Lancelot is extremely cognizant of what he has here, in the Camelot Club. Patronage, for one, that allows him to eat and to pay the modest rent on his rooms. Understanding, for it isn't very many people who appreciate the way that artistic fervour takes one sometimes. And friendship, which was most unexpected and is most valued. Lancelot came here as a model, found his place as their resident artist, and has been accepted as a member, one of the inner circle even. He has the ear of Arthur Pendragon here, which is no small thing in Society, and what with Percival and Elyan and Gwaine, it could be said that he has contacts in every social circle that matters, from the landed gentry to the merchants to the military. Men with the proclivities that the club caters to may be secretive, but they are not few.
But the Camelot Club is more than that, more than just a gentleman's network or a poor copy of the Freemasons’ secretive sect, at least to Lancelot. It's inspiration. And under its sordid veneer, under the illegalities and the secrecy and the coarse language, it is beauty. Lancelot has seen something here, in flashes and snatches and hidden glances, that he thinks the world outside its walls is the poorer for not sharing.
Not everyone who frequents the club sees what Lancelot sees, of course. And of those who do, most of them would never say it. They clap Lancelot on the back and joke about how he legitimises them, that his paintings will form their defence if ever they are investigated (although they all know they are more likely to see them condemned to hard labour). They make small talk and pretend that they are only here to look and see and be seen, but Lancelot knows how much it means to each man that he has found this place. He knows how much it means to know you are not alone.
It was Percival that introduced Lancelot to the club and the other members, who brought him in to sit for them when he was penniless. He appreciated the coin, and being amongst artists once more after having been forced to put down his brushes and seek other employment if he wished to keep eating. But he had not been insensible to the reaction his sitting nude brought to the club members, and when he had asked to see a painting, their reactions and their empty canvases laid bare, if the pun be excused, the true purpose of the club.
'Are you a painter, then?' Gwaine had asked carelessly, still all a mess with his clothing askew, looking like a work of art a little himself. 'A real one, not just an … appreciator of art, as we are?'
'I was,' Lancelot had said with some sorrow. 'I find that one cannot live on such work, in this city. I wish to God I had never left Paris,' he added with some heat, although it was not entirely true.
'Would you paint such scenes as we favour?'
'Gladly,' Lancelot answered. 'The human form is my preferred subject, truth be told. Nudes are both challenging and rewarding, as exercises in colour and texture and light. But I have no materials any more, and I fear my current employment is coarsening my hands something frightful. Soon I shall have no finesse left at all,' he had added sadly, looking down at the calluses developing on his fingers from loading heavy boxes all the day.
In the corner, the leader of the group, Arthur Pendragon, then stirred. It was the first he'd spoken all afternoon since having been introduced - since Lancelot had removed his clothes, all Pendragon had done was stare, had not even made pretence of painting or sketching. 'What if you were to be offered patronage?' he asked.
The calluses never got a chance to fully form, after that afternoon. Instead Lancelot welcomes back the stinging stink of turpentine in his throat, and the sore wrists from mortar and pestle, mixing pigments in the Camelot Club's back room. His paintings either grace the walls of the club or are taken home in privacy by its members. Lancelot has had much to thank Arthur Pendragon for, after that afternoon, and he wishes more than anything that he knew how to properly do so. Arthur - Lancelot may call him that now, has his permission and his favour - Arthur has the air of a man searching for a unicorn.
Lancelot can't imagine what that unicorn will eventually turn out to be, if Arthur even finds it. He wonders, sometimes, whether it will be a person or a calling or some other machination of destiny. But mostly, he just paints. Destiny is not his to wonder about, not when he has light and shade, sweat and seed, the texture of skin and cloth and breath and love and lust to capture. Arthur is a kind of Muse to Lancelot - not as so many courtesans have been to so many artists, an out-of-reach object of desire that painting could assuage, but almost the other way around; Arthur is a sort of way to assuage the fervour that drives Lancelot to paint, by lending the artistry of his desire and the form of his body.
And then Arthur brings in the telegraph boy.
A commoner, is Lancelot's first thought. Just a common boy, dressed in ragged clothes and only here because he needs money. Then he remembers that he was in much the same situation the first time he entered this club, and feels a little cut of shame.
As if he's reading Lancelot's mind, Arthur's first comment is 'Now I realize that at first glance he may seem awkward and hopelessly baseborn -'
But then Arthur looks across at this boy, strokes the alabaster skin of his throat, and Lancelot sees perfection at the same moment as Arthur urges them to merely consider potential. The boy, Merlin, removes piece after piece of clothing, not delicately, but trying to be, revealing the shape of himself the way Lancelot suddenly desperately wants to do with paint on his canvas - to delineate this creature, partly because of the way he looks but also because of the way he looks at Arthur, and how Arthur looks at him.
The foundations of it are laid down so easily. A slash of pale flesh across the red of the chaise makes it onto the canvas, and Lancelot also mixes, ready for use, the gold lights of Arthur's hair as he positions Merlin the way he wishes to see him, poised perfectly for Lancelot's eye as well as those of the others - the voyeur and the artist both with the same end in mind. Arthur's hand around Merlin's cock seems like something Lancelot could do studies of for decades, he could get lost the contrast of textures and subtlety of colour just in that one juxtaposition.
But Lancelot watches perfection bloom in front of him and there are no colours to match it, no brush in his reach that can give shape to it, no stroke he knows that can capture it, but he tries.
'Go on, Arthur, you've been dying to have him all week,' says Gwaine, when Arthur looks at Lancelot. Merlin is looking at his audience, and his eyes, so wide, are a blue that Lancelot would have sworn could not exist in nature. Arthur is waiting for Lancelot's permission, though - to be told that he may keep on, and he always does this. He told Lancelot once that he could not bear to think he might ruin a painting before it had even come to be finished, but Lancelot thinks perhaps Arthur likes the ritual and the grandstanding of it, at least a little.
They are ready, though. Lancelot has his vision, he's ready - more than ready - to have it down. So he smiles at Merlin, tries to reassure him. He's certain in his mind that like he was that first time he came here, Merlin is innocent of body, has not known this pleasure with another man before. When Merlin smiles back, then Lancelot gives Arthur his nod.
Watching Merlin, Lancelot is also certain that, again, just as he did when he was only the starving artist, the telegraph boy will enjoy himself here today.
The others, Gwaine and Percival and Elyan, appreciate the overtures. They like to see Arthur press in with fingers, prepare this virgin ground for use, but Lancelot is impatient. Merlin moves like this, writhes under the pressure of penetration and it is beautiful, Lancelot will own, but he cannot do justice to movement, not truly, and the fine tremble of Merlin's thighs and the wet, shaking gleam of Arthur's lower lip as he bites it, pulling his fingers out and beginning to enter Merlin's body, those things are ephemeral, not for a brush to catch.
It is when Arthur is settled and Merlin is pinned, when he can but move only in tiny, grinding shoves that barely change his position, that Lancelot can set brush to canvas again, and the thrill, hot and sharp, that courses through him, fingers to toes, his own cock fattening in response although he cannot spare a thought or a hand for it, it makes him order Arthur for more. More, more, for he can't catch shivers but he can paint this, Arthur's pleasure-pained face and Merlin's innocence transmuted to something greater as he realises, as he takes and wants and it is all telegraphed by those blue, blue eyes. 'More,' Lancelot begs, his brush straining to show the way Merlin jerks into Arthur's hold in reaction, his own body demanding attention Lancelot cannot give it, release that he knows it will take of its own accord once it's ready.
Orgasms happen whether Lancelot wills them or no - paintings take work. And Merlin comes on the chaise, darkens the fabric with his stain and that shadow, Lancelot can capture that, but that isn't it, isn't the final piece, the last stroke he needs - 'Oh, yes,' he cries, panting, fingers a-twitch and the vapour of paint and the smell of release fugging his senses, pleading with Arthur to give him this - 'The way it catches the light - Arthur, please, his skin - '
And Arthur understands, of course he does, he knows art as well as Lancelot even if he makes it in a different way. Lancelot moans, unable to stop himself, fingers clenching and clamping around his brush and his palette, and his undergarments soaked through in the heat of this moment. He's glad that he's seated and that his chair has a solid back, for he might have fallen, or worse, smeared the painting.
Arthur makes art with his orgasm, paints Merlin's skin milk-white and wet, and Lancelot can only do his best to do the same.