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the st. petersburg rules

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Living with Phichit in Detroit, there had been certain rules established, either swiftly or over time: roommate norms and boundaries (yes, even for a person like Phichit; especially for a person like Phichit), the borders of the nations of two separate people working through the circumstances of living together. These are things like an unspoken agreement that Yuuri will open every bottle Phichit cannot conquer, but he’s only allowed to twist lids off after Phichit’s been at it for a solid thirty or forty seconds. Or: a months-long battle waged over the miracle of the dishwasher, and proving, once and for all, to Phichit, that he did not, in fact, need to wash the dishes clean before putting them inside. That the words power scrub were not false advertising and did, actually, mean precisely what they said.

In Phichit’s defense, nobody in Bangkok uses a dishwasher.

In St. Petersburg, the rules are different, and the stakes are different too, and so when Yuuri notices them taking shape he celebrates with private smiles. Yuuri has been living with people for a very long time, either in Detroit or back at home, and Viktor’s the one who’s having to cede ground, who’s cleaning out dresser drawers and closet space.

That’s the first rule, actually. The first rule is that Viktor’s flat is not to be treated like the Katsuki onsen. Yuuri learns that it does not have an open door policy the first time he haphazardly invites the rest of Yakov’s skaters home for lunch, in the way Mila hesitates and looks across the rink at Viktor, arguing with Yakov, the way she says let’s ask Vitya first. It’s in the way Viktor hesitates, too, when Yuuri skates over to ask him, in the way Yuuri has to get creative when he realizes after cooking that Viktor only has plates for four, and eats his lunch out of a bowl with chopsticks so that the others can use all the flatware.

It strikes Yuuri as odd, because he’s so used to the thrum of guests at Yu-Topia and Viktor’s apartment is so big, too big for one person to have spent all this time in alone. They talk about it later, while Yuuri does the dishes, after Mila’s dragged Yurio and Georgi out on what even Yuuri recognizes is an excuse, because the rink won’t finish public skate for another four hours. Even Viktor realizes it’s a bad habit:

I was still pretty young when I got this famous, Viktor admits, sitting at the island in the kitchen on one of his nice, industrial-designer stools: the kind that look like they came out of a magazine but which aren’t that comfortable for guests. It was nice to have a place to retreat.

Viktor doesn’t admit these sort of things around just anyone. Yuuri smiles a little at that and then hits Viktor with a dishtowel after he’s done wiping down the counter, because he’s gotten comfortable enough here, is at ease enough to instigate a little trouble of his own. It’s another one of their rules that Yuuri always does the dishes. In fact, Yuuri does most of the cooking. Yuuri has already marched Viktor into a store to replace his terrible quality knives and to buy a proper wok. He’s added at least a dozen different spices to Viktor’s pathetic collection. This is a norm that shifts sometimes, though; on their one morning off, Viktor sneaks into the kitchen and proves he can manage a proper breakfast, tells Yuuri as he shambles in blinking away sunlight about all of his mother’s Russian recipes. Rules three and four. The dishes. The cooking.

Yuuri pretends to be interested but he’s not human before he’s had coffee, the one cup he lets himself drink in the morning — but no more, because it’s too strong, and it interferes with his anxiety. Viktor drinks tea. Rule five is about which mugs are their mugs and the way that Vitya always has them ready in the morning, no matter how early it is. Rule five has an appendix about the tea Yuuri drinks when he isn’t having his morning coffee; it’s hard to get in Russia, and his mother sends it in care packages that come once a month from Hasetsu. Rule one gets a similar footnote, eventually: Viktor lets him buy an extra set of plates and eventually there’s a schedule, some predictable, known quantity he can tolerate, with Georgi and Mila and Yurio and Yakov gathered around the kitchen table on Tuesdays, Yakov pretending that he doesn’t know that Viktor knows he’s sneaking Makkachin scraps.

The kitchen, though: Viktor’s also terribly fond of pinning Yuuri against the refrigerator, which has had to endure some obscene things that have nothing whatsoever to do with refrigeration, and for that matter, so has the kitchen island, but Yuuri’s certain this has nothing to do with the kitchen itself. Viktor has all kinds of ideas about the couch, for instance, and sometimes he feels a little sorry for Viktor’s maid, who is better off not knowing about the things that happen in the bathroom. Rule six: Viktor Nikiforov can’t keep his hands to himself.

Rule seven is actually one of their earliest rules. Viktor doesn’t do laundry either. This is entirely different territory than the dishes, for which Viktor has the excuse of a pile of menus in Russian in a kitchen drawer, evidently the means by which he’s been feeding himself for years, and his busy schedule. They discover rule seven when Viktor catches Yuuri doing his own laundry, not because Viktor cares that he does it.

It’s how Yuuri is doing it that Viktor objects to: he’s thrown his slacks in with his whites and Viktor is positively horrified by the treatment one of his sweaters is receiving. Later when the clothes come out of the dryer after Yuuri forgets to fold them for a day, Viktor eyes him with a subtle twitch in the corner of his left eye. Viktor’s got a laundry service because Viktor’s shirts hang neatly pressed in his closet, mostly dry-cleaned but certainly meticulously cared for. Rule seven is that Viktor promptly signs Yuuri up for this service and they don’t have a fight over it, even if Yuuri thinks it’s ridiculous to have his sweatpants coming back from this place looking suspiciously like they’ve been steamed. Somewhere someone is doing their laundry for them, convinced that Viktor Nikiforov is absolutely fucking insane.

Yuuri discovers the eighth rule when he gets sick in the winter. He catches a cold and suffers through it like a tragic Russian hero and Viktor babies him; wraps him up in blankets (corollary: Yuuri is a blanket hog, which would be problematic if Viktor wasn’t always so eager to spoon) and feeds him soup, insists Yuuri take cold medicine to feel better and argues with him about still going to the rink. Yuuri does this, even when the whole right side of his face feels like it’s leaking and when working on his full-rink footwork leaves him winded and wheezing. Viktor stares at him disapproving the whole time they train but by the time they’re back home he’s got Yuuri in the bath, and then back to bed, and it’s so sweet to be so cared for, even if Yurio has nothing but derogatory remarks to make about how pathetic Yuuri is and how whipped Viktor is.

This is absolutely nothing like how Viktor is when he gets the same cold three days later. When Viktor gets the flu, he thinks the whole world is ending and he makes sure everyone knows it, and he’s so melodramatic in his misery that Yuuri contemplates whether or not he ought to ask for even stronger medication. Viktor is a Russian, after all, the cough syrup barely phases him. When they move on to codeine he’s a little less sensible, and he forgets to talk to Yuuri in English, which would be irritating if it wasn’t so cute.

There are other times Viktor forgets to talk to Yuuri in English, too, but Yuuri understands those more readily. There are some things which can’t be said in your second language, maybe not because there aren’t the words (though there is that, sometimes) but because it’s the way of those words, when they’re spoken in secret, in deepest intimacy. Yuuri is precisely the same way, in fact, on those nights when Viktor’s taking him apart and then putting him back together, like a glued together vase leaking light at all its seams. Yuuri only ever curses in Japanese, and it’s not a curse in the traditional sense when he does it.

Ah, and fuck, spoken in precisely the right way, can be prayers in any language, and sometimes sex with Viktor is an offering, he doesn’t know to what.

To love, perhaps.

The ninth rule is about how they fight. Yuuri wins all the fights that don’t matter, like the one time he got mad about finding a pot of leftovers in the fridge, Viktor’s idea of cleaning up, or the way they argue about what jumps to put into his program in the first competition of the year. Yakov is telling Viktor to keep it simple and Viktor is telling Yuuri to keep it simple and both coaches know their students have no intention of complying. In these fights, Yuuri deploys Makkachin as a weapon: Makkachin, who is the world’s most cuddly poodle and who seems to believe he’s actually a lap dog, who Yuuri can hug when he’s giving Viktor the cold shoulder but still hungers for warmth.

Viktor wins all the fights that do matter, like whether or not Yuuri’s going to retire, or whether or not coaching Yuuri is taking away from his own training, or how they’re possibly ever going to manage to have an actual wedding in the midst of two professional training schedules. Viktor wins them without winning them; that is to say, there’s no moment of defeat, and sometimes there aren’t even apologies, just the patience with which he waits for Yuuri to get to where he is and then the open arms he always has whenever Yuuri finally makes it there.

In the fights that don’t matter Viktor has so much fun apologizing that Yuuri sometimes thinks he starts them on purpose.

It’s rule ten that is his favorite, though, above all the others. Ever since the Grand Prix Finals they’ve never gone to bed angry; Viktor never lets them. Viktor makes sure he falls asleep at night with a kiss: on the temple, on the cheek, on the back of his hand where the ring never comes off.

Viktor wakes up earlier than Yuuri does every time and gets those mugs ready; Yuuri’s the one who’s already packed their gym bags, the night before. By the time he comes into the kitchen that same kiss is waiting. Yuuri always responds by leaning in with a flex of his fingers and a deep inhale, breathing in the traces of Viktor, cologne and coffee, soap and shampoo. They do this softly, and absently, and it’s so fixed a habit that Viktor probably isn’t even thinking about it anymore (he never does, and Yuuri overthinks everything, even this), the way he doesn’t think about breathing, and how sometimes he doesn’t think about skating either: just glides through Yuuri’s whole universe, the brightest star he’s ever wished on and easily the best thing in it.