A/N: This is something I wrote for the old kinkmeme over at the thremedon LJ comm. So if you've seen this over there, then I suppose my anonymity has been compromised (not that anybody over there is very good at keeping themselves anonymous XD). Thom/Hal is by no means an OTP of mine, but it is fun to write once in a while. Enjoy!

"It's a Ke-Han tradition," Thom had explained to me, eyes cast down as if he wasn't sure I would agree with the idea. "From Seon, actually, the southernmost country. I thought it looked interesting and, well..." He looked up at me, and I could detect the faintest beginnings of a blush creeping up his neck. "I thought you might like to help me?"

I wasn't sure why he was so embarrassed, but I tried to make him feel more comfortable by reaching out and taking his hand. "It sounds intriguing," I told him. "I'd love to help you, Thom."

It had seemed straightforward at the time. But when Thom and I were cross legged on the floor of his room, with the supplies spread around us, and the room lit only by candles, it was anything but straightforward.

I rolled up my sleeve to the elbow and held out my wrist. "Do your worst," I joked weakly. It didn't really alleviate any of the tension, which was settled heavily on us and making the back of my neck sweat despite the relatively cool air.

His laugh was low and nervous. "That's a dangerous thing to say, considering the lamentable state of my best work." He lifted the small brush out of the ink well. The paint was a rich dark brown in the dim light, and a drop of it landed on the wood of the floor. I watched Thom's eyes dart rapidly from my arm to the picture in the open book and back. He gripped the brush tightly to keep it from shaking, and slowly dropped it to my skin.

"It's cold," I blurted intelligently as the brush found its mark. That must have startled him, because his hand shook, and then pulled back quickly. I stared down at the dark scribble interrupting the paleness of my inner wrist.

"Sorry!" he hissed. "Um, I don't know how to -"

"It's fine," I insisted, putting my hand on his leg. Our eyes met, and I saw a flicker of something unrecognizable yet somehow familiar in his face. "Thom -"

"Hal," he interrupted me with surprising urgency; I really hadn't known what I was going to say anyway, so I stopped. "I...there's a reason I invited you over here to try this with me, and, well, it's not just because I thought you'd appreciate the culture." He cleared his throat and ran a nervous hand through his hair, making it stick up in little clumps. "Though that is a part of it. Ah, I think I'm being too subtle. I'm not very good at this sort of..."

The decision was made half a second before my conscious thought process understood what was going on, and by then it was too late. I was forward on my knees, one hand balancing my weight on his leg, pressing my lips firmly to the corner of his mouth.

A wave of warmth and uncertainty crashed over me. We could, frighteningly, pull away and pretend this never happened. Even more frighteningly, we could keep going and see where this new development would take us. Or we could just stay there, connected in a way that could almost be construed as innocent, until something beside our own wills moved us.

That something turned out to be my wrist, wobbling just enough that I almost slipped. Thom pulled a few centimeters away and reached out to steady me. "Careful," he said, and I could feel the whisper of the word on my lips.

Reluctantly I straightened up, sitting back on my heels. The room was charged with something akin to magic, yet entirely different. It made my skin prickle, and I could have sworn my hair was standing on end. I felt like I had to do something, anything, to ensure that this change in the atmosphere wasn't going to fade back into that awful tension.

Inspiration struck. "Perhaps I could give it a try?" I suggested. "I did dabble in some painting back in Nevers, though Mme didn't like it so much..." I was rambling again, a sure sign that I was trying not to be nervous.

Thom nodded and started rolling up his sleeve, but that wasn't the direction I had wanted to go. At this point, it seemed action was working better for me than words, so I leaned forward again and found purchase on the top button of his shirt.

He tensed, but didn't push me away. "What are you doing?"

"Relax," I insisted. "I have a design in mind, but I need more room than your wrist." I didn't look at his eyes, focusing on the coordination that unbuttoning required when I was trying to keep my fingers from shaking. The fact that he wasn't stopping me gave me some level of confidence, however feigned. I reached the lower hem of his shirt and brushed it aside, then gently pushed the shirt off his shoulders. "Th-the bed will be more comfortable."

Thom nodded and stood slowly, leaving his white shirt behind on the floor. I let my gaze sweep over his bare skin, but all I registered was its exquisite color in the candlelight before I forced myself to look away. My cheeks burned.

Stop that, I told myself sternly, taking a deep breath as I stood. This was no time for blushing and being shy and hesitating until it's too late and the moment is passed. There was something twisting and melting in the pit of my stomach, something that screamed of desire, and for once in my life I was going to follow it through to its end.

He was reclined in the center of his not ungenerously sized bed (luxury being one of the perks of finding favor with the Esar), propped on his elbows and looking tense and pale. This time I let myself drink in the contours of his body, lines that I had never dared to imagine, even in secret. He was too thin, but I already knew that. The stress of a life of pure worry showed clearly in his shoulders, the curve of his spine. "Relax," I murmured, climbing onto the bed with what I hoped was grace and kneeling beside him.

I could feel his gaze on me as I moved the inkwell to my left hand and held the brush gently in my right. I wasn't shaking anymore, a fact for which I was grateful, and the stain of fire across my face was fading. Thom moved his elbows and lowered his back flat to the comforter, so I lowered my brush and began.

I started at his navel, working out in complex, meandering concentric circles. The muscles of his stomach tightened at first, but as he got used to the sensations I watched them relax little by little under the smoothness of his skin. The painting was easier than I had thought it would be; my fingers remembered the task that had been banned from them since I was young and distracted by filling page after page with designs and depictions. It had been a long time, and yet it felt natural. I was filled with the sense that I was meant to be here, covering his lovely skin with dark, twisting lines, and it gave me a peace I hadn't known I'd possessed.

As I worked, I could tell that I wasn't the only one being affected. A deeper, more permanent sort of relaxation was settling into Thom's body, something that I hadn't ever seen in him. This was real beauty, I knew, stripped of all its insecurities, and that was what made the deliciously hollow hunger in my chest ache. I almost didn't notice when I ran out of ink somewhere along the soft edge of his rib cage.

I blinked, then turned my gaze to his face. His eyes bore into me with their dark green intensity. He leaned up, and I leaned in, and there didn't seem to be any choice but to drop the inkwell and brush and kiss him properly.

Thom's hand ran a fluttering caress down the side of my neck, and I wondered at the fact that a simple touch could make my head spin. His fingers stopped at the top of my spine, and he pulled away.

"I don't believe that this was part of the Seon tradition," he said as he caught his breath.

I closed my eyes and rested my forehead briefly against his. "In my experience, authenticity can be somewhat overrated," I said.

This time, it was he who kissed me.