Title: Toward Satisfaction
Prompt: Person A is carrying something delicate (like a fresh painting, tray of china, hot bowl of soup) and there's nowhere for them to put it down when they feel a sudden sneeze coming.
Person B comes over to steady them and ends up catching the oncoming sneezing fit for Person A while trying to protect whatever item it is.
“Aren’t you done yet?” Milo complained from the bed in the far corner of the loft where he believed he had spent far too much time alone this evening. Bored and impatient, he repeatedly snapped one side of his suspenders against his light blue, button-down shirt-covered chest.
The painting had seemed done already when he’d arrived. It had been striking and bold and emotionally charged and he had told Alex as much. But Alex had kept working, absorbed in the piece, obsessed with it, insisting it wasn’t perfect yet, insisting there were just a few more finishing touches to be made.
That had been more than four hours ago.
And as fascinating as his current game of Candy Crush was, Milo was feeling restless and a little bit annoyed, if he was truthful. He wouldn’t have even come over to Alex’s place tonight if he hadn’t thought the painting was pretty much done. He knew Alex got carried away with painting. Or, well, perhaps carried away wasn’t the right way to describe it. Carried away implied some amount of irresponsibility. No, Alex was an artist who believed in the perfection of a creation more than anything else, happy to put every ounce of human effort into the canvas to make an extraordinary, timeless result. Satisfaction was the ultimate goal.
From behind the large canvas, Alex stuck their head out. Their shoulder-length, died black hair was tied up messily, but a few loose strands fell into their face, almost like a living art piece itself. Alex rubbed the back of their hand at their nose and huffed, blowing a few of the pieces of hair up in two tiny, tight buns and away for a moment. “Almost done here, luv. I promise. I’ll be with you in just a minute.”
“That’s what you said two hours ago,” Milo muttered, rolling from his stomach to his side without a pause to the game on his little, glowing screen. On one side of the industrial loft, there was the comfort of a bed, the ease of technology, and a very willing and ready boyfriend. On the other was this painting. Anyone who knew Alex at all could guess what side of the loft they were in.
Alex took a step back, a fat brush clenched between their teeth. Their eyes, outlined in kohl, appraised the work of art. Alex removed the paint brush. “I mean it this time. I… I think I’m done.”
Milo sat up in shock and surprise. He’d been pestering on and off all night, but he hadn’t really expected Alex to actually finish before 1am. They never had before. “What, really?”
Milo pushed strands of black hair back from their face, tucking a few behind the ear and twisting one around their finger absentmindedly. Their eyes did not leave the canvas for a moment. “Yeah, really.” With a deep breath in and then, slowly, out, they nodded decisively. “I’m done.” Again, their hand rubbed at their nose, pushed the misplaced strands of hair back, and then it reached for the freshly finished painting. Carefully, one hand on either side of the large canvas, they lifted it off the easel to carry it over to the table to dry flat overnight. Putting a final coat of resin to give it a glossy finish as well as seal and protect it was the last step in the process, but it would have to wait until the painting was completely dry, of course.
That meant Alex had some time to kill. Milo put down his phone immediately. Loving an artist wasn’t easy; his patience was tested on an almost hourly basis. But free moments like this made it all worth it.
About a third of the way across the room, Alex stopped and shook their head. Then they puffed a breath out sort of to the side. “Ugh, there’s this… hair in my face. Driving me crazy.” They’d been fussing with it all night, but it wasn’t until the painting was finished that they really even noticed.
Milo smiled with adoration. “You look good like this, though. Kind of disheveled and raw.”
Alex smirked and continued walking—only to stop a few steps later. “Damn it!” Their lower jaw stuck out as they tried to aim another breath upward to blow away whatever was in their face. But it apparently didn’t work. “Now it’s tickling my nose.”
Milo laughed. “The great painter, defeated by a hairstyle.”
Alex gave a short laugh as well, but they also looked a little nervous. “It’s…” They raised their shoulder and tried to rub their face into their shoulder and upper arm, trying to brush away the hair. “It’s actually not that funny. It really tickles—oh shit!” Their head snapped up, beautiful almond eyes closed, nostrils flaring. “Think I’m going to sneeze…”
As far as Milo was concerned, it was still pretty funny. But the painting was right there in Alex’s hands. They would have no choice but to sneeze directly on it, because they weren’t about to just drop it. Milo also knew that if the painting was damaged even a little, Alex would be up the whole night trying to fix it. Even worse, a ruined painting would mean starting over again completely from scratch. It would also mean Alex’s heart would break a little. They’d put their soul into this piece for more than two weeks now. It couldn’t be destroyed now.
So Milo jumped to his feet and raced over.
In the seconds it took to get there from the other side of the loft, the potential sneeze had become a certainty. Milo knew what he had to do. There wouldn’t be time to both grab the painting securely and move it out of the way, and he might put his hand on the wrong spot and smear some of the wet acrylic paint doing that anyway. There was only one option he could think of.
His long sleeve cuffs were unbuttoned, but he held the cuff against his palm by folding his fingers down. Stretching the fabric out on his arm was almost like pulling canvas tight across a wooden frame, and it provided a big enough area to fully catch whatever sneeze was about to strike Alex.
He pressed his sleeve to Alex’s face just in time. “ihPTSchhh! H’ktchhhh! HEPTShhhhhhh!” Alex rocked forward with each, and Milo put his hand out, touching the back of the top of the canvas to keep it steady, keep it from falling.
Milo didn’t lower his arm after the trio of sneezes, not wanting a stray sneeze to strike and ruin both their efforts. “You all right?” he asked, his voice soft but rich with concern.
Alex snuffled into his arm, surprised by the solution but obviously happy to have something to sneeze into. They looked up at Milo, gratitude filling their expression. “Yeah, I…” Their voice trailed off and eyes shut again. “ihh ihhh IHPTshhhh! HIHtchhh! Ihhpschhh! Hihhh-IHHHSCHHH! Oh!” With that, they pulled back, blinking repeatedly. That must have done it.
“No more tickling?” Milo wanted confirmation. “I mean, I’ve got a whole other arm if you still feel like you’ve got to sneeze.”
Alex smiled and shook their head. “No, that was it.” They inspected the painting, seeing that it was definitely undamaged. “Thanks. That was quick thinking.”
“At your service, as always.” He put a hand on Alex’s upper arm and rubbed reassuringly. “You’d better put the painting down.”
“Right. Wait for me back in bed?”
“Uh-uh.” Milo stooped over a little to kiss a small streak of blue paint on Alex’s chin. “I’m staying right by your side in case something else happens.”
Chuckling, Alex headed over to the table. Without incident, they laid the large canvas flat. They paused to look it over once more, and that was the exact instant Milo’s patience ran out. If Alex found one more thing to correct or change or even tweak, Milo was going to lose his mind. He wrapped his arms around his lover from behind, spun with them on his heels, and shuffled with them toward the bed. Alex continued to chuckle as they collapsed together on the mattress.
One hand on the small of Alex’s back, his other reached up and released the elastics holding Alex’s hair up. Alex shook his head, freeing the straight, black strands. Milo nuzzled close, kissing chin and cheek and ear and neck, breathing in paint and sweat and berry shampoo scents. He gasped and tensed up a moment later, realizing the light strands of hair had tickled his nose as well.
“Use my sleeve. It’s only fair,” Alex offered, holding out their arm. Their oversized red, black, and gray plaid flannel looked soft and thick, and Milo didn’t have more than a second to come up with alternatives anyway.
He hid his face in the flannel. “HAHPTShooo!” One sneeze, and the ticklish urge to sneeze was gone again.
“Just one?” Alex teased.
“Sometimes…” Milo’s fingers traced the waistband of Alex’s tight, black jeans. “Sometimes one is all you need.” He popped the button free. He felt Alex’s long, talented fingers in his floppy, brown hair.
Alex whispered. “And sometimes… you need more.”
“Mmmm,” Milo agreed, slowly easing the zipper down.