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Portrait of an Archer

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Takuto set the easel down on the frosted grass with an exhausted sigh. He really shouldn't have carried it and the rest of his equipment across campus all by himself just when he was starting to feel better, but he couldn't have asked anyone else to help. He wasn't exactly stealthy to begin with, and it was all he could do just to sneak out of the dorm. Trying to awkwardly enlist an accomplice would only have attracted Shinomiya's attention twice as fast. Shinomiya would have sent him right back to bed, and honestly, he was starting to think that was a good idea. The chilly air was nearly burning his lungs as he panted, and the dew that brushed onto the hems of his pants as he walked was making them stick frigidly to his legs. Even the padded jacket didn't seem up to the task of keeping the cold out, or maybe that was more a function of a lack of body heat to keep in.

He shivered and tried to collect himself, willing away the fatigue as he adjusted the easel, then slipped the large carrying case from his shoulder and slid out a blank canvas, setting it on the easel.

He winced as he realized he would have to take off his gloves, but there was no choice; he could hardly pick up the tubes of paint, much less hold a brush with them on. He peeled off the gloves and his knuckles were already starting to ache, or was that just his imagination? Why had he decided to come outside so early on a winter morning again?

Oh, that's right. He'd been inspired. And that feeling hadn't given him a moment's peace. So now all he could do was give in and allow his inspiration to do its work, driving him to a spot near the archery dojo. It was empty now and would be for next hour or so, until school started and Shinomiya had his first free period. It was the only chance he would have without getting caught and scolded for being up and outdoors.

It didn't matter that the dojo was empty and his subject missing, his memory would fill everything in. He dipped his hands into the case's pockets and brought out the rest of his materials. As he squeezed the dollops of paint onto the palette, he could see the dojo bustling with activity in his mind's eye. All the archers in their white gi and dark blue hakama, finishing their indoor mental exercises before lining up to shoot the targets on the range. One always stood out beyond the others, both in height among the club members and in skill.

The brush was in his hand before he even thought of picking it up, and it dipped into the purple on his palette with almost a mind of its own. Shinomiya always brought to mind a dignified royal purple, he thought idly, as he mixed the paint with bits of other color to match his mental image. A deep purple with the barest hint of blue, boldly bursting with strength, but restrained by an equally powerful self-control. It was the spark in Shinomiya's eyes, and he filled the canvas with it, a fitting field to paint a portrait of the man himself.

Next came his clothes, light and dark, top to bottom, across a portion of the canvas, the impression of standing tall and straight, yet relaxed, with a poise that came from both nature and intense practice.

After correcting the other member's positions and postures, it was the captain's turn to shoot. He lifted the bow and arrow and began his draw above his head, bending the bow into an arc in a smooth move that looked effortless to a casual observer. A long, thick swish of dark brown paint joined the other shapes on the canvas, the taut bow that was slowly lowered to eye level as the bowstring was pulled to its utmost, only a subtle tremble of muscle beneath the gi betraying the effort it took to draw it back so far. He let his hand twitch slightly as he painted the outline of powerful arms, a hint of the motion and energy held in potential along with the arrow.

Then, before he knew it, the arrow was gone with a twang, on its way to a certain bulls-eye before his eyes could even follow it. Thunk, just like the arrow hitting the target, the brush hit the canvas, leaving a circle of paint with another straight, thin stroke following. A few thin strokes splashed across the canvas, like the vibration of the still thrumming bowstring. Shinomiya lowered his bow with a measured exhale of breath, much like the one that was turning to steam from his own mouth.

He was done, the painting was finished.

With that, the memory was over and the spell was broken. He was back in the cold morning in front of the empty dojo. He took a step back and looked at his handiwork with a frown. If Shinomiya had seen it, he would have told him to stop being so critical of his own art, but...

But that wasn't it this time. This time, it was just what he had seen in his mind's eye, just what he had felt in his heart. It was just as bad, too accurate, too much of himself was here. He had to get rid of it, but he couldn't burn this one like the others, it would have felt too much like murder. He'd have to give it away, outside the school, maybe to a gallery.

He quickly cleaned off the brushes and palette. It was almost time for classes to start, and then he'd be caught. He bent to put them back into the carrying case, and the moment he tried to stand back up, the world spun. It really hadn't been a good idea to leave his bed so soon. The sensation forced him back to the ground, this time accompanied by a coughing fit. The cold dry air had finally gotten to him too.

"Takuto!"

He turned as well as he could towards the familiar voice, startled. It was too soon, wasn't it? Had he misjudged the time?

Shinomiya rushed towards him, dressed in his school uniform. He must have been just arriving for practice, then. "Takuto, what are you doing out here!? I was looking everywhere when I realized you weren't in your room!"

Ah, of course. Shinomiya had come to check on him before going to class, hadn't he?

"I'm sorry, Shinomiya," he tried to say, but it just came out as coughs.

"Are you alright? Do you need help standing?"

It took nearly all the energy he had left just to nod. Even though Shinomiya was focused on him and hadn't noticed the painting, he couldn't even hide it at that point. It was too late now anyway.

He took the offered hand and was pulled unsteadily to his feet. At that moment, Shinomiya finally realized what he had been doing. He stopped and his head turned to the painting.

He couldn't look at Shinomiya right then, and just looked down at his feet. Shinomiya's hand was still holding his own. It didn't even twitch. Did he even understand what he was looking at? It was an abstract painting after all, nothing really recognizable. Did he want him to understand, he wasn't even sure of that. It... would be awkward, if nothing else.

Shinomiya said nothing, his posture betrayed nothing. It was infuriating sometimes, especially now.

So the hitch in his voice must have been just his imagination when Shinomiya turned back him.

"It's a beautiful painting."

"Thanks," he muttered meekly, eyes still downcast. Still nothing in Shinomiya's expression, and of course he didn't have to courage to start the conversation.

"Here, let's go into the dojo and get you warmed up." Shinomiya's voice softened a little, and he was back in his usual mother hen mode. It was almost comforting.

Shinomiya tugged on his hand, slowly and carefully leading him to the dojo.

"But my stuff..."

"I'll be sure to come and get it once you're inside and safe."

"The paint is still wet on the canvas."

"I'll be careful."

Takuto knew he would be.