Lilia's temper is short tonight. She's just come back from another country this morning, she's rushing to get ready for an event she needs to attend, and the pinched look on her face reveals a headache. Victor stays out of her way, petting Makkachin, until he sees her slam the electric kettle down when it doesn't turn on right.
Letting frustration out like that is uncharacteristic of her. She's always telling Victor that he can't allow it show in public, that he has to look gracious and graceful and only vent in private. Lilia rarely does even that much. But Yakov's not here tonight, and she must be in a bad mood, and it's kind of weird to see her have an off day. To think that even Lilia gets them.
"I'll get tea going," Victor says as he jumps up, smiling brightly. "You need to finish getting ready, right?"
She gives him a side-long look. Her face doesn't relax at all, but she lets him take the kettle and leaves the room.
Victor heats the water, makes the tea, pulls down her favorite tea cup, and has everything on the table by the time she comes back. Her hair is still in a messy bun as she sits down, murmuring a thank-you, and rubs her temples.
"Do you want me to comb it?" When she glances at him, he smiles again. "You can just relax for a minute! I'll be careful."
Victor's never combed someone else's hair before. He's surprised that Lilia lets him, but he does have a lot of experience with pulling apart knots in his own hair.
Hers is even longer than his, dark, the strands giving off faint reddish tones in the kitchen light. Victor combs very carefully, making sure he doesn't pull on a single knot, smoothing everything down until it looks pretty again. It doesn't take that long, but Lilia keeps sipping on her tea, not saying anything, as he spends an extra couple of minutes combing it, liking the feeling of the comb and of taking care of someone. He doesn't get to do that a lot, except for spoiling Makkachin.
He expects her to put it up in her trademark ballet bun. But instead, she directs him to bring a hair clip from the bedroom. She twists the strands near her hairline together and pulls the top part of her hair back, before clipping it together behind her head, leaving the rest of it down.
"There," she says, sounding like herself again. "Does it look acceptable?"
'Acceptable' for Lilia is top standards for anyone else. "It looks so elegant! I wish Yakov could see you – he'd be lost for words." Victor wants to be able to look like that – not like her, exactly, but like the way she is effortlessly good-looking and sure of herself. Lilia always carries authority like an accessory, but dressed up, she looks like she could make the world turn on her will.
"Thank you for helping, Vitya," she says, and the words make Victor warm and happy enough that he has to tell Makkachin about it after Lilia has left.
When Victor stumbles on Georgi sobbing in a bathroom at Nationals, his first instinct is to run off to Yakov. Something has to be wrong, and Victor clearly can't fix it, and Georgi cries a lot, but never like this.
But he doesn't quite get his foot turned around before Georgi looks up, and then it would be weird to just run off, wouldn't it? Would it be weird to smile? Too late, his mouth is turned up. "Hi," he says. "Uh, are you...."
Georgi stares at him in the mirror. His face clearly says that he is not okay. Not with the tears dripping down it, his make-up starting to run.
Georgi's had a shit week. Even Victor knows that. He had a hard fall in practice two days ago, his girlfriend dumped him for another boy with way worse taste in fashion, and he's been so miserable that Yakov keeps patting his shoulder and not even yelling at him.
Victor's not especially close to him, but they're rink mates! He can't just leave him like this. Nobody expects him to medal, but he might as well skate what he can.
"I'll help you finish getting ready!" he blurts. "Come on, wash your face, I'll do your hair for you."
"Do you even know how I've been styling it?" Georgi asks his reflection, his voice thick.
No, actually. But that's okay, he can improvise. "It'll look fine," says Victor, and he starts digging around in Georgi's bag before he can protest any more.
They get him looking respectable pretty fast. Victor gloops hair gel onto his scalp and combs his hair into something that looks kind of familiar, and Georgi only has to correct him once or twice as he tries to cover his blotchy cheeks. By the time Yakov pokes his head in, clearly wondering where the hell they are, they have him ready to go.
They're both in the same warm-up group, and Yakov hustles them out with the other skaters to wait to get on the ice. Victor is already in focus mode, trying to get his muscles warm, but he does hear Georgi sniffle, and then take a deep breath.
"Thanks," he mutters. Victor shrugs.
He doesn't see Georgi skate, but he does see Yakov smiling at him later, so he must have done okay.
Yakov has told him to go away at least five times by now. But he has the flu, and Lilia isn't around anymore, and as far as Victor knows, Yakov's nearest relatives are all the way off in Moscow. So... Victor's the only one who can make sure that Yakov's okay. That he has medicine and hot food. That he's just cranky from being sick, not – not having any of the scary complications of flu.
He's washing his hands a lot and wearing a mask and everything, so Yakov can't complain that he's being that reckless about his own health, either.
"Here you go," he says, depositing a bowl full of soup in front of Yakov. The worst of the flu seems to be over for him now, but he still looks exhausted as he picks up his spoon. He's still in his pajamas, too, wrapped in a blanket that Victor brought for him, and his hair is a mess.
"What are you doing?" Yakov sighs, when Victor reaches for it.
"Your hair needs brushing."
"Vitya," Yakov says, with an even greater sigh.
"It always makes me feel better when people comb my hair when I'm sick," Victor says, which Yakov should know from experience. And oh, there it is: the way that Yakov's mouth relaxes just a fraction, the way the corners of his eyes soften a touch. He lets Victor go find his hairbrush, and he lets Victor brush it out.
Yakov doesn't have a lot of hair left, so it only needs a minute. Victor takes a lot more than a minute.
His hair isn't silky, or thick, or long and lovely. It's grey and a little course and it tends towards the messy even on a good day. It's nice to brush it anyway, smoothing it as well as he can. Yakov eats the soup, and he doesn't mention how long Victor has been brushing, and he keeps breathing just fine.
"You like to slick your hair back for competitions, right?" Victor asks. Despite Yuuri's protests that he can do it himself, he insists on helping him. Onsen on Ice might be a relatively small event, but it never hurts to look one's best. There will be photographers there, and the triplets with their cameras, and fans eager to see what Victor is doing as a coach, what choreography he's come up with for Yuuri and Yuri.
Yuuri's hair is soft, like Victor remembers. The way he sits, his shoulders tense, seems so at odds with the way he was that night at the banquet, as does the way he tenses further when Victor first touches the comb to his hair. It can't possibly hurt; Victor goes slowly and works out the couple of tangles he comes across.
Victor still doesn't understand why there's such a difference. Why the Yuuri he met on that night stripped and danced and begged Victor to be his coach, but the one he's with now only gradually relaxes as Victor pulls his hair back.
He shivers when Victor starts working the gel into his hair. "Cold?"
"A little." He shivers again when Victor slowly draws the comb through, and Victor's pretty sure that is not because of the cold.
A bit at a time, Yuuri's shoulders drop down, and he starts to tilt his head into Victor's touch. Victor stays quiet, afraid to break the spell as he adds more gel, combs back another section, puts his fingertips on Yuuri's neck. Yuuri doesn't pull away.
He draws it out for as long as he can. It's such a shame when he has to stop. Yuuri does need to get going and dress for the competition. (In Victor's old costume. In one of Victor's most famous and most favorite old costumes. Victor is going to spend a lot of time thinking about that after the event is over.)
"You look amazing," he says when he has to pull away. He says the words quietly, and he means them: Yuuri takes his breath away when he blinks his eyes open and meets his own gaze in the mirror. He looks ready to skate; he looks like he has the confidence he needs; he looks sexy as hell.
Yuuri is good at brushing off compliments. But this time, he just nods, and then he turns to give Victor a little smile before leaving to get his costume.
Victor wonders if he can get Yuuri to let him comb his hair in the onsen any time soon. He can't possibly wait until the season starts and Yuuri needs his hair pulled back again, can he?
There's a daily ritual that Victor never, ever passes up except when he's away from home. Even on days when he barely wants to get out of bed to go to practice. Even on days when he's ill and feverish. Even on days when he's tired from work and travel.
"Makkachin, let's brush you," he calls. Makkachin get up, shakes herself, and comes to stand next to him.
She's such a good dog. So smart. So cuddly. Victor has to coo over her for a few moments first, before he reaches for the first brush.
Poodles don't shed; the hair tangles under the top of their coat. Victor takes her to the groomer on a schedule, to get her coat trimmed, and they say she's very well-behaved and enjoys the attention. But to make sure she's in top health, he brushes her every single day.
He starts with her soft face and her floppy ears – he fell in love with those ears when he first saw her. She let him stroke them over and over, looking up at him with her dark, lovely eyes, and he had to take her home. He had to. It's the best decision he's ever made.
She stands patiently while he brushes her sides and her back and her stomach, and even when he holds her tail still to detangle that, too. She's good when he checks her paws, letting him turn them over to check her nails and to poke her soft paw pads. He takes his time combing her, making sure he doesn't miss any tangles that could mat later.
He switches out the detangling brush for another one and gives her coat another work-over, removing more hairs and brushing until her hair shines in the light. The brushing takes the stress of the day from him, too, making him forget that his feet hurt, that his muscles ache from a hard work-out. Makkachin isn't the only one who enjoys this. Victor could never skip this for her own sake, but it does a lot of good for him, too.
When he's finished, he gives into her big eyes and presses his face into the top of her head. "There you go, darling. All done."
Makkachin is a good, smart dog. Now that she knows that no longer needs to sit still, she makes a soft noise in response and starts to climb into Victor's lap for more hugs. He laughs and scratches her shoulders, her adorable ears, and gives her all the cuddling a dog could ever want.