“I'll give you eyes of blue
I'll give you a man who wants to rule the world”
(David Bowie, ‘China Girl’)
“I’m not doing it.”
Victor Nikiforov, in his capacity as the greatest music artist to come out of his country in the new millennium, threw the typed pages he had been reading back across the desk with such force that they came undone. They were only stopped from flying all over the place by the presence of mind of the man sitting on the other side, who grabbed them with both hands and shoved them back together into a messy pile.
“It’s a copy of a David Bowie video.” The glare Victor shot across the massive oak desk made his blue eyes look as icy as the contempt it slapped his manager in the face with.
“Vitya.” There it was, that tone Yakov liked to use when he talked to Victor like to a petulant child he needed to set straight. “You have wanted to work with this director for a long time, and now that he has actually sent a proposal for your new music video, you want to turn him down?”
Victor leaned forward, both hands planted on the desk. “David Bowie, Yakov! It’s blasphemy!”
“You like David Bowie.”
Victor sat back with a huff. Just because he couldn’t listen to ‘Space Oddity’ without starting to cry or sit at a piano without playing ‘Life on Mars?’, it didn’t mean that he could just go about copying one of his idol’s most famous videos. What the hell was that director even thinking?
“He saw the video,” Yakov said as if he had read Victor’s mind.
Victor groaned. The video. Someone had filmed him at a party, obliviously singing and swaying along to Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ with a cigarette in one hand and a tumbler of whisky in the other, and uploaded it to YouTube. He had stopped counting how many comments were mentioning seeing certain ‘vibes’ in what he wished had remained an unobserved, private moment at a friend’s birthday party. His eyes zeroed in on the sheets of paper Yakov was currently picking up one by one and putting back in their right order. It was a good video script. Victor loved it. Victor couldn’t do it.
“And just who on earth will believe that, Yakov?” He pointed at the papers in Yakov’s hands like an accusation. “I’m gay. It’s not exactly a secret. I’ll be a laughing stock rolling around a beach with some woman!”
“You will not be rolling around with a woman, Vitya!” Yakov brought the flat of one hand down on his desk and rolled his eyes. “You will have a male model, of course!”
Victor gasped audibly for air. At last he smiled, and his eyes felt a little moist. “Yaaakov! I will?”
He knew well what a strain his career had put on his manager for years. And he was grateful to Yakov for taking him on, making things possible for him, forever flying under the radar of blatant homophobia. Together they had come a long way from where Victor had started out, unable at first and later unwilling to hide a certain aura of the androgynous he loved to play with. But he had a talent and a determination that made people buy his records and have him sell out bigger and bigger venues. He brought prestige to the country, enough that people were willing to forgive him for what he took care not to slam in their faces. It worked for all of them. Victor was a proud man. He was as proud of his achievements as he was of the country that had made him, even though he couldn’t possibly agree with every aspect, until the burden of being forever torn in half became too much to bear.
It was lucky that he rose to fame at a time when the borders were open and freedom no longer a dream. When MTV was suddenly right there in his parents’ living room, and money was to be made. Yakov was good at that. At mentoring and supporting, at pushing him forward, beyond all the boundaries that Victor had always suspected had held Yakov himself back in his youth. The money part suited both of them only too well. At this point in time, Victor owned an apartment in Paris, the confidence of an artist renown and respected in his own country and internationally, and the artistic freedom to make exactly the kind of music he wanted.
And all these years Yakov had been able to juggle his biggest artist’s private and professional life, trying not to let it harm a career they both greatly benefitted from. Victor Nikiforov had been notorious for the way he flirted with women and men alike, had loved to play up the mystery. Until one day he had made big enough a name for himself that he felt it was time to stop playing the game. He liked to joke that his refusal to hide his sexuality any longer was the main reason Yakov was going bald. In truth, in had been a desperate measure as well as a relief, outing himself to snide a past lover threatening to sell the story to the press. Victor’s videos had always been very classy, almost modest, careful not to slam his sexuality in people’s faces. As soon as he could afford it he stopped having scenes in them that demanded him to kiss beautiful women, but they were not Freddie Mercury ‘Living On My Own’ calibre either, far from it. Most of the time, they didn’t show him interacting with anyone at all, unless it was his own audience when they just filmed the video live at one of his concerts. Or Makkachin. It was the compromise Victor was willing to make. Stay true to himself without treading on anyone’s toes.
And saving the last shreds of Yakov’s hair and sanity.
Victor felt like here and now, all this was about to change. It felt liberating, and oh. So scary.
“I like his ideas the best.” Yakov brought the tip of his index finger down in the script in question several times. “It’s a recreation of a well-known music video. People do this all the time. We’ll change things. Make them more suitable for you. Instead of ‘China Girl’ it’s ‘Japanese Boy’, if you will.”
Yakov reached for a folder that had been lying out of Victor’s sight until now, buried by several scripts like the one he had been looking over.
“He has most of it already planned out. Look at his ideas, Vitya. I’m sure you’ll like them. Out of them all, he is the only one who seems to have given the song enough of a listen, and looked into the story behind it.”
Victor took the folder and opened it. For a little while nothing was heard but the calm ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner of the room while Victor read. The director was a big name with lots of award-winning music videos under his belt. Every self-respecting artist would be an utter idiot not to work with him. And Yakov was right, Victor knew it the moment he read the concept. It was a dare, recreating such a famous video but with all the necessary alterations to make something new and completely different.
“Okay.” Victor finally looked up at Yakov. “I’m doing it.”
He was adjusting his cashmere scarf around his neck as he headed down the corridor after leaving Yakov’s office when a voice behind him made him freeze in his steps.
“Victor Nikiforov is dead!”
Victor turned around. Further down the dreary looking hallway that still bore too many Soviet characteristics to ever not feel strict and sober, a teenager was leaning against the wall, one bare knee poking out from torn jeans where he had one leg bent against the faded wallpaper. The face was only visible in parts, peeking out from a leopard print hood and strands of blond hair, but from what Victor could see, it looked angry.
“Yuuura!” Victor smiled brightly. “Are you still pissed off about Eurovision?”
Yuri Plisetsky was Yakov’s most promising upcoming new artist. A fifteen-year-old with the face and voice of an angel and a daredevil spoilt brat attitude that Victor found still had a lot of growing up to do. Yuri had been hoping to represent Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest to boost his own career. But it was Victor who would be going, again. To Yuri it was obviously personal, for he pushed himself off the wall and sauntered over until his face was mere inches away from Victor’s.
“I’m performing with this amazing DJ from Kazakhstan on stage with me. This is what people want to see these days!” he told Victor with a snarl he probably thought was threatening. Victor bit his lips so as not to smile harder. He knew it so well, the desperate desire to spread those wings and fly, to leave all the restraints of an ambitious life in this city behind and make the dreams a reality. And he could have told him now that he had just agreed with Yakov to take Yuri along as his opening act on his next international tour. But this was not the kind of behaviour Victor felt deserved a reward at this moment.
Yuri twisted his face closer into Victor’s personal space. “And why do you get to work with Yuuri Katsuki?!!! You spoilt old geezer, you don’t even know him, with your head stuck up your own ass as much as it is!”
“Who?” Victor frowned, but Yuri had already turned his back on him with a sniff and slouched off down the hallway with that lazy can’t-be-bothered hunch in his shoulders that didn’t exactly add to his charms in Victor’s opinion. The grim face of the tiger printed on the back of his jacket stared at Victor like an echo of Yuri’s contempt. Sighing, Victor shook his head and turned the other way to head outside.
Georgi, his personal assistant, was waiting in the car that would take him back to the airport.
Victor couldn’t wait to go home and see Makkachin.
* * * * * * *
The director worked fast. Only one week after Victor had agreed to making the video, a first meeting was scheduled in London, where cast and crew would get together to read through the script and do screen tests. Victor cuddled Makkachin goodbye on a freezing winter morning and left her with the sitter. Half an hour later, he met Georgi at Gare du Nord and boarded the Eurostar. In the taxi to the director’s London head quarters they were debating about locations. The question where they would find a desert as well as a beach location was still pending, and Victor felt a little antsy. He liked to have things under control when working. It had already been a little difficult for him to leave the casting of the male model completely to the director, who had a certain someone in mind and would not budge from that.
“How about this?” Georgi held out his phone to Victor, the screen showing a picture of one of Victor’s favourite shopping destinations, palm trees and skyscrapers in brightest sunlight.
“How about some place where it’s not considered a crime to be a flaming homosexual, Georgi?” Victor gently pushed his hand with the phone away and rolled his eyes.
It was snowing when they got out of the taxi.
“Did I miss something?” Victor asked as they walked up to the building. It looked more like a warehouse, not like the office tower he somehow had expected. “We’re not starting to film yet, are we?”
“No.” Georgi hurried on ahead. “He just likes to receive people here and give the impression that shooting could start any moment. He needs the atmosphere, from what I was able to find out. His office is basically right next to a set.”
Georgi opened the heavy metal entrance door. Inside, several doors led away from a long corridor. It had no windows and was illuminated by plain neon tubes. Georgi opened the first door to their left just like he had been here before, but then he was always well prepared. No matter how much Victor planned in advance, Georgi was always one step ahead. It was why they had been working together so well for many years.
Inside, a bustling lively movie set greeted them. Victor shot another glance at Georgi that plainly said, ‘Are you sure we’re not filming yet?’ But a young woman who introduced herself as one of the director’s assistants took them under her wing almost immediately, showed them around and pointed out a conference table that had a script placed in front of every seat as well as an assortment of drinks and snacks and glasses in the middle. Georgi had his favoured work equipment with him, a clipboard he was currently adding a schedule for the next few days to, and he instantly looked a lot happier.
Victor had been on many sets. He had seen chaotic sets where everyone was doing everything and nobody was in charge of anything, and he still wondered how a video that lived up to his own high standards could possibly have been produced there. He had suffered strictly organised sets where everything was on a tight schedule that even listed bathroom breaks with military precision. He knew lax directors and eccentric ones, those who were sweet pushovers and the others, the choleric arseholes, too. As long as he felt it would end up in a finished product he was one hundred per cent happy to put his name to, he didn’t mind all the hard work and the madness. But he had never been on a set such as this, which was a mix of everything, and for a moment he wondered what kind of extra person this director was, keeping everything he needed so close in one place.
“Victor! We finally get to work together!”
Despite this being their first meeting, the director pulled him into a fierce hug as though he was his long lost son. He seemed much younger than he was, the kind of person whose eyes and hair and mind and fashion belied the birth year in his passport. A big name with a small ego. Victor liked him immediately. He returned the embrace, laughing softly because people in the business often greeted him like they had known him all his life.
“We’re going to put such great pictures to your song, you’ll see. Very Japanese, but tasteful, not tacky. And the model I’ve hired! You’re going to love him.”
The director placed one arm around Victor’s shoulder and led him towards a whiteboard where several cards were put up that had notes written on them. Victor accepted a coffee from an assistant who hurried by, and turned his focus back on the director.
“Who is he?” he asked, and took a sip from his styrofoam cup. The coffee was good, and Victor acknowledged it with a little nod at no-one in particular.
“Yuuri Katsuki.” The director started rearranging the cards on the whiteboard. “One of the biggest supermodels from Asia, the best thing to come out of Japan these days. He’s crazily booked up, we were very lucky he found time for this. But I called in a favour with his manager, she still owed me one. I did a video for one of her bands for free. Gave their career a massive boost in the West.” He winked mischievously at Victor, as if they were in on the same conspiracy.
Victor smiled and nodded politely while he listened, sipping his coffee. Head tilted, he looked at the schedule Georgi came to hold under his nose, added items to the shopping list Georgi was getting ready for Makka’s sitter. His empty coffee cup was taken off him by an efficient crew member that he barely noticed because she was moving about so quickly and quietly and was gone before he could even properly thank her. Although the beatific smile she threw back at him over her shoulder told him she had heard him alright.
The door opened and brought a gust of icy winter air that swept in a figure. There was not much to see except for a dark, padded coat that swallowed everyone who chose to huddle in it from the cold. Victor saw sturdy dark jeans that were so baggy that they gave no hint at the legs inside them. Strangely enough, the person wore sneakers. Little clots of snow clung to the brown and teal suede.
Even less was visible of the face. What was not lost in a high pillow collar and the fake fur brim of the upturned hood was hidden by a thick blue woolly hat pulled as low as possible and a clinically white face mask covering the rest. A pair of blue-framed glasses was seen above the mask. It would have been presumptuous to call the pair of narrowed eyes behind them peering out.
With a silence that bordered on rude, the somewhat bulky figure walked by Victor, soundless and slumped over now, looking at a phone in a gloved hand as if deliberately wanting to be unseen. Had it not been close enough to make him feel the lingering cold of the winter day clinging to the padded navy coat, Victor might not have paid attention at all.
“Who’s that?” Victor asked, his eyes following the person until they disappeared in one of the rooms leading away from the set without having said a word to anyone who was now left staring at the closed door. He liked a light, easy-going atmosphere in the workplace despite all professionalism, even on video sets. That was what he paid Georgi for, after all. The only diva on Victor’s sets was himself.
Georgi clutched the clipboard to his chest. “That,” he said curtly, “is your model.”
“Good grief!” Victor groaned.
Their attention was claimed by the thundering of heels on the studio floor. From the way the director turned towards the approaching woman with his arms wide open and a smile from one ear to the other, Victor assumed that this was the manager who still owed him a favour. He watched them greet each other with the business kisses on the cheek. And while the words they said may have been polite and charming, there was a respectful fondness in the way they seemed at ease in each other’s presence that spoke of a long and successful cooperation. When she swung around and looked directly at Victor, he felt like he had Yakov in front of him, judging by the clear assessment in her eyes.
Minako Okukawa was the kind of woman who owned a room with just a flick of her long brown hair back over her shoulder. She had the firmest handshake of any Japanese person Victor had ever met, and it was clear from the way that she introduced herself that she intended on having a lot to say on how her protégée was represented in this endeavour. Victor sighed inwardly. He was painfully reminded of his early video shoots Yakov had insisted on overseeing personally. There was a shorter Japanese woman with her, who was solely in charge of the model’s styling throughout the whole shoot.
“Yuuri will be out shortly, he just needs a moment. We flew in straight from a fashion shooting in New York.”
Minako emphasised her words with a firm nod before she walked off to check up on him.
The shorter woman, Yuuko was her name, Victor recalled, waited until the door closed behind Minako, until she approached Victor. She actually did something like a little bow. Victor never knew how to feel about that.
“I am terribly sorry for bothering you with something like this, Victor,” she started, “but my daughters are huge fans, and I wanted to ask, if it’s not too much of an inconvenience, if I could have your autograph for them?”
She was actually adorable. And looked much too young to have even one child, leave alone more than that.
“It would be my pleasure,” Victor said with his brightest smile.
He leaned in close to murmur in Georgi’s ear whether they had any of his new, still unreleased albums with them, but Georgi shook his head. So Victor took the photos from Yuuko’s hands that she had quickly produced from a leather handbag strapped across her shoulder. Three copies of one and the same promo photo, Victor noted with surprise.
“They’re triplets,” Yuuko explained when she saw his reaction. “If they don’t get the same picture each, there will be war.”
Victor laughed as he uncapped the pen Yuuko handed him. “What are their names?”
“Axel, Lutz and Loop.”
Victor looked up, brows drawn together in thought. “Those sound like…”
“Figure skating jumps, I know.” Yuuko shrugged a little sheepishly. “My husband and I got into figure skating when I was pregnant with them, thanks to your video. The one in which you skated. ‘A Tales of Sleeping Prince’?”
“Oh. That’s Georgi’s favourite of my songs.” Victor grinned, ignoring the slight grammatical incorrectness in her carefully phrased English.
“Because it’s the best one,” Georgi declared with a small huff, chin raised.
“I had to lie down a lot towards the end of my pregnancy, so we ended up watching a lot of figure skating.”
Yuuko took the first picture Victor handed her, signed to Axel, while he wrote ‘To Lutz’ on the next one and added his signature. Her cheeks were glowing with excitement when she held all three autographs in her hands and marvelled at them. When she glanced up at him, her eyes were dancing mischievously.
“They dote on my husband but this is going to make me favourite parent for a while, so thank you!”
Victor was about to reply something but the director interrupted them at this very moment and asked everyone very determinedly to sit down so they could start on going through the script and filming schedule.
Victor found himself two seats away from Yuuko, looking right at the door Minako had disappeared through a moment ago. He accepted a glass of his favourite soft drink from the assistant who had disposed of his empty coffee cup earlier; no doubt she had been briefed by Georgi about his likes and dislikes. These were the people he was going to be closely working with, Victor reminded himself, and made sure to nod and smile at everyone whose eyes he met while sipping his drink.
The door in Yuuko’s back swung open and Victor nearly choked on his Fanta Zero when he looked there.
“Don’t poke your eye out with the straw,” Georgi commented drily and took the glass from Victor’s hand.
There was no way, no matter how hard Victor’s brain struggled to connect the dots, that this man was the same person who had blown in with the winter breeze giving off just as much chill and indifference. He didn’t seem very tall, in fact Victor was sure he was shorter than him, but there was something about the way he moved that moved others, just in the way he walked, the way he carried himself, the way he looked at one so directly with those dark eyes behind the glasses. He created music with his body. And music, well. Music was Victor’s home ground. As he approached the table, Victor noticed that he had changed the baggy jeans for black dress pants that placed emphasis on his legs, especially his thighs. Victor forced his eyes up immediately, skimmed over a navy and white striped shirt in passing. The hair had been half-heartedly styled but looked much too unruly to stay in the sleeked back place it probably was meant to be in. He didn’t wear a speck of make-up and he still looked drop dead gorgeous.
Victor jumped up from his chair before he came to stand right in front of him.
“Hello.” He reached out one hand. “You must be Victor.”
Somewhere in his back Victor was sure he could hear Georgi snickering, and deep down inside he felt, perhaps, a little stung by the ‘must be’.
“Yuuri Katsuki. It’s very nice to meet you.”
His handshake was soft, like every Japanese handshake Victor had experienced except Minako’s.
“Hi, Yuuri.” Victor smiled as he let go of his hand. “I’m looking forward to working together.”
A small smile crossed Yuuri’s face, which might have been hope, or apprehension.
It was Minako’s arrival that diverted their attention from one another, bringing a physical boundary between them in the way she took the free seat right next to Victor’s.
“So today we’re going to do some camera tests and read the script?” Yuuri asked as he sat down on Minako’s other side, next to Yuuko. Minako answered before Victor could. Victor reached for his glass again.
There was a small round of introductions. The ‘China Girl’ video was shown on a screen as a reminder of what their inspiration was. When it ended there was a moment of silence, drinks eagerly stared into and gazes either averted or locked in amusement. Sheets of paper rustled as the reading of the script started. Victor had known it before but it was different now, going through it with the people who would actually be filming him, assisting him, starring with him, whose instructions and whose vision he would trust to put his music into pictures. The latter was usually the hardest for him. He liked to have the last word on what he released, and he was not going to budge from it this time either.
“I thought we wanted to go away from the clichés…” Victor mused and frowned as he looked up from the scene they were reading and faced the director. “Does there really have to be a bowl of rice and do I really have to throw it?”
He didn’t even dare look at Yuuri and the other Japanese people around the table, feeling that surely the rice thing must feel like a cultural cliché to them. It definitely was to him whenever someone wanted him to drink vodka or eat caviar on camera.
“People throw rice at weddings. It’s symbolic, the rice raining down on you.” The director cocked an eyebrow at him.
“It’s fine,” Minako said pointedly.
Victor refrained from any reaction and just gave a small nod of acceptance.
“So, the beach scene…” the director started when they came to the end of the script. Paper rustled around the room as everyone turned to the final page.
“We don’t have to be completely naked!” Victor hastened to cut in.
Yuuri’s reaction was an impressive frown. He seemed to ponder over this thought for a moment, before he leaned over towards Minako and poured out a salve of what sounded to Victor like very passionate Japanese. When at last he fell silent, tension began to rise around the table.
“Yuuri thinks it will look very unprofessional and not in tune with the rest of the video if you’re wearing clothes in this scene,” Minako addressed Victor.
Victor, one eyebrow cocked, looked back and forth between her and Yuuri a couple of times.
“You don’t mind?” he finally asked when his gaze came to rest on Yuuri again.
Yuuri shrugged. “I have done nude photoshoots. It’s just part of the job.”
“Right.” Victor nodded and looked down at the script in front of him. “Of course it is.”
They were given a rough outline of the planned filming schedule next. Victor rolled his eyes a little, seeing how soon this was going to start or, by his definition, how soon he would have to leave Makkachin again. But it would have been worse to expose her to quarantine; he was always home sooner than she would have to be quarantined for. Georgi, well aware of his moods, nudged him in the side, and Victor hurried to wipe the pout off his face.
On the table, Minako’s phone began to ring. She tried to ignore it at first, glared at the display as though that would make it stop. But the moment the ringing ceased lasted barely the bat of an eye before the insistent tone started again.
“I’m sorry.” Minako already rose from her chair as she grabbed her phone from the table. “I think this is important, I’d better get this.”
She turned her back on them so fast that one couldn’t have said whether she saw the director’s nod at all, phone already at her ear as she uttered a crisp “moshi moshi?”
Victor noticed the looks that passed between Yuuri and Yuuko. The slightly uncomfortable shifting in their seats, the meek lowering of their heads as they tried to pay attention to what the director was explaining while the door closed behind Minako.
The director fell silent when the door opened and Minako came back, heels clicking firmly on the floor as she approached.
“I am terribly sorry,” Minako started and actually indicated the hint of a bow. “But besides Yuuri I manage an idol band back in Japan and they just got into a bit of trouble that requires my immediate return. Yuuko will be with Yuuri for the video shoot, I’m afraid I’m needed for a lot of damage control. I have to go back to Tokyo and wring Minami’s neck.”
Ten minutes and a conversation later that was mostly Minako firing off word salves in quick Japanese and Yuuri throwing in a “hai!” whenever he could, she was gone. Yuuri whipped out his phone when the director got an important call of his own and called a coffee break. Yuuko leaned in closer to look at the news he was calling up on his phone.
“‘Minami Kenjirou caught drunk in karaoke bar in Tokyo,’” Yuuri read out loud. Victor could hear from the slight pauses in between words that he was translating into English as he spoke for the benefit of the people sitting close by who did not understand Japanese.
“I told Minami-kun not to drink at karaoke, you never know who’ll film you on their phone!” Yuuri huffed.
“Yuuri-senpai.” Yuuko’s voice sounded a little teasing. But her eyes were imploring as she placed a hand on his arm. “I know you consider yourself somewhat responsible for Minako’s younger artists because you are the senior they all look up to, but this is not your fault.”
Yuuko’s eyes landed on Victor. He sat up straighter, not too fond of this feeling that he was listening in.
“Japanese entertainment industry is very different from the West,” Yuuko told him then. She sought Yuuri’s eyes, and he nodded. “Artists are more like employees of their agency. The responsibility towards your… company, is much higher.”
Victor looked at Yuuri. A barely noticeable change had gone through him when Minako left. Almost as if she took a certain pressure with her that allowed Yuuri to square his shoulders and widen his chest, breathe more freely. Victor tried to imagine Yakov hovering over him at all times. He couldn’t. Having his boss breathing down his neck would have smothered every ounce of creativity and artistic freedom. With the knowledge he had gained in the past few minutes, Victor suddenly saw Yuuri with new eyes. The pressure he must feel under, the obligation of loyalty. Like a beautiful bird that had its wings clipped.
“Okay!” The director came back at this moment and clapped his hands twice like a child at the sight of his birthday cake. “We have our location, it was just confirmed.”
He slid back into his seat and looked excitedly into every face around the table.
“The beach and the desert are last. We’re shooting as much as we can here before we fly out.”
“Fly out where?” Victor asked.
“Australia,” he director said.
Yuuri nodded and said, “Okay.”
* * * * * * *
They started two days later with the most basic scenes. Just Victor in an empty room, wearing a light grey suit, microphone in hand, while the lip-synched to the song playing from the stereo. The room was one of the sets the director seemed to have ready in his basement for whichever engagement happened to come his way. A few props were carried in from the vast stock in one of the storage rooms that belonged to the studio, but much like in the video they used for inspiration the room stayed sparsely decorated, the Japanese wallpaper temporary, ready to be taken down quickly and easily once they were done.
It had appealed to Victor from the moment he read the proposal, the director’s vision embellishing his song in a way he couldn’t even have envisioned in such detail himself. The song was a cover of a Japanese band’s fan favourite. Victor still felt the disbelief and honour when he thought of the moment he read the email in which they gave him permission to cover their song, write English lyrics for it, and change a part of the arrangement. And the second email, in which they said they liked his version and hoped to perform the song together at some point when he was next touring Japan. The memory brought the same stupid, smug grin to his face as the email itself had, and the director interrupted filming and told him to look more serious.
* * * * * * *
Victor’s smile dropped from his face and he hurried from his spot until he was behind the camera and leaning down next to the director to watch the rerun of the part they had just filmed on the small screen. He saw the close-up of his own face, filmed in front of the backdrop of Japanese-style wallpaper. It was supposed to show his reactions to Yuuri’s parts they had filmed earlier and which were going to be shown as alternating close-ups of their faces in the finished video on the right while the left side showed Victor singing.
“I don’t know…” Victor muttered, pulling a face at the screen. They had done six takes already of what would be ten seconds at most in the finished video. He was getting sick of it, and he was freezing because he had to be shirtless in this scene. And some stubborn little voice at the back of his mind insisted that it was fine now and time to move on, and his jaw was already aching from smiling so much at the camera.
“It’s your smile,” the director pointed out crisply. “It looks all wrong. Strained. Not genuine.”
“I beg your pardon?” Victor pulled himself up to his full height, so that he could tower a little over the director in his chair. If there was one thing he never hesitated to put the Victor Nikiforov trademark on, it was his smile.
“He’s right, Victor,” Georgi dared to throw in from somewhere by his right shoulder. “It’s your press smile.”
Victor swung round to glare at his assistant but Georgi glared back. He even shrugged.
Meanwhile the director had rewound the footage further and was looking over what they had shot so far, mumbling under his breath. At last he raised his head again.
“This is no good,” he told Victor. “I refuse to use this… we need…” He fell silent, eyes narrowed as he looked around all over the set.
“Yuuri!” he called, so sharply that Victor flinched. “Come here!”
Yuuri had already changed back into his normal clothes, his few close-up scenes finished for the day. He was merely waiting for everyone else to wrap up so they could go back to the hotel. He rose from his seat and put his phone down as the director beckoned him over.
“You stand there!” The director pointed at a spot just out of frame.
“But…” Yuuri started, then looked down on himself and then pointedly at the director to indicate that his clothes spoke for themselves.
“It’s okay.” A dismissive gesture of his hand, and the director turned to Victor to shoo him back to his marked spot, then he turned to Yuuri. “You will not be seen. Just stand here and make some funny faces at him. Make him smile.”
“Oh,” Yuuri said as he realised that that director wanted him to stand right beside the camera. Right where Victor would be looking when they filmed him.
The director was getting impatient, and nobody wanted to be around him when he was getting impatient, not even Victor. They accepted being put in their places and waited for the signal to start filming again.
Yuuri looked like he felt a little ridiculous, but he played along. Rolled his eyes and nudged his head the slightest bit towards the director. He burst into a big smile when he saw that Victor couldn’t hold it together.
Victor felt it himself, the difference. Instead of strained, his whole face felt like it was bursting into bloom. He felt it like a transformation that went into every corner of his mouth and every crinkle around his eyes, stretching his cheekbones and turning his mouth into a big heart until it lit up his eyes. Yuuri gave him two thumbs up and Victor tilted his head just a little to the left, his smile becoming a little more humble like he knew it did when he accepted an award or any other kind of praise.
“Cut!” The director threw his hands up in triumph. “That was perfect!”
Victor didn’t even need to look back over the footage. He knew that it was.
* * * * * * *
The morning of the next day passed with just Victor in the empty room again. Yuuri would come in later to finish the close-ups. This time, they would be facing each other, reenacting one of the most famous scenes from ‘China Girl’.
There was none of the heavy background of Bowie’s original song or video here. Victor’s song was just a love song. An end-of-love song, to be precise. Both Victor and the director felt that this was heavy enough.
During lunch break, Victor retreated to the room he called ‘the piano set’. It was just another empty room that would have lights projected onto the walls and ceiling behind him to match that part of the song. Instead of the guitar solo, Victor had opted for taking out all tempo and reverting it into a slow piano part instead. It stayed like this when he went on singing, before the normal speed would pick up again with all renewed power for the final chorus. Victor sat down on the velvet upholstery of the bench that had been put as a seat in front of the piano. His fingers found the keys almost instinctively. Of course it had been frowned upon as an artist’s spoilt behaviour, his insistence on having the piano tuned. Victor didn’t care. His hands caressed the keys like coming home, played the well-known, slow melody. He refrained from singing, but he allowed himself a moment of feeling quite proud of how this part had come out in the studio, his voice broken and shattered like the break-up he was singing about.
The sound was quiet, rubber soles of sneakers barely audible on the floor. The movement from the corner of his eye was very fleeting. When Victor looked up, Yuuri was standing where the room was missing the forth wall to make room for the cameras and film crew.
“I’m sorry, I…” Holding up one of the cans of Japanese instant coffee he was so fond of, Yuuri seemed flustered. He blushed beautifully, Victor thought. “I was just going to have my coffee in peace before I go into costume and make-up, but it’s so cold outside, and then I heard you playing…”
“Good thing I’m such a spoilt diva and insisted on having the piano tuned.” Victor hoped the slight bitterness he still felt over the director’s words wasn’t showing in his smile. He took his hands off the keys.
“You like things to be perfect when you work,” Yuuri stated like it was the most normal thing in the world to pay someone to tune a borrowed piano that was used as a prop and would be seen for just a moment and not even be heard in the finished video. He came closer until he was right beside Victor and pointed at the free space on the other side of the bench next to where Victor was sitting.
“May I?” When Victor nodded, Yuuri put his coffee down on top of the closed piano lid and sat.
Victor played the song intro again. He felt Yuuri’s eyes on his fingers as they moved over the keys.
A sheet of paper sat on top of the music rack instead of sheet music, displaying words in Victor’s handwriting. Warmth seeped into Victor’s thigh where their legs touched on the bench that was just about wide enough to seat the two of them. Yuuri smelt of cold winter air that clung to his clothes and the faint elegance of expensive cosmetics that clung to his hair and skin. Victor closed his eyes for just an instant and took a discreet breath when Yuuri leaned forward to reach for the sheet.
Somewhere in the distance they could faintly hear people walking and milling about but here between them, it was quiet. His head moving just the slightest bit closer, Yuuri pointed at a row of words on the paper.
“This is the line I will be lip-synching in the video, right?”
Victor watched Yuuri look at the words on the paper und suddenly felt very self-conscious. He always felt that the neatness and order of the Cyrillic was visible in the way he wrote English. Writing lyrics had always been one of the most private, heart-clenching experiences for him. He was able to stand on a stage and sing them to thousands of people in the audience, but having someone read the words he had written on paper while he was right there beside them always felt like he bared his very heart and soul to another person and was completely defenceless.
“‘Baby, shut your mouth, this is our last goodbye…’” Yuuri read out loud.
He repeated the line a few times, tried to place them in their correct spot in the song. Voiced the words carefully and played with different kinds of intonation, his accent struggling somewhat with the clean-cut ‘t’s and the soft ‘th’. But he made an audible effort, rolling the sounds on his tongue and lips as if he was trying to get a feeling for them. At long last he looked up.
“Do you want me to do this, too?”
Yuuri placed one finger over his mouth and went “Shhh!” The colour in his cheeks increased, while to the left and right of his index finger, the corners of his mouth twitched just barely noticeably.
Victor nodded. Words had deserted him suddenly like Yuuri had indeed driven them all out. Heat seeped through him as he wondered how many times Yuuri might have watched the video they were using for inspiration.
“Okay. Thank you. I think I have a better feeling about this scene now.” Yuuri rose from the bench. He picked up his coffee and walked over to the door, waving the can like a ‘See you later.’
Victor turned back to the piano and started playing ‘Life on Mars?’ like he needed to reassure himself where and who he was.
Taking his shirt off for the camera had never been a problem for Victor, so he just shrugged the white button-up shirt he had been wearing for his scenes in the morning off his shoulders and placed it in Georgi’s waiting hands. Two marks had been drawn on the floor where they were to take their spots; they had determined the distance with test shots the day before. Yuuri was wearing a blue kimono and barely notable make-up. His hair was slicked back with gel, and Victor wasn’t quite sure whether he could really see him clearly without his glasses. Before he could ask though, the director sank into his seat and bellowed a few sharp instructions, so everyone focused on the work at hand.
The song came from a little stereo one of the assistants was in charge of, rewinding the part the director wanted in this scene over and over again for every new take. Victor sang along for real, claiming that mere lip-synching would look unnatural. It took him a few attempts to get the mood right. This part was a more cheerful verse, full of memories of a beautiful love story. He felt the playfulness in every tilt of his head and every smile around the words, in the way he wriggled his eyebrows or sneaked in a little wink.
Inches away from his face, Yuuri was looking straight at him, so close that for these moments, every other person in the room ceased to exist. There was a depth to his brown eyes that Victor had never seen before. His eyebrows were, as was to be expected of a top model, perfectly plucked, but still prominent and with a determined arch. Victor knew how unbelievably soft his skin felt, having had to cup his face and run his fingertips down his cheek for an earlier take. He fully blamed Japan and its expensive high tech facial products. When Yuuri smiled, there was just the smallest, endearing crinkle around his eyes. And he matched Victor’s playfulness look by look and facial expression by flirty facial expression.
“‘Baby, shut your mouth, this is our last goodbye…’”
Victor couldn’t help pressing his lips together and giving the smallest nod of impressed but flirty acknowledgement when Yuuri moved his lips perfectly to the line.
Yuuri placed one finger over his lips for the “Shhh!” from the stereo. And Victor could have sworn that the colour in his cheeks increased again like it had earlier, it just wasn’t visible under the expensive high tech Japanese make-up Yuuko had applied to Yuuri’s face. To the left and right of his finger, the corners of Yuuri’s mouth twitched with the cutest repressed smile ever.
Victor’s eyes widened, flickered very briefly with secret promises, as he smiled back, waiting, anticipating.
The director’s shout tore an ugly gash into the magic of the moment that had been lying like a veil over the two of them. Blinking a couple of times, Victor suddenly felt the cold. He looked around, but Georgi was already there, handing him his shirt. As he quickly buttoned it up, Victor thought he felt someone’s eyes on him. But when he looked up, half of his chest still well on display, the door to make-up was already closing.
* * * * * * *
A small Japanese restaurant had been chosen as the location for the scenes in which they were seated at a small table like on a date. It was closed to customers on the days they filmed; the tables around them occupied by extras that had been carefully picked to make sure no hysterical fans were among them. The table Victor and Yuuri were sitting at had been moved to the front so that it was the first one came upon on entering the restaurant.
The glass front door was wedged open while crew members went in and out, allowing the winter air in unhindered. Victor shivered in his warm coat and three-piece-suit. He didn’t even want to know how Yuuri could stand the cold in his kimono he wore over what Victor hoped was at least some warm underwear. Every time they were shooting, Yuuri would shrug off the coat he had draped over his shoulders into Yuuko’s waiting hands and sit down at the table without showing the smallest sign of being bothered by the temperatures. Victor had always prided himself on his discipline and high level of professionalism but he had to admit that it was nothing compared to Yuuri’s.
Filming went semi-well. The extras didn’t always behave like they were supposed to. The actor who had been hired to play the part of a waiter in a uniform that had never been worn inside this restaurant was too slow or too fast or too lively opening the door to the approaching camera. Victor knocked over the small cups on the table between them. Mist was forming in front of Yuuri’s mouth because it got too cold. Their facial expressions were wrong. The position of their legs was wrong. Something or other was never right.
Victor had lost count of how many takes in they were when their hands accidentally brushed on the table as they reached for their cups. By that time he felt that the only thing still keeping him somewhat warm was Yuuri’s smile as they pretended to be on a date for the camera.
“This is no good!” Yuuri lowered the empty cup that was nothing but a prop in his hands.
“Cut!” the director yelled, exasperated.
Yuuko was by Yuuri’s side so quickly that Victor barely saw her scurry over. Huddling back into his coat, Yuuri briefly glanced at Victor before he turned slightly to face the director. “Our hands are freezing. We need some real tea, or this scene is going to look all wrong!”
He didn’t wait for a reply nor a reaction before he swung around again and started looking for the restaurant owners, who they knew had retreated politely out of sight so as not to get in the way of the film crew.
“sumimasen!” Yuuri called out.
The middle-aged owner of the restaurant stepped quietly out from behind a curtain in the otherwise open doorway that led to the kitchen. Victor watched, fascinated, how the man took a small bow and addressed Yuuri as “Katsuki-san”. It had struck him earlier, upon their arrival, how Yuuri was treated like a celebrity from home by the restaurant staff.
A conversation in rapid Japanese followed. Clipped sentences flew back and forth like gun shots, the odd “hai!” and other short sounds of agreement thrown in that were only recognisable because they came with the eager nodding of heads. Victor looked on with interest, pulling his coat closer around himself, although when he tore his eyes away and let them wander over the crew around them, he saw mostly stoic frowns or bored and confused expressions.
At last the restaurant owner retreated to the kitchen through the curtain, not without bows being carried out by both him and Yuuri. Then, Yuuri swung around to address the director.
“I’m sorry, but can we take a fifteen-minute break?” He asked the question with a determination that stripped it of all its asking qualities and already gave the answer at the same time. Not even the director dared object, although the glare he threw at Yuuri was like a piece of burning ember on this cold, cold day.
Thirteen minutes later they had steaming green tea and a small assortment of elegant Japanese dishes in front of them. There was a plate holding a Japanese omelette garnished with shredded radish, a serving of edamame, a small bowl of miso soup each. Feeling his mouth water, Victor accepted the pair of chopsticks Yuuri handed him. He couldn’t quite hold back a nod of respect. Yuuri on the other hand seemed flustered as his bravery caught up with him and the director tapped his wristwatch for good measure.
“This is not in the budget,” the director then pointed out, yet he was eyeing the food on their table with a visible appetite that made his words out to be lies.
“I will reimburse you,” Yuuri said at the same time that Victor said, “Georgi, pay the man back with my credit card, for god’s sake, if that means we can finally continue working.”
Surprised, they looked at each other. And burst out laughing. The director complained loudly that they were supposed to save this for when they were actually filming, and hurried to get his crew back to work with some impatient shouts and claps of his hands. Yuuko appeared and stepped away to take Yuuri’s coat again like an efficient little ghost.
Victor didn’t even notice when the camera was rolling. He brought his small cup of hot green tea to his mouth, grateful for the warmth seeping into his fingers while he looked across the table at Yuuri. He could feel his mouth curving into happiness over the brim of lacquered pottery. Yuuri wasn’t saying anything else but describing the dishes and perhaps adding a small anecdote here and there. And Victor hadn’t had time for a date for a long, long time, but here and now he had to laugh and listen and look as smitten as if it was real, not just pretending with a crew of strangers surrounding them who caught their every word and gesture on camera.
* * * * * * *
“It would be good if we could do this in one take,” one of the assistants told Victor. He was holding a vacuum cleaner and didn’t look very thrilled about it. “City council is not exactly happy about us throwing rice because it draws pigeons and other vermin, so we should film this and clean up as quickly as we can.”
“I’ll try my best,” Victor grinned.
Yuuri was standing outside the restaurant door, wearing the kimono he had also worn for the indoor scenes.
The director was calling Victor over, insisting on a few trial runs so that they wouldn’t have to throw the rice around more than once. They both nodded and Victor walked away from the restaurant and a little way down the street until he turned around again. At a sign from the director he ran up and grabbed the bowl from Yuuri’s hands. And felt his wrists cry out.
“Fuck, this is heavy!” Victor almost shouted.
“Well, it’s rice in a porcelain bowl.” Yuuri shrugged, but his eyes were dancing mischievously.
“You have a poker face!” Victor accused him, laughing. “You held this thing like it weighs nothing.”
“I didn’t think it would suit the mood if I bend over from the weight.” Yuuri smirked.
“He’s right,” the director cut in. “For god’s sake, Victor, pull yourself together.”
“Yes, sorry.” Victor aimed for a straight face as he passed the bowl back to Yuuri and walked back across the small distance he was supposed to come running across.
A couple of takes were shot of just Yuuri holding a different but identical looking bowl in which the rice had fog rising from it to give the impression of something dangerous brewing in it, while Yuuri kept looking back over his shoulder, hovering by the restaurant door, impatient and seemingly waiting for someone. Then the bowl was exchanged again for the one holding the dry rice that would create a better effect when it was being thrown.
Victor waited for his signal, then he took off and ran towards to the restaurant. He grabbed the bowl from Yuuri’s hands and ran back into the middle of the street, where he brought the bowl high in front of his body with force, setting the rice flying and coming down like a shower onto the street and at his feet. They would slow down the movements of the grains later in editing for effect. Victor lowered the empty bowl much slower, aiming for how he had seen offerings being handled in temples.
Victor handed the empty bowl to an assistant while the guy he had talked to before almost shooed him away with his vacuum cleaner as he got to work hoovering up the rice.
Yuuri was waiting, holding the door to costume open for him, Victor noticed as he walked towards the trailer to get changed. He blamed the grains of rice crunching under his feet for making his walk a little unsteady.
* * * * * * *
“We can go without the lipstick in this scene, if you prefer.”
Victor looked up from the laptop screen where he had paused the video. They had stayed for a drink in the hotel bar to go through the scenes for the next day. The frozen image showed the model with severely smeared lipstick after a fairly extensive kissing scene in which the camera moved around them in circles capturing the kiss from every angle.
Yuuri and Yuuko exchanged a look. Then they started laughing. The easygoing camaraderie between the two of them, as Victor knew by now, was not just owed to Minako’s departure, but also to the fact that the two of them had grown up together in the same town in the south of Japan.
“I’m sorry.” Victor groaned inwardly. This was really more exhausting than he’d reckoned.
“No, no,” Yuuko said cheerfully and shook her head. “I think you misunderstand. It’s just very funny, to think that Yuuri-kun could be talked out of using lipstick.”
Confused, Victor turned towards Yuuri. Yuuri sat with one ankle crossed on the knee of his other leg, angling his head with a smile when Victor’s eyes found his.
“Yuuri-kun has endorsed lipstick in Japan,” Yuuko announced proudly.
Victor’s eyes widened. At the same time his mouth went very dry.
Yuuri’s cheeks coloured, and he sounded very humble when he spoke. “I have wanted to follow in the footsteps of the first man who endorsed lipstick in Japan since I was very young. I was very grateful when I was given the chance.”
“And all the free lipstick samples,” Yuuko teased. Yuuri glared at her, but his mouth was pursed in a smile.
Yuuko leaned forward in her seat to address Victor. “It was Yuuri-kun’s most successful endorsement. It still is. All the products I use are complementary of that company.”
For lack of anything clever to say, Victor just reached for his glass of wine and downed the remaining half in one go.
* * * * * * *
Yuuri was already in his chair in the make-up trailer when Victor came in. The schedule for the day was to film the scenes that would show Victor running through a couple of streets that had been closed off for their shooting, until they finished the restaurant scenes with the kiss that would last what seemed an eternity to Victor and leave the both of them with smeared lipstick on their faces.
Victor’s make-up was comparatively quickly done, so when he slid in the seat next to the one occupied by Yuuri, Yuuri’s face was already almost done with a pale foundation that brought out the colourful eye make-up most strikingly. Yuuko was just putting down the eyebrow pencil she had finished enhancing the arch of Yuuri’s brows with in dark brown.
Georgi was close by as usual, sitting cross-legged in a folding chair somewhere behind Victor and reporting the latest activities and reactions from his various social media channels.
“Yakov would love to meet you once the video is done,” Georgi remarked once he had scanned the content of an incoming email. “He wants to know if we finish on schedule.”
“We’ll probably finish before that if Mila’s speed is anything to go by,” Victor replied drily, while he tilted his head the way Mila was pushing with two fingers and closed his eyes to her powder sponge.
“I get to help Yuuko with Yuuri’s hair today, so I need you finished and out of here,” Mila said cheerfully. “Eyes open.”
Victor obediently opened his eyes while Mila started to fuss with his hair. He insisted on doing most of it himself before he left the house or hotel in the morning, but Mila never let him in front of the camera without adding her own finishing touches. Letting his eyes flicker to the right in the mirror he saw Yuuko applying mascara to Yuuri’s lashes.
“At least your days when you would sleep with your music video directors are over,” Georgi commented. “How Giacometti ever got that shoot over and done with still puzzles me, the way he was fawning over you.”
“That was one time, and the fact that the morning after started with the words ‘Let’s never do that again!’ - ‘Agreed!’ tells you all you need to know about that.”
As he spoke, Victor caught Yuuri’s eyes on him in the mirror, dark and calm within the lively pinks and reds of the elaborate eyeshadow Yuuko had applied, and Victor felt a sudden urge to whack Georgi over the head for his chattiness.
“Chris is a good friend, Georgi.” The warning in Victor’s voice was subtle but very much there.
“I know,” Georgi replied good-humouredly. “It’s lonely at the top, and Makkachin is your only love.”
In the mirror, Victor met Yuuri’s gaze. The dark eyes locked with his for just a moment.
The next moment Yuuri said something in Japanese to Yuuko, who had picked up one of the lipsticks arranged in a neat row on the table in front of the mirror. He shook his head, and Yuuko put the lipstick down again. Something like excitement rose inside Victor’s chest when Yuuri agreed on another lipstick Yuuko was reaching for and took it from her hand. Yuuko reached for a smaller mirror instead and held it up to Yuuri’s face. Yuuri uncapped the lipstick.
“Done.” Mila turned Victor around in his chair so quickly that he was almost surprised she didn’t tilt it too to kick him out of it. “Costume is waiting with your suit for the street scenes.”
“Of course.” Victor took a resigned breath. “See you guys later.”
The last thing he noted before he left the make-up trailer was Yuuri raising his hand to his mouth, red lipstick at the ready, and an assortment of long golden metal bars and colourful flower ornaments in a bundle Yuuko carefully unwrapped in front of the mirror. Then Georgi gently pushed him out the door.
Yuuri was gone when Victor returned to the make-up trailer to have Mila do some touch-ups. Afterwards he accepted the cup of coffee Georgi had gotten for him and looked at his scenes they had just shot with the director. Victor watched himself walking along the street, an urgency in his step, slight concern on his face, hands in the pockets of the black winter coat that was unbuttoned over his anthracite suit. They had gone through this sequence several times, a series of motions before a cut happened. What they were looking at now was by far the best of them. On the small screen, Victor brought one hand from his pocket to straighten his tie. He started running, arm lowered for a moment before it came up again and he rubbed over his face with urgency. His expression was one of worry, his movements showing the need and hurry to reach someone. His other hand came out of his pocket as he ran faster and his face looked exceedingly fierce and afraid.
“This is very good!” The director nodded his approval. “You look like you’re about to lose the love of your life.”
Victor shook his head with a quiet chuckle.
“Right.” The director rose from his seat. “Let’s get Yuuri and finish the restaurant parts.”
The coffee, forgotten, turned cold in the cup in Victor’s hand when Yuuri appeared.
And Victor, who had been glad to tell the difference between a kimono and yukata and had been googling traditional Japanese clothes because Yuuri’s costumes were being altered and worked on in fittings until the very last moment while Victor was getting impatient with curiosity… Victor realised that he hadn’t seen nothing yet.
The hair alone was a vision. It was impossible to tell whether it was all Yuuri’s own, most likely they’d had to add a hair-piece in order to make that glossy, firm pompadour style that held all those decorations. On the sides, the hair was sleeked back. A small roll of hair, styled until the natural black shone, sat almost cheekily at the top of Yuuri’s forehead and prevented the strict Geisha look his hair would otherwise have had. All around his head ornaments stuck out and made Victor wonder how Yuuri was able to hold his head up at all. A small, elaborately decorated fan sat right in the middle of the large top knot. Huge pins in the shape of little swords were stuck crossways into the back of Yuuri’s hairdo, surrounding his head like a halo, each of them adorned with flower replicas. The make-up Victor had seen come together earlier fell completely short in comparison but made perfect sense now. The eye-shadow picked up the colours of the flowers but didn’t steal their thunder. The lipstick alone stood out, like it knew it would play its own part in the scene.
Yuuri’s face and hair looked menacing, fierce, and breathtakingly beautiful.
Victor needed a moment to remember that there was more to see.
If one had put a gun to his head he would have said it was possibly a very modern take on a kimono. The colours seemed familiar. The bottom part looked like the pant-like garment Victor had seen before, but it was much wider, so wide and lined with thick white and silver-grey layers that it was impossible to say whether it was skirts or pants, the way it flew in an A-line from the hips like a ball gown.
The top resembled the sides of a plain dark shirt clinging to Yuuri’s chest but there were no buttons, just another layer of silvery lining shining through the V-cut that ended in the belt. The belt sat high on Yuuri’s hips. It looked like a thinner, trendy take on an obi but with an actual buckle in the front. The overcoat was attached to the shirt lapels with similar flower pins as the ornaments in Yuuri’s hair, all kinds of flowers and bling. It was when Yuuri held out his arms by his sides for the director’s perusal that Victor could see that it had the appearance of a short jacket until it joined the sleeves above the elbows and opened out into the longest, widest, most artistically impressive trumpet sleeves Victor had ever seen. The base colour was the same elegant silver-grey as the bottom lining, and had a bold, overlarge blue wave pattern that Victor had often seen on Japanese prints.
“He looks amazing, doesn’t he?”
Victor only noticed Yuuko when she was right beside him.
He looks so amazing I want to drown myself in those waves printed on his robe, Victor thought.
“Yes,” he said out loud.
“We were not sure the outfit would make it here in time. It’s part of the designer’s new collection. Yuuri-kun is going to wear it on the catwalk for him, but the show is not for another few weeks. This is very, very exclusive, being allowed to wear it here already.”
Victor nodded. Most likely the video would not be released until afterwards, or at least around the same time, so it would be added publicity for the designer too.
“Ornaments like the ones he is wearing in his hair were traditionally worn by women,” Yuuko explained. “We spiked it up a bit. Made it a bit more modern, a little fiercer with the pins looking like little swords. The flower decorations all have a special meaning in Japan. Camellia stands for humility, but also perfect love. The blue ones are asagao, ‘morning glory’. They have heart-shaped leaves. The hydrangea is very common and much loved. Japanese iris, for good news. Peach blossom. Chrysanthemum is our royal flower, it stands for nobility of course, and purity. And you know of course the meaning of cherry blossoms.”
“Beauty and transience,” Victor mused. “I have always wanted to visit Japan in the springtime. Sadly it’s never worked out.”
“You must come for cherry blossom season.” Yuuko looked up at him. “We can show you the best picnic places, and my daughters would be thrilled.”
Victor laughed. “I’ll try.”
They watched Yuuri, about to take his position by the restaurant door. He looked serious as he listened to the director. Nodded to show he’d understood. Then he turned to make his way over to the door. Yuuri wasn’t walking. He was striding. Both arms held out by his sides, the wide trumpet sleeves of the kimono fell almost all the way down to knee-height.
“The colours are very much like a traditional men’s kimono,” Yuuko said. She sounded proud. “But the cut is more like what a modern woman would wear as a ball gown. We were thinking that playing a little with gender fluid aspects and being in touch with one’s feminine side in the video would match your personality and your artistic work, Victor.”
Victor smiled. It hurt a little, and he knew it didn’t do his emotions justice. He had made a lot of music videos in his career, some crazier than others. He had always tried to make his personality shine through, especially since he had moved away from Russia and its censorship. The memory of his sixteen-year-old self flared up prominently, standing in front of the mirror as he practiced his future on-stage poses, imitating the Suede videos flickering across his small CRT TV while he added the flick of his ponytail over one shoulder to what he was hoping was developing a personality. The ponytail was the first to go, the same videos teaching him that he could play up both masculine and feminine elements with a short haircut and bangs falling over one eye, too. Right now, he wanted to hug his sixteen-year-old self, and tell him that half a lifetime later he would finally arrive here. To think he’d had to live to almost thirty to finally feel fully understood made Victor feel giddy from the inside out. He wanted to hug Yuuko, too, but he respected the timid Japanese restraint too much to breach physical boundaries. It was something he had come to learn on tour and every single time he had worked with Japanese people. They were quiet were Russians were loud, distant where he was physical. Even Yuuri, the moment the camera stopped, would visibly change. Everything about him became calm and reserved, as soft as his voice when he uttered those polite Japanese phrases of thanks for someone’s hard work.
He straightened automatically at the director’s call. Yuuko, ever efficient, hurried from Victor’s side, as did everyone else so that he was left quite alone in his marked spot.
Minutes later, the director called “Action!”
Victor ran up the two steps to the restaurant.
He grabbed Yuuri by the shoulders and pulled him down the steps and away from the door, into the street. Yuuri looked surprised. Victor was not gentle, even though he tried. It was exactly like the script demanded and they had talked about. They paused once, to step inside and find their position right in the centre of the circular dolly track, and for the camera to find the exactly right angle from which it would be moving around them. Victor barely heard the director’s command over the hammering of his heart. The fabric of Yuuri’s costume felt like cool, smooth luxury under his hands. Victor swung Yuuri around to face him. He pulled him close, still by his shoulders.
And kissed him.
The stage direction had been brief and simple: Kiss until you’re told to stop.
So Victor did. Even his faked kisses with women in his videos had never felt as impersonal as this. He pressed his lips to Yuuri’s unresponsive mouth while they both kept their mouths and eyes shut and the camera moved around them on the tracks. He could feel the creamy lipstick, could taste it too, as he added pressure and slight movements of his lips to make sure it got severely smeared around both their mouths.
“Okay, and pull back…” he heard the director call somewhere behind him.
Victor did, took one careful step backwards, one of his hands dropping from Yuuri’s shoulder. He knew the camera was just catching Yuuri’s face now, while a second cameraman was stepping into the circle to film Victor’s expression at the same time in a different frame.
Yuuri opened his eyes and sought out Victor’s gaze. The red lipstick had come off as wanted and was smudged all around his mouth. Victor knew he carried the unmistakable traces on his own lips now, the red he had kissed from Yuuri’s lips. It was there in the smile they exchanged at this moment, as tender as triumphant. Happy, almost.
“Cut!” the director yelled. “Brilliant! We won’t have to do it again, this was bloody perfect!”
Victor felt his smile sober, just like he saw Yuuri’s do.
“Well, this was…” Victor started with a little laugh, and rubbed one temple with two fingers that felt weirdly impatient to touch someone. “A little sterile.”
“It was a perfect Japanese screen kiss,” Yuuri replied with a wistful smile. Victor wondered if he was only imagining the regret he thought he could see and hear in Yuuri’s eyes and voice. It echoed deep inside of him, a numb, hollow pain over the fact that the scene didn’t need redoing. That this stunning, beautiful outfit and get-up had been wasted on just one take. But the next thing he knew, Yuuri was already nodding at him and turning away, careful not to catch the sleeves and lining of his robe on anything as he carefully strode to where Yuuko was waiting for him by the costume trailer.
Victor followed with his eyes until the door closed behind them, the taste of Yuuri’s lipstick still on his mouth.
* * * * * * *
The ‘piano set’ had been turned into a bedroom. There was no fan turning on the ceiling in their video, and the Japanese wallpaper was back up. Some pieces of furniture had been placed, including a large futon bed with a wooden frame that was not completely traditional, as Yuuri’s frown had made more than clear on his first sight of it. He could be convinced of it simply because he saw the point of a classical futon on the floor leaving them with even more bruises than some kind of wooden springs could absorb.
When Victor threw himself on him as he was lying in bed.
“I apologise in advance for any bruises,” Victor said with a weak smile. He put the framed picture of himself back on the nightstand that was almost a little too high for the height of the bed. It was just a promo shot from his latest album that would be replaced with a moving video of him winking at the camera later in editing to make it look like a living framed picture.
“I try not to take them personally,” Yuuri grinned.
He was wearing a dressing gown, as he was going to be topless under the blanket. As they got ready to shoot, he slipped it off his shoulders into Yuuko’s waiting hands and slid under the covers in just his boxer shorts. One of Victor’s eyebrows rose. It was chilly on the set, as usual. Victor at least was in his three-piece suit and the winter coat he had also worn in the restaurant scenes and running through the streets. Surprised that Yuuri wasn’t at least wearing pants as it wouldn’t have mattered under the blanket, Victor pretended not to notice how tight the boxers were, or how snugly they fit. Or that he hadn’t watched a lot of videos and photos of Yuuri’s fashion shoots in his hotel room over the past couple of nights, including several of him modelling underwear. Instead, he checked the floor for the chalk cross by the lower end of the bed that marked the spot he was to stand in.
“And action!” the director yelled.
Yuuri closed his eyes.
Victor put his drink to his mouth.
For a moment Yuuri pretended to sleep, then he shoot up in bed screaming, like waking from a nightmare. He was so convincing at it that Victor really flinched with surprise and spat out his drink. For a few frantic breaths Yuuri sat up in bed, clutching the blanket to his bare chest as he looked around, searching for Victor. When their eyes met, he laughed, giving away his prank. Victor felt this laugh enter his body from where he soaked it up with his eyes and it licked over the dried out patches in his mouth and worked its way down his burning throat until it found his chest and set it on fire. It brought forth the desired laughter of his own, Victor knew it the moment he threw his drink carelessly aside. He felt it in the way the corners of his mouth flew upwards and his eyes widened and sparkled with his best ‘Oooooh, just you wait!’ expression.
Their eyes never left each other’s. It only took Victor these few seconds of Yuuri smiling at him so cheekily, so determined, so inviting, to decide he would throw himself on that bed like he had never thrown himself on a bed before. Which he hadn’t anyway, but if it had to be here and now, and if it had to be Yuuri, he wanted it to be perfect, and to bruise only once.
The moment of insecurity was way too brief for all the fears running through Victor’s mind. Was he hurting Yuuri, flinging himself onto him like this? Was the director happy about how this scene came out? Did he look ridiculous? Next thing he knew, Yuuri’s arms were around him, holding him, one hand cradling the back of Victor’s head, Yuuri’s breath and warm laughter close to his ear. No matter how he looked, Victor thought as he allowed himself the artistic freedom of hiding his blush and chuckle against the curve of Yuuri’s neck, he felt ridiculous, because they shouldn’t be doing this here and now and with a film crew as an audience.
The director’s “Cut!” couldn’t come soon enough, and yet when it came, Victor felt it was much too soon.
* * * * * * *
The drive to the desert location took an hour. Victor gave up trying to read on his phone when the road became too bumpy and he started to feel nauseous from all the jostling about. Instead, he dropped his head back against the leather seat and closed his eyes, pulling his sunglasses down from the top of his head to hide behind. Next to him in the backseat, Georgi was quietly talking on the phone to his girlfriend back in Paris. It was exasperating. But Georgi was so unlucky in love lots of times, Victor didn’t want to begrudge him any moment of what looked like the first woman in a long time who was not set on trampling all over Georgi’s heart.
Once Georgi’s call ended, Victor felt the slight shifting of him slipping his phone in his pocket beside him. The ever faithful clipboard Georgi so loved to work with, no matter that Victor had already given him an iPad to make his job easier, lay between them on the backseat. Victor didn’t need to see him to know that Georgi was reaching for it now. Sure enough, he started listing their schedule for the next couple of weeks. It was packed tight; after the video shoot Victor had a small club tour coming up to test the songs of his new album. Photoshoots, a new sampling with the Paris lab that was working on his very own perfume, planning for Eurovision. Victor knew that the sooner they got the video done, the better.
Eventually, Georgi stopped talking. The car came to a halt, tyres subtly crunching over harsh ground.
“You’re jet lagged.” It was uttered quietly, without any reproach. Which was probably the greatest reproach of them all. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have gone live on Insta…?”
Unable to sleep after the long flight around the world, Victor had ended up talking to fans for much longer than it was healthy. But he loved the interaction. Those people spent money on his records and merchandise, it felt only fair to give something back.
“I’m fine, Georgi,” Victor snapped and got out of the car.
He took two steps towards the set and froze, slack-jawed. His arm felt several tons heavy as he dragged his sunglasses from his eyes in slow motion.
Behind him, Georgi was humming in the most annoying way.
Victor hadn’t been entirely certain about how they were going to replace the scenes of the girl running through the desert with a flag. Now, confronted with the sight in front of him, he thought that few things in his whole life had ever felt so sure.
He knew Yuuri had arrived the day before already, his scenes scheduled first. Victor wouldn’t even be shooting in the desert, but he liked to be present on his video sets, be involved in every part of his work. A small, efficient set had been created, tents and small trailers, the director and his team milling about. In a barren stretch of just sand, Yuuri was getting his face powdered by Yuuko while one of the assistant directors was talking to him, and Yuuri nodded.
Yuuko spotted Victor as she stepped away from Yuuri’s side. Victor returned her little wave and watched her walk over to where he and Georgi had found a spot in the shade of one of the tents, greeting crew members here and there and accepting a cold drink, but reclining a chair. Sipping on his Fanta Zero, Victor watched Yuuri, while Yuuko and Georgi were quietly talking beside him.
Yuuri laughed when they turned on the wind machine and the artificial breeze sent the folds of his kimono billowing and his hair whipping. His hair. Victor had to do a double take. From where he was watching it didn’t look like a wig at all. It looked real. Thick black hair falling down Yuuri’s back inches below his shoulders, the top layer tied in a half-ponytail the wind was tugging upwards. In the front it was parted on one side and styled like a long fringe falling down the right side of Yuuri’s face, held in place by immaculate styling plus the force of the wind machine blowing his hair over to that side.
The set photographer was calling out to Yuuri to look serious for some stills, and like a switch was flicked, the laughter died on Yuuri’s face and it took on a solemn, almost fierce expression. He turned a little towards the camera, lowering his chin to add a firmness to his profile that Victor hadn’t believed possible if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. With his body turned a little more in their direction, Victor could see that the kimono Yuuri was wearing opened in an unexpectedly low V cut in front and allowed for a glimpse at toned, smooth chest. And Victor realised something else he hadn’t noticed until now because he had been too focussed on Yuuri’s face and hair, and the kimono had been moving too much around his legs. He cursed under his breath at the sight of the hilt of the katana by Yuuri’s right hip.
“That looks like he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Victor looked briefly at Yuuko before his eyes went straight back to where Yuuri was currently wielding the katana like he did nothing else all day.
“Because he does.” The gleeful pride was, as usual, unmasked in Yuuko’s voice. “Yuuri-kun starred in a popular TV drama back home. His character was a samurai. He is trained in classical Japanese sword fighting.”
Watching Yuuri land an expert cut that he felt he could hear slice the air with a sharp swish even from the distance, Victor repressed a sigh.
“Of course he is,” he muttered instead and pretended not to notice the smirk that passed between Yuuko and Georgi.
* * * * * * *
A group of fans was waiting outside the restaurant when they left after dinner. Other crew members took their leave, saying goodnight and heading off, while only Georgi and Yuuko stayed behind with one driver and waited patiently by the car. Victor noted the brief irritation flitting across Yuuri’s face, but then he switched on his smile when he found himself surrounded by fans. Soon he was immersed in signing posters and CDs, smiling into mobile phone cameras, and making smalltalk at the same time. Nobody would have been able to tell he was actually dead tired.
“Yuuri, do you like being back in Australia?”
Victor heard it over the girl who was very shyly telling him how much his last album meant to her. Some of the fans who already had their autographs and selfies with him cautiously approached Yuuri with questions instead.
“Is Victor well known in Japan? Did you know about him before you worked with him?”
Victor gladly took the marker pen the next fan handed him and uncapped it with his mouth, so he wouldn’t bring up the ‘you must be Victor’ again and risked making either a complete fool or a complete tool of himself.
“It’s a great honour,” Yuuri said in his accented English. “To work with the first and only Russian artist who sold out Tokyo Dome three nights in a row.”
Victor’s head whipped up from the poster he was currently signing. Yuuri knew that???
Yuuri was already excusing himself and retreating very shyly into the backseat of the car, but Victor caught the blush on Yuuri’s face when he realised Victor had heard him. When Victor turned back around to pose for selfies, his smile was so bright and giddy he reckoned he was lighting up the night sky with it.
* * * * * * *
Yuuri was watching a video on his phone at the catering table when Victor came in to bring back his tea cup. The familiar guitar solo drew him near, and he peered over Yuuri’s shoulder as he stepped closer.
“If I look half as good in front of a mic stand at his age I’ll consider myself lucky,” Victor remarked. He brought down one hand on the table, making sure not to touch Yuuri as he leaned over his shoulder to look at the video playing on Yuuri’s phone screen. “I should have known you’d know the original.”
“I walked to one of their songs once,” Yuuri said. “They played live at a fashion show in Japan.”
For a few moments they watched, just listening to the song winding from the speakers.
“This is the most beautiful line,” Yuuri commented after the last chorus, over the final guitar solo. “‘Furikaeru anata wo dakiyosete mou ichido kisu shitakatta.’”
Victor watched Yuuri’s fingers stop the video with a faint tap on his phone display. In the silence that ensued, the clatter of china and cutlery of the caterers cleaning up behind them became very loud, but not as loud as the echo of Yuuri’s words that Victor felt he could still hear like a fleeting memory dancing over the table. Suddenly very aware of the heat Yuuri gave off just centimetres away from his chest, Victor rose to his full height. Took a step away from Yuuri, and then another one.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Yuuri,” he said softly.
Yuuri nodded. “Goodnight.” He didn’t look up, but Victor guessed that the slight movement of his arm meant that he was tapping his phone screen again, rewinding the video with his fingertip. Sure enough, the last thing he heard when he closed the door behind him was the well-known piano intro.
Victor leaned with his back against the wall outside beside the door. He didn’t need to hear the song again. He could hear Yuuri’s voice well in his head. Saying the words that Victor loved the most about this song and that still drove him crazy because he hadn’t been able to grasp their full impact in his own translated version, despite all the sleepless nights he had spent brooding over them.
“‘Looking back I wanted to embrace and kiss you one more time,’” he murmured, barely audibly.
Georgi shot around the corner. Victor’s head snapped up, away from the wall it had been resting against.
“The car’s here.”
Nodding, Victor peeled himself off the wall and left in the direction where Georgi was waiting, not without looking back at the door behind which he knew Yuuri was waiting for his own driver.
* * * * * * *
“I can’t do it,” Victor told Georgi at the breakfast table on the last day. “I can’t do the beach scene.”
Georgi looked up from his porridge. “It’s alright, Victor, you’ll be wearing those genital guards like they do in the movies. Hollywood just moved so much closer.”
Seconds later Victor pushed back his chair and got up to go change into a clean shirt after spewing coffee all over his front.
The set was shrunk as much as possible on this last day. A small stretch of private beach, apparently belonging to a friend of the director’s, had been closed off and was guarded by security personnel just in case. Mila and Yuuko each got a small tent with just about enough room for one person to get changed behind a curtain, and one table and chair for make-up. The director had brought in another friend, a calm middle-aged woman who had coached sex scenes on a lot of TV and movie sets. Victor appreciated the professionalism, the way he felt taken care of. It was good they had saved this particular shoot for the last day, when the whole team had had time to get to know each other and develop a level of comfort in each other’s presence. In the worst case, they would never need to see each other again when they all parted ways after today.
Having to wear special sex scene props was quite possibly the most embarrassing thing Victor had ever had to do. It helped to be able to talk the scene through again, and to know that she talked it through with Yuuri as well. They had been over this in theory a lot of times, although that didn’t stop the nervous flattering of Victor’s heart and mind. It also helped to burst into short, hysterical laughter at the sight of himself when he met Georgi’s eyes in the mirror.
“And it’s not like you haven’t worn actual thongs smaller than this,” Georgi commented drily before he helped Victor into a red satin robe he would only take off just before filming.
Waiting in his make-up chair nursing a cold drink, Victor tried not to let the pressure get to him. They were waiting for the right moment of the sun beginning to set, which personally Victor found a little risky, but the thought of having to come back another time and doing this all over again made him feel even more uncomfortable. He had to get this right the first time.
Yuuri was walking up with Yuuko from somewhere on the other side of the beach, like the small area of the beach where they would be lying was like a rendezvous spot they were meeting in. Although with the film crew around them and the concentrated expression on Yuuri’s face, it might just as well be a battle ground. Yuuri, too, was in a robe of some shimmering fabric. His hair was a perfectly styled mess, his make-up very discreet. Only his lashes were heavy with mascara, but his lips sported just the faintest bit of gloss.
“Victor.” The smallest indication of a nod.
“Yuuri.” Victor nodded back and tried a smile.
He could do this. They had done this kissing thing before. He had gotten the Yuuri Katsuki Japanese Screenkiss Seal of Approval once, he would do so again. Victor squared his shoulders.
When their robes came off and they passed them on to Yuuko and Georgi respectively, they both took utmost care not to look any lower than their faces. Yuuri lay down with the unfazed precision of someone who had it in his blood, this getting into a place and pose the job required. He looked up at Victor with a crooked little smile that was almost an apology. Like it was Yuuri’s fault that they found themselves in such an awkward situation. The director snapped at Victor to get down into his own position before the light was gone. Victor snapped into action. It felt surprisingly sobering. Technical. There was nothing erotic about the way he lay down on top of Yuuri, limbs adjusting like trying to set up mechanical pieces of an exhibit that nobody knew what they wanted it to look like but everybody was hoping would come out more than just okay.
Victor placed his right hand beside Yuuri’s head and rested his weight on it. His other hand came down somewhere in the space between Yuuri’s side and the arm he stretched out sideways. The sand was still warm from the day’s heat. Yuuri blinked once, looking up at Victor from mascara-heavy eyes.
Their eyes locked.
The director gave his commands.
Victor barely heard him, though he couldn’t have pinpointed whether it was because he spoke so quietly or whether it was due to the pounding in his ears, which might have been the waves lapping on the shore all around them or just the blood in his ears, or both.
His eyes were still locked with Yuuri’s.
And in the one split second it took him to lower his head, Victor knew, because he saw it in Yuuri’s eyes and Yuuri saw it in his, that this would be no Japanese screen kiss. It would be everything but.
It was bold, and greedy, open-mouthed before they even touched. It was real. Like a match had been set to desperately crackling tension and lit a fire that made the blazing colours of the sunset pale in comparison. Victor’s eyes closed a heartbeat after Yuuri’s and he gave in, eager to feed a hunger between them that started in the way Yuuri’s lips opened almost instantly and ended in the need of Victor’s tongue diving right in. Their tongues met in a helpless battle, taunting, luring, promising, and then fulfilling like a rush of a drug to the head. Victor felt ravenous desire and bittersweet longing, he saw colours before his closed eyes, and it was utterly devastating. Yuuri tasted of something minty and lemony, of first times and of the last goodbye, and Victor wanted to savour this taste forever and rather go hungry than ever sample anything else ever again. Like a very faint echo of something long forgotten words came to mind. Written. Spoken. A script. But when Victor tore his mouth away from Yuuri’s and buried it the curve of Yuuri’s neck instead, there was nothing scripted about the way Yuuri’s hands flew up to his shoulders and the nails that dug in deep like they never wanted to let him go.
“Shouldn’t you be calling ‘Cut!’ by now?” one of the assistants murmured to the director. “We’ve got what we need.”
“No.” He shook his head. “Keep the camera rolling a little longer, they’ll thank us for the footage later.”
Yuuko and Georgi exchanged a knowing grin.
There was nothing scripted in they way Victor kissed and licked his name into the delectable canvas that was the curve of Yuuri’s neck. Or in the way Yuuri’s back arched into his embrace. Or in the way Victor moaned quietly against Yuuri’s burning, tender skin like the finishing touches to an invisible imprint he left there. Or in the way Yuuri threw his head back in the sand, eyes closed and heavy with mascara, face contorted in oblivious pleasure.
“Cut!” the director yelled.
“What happened to ‘they’ll thank us for the footage later’?” the assistant asked, smirking.
“That was before my CV was about to be extended by involuntary porn!” He jumped out of his seat. “CUT!”
Victor forced his head up and his eyes open, just in time to see Yuuri’s lids flutter and then the desperate confusion in the darkness of his eyes when everything came back. It came with a slight nausea, like the waves had yanked them out to sea and were now spitting them back out on the beach. Victor averted his eyes, the fear that the next thing he would see in Yuuri’s would be regret, an apology, suddenly overwhelming. He scrambled to his feet, got up in what was probably the most unattractive way he could muster but he needed to stop touching Yuuri or he wouldn’t know what he might do.
They were gasping. Frantically trying to force air into their lungs. Both Yuuko and Georgi were ready by their sides and helped them into their robes. Victor knotted the belt half-heartedly, only because he didn’t want Georgi to have to do it. He didn’t take his eyes off of Yuuri’s face once. It showed the same desperate need Victor was feeling, the same surprise over having left something unfinished they hadn’t known they had begun until now.
Georgi’s hands felt soft but foreign on his shoulders, yet Victor moved accordingly, let himself be turned and led back towards the tent where he knew he had to get changed. When he looked back over his shoulder he saw Yuuri doing the same. While Yuuko led him away, Yuuri’s eyes were searching for Victor across the ever growing distance on the beach where the waves had already washed away all traces of them.
* * * * * * *
They dropped some crew members off at the airport. The small group dispersed soon, goodbyes and thank you’s exchanged before they went on their way. Late in the evening as it was, the airport was not as crowded as it would have been in the daytime. Victor found it strange how the bustle of people, voices and announcements around them was actually the only bearable thing about this. He would only head home the next day, but the first flights were leaving the same evening. Among them those to Japan.
Yuuko stared wide-eyed at Victor when he handed her three copies of his new album, each one personally signed for one of her daughters.
“But… this hasn’t been released yet!” Yuuko managed to say, struggling for words.
Victor winked. “They’re free promo samples.”
“But those are for radio stations and… you know. People who promote it.”
Her hands felt small in his when Victor reached around them with both of his hands and gave them an affectionate squeeze, suddenly overcome by the impact of having to say goodbye.
“From everything you’ve told me about your girls, I dare say they’re much better at promo than any radio station.”
“You might be right.” Yuuko laughed. “Thank you so much, Victor, they’re going to be thrilled!”
They hesitated, caught between gazes and gestures and whole cultures, but Yuuko was already half reaching up, and Victor really, really wanted to give her a hug. So he did. Her hair smelt of some fancy Japanese shampoo and he smiled into it when she rose on her toes and he bent down lower and they hugged it out, every moment they had spent together those past two weeks, every moment they had spent working and laughing and overcoming possible and impossible barriers.
They let go, and Yuuko moved on to Georgi.
Victor felt the back of his head prickle with this inexplicable sense of someone watching him. When he turned around, he met Yuuri’s gaze.
“Commemorative photo?” Yuuri asked, and raised his phone like a question.
It was said with a lightness Victor looked in vain for in Yuuri’s eyes.
“Sure.” Victor smiled, while he hoped the corners of his mouth didn’t look as heavy as they felt.
While Yuuri held up his phone and they brought their heads together, Victor accidentally bumped his nose against Yuuri’s head as they tried to pose for a selfie. He paused to laugh, felt Yuuri’s hair tickling his face, before he turned his head towards the poised phone. Victor smiled into the camera while at the same time he tried to memorise the way Yuuri’s head pressed against his own, and the way Yuuri’s hair smelt, and the way Yuuri’s warmth seeped through the cotton of his shirt and into Victor’s skin where Victor’s arm was slung around him.
They stepped away three selfie attempts later, brought a safe distance between them. Victor watched Yuuri busy himself with his suitcase, pull open the zip and take out what looked like a flat plastic bag with clean face masks inside. He watched him open it and hand one to Yuuko, take one for himself, replace the bag in the suitcase. Was he stalling for time, Victor wondered. Did he want to leave the words unspoken between them as well?
“Call me next time you’re on tour in Japan,” Yuuri said as he straightened from zipping up his suitcase.
“I think Paris Fashion Week will happen sooner,” Victor replied.
Their eyes locked across the small distance between them. It seemed impossibly wide.
At long last Yuuri held out his hand to Victor. Victor looked at it for a moment, before he took it.
“Goodbye, Victor,” Yuuri said softly. “Thank you for letting me be a part of your video.”
“Thank you, Yuuri.” Victor felt the urgency in the way Yuuri squeezed his hand. “For making me look better than I ever have in any of my videos. Yuuri…” He cleared his throat. “Have a safe flight home.”
He couldn’t say it. He could only hold on to Yuuri’s hand with the same urgency and hope it conveyed all the words he still wanted to say, and all those he couldn’t.
“Yuuri-kun.” Yuuko’s gentle reminder broke the moment. “We need to check in.”
Yuuri nodded. He withdrew his hand. Reached for the handle of his suitcase. He turned very slowly and followed Yuuko to the check-in counter.
He didn’t look back.
“Victor. Let’s go.” It was Georgi’s soothing ‘Let’s not make it worse than it is’ voice, he registered faintly. He still felt the touch of Yuuri’s hand. Victor pressed his lips together and started walking towards the exit.
He didn’t look back.
The low hum of the engine drove Victor crazy. The stagnating stop and go as they tried to navigate their way out of the airport parking lot drove him even crazier. But what drove him the craziest was the song he could hear in his head, insistent like the voice of that person who always reminds you of things you forgot to do. Resting his forehead against the window he closed his eyes. And the pictures became alive. The past two and half weeks turned into a whirlwind of colours and sounds and sensations in his mind, bright red lipstick and a soft “Shhhhh!”, the darkest eyes and the brightest smile, and always, always words. Words he had lived and breathed for the past two and a half weeks and would sing a million times more once the song was released, and yet, he knew he would never hear parts of his song in his own voice ever again.
Furikaeru anata wo dakiyosete mou ichido kisu shitakatta.
Words he had only heard Yuuri say two nights ago and that still felt as raw and painful as if they were carved into his heart and the cut was still bleeding.
Looking back I wanted to embrace and kiss you one more time.
“Stop the car!”
Victor shot forward in his seat. Beside him, Georgi flinched.
“I can’t really…” the driver started, but Victor stared him into silence.
“I have to get out.”
The driver mumbled something incomprehensible, but he stopped. Victor already yanked the door open and jumped out. In the car behind theirs, the driver was honking repeatedly, hands gesturing wildly behind the wheel. Victor shot him an icy glare. One hand on the roof of the car, he bent down to look inside.
“I know,” Georgi already said while Victor was still opening his mouth to speak. His smile was that of a brother who wished him nothing but happiness. “I’ll talk to Yakov. Just go.”
Victor slammed the car door shut, turned around and made a dash for the airport hall.
He spotted them just as they were about to queue for security. His run slowed down into a fast walk while he made his way around other travellers, the hem of his unbuttoned shirt trailing behind him and calming down around his sides as he came to a stop. Ignoring the stares of people recognising him and the hastily pointed mobile phones, Victor swallowed down his nerves and his doubts, leaving only the frantic beating of his heart that threatened to jump right out of his throat.
Yuuri froze in his tracks when he heard him call out across the airport. Victor watched him turn, so slowly, he could almost feel the anxious hoping that the voice had not just been wishful thinking. Beside Yuuri, Victor saw it with just a passing glance, Yuuko was grinning from one ear to the other.
Yuuri dropped the small carry-on he still had on him after checking in his suitcase. He pulled down the face mask, and there was a shimmer in his eyes that Victor was sure was more than just the airport lights catching in his glasses. Victor felt his mouth move like he could see Yuuri’s do, something still unnamed between them taking the shape of a heart.
They smiled at each other across the distance.
And started running.