There’s no air conditioning in these big old trucks and with the sun beating down on the steel box of the cab its like some punishment cell from an old war movie, only without the cruel, Japanese camp commander. I’m built for Europe, not for the Middle East. The sweat trickles down my back and mingles with the dust under my shirt, it turns to mud and stains my skin yellow and brown in salty streaks. I love what I do here, but I hate it too. It’s too hot, too violent, too alien – but people still need help and people are people the world over.
Zach is out at the checkpoint, showing the raggedy-arsed policeman our papers and arguing our case in his halting Farsi. There’s a lot of gesticulation, pointing and laughing – which is a hopeful sign at least. The truck’s got food, books, anything we could scrape together. The fighting’s still ongoing, there are still refugees and radicals and all the corruption in the government means if you want something done right, you really do have to do it yourself.
There’s a clanking of bells and what sounds like a party of Young Conservatives out for a drink in Winchester of a Friday night. Then a herd of hungry-looking goats meanders past, herded – with a great deal of disinterest – by a young boy who doesn’t even glance at the truck.
Coming the other way is one of the local women, swathed – almost entirely – in a big black circus-tent of a dress. I can’t help but see it as a shame. She passes close by me and glances into the cabin. All I can see is her eyes but after months out here even that amount of female contact hits like a hammer blow. Beautiful, almond eyes. Deep and rich and brown. Defiant, proud, not beaten down or fearful like so many people’s eyes here – even mine. Its a country and a people ground down to a nub.
I’m snapped away from her eyes, and my thoughts, by the miraculous. My phone, deep in the thigh pocket of my combats, bleeps loudly for attention. I blink the sweat from my eyes and haul it out. There’s signal, barely, and a threadbare charge. In the time I’ve been sitting here the connection has somehow managed to tease the bits and bytes out of the ether and to grant me one of the few things that makes life tolerable here.
A picture of my Rose.
I can hear my heartbeat in my ears as I get sight of her. My girl, my woman, my love. Naked as the morning I left she’s a gift from across the sea, from another world. Wicked eyes look at me from a rumpled mess of dirty-blonde hair and there’s just a hint of hesitancy to them. One heavy, pale, breast lifted in her hand, the nipple pinched, teased and presented. The other indented, the plastic shape of that toy, the one she doesn’t like but that I love to fuck her with, pressed against the curve of her chest.
The camera phone doesn’t do her justice. It makes her look washed out, but I can still see the flush of her cheeks. She doesn’t like to take pictures for me, but she does it for me when I’m away. She thinks she’s getting fatter, she thinks she looks bad no matter how often I tell her she’s beautiful. No matter how eagerly I take her in my hands and kiss every curve swell she stubbornly refuses to believe me and wastes her time on fad diets, pining for her days as a dancer.
She does this for me though. This and more. All I ask for, she gives me. All I can take from her, she accepts willingly. She bites back her reservations and her modesty and she sends me these gifts that make me yearn to return to her, that make being here the sweetest torture imaginable.
I lick my lips and I glance up again as a shadow falls across me. The woman with the almond eyes is right by the dusty window of the truck. She sees the phone. She sees Rose. Her bold and prideful stare becomes one of disgust and then…
It doesn’t hurt. That’s the strange thing about it. I’m aware of no pain, I’m barely aware of myself. Disembodied almost, like the first moments of wakefulness.
I’m not in the cab any more and somehow I feel cool, refreshed, even cold. The blue sky stretches above me in every direction, punctuated by little, wistful attempts at cloud. My ears ring. I smell smoke. A poppy sways in a breeze I do not feel and sheds a petal at the boundaries of my vision.
My phone. Where is my phone? Rose will be upset if anyone else sees her.
I try to reach for it, but I have no hands.
I try to stand, but I have no legs.
Zach leans over me, his face sooty and bloodied. He is shouting something but I cannot hear him. Cannot make the shapes of his lips into anything that makes sense. I just smile at him and tell him I’m fine, but I can’t even hear myself.
I’ll have a little nap.
Morphine is a hell of a drug. It almost makes me not mind that I’ll never touch or hold anything ever again. It dulls the incomprehensible ache of my arms and legs, arms and legs I no longer have, to something manageble. It makes everything seem like a dream and the great thing about dreams is that you wake up. I hope I wake up soon. I need to go for a run.
How much time has passed? I have no idea. I think there was a helicopter, perhaps a plane. This isn’t a local hospital. Am I home?
I don’t say anything to anyone. What would be the point?
They don’t bother to watch me, how would I even go about hurting myself?
Days and nights are meaningless, one day after another of glass-eyed staring at the ceiling, listening to the hum of the light and counting the divots in the ceiling tiles. There’s about five-hundred in each, I think.
They bring a shrink of some kind to talk to me.
I tell him nothing, of course. I almost think I’ve forgotten how to speak. He adds some drugs to the daily cocktail they are giving me but I barely notice thanks to the painkillers. They wheel me in and out of surgery and I let them do their work without a word.
When Rose comes to visit no amount of drugs can dull that pain.
I refuse to look at her. I don’t want to see her disgust. I don’t want to even look at her. I couldn’t bear her pity. I don’t want to be reminded that I will never again lift her in my arms, spin her around, throw her, squealing, over my shoulder or pin her down and pepper her with kisses.
I don’t want to see the hurt in her eyes when she sees me broken, weak and useless.
I don’t want to see her nostrils flare and her mouth set, determined not to upset me.
I don’t want to see her long neck taut and tense when I can’t even lean up to kiss it and feel her arch into my mouth.
I don’t want to see her body, that I will never again touch and hold, that I will never bend and turn and shape to our passions.
I don’t want to see any tears.
I don’t want to see this beautiful, brilliant woman weighed down by the need to stay with me, just because its what everyone expects.
She tries to speak to me. I refuse to hear her. I simply don’t let the words penetrate. I make myself forget how language works. I turn my head and stare at the wall until I hear her leave. Then I cry for her sake, because the man she loved is dead.
The surgeries come to an end, but they cannot give back what was taken. They can only take what was given. Several pocket’s worth of spare change in shrapnel and pieces of truck. They tell me they took someone’s tooth out of my shoulder. I never even saw her smile.
They can, and do, take away the drugs though. Pain is going to be a constant companion now, but I can’t take any more of the ‘good’ stuff without even more problems.
Now, unlike before, I feel the passage of time and I’m bored. I’m bored out of my mind. I’ve been here weeks or months already and this is just days, but without the blessed haze of opiates I feel the passage of every second like an eternity. I’m just waiting to die.
A nurse dresses me, though I hardly see the point. Rose is talking to a doctor just outside the room, earnest and organised and intent. She used to leave everything to me. I would take care of her. Now she has to take charge, at least until I make her leave. We’re not married, she didn’t choose to be with a cripple. I will drive her away with my silence and indifference so she can be happy again somewhere else, with someone else.
They load me into a wheelchair like a side of meat into a shopping trolley. I can’t even push myself around with the useless stumps I’ve been left with and they haven’t gotten one of those fancy wheelchairs you can control with your eyes or your mouth for me yet. It’s Rose who has to wheel the ghost of her dead lover out of the hospital and into a special taxi, made just for crips.
She moved in with me about a month before I left on my ‘do-gooder’ mission. The place is more hers than mine now. Its no longer familiar to me. She wheels me into the lounge, the seats pushed back or taken elsewhere to make room for this bloody chair. I sit there, impassive, staring at the carpet, ignoring her with every fibre of my being. In my mind I’m willing her to go away, to leave, to find someone better, someone whole. I want her to just leave me alone so I can die with some dignity.
“Look at me.”
“Look at me goddamnit. Say something. Anything.”
I still don’t. Her voice tickles at my ear, teases at my memory. Low and husky with pained emotion it echoes other, better times between us
She grabs my head in her hands and tries to twist my face to look at her. I set the muscles and refuse to move. Her nails dig into my cheek, rasp against the stubble but I am stone, I am iron. She cannot move me despite her efforts and the pain is nothing to me. Not any more.
“You’re still stronger than me,” her voice quieter now, weaker, lower. She’s kneeling on the floor in front of me, I can tell, even though I don’t look. Those words though, they anger me. Errant bullshit. She’s just lying to me to make me feel better.
“No.” The first word in months and that’s what I choose to say. ‘No’.
I look at her, finally. She looks tired and angry but still beautiful to me. She’s lost weight, worrying over me, it pains me to see it, though she’s likely perversely happy to have done so. I meet her eyes and then turn my head left and right, glancing to the ugly stumps where my arms and legs used to be.
“I am not.”
She slaps me, hard, across the face and makes me snarl with impotent rage. “Hitting a fucking cripple Rose? Very brave, very helpful. You wouldn’t dare fucking do that if I were whole.”
“You wouldn’t stand for it. You shouldn’t stand for it now.” She hisses the words out so viciously I feel her spittle speckle my chin.
“What am I going to do? Hit you?” I snort at her and roll my eyes to the heavens. “I might be able to bite if you get close enough.”
“You don’t need to hit me. You don’t even need to touch me. You’re already hurting me.” She shakes her hair down over her face to hide her tears. More bashful now than she ever was when I was away.
“I can’t touch you.” I mean to spit it out angrily but it comes out as a near sob because… Christ… I want to touch her. I want to feel the soft give of her body. I want to taste her. I want to breathe the scent of her in from my fingers and bury my face in her hair. But I don’t have fingers any more, nor hands. My flesh is scarred and burnt even more intimately in ways I daren’t even contemplate. I’m a broken horror.
She tugs her hair in her hands and silently sobs, shoulders shaking. I try not to look, but even in anguish she’s beautiful to me. So much time passes like this, both of us silent, then her back stiffens and she lifts red-rimmed eyes to meet mine again.
“You don’t need hands to touch me. You don’t need to force me to do what you want. You touched me with a handful of words from a world away. I showed myself to you, I did what you asked because of… because of your soul and that hasn’t gone anywhere.”
“It is.” I shake my head again, more firmly. “Dead and gone. I can’t be who I was. I’m not who I was. I can’t even touch you.”
“I slapped you.” She leans closer to me. God, her breath smells sweet. “Hurt me back.” Her lips are a tiny space from mine as she says it, her voice tickles at my spine.
“I can’t. You’d have to slap your…”
I don’t even finish the word. She slaps herself hard across the face, her cheek blossoming like her namesake. She whimpers at it, lifts her hand to her cheek and holds it, cradles herself in her hand and stares at me. “Whatever you want of me, it’s yours. It always was.”
“Again.” I test her, angry, fierce. I feel tricked somehow, betrayed. There’s no hesitation on her part. She slaps herself, hard, across the other cheek, snapping her own head to the side.
Am I being cruel? She only slapped me once but this is making me feel strong, powerful. Even whole. She lifts her hand and smacks herself back and forth, once each cheek, so hard the sound rings off the walls. Wide dark eyes stare into mine, challenging, hopeful.
“Strip.” I hiss and suddenly I ache with frustration. I need her. I’ve needed her since the day I landed in that godforsaken country. And after, laying in that hospital bed night after night where I couldn’t even masturbate? Even more so. Though I wouldn’t admit it to myself.
She writhes out of her blue jeans and striped top. Out of her mismatched and over-washed bra and panties and she kneels before me in supplication. Offering herself to my frustration, my hurt, my need and my pain.
“Arch your fucking back.” Why am I so angry at her? Am I angry at her? Why do I want to see her hurt? She arches her back and thrusts out those gorgeous breasts, tipped candy pink. The nipples are stiff and eager but I cannot even lean to take them in my mouth, I would fall. “Slap them.” I nod to her breasts, taunting me with their inaccessibility.
She whimpers as she does it, but she does it. I see her body tense, I watch as the soft flesh bounces, sways and reddens. Everything seems hyper-real to me. Every sight, every sound, the scent of her wetness, surprising me as I am so cruel to her.
I cannot touch, so everything else seems stronger, more significant.
“Harder.” I whisper, and she obeys, fresh tears tracking down her cheek.
“Again.” She does, and again, as often as I ask. I ask many times.
“Come closer.” She shuffles forward on her hands and knees, a reluctant child being dragged around a supermarket, but she does it. All it takes is the word.
“Stand. Lean over me,” I bark it out and she does so. It amazes me that I can still feel this way, this powerful, that she will do as I ask when I have no way to make her.
She leans forward and sets her hands on the arms of the chair, bracing Her scarlet tits so close, so wonderfully close. I risk it, I lean, somehow. I press my face into the embrace of her warm bosom and suckle at her. I catch that stiff swollen nipple in my lips and roll it between my teeth. It is heaven.
And then I bite.
Slowly at first, lightly, then firmer, and tighter. She tenses, shifts her weight from foot to foot and then gasps as I bite down harder. “Please… not so hard.” A hand lifts and curls in my hair, too tight, trying to pull my head back.
“Please… what?” I speak, freeing her for a moment. Then bite into the ripeness of her, behind the aureole, teeth digging into tender flesh, suckling her deeper into my mouth.
“Please. Oh please Sir. Please Daddy. Please… M-Master.”
She always hates calling me that. To hear it come from her so easily sends a shudder of desire down my spine and tightens my jaw. It was not what I wanted to hear though. Not quite. I tighten my jaw further, harder even as her fist tears strands of hair from my head.
“Yellow Master. Yellow. Its too much.”
I released her breast with a lick and a kiss, a whisper against the angry bruise already rising. “I love you Rose, but this is all I can do.”
Her hand touches me, firm, daring, between my legs. She could feel how hard I was but…
“You can do more, my Master.” There’s a hungry edge to her voice now. She’s broken me down and built me up but some things are impossible to explain. I’ll have to let her see for herself.
She strips me gently, carefully, reverentially almost until I snap at her to hurry up. I am crippled, not a totem, not some object of religious fetish. I’m already broken, I’ll break no further than this. I let her strip me and I let her see me. The burns around my belly. The scars were torn flesh was sewn back together over days and weeks.
A cock isn’t the prettiest thing in the world at the best of times but one that has been torn and rent and stiched back together? Doctor Frankenstein would reject such a thing from being sewn onto his monster and the scars are tight and painful from me getting hard. Swollen flesh draws scarred skin paper thin and taut, threatening to tear.
“Why would you want to?” I blurt, flushing and looking away from her again. The shame and sense of weakness comes back, overwhelming. “I can’t fuck you.”
“Not yet. You’re still healing, but you’re still you and I still want you, Master.”
I shake my head, I don’t believe her, won’t believe her. In spite of all she’s said and shown me. There must be a limit to what she can take. She cannot want to be with this, with me, not this way. Its impossible.
She is determined to prove me wrong.
How can the touch of lips feel so intense and so gentle at the same time?
She makes me groan with the hot-wet hunger of her mouth. I’ve felt it before but never, ever like this. I cannot hold her. I cannot set the pace. I cannot pull her deeper onto me but she doesn’t need me to.
A kiss for every scar, the trail of a tongue over every line, every crevice, every stitched together piece of torn meat. She leaves me wet and dripping from her mouth and tongue and suckles at my stitched sac, teasing me with a flash of teeth.
“More than enough,” she murmurs and suckles me deeper, wetter, stopping just short of her throat, that completeness that I crave but will have to wait for. She gently, teasingly, tauntingly rocks her head, playing at the scarred and ragged head of me.
It hurts – almost – raw nerves and twisted flesh. The pleasure is there, but distant, almost out of my reach but it slowly builds. With patience and adoration she works her lips and her fingers over me. She moans for me, she looks at me, she lets her breasts stroke against what is left of my legs and moment by moment, impossibly, she brings me to that explosive and needful apex. All I can do is arch my back and howl in joy as the proof I’m still a man fills her mouth and coats her tongue and the distant promise of satisfaction becomes something true, something real.
She swallows once, making sure I see her do it. She strokes her bottom lip with a fingertip and shifts to sit her bare, warm body in the ruins of my lap, slippery with my sweat and cum and her spittle. She twines her arms around me and presses soft kisses to my jaw as she straddles and presses her body to me.
“I am still yours, if you want me. Master.”
I feel her tense against me. She’s worried I will say no. This is genuine, not pity. She’s afraid.
“Always and forever, mine. Held closer than any arms could.”