Invisible Lines


Big Lou, of Big Lou’s Tattoos, scowled.

“Let me get this straight,” he said, “You want that tattoo.”

Sima looked again at the full color lotus blossom design, bit her lip and nodded.

“With no ink.”

The artist, his sleeveless T revealing an Illustrated Man’s worth of his own ink, stood in front of a wall were covered with sketches and photographs; Big Lou’s catalog and oeuvre.

“Get out of my shop.”

“I’ll pay full pri-”

“Out. I’ve heard about you, girly. You’ve got a rep, you know? Think this is some kind of a joke? Some kind of rich-girl’s joke?” His voice raised as he spoke, bald head shading redder. “This is my art. My religion. This is my life. You respect the ink or get the fuck out of my face!”

The last words were yelled. Lou didn’t move from his place behind the counter, but suddenly he seemed larger, menacing. The twinned dragons on his biceps looked like they were going to leap for her. Sima fled.

She blinked away the tears as she walked down the dirty street and scanned for a cab. It was still early afternoon. She’d given herself plenty time to get out of the District before dark, but hadn’t counted on so many defeats. Now she felt like everyone she saw knew she didn’t belong there. She’d tried to prepare well enough, a dark worn coat over old jeans and flats. A loose blouse that was easy to lift or take off. She ignored the flip of her stomach and the ache between her legs as she walked, not meeting anyone’s gaze.

Afraid, angry, ashamed, Sima slammed the door of the taxi hard enough to draw an admonishing look from the cabby. Why did this have to be so hard? What was wrong with her?

“Hey! Lady. I said where to?” The driver’s accent was like Daadaagee’s.

Sima mumbled her street and turned to look sullenly out the window. The interior of the cab smelled of masala spices. The scent both made her feel safe, and intensified the gnawing of need in her bones. Outside, the streets slipped by, the doorways and shop-fronts lost their angles as the light failed.

“Wait. Stop. Stop here!” She peered at a little shop-front through the gloom. The name rang a bell. She fumbled in her coat pocket, pulled out a tattered little notebook and flipped through the pages.

It’d only been two blocks, right at Old Market, where Midtown’s gentrification was waging a pitched battle with the District’s decay.

She could practically hear the driver roll his eyes, but stop he did. Sima overpaid him and stepped out without a word. She stood in front of Chrysalis Tattoo. It was on her dwindling list of places she hadn’t tried and been turned away from.

She had a reputation, now? Like just finding willing tattooists wasn’t enough trouble? But dammit, it was almost like claws inside her now. One more try.

The bell on the door tinkled as she went in. This parlor looked a lot like half a dozen others. The small front space was brightly lit, showcasing walls covered with art. The front room was scrupulously clean, and smelled of antiseptic, indigo, and electricity. Behind the counter, a tall, lean man reclined, reading an electronic book. He had close-cut black hair with a pointed beard, and unlike most tattooists she’d seen she didn’t notice any tattoos on him right away, though he was wearing a buttoned up long-sleeved shirt. Without moving his head he looked over his half-glasses and raised an eyebrow.

“Can I help you today, Miss?”

No games, now, Sima told herself.

“I want to get a tattoo…”

The man looked around the store.

“Looks like you’ve come to the right place.”

“I don’t know. Maybe. It’s… Look. I want the tattoo. But I don’t want any ink.”

“Say again?”

“I want a tattoo,” and she already had spotted exactly which, as well, “without ink.” She finished through nearly gritted teeth, bracing for an explosion.


She’d been asked this before, of course, she forged on, determined.

“Because that’s what I want.”

“Come on now.” He’d laid his book on the counter and taken off his glasses. His eyes were light brown, practically copper, and their gaze somehow destroyed her resolve.

This is useless. She’d been through this conversation so many times. And no matter how she phrased it, the outcome was almost always the same. She pulled herself deeper into her coat and began to turn away.

He leaned his elbows on the thick counter glass, and interlaced the fingers of his hands. “I didn’t say no. I asked why.”

“Because…” She could feel herself blushing, but she couldn’t get herself to say anything more. “Because!”

He looked at her until she met his eyes, and then until she had to look away, ready again to turn and leave. He tipped his chin at her.

“You’ve done this before.” It wasn’t a question.


“How many times?”


His eyebrow raised.

“When was the last time?”

“Three months ago.”

“Show me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Show me the work.”

“It’s my left shoulder blade-”

“Ok, let me see.”

“But there was no-”

“You can show me or you can argue with someone else.”

He didn’t sound angry. But he wasn’t joking around.

Sima stepped up to the counter and shrugged out of her coat. She looked over at the door as she opened the top two buttons of her blouse and pulled it down over her shoulder, turning so the man could see her.

He grabbed his glasses and leaned further over the counter to see. She stiffened as he slid her bra strap off her shoulder. His fingers were smooth, cool against her skin.

“Butterfly,” he said. “Monarch.”

She craned her neck around to look at him. She’d examined that shoulder in the mirror just the other day, and seen no sign.


“Trace scarring. The fluorescent lights make it easier to see.”

“Scarring?! Oh, no!”

Sima jerked away from the man’s hand and dropped to a kneel on the floor, yanking at the cuff of her pantleg. Fuck these jeans!

Then she froze, and looked up in near panic. Over his glasses and his counter, the man peered down at her. And her open blouse. Sima felt the color rising in her cheeks, jerked her shirt closed and, then hid her head from him as a sob shook her.


Not the usual kind of tears we get here, Paul thought.

The girl, curled up in her crouch on his white tile floor, looked like she was trying to disappear within herself.

“Are you all right?” he asked, knowing the answer, but not why.

“Yes,” her hands muffled her answer. “No.”

She took a deep breath and looked up at him with visible effort.

“I can’t see my calf. That’s where the next to last one was. I thought there’d be no…”

She didn’t look like she was on anything; no smell of alcohol. Just distraught. Jeans too slim to let her pull them up.

“Look, Miss, that shoulder isn’t so bad. It’d take someone who knows to see anything. And if you’re a good healer, I’ll bet even that will fade in time.”

She grabbed at that.

“Can you look – at the calf one?”

It’s not like tonight’s terribly busy or anything, he thought.

“Sure. You’ll probably need to get your leg out of those pants. I have robes,” he added before she could say anything.

She wiped her eyes and nodded.

As he waited for her to change, Paul wondered what this girl- young woman’s story was. He’d done inkless tattoos before. On himself, for practice, sure, but the others he’d done were usually test lines or little circles for skittish customers; to show them what it would be like. Paul knew plenty of artists who wouldn’t do that, but he would because had little interest in anyone who didn’t really want the ink. Which made him wonder in turn why he was even thinking about saying yes to this frightened girl.

She emerged from the change room clad in one of the robes he kept on hand, her black hair and cinnamon skin, where exposed, showed stark contrasts to the white terrycloth. She perched on the edge of the client’s chair, as if ready to bolt.

The studio lights were plenty bright, but Paul turned his work light on as he motioned her to sit back.

“Relax a little. It’s all right.” It looked like she didn’t believe him, but wanted to. “Right leg?”

She nodded, and he raised the right side split leg of the chair and aimed the light pulling the robe just high enough to expose the shin.


He guided her to turn her leg out so he could see her calf. Smooth, cinnamon skin moved under his fingers.

Ah, yes. This is why you didn’t say no. This skin would take the needle very nicely indeed, ink or no.

Paul looked carefully. The faintest trace of a line here, a swept curve there. Barely anything. Some kind of bird?

“What was it?”

Her skin smelled a bit like ginger, with other spices he couldn’t place. Not at all unpleasant.

“A flying robin. Can you see it?”

“No. I can barely see anything. You got it 6 months ago?”


He set her leg back down and re-covered it.

“Well. It looks like you heal quite well. The shoulder should go the same way.”

She exhaled the breath she’d been holding and sank back into the chair. Then pulled the left robe sleeve up to expose her forearm to him.

“Anything there?”

Paul turned the light, took her arm in his hands and examined.

“No. Not a thing.”

“It was a gothic letter ‘S’?”

“Not anymore.”

She smiled for the first time. That was good.

“I got that nine months ago.”

He chuckled.

“No, you didn’t get it nine months ago.”

She made as if to argue with him, but then realized what he meant, and nodded, though her smile faded as she did.

“So, will you do one for me?”

“I don’t know yet. I still want to know why. I have a guess.”

She waited, expression neutral.

“You get off on it. Either the pain, or the blood. Or both.”

Her breath caught for a moment. Found out. He watched her war with herself. Her body tensed to jump from the chair. On her face, a look of anguish he usually saw only from the needle. It wasn’t unattractive. She sat that way for only a few panicked breaths, but he couldn’t guess how long it felt for her. In the end, she stayed where she was, and nodded. So did he.

“You know, that’s not really too unusual. A lot of people get a rush from the pain. Endorphins, adrenaline, all that, and for some it’s quite a bit more. Though usually they want something to show at the end of it.”

Her expression said she hadn’t known that.

“But that’s the whole deal for you eh? Just pain? Blood?”

She slowly shook her head no. That made some sense. The three places she’d showed him weren’t particularly high-pain areas on most people, after all.

“Then what?”

She didn’t answer, and Paul shrugged. It was enough for now, anyway. To himself he’d already admitted he’d do it. Once he’d had a feel of her skin. Some skin was easier, and far more pleasant to work with, after all. But that wasn’t really why.

“All right,” he said, earning a beaming smile. “On one condition.”

The smile closed up to caution almost instantly. Paul wondered what her… obsession? fetish? – had cost her besides money.

“What?” Warily.

“That you never ask for something like this again without establishing the cred of who you’re asking. This is my shop, and I’m going to show you everything whether you want to see it or not. But if you ask the wrong person, you could get scarred for life. Or an infection, or worse. So, deal?”

“Deal. And thank you.”

“What and where?”

“I want… that stalking Chinese tiger. Here.” She brushed her hand over the left side of her ribcage.

Paul gave a low whistle.

“Well. That’s a big design and a tough place. You look like you don’t have much fat to protect you there. But then, you’re looking for that, yeah? How about something smaller, though? After a few tens of minutes, you’re going to be largely numb to the pain anyway – unless we were going to go for an all day session which,” he looked at his watch, “would have to be another time.”

She thought for a moment, then said, “How about just the line drawing – no shading or colors. -I’ll still pay for the whole thing.” Her voice had some of its confidence back. Bargaining instead of confessional.

She also must have known full well that the single needle outliner was going to be a rougher ride than the multi-point coloring needles. Does Dad know what you spend his money on? Or is it your money, after all? Paul wondered.

“All right. I’m game. I’m Paul, by the way. This is my shop.”

He extended his hand, and she took it, gingerly.

“I’m Sima.”

The look she gave him was full of gratitude, and, he thought, hunger.

This’ll be interesting, at least.


Sima knew not to hold her breath, or grit her teeth, or clench her muscles. She lay on her back on the tattooist’s -Paul’s- chair, opened up to something like a recliner-qua-bed, with her left arm stretched over her head. She’d changed back out of the robe, and now had her blouse rolled up to just under her bra. Her ribcage clean and cool in the studio air; sprayed with alcohol, cleaned with green soap, swabbed with ointment.

It’s all foreplay, isn’t it, she thought.

Paul had partly rolled up his sleeves, revealing some his own tattoos at last. The one that held Sima’s attention most was the rattlesnake coiled around his right arm. There, just above the wrist of the hand that held the needled instrument, open, fanged jaws dripped a black drop of venom – or ink.

The fact Paul saw partway through her so quickly made her wonder how many of the others had known. How much she’d given away before or on the table. It’s not like she could be much more mortified or exposed than she already had been, in front of others, and now this one. It mattered less and less as the preparation continued, too. This was where she wanted to go, and she found embarrassment and caring, and caution, fading. Like always.

“Try and keep your breathing steady as possible,” Paul said from far away. “A rising and falling chest is fine, but tell me if you need to do much more.”

She nodded, and her skin tingled with anticipation; not just where Paul’s black-gloved hands touched it, or where the lowering needle pointed, but lower down. The ache between her legs liquefied.

The machine buzzed, and she watched, exhaling a measured breath as it first kissed her. Bit her. Pierced her. The sensation shot from her rib and bloomed. Pain, more than any of her recent experiences. But more. Her cunt spasmed, and she had to fight not to jerk her body and shove her hand between her legs. Her exhalation turned to a moan.

Paul lifted the needle.

“Are you ok, Sima?”

“Yesss” She hissed, “Go.”

And he did. One long, curving line of fire on her skin. In her skin. Another. The needle broke occasional capillaries as it dove into her flesh. Not many, but a fresh antiseptic cloth wiped away each red welling of blood. She twinged with them, going molten. Being able to watch was different than not being able to see. She wasn’t sure which was better, but seeing the lines grow… She forced herself not to grit her teeth, but didn’t try to stop her thighs from squeezing together. Paul was talking.

“I’m not using a stencil, because I don’t want to chance any of its line getting driven in by the needle. It may make the design less than perfect, I’m afraid. Though I did draw the one you picked freehand.”

“It’s… OK. Not like it.. matters.” It was hard to speak. For several reasons.

“Well, it matters to me. Art is art, even inkless. But try not to talk. It’s all right. Let me know if you need a rest or a drink…”

He continued talking, about how long he’d had his own studio (seven years), about learning the art and trade in Los Angeles, and more that Sima didn’t retain. Each stroke, hundreds, thousands of stabs of steel, irritated and violated her outer layer, and brought the red outline of the Tiger to life, and made her want to buck her hips.

Her first orgasm hit when he drew the circles-in-circles of the tiger’s eye. Sima closed her eyes, breathed raggedly, and rode it, trying to keep still as possible, give as little away as possible while the pain-transmuted to-pleasure wracked her.

Paul didn’t stop. Sliding up and around the cat’s face, cleaning, stretching, needling.

The second eye was right over one of her ribs. The circles there were both ticklish and fuck the most painful yet, like razor scraping bone, and Sima sobbed. And came again, this time without the ability – or desire to hide. She wanted to cry. She held her chest as still as she could, knowing she was failing. She wanted to plead, shout Don’t stop! She heard herself make a nonsensical sound.

Paul continued, one hand pressing down steady on her, as if holding her in place, the other holding the damnable machine. Smooth, efficient, professional, implacable, merciless. She knew he’d stop if she told him to, but even though part of her wanted to scream for it to end, Sima said nothing, and thanked him silently for not trying to spare her or go easy. As the needle broke her skin, and opened her, and spilled her, and flooded her.


Spine line. Haunches.

Time lost its meaning for Paul when he worked. One part of his brain was always on alert for signals from his client. That part bantered and talked, gauging response and attention. Most of the rest of him was in a complex fugue of skin, fingers, swab, needle, and ink. Entire designs could take shape under his fingers in the seeming space of a breath, while sometimes seemed he could witness every individual penetration of the needle and deposition of ink. Those experiences often occurred together in a paradox of causality.

Forepaw. Claw.

Working on this woman, Sima, was different. Lack of ink was the obvious, but with it came a heightened attention to the other components. As if he’d been deprived of one sense, and all the others had become stronger. Over and over, Paul jabbed, broke this clean pristine skin, to do… nothing. It felt so gratuitous. Enraging and intriguing at the same time.

Head. Jaw.

Sima’d stopped listening to him. Her sighs, and increasingly obvious arousal didn’t phase him much, though. He’d seen that before, albeit not as intensely. He’d had his share of couples using tattoos as a form of foreplay or mating ritual – one or two even consummating his washroom because they just couldn’t wait.

Whiskers. Teeth.

He could understand. Looked at a certain way, the tattoo needle was a sexual instrument. A tiny sharp cock that didn’t need a pre-existing hole to penetrate you. It made its own, every single time. And its ejaculate, dark or vibrant, left you impregnated with color, marked forever by its intrusion. Paul had, in this way, pierced, inseminated, left a piece of himself indelibly in thousands of people – men and women – through his career. He also inflicted pain, every time. And to a one, everyone he’d hurt this way had thanked him for doing it. He didn’t get a sexual thrill out of it per se, but this wasn’t a platonic thing.

Rear Leg. Belly.

And now Sima. Here she was, writhing under his needle, in pain and pleasure. And he marked her, yes. But only for now. These bites would fade. Like the eight before, his lines would go invisible, and perhaps even be forgotten one day. Paul thought of his tattoos as art, yes, but it was permanence; a form of procreation. But this… this was just fucking.

He disapproved.



But Sima was coming, under his touch and his needle, and doing so, well, beautifully. Not from the creation of art or the act of change of one’s body, but from the pure destructive acts of the needle. It was moving, in a way, and disturbing. This was his quiet enjoyment of the artful pain he inflicted reflected back at him, but purified and magnified. Pain – and this specific kind – exposed as the end itself rather than the means. And this was the thing she’d craved. The obsession that had driven her to potentially dangerous decisions and situations. And here he was feeding it exactly. True she was a paying, if eccentric client; but was this right? And why was he even asking himself these questions?

His needle, a single round, in one sense the purest form, lanced at her, several times a second, dimpling and piercing her skin, faithfully, linearly, obediently crating the pattern he chose. Her chest rose and fell with her breathing, but not steadily anymore; she shook, gasped, shuddered. Paul rode it out with her, pressing, massaging, stretching skin with his left hand, steadying the work area, and drawing, sweeping, lining with his right. She didn’t tell him to stop, so he didn’t stop.

Expression. Stripes.

He counted three orgasms of increasing intensity before Sima descended into a glassy-eyed detachment; conscious, but almost entranced. This was familiar territory for Paul. Lots of his return customers, especially the ones embarking on big, multi-session pieces, strove for a Zen-like state very much like this. None of them got there the same way, though.

Tail. Last Stripes.

The tiger’s tail swept around, halfway between ribs and navel, and Paul was done. Lifting and turning off the needle, he leaned back, and stretched his neck and his fingers. Sima breathed slow and deep, eyes moving slowly between her own red, lined skin, the iron now resting on the work tray, and Paul’s face.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

She smiled dreamily, beatific, and his cock lurched.

Why wouldn’t it? She fucking climaxed under your needle, because of it.

Still, the bare red lines on her skin, without pigment, were an affront. No. They’re the absence of illusion.

Paul began the after-care work, pants tented and straining. Green soap, anti-bacterial ointment, plastic wrap and medical tape. She watched him quietly the whole time, eyes half closed, looking so… fucked.

As soon as he’d carefully laid the last strip of tape, he ripped off a glove so he could adjust himself. It was almost uncomfortable by now. Sima’s eyes followed his hand.

The progression from shifting, to unzipping, to freeing his cock from pants and boxers seemed so logical, under her gaze. She’d shown him what he’d done to her, beyond the tattoo, it was fair to show what she’d done to him. He might have turned away after that, gone to the restroom and taken care of his own business, if she hadn’t, just then, licked her lips.

Maybe it was late. Maybe it was fatigue or come-down from finishing a job. Maybe… he couldn’t befinishedif he didn’t leave some mark. Paul stepped closer to Sima, reached for the chair control and reclined the backrest. She didn’t move away as he brought his ungloved hand to her head, weaving his fingers in her hair and pulling her to him. Her lips closing around his cock were so soft, her mouth wet-hot.


Sima floated; relaxed, exhausted, unspeakably satisfied.

God, that hurt, but the only ache left was that of well-used muscles. Paul had soothed and cooled lines of fire on her torso into the kind of stings that reminded her she was alive. Tomorrow everything would be tender and sore, which was good in its own way, too. But for the moment, she was just happy, relieved, and, looking at Paul, simply grateful. He’d been cool, almost serene, as she’d gone to pieces under him. None of her previous sojourns under the needle had been quite like this; given and taken so much. Her fourth tattoo had actually never been finished because she’d freaked out the artist with her imperfectly hidden climax. But Paul kept on – almost as solid and steady as the machine itself.

But he was human, after all. The bulge in his pants – and then the erect cock he’d freed to the air demonstrated that. The move had surprised her, but it was flattering in its way, and, well, it was a natural reaction. It was also lot better than it could have been. Sima could now face the memory of her third tattooist, though she’d succeeded in blotting out his name and face. “Pre-payment” the guy had called it, and it had tainted almost the whole experience.

This was different. Sima wanted it. Or at least, she was more than okay with it when he laid her back and took hold of her head in one strong hand. His cock fit her lips well, tasting… male against her tongue. She knew she was no expert fellatist, but old boyfriends had never complained. Paul didn’t complain. He just held her with strong fingers as she sucked him. She brought her hands to his hips, not so much to resist as to hold on to him. The rhythm lasted a short while, as her tongue teased, cheeks hollowed, lips slid along the shaft, until he felt his muscles tensing. His cock swelled one last fraction as he let out a low, breaking sigh and pushed almost to the back of her throat, nearly causing her to gag. She relaxed herself as best she could when his cum erupted into her.

Paul held her there until his cock began softening and subsiding in her mouth, then relaxed his fingers and released her. He finally pulled the glove off the other hand, and stroked her cheek with its warm fingers. His thumb collected an errant drop of cum, and brought it back to her lips, she licked the salty-sweet stuff from it as she looked up at his face. Then, they both took a deep breath almost together, and something, maybe the very air itself sighed in release. Paul half-turned to put himself away and set his pants in order.

“Thank you,” he said, and then almost audibly shifting gears, went into care and healing instructions for the tattoo. Of course she’d heard them many times before, but she listened dutifully, in case his methods were different.

“Take the bandage off between 6 and 8 hours, OK? Even if it means waking up early.”

She nodded.

“I’d recommend loose clothing for a few days, too.”

He helped her sit up, then busied himself cleaning his work area, keeping an eye on her as she gingerly stretched her limbs and back. He insisted she drink water, and watched her as she stood up. She waved that she felt fine, and he finished putting things away, opening the glass studio door to the front of the shop. Sima felt the presence of her new lines as she moved. She felt warm and damp between her legs, and decided not to look too carefully at her jeans.

“It’s dark out now. You shouldn’t walk alone.”

Was that some kind of offer?

“I live uptown. I’ll catch a taxi.”

“No, I’ll call one to come pick you up right here.”

“All right.”

He went over to the computer/register at the counter and rang her up while he dialed the cab company on his cell phone. Full price, which Sima paid with her credit card.

“Yellow has somebody a couple blocks away. Just a few minutes.”


She still glowed, embers inside still hot. Yet there was something missing in how she was feeling, and Sima couldn’t quite place it at first, but then realized that missing thing wasn’t a bad thing at all. For the first time since she’d started doing this, she felt unashamed.

“Um, Paul?”


“If I come back here, next time…”


“Would you do another one?” This was the first time she’d asked before she’d left. The first time she’d been emboldened to think of it.

Paul regarded her for a moment, eyes shifting to where her blouse covered the inkless tattoo he’d just given her. Sima guessed he was in his late 30’s. And his hair wasn’t all black – there were a handful of grey hairs at his temples.

“Maybe. I have to think about it. I can’t say yes right now. But I won’t say no.”

“All right.” It was not the answer she’d hoped for, but better than the one she’d made herself expect.

The cab ride home was a blur of city lights. This one smelled of cigar smoke, which made her realize that Chrysalis Tattoo, unlike most of the parlors she’d been to, hadn’t had a hint of smoke smell at all. The dredlocked cabby talked nonstop in a thick Jamaican accent on a hands-free phone about some soccer game the whole way home.

Back in her apartment, Sima moved quietly so as not to awaken sleeping roommates. In the privacy of her room, she forwent her usual nightshirt, opting for only a fresh pair of panties before carefully laying down in her bed. She closed her eyes and thought of the needle and what it did to her; the lines, Paul’s hands, Paul’s … she slept like the dead until her alarm woke her to change her dressing.


Spring was almost done being just a tease, and really starting to show some warmth. Paul truly appreciated the season. The human harbingers of spring were the first to start wearing short sleeves and pants, and that population logically included a disproportionate number of the illustrated, and otherwise modified, revealing art-covered skin like plumage.

Moreover, a Thursday evening was a good time to walk the Downtown Mall for people watching. It was also a decent evening for business, but Eejay was in today, holding down the fort at the shop, and he’d call if there was a sudden rush. Paul had finished a grueling trompe-l’oeil cuneiform tablet back-piece that afternoon and was happy to be out and about, stretching legs, back and fingers. And doing a little research.

Paul leaned against a lamp-post on the brick-finished street, penciling in his pocket sketchbook the sharp profile of the a woman with the vintage 80’s Mohawk smoking with her goth and emo friends outside Mata Hari’s Vintage Clothes. This was his third sketch of the night, which reminded him that his book only had only a few pages left. Fortunately, Amsterdam Art Supply was a block and a half away, and Paul let that become his primary destination.

Inside Amsterdam was glaring white compared to the darkened blues and browns of the street. The color of potential, of canvas, though not his chosen one. Picking out a new book was a quick affair, and Paul tended not to linger in stores. It was late enough that only one register remained open, with a queue a few people deep. It took a moment to recognize Sima, in this different context, as she took her place in line behind him with an armful of watercolor supplies. Eyes down, mentally counting off items in her bundle, she hadn’t noticed him. And, unlike two Saturdays ago, those eyes, and the rest of her posture were neutral; calmly between the wire-tense and blissed-to-laxity he’d seen. However free of decoration her bare arms and shoulders were, she was very attractive.

Paul had pretty much put Sima and her strange non-tattoo out of his mind, but now the odd, disquieting experience returned. It still bothered him, and only partly because of its conclusion. He’d pretty much decided he’d decline, politely, to do another inkless job for the girl. If she ever came through his door again.

And yet.

Paul was used to his own secret pleasure with every wince and gasp of his clients. It aroused him deep in his core, no matter whether he worked on men or women, and he owned it as his own twisted soul, his own private kink. He never – ever – caused more pain than necessary to make the design, but he didn’t shy from giving it. And here was confronted by someone who sought it out. Who took the pain given and converted it so obviously and purely into pleasure. Wanting literally nothing other than that. It was something he’d not even realized was possible. To manipulate someone’s pain and pleasure with his needle. Tantalizing, and he realized, arousing in a way different from, and beyond his private sadism; what unique power this combination of twists held. Unflappable as he liked to think of himself, it freaked him; Sima took his secret pleasure and turned it into something different, bigger, open. And on top of that, not to leave his mark…

The line moved forward. As she stepped up, Sima looked up and saw him, and gave a little start. She smiled, much more shyly than the first time he’d seen her.

“Hello, Sima.”

“Hi,” she said, quickly, shyly. Her expression changed as he watched, shifting away from calm to something more nervous.

“How are you?” Pleasantries, reintroductions.

“Good. I’m good.” And antsy, now, Paul noted.

“How is everything healing up?” Paul stopped himself from asking how the tattoo looked, since that was immaterial.

“Um.. really well! It’s doing fine.” She passed her free hand over her ribcage. Paul wasn’t sure if she was conscious of tracing the hidden path of the Tiger’s tail with a finger as she looked over her shoulder. How hidden is it now? Not completely gone yet, Paul wagered, and then, the odd thought, I want to see it anyway.

“I’m glad. Look, I might as well say now and save-”

“Seem! They’re opening another line – c’mere! I got a place!” The voice cut in from the register a lane over. Another woman, younger than, but looking very much like Sima, was beckoning to her with exaggerated urgency, waving a package of feathered paintbrushes.

Sima turned to Paul briefly, apologetically, but the relief in her voice was plain to hear.

“I… gotta go.”

Well, Paul thought, Sister, or whoever she is, probably doesn’t know, then. Paul conceptually understood body shame, and other kinds. He’d had enough clients who got inked precisely to face down and overcome those issues. But he knew he’d likely never get it on the visceral level. And whatever Sima felt, it probably wasn’t exactly the same either. And do I really want to know what she feels about it? Paul couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer himself.

“Who was that guy talking to you?” -” Sima’s companion had a ‘city whisper’, meaning her voice was simply below a shout. “Did you see his arms? Was that a snake? And a scorpion? Brrr! But scary hot for an old-” Sima shushed her quietly, fiercely. Paul smiled to himself, and let the smile stay on his face as he caught the sister’s stare. She colored visibly. She turned away, and Paul met Sima’s somewhat pained eyes for a moment before her attention shifted to the cashier.

By the time Paul paid and exited the store, Sima and companion were nowhere to be seen.

Well, that’s probably that.

Paul walked and sketched some more, then dropped in to Royal Blues for some music and beer. Only Venus and a couple of her cohorts were there from the inker crowd tonight, Saturdays – and later at night, were much more of a thing for them. It was decent music, but Paul didn’t stay long. He found himself thinking of the shudder of Sima’s skin his fingers as he’d drawn stripe after stripe on her.

On the bus home, he filled last page on his old sketchbook from memory with a study of a pair of lips encircling a cock.


“Chrysalis Tattoos” glowed in blue neon above her as the cab departed. Unlike her week, the sign was clear and clean, with easily interpretable meaning. Why are you here? bubbled in Sima’s head, but she refused to actually ask it of herself. She’d done that many times already over the last couple days, as the need grew in her.

The outline of the Tiger was still clear on her skin. She traced it regularly, ritualistically, as part of her own pleasure foreplay, just like she had with the others. It wouldn’t disappear for a while yet, and as it had gone in the past she should be fine for months, tracing the ghosts of lines, before she felt it again. But she wasn’t fine, and didn’t know why.

Actually, that wasn’t true. She knew the proximate cause: Paul at the art store. “Scary hot” Paul. Lavani’s description made her shake her head, again, in part because she was right. Sima had dodged her sister’s questions about him and diverted her to other topics, but the whole encounter had left her feeling odd. Exposed. All that night out she felt as if Paul’s tattoo showed through her shirt to whoever was looking her way, and especially to Van. Her sister, much less family didn’t know. Neither did her roommates, who thought Sima’s occasional periods of super-modesty were some Hindu religious thing.

This whole thing was supposed to be simple, contained, intimate, personal. Well, mostly personal. And that was the problem. Paul’s tattoo had been the best/worst yet. Something about his quiet intensity had been different. Like he wasn’t just tolerating her obscene reaction, and something else she couldn’t place, but wanted to figure out, and experience again. And so here she was, feeling the ache too soon, because of him.

Stepping into the shop, Sima was brought up short by the woman behind the counter. This woman, not too much older than herself, was festooned. Chains and garlands of vari-colored and -shaped flowers wound around the pale skin her her arms and neck and disappeared under her halter-top. An assortment of piercings adorned her ears and eyebrows, and Sima thought the woman would jingle as she nodded a greeting.

“Evenin’.” She had a southern drawl, seemingly way out of place.

“Hi. Is, um, is Paul here?”

“Sure thing, did you have an appointment?” she asked, stepping over to the computer/register.

“Oh, no. I just… came by.”

The woman stopped and looked back to Sima, eyebrow raised.

“Well, he’s with a client at the moment. I’ll guess another half an hour to forty-five.” Her eyes surveyed Sima, “You lookin’ for something new?”

Sima nodded.

“Something in particular?” the woman turned her head to indicate the samples and designs decorating the walls.

“Yes, I know what I want.” Was that true? Sima asked herself.

“Well, I can do it if y’all like. I’m Eejay, and that’s my work over on that wall.”

Sima looked for what she hoped was a polite amount of time. The designs and photos of finished work showed skill, no question.

“If it’s ok, I’d like to wait for Paul?” Sima wasn’t sure if she could stay, though. Not if there were going to be other people around. She realized, too late, that she’d made the silly assumption that Paul would be alone. It hadn’t mattered much before, when she could conceal her reactions better. But after last time…

Eejay seemed to take her hesitation for concern about offense

“Hey, Sure thing, Sugar. Don’t worry, if you’ve found the right hand, it makes perfect sense to go back to it. Hell,” she leaned in conspiratorially, “I take part of my salary in ink from Paul.”

She traced a woven wisteria pattern up her left arm with the fingers of her right. Sima was tempted to lean in for a sniff. Eejay smiled and looked back at the screen.

“He doesn’t have anything scheduled next. Have a seat. I’ll ask.”

A trio of distressed, comfortable chairs lined one wall, behind a coffee table with a small pile of magazines. Sima sat, and fidgeted, and leafed through a three month old issue of Skin Art.

Eejay re-emerged from the back.

“Lucky night. They’re finishing up early.” Eejay’s look had changed; more distracted, glancing back behind her.

“Everything ok?

“Oh, yes. Sometimes on the big pieces you can only get so far in one session.”

Eejay didn’t elaborate, and Sima contented herself with the answer until a tall, lanky man emerged from the back. His left arm bore bold curving black tribal patterns that still managed to stand out on his dark brown skin. He walked gingerly, stiff-backed, and Eejay smiled when she saw him.

“You okay, Darlin?”

“I’ll live. Managed to hit a spot I just couldn’t take much of tonight.”

“Well, you show me when I get home and I’ll make it all better.”

He smiled broadly.

“You know I will.”

“You can take off Eej. Go take care of your man.” Paul had come in while they were talking. Sima had been tracking the man’s ink pattern with her eyes and hadn’t noticed. Paul’s white button-down, collarless this time, had sleeves rolled up almost to his biceps, showing the wicked menagerie on both his arms. Scary hot indeed.

“You sure?” Eejay looked surprised and hopeful.

“Yeah. I’ll close up. Give it two weeks unless you’re really feeling up for it, alright Xav?”

Paul busied himself at the computer/register as Eejay carefully ushered her beau out of the shop, Sima tried to read an article on feathering techniques.

“Sima, I was going to tell you at Amsterdam’s the other day I don’t think I can do another inkless tattoo-”

“What?” She stood up too quickly, spilling the magazine to the floor. “Why?!” It was happening again, like all the other times. Sima felt stricken. She’d thought…”I thought it worked out ok, after…”

“That wasn’t part of the transaction, Sima. That was… something else. I don’t want to do work that isn’t really wanted or won’t be enjoyed in the long term. That won’t be seen.”

At least he didn’t call her names. Out loud. But she’d heard this excuse before, or ones like it. Usually the voice speaking them wasn’t as kind, but the meaning was the same. Before, she’d hang her head and leave, holding tears until she was clear of the place that no longer welcomed her.

“No! I… I do want it. And I see them. I see them all! I feel them all. It doesn’t matter that they’re gone from the skin. They’re… They’re all still here.”

And before she knew it she was showing Paul every location she’d had done, telling him each design, tracing it with her finger, reliving a shadow of each needle as she traced, ending with the Tiger, its fading lines still red on her skin. She didn’t repress the shiver that came with it.

“This is permanence for me. I remember them. I use them. I… need them. And I want more.”


But what is it you really want more of, Sima? Paul thought.

“So it’s not getting off on the needle?”

“No!” She was blushing deeply. “I mean I do. Of course I do. There. I said it. But it’s not just that. It’s more. You have to believe me.”

“I could believe you, Sima. But I have to know what it is to you. Because what it is to me is incompleteness. I don’t just stick people for money.” I stick them because I like to, also. And because they get something from it. But you, you could be more.

Sima nodded, seeing she had a chance to seize. She took a breath.

“Everything about the tattoo… except this part. This fucking begging part, makes me feel alive, and in control.” She looked surprised to be saying it.

“I decide to get it, I pick the design, I permit the tattooist to damage me, hurt me, and I heal. My body absorbs, erases the damage. I’m powerful.”

Paul had to wonder at how near a counterpart that was to his own feelings. He’d never thought that this particular power exchange could run both ways. At the same time.

“It makes everything, even the pain, even the memory of the pain, feel so good. But… I don’t know why it feels that good, when it’s happening. It just does, and it’s also something I want. I could just be a freak. Other tattooists have called me that.”

She was so turned inward. Focused on her side of the equation. Paul realized this was another way she was like a converse of himself. It made him want to cross that divide.

“Whether ‘freak’ is a badge of honor or shame depends on us, not someone else. There are those who call anyone who has ink a freak, or worse. But tell me. Why so soon? It’s been, what, three weeks? You said you usually went three months or more, at least until the last one had faded.”

“It was… It was seeing you at the art store. I don’t know.”

Paul pursed his lips in thought. He wasn’t sure if she was withholding from him. Is it because you want my needle? I can give you what you want, and take what I want quietly, like I always do. But that’s not enough. I want more from…with you. He decided.

“All right, Sima. One more. But I don’t know about any more after that.”

“Thank you, Paul.” Her tone conveyed true gratitude.

“So. What and where?”

After another deep breath, she pulled a slip of watercolor paper out of her back pocket, and unfolded it to show him three tightly coiled spirals radiating from a single point.

“Triskelion,” she said. “Sort of. Here, about this big,” she passed her hand down to her skirt – over the front inside of her right thigh.

Paul raised his eyebrow. She was going for the gusto. The tight spirals were going to maximize continuous needle contact. The place…

“The inside part is going to go harder, depending on how sensitive the skin there is. Is yours?”


“I can spray the area with lidocaine before starting, that would-”

“No, thank you.”

Paul nodded. He’d expected that answer. He liked that answer.

“Will you be able to hold still?”

“I think so.”

“Ok. Let’s head on back.”

Sima smiled and followed him.

He set the chair on slight recline, and to raise her right leg only, and pulled his stool and tools close on the left side. She pulled skirt up almost to her hip, revealing a truly lovely canvas of flesh. He prepped quickly, efficiently. With machine in hand, he laid a glove on her thigh. For the first time in a very long while, he pushed away professional detachment and let himself really feel the softness under his touch.

With his eyes, Paul marked out the center of the design as a whole, and the center of each spiral. He lowered his hand and drew with the needle a tiny trefoil at the center, and small circles were each spiral center would be. He saved the innermost spot for last, and was rewarded by a little gasp. He looked up at her flushed face, slowly inhaling her scent; soap, spice, and yes, sex.

“Because I don’t have to watch the ink, I can maintain the cleanest line if I stop as few times as possible. You tell me if you need a rest.” Then he added, “but I hope you don’t.”

Her eyes widened, as he smiled and turned toward his work.


The circling, buzzing path of the needle felt like Paul was auguring into her leg. The spiral pattern passed the same spots again and again, coiling ever tighter. It was maddening, excruciating, and made her entire body sing. Her cunt twitched each time the arc of the needle swept up towards it, and made her want to arch her back. And this was only the first of the spirals.

Sima hardly ever asked for a break. Usually it was because most of the tattoos never came that close to her pain threshold, but sometimes it was because she didn’t want to give the artist a chance to end the session out of pity or disgust. This, however, was everything Paul had warned her about and more. She did want to make him stop, just for a moment. Just to catch her breath, from both the sharp bite of the needle, and what her body was doing to her in reaction. It was almost overwhelming.

‘But I hope you won’t.’ He was telling her something she needed to understand. And then he took away her ability to think cogently as he went to work. It was almost cruel of him. A challenge. And a revelation.

“You,” she gasped, not used to trying to talk under the needle, “You like that it hurts me.”

The sweeping curve didn’t slow. Only a few tiny beads of blood welled in the needle’s wake.

“Yes. Yes I do. Does that matter?”

The coiling line was almost at the center now, feeling like he was nearing bone, though she could still see it just sweeping her skin.

“I… Don’t… know.”

She was on the brink, breathless, as he finished and lifted his hand. He carefully cleaned and wiped the area.

“I think, Sima,” he said, ” It matters to me.”

He brought the needle to the center-point and began the second spiral, this one lower on her thigh, but more inside. Sima moaned loud, the fading almost-peak screaming back into that wonderful agony that only that infernal machine could bring. Sima knew she couldn’t move her leg, knew she shouldn’t clench her muscles. She channeled everything into a wail as the outermost turn of the spiral finished.

Paul didn’t stop, and as the needle bit its way into the next coil in, and then the next, Sima came. The climax was dizzying disorienting, riding the needle tighter and tighter into her flesh, piercing as deep as any cock ever had, and more. It went on and on, winding tighter and flooding loose all at once, until Paul finally lifted his hand, the second spiral done.

Sima hadn’t seen him complete it; her eyes had been open but staring blind. She’d broken out in sweat, and her eyes had teared. She wiped the blur away with a shaky hand.

Paul was looking at her, one hand holding the cleaning swab. But before he wiped her raw skin with it, he bent forward and kissed her, right in the center of the spiral he’d just completed. His lips, soft and hot, touched and smeared the small beads of blood, and stung her in a way entirely unlike the needle when they pressed against her. A shudder shook her, and she sighed as he lifted his head and carefully, thoroughly cleaned her, wiping his lips on the back of the folded pad after he was done. She stared at him the whole time.

“Are you ready for the last part?” He asked. His voice was different, professional detachment missing.

Sima nodded.

“I didn’t think I would like this, Sima. But I do. I do very much.”

He lowered the needle.

“You take pleasure in what gives me pleasure. I never knew. But it’s beautiful,” he said.

He began the third spiral, highest, farthest inside her thigh, the most sensitive part. It was by far the worst pain of the night. It may or may not have been the most pain from a needle, but this needle, in Paul’s hand, was suddenly laden with much more. It wasn’t just metal sticking her skin, she realized. It was Paul. On top of the excruciation, and even without the ink, Sima felt it now – really felt – being marked. She lay limp as a ragdoll, and screamed. And came. And couldn’t stop. Didn’t care to stop as Paul seemed to tear a hole right through her…

Lips on her skin. Colors swam back into her vision and she felt burning lips in the center of the last torturous spiral. Paul was kissing her again, and though she felt fluid, flooded, drained, something melted in her. She reached, gripped his short hair as best she could in a trembling hand and pulled at his head. She wanted that kiss on her lips.

Paul obliged, letting her guide his mouth to hers. The tattoo machine clanked on its tray, latex snapped as he tore his gloves off. Then his warm hands slid up and down her sides. His lips tasted coppery with the smear of her blood, but his tongue, when she licked at it, was just Paul.

He was a good kisser, which was a good thing, because she didn’t have the energy to do much work. Endorphins, or whatever they were, permeated her. It was all so lovely. Paul’s hands moved lower, to her waist, her legs (carefully on the outside of the tattoo), sliding her skirt higher. Yes, she thought, kissing her permission.

Sima had worn bathing suit bottoms, for a semblance of modesty, but at this point they couldn’t have been more damp if she’d actually been swimming. She’d anticipated having to deal with a just-tattooed leg and had the foresight to wear her string bottoms.

His hands found the bows. And pulled. She exhaled into his mouth as they came loose, and let go every last bit of tension left in her.


The professional instinct in Paul scolded, then yelled at him to take care of his client; hygiene, proper care, responsibility. He wasn’t listening. He’d broken that rationality with his first kiss, and had finished the tattoo with no detachment whatsoever. His line had been just as clean, just as perfect as the first two spirals, but his hand hadn’t moved in service of the design. He’d guided the needle out of his need and hers, seeking the perfect match of giving and taking. And if he hadn’t found it, he’d come so close as for it not to matter.

The line – the empty line curving away from the needle – was only the trail of interface. The real line, he saw it now, was from him to Sima, through the needle. It was almost frightening to see it that way, but Paul couldn’t deny how it felt. And when the pattern was finished, he couldn’t deny what he wanted.

Kissing her blood-beaded thigh, he inhaled her scent, visualizing the heat radiating from her sex. Just a turn of his head and he could devour her. Later.

Kissing her lips – soft, languorous, sated – stirred him further. He’d done that to her, for her. Sima’s kiss back, the tease of her tongue, her finger on his beard, her breath as he found and pulled the strings that opened her to him, all drew new lines between them. She went limp under him. Not in surrender, not mere exhaustion, but, it felt like, offering. Oblation.

He moved her carefully, draping her untouched leg over the armrest, pulling her hips to the edge of the chair, opening and pulling down his jeans in a quick moment. He’d ignored the ache of his confined cock until it was freed, and then could think of nothing else until he was buried in her cunt.

Paul held her hips as they connected and watched as he entered her in one smooth breathtaking motion. The small sound she made as he filled her seemed as loud to him as her cries under the needle. She squeezed him tight as he hilted in her, gasping as his hip brushed her red-weeping thigh. He didn’t spare the time or attention to curse, but shifted his hand to the crook of her knee, to mover her leg away from the contact. This opened her to him even more, and he used that space to fuck deeper into her.

Her head lolled as he thrust into her, relaxed as a veteran under the needle. Sima’s only movements were inside, where she milked and coaxed his cock, and her eyes, shifting slowly over his sweating, rutting body. He fucked her like a ragdoll, unable, or unwilling by the end to temper the thrust of his hips. Fucking was a sloppy, imprecise parody of the needle’s precision. But really, the machine was the parody. This was the fundamental, primal piercing, creation of symbols; drawing of the true line.

Paul yanked Sima’s hips to him as he arched into her and came, chin thrust up and exhaling a sharp exuberant sound. His cock pulsed inside her clutching cunt, and filled her. Needle, ink, mark. When he became aware again, he found himself kissing her, and her kissing weakly back.

“Sima…” Paul didn’t really have anything to say just then. Just the name.

She stretched under him, like a cat readying to nap. It felt good. Her thigh brushed him, and she mumbled and moved it away, the lethargic equivalent of a gasp and a jerk.

Sense clacked inside his skull, and Paul galvanized into action. He withdrew, not without a last shudder of pleasure, and systematically, extremely thoroughly, cleaned, disinfected, soothed, and bandaged Sima’s thigh. He didn’t let himself be distracted by the beads of cum on the lips of her cunt, until he was completely finished with the after care of the tattoo. Then, he gently tended to the other, lovely mess he’d made with a soft towel. By the time he was done, with cleaning, gear stowage, and waste disposal, Sima looked to be asleep, or so zoned as to make no difference. Not a good time to talk, and probably just as well.

Paul had locked the shop door and set sign to ‘Closed’ as he was setting up earlier, an even wiser precaution than he’d originally thought.

“I’m not going to pour you into a cab like that,” He said aloud, and set to closing the front end of the shop; lights and alarm system, shut most of the studio lights as well. Then, gently, mindful of her leg, Paul bent to the chair and picked Sima up. She was solid, with a nice heft in his arms. It felt good. She curled into him as he held her. That felt good, too. Paul carried her to the back of the shop, through the door labeled “Private” in Art Nouveau lettering, and up the stairs to his apartment over the shop.

He brought her to his bed, pulled the covers aside and laid her down, arranging her carefully, giving the thigh some room. He slipped off her short boots one at a time, and paused, looking at her foot in his hands a moment, before setting the boots by the bed. A designer logo glinted at him in the bed-table light as he tucked her under the sheet and blanket. She murmured, non-words of drowsiness and breathed deep. Paul fetched a glass of water from the kitchen sink and set it on the bed table.

“What now, Sima?” He asked her sleeping form. He hadn’t stopped thinking of the evening and its events, but he didn’t know what more to think about them. And now…

Paul returned to the kitchen, and set his kettle on for tea. Then turned the stove off, poured himself a generous brandy instead, and got out his sketchbook. He started with the small lotus tattoo he’d found just above Sima’s left ankle.


Sima woke from a dreamless sleep in a strange bed. No, Paul’s bed. She’d been drowsy, even sort of stoned on the aftermath of the tattoo and what followed, but that wasn’t the same thing as inebriated or drugged. She remembered everything; Paul’s kiss, his hands, his cock, his presence. She remembered him picking her up and carrying her up the stairs, and tucking her in. It had been… very nice. Every bit of it.

She sat up in the bed, carefully avoiding touching or moving her raw leg. A clock by the bedside told her in red LED that it wasn’t even midnight yet. The bedroom was dark, but light spilled in from a door open to an adjacent room where muted sounds of scratchy, ancient blues music played. The room itself was spare, and seemed well kept in the dim light. Dark furniture, and a handful of framed pictures she couldn’t make out; nothing remarkable or odd. Another door, on the opposite wall , led to a bathroom. Which was good, because she really needed to pee.

Her bottoms were still absent under her skirt, which made it easier, and she was rather messy and a bit achey, which made it less easy. She found she really didn’t mind. She hadn’t gotten laid in longer than she cared to think about, but it hadn’t been just ‘getting laid’. Paul knew something about her none of her lovers ever had, and it was the strangest thing to feel acceptance for it – and more than that – when she’d been so certain the opposite was the only possible thing.

Paul was sprawled on a very comfortable looking scuffed-leather couch, reading in the living/dining room/ He’d changed clothes, wearing a faded concert T-shirt of a band Sima didn’t know, and black skater shorts. They revealed his legs were tattooed as well, but she couldn’t make out what the designs were from her angle.

He looked up as she emerged, and smiled a small smile.

“Hi Sima. How do you feel?”

“Hi Paul. I feel…” Her thigh throbbed with familiar pain, “Good. Really good.”

“You should drink some water, but do you want tea also? Something to eat?”

“No, thank you. Wait,” Suddenly she was starving. “Yes!”

Paul nodded, put his reader down on a scarred-wood coffee table, next to an empty tumbler and sketchbook. He got up and turned to the kitchen alcove at the far corner of the room. The place was immaculately clean, though every piece of furniture was old and spoke of a past functional life before arriving in Paul’s apartment. The coffee table had wheels – it used to be a factory loading pallet. The couch itself looked like it could have once adorned in the office of a 1980’s fat-cat CEO. And so on through an eclectic mix of styles. Nothing antique, but everything weathered and well used, and yet well cared for.

“How do you feel about turkey sandwiches?” He asked, peering into his open fridge door.

“I’m in favor of them,” she said, smiling.

Paul nodded, reaching for ingredients. Sima stepped to the kitchen area and took a seat on one of the rickety-looking, solid-feeling stools fronting the counter/table. As he extracted food and implements, and poured water, Sima tried to read him, and couldn’t. She watched his creature-covered arms as he worked.

“Thank you,” she said, wondering if she could actually name the things she was thanking him for.

Paul smiled thinly, opening a deli package, and then putting it down and looking up at her.

“Tell me about the lotus.”

Her breath caught for a moment, the chain of thoughts flashing from how did he see? to of course he saw, to what does he think? to nothing good, he thinks I’m a hypocrite or game player. But if Paul did think that, it wasn’t apparent on his face, which was almost maddeningly neutral. She let out a breath and dove in, words rushing.

“I hate it. It’s how I discovered I don’t want – can’t have real tattoos. The others, I know they’re all there, but …they’re mine. I own them. I just can’t stand something so visibly permanent talking to other people. I don’t even have pierced ears. I usually cover it with makeup if I’m going to be barefooted…”

“Then why did you get it?” He asked.

“Because of the needle. You probably saw, you would be able to, the bottom of it covers a scar. That I gave it to myself. Because I was playing with needles. No, not playing. You know what I was doing.”

“No. Tell me.”

Paul’s attention was on her; still neutral, but hyper-focused. Now the words came harder.

“I was trying to find that feeling. To make it. I’d been doing it for years, one little stick at a time. Well, it started with one at a time…”

“How. How did it start?”

She felt a flash of rage at him for pushing, for digging at her like this, for needling. But as soon as she thought of the metaphor, the anger dissipated. He wanted to see what was under her skin. Of course he did. She took a deep breath.

“My parents took me to India when I was eleven, to visit extended family. We went for two months and traveled all over. My father loved the old, crowded market places, and took us to more than I can remember, though he never let my sister or me out of his sight. There was one, I think in Surat. Almost in the middle of the street there was this really old, really skinny, almost naked yogi, lying on a bed of nails. I didn’t believe it, because at eleven, I knew everything and was certain that had just been a story for children – and tourists. But there he was, and he got up as I watched him while my father was haggling for something. His back and legs… they were smooth. No pinpricks, no indents from the nails, no nothing. I was sure then it was fake, and just for show, and to prove it to myself, walked over to the board with all the nails and poked it with my finger.

“I was wrong. The nails weren’t just sharp, they were very sharp. I’d just stuck two fingers in four places and they bled. And they hurt! The shock of it…I kind of shrieked, which alerted my dad that I had snuck from his side, and then there was a huge to do. My father angry and scared, the yogi annoyed and bemused, the people crowding around… It all kind of focused the pricks in my fingers. The feeling went right down my spine. I didn’t realize it was basically indistinguishable from… arousal until a little later. But once I made the connection, I stole some of my mother’s sewing needles.”

“The ankle was stupid. About four years ago, I neglected to clean everything properly, got an infection, and was left with a visible scar. It felt a lot bigger than it was, but I thought it was like a spotlight. I convinced myself that covering it up was better than having it there… and well, I was living on my own for the first time. I could make my own decisions. Even bad ones.”

“So, the tattoo was bad, but getting that tattoo…”

“Yeah. It felt like that day. Like what I’d been looking for, but more. And so… I’m a… I don’t know. Freak. Addict. Per-”

“Names don’t matter, Sima. You are what you are.”


Sima looked startled at his interruption. Paul had the feeling she’d gone through this little spiral of review and recrimination more than once before.

“You’ve never told anyone about this, have you?”

Sima gave a short, humorless laugh.

“No! My father still tells the story as ‘the time Sima almost got kidnapped in the market,’ though there had never been anything like that.”

Paul reached across the counter and took her hand in his, she let him.

“Thank you for telling me. No matter whether we wear them inside or out, the marks of our history are always on us, and the oddest small things can leave the biggest marks.”

Paul turned his left arm, showing her the underside of his forearm. The legs of the black scorpion design that seemed perched on the top of the arm wrapped most of the way around his wrist, but didn’t close. In that gap, artfully framed by arthropod legs was a rather sloppy looking, and faded “REBEL” with cartoony flames coming off the letters.

“That was my first tattoo. I did it myself when I was 13, and had no idea what I was doing.”

Sima’s eyes went wide.

“It hurt, and it changed things.The trade of pain for something. It was powerful, even though the art was crude and poor. I expended a lot of teen angst trying to figure out whether I’d ruined my life, or opened an amazing new door. I didn’t get another for a long time, but I studied them – and the people that got them. And then the people go gave them. When I decided on more, I still wanted to do it myself. And when I decided I wanted to do it for a living, I promised myself I wouldn’t use any technique on a client that I hadn’t tried on myself first.”

“So all of your tattoos..?”

“Most. Not all of them. Some areas are harder to reach.” He smiled. “My main mentor, and one more are the only two others who’ve inked me.”

Sima looked thoughtful.

“You’re… very careful with who you let under your skin.”

Paul nodded, smiling wryly.

“It is indeed that literal.”

“Kind of like wearing your heart on your sleeve.”

Paul made a show of checking the bestiary on his arms. There were no hearts of any kind on display.

“Yes, but not literally,”

Sima laughed.

“But here’s the point,” Paul continued. “While our whole past builds us, key events draw outsized, unexpected patterns in us. So in the end, we are the canvases we are, whether or not you can see the designs clearly. And… I like what you are. The histories that marked us, I think they made us, in this one maybe unique way, matched opposites.”

Sima nodded, slowly.

“You took me by surprise, that way. But I like that I found you. That you found me. I like it a lot. And there’s a part of me that’d be quite content for us to simply use each other to scratch our respective itches. I think you know by now you can come back to me again for that. I want to take my needle to you again.”

Sima shivered visibly at that. Maybe she hadn’t known.

“But I have one condition,” He said. “Your lotus tattoo. Let me color it. I want one mark that shows. I… need that much. I can make it something you’ll like. Or at least hate less.”

Sima sat quietly for a long moment, eyes searching his face, then tracing his arms to where he still held her hands. She disengaged one and drank most of her water in one go. She nodded slowly.


Paul smiled, part exultant, but then went serious again, and considerably less certain.

“But… I really want more still than that. Or rather, I want to know if there’s more to be had.”

A range of expressions played across on her face, culminating in an almost bashful smile.

“Are you… asking me out?”

“Yes. I suppose I am.” Paul broke eye contact, and set to the organizing and assembling of snacks. “But not tonight. Sandwiches in, tonight. And tea – unless you want something stronger. ”

“Paul,” Sima’s hand was on his, index finger caressing the fang of the snake,


“I want… to see your tattoos. And hear their stories. All of them.”

The first part, Paul had heard a number of times before, but the second, only once, and when he had far less ink than now. Sima was asking for a not-small thing. And, Paul thought, she knows it. Which was why he agreed.


“Nine years ago, hiking the Rockies with May, before we’d gotten serious.”

May, Paul’s last long term relationship, had been the inspiration or impetus for two other of Paul’s tattoos, though nothing so banal as a name.

“We were almost at our campsite of the day, off on a spur trail by ourselves. She spotted it first lying in the sun on an overhanging rock and I almost crashed into her. We took off our packs and stood there, watching it together for almost half an hour, until it got up, stretched, gave us a thorough look-over, and disappeared into the rocks.”

Paul stood in his bedroom, in nothing but a pair of boxers, facing Sima sitting on the edge of his bed. The tattoo of the mountain lion, the last of his bestiary, curved down his left leg, looking like it was about to step down onto his foot.

“That night was the night we got serious.”

“Can I ask… how did things end with her?”

“Yeah. Part of the story, after all. We were together about 3 years. Lived together for half that. When I started Chrysalis things were pretty hand-to mouth for a while, and she missed LA, and we as a couple weren’t strong enough to handle both those things.”

“I’m sorry, Paul.” Sima meant it, just as she felt a tiny, ridiculous tinge of jealousy for a woman she’d never known.

“Nah. She’s happier now. Married, too.”

“What about you?”

“Me? Not married.”

Sima rolled her eyes and poked his shoulder.

“No. You know what I mean. Are you happier?”

“Than I was at the end there? Yes. Than I would have been had we toughed it out? I have no idea. But, I’m not much for regrets and what-if’s.”

Sima nodded. She now knew there had been at least two other serious lovers since May, but only one had associated ink, the thunderbird on his right thigh. He’d let her touch them as he told her about each one. They’d forgone the tea altogether, and washed their sandwiches down with brandy, a drink Sima wasn’t very familiar with. It had emboldened her to ask questions during the show and tell. She liked the feel of his skin, and the contrast of its smoothness and warmth under the fierce images.

All Paul’s tattoos were animals of one sort or another, though some – like the thunderbird, were highly stylized. They covered his arms to his shoulders, and his legs to his upper thighs, but his chest and back were bare, save for a modest pattern of hair as black as that on his head. She planned on asking about that, later.

“Have I missed any?” She asked.

“No. That’s the last of them.”

“Are you sure? You’re not hiding anything under there?” She hooked the waistband of his boxers and snapped it playfully, feeling bold.

Paul chuckled.

“I may be hiding something, but not a tattoo.”

“Show me?” She used the voice that used to get her (almost) anything she wanted from her father. She probably wasted it, because he smiled instead of scowled.

“Trade. You show me, too. I want to check your bandage, anyway.”

She had to admit it was fair, and it was kind of what she’d had in mind anyway. But being asked to get undressed made it a thing. Still Paul went first, and pulled off his last piece of clothing to stand naked before her. Van was right. Even after the full tour, Paul, with his feral menagerie of ink, was scary hot. His cock, the first time she really had a chance to see it, was not-quite soft. And, as he watched her pull her shirt over her head and undo her bra, she saw it harden.

She stood to unfasten her skirt and let it drop to the floor, and then Paul was there, one hand at her hip, the other lifting her chin so her lips could meet his. He kissed her once, gently, then again, like kissing her was saving one of their lives. His beard was half-soft, half-wiry. She liked it. The head of his cock, fully hard now, nudged her stomach, and Sima couldn’t help but giggle at the fleshy poke. She feared she’d ruined the moment when Paul disengaged from that wonderful kiss. But he was smiling. ‘Devilishly’ would have been the right adverb, too.

“Bandage check. Stay there,” he said, and sank down, kissing her every couple inches as he knelt. He placed a last, slow kiss halfway between her bellybutton and her vulva. It made her catch her breath.

“Open,” he said, tapping her left foot. Sima shifted it away, standing now with her feet a bit more than shoulder width apart. It was plenty for Paul to check the wrap, and it seemed to meet his approval. Sima was going to ask to be sure, but only a gasp came out. In one slight, quick motion Paul had turned his head and pressed his mouth against her cunt. His tongue was wet, and hot, and…Oh God. Sima’s fingers threaded and gripped his hair as Paul pulled her to him, and she moaned aloud as they pressed into each other.

Paul new what to do with lips and tongue, and made Sima shudder as he discovered each new nuance of her pleasure. But right now, she wanted something else. She pulled on his hair until he came away and looked up at her, lips and beard soaked with her. She pulled up, to get him to stand, and then released him to step back and sit on the bed, legs parting in invitation.

Paul smiled hungrily, wiping his lips on his forearm and eyed her bandage.

“I don’t want to aggravate that. Turn around.”

After a tiny hesitation, Sima turned. She kept her eyes on Paul’s face the best she could as she turned to hands and knees on the mattress. The touch of his hands on the curve of her waist was electric. The nestling of his cock into her open cunt was lightning. He gripped her and pushed inside. All the way.

“Ooh. God. It hurts.” It had been a long time, for Sima. She was sore from before. Paul’s filling of her made her taxed, stretched inner muscles protest.

“Does it, Sima?” Paul’s voice lower, growling. The hands on her hips dug into her flesh as he pulled partway out and thrust back in, hard enough to make her gasp.

“Yes,” she breathed, half whining. Then she looked over her shoulder at him. “Please don’t stop.”

Paul didn’t stop. He didn’t stop as her bruised feeling insides screamed at her and brought tears to her eyes. He didn’t stop when the pain seared its way into something so much more. He didn’t even stop when she screamed and came, her thoroughly fucked passage squeezing him in agonized, delicious overuse. He didn’t stop when her arms gave out and her front half sank limply to the bed; he held her hips up to his fuck and only drove harder. Until he yanked her back to him with a brutal finality and came.


It had been a long, sweltering summer, and the bones of the city still radiated warmth even as the night air finally began to cool. The low clouds this Friday night reflected the orange urban light back down, and promised welcome rain, at long last.

The vacant shop-front to the left of Chrysalis now housed an upstart Chai-bar, a sign that the battlefront between Midtown and District may have moved to the next block. The bell on Paul’s door was the same, though, as was the smile on Eejay’s face when Sima stepped in.

“Hi, Mystery Girl,” Eejay said, “Paul said you were coming. Hot date?” Sima had gotten to know Eejay, and Xavier, a bit over the summer, as she became a bit of a fixture at Chrysalis in the late week and weekends. They’d even all four gone out a couple times. Eejay seemed convinced that aside from ‘seeing’ Paul, Sima was getting secret, intimately located tattoos she wouldn’t show anyone. And she was right, in a way.

“Something like,” Sima smiled.

“That you, Sima?” Came Paul’s voice from the studio, “Come on back.”

“Listen to the man, Sugar. I’ve got some supplies to put away, then it’s me and my man all.. weekend… long.” She said each of the last three words with a sway of her hips.

Sima was still laughing as she passed through to the studio. Paul was working. The client was an older man, in his 60’s at least, eyes closed, breathing slow and steady as Paul worked on his back. As Sima approached he opened his eyes and winked at her.

“Tell me what you think, Missy.”

She walked around to see Paul’s work. He was refreshing an old, faded tattoo of a fighter jet, weapons blazing across his shoulder.

“A6-Intruder, meanest thing in the sky when I flew. And the chicks so dug it.”

“Please do not flirt with my girlfriend, Mr. Randall,” Paul’s voice scolded, but he was smiling.

“Only because you know I can steal her…” Mr. Randall turned to wink at Sima again, and continued to flirt lightheartedly and unashamedly as Paul finished.

“What a nice, dirty old man, Paul,” Sima said as he returned from seeing the client out and locking the shop.

Paul smiled.

“And devotedly married, too. For forty years. He has his aircraft carrier on his chest, but with his wife’s name on it.”

He made as if to lead her toward the back door.

“I know the guys playing at Royal Blues tonight, they’re really good.”

“I don’t feel like going out tonight,” Sima said, smile slipping as she stepped over to the client’s chair. Her voice changed. Needful. Paul heard it.

“Ah. Well. Tell me, love.”

“I want your Thunderbird. Here.” Sima pulled the bottom of her sweater up, and the waist of her skirt down, baring the skin of her lower abdomen, to just above her mound. Bare skin.

“My thunderb- You’ve shaved!” Paul remarked.

“I needed room for the talons.”

“Mmm. It’s going to be tricky. You’re going to have to be very still.”

“I’ll try”

“It’s going to hurt.”

He said it almost like a ritual incantation. Like he had with the other two inkless tattoos he’d given her over the spring and summer. The anatomic heart on her sternum was a bare trace now even he barely could see, and the multiple star-pattern across the small of her back was nearly as gone. The lotus blossom on her ankle, however, was now a vibrant, gorgeous red.

“I know.”

Paul smiled that smile; her smile, then leaned in and kissed her.

As she scooted back onto the seat, Sima’s leg brushed Paul. He was already hard.

Which was just as well. Sima was soaked as she pulled her skirt and panties low enough to expose the work area, but no lower. Not yet.

Equal, opposed anticipation buzzed between them.

They both watched the needle descend to her skin.

© 2013 Raziel Moore. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio: Raziel Moore’s been writing erotica for more than 20 years, the first 10 years of which are thankfully lost. Desire and its colors, and control in its permutations – including its loss – are favorite subjects for short flashes, stories, and vignettes. Monocle is currently 1/3 of The Erotic Writer blog at, and the proprietor of the very-short-piece

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