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in the quiet of a shadow

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Normally when Lix walks into their flat and begins removing all of her clothing, his first reaction isn’t confusion.

Today, however, she was supposed to be out on a march, photographing the POUM, while he was stuck in their flat writing dispatch after dispatch. The BBC. The Telegraph. The Morning Standard. Ce Soir, for an exercising of his skills in French. His fingers freeze above the keys of his typewriter, and he stares at her as she shrugs out of her blouse, lets it drop on the floor. She undoes the buttons of her skirt - she itches to wear trousers more and more and it’s fine at home, but out on the road, the soldiers get the wrong idea about a foreign journalist in trousers - shimmies it down to pool at her feet. Black lace brassiere and knickers, the kind that are flimsy and usually end up hanging from a lampshade at the end of a drunken night, but he, at least, is currently mostly sober.

"Do you know," she trills, deeply amused and working the clips to her suspenders open, "in some cultures, it’s considered rude to stare at a woman and gape like a fish."

He huffs out a laugh, slides the carriage back over before he ruins the entire dispatch. “In some cultures, it’s considered forward for a lady to undress without ceremony in front of a gentleman.”

"You," she snaps, pointing her index finger at him, "have held out on me, Mr. Brown. I was going through that box of old photographs atop the cabinet, and I found something very interesting. Just how long have you known how to sketch portraits?"

He knows the picture she means; it was a quick profile of her asleep in their bed, tendrils of dark hair spread across the pillows. One night, when he couldn’t sleep (bombs, compulsions, sometimes he couldn’t tell the difference), he’d found a pencil, sharpened it with his knife, and sketched a half-dozen of her. Different perspectives, imagined settings, none of them had been quite right except for that one. Something about the light that had worked, the shadows lengthening her face, the curve of breast disappearing beneath the sheet.

"I could always draw," he says finally, dragging his eyes away from the dip of her waist, her long legs. "I was always better at drawing funny things, though - caricatures, dime-store strips - and there’s no money in that, or so my da reminded me. Sketched a bit in the army, but you won’t find none of them lying about. Think I burned them all."

There’s a spark in her eyes as she sits down on the bed, rolls her stockings down her legs and tugging them off her feet. “I will shoot you myself if you burn *any* more of them. You’re good, better than you give yourself credit for.”

"That still doesn’t explain why you’re not on the march and why you *are* in our flat, taking your clothes off."

She eyes him over her spectacles, the ones she’d rather die than be caught wearing in public, and crosses her legs, draws her toe up his trouser leg. “March left early, missed my ride. I want you to sketch me, darling man, if you’re not too busy dripping typewriter ink over our desk.”

Shit. Buggering fuck, the ink’s all over two of the six dispatches that are finished, he’ll have to redo them. He frantically mops at the puddle of ink with an already-ruined dispatch, bins it along with some other ruined papers. Lix laughs outright at him, but honestly, he can’t be angry at her for pointing out his inattention. He’s getting ink all over his fingers, and he goes to wash his hands in the loo. When he comes out, she’s stripped out of her bra and knickers, and is reclining on the bed. He thinks he might have made a ridiculous sort of noise, because she grins at him.

"It is customary, you know, for an artist’s model to pose in the nude. I choose to ignore much of my proper classical education, but I do remember that."

"Quite a lot of nude portraiture in girls’ boarding schools nowadays?" he asks, but it’s weak, given his fixation on how lovely the curve of her spine is when she’s reclined like that on her side.

"More than you’d think," she says mildly. "And when I got sent down, I made cigarette money modeling in Fitzrovia."

He can see it, Lix catting around with the Bright Young Things of London - she’d have been barely in her late teens, drinking and smoking and he *knows* it was where she first discovered she liked trousers. He’d never have had the courage to so much as speak to her, if he’d met her in another life, in London. He closes his eyes for a moment, thinks of where he’s wanted to pose her in the flat, and opens his eyes to motion to the open balcony window. It faces the courtyard, so she won’t be too exposed, not that she’d care, but he’d like not to be evicted for indecency.

"You were on the balcony a few nights ago," he says, digging through his pockets for a pencil. "Smoking. Looking out at the courtyard and narrating the fight that the Bolivars were having. I wanted to sketch you then, but you moved. Will that suit?"

And she smiles, sweet and delighted, and picks up a corner of the sheet. Wraps it haphazardly, the way she’d done so that night - enough to cover her, but revealing one long leg, draped low between her breasts and held by one crossed arm. It falls down the arch of her side, leaves her arse and hip exposed. She’s almost got it, but no, there was something in her posture, something in the arch of her neck. He gets to his feet and goes to her, turns her hips to the correct angle, tilts her head into the thoughtful posture she’d had that night. Lights a cigarette and puts it between her fingers - it’s a timer; he’s got to finish before it burns her.

"Stay," he says quietly, picking up a piece of paper and holding it against an old book of maps.

He doesn’t make a single mistake or stray line.