Marked Territory
By Dana Quell

The apartment is as silent as a ghost, has been for all these months while it waited for
him to return. Had it been normal, it would not have abided; cobwebs would have been
spun in the corners, dust settled on every visible surface, or perhaps it would have
been rented out to the next tenant who could afford it. She has kept it in this
state of limbo, pristine and free of the rages of time, for the off chance that he
would come back, both to her and the apartment.

She turns the key, and the apartment is free, finally, from waiting. He enters after she
does, his gait uneasy and slow, limbs still adjusting from free movement. Compared
to the bob she completes on light steps, his motions are of age, hollow and full of

Amazed, his gaze wanders across the main room, daring it to be any different than the way
he left it. His eidetic memory helps, and he thinks perhaps it is even cleaner than
it was when he was the sole housekeeper.

His legs protest from the weight they carry, the journey only so long as the car park to
the apartment, and he sits down to assuage their objections. As he does, he makes a
small moan from the back of his throat.

It is enough to catch her attention when she is so busy struggling with the groceries
they bought on the way back from the hospital. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Immediately, she hovers like a mother in the wild, wary of poachers and other potential

He picks his words carefully, still unsure of his own native language after months of not
having used it. "I'm just having trouble... adjusting. That's all."

She makes a cooing sound and wraps her arm around him, more for her emotional well being
than his. He hates the feeling of her thin limbs restricting him, but understands
that she needs to know that he is indeed real just as badly as he needs to know that
he is finally free. He does not break away.

"It's ok," she murmurs into his ear, beginning to gently rock. Her breath is warm on the
scabs of his face, and it starts to burn him, searing through the healing tissue and
letting fire into his veins.

And it brings him back, to the time before he was found and after he was lost. He is in
his arms again, the other man's, and the same whispers of "It's ok" echoes through
his mind. The man is hurting him again, has taken the branding iron and is now
exploring the intricacies of his face, having exhausted all the boundaries of the
torso and limbs.

"It's ok," and another stream of blood begins and is stopped by the heat radiating off
the iron, cauterising the wound before it can flow.

"It's ok," and the twisted and hard eyes tell him again how helpless he is to halt the
torture being inflicted upon himself. The pain of knowing this feeling is almost
worse than the pain of the branding iron itself. Almost.

"It's ok," and he is sliding into the darkness of his mind, slipping away slowly from the
agony. But his captor notices he is going too soon into the unconsciousness, and
brings him out of it.

Half cracked with the anguish of non-release, anger flares within him and he struggles
against the arms that serve as his restraints. A cry from his captor, and he swings
his fist in the direction of the noise, unable to see from the pain and the rage.

A choked sob, one that could most certainly never be male, brings back his sight. She is
no longer wrapped around him but halfway across the room instead, nursing with one
hand a flow of blood. He has bloodied her nose.

Almost subliminally, he reaches up to his own scars and caresses them. He did not mean
to bloody her nose. He did not mean to be tortured either. Surely, neither could
have been helped. His mind reels with the fact that he has hurt her, physically.
After all these years of friendship, of trust, he has never hurt her intentionally.
Never physically. She will understand.

He watches her, and after a few moments she looks up at him. There is pain there, but it
is not the suffering caused by a wounded nose.

He turns his head away from her, because he can see the reflection of them in her eyes.
Them -- the scars of his ordeal remaining still, blemishing skin that should be

She is not enough for him. He knows that she expected to be enough: enough to bring him
back to his old self, enough to help him forget everything he has gone through. But
he also knows her expectations were unwise. There is not enough of anything in the
world to make him forget what he has experienced. Everytime he looks in the mirror,
he will see what has been left behind; his face is marked territory. He cannot help

Her clean hand is suddenly upon his shoulder, and he slowly turns back to her. He
glances down at her hand, pointedly, and she removes it, knowing better this time.