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the st. petersburg rules

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Long before he’d ever met Katsuki Yuuri there had been St. Petersburg rules.

These had been the old rules, not the old-old rules. The old-old rules had reigned for long and glorious years in Viktor’s prime, back when he’d still been able to surprise on the ice, after he’d celebrated his first repeat championship with a flat that was too big for one person, hired a decorator, gotten in-vogue. On the old-old rules, Viktor Nikiforov could stumble home drunk with a date; a Russian news anchor, a danseur from the opera, flavor of the week or the month until competition called and until interest faded.

Nobody moved in on the old-old rules. Viktor’s home was his castle. He had a taxi driver’s number on hand, someone discreet, the sort of person who knew better than to leak anyone’s walk of shame to a forever over-eager media.On the old-old rules, it had been simply understood: Viktor Nikiforov had neither the time nor the attention span to hold onto another human being, to love them properly or well, and so these collisions had always been quick affairs, separations a painless bursting apart, a magnet whose charges were fickle and which frequently reversed.

Then he’d won his fourth championship and the malaise had come. Slowly at first. Somehow challenge had gone, and with it went inspiration and with inspiration went interest.

Viktor established the old rules because suddenly it was too exhausting to go out. On the old rules his body acclimated to an alarm clock set by his training schedule and Makkachin’s needs. On the old rules he hired a housekeeper, got a laundry service, unapologetically ordered takeout.

He was bored of himself in every possible way but the dog still loved him, and anyway, the giant poodle didn’t walk himself.

Then the Grand Prix came, his fifth finals gold, and it blew Katsuki Yuuri into his life with hurricane-strength wind. Katsuki Yuuri who’d been imitating his program elements all year, who had to have been a fan; Katsuki Yuuri who’d had a first rate meltdown on the ice for reasons Viktor didn’t understand.

Katsuki Yuuri who walked away from his offer of a photo, and then danced his way into Viktor’s arms.

“Viktor, be my coach.”

He still thought about that often; the glimpses he’d seen of Yuuri’s elegance and his spontaneity, once the other skater got out of his own way, too drunk to be properly reticent or withdrawn. It had been easy, too easy really, to dance with him; they’d read each other as partners so flawlessly that Viktor could have almost sworn they’d danced together before.

Later he would realize that they had: he hadn’t known, but watching the video of Yuuri skating Stammi Vicino he realized Yuuri Katsuki had been dancing with him for his entire skating career.

So he’d flown to Hasetsu.

To be a coach.

Yuuri was in St. Petersburg now and the old rules were gone, replaced by the new rules.

 

- - -

 

Viktor remembers the dishes differently than Yuuri does; recalls the first time they tried cooking together. The first time, Yuuri turns back to the dishwasher and rearranges plates because Viktor is doing it wrong. Yuuri is a chef’s boy and he knows; that’s one of the Hasetsu rules, all kinds of them about Mama Katsuki’s kitchen, and so after that Viktor stays away from the dishes.

He wipes down counters. He puts plates away. It becomes a duet.

He lets Yuuri take him to markets for vegetables, watches his kitchen slowly get re-stocked with fresh food and more utensils like it’s a garden, realizes he’d forgotten what it was like to care about whether or not his milk was expired or if he has enough forks for his guests at lunch.

When Yuuri brings over the rest of the rink for lunch one day Viktor watches them chatter in a silence that is more thoughtful than hostile, and it’s Mila who elbows him to bring him into the conversation. What’cha thinking about, Vitya?

Can’t remember the last time I had you all over.

Her smile is bright. She’s so happy for him. Me either.

When they all leave he pins Yuuri against the door for the kiss he’s wanted to give him ever since he heard the cluster of his friends laughing around the island, a sound he’s sure hasn’t been heard in this flat for far, far too long. Yuuri is flustered, doesn’t understand, doesn’t realize that it’s more than the fact that sometimes he opens windows to let in fresh air and the sounds of the street.

Windows can be opened in more than just houses. They keep the housecleaner, because Viktor’s known her for too long now to not pay the woman for her hard work and her care. She dusts the furniture. Yuuri’s the one dusting Viktor’s whole life, letting the air back in.

Yuuri likes to cook because it reminds him of home. When Viktor cooks it’s because he’s so glad he has someone he finally wants to cook for, but he’s so out of practice that for a long time he only feels safe making breakfast. He tells Yuuri about his mother, about how she’d make these eggs and sausage skillets for him at the crack of dawn, before all of his earliest skating sessions: when the ice was most open, before the sun was even up. That’s an experience they share: they both know what it means to be up before sunrise; they remember what it was like to not want to skate, because they’d both been teenagers once, complaining endlessly about how early it was, and still: unable to stay away from the siren song of the rink.

Yuuri is still a teenager sometimes. In the mornings he’s just barely human. Viktor develops a ritual to make sure they’re at the rink on time; he makes Yuuri’s coffee, and his tea, and they hardly speak until they’re both done, off to the rink.

Yuuri is a better dancer than he is, which is a problem only because he has to apologize to Yakov over and over and over again for getting more caught up in his fiance’s choreography than his own. Viktor wants the world to see what he sees when he watches Yuuri move and so he still gives critiques, still chastises Yuuri’s extensions or has advice for his quads.

He usually tries to sneak in practice on their new pairs program, even though Yakov thinks it’s stupid to be working on exhibition skates this early in the season with so many other problems to tackle, transitions that are still ill-timed and awkward.

Yakov eventually gives up because his skaters are better and happier when they’re allowed to do this, right at the end of a session, gliding together in tune to a song that only they hear.

Dancing. Always, always dancing.

They ride a pair of bicycles back home, and they should be tired, but Viktor is usually just counting the blocks until he can drag Yuuri to the bedroom, or the kitchen, or the sofa, wherever, someplace private where he can pour out his praise for Yuuri’s progress, for how beautiful he is, for how much progress he’s making and how privileged he feels to come along. Yuuri blushes wonderfully whenever Viktor tells him these things, which only makes Viktor more inclined to repeat them, over and over again, closer, until he can see the way heat rushes all the way to the tips of his fiance’s ears and until he can’t resist the addictions of his own hands and the temptation of those sparkling brown eyes and the warmth of Yuuri’s subtle smile:

Always so amazed, his Yuuri, by the life they’re making together.

It reminds Viktor that it is, in fact, a miracle.

One day he catches Yuuri dumping a load of unsorted laundry into the washer and nearly has a heart-attack. He’s not sure whether this is on Yuuri’s behalf or on the washer’s, poor machine, handling jeans and towels and delicates on a one-size-fits-all super-large spin cycle.

Viktor remembers what it was like to not really want to get dressed, but even on the old rules he had a closet full of nice clothes, the sort of things people expected him to wear, and putting them on had been like adopting a story for a skate, getting into the costume of the creature who had once been Viktor Nikiforov.

He is more Viktor Nikiforov now than he has ever been in his life, but he still gets his clothes dry-cleaned and pressed. He does this because he’s aware that Yuuri has a weakness for Viktor in a suit, because he’s terribly fond of the wicked ideas Yuuri gets with his ties, sometimes, when he’s all Eros and he’s hooked his hands into silk to pull him closer.

He also does it because Yuuri is reminding him to take care of himself, and the clothes are an extension of that, a way of loving himself. Yuuri doesn’t understand this at all, perhaps because Viktor can’t even articulate it in a way that Yuuri can understand, but he lets him add his laundry to the laundry service he uses, and life goes on. Plus Yuuri wears his clothes sometimes, which Viktor has a terrible weakness for. Yuuri in one of his shirts turns him into a candle and makes Viktor a moth, someone who’s never wanted to burn himself quite so badly.

They start swapping jackets.

Sometimes they smell like Yuuri does; they’re sharing honey-scented soap and shampoo now but there’s still the matter of cologne. He wants these jackets to last for a long time.

Yuuri catches the flu and pretends like he can still skate. Viktor has never met someone with such a penchant for punishing themselves, and he doesn’t understand it, but he makes schi, which is cabbage soup, and he hovers and he worries and when he catches the same cold days later he has only himself and his lack of restraint to blame.

Viktor doesn’t even try to pretend that he’s going to make it off to the rink. He hasn’t been sick like this in years. He does what he always does now that he feels like himself again; makes a scene, causes a spectacle.

Yuuri, who’s impatient to make up for his days of delay, is not the best nurse, gets him stronger cold medication. Viktor punishes him for it by speaking almost exclusively in Russian.

It isn’t always on purpose, that decision, and sometimes it’s a reflex: Yuuri is trying to learn Russian, just like Viktor’s trying to learn Japanese, and they’re both terrible at it. What matters is the way Yuuri flushes when he hums certain words, pet names he knows Yuuri hasn’t translated yet but intuitively understands because of the way that they’re said.  He calls Yuuri all sorts of things; his kitten, his darling, his sweetheart.

The sun itself, when the codeine really starts to kick in:

Солнышко.

They fight like every other couple fights, and not like every other couple fights. It isn’t that Viktor doesn’t care about the outcomes of the little things, like who forgot to pick up Makkachin’s vitamins at the pet store, or who is grumpier after one of Yakov’s extra-yelling days. He does. He just doesn’t care about them more than he cares about these little shifts in his life, about the miracle that is Katsuki Yuuri in his apartment, sharing his bed, moved into his heart.

He’d learned that traveling back to Hasetsu alone, back when Makkachin got sick — when the old rules had begun to creep back in like a bad habit, until he’d sat at the airport sick of being alone again and then run to get Yuuri at the doors.

He lets Yuuri win all those fights and he lets him have the dog, too, because if Yuuri ever needs comfort — and he does need it, more than Viktor needs it, usually — Viktor wants him to have it. It’s funny, this distinction between the two of them. Viktor needs touch, needs the sweep of Yuuri’s fingers or the soft press of his mouth. He’s weak for it, gives in at all sorts of inappropriate times and in all manner of inappropriate places.

Yuuri needs assurance and so when they’re squabbling like this, he gets Makkachin and Viktor doesn’t even blink. Doesn’t even question it.

(He does, jokingly, call the dog a traitor more than once, but they all know he doesn’t mean it, especially the poodle, who is doing exactly what he wants).

He stands his ground for the big things, like whether or not Yuuri deserves to share the ice with people as successful as Viktor is, whether or not he has the strength of Jean-Jacques, obnoxious Canadian bro, or the potential of Yuri, angry Russian kitten. When they sit down together and try to find wedding dates and Yuuri says it’s impossible Viktor reminds him that a quad flip at the end of a free skate should’ve been impossible once and that Yuuri never thought he’d break Viktor’s world record and now here they are, in St. Petersburg, together, with Viktor chasing Yuuri’s achievements for once, and not the other way around.

He’s given very few interviews about his attitude towards coaching because coaching Yuuri is different than coaching any other athlete; for Yuuri he simply has to make the space and the circumstances exist, the right opportunity for Yuuri to step out onto the ice and discover himself.

When Viktor does this and does it right Yuuri always comes out to meet him; Yuuri never fails.

Not since the last Grand Prix has Viktor let them go to bed angry with each other; he’ll never forget it, the way the possibility of retirement had turned his whole world upside down, had underscored just how precious this was to him.

He makes sure Yuuri knows it, every night, every day.

These are the new rules of his house. The St. Petersburg rules.