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A Hum Through Your Skin

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Every so often, a deep, piercing buzz cut through the emphatic guitar-and-drums of a heavy metal song that Mai paid scant attention to because her focus was elsewhere. All other sounds in the room became muffled and bassy, as if the sound waves were temporarily insulated inside a box. 


It was a pattern; a ritual that was alien to her, but Mai had quickly picked up on the succession of what to expect. There was the brief, dull drone of buzzing, followed by the feeling of being stung by 100 bees all at once as the artist dragged their instrument along her skin, depositing ink in its wake. Then, finally, a few seconds of relief as they wiped away the excess ink collecting on her skin’s surface, which now felt like it held the heat of the sun.


Occasionally, Mai let her eyes flitter over towards the clock on the wall in front of her, and each time, she was shocked to find how little time had passed. It felt like she’d been laying in this chair for at least an hour. The sweat only made the leather seat slick and even more uncomfortable than before. Time distorted on its own each time the tiny needles darted in and out of her skin, and she was unable to muster any of her usual iron-clad control over the expressiveness of her face. 


In those brief snatches of time, her vision went into tunnel-mode: unable to focus on anything beyond the vibrations pressing against the softness of her hip. While the tattoo artist paused to switch colors, Mai’s eyes zeroed in on the woman beside her, who was dressed in what would be entirely too much pink if it were anyone else but her. 


Her partner’s face looked completely serene, a contented smile painted itself over her features. Ty Lee showed no signs of discomfort beyond her face being slightly flushed with color. 


“I can feel your aura changing,” Ty Lee remarked, her eyes still closed. She always seemed to know how Mai was feeling, even before she voiced it aloud. 


“You lied. This fucking hurts,” Mai grumbled, gritting her teeth as the needles glide across her skin in another quick, fluid manuver from the tattoo artist. Almost as smoothly as a painter’s light brushstroke to canvas. 


Ordinarily, she would be impressed by the technical skill and precision, but at the moment, the impossibly simultaneous soft burning and numbness was vying for her attention. 


Ty Lee laughed softly. A sound that never failed to make Mai feel unseemingly light. Ty Lee’s laugh was an elixir of joy itself, a sound that filled Mai’s ears and had taken up space in Mai’s heart. It had given her a reason not to hate the world. Hearing it now, lulled the pain temporarily.


“It’s not that bad.” 


Her warm gray-brown eyes met Mai’s amber ones. 


“It’s like--,” she pondered for a moment searching for the words as her  fingers come to rest upon her chin. 


“a hum that you can feel through your skin!” Ty Lee clasped her hands together and smiling brightly. 


Mai’s heart flips in her chest. She struggled to swallow the words of adulation in her throat, the urge to tell Ty Lee how beautiful she looked and that she was right, it is like a hum through your skin ( even if Mai didn’t feel that way. )  She mustered her best glowering expression. 


“That’s easy for you to say.” Mai scoffed. 


Carefully, with her free hand, Mai gestured towards the intricate markings and bursts of color that covered almost every inch of Ty Lee’s arms. 


Ty Lee had plenty of experience with tattoos. It was one of her favorite things to do: to fill her skin with things she loves, no matter how small. And Mai loved to lay with her wife after a long day, admiring the tiny details as her fingers traced them, leaving goosebumps in their wake. It was during one of these moments where Mai had felt utterly content with her place in the universe, that Ty Lee had somehow convinced Mai to join her for a session. 

It takes all of Mai’s waning resolve not to flinch as the next quick, razor sharp pain hit. She peered down to see the outline of a tape cassette and cursed under her breath. 


“The outline’s done. There’s only the quote left,” the tattoo artist glanced at her sympathetically, momentarily touching her hand consolingly before amending her statement. 


“And the shading.” 


“Here, love, squeeze my hand.” 


Ty Lee’s voice cut through the exasperated sigh that almost erupted from Mai’s lips. 


“But whatever you do, don’t move. You don’t want to fuck up your tattoo.” A teasing grin spread across Ty Lee’s face.


“Gee, thanks, I’ll try not to do that,” Mai said. Her raspy voice was tinged with a bit of sarcasm, but she smiled from the inside the instant Ty Lee’s fingers laced with hers. 




“What do you think?” Ty Lee asked.


Both tattoo artists had securely wrapped the site of their new ink, and promptly left the room for them to privately observe it. The moment felt charged with intimacy, free from the gaze of outsiders’ eyes. 


Mai stared at the freshly marked skin of her hip in wonder and disbelief. The words “In that moment” trailed along her hip, spilling into the top of a tape cassette filled with tiny flowers and butterflies. Always to her right, even in the mirror, her gaze landed on the same spot on Ty Lee’s hip. She had the same design as hers, and the matching part of the quote “I swear, we were infinite” left from the bottom of the cassette. 


Mai closed the space between them, her hand coming to rest against the apple of Ty Lee’s cheek as she turned her body towards Mai. Ty Lee’s wide brown-gray eyes sparkled with quiet, barely concealed affection as Mai lowered her forehead to meet Ty Lee’s. She reveled in the coolness of her wife’s skin against her own before her hand slid down to rest underneath Ty Lee’s chin. 


“It’s perfect,” she mouthed, tilting Ty Lee’s chin up so that she could press her lips against her lover's.