The Ballad of Azrael Vane

Foreword

 

I wrote the following as a catharsis for someone dear to me who explained in depth a point in his life that had set him on something of a rollercoaster. I presumed many people have been in the same situation and felt the same things, indeed, shortly before completion of this short story I became aware of Barbet Schroeder’s 1976 film Maitresse. Its themes, and the nature of the relationship portrayed with its strange reversals, exchanges, escapes and entrapments are essentially the same as the following. Initially, I was annoyed, as though the product of my mind was invalidated, or at its worst, unintentionally plagiaristic and worthless. Then I fell upon the notion that as this story was the bi-product of this man’s  heart, the existence of this film confirmed the worth of this story. The sense of common experience, viewed from a different angle, was something to be cherished. Therefore a few references have been placed in homage to this fantastic film.

 

This is the story of a man consumed by himself who only finds freedom by being consumed by something else. He requires a fantasy in which his efforts will be confirmed, where his needs are attended to though the pretence is that they are ignored. He has a massive empty space inside wherein a tiny version of himself is trapped. He needs the walls of his person physically beaten down until he doesn’t have the strength to keep the real person inside him held back behind them.

            This is the story of a man much like the person who approached me on the subject.

It does not have a happy ending; it has no twee redemption in the manner of Secretary.

            The events that unfold are projections. Projections of mistakes that could have been made – or at least people naively or vindictively presumed hewould make. The initial premise and parts of the characters are semi-factual; the love-story element is not, though the male lead’s unhealthy inward pre-occupation are derived from feelings and needs my associate had lost a metric shitload of sleep over.

Fortunately or unfortunately – the attempt to decide is painful for him – no such evolution of the relationship described was allowed to arise. Its early death leaves him sore, but as with Azrael Vane/ Phillip Jacobs, it was ‘his own damned fault’. He still needs his pain excised and replaced with a warm glow, he still craves understanding, but the best he could do was empty himself onto my page in a possibly frightening and most likely alienating manner for the trusted friend who knew the instant they met what he required and the self-destructive over-bearing introverted propriety that ailed him.

Their assistance transfigured him somewhat, but the process remains incomplete, and what was dazzlingly Rennaisance in conception remains an incomplete Baroque chiaroscuro.

So, this tale is a lovely, chipper exploration of his inner workings, the way he intend them to be reflected.

Honest.

Enjoy.

The Ballad of Azrael Vane

 

By David Jackson

 

For someone who was once kind, in their way.

 

 

1: Iconoclasm

 

Forget your fear – and want to know more…

 

Pulse.

A low pounding; a distorted metronome. Streaks of red flash in time, describing arcs through the pale blue smoke rising gently over cold shafts of artificial light.

 

Streaks resolve into neon bands. They lay on a long sinew of leather, trailing languidly back to a gloved hand.

 

The bands slow; the sinew relents, cutting the air in ever decreasing circles. The cold lights sway as a synthesised string section layers its gentle strain over the pulse. A bobbing sea emerges – a tightly arranged crowd of onlookers. Behind the smoke, the figure of a man, extending from the gloved hand and ceremonially outstretched arm, stands. Silver flashes where his eyes should be. Behind Him towers a simulacral figure, the same but not quite alike, the tight pinstriped waistcoat and burgundy dress-shirt washed over with blue.

 

Eyes turn to the screen where the scene unfolds, watching the tall, severe figure move with considered grace.

He strides with an easy swagger, the cut of His suit-trousers tantalising the audience with glimpses of classical physique … for a moment they barely notice the outstretched neck like an arch of ivory on which He lays his glove.

 

When His deft fingers spread and glide toward the delicate jaw and trace a soft, pale cheek, a dozen rings of light ignite with a shiver – neon bangles on every fine limb of a woman sparkling in a nimbus of electric light that filters from a tangled iron heaven.

 

He speaks, over the beat that breaks step in its intensity; bursting into an allegro of electronic keys. His voice is smooth and soft, yet intense and authoritative … akin to an iron fist beneath a velvet glove.

“I believe that from hell we can make heaven…”

 

A crop slides into His free hand, and begins to glide from the trembling thigh of the maiden glowing in the wan light. It bumps gently over her rounded hip; the muscles of her abdomen tense visibly as its length caresses the exposed belly. Finally the crop and the strict arm bearing it extend fully to gesture archly at the ultra-violet daubed restraints pulling her arms away from the tender, vulnerable body.

 

What erupts is nothing less than an orgiastic rapture, writhing in time with a merciless beat and desperate strain. The head of the woman sways with every whirling red neon stroke of the bullwhip, ribbons of colour scintillating in her hair as the light catches; each light tap of the crop twisting her body in the opposite direction in a lascivious St Vitus Dance.

 

As for Him – He circles, cantering with perfect rhythm. His wrists swirl, almost delicately, yet produce the broadest movements creating a choreographed whirlwind of strokes that strike in time with each beat.

 

At the end, He is barely affected, raising His head to stare down through implacable silver lenses at the woman who hangs, broken and elated, painting, streaks of UV paint and sweat marbling her alabaster frame, within a web of chains.

 

“You seek a God who stands above you, wrapping healing arms around you – you’ll find another God of pain… a God of suffering and tears.”

 

A tap of the crop on the chin and her head is raised. There is love; confused love of contradictory flavours, in those eyes of hers. His face remains inscrutable as she studies it vainly.

 

The beat winds down. The restraints glide away. Smoke settles. Lights brighten. Applause thunders.

 

Minutes later, the man stood before a podium on which a microphone waited. He removed his aviator sunglasses and wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead with a sigh. The girl stood confidently, resting her hands on the podium, giving her hips the occasional coquettish sway. She waited while he recovered himself.

 

He tapped on the microphone, eliciting a screech of feedback that made him jump. A ripple of amusement went through the audience.

“Well,” he began, “I guess this thing is working.”

It was strange – his voice was no longer so rich, having lapsed into an Estuary twang.

“I’m Master Azrael Vane, but you can call me Phil. First of all I’d like to thank you for coming – you and I have been brave tonight; it’s my first live show, and as a mainly vanilla audience, I’m quite glad I didn’t see anyone beating a hasty retreat through the fire exits once they realised that the Bill Bailey gig was next door.”

A few chuckles – but he was visibly chagrined by the lack of impact.

“Well… well, I hope you enjoyed the way we dressed things up and tried to inject a little art into proceedings. I had Jackson Pollock in mind when I conceived of the swirling neon colours – ”

 

The woman grasped the microphone stand delicately between thumb and forefinger, stroking them up the stem. Leaning in, she said, “We thought it might be a bit more interesting than bought-in strippers sparking angle-grinders against their steel-plated crotches!”

Laughter, more intense than before.

The man picked up. “More or less, yeah. I thought such wonderful people as yourselves deserved a higher calibre of entertainment. I can’t possibly put into words how thrilling it was to hear your applause – so you thought it all paid off?”

He thrust the microphone at the crowd. There was a gratifying roar of affirmation.

“Alas,” he continued, shifting down a gear, “being new to the live circuit, I owe a great deal to another – my slave for the night, whose true identity is none other than Mistress Bellefontaine De Sade!” He gestured grandly to his stage partner, who smiled broadly while easing the d-ringed collar from her neck. “This is the woman who trained me; everything I know about stage-craft is down to her; and it has been my great privilege to work with her on this show as an equal.”

 

She slipped the collar onto his neck, her sharp smile flashing again, and declared,

“Oh, don’t listen to his rubbish! He’s still just my pet really – he knows where this collar belongs!”

Azrael Vane arched his eyebrow wryly, and brought matters to a close.

“Anyway, next tonight we have something softer. It’s time for you to taste some sticky sweet cheesecake! We’ve got two charming ecdysiasts for your delectation, Sapphire Snow from the Birmingham burlesque scene and …”

 

Later, Azrael Vane – or just Phillip Jacobs, retired to the dressing room he shared with  Hannah. Standing outside there were three quite ordinary blokes wearing pale shirts, blue jeans and brown soft-top shoes – a combination to be seen infesting any pub on a Friday night. Hannah breezed past them with a wink. Their faces were a mixture of befuddlement and approval, mouths pursed like guppies’ and eyebrows raised in conciliation. The tall gangly one – Matt – nodded and enthusiastically ventured the words, “Not bad, dude, not bad at all!”

“I guess the free tickets kind of helped. Awesome that you all got here guys – I appreciate it!” Phil replied, opening his arms in a massive hug that Matt returned with vigour. Frazer, swarthy and shot with Roman features, thrust out his hand.

“Put it there, bud! Long time no see!”

Phil shook the proffered hand, Nathan leaned in, one hand in a pocket, the other outstretched. His face wore a look of practiced disinterest. He said, “Been a little busy then, huh,” with no elevation in the final phoneme to suggest a question.

Azrael – Phil; just Phil, had been busy for over a year and a half since he last saw them.

As Phil opened his mouth to speak, Frazer cut in, waggling his eyebrows lasciviously. “So, uh, who’s the chick from the show?”

“Oh, that’s just Hannah. We go back a while now. Good girl – really smart; flawless judge of character.” Phil told him, subconsciously rubbing through his shirt onto his left arm where something meaningful lay.

Nathan asked, “What was that business about training, then? She show you how to spank people for a living, or something?”

A laugh, valiantly repressed, hissed like steam from Matt’s lips.

Phil stubbed the toe of his immaculately polished boot on the floor, almost guiltily. He offered a conciliatory gag – “£150 an hour – nice work if you can get it mate, that’s what I say. Beats teaching college for twenty-four grand a year and you can’t smack the fuckers.”

“Fuckin’ A.” Frazer quipped with a wry grin.

Phil’s stance switched to agitated. “Anyway,” he said abruptly, “I’m a sweaty bastard – I’ve just got to chuck on a fresh shirt and we’ll pop down the pub. There’s a nice little place a few stops down on Russell Square – ‘The Friend at Hand’. We’ll sink a few and shoot the shit?”

“Not a freakshow then?” Matt threw in with a sarcastic smile.

“I could take you down the old Dev. Anyway – all Londoners are freaks, mate – just look at Frazer, he lives in Ealing!” Phil said, as Azrael squeezed himself through the door.

 

Inside the room was spartan; Azrael’s blazer lay draped over the back of a padded chair, a lit mirror with a slight smear on it glared, and Bellefontaine’s gym-bag lay splayed open with plastic UV bangles jutting out on a round wooden table.

She stood, naked save for the latex slingshot clasped around her mound and hips, rubbing make-up from her face with a sodden wad of cotton wool.

“Heya,”  she trilled, “You okay?”

 

The kohl eyeliner was slowly wearing away, the cool ivory foundation thinned to the point where lightly tanned flesh showed through. The sensuality and mystery – the barbarian gothic aesthetic – were eroded.

He’d seen her do it time after time after time, until Hannah – just Hannah – emerged.

All her artifice, all her status and power, all her chill and distant queen-like mystique flaked away into nothing.

And every time Azrael saw it happen, Phil was left standing there – aching – in his place. The first time he had seen it happen he was not Azrael – just phil. No capital to his name, no dignity he hadn’t willingly given up for a few hours. phil on a leash, phil with a mouth full of Her cigarette ash, phil chained to Her throne by his balls.

The loss pushed him to switch.

 

“Yeah,” he said, lost in thought. “I’m good, thanks H.”

“Cool – I’m gonna wash this crap off in the shower. You want a quick blast?”

“No, I’ve gotta move.”

“K.”

 

Loss.

 

He took off his burgundy shirt of silk. On his left arm, bulging from bicep curls fuelled by every ecstatic thought of what was right in his life, there was a solid black tattoo of a three-spoked wheel, dotted like a triple ying-yang, and beneath it a series of sharp, pronounced scars.

Azrael ran his fingers over the words branded in his flesh.

 

PROPERTY OF BELLEFONTAINE DE SADE

 

She sits over him on Her throne, with a face quiet and serene as fine hands clad in leather opera gloves stroke the flame from a Zippo lighter across a small, stainless steel block at the end of a long, insulated stick. She has been doing so far a few minutes.

The slave, a pleasing little meat-puppet with mouse-brown hair and grey eyes, waits. His wrists are bound to his ankles, they in turn are frog-tied to his thighs. There is a look of longing in his face; longing to please, longing for attention, longing to hear what he knows She has been meaning to say for some time.

She is saying, with a smile and a glint in her eye, “Do you trust me?”.

He barely nods in return. She already knows the answer, anyway.

“I want you to always remember that you are mine,” She is saying, “and that what matters is to be trusted by the one you love.”

The slave is feeling the hot rush run through him; red lightning in his veins. The heat is like a blade cutting straight into his thundering heart.

He would bleed it dry for Her.

 

Phil drifted back into reality, realising that he’d put on a fresh beige shirt with a small patch of blue ink in the breast pocket that wouldn’t wash out.

Hannah was standing at the table in black jeans and an old grey University of Reading sweat-shirt zipping up her gym bag.

“I’m off,” she said, tiredly. “I have to go spend time of my life I’ll never get back sleazing up to the booking agent at TG’s to keep that slot.” She plodded up to Phil, throwing the bag over her shoulder. “We’ll go for a quiet drink, just you and me for a change. I’ll text you in a day or two when I’m free, K?”

He felt her kiss him lightly behind the ear.

The last time he had heard that, he’d waited for a text that never came.

 

Loss.

 

Phil grabbed his gear and headed out to where his mates were waiting.

“Right boys,” he said flatly, “let’s get down the pub before it shuts”.

 

2: Realities

 

“So it turns out the guy finished the game by a try, and he’d broken a vertebrae in his fucking neck in the first scrum!”

“Dude, that’s hard-core!”

“Some people are just nutters; what I would give to be that stupidly awesome, though…”

So the pattern of banter went. As the Guinness went down and his stomach filled with liquid relaxation, Phil fell into the easy banter of the old Essex crew.

“Reminds me of that paintball game we had – CTF with Colin and Simmo –“ He said, an old accent cutting through smoother affectations,

“Oh yeah – pock, pock, pock – paint exploding on that barrel they rolled along and hid behind –“

“Yeah, like the gong in Temple of Doom or summat!”

“Quality day, mate – God those bruises tanged for a week, man –  kwality’ “ Frazer concluded, with an empathic slapping gesture of the hand.

Nathan licked Spitfire residue off his lips, his cynicism loosened by drink, and raised his eyebrows enthusiastically. He asked,

“Phil, when you coming back down to Wickford? We have  to get the 360s linked together dude – get in some Halo!”

Phil didn’t think – he had appointments up the wazoo, there was Hannah, maybe another show if the crowd from earlier put about enough word…

“Next weekend if you like mate, that’ll be sweet! You gonna come down from Ealing, Fraz?”

“Yeah, that’s good with me!”

 

The mood cooled, but it was not an uncomfortable frostiness – just the enthusiasm of a nostalgic idea fading. There was an hour until time would be called. Plenty more drinks to come.

“You know,” Phil said, “ It’s funny how many people never brought themselves to leave Essex.”

 

Matt looked guilty, with a grimace of comic chagrin. “Yes, mate – I know, I know.”

Frazer chipped in with, “Naomi is still about actually – she’d moved back last time I’d come down. Drinking in the Mayflower of all places.”

 

Phil played with the collar of his tightly pin-striped blazer, and pouted briefly at the ink-stain on the pocket of his tedious light beige shirt. He felt a bit hot, so he pulled off the blazer and lay it over the back of the tan leather sofa on which they sat.

“Maybe,” Phil said, “She was just dropping in on Alice or something – she still lives in Billericay, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Matt said, “Teaches in Colchester.”

 

“That reminds me Phil,” said Nathan, raising a pint to his stubbled chin, “Why did you give up the teaching game – this S&M thing paying a lot more?”

 

“Actually,” Phil began sententiously, pushing his silver rimmed spectacles up his nose, “I’m still doing some one-on-one at a college – a nice one, this time. As for… being a Dom – it’s kind of a lucrative slip-up, really. They were going to make me Dyslexia Consultant at the College. That would have easily pulled me level with this, income wise.”

 

Frazer chuckled gutturally. “Can’t blame you mate – this looks like much more fun. I can’t believe that bird you were working over, dude – she was hot!”

 

Flash.

Tight leather; slowly drawing up from 5 inch heels to the laced tops of thigh-high boots.

A spasm as the shock of a TENS unit hits flesh.

Glinting, amused eyes, with no hint of stopping any time soon to be seen in their cruel shine.

Fade.

 

“Hotter,” Phil said slowly, breathily, “Than you know.”

 

“What was her name again?” Asked Frazer.

“Hannah…”

“Hottie Hannah! Dude, you got it made!” Slurred Matt, drunkenly.

“Got it made,” said Phil, icily, only on his second Guinness and not far enough gone, “it’s not like she’s my girlfriend or something.”

 

Flash.

Dyed black hair, faded a little to mousy brown at the roots, tied back tight. Her face is soft, clean and…plain. Hands hold a blunted knife, chopping down on carrots to be boiled for dinner. There’s grit under her close-clipped finger-nails, and a faint, gentle smile on her face… a little melancholy.

Fade.

 

“Paying submissives,” he went on, “Come in all flavours – many of them a bit like Brussels or cabbage. Fat ones, disabled ones, gay ones who only get off properly if Master is head to toe in sweaty leather, trying to be their untouchable object of desire…”

“Mate,” Nathan said hoarsely, turning his head and letting out a bray of discomfited laughter, “That’s more information than I wanted.”

 

“You basically let yourself in for it.”

 

More drinking ensued.

Soon conversation turned –slurringly- back onto that old topic.

 

“Where’d you, where’d you uh… meet Hottie Hannah then? She paid you for sex..?

Frazer said, unaware that the booze had made him unfunny. Frankly, Phil wasn’t optimistic about Frazer’s chances of getting back to Ealing on his own.

 

“You said something about …training?” Nathan added.

 

“Yeah. Not as a master, though,” Phil began, wearily rubbing shite off his glasses as he waited for the bloke to bellow, ‘Time!’ “She wanted the ideal sub – a proper slave for 24/7 … stuff. So I was an unpaying pet project. We met by accident through friends. I liked being collared to be honest; through the way she worked on me, I learnt a lot about the art of Dominance. Seemed like a logical step in my growth to try topping, after a while.”

 

He scratched his brand through the shirt he was wearing. He thought about a time passed. He remembered those lovely thighs, trussed in boots, closing around his waist. Her eyes softening. The distance between bodies closing; the carefully constructed boundaries between Dom and Sub collapsing; the soft labia gliding down his shaft and the nudge of her cervix on his glans.

Elation giving way to emptiness as the suture was brushed away from his still raw brand.

A cold feeling, like a man betrayed, even as her gloved hands played gently up and down his stomach in the afterglow that only she had felt. Bellefontaine was only Hannah.

 

“Enough about the details,” Phil said icily, “why don’t you ask me what it feels like to be a freak?”

 

A voice called out.

“Time! Time gentlemen, please!”

 

Phil pushed a drunken Frazer through the door of his Camden flat.

“Dude,” he said with a chuckle, “You can’t even stand up straight. I’m not letting you go back to Ealing on your own – you’ll be juicy gibs on the track by morning, making me late for work while they scrape you up.”

 

Frazer threw himself loudly into an armchair. After a moment, he pulled himself together. He said, “It’s not what I thought – shouldn’t there be more leather and shit?”

 

“Christ,” Phil said, exasperation in his voice, “I don’t work from this place!”

 

It was a bit crumby, and thoroughly over-priced. Though the wallpaper hadn’t peeled, there was no infestation, the white goods were pretty new and the furnishings were comfy, it was a bit pokey and had some odd corners with extra bits of jutting brick work due to conversions made over time. The wallpaper was a boring beige colour, the carpet a predictable denim blue. Xbox magazines lay in a stack on the floor next to a case of miniatures from Games Workshop.

 

Frazer’s brow furrowed very visibly in the dim light of the flat. He took a while to formulate his thoughts.

“So how do you go about this shit then?”

“There’s a studio – I’m not telling you where it is though, I know what you’re like. It has spaces for three Doms – ”

            “You what?”

“Dominants, Frazer, mistress/master, we’ve been over that. You’re too pissed to talk about this …” Phil said, pushing a stool under Frazer’s feet and getting him into a sleeping position. “We can talk about this in the morning. Provided you wake up before ten…A.M”

He turned out the light on his prostrate friend, and Azrael turned away to his own quarters, his mind mulling over the clients on his agenda tomorrow.

 

Multiple loops of chain tinkled musically as the sub flinched again, another faint red lesion appearing parallel to the others. Azrael Vane smiled, genuinely amused at the pathetic flexing and struggling of the sub as his body was stretched and suspended two feet above the ground..

“You know Mark, I can tell what you want,” he said, running the bare fingertips of spiked-gloved hands over the body of the sub. This meat-puppet had a pretty good musculature; but that wasn’t odd, for a city boy. Stock brokers tend to have the cash for good gyms and the arrogant energy to go down pretty much every day after work. Perhaps being gay had something to do with it, too. Azrael had come across quite a few body-proud subs who just wanted to be admired and prized… it was all part of the game.

Azrael could feel the warmth of the man’s skin, and imagined the strange singing in the sub’s nerves as smooth warm fingers caressed his welts. Even for a straight man, he felt that basic empathy. It had been a while since he himself had felt that tingle of security, elation and approval radiating out from the marks of a whip as gentle fingers touched him where he ought to have been stinging like hell. But he knew how good it was.

There was incense burning in the surprisingly well-lit room. They were surrounded by warm, earth-coloured oak beams and well-polished pine screens in an environment more office-like than medieval and dungeonesque. “…I think you want the one that wraps around, don’t you? It leaves you feeling – ” Azrael continued, twirling the crop playfully around his finger by the hanging loop and reaching for the bull-whip, “ – nice and warm.”

He took the bull-whip and coiled it. He gently pried away the blind-fold from Mark’s eyes so he could see it. Azrael tipped his head coquettishly. “Now,” he said, “be a good puppy and kiss the whip.”

He held it up to his sub’s face, well within reach. Mark began working his lips tenderly over it, and Azrael couldn’t help but smile. It was amusing.

Being dominant, he reflected to himself, is being like a chemist of yore. You just throw shit together and watch with glee as the reactions form.

He began to move the whip away, and Mark’s neck craned and stretched to follow. Eventually he couldn’t reach, and Azrael put on a theatrical frown.

“Well, you don’t deserve to have this particular educational apparatus used on you, “ he said poutingly, “If you won’t put any effort into training yourself.”

Azrael flipped the blindfold back down, and tutted at the sub’s whimper.

“I’ve decided you need to be alone for a while reflect on your failure, and how much you’ve betrayed the Master.”

 

With the creak of the many layers of leather that he wore, Azrael Vane exited his portion of the studio. He stepped into the kitchenette area and flipped the switch on a kettle while he pulled off one of his slightly sweaty gloves with his teeth.

“Gak,” he muttered to himself, “I’m gonna need a shower.”

He realised the kettle was empty, and lifted it to the sink. As he filled the kettle, the mobile phone he’d left on the counter buzzed, vibrating jarringly toward the edge. He caught a glimpse of the screen as he dashed to pick it up – Hannah was calling.

He took a sharp breath.

“Heya,”

“Hey.” She replied.

“What’s up, hun? I haven’t got long – I’m with a client.”

Phil took an earthenware cup from the cupboard and dropped a pinch of genmaicha – sencha with toasted rice to soften the flavour – into it. The kettle began to rumble.

“Actually,” Hannah said, as if her mind were somewhere else, “I was wondering if you’d like to work with me at TG’s. I’ve had to set the show for Friday next. I… I think I might need a hand from someone I trust. It’s a hassle getting things set up – ”

“Honestly,” Phil interjected, “I don’t know why you didn’t take Hades up on their offer. It’s a more intimate venue with less pricks. TG’s just has a good public profile –“

“Well, that’s moot now,” Hannah cut back in, a little chill impatience streaking her voice. Something inside Phil gave way.

“OK…ok, I think I’ve got the evening free. I’ll call you back on that – ”

“No, you won’t,” Hannah stated, coolly and smoothly, “we’re having a drink when you’re finished. And dinner if I feel like it.”

Phil didn’t realise it, but his back stiffened and his shoulders rolled forward, as if anticipating a blow. His features opened, eyebrows raised in mild surprise, bottom lip held in his bite.

“K?” Hannah, asked, her voice soft and warm again. It took a few moments before it all went through Phil’s mind.

“OK. I’ll be done by seven thirty. Where would you like to start, M – ” He stopped himself.

Hannah’s voice was shot with a knowing amusement. “We’ll just go somewhere in Leicester square. I just want to hang out; we can make our minds up while we drink. Byes.”

“Bye.”

Azrael put the phone back on the counter, and slumped as he poured hot water onto his green tea. He raised his eyes sullenly, as if looking up to someone whose eyes he couldn’t bear to meet.

“Back to work, I guess.”


3: Parallels

 

            They met at The Porcupine, in Covent Garden – a deviation from the plan by a few hundred metres, but it was a nice pub. Music was an eclectic mix; most importantly they had a few good cask ales on.

            Phil selected a Rebellion stout, Hannah played it safe with Hobgoblin Wychcraft.

            Phil found his way to a cherry-red leather two-seater, indented with brass studs. Out of habit, he dusted the seat off, and gestured for Hannah to sit first, at which she smiled and tutted.

            An hour or so later and Phil was on his fourth pint, Hannah her third.

            “I think that rates up there with your Mandingo obsession, really, Phil!”

            “Well, how could you not be mesmerised by such a monstrous phallus – it was one of those rare actual twelve inchers …”

            “Come on – that’s just frightening! The closest I got to that left me – hey! I’m not saying that. Sorry…”

            “You have me intrigued now,” Phil said, with raised eyebrow, slightly thrilled and enticed by the concept of a woman he cared for being split open, “You can’t just feed me tidbits and leave me hanging!”

            Hannah screwed up her eyes, and shook her head vehemently. “Nope. Not happening.”

            Phil laughed warmly, and she smiled in return; they both sagged down into the upholstery. Hannah sighed at length and closed her eyes. He watched her. She looked so happy. He took her hand in his, and shook it gently from side to side. “Whatcha thinking?” He asked.

 

            “It’s just nice to sit back and shoot the shit about porn! Away from all the distancing psych-games and professional crap. There’s always just been something about you that makes me feel comfortable, Phil, you know that?”

 

            He shrugged theatrically in return, and flicked his eyes from side to side manically. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know what that is.”

 

            She prodded him on the knee, hard, marring the crease of his trousers. From the movement of her limbs, it seemed she was already getting a little drunk. “Even,” she said, “When you insist in sitting there in your stupid pinstripes. All I need is blue jeans and a jumper, but you’re always wearing bloody Azrael Vane over everything else!”

            Phil fiddled with his spotless waistcoat sullenly. “I just like pinstripes…”

 

            “Well, I think I liked you better when you walked around with your camouflage jeans tucked into big bad New Rocks.”

            “Whatever, H, you’re pished after three pints! Let’s go down the road and get an Angus.”

            He stood, and took her by the arms, pulling her up from the seat. She resisted a little – only a little.

            “God! Damn your testes, you’re not stuffing a steak down my neck, man!”

            “Well,” Phil quipped, cocking his head and wearing a Schwarzenegger-esque grin, “It’s not going to be the biggest piece of meat that’s ever been stuffed into you!”

            “Shush!” She hissed, and slapped him playfully on the cheek, but hard enough to sting. Then a few more little ones; smack, smack, smack, in quick succession, until Phil cowed his head.

            There was a momentary silence. Hannah flashed her broad, sharp-toothed smile, and moved her hand from his cheek to play with the hair behind his ear. He looked up with a feigned reluctance, and their eyes met over the half-rims of her spectacles. His breathing quickened as he became utterly pulled into those warm, chocolate brown eyes. Her cheeks reddened, just a little, and he felt her hand warm on his ear.

            They held eachother; it was either not long and felt like forever, or ages and over too soon. It didn’t really matter. They held eachother.

 

            Back in her flat, they sat on the edge of her bed watching random episodes of stuff like Sea Lab that were on Cartoon Network years back. It would have been background noise, were it not for the quiet between them. So they watched TV, drank slightly stale beer and smoked Hannah’s exquisitely thin little roll-ups – which was the only time Phil ever really smoked.

            That’s all they had really done. Sat, snuggled and stroked, breathed a few words; wanted to get closer but felt weird about their boundaries. He ran his finger slowly up and down her arm while she leaned against him. Her arm slowly worked its way around him, and her fingers stroked his back. They ran across thin little scars from when they’d  played together – from when he was high on endorphins and ignored that messages the nerves were telling him every time the lash hit home and cut a little too deep.

            They both realised, and smiled at eachother.

            …and then Phil began to cry, and Hannah was too cold-gut confused to follow him into the bathroom and ask what was wrong.

 

            Way back when.

She commands him to kneel and place his hands behind his back. So there he is on the dusty hardwood floor of her last flat, squashed between a sofa and a coffee table. He’s cut his finger, somewhere along the line. He ignores it.

It’s the first time.

All he can see is her feet, clad in sexy little shoes, Oxford style crossed with a high heel, in front of him. The feet shuffle back.

“Follow.”

His knees creak.

The feet shuffle back again, further; he has to negotiate a sharp corner while hunched and taking all his weight on his knees against the hard floor.

“Follow.”

His knees are killing him, but he does as he’s told anyway…

 

…She sits on his back, and he has to rise to a crawling position. He’s not used to it – he tries to rise with his back first rather than pushing with his arms. She slides off. She takes the slide elegantly.

“You let Mistress fall…”

She’s back on her feet, he’s nose to the floor again, palms flat in front of him. His mistake was unforgivable. He waits for the blow, expecting a little pat, at first.

The whip hits hard – very hard, a thud with a wrap-around on his flank and a cutting after-shock. She tells him he needs ten in order to learn properly.

Each lash is murder. He clenches his fists between blows to distract himself. For the first few he rolls his shoulders forward instinctively to present a nice broad, inviting target. By the time the fifth lands he is bending like a reed in the wind away from the blow.

…He whip is crossed tightly around his wind-pipe. He can’t feel his hands any more – he’s getting close to blacking out. She releases him, and the air that gusts into his lungs is the sweetest he’s ever tasted.

He knows he can trust her with anything. He tells her,

“Knowing that I want you, but I’ll never get close enough – and you know that’s the way I feel… it’s another thing that gives you power, isn’t it?”

She says nothing, just pulls him hard against her stomach, rough and tender all at once as she holds him.

They play, he makes his mistakes, he is punished.

He must take twenty brutal lashes by the end. She sits on her couch and sweetly beckons him to lay his head on her knees. His back is bleeding in places. It stings, but she runs her soft warm hands over the pain, sending warmth, security and joy spreading through his body.

“Good puppy.”

She kisses him gently on the cheek.

 

“Phil –Phil, come on, talk to me!” Hannah hugged him tight from behind, trying to rock him gently from side to side. He just held a trembling hand against his forehead, looking at his red, bleary eyes in the bathroom mirror as the tears streamed down.

“Jesus! Sorry, H, I’m being such a dickhead!”

He shook his head at himself, and splashed cold water from the tap across his face.

Her hands fell to her sides, and her lip twisted a little.

“We’ve been here before,” she said, leaving the sentence hanging. There wasn’t really anything else she could add.

Phil closed the tap with a sharp twist.

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” He said, “I’ve just had too much to drink – I really should – “

“Go home? No; no, I want you here. I need you here… just for a little while.”

He froze, feeling a hand sliding up the side of his body, under his top.

A warm hand can sometime give a man the coldest ache in his spine.

 

Not long after, they both lay on her bed, naked. He cupped her pubis in his palm, stroking gently up and down. There was a chain extending from the bed post to his neck.

“I’ll make it what it was, if that’s what you need…” Hannah said, voice tinged with reluctance, eyes growing hollow, “I just want you here… just for a little while…”

She produced a long sinew of leather, tightly plaited, and held in fingers loose and lacking conviction.


 

“We should really have talked about this,” she said, cheeks glowing a little from exertion. Phil might have been mistaken, but he thought she looked happier, “and worked it all out a long time ago. I – I have to ask you something…”

Phil nuzzled the inside of her thigh from his position crouched on the floor between her legs.

“What is it, H?”

She clicked the chain off the collar and slid the little key into the lock at the back of his neck.

“Do you love me,” she asked, “do you love me, or the persona?”

Phil tilted his head away from Bellefontaine…Hannah.

He frowned.

“Love is a loaded word.” He said.

Her hands trembled where they rest in the knots of his hair. The vibrance of her cheeks had faded when Phil looked up at her again.

Her voice was flat when she said, “You’ve used those words before.”

She removed the key from the lock – leaving the collar clamped around his neck. She raised a foot, pressing the heel of her shoe into the flesh between the clavicle and the pectoral and pushed him to the floor.

“And frankly, I’m fed up with hearing them.”

She rose to her feet, hands trembling as she seized the whip and flexed its length in her palms. She kicked Phil in the flank, not playfully, nor not hard in a carefully chosen place – she wanted to hurt him.

“Get on your knees …”

He did so, a little clumsily. She kicked him again, a move punctuated by a sharp contraction of his stomach. It left a deformation where she guessed his floating ribs should be. A hot flush, like swallowing a globule of tobasco, squirted through her stomach and she thought, ‘good’.

“Get on you fucking knees and spread your back for me!”

He did it, with a wince, bravely bearing the hot pain in his side.

She struck him with the whip. There was no warm up, no play, just the loud crack of leather on flesh – and the splitting of skin.

He began to bleed.

“Do you love me?” She spat, and lashed him again, splitting a few layers and spilling more hot crimson.

“Tell me you love me!” She demanded.

Leather cracked again, and glittering globules of blood bounced up at her from the tassled end of the whip.

She stood, breathing raggedly, trembling with frustration, watching the streaks of blood slowly slide down the arch of his back.

For a moment she asked herself what she was doing, before she pulled him up by his hair, circled to his front, and slapped him repeatedly. She did something she would never do, she just let her fingers fall wherever, letting her fingernails catch him in the eye.

His head slowly craned away and tears began to roll down his cheek, mingling with blood from scratches.

Hannah staggered to the bed and fell heavily onto it, sobbing. For a moment, Phil did not move at all. He was wheezing a little.

“Why?” she begged, voice cracking. “Why can’t you just love me for who I am?”

It was a long time before Phil moved.

“I do love you,” He whispered, physical pain holding his voice down. “I do – it’s just so hard to pull all these things apart.”

 

Hannah was silent, and cried.

Phil rose slowly, and moved over to the bed. He sat by her, and put his arm around her shoulders. She flinched a little, then raised her head to look at him.

“I just don’t believe you. You only seem happy when I’m playing the domme… it’s like we barely relate, otherwise.”

“That’s not true; we had a laugh and a drink earlier, didn’t we?”

“I guess…”

She began picking nervously at her nails.

“I do need that domme part…” he continued, “I admit that. I’m sorry it hurts you so much. But it’s the way we came together, you gave me something I needed, I thought I was pleasing you… but then, you… you didn’t so much want to move our relationship on as just ch-“

“I know where you’re going! Look – this isn’t my fault.”

“I wasn’t going to say that…” Phil said. Defeat was in his voice.

“I’m sorry.”

 

Hannah raised her hand and ran an open palm across Phil’s back. She didn’t care about the blood. Dismay fell across her features.

“Look at what I’ve done to you,” She sniffled.

“Don’t worry,” Phil reassured her.

“No – this isn’t right! You haven’t seen it… it’s like I’ve carved you up!”

“Doesn’t feel so bad.” Phil said – but he lied. When he breathed he could feel the soft floating rib rubbing on something fleshy inside.

“I wish you wouldn’t be so stoic… this isn’t a game – I don’t want you to pretend it doesn’t hurt! Look,” She said, resolving, and kicking off her heels, “I’m going to get the first aid box and patch you up.”

 

He watched her go. She moved into the kitchen, was partially obscured by the partition of her studio flat’s wall. There was clanking and clunking as she rifled through the kit, checking for tape and germolene and the other paraphernalia.

Phil raised his arm to check his ribs. The rubbing inside his chest became a burning feeling for a moment.

Hannah walked in and immediately gasped. She caught sight of the dark, angry bruise that was spreading from the dent in his side.

“I’m taking you to hospital!”

 

The next day she came to him, the soft soles of her trainers flapping dully on the blue linoleum of the hospital corridor and echoing down the cold, sterile white walls.

When she reached him he was already sitting up on the bed, its crisp white sheets barely creased from his stay; he had layers of bandage wrapped around his chest, but otherwise he looked hale and hearty.

Hannah caught her breath sharply as her eyes alighted on the words branded into his shoulder. In turn Phil turned his head slowly to the name of her alter-ego with hang-dog eyes.

“Yeah, they did ask about that,” he said, “but I think the story of being drunk, tripping onto some pointy railings and landing in a rosebush was enough of an excuse to delude themselves from the obvious.”

            Hannah was silent from a moment, and looked him over with a sad frown.

            “…are you ok?” She asked, quietly.

            Phil rubbed his said and said with a grin, “Yeah, they did a bit of quick surgery to shave the broken bit off that floating rib, didn’t take much more than ten minutes I don’t think.”

            Perhaps his happiness and stoicism perturbed her. She stood silently, gazing at him. He glanced at the plastic chair by the bed, and she slowly, dejectedly moved to sit on it. She remained silent.

            “I’m free to go now. Are we going to take the tube?” He asked.

            “… I guess.”

            A moment of silence passed.

            Then, she said a few words; they seemed to pass with difficulty – as though had a mouthful of syrup. “You don’t seem to be too bothered about the other night.”

            “No, not really.”

            “Why not?”

            “You were upset, you were angry, you literally lashed out with what you had to hand.”

            “You didn’t enjoy it, did you?”

            Phil’s mouth fell open, aghast. “No! What the hell w- ”

“Nothing, Phil, just –just forget it.”

Phil sighed, and began tiredly pulling on his shirt. His hands trembled.

“You know, I can  tell the difference between – ” he began, but she cut him off sharply –

“Look, really just forget it.”

He rose to his feet silently, prepared to go. He stopped and studied her sullen, slowly reddening face. He knew something was churning up inside, but she wouldn’t tell him. He didn’t want to prod her for it; he knew what he’d get. He turned and began to walk away.

“Why does it have to be like this with us,” she called out, and Phil froze, a cold feeling wriggling in his gut, aggravated by the knowledge of what she was sure to blurt out in a hospital full of bystanders. “Does it always have to be Domme and sub? Do you always have to play the stoic role and be the doorstep for my abuse? We’re not playing things out in a safe environment here…”

Phil turned to see the vein grow thick in her forehead. She picked at her fingernails madly.

“I’m not – ” he pleaded,

“Shut up – you disgust me! Why can’t you be a man? Sometimes I need to be held; I can’t just rough you about to feel better. Sometimes what I want is a blanket and a cuddle. I just … I just don’t have the stamina to keep putting someone to edge of being hurt and pulling them back at the last second. Having someone to mess with … it just loses its edge, and I want you to do something! A cup of tea, put a movie on, father me a bit… just be a normal bloke in a normal setting and be happy to look after me like I was a normal woman.”

 

Phil listened to these words and sagged, defeated.

“Were it so easy…” he said.

Hannah summoned the strength to stand, and walked over to him, falling into his arms. A smile of relief spread across her face as he simply … hugged her back.

“We need normal jobs for a while,” she said, a sobbing voice muffled by Phil’s shirt. “We need to get out of this. I love you; I just want to move on.”

“Yeah,” said Phil, softly “Yeah, we need to get out of this…”

 

Hannah broke into tears; she sagged against him; her knees and ankles buckled.

“Can we make love tonight? “

“Of course.”

“Just vanilla – I know it sounds crazy but the only thing I can think about right now is being given a good, hard, straight screw!”

Hot wetness began to pour against Phil’s shoulder and chest, the sobs becoming sharper like the rhythm of a knife plunging in and out of lungs. Hannah’s face had become bright red, and she screamed out – to the consternation of the ward’s inhabitants – “This has all been driving me round the bend!”

As he screech died out, her body seemed to sway and buckle. Calm slowly returned to her trembling limbs. She buried her face in Phil’s chest and drew in a long, snotty breath.

“I just wanna fuck. It feels so pathetic.”

“No,” said Phil, tears of his own rolling slowly down his cheeks and into the mousy brown roots of her faded dyed hair. “No. It’s not pathetic. You’re totally right. About everything.”

 

He felt cold inside.

 

           


4: Projection

 

They lay together, arms encircling, legs gliding slowly up and down against eachother. Phil could feel the warmth of Hannah’s cheek against his chest. One of his fingers toyed restlessly with the sweat-grained sheets, every now and again forming something like a claw, like it was going to drag him away across the bed. But the warmth of Hannah’s flushed cheek over his heart drew him back in. It was though her cheek was his heart, the thing in his existence where all the heat of life pulsed from in steady, calm waves.

            They were in his place, his bed, with his black satin-edged duvet tossed to the floor, the leg of his leather jeans protruding from under it, the strap of her lime-coloured bra slinked over it, a cheeky streak of brightness standing out.

            Hannah rustled, straining to move her exhausted body, and reached over to his red-stained pine dresser to the sugar-laced bowl resting there. She fumbled in the sweet stickiness for a moment.

            Phil watched her hand gently pluck a fat strawberry, decorated with glistening white motes, and studied with pleasure the slow, arching movement of her wrist as her pale, delicate hand wound toward her lips.

            Her lips had a faint natural ripeness, pink and soft. A little crack ran down the centre of her bottom lip, chapped by cold, which Phil watched flex as her mouth softly embraced the strawberry.

            Then her teeth neatly sliced the fruit. Juice spilled over the curve of her lips onto his chest, splashing. It was ticklingly cold; he chuckled at the surprise of the sudden chill striking his flesh, and she snorted a laugh of her own, jerking her neck as if to catch the juice on her chin – all too late.

            He squeezed her, tight.

            “Like Depardieu and Ogier,” she said, sighing.

            “A little…” said Phil his gaze drifting toward the ceiling. The finger that clawed at the sheets slowly twined a strand of blonde around it.

            “Sometimes I think Olivier and Ariane should have died in the crash at the end,” he said in a rheumy way.

            Hannah’s eyes twitched up toward him, a tiny frown momentarily creasing the smooth curve of her brow. “Why?” she asked, and quickly lapped up the strawberry juice from his chest.

            “Well,” he began, “It just seems more logical. He messed up the life they did have because he got sort of… trapped in his own heroic fantasy and went through the motions of the role. Their redemption was – I don’t know – too easy.

            “Why’d you say redemption?”

            “O.K, maybe it’s the wrong word; but they do seem to be absolved of something. Ariane adopts this very earthy, wholesome aesthetic, kind of a pathetic fallacy … and she decides to chase after Olivier and take him back into her life, though he had royally fucked up, so easily.”

            “Maybe a downer does make more sense… but I like the happy ending. I wish you still drove, Phil – I’d love to cruise along at fifty, grinding in your lap, fucking in an open-topped car.”

            “And then crash.”

            “Yes,” she laughed, “and then crash. But don’t you think that just walking away from that burning wreck, laughing, is a neat little metaphor for putting the mess of their past behind them?”

            A little chill buzzed through Phil’s body. “I guess so, he said. Never really thought of it that way.”

 

            They were silent for a while, staring into the distance, away from eachother.

 

“Why did the BDSM work so well for you, Phil?” Hannah asked, stroking the brand which her other side had left on his arm.

“You know, it just gave me that feeling of being chosen. You cared enough to take me on that journey, to pay me that attention, to exhaust your imagination so much.”

“Wasn’t all hard work. It was fun, never a bother. Did you… did you let me do some of the more severe things to you because you knew you loved me?”

“Or I loved you because I could let go and let you do those things…”

Do you love me?”

“Of course I loved … love you, H. It’s just that things get a bit mixed up – and sometimes they shouldn’t. But it wasn’t all just play for me.”

“I knew you were in pain, on the inside I mean.”

“From the dildoes?”

“NO!” she slapped him on the nipple, and smiled. “No. You know what I mean. Emotionally. But that’s your problem, your feelings are always a joke, or they don’t exist.”

The feelings I say I don’t have, I don’t have, the feelings you say you have, you don’t have.”

“Yeah, well done Dick Head Lawrence. What did you feel like, when you needed me to do those things?”

“It’s kind being like a tiny figure of yourself, locked up inside your own chest. I’m always holding myself back, getting more and more introverted, until I can’t scream, I can’t cry, I don’t even feel safe to shoot my load. You’re imprisoned somewhere that has no walls… I just couldn’t get out of myself sometimes until we did what we did. It’s like this tiny figure is grappled invisibly with hoops of steel to a burning cross, and you larynx is ash. It’s like you were saving me from that, freeing me, performing surgery on the pain, making me someone who could go out there and stamp on his problems, get things done instead of staring at the worry, watching the clock run down and feeling helpless.”

“That’s a pretty severe description… was it all just catharsis? You always said you took pleasure in masochism.”

“I do … after a while, the crack and sting is just like what you feel when you’re fucking hard and they dig their fingernails in your back. You don’t care, it’s just another gorgeous sensation from the act, running through your body. But you know that. It did get a lot of shit out of my heart, but it did feel damn good too.”

“I’d say that’s what it’s like for me too. And I like thinking about what you’re going through, when I’m topping. It gets me wet.”

They snuggled together, smiling all the while but Phil was staring at something in the distance. He suddenly shifted, and gently rolled Hannah off him.

“I’m going to get a drink,” he said, “you want something?”

“Get me the last bottle of wine?”

“K.”

As Azrael … as Phil strode naked into his front room toward the kitchen he saw all the old cast-offs of Vane staring at him. He felt a cold guilt in his gut. His own voice was in his head.

            I don’t care where you go, you won’t get away from me.

 

Phil returned with the wine. He thrust himself into bed and pulled Hannah forcibly toward him. Her arms and legs drew tightly around him as he began to sob.

“Thank you, H. It’s so good to be understood.”

 


5: Catharsis

 

The rain splattered hard down on the haft of the axe.

He was sick of it; sick of the failure, sick of the failure, sick of the disappointment, sick of the distance that had grown ever wider.

Or, at least, that was the way he saw it.

When the collar had come off that last night, and he’d fallen into delirium in the cab on the way to the hospital, as Hannah had rehearsed a story to tell the receptionist, he’d resolved to go back to teaching. Tedious little middle-aged colleagues, tedious clientele, another environment of instruction, management and voluntary status-play… a world painfully transparent, cynical, without mystery or joy. It was all he knew how to do.

Smash, smash, smash – the fragments of the mirror, which once showed him clearly, if viewed sideways. Now they were scattered amidst the icy-cold mire of a London street.

Smash, smash, smash – the Saint at his saltire, the metal biting into the cross of Saint Andrew, sending its virtue spinning in splinters as the sky fell.

 

Rain soaked him to the bone, a red silken shirt soaked and hanging, a fine pinstripe waistcoat near rotted – Azrael Vane’s vestiges clung languidly to the frame of Phil Jacobs.

He paused, panting, breath steaming in the biting cold. He leant with one arm on the haft of the fire-axe from the studio, picking up a piece of the cross with another arm and tossing it into the dirty yellow skip with a muscular flexion of torso and limb.

Despite the stretch and throb of his body at work, Phil felt weak to his heart.

He hefted his axe above a frame of hollow steel.

“What ever got me into this shit?”

Clang.

Clang.

Buckle.

He fell to his knees and sobbed, tears mingling with bitter black London rain, arms trembling and unable to pull the instrument of his alter-ego’s destruction away from the wheel on which he had bound so many needy souls.

 

It was not enough to keep taking. No matter which side he stood upon, he had always been taking.

 

The haft of the axe stood proud of the torture wheel, mocking him against the background of cobblestones and the red-light rush of London traffic beyond the drab confines of the alleyway where he destroyed himself.

He pulled himself back to his feet, exhausted. As his gloved hand came to rest upon the axe, Vane caught sight of a slight figure standing at the skewed mouth of the alley, shivering in little more than a sweater and jeans.

“Phil…” she said.

“I just don’t know who the fuck you’re talking to any more.”

The axe came away with an anguished scream of metal.

 

The figure shuffled forward, and Hannah’s face emerged in an ellipse of shadow.

Vane hesitated for a moment, and Phil weighed the axe in his hands. She raised a hand.

The axe swung – she pulled back in surprise.

For a moment, her lips trembled, punctuated by the tremulous pattering of rain on stone-weathered brick.

“…but I thought last week made you happy… I though we’d worked it out; that we could separate one thing from another.”

“Love is always over in the morning!”

The torture-wheel shattered with a spark under the blow of the axe and Phil staggered back with the impact. He tore away the sodden waistcoat of Vane and threw it into a puddle, before laying into the apparatus again.

Clanging and clattering  marked the disposal of his existence into the looming skip.

Hannah slowly pulled away.

“What now?” She asked, voice bereft of hope.

He glanced at her; perhaps, he thought, there was some sight of a change back to the life she had wanted when the collar had slipped away the first time.

“…Nothing.”

The act was done, the urge satisfied.

Denouement.

The drop after the fever.

The four of them died away – the two figures shimmering the rain, the other two waiting in the shadows, so similar – yet so alien.

The tears of all fell in time with the rain.

 

 

END

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Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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