i spy
Following Debrief, the Brit goes to make himself presentable in the safehouse bathroom. But, newly freed, there are a few concepts Martin still struggles with.

Safehouse, Poland

In the bathroom there was a mirror.

Infested with a couple of ambitious spiderwebs, bruised glass in one corner. His first step was the porcelain basin beneath it, dashed with the cold water he let flow from a squeaky faucet. He let flow. Then stopped. Watching the droplets scurry away into the rust-touched drain, leaving everything damp and affected. Blood-scored fingers turned, re-releasing the torrent. It slammed into the bowl with abandon. On, off. On. Off. He didn't know why he enjoyed just fucking turning the faucet back and forth until the fifth time in, when he knew he was just reveling in that he could. He had the power. It was alarmingly intoxicating— a dirty faucet in a half-abandoned safehouse somewhere— somewhere!

Thrusting his head down into the next rain, he cupped his hands, catching a pool to thrust his face against.

In front of a tub of ice cold water, he's hauled back by a cuttingly tight band at the throat with remarkable strength— or has he just weakened; it threatens to garrote him, but never does, only remains on the perpetual verge and chokes and chokes until it gives way, allowing him breath on the way down to the water.

He's choking into his hands, let up as his back arched, slamming his fingers around either side of the basin. Breathing eased in when he scowled, shaking his head, lifting it to this real, dim lighting of now. Dripping all along his jaw, he rubbed it, then splayed his palm over the mirror and pushed across, clearing a layer of settled materials and getting a look at himself for the first time in years.

The American was right.

Stripping a hand from the sink, he yanked the mirror open, revealing a few expected sundries. The razor might have been left by the previous occupant, but he'd had older, dirtier, edges used against him already. What was… one more. Fitting small in his palm, the razor was bare minimum: some plastic body with a half-assed grip and a blade or two inside. Questioning fingers traced along his neck, riding along strangulation marks like train-tracks. They'd kept his hair, of all things, sanitary length, but this growth still might destroy a dinky razor like this one. But a need boiled up and his hands grabbed, layered, yanked— until he was staring at himself in the mirror with a chunk of thick black hair missing entirely from off one side of his jaw. Turning his head that way, he admired it. The lack of uniformity. The choice.

All that hair had to be cleaned out from between the razor blades, and it fell into the sink in black patches. When the razor was clear, he did it again. Chunk after chunk, in random, thoughtless, thrusts and places— jumping around— not caring, not letting a single process through his head except the mindless repeat of motion. He's peeling dark strands out of the upper blade with a half-gone, half-rotten fingernail when cool, unthinking eyes refocus on the tool.

The razor-sharp edge traces the path of least resistance and most pain. Not deep, it cuts to the bone, every ridge under the skin, jutting out. His interrogator won't let him stand, or sit, or lie down; every bone is wrong, every spot can be cut into. It's pitch black. Intrusive hands feel ahead of the knife to be precise before the knife digs in with its point and drags unnaturally through flesh. With the familiar Eastern European accent, he hears about the sunlight outside that he's not allowed to see.

He knew he'd been standing there for a long time, because his body aches, but he couldn't be sure how much has passed, but the razor's shook in his hand even though his wrist screamed from the repetitive motion. Points along his torso burned; his bones sung. Back arching tighter, he leaned, squeezing eyes painfully tight. Abruptly, his hands were swathed in fabric, pulling; he had his shirt up around his shoulders before he knew and the second he caught a glimpse in the mirror, he wrestled it back down, breathing, circling, pacing, and pinching his hair at the sides of his hand. Russian lettering laughed at him in the mirror. The shaving wasn't done; his jaw a grossly mismatched pattern. Dropping to a crouch, he rebounded immediately. With a forced breath out his nose, he faced up to the mirror, tracing a thumb against his uneven jaw then gliding the dulling razor. Hairs fall shorter. Bruises show against less coverage of black.

The next time he ran his hand over his face, there was a thick graze of stubble, too precise for the abused razor to grab onto, but even — almost sightly.

He waited for a glimpse in the mirror of the man he started out as, knowing full well he'd never come.

He was different.

Changed. Material warped under too much pressure, cracking and peeling at the edges.

So there was just one more thing to do.

Coiling fingers at his belt-loops, he yanked, wincing as the pants caught on then slid down his hips. Practical, he lifted the razor, thumbs opposite and stressing the tiny plastic body till it snapped, rending apart under his viciously matter-of-fact violence and exposing the edge of one of two layered blades. Sawing a fingernail beneath, he wrestled the blade with a squeak and slide of metal. Plastic hit the floor with a small protest. The metal glinted in the bathroom overhead lighting as he turned it in front of him, this weapon inexplicably in his hand. Control.

Backing up till his back hit the wall— it only took a step— he worked his back down, legs spread out, with one foot braced and the other stretched slightly further. He did this until his hip was in reasonable view, exposed, most of its bruises faded. Bruises, at least.

It's burning, he's burning, the small strip of metal is hotter than the inside of an oven.

As he cupped his free hand around the leg, turning it in for a clinical view of just below the hipbone, the hand with the razor began to shake. Not immediately noticing, he felt the slip and bloodless sting of the metal leaving his fingers first. Grunting in frustration, he scrambled gracelessly, nearly sliding to the floor, to regain the thin cold reminder— tool— piece of flimsy use. A second positioning roughly brought the upper thigh back into place.

The scent of it fills the air inescapably, but not so thickly as the hanging, impressing importance placed upon inflicting him with the precise little lines of damage.

In the light, they seemed almost innocent. Crisp, orderly, like surgical marks instead of brutish torture. Slightly raised, pinkish, and white where the skin had cracked, counting lines like rows. His breathing picked up, rolling heatedly through his chest and stomach: the ironic shirt. Sweat dampened it in places, and his fingers. His palms were hot, and he was heavy-handed getting the razor down against his skin.

Of the thin blade slicing, branding, sinking in. It's the fifth time.

Trembling. Chin lifted defiantly even as it quaked. Heat. Burning in his nostrils. The tips of his fingers. But his stomach had gone ice cold. The razor stuck, slipped; he wrested it into place, froze. Stared, groaned in frustration as the back of his head hit the wall. Breathing; breathing too fast. His pulse was in his throat.

"You will wear it for as long as you live."

A low, fierce— thickly wordless— growl ripped out of him as he forced the razor down, plunged it against his skin where it'd been five times branded. He dug, twisting his wrist, twisting the razor, till it bit right into the malnourished thick of his thigh. That low noise persisted through the entire motion, springing blood familiarly up as he jut gratuitously, purposelessly, down, running a jagged, ill-measured, and utterly imprecise line down— down— his eyes squeezed— down— till each of the five lines had been broken. In a spasm of anger, he ravaged criss-cross lines, shallower than the first, back and forth until the razor suddenly dropped from his limp fingers, feeling drained out of them.

He crashed to the floor on one bruised knee, grunting but barely acknowledging the pain, hitching his pants up even as he bled against them. The bathroom floor was cold, familiar. Soothingly uncomfortable. It spoke louder than the dazzling, dizzying freedom outside— loudest still, the dizzying in his stomach, which had sucked in the heat of his breath as he'd cut. Metal still felt imprinted on his fingers, accusingly. He was bleeding. He'd—

When he puked into the trash-can next to the sink, it was another mindless, physical lullaby. When he was done, the couple of tissues, the unidentifiable wrapper, and bit of plastic also inside the trash were barely covered; what, after all, did he even have in his stomach. Pawing at the gritty tiles, he turned off from the trash-can, slipping a shoulder under the porcelain of the sink. Its rounded bottom barely gave his frame room; he shoved against it, worked his way right into the corner, wedged between the sink, the floor, and the wall, with his knees tucked up close. Blood made a mural against his pants and he sat. He stared straight ahead.

And he didn't know how long he stayed there, but it felt like years.

And in the mirror there was a bathroom.

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