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You started doing something stupid after Grey… stupider than usual that is. You started becoming careless.

Not of him. The mere thought of that made you shiver with the fear of what you would have become on the day that you stopped caring for the fleeting moment, the breath, the heartbeat that was a normal human life.

But of you.

The first time… the first time you hadn’t known what to think.

After work - a late night of course or early morning, maybe, you couldn’t be sure anymore - you’d been lying down with a cold, wet towel over your eyes – being shot in the head always made it ache no matter how many pain killers you took, you still just had to wait it out.

You knew that he had been acting… strange, when you had gasped back to life and coughed air back into your empty, burning lungs. You’d grimaced as you’d brushed your fingers through blood-soaked hair, then laughed about the stupidity of not paying attention when there where so many weapons lying about and so many idiots who didn’t know when not to touch.

You think you’d made a joke about taking stupid risks and… something had almost flickered over his face while you paused effectively for the punch line and then you’d said, “I spend too much on shampoo as it is.”

He’d been kneeling by your side. His palms pressed calmly onto his thighs as he’d waited for your heart to beat again.

He had stood up and left you there. He hadn’t helped you up even though he was well aware of every pain or ache that came hand in hand with each type of death - in your cynical moments you consider that he may even be cataloguing them.

He hadn’t held his hand out and brushed his thumb over the pulse in your wrist like he sometimes did in that way that seems to manage to turn you on so desperately. He hadn’t shut his eyes and taken a deep measuring breath, as one might have, if one were trying not to discipline a child.

He’d just gotten up and walked away. Leaving you there with both your eyebrows arched in surprise and the hysterical female shrieking and groping her gratitude at you for saving her life from… well you forget now.

It wasn’t till later, later when you had that towel over your eyes, in the cool sub-basement, in the dark – because it was moments like these when you forgot where the light switch was and you weren’t quite sure whether it wouldn’t have blinded you anyway; so you didn’t even bother to look for it anymore – and he was there.

You weren’t quite sure when that happened. When he arrived or when he decided to stop standing in front of you, invisible as he watched you and make himself noticeable again. You might have been surprised or gasped out a shocked laugh and warned him to be careful because he should know that his stealth always turned you on.

But he hadn’t come back with his usual witty retort. He hadn’t said, “Everything turns you on Sir, even my not being in the same room as you.” He hadn’t smiled wistfully and then gotten on to your bed, straddled your hips and tried to kiss the pain away. He had just shaken his head and walked away.

You didn’t like to watch him as he walked away from you. You very much enjoyed all the many, many occasions where you got to watch him walk away towards something else. That was a completely different matter entirely even if you weren’t quite sure whether you could always recognise the difference. But suddenly his walking away changed and you noticed. That time you didn’t enjoy watching his legs as he strode away from you or his ass, as each step seemed to make it sway from side to side in that perfectly hypnotising way you were quite sure he had perfected on purpose to taunt you even though he assured you he hadn’t. This time, you were quite sure, was one of those times he was merely walking away from you and not towards something else.

It was later that week, the sixth or seventh time you’d died that month, week, or day – you never bothered to remember really – and you had just kissed her cheek goodbye and you were watching her drive away from you but towards her husband and he was standing behind you, slightly to the side. You had just said something funny and you were laughing at it in that self-involved sort of way that made you forget to notice whether the people around you were finding you amusing.

You were turning around to face him when his hand wrapped firmly round your bicep and stopped you. He hadn’t stepped up behind you and pressed his body against yours to tell you that he wanted to fuck you. He hadn’t pulled you quickly and urgently towards the door that went back into the base so that you could rip each other’s clothes off and whoever ended up getting fucked became a matter of convenience or logistics or mere chance. He hadn’t kissed the side of your neck in that way he did where really he was tasting you - because even though it was barely noticeable you always felt his tongue quickly sweep over your skin – which usually also signalled that he was feeling tired and wanted you to lead. Lead him down to your bed, strip him and fuck him in that heartbreaking, slow and deep sort of way that forced you to give a part of yourself to him each time he chose it that way.

He pushes you forwards instead, towards his car and presses you against the passenger door – which tells you he’ll be driving in every sense of the word for the rest of the night. You laugh again, feeling playful and quite satisfied that the world was once again a safer place from the deadly plant - that you’d just had to touch, even though you’d known better, because it had been so very long since the last time you’d seen that particular shade of indigo - without following protocol. You’d been stupid; you’d laughed about it when you woke up. He hadn’t even been watching you but carefully putting the pretty flower in a containment box instead.

He blindfolds you and you tense and grow silent and then relax and tell him that you’d prefer to get to wherever you were going first, before he begins denying you any one of your senses – no matter how much you were looking forward to it in the end.

He says no and he secures the blindfold tightly in place and your blood starts to simmer gently under your skin.

He sits you down carefully.

He gets into the driver’s seat and when you start to fidget he tells you sharply to stop and you do and you try and sit still until he gets you to wherever it is that he’s taking you.

You don’t know where you are once you arrive and that makes you nervous. Even worse, when you realise you’re definitely not at his apartment because you walk straight into wherever it is, without climbing any stairs. But he’s obviously still familiar with this place since he shuts and locks the door behind him.

You get the impression its dark even from behind your blindfold. He takes your coat off and lowers your suspenders. He takes your shirt and manages to lift your white T-shirt off, over your head without making you lose the blind-fold. You admire his skill at the same time as you recognise the difference between stripping you for sex and taking some of your clothes off with the clinical precision he seems to be using at the moment.

He lays you down. Face down on a sort of upright massage table and you let him for a moment before you begin to question him. You don’t really understand what you could gain from this position and you’re still wearing your trousers. So far he hasn’t managed to sell this idea to you.

He ignores you until he doesn’t and then he clarifies but he doesn’t.

He tells you that you should always have a certain amount of respect for life. No matter how much of it you may have in abundance.

He tells you that he’d decided that he had to find a way to remind you.

The way he decides, it seems is to assert all that dominance he hadn’t been using. And you’re thrilled to see a new side of him. You’d been waiting for it, expecting it, hoping for it and almost trying to trigger it from time to time when you thought that pushing him too far would have him turning the tables on you, tying you up, whipping you till you could barely move, playing with all the toys that you’d been teaching him how to use by example.

You’d been craving this moment. Obsessing over it with a hunger one can only achieve when one is being denied what one wants.

You’d wanted this moment for what felt like forever but you knew was scarcely a second in comparison to the long life you have ahead of you.

You want it and your slacks are stretched tightly around your erection as you think of all the possible scenarios you can. That is… until someone else comes into the room and you realise that the tables have been well and truly turned and you suddenly decide that they don’t match the rest of the furniture in the room anymore.

You try to get up. His hand keeps you where you are.

You try to take your blind-fold off. He doesn’t let you.

You try to speak. He tells you to keep your mouth shut.

He tells you that he can't understand why you’re making such a fuss. It isn’t as if he could kill you on a more than semi-permanent basis.

You manage to think for a moment that it seems he has the same disdain for your life as you do. You’re wrong, though you aren’t to find that out till later.

He tells you that he expects you to stay still and silent throughout.

“Throughout what?” You want to ask him. But you don’t. You’re good.

He tells you that he wants you to trust him in the same way he has always trusted you. He tells you that he expects you to stay there until they’re finished, that right this second is the last chance you have to back out.

You don’t of course.

You shake your head and he sighs and tells you that if you’re a good boy he’ll take good care of you afterwards. You can't help flushing, knowing that a stranger just heard him claim you as his boy.

You’re hard and you stay that way. You’re hard when he speaks to the other person in the room. You’re hard when you hear him confirm that yes you are the one of whom he had spoken of earlier.

You stay hard when the other man touches and strokes over your back. You stay hard when the man asks him whether he had shaved you earlier as had been requested. You can picture him nodding and giving the stranger that look which you knew so well meant - get on with it.

You’re not so hard once you hear the buzzing.

You manage to restrain yourself from demanding to know what’s going on. It takes all of your control and you taste the blood begin to seep from your tongue as you bite through it to keep it silent.

The buzzing gets nearer to your skin.

It presses and it hurts.

Blinding, burning hurt that makes you cry out and clench at the seat you’re on until you’re quite sure you’ve tattooed your fingerprints into the metal fame that’s covered by the foam and leather you’re resting on, the same way that an unknown stranger is tattooing art into your skin.

It hurts and it feels like a thousand needles pressing into every nerve, in every millimetre of exposed skin.

It hurts! You have extremely sensitive skin and he knows this — he’s spent enough of his time tasting and licking and sucking and biting it after all. Its part of your biology it always seemed to enhance sex and you’d always been grateful for it.

You’re not grateful anymore.

It takes hours and you don’t realise you cry until afterwards when you wipe your hand over your eyes and notice how wet they are. You don’t get a break you don’t even get an anaesthetic wipe and you realise that was probably what the other man had tried to argue with him about. But he wants you to feel all the pain. This is punishment after all.

When the needles get close to your spine you start to shake and the artist stops. You’re relieved, but he asks the stranger why and the man tries to explain, before he interrupts him and tells him to continue because what you feel doesn’t really matter.

You feel worthless and you’re quite sure that’s the moment when the tears had started to fall.

You think he’s actually annoyed when he tells you in a quiet voice, tense with some unnamed emotion, that since you had no sense of self-preservation what-so-ever, you’d have to sit there and take it like you’d said you would.

You think maybe he’d been hoping you’d stop this when he’d given you that last chance to turn him down.

You hate pain and if you weren’t the type of man that you were you’d even say you were afraid of it. It’s such a constant in your life but you have no choice over that. It just is. But at least it’s also over quickly. With sex you choose to feel the pain that is pleasure and then you are gifted with glorious climaxes. You can justify that trade and most of the time; you think you’ve actually made brilliant returns in the trade-off.

This pain is completely different but you can also recognise it, relate it to a period in your life, not too long ago, where every single touch you’d received had only ever brought you pain, had only ever been about hurting you and making you suffer as much as possible. There hadn’t been any sort of respite in twelve months and it had always ended in your death. Worse, there had never ever been someone there to be with you when you came back and had to face the whole cycle all over again.

You realize that even though he had been distant lately he had never ever not been there with you when you came back so you are capable of seeing the difference between now and then but you feel the similarities all too acutely and it hurts your head just as much as it hurts your body.

It feels like a different kind of torture.

The drive back is silent. You lay down on your side along the back seat – because though laying on your front would be more comfortable, you’re feeling too used and vulnerable, as it is, without making it worse – your back is facing him. You’re not blindfolded anymore but you haven’t even looked at him since she had kissed your cheek goodnight so many hours ago. You’re still not wearing anything on the top half of your body because everything hurts.

He’s your master until you step into your hub. You still ignore him and he doesn’t say anything but he watches you.

You walk quietly up to your office and you stand behind the chair he usually sits in when you both drink coffee together. You stare at the cracked leather under your hands. Your fingers clench and you shatter the glass that surrounds you by throwing it as hard as you can. He doesn’t even flinch but you know that he’ll have a hell of a lot of cleaning up to do in the morning. You’re not sure whether that makes you feel better.

Luckily all that noise, all that breaking, all that momentary overwhelming violence calms you down because otherwise you’re not quite sure what you could have been capable of doing to him.

But words are enough. Angry, furious words and you tell him that you don’t know what that was supposed to mean, or teach you because the only thing you know is that you don’t trust him anymore and you don’t understand why he would want you to feel that way.

He tells you quietly that you know exactly what it was supposed to mean or teach you and if you didn’t yet, you would soon enough.

His tone of all knowing condescension doesn’t help you calm down in the slightest and you yell at him about choice and marking your body without permission and that you don’t even know what the fuck it is. It's your skin and you don’t know what’s been written or drawn on it, what colour it is.

He looks at you curiously, over his crossed arms while he leans against the doorway. The same place he’s been since you’d both arrived and you’d blown up. He asks you if you think anything should be black or white?

You glare at him and tell him it's a bit late for questions.

He tells you that you don’t need to know what it says you just need to know what it means. What it means to him. What it means to you. It’s a reminder, not a warning.

You try and point out that it’s pointless and ridiculous and you tell him you’re surprised that it hadn’t occurred to him that the first time you die, it will disappear.

He smiles in that knowing, sad, bitter, jaded but somehow still caring sort of way and tells you, “I know!”

And you don’t understand. You even doubt his brilliance for a few days and you underestimate him as you watch him closely and silently waiting for him to suddenly go senile.

It seems that in the end you weren’t ‘good’ because he leaves without fucking you. Which makes you feel like the whole ordeal reaches a whole new level of futility.

You spend two days ignoring him and ignoring the heavy black weight on your back. You can feel it as if the ink was made of iron and won't let you forget it’s there. You spend two days ignoring it. You won't even try and look at it in the mirror because that would give it importance that you don’t think it deserves. Would make it matter that someone dared to place a visible mark of ownership on your skin but didn’t care enough to stay. You feel discarded in the worst way.

You hate that it makes you hard when you think about it.

When you finally give in and beg him to fuck you. He undresses you from the waist up only, lowers your trouser to not even half-way down your thighs and he bends you over your own desk and proceeds to hammer himself into depths of your body no one has reached in a very long time.

He licks and sucks and kisses unreadable patterns across your back the whole time and when you come you ache from it and the weight doesn’t disappear.

When you die a week later, you barely notice. You’re exhausted and being pushed shouldn’t have made you fall out of that window but you’d been clumsy and tripped and in the end it had just made you feel more tired.

You’ve spent the last five days on your knees being fucked and played with in every imaginable way and it’s been good and terrible and the bad pain has been cleared away from your memory by paddles and chains, by vibrators and cock rings and nipple clamps. He’d practiced all his newly learnt skills on your body and you’d been happy, relieved to let him, to let yourself go, to lose yourself.

When you die you actually have a plug in your ass and you admit to him later that you wished that the fall had managed to switch it on. It would have been the first time you’d come back to life and straight into an orgasm. You mention that it wouldn’t be a bad way to go… or come again and laugh.

He doesn’t even crack a smile.

You dismiss it.

Later you realise that was a mistake. You’ve miscalculated.

When you finally do understand… Understand why. Well, you learn never to doubt him again, never to underestimate him. You even write it down somewhere so it will remind you for next time. It seems that every time you remember to re-write that note, you misplace it. He is the one that reminds you each and every single time.

You’re a fool and it had never occurred to you that he would actually consider making you go through it all again. You refuse of course and you spend three weeks thrusting into a lifeless corpse and you feel like you’re starting that circle again. He doesn’t sleep with you but he does wait for you for fifteen minutes every night. After he dresses and tidies himself up with robotic precision, he goes out and he sits in his car and he waits for you to come to him willingly.

Sometimes you follow him, watch him as he gets out of his car and goes into his flat, watch until the lights go out. Sometimes you get out of the SUV and you follow him into his home. When you do, you fuck him in his guest room because you can't bring yourself to desecrate his own bed with this fucked up form of negotiation.

On the twenty-third day you’re waiting by the passenger door when he shows up. You haven’t fucked that day, you haven’t even died but you can’t do this anymore.

From then on, whenever you die you don’t even bother to go into the hub to change out of your bloody clothes. You know that annoys him, picks at his fastidious nature, makes his fingers itch at the thought of his clean upholstery. But he lets you keep that form of rebellion.

It never stops hurting just as much as it did that first time.

You do stop dying as often as you used to though.

Now when you play neither of you know who’ll end up being boss. But when it’s him he always takes you from behind so that he can watch your back, the muscles as they tremble from the strain of tied up balls and denied climax or the welts that criss-cross, interrupting whatever it is that’s painted on there.

You never look.

Though you do ask once, when he’s holding you afterwards, stroking up and down your back – he’s sort of fixated on it now – you ask how he explained to the artist that you keep going back with such an extraordinary blank canvas. He tells you not to worry that he’s taken care of it. You start to question him further but he shuts you up and makes it clear that he’s in charge of this. This is his and it will be, till it isn’t anymore.

He always comes with you those times when he’s decided dying wasn’t something you could have avoided. The times you died for a reason that he could find some way to justify. He sits by your side and keeps his hand on the back of your head, motionless as you wince through the pain. When the man starts stabbing around skin that seems closer to bone and you can't help but whimper and clench your fingers around his as he holds your hand.

When he can't find a reason to justify one of your reckless deaths, you go alone.

It isn’t that he forces you or even tells you to go. Not since that first time, when he had passed you a note with the time and place and told you to be there.

You had anticipated his arrival throughout your ‘appointment.’ Had lain on your belly, but instead of facing the chair that was always by your head so that he could sit by you, and you could look at him, you had faced the door waiting for it to open as the man inked your skin. But it hadn’t, not that night.

You understood that ‘I wasn’t paying attention’ was not a good excuse. Neither was ‘I didn’t see’, ‘It was an accident’, ‘I wasn’t expecting there to be six of them and they sort of ganged up on me’ or ‘It wasn’t my fault.’ But you come back from a mission, a new tear in your shirt or coat, a smudge of blood staining your face or hands, your hair ruffled from where you had tried to wash the evidence away and he looks at you, expressionless and knows.

The second time he had handed you your phone, number dialled and just beginning to ring and said, “I wrote the number into your address book so you don’t have to ask me for it.”

From then on, on those occasions when you die but you shouldn’t have, you make your own appointment and you go alone. You always face the door. You always wait for him. You never stop hoping he’ll forgive you and come inside to place his hand on your head as his reminder is tattooed permanently into your back.

Aftercare is usually the same… or the same but different in the way that sex can never be the same twice.

Sometimes it’s about what you feel. Helpless and small and bossed around by someone you hate because he owns your skin.

Sometimes you cry, shuddering, heaving sobs as he fucks into you deep and slow and unforgiving but for the comforting welsh vowels that stroke over your skin, making it easier for you to take him into your body.

Sometimes you rage, furious and angry and mad and livid, on the edge of violence and the precipice of oblivion. Those times you always end up tied up and never fucked. He says it’s because he won’t allow you to find a way to justify your anger in the brutality of masochistic sex that balances precariously on the cusp of rape. He fucks himself slowly on to your cock as your feet pull uselessly at rough rope that won't give you the leverage to fuck him back.

You always sleep like a baby afterwards.

That doesn’t mean that your heart is ever less broken. The fact that he knows you so well, can manage you so perfectly; speaks to levels of how unbelievably damaged he is that he can actually attempt to understand you.

You love him. He’d claimed your skin like a pilgrim in the new world and if that image alone didn’t make you giggle like a child whenever it popped into your head you’d hate him. You hate him for forcing you to do it. You hate him even more for those times he doesn’t force you and you make that phone call by yourself like a child calling a babysitter to apologise for being naughty. You hate him for touching you with love while a stranger hurts you. You hate him more because you hate him more when he isn’t there to do that. You hate him for humiliating you, for having the audacity to think he has any sort of claim on you. But most of all you hate him for caring.

You hate him for that most. For the fact that sometimes when he watches you his unreadable expression… softens.

It takes you a while to decide what exactly it is that he wants you to feel or think or know or figure out. It changes and you realise that it has to. The reason couldn’t go on for so long and stay the same because if it did you’d eventually manage to feel or think or know what he’d always meant you to. But then without reason there would be no cause and this would have become just another thing on your long list of forgotten memories.

Sometimes it’s because you’ve been drowning in life and you need something to anchor you before you shatter into a million pieces because time is pulling in every direction and you remain stationary.

Sometimes it’s about continuity when you’re faced with the prospect of looking forwards and you only see everything else ending.

Sometimes it’s about proximity. It's about sharing something with him that he knows you might remember him for, a long time after you’ve forgotten what he looks like.

Sometimes it’s about pain, simple pain that you don’t have to risk your life to feel and then it’s about him taking care of you because you take care of everyone and will do so for the rest of eternity.

Sometimes it’s merely about punishment because sometimes you deserve it and sometimes you even ask for it.

Sometimes it feels like release and sometimes it feels like a trap and instead of feeling anchored to life you feel anchored to him and sometimes that feels like release, a breath, a sigh, knowledge that he’s there and sometimes it feels like a trap, like ownership, like decay, like death.

Sometimes it’s because you are the only one. The only one and unless some higher being is waiting somewhere in the wings to talk to you, you have no one to answer to. But in those moments you do. Somebody holds you accountable, you do your penance and then you are forgiven with something tangible and maybe, maybe from time to time it eases your guilt.

The guilt of living.

Ten, a hundred, a million years from now when you’re still the only one who always lives.

It becomes a challenge for yourself to see how long you can keep the same picture on your back.

You ask him once if he gets bored staring at the same thing for such long periods of time. He stares at you for ages then goes on to prove how different the same thing can be, over and over. There’s quite a variety and all the raised, blushing skin, from palm or paddle, blade or burn, scars that will last as long as ink, all interspersed with licks and bites, kisses and strokes a feeling, memory that will last longer.

After ten, a hundred, a million years you haven't always had his mark but sometimes you remember and you die a pointless death, to clean the slate as it were and you go and collect his punishment.

To tell the truth it was several hundred years before you skipped a death mark. You felt like a persecuted criminal and had kept looking over your shoulder expecting to be castigated and you almost feel relieved when you die again and have an excuse to go back. It takes practice to ease yourself out of the habit. You wonder now and again whether you’re addicted to the pain, to the feeling of having someone anonymous drill semi-permanent memories into your skin.

It’s how you think of yourself when you’re drunk, eternally semi-permanent.

There had been a time before him when you had measured life in death. You counted how many deaths you’d died but not how many years you’d lived. You stopped doing that in the twentieth-first century. You don’t always remember what made you stop doing that.

It isn’t about that lover from long ago, anymore really.

It’s about the lesson he thought he’d taught you. Taught you that you shouldn’t take your life for granted because there would be consequences and even if they weren’t going to be end of the world consequences; you still had to answer to them… you still have to answer to someone because someone expected you to. Long ago someone had expected more, had expected you to live for him and never die for him. It was the only promise he’d asked you to make and it was the only one you’d ever broken - repeatedly.

You’d never know whether he forgave you for that.

He’d told you that dying was easy. Living was harder. He taught you that. He had been a man, a boy who constantly faced death but still managed to live for you. He could never forgive you for constantly facing death and dying for him. It wasn’t the same and you knew that.

He taught you the difference and you remembered that, if nothing else.