Atobe Keigo liked to have privacy when he sketched. Which was to say, he didn’t like to have anyone around who would recognize him. Squealing admirers were a distraction, and sneering detractors didn’t need the ammunition.
It wasn’t that Keigo sketched badly, because he was actually fairly good at it. His preliminary work, in fact, was excellent. It was the details that always seemed to go astray. The problem was that he did not sketch superbly. If he’d known, years ago, that he would be expected to affect an attitude everywhere about everything, and defend it the same way he did on the court…
Well, it might not have changed anything, but at least he’d have had some forewarning.
Thus, when a pleasant voice that he recognized immediately spoke over his shoulder, thoroughly invalidating every precaution of stowing his sketchbook in his tennis bag and coming to the museum early in the morning and sitting in the Impressionist gallery, where most people his age tended to breeze through with barely a glance, he was not terribly pleased.
Besides, he was in the middle of trying to capture the shadows of a Cassat, and that was never easy.
“Mmm,” he answered, and kept working.
Fortunately, Yukimura had the grace to let him do so.
After another few minutes, Keigo decided this effort was as done as it was going to get, and held it out, critically, to compare with the painting in front of him. The likeness was unimpressive, and a faint growl of frustration escaped.
“It looks like a reasonable start.”
If Yukimura’s tone had been in any way encouraging, Keigo would have snapped at him. Since his unwelcome company merely sounded matter of fact, he limited himself to a curled lip. The implicit understanding, in that voice, of how deeply annoying shortcomings of any kind were, however, also led him to offer some explanation of his disdain.
“Reasonable for an exercise, I suppose. It works better when I’m drawing a three dimensional subject. This simply isn’t up to standard.”
Yukimura tipped his head and looked down at him, thoughtfully. “My art teachers have always said that copying a masterwork was the best way to learn the techniques the artist used to achieve a given effect,” he noted.
Keigo sniffed. Still, there was honest curiosity in Yukimura’s observation, and a delicacy behind his lack of actual questioning that soothed Keigo’s brief temper. So he stopped and thought about it.
“It’s never really worked that way, for me,” he said, slowly. “When I observe something,” he waved a hand at the Cassat on the wall, “it… sublimates. It comes out again when I actually sketch a real subject, but just copying has never worked out very well. Live models are much better.” He shrugged, dismissing the topic, and stowed away his sketchbook. “Are you here for one of the exhibits in particular?” he asked, standing.
“I didn’t have any in mind, especially,” Yukimura answered, accepting the shift to polite small-talk. “Are there any you would recommend?”
“Their Renaissance galleries are quite good,” Keigo considered, turning toward them absently. “There’s also an excellent special exhibit of Edo period textiles this month…”
Which was how he found himself acting as impromptu tour guide to one of his strongest rivals. They were in the middle of the textiles exhibit before he even realized it. On the other hand, Yukimura’s conversation was informed and insightful, and there were worse ways to spend a morning than discussing fine art in the serenity of a well-kept museum.
Yukimura laid his hand on the glass of a case. “Gaudy,” he said, of the layers on layers of figured cloth inside, “but beautiful. It takes a good deal of dedication to create something this complex.”
“Extremely difficult to move in, though,” Keigo observed. Yukimura laughed, softly.
“Ah, but these were made for court nobles to show off to each other. When it came to actually avoiding a knife in the back… well, that’s what they had retainers for.”
“Indeed,” Keigo smiled, crookedly. Too bad he didn’t have a few of those. Not that he could imagine himself mincing around in the robes in front of them. Yukimura would look well in these creations, though, he reflected, idly. He had the grace of gesture implied by every line of Ukio-e; the trailing style would suit him, for all that the constriction would likely drive him as mad as it would Keigo.
They finally fetched up in the open courtyard of the museum cafe for lunch.
Lingering over coffee, Keigo’s mind wandered back to the question of shadows. How, for instance, would he render the shadows that dappled that handsome bit of Greek statuary under the trees?
“How long does it usually take you to sketch something?”
Keigo blinked at his companion. “Ten or fifteen minutes, unless it’s a very complex subject,” he answered, a bit startled at the non sequitur. Yukimura smiled.
“Well, then, I’ll be sure to take my time getting us some more coffee,” he said, rising.
Keigo stared after him for a few moments before he decided not to question the gift, and pulled out his sketchbook. Now, the arm thus, and the curve of hip so, and shaded here… When he emerged from the concentration of transfer from solid to paper, he sat back, pleased. It lacked the texture of Cassat, but he was getting there.
“You are much better working from life,” Yukimura said, over his shoulder.
Keigo grimly suppressed a start; he hadn’t even realized the other was there. “Why thank you,” he replied, layering irony over courtesy.
Yukimura chuckled, and set Keigo’s coffee down beside him before resuming his seat. “You said live models are best, though?”
“Yes,” Keigo agreed, stowing materials away again. “I know some people prefer subjects that don’t have to breathe, but that bit of movement always adds something to a scene, for me.”
He might have gone on, because Yukimura seemed to have a better understanding of such things than most people he spoke to, but, as he straightened, his eye, still tuned to line and shadow rather than human identity, was arrested by the figure across the table from him. That figure was, momentarily, not one of his rivals, nor a chance companion who discussed artistic philosophy well. Instead, it was a study in contrast: the dark, breaking wave of hair against the pale, stark angles of bone and lean muscle. In that suspended moment, a word drifted through Keigo’s mind. Chiaroscuro. Light and shadow. And another after it. Kikkyou. Fortune. Sunshine and shadow.
He shook his head, and his perceptions settled. Wouldn’t it be superb, though? Now, how on earth to ask something like that?
“Yukimura…” he trailed off, as the gleam in his companion’s eye suddenly registered.
Yukimura rested his chin on one hand, and lifted his brows. He was, Keigo decided, perfectly well aware of what Keigo wanted to ask and was going to sit there with that attentive expression and watch Keigo squirm while he tried to come up with a courteous way to do it.
The hell with that.
So. His coach had taught Keigo that pride was a powerful tool; years of watching his father entertain clients had taught him a much older lesson. Flattery gets you everywhere. Above all else, experience had taught him that the observant ones liked to be amused.
“I’m sure that someone of your elegance has been asked before, often enough for it it be burdensome, whether advantage can be taken of your grace,” he said, as unctuously and expansively as possible. The corners of Yukimura’s mouth twitched. “Will you forgive me for imposing on you with an additional request?”
“That being?” Yukimura prompted, a strain of suppressed laughter in his voice.
“Would you be willing to sit for a few sketches?”
“Draped or undraped?” Yukimura asked, casually.
Keigo came very close to snorting a mouthful of coffee out his nose. Who would have thought, he wondered, swallowing very carefully, that Rikkai’s soft-spoken captain had such a low sense of humor?
“Draped, I think, at least to start with,” he managed.
“Certainly, I’d be delighted,” Yukimura agreed graciously, eyes sparkling. “Did you have a location in mind?”
“I would prefer somewhere outside, where I can get the shadows from sunlight,” Keigo mused, casting his mind over the possibilities.
“What about a garden?” Yukimura suggested.
“That would probably be ideal,” Keigo agreed. “Do you know of one that’s reasonably quiet?”
A half smile curved Yukimura’s lips. “Mine,” he said, softly.
Keigo raised a brow.
“It’s a hobby of mine. And I would be interested to see what you make of it, as a setting,” Yukimura explained.
“By all means, then.”
Yukimura’s garden was beautiful, Keigo thought. It took up one end of the grounds behind his family’s house, a space of low leaves, and tall vines, and subtle flowers, wrapped around a few trees. The shifting light and shadow, over the course of a day, must be charming.
Yukimura fit into that space like a missing part of it, as if one of the plants had unfurled a flower made of steel and let it drop at the feet of the maple. Keigo was normally too practical for such excessive imagery, but the sweeping simplicity of line Yukimura made, leaning on one hand, a length of gray fabric draped carelessly across one shoulder and down, seduced the mind toward fantasy in an attempt to explain it. While Keigo cultivated a considerably more flamboyant image for himself, the clean serenity of this space, folded around this person, appealed mightily to his aesthetic sense. He found more detail than usual appearing on his page, and it was took longer than he had quite expected before he laid down the pad.
“Aaaahh. Good.” Yukimura shook out his arm and turned over onto his back, stretching from fingertips to toes. Cloth slipped off his shoulder, and Keigo found himself, abruptly, jarred out of appreciation of line and proportion and into appreciation of a magnificent body arched back on a black quilt, less than two meters away.
On an impulse, Keigo rose and came to sit just beside Yukimura. Smoky eyes opened and looked up at him.
“Would you like to see?” Keigo offered the pad.
Yukimura took it and smiled, a slow, pleased smile. “You are good,” he commented. He laid it back down by Keigo’s knee, extending both arms in another spine-curving stretch.
Keigo swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. “Yukimura…” he murmured.
“Seiichi,” Yukimura told him, just as quietly. The gleam from earlier was back in his eyes. “If you’re going to kiss me, you might as well call me Seiichi.” Those eyes were half-lidded now. “You are going to kiss me, aren’t you?”
Far be it from him to disagree, Keigo decided. He leaned down, one hand slipping into dark hair.
“Seiichi,” he whispered, against the other’s lips.
Those lips parted for him on a soft breath, and their tongues tangled, stroked together. Keigo shifted, slid his hands down Seiichi’s sides, pushing loose cloth ahead of them. Seiichi pressed into his touch with something very like a purr, a subtle arch of his hips inviting Keigo further. The swiftness of that invitation, of this whole encounter, kicked Keigo’s brain back into motion. He drew back as far as Seiichi would let him, which wasn’t very.
“So, when, in the course of the day, did you decide on this?” Keigo inquired. A laugh brushed against his ear.
He propped himself on an elbow, tracing fingertips over Seiichi’s sharp cheek bones and down the line of his jaw. Seiichi gave him a tiny smile before turning his head to catch a finger, gently, between his teeth.
“During lunch,” Keigo guessed, when he thought he could trust his voice.
Seiichi hmmed and let him go. “Good aim. It was when you were looking at the statue, actually. Your eyes were so intent, so taken up with nothing but that one thing.” His expression turned wry and wistful. “And I wanted you to look at me with those eyes.”
Snatches of the day’s conversation fell together, leaping into intuition, and Keigo was swept by a wave of disbelief, closely followed by something close to outrage. He caught Seiichi up against his body and kissed him fiercely. Seiichi made a small, startled sound before gradually relaxing in Keigo’s arms and accepting the kiss.
“Keigo?” he asked, when they drew apart, a bit bemused.
“Would you care to tell me how you,” Keigo laid a hand along Seiichi’s cheek, “could possibly doubt the attraction of your own grace and strength?”
Seiichi was very still for one moment, and then lifted a hand to thread through Keigo’s hair. “Only the perception I might expect from you, I suppose,” he remarked. Then he sighed and his eyes turned distant.
“I didn’t used to,” he said, quietly.
Keigo had played Yukimura Seiichi in competition. He had seen the mantle of brilliance burning around him, seen the wild joy in his eyes, in the fierce curve of his mouth. Yukimura’s face was not meant to show uncertainty or doubt.
“Let me convince you?” Keigo murmured in his ear.
A faint laugh escaped Seiichi, and he looked back up at Keigo. “You do think highly of your skills, don’t you?” he teased.
“Of course,” Keigo replied, complacently. “That is why you seduced me, isn’t it?”
The laugh was fuller now, and Seiichi reached out to him. Keigo gathered him up, more gently this time, and laid a path of kisses down his throat and over his chest. Seiichi sighed, arching with Keigo’s hand as it stroked the small of his back, and Keigo delighted in the slow softening of the body under his. Before long, though, Seiichi leaned up on an elbow and tugged at Keigo’s shirt.
“Off,” he said, firmly.
You had to appreciate efficiency like that, Keigo reflected, as he obliged. With one word Seiichi had given notice that he was willing to let Keigo have the initiative in this encounter, and, at the same time, that he had no intention of letting Keigo control the pace completely. Naked, Keigo knelt beside Seiichi and drew away the last folds of cloth covering him. Seiichi really was magnificent, he thought.
Keigo stroked his hands down one long leg, lifted it to lick slowly at the tender skin behind the knee. A faint gasp answered his touch, and he glanced down the length of Seiichi’s body to see his eyes closed and his head tipped back. The heat gathering low in Keigo stomach tightened at the sight.
“Seiichi,” he murmured, letting his voice drop. “Such strength,” he closed his teeth, gently, on the tense muscle of Seiichi’s thigh, moved on. “And such elegance,” he added against the curve of Seiichi’s hip, “smooth as water over stone.” His hands slid over Seiichi’s ribs, traced a spiral over his chest until Keigo’s palm cupped his heartbeat. “And such vitality, fit to cut like the point of a diamond,” he whispered against Seiichi’s throat.
Seiichi was breathing deep and quick. “Keigo,” he husked.
And then his hands were pushing Keigo back, back upright, and he was moving in until he straddled Keigo’s folded legs, pressed tight against him. Seiichi’s fingers wove into Keigo’s hair, cradling his head as Seiichi kissed him again and again. Keigo smoothed his hands up and down Seiichi’s back, soothing, and answered those wild, open mouthed kisses with equal passion until Seiichi calmed.
“Mmm. Makes me wonder whether I should write you poetry,” Keigo said, against Seiichi’s lips.
“That,” Seiichi rocked against him, making them both gasp, “depends on how good the poetry is.”
“You’re right,” Keigo mused. “After all, if it was my poetry, I expect your response would be completely overwhelming.”
Seiichi leaned against him, laughing. Keigo took the opportunity to bite, lightly, on Seiichi’s shoulder until he was sighing, hips moving against Keigo’s again.
“Since you did plan on this,” he said in Seiichi’s ear, “I hope you brought something along to make it easier?” He stroked his fingers against Seiichi’s entrance.
“Hmmmm. I did,” Seiichi told him. “But start without it.” He smiled when Keigo raised both brows at that, and reached down for one of Keigo’s hands. “I like to feel as much as possible,” he explained, before closing his mouth over Keigo’s fingers.
Keigo had to catch his breath at the soft, wet heat of Seiichi’s lips and tongue. It escaped him on a quiet aaaahh as that tongue curled around one finger and stroked up the side, and he felt Seiichi’s lips tighten in a smile. When Seiichi let go, Keigo pulled him closer with one arm, and slid the other hand down, pressing one finger, just barely slick enough, into him, wanting to know Seiichi was drowning in desire just as hot as his.
Seiichi’s parted lips and suddenly heavy, hazy eyes said that he was. When Keigo worked another finger past the uneven tensing of Seiichi’s body, Seiichi tossed his head back and a moan spilled from his throat. The sound drove Keigo’s fingers deeper and the whole line of Seiichi’s body tautened against his, flushed and yearning.
“Seiichi,” Keigo breathed, “let me watch you?”
Seiichi gazed down at him, and the color across his cheek bones might have deepened a shade. “If you like,” he agreed.
“Can you honestly tell me of anyone who wouldn’t?” Keigo asked, laughing low in his throat.
Seiichi didn’t answer, but resettled himself with his ankles crossed lightly behind Keigo. Keigo made a pleased sound and shifted to cradle Seiichi’s hips more comfortably in crossed legs. It appeared that Seiichi was willing for him to go slowly, which Keigo thought was just about ideal. He wanted to savor the flow of Seiichi’s expressions.
He did, however, have to pause to chuckle when Seiichi flipped up the corner of quilt nearest them and dropped a bottle into his hand. There was the forethought and planning of Rikkai’s captain. The oil was cool against his skin, almost shockingly so, but he couldn’t manage to mind when it made the heat of Seiichi’s body so intense by comparison. That heat grasped at him, as he pressed against it, into it, so tightly Keigo had to bite his lip to keep from losing every sense but touch.
Seiichi was leaning back on his hands, breath cut short, eyes closed. He was the single most arousing sight Keigo thought he had ever seen, and when Seiichi arched back further to ease Keigo’s entry Keigo’s hands on his thighs tightened, probably to the point of bruising. Seiichi relaxed with a gasp when Keigo finally slid all the way into him.
“You feel good,” he murmured, opening his eyes.
Before Keigo had quite processed the glint in them, Seiichi leaned in, lacing his hands behind Keigo’s neck. Their voices wrapped around each other as the movement drove Keigo deeper. Keigo’s hands found Seiichi’s back, stroked down, coaxing Seiichi to move with him, and they were rocking together, slowly.
Seiichi’s soft moans, each time they came together, the abandon of his body surging against Keigo’s, the pleasure that lit his eyes more and more intensely, closed on Keigo, gripping him as tightly as Seiichi’s body. Keigo gave up thinking for the present, gave himself to Seiichi, letting the burning heat draw him deeper into this beauty that offered itself so unexpectedly and so willingly.
When pleasure snatched Seiichi over the edge, it was the break in his voice that pulled Keigo after him. When his eyes cleared, it was the lax contentment in Seiichi’s face that stole any remaining strength. Keigo let Seiichi down onto the quilt, and subsided next to him. He leaned over and stole a lingering kiss from Seiichi’s still parted lips.
“So, now do you believe me?” Keigo asked.
Seiichi touched his cheek and looked at him for a long, considering moment.
“I suppose so, yes,” he said, at last.
Keigo widened his eyes in such mock dismay that Seiichi laughed. “I was hoping for something a bit more certain than that,” Keigo sighed. He looked sidelong at Seiichi. “Perhaps there will be some opportunity in the future to see if I can’t coax somewhat greater assurance out of you.”
A small smile curved Seiichi’s lips quite enchantingly. “Perhaps,” he agreed.
About to seek another kiss, Keigo was assailed by a sudden and somewhat unpleasant thought.
“Is Sanada going to attempt to break valuable parts off me over this?” he asked.
He had one moment to see Seiichi’s mouth tighten and his eyes flash, and then the world whirled and his back hit the ground, hard.
“My decisions and choices are my own,” Seiichi said, low and dangerous, leaning over him.
“I believe you,” Keigo assured him, entranced by the fire that had flared in Seiichi so abruptly. “Does Sanada?”
Seiichi’s sharp eyes narrowed, and one of his hands wove into Keigo’s hair, tilting his head back, demandingly, as Seiichi bent down. Keigo wondered whether he would ever bother to amend his habit of prodding dangerous things just to see how dangerous they were. Altogether, and considering the way his heart sped as Seiichi pressed him down more firmly, he rather doubted it.
“He does,” Seiichi stated, lips hovering just over Keigo’s.
Now that, Keigo didn’t doubt in the least.
“Tired of everyone assuming you’re his lover?” he asked, a bit breathless.
“To say the least,” Seiichi murmured, and kissed him deeply.
Keigo was breathing heavily when Seiichi drew back. “I will ask once more,” he said. “How can you possibly doubt yourself?”
One blink, and the fine edge left Seiichi’s expression, replaced by a moment of startlement and then a shy smile. That smile stunned Keigo more than anything else that had happened all day, and he reached out to gather the gift he had been given closer. Seiichi lay down against his shoulder, and the peace of the garden settled around them.
“So,” Seiichi said, after a while, “can I get you to return the favor and model for me?”
Keigo looked over at him, surprised. “You draw too?” he asked, slowly.
“Mm. It’s one of my favorite classes,” Seiichi confirmed, easily.
Which meant that Seiichi’s remarks on Keigo’s work had not simply been a means to an end, but serious judgements of his ability that also operated as means to an end, which went beyond multi-tasking all the way to Machiavelli…
Keigo pulled him closer, and buried his face in Seiichi’s hair, laughing low and helpless. “I’m never going to have a moment’s sure peace again, am I?” he asked, at last.
“Do you want that?” Seiichi asked, raising his brows.
“Not in the least,” Keigo decided, and kissed his lover again.