Rensai knows the brush tickles, he had to train himself to remain still against its touch years ago, but her skin is so much softer than his. He imagines hers is more sensitive, too: no long exposure to the winter winds or vicious bonfire blazes, not stiffened by countless sparring matches and sleepless nights. The very corners of her mouth quiver in the beginnings of a smile, she fights against it as he traces her cheekbone in a sharp outline, carving the kind apples of her cheeks into darkened hollows.
"Hold still, you're only halfway finished." Even he can hear the indulgence in his tone. It's impossible to see her smile and not want to do the same.
She giggles and her breath tickles his face. Stars help him. "I'm sorry." Yujin swallows and squares her shoulders, lifts her chin, her expression a forced blank. "I'm sorry, I'm done."
A smirk betrays him as he sets aside the thickest brush and takes up a thinner one instead, still clutching the pot of black pigment. The eyes are next, and Yujin recognizes it: her eyelids flutter closed and he sets to his task, hand steady despite his acute awareness of the thrum of his heartbeat. They began sitting at her vanity, but the sight of him at this sort of work, all fierce war paint and focused scowls as he clutched long makeup brushes, made her laugh too hard every time she spotted him in the mirror. She insisted they sit on the floor opposite each other instead; she knelt down in front of him and lifted her eyes expectantly, and for a moment he could only stare. He thought of his hand resting at the back of her head, her lips parting at his touch— he joined her on the floor, but he let his imagination carry on where it may. Perhaps his pause let her consider the same.
The angle was more awkward on the floor and Rensai had to sit crosslegged, one hand balanced on a knee while the other one swiped black along her cheeks, beneath her jaw, at her temples, framing her perfect features in fierce, uncharacteristic shadow. Now he paints black in an effortless, pointed peak across her right lash line, then the left, and when he leans back to check his work it looks nothing like the way she does it every day, light and smooth and shaded. But that's not the point today. This is war paint, she needs to intimidate and impress like any other archer or spearwoman. Today her face will match his, and he swallows back the flash of excitement the thought brings him.
He sets aside the pot of black and takes up red and a fresh brush instead, then turns his attention to accenting her eyebrows in high, vicious arches that speak of cunning and cruelty he's never seen Yujin even hint at. It looks beautiful on her. The quiet whisper of cool paint on warm skin, the gentle clink of brush on pot, the scent of incense - the entire ritual bleeds calm and he watches as she relaxes beneath it. Her mouth softens, her breathing slows.
"How did you get so good at painting others?" she asks. The sudden question surprises him and he clears his throat. "I thought you only painted yourself."
"We learn to help each other," Rensai explains as he dips his brush back in the red pigment. "We are painted by our betters during training, and later we paint the newer recruits. Spearmen must be uniform and anonymous, and there is no one better to correct your work than your own mirror image."
Yujin laughs and he had to jerk the brush away before he can accidentally blot his perfect contours. "But you don't look anything like them."
"Well." He can't suppress his smile anymore and he leans towards her to continue. "That privilege comes with time."
"And status," Yujin reminds him. He might have wilted under the reminder that skill and training alone didn't buy him his position if her situation weren't the same.
"And are you the most accomplished of your father's archery? No," he points out to a fake scowl from Yujin, but he brushes it off with a grin and holds her gaze, his voice a low growl. "But you are a fearsome force of nature nevertheless, and I'm going to make you look like it."
That quiets her, and her moment's hesitation grants Rensai the opportunity to take her gently by the chin and draw her nearer still. Her lips are parted and he stares, admiring; her eyes flicker to his mouth and linger there. But it's the brush that touches her lips, painting them in flushed, vivid scarlet: she takes in a breath and parts them further, perhaps in surprise at first, but she holds them that way so he can complete his picture without interruption. A clever save, shielding herself from high hopes or embarrassment, and he tries to suppress half a smile as he traces the brush across her lips, far slower than he needs to and far gentler. Holding her by the chin, her mouth open, her breath warm and mild on his hand – everything about her draws him in, and his hand remains there as he sets his tools aside at last.
But no. To kiss her now would be to ruin his fine work. It's enough to know the thought crossed her mind, plenty to know she was curious, and sufficient to wonder whether the drumming of her heart matches his own. He passes his thumb fondly over her chin, then sighs and slides his hand to the back of her neck.
"There. You are perfection, as always."
A blush burns through the white base of the war paint, nearly as red as her lips.