You haven't completed a project on time for months.
During the time, that unspeakable time after Seimei died (was killed, don't forget that, it's not as if he had a traffic accident, they killed him), you couldn't paint – hell, you could barely breathe. You certainly didn't work, or even think about working. Paints left uncapped dried out, sketches faded, canvases grew thick with dust and neglect. The pigments on your palette thickened and shriveled into hard dark knots.
Your instructors were patient at first; they understood someone had died, though they didn't know who he was to you. Perhaps they assumed he was a brother, or a lover – you never explained, and if they asked, you have no memory of them doing so. And how would they have believed you, anyway, had you told the truth? After a while their patience faltered. Kio bore their words, and then their warnings to you. But their words meant nothing. Seimei's words had color and purpose; they could make you bleed or make you disappear, could soothe and feed or shred and destroy you. Seimei's words were weapons, and they were tools; they were brushes with which he outlined your life. Without Seimei you had no purpose, no color, no meaning yourself.
Kio pushed, Kio pulled. Kio forced you back into the living world. You thought you'd never forgive him for it.
When you'd finally recovered enough to eat, to speak, to leave your room, you had no desire to paint. Your world, you discovered, had become a stark and empty canvas, and what images managed to flit across it seemed no more than pencil sketches. Life had no third dimension and no color. What art you attempted reflected that – charcoal sketches of the desolate landscape you inhabited. Your brushes, long dried, lay dirtied and unattended. The paints on your palette cracked and turned to gray dust.
Agatsuma Soubi, your instructors wailed, your talent! your skill! You waste it! They gave you deadlines. You ignored them. They allowed extensions. You let them lapse. They threatened dire consequences. Your palette remained on the floor by an unfinished canvas, exactly as it was when Seimei died.
And then you discovered Seimei's message to you, and, bent as always to his will, you obeyed his final order.
Gradually, the empty canvas began to fill with images – first black and white outlines, then pale watercolor tints, until, formed in bright, bold strokes, one figure began to take shape. One alone.
"These sure are annoying!"
There are cherry blossoms in the air, white-pink and windblown against the cerulean sky. They catch in Ritsuka's burnt sienna hair and brush his warm rose cheeks. His velvet brown cat-ears twitch as he flicks a stray blush-white blossom from his nose. He growls, but his facade of exasperation is as transparent as water; he is happy today, happier than you've ever seen him.
"Hold still, Ritsuka. I'm trying to paint."
You lift the palette and dip your brush in oils.
And begin again.