A/N: A long time ago I had a teacher who used to say you could take any cliché and make it real by adding enough of the right kind of details. This is probably not what he had in mind. ;) All human, all lemons, all the time.

The Artist Is Present

Eric was originally my brother's friend, and we came to be roommates in an offhanded way. His lease was ending, my roommate had moved, Jason made the casual comment to a mutual acquaintance, and there we were. At first, we kept to ourselves. While we had grown closer over the past few weeks—he would eat cereal in the living room while I was watching TV, I would join Eric when he worked at the kitchen table instead of his drafting desk, etc.—there was too much tension between us to really be friends.

It started with a night at the beach, six months earlier. I was out with Jason's friend group. Flecks from the bonfire drifted through the evening air, and the alcohol was flowing. A cute girl I didn't know was teasing Jason that he was the most jealous older brother she'd ever seen, and bet him $20 that he couldn't watch someone kiss his sister without punching him in the face. I was not keen on the wager, but the group was loud, and had already begun nominating an annoying, barrel-chested guy named Mark to do it. Eric happened to be sitting next to me. Although I didn't know him well—at that point, he was just Jason's hot art school friend—he sensed my discomfort.

We both knew the group wouldn't let up until there was some action, and Eric grimaced in empathy. Suddenly an idea occurred. He looked around to make sure everyone was still occupied, and then cocked an eyebrow at me.

"What do you think?" Guessing what he was getting at, I returned his mischievous smile.

"Why not?"

Before I could over-analyze it, Eric leaned in and softly closed his lips over mine. He did not embrace me, although I knew he had it in him (at another party, I had seen him handle a girl so thoroughly my entire body flushed at the memory). Rather, his hand found mine in the sand, and twined our fingers together. I wasn't prepared for the kindness of it.

It took the group a minute to realize what was happening, but once they did, the beach erupted in laughs and catcalls. Jason's surprise overwhelmed his fury as Eric pulled away and flashed him a cocky smile. He just rolled his eyes and sighed, "Hilarious, Eric." I laughed, demanding the girl pay up. The event was over.

But then, Eric turned back to me. Just for a second. His hair glowed gold in the firelight, blue eyes brighter than normal, maybe even hopeful. He gave my hand a squeeze.

That was it. A minute later, he went off with a few friends to swim in the waves, another guy sat down next to me, and the evening continued. At the end of the night, though, when I washed the smoke out of my hair and the tar off my feet, I could still feel his fingers between mine.

The memory didn't haunt me so much as never leave. It wasn't that no one paid attention to me, either—I had several dates since then, including a pleasant guy I worked with at the radio station who wanted to get serious. I shied away from all of them, though; I couldn't get that night with Eric out of my head. It didn't help that I saw him every day now, obsessing over every little interaction.

I learned a lot about Eric's art as a byproduct. When I first met him, I assumed he must have been some kind of poseur—no one as good looking as Eric was required to be very talented—but he was damn good. He had a methodical temperament and a sharp worldview. Whether ad campaigns or concept art, his work always contained a critique, confident and understated and wry, just like Eric. One of his paintings hung in the common space of our apartment: a gray cityscape of chaotic streets and faceless, downcast strangers. In the far corner stood a child holding a yellow balloon, staring into the sky. Eric thought it was too obvious—in fact, I had to save it from getting tossed in the closet along with his other rejects—but I thought it was beautiful.

Whether he intended it or not, his art practice gave Eric an edge—a mix of careless and observant, rigid and cool. The heel of his right hand was constantly stained with ink, and no matter what he was wearing, there was at least one streak of paint on it somewhere. I made a joke about it once, and now he would pause for inspection before going out, an interactive Where's Waldo puzzle. After finding the paint—which was inevitable—I would fix him as best I could and send him on his way, saying, "The artist is presentable," an in-joke about Marina Abramović that I thought was much funnier than he did.

After a few weeks of this ritual, the day came when I couldn't find a thing. Eric always looked personally flawless—tall and lean and striking—but that evening, the clothes finally matched. He was set to go on a big date, so I assumed he'd put more thought into it than usual. I checked again. Not a pencil smudge, not a drop of bleach, nothing. I redoubled my efforts. He was smirking, thinking he'd finally put together the perfect ensemble, when I spotted it—a faint blue line striped across his neck behind his right ear. It didn't exactly count since it wasn't on clothing, but he groaned in good humor anyway. I laughed and licked my finger to rub it off; he leaned down so I could reach.

When I touched him, though, something changed. This was the closest I had been to him since the night at the bonfire, and I could feel the heat between us as I worked the paint away. My hand lingered on his neck. He was staring down at me with a curious expression—penetrating and charged, with that same little spark of hope.

It lasted less than a second. Almost immediately, he pulled away to give me a playful high-five, all traces of the previous moment gone. Though I smiled back, I secretly willed the date to go poorly. I was pleased when Eric returned home by himself before 12am.

That night was difficult. I lay awake in bed, the memory of my hand on him sending chills up my arm and into the rest of me.

The next day finally came. It was late Saturday afternoon, and the sun was filtering into my room hazy and thick. Eric was out at an art show, and I was finally alone. Nick Cave's latest album was playing, and I was resting in the center of my bed—eyes closed, vibrator out, a hand down my jeans. I pictured myself on top, looking down into Eric's face. I let out a long, gratified sigh.

"Holy shit," came a soft whisper from the doorway.

My eyes flew open as if the words had been screamed. Eric was there, braced in the wide-open doorframe, like a fantasy, except that he wasn't. My hand stilled instantly.

Eric's expression was conflicted—apprehensive, apologetic, filled with want. "The show was canceled." He looked me over: face flushed, vibrator ready. He waited a beat.


I blinked, totally frozen; his face was unreadable.

"I…I don't want you to stop."

Desire poured into me, flooding my limbs. The effect was almost paralyzing. I looked at Eric. His chest rose and fell unevenly as he ran a hand through his hair. His worn, black The Smiths t-shirt (my God, as if I wasn't turned on enough already—The fucking SMITHS!) had ridden up on one side, exposing a strip of skin. I noticed a maroon semi-circle of paint on the underside of his forearm…

I started to move.

Though I expected to feel self-conscious, I didn't. Eric was focused totally on me, drinking me in. After a moment, he walked to the edge of the bed and sat. He didn't touch me—he just watched, eyes dark and heated.

"Show me," he said quietly. Though the command was cryptic, I nodded, removing my shirt and jeans until I was left in my underwear. He seemed mesmerized, scanning my body up and down. His eyes flicked to the vibrator and then back to my face.

I finally spoke. I said the only thing that came to mind.

"Whatever you want to do, I want you to do it."

He looked startled at the sentiment, as if not quite sure he believed me.

"You don't know what you're getting into," he whispered. My chest flushed with color.

He still did not touch me directly. He merely picked up the vibrator and turned it on, laying it against the black lace directly over my center. I gasped, my body seized with the shock of it. Seeing how I responded, he pulled it away, slowing the speed and moving it so the length rested lower—gentler, more diffuse. It was genius.

After just a few seconds, my hips were moving in rhythm, pleasure coursing through me. His eyes ran over me with an artist's sense of appraisal. Just as I was about to peak, he picked up the vibrator again and brought it to my mouth. My body throbbed uncontrollably as my lips closed over it, eyes wide, overwhelmed with want. It was the first time his focus faltered since he sat down.

"Damn, Stackhouse," he exhaled incredulously.

His fingers, still wrapped around the vibrator, reached down and found mine, giving me partial control. He ran his other hand down my body and gently pulled back my underwear. His breath caught in his throat. Looking into his eyes, I slowly worked it in.

"Yes," he muttered, grasping me to him before his lips crashed into mine.

After all his restraint, the action felt frenzied, like he was trying to suck me down into him, to swallow me completely. I gasped, buzzing with desire, as he tongued his way down my neck, hands still entwined around the vibrator, awakening every edge of my desire.

This was not how I pictured us together. This was hotter.

I reached for him, to bring him closer, to replace the vibrator with his erection. I tried to claw my way, one-handed, through the buttons on his jeans. He pulled back from the kiss and shifted slightly away.

"Not yet," he said. "I have to see you."

I was almost whimpering with need now, and he responded by unfastening my bra. He gazed at my breasts for a long time without touching them, utterly absorbed, before running a thumb up and over my nipple.

"Fuck me," he breathed to himself.

"I want to," I gasped.

It set him off.

"You will," he asserted, fire in his eyes, ripping my underwear the rest of the way down my legs. He wrapped my body in a soul-crushing kiss. This was the Eric I was waiting for, the one I had been dreaming about—consumed by lust, aware of his magnetism, his big dick, his pull over women, who wasn't afraid to use every last bit.

On a mission now, he increased the speed of the vibrator, relinquishing control of it to me, palming my ass with one hand while making fast, wet circles up high with the other. I began to pant in desperation. He was everywhere, the pleasure white-hot and consuming. I stared at him in wonder and accusal.

"How are you so good at this?!"

His eyes twinkled. "My mother says I have the gift of observation."

"I don't want to hear about your mother right now," I grit out, despite myself. He merely smiled and increased the pressure.

And suddenly my body couldn't take it anymore. I came without warning, crying out with the sensation, my arms locked around his neck. I slumped against him. He let me rest on him for a long while, his fingers stirring my hair.

Eventually Eric spoke.

"Was this what you had planned for this afternoon?"

"More or less," I grinned. "You?"

"Not in the least," he laughed. His eyes raked over me again. "So much better." He tucked me into him, still fully clothed. It felt delicious.

"What were you thinking about?" he asked.


"Before I came in. I'm still sorry about that, by the way."

"Well, I'm not." He waited—the joke had not diffused the question. "This," I said, rubbing my ass against his erection. His chest rumbled in satisfaction. "You," I answered more truthfully. At first, he didn't respond; he just drew me closer.

"Do you do that a lot?"

"Yes." He exhaled, his palms flexing against my hips. I felt suddenly shy. "Do you ever…think about me?" He ran his nose against the back of my neck, sending shivers down my spine.

"Every fucking day. Haven't you noticed?" He pressed his length against me deliberately. "When you check me over before I go out, I fantasize that you ask me to strip. I imagine you licking paint off my nipple, scrubbing down every part of me."

His words made me so hot I had to defuse the tension. "Dude—haven't you ever read a warning label?"

"Just shut up and go with it," he muttered, twisting me in his arms, crushing his mouth to mine. After a minute, though, he pulled back and asked in fierce sincerity, "Do you really want this, Sookie? Do you want me?" The question stunned me.

"Ever since the bonfire. It hasn't let up for a second. …you?"

Eric's eyes flashed as he brought my hand to his cock. "Hardest I've ever been." I flexed my fingers around him. "Take me out and fuck me," he groaned, outrageously seductive. Although I wanted to, a chill ran up my spine—I would do anything he asked if he said it like that. A look of recognition passed over his face. "No. No, you said it better. 'Whatever you want to do, I want you to do it.'"


I feverishly ripped his t-shirt over his head, running my fingers down his taut stomach. There was a faint white blotch of paint on his hipbone, and I thumbed the mark roughly, unbuttoning his jeans, yanking them quickly down his legs.

His cock was unbelievable. Thick and hard and upward curving. I took him into my mouth immediately. He exhaled sharply, almost with a laugh.

"You feel soooo good," he mumbled, falling back against the bed. He threw his arms over his head as if embarrassed, as though he didn't know what to do with them. I didn't understand the change at first, but then it fell into place—Eric was more comfortable giving pleasure than receiving it. I was fairly confident I knew how to change that.

Visual artist, visual lover.

"Open your eyes. Watch." Eric obeyed. His eyes shot open with an intensity so piercing I was surprised I didn't burst into flames. My mouth descended back over him.

"Oh fuck," he exclaimed, twining his fingers in my hair. He tilted up into me over and over again, no longer self-conscious about taking what he wanted. Watching him was almost too much. It overwhelmed me, and I reached down to touch myself, too. Even in the depths of his pleasure, he saw. He never missed a thing.

"Use me, Sookie. Use me," Eric urged. I almost sobbed as he wrenched me up, looking around for a condom on the nightstand. I shook my head.


"I'm clean," he whispered.

"Me too. Just us."

"Thank fuck," he groaned as he slid me down onto him. We gasped together, each trying to catch up with the feeling. He brought his hand to my cheek and stroked my jaw, and I bent to kiss him, long and lingering and slow.

Before I knew it, we were moving. Small strokes at first that gave way to deep, arcing rolls. He grasped at my bottom lip with his teeth. I pulled back to ride him just as I imagined, fingering his tight, dark nipples, tugging at his hair.

"Give it to me," he breathed fervently, "I want everything you have." I couldn't hold off, releasing around him, elated.

There was no moment to recover. Eric instantly flipped me forward so that he was on top, seeking his pleasure in earnest, his eyes almost black with desire. I could tell by his shallow breaths that he was close. I could not stop touching the streak of paint on his hipbone—it grounded me, reminding me that this was Eric. When he finally came, his eyes were locked on mine, filled with amazement and longing and deep, satisfied relief. Compelling and beautiful.

He collapsed on top of me, and we lay still for a long while, waiting for our pulses to normalize. I pulled away from Eric to survey him, raising my eyebrows in mock scandal.

"The artist is not presentable," I said, breaking the silence. He laughed long and loud and pulled me against him again, completely disregarding the mess. He picked his t-shirt off the floor.

"I have a feeling this is the only sex Morrissey is getting tonight," he remarked as he cleaned me off. I couldn't help giggling. He put the shirt down and we lapsed into silence again.

"That was some advanced stuff, by the way," I said.

"No shit," he nodded.

"I can't wait to see what you've got for next time."

His eyes glimmered. "Next time?"

"Hell yeah! You'll be lucky if I let you leave the house again."

"Good. I'm tired of ruining all my clothes trying to get you to notice me." I slapped his chest and laughed before settling into his embrace.

"Did you really do that?"


"Ruin your clothes on purpose? …for me?"

"Well, not exactly. Only once. And it wasn't technically my clothes…" He streaked his thumb behind my right ear in punctuation. I understood immediately.

"Hmm… I've been meaning to ask you, actually—what was the name of your date last night?"

Eric shrugged. "I don't know. I forgot to make one up."

Though I knew I should have been cooler about it, the admission filled me with joy. I turned in his arms and kissed his neck, his ear, his jawline—everything I could reach.

"Damn," he exhaled after I stilled the onslaught, falling against the headboard. "If that's your reaction, I'll paint myself every freakin' day."

"I'll get on friendly terms with poison control."

While he laughed, his mood soon shifted. He looked at me quizzically. "Every day?" he asked quietly.

I grinned in affirmation. "Every freakin' day."

Eric reached toward me, then, warm and affectionate and strong, and took my hand in his, placing a gentle kiss on my lips. He pulled away again and gave my hand a small squeeze, bringing me back to that night on the beach.

"I'm going to hold you to that."