The tapestry of his life was etched in flesh, stark black lines on pale skin slashed with scars. Each silvery trail had its mate, words of remembrance and warning. His meditation writ by the loving marks of many masters. An inconsistent and willful sub, he'd struggled for dominance and paid the price. Nervous fingers caressed the newest, still pink and overly sensitive.
"Are you sure you want to do this now? It's going to hurt." The artist's cautionary words were shrugged off and he settled into the chair. The pain was, to some degree, the point.
The ticklish job of layout was soon completed, and he studied the rough outline now spanning his chest in the mirror. His mind seamlessly made the transposition to read the familiar phrase. The mirror crack'd from side to side. "The curse is come upon me."
"It's a bit longer than the others."
"So was the relationship." His curt retort cut short any further questions and dark lashes fluttered shut as the needle bit into tender flesh. Traitorous thoughts reached back to the first time in this chair, and the quote that skimmed sinuously around and between his vertebrae. The trick is not minding that it hurts. A hard lesson, true, but one that still served him well. It served as punctuation for the satiny twisted stripes a badly wielded bullwhip had wrought.
Inky pinpricks danced close to his recent injury, coaxing damaged nerves to fire in sympathetic resonance, connecting present to past. The harsh crack of well-tanned leather on untanned skin. His arousal spiraled, adrenaline surging past synapses and connecting anus to cock to brain. Fire surged through the planes of muscle cushioning his spine, hot sparks of remembered agony.
The face was lost to him, but dark, unreadable eyes remained. They had lit, ever so briefly, when his blood started to flow. Trust misplaced for the first time carved canyons in his soul far deeper than the faded trails left behind would suggest.
Despite it all, or perhaps because, the remembrance was not of pain, but pleasure. His cock swelled under the force of the memory. Echoes of satisfaction he chased to this day.
He'd sworn it would never happen again, the words wrapping his spine meant as a warning. Not six weeks later traitorous feet carried him back to the clubs in search of something he couldn't admit.
It didn't always end badly. At times their lust and his need dovetailed, at least for a while. In the end, he always ended up wanting. A year passed, then two. Self-protective urges faded, the men he played with growing ever more demanding. His wants, delivered, and exceeded.
The artist was just that, an artist. His only concern perfect placement and precise lines. If he made the connection it was never mentioned. The others admired only the contrast, stark black on creamy white. Decoration for decoration's sake. Deeper meaning was outside their purview. That the needle was absolution for his failings was his private codex, the key to unlocking his truth.
The kanji wrapping his neck didn't quite conceal the grooves left by an ill-considered foray into breath play. A world of hurt and pain, even still, flowers bloom. He had sworn that would be the last time he made the trek from hospital bed to this chair. So he'd settled down, swapping restlessness for monogamy, to no avail.
At first it had frightened him. Gentle touches on the marks of his transgression. Hot hands stroking where others had bruised, bitten, or burned. He'd been skittish, constantly second-guessing every move, waiting for a punishment that was never delivered. Slowly, gradually, instincts honed in dark rooms with darker souls faded.
What he hadn't expected was the ink itself becoming an addiction. Reminders of mistakes of a gentler nature filled the void he refused to acknowledge. No longer words of warning, rather, souvenirs of this new path he so carefully negotiated. A barcode in the arch of a foot pierced by broken glass. A smiley face on his skull, proclaiming that drunken shower sex, however enjoyable, still came at a price. A dandelion on his shoulder blade, his past dissipating like seeds in the breeze.
And then, a first, a name. It wrapped the curve of his pelvis as a proud declaration of fidelity. The only time he ever explained the significance of his choice. The sex that followed was sweet. Tender in a way he rarely managed to appreciate, punctuated by the residual sting.
Perhaps that was his mistake, the mark without a mate. Fate when tempted rarely fails to deliver. Dulled instincts never recognized the increasingly stormy look in formerly placid eyes.
The needle bit deep and he clenched his teeth, a hand automatically reaching for his chest to caress the reminder of his latest descent into chaos.
"Too big for a bullet," the tattooist ventured. "Mind if I ask?"
"My lover tried to cut my heart out." He winced as a ghost of the pain surfaced. In truth, at the time shock insulated him, so unprepared for the assault he made no move to escape. In the halls of memory, though, the sting is bright and sharp. The ink is black where his blood ran red.
The words are etched in his memory, spoken in a voice roughened by anger and tinged with disappointment. "How could you possibly imagine I would feel good about this?" A hard hand stroked over the name he'd so proudly worn. His own blood concealing and distorting until it could no longer be read. "Your stupidity broke my heart. It's only fair I take yours."
He must have screamed. He probably begged. He surely wept. None of that was as clear as the feeling of falling into nothingness. With the clarity of mind death affords he searched for a way to undo what he had wrought, but you cannot unmake mistakes.
Wails of despair and flashing red. Hell resolved to salvation, but not relief. The pattern remained broken.
Deep breath. The world slowed, stilled, resolving from blurs of color to the familiar shop walls. Ritual complete, he rose and stretched. Order finally restored, he ambled off to write the next leaf.