They met each other in a crowded cafe in downtown Hong Kong. Johnny was hot from walking, and it was humid and sticky. He wanted to take off his jacket, but he was afraid of all the sweat on his shirt, and everyone else in the cafe looked so cool and chic.
Ten looked cool and relaxed, in a pair of fake hipster lenses and a bright red cardigan. He was used to the hot climate. The man beside him was looking cool but in a different way - he had a neat shirt and jeans, with a pair of sunglasses folded into his breast pocket.
"This is my boyfriend," Ten told Johnny. "His name is Qian Kun. He's from the mainland."
Johnny smiled politely at the boyfriend. Ten was speaking in English, and he couldn't tell how much the man understood of what they were saying. When he wanted to speak to Qian Kun, Ten would switch to Mandarin, leaving Johnny feeling confused and out of the loop.
In any case, Ten didn't say much more about the boyfriend. Johnny could tell that he had something more interesting to tell him about.
"I have a project I'm working on," he told Johnny with a twinkle in his eye. "It's for an upcoming exhibit. I'm thinking either video or photography, haven't decided yet, but I have the image really clear in my head. I had a dream about it."
"Can you tell me about it?"
Ten shook his head and grinned. "I don't want to tell you too much just yet. It will spoil the idea if I say it out loud, but I'd like to ask you to help me."
"Sure, no problem."
Qian Kun looked back and forth between them politely as they spoke. Ten said to him in Chinese, and Johnny could just understand the simple phrases: "Johnny was at art school with me. He was a good photographer." Qian Kun replied something, but it was too fast for Johnny to understand.
"What do you want my input in?" Johnny asked him.
Ten looked a little hesitant. "Modelling, actually."
"You want me to be in the photograph?"
"If that's alright. It's just the idea I had... it somehow fits you perfectly. And since you're here, I thought I would at least ask you."
"Well, it does sound interesting."
Ten leaned in a little closer. "But just so you know. You might have to take off your clothes."
Johnny got undressed in Ten's studio. He was actually grateful for the opportunity to take off his sweaty clothes, and the feeling of the electric pedestal fan on his skin was quite refreshing. He left only his underwear on, and took a seat on the floor while Ten was consulting his notebook.
He came over to show Johnny the drawings. There were a number of figure sketches, and then a few figures with designs drawn over them. "I want to paint on your skin," he told Johnny. "Something like this."
From the designs in the book Johnny could get an idea of what Ten was imagining. It was a sort of body art, but with Chinese calligraphy.
"I think it will look good."
Ten turned a page. "There's stuff on the back too. I want to cover the whole body, which is why I was thinking of using video."
The additional page just showed a page of Chinese writing. "What does it mean?" Johnny asked him.
"It's a poem I wrote," he said. "It's the main focus of the work. I want to write the poem on your body."
Ten began examining Johnny. He asked him to turn around a few times, while he sussed out the sizing and position.
"Is this what you wanted?" Johnny asked him. He couldn't read Ten's expression.
"Yes, this will be fine. Perfect actually."
Ten touched his face as well, turning his cheek to one side. As he was doing this, Qian Kun came in and watched them. Johnny felt unnerved by his presence, but when Ten noticed him there he laughed and said something in Chinese. Johnny wasn't sure, but he thought it might be: "don't worry, he's straight."
Ten took out his paint brushes. Johnny was totally naked, but he was feeling more relaxed, now that he had settled in and knew what was to come.
"You seem different," he said quietly.
"Why?" Ten laughed. "I don't really feel different."
"I don't mean in a bad way. You just seem more confident. Maybe it's because you're older."
"And don't you think I seem sexier too?" Ten laughed at his embarrassed face. He had always said things like this back in art school, but it felt different now. Maybe it was because Johnny was naked and Ten had a boyfriend. Speaking of Qian Kun, he had been in the room before, but he had gone out again. Ten still hadn't told Johnny much about him.
Thinking back to the old days when they were at school together, Johnny tried to remember if he knew that Ten was gay. He probably knew, it didn't surprise him now, but they never talked about it. He wondered if Ten had been scared to tell him. He didn't know what he would have said, back then.
Ten used a sponge to cover Johnny in a white, powdery paint. "For the base," he said. He painted over the small tattoo on Johnny's chest.
"What is the poem about?"
Ten smiled secretively. "It's about passion," he said. "I can't really translate it."
"Is your Chinese that good?"
"Kun helped me write it."
The feeling of the paint was cool and it made his skin tingle. The way Ten brushed his skin felt so intimate. In a good way. They had always been good friends.
When Qian Kun came back, he and Ten spoke in Chinese for a bit. They were obviously talking about Johnny, because they kept touching him and moving him around, but Johnny didn't try to understand what they were saying. The feeling of just being an object, not really present, was relaxing. Their conversation probably didn't concern him anyway.
Ten continued to paint his body, now adding more colours. Qian Kun watched them with a serious expression, his forehead creased between his brows. His gaze focused on the movements of Ten's hand. Sometimes it would move, graze over Johnny's naked body, but if his eyes accidentally met with Johnny's, he would demurely look away.
When he spoke with Ten he sounded quite firm but tender, almost fatherly. Ten would nod obediently at his comments (which were indecipherable to Johnny) but sometimes he would laugh childishly.
As Ten was finishing the last touches of the base paint, Qian Kun placed his hand on Ten's waist. He seemed to do it subconsciously, as though it was a natural pose they often took. His fingers snaked around and they seemed to squeeze and rub Ten's side.
Johnny wondered what they looked like having sex. It was an intrusive thought that came upon him uninvited, but it was hard to bat away. Did Qian Kun take him, or was it the other way round? It was too easy to imagine them holding each other in this humid heat, sweaty, warm and naked.
To some relief, Johnny was asked to turn around. He now lay flat on the ground, and Ten painted his buttocks.
"You always had such a great butt," Ten said jokingly, and Johnny laughed. He knew that Ten was just playing around, like he always did, but Johnny felt ignited by the compliment. Ten was painting his butt, and also praising it. He felt proud of himself. And what a compliment it was that Ten thought his body was worthy of being a work of art.
Qian Kun also said something softly to Ten that made him laugh. He relayed to Johnny, "Kun thinks you're handsome too."
This compliment somehow felt even greater to Johnny. Because he didn't know Qian Kun, knew nothing about him other than that he was attracted to men, and that he loved Ten. And now that he finds me handsome too.
When Ten began to paint calligraphy on Johnny's back, Qian Kun took a seat on the other side, near Johnny's head, so that he and Ten were face to face. Ten would occasionally look towards him for approval while he painted, and Kun looked on with fondness. Johnny began to feel invisible again.
"It looks good," Ten said.
"I think it looks good too," Qian Kun replied.
Johnny had to stand up for them to paint the front part. Since he had become invisible, he didn't care at all about his nudity. Even though Ten was standing close to paint him, and both men were staring at him intently.
The cool tip of Ten's paint brush just brushed against Johnny's nipple and he felt shivers all over his body. He could feel the blood begin to move towards his groin, but instead of feeling embarrassed, he allowed himself to feel that it was natural, and desirable.
Kun said something to Ten that Johnny couldn't understand. Once again, Ten relayed it to him in English. "He was just asking me if I ever liked you in school."
"Well. Did you?"
Ten just smiled and continued painting. After waiting a few moments, he said, "Of course, I liked you Johnny."
"You liked me... like that?"
Ten didn't get to answer, because Kun distracted him with the camera. He turned back to Johnny and said quickly, "We're gonna film the video now, okay?"
Johnny thought it would be fine, but he realised that he no longer felt invisible. With Kun focusing the camera on his body, he soon became totally aware of it, and aware of the arousal forming. Perhaps it would be too lewd for their art project? Maybe Kun would notice and complain about it to Ten, but somehow the idea of that was more arousing to Johnny and his cock remained semi-erect.
Qian Kun did eventually look at Johnny's aroused sex, and he did comment on it to Ten. Johnny couldn't tell what they were saying. Ten nodded with a serious expression. He then took his paintbrush and knelt down before Johnny, his face so close to Johnny's arousal.
Johnny sucked a breath in sharply as Ten's paintbrush touched his cock. He painted stripes along the side. He paused for a moment, his breath feeling cool against the wet paint, and Johnny tingled. Then Ten stood up, smiling. "You have a beautiful cock," he said. It throbbed again.
He returned to Kun's side and together they studied the camera as Kun replayed the footage. They spoke a bit more. Ten no longer seemed interested in relaying every detail to Johnny, he was too focused on his project. This time he came to stand beside Johnny, positioning himself as Kun held the camera and filmed them both.
They said a few more words, and then Ten stepped away again. He moved beyond the paints, and then pulled his shirt over his head. Next he removed his pants and underwear, kicking them away carelessly. He came back to Johnny's side, and stood as he had done before.
Now Johnny felt electrified. Ten standing beside him, naked and tan, without a spec of paint, he looked beautiful to Johnny. He had never thought of Ten as beautiful before. But he had never before thought of them together in a work of art.
Ten gently reached out to touch Johnny's side. Johnny felt his heart thump with adrenaline and his blood pump with lust. Kun was filming them. Ten turned his face up to meet Johnny's and he smiled, a little shyly, a little apologetically. Johnny leaned in to kiss him.
With his painted hands, he pulled Ten in closer, holding his face in his palms, and melting their lips into each other. He felt hungry and desperate for it, like he had never felt before - for Ten, or for anyone. He moved his hand onto Ten's shoulder, and then around his body, as much as he could touch. He suddenly wanted to feel him all over, feel their bodies combine. The paint had mostly dried, but he wanted to imagine he was passing it onto Ten, covering him with it.
And all the while Qian Kun filmed them.
Ten finally let go of Johnny's body. "You didn't have to do it like that," he said sheepishly. "I was just going to pose next to you..."
"No, it's good," Qian Kun said.
Ten laughed. "Did it come out well?" He walked over to Kun's side. He wrapped his hands around his boyfriend's waist, and put his chin on his shoulder cutely, as if trying to compensate for his little act of treachery just a second ago. They watched the video footage together, and Ten cried out excitedly. "It's good, that's just right!"
Johnny had been feeling embarrassed about letting his urges overrule him, but now he felt relieved to know that their project had turned out like they wanted. He felt relieved of the responsibility of his own foolish act. If it was just for the art project he didn't need to ask himself what it had really been for, and why he had really wanted to do it.
Ten put his clothes back on and then he and Kun discussed a little more. Ten came back to Johnny and explained that they now had enough footage. "I have a shower you can use. You probably want to get all that paint washed off!"
Johnny thanked him and went into the bathroom. He caught the image of himself in the mirror, and stood there admiring it for a moment. It was indeed some beautiful paintwork by Ten, and the letters looked vivid against the painted skin. It seemed a pity to remove it so soon. Johnny also took a moment to admire what Ten had painted on his dick. Watching himself in the mirror, he became hard again and he rubbed himself. Finally he was able to relieve himself of the tension that had been building up over the whole day, the sensation of Ten's paintbrush, the curious eyes of Kun, their secret comments, Ten's naked body and the feeling of their lips together. Johnny finished himself off with a short grunt, his white semen blurring the paint, and all the thoughts evaporated like clouds. He took no time to jump into the shower and wash himself clean.
Johnny was invited to the art exhibition when the project was finalised. He felt a little unsure about going. He thought it might be strange to have to see his own naked body and see other people looking at it, but in the end he decided that he would go, because he was curious to see how the final product turned out.
Ten and Qian Kun attended the exhibition together, holding each other arm in arm as a pair. Ten was dressed in a loose silk shirt. Kun was looking chic in a black sweater, and a pair of thick rimmed glasses. They looked pleased to see Johnny.
"Go, have a look at the video piece," Ten urged him. "Tell me what you think."
Johnny looked around the showroom until he found it. It took a moment because he couldn't really recognise himself. The video had been edited so that it focused on the calligraphy and painting, rather than his face. Then Ten appeared in the video, and it showed Johnny grabbing him, turning to kiss him as though devouring his face. He was shocked by it. He could scarcely remember acting so forcefully and he even felt like he should apologise to Ten when he saw him again. And yet he couldn't deny that there was something forceful and powerful in the image.
Qian Kun had come to stand next to him, but he did not have Ten with him. He said to Johnny, in English, "The theme is passion. You can feel passion, right?"
Johnny felt embarrassed, because until now he had no idea that Kun could speak English. He didn't know what to reply.
Kun continued: "Ten wrote the poem for me. But the message came through you."
"I didn't know you spoke English."
Kun shrugged one shoulder. "Only know a little bit. You know Chinese?"
"Only a little bit."
"Do you like the video?"
"I think I do."
"I like it. Ten was right to choose you."
A little while later, Ten came back. He connected himself to Kun's side, kissing his ear. It took a while for them to finally be alone together, but as soon as Kun left, Johnny took the chance.
"Are you happy with the video?" he asked. "I'm sorry if I acted weird that day."
"Acted weird?" Ten laughed innocently. "What do you mean? It was perfect. You were great, I'm so happy!"
They went back to look at it again, this time the two of them together. Johnny felt a flutter in his chest as he watched them kiss each other on the screen. He cautiously turned away from it and faced Ten.
"You never answered me, you know. When we were in school, did you used to like me... like that?"
Ten laughed and squeezed Johnny's arm. "What does that matter now?" He let go of Johnny's arm when he saw Kun again, and Johnny didn't get to ask him again.