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Commitment and Love

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Seeing Lilia at the Rostelecom Cup is… shocking. Viktor knows that she's working with Yuri. He's heard it from Yuuri, who heard it from Yuuko, who heard it from Yuri. Even if he hadn't, the skating and ballet worlds have been abuzz with the news. It's not a surprise.

But he hadn't heard that Lilia was attending competitions with Yuri. He saw Yakov at the Cup of China with Georgi, and that had been bad enough, but now seeing both of them…

Perhaps the fact that they're working together - and apparently working together well, if Yuri's performance is any indication - should reassure Viktor. But even though the divorce is recent, the arguing has been going on for years, for almost as long as Viktor can remember.

Not quite as long as he can remember, though. Sometimes he wishes that were the case. He can remember times when they were happy together, almost like a family. He can remember times when they would eat meals together, either shchi, one of the few things Lilia could cook, or takeout, or, on the rare nights Yakov would get in front of the stove himself, homemade stroganoff or pirozhki or blini or borscht. Some special nights, Yakov would even let Viktor loosen up on his diet and they'd make medovik for dessert. Once, they'd ended up throwing flour at each other, and Viktor had giggled until his stomach ached, and even Lilia and Yakov had laughed. Viktor had been eleven and homesick, having just moved in with Yakov and Lilia in St. Petersburg, and that was the moment when he decided he could learn to love his new family. He still looked back on it as one of the happiest moments in his life.

The fighting had started in earnest when he was fifteen and preparing for his last year in Juniors. Lilia had been choreographing for other skaters, and while her choreographing style had never really matched Viktor's skating anyway, the fact that she was choreographing for someone else and not him had driven a wedge between her and Yakov. Viktor had watched the two of them helplessly. The house became colder. Viktor spent more time at the rink.

And then the fighting only grew worse.

When Viktor moved out at eighteen, he thought that Lilia and Yakov would get a divorce right then. But they didn't, and for a while, Viktor thought that perhaps things had even gotten better. He was wrong. It wasn't that things had gotten better, it was that they had begun spending less and less time with each other, thus minimizing the time they could fight. Yakov came to the rink with bags under his eyes and cricks in his neck from the uncomfortable guest bed. As time went on and he spent more and more time in it, the bed became more personalized and more comfortable than the one Yakov and Lilia shared.

And all Viktor could do was watch. He'd always been closer to Yakov - he was his coach, after all, and although Lilia choreographed for him sometimes, she had never been as involved in Viktor's career - and found himself forced to take a side. Things got worse and worse. Yakov stayed in Viktor's guest bedroom twice. Whenever Lilia came to the rink, Viktor made an excuse not to be there. When the heat in Viktor's apartment died in the dead of winter, he went to a hotel, not to Yakov and Lilia's house.

They had been living mostly apart for a few years before they actually divorced, with the paperwork only going through just after the Sochi Grand Prix Final. It added another jagged crack to Viktor's mental state, pushing it closer and closer to shattering altogether. He spent his birthday at the Russian Nationals and tried his best not to remember the birthdays he'd spent with Yakov and Lilia.

So seeing them together at the Rostelecom Cup is enough to rattle him a little. Not enough to have an impact on his coaching - he refuses to let anything rattle him that much - but enough that he avoids them. Enough that he avoids Yuri too, to make sure that he doesn't accidentally end up in proximity to Yakov and Lilia.

Not enough to keep him from begging Yakov to coach Yuuri when he finds out about Makkachin.

He doesn't think about Yakov and Lilia at all when he first leaves Moscow and arrives in Hasetsu, too focused on Makkachin to think of anything else. But when he arrives and finds out that Makkachin is going to be alright, all of his worry transfers over to Yuuri, and when he's worrying about Yuuri, he can't help but think about Yakov and Lilia too. He tries his best not to, but he's not with Yuuri at the competition, so he's not actively coaching him, so he can allow himself to get a little distracted. Not much, but a little. He watches Yuuri during the warm-up, of course, and he considers calling him to talk about it before remembering that Yakov takes away phones during competitions. But while he's waiting for Yuuri to skate, he absent-mindedly watches a replay of the warm-up and focuses on Yuri instead, watching how he interacts with Yakov and Lilia. He remembers that the three of them are staying together at Lilia's house, which used to be Yakov and Lilia's house, and Viktor wonders if Yuri is staying in the room where Viktor used to stay.

A small, self-deprecating part of him wonders if Yuri will be able to get the two of them together when Viktor himself couldn't, and then he wonders what it means if Yuri can.

Yuuri comes in fourth. Viktor watches him hug Yakov and watches Yakov's stunned reaction. For a moment, he's not sure which one of them he wishes he could be - Yakov hugging Yuuri, or Yuuri hugging Yakov? Yuri skates beautifully and comes in second. Viktor can see the pride on Lilia's face, even though no one else probably would be able to tell, and knows that she's found her prima ballerina at last. Viktor tries to call Yakov, gets redirected to a voicemail he knows Yakov never checks, and ends up texting him a quick thank you for working with Yuuri. He doesn't get a response.

When Yuuri returns to Hasetsu, he tells Viktor quietly about Yakov and Lilia. Viktor tries not to hope too hard as he listens. According to what Yuuri saw, the two of them were professional with each other, with perhaps a thin layer of something more familiar underneath. It's far from the worst they've ever been, but it's also far from the best. Still, it's a step in the right direction. Viktor wonders how many steps they're going to take.

And then Barcelona comes, and something happens deep in Viktor's chest when he sees Yakov hug Yuri and call him "Yuratchka" while Lilia beams and claps behind them. When Viktor broke his first world record, Yakov called him "Vitenka" too.

But Yakov and Lilia's relationship went downhill through Viktor's whole skating career, and it's not until now, when he's gone and the focus has moved to Yuri, that they've managed to patch things up. What does that mean?

Viktor doesn't want to think about it.

Thankfully (or maybe not so thankfully), Yuuri gives him more than enough other things to think about. He shoves it aside until after the competition, and then… Well, he'll deal with that when it happens.


"Viktor."

The voice freezes Viktor in his place. Yuuri, who's walking alongside him, notices Viktor stop short and stops as well. "Viktor, are you okay?"

"Viktor Nikiforov, I know you heard me," Lilia repeats, and Viktor sees Yuuri's eyes go wide.

"Go ahead to the room," he tells Yuuri quietly. "I'll meet you there."

"Are you sure?" Yuuri asks, looking at Viktor worriedly.

Viktor forces a smile. "I don't think she's going to kill me and hide my body so Yurio can come in first at the Russian Nationals. Don't worry."

Yuuri looks from Viktor to Lilia again, a slight furrow in his brow, and really, he's far too perceptive about things sometimes. "Okay," he finally says, and he walks down the hall slowly. He looks back at Viktor again when he reaches the elevator. Viktor waves him into it, and only when the doors close on Yuuri does he turn around to face Lilia.

"Lilia!" he says, pasting one of his trademark dazzling Viktor Nikiforov smiles on as he turns. "You must be so proud of little Yuri. Breaking one of my records in his senior debut-"

"You've been avoiding me, Viktor," Lilia interrupts. She's always been very good at cutting straight to the point. Sometimes, Viktor loves that, but sometimes - like now - he hates it.

"I've been busy coaching," he replies, still keeping the smile on his face even though the strain is only getting worse. "It's a big responsibility! I haven't had time-"

"Yakov and I are not getting back together," Lilia announces, and Viktor goes silent. "We may do it someday, but not yet."

Viktor isn't sure whether or not he regrets that, and then he's certain he's a horrible person because of it. "That's good to know," he replies, trying to make it sound like he's not sure why Lilia would think he would be interested in that sort of information.

"We did not think about what effect our fighting would have on you," Lilia continues. This is not how Viktor thought the conversation would go. "Perhaps we should have."

"I hear you and Yakov are living together again," Viktor blurts out, his voice a little too high pitched to be casual. "Or is that just as you train Yuri?"

"Vitya," Lilia says, and oh, she hasn't called him Vitya in years. "Will you talk with me or are you going to keep trying to turn the conversation around?"

Viktor swallows. "What do you want to talk about?"

Lilia purses her lips. "This is not a conversation to have in a hallway," she announces, and she starts down the hall to the elevator. Viktor follows her automatically. It's not until she presses the button for the elevator that he realizes he could make a run for it, if he doesn't want to have this conversation. If he moves quickly enough, he can flee and get back to Yuuri and never leave his side long enough for Lilia to corner him again. If he runs…

And yet, he didn't have to have this conversation in the first place. Yuuri would have stayed with him. They could have kept walking. He chose to stop, to talk to Lilia, to put himself in this situation with his eyes wide open. He's not going to give up now.

He walks into the elevator after Lilia, watching as she presses the button for her floor. He wonders if she's got her own room or if she's sharing it with anyone. Normally, he and Yakov and the other skaters all got their own rooms, except when he was younger and he and Georgi would sometimes share. Lilia rarely went to competitions, but when she did, she normally shared a room with Yakov. But after the divorce…

Lilia leads Viktor down a hallway that's almost identical to the one they were in before in the way that hotel hallways are, and then lets them into a single room. Viktor supposes that answers his question. She closes the door behind him and gestures to the sofa. "Sit. I'll make tea."

Viktor sits without a word. He would say he doesn't remember the last time he was alone with Lilia, except he does, in vivid detail. They were at the rink, years ago. Lilia had just finished working on choreography with another skater, and Viktor had been waiting for Yakov to arrive. It was only a few minutes. They didn't talk about much. It was only a few months after Viktor moved out. He saw Lilia after that, but only with Yakov. If the two of them were alone, they only had time for greetings, which barely counted. They've never had a conversation like this one.

Lilia makes the tea the way Viktor liked it when he was eighteen and hands it to him. Viktor, whose tastes have changed in the past decade, swirls it in his cup for a moment before taking a sip. For half a second, it's almost like he's back in Yakov and Lilia's house, doing homework at the kitchen table or trying to pick music for his routines or snacking on the Yakov-approved snacks in the cupboards. But Viktor is almost twenty-eight now, and he has an apartment and a fiancé and no place in Yakov and Lilia's home. The tea is sweet, too sweet, but it suddenly tastes bitter.

Lilia sits at the other end of the couch and sips her tea, looking at Viktor scrutinizingly. "Yakov and I did not have any children," she begins after a long moment. "You know this."

Viktor nods, unable to do anything else. No words will make their way up his throat and onto his lips. Perhaps that's for the best.

"You were not the only skater that lived with us for a time, but you came the youngest, and you stayed the longest," Lilia adds. "You were not our child, but you were the closest thing we ever had to a child."

Even if Viktor had words to speak, he doesn't think they'd be able to get past the lump in his throat.

"Yakov and I both care very much about our careers," Lilia continues. "Perhaps we care too much. We let that get in the way of our marriage. Maybe it had always been coming. We had always been quick to fight. Sometimes I think we got married too young." Lilia looks at Viktor contemplatively. "I do not think you and your Yuuri will have this problem. Congratulations on your engagement, by the way."

"Thank you," Viktor replies automatically. "I-" Words fail him as he tries to come up with a response to what Lilia's just told him. What can he say? Lilia and Yakov were not his parents, but in some ways, they were a better example than his biological parents were. He grew up in a house that was cold and stiff and formal, and when his parents moved to Moscow and he remained in Saint Petersburg, he found new parents of a sort in Yakov and Lilia. Hearing Lilia talk in such naked terms about how their marriage fell apart is… hard.

"How do you know Yuuri and I won't have that problem?" he finally blurts out, because while it's a painful thought, it's marginally less painful than thinking about Yakov and Lilia's arguing. "We're going to be competing against each other, and I'll still be coaching him, and I'm worried-"

"Vitya," Lilia says softly. "I do not think this is what you're really thinking about."

Viktor looks at Lilia. Her image blurs and he realizes that his eyes are brimming with tears. He tries to blink them away, but they refuse to go anywhere.

Damn it. He hates crying, and now he's crying again after crying the night before last. Lilia isn't horrible around crying people - Viktor is pretty sure he gets his awkwardness in these situations from Yakov, who is - and she has experience dealing with Viktor's tears. She puts a gentle hand on Viktor's knee and slides closer on the couch and suddenly Viktor is sobbing into her shoulder the way he did when he was a child. Lilia's hand cups the back of Viktor's neck as she lets him cry.

"I know you sided with Yakov when we fought," she says quietly. "That's my fault. I let you slip away from me, Vitya. Yakov was your coach and I was not, so I stepped back. I should not have done that. I should not have left you because I was leaving Yakov."

Viktor's breaths are shuddering and gasping. He buries his face into Lilia's shoulder and refuses to look up. Her fingers are carding through his hair and this is familiar, this is what Lilia did when Viktor's first boyfriend broke up with him, this is what she did when he hurt his knee and was worried that he wouldn't be able to keep skating, this is what she did when his parents forgot to call him on his fifteenth birthday. This is one of the few examples of motherly behavior Viktor's experienced in his life.

"You'll be returning to Saint Petersburg, yes?" Lilia asks. Viktor nods, his face still pressed against her shoulder. "When you do, I would like it if we could spend more time together. Perhaps we could have dinner together. You could bring your Yuuri."

"I'd like that," Viktor says, his voice hoarse and ragged. He turns his head enough to make his words audible, but doesn't lift it from Lilia's shoulder.

"Yakov could come if you wanted him too," Lilia adds, her voice a little more tentative. "But I would like the two of us to spend some time alone together. I have missed you, Vitya."

"I've missed you too," Viktor admits, and it feels good to finally admit it. He'd always been on Yakov's side in the arguments, just like Lilia said, because Yakov was his coach and he felt he had to be. But that didn't mean he didn't miss Lilia desperately.

Viktor lifts his head and wipes at his eyes. "I'm sorry about your shirt," he apologizes, gesturing at the wet patch on Lilia's shoulder.

"I don't care about my shirt, Vitya. I know I was never very good at showing my affection, but you do know that I care for you, don't you?"

The lump rises in Viktor's throat again, but he refuses to keep crying. Instead, he nods tightly. He knows Lilia will see his silence for what it is. After all, she's the one who taught him how to swallow back tears and project a mask for the world to see. His parents helped him without knowing they were helping him, but it was Lilia who helped him cultivate it. It's led to some maladaptive coping mechanisms, Viktor is self-aware enough to know that, but Lilia never meant for that to happen.

"You're the closest thing I've ever had to a son," Lilia continues. "You're the closest thing I will ever have to a son."

"What about Yuri?" Viktor blurts out, and then wishes he'd never said the words. It's stupid to be jealous of Yuri, it's stupid and childish and Viktor hates that he is. He didn't want anyone to know, but the cat's out of the bag now.

Lilia blinks, then her lips part into a perfect O. "Is that what you're worried about?"

Viktor shifts and refuses to look Lilia in the eye. It is, but he doesn't want to admit it. He knows it's ridiculous and yet-

And yet…

And yet Yakov and Lilia are more like parents than Viktor's actual parents are, and he doesn't want to lose them to Yuri. And yet Viktor can't help but feel jealous that Yuri has managed to bring Yakov and Lilia closer together than Viktor could ever manage. And yet Yuri is becoming the prima ballerina that Lilia always wanted.

And yet Yuri is staying with Yakov and Lilia while Viktor is not.

"Vitenka," Lilia whispers. Viktor can count the amount of times she's called him Vitenka on one hand. "Are you worried that we're replacing you with Yuri?"

"No," Viktor says far too quickly. "Maybe," he allows after a moment.

"We could never replace you," Lilia tells him firmly. Her words are almost sharp, but Viktor knows she's not angry. "Vitya, why would you even think that?"

Viktor intends to press his lips together and ignore the question, but he takes a breath first and then suddenly the words are spilling out of his mouth. "Because he's staying with you and he's doing ballet with you and because he's getting you and Yakov back together-"

"Yakov and I aren't getting back together," Lilia interrupts. "I told you that, Vitya."

"I know," Viktor hisses, pulling his legs up onto the couch and burying his face in his knees like a child. "I don't-"

His voice breaks horribly and suddenly Viktor just wants Yuuri. He doesn't want to talk with Lilia, he definitely doesn't want to burst into tears again, he just wants to go up to his hotel room and lie with his head on Yuuri's lap and let Yuuri run his fingers through Viktor's hair without prying about what's wrong.

"Vitya," Lilia says quietly. "We don't have to talk about this if you don't want to."

"I don't want to," Viktor mumbles into his knees, knowing he sounds childish. He's not able to bring himself to care.

"But I want you to know that I love you, Vitya, and nothing and no one will ever change that."

Viktor struggles to take a deep breath. Somehow, he manages to do it, and even to stand up and leave the room as Lilia stands by the door and lays a gentle hand on his shoulder. He gets all the way upstairs to his and Yuuri's room before his hands start to shake.

"Viktor?" Yuuri asks when Viktor stumbles into the room. "Viktor, are you okay?"

"Can you just hold me?" Viktor asks, his voice trembling, and he knows he sounds pathetic, but he can't help it.

Yuuri, to his credit, doesn't even blink, just steps forward and wraps his arms around Viktor wordlessly. Viktor's knees give out and he and Yuuri collapse onto the hotel floor, but Yuuri just readjusts his grip and keeps holding Viktor, one hand rubbing gently along Viktor's back. Viktor slides down a little so he can have his head in Yuuri's lap, and Yuuri runs his fingers through Viktor's hair just like Viktor wanted. Viktor's eyes burn with unshed tears but he refuses to cry again. He refuses to cry.

In the end, the tears will not be stopped, and even though he's not entirely sure why he's doing it, Viktor sobs.

Yuuri doesn't pry. He continues to run his fingers through Viktor's hair, scraping his nails along Viktor's scalp just enough to ground him. Then, when Viktor finally pulls himself together enough to stop crying, he asks gently, "Do you want to talk about it?"

Viktor's automatic answer is no, but then he thinks about it for a second and realizes that yeah, he kinda does want to talk about it. He doesn't know if Yuuri can help - he doesn't know if anyone can help - but it won't do any harm to let the words out.

"I was talking to Lilia," he murmurs, keeping his head in Yuuri's lap and not looking up. "She wanted to apologize for how much she and Yakov argued when I was younger. And I don't know why I keep crying so much."

"Did you live with them when you were younger?" Yuuri asks softly.

"From eleven to eighteen," Viktor replies. This is marginally safer territory, and he's glad of it. "My parents moved back to Moscow when I was eleven, but I wanted to stay in Saint Petersburg with Yakov, so he and Lilia took me in."

Yuuri hums softly. "When did they divorce?"

"Last December," Viktor replies. "Right after the Grand Prix Final."

"Oh, Viktor," Yuuri whispers.

"But they've argued since I was fifteen," Viktor adds. "I mean, it's not like- I knew it was coming. Everyone knew it was coming."

"That doesn't make it easier."

Viktor buries his face in Yuuri's stomach to avoid answering.

"We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Yuuri adds.

Viktor hisses out an irritated noise into Yuuri's stomach. Yuuri lets out a squeak. Viktor looks up at him, eyes wide.

"Sorry," Yuuri says, his lips twitching slightly. "That tickled."

Viktor tries out a smile of his own. It feels more natural than he thought it would. "Oh, did it?" He buries his face in Yuuri's stomach again and hisses.

Yuuri squeals and smacks his shoulder lightly. "Viktor!"

"You make cute noises when I tickle you," Viktor informs him, then he takes a deep breath to do it again.

Yuuri presses his hands to his stomach before Viktor can do it, though. "No more," he tells Viktor firmly, even though he's smiling. "We were having a conversation."

Viktor lets out the air in his lungs slowly. Yuuri looks at him for a moment, something almost like worry in his eyes. "We don't have to keep having the conversation if you don't want to."

"I don't know if I want to or not," Viktor admits quietly. "I don't want to talk about it but…"

"But you feel like it'll help?" Yuuri offers.

Viktor sighs. "Yeah."

"I know how you feel." Yuuri starts running his fingers through Viktor's hair again. "Sometimes it really does help, you know. If you want to, you can pretend I'm not even here. Like you're just talking to yourself. I can even leave, if you want."

"Don't leave," Viktor replies immediately.

"I won't go anywhere if you don't want me to," Yuuri assures him.

Viktor takes a moment longer to think about Yuuri's first offer. "Maybe I could try just talking about it," he says softly.

"I won't interrupt," Yuuri promises. "And I don't have to ask questions or anything after you're done talking if you don't want me to."

"I don't know if I'll want you to," Viktor replies. "Can I just-"

"Go ahead."

Viktor takes a deep breath and curls up around Yuuri a little bit more. "When I moved out of Yakov and Lilia's house, I didn't spend much time with Lilia. Yakov was my coach and I felt like I had to be on his side. Like I owed it to him or something. And Lilia was busy choreographing for other skaters and I was busy skating so we just never…" Viktor sighs. "And I didn't realize that I blamed her for that until she just apologized. I thought I was okay with it but now I don't think I was anymore. It… It hurt. We were close. We were almost like a family, and then…"

Yuuri, true to his word, remains silent, running his fingers through Viktor's hair. Viktor takes another deep breath and lets it out slowly.

"I tried to get them back together and to get them to stop arguing but nothing ever worked but now Yurio-" For a second, Viktor swallows the words, then he decides he might as well say them and opens his mouth again. "Yurio has been staying with them since halfway through the offseason and they're living together again. Lilia says she and Yakov aren't going to get back together but they seem happier than they ever were before and-"

Viktor forces himself to stop and breathe, knowing he's edging towards hysteria. Yuuri's fingers in his hair are welcoming in the way they ground him. "I worry that Lilia might like Yurio more than me because he does ballet with her and because he seems to have gotten them back together better than I could."

Yuuri breathes in a way that makes Viktor think he's about to speak, but he doesn't. But now his curiosity is burning, and he doesn't want to talk any more, so he adds, "I want to talk about it with you, please."

"You're an only child, aren't you?" Yuuri asks immediately.

Viktor nods, looking up at Yuuri for the first time since he started talking. "What does that matter?"

"When I was little, Mari was jealous of me," Yuuri remarks. "She thought our parents spent more time with me than they did with her. She was worried that they loved me more than they loved her. I think every older sibling goes through that."

"But I don't have a younger sibling," Viktor replies, confused. "Unless… Are you saying I'm Mari and you're Yurio?"

"Not exactly, but sort of," Yuuri replies. "Just because Yurio is living with Yakov and Lilia now doesn't mean that they love you any less, Viktor. Lilia wouldn't have sought you out tonight if she didn't care about you."

"She said she loves me," Viktor admits in a quiet voice. "I don't think she ever said that before."

"Do you remember talking with Yurio about what agape means?" Yuuri asks. "Unconditional love, like God's love…"

"Or like a parent's," Viktor finishes quietly.

"Who did you think of when you were making that program?"

To be entirely honest, Viktor's not certain. But if he thinks about it, Yakov and Lilia do fit the qualifications he set for agape. Their love has never been conditional, even though Yakov is Viktor's coach. He wasn't happy that Viktor retired, of course, but he didn't hesitate to help at the Rostelecom Cup when Viktor needed it. He helped Viktor whenever Viktor needed it, far beyond what a coach would normally do. And Lilia did the same, without any sort of actual obligation tying him to her. Unconditional love. Agape. Parental love.

Viktor's breath shudders on the inhale. Yuuri rubs his shoulder gently. "Even if Lilia never told you she loved you, I think you knew it. Yakov doesn't seem like the type to say it either, but you know he loves you, don't you?"

Viktor remembers, out of nowhere, the advice he gave Yuuri when he left him with Yakov. To just hug Yakov and know that he would help. He doesn't think anyone else would give that sort of advice with Yakov. He's not a very huggable person if you don't know him, and he doesn't let many people know him well enough to see beyond that. And yet Viktor has never had to hesitate. He's always known that he can hug Yakov and get the support he needs, no questions asked.

If that's not unconditional love, then what is?

"I didn't know," Viktor breathes. Then he corrects himself, "I didn't know that I knew."

"They love you so much," Yuuri tells Viktor quietly. "They love you, and no amount of Yurios or divorces can stop that."

Viktor's hands are shaking again. "I should find Lilia," he says, trying to push himself upright. "I should find her and tell her, I need to talk to her-"

"I don't think that's the best idea right now, Viktor," Yuuri counters. "I think you might want to wait until you're a little calmed down, don't you?"

"At the banquet, then," Viktor decides, lowering himself back into Yuuri's lap. "At the banquet. I'll talk to her at the banquet. And Yakov too. I need to talk to them, there's so much we never talked about and I think-"

"It's never good to leave that sort of stuff bottled up," Yuuri finishes when Viktor's words fail him. "Talk to them at the banquet. That's a good idea. You can get all of this in the open before you move back to Saint Petersburg."

"Lilia wants to meet you, when we move back," Viktor murmurs. "She wants to spend time with me, just the two of us. We never did that very much."

"Then I think you've got a lot of catching up to do," Yuuri replies. "And I'll be with you whenever you want me to be."

"You're good at this," Viktor remarks, looking up at Yuuri. "How are you so good at this?"

Yuuri shrugs. "I've had to deal with my own freakouts for years. Dealing with other people's isn't much different."

For a moment, Viktor considers protesting the term freakout, but it's not exactly wrong in this context. Instead, he sits up and leans on Yuuri's shoulder. "Thank you."

"Any time," Yuuri replies, kissing the top of Viktor's head. "Phichit has been texting me about going out for dinner. I think Chris is coming too, and maybe Minako and Mari. Do you feel up to it?"

"Always," Viktor replies, smiling brightly.

Yuuri frowns at him. "Are you sure?"

Viktor lets the smile fall, knowing Yuuri will realize it's fake if he tries to keep it much longer. "I think it'll be a good distraction."

Yuuri smiles softly. "I'll tell Phichit we'll be there."

"You don't think it's strange that I spend all my time with the skaters and not with the other coaches, do you?" Viktor asks absently as he stands and walks towards his suitcase. "What do the other coaches even do?"

"Phichit always wondered if they had orgies."

Viktor chokes on his own spit. "Did you miss the part where Yakov is like my father? That's not something I want to think about!"

Yuuri snorts. "Sorry." He doesn't sound particularly sorry at all.

"You're the worst," Viktor whines.

"I love you," Yuuri replies in a sing-song voice.

"Love you too," Viktor replies automatically. "But you're still the worst."

Yuuri's laugh is like the sun coming out.


Viktor has never particularly looked forward to banquets. As a rule, he finds them to be mind-numbingly boring and a waste of time. Except for the banquet after the Sochi Grand Prix Final, he's never been proven wrong.

But he's not looking forward to this banquet in a different way, in a way that makes his hands shake as he tries to tie his tie and makes his stomach roil as it threatens to betray him. He's been in the bathroom under the guise of "getting ready" for far longer than necessary, and he's pretty sure Yuuri knows he's taking longer than he has to. In fact, judging by the rhythmic footsteps he can hear through the door, he's pretty sure Yuuri's pacing outside the bathroom. Most days, the thought of making Yuuri anxious is enough to make Viktor do whatever it takes to get that anxiety to go away. Today is not most days.

His hands are still shaking as he tries to tie the tie. It's just a simple half-Windsor, he could do it in his sleep, except he can't his hands to stay still long enough-

"Viktor?" Yuuri knocks on the door. "Are you okay?"

"I can't tie my tie," Viktor admits, his voice breaking.

Yuuri is in the bathroom in a heartbeat.

"You don't have to talk to Lilia at the banquet," he says, taking Viktor's tie in his hands without having to be asked. "You can just talk to sponsors. You'll need to talk to them after you announced your comeback."

"I should talk to them with you," Viktor says, his voice trembling almost as much as his hands. "You need to talk to them and I'm your coach so I should-"

"Don't worry about me," Yuuri tells Viktor immediately. "I'm not going to be as big a mess as I was last year. I'll be fine."

"This seemed like such a good plan yesterday," Viktor admits softly.

"You don't have to-"

"I do have to," Viktor counters. "I have to talk to Lilia, and I should talk to Yakov too, and now is the best time to do it." He takes a deep breath. "If I say that enough, will it make it easier?"

Yuuri shrugs. "It's never worked for me, but it might work for you."

Viktor takes another deep breath, holds it for a moment, and then lets it out. He looks at himself in the mirror and pulls up a bright smile. It doesn't quite meet his eyes, but he doesn't think anyone who doesn't know him will notice. "I'm ready," he announces. "Let's go."

"Are you sure?"

Viktor looks at his reflection again and nods. "As ready as I'll ever be. If we don't go now, I don't think I'm going to go at all."

Yuuri offers Viktor his arm, which is ridiculous when they're both still in the small hotel bathroom, but Viktor takes it and lets Yuuri lead him out to the door. Yuuri's suit is much nicer this year, thanks to Viktor's credit card, and he's not wearing that blue striped monstrosity that he liked to call a tie. That might be because Viktor burned it. It was really absolutely hideous.

"Are you ready?" Yuuri asks, his hand on the door handle.

Viktor closes his eyes and breathes. This is going to be hard, he knows that, but he also knows he's done harder things before. He can do this.

"I'm ready."