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The first time it's an accident--Thomas comes up behind Bill when he's painting, and Bill turns too fast, and suddenly there's a smear of bright shocking yellow across the front of Thomas' shirt. Bill's worried that Thomas is going to get angry for a bare moment--really, he should know better than to come around when he's painting if he's going to wear nice clothing--but Thomas pokes at the leading edge of the smear, instead, grinding the pigment in with his fingers. "Your masterpiece," Thomas says, and Bill can't tell if he's being sarcastic or not, "Abstract still-life including photographer. Mixed-media."

And something about the careless smudge of yellow down Thomas' fingers has him jumpy and ill-focused the rest of the afternoon, has him grab Patricia at his first chance and kiss her until she's enthusiastically wrapping her arms around him, and fuck her still smelling of oils and turpentine.

The second time he's set his canvas on the floor, and his palette on a rag next to it; Thomas has come over to smoke and talk and is waving his hands lazily in the air, and Bill catches his fingers with the brush when he goes for the cinnabar.

"Hmm," Thomas says, and absently wipes his hand against his cheek and across his nose, leaving a bruise-red streak under his eye. And Bill wants to paint him, suddenly--use his body like canvas, until the line between art and subject is completely blurred away.

"D'you have any lager?" Thomas asks, breaking the moment and standing, and Bill has to give up any hope of working for the rest of the afternoon.

Patricia finds him sitting next to his abandoned canvas hours later. She hands him a can of lager, kisses his head, and says, "Go and get him, then."

So the next time--

The next time, he tries to ignore Thomas, he really does, but Thomas--they don't make art in the same way, the two of them; Bill wants things to be deliberate, to build, and Thomas is all about the instant, the shutter-snap of being in the moment. So when Thomas rolls back his sleeves and then starts poking at Bill's paint until he has dots of primary colors tipping his fingers, Bill grabs his wrist and paints a zigzag line of aubergine down his arm, sticky pigment against smooth white skin.

Thomas looks up at him, challenging briefly, then slides the fingers of his other hand along his arm, smearing the oil--and then he's cupping that hand along Bill's chin and he can feel the cold, slick, tacky slide of Thomas' fingers and then they're kissing and it's the most perfect thing in the world.

He pushes Thomas' shirt off and then scrapes his hand over his palette, and plants a multicolored handprint in the center of his chest, brown-red-green smears squelching between his fingers and Thomas' skin.

Thomas smiles, and Bill slides his hand around under Thomas' shirt and pulls him close, paint smearing through his undershirt and chilly as they kiss again, hungry and wet. Bill's hands leave streaks on Thomas' belt, his neck, his hair--photographer as mixed-media sculpture, tasting briefly of linseed oil and pigment, fingers and chest and finally cock coated in a slippery, colorful mess. And Thomas arches into his hand and gasps aloud, and just for a moment Bill understands--this is art, too, this fragmentary, momentous, transcendent and utterly ephemeral thing, faster than the snap of a shutter, captured in his memory forever.