so much potential. It was a relief to see him wearing a medal and smiling now.

Beside Celestino, Yakov Feltsman stood, looking up at the podium along with Celestino although his own eyes were focused on the figure wearing gold. Viktor Nikiforov was a force to be reckoned with and he was already notorious for being near impossible to unseat from his position in at the top.

“I had heard you decided to coach the previous junior gold medallist this season,” Yakov said unexpectedly as they stood together and watched their respective skaters soak up the praise. “It was a good choice. His routine at the Junior World Championships last year showed a lot of potential.”

“He’s an excellent skater,” Celestino agreed with a proud smile. In the year that he had known him, Yuuri had shown himself to be hard-working, dedicated and ambitious, all traits highly prized in an up and coming skater. More than that, in the short time that they had known each other, Yuuri had already worked his way into Celestino’s heart and he had a great fondness for the teenager and was proud of what he had achieved.

Over on the podium, Yuuri turned away from the cameras and the crowd, glancing up at the skater standing on the podium above him. As he did so, Celestino watched as his face fell, eyes narrowing as he glared up at where Viktor Nikiforov stood with a gold medal around his neck.

“He doesn’t look particularly happy for a newly senior skater on the podium for the first time,” Yakov remarked dryly, eyebrow raised at where Yuuri was still staring at Viktor, the older skater now turned to look back at him with an appraising expression on his face.

“He wants to be the best,” Celestino shrugged. While Yuuri staunchly refused to make any mention of the current top skater, Celestino had his suspicions. Yuuri had a tendency to tense whenever Viktor Nikiforov’s name was mentioned around the rink and his desire to win gold was common knowledge. Viktor was well known as the person to beat for any skater wanting to make their way to the top and it made sense that Yuuri viewed him as his biggest competition. “Can you really begrudge him that?”

“Katsuki has potential,” Yakov admitted. “But it’s a lofty dream to believe that he’ll ever be able to beat Viktor. He’s not even reached his full potential yet and he’s already leagues ahead of the rest of the competition. No-one will beat him.”

Celestino let out a non-committal hum, turning back to the podium where the two skaters had turned away from each other again and were back to waving out at the crowds. Viktor might seem unbeatable but Celestino had the suspicion that that might change in the future if his own student had anything to say about it. If nothing else, Yuuri would work his way to gold out of sheer stubbornness, never able to back away from a challenge.

“We’ll see,” he murmured, looking at the two of them standing together, silver and black hair glinting in the lights from the stadium and their medals held up side by side. “We’ll see.”

 

 


 

 

 

The third time that Celestino Cialdini met Yakov Feltsman, they were in a bar.

Celestino often ended up in bars the night after competitions ended, glad to finally have the chance to relax after a hectic few days. Most of the skaters under his care took the opportunity to relax too, going out and celebrating with other skaters after another World Championships over and done with or simply falling face first onto their beds and sleeping the exhaustion of the competition away. Phichit was definitely the former, already out with a crowd of other skaters to socialise and celebrate their win, and Yuuri was definitely the latter.

After finishing up his official duties as a coach that day and grabbing a quick bite to eat, Celestino just had one more errand to run before he could settle down at the bar with a well-deserved drink. His room was one floor away from Yuuri and Phichit’s so it wasn’t much of an effort to descend the single flight of stairs and knock loudly on the plain wooden door. He needed to discuss some quick points about the next day’s schedule with his two skaters and while Phichit wouldn’t be in their shared room, Yuuri had already confessed his plans to remain at the hotel and have a quiet night in and could pass the information on to his friend when he returned.

However, there was no reply to his knocking and after waiting several long seconds, Celestino tried again. Again, there was no response and after a few more tries of knocking futilely and calling Yuuri’s name through the door, he was forced to give up.

It was unusual, for Yuuri not to answer. Celestino knew that he wasn’t out with Phichit, Yuuri had made his desire to stay in the hotel very clear that day and from the stream of pictures Phichit was currently posting, none of which featured Yuuri, he clearly hadn’t changed his mind. He was probably still in the hotel somewhere, either stepping out of his room for walk or simply not able to hear Celestino’s calls and knocking through his headphones or the noise of the shower or something similar.

Or he was with his lover.

Celestino tried to stay out of his skater’s personal lives as much as possible, not wanting to seem overbearing as he knew some coaches could be. But he had suspected Yuuri might have found himself a lover at competitions for a while now, ever since Yuuri had snuck into their shared room the morning after the World Championships two years ago with a bad excuse and a poorly concealed assortment of bruises and bite-marks on his neck.

Celestino had let it go without question. Many skaters enjoyed relieving the stress of competitions with casual hook-ups or semi-permeant arrangements with other skaters during the competitive seasons and Celestino was not one to judge. He trusted Yuuri implicitly and unless it looked like any of Yuuri’s personal life was going to affect his skating, it wasn’t his place to question or interfere. If Yuuri felt the need to tell him, he would.

After that first night two years ago, there hadn’t been any other incidents that Celestino could remember but he left his skater’s to their own devices as much as he could and it was perfectly possible that the same thing could have happened again without his knowledge. Yuuri’s absence from his room that night after pleading off socialising with Phichit did seem to indicate that he might currently be involved in a much more intimate engagement.

Celestino shrugged the thoughts off as he walked down to the bar. Yuuri had worked himself brutally hard that year, winning a gold in both the Grand Prix Final and now the World Championships. If anyone deserved a bit of stress relief now, it was him.

When he arrived at the hotel bar there was already a rowdy group of skaters there, led by the notorious Christophe Giacometti as they laughed and drank together. Heading to the opposite side of the bar from the group, Celestino sat at the counter as the barman came over, ordering his drink and proceeding to finally allow himself to relax.

It was only after he had already sat down that he noticed the man in the seat nearest to him, hunched over his own glass and with a dark look on his face.

Celestino hadn’t spoken properly with Yakov Feltsman in years, although they had seen each other in passing plenty of times. With their two top skaters involved in a notorious rivalry, it was only natural they had bumped into each other at the various competitions they attended over the years, although polite nods and brief snippets of conversation were about the extent of their interaction.

“Congratulations to yourself and Viktor today,” Celestino offered out of politeness, wanting to at least acknowledge the other coach sitting there before they both returned to drinking in silence. Yakov gave a sharp nod of acknowledgement at the words, although he didn’t look overly pleased by them. It made sense, after years of coaching the world’s top skater, seeing Viktor be knocked off the podium multiple times in a single season must have stung.

“Congratulations on your own skater winning gold,” Yakov added, but there was a definite air of forced politeness about the words.

There was another raucous cheer from the other end of the bar, the group of skaters there laughing and talking loudly to each other as they finished what appeared to be another round. The antics of the group made Celestino smile slightly, remembering his own skating days with fondness.

“I would have thought Viktor would be there celebrating with the rest of them,” he mentioned casually, nodding over to where Christophe was leaning draped across the bar, ordering another drink from the flustered bartender with a flirtatious bat of his eyelashes. Chris and Viktor were known to be close and usually when Celestino saw one of them at competitions, the other was close by.

“It seems he must have had a previous engagement,” Yakov said with a hint of bitterness in his tone, taking a long swig of the drink that he was holding.

They finished the rest of their drinks in a mutual silence, neither feeling the need to add anymore to the conversation. There were many coaches that Celestino considered himself friends with but Yakov had never been one of them. They were mutual acquaintances and nothing more, too different in years of experience and teaching style to ever have much need to speak to each other in any more than passing and politeness. And there was also the matter of their skater’s feelings about each other to be considered. Celestino couldn’t imagine Yuuri would be too thrilled if his coach was on close personal terms with the coach of Viktor Nikiforov.

Although along that train of thought, Yuuri’s feelings about that particular skater had always been something of a mystery to Celestino, no matter how many years he had known him. Initially, he had seen Yuuri’s seemingly negative feelings about Viktor to be a reflection of his desire to win gold, striving to beat the other skater purely because of his position at the top. But as the years had gone by, it had become increasingly more obvious that there was far more going on under the surface than Celestino had initially imagined.

He had never asked, knowing that Yuuri wouldn’t answer even if he did. Yuuri was a notoriously private person, even to his coach. But gradually it had become clear to him that the issue of Yuuri’s complicated feelings for Viktor Nikiforov were far more personal than simply an aspiring skater hoping to beat the best. Far, far more personal.

Celestino continued to muse over the thoughts as he drank, ordering another drink when he had emptied his first glass. Eventually however, he felt the beginnings of tiredness begin to creep up on him and decided to finally call it a night. After paying his tab with the bartender, Celestino left, giving a small nod of acknowledgement to where Yakov was still sitting as he did so and watching as it was returned.

On the way back to his room, he mentally ran through the plan for the next day and all the different duties the skaters in his charge had scheduled. Hopefully Phichit wouldn’t be too tired after spending the night celebrating, or Yuuri after doing whatever he had been doing. Or whoever.

Although he might be wrong about that particular assumption, Celestino thought, he had never seen Yuuri show much personal interest in anyone at competitions or the banquets that came after. Yuuri was usually far too focused on winning and on Viktor, the man he most needed to beat to get there. In fact, Yuuri’s eyes had rarely left Viktor during the entire competition now that Celestino thought about it.

The sudden idea that hit him as soon as the thought crossed his mind had Celestino stopping short, considering. It seemed bizarre and completely based on assumption and coincidence but once the seed was planted and all the pieces began to slot into place, he couldn’t help but wonder.

 Yuuri and Viktor. Now there was an interesting idea.

 

 


 

 

The fourth time that Celestino Cialdini met Yakov Feltsman, it was over the phone.

“How dare you,” Celestino had spat the minute he picked up the call from the other coach. “How dare you.”

So much had happened since the last time they had spoken and Celestino was brimming full of rage directed at the man on the other end of the call. He had been angry ever since the news that Yuuri had been accused of doping was brought to his ears. He had been furious ever since the knowledge that that information had been broken to the world had been brought to him by an apologetic ISU employee. He had been livid ever since he had taken one look at Yuuri’s neck and chest during his medical examination and seen the impressive collection of lovebites scattered across it, damning evidence that only made the whole situation so much worse.

Celestino had known that his student was involved with Viktor Nikiforov for a long time, although the extent of it he had never been sure of. Ever since Yuuri had appeared during the Rostelecom Cup wearing Viktor’s clothes, not long after Celestino's brief conversation with Viktor's coach about Yuuri's lack of a place to stay, Celestino's initial suspicions had been confirmed, not that he had ever mentioned it to his student. If Yuuri wanted him to know, he would tell him. If not, it was none of Celestino’s business who Yuuri chose to spend his personal time with.

Until however, Yuuri had been accused of cheating by the same man who’s marks he clearly bore from their time spend together the night before. That had made Celestino’s blood boil, the idea that someone had used Yuuri and discarded him in such a cruel and malicious way. He had been ready to support Yuuri as best he could through the rest of the competition and then find Viktor Nikiforov and make him wish that he had never been born.

That had all changed during Viktor’s free skate, when the devastation on the other man’s face and written across every line of his body was made clear to the world. When he had run for Yuuri, when the plea for forgiveness was so clear in his eyes. When it became clear that whatever had happened between them, it had caused Viktor far more pain and regret than it seemed he could bear.

Later, once the whole story had become to be made clear including exactly who had made the accusations that had caused Yuuri to flee from the world of skating, possibly permanently, Celestino found his anger redirected, focused almost purely on Viktor’s coach and the bastard of an ISU employee who had leaked Yuuri’s details to the world. One he dealt with through legal routes, pushing to make sure the man who had used Yuuri’s information for his own gain would live to regret it every day of his life. But the other he could do nothing about but sit and stew in his own anger.

Yakov Feltsman had done nothing wrong technically and legally, but that didn’t do much to lessen any of Celestino’s fury. He had heard the other man’s public apology, had exchanged a few very tense and strongly worded emails while they both tried to professionally deal with the ensuing fallout for both their skaters but it did nothing to calm the rage inside him that only giving the other coach a piece of his mind would.

When finally the inevitable phone call came, Celestino refused to hold anything back. Regardless of if reporting suspected doping had been professionally acceptable, after having to hear the story from a visibly shaken Yuuri with tear tracks streaking his face, the method by which it had been done by the other coach definitely was not. 

Celestino made sure to say as much, in between a variety of creative insults that he hadn’t felt would be appropriate to have a record of over professional emails. As he spoke, he could hear how his voice grew in volume until he was fully shouting down the phone but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Yuuri was something like a son to him, he cared about Yuuri deeply and seeing him in pain had hurt Celestino to the core and made him see red.  

It took several long minutes before his rant was finally over, Yakov saying nothing the whole time, instead simply listening and taking the anger until Celestino finally wore himself out.

“You are right and I deeply apologise,” were the first words out of his mouth when silence finally fell and Celestino was surprised to hear the true sincerity behind them. “To you and to Mr Katsuki and all the pain and trouble that I have caused him.”

“Why don’t you tell him that yourself,” Celestino snapped back, the anger at the other man still burning brightly in his mind.

“I did not think he’d appreciate any attempts at contact from me,” Yakov explained and Celestino was forced to admit that there was some merit to the statement. The last person on earth that Yuuri would want to talk to right now was Yakov.

“I was hoping that you would pass on my sincere apologies and regrets if he wants to hear them,” Yakov added. “I grievously misjudged him and that blame lies on me. Now both he and Viktor are suffering for it. I’ll continue to do everything in my power to make sure the truth and his innocence is made clear and indisputable and I’m not asking for his forgiveness. I only hope that he knows I will make absolutely sure this will not affect his career in the future.”

“His career?” Celestino said sharply, shaking his head at the words even though Yakov was unable to see it. “You have no idea what this has done to him do you? After what has happened, he might choose never to skate again.”

There was a slight pause and then Yakov spoke again, voice full of remorse.

“I sincerely hope that that is not the case,” he said softly, sounding surprisingly sad to Celestino’s ears. “Whatever misconceptions I may have held about him in the past, I understand now how wrong I was and how unfair those judgements were. He is a very talented skater, he doesn’t deserve to have his career ended because of someone else’s mistakes.”

“Yuuri didn’t deserve a lot of things that have happened to him,” Celestino replied bitterly.

“No, he did not,” Yakov agreed and every word was laced with regret.

There were a few long moments of silence and Celestino considered simply hanging up the phone. He had vented everything he could at the other coach, told him exactly what he thought of him and his treatment of Yuuri and every little thing that still made him furious to think about. There was nothing more for him to say, all he could do now was continue to make sure that Yuuri would still have a place to return to if he did ever emerge from his self-imposed isolation in Japan and need Celestino’s help again.

Before he hung up however, Celestino paused, one more question still nagging in his mind.

“How is Nikiforov?” he asked and heard Yakov’s sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line.

 Without any contact from Yuuri, Celestino still had no idea exactly how involved his own skater and Viktor Nikiforov had been. Nor what Viktor’s part to play in the scandal was, other than hurried and hysterical explanation from Yuuri when Celestino had first found him that Viktor had been present when the initial accusations were made and the later revelation that it was not Viktor himself that had accused Yuuri formally to the ISU. From what had happened in his free skate however, Celestino had been able to clearly see just how much Viktor seemed to care, and just how much it had destroyed him.

Yuuri was his skater, Yuuri was the one where the majority of his sympathy and concern were directed. But Celestino couldn’t help but feel a pang of worry for the man they had left devastated in the arena when Yuuri had walked away. Whatever Viktor Nikiforov had done, he clearly hadn’t wanted what had happened to occur any more than Yuuri had.

“It ruined him,” Yakov said simply, voice as low and solemn as the tolling of a funeral bell. “What happened ruined him. What I did ruined him. He never wanted me to make those accusations, he tried to stop me and I wish with all my heart that I had listened to him. Now he is paying for my mistakes and I have no idea how to help him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Celestino replied and he meant it. There was little he could do for Viktor and he had no inclination to focus on anyone other than Yuuri but he still felt pity for the other skater. From Yakov’s words and the tone of his voice, Viktor was clearly hurting deeply and in a way no amount of sympathy would fix.

“I won’t take up any more of your time,” Yakov said finally after a few more seconds of silence, the sadness still lingering in his voice. “But please, if Mr Katsuki is willing to hear my message, please tell him I deeply apologise. And that I look forward to seeing him at the next Grand Prix Final.”

“The next Grand Prix Final?” Celestino asked, confused. “He’s made no announcement that he’s even intending to return to skating again, let alone compete in the next Grand Prix Series.”

“I am aware,” Yakov replied bluntly but Celestino could hear something else hidden under his words, some kind of subtle desperation. “But I hope.”

 

 


 

 

 

The fifth time that Celestino Cialdini met Yakov Feltsman, they were at a wedding.

Hasetsu was beautiful in the evening, the sky a warm glow and Yuuri’s family onsen lit up with hundreds of lights as the guests milled around after the ceremony was over. The main couple stood in the centre of it all, fingers intertwined and beaming at each other and the people around them as they accepted the congratulations of the various guests.

Celestino had already been over to talk to them both, feeling a private thrill of happiness at the joy so clearly written across Yuuri’s face as he stood by his husband’s side. Celestino had initially been slightly wary of Viktor after everything that had happened but it had taken no time at all for him to see just how much Viktor adored Yuuri and just how good they were for each other. Seeing Yuuri’s happiness was the best reward as a coach that he ever could have asked for and Viktor Nikiforov was part of that.

After he had congratulated the two of them, he had retreated to a safe distance, allowing them to be swamped by the rest of the happy crowd, everyone eager to speak to the newly married couple. Celestino was content to sip on his drink from the side-lines and watch, laughing a little to himself as Phichit jumped on his best friend and insisted on a photo with he and Viktor both. Phichit had a natural talent for photography and Celestino was sure the pictures he would take of the wedding would be something truly special.

There was a slight shift in the air beside him and Celestino turned to see that another figure had come to stand next to him, the lines of Yakov Feltsman’s face looking far less weathered when bathed in the glow of the lights. There was a strange glimmer in his eyes as he looked at the couple and he seemed far more relaxed that Celestino had ever seen him before.

They stood together in comfortable silence for a while, both content to simply sip their drinks and observe the skaters that they had both watched grow up.

It seemed like a lifetime ago that Celestino had first met Yuuri, still shy and unsure but fiercely determined all the same. Endlessly dedicated and kind at heart, but always with a kind of strange tension to him, never seeming quite fully content with his place in the world.

Now, Yuuri was more relaxed and happy than Celestino had ever seen him, smiling and laughing and looking at his husband with adoration in his eyes, so strong that it brought joy to all those around him. It was Yuuri fully grown and completely content, the way Celestino had always hoped one day to see him. So different from the boy that he had once been.

Yuuri said something and Viktor laughed, the sound carrying over the general chatter of the crowds even though the words did not. Yuuri’s face split into a grin at the sound and Viktor’s eyes sparkled as he looked at his husband with laughter still on his lips. Celestino hoped that Phichit had been taking pictures at that moment. It was a simple scene but one that deserved to be preserved forever.

“They look happy, don’t they,” Yakov commented quietly from beside him, his eyes also fixed on the couple.

“They do,” Celestino agreed, noting the quiet happiness in the other coach’s tone as he did so.

“Good,” Yakov replied, and smiled.