when the gales of November come early (kishmet) wrote,
when the gales of November come early
kishmet

Fic: Earthly Love

Earthly Love, by kishmet. AU, TezuRyo, PG, 5,837 words. Ever since I started reading about Caravaggio and his contemporaries, I've wanted to write about a painter and a boy who modeled for him. Yesterday night, I finally decided to write it!

The title is taken from an English name for Caravaggio's Amor Vincit Omnia. I've taken a bit of liberty with historical details here, but then I always do. XD I doubt that many Italians had Japanese names during the Baroque period.



"I haven't seen you before."

"I just came to the city." The boy shrugged. He'd already been sprawled indolently on the low couch when Tezuka entered the room. He was fully and properly clothed, but something in his pose and manner suggested that he would be just as comfortable in the various states of undress Tezuka required of his models.

Some of the other boys had been reticent and shy when requested to disrobe. Of course, they'd quickly learned that they had nothing to fear. Tezuka's passion was for his paintings, and for them alone.

"What is your name?" Tezuka asked.

"Ryoma Echizen."

Tezuka nodded. "I will first be doing some sketches and practice pieces. I start that way with all new models."

"All right." Ryoma stretched languorously, like the little cats belonging to certain members of the nobility. Then he sat up. "Should I wear this, or something else?"

Tezuka considered for a moment. "Something simpler. You will find clothing in the cabinet there."

Ryoma went to the indicated cabinet and opened the doors. "Anything that's in here?"

"Anything plain." That way he would be able to get the lines and the curves of Ryoma's body without paying heed to rich fabric textures and ornate patterns.

Ryoma brought out a short tunic and a pair of matching leggings. Both were in a dark shade of green that set off his hair and eyes to best advantage, even when the fabric was only held in his hands. "These."

"Those are fine."

Immediately Ryoma began to strip. "There is a screen in the corner, for privacy," Tezuka told him.

Ryoma stopped in the midst of pulling his shirt over his head. He flashed Tezuka what could only be called a smirk, face partially shadowed by the cloth. "I don't need privacy." Heedlessly he dropped his shirt to the floor.

"Then do as you wish." Tezuka set to readying his supplies, pencil and canvas and paints and brushes. It was better, anyway, that a model was not self-conscious around the artist painting him. Certainly Tezuka had few compunctions about a person's state of dress, at least not while he was here in the studio. In here, squeamishness and propriety were immaterial. The art was all-encompassing and all-important.

"Where do you want me?" When Tezuka looked up from his paints, Ryoma added, "And how?"

The tunic was just the slightest bit too large on Ryoma's slender frame. It fell partway off of one shoulder, and hung past his thighs. A lock of Ryoma's hair had become disheveled in the process of changing outfits, and that strand strayed almost into his eyes. Still, all of this only added to the artistic effect because of Ryoma's poise and cocky air.

He was exactly what Tezuka had been searching for.

If he'd been anyone else, he might have told Ryoma to stay right where he was, because even Ryoma's idle pose would be worthy of a painting. Because he wasn't someone else, however, Tezuka instead studied Ryoma with his critical artist's eye.

"Turn around," he said finally. "Not all the way. Let your left shoulder face me." That was the bare shoulder. Ryoma complied, his shoulder blade showing over the neck of the tunic. "One step forward. Rest your right hand on the arm of the couch. Yes. Now turn your head this way." Between each command he paused for study again.

Unlike most of his young models, Ryoma did not need much direction. He seemed to know how far Tezuka wanted him to move, to turn, to look. Now he stood by the couch, hand placed lightly on the velvet-lined arm. Most of his body was in shadow because Tezuka had instructed him to step out of the direct sunlight from the window. The fair skin of Ryoma's face and shoulder contrasted sharply with the dark of the clothing, the hair, and the shade in the rest of the room.

"This is good?" Ryoma asked, without moving a muscle out of place.

"Yes," Tezuka murmured, already setting pencil to the canvas. "It is."

***

"I trust that things are coming along as planned?"

Tezuka inclined his head. "Yes, your eminence. I've found the boy who will model for the angel."

"Oh yes." The old cardinal drummed his fingers thoughtfully on his desk. "You'd mentioned that you didn't have one yet. Then it will be done in time, when the cathedral is finished in two months?"

"Yes, it will." He'd finished his first piece with Ryoma as the subject, filling it in with paint although he'd thought he would leave it a plain outline sketch, and he'd started work on another. He knew already that Ryoma was suited to the role of the model for the young boy angel.

"Good, good. Then go back to your work, and may God's grace go with you. We will be expecting the painting at the cathedral's completion." The cardinal waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal.

"Yes, your eminence." Tezuka bowed and took his leave.

***

"Turn to-" Tezuka stopped, because Ryoma had done what he'd been about to request as soon as the first word came out of his mouth. "How did you know?" he asked quietly.

"I just did," Ryoma replied. "I'm a painter, too." At Tezuka's quickly-concealed expression of surprise, he added, "You didn't know."

"No, I didn't," said Tezuka. He'd only ever used Ryoma as a model, not as an assistant who painted in details for him, and so he'd never even thought to ask. He set down his brush when he was still in mid-stroke, something he rarely did. "Show me."

"You want me to paint something?"

"Yes."

"All right." Ryoma stood from where he'd been sitting on the couch, draped in silk and velvet and holding a crystal water goblet. He was wearing short leggings beneath the fabric, but no more. He showed no inclination to retrieve his shirt from the floor. "I'll have to use your brushes and paints."

Tezuka nodded. "I'll bring you a new canvas." He rose from his seat, and then paused. "What will you paint?"

Ryoma tilted his head to the side and said simply, "You." He said it as though any other options had never so much as crossed his mind, and perhaps, Tezuka thought, they hadn't.

Tezuka had modeled for other, older painters before, but generally the relationship only went one way; the painter was the painter, and the model was the model when in that painter's studio. When the model gained enough prestige for his work, he sought models of his own, as Tezuka had done. Thereafter the artists met as colleagues, usually never again as painter and model. What they were going to do, therefore, was something outside of Tezuka's realm of experience. He had never served as a model in his own studio.

He found that he was not willing to refuse Ryoma's request, however. In fact, the idea appealed to him more than the thought of Ryoma painting anything or anyone else for him.

Once he'd fetched another canvas and an easel to go with it, he stood holding them and asked Ryoma, "Where would you like me to be?"

"Where you usually are," Ryoma replied.

"I see." Tezuka had to conceal a smile. He set up the canvas in front of the couch Ryoma had been posing on, and then went back to his seat on the stool.

"Look at your canvas," Ryoma instructed him, with the same seriousness Tezuka used when telling Ryoma how he should sit, or stand, or lay.

So Tezuka set himself up as best he could, given that he was not really painting. Instead he studied all the minute details of this most recent work of his, concentrating on the things that needed improvement. He glanced up at Ryoma only once.

Ryoma paused. "You move more than I do."

"My apologies." Tezuka returned to his original pose.

Ryoma was finished relatively quickly, saying that he wanted to complete the painting by the end of the day. So it was a simple piece with little background and only light coloring.

From this one painting, though, it was clear that Ryoma knew Tezuka's expressions and lines and curves as well as Tezuka knew Ryoma's. Tezuka walked around the painting, looking at it from many different directions. The subject was unmistakably him, focused on his canvas and paying no heed to anything else in the world.

Tezuka looked up at Ryoma and nodded his silent approval. He did not voice his realization that one day Ryoma would be a greater painter than he was, if he continued on his present course.

He did not have to say it aloud.

***

Most established and successful painters had apprentices and assistants. These boys were either aspiring artists themselves, or they had extraordinary good looks and doubled as models (as in Ryoma's case), or were from families with connections, which meant that the painters could not refuse their services when they were offered if they wished to remain in favor with the nobility.

Momoshiro and Kaidoh both fit into the third category. Both of them were to inherit their fathers' merchant businesses (the two companies were bitter rivals, and so too, therefore, were the boys), and had little artistic inclination. Kaidoh could be relied upon for the drawing of flowers and fruit, and small details in the background, but Momo had no patience for such things, which meant he was more often used as a page for fetching and delivering things than for anything else.

Both of them were good-looking, though not in the preferred way that reflected youth and innocence. Tezuka had used them as models several times, most memorably for a painting of a fight scene between two young noblemen. That had been more trouble than it was worth, as the staged fight had escalated into a real one, and Tezuka's canvas had nearly been destroyed, not to mention the clothing and the wine glasses they'd been using as props.

"You could get rid of them," said Ryoma, on a day when Momo and Kaidoh had been engaged in a shouting match with each other for hours.

"No," said Tezuka.

Ryoma made a face that plainly showed his disgust. "Why not?" The ceiling shook slightly, and from the room above them came the sound of Momo calling Kaidoh a self-righteous bastard, and Kaidoh retorting by calling Momo a selfish ass.

"Their families move in important social circles," said Tezuka. "I cannot afford to offend them."

"You could."

Tezuka gave him a look of warning. "It would not be wise." Not only were those families involved in high society, they also had ties to some of the families rumored to be skilled assassins. If he offended them, the best he could hope for would be a fall from favor and subsequent poverty. The worst would be a painful death by poison or by knife.

He did not think that either one of them had any objections to the jobs they were to perform. He found, though, that they had indeed noticed that he no longer used them so often as models, nor did he use any of his other regular boys. He was just coming downstairs from his bedroom when he heard a conversation that made him stop and listen, just out of their sight, around the corner.

"-not as though he paints anyone but you anymore, anyway." That was Momo, standing outside the doors of the studio. He was most likely cleaning in there, as that was one of his duties.

"He painted that nobleman and his horse the other day." That was Ryoma.

"That's not what I meant. I mean, he still takes commissions like that, but he doesn't paint any other models," said Momo. "You're his favorite."

Tezuka saw Ryoma smirk. "I know." Then he glanced in Tezuka's direction, as though he knew Tezuka was there. He probably did.

Favorite. Yes, Tezuka supposed, if the fact that Ryoma fit into every painting Tezuka cared to put him into made him the favorite, then it was true.

But he wondered how Momo had noticed when he himself had not until this very moment.

***

"How goes it now?"

"It…goes well." Tezuka did not feel comfortable lying to such a high-ranking clergyman, but what he had said was not truly a lie. He had produced some of the finest works of his career during the last weeks, though none of them had been the church's commission. He hesitated to begin that one, primarily because Ryoma's part in it would not even be the focus. The older man, the saint, drawn from old descriptions of him, would be the focus of that piece.

"Good to hear it. Is there anything else you require for your work?"

"No, there is nothing." This was completely true, for what the church had not provided, Tezuka's patrons gave him in supplies and money.

"Good, good. It is by the grace of God that the church can make use of your talents, and we appreciate your services."

"Thank you, your eminence." As he'd done the last time, and all other times he'd met with the cardinal, Tezuka bowed and left the room when it was clear that the cardinal had nothing further to discuss.

He was going to have to start the church's painting.

***

"Here they are, here they are!" Momo announced, opening the studio doors. "We finished them!" Kaidoh came in after him, scowling and carrying a feathery mass of something. "The wings you wanted, Tezuka."

"Yes. Thank you." Tezuka looked at the constructed pair of wings. They'd been crafted as most artists' wings were, when they were painting angels; they were a wooden framework covered in doves' white feathers.

"Those don't look like wings." Ryoma broke his pose in order to scrutinize Momo and Kaidoh's creation. Tezuka thought of reproaching him for that, but the day was nearly finished as it was, and they would have to recreate the scene the next day anyway.

"Of course they do!" said Momo, indignant that his work was being insulted. "We based them on the wings on the fresco at the old cathedral…"

"Then that artist didn't know how to paint wings." Ryoma was draped only in a relatively immodest amount of silk fabric, but he seemed unperturbed as he walked over to them to inspect the wings more closely. "These don't look like wings at all."

Kaidoh's scowl deepened, and Momo folded his arms. "No? Then tell us what you think wings should look like. Go on!"

"Catch me a pigeon and I'll show you," said Ryoma.

In reality, Tezuka was the one with the power to order the wings unfit for painting. He said nothing, however, because Ryoma was correct.

"Fine!" Momo dropped the ungainly creation to the floor, and several feathers floated away from it. He stalked out the door, and Kaidoh followed behind him.

The pigeons in the square outside had no fear of humans. If anyone walked outside with a piece of bread, they would have to shield it to be sure that it wasn't plucked out of their hands. Because of this, Momo and Kaidoh returned shortly.

"Here." Kaidoh held out a cooing pigeon, which still did not seem unhappy with its situation of captivity.

"I caught two!" Momo proudly displayed his finds. "Ouch!" One of his pigeons pecked his hand, and he dropped it. The pigeon flew up to a shelf near the ceiling, settled there, and began preening itself.

"I only needed one." Ryoma took Kaidoh's pigeon. Carefully he folded its wing out to full-length. The pigeon made one attempt to escape, and then subsided when it became apparent that Ryoma was going to do nothing worse. "This is what a wing should look like."

"He's right," said Tezuka, when it seemed that Momo was going to protest. "I will sketch it for you, and you will craft me a new set of wings."

"Fine. Fine!" For the second time, Momo left the room, his other pigeon in tow. Kaidoh hesitated this time, and said gruffly, "I'll come back for the sketch later." Then he, too, left the studio, leaving Tezuka and Ryoma alone with two birds, one cleaning its feathers contentedly on the shelf, one in Ryoma's hands.

Tezuka meant only to draw the pigeon's wing, but somehow when he was done with the sketch, he found that he'd also drawn Ryoma's delicate hands holding the bird.

***

The white silk wrapped around Ryoma in a way that certainly could have been considered immodest in mixed company. It wound its way from over his shoulder to around his waist, only barely preserving a sense of decency. But then, thought Tezuka, what did angels care for modesty? The denizens of Heaven were the moral standard, and there was no doubt that Ryoma perfectly fit the image of one of them.

This new set of wings was both like and unlike the pigeon's wings. In the end, both Ryoma and Tezuka had supervised the creation of this new pair, and they'd turned out far more artistically than those worn by any other painter's model. The straps on them were wrapped in more of the white silk, partially concealed by the loose fabric, and Tezuka could paint out what remained in view because he knew each curve of Ryoma's body so well.

Here in the studio, the sunlight shone perfectly through the window, highlighting golden dust motes and causing the white feathers and the silk to shine. "One step forward," said Tezuka, meaning for only one of Ryoma's feet to move.

However, for the very first time Ryoma did not do what Tezuka wished without being told exactly what it was. He stepped forward with both feet, bringing the wings out of the best light.

Tezuka stopped in his preparation of the paints and looked at him. Ryoma looked back at him, too blandly. "With only one foot," said Tezuka. "Step back with the other."

Ryoma stepped back with the foot that Tezuka had not intended. He knew what he was doing, he had to know; Tezuka knew Ryoma's abilities and what he would and would not do without reason. "Echizen."

"What?" Ryoma sounded as innocent as the angel he was supposed to be.

Tezuka stood and walked to Ryoma's side without a word. "This foot," he said, indicating the left one. "The other should go back."

"All right." Ryoma moved his right foot forward, and his left back to where the other foot had been. His feet were now ideally positioned, and Tezuka now knew for a fact that Ryoma had been aware of what he wanted all along.

What Tezuka did not know was why Ryoma had not done it right away.

"Bring your arm up slightly," said Tezuka, testing.

Ryoma held the wrong arm away from himself in the most awkward and ungraceful fashion possible. Tezuka caught hold of his wrist. "Echizen," he said again.

"Show me," said Ryoma, looking up at him.

And so Tezuka did. He positioned Ryoma's arm in exactly the way he wanted it, guiding with his hand on Ryoma's forearm, upper arm, wrist, hand, whichever was convenient. Then he did the same with the other arm.

When he was done, he moved away, but Ryoma kept his hold on Tezuka's hand until the last possible instant. Tezuka glanced back at him to see that Ryoma's hand was extended toward him in what was almost a beseeching gesture, though Ryoma's eyes said that it was something else.

Tezuka inhaled and exhaled, calming himself with the slow breath. "Yes," he said, and only that.

He went to the canvas and began to paint.

***

The work went well, or more than well if the truth was to be told. Tezuka did not believe in miracles, but during this process he was inclined more than once to think that they might exist. The paints mixed flawlessly, providing him with precisely the colors he was searching for. There were no rough places on the canvas. Never once did he have to scrape a section clean of paint. He did not believe in perfection either, but this was the closest he'd ever come.

This was the closest they had ever come.

Each day Ryoma held his pose for longer than Tezuka would have thought possible. The other models he'd worked with would complain, or begin to fidget, or fall asleep on their feet. Ryoma seemed to find it a challenge that he would not lose, and he watched Tezuka as intently at the end of the day as he'd watched him at the beginning of it. At some points it was as though there was more than one hand on the paintbrush, one Tezuka's and one Ryoma's.

Only one thing made Ryoma less than the ideal model. At the beginning of each workday, Ryoma pretended not to remember the way he'd been standing for hours the day before. Tezuka would have to guide him into position, and it almost seemed that each time Ryoma took longer to find the pose, keeping Tezuka's hands on his arms, hands, shoulders and waist for a little longer each time.

After the first several times, Tezuka found that he did not mind that peculiarity of Ryoma's behavior.

It was finished after a week. To Tezuka it seemed like only a day, or an hour, or a minute that he'd spent in front of the canvas. He would gladly have spent longer, but there was nothing left to complete.

The first time Ryoma saw the finished work, he said, "The church isn't going to want it."

"They commissioned it," said Tezuka.

"They commissioned a painting," said Ryoma. "They didn't commission this."

"Yes, they did."

But Tezuka sent a card to one of his patrons' houses, inviting him to come and view the painting and give his opinion on it.

***

The day after the painting was finished, Atobe came to call at Tezuka's studio, as he'd been invited to do. He was admitted, of course, and they were brought drinks in the adjoining sitting room. Tezuka purposefully left the painting without a cover, so that Atobe would see.

Atobe, of course, glanced at it as soon as Tezuka led him into the room where it was housed. "Hm," was all he said, looking it up and down.

Tezuka raised an eyebrow.

"Oh come now, Tezuka." Atobe gave a short laugh and sipped his drink. "Surely you don't think the church will be interested in a painting like that one. It is a marvelous piece of work, you know that, but you can hardly count it as a religious piece of art."

"No," said Tezuka quietly. "I know that."

"Hm," said Atobe again. He scrutinized the painting from every possible angle. "Still, it is a fine thing. Being your first patron here in the city, I feel that I should be allowed to lay claim to its purchase before anyone else does so."

"This is not for sale," Tezuka replied.

"If you're attempting to bargain with me, I would like to remind you that no price is too steep for my purse," said Atobe, sounding amused. "You may as well save yourself the trouble and sell it to me for whatever price you deem worthy, since the church won't be taking it."

"No." Tezuka shook his head. "It is not for sale for any price. If the church will not take it, then it is a practice piece, nothing more."

"Mm, really." Atobe sighed. "A pity. If I didn't know better, I would say that you had some sentimental attachment to that painting. After all, I've never known an artist to turn down an offer made for his work, particularly a generous offer like the one I would be making."

"It is a practice piece," Tezuka repeated. "That is all."

Atobe said nothing more on the subject, though all through their visit he watched Tezuka keenly, as if searching for some secret Tezuka was keeping from him.

I have no secret, Tezuka reminded himself. So he can find nothing.

His thoughts did nothing to abate his uneasiness, as though he expected Atobe to find something that clearly was not there to be found. No matter how he reassured himself, he could not be rid of the feeling.

***

"You showed him the painting."

"Yes. I did," said Tezuka.

"He told you the church wouldn't want it."

"Yes." Tezuka continued painting, carefully brushing in one of the highlights of Ryoma's hair. He had to finish this work in short order, because the month would be over in a matter of days.

"It's not holy enough."

"That is not exactly what he said." Tezuka glanced up, but could not rebuke Ryoma for moving, because he hadn't.

"It's not holy," said Ryoma. "Not enough for the church, anyway."

"Hm."

"It might be blasphemous. Did he tell you that?"

"No, Echizen, he did not." Tezuka would have to scrape that part of the canvas clean. It refused to come out right. "It is not blasphemous."

"No?" Ryoma's eyes flickered up to meet Tezuka's, though he was supposed to be looking down at the saint Tezuka would also be painting. Tezuka finally felt justified in saying, "Hold still."

"You shouldn't be painting for them." Ryoma obediently looked to the floor again.

"They commissioned this painting. I have a responsibility."

"You could do better than to paint their saints and angels."

"Many artists want to create religious art for the church," said Tezuka. The hair still would not cooperate with him, which was to say nothing of the eyes, which persisted in looking straight at him whether the real Ryoma was or not. "It is an honor to be asked to do so."

"Maybe," said Ryoma. "But you could do better."

Tezuka did not reply to that. "We will begin again tomorrow," he said abruptly, setting down his brush. "The light is going."

They both knew that he was lying, and that there were two hours of sunlight left. Neither one of them commented.

***

That evening, Tezuka gazed at the first angel painting, which he'd brought up to his bedroom where no one else would see it. He realized now, for the first time, that the painting was not only not what the church had asked for, it was nothing like what the church had asked for. The angel was there, yes, but there was no saint, no dramatic biblical scene. There was only a boy angel whose face embodied angel, saint, boy, man, model, artist, and so many other things in Tezuka's mind that he could not possibly have added anything else to the picture. So much was already there.

But the church would not see it that way.

He knew that now, looking at the finished product from an intentionally objective point of view. Tezuka could not present this to the cardinal, just as Atobe and Ryoma had told him, and he'd used most of the time he'd been given to work on it. He could not afford another careless mistake, not in the little time he had left. He glanced up at the one other painting he had hung in his room, the painting Ryoma had done of Tezuka himself. He looked at it for a very long time.

Something had to be done.

***

Ryoma was waiting in the studio for him. He had probably been late, as he sometimes was, but this time Tezuka had come late as well. He had been up until a late hour, contemplating what it was he had to do. His first priority was clearly to complete the church's commission. His second priority…

Even now, in the light of day, he was not certain what his second priority should be.

"Echizen." Tezuka did not sit by the canvas, nor did he approach Ryoma. "I thank you for your services." You have been the finest model ever to grace my studio, he did not say. There was something else he did not say, but he refused even to let himself think it.

Ryoma said nothing. He was still wearing his ordinary clothes, and he was perched on the arm of the couch instead of lounged all across it. Perhaps he'd know there was something different about today, even before Tezuka had walked through the doors.

"I will be using a different model for this painting," said Tezuka. I cannot complete it in the way the church wishes me to, if you are the one posing as the angel, he also did not say. You are my angel, not theirs.

Ryoma looked neither surprised nor stunned. "All right." He was already prepared to leave, and he did so. As he walked by Tezuka, he let his hand brush against Tezuka's, and Tezuka pulled his hand away.

Tezuka only painted one thing that day, a portrait of a dark-haired boy's departing back. He never finished it and destroyed the canvas later that evening.

***

The next week had none of the incredible clarity of the time Tezuka had spent painting Ryoma. He had a new model, a shy boy whose name he could not recall. He thought he may have seen this boy before, in the time before Ryoma had entered his life. It did not matter. He had no time for practice pieces to help him learn the shape of another model.

"Is anything wrong, sir?" the boy asked anxiously, when Tezuka's brush stilled for an inordinate amount of time. It had already done so three times during this session, which was the reason for the boy's worry.

"No. Nothing is wrong." Tezuka set the brush to the canvas once more, to the figure that looked less like an angel than like a boy in false wings.

Perhaps the church would accept this painting, but Tezuka's mind never would.

***

"It's not bad so far."

Tezuka looked at Atobe, and then at the half-finished canvas he'd been working on for the past few days. "Not bad."

"Yes, not bad at all, really." Atobe did not look at the painting for long; his eyes did not linger on it the way they'd lingered on the painting of Ryoma. "But Tezuka, it is not particularly good, either."

"Hm."

"Yes, hm." Atobe sat down on the couch without receiving an invitation to do so. "Frankly, I have never seen a work of yours so lacking. Perhaps it's only because I've come to expect brilliance from you each time." He shrugged. "In any case, I'm sure the cardinal will find it acceptable for his cathedral."

"What is it lacking?" Tezuka asked the question of himself as much as he asked it of Atobe. "What is missing from this painting?" The angel, the saint, the heavenly glow, the darks and the lights were all there.

"If you don't know that, I'm hardly going to attempt to explain it to you," said Atobe. "You're the artist here. I'm only your wealthy patron, remember." He smiled.

***

Tezuka stayed awake until the sun began to light his room. If he lost many more nights of sleep, he would be completely incapable of painting anything. Then again, he had not been inspired to paint anything for days. His art, what had once been his passion, was now a chore. He thought of it the same way he thought of preparing breakfast or of dressing himself in the morning.

Just to be sure, he thought of painting as it had been before he'd sent Ryoma away. Without his willing it, his heart beat a faster rhythm in his chest and he was forced to control his breathing before it, too, quickened.

"Deliver this to the address written on it," said Tezuka, handing the card in its envelope to Kaidoh as he passed him in the hallway.

Kaidoh read the address and then looked up, startled. "This is-"

"Yes."

"I will deliver it." Kaidoh nodded brusquely and trotted off to do as he'd been requested.

"What was that?" Momo came down the hallway as Kaidoh left it, and directed his query to Tezuka.

"A delivery," said Tezuka.

"To who? Aren't I usually the one who…" Momo trailed off, because Tezuka was already on his way to the studio.

***

Ryoma arrived at the house in only half an hour, although he'd had no advance warning that he was to be summoned. Tezuka looked up as Ryoma entered the studio. "Echizen."

"I thought you were going to use a different model," said Ryoma.

"I did," said Tezuka. "The painting is there." He pointed to the corner where the canvas sat on an old easel.

Ryoma went to it and examined it for a few moments before turning around and coming back to where Tezuka stood. "It's missing something," he said.

"So I've been told," Tezuka replied.

"Do you know what it's missing?"

"No."

"This." Ryoma very suddenly had his arms around Tezuka's neck and was leaning up as far as he could and was kissing Tezuka, kissing him, and Tezuka was kissing back although he'd never thought he'd feel passion like this for anything but his painting. The feel of Ryoma's lips on his and Ryoma's body pressed against him were strangely foreign and familiar sensations all at once. He knew the look of them, and this feeling was an extension of that, a wholly welcome extension that he'd never expected.

"I won't be delivering that painting to the cardinal," said Tezuka once they'd pulled away from each other, short of breath no matter how he tried to disguise the fact that he was.

"Why? It's already finished."

"Because I can do better," said Tezuka solemnly. Ryoma lowered his head to hide his smile, but Tezuka had already seen it.

There would be an outcry and a scandal, of course. Very rarely did an artist refuse a commission from the church, and even more rarely did an artist renege on a commission he'd already taken. This would either make the nobles laud him for his daring and make him more popular among them, or it would cause them to scorn him in their fear of incurring the church's wrath. He did not care which.

He already had what he wanted.

***

Kaidoh moved away from the keyhole and shook his head slowly. "They…"

"What, what? It's my turn anyway, here, let me look." Momo leaned down to peer through into the studio. He pulled away a moment later. "Oh." He seemed unable to gather the proper words to express himself.

Kaidoh still looked slightly pale. "We should go…get to work. Or…"

"Work is your answer for everything!" Momo said scornfully, and then he shook his head the way Kaidoh had only a minute before. He made as if to look through the keyhole again, stopped, and apparently decided against it.

"You know," he said. "If that's what happens when you're his favorite, I'm glad I never was."
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