"Rome," Yuuri slurs, "I wanna go to Rome".
A greenish drink leaves a bitter aftertaste on Yuuri’s tongue. Yuuri’s not entirely sure what Phichit mixed together for such a disgusting effect – he’s not sure Phichit knows it, either – but he doesn’t care as long as it’s working. He takes another sip.
It’s probably absinthe. Yuuri didn’t know they had money for that.
"Yuuri", Phichit tells him, spreading the vowels apart in a happy, drunken way. "You’ve been to Rome!"
Yes, Yuuri did go to Rome.
Rome was all sun and Vespa scooters and coffee, day lectures at film school and night walks to follow the traces of Michelangelo Antonioni. Then his year abroad ended. Yuuri went back to Detroit, full of memories of light and history, and filled to the brim with a sense of a vague aesthetic which he could only express in this state of intoxication, when his tongue still felt too bitter against his palate.
Yuuri takes another sip of his drink just because he can. He doesn't enjoy it.
"Sweet," he slurs to Phichit. "Rome."
Phichit mixes something, again, like a wizard’s apprentice, surrounded by glass and bottles on their kitchen table. He tastes the new drink, nods to himself, and sends Yuuri a smile as sunny as a June day in Italy.
Yuuri misses Italy. Back then, an ocean away, there was no need to think about his final project and upcoming graduation. Now, a couple of blocks away from the university, Yuuri sort of has to. A trip to Italy would be nice.
They are not in Italy, it is not June, and Yuuri needs a sweet drink.
"You can’t go to Rome," Phichit tells him. He might be a tiny bit soberer than Yuuri. "Well, you can, I guess. But you’ve got no money. And you won’t graduate."
Graduation is a word with far too many syllables. Yuuri doesn’t bother with it. He eyes his drink with disgust and then looks enviously at Phichit, who downs his own one happily.
"Make me one too, Phichit-kun," he says, straining with effort, but Phichit shakes his head.
"Don’t you think you’re getting a bit too wasted?’, he asks, and Yuuri may be drunk but he knows what’s coming.
Neither of them remembers clearly The Great Party of ‘14. Yuuri suspects that pole dancing may have been involved. He never mentions it to Phichit, but he’s almost sure. Now, though, the party doesn’t matter – the aftermath does. Yuuri remembers it with the clarity he certainly regrets: they both woke up naked in somebody’s bedroom, covered in glitter, and it was then that they decided to introduce a test to check if they were too drunk or not. Being covered in glitter was not fun – it got everywhere. The test was just a reasonable thing to do. It was simple. It consisted of two steps.
It went like this:
- They chose a word that was difficult to say.
- If they couldn’t pronounce the word, they were too drunk and they called it a night.
(Somehow it always ended up with Phichit testing Yuuri).
"Say: Victor Nikiforov."
The thing is – Yuuri is rarely too drunk to mispronounce this name, but he also refuses to set up any other password. He’s seen all the movies Nikiforov as much as cameoed in. He’s watched the actor’s interviews. He’s got a scrapbook full of pictures cut out from glossy magazines.
In short: he knows how to say Victor Nikiforov’s name.
"Victor Nikiforov," Yuuri says now, dutifully, with perfect Russian intonation. And then he says it again because Victor Nikiforov is just like this: once you see him, once you say his name, it’s never enough, and you want more, more, just like Yuuri wants more alcohol and sweet things, and Rome. "Victor Nikiforov. Vitya." he adds the man’s famous nickname. The name sounds good, sweet, like the drink he craves.
"Sweet, Phichit," he orders now, and Phichit sighs, but he’s intoxicated too. When he complies and gives Yuuri another drink, the bitter aftertaste on his tongue disappears under a syrupy flavour of whatever Phichit has mixed up now.
"Sweet," Yuuri confirms happily. "Dolce."
Italian is easier than English; it rolls off his tongue with a certain solid rhythm that English lacks, and always brings in this serotinal, longing quality that makes Yuuri happier. And he likes the word dolce, elegant and flawless, almost like Victor Nikiforov himself.
"La Dolce Vitya," he declares then because it makes a perfect sense, and "it’s a pun, Phichit, it’s a pun, don’t you see?"
He thinks, of course, that it’s brilliant, a twist on Fellini’s famous La Dolce Vita. Phichit must get it – or he won’t be Yuuri’s best friend.
Phichit laughs, and Yuuri thinks it might be a bit hysterical, but who cares.
"Yuuri," Phichit points his finger at him. His colourful drink almost spills in his other hand. "It sounds like a very bad porn title." He seems to be lost deep in thoughts – or at least, Yuuri thinks so – and then, in the dead of a spring night, in their tiny apartment in Detroit, Yuuri witnesses Phichit’s epiphany.
"I know," Phichit says, because of course he does. "It’s a movie title, Yuuri. La Dolce Vitya. I dare you. Make it your final project."
Yuuri has studied the way narratives work.
He knows how the plot goes – he’s seen so many films, he’s read so many scripts, he’s read so many novels and short stories that he can claim storytelling as a part of him. It runs in his blood. So when Yuuri says he knows how the plot goes – he says he knows there should be a single point in the narrative, just one scene, which shows how the story begins and drives it forward.
Let’s take Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet meet at the ball; Hamlet sees the ghost; Macbeth encounters three witches. Or let’s take Yuuri’s very own short movie, Lohengrin: a dime-a-dozen skater watches a champion perform a stunning piece. It’s always (Yuuri knows) just a single moment in time.
Yuuri’s brain, trained by film school and years of dedication, can tell you why: more impact, more clarity, more suspense.
But Yuuri is just Yuuri, a stranger in a strange land – just your next door Japanese student, aspiring film director and admirer of European cinema and Victor Nikiforov.
Yuuri’s not a character in a film. He doesn’t have a plot line. So when it begins, there isn’t a single scene, a single moment caught in time and brought to life on screen. In fact, Yuuri – if you asked him – would not even know which event he’d have to pinpoint.
It could be one day in spring when Yuuri and Phichit finished their mid-terms and got drunk. Yuuri came up with a disastrous film title. Phichit came up with a dare.
Or it could be one day in high school when Yuuri watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte and then spent the night lying wide awake, blinking at the darkness of his bedroom’s ceiling, replaying the scenes in his mind one by one, and when he got up the following day, a part of the film made its way into Yuuri’s soul, found a place there and never left.
Or it could be one day when Yuuri was just shy of thirteen, awkward and chubby and beginning to feel as if he had too many limbs. The world was a vast, scary territory which needed a counterpoint to tame its overwhelming presence. Yuuri found out that films were a good contrast, and Agnieszka Holland’s The Secret Garden gave Yuuri a refuge the way nothing else ever could.
Or it could be one day when he went ice skating with his friend Yuuko. She was brave and bright and had just come back from a national competition, but all Yuuri could do was try not to fall on his butt as he made a few lapses around the rink. Yuuko skated her performance for him; she was striking, captivating, like a storyteller. Yuuri watched and watched as if suspended in time while a story of hope and love and glory unfolded in front of his eyes like in a dream. ‘I want to be like you, Yuu-chan’, Yuuri said then, broken out of his reverie. ‘I want to tell people stories’.
Yuuri now knows that stories don’t always work that way, too. Sometimes things are not linear; sometimes things are broken, interrupted, or unconnected. He knows all these things. He knows they can be brilliant; Yuuri’s favourite film, after all, is Fellini’s Amarcord, with its oneiric, episodic sequences. But Yuuri’s life is really not that interesting, not worthy of being turned into a story – Yuuri’s not worth it.
He’s just Yuuri.
One week after his midterms Ciao Ciao catches Yuuri on the campus. For a spring morning, it’s cold, and Yuuri wants nothing more than to go inside – or better yet, go home. But he’s been avoiding Ciao Ciao long enough that his gut tells him it might not be a good idea to play hide and seek with your supervisor if you want to graduate in the near future – or if you want to graduate, ever.
"Ciao Ciao, Yuuri," the professor says, and Yuuri’s conscience kicks him in the shins when he thinks of the man’s ever-cheerful attitude.
Yuuri needs to direct a film to graduate. Celestino was more than happy to supervise him after watching Yuuri’s short Lohengrin and recognizing some late Fellini influences with a unique, postmodern twist, and then he offered Yuuri nothing but support in regards to Yuuri’s semester abroad in Rome. "You’ll learn so much," he said. "You’ll come back inspired."
Yuuri came back, and he was one month behind the deadline for the early script submission. Celestino probably tolerated Yuuri’s tardiness only because Yuuri had stayed at his brother’s in Florence for one weekend and brought Celestino some knick-knacks from his family.
Yuuri now stops in his tracks and stares at the professor, unsure what to tell him. Celestino’s lenience probably ends right here and now, and unless Yuuri can pull out a film out of his ass, he can wave goodbye to summer graduation.
He mumbles a good morning, because what else he can say, and Celestino shakes his hands with much more enthusiasm than Yuuri can ever muster on a campus at nine in the morning.
"How’s it going, Yuuri?" he asks, and Yuuri braces himself for the inevitable, which of course is bound to follow. He’s not disappointed. "I haven’t seen anything from you in a while!" which means nothing at all, but Ciao Ciao is too kind to say that.
"Yeah," Yuuri says. "I’ve been..." binge-watching Netflix and eating crap food and trying to find a topic but everything fell short and I don’t have anything for you, sorry, "I’ve been working on it."
"You’re running out of time," Celestino says. He’s not unkind. He’s probably the coolest professor Yuuri’s ever had. All the others would have just failed Yuuri on the spot.
"I know," Yuuri tells him. Of course he knows. The deadline is called just that because it passes and then takes Yuuri’s life away, one hour of sleep at a time.
"Yuuri," Celestino shakes his head. He can probably see through Yuuri’s lies as clearly as if they were made of glass – and maybe they are, fragile and transparent and ready to shatter and cut Yuuri’s skin bloody red.
"Send me something by the end of the week, Yuuri," Celestino finally says. "And I mean it. I’ve given you more time but there’s the question of your budget. You need to apply for everything on Monday or you’re on your own, Yuuri, and to apply you need my signature," and then, not even giving Yuuri enough time to process this thinly veiled threat, he follows with a cheerful: "I’m excited about what you come up with!"
He walks away, as joyful as ever, leaving Yuuri alone in the middle of the campus, cold and tired and almost late for his Film Production lecture.
It’s Thursday. Yuuri has three days.
He never makes it to the lecture. Instead, Yuuri calls Phichit, screams about an emergency, and hurries back to his apartment.
Phichit greets him in the kitchen. His laptop is open on the table and he’s surrounded by junk food, greasy and ready to be wolfed down.
"I've been expecting this," Phichit says.
"I have no plot," Yuuri says back. "No script. No actors. Nothing, Phichit, and Celestino says I’ve got three days, Jesus Christ."
"I’ve got vodka," Phichit offers.
"No," Yuuri glares. "We’re not doing that. Last time we got drunk you wanted to make a Fellini inspired porn movie."
Yuuri sees the glint in Phichit’s eyes. He regrets he knows Phichit as well as he does.
"No," Yuuri says. "Phichit, no. We’re not doing – doing that!"
In hindsight, that’s a wrong thing to say. It leads, inevitably, to Phichit giving Yuuri a look.
"Do you have a better idea?" Phichit asks.
Yuuri does not.
They’re not writing a porn movie. It doesn’t mean the script is entirely harmless.
Phichit studies Screenwriting. Yuuri doesn’t know whether to be grateful or in despair. When Phichit writes, it’s not a process – it’s a ritual. Yuuri usually prefers to be as far away from it as possible, but since it’s his career that is at stake now, he keeps a close eye on Phichit’s Word document.
Phichit sets up their working space in the kitchen. For some reason, the hamster cage is essential, hamsters included – Phichit claims the sound of their running wheel calms him (‘It’s like those alpha waves, Yuuri!’), but Yuuri finds it grating. He can’t focus.
It’s eerie, sitting in the kitchen, hamsters running wild on the wheel, Phichit by his side. Phichit burns some incense – "It’s for the aesthetic" – and plays loud pop music. He says it’s a religious experience.
Yuuri feels vaguely afraid.
"We can’t have you direct another Lohengrin," Phichit insists. "Don’t get me wrong – I loved that shit, Yuuri, you know I did, but if you’re gonna get repetitive at 24 people think you’ll be dead by 27, and I love you too much for that to let it happen."
"A porn movie is not Lohengrin". Lohengrin was a coming-of-age story in under ten minutes, a tale of growing hope and first disappointments, of navigating a foreign country in baby steps, of watching swans by the lake and a skater at a rink when watching films became too much. A porn movie is not about that. A porn movie is about the dick Phichit will inevitably write as the protagonist. "And Ciao Ciao will never accept a porn movie."
"We can make it cute," Phichit says. "Like, I don’t know, Bertolucci."
Phichit must be thinking about The Dreamers, Yuuri is quite sure. There’s a raw, sweet, awkward sex scene in it that Phichit finds desperately endearing. But Yuuri’s not convinced.
"La Dolce Vitya,"he says. "Phichit, if we’re doing this, and you’re including a sex scene, it’s gonna be too corny with that title, we won’t pull it off."
He’s not inspired – by no means, he’s stuck in a creative cul-de-sac with the screenwriting bulldozer that is his best friend – but he knows what he doesn’t want to do. That’s something. "I’d like it to be meaningful," he says. "It’s the last film I’m gonna make here. Who knows what happens later – maybe I won’t make it at all.You know how many hopeful film directors wannabes schools like ours can produce in a year? Thousands, all over the world, Phichit."
"Okay," Phichit says. "I get it. We’re gonna crank out something ambitious. Without sex scenes, if you don’t want any. You’ll be a fucking auteur by the time you graduate."
They pull it off.
"It’s fantastic," Ciao Ciao says two days later. Yuuri’s sleep deprived and he’s been mixing up energy drinks with caffeine pills. The script may be impeccable but Yuuri himself is not; Phichit called their script indie and oomph and with a touch of Kieślowski, don’t you think? but the circles under Yuuri’s eyes tell a battle story instead.
"I can see Phichit Chulanont co-wrote the script," Ciao Ciao muses now. "You work well together."
Twenty-three hours ago, Phichit chased Yuuri with a fork and threatened bodily harm if Yuuri did not acquiesce to his screenwriting demands.
"Yeah," Yuuri says. "We do."
Ciao Ciao doesn’t seem to notice the doubt in Yuuri’s voice. He peers at the screen.
"Now I understand why it took you so long to submit this," he tells Yuuri, "and why you missed the deadline."
It took Yuuri and Phichit nineteen hours of work to plan it and write it and three hours to revise.
"We worked really hard," he confirms.
Yuuri refuses to get wasted at home again. They go out to a club and Yuuri nurses his drink – Yuuri doesn’t know its name but it’s something with absinthe and pomegranate and he may be a bit drunk on the way how positively decadent it sounds – and Phichit may or may not be cracking up at the thought of Ciao Ciao buying in the script they’ve just submitted.
"He’s approved the costs too," Phichit repeats for the sixth time. "I can’t believe!"
Yuuri’s vision of La Dolce Vitya could be best described as Three Colours: Red meets The Great Beauty, symbolic minimalism fights baroque, rich opulence. Their film school might set aside a budget for every student film that was made every semester, but this budget had its limits. Yuuri did not think he’d get much – but Celestino did sign the necessary paperwork which, frankly, went over Yuuri’s head.
After five years of student life, Yuuri still doesn’t know how it works, but Ciao Ciao assured him that his paperwork is going to be processed.
Yuuri doesn’t really care as long as he gets the dollars he needs. His drink tastes like victory.
There’s nothing victorious about the next afternoon.
Yuuri feels the after-effects of the previous night in his head, in his bones, in his thoughts – they run sloppily, slowly, and in circles. This is Not Good.
Phichit, of course, has been cheerful since the wee hours of the morning, brighter than sunlight. He refuses to sit by Yuuri’s side now; Yuuri is perfectly content to zombie the shit out of their afternoon plans but his friend has better ideas. He sets up his laptop and prepares the lighting in the living room just so for his presentation, and orders pizza from their favourite place, typing away on his iPhone. His fingers move faster than the neurons in Yuuri’s brain.
Yuuri spends an eternity wondering how and when Phichit managed to put together a Prezi thing in between their screenwriting, drinking and generally existing. Yuuri didn’t even put together two coherent sentences since they finished writing, and that was also Not Good because he did have to go and get Celestino’s grin of approval.
Phichit finishes fiddling with his laptop just in time for the first guests to arrive. To be fair – at this point both Leo and Guang Hong are less their guests and more occasional roommates; Yuuri has long lost count of all the nights they spent together marathoning random and not so random films, and he’s fairly sure at least one of them has a spare toothbrush in Phichit and Yuuri’s tiny bathroom; the dog-eared Kubrick poster in the kitchen may or may not be Leo’s. They all but moved together after Yuuri’s last film that he had to pull out of his ass for a credit, and since Leo is great with the camera and Guang Hong’s makeup skills rivalled Phichit’s, it was an easy choice to invite them again.
Now Yuuri doesn’t bother to acknowledge either of them. Leo waves cheerfully and proceeds to raid the fridge, and Guang Hong just follows him because it’s probably safer than dealing with Yuuri when he’s like that. They would know. Yuuri is like that a lot.
He still doesn’t move from his spot even as the Crispino siblings enter in a storm of movement, Mickey with a scowl on his face and Sara way too cheerful for Yuuri’s liking. It’s not the first project he’s done with either of them, and it’s always the same – Mickey is efficient with props and suspicious of all men his sister works with, and Sara worms her way both into Yuuri’s bag of sweets and into his next film.
Isabella follows soon after. Yuuri gives her a smile and that’s it; he doesn’t really know her, but she’s friends with a friend of a friend of Phichit, and the world is small, and even smaller when your world is a film school.
The tiny apartment slowly grows noisier. Yuuri lets the buzz wash over him like a wave; people arrive one by one, Seung-gil the floor manager the quietest of them, keeping his distance, and perhaps keeping himself from showing his distaste, too. Yuuri’s not sure how he’s friends with Seung-gil, but stranger things have happened in college. He’s not gonna complain.
Otabek arrives soon and he’s almost as silent as Seung-gil; he, too, stays a bit away from the source of noise (which Yuuri knows is Phichit, it’s always Phichit). For a guy so quiet, it’s a bit ironic Otabek is responsible for all their sound issues, including the score. Otabek grabs a seat next to Yuuri and then proceeds to ignore him, which is just as well since Yuuri has no strength left for any actual human interaction which doesn’t involve coffee.
Yuuri knows they’re waiting for a few more people and even in his zombie-like state he realizes something’s wrong – Minami is never late, at least not when he can work with Yuuri, whom he worships more than Yuuri worships caffeine. It’s kind of creepy, sometimes, but Minami’s also great with lights and the only one among them who understands electricity.
Minami finally bursts through the door, and it seems like his lateness is explained by the fact he met Mila the technician and Georgi the thespian downstairs and they harassed the pizza delivery guy together. Minami has much more enthusiasm than all of them combined and presents the pizza to Yuuri like an Oscar, and if Yuuri wants to die a little, nobody knows because this is the moment Yuri Plisetsky enters their place.
Yuri is late, of course, because he’s an actor and that’s how he makes an entrance. He flops down next to Otabek and ignores them all even as Phichit beings to hand out their drinks and people scurry to help themselves to slices of pizza and even Yuuri comes out of his zombie zone because if he’s going to make through this alive and in one piece, he’s going to need a lot of pizza and he’s going to need it now.
And then Phichit flashes the screen. It begins.
A town somewhere in Italy, timeless – a bit eclectic, a bunch of props from the past mixed with fashion evoking vaguely futuristic connotations. A mafioso falls in love with a brilliant confectioner. Soon they have a baby, and they’re as happy as a little family can be when they have a lot of cakes. But then the woman falls victim to an accident as tragic as improbable, and it soon turns out that the confectioner and the mafioso could only be together when they remembered how to smile. He raises the son on his own, and the boy soon learns the intricacies of his father’s trade. Years pass. The boy turns into a man; he grows strong, and deadly, and unhappy, and there is something missing in his life. A job leads him to a pastry shop, where he reconnects with his ailing mother, his past, and his love for sweet buns.
"Of course it’s not as straightforward as that," Yuuri says. "We want ambiguity. Let the audience drink it in. Let them wonder about possible interpretations, so when they ask you “what do you mean by that? Do you mean this?”, you can say “that too”. We want a story which is barely restrained, with meanings that almost overflow. We want a story that contains multitudes.”
"Okay, Walt Whitman," Leo chirps, "Got it. Now, do you want a slice of pizza? We’re almost runnin’ out".
"So, Yuuri," Ciao Ciao begins and Yuuri knows what’s coming. "How is it going?"
Ciao Ciao has been asking the same question over and over again, going as far as to send Yuuri a daily email with encouragements, questions and all kinds of advice that are way too late to be given. He seems to be genuinely excited, and maybe that’s a good thing – he’s Yuuri’s supervisor, after all – yet Yuuri never actually expected him to monitor his progress at all. Most of the professors Yuuri has worked with offered scarce advice mumbled without even looking at him, or graced Yuuri with vague suggestions like “make these floral decorations ooze longevity”. Yuuri thought they all tried to put Ang Lee to shame.
When Yuuri worked on Lohengrin and Ciao Ciao supervised him for the first time, the man’s involvement could be explained by Yuuri’s blatant inexperience. Now, though, Yuuri (kinda) knows what he’s (supposed to be) doing. Ciao Ciao is just having fun tormenting him. Yuuri’s sure the professor knows that Yuuri and Phichit bullshitted their way out mere hours before the deadline.
Ciao Ciao now sits at his desk. The office is full of old posters and books scattered on the table (there are bookshelves, but filled with dust and knick-knacks; Celestino’s been collecting angel figurines from all over the world and now they all stare at Yuuri creepily. Looking at them is almost as painful as looking into Ciao Ciao’s amber eyes). Yuuri hates the office. He hates the tea Celestino always makes him, and above all, he hates that he has to sit here, in the wooden chair older than the dean himself, and he has to pretend he has an artistic vision.
Yuuri’s actual artistic vision includes ten hours of sleep and a puppy, but he’s not gonna tell Ciao Ciao that.
"It’s going okay," he says instead. "We managed to convince Yurio Plisetsky to play the lead role."
Ciao Ciao lets one of his eyebrows travel up and up, up so high that it almost meets his hairline.
"And he let you? I must say I’m impressed – but if there was anyone who could do that, it’s you, Yuuri."
Yuuri shrugs. They just lucked out with Yurio.
Everyone wanted to get the blond student to act in their films. Yurio was RADA-trained, and only went on to Detroit when he got bored and lacked challenge. How he could get bored at RADA, Yuuri didn’t know – at least until he saw Yurio act, and act he did. He could tear the film set apart like a hurricane with one gesture only. The problem was, Yurio was a hellish actor to have on set, and to convince him to join in the first place was almost impossible.
"We told him he could take his cat with him," Yuuri reveals now. "In fact the cat’s got a role now. We’re including his treats in the budget plan, too."
"Are you, now?" Celestino asked. Yuuri got the impression that he wanted to laugh but somehow thought it would be unprofessional to do so. "Well, I trust you, Yuuri. Now, I read your email about blocking and I think that a two-shot would be perfect for..."
Yuuri always dreads the first day of shooting. It’s a flurry of frantic activity after a long, sluggish night of self-doubt; it never feels right, and Yuuri will not delude himself thinking he’s ever going to come back home from the set feeling satisfied with the results of shooting, not after the first day, possibly not ever.
The perfect cure for his mood is a night filled with hot cocoa and Victor Nikiforov’s films, especially those in which he still had his signature long hair. Yuuri’s looking forward to this – he just has to survive the day first.
Phichit all but drags Yuuri into the cab they’re sharing to the location. As the car approaches the set, Yuuri wills and wills himself to disappear. It’s all for nothing. The Crispino’s suburban house looms in the distance like a harbinger of Yuuri’s failure. Some of the film crew have already set things up in the garden. Sara offered it as a possible location the moment she learnt about the Italian inspirations behind the film, and Yuuri could not refuse, not when he realized that the house was overlooking just the garden and some desolate films which would be perfect to set the mood. Yuuri had just the wide shot in mind. He can still visualise it now that he sees it – even busy with preparations, the set is going to be perfect.
There are entirely too many people there, though; some of the crew have arrived much earlier than expected. Yuuri would prefer to work with as few of them as possible, but they’re starting with a big scene today, with all their actors, a long shot that was Yuuri’s favourite among his own storyboarding ideas. Yuuri takes a deep breath and oversees the last minute preparations before barking off his ideas for the wide shot.
"Imagine a feeling of loss," Yuuri says, "not entirely helpless but close to it. There’s going to be some music here, but only amplifying this emotion – Georgi, you’re going to stay a bit outside of this, content. You’re at an okay point in your life – think of bright future, no remorse here, just determination. You know what you want from your life and from Vitya. Vitya won’t. Yurio, you-you're going to be lost, without direction, but you need to make sure you’re hiding it. The viewer will pick this up – the rest of the characters shouldn’t. We’re going with your emotions to create the mood."
Yurio just shrugs, but Yuuri knows he gets it. The cat sits on his lap like a sunbeam. Yurio’s already in full makeup and dressed in a beige coat Phichit chose for him, and only the grimace on his face sets him apart from the character he plays. Georgi though – he plays the father – still wears his own make-up, eyeliner included. Yuuri thinks Phichit is going to scold him the minute he spots it. He walks towards Leo to escape the small apocalypse that always rises around Phichit.
"The capture cable is not working," Leo informs him. He says it so cheerfully that Yuuri’s brain takes a moment to realize the news is not, in fact, good. "No, no, no, don’t worry," Leo hurries and almost knocks the camera down as he tries to calm Yuuri down. Yuuri doesn’t know what shows on his face but he knows it has to be Not Good. Leo catches the camera seconds before it shatters on the ground, and Yuuri’s brain first circulates and then miraculously starts working again.
"Sorry for that," Leo says, cradling the camera like Yurio cuddles the cat. "Happens all the time, no big deal. I, erm, I’ll take care of the cable. Chill, Yuuri, it’ll be fine, alright?"
What the hell. Yuuri stares, and stares, and Leo begins to grow concerned again, so Yuuri turns on his heel and before he knows it, the rehearsal starts.
What the hell, Yuuri thinks again as the set momentarily transforms into something rough and raw and entirely too magical to be still the same old garden. Yurio loses his grimace and his eyes shine with a dimmed light that has nothing to do with the lightning on set. Yuuri wants to blink and doesn’t dare; the scene is, somehow, perfected, and yet unpolished, and he loves it, all of it: the minimalist background, the cloudy weather they are lucky to get, the symbolism of the sparse props that will become clear in the last scene of the film. What the hell, Yuuri thinks, I hope the cable is working.
"Don’t think I don’t know what you’re suggesting," Yurio grumbles at him in between the takes.
"What am I suggesting?" Yuuri asks. Every interaction with the blond actor leaves him wary.
"You’re basing Vitya off of Nikiforov," Yurio spits out. "That’s disgusting. Not even an ounce of subtlety."
"I’m not.." Yuuri begins, and then Yurio gives him a glare, and Yuuri’s brain comes to a halt. "Okay, you’re right. Okay. I am."
"That’s disgusting," Yurio just says. He shoots Yuuri another piercing glare, for good measure, and storms off.
"Okay," Yuuri sighs. "Okay?"
Pastry shop in the old district. Vitya sits down outdoors opposite his mother. He eats sweet buns.
I never thought I’d be here.
No, in your shop. Baking with you again.
You think too much, Vitya, and never about the important things.
For a moment, there is only silence. Vitya drinks from his cup. He’s aware that Veronica studies his every movement. He becomes a bit flushed. There is very little noise in the street and the pastry shop is empty, too, but suddenly Vitya’s world is very loud.
(sharper than needed)
That’s why I came here, you know.
To see you. To learn from you. That’s it. The important things you keep talking about, that’s it. Right here, right now, in this shop—
"There’s something wrong with this scene," Sara notices.
It’s the seventh take. Yuuri doesn’t know why she’s even there – they’re not filming in her garden anymore, and Sara’s not in any of the scenes. She must be in it for the snacks Phichit always distributes on the set.
Yuuri watches as Yurio texts away on his phone, fingers flying furiously; Isabella has wandered off to somewhere. Yuuri thinks, vaguely, that pretending to be Yurio’s mother must be almost as hard as being his actual parent. He can almost sympathise.
Yurio steals a pastry from the plate just as Phichit appears next to them. He carries an unsteady pile of papers in his arms; Yuuri didn’t even know they had so much paper. He can’t imagine what they would need it for.
"Hey," Phichit says, indignant. A few loose pages escape the file and go with the wind. "I paid for those."
"The school paid for those," Sara snickers. "And you wanted real food for the aesthetic, you said. What I understand is you just wanted to eat it yourself and Yurio was just faster than you."
"Great minds think alike," Phichit answers sagely. He looks entirely unperturbed that Sara saw right through him. "Yuuri, there’s something wrong with this scene."
Yuuri knows there’s something wrong with this scene. He’s known this from the first take.
"We wrote it drunk, remember? Or high or caffeine. Same difference. Of course it’s not the pinnacle of good writing."
"Fight me," Phichit says. "I didn’t pull an all-nighter so you could self-depreciate the shit out of this, Yuuri. Like, okay, it’s not the greatest scene ever written, but Ciao Ciao accepted it so it can’t suck nearly as much as you believe it does,"
"It’s not a bad script, Yuuri," Sara chimes in. "I like the emotional impact in all the scenes in the pastry shop. It’s interesting how it develops – only, Yuuri, that’s the problem."
Yuuri gazes at her and at Yurio, who still ignores the great part of the world which can’t be contained inside his phone.
"Vitya doesn’t develop as a character," he realizes. Yurio still types. They all know he’s not oblivious to the world, probably not even totally oblivious to their conversation, but he always does his hardest to pretend they all don’t exist.
‘"Oh, he does," Sara waves the script in front of Yuuri’s face. "Here, he does. Your Vitya changes. Yurio’s Vitya doesn’t."
Yuuri needs a second to mull it over. The second passes, callous, hurried, and short-lasting.
"We’re gonna get stuck in development hell," he groans.
"Oh, come on," Phichit says, walking away to the set with the intention of stealing a pastry. "We don’t have the time to get stuck, Yuuri. We’re getting the hell out of this project before you graduate."
They get the hell out of the set three hours later, after a shouting match with Yurio about character development, scripts that suck dick and pastries that were stale. Yuuri’s migraine approaches with the imminence of all the deadlines in the world.
"Stop moping," Phichit says. "You’re not gonna become the next Linklater if you waste all your energy on sulking."
He flops down on the couch with no care in the world, leaving, of course, no room for Yuuri. They have an armchair. Yuuri hates the armchair. He rolls his eyes and decides to spend a Phichitless night in his room, looking at pictures of Victor Nikiforov until the bright glare of his phone brings his migraine closer and closer, until the only way to exist is through sleep, pain, and sensory deprivation.
"I don’t have time to be the next Linklater. It took him twelve years to make Boyhood. I’m not gonna take this long to graduate. I-- I don’t want to be the next Linklater’, Yuuri says before he closes the door to his bedroom. ‘I just want to be Yuuri. I want it to be my film, your film, our film. I just want to make it work, okay?"
He closes the door even as he hears Phichit’s muffled answer. Yuuri doesn’t reply.
"Hey, Katsuki," Yurio’s voice on the phone sounds a bit rough and a bit like something else. Yuuri is too tired to think about it. "Otabek had an idea how I can make your script suck less."
Yuuri bites his tongue. The script doesn’t suck. At least not as much as it could, written in a hurry and all. What sucks is that Yurio’s brilliant but he doesn’t get it, and he’s too damn stubborn to listen to Yuuri when he talks about Vitya’s transformation. The only thing Yurio transforms is his ugly scowl (from moderate to apocalyptically furious).
"So, ugh, we can film the pastry scene again? I have a different idea."
Yuuri blesses Otabek with all he has.
"Yeah," he says. "Yes."
The thing is, they may have written the script in a frenzy, and the whole thing may have been a dare, but Yuuri is nothing if not a perfectionist, and he loves what he does. He doesn’t want to make a film simply to graduate. It’s not enough – not when he can make something that leaves a lasting impression, that makes an impact, that evokes feelings, and that moves hearts, and that plants a seed in the audience’s minds when the credits begin to roll.
"Shit, Yuuri," Phichit says. Yuuri spends the night frantically rewatching Yurio’s dailies. Otabek has just sent him the score. Yuuri should listen to it before going to bed. "When I said you’re gonna be an auteur, I was kinda kidding?"
"Mickey’s at it again," Isabella notices. Yuuri’s just walked her through her last scene – and to be fair, she was so good that he didn’t think she needed any of his insight, but she seemed to appreciate it nonetheless. "And he’s coming here."
There’s a grimace on Isabella’s face that has nothing to do with the angsty, silent scene she’s about to act in.
"Oi, Katsuki," Yuuri hears. He should have banned from the set all the people who begin their conversations with oi, Katsuki because that’s. Just. Not. Done. "Come ‘ere, we need to talk."
Yuuri doesn’t come anywhere. Isabella raises one eyebrow, slowly. Yuuri thinks she’s enjoying it.
"I’m working, Mickey," Yuuri says. It’s not a lie. They’re sitting on the set, constructed so carefully that Yuuri can already envision it in the film, the colours muted but making a statement, Isabella like a vibrant, decaying sunflower. Yuuri’s there in his khaki parka, feeling almost like an intruder. "If it’s not about this scene, it’ll have to wait."
"No it won’t," Mickey growls because he’s Mickey and he does things only cartoon villains do. "I’ve been letting this slide for so long cause I thought you’d correct your mistake, but now I’m fed up with it, Katsuki. I won’t let my sister star in an idiotic excuse of a film that butchers the language of her ancestors."
"Michele," he says. "It’s a pun. I know that la is a feminine article. And if you knew anything about interpretation, you’d notice it’s a joke, one which you’d pick up on if you had bothered to read the fucking script."
Silence falls, heavy like Leo’s camera tripod. Yuuri never swears. Yuuri’s polite to a fault, and kind, and treats the crew with more respect than he has for himself.
"I’m done," Mickey announces. He probably means to make his exit dramatic, but he’s no actor.
"His timing was a bit off," Isabella shrugs, standing up. In a second, she loses the charm she put on the set. The reality hits Yuuri hard, bleak and too dark. His eyes go after Mickey. "You stay here, Yuuri. I’ll go and fetch Phichit."
Yurio reinvents Vitya in the pastry scene. It’s brilliant.
Yuuri dares to hope that maybe, maybe, they can really pull it off.
It’s just a week of frantic filming, and then it’s over. Ciao Ciao visits the set only once, nods at everything, beams, and leaves.
Somehow manages to make Yuuri feel unprepared anyway.
"He loves this film as much as we all do," Minami tells him, but Minami also loved the cheesiest line in Lohengrin. (Yuuri’s not sure why Minami even knows this film. He made it when Minami was still in high school. When Yuuri was in high school, he cried over Jean Cocteau and Victor Nikiforov. He didn’t even think about student movies until he had to make one).
Yurio doesn’t tell him anything. He stomps off before they wrap things up. Yuuri thanks everyone – he just fires off a text to Yurio and within seconds receives a whatever in response – and if he feels a bit sentimental, nobody seems to mind. Georgi cries, openly, smudging his makeup.
If they get drunk and emotional and end up posting too much on Instagram, Yuuri’s not gonna beat himself up about it.
Postproduction goes like this: too little sleep, too much coffee; too much Phichit, too little time; too little experience, too much inspiration. For a few days, Yuuri walks on eggshells – metaphorically and literally, because Phichit is a little shit and leaves actual, real eggshells on the floor for Yuuri to stomp on. Yuuri would swear vengeance if he weren’t so anxious about the film. At night, when he actually ends up in his bed, he keeps mulling over the montage; during the day, he does the same, only with his eyes open. Time drags and flies and ticks and Yuuri only knows he’s alive because he feels too many emotions at once.
And then it’s over. It’s done.
"La Dolce Vitya," Phichit says, reverently, as if tasting every sound he makes. "Yuuri! We did pull it off, didn’t we?"
Yuuri smiles; he’s pale, and there are bags under his eyes that make him look twenty years older.
"Yeah," he agrees, and he may be exhausted but he beams with pride. The film is good. He can graduate. They didn’t miss another deadline. "We did."
The phone call comes one week later.