Inspired by Sei Shonagon's "The Pillow Book."
Lex tried not to shiver in the pale puddle of light. Stripped to the waist, he sat on his shins, head bowed and measuring his breath with steadied precision. Around him, barely visible in the dark outside the circle illuminating him, strange shapes peered back. White jade dragons flared their nostrils, tails coiled and ready to strike; blood laquer caught hints of light, reflecting back the slightest motion. On the walls, long scrolls flowed with calligraphy in a language he couldn't read, almost too beautiful to be merely words.
Thick with the scent of ink and oil and incense, Michelle Tang's studio was a strange and wonderful place in the dark. No, not Michelle. Tang Xiao Li, Lex corrected, there were rules here, and the proper roll of a Mandarin name was one of them. Even pronouncing it silently, he could feel the velvet caress tickling his tongue. Cool air kissed his skin, slipping past to run chilly fingers through a wind chime hidden in the distance. A strange and wonderful place, indeed, and one he'd never imagined existed.
He'd met her at a gallery, in Metropolis. There to talk business, he'd found himself looking at art instead. Violent streaks of gold and black on parchment, colors twisted into the shapes of concubines and chrysanthemums, fascinating for their economy of desire. He'd almost wanted one, considered buying an oil-paper screen, when she slipped up beside him- examining him the way he had examined the calligraphy, but with a sharper eye.
People rarely studied Lex, at least, not when he could see them. Maybe they found all the pale skin off-putting, or more likely, they didn't want him to stare back, but not Xiao Li. She wound her way around him, saying nothing at first, just tracing his fine, strong hands with her gaze, tipping her eyes up to his when the hands disappeared into his pockets. A blatant plotting of his face, as if memorizing the shape, before she spoke. "You have beautiful skin."
Lex didn't have an artistic temperament. He was used to having conversations mostly in order, working his way toward the point after pleasantries and introductions. It was plain she wanted something, but not plain enough for him to divine it, so he started over, extending one of the hands that had caught her attention. "Lex Luthor, and you are...?"
Instead of shaking his hand, she turned it over, rubbing honey-almond fingers along the inside of his wrist. Her concentration caught in whatever places artists went to when confronted with inspiration, she knitted her brows, then looked up at him. Waving toward the walls, spread out with rivers and bamboo, pomegranates and princes, she smiled, just a little. "These are mine. You're a businessman, aren't you?"
Back in the pocket with his hand, Lex leaned his head back. A businessman, yes, that was one word for it, he supposed. Maybe she wanted a patron, maybe she just wanted to make a sale. She was pretty, in an unconventional way, full lips and half rounded eyes that placed her somewhere between Chinese and American. It never hurt to listen, so he nodded and let her take that any way she wanted.
"Come with me. I have something you want."
So certain, she didn't look back, already walking away. That intrigued him, and he followed, to a back room in the gallery stacked with canvases and unused furniture. Opening a slick, black case, she produced a fine porcelain brush, and a small disk. She watched him watching her, rolling the soft brush on the tip of her tongue. Electric in her confidence, Lex could imagine any number of uses for that mouth, but he let his attention sink to see her smooth the brush over the disk until pale bristles turned dark with ink. She held out her hand, demanding with grace, until he offered his again.
Short, sure strokes, the brush skimmed his flesh, down and across, marking him with a lush figure that seemed to pulse with his heartbeat. A novelty of seduction, Lex leaned a little closer, catching a hint of something floral in her dark hair. When she finished, she looked up, her mouth close enough to taste, and he probably would have, if she hadn't spoken. "Is all of your skin like this?"
He laughed, and looked away. The inside of his wrist tickled with drying ink, and a faint sensation of fire warmed beneath the drawing. "I don't know what you're looking for, Miss Tang, but I don't think I can help you."
"Maybe when you wash it off," she said, smiling suddenly as she fished a business card out of her pocket. Holding it up between two fingers, she tipped her head to catch his gaze, dark brows rounding, determined, challenging. "You'll reconsider. I make great art, Mr. Luthor. You could be great art."
Turning her back on him, she put the card within his reach and dismissed him. Away with the brush and disk, she didn't even meet his eye when she slipped past him to return to the gallery. And because it was a novelty to be dismissed, unusual to be examined so blatantly, and because he had, briefly, imagined her tongue tracing that shape on his wrist, he took the card with him.
Later, in the shower, he was glad he did. Washing away the ink, it flowed down his fingers in slowly clearing rivers, leaving a faint, red welt on his wrist. When he touched the imprint, a shock of pleasured pain cut through him. Instantly hard, immediately hungry for a hot mouth, and a soft body, he leaned against the shower wall to examine the mark. Beneath his thumb, he could read the shape of the character, whatever mysterious word it said, a tactile incantation of desire.
Scientifically, he understood there must have been something caustic in the ink, that he'd found her attractive and been set up to expect -some- kind of reaction when he washed off the mark, but science and logic made weak guards against curiosity and desire. Ducking his head beneath the hot spray, he made a mental note to call her in the morning.
That was six months ago. Six appointments ago, and since then, he'd learned to say her name and a smattering of polite Mandarin phrases, that she had different brushes for different textures- white goat's hair, black rabbit, yellow weasel, and that the oval slab of ink sat in a pot pounded from copper in the Han Dynasty. She'd said it was important for him to know these things because unless the paper loved the pen, art couldn't happen at all.
His weight burrowing into the silk pillow, he took a halfbreath when he heard motion behind him- the crackle of ice in water, then the sound of a cloth being wrung. His muscles hardened, and he swallowed a hard sound when he felt her heat, then the sudden sting of cold water on his back. She washed him with frigid silk, it pulled and tugged at his flesh, clinging to the curve of his shoulder, sticking at the small of his back.
"Ni chi guo le ma, Lex?" Her voice was soft, distracted, as she replaced the texture of wet silk with dry cotton. How are you, Lex?
Closing his eyes, he tried not to lean back into her touch. After the water came sand, finely ground, almost like powder that she spread over his skin with the rough palms of her hands. Small, tight circles, almost like a massage, tightening his skin all over. Nipples hard, breath harder, Lex's toes curled as he murmured,"Chi guo, Xiao Li."
"Hen hao, very good." Her hands were gone, rubbing sand away over the floor, and Lex swore he could hear every grain hit the tile. Listening to her breathe, he licked his lips, tasting the first hint of ginger and chi chien pepper in the air. That's what she ground into the ink to leave its mark, simple spices in pine pitch and oil, a secret she made him promise to keep. It wouldn't be hard, he couldn't imagine trying to explain this to anyone, he wasn't entirely sure he understood it himself.
She inked her brush, the bristles rasping faintly, like hands rubbing against hands, and then a long moment of quiet. He could feel her moving behind him, the floor creaking as she settled on her knees. The arch of her body drew a warm blanket of almost-contact on his back, her hand hovering with impossible weight just above his right shoulder. His skin tingling from ice and sand, it was hardest not to move in the interminable silence between greetings and beginnings. Finally, she spoke. "Think about what you want."
And it was fire when she drew the first stroke, wet fire that burrowed into his skin. That first shock of brush meeting back seemed to flow through him, lapping ghostly tastes against his lips, wrapping tight wraith fingers around his cock. The first few appointments, she'd almost finished because he could relax, but now his body was used to the touch, his mind eager and trained to go anywhere. Almost like meditation, he slipped away from this place to another, one that smelled of sweet grass, and ivory soap. One that felt like summer, and tasted like sun-warmed strawberries.
Clark. Jesus, it was always Clark, so easy to reach between strokes of spice-painted poetry. So easy to touch in ways Lex would never dare anywhere but his thoughts. He knew the shape of him, trembling under his hands as he leaned in for a kiss, parting swollen, pretty lips with his tongue. He wanted to ravage that mouth, to teach Clark what a kiss should be like. Not a chaste, schoolgirl kiss, doled out on a doorstep at the end of a date, a kiss with intent. A promise, a prelude to a fuck.
Sticky ink swirled in complicated patterns, dots and dashes and whorls to inflame senses already sharpened with hunger. Those radicals could be fingerprints, Clark's thick fingers pressing their shape into his back. Clutching for purchase in spasms against flesh and bone to pull Lex closer, and that's what he wanted. Virgin shy and ready to be broken, Clark pulling him down anywhere, in the loft, in his bed, in an endless sea of sweet grass, savoring the sting of Lex's mouth and wanting more.
There were no consequences in this nowhere place, no fear, no hesitation, no serious discussions of how Clark liked him, but not like that, none of that. When Lex closed his eyes, Clark longed for everything he did, he ached to pull Lex's weight onto him, and he said so. Rasping it into his ear, his pink tongue tracing the lobe and swearing he's been thinking about this forever. That he thinks about it all the time, that he can't even get hard thinking about Lana anymore, it has to be Lex, and what does he want? He'll give him anything. Anything. Just don't stop.
Lex never wanted any-one- before. He wanted things, he wanted ideals, and concepts, he's wanted to drink, and fuck, and own the world, but nothing as intense and frightening as wanting someone, and worse, someone he couldn't have. So when Xiao Li tells him to think about what he wants, slicking his skin with ink-wet rabbit hair in a neat line down his back, he does. Clark's hands rough and clumsy, peeling clothes away to the skin, the hot curve of his cock straining against blue jeans his mother probably bought, sinking down to suck Lex's nipples into tight peaks.
Fuck, he felt him with every stroke of the brush, tonguing his flesh, looking up at him with those wide, indiscriminate eyes, asking with inflections of brows, am I doing this right? Answering him with a hand tangled in his dark hair, coarse silk wrapping around his fingers, trapping and biting with little pulls. Lex quit thinking about the reality of the matter three appointments ago, in his mind, Clark says fuck, and brushes his cheek against Lex's cock; he traces the length of it with his plush mouth, following the line of the head before sinking down to swallow him.
The third line started at the base of his skull. Lex felt Xiao Li's breath falling rough against his scalp, and for a moment he let go of Clark to wonder what she thought about, or if art alone was enough to pull those lazy, heavy sighs from her throat. From the sounds she made, the way heat poured off her body, it seemed the third line, down his spine, was the best for her. Jagged, wicked strokes scoring his skin, she pressed the heel of her hand into his left shoulder to balance herself.
On that, Lex's meditation changed, now his nowhere place was his own bed. Pressed face down in sheets thick with sweat and sex, Clark's hand plastered across Lex's shoulder blade as he sank down, following the dragon trail of his spine, tasting him there, biting at increments. Sharp teeth, good, sharp teeth that would leave marks, souvenirs smoothed over with the flat of his tongue. Lower, his hard body crushing and caressing at once, Clark's weight making it hard to breathe; Lex swallowed his own hot breath, digging his hands into the sheets when the steady progression of his mouth failed to stop at the small of his back.
The brush was suddenly wet again, grating in hard, swimming lines, and Lex had lost himself to the sensation of Clark fucking him with his mouth, parting his ass with strong, strong hands to sink deeper. Slick and velvet, and so damned hot, the thick needle slide of Clark's tongue tormented him, not hard enough. Not fast enough, but Clark, in his mind, knew him, knew his body well enough to sense the shift from pleasure to torture; he wasn't too shy to tell Lex to roll over, or to let Lex watch between his own splayed legs as he licked his palm and slicked it back over his cock.
Then the world fell down, fractured fantasies colliding, though from the outside, he just swayed slightly, nearly still parchment beneath the brush. The first lines of ink were already starting to dry, the pepper-ginger burn digging sharp claws into him, real heat to match the imagined, the stretching, solid burn of a cock, -Clark's- cock pressing into him. Face to face, Clark's golden body dressing him, pounding into him, filling him, battering him with endless thrusts, or maybe not, maybe his mouth, his lush, pretty mouth wrapped around Lex's cock, so deep in his throat he gasps for breath and swallows hard against the head. Or maybe not, maybe Lex on top of him, arms looped beneath his knees to splay him open, begging him for harder, faster, deeper, musk sweat and cum and sun-warmed strawberries in his mouth, and it hurt. Needing Clark hurt, wanting him hurt, so close and he couldn't fucking have him.
The brush stopped, porcelain clattering to tile, and Xiao Li was touching him. Never before, she had always finished painting and walked away, but this time she covered his hand with her own and stroked it back, between his legs. Her breath teased warm on his ear, and she murmured, "Do it. Have what you want." A few hard strokes through silk and he shuddered back against her. Cum, thick as ink paste, spilled hot against the fabric, seeping through in a stain. He couldn't say it, he wouldn't say it, but Clark's name clung to his lips as the jolts wrenched through him. Aftershocks stung, his palms and the flats of his feet tingling with pleasant electricity, and he was startled to feel his skin against skin; he'd never looked back, he'd just assumed she was dressed.
Leaning his head back, he kissed her, or she kissed him, it didn't really matter which. Slow, almost sweet, her tongue tasted of coffee and cigarettes. First time for that, too, and when she drew back, she smiled. "Xiexie, Luthor xiangshen." Thank you, Mr. Luthor. Business finished, contract completed. In the half-light, he watched her rise to her feet, disappearing on quiet feet to another room, and as he dressed, he heard the unmistakable whine of a camera flash warming up, then a snap and winding of film.
He knew when he left that he wouldn't be coming back. Five rough drafts and a sixth, finished work, she would need new paper to write on. Whoever the hell that would be, Lex envied and pitied him, mostly envy when he stood under the shower and let the ink wash away, feeling everything again with the sudden shock of scalding water on bare skin. The ink stained the tile, just a faint hint of grey, and it stained him, too. For days, he couldn't bear the weight of clothes on his skin, or the rough course of sheets beneath his back, and god, it was good.
A few weeks later, after the sting had finally become a memory, a paper-wrapped package came to his office. Delivered without a note, or an explanation, Lex tipped the courier and sat back to open the package. Thin rice paper, it tore away easily to reveal a photograph, framed and matted. Mute sunset colors, the long thin whip of a woman's body twisted across a pure white backdrop- nude, but for Chinese poetry smeared across her breasts and belly. Down in the corner, a distinctive red seal made the brightest spot, and underneath it, she'd scrawled a title in black ink.
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