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An Artist's Eye

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Someone had been lurking behind her for at least the past twenty minutes, but Relm was a professional, and didn't let that rattle her. People might try to get one over on her, but as long as she had a piece of paper and anything that left a mark, she was never undefended.

It didn't seem like her observer meant to do anything like that, though. The closest he came to an offensive move was the smell - though that was pretty bad. Distinct odor of seldom-washed teen boy. She wrinkled her nose, but kept sketching, laying down a uniform tone with the side of the charcoal stick that she could build up into proper shadows on her next pass.

"You smart," said a voice over her shoulder.

"What else is new," she said cheerfully, although she hadn't expected him to talk at all.

"You see dog," said Gau. "You see dog where no dog. Now I see dog." He pointed at the page, mostly sketches of Interceptor from memory. His finger hovered just above the surface - he was going to smudge it. "You smart."

She jabbed him with her charcoal, leaving a black circle on the back of his hand. "No touchy."

He put both hands behind his back and took an obedient step away. "You see other animal?"

"What the hell," she said, flipping to a clean page. "Any special requests?"

"Ooo..." He rocked back on his heels, thinking. "Bird!"

"The client wants a bird," she muttered, throwing down the contours of a long snaky neck and a grand sweep of tailfeather, "the client gets a bird." She pushed a little magic into this one as she lifted the charcoal. A line drawing of a peacock peeled itself off the paper and began strutting around Gau, the spots in its train winking like eyes.

Gau jumped up and down in delight. "Cat!" he said. "Now cat!"

"Demanding little brat, aren't ya?" said Relm, and in nine well-placed strokes sent a cat chasing after the bird. Gau dropped to all fours to stalk along beside it. Then he asked for a snake, and then a deer, and then Umaro, and then spent a long time stumbling over the word "octopus" so she just doodled an increasingly grotesque series of Ultroses. Gau howled and capered around with the lot.

This kid got it, she decided. Good luck catching a grown-up appreciating art this much.

Eventually, his energy starting to run down, he said, "More dog?" and moved behind her again to watch. She started blocking in the broad chest and jowly face of an Imperial fighting dog. She was working on its goofy little turned-in forepaws when Gau announced, "I smart too."

"You think?" she said absently, trying to remember where the dewclaws went.

"I show you. I help." He tapped her shoulder, and she paused her drawing to look at him. "You see real thing, you make..." He frowned, searching for a word. He gestured at her drawing pad. "On there. You make same? You..." And then he broke into a grin at his own cleverness. "You make twin?"

"You mean drawing from life? Sure thing. Do it all the time."

He nodded and pointed at the dog's left front paw. "Dog hand. Shape like..." He bent his elbow at a strange angle and curled his fingers into stranger ones. "See. Make same hand." He pointed again and, bemused, she smudged out a few lines and drew the dog's claws back in following the contours suggested by his knuckles.

Then she sat back, studying the effect. "Hey, that does look better."

"I help!"

He was still holding his arm in the same position. Relm gave it a closer look. "Gau, you're double-jointed."

"Vwaoo?"

"And you can imitate any animal, right? Any animal in the world?"

"All animal my friend," he said, nodding earnestly.

Well, this was a nice surprise. She gave him her very sweetest smile. Already she was imagining fifteen or twenty weird compositions she could try, that no one else would ever agree to sit for. "Say, buddy. How long can you stay perfectly still?"