And if you haven't read The Artist's Masquerade yet, find out more here.
They’d moved Flavian into Cathal’s suite the day Flavian accepted Cathal’s marriage proposal. Flavian had watched the proceedings from Cathal’s bed, his sketchbook in his lap, his injured knee propped on pillows, his expression faintly incredulous. But Cathal wanted him close, both because of the danger Flavian had been--and still could be--in and because Flavian made him happy in a way he’d never imagined he could be and he wasn’t going to let that go.
As soon as Flavian’s knee healed, he was up and exploring the palace and grounds. They’d spoken of their plans, both for their upcoming wedding and for the life that would come after it, and they were both happy to make the palace their home, Cathal perhaps especially since the ready alternative was his family’s house in Jumelle and he couldn’t go back there, not yet. Not in the face of his mother’s pain. He liked the palace for them anyway, with Philip, Amory, and Etan there, and with its security keeping Flavian safe.
He knew when Flavian began to acquire painting supplies to replace those he’s left behind in Ardunn that he was settling into his new home, and Cathal’s last little bit of worry dissipated. He hadn’t even realized he was worried until the relief came. He wasn’t going to tell Flavian any of that though.
But now that Flavian had his art supplies he carted them around the palace and gardens every day--at any hour of the day or night--to paint, and their suite was soon littered with them and half-finished paintings. Cathal understood Flavian’s need to work, as much as anyone who wasn’t an artist could, but the palace staff seemed to be slightly baffled. Flavian never asked them for anything, and he could have, could have directed them to carry his easel or supplies. But that wouldn’t be his Flavian. He set himself up in different locations on the grounds or in the palace, sometimes borrowing various objects from other places to sketch or paint, which was what might have the staff so confused.
Cathal leaned in the doorway of the small reception room Flavian had chosen to work in today, for some reason known only to him. Probably something to do with the light, but Cathal wouldn’t know what exactly. Flavian had gathered up glass pieces from different rooms--Cathal didn’t recognize some of them, but there was so much art in the palace that wasn’t surprising--and arranged them on a table near the window with a sweep of silky fabric twining around and under them. He painted the arrangement now, and Cathal really wanted to know what it looked like, but he also didn’t want to risk disturbing Flavian. He was so absorbed he in his work he hadn’t even noticed Cathal come in.
Totally absorbed and beautiful with it. His gaze was somehow both focused and dreamy, his expression set. A paint splattered smock protected his clothing, but Cathal smiled when he saw a streak of white paint in Flavian’s tousled red-gold hair.
He wanted to take Flavian in his arms and kiss him silly, but he wouldn’t disturb him. And he would never take this from Flavian, had never even thought to. Apparently some people were wondering why the soon-to-be husband of a duke was engaged in any kind of occupation. Etan had brought the whispers to Cathal’s attention, but they could keep whispering for all Cathal cared. He wouldn’t take this away from Flavian, if he even could. Flavian was an artist; he lived and breathed it. It was how he saw and interpreted the world. And what he created was breathtaking.
Cathal could only be grateful that Flavian had room in his life and heart for Cathal as well.
He settled back to wait, content to watch Flavian work, watch the graceful movements and the play of emotion over his face. Flavian needed a studio. Cathal wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of it sooner. Flavian needed a place of his own to work and to store his supplies. There had to be a room in the palace that would suit, that they could make into what Flavian needed. Or if not, he would find somewhere on the grounds and build one for Flavian. A wedding present, perhaps. But the wedding was still a couple months off, and now that he’d had the idea he didn’t want to wait. And Flavian needed it.
Flavian made a little tsking noise and stepped back, setting his palette and brush down. He moved his head side to side, circled his neck, working the kinks out in a way Cathal had become familiar with, and caught sight of Cathal. “Oh. I didn’t realize you were here.”
“It’s all right.”
“Have you been here long? Did you need something?”
Cathal shrugged. “A while.”
“You could have interrupted.”
“No. I only needed you anyway.”
A slow smile curved Flavian’s lips. “You have me.”
Love for Flavian filled him in a breathless rush; he still wasn’t used to the warm wave of it. He had Flavian, and he was so lucky. “May I see?”
Flavian glanced at the painting, hesitating, but nodded, and Cathal moved farther into the room, coming to stand behind Flavian. He rested his hands on Flavian’s upper arms, rubbing lightly over the sleek muscles under the coarse smock, and looked over Flavian’s head at the painting. Marveled again at Flavian’s talent. Marveled at how he arranged glass pieces on a table and found magic in how the light on them glowed and sparkled. “It’s beautiful.”
“I’m trying to capture the light, but I haven’t quite gotten in right.” Cathal couldn’t see Flavian’s face, but he would bet that little line he got between his brows when he was critical of his own work was there now.
“You’re my light.” The words slipped out without his permission, surprising him, but he didn’t regret them.
Flavian tilted his head to look up at him. “You’re ridiculous.”
Cathal slid his arms around Flavian, pulling him back against his chest. “But you love me.”
Flavian watched him steadily. “More than I can say.”
That was all that mattered then.