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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.

Chapter Text

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.