“Are you trying your very hardest? You're really quite awful at it. Look, I'm getting paint everywhere. What a mess.”
Diluc glowered at the man behind the canvas. “Is it my fault you're incompetent?”
With a flick of his brush, Kaeya clicked his tongue. “You're moving around so much, my eyes don't know where to look. At this rate, you'll come out all blurry. Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
It was the middle of the afternoon, and sunlight streamed in from every corner of Kaeya’s humble studio. The room was filled with dried cans of paint, half-finished canvases, and crumpled sketches that littered the floors; hardly a workspace that exuded care and attention, but at the very least could be said to have character. At the center of it all, Diluc sat upon a marble stool, draped in white linen with nothing else beneath.
“Figure painting,” Diluc huffed under his breath. “If father knew this was the sort of idle hobby you devote yourself to these days . . .”
“He’d surely tell you to lighten up, and that there’s actually great value to be found in the humanities,” Kaeya finished. He squinted his eye in a show of great concentration. “It's no easy feat to capture the true beauty of the human body, you know.”
“It's a useless pursuit.”
“What a shame. Your father worked so hard to instill in you a healthy appreciation of the arts, and yet here you are, squandering it all away with your thoughtless commentary. I imagine he's writhing in his grave as we speak.”
“The only thing more useless than the arts is attempting to impress a dead man.”
“Writhing, Diluc. I fear I hear a pounding sound coming from the ground beneath me.”
“Look at me,” Kaeya called, a touch more gentle than his teasing tone before. “I can't see your face when you turn from the light like that.”
Diluc begrudgingly turned to face Kaeya, although he kept his head lowered out of pride. It wasn’t that he was self-conscious of his body; it was only that Kaeya had a way of studying a person so as to give the impression he was picking them apart from the inside out. There were goosebumps all over Diluc’s skin, but it was not so much from the cold as it was the unease of being watched so attentively with his bare body on display.
“I don't understand why it has to be me,” he complained, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “You could find anyone. Get Huffman to pose for you.”
“It's not the same.”
“In what way?”
Kaeya tapped his chin in introspection. “Huffman doesn’t capture the light like you do.”
“How so?” Diluc asked in a deadpan.
“Oh, there's all sorts of mystical properties attached to it,” said Kaeya, brushing off the question with a wave of the hand. “It would take too long to explain, really. Non-creatives can be so simple-minded.”
“Try to explain. I have the time.”
“Well, there is the matter of musculature, first of all,” said Kaeya, head buried behind his canvas. “There’s an awful lot of complex anatomy in the human body, did you know? If you take someone like Huffman, you might spend days sketching in detail every muscle on his body, how they flex, and form shadows, and sculpt shapes his figure. It’s much less work, if you ask me, to take someone of a more delicate build.”
“Are you implying that I’m—”
“And then there is the matter of skin,” Kaeya continued. “You have the complexion of a fair maiden who’s never worked a day in the sun in all her life. I could leave the canvas blank, and it’d be more or less accurate. Can you see how it saves me a great deal of effort?”
Diluc flushed in outrage. “If you plan to sit and make fun of me the entire time—”
“But most importantly, there is the matter of the fact that I simply like looking at you too much,” said Kaeya with a pleasant lilt in his voice that almost sounded genuine. “Can you blame me for how I’m so helplessly drawn to you?”
“. . .”
Kaeya was a romantic who only spoke in half-truths, and his mind held such a backlog of meaningless compliments that flattery could spill such endlessly from his lips the moment they opened. Diluc knew this well, and yet he was not immune, if only because Kaeya was too painfully handsome when seated behind an easel, with his hair tied messily behind him and specks of paint speckled so attractively across his cheeks that it must have been done on purpose.
In fact, Diluc could believe the whole thing was a setup just to mock him while he had no choice but to endure. The more he thought about it, the more it irritated him, and the redder his face grew no matter how he tried to hide it.
“Didn’t I tell you to keep still?” Kaeya sighed, tapping his brush against the canvas in displeasure.
“I am still,” Diluc snapped, quite a bit more dramatically than the situation called for. “I have been still for the past hour, which you've spent doing more complaining then painting.”
“Is that so?” Kaeya asked, eyeing Diluc’s full body up and down with silent judgement. “I could have sworn that little thing down there was only half its size just a moment ago.”
Diluc’s eye twitched. “Focus on painting.”
“Easier said than done,” Kaeya complained. “Now I’m going to have to do this whole area over again. Do try to control yourself, please. I’m a respectable artist.”
“Why are you mad? I’m being perfectly decorous. You’re the one letting your fevered thoughts run wild.”
“It’s not my fault.”
“I wouldn’t dare suggest it was. I know of my effect, after all. Who can blame you for what’s only natural?”
“Oh, don't hide yourself. Let me see.”
“. . . Fuck you.”
Shaking his head, Kaeya chuckled in resignation. “You know, I think your body ought to be in a museum.”
“. . .”
“I mean it. I’d like to carve a statue, but I fear I wouldn't do you justice.”
Diluc’s face softened. “You always doubt yourself.”
“I can't help it,” said Kaeya, “Not when it comes to you.”
Kaeya’s studio was flooded with light, and yet he alone sat in the single dark corner. Although his cheeks were still burning with indignation, Diluc couldn't help but think to himself that it seemed quite natural that Kaeya should sit and brood in the shadows while he painted. So few people could make it look anything but silly, but from how his eyes glimmered and lips so easily curled into a debonair smirk, Kaeya was simply too handsome to look anything of the sort.
A silence ensued that was neither natural nor tense. It was an introspective silence, the type that suggested both parties were deep in contemplation, but of subjects that should not be spoken aloud for each other to hear.
There was a cool tone in Kaeya’s eye as he stared into his canvas, appearing by all means coolly focused on the outside, but Diluc knew that his mind was always spinning and turning and calculating on the inside. The only ever mystery was what exactly Kaeya was thinking of, which Diluc never knew, but from how the light would sometimes disappear from Kaeya's eye, he understood it must be something quite dark, the kind of shadowy and terrible thing that Kaeya would never think to share with him.
And then Kaeya looked back up at him, brow raised questioningly. “You're shivering,” he observed, brush pausing where he held it.
“No, it's not.”
“You never think it’s cold . . . ” Diluc protested, but he trailed off as Kaeya rose from his seat.
Circling around him in but a few strides, Kaeya placed a cool hand on Diluc’s shoulder, then crouched down close to brush a lock of red hair behind his ear.
“Do you despise having to sit for me?” Kaeya asked, quiet enough that it required him to speak right up against Diluc’s face for him to hear. “We can do something else, if you want.”
“Finish your painting,” said Diluc, although his words came out in a shallow breath.
“I will,” said Kaeya. “I just want to see something. For reference.”
Kaeya slid down the white cloth draped around Diluc’s shoulders, then moved his hand gently, preciously, down Diluc’s bare back. He traced his fingers over the sharp slopes of Diluc’s shoulder bladers, trailed them down his spine, then settled on his waist, where the skin was red and raised from a long, devastating scar that striked his thin figure in half.
Realizing the area where Kaeya had paused, Diluc gritted his teeth. “Don’t touch it.”
Kaeya traced the scar, excessively gently as if afraid to hurt him, but the sentiment was pointless, as old scars did not hurt, and in fact hardly felt at all.
“I did this to you,” Kaeya said softly, sounding not much like he regretted it, but more that it was a pity it had happened.
Diluc swallowed. “It was a long time ago.”
“But I remember it so well, it might have been yesterday.”
“Then don’t think of it anymore.”
“How can I?” Kaeya asked, so genuinely Diluc could believe he meant it. “When I’ve done something terrible, and you bear the mark of it?”
He knelt to his knees, as if unable to take the brunt of his sins.
“You're being ridiculous,” said Diluc, although his voice was gentle. A pair of soft lips pressed against his scar, and he froze as he felt it.
“You make me ridiculous,” Kaeya murmured. “It’s your fault. I’m an innocent. How dare you do this to me?”
Pressing a trail of kisses up Diluc’s back, Kaeya mumbled of only inane things between each kiss.
“Marble. I’d like to sculpt you out of marble. It would suit you just right. Cool and smooth, just like you. It wouldn’t be as soft, though. What a pity. Your skin is as soft as velvet. Softer than velvet. Like silk. Is there such a material that exists? Marble silk. That’s what I need.”
“You’re mad,” said Diluc. “Positively out of your mind.”
Kaeya rested his chin on Diluc’s shoulder. “I can't help it. It is your effect.”
“Try to help it. I can't stomach you like this.”
With a defeated hum, Kaeya burrowed his face into Diluc’s hair, then drew back completely to return to his spot behind the easel in the shadows. As he resumed the proper pose, Diluc could still feel the warmth of Kaeya’s chest against his back.
“How much longer until you're finished?” asked Diluc, somewhat missing the feeling.
“Tsk tsk. You can't rush art. Some great artists are known to spend years on a single painting, you know.”
“When I agreed to this, I didn't realize I'd committed myself for years.”
“Perhaps it wouldn't take so long if you’d stop trying to distract me. Sitting in front of me, dressed like that, just who do you think you are?”
Diluc rolled his eyes. “Would it be faster if I left the room?”
“Oh, don't go. You know that I need you.”
“You’re full of shit.”
Kaeya opened his mouth as if to retort, paused for a moment, then closed his mouth into a helpless grin. It might have been that the air was too cold, or that the light was so bright it was hard to think clearly, but for whatever reason, Kaeya’s smile in the moment was magnifying, and Diluc had to fight with all his being against the urge to smile back.
“What are you smirking at?” Diluc asked with a scowl. “You look ridiculous. Stop that.”
Tapping his foot on the ground, Kaeya leaned forward in his seat. “I love you.”
“Say it back.”
“Focus on painting.”
“I can’t focus,” Kaeya complained with a dramatic sweep of the hand. “The sun is out, the day is young, and there is a beautiful man before my eyes who is acting very cross with me right now. Do you realize how short our little lives are, Diluc? Why not smile? Every moment is of the essence. Be joyful. Sing songs. Don't waste a second of your time doing pointless things like glowering at the wall. Do you hear me? Stop that right now.”
“You seem perfectly content wasting my time right now, rambling of things of no importance whatsoever.”
“It's part of the process. You must understand. Now, what are you standing up for? See here— Wait!” Kaeya scrambled to his feet with a laugh of alarm as Diluc abruptly rose from his seat.
“I’ve been here for hours,” said Diluc blankly. “I want to see it.”
“Do you, really? Think about it, carefully. Wouldn’t it spoil the surprise?”
Diluc was by no means an unreasonable person who boldly insisted on having his way, but because it was Kaeya, and because he was behaving so infuriatingly, Diluc now intended to see the painting in question by any means necessary. He took a pressing step forward, but Kaeya, seeming to have realized his intention, quickly tore the canvas from the easel and held it close to his chest.
“You mustn't look,” insisted Kaeya, still laughing. “I'm not done yet!”
“What do you intend to do if I don’t? Tear it from my hands?” Kaeya took a step back, as if daring Diluc to come for him.
And then, as if taking the challenge as a mockery of his intent, Diluc indeed lunged.
Kaeya’s studio was stacked floor to ceiling with all manners of expensive inks, paints, and tools, none of which were housed with any thought as to safety or order. Indeed, only the slightest misstep could send the whole wall collapsing down upon itself.
Shades of red, blue, yellow, and black clattered down from the shelves above and scattered briefly in the air before making a complete mess of the floor, the walls, the two squabbling figures tumbling to the floor, and everything in between. Glass shattered, wood snapped, and colors swirled together until they became a dark, ugly muddle, but the sound of warm laughter was all that registered.
Blinking through the paint in his eyes, Diluc saw that a canvas laid abandoned on the ground besides him.
“It’s blank,” he observed, not the least bit surprised.
“Painting is hard,” Kaeya complained, rolling over to pin Diluc beneath him. “Looking at you is easy. Don’t hate me for it.”
“You had me sit all this time for nothing,” said Diluc, looping his arms around Kaeya’s neck in spite of himself.
“Not for nothing,” Kaeya corrected, leaning down until their faces were but a hair’s breadth from touching. “I’ve etched it all into my mind so I won’t ever forget. It’s just a matter of laying pen to paper.”
Beams of the sun streamed in through the windows, outlining Kaeya’s dark hair with golden light, and although his face remained cast in shadow, his smile was so bright it didn’t matter. Diluc frowned. He could lose his mind like this. It wasn’t fair. Kaeya’s effect was simply too strong.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” asked Kaeya, brushing his thumb over Diluc’s cheek. “Don’t you know it’s this face of yours that makes it impossible for me to get anything done?”
On the floor of a studio scattered with light, paper, paint and glass, Diluc strangely didn’t mind the mess, if only because it paled in comparison to the sheer madness of his heart.
“It’s your fault,” he murmured, and then pulled Kaeya down to kiss him properly; not because he was in love, but only to keep the nonsense from spilling from his lips any longer.