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Lilia intimidated the crap out of Viktor. At fifteen, he was a very cocky teenager, absolutely sure of himself and his place in the world. He was going to be a better skater than anyone had ever seen. Once he hit his prime, no one would ever beat him. It sounded great, although when he told Yakov that, Yakov thought he’d find he enjoyed it less than he expected. Viktor didn’t understand how anyone could get tired of winning – but then again, Yakov hadn’t said it wouldn’t happen.

Lilia was one of the few people who could cut through Viktor’s confidence. He behaved himself much better around her than he did around anyone else, and even though he was planning on quitting ballet after his sixteenth birthday, he still worked harder than he could for her. Lilia agreed that he should quit, at least. She didn’t feel like he had much more room to improve as a ballet dancer, and with the free time, he could explore other ways to improve his skating.

Viktor did not know what to do when he came home to see Lilia sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. “Why are you crying?”

“Vitya?” Lilia looked up and tried to smile through the tears. “I didn’t think you’d be back for another hour.”

“They had to cut the photoshoot short, the photographer had a family emergency. What’s wrong?” He didn't think he wanted to know what could make Lilia look like this, but if she needed to talk... Yakov wouldn't be home for hours, as usual.

“Nothing that you need to worry about.” Lilia wiped her eyes. “If you want to help me feel better, I was going to make some chocolate cookies and then eat them all before Yakov got home. If you help me make it, you can have half.”

“Won’t that mess up both our diets?”

“Well, yes, that is the whole point of this. You’re fifteen and have the look of a boy about to hit a growth spurt, you’ll be fine, and I’m old and retired. No one cares if I get a little fat.”

“That’s not true! I’m sure Yakov cares.”

Lilia's face twisted a little at that. “Yakov caring depends on Yakov noticing, and I’m not convinced he will. You can help or not, but you can’t stop me.” She got up and started gathering ingredients.

Viktor got up and pulled the hairtie from around his wrist to hold his hair back. “Why chocolate cookies? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat sweets.”

“As you said, it messes up diets, and I was a prima ballerina. Anorexia is a very common problem, one that I was determined not to develop, and giving up sweets made it easier. By the time I retired, I was so used to it that I only really want them when I need them.” Lilia put some butter on the handle to the oven. She noticed Viktor’s confused look. “The heat softens it and makes it easier to work with, but it’s unlikely to melt while I’m gathering everything else.”

“Oh. Why do you need sweets today?”

“I’m feeling rather bitter, and I think they’ll help me sweeten my mood.”

“But what are you so bitter about?” Talking was probably healthier than a cookie binge, even if Viktor didn't want to hear it.

“It’s nothing to concern yourself with, Vitya. I don’t want to put you in the middle of my drama. Now be a good boy and weigh out some flour?”

They worked together quietly. Viktor was still skeptical that Lilia really intended to eat any of the cookies. Stress baking was a thing, right? And yes, so was stress eating, but this was Lilia. Lilia did not eat sweets. Lilia wiped her hands after putting the first batch in the oven. “Did you ever bake cookies with your mother, when you were young?”

“No. Mama wasn’t really much of a baker. I got to with Grandma one time, but I didn’t like it and she only let me eat one cookie and then insisted that we give the rest to the adults. By the next time I saw her, I was already in serious training as a skater so she didn’t make me help because it might tempt me off my diet and it was never too early to develop the proper habits.”

Lilia scoffed. “Based on that, I’m guessing your grandmother didn’t let you lick the bowl when you were done?”

“No… is that a thing?” It sounded a little gross. Cookies, Viktor liked, but cookie dough?

“Licking the bowl is one of the best parts of making cookies. Of course, most people will tell you that you could get salmonella from the eggs, so make your own decision there.”

Viktor stared at the bowl. “Do you want to lick it?”

“It’s been a lifetime since I licked a bowl. It’s traditionally a job for the young assistant. If you don’t want to, I’m going to, but it’s yours if you want it.”

“You’re not worried about salmonella?”

“No, not really.”

“Bowl’s all yours then.”

Lilia smiled, finally a real-looking smile. When the last of the cookies had been spooned out on a tray, Viktor was surprised to see Lilia start scraping the bowl and eating the leftover batter. It was just a little dough, but just the surprise of it was enough to somewhat break Viktor’s brain.

When the first cookies came out of the oven, Lilia got the spatula and picked up one cookie. “Be careful, Vitya. They’re very warm.” She ignored her own advice and took a giant bite of the cookie.

A lot of the cookies were stacked on a plate so that Lilia could start washing the dishes. Viktor smacked her arm and took over. “You did most of the baking work. I got this.”

Lilia smiled and grabbed a cookie. “Thank you.”

The cookies were long gone, the kitchen was clean, and the only sign of what had happened was Viktor and Lilia both stretched out on the floor. Yakov was very confused when they both told him they had tummyaches.