There were places one did not venture alone in Tokyo in the nighttime.
It was the same in every city. Places like Kabukicho were fun--of a sort, for a sort--but that sort did not include the likes of Katsuki Yuuri after midnight in his work clothes and winter boots and cheap blue mittens. He knew his limits, and he knew the look of his mittens.
But then there were the places--perhaps singular to Tokyo, since Yuuri had been to many an American and Chinese and Thai city and felt nothing like the pull he experienced here--the places one simply could not avoid in the nighttime. These were magnetic places, where the lights did not turn off and the streets were flush with people regardless of the time of night, where being alone did not mean being alone. Shibuya was such a place.
Shibuya was where Katsuki Yuuri was when his phone rang unsilenced inside his bag, and he kicked over several aerosol cans of spray paint in his haste to shut it off. Shibuya was where he was when he swore lowly into the receiver in lieu of a greeting, and Phichit Chulanont returned the sentiment dryly.
“You’re late. Don’t tell me you're doing what I think you are.”
“It's one in the morning,” Phichit interrupted smoothly. “Get your ass home.”
“I will. Give me forty minutes--”
“Where are you?”
Katsuki Yuuri sighed. He cast a furtive look to either end of the corner and answered defeatedly, “Omotesandō.”
“Omotesandō,” Phichit repeated slowly. “I’ll give you twenty.”
“Twenty minutes, Yuuri. For god’s sake, are you in Shibuya alone?”
“Of course not,” Yuuri muttered, his replies verging on snappish now. “I have the entire silver factory entourage with me.”
“Don’t be a dick.” Yuuri heard the gentle spark of a lighter over the receiver. “Twenty minutes. Leave now please.”
“Don’t hotbox the flat again--” Yuuri began sharply, but Phichit interrupted him with a dismissive noise.
“No moral high ground allowed for the menacing vandal. I’m hanging up on you now.”
Phichit Chulanont hung up. Katsuki Yuuri tossed his phone back into his bag and flinched when it crashed against several more cans of spray paint. Fantastic. Work of a genius.
He kicked at a lump of black slush with the toe of his boot, for good measure.
And contrary to what he had been ordered, Yuuri did not pack up his things, nor did he leave immediately after ending the call. Instead he shook the aerosol can he hand been holding even when he took Phichit’s call and painted another swath of orange against the white brick. Steady breathing warmed the inside of the respirator, and the biting winter cold refocused its assault on his bare wrists instead.
He had been working on this, in secret, for a few days. By now it was damn near complete, and Yuuri had banked on finishing it tonight, before the unfinished and untitled work attracted too much righteous police attention. After all, he had been forced to abandon works for weeks that way, and by the time the local hype over a newly discovered Eros piece had died out, the drive behind Yuuri’s work had been gone. He knew better than Phichit the urgency of the situation, and that meant he could not stop.
(He’d often left those unfinished works to the local kids to tamper and tag, and the more aspiring of them had produced some of Roppongi’s best new graffiti over recently abandoned Eros pieces. But they were Yuuri’s works no longer, and he was much too attached to this current project to leave aspiring fifteen-year-old vandals to pick up where he’d left off.)
The brick he was vandalizing was new, even if the building was not. There was little about chic Shibuya which was visibly old, and this building was no exception. Scaffolding still leaned against the wall from before the brick restoration had ceased; last night Yuuri had climbed it in order to paint three meters up.
Tonight, briefly, he set down the paint. Stepped back, and studied.
Katsuki Yuuri’s professional art education was undoubtedly Western, but Eros painted in the Nihonga style. Such a conflict of fundamentals made his private work process more difficult, but it was also what had given the sprawling sprays across Shibuya and Shinjuku their fame. Nihonga was not done with spray paint, and even burners were rarely done in a style so elaborate--even in Tokyo. Even in Tokyo, no one in painted the subject matter Yuuri did.
His gloves were stained with wet orange paint. The second painted woman reclined against a dark chaise to which he would not have the time to add final touches tonight, even without Phichit’s newly instated curfew. Disappointment, again.
Yuuri adjusted his facemask, and the plastic was slippery between his slick fingers. He shoved the aerosol can between the crook of his elbow and his ribs and removed his right hand glove to better reaffix the respirator.
But he felt his grasp on the paint can slip too late, and the sound of metal crashing against concrete echoed doubly in the chilled night air. Yuuri froze.
From a limited distance came low voices which did not match the easy buzz of usual nighttime Shibuya conversation. Yuuri clenched his teeth and swore. Phichit was going to kill him.
And sudden realization of the urgency of the situation sent him into motion. Yuuri dropped to his knees and scrambled for the can he had dropped. The cylinder skittered farther away when he wrapped his fingers around it and failed at finding purchase on slick aluminum.
Panic was quickly rising in throat. Yuuri dove again for the paint and dropped his glove.
Leave them. It was the rational solution. But the gloves (cheap as they were) were from his mother. The paint was expensive, and an incriminating purchase when bought too frequently. He couldn't leave them. He couldn't.
“Hey!” Not the salutary voice of a fellow artist, nor a curious layman. Cops. Yuuri sat back on his heels and glimpsed two of them, much bigger than he, and thought about how little he could afford to go to jail. He had not yet paid his rent this month. Phichit could not afford bail, nor did Yuuri entertain himself with brief fantasies that his family would be understanding about receiving a midnight phone call from their adult son, detained at a Tokyo police station on vandalism charges.
But he could not. Above Yuuri, in his imagination, orange paint turned to burning ice in the cold. He would never finish this work. The grief of that reality seized his heart, and he could not leave them--not the gloves, nor the paint, nor the art.
In his head, Phichit Chulanont’s voice. Artists are sentimental sons of bitches, aren’t we?
He was going to be arrested if he did not move. His poor mother would lose her mind. Mari would never let him live it down. He would also probably lose his job, but somehow that concern took a backseat to the many dry impressions of Yuuri shivering in an overnight jail cell which his older sister would perform at family functions for years to come.
Sign it. Then go.
Katsuki Yuuri scrambled to his feet. His bag sat, still opened, on the pavement. He snatched it up and seized from its contents a can of blue paint, signed the unfinished piece, and pressed the bag to his chest with a frantic prayer that he would drop nothing else.
And then Yuuri ran .
“You're thirty minutes late.”
“I’m sorry. I meant to text you.”
“Did you?” Phichit lay on his back on his mattress, hazy smoke swirling above his head. “Seems like a convenient lie.”
Yuuri blinked. It was a lie, but Phichit didn't necessarily know that. Yuuri wasn't obligated to admit anything. “Can I open a window please?"
Phichit gestured vaguely at the window. Yuuri took this as an affirmative.
“S’cold outside,” Phichit drawled, and Yuuri was content to think it just stoned small talk until Phichit continued, “Where are your gloves?”
“I--” Damn. Yuuri’s fingers were too cold, and his grip on the freezing windowsill was unsteady. He gave up, raising his hands to his chest in both indication of his failure as well as somewhat guiltless apology. He was bad at inventing mistruths. Innate creativity did not bear him that far. “I took them off. Before I got here.”
“Imagine that.” Phichit rolled his eyes. “I wish you didn't lie to me anymore.”
“In general?” Despite himself, Yuuri smiled. He prodded Phichit in the ribs with his sock until the latter sighed longsufferingly and shifted over.
Yuuri lay down beside him. There was paint on the ceiling--likely Phichit’s doing. There was always paint somewhere unusual, when it came to Phichit. He repeated, “In general? Or about the art?”
“Do you lie to me about other things?” Lazily, Phichit offered him the joint. Yuuri closed his eyes against the shadowy ceiling, took a pull, and then passed it back.
“No.” He laughed, quietly. “Just the art.”
“So where are your gloves?” Even stoned, Phichit was always unfortunately lucid when his being so directly disadvantaged Yuuri.
Yuuri said, “Dropped them. In Shibuya,” and left it at that. Mercifully, Phichit let the omission be. He brought his fingers up between their faces and fussed with a bit of Yuuri’s hair, partially because Phichit could never help but touch and partially because he knew (even if the latter was loath to admit it) that Yuuri liked it.
“And how was work?” he mused. “Professional art world still running you ragged?”
Yuuri smiled. He kept the smile even when Phichit’s hand closed over his mouth and jealously turned Yuuri’s face away from him, even when he made a scornful sound in his throat and muttered something which sounded like, “Smug bastard.” Yuuri laughed.
Phichit liked to complain about Yuuri’s white collar gallery job, but it was easy to see how he envied it. Thus Yuuri did his best to never disparage it, for Phichit Chulanont’s benefit.
“Work was good,” he said against Phichit’s fingers. After a playfully scornful moment, Phichit removed his hand from his mouth. “Yuko says I’ll like working the upcoming season, though I have no idea what she means by it. A surprise, I suppose.”
“Maybe it means she’s finally giving you a show of your own,” Phichit suggested lazily. “Though you’d have to grow a backbone for that to happen, wouldn't you?”
“Phichit.” Yuuri’s voice was low, equal parts sleepy and reproachful. They often did this, and often had this discussion. “You know I don't--”
“I know.” Phichit sounded admonished, for the smallest moment. His hand, which had toyed with Yuuri’s hair and clamped over his mouth and briefly traced dreamy images in the air above their heads, now settled audibly back on his own chest. His presence beside Yuuri was lovely and warm. “Hey. Don’t fall asleep in my bed again.”
“Mm.” He was exhausted, and now dangerously content. Phichit had reason to worry; Yuuri had tended a heavy track record of passing out in Phichit Chulanont’s bed uninvited since university. (Sometimes sober, usually chaste, but never apologetic--it was a charming description, and Yuuri wished it applied to more aspects of his life than his college sleeping habits.) “No promises.”
“How was work?”
“Don’t try and distract me,” he said petulantly, but Yuuri rolled onto his side and twined his fingers with Phichit’s, perching his chin innocently on his shoulder, and Phichit was distracted. It didn’t take much, with Phichit.
“Work,” he mused, turning his face so his mouth brushed Yuuri’s hair. “Work sucked.”
“Mm. Doesn't it always?” He closed his eyes. “Talk to me about it.”
“I’m evicting you immediately if you fall asleep in my bed again,” Phichit warned him, and Yuuri laughed drowsily.
“Too stoned for that,” he murmured, and it was less of a dig on Phichit’s habits more than it was a practical, innocent statement. Nevertheless, the irritation in Phichit’s retaliating scowl was nearly palpable. “Tell me about work.”
“Hm.” Phichit’s voice became finally conciliatory, then reminiscent. “Dumped a hot teapot on myself within the first hour.”
“Oh no,” Yuuri murmured, and Phichit Chulanont laughed.
“You sound very concerned for my wellbeing.”
“Mm.” Against his shoulder, Yuuri smiled. “You would have complained more if you were hurt.”
“I said don't fall asleep in my bed--”
Yuuri hummed drowsily, content in knowing that Phichit’s damning soft spot for a sleepy Katsuki Yuuri would keep him from shoving him off the mattress, or untangling their mess of limbs and demanding that he undress and find lonelier solace in his own bed. “Ah,” he murmured. “Too late.”
He fell asleep in Phichit Chulanont’s bed and when he woke the next day, the other side of the mattress was empty. Phichit had left him a note scrawled in marker (not an erasable marker, but a permanent one from the depths of his work apron pockets) on the fridge.
Good luck today! Here's to a show of your own. Beneath it, he had done a caricature of Yuuri in an artist’s respirator, laden with several oversized cans of spray paint, dressed in what Phichit often called his class traitor uniform: a modest two-piece suit which had not properly fit since Yuuri had returned to Japan and gained back his pre-college weight. Phichit had cut it more flatteringly to the Yuuri-caricature than it fit him in real life.
Yuuri was so thoroughly charmed by the mild vandalism as he dressed for work that he made himself late for the train when he snatched up the marker and left Phichit a fridge caricature of his own: a tiny, wide-eyed barista with blunt bangs, upending a steaming teapot on his black apron.
Upon arriving at the Nishigori gallery, Yuko passed immediate judgment on him.
“Late,” she said, like Yuuri couldn't possibly have known. She materialized behind him while boarding the elevator as he dropped his things (which he had juggled clumsily in his arms the entire commute on the train) on the floor, and she reached upward to fix some aspect of his hair. Yuuri shook his head.
“M’sorry. Missed my train.”
“When are you going to get a haircut?” Yuko asked. She retrieved Yuuri’s bag from the floor and slung it over his shoulder. “You have orange paint on your hands.”
“I’ll get a haircut when you pay me enough that I can afford one,” Yuuri said, and then he ducked. Blushed. “Sorry.”
“Bad night?” Yuko mused, and Yuuri shrugged.
“Met some cops in Ometesandō,” Yuuri mumbled. Yuko nodded, as if it was a perfectly understandable thing to complain to one’s boss about running into trouble with the law--and to receive sympathy, no less.
“They’re getting more serious about it,” Yuko said. “They didn’t like the last piece.”
“The last piece was unfinished ,” Yuuri said, “And I know they didn’t like it, because they painted over it a week ago.”
“I got photos,” Yuko promised. “Which reminds me--I wanted to talk to you about something. A few somethings, actually.”
Yuuri nodded absently. He caught his reflection in the metal panel of the elevator and frowned. Did he really look like that? So he did need a haircut. Maybe he could convince Phichit to give him one. “I have to talk to Takeshi about the Ji exhibit.” The elevator stopped, opened, and Yuuri stepped out. “Is an hour good?”
“Well--” Yuko attempted to stop the door from sliding shut with her hands, and when that didn't work she quickly withdrew them to avoid crushing her fingers between the metal doors. “Yeah, I guess--”
“Fantastic!” Was he sweating? Why was he sweating? Perhaps he was coming down with something. He decided that’s what he would tell the Nishigoris, should either of them decide to comment on the state of his dress or face or any other aspect of his person today. “I’ll see you then.”
And Katsuki Yuuri turned on his heel and fled.
It was not quite that he did not want to speak to Yuko. But any occasion which involved discussing Yuuri’s slightly more unsavory and much more illegal forays into the art world, especially in a professional setting, made him nervous. Yuko knew, of course--and so did Takeshi--but that did not make it potential conversation fodder for broad daylight. The white walls of the sprawling gallery were starkly accusing.
And he had orange paint on his hands. It might as well have been blood.
Rather than immediately scouring the place for Nishigori Takeshi, Yuuri ducked into the bathroom. He scrubbed his hands raw--dry already as they were from the winter air and the new absence his mother’s gloves had left in his life--and bloody in the sink, and still the orange paint remained. Yuuri felt his face heat up, watched his cheeks go red in the mirror. Shit.
He wouldn’t cry. But he would have to shake hands with Ji Guang Hong tonight with orange paint-stained fingers, and that would be humiliating. Yuuri already looked like a mess--he was steadily losing weight as well as the healthy, contented glow which had always made such weight flattering to him, he needed a haircut, and he couldn't remember the last time he had visited the optometrist. His prescription was bad--several years old at least--and Yuuri had taken to blinking too quickly and too often to focus his gaze. Phichit said he looked fine. Yuuri didn’t care for the way he said fine. It sounded like an ambitious euphemism.
But he couldn’t help it. Yuuri was tired, constantly. He worked in the afternoons and evenings and painted in the nights, and that left him the mornings for sleep. There were permanent dark shadows beneath his eyes. And he had grown paler now. Phichit had joked once while tipsy that he was nearly translucent at this point, and though it had been a harmless jest, the barb still pierced his heart at strange times. Katsuki Yuuri was a shambling mess.
(And he had been pretty , before. Yuuri was not vain but even he knew this much. He had been popular among the art department at school, even shy as he was. Phichit had set him up with several male students during their shared time at university, and even when Yuuri had ruined dates by being awkward and nervous and embarrassing, they had kept coming back. There was reason for that. Yuuri was not vain, but he was not stupid either.)
Now, more often than not, he looked sickly. Yuuri hated it. Such made him miss university, which did objectively make his current situation sound a bit miserable.
He stared at himself so intently in the glass that he did not notice the shadow behind him until a large hand clapped him on the shoulder. Yuuri jumped, barely kept himself from crying out, and slammed his cracked and bloody hands against the porcelain sink.
“Whoa, Katsuki. Sorry!” The hand, which belonged to Nishigori Takeshi, did not remove itself from Yuuri’s shoulder. Its owner laughed. “Didn’t mean to scare ya.”
Yuuri leaned willowy against the sink. He was breathing heavily. “S’okay,” he muttered, because it mostly was. Takeshi liked to touch, that was all. Usually he didn’t mean anything by it. “Sorry.”
“Yuko said I’d find you hiding,” Nishigori Takeshi said loudly, because he did everything loudly. Yuuri did not flinch, nor pull away. He thought this was rather accommodating of him. “Your hands look like shit.”
“S’paint on them,” Yuuri said quietly, sheepishly. “I was trying to get it off, before meeting with Ji.”
“Well, at the least you’ve disguised all the paint,” Takeshi remarked, ever brash and rarely ambivalent. “Though the blood is a bit off-putting.”
“Lost my gloves.” Was he going to rehash the entirety of last night’s conversation with his best friend now with both of his employers? Yuuri was exhausted. He already wanted to go home. He wanted to not have to think. He wanted to paint. “The winter--winter dries them out.”
“Mhmm.” Yuko’s husband was tall and wide, generally much larger than Yuuri himself. Yuuri was not intimidated by him anymore, but perhaps he did find Takeshi’s presence a bit suffocating here in the small men’s bathroom, with his hand firmly squeezing Yuuri’s shoulder. Katsuki Yuuri shifted on his feet.
“Um--about the Ji meeting--”
“Right!” At last, Takeshi let him go. He gestured expansively, ushering Yuuri finally out of the bathroom. “I wanted to tell you--well, really to ask an artist’s opinion--not that Yuko and I aren't artists, of course, but I tend to trust your objective view on things--by the way, Yuko showed me your newest Ometesandō piece--it’s incredible, Yuuri--”
Unfinished , Yuuri insisted in his mind, wringing his bleeding hands out over the empty space before him. Unfinished Ometesandō piece. Even though Tokyo’s audience hardly distinguished between the finished and unfinished works anymore. The disregard for that distinction had started to drive Yuuri out of his mind, a bit. It taunted him now.
Because when was the last time he had finished a piece, to the extent he’d wanted to? When was the last time he had liked one? The young, chic populace of Tokyo might have loved the work of Eros, but what did that mean if Yuuri did no longer? Was there such a disconnect between intent and execution? And what was he doing here? Working a gallery job to pay rent, letting his own work rot unfinished in the alleys in Shibuya? Was that what artists did? Was Yuuri a real artist, if he couldn't even own up to it?
What had Phichit said? Maybe it means she’s finally giving you a show of your own. Though you’d have to grow a backbone for that to happen, wouldn’t you?
Yuuri realized quite lucidly that he was panicking, but it was not as if there was anything he could do to stop it. It was a Tuesday morning. The gallery hadn’t even opened yet.
Katsuki Yuuri suddenly felt like there was a very thin, very strong hand closing around his throat. He tugged at his collar, loosened his tie, and said, “Takeshi.”
“Yeah?” Yuko’s husband stopped speaking for a fraction of a moment. Then he began again. “Are you alright, Yuuri? You look like you might be sick.”
“I think I’m going to be,” Yuuri whispered, and then the room began to spin. Weakly, he said, “I believe I need to go home.”
“But the Ji exhibit--”
“Takeshi.” Dizzily, Yuuri blinked. “Actually, I don't think home is an option. Do you mind if I--”
“No, no.” Nishigori Takeshi gestured at him urgently. “Please don’t throw up in the exhibition rooms. Take care of it.”
“Thank you,” Yuuri whispered, and then he was walking very quickly and carefully, and then he was running, and he had barely shoved his way back to the men’s bathroom before he threw up.
It was nine in the morning. The incident rather set the tone for the rest of the day.
Phichit was cooking when Yuuri came home in the evening. The wine bottle next to which Yuuri set his keys was already uncorked, and Phichit had set out two empty glasses in preparation for Yuuri’s return.
Phichit’s tone was cheerful when he asked, “How was work?”
Yuuri could not muster the energy for a verbal response. While Phichit was turned to the stove Yuuri circled his arms above Phichit’s hips and buried his face into the crook of his neck. “Mm,” he said, and that was as coherent as it got.
Phichit hummed. “I see.” He did not disentangle Yuuri from the rest of him when he moved, stepping carefully to the other side of the counter so he could pour out a glass of wine. When Yuuri at last lifted his head, Phichit removed Yuuri’s right hand from his chest and pressed the stem of the glass between his fingers. “Drink.”
Yuuri had already drank, while at his meeting with the Chinese artist Ji Guang Hong this evening. Professional artists drank wine like it was water, and even though Yuuri did not care for the dry wines the Nishigoris favored, he had subjected himself to the displeasure of an extra glass solely to loosen the set of his shoulders. (He had far outmatched Ji in his alcohol consumption, which in retrospect was probably for the better. Yuuri hadn’t realized how young the kid was until he had shaken his hand, and realized the Chinese artist was trembling.)
Yuuri separated himself hesitantly from Phichit, leaned against the empty side of the counter, and began to nurse his new glass of wine in silence. Phichit did not push or prod him with questions. Phichit simply continued to cook.
Katsuki Yuuri loved his best friend for many reasons, but this was one of the most important: for all he loved to talk, Phichit knew Yuuri’s boundaries, and he respected them above all else. Silence was comfortable with such a roommate who knew when and for how long to employ it, and he communicated instead in small glances and touches, stepping here around Yuuri when it was necessary, guiding him with one hand against his hip away from beneath the cabinet Phichit needed at the moment, smiling equally softly and brightly when occasion and Yuuri’s expression called for either.
And when Phichit did speak, it was about wholly innocent things. He did not mention the gallery or Yuuri’s very obvious state of disaster. He did not mention the Eros works, or the fact that he had probably passed the Omotesandō piece on his way back from work like Yuuri had, and found it partitioned off from the rest of Shibuya with police tape. Phichit Chulanont did not mention art at all.
“Want to watch a movie after dinner?” he asked lightly, bumping Yuuri’s hip with his own. He had begun to portion out whatever he had made for dinner--there was pork in it, and basil. “Or go for a walk?”
“Walk would be nice,” Yuuri murmured. “If it's not too cold.”
“Never too cold with wine in you,” Phichit replied, plucking from Yuuri’s hands his half-finished glass and spiriting it away to the table. When he returned to pour himself a glass, he smiled. “But only if you want to.”
Softly, Yuuri nodded. Phichit slung an arm across his shoulders and whispered against his temple, “Listen, don't worry. Whatever happened, he probably still thought you were charming.”
Charming seemed condescending, and Phichit appeared to realize it. He added, “Or more likely, he was distracted by how you manage to pull off such a hideous suit so well.”
Yuuri felt himself blush. He had forgotten that he had not changed since coming home from work. He tugged shyly at his black tie, loosening it from around his neck. “Phichit,” he muttered, but he was smiling slightly now. “Thank you.”
Phichit Chulanont hummed. He watched as Yuuri made his way to his bed in their studio apartment, shedding his tie and unbuttoning his dress shirt as he went. While Yuuri changed (quickly and unabashedly in the open) into house clothes, Phichit said, “Nishigori tell you that surprise yet?”
“No.” Yuuri ran a hand through his hair and a large portion of it fell over the lenses of his glasses. “But could you cut this for me tonight?”
“Before or after the wine?” Phichit asked with a grin, and Yuuri shrugged, as if it didn’t matter to him. “Yeah. Of course.”
“How was work?” The apartment smelled like paint. Yuuri studied briefly the work Phichit had begun on the far wall, so far little more than a calculated mess of colors--green bleeding into black and blue, starkly complementary purple and orange. “What are you starting?”
“Dunno,” Phichit said. It was a lie, but Yuuri didn’t push for the truth. “Just painting to paint, I guess.”
“I see.” Phichit was not an exceedingly private person. On the occasions when he was, Yuuri recognized that it was for good reason.
“Work was fine,” Phichit continued. “No teapot debacles.”
“Debacles.” Yuuri echoed the word, just to taste it. He realized that he was lingering on the far side of the apartment and ducked his head in embarrassment. He made his way over to the table and sat somewhat mechanically.
Phichit smiled quietly, and when he too sat at the uneven dining table and lifted his wineglass to his mouth, Yuuri placated him with a gentle smile of his own.
Yuko materialized behind him in the morning, laying a firmly guiding hand on her shoulder. Yuuri hadn’t been about to bolt (though he had been making a habit of avoiding Yuko whenever possible lately), but the strength of her grip suggested that she had entertained her doubts.
“Takeshi needs help in the back. With the Ji works.”
But it didn’t appear that Takeshi needed help. There was a chaos of activity in the storeroom, workmen hefting carefully wrapped paintings and packaged sculptures and all manner of expensive irreplaceable pieces of art off of temperature-controlled trucks and into the temporary storeroom. Takeshi was engaged in bored technical conversation with a woman with a clipboard (she didn’t work for them; Yuuri did not recognize her face), but he turned immediately when a pair of men set a wooden case too heavily down onto the floor.
“Careful, please,” he snapped. “Expensive works, you’ll remember.”
“Sorry, sir,” bowed one of the pair (white, tall, spoke his Japanese with an accent Yuuri could not place but which was distinctly European). “Yes, sir.”
Yuuri watched them carry on for several more moments, steeling himself in the flurry of activity, before he stepped forward and touched Yuko’s husband’s shoulder gently.
“Takeshi,” Yuuri murmured. “Yuko said you wanted me.”
“One moment please,” Takeshi said to the woman with the clipboard before turning to face Yuuri. “Yuuri! Yes! Though I had thought she might follow you down--”
“She’s, um,” Yuuri said, when it was evident Takeshi was looking to Yuuri for explanation on the whereabouts of his wife, “I don’t know where she went after I left.”
Nishigori Takeshi waved a dismissive hand. “Doesn’t matter, she’ll come eventually. She was the one who wanted to keep this from you in the first place--of course, the Seoul sculpture, I’m well aware of the provenance on that, does he expect us to smash the damn thing? No, no, go on--”
“I’m sorry,” Yuuri said, more quietly. “She wanted to what?”
“One moment please,” Takeshi said distractedly, to Yuuri now. Yuuri doubted he had registered what he said. He nodded once and stepped away.
Most of the crates were stamped in Mandarin, a reasonable number in Japanese ( TEMPERATURE SENSITIVE , these read, KEEP IN STABLE 10 DEGREE ENVIRONMENT) , and one more in Russian. Yuuri watched the unloading process proceed with muted interest. He knew the relative contents of each crate--the Ji works, a few Fujiwara prints, as well as a number of extremely popular-among-the-art-world Lee sculptures on loan from the artist’s secondary studio in Tokyo.
He knew because it was Yuuri’s job to know. A year ago Yuko had bestowed upon him the lofty title of Assistant Curator of the Hasetsu Art Center (that is, the steadily growing chimera of a gallery-museum they had opened in Tokyo which bore the name of Yuuri and Yuko’s hometown). It was a job for which he had been wildly underqualified, even after completing his graduate schooling in Japan, and as primary curator of the center Yuko often took the reins and generously put Yuuri’s name down in the exhibit credits. Such dynamics often produced these surprises --in this particular case, the appearance of this temperature-regulated crate stamped mysteriously in Russian.
Someone laid a hand on his shoulder. Nishigori Yuko said, “One of many, if the everything goes as planned.”
Yuuri turned. “I don’t understand.”
Yuko smiled. She tipped her head in a way that invited Yuuri to follow her, and stepped delicately among the crates to the Russian-stamped one. There she beckoned to the museum technicians hovering at the edge of the mess and pointed. “Can you open this for me, please?”
Yuuri had watched many unveilings of artworks during his employment at the Hasetsu Art Center--it was largely the job description, after all--and he would be remiss to say he was bored of it. He did not think one could be bored of such a thing, and that was not just the old idealistic trappings of a college art student speaking for him. Katsuki Yuuri lived art, breathed it, and perhaps he did not share such as intimate relationship with it as those artists of decades past whose lives the pursuit of art had laid open and destroyed, but he reckoned he was fairly attached to it.
But even so. Something about this crate seemed different from when Yuuri had overseen all the others. He watched the prying open of the cover with bated breath, and halfway through the process he realized that his heartbeat was a rabbit’s one.
And then it was open.
The technicians removed with sterile gloved hands the delicate opaque wrapping around what appeared to be a large thin frame.
For a moment, Katsuki Yuuri stopped breathing altogether. Then he turned to Yuko, quickly enough for whiplash, and snapped, “How?”
“I knew he would like it,” Takeshi called across the room from his conversation with the clipboard-carrying woman, and Yuko laughed.
She said, “Magic.”
The work was a large chromogenic photograph: two young men standing before a viciously spired red building in a busy public square. The two of them looked to be in their early twenties, and they were kissing.
It was the type of eyes-closed, hands-tangled-in-hair, desperate-mouths kissing which Katsuki Yuuri had a few times experienced, though every time he looked at this particular piece, which he felt as if he had never known. The shorter of the men was smiling. In the near background stood a young woman, coat flapping in some immortalized wind around her calves, with a hand brought softly over her mouth.
Across the work was scrawled in large, red English letters, “THE AIM OF ART IS MORAL PERFECTION.”
It was a Nikiforov piece, a few years old now, and one of Yuuri’s favorites. Again, he demanded, “How?”
“Minako’s still out throwing around her reputation in Europe,” Yuko said, like it explained everything. Yuuri was not so easily assuaged. Okukawa Minako was indeed a household name in Tokyo, a woman who had made a name for herself in performance art as performance art was just making its own name in Japan. She had lived in Hasetsu too, and been casual friends with Yuuri’s mother. When Yuko had married and ventured to start a business in Tokyo, Minako had backed her endeavor with more than sufficient funds.
But this-- this was on an entirely different scale. This was a Nikiforov . This single work cost roughly as much as the entire inventory of the Hasetsu Art Center since its foundation.
Nishigori Yuko rocked back on her heels. Her smile was roundly satisfied.
“And you want to know what else?” she prompted, and Yuuri nearly shook his head because this was already so much , and why were they always so hellbent on rocking him to his core at ten in the morning anyway?
He kept having to stop himself from reaching out to the Nikiforov and touching its frame, just to prove it was real. Yuuri shoved his hands in his pockets.
“What else could there possibly be?” he asked weakly.
“We’re showing this in partnership with the Ji works. If the reception fares well, we’ll have ourselves a full summer Nikiforov exhibition.”
There had only been one Nikiforov show in Tokyo, years ago. Yuuri hadn’t attended, because he had been in America at school at the time, and he could never have afforded a ticket in the first place. It was an elite event--black tie cocktail party, one night only, typical bourgeois bullshit. (Yuuri had always entertained secret opinions that Nikiforov, twenty-two at the time and newly internationally famous, should have known better. But who was he to pass judgement? Yuuri was far from famous.)
“Which means,” Yuko continued, “that Viktor Nikiforov will be present at the opening night of the Ji Guang Hong exhibit, of which you are in charge.” She paused to give Yuuri and his violently trembling shoulders a critical once-over. “You’ll just have to remind me to give you the company card to buy yourself a less horrible suit before that happens. How does that sound?”
“Yuko--” He feared his legs were going to go out from under him. Yuuri felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and this time did not find Takeshi’s tactile pass at comfort in any way grounding. “I don’t…”
“Surprise, my dear,” Nishigori Yuko said warmly. “Let’s make it a good season, why don’t we?”
the fic title as well as the first chapter title are Basquiat work titles; SAMO ("same old shit") was the tagline for his early socially-critical graffiti.
i have no idea how long this will be! we'll see. thank you for any kudos and comments!
Dinner with Ji was redundant. Yuuri felt it was not rude to say that he had by now learned all which was necessary about the nineteen-year-old prodigy whose works they were exhibiting within the first two dinner dates. Now, continuation of the task of taking him out was simply becoming awkward.
“And you?” the kid said over their plates, somewhat at ease now and a different picture from his wired first introduction to Yuuri. His thin shoulders were relaxed, not electric with nerves. He did not speak Japanese, and so they spoke English. “You’re an artist?”
The question made Yuuri blink. They had discussed this already, at the first dinner. Clearly, they were running out of conversation topics.
“I went to art school,” he said stiltedly. He regretted not bringing Phichit with them. Yuuri was not the warmest of strangers. “Three years ago.”
“That is not what I mean,” Ji Guang Hong said quietly, looking down at his plate. Perhaps Yuuri had been too cool. “I mean do you--are you still...”
“I have no current projects,” Yuuri said, which was categorically a lie. Eros was still a project. Illegal or not. “I’m a curator full time now.”
“Do you enjoy it?”
“It’s fine.” He wished, desperately, for his phone to ring. Yuko, Phichit, his mother, anyone. His phone did not ring. “I feel...over my head, at times.”
Ji laughed. Yuuri remembered suddenly that he was little more than a kid, that he was in Tokyo alone, that the not-so-secret reason Yuko had assigned Yuuri to the young artist as a weekly dinner partner was to ensure he did not lose himself in the city before his Japanese debut. “That’s how I feel all the time.”
“Yeah.” Yuuri nodded. Once. “I’m sorry.”
“I appreciate the experience,” Ji said quickly, like he thought his confession would make him seem somehow ungrateful. “And the exposure. I don’t mean that I--”
“I didn’t interpret you in any other way,” Yuuri said softly, with a smile. His first genuine one of the night. “Don’t worry.”
“I just mean that--” Ji faltered. Began again, seemingly more specifically, though slightly to the left of his original intended point, “I’m not--I’m not from a big city.”
“Neither am I.” Yuuri looked down at their plates. Gestured subtly to their passing server for the check. “Ocean town in the north. Quieter than this.”
“It’s so overwhelming,” Ji said with a type of great relieved sigh. He propped his chin on his hands and laughed. “I almost cried my first night here. Everything’s too bright.”
This was Yuko’s featured artist? The prodigy on which she and Takeshi had placed all their bets for the season? Katsuki Yuuri saw something much too familiar in him.
And this conversation was crossing into too personal territory. Yuuri blinked, and paid the check with the gallery’s card. He said, “I should get you back.”
“Right.” Ji Guang Hong looked abashed. Still, he smiled. “Thanks for dinner again.”
“Thank Yuko,” Yuuri said, shooting for easy familiarity, even jest, and falling short again. “She’s feeding us both.”
“Right,” Ji said again. He was quiet on the cab ride back to his hotel.
New ideas, new project. Opening night for the Ji works and the Nikiforov was in four days. Yuuri was radiating fatalist energy, so much that when Phichit came home from work and found Yuuri sketching at the newly whitewashed wall, the former clutched dramatically at his heart.
“You’re working on something?” He braced himself against the wall. Pretended to swoon. “I didn’t know you did that anymore.”
“Need something to do with my hands,” Yuuri said around the graphite between his teeth, graciously ignoring the taunt. (It had only been a week since the discovery of the Omotesandō piece, after all.) His hands were dark with charcoal. When Phichit came to stand beside him and appraise the beginnings of the new work, Yuuri wrapped his fingers around the back of Phichit’s neck and smeared charcoal on his skin. “Don’t look yet.”
“It’s on the wall,” Phichit said in protest, but he turned away. He began shedding clothing on the journey to his own bed, saying as he did so, “How was dinner?”
“Awful.” Yuuri laughed, a bit loosely. “I have no idea how to talk to him.”
“Ji?” Phichit hooked one long sleeve of his shirt with his teeth to free his arm. “Or the other one?”
The other one was Nikiforov. Yuuri laughed again. He had started to sweat a bit, though the apartment was anything but warm, and he tracked charcoal down his temple when he swiped at his face. “Just Ji.” He shook his head. “I don’t have to face him until Thursday. He’s flying in the night of the show.”
“Hm.” Phichit rolled his shoulders, tipped back his head contemplatively. “He’s just a kid though. Ji, I mean.”
“A very accomplished kid,” Yuuri replied, frustrated now. The charcoal trembled between his fingers. “And it’s my job to make sure he doesn’t hate Tokyo so much he never comes back.”
“I don’t think all that responsibility is on you, Yuuri.” Phichit sat on his own mattress. “And it’s not as if there’s nothing exciting to do in Tokyo that isn’t a four-star dinner date. Take him out for ice cream or something.”
“It’s January,” Yuuri said, but the excuse was flimsy. He frowned.
“Take him out for karaoke then.”
Sullenly: “I’d rather do ice cream.” Yuuri turned away so he could not see Phichit’s face when he asked his next question. “Could you--could you come with?”
A beat of silence. Phichit fell back on his bed. “Well, yeah,” he said. There was an edge of a grin to his voice. “I’d fucking love to meet Ji Guang Hong, you asshole.”
Yuuri realized too late that he had been complaining about his job to Phichit again. He reddened. “I’m sorry--”
“How was work?” Horrible. Disaster. An awful friend. Yuuri was all of these things. He pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes and then remembered about the charcoal.
Phichit shrugged. “Work was fine. Boring.”
“Have you eaten?”
Yuuri set down the charcoal. “Let’s go somewhere then.”
“Rent is due next week,” Phichit reminded him. He was on his back, staring at the ceiling. With his thumb and his forefinger of both hands, he framed out an empty white space on the ceiling to inspect from the floor. “Can’t spare the money.”
“Yuko’s bought my last three dinners,” Yuuri said. He stepped from the wall and went to the window. Money was a touchy subject between the two of them, and he prefered not to look at Phichit when he offered such a thing. Phichit was a charitable person himself, but he did not always take kindly to what he understood as charity directed at his own person. “It’s on me.”
Fortunately, Phichit did not get angry. He merely yawned.
“Can we order in?” he mumbled into his palm, which he had pressed to his face to block out the ceiling light. “I’ve gotta shower still, and m’tired--”
“Of course,” Yuuri replied. Relieved.
“And it’s cold outside, m’not made for the cold y’know--”
“Yes, Phichit.” Yuuri knew his best friend. He recognized the beginning of a dramatic rendition of the Trials and Tribulations of Phichit Chulanont by now.
“And I’ve missed you so, Yuuri--c’mere, please, I wanna--” Drowsily, a hand hung loosely from an equally careless wrist beckoned for Yuuri to venture closer. Phichit’s eyes were still closed, but he, too, knew Yuuri. “Don’t roll your eyes, you’re my bes’ friend--”
“You’re ridiculous,” Yuuri muttered, but he did as requested, slipping to Phichit’s mattress and twining his fingers with those that Phichit offered him.
“Y’know what’s ridiculous?” The faintest curve of a smile appeared beneath his hand. “Being ‘fraid of a nineteen-year-old.”
“Hey--” Too late. Phichit used his grip on Yuuri’s left hand to yank him off his feet and onto the mattress beside him. Yuuri (who might have kneed Phichit in the ribs in the process of falling, but who did not preoccupy himself with the necessary sympathy at the moment) gasped. “Shit, Phichit--”
Phichit laughed. He was still on his back; Yuuri attempted to push himself up onto his elbows and was hindered by his best friend turning and flinging his arm across Yuuri’s shoulders. His face was close to Yuuri’s suddenly, close enough to give him a kiss--one of which Phichit bestowed dramatically on Yuuri’s cheek. The latter made an amused sound of protest, attempted to pull from Phichit’s grip across his shoulders, and suddenly they were both rolling like teenagers on the floor, and Yuuri was laughing and Phichit was doing inspired, wildly exaggerated impressions of what he imagined to be interactions between Yuuri and terrifying nineteen-year-old artist Ji Guang Hong, and then someone hammered a fist on the studio door to get them to shut up so they did. Shut up.
Yuuri did so in another gasp, a breathless, excitedly pleased snapping together of teeth and a hand clamped over his mouth, Phichit on the exhale of another laugh, his bangs flung into his face and his own fingers threaded affectionately--if a bit roughly--through Yuuri’s hair. The silence, of course, lasted only a moment.
Phichit Chulanont dissolved into more helpless laughter; Yuuri attempted to stifle his tendency to follow suit to no avail. Typically.
Two minutes later they were still on the floor, though they were quiet now. Yuuri had closed his eyes. He felt, heard, when Phichit turned on his side to address him.
Seriously, softly, he said, “You’ve been too gloomy lately,” and Yuuri shrugged.
“Been busy,” he murmured. “A lot to do before Thursday.”
“Thursday,” Phichit repeated contemplatively. Then: “What if he turns out to be a dick?”
“It’s not really my problem whether he is or not,” Yuuri said carefully. But he had frowned at the question, and tried to erase all evidence of this now. “He’s a business opportunity.”
“That’s very art curator of you to say,” drawled Phichit. Yuuri’s face flushed.
“I just mean--”
The proximity of Phichit’s shrug startled him into silence. He said, “Kill your heroes, right?”
Yuuri didn’t know what to say to that. He frowned and said nothing. Phichit appeared to sense this new tension, because he tucked his chin against Yuuri’s shoulder and murmured, “Either way, I’m still your plus one, yeah?”
This, at last, made Yuuri smile. “Of course,” he whispered back. “Who else?”
“Awesome.” Phichit sat up and seemed now to notice the state of disarray of his bangs. “Hope your business opportunity is just as hot in person as he is in his art. For my sake, mostly.”
Yuuri narrowly missed Phichit’s shoulder when he sought to grab his best friend and drag him back to the floor. Phichit Chulanont only laughed.
Rash of Shibuya Graffiti Spurs City Action
by Nakazawa Juichi
The appearance of yet another new Eros work on a Shibuya corner has sparked further cries for administrative action from the public. The growing number of graffiti pieces signed by the faceless artist--most of which are viewed by conservative Tokyo citizens as crude and politically-charged public disturbances--have prompted demands for acknowledgement in Shinjuku, where the assembly of Tokyo’s metropolitan government may have power to limit the graffiti works. A plea has been written by LDP-favored city lobbyists and delivered to Shinjuku, where its authors hope to see it presented to the assembly within the next month.
Pictured: Police tape barring pedestrians from venturing too close to the illegal graffiti in Omotesandō, which contains imagery some city officials have labeled “crude and inappropriate.” Most acts of Eros vandalism detail young and old romantic couples painted in the traditional Nihonga style.
Despite remaining faceless and in all other ways completely anonymous, Eros has become a household name in Tokyo over the past year and a half for the artist’s increasing frenetic battle with Tokyo police over vandalized public spaces. His** pieces are easily recognizable by location and scale as well as content--earning the name Eros, of course (the Greek name for a classical god of love and sex), for his hallmark of painting modern gay couples in one of Japan’s most venerated historic art styles.
Though many acts of vandalism have been since painted over, the youth of Tokyo have amassed a cult-like following of Eros graffiti, and his works are immortalized in a simple Google search. Pieces which remain include the looming Aoyama-Dori graffiti depicting a kissing male couple, an unfinished piece located in Roppongi of the same concept (which has since been completed by aspiring young vandals), and a piece located near Shibuya’s Meiji shrine of two women dressing each other in traditional Meiji period clothing. City officials have assured local media that the new Omotesandō corner graffiti depicting two women and a tiger will be removed within the next two weeks.
Concern has been expressed over the popularization among Japanese youth of graffiti and vandalism, thanks largely to the proliferation of Eros graffiti in Tokyo. Lobbyists and LDP supporters hope to limit such encouragement through their plea to the metropolitan assembly.
**Revisions have been made to this article as of January 14th, due to a police statement profiling the anonymous Eros as a potential young adult male. Previously, the article had used no gendered pronouns.
Yuuri took Ji Guang Hong for ice cream, and he brought Phichit.
He saw immediately that this had been a good decision. Ji was a different person suddenly, with Phichit willing to play the part of a captive audience and eager conversation partner both at once. Phichit asked the kid things Yuuri hadn’t even thought to ask him about home, school, his art. His friends--Ji spoke at length about his college roommate in New York, who it appeared would be making an appearance at the exhibition’s opening night--his hobbies, and the worst part about Tokyo being that he could not speak the language and thus could do little alone but frequent a few tourist spots that provided signage in English (or, more rarely, in Mandarin). With Phichit present, Yuuri hardly needed to speak at all. For this, he was grateful.
“And you’re--the two of you are--”
“College roommates,” Phichit said cheerfully, slinging an arm around Yuuri’s shoulder. They were walking, having finished with ice cream now, and the action pulled Yuuri slightly off balance. “Well, then, at least. Best friends now.”
“But you didn’t grow up in Japan?”
Phichit shook his head. The weight of his arm across his shoulders tugged on Yuuri’s scarf, tightening the coil around his neck. Yuuri didn’t say so.
“Thailand. Nonthaburi, then Bangkok. We both did school in America, and then I came out here. Yuuri was doing graduate school in Tokyo, and I--” He laughed. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I didn’t want to go home.”
“That makes you sound tragic,” Yuuri muttered in Japanese, and Phichit laughed again.
“Yuuri says that makes me seem tragic.” Phichit shrugged. “But what do you do with an American BA in art? You either catch a break while you’re still in school, or you work at a tea place in Japan and keep trying until you do.”
“Are those the only options?” Yuuri teased, and Phichit pulled him down into his shoulder by the back of Yuuri’s neck. The playful roughness made him yelp.
“Or you could be Katsuki Yuuri, grow up in Okukawa Minako’s countryside studio, and then get a job out of grad school working with all the top contemporary artists in two continents, and still find the time to be gloomy about it.”
“I’m not--” Yuuri began, at the same time that Ji Guang Hong said quietly, “Those are steep options.”
Phichit waved a hand carelessly. “Not options you have to worry about, kid. You’ve made it.”
“There’s more to it than that,” Yuuri whispered, but if Phichit heard him he did not make a point of acknowledging it. Beside them, Guang Hong had gone quiet.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, and Phichit made them both jump by slinging his free arm around the Chinese artist’s shoulder and pulling him to his side. Now the three of them walked down the street in ragged step, to avoid tripping one another up--and even more unexpectedly, it made Ji laugh.
Yuuri hadn’t made him laugh in the entire week in which he’d subjected the kid to his company. He tried not to be jealous of the easy way Phichit had with people, and instead concentrated on being thankful that at least one of them did. Phichit made things simple.
Yuuri was always, always making them complicated.
“How old are you again, Ji?” Phichit asked loudly. “Old enough for us to legally buy you a drink?”
“Nineteen,” Ji Guang Hong replied, a bit of reservation drawing about him with the admittance of it. Phichit made a sound of disappointment.
“So not quite. Damn.”
“But I have an American ID that says I’m twenty-two,” Ji added quickly. He seemed eager to impress Phichit, his new favorite confidante in all of Tokyo, and Yuuri saw how this could go badly. He did not want to be responsible for the inebriation of an underage artist assigned to his care.
But here was Phichit, and Phichit did not care for rules and semantics as Yuuri did, and so he was already laughing. He said, “Perfect. Let’s buy you a drink.”
The Nishigoris had put up the Nikiforov. Twenty-four hours before opening night of the exhibition he was meant to have planned, Yuuri found himself standing in the center of the showroom with the lights down, blinking at it.
He was still dressed for work, having not left the gallery since his shift began at ten in the morning. It was evening, and the building was no longer open to the public. Yuuri had been here for hours.
THE AIM OF ART IS MORAL PERFECTION.
It was from Tolstoy, the line. Yuuri had read the author’s artistic theory in his undergrad years, in a Russian art history course he had taken for purely academic and not at all fantastical reasons, and had disagreed with most of its key points. But he had recognized the words then, and what they meant to a piece like this.
The men in the original photograph were Swiss artist Christophe Giacometti and Viktor Nikiforov himself, in their early twenties. The photograph had been taken in Moscow, in the Red Square, and then spired building behind them was a museum. It had been 2013, and thus upon the taking of the photograph, Nikiforov had instantly been branded an activist. Among other things.
It had not helped that he had treated the work like a movement, or even like performance art. Yuuri knew the insides and outs of performance art after growing up in Okukawa Minako’s Hasetsu studio, and so Nikiforov’s insistence that he was not an activist nor a performance artist had fascinated him. The photograph had been reproduced and distributed as pamphlets, scrawled then in English and Russian and French with THE AIM OF ART IS MORAL PERFECTION in perfect imitation of the original work. The artist had been fined heavily then for what the courts called illegal advertisement, which was not really what illegal advertisement was (Yuuri having written a paper on the exact situation in his junior year), but by then the art’s damage had been done. Viktor Nikiforov was internationally famous, and nobody seemed to listen nor care that he wasn’t an activist. He was what the media made him out to be, and what he was had been sensational.
Katsuki Yuuri had been nineteen.
Hasetsu Art Center was too small to host a giant of contemporary art like an untitled Nikiforov work, too small to host the artist himself twenty-four hours in the future. It made no difference whether it was Minako’s esteem which had earned them the opportunity--a favor to the more neglected artistic youth of her hometown (read: Yuko)--because Minako would not be present. And Yuuri may have grown up under her tutelage, but he was not nearly half as impressive.
Such was the stress Katsuki Yuuri was under on this evening, standing alone as he was between four expensively-adorned white walls.
Yuko--for all her teasing--was not cruel and she was not stupid. She had not left the last-minute scrambling for Nikiforov’s reception to Yuuri alone. She had made most of the calls, excluding the ones to Nikiforov’s assistant who spoke in quick, pert English and appeared to have no patience for Yuuri’s nervousness nor the frequency with which he dropped his pens beneath his desk. He forgot her name now, but the pronunciation of it was written phonetically on a sticky note still taped to the base of his desk lamp. Yuuri hoped to avoid meeting her in person, come tomorrow, but if the necessity arose at least he would say her name correctly.
Still. This exhibition was not Yuuri’s brainchild, nor was a large portion of it his handiwork. But it was his name on the plaques, the pamphlets, and the papers, and so it would be his name which received the blame if things went south.
“No pressure, or anything,” Yuko said from the archway behind him, and her voice made Yuuri jump. “But you do have a nicer suit for tomorrow, yeah?”
“Uh.” Yuuri looked down at his clothes. Wrinkled and mildly dusty from hauling boxes and chairs and other miscellany around storage rooms and supply closets, his shirt and trousers had seen better days--though admittedly, not much better--and he had lost his jacket somewhere in the basement hours ago. Even his shoes looked tired, faux leather loafers creased from the fidgety habit Yuuri had of bouncing on his toes as well as the fact that he was not tall enough to reach the high shelves in the back without standing on the tips of them. “I bought something new, last week. On the card.”
“Did you take Phichit with you?” Yuko leaned against the archway. It, like every other surface, was white.
Yuko tipped her head to the side and smiled. “I trust his fashion advice, if nothing else.”
“I--” He had in fact, taken Phichit. Suit shopping had been an arduous and soul-sapping endeavor. Phichit had enjoyed every moment of it, giving him as it did the unchecked ability to make Yuuri try on as many flashy expensive suit pieces as the day would allow. Still, they had settled on something reasonable, in the end. (Phichit had called it cheap . Whatever.) “Yeah. He picked it out.”
“Good.” Yuko clasped her hands cheerfully. “We’re in good hands, then.”
“When we were in school he wore the same pair of socks for five days,” Yuuri said flatly. “So--”
“Let him do your hair too.” Yuko’s smile persevered. Yuuri could not help but let it drain all the energy from his scowl. “And take him out to dinner for me, as a token of gratitude.”
Yuuri had already used the gallery funds to take Phichit out for ramen last week. He neglected to tell Yuko this now, though she probably already knew. Yuko knew everything. It was only her soft spot for the long-gone little boy she had called her childhood best friend that saved Yuuri from all the reasonable repercussions.
(Between the combined favors of Phichit, Yuko, and Okukawa Minako, Yuuri got away with a lot. Though this might have made him lucky in the beginning, it mostly made him stupid now.)
Quietly, Yuuri sighed. He turned back to face the Nikiforov work again.
“Nervous?” Yuko knew him well. But one did not need to know Yuuri well to make this observation.
“A little bit,” he replied, and then he laughed. “A lot.”
“That’s understandable.” He heard Yuko step behind him, and could not take the proximity. Yuuri moved up several paces, until he was about a meter from the photo.
It was no sarcastic teasing of Phichit’s that had made him call Nikiforov pretty. Yuuri had sketchbooks full of the artist’s face from every angle he could possibly dream up, back when he had been perhaps more obsessed with the creator than his creations. Most of the sketches were fanciful products of college-era boredom, but a few were more recent.
Yuko said, “It’s a lot of pressure.”
“Viktor Nikiforov,” Yuuri muttered, and crossed the final few centimeters of distance between himself and the art itself, running his fingers over the embossed Japanese lettering on the accompanying art plaque. VIKTOR NIKIFOROV. UNTITLED (2013). CHROMOGENIC PRINT, ACRYLIC. That’s what it said.
“Yuuri.” Yuko’s voice was laced with a bit of genuine concern now. To hear it made Yuuri’s cheeks color. “Are you going to be okay tomorrow?”
He made himself smile. It was too bright of an expression, and it stretched his face uncomfortably. He did not look at Yuko when he did it, and so the effort was wasted. He stopped.
"Yeah,” he said. “I’ll be good.”
“Yuko,” Yuuri said firmly, because he did not want to know what Takeshi had said. “I promise. I’ll be great.”
They both seemed to know that this was wishful thinking at best, and blatant mistruth at worse. But neither commented on it.
Yuuri took the train home that evening, with his scarf wrapped tight across his mouth. He kept his eyes on the ground.
“Honestly, I could probably just wear my old one and be fine.” Yuuri craned his neck to inspect the back half of himself in the mirror. The suit on which Phichit had harassed him into dropping a considerable sum of money did not charm him now as much as it had in the shop. Mostly because it caught attention, and in a way Yuuri did not like. “This one is too--”
“It makes your ass look really good, and you’re wearing it.” Phichit shoved a jar of pomade into Yuuri’s hands. “And I’m tossing your old one in the garbage disposal, so don’t even think about it.”
“We don’t even have a garbage disposal.”
“So I’ll take a scissors to it.” Phichit made a sound of irritable exasperation. “Or turpentine. Or I’ll paint I’m super hot and refuse to dress to show it across the back, and then I know you’ll never wear it--”
“Enough.” Despite himself, Yuuri was blushing. Phichit laughed and tapped the flush on his cheeks. “That’s enough.”
“Are you gonna blush like that all night?” Phichit danced away from Yuuri’s retaliating swat. “Because it’s cute. Might charm a few guests, even if you can’t get any words out.”
“Are you going to be professional?” Yuuri said sharply. “Because, as the show curator, I can disinvite you at any time if you are not.”
Phichit made a face which might have been a half-ass imitation of Yuuri’s suddenly stern expression. The he stuck out his tongue. “ As the show curator, I can disinvite you at any time-- ”
Phichit stopped. Yuuri thought maybe he had offended his best friend, and fumbled to apologize, but Phichit only ruffled Yuuri’s hair. He smiled over Yuuri’s shoulder in the mirror. “I’ll be professional,” he said softly. “You don’t have to worry about me, Yuuri.”
Yuuri believed him, possibly because he was desperate to do so. He wanted so fiercely to have even one less thing to worry about.
Phichit carded a hand roughly through Yuuri’s hair. Without asking, he took the jar of pomade from Yuuri’s hands and twisted it open. He said, “I’m so glad Yuko is letting me make you look hot,” and Yuuri was too wired to even protest. He merely nodded, and this too made Phichit laugh.
When Yuuri arrived to work in the evening (he had taken an Uber on the gallery’s dime, a luxury which made him feel exceedingly rich), Hasetsu Art Center was transformed. Despite his electric nerves, Yuuri could not help but be immensely proud of his handiwork.
“You look good,” Yuko greeted him at the door, and Yuuri blushed. He smiled, then shrugged.
“Phichit’s work,” he mumbled, and then: “Thanks.”
“Nikiforov’s assistant is here.” Yuko raised her eyebrows, like there was a story attached to this observation. Yuuri tilted his head.
“Yeah.” Yuko handed Yuuri a small slip of blue paper. It was the note from his desk--the one which spelled out phonetically the name of Nikiforov’s female assistant. “She’s looking for you.”
“Me?” But Yuko was already pushing him forward, and Yuuri had little time to tuck the sticky note into his suit jacket before he was alone in the entrance to the first exhibition room. He carded a hand through his hair and then remembered the copious amount of pomade Phichit had worked into it. The next instinct was to wipe his hand on his new trousers, which he did not do. Instead, he grimaced.
“Hello,” he said to the lone woman in the room, hoping he did not sound timid. He spoke English. He did not flinch when she turned on her heel quickly enough to make him dizzy.
“You are Yuuri Katsuki?” she asked brusquely, and surprise made Yuuri blink.
“Katsuki Yuuri,” he corrected, offering his non-pomaded hand to shake. “Mila Babicheva?”
“Yes.” She took his hand, and her grip was strong. She looked very young for someone in her position--not that Yuuri had any leg to stand on when it came to criticisms of that nature. Her red curls seemed to have a mind of their own, and even the way they bounced was mildly intimidating. “I have complaints.”
“Complaints?” Despite himself, Yuuri frowned. “About?”
“You were the one on the phone?” Mila Babicheva turned and strode away, obviously intending for Yuuri to follow. “You said this gallery was Minako Okukawa’s.”
“It is,” Yuuri agreed, ignoring the small caveat that Minako did not technically own the gallery--she just kept it afloat. “What is the problem?”
Mila Babicheva continued mercilessly. “I was led to believe on the phone that Viktor’s piece would be on display with your collection of Okukawa works--is that not what you said?”
It was in fact not what Yuuri had said. He knitted his brows. “Excuse me, but actually--”
“What is the point of giving provenance to such a small gallery if we are not going to be shown alongside other artists of the same caliber?”
Yuuri could not help it--he choked. “Excuse me?”
“I heard what you said.” Irritation suddenly made him brave. Bravery gave him a sharp tongue. The blood which had previously reddened his cheeks now rushed in his ears. “What I did not understand is how you negated the accomplishments of the artist for whom this show is actually being held, and how you insulted our art center at the same time, and how you believe that Okukawa Minako and Viktor Nikiforov are similar artists in any respect, medium or otherwise, and--are you a curator, Miss Babicheva?”
The woman blinked. Lifted her chin. “No.”
“Are you an artist?”
Narrowed eyes. “Yes.”
Yuuri did not know which being had possession of his mind nor his mouth, but it was not himself. He continued sharply, “Then you should understand the way that art is shown in galleries, and you should know that it is a service to Viktor Nikiforov to show his art in the same room as a lesser known artist such as Ji Guang Hong rather than Okukawa Minako, and you should understand--”
Yuuri’s pulse was wild in his wrists. He knew now, even if he had not cared a moment ago, that he had gone too far. This was not professional. Mila Babicheva was looking at him like he had just insulted her entire familial line.
He bowed his head. Stupid, stupid, stupid. “My apologies. Do you have any further complaints?”
An affronted pause. Then: “No.”
“Then if you will excuse me--”
“Yuuri.” Yuko’s voice, cool, from behind. Yuuri’s heart dropped to his stomach.
“Then if you will excuse me, you can direct any other questions you or Mister Nikiforov may have to Nishigori Takeshi. Have a good evening, Miss Babicheva.”
Then Yuuri turned on his heel, and he left the room. He did not meet Yuko’s gaze as he did so.
Twenty minutes before the actual event was set to begin, things boded no better. Viktor Nikiforov had not yet made an appearance.
In the corner of the lobby, Mila Babicheva was typing furiously into her phone, muttering darkly in Russian as she did so. Yuuri was pacing.
“I’m sorry--” Nikiforov’s assistant looked up from her phone. “I can’t get a hold of him--this is completely unplanned, I’m sorry--”
“Is he lost?” Yuuri did not care for apologies at the moment. His throat was tight. This was going to be all his fault. “Dead? Why isn’t--”
“He’s not answering his phone.” Babicheva tore a hand through her hair. She was wary of Yuuri now, after the ordeal concerning the exhibition room. Yuuri, too, was wary of her after the stern talking-to he had received in Nishigori Yuko’s office thirty minutes previously. “I don’t know--I’m sorry--”
Someone leaned against the entranceway to the main exhibition room. Phichit. He had arrived only ten minutes ago by the train, but he was already holding a drink. This was doubly interesting since Yuuri was mostly sure catering hadn’t begun to serve drinks yet.
“Is there a problem?” Phichit drawled in Japanese, and Yuuri snarled. His hands had begun to shake. He turned to Mila Babicheva.
“Does he understand the type of audience we have tonight?” He could not help it--he was being rude. Phichit tilted his head in mild surprise. “The guest list is two pages of international critics--Cialdini, Muramoto, Park--”
“I know, I’m calling him again, just wait--”
“Yuuri,” Phichit said softly. Yuuri threw up his hands.
“I need to see Yuko.” Yuuri strode past Phichit into the next room. He tugged at his high collar and made eye contact with his old best friend across the space. She raised her brows; Yuuri shook his head. Suddenly beset by two gloved museum techs, Yuko waved him off.
Back in the lobby, Mila was speaking in harried Russian to someone on the phone. She looked briefly up at Yuuri and then turned away; Yuuri looked to Phichit Chulanont, who crossed his ankles and shrugged. Kill your heroes, he mouthed, as a reminder.
Fifteen minutes. Yuuri began to sweat. Mila Babicheva hung up on her call with a scowl.
“He’ll be here.”
Yuuri said, “When?”
“Ten minutes.” Yuuri nodded.
To Phichit: “Wait here.” Yuuri turned on his heel into the exhibition room again.
The exhibit was a testament to Ji Guang Hong’s prodigious talent. Yuuri wove his way around a display of jade-carved traditional kitchenware and slipped beside Nishigori Yuko.
“Ten minutes,” he whispered at her shoulder, and she nodded. She said, “Distract Guang Hong, please.”
Yuuri looked to where she dipped her head. The Chinese artist was fluttering in a distant corner, wringing his hands. He was uncomfortably dressed in a suit with an expensive cut, and he looked moments from a meltdown.
“I don’t think I’m the best person--”
“Go.” Yuko shoved him between the shoulders, and reluctantly, Yuuri went.
Guang Hong looked up when he heard Yuuri coming. Seeing who was to be his company, he stepped back once. One of his wrung hands went quietly to his throat. “Hey.”
Yuuri said, “Nervous?”
A nod. Yuuri leaned beside him against the wall, keeping a carefully measured distance between them as he did so. He looked at the floor.
“Your roommate is coming, yeah? From New York?”
Another soft nod. Ji mumbled, “Yeah.”
Yuuri went out on a limb. “Family?”
He felt the weight of a gaze on his face, and did not look up. After several moments, Ji averted his eyes.
“No,” he whispered. His hands were pale, nervous birds which could not sit still. “No. They can’t afford the flight.”
Yuuri nodded. He did not speak, because he doubted anything would be worth the words.
“They’re proud of me, though,” Ji Guang Hong said softly, then fiercely. “They’re proud of me.”
Now, Yuuri smiled. Sincerely, he said, “They should be.”
Commotion in the next room. Phichit said, “Yuuri--”
“I’m here, I’m here!” A figure draped itself against the exhibition room entrance; Yuuri blinked. “I’m sorry I’m late--I had the wrong address and ended up in Roppongi--that’s the name, right, Mila? Roppongi? And I think I maybe got distracted--no worries though! I’m here!”
Yuuri blinked again. “Viktor Nikiforov?”
The figure in question had been addressing the room at large, but when Yuuri spoke, he turned a winning smile onto Yuuri alone. Viktor Nikiforov straightened his spine, smoothed his lapels, and said only slightly more reservedly, “Are you in charge?”
“Um--” The artist was already striding to him, and Yuuri reallocated his efforts from speaking coherent English into not flinching when the man cheerfully offered his hand to shake. “Katsuki Yuuri.”
“Viktor Nikiforov.” Obviously. Yuuri did his desperate best not to laugh. “You are the owner?”
“Curator,” Yuuri managed, shaking his hand. There was a lot of eye contact occurring at the moment, and suddenly Yuuri remembered his heap of college-era sketchbooks full of this man’s face. Horribly, he felt himself blush. Fiercely.
Then he realized he might have oversold himself with curator and rushed to self-correct. “Er, assistant curator, actually--Yuko is the one you’ll want--”
“Is she?” Viktor Nikiforov asked with bemusement, and Yuuri’s eyes were wide. He realized he was still shaking his hand and released it immediately.
“Let me introduce you.” He was fleeing, but trying to look collected about it. Perhaps he was walking too fast. Across the room, he caught Nishigori Yuko’s gaze, and she raised an eyebrow.
“She was supposed to give you the tour, but since you’re late we’re going to be busy with the guest list--”
“Is that mine?” Yuuri was very aware that they were being watched. Every pair of eyes in the room were on him and Viktor Nikiforov, and every pair of eyes in the room saw Viktor Nikiforov stop before his own art on the wall and laugh. “It’s worse than I remember.”
“Mister Nikiforov--” There was a strange tightness in Yuuri’s chest. It’s worse than I remember. “We--I’m sorry, we really don’t have the time--”
“I haven’t seen it in person in a few years.” One hand came above his waist, drifted to the photograph. Yuuri, his professional instinct coming alive, swallowed a warning to the Russian artist not to touch his own expensive artwork. Viktor Nikiforov did not touch it. “It’s been abroad and I--” A laugh, again. Yuuri blinked. “Well, I’ve also been abroad, just in different places, and--hm.” A tilt to his head. Yuuri was blushing quite furiously now, with the weight of the entire gallery’s gaze on his back. Viktor Nikiforov concluded, “Not my best.”
“Uh--” Yuuri discovered that the sound which had escaped him was a choked laugh. Nikiforov turned.
“Actually--” No . He was not going to argue with Viktor Nikiforov on the merit of the art of his youth. That was hubris on a scale of which even Katsuki Yuuri would not dare. Quietly, Yuuri looked away. “Unfortunately we don’t have time for a tour now, sir.”
“I see.” Bemusement in his tone again. Yuuri furiously quelled the twitching in his hands that came with the realization that he had gotten Nikiforov’s mouth wrong. Somehow it was different to see it move in person--Yuuri felt as if he knew it better. He ached for his pencils, as he often did when he had more important things to do.
“Yuuri.” At last, Yuko coming to his rescue. Yuuri’s sigh was one of tremendous relief. “Can you--”
“Yes,” Yuuri said immediately, turning on his heel. He did not know to what he had agreed, but he did not care. He felt that same tightness in his chest now migrating to his throat, and he needed to leave. In Japanese, he said, “Thank you.”
“You promised, Yuuri,” Yuko reminded him in the same low tone, and stiffly Yuuri nodded. Perhaps it was cold of Yuko to harken back to the previous night’s conversation, but it was a helpful reminder. This was not an occasion in which Yuuri could lose his cool, and this was not an occasion in which Yuko could be his friend. Tonight she was Yuuri’s employer, and this was Viktor fucking Nikiforov. Tonight Yuuri was an art curator, and it was his responsibility to fucking act like it.
For the next five minutes, he busied himself with the list of names and faces of Hasetsu Art Center’s esteemed guest art critics in the opposite corner of Yuko and Viktor Nikiforov, and then he busied himself with the living versions of said names and faces once Takeshi opened the doors. It was surprisingly easy to shake hands and intone polite, professional greetings to the people on whom the future of this exhibition (and thus Yuuri’s job) rested now. At the moment, everything was easy as long as it did not have blue eyes and bright silvery hair.
He greeted such notable figures as Celestino Cialdini, Ogadaki Kanako, and Park Min-so with genial smiles and murmured thanks, and he was almost a natural. His hands did not tremble until he neared the end of the list, and even this was only from relief. The last person to lean against the entryway was Phichit Chulanont, and he had finished his drink.
“Good?” he murmured, and quietly Yuuri nodded. Phichit scoffed.
“Bad liar,” Yuuri’s best friend said dismissively, wrapping his hand around Yuuri’s wrist and tugging him forward. “You need a drink.”
“I’m supposed to be talking to patrons--” Yuuri began in a furious whisper, but Phichit cut him off with a toss of his head.
“And that’ll be easier after a drink.” Yuuri supposed this was true. He shut up.
The drink Phichit handed him off a caterer’s tray was a thin crystal flute of champagne. Yuuri looked at it doubtfully, and his best friend laughed. Plucked it from Yuuri’s fingers and drank half of the glass, then passed it back.
“At least now you’ll look like you’re enjoying yourself,” Phichit said. “From afar.”
Dubious. Yuuri looked down at the glass, then at his best friend. “Did he talk to you?”
“Out in the lobby?” Phichit shrugged. “They yelled at each other in Russian for like, thirty seconds. Then he asked me if I was a caterer.”
“Yeah.” Phichit laughed. “Kind of a dick.”
“You know what though?” Phichit slung his arm around Yuuri’s shoulders. “When he mentioned Roppongi in here--he asked me about it too. Said he saw some very interesting art--some mural or something, or some weird graffiti, down by the Mori.” A tip of his head. “Hm?”
Yuuri lifted the champagne flute to his mouth and discovered it was empty. His cheeks were warm. “Did he--did he really?”
Phichit’s nod was solemn. He plucked a full second glass of champagne off a catering tray and exchanged it for Yuuri’s empty one. “Holy shit, right?”
“Holy shit,” Yuuri agreed quietly. He finished the second glass just as quickly.
title comes from a keith haring work of the same name.
the one piece mentioned by guang hong is based off of a work by ai weiwei that i love: a replication made from jade of the handcuffs used by police to arrest ai.
thanks for reading! all comments and kudos are hugely appreciated
Chapter 3: Painting to Shake Hands
yeehaw gays, im alive! apology and explanation for my prolonged absence in the end notes. here's the mess
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Two glasses of champagne later, Yuuri was just tipsy enough that he mostly forgot to be nervous, and he figured this had been Phichit’s intention. His best friend’s solution to most problems was mild inebriation.
Still, he was grateful. He had been caught up in a conversation with Italian critic Celestino Cialdini, and it was going surprisingly well. Yuuri had not yet felt the urge to throw up, and that was a success in and of itself.
“My first big piece was on an Okukawa exhibition,” Cialdini was saying. He had a friendly manner about him that was entirely incongruous with his profession. Yuuri liked it. “It was twenty years ago, at her Florence show. She was hardly older than I was then, and yet--well, she was an internationally renowned performance artist, and I was desperately trying not to end up in a career writing sports columns for the rest of my life.” He laughed. “I still remember our first conversation.”
“And what was that?” Yuuri tilted his head. He had a third glass of something pretty and alcoholic between his fingers, but he was making a point not to drink it. It was purely a prop, and he hoped it was doing its intended job in making him look easy and professional.
Cialdini laughed again. “I introduced myself as an interned critic for de Agostini, and she said, ‘The same de Agostini that called me ‘incapable of recognizing of distinction between the grotesque and the groundbreaking’?’” He sipped his drink with amusement. “I didn’t know what to say.”
“So what did you say?” Conversation with veterans of the art world was notably easier than it was with the new converts. The former loved to hear themselves speak.
Cialdini chuckled. “I didn’t. I spilled red wine down my trousers and excused myself for the night.” He raised his current glass in a halfway toast. “But the piece I wrote on her Witch performance got me on a de Agostini payroll, so I suppose I owe her that.”
“She’s always been--” Yuuri searched for the word. “Sharp.”
“You know her personally?” Cialdini looked considerably more intrigued by Yuuri now than he had before. Yuuri worried the inside of his cheek with his teeth.
“Yeah, um.” He carded a hand through his hair again. At least by now the pomade had dried. “I grew up in her studio.”
“Really?” Cialdini appraised him with interest. “Performance artist?” This made Yuuri laugh.
“Not quite,” he said humbly. “Just--just the son of a good friend.”
“But you work for her now.”
Yuuri shrugged. Smiled with a hint of embarrassment. “Helpful connections nonetheless.”
“I see.” Celestino Cialdini was studying him with a peculiar new interest. Yuuri shifted his weight on his feet and looked slightly to the left of the Italian critic’s face.
“By all means.” Cialdini gestured grandly for Yuuri to leave him. “Further helpful connections await.”
Yuuri did not like the way he said it.
He was ill.
Yuuri was not sure whether it was fault of nerves or the champagne or something else, but he was in the middle of a sundry conversation with a minor Osaka editorialist when he felt his mouth twist. Yuuri recognized this, as well as he recognized the dizzy spinning in his head, and he placed a hand to his throat.
“Excuse me,” Yuuri said to the editorialist, and then he turned on his heel. Across the room, Phichit Chulanont caught his gaze but failed to hold it. More pressing matters at hand.
The men’s restroom was mercifully empty. Yuuri placed his wrists firmly against the counter and hung his head over the sink, then took several deep breaths. The imaginary something which was lodged firmly in his throat loosened, then took up residence in a lower region of his chest. Yuuri curled his fingernails into the meat of his palms.
He was fine. It was just overwhelming, was all. But he was fine.
Yuko had not made him give a speech, and so he was fine . Why was he not fine?
His chest hurt. His head spun. Yuuri lifted his head and met stranger’s eyes in the mirror.
“Shit,” he said in quiet shock, and his hand immediately came to his mouth. “I’m sorry--”
“Are you feeling alright?” His accent was sharper than it had been before, snagging on vowels and soft consonants. Yuuri’s teeth snapped together.
“I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Are you feeling alright?” Viktor Nikiforov repeated.
Yuuri nodded mutely. He directed his scattered attention to his cuffs and made sure they were even. It was the only thing he could think to do which did not involve being sick in the sink.
“Your name is Yuuri?” Nikiforov tilted his head forward. He was very much in Yuuri’s personal space, and if he noticed such it did not appear that he thought it a problem. “You’re the curator?”
“Assistant curator,” Yuuri corrected lowly, the words nearly a gasp. He shook his head, to clear it. “But yes. Yuuri.”
“The one who yelled at my assistant,” Viktor Nikiforov said. Yuuri felt his heart drop to the level of his stomach.
“Oh, don’t worry.” Nikiforov’s tone was amused. “She usually deserves it.”
“I--” Yuuri didn’t know what to say. He shook his head, then blushed. “I apologize.”
“I will relay the message.” The smile in his voice was sweet. Yuuri blinked once, twice, three times.
“I’m sorry, I think I’ve just--” He felt himself sway. Viktor Nikiforov looked at him earnestly, as one looks at a puzzling diagram. Perhaps a little like the way Yuuri had seen plenty of gallery patrons look at modern art.
“You should sit.”
“I’m fine.” Yuuri waved a hand. Viktor Nikiforov was very close.
He said, “Sergei Prokofiev.”
Yuuri paused. “Excuse me?” Viktor Nikiforov dipped his head and did not lose his smile.
“He was a composer. He was ill on the night of the first performance of his sonata by someone else.”
“He had to listen to it over the phone. Imagine the disappointment.”
“Oh,” Yuuri repeated. Viktor Nikiforov laughed. A quiet, clear sound.
“Are you an artist, Yuuri?” Yuuri did not remember allowing him permission to use his given name. He wondered if the discomfort he felt at the soft stretching of Russian vowels was for this reason, or something else.
“No,” Yuuri said.
Viktor Nikiforov said, “I find that hard to believe.”
Yuuri felt a scowl rise in him, and he looked away. “Why is it hard to believe?”
Nikiforov was not particularly tall. But he was taller than Yuuri.
“You look like an artist,” he said, like he was the authority on the matter. “Artist’s eyes.”
Yuuri swallowed. He knew by the heat of his cheeks that he was blushing. He was also grateful that embarrassment prevented him from speaking at the moment, because the words on his tongue were and you have artist’s hands.
Stupid. Even if it wasn’t a horribly sentimental thing to say (what were artist’s hands anyway, practically?), it was a flat statement of the obvious. Of course Viktor Nikiforov would have artist’s hands. He was an artist.
“Yuuri!” The door had opened. Phichit Chulanont stood in the space it had left behind, looking caught between an earnest inquiry about Yuuri’s wellbeing and dumb shock. He blinked. The door swung shut, and then there were three of them.
Viktor Nikiforov stepped back. Yuuri looked at Phichit with wide eyes. Phichit Chulanont said, “Yuko is looking for you.” Then he coughed.
“Right.” Yuuri nodded. “Right.”
“She wants you now, I think.”
“Right.” God, could he think of anything else to say? Yuuri felt his cheeks warm. “I’ll be there.”
“Are you okay?” his best friend asked, swapping his English for Japanese and dropping his voice low. Yuuri swallowed, then nodded.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, yeah. I’m good.”
“I apologize.” Viktor Nikiforov’s smile was teasing now. Yuuri wanted most assuredly to die. “You have to work. I shouldn’t keep you.”
“It’s fine,” Phichit said on Yuuri’s behalf. Yuuri shot him a look. “But we should really--”
“Of course.” Nikiforov squared his shoulders and strode to the exit. His parting words were to Yuuri. “I’ll find you later, perhaps.”
“Uh--” But he was already gone.
Phichit was first to speak.
“What the fuck?”
“I don’t know.” Yuuri was blushing. He swiped at his mouth with the side of his hand and cast his gaze away. “S’weird.”
Phichit looked at him incredulously. Yuuri didn’t know what a look like that meant. “Did you tell him? About the graffiti in Roppongi?”
“Why would I have told him that, Phichit?” Yuuri demanded sharply. His head hurt. He was ready to go home. “Why would you think--”
“Did he ask?”
Looking up, Yuuri held his best friend’s eyes for a very long time. He said, “No.”
“What the fuck,” Phichit repeated, and Yuuri sighed.
“Whatever. I have to go--”
“Yuuri. Are you really okay?”
Yuuri tossed back his head and blinked at the ceiling. He did not respond for several moments.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“If you need anything--”
“Thanks.” Yuuri slipped past his best friend to the door. “But I really have to go.”
And so he did.
“Yuuri.” Takeshi was behind him. Yuuri spun. He did not stumble.
“Yes?” The floor was a bit more unsteady beneath him than previously. His head was not quite firmly about his shoulders anymore.
Crowds did that to him. World-renowned contemporary artists walking in on him mid-meltdown in a public bathroom did that to him.
Champagne, also, did that to him. But this was less of import.
“Yuko wants you.” Takeshi inclined his head, presumably in Nishigori Yuko’s direction. “Looking cheerful.”
Yuuri frowned. Takeshi said, “No, not like that.”
Yuuri corrected the frown. Still. “Why does she--”
“You’re being inquired after.” Yuko’s husband tilted his head again, this time in a curious way perhaps meant to communicate something. “By important guests.”
Important guests. Yuuri felt his heart in his throat. He must have paled, because Takeshi laughed quietly.
“Cheerful,” he reminded him, with a rather nonreassuring clasp on the shoulder. Then he left. Reluctantly, Yuuri turned and set his sights on Nishigori Yuko and Viktor Nikiforov.
“Yuuri!” There was a particular affectation to the way they all said his name tonight that made Yuuri’s fingers twitch. It sounded a touch too bright. Or perhaps Yuuri was just a touch too sensitive. “Mister Nikiforov has been asking about some things relevant to your interests.”
Yuuri wondered if she knew how ominous that sounded. He managed a wobbly smile and dipped his head.
“Good evening,” he murmured, mostly to Yuko, with a hastier bow in Nikiforov’s direction. “My interests?”
Yuko turned to Nikiforov excitedly. “Yuuri is an expert on the street art in Tokyo. He can tell you anything you need--”
“I don’t know if expert is the right word,” Yuuri interrupted quickly. He had paled quickly at Yuko’s offer of his supposed expertise , even more so at the offhand way in which she mentioned his name and graffiti in the same breath. His palms began to sweat. “I studied Tokyo graffiti in my grad thesis--interviewed artists and things--but I wouldn’t say expert --”
“Tokyo has a celebrity graffitist now,” Yuko spoke over him firmly. A caterer passed by with a tray of glasses, and Yuuri received a stern look from his childhood best friend when Nikiforov turned to accept a drink with a murmured thanks. “Have you ever been to the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya?”
“I’m afraid I haven’t seen much of Tokyo at all,” Nikiforov said with a polite smile. “I’ve only visited the city once, and I was preoccupied by other attractions then.”
His smile became a bit more private, just for a moment, and his gaze flickered to Yuuri as if he wished to share this secret with him. Yuuri looked very absorbedly to his cuffs.
“Well then, Mister Nikiforov, are you familiar with the artist Eros’ work in Tokyo?” Yuko asked, and when Yuuri’s eyes went wide and he shot her a sharp, panicked glance, Yuko merely smiled placidly. “I would highly recommend seeing a few pieces in person during your stay.”
Nikiforov placed a hand on the back of his neck, sounding a bit embarrassed. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the works of up and coming artists anymore--I’ve been out of the limelight for a while, you know--”
Up and coming artists. Yuuri was going to faint. For a fraction of a second, the braver part of him nearly said, But you saw what he’s done in Roppongi--
Yuuri took a very large sip of his champagne.
“Oh, Eros has established a very firm following in Japan by now, Mister Nikiforov.” Yuko’s smile was positively wicked. “I wouldn’t call him up and coming --unless of course by that you mean he is a visionary ready for the international market.”
“I hate you,” Yuuri whispered low, in fierce Japanese. Yuko laughed charmingly, in a tone that meant quite clearly shut up and let me work.
“It’s a shame he’s anonymous, because I would love to meet him,” Yuko continued. “I’d love for you to meet him, Mister Nikiforov. I think the two of you have a similar eye for things--but that’s just my third party’s perspective, of course.”
Yuuri bit down on the soft flesh of his cheek hard enough to draw blood. Yuko was watching him very carefully. Nikiforov was not. He was handling the stem of his wine glass with peculiar interest, and his smile was soft and professionally polite again. There was no discernable private meaning to this expression.
And somehow, despite his urgent desire to flee this conversation, the detachment in the twist to Nikiforov’s mouth made Yuuri’s chest tighten. Was Eros not an interesting enough topic for world-renowned political artist Viktor Nikiforov? Did he not care for comparisons between his genius and the burners of a petty Tokyo criminal?
Was Yuuri’s work simply not good enough?
Regardless of the answer to such questions, Yuuri was too tipsy for this conversation. His nerves had been thoroughly frayed.
“Excuse me,” Yuuri murmured in the ensuing silence. The picture of humble politeness. “I have to speak with Guang Hong about--um--” He didn’t quite know what about. Yuuri floundered. “Excuse me.”
Then, for the second time that night, Yuuri fled.
When Yuuri came home that night (or rather, that morning), he did so quietly. Phichit appeared to have anticipated this, because he was awake. His desk lamp was on, though he was not working. He had brewed tea.
Yuuri dropped his bag on the floor beside the doormat, and he tipped his head back to sigh. Takeshi had paid for his Uber home. Yuuri had been a bit too tipsy and a bit too tired to even pretend like he wanted to argue with this idea.
“You stayed up,” Yuuri said quietly, and he heard a soft sound like a laugh. A hint of a smile.
“Wanted to make sure you made it home alive,” Phichit said, and then he stood. He sidled his way between Yuuri and the door, turning the lock and sliding closed the deadbolt as he did so. Then his hands were on Yuuri’s shoulders, and he was tugging off Yuuri’s jacket. Yuuri let him, for just a moment.
“I can--I can do that myself,” he muttered. He shrugged his shoulders and stumbled forward. Phichit caught him.
“Had a bit more to drink after I left?” he asked neutrally. He did not make a second effort to remove Yuuri’s jacket. Yuuri shrugged, again.
“A little,” he mumbled. He brought the heel of his right hand up to his eyes and rubbed at them earnestly. “Mostly jus’ tired.”
“I see.” Phichit tousled Yuuri’s hair. “How was the rest of your night?”
“Viktor Nikiforov saw me try not to throw up in the sink.”
“I do recall.” Phichit stepped from behind him and retrieved the mug of tea cooling on his desk. He pressed it sympathetically into Yuuri’s hands. “But you survived.”
Yuuri hummed tiredly. Wrapped all of his fingers firmly around the still-warm mug and swayed. “Kind of.”
“And you didn’t actually throw up in the sink, so I’d call that a success.”
“I guess,” Yuuri muttered dubiously, and Phichit laughed.
“There you go.” He slapped him on the shoulder encouragingly, and Yuuri didn’t flinch. The tea sloshed over the rim of the mug just a bit. “Glass half full, yeah?”
Yuuri hummed noncommittally. He said, “Have you seen my sketchbook?”
“The walls?” Phichit gestured grandly at what could be considered Yuuri’s sketchbook lately. “Yeah, I’ve seen them.”
“My actual sketchbook.” Yuuri shook his head. “I can’t remember where--”
“It’s two in the morning,” Phichit said disapprovingly. “You should get some sleep.”
“Come on, Phichit.” Yuuri sipped his tea and managed his best, most charming lopsided smile. “I just had a really stressful night.”
Phichit snorted. “And so you want your sketchbook.”
“You’re ridiculous.” Phichit eyed him suspiciously for several moments. Yuuri did his best to look innocent.
“You shoved it under your mattress three nights ago,” his best friend said finally, in a very I wash my hands of this type of tone. “But if you’re not asleep by three o’clock, I’m knocking you out myself.”
Yuuri dipped his head. “Your concern for my well being is admirable.”
“Yeah. I’m a fucking saint.”
Yuuri set the mug on the scuffed dining table and shrugged off his jacket. He changed in silence, and Phichit watched him boredly from his place leaned against the kitchen counter. The studio was very small, and it did not allow for luxuries such as privacy. Yuuri had long ago forgotten to mind.
“You looked good tonight,” Phichit said finally. Sincerely. Then he grinned. “I really worked some magic with that suit.”
“Fuck you.” It was a mild retort. Yuuri knelt beside his bed and retrieved his sketchbook from beneath the mattress. “Don’t you work in the morning?”
Phichit shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Maybe,” Phichit repeated. He grinned. “We’re a good match.”
Yuuri held his his graphite between his teeth and made a rude gesture. Phichit barked a laugh.
“Mind if I turn the lights off?”
“No,” Yuuri hummed. “Dark’s fine.”
Phichit turned the lights off. Yuuri thumbed through multiple pages in his sketchbook and settled on something old.
“Good night,” Phichit murmured, and Yuuri nodded. He traced the soft lines of a recent memory in pencil, and his roommate went to sleep.
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The next morning, Nishigori Yuko had words for him. She met Yuuri at the gallery entrance with a clipboard and a stern expression, and she clicked her pen thrice before she spoke. This was as clearly as she would communicate her displeasure to Yuuri while at work, and even this made him look down in mild repentance.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, his first words of the day. Phichit had left the apartment for his opening shift at the tea shop before Yuuri had woken for the morning. “I know.”
Yuko quirked an eyebrow doubtfully. She clicked her pen again.
“Ridiculous,” she said, and then she turned in a manner that communicated that she expected Yuuri to trail behind. “Viktor fucking Nikiforov.
“Did…” Yuuri hesitated to elaborate on the subject. He thought briefly about a phrase he had learned while at university about a can of worms. He couldn’t remember how it went, but the accompanying sentiment seemed appropriate. “Did he say something after I left?”
“About what?” Yuko clicked her pen again. Yuuri began to worry she would see fit to put the point of it through some vulnerable part of his flesh. “About how you mortified me by flaking out every time I tried to get a conversation going between the two of you?”
“Or was there something else?” Yuuri had never seen her quite so angry before. He cast his gaze to the wall to his right, adorned a series of canvas-printed photographs of working class Japanese men and women posing in their homes. They were Okukawa works--minor ones, hardly warranting of a sponsored gallery show when she had finally put them out. She had recently requested of Yuuri and the Nishigoris that the series be moved to the first exhibit room, it seemed, to make a point. To someone. Yuuri only had his suspicions about to whom.
“Was there something else, Yuuri?” Yuko was still walking briskly in front of him. The pen clicked. “Or is that enough?”
“That’s--” Yuuri frowned. He tried to swallow the following words, but he couldn’t help them. “That’s--all you’re angry about?”
The sound of heels on the tile ceased abruptly. The clicking of Nishigori Yuko’s pen did not.
“Oh no, Yuuri.” Yuko shook her head. She did not turn to look at him. “That’s all.”
Yuuri realized he was treading a dangerous path here. Having rarely encountered Yuko in such a mood--and never while it was directed at him --he did not know how to proceed in a manner that would not result in a fountain pen embedded in his eye socket. “Okay, well--um.”
“Find Takeshi,” Yuko said, after a pause just long enough to make Yuuri squirm. “I’ll speak to you later. I’ve got shit to do.”
“We could just talk about it now--”
“Yuuri.” A shift in her tone. Yuko did not turn to face him. “Come on.”
Right. Yuuri nodded. “Okay,” he said quietly. “Yeah, okay. Later.”
He went to find Takeshi.
“Yuko is angry with me.”
Nishigori Takeshi paused. Laughed. “You’re very observant.”
Yuuri spluttered. “That’s not--I just mean--”
“Have you been reading the news?” Takeshi’s tone was reasonable. He tucked a manila folder beneath his arm and blinked at Yuuri calmly. “Lately? Or even at all?”
“I--” Yuuri scowled. “I’ve been busy.”
“Mhm.” Takeshi smiled. Then he shook his head. “They’re lobbying against Eros, Yuuri. Omotesando finally tipped it over the edge.”
This made Yuuri shrug weakly. He floundered for something to say that wasn’t a thinly-veiled plea for advice. He doubted Takeshi would distribute anything very helpful. (Yuuri did not know of anyone with the experience to be helpful in this situation. No man was an island, except perhaps for those who were also hotly-pursued Tokyo street artists.)
Still . “They’ve always lobbied against Eros,” Yuuri said uncomfortably, after a pregnant pause. “That’s nothing new.”
“It’s new that they’re winning.” Yuko’s husband echoed his shrug, like the matter was of no concern to him. Yuuri recognized this as a tactic to detract from the gravity of this revelation, but he found it lacking in effectivity. He felt something shallow tighten in his chest.
Yuuri said, “Are they?” Another pause. “What do you mean by winning?”
Nishigori Takeshi tipped his head back to survey the ceiling. His sigh was something like those of the spiritually exhausted--artists tended to count themselves among that lot often enough, Yuuri figured, that it was an apt comparison.
“You should talk to Yuko,” Takeshi said finally. “She’ll explain it better than I can.”
“Can you at least give me some type of heads-up?” A warning? He would take anything. Yuuri’s fingers twitched against his own collar.
Nishigori Takeshi looked at him with new bemusement. He said, “I was so fucking jealous of you, Yuuri, when we were kids.”
“Nothing to do with you, don’t be flattered.” A grin. Takeshi’s hand came heavily down on his shoulder. “Just the attention you got. From everybody, but especially Yuko. I wanted so desperately for us to be a trio, but she wanted you.”
And Yuuri had heard this before. At every Hasetsu Art Center gathering with Minako, at Christmas parties, whenever Yuuri and the Nishigoris found it in their schedule to return to their hometown and eat dinner at the Katsuki family’s table. It was a favorite tale of Takeshi’s, and yet it still made Yuuri blush.
“What I’m saying, Yuuri--” Takeshi held up a hand, successfully interceding his interruption. “Is that Yuko may still be interested in protecting you from this big bad fucking world.” (Here, Yuuri tried his best to protest, but embarrassment at what felt like an accusation of some kind made him stop.) “But we also have a business to run, Yuuri. And sometimes those interests line up with one another, and sometimes you’re going to be left behind if you don’t want to pitch in some effort.”
Silence. Yuuri’s fingers, humiliatingly, had begun to tremble.
“I’m sorry,” Yuko’s husband said suddenly. “That was rude.”
“No, no, you’re--” Maybe a bit. But there was truth to it, and Yuuri could hardly complain. Because perhaps he deserved it. Because perhaps he had fucked Yuko over the previous night. Because perhaps he should have just gritted his fucking teeth and had an awkward, stilted conversation with Viktor Nikiforov about the artistic merits of Yuuri’s very illegal homoerotic graffiti under the guise of cocktail small talk. That was what adults did, right? Or--what artists did, at the very least. “No, you’re--fine. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry,” Takeshi said again. “It’s a lot to handle at ten in the morning.”
Maybe. But Yuuri was a fucking adult.
“I’ll--I’ll go talk to Yuko.” His chest shuddered with the echo of a deep breath. “I’ll go now.”
“Yuuri.” Takeshi’s hand, back on his shoulder. Yuuri didn’t stiffen at the touch. “If it means anything. You’re still her favorite.”
But Katsuki Yuuri didn’t quite know what to do with that.
“Nikiforov’s assistant,” Yuko said when he stepped into her office. “What was her name?”
“Um--” Yuuri had lost his post-it note. But she was a difficult woman to forget. “Babicheva. Mila, I think.”
“Right.” Yuko did not look up. “Mila. She was rude.”
“Yes.” Yuuri fidgeted.
“She called this morning,” Yuko said. “Nikiforov is in Tokyo for the next week.”
To which Yuuri could only muster: “Okay?”
Nishigori Yuko looked up. Her expression was annoyed. “Evidently a career as an internationally renowned artist leaves more room in one’s schedule than your average gallery curator.”
“Right.” Yuuri shrugged. “I wouldn’t know.”
Small success. Yuko cracked a smile. “I’d made arrangements for dinner in Ueno for three, but Takeshi and I can’t make it. Mostly because I can’t find a babysitter--” (To this, Yuuri did not offer his services. Never again.) “And also because I feel this is best left to your expertise.”
Yuuri’s eyes widened. “I think I’ve already proved that I have no expertise in this area--”
“Come on , Yuuri.” Yuko was unimpressed. “Do me this favor.”
He was a composer. He was ill on the night of the first performance of his sonata by someone else.
So? What the hell did that have to do with Yuuri?
He had to listen to it over the phone. Imagine the disappointment.
“This is your job, Yuuri.” Yuko was using her professional voice, Yuuri’s least favorite of her tones. She had begun to use it more frequently with him than she used to. “And besides, given the drama surrounding Eros at the moment, she--well, we think this would be good for you.”
“She.” Yuuri frowned. He maintained his composure well enough to prevent such a frown from becoming a less pleasant scowl. “She’s got a bid in this?”
“Comforting to know at least someone does--”
“Why did she call you, then, and not me?” Now Yuuri scowled. Unfortunate. “Where even is she right now, that she’s making phone calls concerning my art--”
“I think we both know why she called me and not you, Yuuri, just like we both know that if we all weren’t concerning ourselves with your art what the hell would happen to it--”
“I’m calling her.”
“I’m twenty- four , Yuko, and neither of you are my mother, so why the fuck-- I’m sorry.” His hand came up to cover his mouth, but it was too late. “I’m sorry. I overstepped.”
Yuko’s expression was cold. “Yes,” she said.
“I’m sorry.” Deep breath. “I know that was out of line, I’m sorry--”
“Spain,” Yuko said.
“I think she’s in Spain.” Yuko had been previously preoccupied with something miniscule and of dubious existence on her desk, but now she looked up. “Or maybe Greece. One of those.”
“I--” Yuuri was at loss for words. “Okay?”
Nishigori Yuko cracked a smile. Then she began to laugh.
“God,” she said in between gasps. “God, sorry, it’s really not funny--”
“Really, Yuko.” But Yuuri was grinning too, helplessly. He dragged both hands down his face, but the attempt at quelling whatever it was inside him that had just snapped proved fruitless. “God.”
“No, it’s not funny, I know--” Still, the laughter did not stop. Yuko put her head in her hands. “God, what the fuck. Were we really just yelling at each other? What the fuck.”
“Is she really in Spain?” Yuuri asked. He bit down hard on his bottom lip. “What is she even doing there?”
“Who the fuck knows.” Yuko shrugged. “Fuck her.”
“Or not, because she writes our checks, I guess. Whatever.”
Yuuri was silent. Then he shook his head. “Yuko, I’m sorry--”
“Yeah, I know.” Yuko’s expression was a bit unreadable now. Yuuri did his best not to puzzle over it. His childhood best friend sighed. “Yeah.”
“I’ll cover that dinner,” Yuuri promised quietly. “Is there anything else you need?”
“No, that’s all.”
“Are you sure?” He was possessed suddenly by an inexorable need to be helpful. He had been so selfish. Viktor Nikiforov.
Yuko had gone to all this trouble for him. Hadn’t Yuuri been the damned posterchild of hero worship for the past six years? Hadn’t he told his best friend two years ago, embarrassingly drunk at New Years, what I wouldn’t give… Hadn’t Yuko always taken drunken vows so damningly seriously? She had done this for him.
And Yuuri had, rather than thank her, had a meltdown in the men’s restroom during the most important night of his life to date. “Because I can--I don’t know--do something. What do you need me to do?”
Nishigori Yuko lifted her head. She grinned. “Let’s get coffee, Yuuri. I need you to get coffee with me, how’s that sound?”
Yuuri blinked. Nodded. “I’d love to,” he said, and he would. He really would.
Anti-Eros Movement Discussed in Assembly
by Nakazawa Juichi
The city assembly in Shinjuku has joined to discuss the matter of the newest Eros graffiti on a street corner in Shibuya, as well as the possibility of legislation cracking down on “political vandalism” in Japan’s capital city.
Recent conclusion by the assembly has marked the end of the month as the beginning of removal for the latest Shibuya work, per lobbyist request… (click to read more)
chapter title comes from a yoko ono piece by the same name
again, i apologize for my months' long absence--im a full time college student who also works multiple jobs in order to afford to live, and the culmination of all those things at once isn't really fantastic for one's health. also, not very compatible with the concept of free time. however, my semester is nearly over, and i hope to get back into the swing of things with writing by the middle of december. hopefully
in other news, im not certain about the truthfulness of the story about prokofiev here--i read it in a poem by anne carson, and neither my russian nor my interest in prokofiev's personal life are great enough for me to do the research required to confirm that. take it as fact if u want, but dont cite me in any academic papers on the subject (or do. :/ since i cant really stop you.)
ive changed my tumblr url since the last time ive been active on ao3: you can find me at vvitchking.tumblr.com
finally, thank u for reading/comments/kudos! xx
Chapter 4: Not To Be Reproduced
welcome. it's been. nine months. i apologize for that. pls refer to end notes for more
chapter title comes from Magritte
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Got plans this weekend?” Phichit Chulanont stood on his mattress and bounced in cheerful greeting. There was paint on his clothes, and also in his hair. The studio smelled of turpentine and weed, which was typical. “Because I was thinking we should take Ji and that roommate of his on a tour of the fun parts of Tokyo, you know? Before they leave.”
“Really.” Yuuri removed his coat absently and slung it over a dining chair. His mind was elsewhere. “Why were you thinking that?”
“Why was I thinking that?” Phichit echoed in a mockery of Yuuri’s voice, continuing to bounce. “Because he’s a nice kid, Yuuri. Do you have objections to being nice to children?”
Yuuri cut him a look. Phichit grinned.
“He’s not much younger than you,” Yuuri reminded him flatly. “And I only asked because I was wondering if you maybe were trying to--I don’t know--make connections--”
“With a nervous college kid from America?” Phichit snorted. Bounced. “I’ve got one of those already, and I‘m not a whore.”
“I meant professional connections--”
“I know what you meant.” One final bounce, and Phichit landed on his ass on his bed. He folded his legs beneath him and smiled charmingly. “And I stand by my statement.”
“Well. I’m glad to hear it.” Yuuri waved a dismissive hand. “You’ve got paint in your hair.”
Phichit made a face. He carded a hand through his hair and succeeded only in streaking more of it temporarily with blue. “So--do you?”
“Do I what, Phichit.” Yuuri checked his phone. Yuko had promised over coffee that she would text him the details of the Ueno dinner, including a list of suggested professional conversation topics should Yuuri do as Yuuri usually did and forget his own name when forced to interact with strangers outside of a controlled environment.
“Have plans, dumbass.” When Yuuri looked up from his phone, Phichit remedied his statement. “Light of my life. Are you texting a boy?”
“Yuko.” Yuuri shoved his phone into his back pocket. “And yeah, I’m working over the weekend.” As he did every weekend. Katsuki Yuuri’s life was hardly one of exhilarating spontaneity.
“It’ll be in the evening,” Phichit said. “On Saturday.”
Yuuri shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Are you breaking laws that night?” Phichit Chulanont sprawled backwards and let his head loll over the edge of the mattress. As if Yuuri had been blessed with a single moment in the past few weeks that allowed him to work on the Eros project. “Can I come with?”
“No, actually I’m--” He didn’t quite know how to say it. “I’m covering Yuko for a dinner date.”
“How exciting,” Phichit said drolly. “With whom?”
“Mm.” He had not yet received his prophesied text. Yuuri removed his phone from his pocket and fussed with the cracked screen as if he had.
“You’re avoiding the question,” Phichit said. “Are you lying to me?”
“I’m not lying to you.” Yuuri scowled. “I’m just--I’m busy--”
“Is it with Viktor Nikiforov?”
Yuuri’s head jerked upward to stare at him. Phichit Chulanont laughed.
“What? Christ, Yuuri, don’t look at me like that. I was joking--”
“It is with Viktor Nikiforov,” Yuuri said quietly. “Actually.”
“Funny.” Phichit rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Yuuri--”
“No--Phichit.” Yuuri was suddenly, inexplicably frantic. Why did this matter so much? His ribcage rattled in his chest. “I’m serious.”
Phichit Chulanont sat up. Seriously, he said, “You're kidding.”
“I already said I’m not--”
“Viktor Nikiforov asked you to dinner.”
“Actually, his assistant asked Yuko to dinner, but the Nishigoris couldn’t get a babysitter--”
“No surprise there, with their fucking kids--”
“Viktor Nikiforov? You’re serious?”
“Can I come?”
“Uh.” This took him by surprise. Yuuri pulled a hand through his hair. “I’ll have to ask, but she did make the original reservation for three--”
“Oh my god , Yuuri--” And Phichit was up and off of the bed, was suddenly before him and squeezing the goddamn life from him--he was considerably strong for a person of his stature-- “Oh my god , you’re my best fucking friend. Viktor fucking Nikiforov.”
“Just--ah.” Yuuri coughed. “Don’t call him that to his face.”
“I’ll be professional,” Phichit vowed. “I swear to god I’ll be professional.”
“Good.” Politely, Yuuri extricated himself from his best friend’s vise-like grip. “Because this is my job.”
“Oh, I am well aware of your job , Katsuki Yuuri--”
“I only meant--”
“Viktor fucking Nikiforov,” Phichit said again, caught halfway between stoned awe and giddy excitement. “Goddamn, Yuuri. How are you so lucky?”
“Ah--” Yuuri covered the back of his neck with his hand sheepishly. Phichit did not appear to notice his discomfort. “Well--”
“Are you going to tell him?” Phichit bounced distractingly between the kitchen counter and the dining table like a pinball. “Imagine if Viktor fucking Nikiforov--”
“Please don’t get into the habit of calling him that--”
“Imagine if Viktor shitting Nikiforov helped you make Eros international--”
“No.” Yuuri cleared his throat in embarrassment. “That won’t be happening.”
“Why not?” Phichit frowned. “Why--”
“Because I don’t want Eros going international,” Yuuri interrupted, too sharply. “And I don’t think Viktor fucking Nikiforov would be all that interested anyway.”
“You said not to call him that,” Phichit corrected, but he seemed cowed. He stayed where he was, pinned to the kitchen counter. “Yuuri--”
“I’m tired.” Suddenly Yuuri did not want to talk about Viktor Nikiforov, or Eros, or the dream he’d entertained for a brief millisecond of a coexistence of the two. “Do you mind if I go to bed?”
“Don’t mind.” Phichit gestured to the far corner of the studio. “I’m set up over on the wall, but I’ll keep the lights low--”
“Don’t mind,” Yuuri echoed, already stripping free of his suit coat. “Thank you.”
They didn’t speak any further after that.
Yuuri had never been to the restaurant at which Yuko had made their dinner reservation with Viktor fucking Nikiforov. He and Phichit did not frequent Michelin-star French restaurants in Ueno any more than they travelled anywhere in Tokyo that was not accessible by the few lines of public transportation which serviced commuters with expired bus passes. (Yuuri had never renewed his after it had ceased being useful, and Phichit had never had a legitimate one in the first place.)
The Michelin-star French restaurant in question was not accessible by this particular bus line. The two of them walked eight blocks from the train station in the bitter cold, and Phichit complained the entire time. Yuuri merely shrugged every time one of Phichit’s barbs was directed at him.
“We could have taken a taxi.”
“With what money?” Yuuri waved a hand dismissively. “We don’t even buy train tickets.”
“Do you forget that employer is Okukawa Minako, who just so happens to be rich as fuck--”
“Minako and I aren’t on speaking terms,” Yuuri said curtly. “And I’m not going to take any more of her money than I already do.”
“Noble of you,” Phichit muttered, kicking at a bit of melting black slush on the curb. “When did that happen?”
“When did you and Minako stop talking?”
Yuuri shrugged. “College? Whenever I moved out of Hasetsu.”
“She hasn’t called me in months. I don’t even know what country she’s in, because she hasn’t let me know.” Yuuri shrugged again. He didn’t want to be angry, going into this dinner. He flushed when he was angry, and he was about to embarrass himself quite enough now. “She’s been calling Yuko about Eros though. Apparently.”
“Hmm.” Phichit shrugged. Looked out down the avenue, which was lit neon for the chic nighttime patrons of Ueno. “Fuck her, then.”
“You should still take her money, though,” Phichit said sagely. “I think she can spare it.”
“If not for your sake, mine.” Phichit adopted a sad-puppy expression. “I need new winter boots.”
“It’s not like she’s sending me envelopes of cash in the mail,” Yuuri protested exasperatedly. She wasn’t--anymore. When he was thirteen, he had received all kinds of things from Minako on her travels, various types of national currency included. Yuuri still had the majority of them rubber banded together in a box in his Hasetsu closet. “And your boots are fine.”
“The impending trenchfoot begs to differ.”
“Trenchfoot shouldn’t be a problem if you’re showering at least once a week,” Yuuri said, stepping primly over a patch of ice on the concrete. He heard when Phichit began to mock him enthusiastically, then yelp as he slipped on the very same patch of ice which Yuuri had just avoided and grab a coil of Yuuri’s scarf to steady himself. Yuuri choked.
Yuuri shrugged. He probably did.
The tips of his ears and his fingers were numb by the time they tumbled artlessly into the lobby of the French place in Ueno, and Yuuri struggled for several moments at removing his gloves for the coat check while the maitre’d waited for his name. Finally, Phichit stepped in front of him.
“Reservation for three. Under Nishigori.”
“Of course.” Still, the host regarded them with doubt. Phichit tilted his head and smiled guilelessly.
“I believe we’re on time, no?” Phichit could be annoyingly charming when he tried to be, and gratingly naive too. He was aiming for the latter now. “I’m sorry, we got caught up with gallery business--we’re from Hasetsu Art Center, by the way, the one holding the Nikiforov exhibition right now? We’ve been in the news a little, you know--”
“No apologies necessary.” The maitre’d looked away. Yuuri felt himself color a bit in embarrassment. “Please sit. A server will be here to attend to you momentarily.” Then he left.
“The name dropping wasn’t necessary,” Yuuri said lowly, sliding into his seat. “It’s embarrassing to--”
“You could benefit by a little namedrop once and awhile,” Phichit interrupted drolly. “Otherwise what’s the point of being a class traitor in the first place?”
“I’d prefer if you didn’t say that so loudly in a place like this,” Yuuri muttered, and Phichit grinned. Folded his hands beneath his chin.
“Do you think he’ll be late again?” He tilted his head so he could peer beyond Yuuri. “Is that a--”
“Yeah.” Yuuri didn’t turn to look. “It’s one of hers.”
Lowly, Phichit whistled. “Fancy fucking restaurant, then.”
“It’s not a good one,” Yuuri said thinly. “And they bought it out from under us.”
“You mean she sold it to them out from under you?”
Yuuri waved a hand. “Whatever. It’s a minor work anyway.”
Phichit Chulanont laughed. He said, “You sound like an asshole.”
“Hazard of the job,” Yuuri said, and looked away. “Do you think he’ll be late?”
Phichit shrugged. “I’m just here for a free meal.”
Yuuri supposed that was fair.
Viktor fucking Nikiforov was late. Yuuri watched him arrive before he registered it was him--moving distinctly as he was, alone and ducking cheerfully between tables and patrons--watched him near their table before the realization snapped between his eyes.
Quite literally--Phichit had snapped his fingers before Yuuri’s face.
“Oh,” Yuuri said, and Phichit was already standing.
“Get up,” he said brightly, but it was a command. “Yuuri.”
Mechanically, Yuuri stood. He was in time to greet Viktor fucking Nikiforov as he arrived, with an equally mechanical shake of the hand and a polite smile.
“Mister Nikiforov,” he said, and Viktor fucking Nikiforov said, “Yuuri, right?”
Whatever nicety he had been about to intone flew from his mind. Yuuri blinked. Floundered.
Nikiforov laughed, and it was charming. “I apologize, I tend to attach myself to given names. That wasn’t polite--remind me of your family name?”
“Katsuki,” Phichit reminded him lowly, and Yuuri nodded sharply.
“Katsuki,” Yuuri said quickly, firmly. His face was on fire. “Katsuki Yuuri.”
“Well.” They were still standing around the rounded table. Had anybody else besides Yuuri noticed? Had the moment lasted half as long as it felt to him now? “Mister Katsuki, then.” Nikiforov dipped his head, and then he turned.
“And I’m sorry, have we--”
“Phichit Chulanont.” Phichit shook his hand in a very deliberate manner. “Phichit works.”
Betrayer. Yuuri turned his gaze sharply to meet his eyes, but Phichit was not looking Yuuri’s way. He, too, was much too busy being charming .
Viktor Nikiforov, if not charmed, was certainly delighted by this candidness. “Phichit,” he said, like he was testing the name. “Then Viktor works as well.”
God. Yuuri felt positively lightheaded.
“As long as that is not unprofessional,” Viktor Nikiforov said with a brief glance in Yuuri’s direction, and Yuuri tripped over himself to negate this.
“N-no,” he said quickly, shaking his head. “No, of course not. Whatever you prefer.”
“Accommodating.” Viktor Nikiforov tilted his head with a smile. “Thank you.”
At last, they all appeared to realize what Yuuri had already. They sat.
“I apologize for the unfamiliar company,” Yuuri said as they did so. “Yuko and Takeshi encountered a family conflict, and we didn’t want to inconvenience you by rescheduling.”
“It’s no problem,” Nikiforov waved the concern away dismissively. “They are the couple, yes?”
Across the table, Phichit’s eyes widened at Yuuri. Yuuri bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from saying something equally incredulous.
“Yes,” he said cautiously. “My employers. They’ve, um, spoken at length with your assistant--”
“I thought so.” Nikiforov nodded with finality. “It’s no problem. Extend my thanks to them for the opportunity.”
It was at this moment that their table server arrived. Phichit took the opportunity to mouth what the fuck across the length of the table.
Yuuri shook his head. He didn’t know. He may have spent his entire academic career studying his works, but it appeared that the Viktor Nikiforov of real life remained a mystery.
Mysteries tended to make Katsuki Yuuri nervous.
“Are you also a curator, Phichit?” Viktor Nikiforov had directed his attention to Phichit, likely because he was the less familiar of the two. (Likely also because he did not have a track record of nearly being sick every time he spoke to Viktor Nikiforov.) Yuuri would not be offended.
And Phichit, in his element as the current center of attention, was thriving. He laughed.
“No, thank you,” he said cheerfully. “I don’t do the whole professional thing.”
“Oh?” Viktor Nikiforov smiled in bemusement. “Then is this not...the professional thing?”
“Phichit is a family friend of the Nishigoris,” Yuuri interrupted, because he could not bear to sit still while his face reddened further. “Mostly.”
“Mostly,” Phichit said, in a tone that was definitely meant to be mocking. Yuuri cut him a look across the table.
Viktor Nikiforov, for his part, did not seem to notice the awkward tension which Yuuri brought to the table. He tilted his head.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
At this plainess, even Phichit Chulanont blinked in surprise. Yuuri removed his hands from where they had been twisting in the tablecloth and wrapped them around his thighs.
“Well,” Phichit continued. “I’m not big on the white collar side of art.” He gestured at the table at which the three of them sat. “Makes me uncomfortable.”
Nikiforov hummed. He was smiling. “Why?”
“Uh--” Now, at last, Phichit was awkward too. He laughed. “It’s very--” Here he spoke Japanese. Looked to Yuuri, then apologetically back to Nikiforov. “The English word is escaping me,” he lied, because it was not. Phichit spoke flawless English, better than Yuuri. He was simply asking for permission to be candid. “I apologize--”
“Sterile,” Yuuri translated, giving him his permission. “That’s the word.”
“Right.” Phichit nodded minutely. “Sterile.”
“I see.” Viktor Nikiforov turned to Yuuri. “Do you agree?”
“With which part?” Yuuri tightened his grip on his thighs, to keep his hands from trembling. Viktor Nikiforov was an avid fan of eye contact.
“Professional art,” Nikiforov said. “You think it’s sterile?”
Perhaps this was a dangerous path of discussion. They were venturing into offensive territory, conversation topics restricted to the confines of a shitty studio apartment on the other side of Tokyo for politeness’ sake. This was not something one said to Viktor fucking Nikiforov over cheese souffle.
But this was also a topic on which Yuuri could speak at length. This was his job, and he knew the vernacular for this type of conversation. He inclined his head.
“I can’t judge the whole of the art world as something so one-dimensional,” he said cautiously. “But I think--I do think it’s a bit elitist.”
There was a quirk to the side of Nikiforov’s mouth. “Just a bit?”
“Well.” Now, Yuuri made himself laugh. It was not nearly as charming as his best friend could manage, but it was somewhat human. “I’m in polite company.”
Viktor Nikiforov propped a hand beneath his chin. “Pretend you’re not.”
It was fortunate that he was not looking at Phichit when he said this, as the latter suddenly became very concerned with not choking on his wine. Yuuri’s eyes were perhaps equally wide.
“Um.” God, he was an idiot. Yuko would kill him. “Minako--Okukawa Minako, I mean--always said there wasn’t much actual art in the art world. Just white wine, white walls, and white people.”
“Hm.” Nikiforov smiled. “That’s catchy.”
Across the table, Phichit Chulanont was staring. Yuuri tipped his head sideways to communicate his desperate irritation in the subtlest manner possible.
“You called her by her given name,” Viktor Nikiforov continued. “You know Okukawa personally?”
Yuuri looked to his table setting. That had been a mistake.
“Yes,” he said reluctantly. “She was close friends with my mother, while I was growing up.”
“So Hasetsu Art Center is a family affair.” Nikiforov quirked an eyebrow. Yuuri felt himself flush.
“Maybe. Isn’t everything? Even you--”
Mortified, Yuuri cut himself off. But Viktor Nikiforov only laughed. He lifted his glass in a mild toast to Yuuri’s half-made point and drank.
Across the table, Phichit appeared to be in the throes of anaphylactic shock. Yuuri would not look at him, for fear their silent tabletop argument would make him flush even further.
Silence reigned for several eternal moments. Viktor Nikiforov set down his glass.
“I agree,” he said. Yuuri kept his eyes on the tablecloth.
“With what part?” Phichit asked, and Nikiforov grinned.
“All of it?” He shrugged easily. “Most of it? Does it matter?”
There was a clattering of tableware that Yuuri thought might have come from his own setting. He could not feel the weight of his fork in his hand, though he was mostly certain it had been there before.
“Don’t be rude, Yuuri,” Phichit cautioned quietly in Japanese. (This in itself was, of course, rich in irony.) But Yuuri was not being rude. He was finally, finally invested in the conversation.
“I want to know,” he said levelly. “How much of it you agree with.”
Nikiforov’s expression was indecipherable. Yuuri did not care. With a slender smile, Nikiforov said, “Nobody asks me for an honest opinion anymore.”
“I am asking.” Yuuri looked him in the eyes. “Right now.”
Under the table, Phichit Chulanont kicked Yuuri very hard in the shins.
Viktor Nikiforov tilted his head. He looked, oddly, almost charmed.
“Fine. My opinion.” His eyes narrowed. “My opinion is that Ji Guang Hong will never reach the full international market. He will last five years as a brief cultural touchstone in Eastern Asia and maybe three as a novelty in America, and his work will never be shown in Europe. He is an incredible talent, and that is why he will not succeed.”
“You asked for my opinion, and I am not done.” Nikiforov’s smile became bitter. “His works will also never be as good, nor well-received as they are now. Everybody loves airing dirty laundry until it is theirs, and the moment Ji focuses on anything other than his own heritage--living in New York as an emigrè perhaps, or the frustration that no one will show his greatest works in the States now that he is no longer a nineteen-year-old prodigy--when that happens, nobody will want him.”
He paused. Yuuri realized he had been clenching his jaw the entire time Viktor Nikiforov had been speaking.
“You didn’t answer the question,” Phichit said finally, and Nikiforov raised his eyebrows.
“Yes,” Yuuri said quietly. “He did.”
They had asked him with which of their claims he had agreed, and the answer had been all of them.
Somehow, to Yuuri, this did not feel like a victory.
Viktor Nikiforov again raised his glass. “That is why nobody asks me my opinion.”
“So what does that make you?” Phichit spoke now. “If Ji is a soon-to-be-rejected genius, what are you?”
Nikiforov smiled, and like everything else, it was charming. “Would you call me a genius, Phichit?”
Though not the recipient of the question, it was Yuuri who had answered. He did not feel blood rise to his cheeks as it usually did. Viktor Nikiforov turned his charming smile on Katsuki Yuuri.
“And that is your professional judgement?” There was a suggestion there, a bit of self-satisfied vanity, that Yuuri was not simply a professional admirer of Viktor Nikiforov’s work. Yuuri still did not blush.
“Yes,” he repeated. Firmly. “That is my professional judgement.”
“If I am a genius then,” Viktor Nikiforov said, in a tone that suggested he was indulging Yuuri’s debasement of the word, “then somebody should tell my home country so.”
“Oh?” Phichit had spoken. Yuuri rearranged his silverware with extreme interest. “That sounds self-pitying.”
Nikiforov laughed mildly. “Your family friend is rude,” he said to Yuuri, and Phichit preened. At last Yuuri’s face was hot, his palms icy.
“I sincerely apologize,” he said quickly, aiming a kick at his best friend under the table. “Of course, I don’t agree--”
“No, he is right.” Viktor Nikiforov tipped his head. “It was self-pitying.” He tipped his wine glass casually to the side, as if testing how far the liquid could slosh up the sides without staining the tablecloth. “I am quite wealthy.”
Something which might have been an incredulous laugh, had it not been an incredulous cough, came from Phichit’s end of the table. Yuuri, too, blinked. He wondered if Viktor Nikiforov was mocking them.
“Wealth doesn’t make a genius,” Yuuri said curtly. Viktor Nikiforov nodded sagely.
“Most definitely not.”
“Then what does?” Phichit asked, perhaps out of politeness. Perhaps to give Yuuri a moment to regain his sanity.
Viktor Nikiforov smiled. He said, “I don’t know.”
“ I am quite wealthy ,” Phichit mimicked Russian-accented English from the studio’s kitchen. He was eating a sweet bell pepper like an apple while he used his free hand to vandalize the surface of the fridge with a Sharpie. “Oh my god , Yuuri, that was so fucking funny .”
“You thought so,” Yuuri intoned flatly. He was lying on his back on his mattress. “Of course.”
“Well, yeah.” Phichit snorted. “Like, obviously he’s a total asshole. Nobody says shit like that to strangers unless they’re Damien fucking Hirst, man.” From his low vantage point, Yuuri saw him shrug. “But I also really wanna fuck him.”
“ Phichit .” Yuuri scowled, while Phichit punctuated his statement with what could best be called a cackle. “Really.”
“What, you’re saying you don’t ?” Phichit leaned against the counter with a grin. “Don’t lie to me, you would totally--”
“I’m not going to fuck him,” Yuuri said matter-of-factly.
“Well, obviously.” Phichit gestured flippantly at Yuuri with his marker. “I don’t remember ever saying that you’d get the chance.”
Yuuri felt his face become hot. He scowled. “You’re a dick.”
“An honest dick.” Again, Phichit shrugged. “And I like ‘em stupid as hell.”
Thoughtfully, Yuuri said, “I don’t really think he’s stupid.”
Phichit gagged, either in innuendo or as response to Yuuri’s ambivalence. “No, he’s definitely stupid,” he said cheerfully. “Great hands though.”
Palms raised in innocent pantomime, Phichit smiled. “An honest man, Katsuki Yuuri.”
Silence stretched between them. Yuuri realized belatedly that Phichit was waiting for him to continue the college student banter. Yuuri’s mouth twisted uncomfortably.
An audible crunch, as Phichit finished the pepper. A sad sort of thunk, as he tossed the refuse and missed the garbage bin by a half meter. Phichit gestured frankly.
“You don’t think he’s stupid.”
Yuuri chewed on the inside of his cheek. He said, “I don’t.”
Phichit said, “Explain.”
“I think,” Yuuri began, and then paused. What did he think? “I think he was fucking with us.”
“Because he’s an asshole,” Phichit agreed triumphantly, but Yuuri shook his head.
“No--I mean. Probably.” Yuuri frowned. “I don’t know. I think--I think that he was trying too hard. I think he wanted us to think he’s stupid.”
After dinner, when Yuuri had paid the bill, he had called himself and Phichit a cab which they could not afford. He had attempted to be subtle about the credit card switch he had performed beneath the table, from the shiny black company card to his bent and beaten local bank’s debit. He had attempted to act as if the price of a taxi cab would not put him out of three days’ worth of lunches.
Viktor Nikiforov had smiled in an indulgent way as they parted directions, and Yuuri had suspected then with a pang that none of his sleight of hand at the table had been at all convincing.
Phichit hummed. “ I think,” he said as he flicked off the kitchen light and stepped around the counter, stowing the Sharpie marker behind his ear. His expression was of the teasing kind, but in a soft way. Yuuri shifted over on his mattress to make room.
“I think you’re giving him too much credit, Yuuri. Why would he want us to think he’s stupid?”
In the dim light, Yuuri shrugged. His face was warm. “I don’t know,” he said defeatedly. Phichit knelt on the mattress, then laid his full weight horizontally along Yuuri’s stomach. “Because he’s an asshole, probably.”
“Yeah,” Phichit agreed, drowsily now. Yuuri wondered if he was planning on sleeping like this, across Yuuri’s midsection with no pillow or blankets. The apartment was not well-heated, and though it was a drunken college catchphrase of Phichit’s to insist you’re a pillow enough , Yuuri would prefer at least a sheet between the two of them and the winter cold. “But he had nice hands.”
Yuuri was glad he was not the only one to have noticed the hands.
i think this is probably the last you'll see of me, at least for a very long time. who knows. nine months is a hell of a long time to take an unexpected hiatus: without getting too into it, over the past academic year, i took a total of forty-one credits at my university, worked for the majority of the time three jobs at once, and spent most of this period not on good terms with either my brain or my body. so! i apologize for the result of these occurrences, the result being that i do not feel i know my own story well enough after such an extended break to continue it faithfully to either the source material or my own narrative. im disappointed to say this.
regardless, things could change! i loved this story premise when i began it, and i would not have finished this long-half-written chapter and uploaded it now if i did not still enjoy writing it. but i can't make any promises that i can finish it in any capacity.
thank you to everyone who has read my writing--not just this work, but everything else ive written, as i receive and read new comments on ivory and gold every week or so and cherish them--and thank you for indulging me! you can always still find me on tumblr if need be!
thank you. xx