The Knight-Errant and His Fan Painter
April 18, 1829
It was more than a full month before Daniel and René spoke again of Mme du Pont-Villette and in fact René had rather nearly forgotten, occupied as he was with his present mistress. She was a lovely girl by the name of Marie-Ange, determined to shock her parents by dallying as she was, but failing admirably given that, to all appearances, well-bred and well-off René was hardly a miscreant whose attentions one would abhor one's daughter encouraging. But Daniel had hardly forgotten the impending appointment and what it could mean to him. He had spent every moment he could spare working on three large oil paintings, more expensive and time consuming to produce than his usual charcoals and pastels, and he was beginning to show signs of wear. He was agitated and restless, his eyes were beginning to gray around the edges from lack of sleep, and the ever-present tinge of his fingernails and hair from his pigments was even more marked than usual. Several of his friends, Combeferre in particular, had asked him worriedly if everything was alright, receiving the reply that he was absolutely fine, but busier than he'd ever been and rather more stretched than he could accommodate for in the given twenty-four hours in every day. After nearly two weeks of Daniel's haggard appearance, it was René's turn to notice.
"Daniel…" René began as he invited himself to the empty chair at his small table, "I know you feel that you have to have something absolutely remarkable prepared, whenever it is that you present yourself to Mme du Pont-Villette, but I cannot let you continue in this fashion!" His voice was light, almost teasing, but even in his exhausted and harried state, Daniel could sense a legitimate worry, which surprised him. Even if Combeferre had put him up to making sure he was alright, which would not be unlike Hughes, the fact that René seemed to be taking it as seriously as he was made Daniel wonder if he wasn't really working himself too hard.
"I'll be fine, really René." Daniel's sentence was interrupted by a brief cough and a pause to take a drink of his wine. "Once I can get some more progress made on these paintings, then I'll have to slow down anyway while the first layer of paint dries. It's just getting the figures right… I've redrawn them all half a dozen times." What he didn't mention was that he should really have started over on a new canvas on at least one of them, but it was expensive, and it was more important to save the money for his paints, the most costly part of all. There were going to be ghost images if he wasn't careful, he thought with a sigh, forgetting for a moment that René was sitting there watching him curiously.
"Daniel listen to me..." René smiled, rather than smirked, for once and poured himself a glass of wine. "It's spring, you're young and an artist, and you look as if you just got René down by a carriage and dragged through the mud in the middle of winter! Now I feel obligated, as your friend and… well… as a business associate of a kind in this scenario, to ask you what I can do to be of assistance and keep you from looking quite as if you're a white shirt that's been dipped in lye."
"You are hardly obligated to do a thing for me René." Daniel felt a flush come over his cheeks, a mixture of embarrassment and shyness, as he brushed his hair out of his eyes. "I just have a lot to do and not many hours to do it in. Much as I'd like to, I can't just drop everything and paint all day and all night."
René furrowed his brow slightly. Daniel was rarely in anything but very cheerful spirits, and he was hardly the type to complain even if he had reason. "Daniel, come have a drink at my flat." He put a hand up to silence him before he could voice his protests. "I know you're busy but I think it will do you good. You know how difficult things suddenly become when you think too hard."
Daniel sighed. The thought of going back to his own meager lodgings and staring at the same canvas for another night made the headache he had felt slowly brewing for days begin to throb slightly at the very idea. It wouldn't do him any good to sink himself further into exhaustion if nothing was going to come of it, and René's company would do him good. Some amiable talk, a few glasses of wine, and if he was lucky he could go home and get a good night's sleep. "Perhaps you're right." He couldn't help but smile at the surprised raise of René's eyebrows when he acquiesced. "And besides, I could show you some sketches. You could tell me which direction I should be going, since you would know Mme's taste better than anyone else I could ask."
René laughed and brushed his hat absently with one hand. "Daniel I appreciate your faith in my powers of memory and observation, but the only sense I could ever make of the old relic's taste was that it was decidedly irregular and hard to predict."
"Still though…" Daniel's voice was nervous, a bit tense. "You wouldn't mind looking at some things would you?"
"Of course not! Just don't expect any brilliant insights on my part, that's all I ask." Grinning, René pulled his coat from the peg behind him and watched bemusedly as Daniel juggled his large stack of notebooks off the table. "You're a menace with those things, be careful or you may not live to show any of your assuredly splendid work to Veuve Pont-Villette for you'll be buried alive in a stack of papers."
"You know you could help me rather than watching my untimely death by self- inflicted avalanche." Daniel grinned teasingly, the cloud of exhaustion and stress beginning to subside for the first time since he had begun thinking of being presented to Mme.
"Right you are, assuming you'll trust me with your precious burden." With a nod from Daniel, René took up a few of the notebooks and led the way towards the back door. "Come now, we have a spectacularly wasteful evening to begin. I fear my reputation for prodigality is beginning to wane and I request your aid in remedying that."
A few hours later, a nearly empty bottle of wine on the table in front of them, Daniel and René sat hunched over yet another sketchbook, staring through the last of the candle light at the sketches. It had been an amiable evening, and the warmth and relative luxury of René's flat had managed to at least temporarily drive the doubts and stress from Daniel's mind. René had watched him all evening as he slowly relaxed, and the wine flushed his face, removing some of the traces of pallid grayness that exhaustion had brought.
"This one." René tapped the page on the table in front of him with his forefinger as he spoke. "This is the one you should be finishing in full. The subject matter… is it the rape of Persephone?"
Nodding, Daniel smiled and turned the page. "There's a whole set of sketches of that scene, from different perspectives."
Leaning back in his chair, René nodded and laughed to himself. "Really Daniel, I don't know why you put so much stock in my opinion on the matter, but I do think that one of those should be done up in oil properly."
"I'm… well I'm working on one already. A larger oil version." Daniel blushed slightly and looked down at his hands, rubbing ineffectually at the pigment stains on his skin. He couldn't help but continue to feel rather ridiculous to be working in oil. Real artists worked in oil, artists who people would commission and buy works from, artists who could afford the ridiculous cost of the ground mineral pigments and oil suspension, not to mention canvas and framing. It was madness, he had been saving for months to be able to afford to do this, had been sketching endlessly to find a scene he felt was even half worthy of that kind of outlay of money and time, and he still felt as if he was wasting it all. Months of extra hours at the workshop, of less wine at the Musain and of sparser meals, and he was nothing but irritated and disappointed in the outcome thus far. When he finally glanced up, René was staring at him with an amused expression on his face, his cup hanging slack in his hand. "I'm sorry, I suppose I got wrapped up in my own thoughts."
"Do you always apologize so much?" René's eyebrows arched questioningly, his mouth curling into its most comfortable position, that of a friendly smirk.
"Apologize? Well… I…" Daniel's brow furrowed and his lank brown hair fell into his eyes again, a hand automatically rising to brush it back. "I don't apologize unless I feel there's a need to."
"How many times do you think you've apologized to me this evening?"
The question startled Daniel for a moment, not sure how exactly he was supposed to answer. "Twice maybe? Not very often. But I don't see what that has to do with anything."
"I'd venture you've said something in the vicinity of an apology six times this evening Daniel, and it's hardly been an unusual evening in that sense." René laughed and raised his cup to his mouth, pushing a hand through his heavy curls. "It's rather endearing, but really hardly necessary. Though I'd guess off hand that you have no idea when you're doing it."
Daniel felt his cheeks color as he turned back towards the table to close his sketchbook, starting to rise from his chair. "I'm sor… I should go."
"Daniel, why on earth would you want to do that? It's late and up until about five minutes ago you were having a lovely time, and for the first time in several weeks, not looking as if you were about to expire from sheer stress."
"I was, I am having a good time, but I really should go. I have to work tomorrow and it's late and I should try and work on some painting some more." Daniel stammered as he spoke, flushing nervously for hardly any reason and cursing himself for it.
"Daniel, sit down already!" René's voice was a bit louder than it would have been normally, what few inhibitions he had slightly worn down from wine, and Daniel let himself be guided back into his chair as René pulled his chair closer and leant forward, leaning his elbows on his knees as he spoke.
"Stay here for the night, Daniel. You're happy for the first time in awhile, and perhaps even more relaxed than I've seen you in the entire time I've known you. What harm can possibly come of making yourself a little less miserable?" The words were out of René's mouth before he had even had time to consider them, before he even had the chance to be fully aware of what he had just suggested. He was not one to be reluctant to offer an evening of his company to anyone who seemed the slightest bit willing, or who seemed as if they could be convinced to be willing, but Daniel? It seemed ludicrous. René had always been rather fond of him, but it was difficult not to be with as kind and unassuming a temperament as he had, he thought to himself in the space of an instant as a somewhat uncomfortable silence descended upon his small but well furnished sitting room. Daniel was sitting rather too straightly in his chair, his hands folded on top of his closed sketchbook, his face having taken on a slightly gray cast once again and his brow furrowed.
"I'm… flattered by the offer René…I am… but I'm not… you really shouldn't be taking an interest in me… I'm not at all what you think I am or what you think you want or… I'm just not the type who you should be asking to stay." Daniel's words tumbled from his mouth, tripping over each other as he grabbed his sketchbooks, stuffing a few last stray pieces inside the cover of the topmost book and slinging his coat over his arm in one near frantic motion before rising from his chair. "But thank you… I am… flattered…"
"Daniel, sit." It was as much a request as a command, but something in the calm of René's voice slowly forced Daniel back into his chair, his sketchbooks still stuffed into his arms and his coat still jumbled onto one arm and hanging forlornly onto the floor beside his chair. "I meant stay in whatever capacity you want me to have meant it. At the very least, I have more than enough room for a guest, it's a warm and dry and comfortable place, with good wine and company, and I'd rather see you here, as your friend, than see you go running back to your own little flat and staring at those paintings until your eyes fall out of your head." René's face finally relaxed into his too-easy smirk, and Daniel felt his sketchbooks slide back onto the table as if of their own power.
"Alright…" René's face brightened as Daniel spoke, and he could hardly know he had said the word until he was aware, by René's expression, that he had said it. He didn't know why. Perhaps it was that all too ready smile-smirk that slipped onto René's face at the mention of anything in the slightest amusing. Perhaps it was the fact that the idea of returning to his own tiny, sullen flat to stare at his unfinished and unsatisfactory paintings continued to make his head throb and his stomach turn. Perhaps it was the fact that, whether he admitted it openly or not, he was intoxicated by René's charm that continually skirted the border of the realm of irritating. Regardless, Daniel had agreed, and he somehow knew that was not a decision he could back away from now.
"Good! Good…" René's voice trailed off and he smiled as he drained the last gulp of wine from his cup and set it back on the table. "In any case, I certainly don't think you need to spend another night staring at a blank canvas or drawing and erasing the same line over and over." René sat for a moment watching Daniel, not sure exactly what he was looking at. Daniel was not who he should be inviting to spend the night. He knew that. Daniel was not some grisette, not some bourgeois lady attempting to infuriate papa by running about with a man who had no intention of marrying her. He was his friend, and a good man, and one of his partners in this fight that all too soon could become a very real battle for god's sake. He was an artist and a kind man who knew nothing, as far as René knew, of the kind of romantic sampling he was frequently engaged in. It was madness, and René knew that all too well, but the die was cast and he had no intention or desire to back away. Besides, he reasoned, Daniel was a grown man, most likely more capable of handling his own life than most of their friends, given his lack of coddling and hand holding parents. Standing for a moment, he picked up the empty bottle of wine from the table and walked to the far side of the room to add it to the waste bin. Turning back around, he stopped and smiled at Daniel, who was now standing, leaning over his sketchbook on the table, his head titled slightly to look to the far corner where René stood.
"I… I don't know why you asked me to stay. I really don't." Daniel's voice faltered and he straightened himself, glancing down at his hands.
"I told you," René said with another slight smirk. "I'm your friend and consider this my personal duty to look out for you, and I absolutely forbid you from going home alone and driving yourself further into exhaustion and near madness with those paintings." He leaned to kiss Daniel's cheek experimentally, smiling a bit more and smirking a bit less as he reached for his cup on the table and refilled it.
Daniel grinned lopsidedly and shook his head. "Saving me from myself I suppose. But then who is going to save you, since certainly you are your own worst enemy on many an occasion."
At this René laughed and embraced Daniel for a moment. "Oh you know me far too well Daniel, but I have survived myself somehow thus far, I can only pray for continuing good fortune." Pulling back for a moment to see his face, René paused. Daniel's face was smiling, relaxed, but there was a tension just under the surface. Kissing his cheek again, René rested a hand on his shoulder. "Daniel, it really would do you good to relax." Embracing him again in a friendly, concerned manner, René pulled back without releasing him, lifting one hand to ruffle in the slight patch of green tint that stuck stubbornly to a bit of the soft brown forelock of Daniel's hair. "As if there was any doubt you were a painter…" Smirking again, as if his face was unable to resist the temptation to return to that expression, René leaned in and kissed him, in a decidedly unfraternal fashion at last. For a moment, a long moment even, Daniel kissed him back, trembling, unsure hands twisting into the curls that hung over René's collar, but just as quickly, as René lifted a hand to rest against Daniel's neck, it was as if reality suddenly came crashing into Daniel's consciousness full force, causing him to take a sharp step back.
"I'm an awful host, just look at that," René said, trying for a light hearted laugh, but the sound that came out instead was sharp and foreign, lingering in the air uncomfortably after he spoke. "Here I said I wasn't going to do that."
"You never said you weren't going to." Daniel said softly, his eyes mostly closed and his face down turned.
"It's really not necessary to use a technicality to make me feel like less of a clod. I appreciate the effort though." René smiled wryly and René a hand through his hair distractedly. "I said that your staying here could be whatever you wanted to make of it, and that apparently was not what you wanted to make of it, I apologize."
"I never said that wasn't… I never said I didn't like it."
René's brow furrowed, an unusual gesture of confusion. "It isn't how you're choosing to spend the evening though, and that is the choice I extended to you."
"Dammit René…" Daniel sighed heavily and sunk into his chair again, lifting his cup off the table. "It isn't that either."
René raised an eyebrow, but sat down again and leaned on the edge of the table. "Alright you have me thoroughly confused now, and that is not as easy a feat as you may like to believe."
"I just highly doubt that… I am at all what you have in mind for… that kind of evening." Daniel blushed as he spoke, one fingernail tracing the outline of the edge of his sketchbook absently. "I'd much prefer you be mildly annoyed than disappointed."
"I'm not mildly annoyed, I'm not annoyed at all." René grinned rather amusedly and took another sip of his fresh glass of wine. "And truth be told, I am rarely disappointed, so that is hardly a worry you need saddle yourself with."
"René trust me, I should go." Daniel sighed, but made no move to get up.
"So we're back to that again are we?" René smiled slightly and stood up, brushing a hand against Daniel's knee as he did.
"I just don't think I'm at all… what you want René. I am glad of your friendship, and I appreciate the concern but…"
"But what? Daniel I really do mean it when I say that I want you to stay and that whatever happens is entirely up to you. I may be a rogue when it comes to women, but I do take a good deal more care with my friendships if you haven't noticed."
Daniel sighed and felt an apology start to form on his lips before he bit it back. "I know, I didn't mean that… I just… "
"You're just a bit antsy, as you always are, and it's perfectly like you." René laughed gently and rested a hand on Daniel's shoulder as he stood behind his chair.
"Now, stop worrying, lets look at some more of your sketches."
Turning towards the table again, Daniel reached for René's hand without thinking and pulled him back to his chair. "Well there's not much left we haven't already looked at, but there are a few that aren't finished yet."
"Come on then, lets see them. No fair holding back." René smiled teasingly, seeming much younger than his twenty-four years at that moment. Leaning forward, resting his elbows on the edge of the table, Daniel opened the last of the sketchbooks to the back pages, René's elbows and head tilting near his over the small pages with the smudged, unfinished charcoal drawings. The first was a hazily rendered version of a woman, one who looked somehow familiar even in her unfinished state. It took several moments of Daniel smiling expectantly at René before the glimmer of recognition passed over his features.
"This is Marie-Ange isn't it?" René asked with a laugh, admiring the distinctive up-turn of the nose on the woman's face. Daniel flushed slightly and nodded, moving to turn the page before René brushed his hand away, examining the sketch further. "Sketching my mistresses eh? I don't know whether to be flattered, amused or offended, but seeing as I'm not exactly possessive, I'm going to go with amused."
"You can't have failed to notice that she's gorgeous René. Even by your standards, she's quite a conquest." Daniel laughed, almost embarrassedly as he turned the page to something less inflammatory.
"One in a long line, I suppose that's why I don't give it as much thought as you do." René tilted his head slightly towards the page and, in consequence, toward Daniel's. Dammit all if he wasn't unsuspectingly beautiful. He wasn't innocent, he couldn't have been, not having been coddled and sheltered through his youth. René had no real way of knowing a thing but, somehow, he knew that Daniel understood far more than he let on sometimes. Unsuspecting was precisely the right word for him.
"René?" Daniel's eyebrow raised questioningly, reminding René of his presence.
"The sketches are good Daniel… they're wonderful in fact." He tried for something bland, and for a moment it worked. They smiled in a friendly, unknowing manner at one another, and would have continued on so most likely until Daniel felt René's lips pressed against his. For a moment he started, flinched, almost began to pull away, but he didn't. He was so tired, and felt so damnably alone, that it was too tempting to lean into the warmth of René's arms, even if it was possibly one of the stupider things he had done.
René smiled and moved one hand to rest against Daniel's back as they kissed, surprisingly pleased at the outcome of his experiment. He still had no idea why he had kissed Daniel, and still rather thought it could turn around to slap him in the face at any second, but it was a risk he was willing to take. This was about as far from one of his darling little mistresses who flirted and giggled and threw themselves on him as soon as they were out of sight of the general public as he could imagine. There was something peculiarly intoxicating about feeling the muscles in Daniel's shoulders begin to relax, hearing a soft sigh of his breath, feeling somewhat responsible for that.
"Daniel…" René half sighed as he twisted his fingers in the hair at the back of his neck. "We'd be more comfortable in the other room I think."
"No… lets just… stay here…" Daniel kissed him harder, his arms tightening around his chest as he did, almost stumbling off balance.
René laughed softly and brushed a hand against Daniel's cheek. "Cher, we're both about to fall over. Come to bed."
"I… god René…" Daniel sighed and kissed him again, softly, before turning back to the table. "I can't, I really need to go."
Embracing him tightly for a second before heading out the door, Daniel was gone before René could protest or try to charm him into staying, leaving René staring rather dumbfoundedly at the door.
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