"Shindou-san, time to wake up! Ballet class starts in 15 minutes, prompt!"

6:15am and Fujiwara was knocking on Shindou Hikaru's dorm door, and all because Hikaru was known for arriving late for class. Couldn't they get that 15 year old boys needed their beauty sleep? Couldn't they get that Hikaru hated ballet? Especially at 6:15 in the morning?!

Just as Hikaru groaned and tried to roll over and go back to sleep, that blastedly cheerful Fujiwara rapped on his door again and called out, "You have five minutes to get dressed and five minutes to eat before they take it all away, better hurry!"

Damn that man! Hikaru could just see the annoying long-hair laughing behind Hikaru's, well, door, at the moment. No, that's unfair, Hikaru thought to himself as he threw off the covers and swung his feet out of bed. He may have no idea what a fellow like Fujiwara was doing at the Ice Rink, other than work, but no one could accuse Fujiwara of any improper behavior of any kind, as infuriating as that was. How could anybody be that much of a goody two shoes all the time?

Fujiwara was an OK janitor, good at sweeping the halls, aisles and the ice. But usually people that worked at a major Ice Rink like the Tokyo Ice Palace had an ulterior motive to do so; they all wanted to skate. And here at the TIP that meant figure skating. Everybody associated with the day to day running on the TIP was either already in the figure skating in-crowd or they were wannabees. But not Fujiwara. Never had Hikaru seen the man on skates, not even those very few times when there was no one on the ice.

And the man wasn't even that accomplished as a janitor. The guy even had needed to call an electrician to change the light bulbs in the lobby, Hikaru had seen him do it! For one nasty moment he'd considered telling on the man, but since Fujiwara was such a nice guy, if a bit mousy, and the man would sneak Hikaru a snack when Hikaru had over slept and missed breakfast again, Hikaru had let it slide. No need mess a guy over even if you can. Maybe especially because you can.

As Hikaru shimmied out of his PJs and into his ballet gear, he pondered the TIP's management's choice of having Fujiwara be the deliverer of the early morning call. Hikaru was sure some his fellow skaters felt similarly put out at having to wake up at such an ungodly hour. Yet Fujiwara had not been murderously attacked by any one yet. So maybe he was the right man for the job after all.

As Hikaru gathered his sweater - it was early April and the place was bound to be chilly for the first few hours - Hikaru glanced at the clock: 6:27. Cripes! He was going to miss breakfast!

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Hikaru munched one half of the energy bar he'd found in his shoe-cubbyhole upstairs on his way to the ballet studio downstairs. As he skidded to a halt outside the studio, he stuffed the rest of the bar in the front pocket of his training bag and he tore off his outside shoes and slipped on his ballet shoes (the flat kind, not the pointy kind) and he tried to tip-toe into the studio as inconspicuously as he could.

"Shindou! You're late!" Damn, busted again.

"Sorry, Ogata-sensei," Hikaru said giving his ballet teacher a apologetically deep bow, and then turned to the almost full class to give a similar bow. The man merely harrumphed and Hikaru took that moment to move to his customary spot on the left hand barre behind Waya.

"Take first position, relevé, plié. Relevé, plié," Ogata started tapping his cane to the beat of the piano music coming from the cassette deck and he was raising his free hand up at 'relevé' and bringing it down at 'plié'. The whole ensemble went up on their bent toes at 'relevé' and went down back on their full foot, bending their knees at 'plié'. Those on the left side of the room had their left hand on the barre and were elegantly lifting their right in time with the movement. Those on the right, did the same, only mirrored. After doing the relevé and plié excerizie in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th foot positions, Ogata moved them on the other muscle loosening exercises of lifting legs front ways and back. More exercises followed. A couple of times throughout the 90 minute ballet workout, the lefties would cross over to become righties and the reverse, to make the training a balanced one.

As Hikaru got into the rhythm of the exercise he let his body follow the instructions and let his mind take a look around the room, without turning his head much; because A he didn't want to mess up his posture and B he didn't want Ogata to come over and chew him out for messing up his posture. That man was not below swinging that cane of his at his pupils' backs if he felt they needed it. Hikaru tried hard not to need it and mostly he had his body under control enough to satisfy even Ogata.

Hikaru spied Touya, Nase, Akari, Kaneko, Kishimoto and Ochi at the right hand barre and, in the mirrored wall behind them, he could see Mitani, Tsutsui, Kaga, Hidaki, Isumi and Honda standing behind him at the left hand side. He also spied all the usual faces from the junior group. Those, together with the pair skaters Sakurano and Murakami, who were already in their twenties but were also training at the TIP, pretty much filled the studio to capacity.

As the instruction changed from the warming up to the more serious muscle lengthening and strengthening, Hikaru had caught the eyes of his most of his friends and had so exchanged morning greetings. He had looked over at Touya, as he did every morning, but, the same as every morning, the boy was keeping his eyes firmly front and on Ogata's instructions, not letting anything or anyone distract him.

'Snooty', was what Hikaru though of Touya that day. It was one of his more mild assessments of his rival. Some days it was 'stuck up prick' or 'Ice Prince', and some days it was a phrase Hikaru would never say out loud. But today Hikaru was in a good mood and so it was 'snooty' and nothing more dire than that.

The whole ballet thing had been Touya's fault anyway. Or at least Hikaru saw it that way. Of course it had been Hikaru's mom that had made him take figure skating lessons from the moment Hikaru could stand up. His mom had found out she was pregnant with him when she was at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, in her home town, watching the figure skating, and she had gotten it in her head that her child was to become a Olympic Skating medal contender. So, Hikaru had been 'condemned' to be a figure skater even before his birth.

But what had solidified it for Hikaru was when he's been 8 years old he'd met Touya Akira, the then also 8 year old son of Olympic Bronze Medalist Touya Kouyo (Saporro, 1972).

It had been a chance meeting; Hikaru had been taking his usual after school private skating lesson at the White Ring in his native Nagano, when the other half of the ice was claimed by the visiting Touyas.

For 45 minutes the boys skated, one on one side of the rink and the other on the other side. Until that day Hikaru had thought he was really very good at figure skating but seeing Touya skate, he realized his mistake; Touya was leagues better. Hikaru realized too that he'd been slacking for the last year or so, thinking he could afford the break since he still out-skated everyone in Nagano, younger or older.

Figure skating hadn't really been Hikaru's choice before this point. It had been something he did that made his mom happy and wasn't as boring or annoying as going to school. And he liked the physical aspect of it, but really, skating or running (which he also did at school in the relay team), it was all the same to him until that day.

But now he could see where skating could go, because the Touyas were famous and Hikaru was sure Touya Akira was going to be the junior champion next year. Champion of all Japan, imagine that! The value of the possibility of the Yokumada elementary school relay team winning the Nagano prefecture gold medal seemed to pale by comparison. Hikaru suddenly found he wanted to be the champion himself, very very much.

Of course the fact that the Touya boy had had his nose in the air the entire time he'd been on the ice, as tough the White Rink's ice was too common for His Majesty, had made Hikaru want to kick the boy's butt all the more. That evening when he got home he told his mom he wanted a proper coach, and not Mr. Yamada who also coached the ice hokey team, and a proper 'training regime'. (That's what one of the present skating mothers had said; you need a dedicated coach and a training regime.)

And that's how Hikaru ended up at the TIP in Tokyo living in dorms for the past 5 years, going to the TIP's own mini junior high, getting a training regime that included ballet - arg - and having to share a dedicated figure skating coach with seven other skaters.

Coach Morishita was a tough teacher, but because of that Hikaru had made good progress. The man had taken him to the silver position in the Junior Championships three times already, with Touya taking the gold every time. But then, Touya had his father as a full time coach and Ogata as a second coach, no wonder he did well! On the other hand, Hikaru had never seen Touya on his own; his dad and Ogata were always with him and he'd never seen his rival have any fun at all, ever. Where Hikaru went for ice cream with his friends, Isumi and Waya, and would kick a ball around the grassy patch behind the Rink and inside the fence with all his friends, Touya was either on the ice practising or off the ice practising or in school or asleep in bed. The poor guy had no life at all.

Hikaru's life was still very structured even if not in anyway as rigid as Touya's. On weekdays, after ballet, Hikaru went to school between on-ice practice and off-ice practice. For his on-ice hour he was coached by Coach Morishita and for the off-ice hour Vice-Coach Kawai helped him train. After school there was the change to earn a little pocket money and a lot of experience giving skating classes to the wannabe skater kids. Hikaru had a couple of classes full of grade school kids, all in the their second year serious training. On the weekends, after ballet class both Saturday and Sunday morning, there was no school of course and there were more kids' classes to teach. Hikaru only taught one on Saturday; he wanted Sunday for himself and his friends.

Occasionally his mother came to Tokyo for Sunday lunch from Nagano. Occasionally Hikaru took the late afternoon train to Nagano on Saturday and stayed the night with his family and arrived back at the TIP late Sunday evening so he's be fresh for ballet class in the morning. He had been warned not to skip class more than once a month or he'd start to slip. Very early on in Hikaru's skating career he had realized that love it or loathe it; ballet was a necessary evil that must be lived with if he wanted to beat Touya at his own game.

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Like on every Tuesday, after ballet class and a change of clothes and a snack break, it was sitting down for a math lesson for an hour before Hikaru had to change again to go to his individual on ice training with Coach Morishita.

Just as Hikaru rounded the corner and stepped into the hall where the ice rink stood, from behind the Zamboni that was still sweeping the ice, he spied his Coach over on the other side, talking to the TIP's grand director, Mr. Kuwabara. The roar of the Zamboni's diesel engine obstructed any snippets of conversation Hikaru might otherwise have heard, but he could see that his coach was talking animatedly with the director, who, as always, stayed perfectly calm. Than guy would still be calm even if he saw a tsunami coming straight at him, Hikaru was sure of it.

As Hikaru leaned on the padded boarding he decided to give the pair their privacy, also because there would be no skating until the large mopping machine had left the ice. C'mon, Fujiwara, finish up already; I wanna skate!

Presently the Zamboni moved to the large opening in the boarding on the other side of the rink, gliding through it and onto the walkway that surrounded the rink. Hikaru watched as Fujiwara annoyingly slowly climbed out of the driver's seat and set about closing up and locking down the open gap, making the rink safe to skate in.

Hikaru opened one of the smaller doors in the boarding, one near where he had been standing and after removing the blade protectors from his skates with a practiced move, he stepped out on to the ice and skated diagonally over to his coach to report for 'duty'. Just before he arrived at the other side, Mr. Kuwabara nodded a curt goodbye to Coach Morishita and gave Hikaru a very tight nod, before walking off.

"Blast that man," Coach grumbled, once Mr. Kuwabara was out of earshot. "He's just too cheap to get some extra help in; that Fujiwara is just not cutting it on his own!"

Hikaru could only shrug; he had enough on his plate just keeping up with his own training goals, and his interest in ice rink management was close to absolute zero. He was just relieved that the earlier conversation between the older man hadn't been about his progress or something. Being the topic of conversation when Mr. Kuwabara was around was known to be a very bad thing. At least it was for skaters; Hikaru hoped it would go better for general personnel...

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The on-ice training went well; only the usual amount of ranting from the coach about bad posture, lack of jump rotation and an over abundance of lousy landings came Hikaru's way and Hikaru got the feeling Morishita was thinking Hikaru was coming along nicely. Here's hoping anyway.

He quickly changed his skates back for shoes and changed his sweaty T for a dry one in the locker room adjacent to the rink, almost tripping over Fujiwara who was just putting his mop and bucket-on-wheels aside, in order to get the Zamboni out again to clean the ice before Touya's training session.

Hikaru skidded out of the way, through the side door and and then jogged all the way back to the school room to arrive in time for history class. From a skater's high to the boring politics of the Heian period in 30 seconds flat, oh brother!

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Lunch that day was a lot of fun. Isumi, Waya, Nase, Kaneko and Hikaru had all taken their bentos outside into the nice April midday sun and, after having wolfed down the food, there had been time for a quick soccer match with Team Waya-Kaneko vs. Team Hikaru-Isumi, since Nase was still recovering from her sprained foot. Team Hikaru-Isumi won by one goal point.

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The afternoon started off with geography class; something about volcanos and the tsunamis they can cause. It wasn't too boring but Hikaru really had his mind on the upcoming off-ice practice hour. Sub-coach Kawai had promised they'd work on perfecting the landing on Hikaru's quadruple Lutz; something that the young skater was going need desperately if he was even going to over take Touya once they'd both were old enough to join the seniors next season.

Next season I'll be in the big leagues, Hikaru kept thinking. And I'll need to land at least one perfect quad-trip-trip in my short program and again in my free program and then I'll have to pray Touya messes up some where and doesn't achieve his full marks, and... But Touya never messes up, he's mister perfect robo-skater; the same icy perfection every single fucking time. Hikaru's head hit the table with a thud, startling his fellow students.

"Eh, sorry," Hikaru said sheepishly, scratching his neck with one hand and quickly leafing through his geography book with the other, trying to find the matching pages to the information the teacher had spent the last ten minutes chalking up on the board. At last he found his place and was promptly invited to read the next bit aloud.

Damn Touya and his infuriatingly immaculate skating technique.

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Working with Kawai always was a breath of fresh air. The guy's good humor was indestructible and he was not one to be subtle about anything. If you did well, he'd tell you straight out and if you sucked he'd tell you that too. As a lot of the figure skaters Hikaru knew had prima-donna type personalities, it was clear why Kawai was available so much of the time to work with Hikaru and his friends, all of whom could give as good as they got. People like Touya or Kishimoto or Sakurano and Murakami out right refused to work with Kawai; they thought him too course. Stupid uppity idiots, was what Hikaru thought, Kawai's just an honest guy, if a bit of a loud mouth. Nothing wrong with that!

Hikaru's training went so well, he was almost skipping down the hallways on the way back to class, English class, whistling all the way, almost colliding with Fujiwara and his ever present mop-mobile.

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Since Hikaru, and a good number or the other full-time skaters, lived at the TIP, he took his meals there too. Dinner was the most social of these meals, with all his friends at one table (and Touya, his 'enemy', and his entourage at another) having a great time together.

After dinner there was time for homework, TV and socializing. Hikaru usually hung out with his friends in favor of doing his homework, also because they'd often go to the basement gym to workout and Hikaru felt he could chalk that time as working towards his goal of becoming champion; knowing English or geography sure as hell wouldn't help him get there...

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Bed time was 9:30, with lights out at 10. With the exception of Saturday nights, when curfew was later, depending on the person's age; Hikaru had to be home by 11. But on Tuesdays it was 9:30 just like any week day.

Usually Hikaru would be so tuckered out from the day's activities that he'd be asleep the moment his head hit the pillow and he wouldn't rejoin the world until his alarm clock, and Fujiwara, would jolt him awake. But that night it was different. That night he woke up at 3:30 am with his stomach telling him in no uncertain terms that it was HUNGRY and it wanted FOOD (or sweets, vanilla milk shake, whatever).

For about 20 minutes, Hikaru tried to go back to sleep, but his belly wouldn't stop growling and he found that he really really wanted one of those thick chocolate bars from the vending machine on the upper tier of the rink hall. So that's how he ended up putting on a bathrobe over his PJs, and thick socks on his feet - it was freezing - before slipping on his shoes and as silently as possible tip-toeing out of the dorm, through the lounge, and straight on to spectators' walkway. There on the wall between in the dark, almost behind the bleachers right next to the door he'd entered the space through, was the vending machine. Hikaru homed in on the chocolate bar that was sitting second row from the top, two from the left; the biggest one there that had both crunch and nuts. He wanted it, so badly. He reached into his pocket and, oh crap, forgot to bring money. Stupid!

Hikaru was just about to turn around and head back to the dorm to get some cash when there was a noise. He stood stock still, thinking he'd been caught and how it was against dorm rules to be wandering around at night, when he realized the noise was actually echoing music. Music coming from below, where the rink was.

Hikaru recognized the song at once; it was Bring Me To Life, one of his favorites. If there was music coming down from below, some one was down there breaking curfew, just like Hikaru. I should just go before I really do get caught, he thought, but instead of turning around and leaving the way he'd come, he found himself inching forward to the tier's rail, so he could look over and satisfy his burning curiosity.

The ice was lit as always, even at night it was bathed in the stark white safety lights. As Hikaru carefully looked down he had a complete view of the ice, because of the lights, but nothing beyond. He hoped the fact that all the lights on the upper tier were off for the night, would keep him from being seen. But the moment he spotted the movement upon the ice, all thoughts of safety left his mind: some one was performing a spin in time with the music and is was beautiful.

Doing great spins had always given Hikaru trouble. To be fair, it gave most of the boys trouble because it required an elegance most males just don't possess. And a limberness too, but that could, for a good part, trained; innate gracefulness could not and this skater had it, in spades.

All Hikaru could see was that the skater was indeed male, but not who he was while he was still spinning. And the person kept on spinning, changing over position several times, changing from foot to foot, showing off the most beautiful spin skills Hikaru had ever seen. And the skater spun fast too, which is also not easy.

Then Hikaru saw the person's stance chance and he could tell the spin would be over after a few more revolutions. The man pulled in his arms close to his chest and he spun even faster than he had before, all of a sudden digging in the point of the skate on the foot he hadn't been spinning on into the ice to stop himself dead. The man ended with his back to Hikaru but now that he was standing still, and then started gliding off to the side, Hikaru recognized the mystery skater at once; it was Fujiwara.

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