“That’ll be all. Thank you for your time.”
The woman bows politely as she gathers her clothes up from the floor, heading towards the bathroom to get dressed and leaving the artist to sit by himself with his canvas painting and his box of menthols being his only company. Taking a hold of the cigarette that was tucked behind his ear, he presses the stick between his lips, teased the tip of it with his lighter’s flame, and inhales the foul-tasting smoke. After the long drag, he holds it in his lungs just long enough so the nicotine could work through his system, leaning back on the couch and exhaling slowly. Kou used to always tell him that he smoked too much. Said it was bad for his health or something along those lines.
“It’s gonna kill you one day,” he’d teased, taking a sip of his beer. “And I’ll be over your grave saying I told you so.”
What a sick fucking joke.
Yuu’s guest says goodbye and is on her way out, not bothering to stick around after two long hours of standing in the same position. Instead of doing the polite thing and responding to her, he stays in his spot and ignores her, making her roll her eyes to herself and walk out of his dingy apartment without another word. At least she got paid.
It wasn’t until after she left that he bothered to move again, only flinching when he heard the hard slam of her car door right outside his porch.
He opens his eyes enough to stare at the portrait in front of him – his half-finished masterpiece. The background was mostly black, littered with white stars and a single oak tree; the model’s long, dark hair flowed behind her slim figure like it was the wind itself, dancing and tangling together like snakes, and perfectly framing her sharp facial features; her skin was as pale and smooth as parchment, not a single imperfection on her delicate form. Yuu looks it over a few times, and then decides it could use a little more retouching so he takes his paintbrush and goes over a few details to ensure his vision would come to life the way he wanted.
A few smooth lines for her pubic hair, some shading and contouring of her body and some baby pink painted on her lips, and he was finally done with that part of the painting.
The model herself was beautiful. However the main focus would be of the creature that would find a home perched on her shoulder. Sighing out another puff of smoke, Yuu leans forward to start mixing shades of brown and burgundy and then goes back to work. By the time he’s gone through four cigarettes, he’s painted the body and claws of the hawk.
Now that the easy part was over, it was time to create the part of the portrait that would either make or break the entire piece – the eyes.
The eyes of anything Yuu created was always the most important part of the painting process. He believed that everything that made up a person’s personality, mind, and soul was held in the little spheres. They were the most honest part of the body.
There was one night years ago that Kou questioned him, clearly being amused by the familiar determined look in his eye and the heavy furrow of his brow as he made careful strokes of his brush to create a stunning mix of blue and grey.
“Why do you always concentrate so hard on the eyes?” he asked curiously, taking a seat next to him on the tatami flooring and sliding a can of beer in his direction. He knew his friend never drank while he was working on a piece, but that never stopped him from offering, anyway. Without looking up from what he was doing, Yuu hummed and drew a thin line leading through the dark pupil to accentuate the shine in the portrait he was working on.
“Because they’re windows.”
“Windows? What do you mean?”
“I mean –“ He dipped his paintbrush into the paint again, getting a decent amount at the tip before continuing his work, “- eyes always tell who a person is on the inside. Regardless of what their body says or what lies a person might tell, you can always tell the truth of a person through their eyes.”
Kou chuckled and took another swing of his beloved drink. Clearly, he had never heard of this concept before. “That’s poetic.”
They shared a laugh and he didn’t say anything after that, just watched his friend work in silence. He kept his gaze on the artwork, dividing his attention between it and the man bringing it to life. Kou always admired how artistically talented Yuu was, even more than he had ever let on. He considered him the most anapestic and skillful person he’d ever met. Ironically, Yuu thought the same about him, though he never saw it. All he did was take a few pictures with a camera he bought with some of his old college funds and he didn’t think anything of it, but he managed to render the dark-haired man speechless sometimes. It was a good feeling to be held in the highest regards of someone such as Yuu.
Feeling like he was being watched, the older man stopped what he was doing to turn around to peek at Kou, smiling faintly when he saw those chestnut eyes staring at him with a calming smile on his face. To be under a gaze like his was more than a little nerve-wrecking and made him want to melt on the spot, but Yuu kept his composure and just put his paintbrush in the cup of hot water next to them, turning around to face the other man. Raising his eyebrow and grinning back at him, he tilted his head in a curious manner. “What?”
With an airy chuckle, Kou licked his lips and shook his head with that look still clear on his face. He continued to watch Yuu fidget with his fingers and look down at his lap with that shy smile adorning his lips. Without giving him any sort of warning, Kou leaned over to grip his hips and slid him towards his body, making sure to be careful enough to not let his head hit the painting that was behind him. Not expecting the sudden movement, Yuu gasped and had no choice but to allow himself to be pulled onto his back, looking up at the man with a bewildered expression. Even as Kou towers over him and leans down so low that their breaths ghosted over each other’s lips, he managed to swallow down that nervousness enough to keep his voice steady and controlled. “Kou, what are you –”
His words are stopped when the man above him places his hand on his cheek, rubbing his thumb over his cheekbone and taking in every detail of the artist’s face. He was beautiful.
“What do you see in my eyes?”
It took him hours, maybe the entire night, to do those little circles that would have taken less than an hour for any other painter to do. Yuu leans back and lets out a tired breath, gripping the wooden brush in his hand tightly. The painting on the large canvas was finally complete, his work completed at last. His brow is furrowed as he studies the ending result of two weeks of work, the frown on his face deep and solemn. Narrowing his eyes, he looks into the hawk’s eyes and feels a lump form in his throat, one so big that he almost felt like choking. Without even realizing it, he’d recreated those eyes.
Those eyes. Those damn eyes that could bring someone to their knees faster than they would have time to pray for mercy. It was those very eyes that bore into him so many times while he fantasized about how they would long for him, want him. How they would light up with joy at the sight of him. And, oh how the memories of the night they held a gaze so seductively menacing, that if one starred too long they would get drawn in by the obscurity of the act without a hope of ever resurfacing.
An unnoticed tear slides down the man’s face as he drops his paintbrush to the ground, his lip trembling from the overwhelming emotions that consumed him. The more he stares into the hawk’s brown eyes, the harder it is to control the nausea that gagged him. Covering his mouth with his hand, he rushes to the bathroom to empty the contents of his stomach into the toilet bowl. Not even a minute later, his head hung low and his vision was blurry enough to block his line of vision, his entire face stained with his tears. He brings his hands to his hair to tug at the dark strands, sobbing so hard that his entire frame shook.
Somewhere in the distance he hears a sharp flapping sound, like wings. Covering his ears did nothing to subside the sound and he turns his face towards the floor as it got closer. Even without looking up, he could feel those hawk eyes drilling into him, making him feel vulnerable and weak.
“Don’t look at me,” he mumbled brokenly, squeezing his eyes shut and ignoring the sting that came with it. “Please.”
“It wasn’t you.” That voice was right next to his ear, smooth and calm.
“I’m sorry,” he whimpered, shaking his head and not even bothering to wipe up the drool that was sliding down his chin and to the tile floor. “I’m so sorry.”
“It wasn’t you.”
“I could have stopped it. I could have stopped you.”
Yuu continues to sniffle and swallow down his sobs, making pathetic noises and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. He would have felt better if Kou screamed at him instead of being his usual gentle self; he deserved it. But he was always so patient with Yuu whenever he got like this, never raising his voice, scolding him, or holding him accountable for how he felt. Even now when he deserved absolutely nothing, he was given the gift of sympathy.
“It wasn’t you.”
“BULLSHIT,” Yuu shrieks, sitting up and swinging his arm to try and hit the man out of unpredicted anger, only to glance around the tiny room and discover he was alone. His breathing getting shallow as he starts to panic, he looks around frantically to try and find the man he was just speaking to. Nowhere to be seen.
At that moment, he stumbles onto his feet and runs back into the living room. As soon as he reaches the room, his steps come to a halt and his blood runs cold. His eyes catch the eyes of the hawk on the painting, and fresh tears fall unbidden from his eyes.
No one was there that night when he lost everything. No one heard the clatter of metal and bone when they took that back road in the middle of nowhere. No one saw as Yuu looked into Kou’s eyes and saw his future, his love, and his life vanish right before him.
No one would have heard his screams.
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