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Twelve Days - Twelfth Night

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Spike likes the place. He thinks it's the feeling of newness - lodgings not yet a month old - but really it's the ambition, which despite the fresh paint fogs the place up thick and blue as a gentleman's club hung with tobacco smoke. Sargent's out to make a name and you can feel it, just stepping off the street, just touching your knuckles to the door. The way he appears out of his studio. The way his hello sounds practiced. He's practicing now even still, extending his hand to his model the way he later hopes to do to a lord. Sargent wants fame. It's something Spike can relate to.

Posing nude is a bit weird, though. Standing before a great velvet drape, feeling the draft. How do the live ones do it? It's stiffening the joints of an immortal. Least it's not stiffening the other thing.

Beside him stands the canvas. The order of operations is this: Sargent regards him from some yards back, peering intently as a poacher sighting winter deer. Then he trots forward and dabs a few strokes on the cloth. Returns to his original position. And repeat.

"You must get in a lot of walking."

"I do," Sargent replies, staring at his shoulder. "Fortunate, as I like to eat." When Sargent looks back to the clock, he appears surprised by what he finds there. "You hold very still, lad. We've gone a while. But I'm afraid now you've reminded me of my appetite."

Spike's been aware of his own all along. He's fed just twice since he lost Drusilla, on street boys tasting of coal dust and moldy bread. This one's so healthy he stinks of it. A fine place for a meal, too, the great fireplace, the thick Persian rug. He could take the painter, bleed down the staff till they're weak as kittens, stuff them in the cellar and wait for Drusilla. It's a good thought. A loyal one. But the picture's not finished. Curious, he leans forward, aiming for a peek at the painted square...

"Glass of red?"

"What?"

"I think it's high time we opened some wine. And if you want to give me your opinion I'll put some liquor in you first."

What keeps surprising him is how easy the man is to talk to. He's not like Angelus. Couldn't be less. “Afraid of a critic?”

"I've merely learned to prepare." Sargent waves a hand to the loose cloth on the posing chair. "You can relax yourself." Spike wraps up in the cloth, and suddenly feels awkward, like a theater amateur. Or a child come out of the bath. Last time he was naked as this in full light it was washing time. His mother beside him with a sponge, singing a song. And fork-tongued infant Jesus if that's not the most inconvenient memory --

Sargent hasn't noticed, concerning himself with pulling the velvet rope of the butler's bell. "A guinea says the man's out. Or asleep. You stay here. I'll find us a bottle."

Shy, barefoot, left in merciful solitude, Spike turns to the canvas. He blushes to see what Sargent's done. It's him, all right. But all in golds and pales like - like some handsome thing. Like a body a body might love. To be dead honest, it's a shock.

He's still looking at it, feeling fragile, when he hears behind him a whistle. The butler has appeared at last, and he'd not one of the quiet types. "Ooo, now," he chuckles. "Who's a pretty boy?" Spike flushes instantly. Where is his game face, with the teeth? "Never seen yourself like that before, I bet," the butler warbles. "Or maybe you have, it being Paris. Maybe you're been up to all kinds of ---." Mercifully, he doesn't get to finish the thought.

Probably not the wisest course, Spike thinks as he sinks fangs into the butler's neck. But he manages to keep the sheet clean.