Disclaimer: I do not own Soul Eater.
by. Poisoned Scarlett
"Tattoo's are unsightly."
That's right—that's why he disliked her when he first met her, disliked how she wrinkled her lip and looked down upon his career, the idea of his body being a canvas.
She came in with his actual client to discuss the tattoo's details and body placement and proceeded to make him lose his cool in less than 20 minutes.
She was so snooty, were his first thoughts. Uptight and in need of a good talking down. She reminded him too much of his mother, with her disapproving gaze, arms crossed over her chest.
She reminded him too much of his doubts: the words that arrowed past his hopes, past his ambitions, past his desires and his wants. They were the words that made his hand tremble when it hovered over skin, but the words could always be hushed long enough for him to do his work.
"How many sessions does she have to do before it's completed?"
She was always rather critical about the sessions—the time needed to complete the tattoo. She said he took too long, but he'd say he wasn't taking long enough. Tsubaki, his actual client, was timid and quiet. She had only bowed and smiled weakly at him when she stepped into his shop—it was that girl who did all the talking: Maka Albarn, she called herself, standing at an unimpressive five foot four and looking up at him as if she were taller than that.
As if she wasn't vertically challenged.
It didn't help that she dressed like a child, with her flaxen blonde hair tied up in two pigtails. She dressed in neutral colors: browns and whites and greens. They highlighted her eyes—the green, he means, because the one bright thing about her were her emerald eyes. They were beautiful, but he would snidely say they were wasted on someone as uninterested in appearances such as her. In other words, Maka Albarn was fashionably inept.
He told her that, once.
He didn't have enough ice to tone down the swelling in his cheek for three hours after that.
"Do you think it should be graywashed? What about adding some color?"
Highlights in this tattoo won't work. Color would do the opposite it intended: it would wash this particular design out, he had told her, color would not highlight the work but rather cliche it. He didn't want that, still doesn't. He's certain about this decision and he has never had a customer return with complaints when he digs his heels in about a particular thing.
It's the one thing Maka Albarn agreed with him on, however, with no further prodding—no doubts, no reassurances.
He doesn't push it.
But he does wonder why she chose to believe him now.
"How do you keep your hand so steady?"
He has to.
But he actually says practice, duh.
But the former hits closer to home: he has to. He chose this life—he chose this career. He has always had a knack for drawing, but it's very different when you're drawing on a person. It's different when you're using something permanent, something that hurts a person. It's a person entrusting you to do well, sacrificing comfort for art, for black lines that reflect the person's inner soul.
Inking is like music, only a little more permanent.
It's what he tells himself.
He tells her that anyway, though, doesn't know why. It felt right to tell her at the time despite the little wrinkle he always saw at the corner of her lip when she was in his shop.
He doesn't see it again after that.
"Have you ever made a mistake?"
Art is fluid—it changes according to the artist. No design is ever the same; it is the artist who gives it a touch of themselves. Every time he takes up his mechanical pen, gears whirring, ink pooling at its tip, he knows the tattoo will be different. The same one he has drawn countless times will always be different on each body he tattoos it on. Sharper edges, bigger, smaller, extra details, less details, more color, less color. Something inexplicably different about the design despite having it done it just a few hours ago the same way.
It reminds him of his piano, of the ivory keys and the bronze pedals, of how some days he earned the approval of his audience and others, absolute silence.
Inking, however, is always done in silence.
There is no inbetween (for him) and he likes it.
But yes, he tells Maka, he has made mistakes before. He has drawn too-thick lines, unclean points, forgotten a detail. But he has always fixed them, because art can be changed. Art doesn't have to be so rigid and straightforward, he tells her, he makes his mistakes shine. He doesn't let them ruin the work, doesn't let them take the spotlight.
He might have made mistakes, but they've always turned out to be the best kind.
Maka Albarn keeps her friend company after that day, watching him from her place in the waiting room.
She doesn't watch for mistakes, she watches his face.
He knows because he can feel it.
It makes his throat tight and he doesn't think about why, just that he has to finish today's session before his hand decides to cramp.
"Is this all you work in? Do you have another job somewhere?"
Maka Albarn works at a company, which explains her taste for bland clothing and sharp words. Companies make him recoil because his brother works in one, makes coffee every day and says hello to the same people at the exact same time every morning. He dresses in blacks and grays and slicks his hair back and smiles vacuously at everyone—polite, Wes tells him whenever he visits, he's polite and it's not a bad thing.
But it's fake and Soul doesn't like lying.
But this is all he does, he shrugs at Maka. He inks people all day to the jazzy tunes that come from the iPod dock by his work station, inks people despite his boss cursing into the telephone about cancelled appointments and uncareful budgeting.
He tells her that's why he has a slouching problem, because he's always hunched over, keeping a hand over the skin to firm it as he draws. He tells her to quit telling him to stand up straight because his job requires him to lean over, to carefully observe and pay attention to what he is doing.
He tells her she should be happy—he pays attention, how many guys can say they do that?
She elbows him, but it doesn't hurt.
He has a faint grin on his lip as he continues his work on Tsubaki's ribs.
"Does it hurt?"
She should be asking her friend that, to be honest. He has some ink on his body, tribals on his shoulders and a medieval scythe and shield design running down the expanse of his back, but his friend is the one gripping the leather seat with bone-white fingers and biting her lip to keep down her whimpers. She cries at one point, but he's impressed when she doesn't ask for a break this time. It's why the tattoo is taking longer than anticipated, but ribs are a pain both for the client and the artist.
But the question: do tattoos hurt? The answer should be obvious, but Maka Albarn still asks.
He answers, not sure why he does but he does. It depends on the placement, some places hurt more than others because the skin is more sensitive: like the ribs or the foot. But it really depends on the person; he's had clients get rib tattoos and not even flinch. Those are the best customers. They make his job easy.
He talks to her absently as he draws finishing details on her friend's ribcage. He answers her the best he can while concentrating, but it only makes Maka Albarn ask more questions, press harder for answers.
It's the first time he's gone through an ink session without silence.
"Hey, pass me that napkin."
"Only if you tell me why you like this brand of ink better than the other ones."
"Ah. Just give it to me, it's dripping!"
"Promise," Maka insists, napkin in hand.
Soul sends her a deadpan look. "Fine, whatever. You're so damn curious, it's just ink."
"I want to know!"
He smiles. It's small, but gentle. "I know, Maka."
"Do you like it? Being a tattoo artist, I mean…"
Maka smiles and he leans against the table, shoving his hand in his cargo pants pocket, trying not to scowl too deeply because people say it makes him look terrifyingly angry even though he's not. He doesn't want her to turn away from him. He wants her to look at him like she is now, like he's the most fascinating thing she has ever seen. He wants her to always look at him like that: not as a delinquent, but as an inspiration.
But these thought only make his scowl deepen; what the fuck is he even going off about?
She still doesn't turn away. There's a curl at her lip—she's smiling, he realizes belatedly, she doesn't mind his permanently grumpy face, how a scowl makes him unapproachable. She only smiles wider and Soul has to push off the table and shove his other hand in his pocket so she doesn't see how he's clenching and unclenching it nervously.
Customers can range from hysterical to quiet to talkative to hysterical again; being a tattoo artist is an unpredictable business. But he doesn't mind it, the hysterical customers he means. They're annoying and sometimes he can't hear out of one ear but, at the end of the session, when they smile with such relief, when they laugh and apologize, when they admire their tattoo and tell him it was worth it…
It's hard to stay angry.
"Do you have your own portfolio that you give out to people?"
He doesn't talk about that because people have never asked for his professional art portfolio. They just skim through the design book, bring in their own and discuss it with him, and generally get the idea of how good he is by the photographs of particularly badass tattoos his boss takes and pins to the wall. All his work is there, from lettering to American to that one time he tried tribal and promised to never do it again because sharp edges were hard to pull off on human flesh. Shocking? Not really, he shrugs at her, it also helps that he's well-known and the studio he works in is printed in tat magazines across the nation.
Maka Albarn asks for his portfolio (of course she does; he's surprised she didn't ask him when she first walked in) and he grumbles at first, scowls at her and gets an earful, but he does toss it to her when Tsubaki asks for a short break from her last session to use the bathroom.
He doesn't know what to think about Maka's silence as she skims his portfolio until—
"How much…would you charge for this one?"
Three weeks is what it takes for her to change her mind about the body being a canvas.
The day it happens she asked for his portfolio again when she returned with another friend who wanted a tattoo: sisters, actually, but the eldest was the one who wanted a complicated tattoo on both shoulders. It would take time because it had to be symmetrical, she insisted, especially the design. It had to be drawn with mathematical precision.
Maka had shrugged. The girl's sister, Patty, laughed loudly and said her sissy's fiancee had a bad case of OCD.
Soul didn't question it, just groaned at the thought of doing math.
But Maka Albarn asked him the question on the girl's last day, after staring at his portfolio for the nth time. He admits that some of the drawings he had there were personal, not on the tattoo book clients could skim through. Some were, frankly speaking, absolutely disturbing and products of the days when he felt the lowest of the low; when drinking was like a balm on his wounds and jazz wrapped around his head for hours and hours. Those were dark days and they were behind him. He had brighter art now; cool art, not the warped shit he drew when he was so, so tired of everything.
Yet she likes the art of his darker days, says it's brilliant, says it's beautiful, and he's really starting to believe she means it.
She chooses the one piece he hoped she wouldn't.
He doesn't know what he expected; she's always been a little special herself.
She's Maka bloody Albarn, of course she noticed the extra time he put into that particular piece. Of course she checked behind the damn plastic slip of another drawing and found it, that nosy woman!
She brings it to him after he'd let her friend go, looking up at him with wide and hesitant eyes. Like a child, he wants to say, holding the drawing up to him and beaming when he's baffled, not a snarky remark said for once.
It's unrelated, but it's really there that he notices how tiny she is. Neutral colors suddenly become her, highlight the subtle beauty he can see in her rosy cheeks and long lashes; the crinkles at the corners of her eyes, the way her lips curl at the edges whenever she smiles at him. How her fingers curl into a loose fist she presses over her mouth when she laughs, the way she shifts her weight in those plain Mary Jane's like she's a student from convent school—
"Free," he rasps, clears his throat and ignores her surprised squeak. "I'll pay for it. You have an idea of where you want it?"
"F…free? But you told me ink is really expensive! It's okay, I can pay for it—!
"Placement, Maka," he says instead, ignoring her flailing.
He pokes her nose. She squeaks and pulls back, holding her nose with pink cheeks.
He smirks but his eyes are soft. "Just tell me where you want it so we can work out the details."
She gives him an irritated look but answers. "My hip?"
"Hip, huh? It's a pretty big design," he says offhandedly. He traces his forefinger over the vines of his personal drawing, the brilliant hues of scarlet geraniums, the Japanese influences he drew from in the form of an Oni mask: sharp teeth, dark eyes, mean snarl. "Pretty disturbing, too, you sure you don't want to choose another one? Or we can exclude the Oni—"
"Eh? Why not, if we include it, it'll go down to your thigh."
"It's fine. I don't mind," Maka insists.
Soul remains skeptical. He sighs, ruffles his spiky, white, hair. "Look, it's a scary tattoo, alright? It's also a big one for a first timer. And it'll be on you permanently so I don't want you to regret it later."
"I won't," Maka states and she sounds so sure he stares at her for a few seconds. "But don't take out the Oni. He's important to this design. The Oni is what makes it whole. If you do that, it'd be incomplete, and I'd hate it."
There's a beat of silence, then—
"Pull down your skirt and get on the table," he says, grins widely when she reddens, choking on her spit. "You're about to get sick inked, Maka!"
"You said this would hurt. It doesn't hurt, you liar!"
He never said it would hurt; he said it depended on the person. From what he can see, as he fills in one of the geraniums with the brightest red he has in stock, Maka doesn't even flinch. He's coloring over bone and all she does is pout at him, her cheeks still faintly red because of the position he has her in.
She is on her side, her skirt pulled up her waist so he has to deal with the fact that she has plain light pink panties with those childish bows stitched in the middle. No other detail, no lace, no nothing. He expected this, though, and was only too amused when he first saw them. He complains at first before he decides it's in his best interest to not say anything at all lest she broke his hand the next time.
Maka has the softest skin he has ever seen and he has had many clients, both male and female, and none match up to her. There is slight remorse that he is wearing gloves as he inks her, as he can't feel if her skin is really as soft as it looks, but Maka Albarn has always been a person you would admire from afar.
Like artwork, he decides, like a portrait.
To be observed but not touched.
"Pull your shirt up a little," he says as he wipes his nose with the sleeve of his shirt. "It's gettin' in the way and I've got ink all over my hands."
"Is this okay?"
"Yeah, keep it like that."
It's so easy to talk to her now. She doesn't resist and he scarcely remembers the days when she did. He isn't so guarded with her anymore, either, he realizes. He stopped frowning at her when she picked up Tsubaki's finished design those weeks ago and told him he had the prettiest handwriting she had ever seen.
"Calligraphy, I took some classes. Still can't make my name legible on paper, though."
His boss had been eavesdropping that day and only seconded it, his booming laughter barely muffled by the walls.
"I'm gonna' use some white to accent it," Soul tells her, wheeling back to grab one of the vials of white ink from his work station. Maka shifts and he catches it, has to consciously tell himself to look away as she lays on her back instead and bends her knee towards her, panties scrunching a little. He's never like this; he's never been such a pervert like this before. He's always maintained a professional distance from his clients, has never been fazed when he has had to tattoo on a woman's breasts or hip or butt or back—anywhere. He's always just drawn and sent them on their way after giving them some after-care instructions. He's never been fazed by women coming onto him, men sometimes, too, he's always just brushed it off or ignored it.
Maka shifts again and this time her shirt rides up, revealing the creamy skin of her ribcage. She bunches her skirt even higher on her waist and his thoughts go south again, so effortlessly. She makes this so hard and other things harder still.
"Knock it off," he mumbles to himself, wheeling back to her. He sighs and tells her, "Since you aren't moving around much, we can finish this tonight. Shop closes in an hour, but we can stay after if you want."
"If you can't do that and we stop tonight, I won't be able to come back until next week," Maka tells him, hands twined over her stomach.
"What day works for you?" he asks breezily, whirring taking over the comfortable silence of the room.
"Closed on that day," he reminds her.
"Oh, right! I don't know when I'll have another day off to come here aside from Sunday, though…" Maka says, concerned.
"That's cool, we can just finish it up tonight," he assures, pressing his hand over her hip again. "It's gonna' hurt a lot tomorrow morning, but it'll be worth it." His hand is so warm despite his gloves and Maka pinks a little more when she catches his intense expression; the same one he always has whenever he inks a person, the one that many had caught her staring at none-too-subtly when her friends were being inked themselves. "What is it?"
"H-huh?" Maka reddens when he flicks his eyes up to her, never lifting the needle off her skin. He makes it look so easy; she's sure it's much, much harder than it looks.
"You look like you wanna' say something," he explains, gruffly, and lifts the needle only to dip it in ink again. "Well?"
Maka's blush darkens and she looks at the ceiling for courage. "Y-you must really like to work as a tattoo artist, is all. I was skeptical at first, but you look so…happy, when you're tattooing someone."
It's easier to talk when she's looking at the ceiling. Maka smiles a little. "Mhm! You don't really look happy when you're just talking to your clients, but when you start to tattoo a person, your entire face changes!" Maka looks down this time and finds him gazing at her hip; the black outlines, the bright red that stares back at him. He's not done yet, not by a long-shot, but he has never wanted to extend a tattoo session as much as he does now.
"That sounds so lame, don't say that again," he says instead, going back to her hip.
Maka puffs her cheeks. "It isn't lame, you jerk! You do look happy and you look better when you're happy?"
"Better?" He scoffs. "You mean I don't look good when I'm not tattooing? Gee, thanks."
"NO! No, I didn't say that—just—stop laughing at me, SOUL!" Maka howls, covering her mouth with a hand as he snickers and then snorts and then laughs. "You just look nice when you smile," she mumbles but she knows he heard because his free hand presses into her thigh harder. "You should smile more often. Not many people can work in what they love to do."
"You think I love doin' this?"
"Yes," she answers, honestly.
Soul wipes his knuckles over his nose, hopes she can't see his burning cheeks. "Yeah, it is kinda' cool. Way cooler than being a lawyer like my mom wanted me to be," he smirks up at her and she laughs.
Maka looks up at the ceiling contently, not catching the way he gazes up at her before focusing on making her first tattoo the best he can.
She's his best work—hands down, his best work. He has never created a more beautiful tattoo than the one she is admiring now and it's her breathy oh my god and this is…fantastic, Soul, I love it! that does it for him.
He pushes a stray pigtail behind her shoulder, lets his fingers comb through it as his lips press against the side of her head. She's tiny, packed with the fury of a thousand devils, but her smile is sweeter than anything he has seen and he lets her know through an exasperated snort when she asks what he's doing, gripping the sides of his shirt to steady her hands, her pounding heart.
"I've had other girls cry when I tattoo here," he murmurs against her ear, placing his palm gently on her waist. He doesn't dare touch the sensitive skin of her newly inked hip; that would cause all sorts of troubles he doesn't even want to get into. Mainly infections. "You looked bored."
"It didn't hurt, I thought it would, but I hardly felt it," she insists, pressing her nose into his chest boldly. She shuts her eyes, holding her breath, but he pulls her closer and wraps an arm around her back—cradles her head in his palm, smiles against the hot tip of her ear. She squeezes his side warningly when he chuckles, feeling the heat from her face on his neck.
"You know the care instructions, right?"
"I've only heard you say them over six times," she teases, giggling when he knocks his head gently against her own.
After a seconds thought, he says, "Hey, you said you were free on Sunday, right?"
She nods against his chest, breathing in his body wash. Soul has always, always smelled good but now that she is so close, she realizes he smelled even better than good.
"Drop by the shop around noon."
"Sunday?" Maka opens her eyes, looking up from the comfortable nestle she had on his chest. "But the shop is closed on Sunday, isn't it?"
Soul glances at her, leaning forward until his chin rested on her shoulder. "Yeah."
He closes his eyes. "For someone who claims to be a genius, you're really dense—ngh! Damn, that hurt!" Soul flinches back, groaning when she pinches his side harder. "Okay, okay, sorry—let go, c'mon, that seriously hurrrrtsss," he whines, crushing her to his chest with both arms. He grins maliciously when she squeaks, muffles into his chest that she can't breathe and even if she could, he stunk of Old Spice so it would make her nose itchy. "I'll wait for you in the front," he explains. "Wear something nice."
"Isn't this nice?" She scowls. She really thought she looked good in this skirt; it was why she brought it in the first place!
Soul grins against her neck and places both hands on her waist, fingers tapping saucily against her exposed skin. He tugs the silky material of her skirt further up her hips. "I don't mind, but I wouldn't want you walking around like this—no, wait," he grabs her hands before she can pinch him and tangles their fingers together, but she kicks his shin instead and he hisses. Foiled again. "I was kidding, you looked fine today! We're just going to a restaurant, but you can wear whatever you want. It doesn't matter," he feels her squeeze his hand and push back a little. He does back away and the smile she gives him makes his hands clammy. He hopes she can't tell.
"So…is that a yes?"
"Now who's the dense one!" She laughs.
He rolls his eyes at her but later, after leading her out of the shop and ruffling her hair in goodbye, he decides she will always be his masterpiece; the artwork he got right and the reason why his hand no longer trembles right before he inks a person.