Katniss wasn't exactly sure what it was that made her step into Afternoon Tattoos that Tuesday morning for a consultation. Some would say it was fate, but unless 'fate' is actually code for 'dipshit ex-boyfriend,' Katniss wasn't so convinced. She told herself that it was something she heard other girls on campus talking about – the best way to show you're over a breakup is to make some sort of drastic physical change. She was pretty sure those girls were referring to a new wardrobe or a haircut or weight loss but she couldn't afford clothes, her long raven hair was one of her favorite things about herself, and she was pretty sure if she lose any weight, people might think she was starving herself. When, in reality, she scarfed down food like she was never going to eat again but never seemed to put on much fat.
Instead, she found herself inside the tattoo parlor that she had been researching online for the past few weeks. A tattoo had never been on her radar, something about permanently scarring her body for vanity's sake didn't rank high on her list. But she had some money saved up from pawning off all the crap her ex left in her dorm room and absolutely no guilt on using it for herself. He was selfish enough to cheat on her so she could selfish now. But at the same time, she knew how permanent a tattoo was and Katniss wanted to be sure she was making the right choice.
Afternoon Tattoos was a relatively new shop in the area, having not even been open for a year, but it already had an outstanding reputation. There was only one tattoo artist so reviews said it could take weeks to get an appointment if you didn't want one of the basic flash tattoos and that was after the required consultation. The owner, Peeta Mellark, was apparently an artistic prodigy who brought his formal training and work ethic to tattooing – quickly rising through the field. His strength, according to this website, was in photo realism and he had many pictures of tattoos that looked like they had been painted on the skin with a brush rather than a needle.
So there she was, standing in a relatively empty tattoo shop. There was one guy on one of the couches, casually flipping through a magazine, and based on the faint buzz Katniss could hear from the back room, someone else was getting work done. There was a woman behind the counter who was quite possibly the most intimidating person Katniss had ever seen in her life. The tips of her spikey brown hair were dyed red, like they were dipped in the inked blood dripping from the axe tattoo on her exposed shoulder.
"Yo, Brainless, can I help you?"
Katniss flushed, not even realizing that the girl had been trying to get her attention ever since she walked in. "Oh, um, I…I'm here for a consultation," she answered with a shaky voice. The way the receptionist eyed her as she walked up toward the desk made her feel completely exposed and insecure. Like it was clear that she didn't belong here.
The other woman smirked and popped her gum. "Here's some paperwork for you to fill out. Really it's just an assurance that you're legal and not intoxicated and all that jazz. Consultations are free but can be interrupted if an appointment comes in."
Katniss took the clipboard from the woman – 'Jo' as her name tag indicated – and moved to the empty couch to start filling it out. It was a basic enough form; name, date of birth, health conditions, known allergies, history of drug use, previous tattoos and/or piercings. She felt a little ridiculous marking 'yes' but figured she did get her ears pierced in high school, even though they closed up through lack of use. The back of the form had more tattoo-specific questions to be "discussed with the artist during consultation." What style tattoo? Color or black and white? Size? Placement? Pre-designed or artist rendering? And the dreaded 'why do you want a tattoo?'
She huffed and flipped her braid to her other shoulder. The longer she sat in the parlor, the dumber her reasoning for getting a tattoo became. She was being somewhat impulsive and stupid regarding the breakup with that asshole – it wasn't like she was that interested in him so it wasn't like the breakup was that hard on her – but for some reason, being asked to write that reason down upset her more than the reason itself. Who was this asshole who thought he needed to know why she was here. Shouldn't he just be happy that she's going to bring him some business?
She left it blank.
"Peeta's probably got about twenty minutes left with his client." Jo said, typing a few things into the laptop on the desk. "You didn't specify a design so you can look around at some other stuff that he's done."
The binders on the coffee table were full of the same pictures she saw online, only in higher resolution, which made them look even more impressive. In the back were pages and pages of doodles and drawings that were clearly done by the same artist but just haven't been transitioned onto someone's skin yet. She was struck by the flowers, all fully detailed by a deft hand. Nearly every flower she could imagine was there, as if he had copied pages from a botany book.
Katniss snapped her head up and saw Jo gesturing to her. Whoever was previously getting tattooed was done and showing off his new ink to the other guy who had been waiting for him. As she walked past, she had to admit that while she would never get an alien-looking beetle on her body it was actually beautifully done. Frightening and horrific but beautiful.
She followed the direction Jo pointed, which she would have been able to figure out on her own because there was only one hallway with two doors for the bathrooms on the right and a curtain on the left. She assumed the man who was cleaning up the curtain area was Peeta, but she wasn't sure if she was supposed to go in or just…wait for him.
He was replacing the sheet that covered the table in the middle of the room, his back still turned to her when he started talking. "You didn't specify what kind of design you were looking for. Do you want something that's already been done or something more…" He finally turned to catch her eye and she instantly felt flush. "Definitely something original. Katniss, right? Sagittaria sagittifolia." He grinned at her shocked expression. "You would be amazed at the things you learn about plants and animals in art school. Have a seat." He patted the newly covered table and slid his own chair over next to it.
Katniss easily lifted herself onto the table and swung her legs around to face him. "So um…"
"Nervous?" He flashed a smile at her which both put her at ease and caused her muscles to tense. "Don't be. Figuring out the design is the hard part. Any thoughts on where you might want it done?"
"Um…no?" She answered, slightly embarrassed that despite all the research she did on which parlor to go to, she hadn't given much thought at all to the actual tattoo. "This is probably a bad decision." She started to move off the table when his hand reached out to grab her.
He released her as soon as she stopped moving. "Look, I'm not gonna force you to stay here or get a tattoo. But you're not the first person to come in with no idea what they want. That's why I do these consultations. Believe me, I'd rather have someone like you than someone who is so dead set on a terrible design or placement. Relax, Katniss." He pulls open a drawer and reveals a sketchbook and pencil. "Tattoos are permanent, I totally understand your hesitation. People tend to go two routes with that knowledge, they either get something meaningful or something meaningless."
"People get meaningless tattoos?"
He laughed again. "They get tattoos that hold nothing special to them. They like the design but aren't as interested in the story. I've always been a little more old school, I like mine to have some relevance to my life."
Curiosity got the better of her. Curiosity and the partial tattoo she could see from underneath his t-shirt. "How many do you have?"
"More than my mother would like," he joked, pulling up the sleeve on his left arm past his shoulder, exposing a whisk and paintbrush twisting around one another. She fought the urge to run her fingers over it, wondering if it felt as three-dimensional as it looked. "My dad's a baker and I'm a painter, so I wanted something to symbolize both. I got lucky at art school to have met Cinna who is like, the biggest name in tattooing right now. He loved my design and gave me a great deal on it and I've been hooked ever since." Peeta shrugged. "That's just my personal preference, as someone getting tattoos. As an artist, I have no bias either way – it's your body to make whatever decision you want with. I'll just do my best to make it look good."
"I don't want just anything," she quickly spat out. A tattoo itself is slightly impulsive but at least she could justify it a little easier if it was something that meant something to her. Something she could be proud to have on her body.
He nodded and held up the sketchpad. "That's what this is for. Tell me the things you like, things that are important to you and I'll do some sketches for you. We'll go from there."
After what must have been hours, but hardly felt like anything, Peeta finally smiled and closed his sketchbook. "I've got a good feeling about this, Katniss. But I need to know, do you trust me?"
The question caught her off guard. She hardly knew this man but she was willing to let him scar her body permanently. And she had spent hours talking to him about all kinds of things, even if he did most of the talking. And his artwork was fantastic. "Y…yes."
"For the idea I have in mind, I'm going to suggest your shoulder blade. You're right handed, yeah? So I think your left shoulder blade would be best – it's a large space that shouldn't hurt too terribly bad."
She chewed on her lower lip, taking in what he was suggesting. Her back was easily coverable and shouldn't ever make getting a job difficult. But it could still be exposed if she wanted it to be. "Okay."
"You'll allow it?"
A small smile crossed her lips. "I'll allow it."
Peeta told Katniss he'd call her when he finished up her drawing and could schedule her appointment. She was nervous for the entire first week after her consultation, jumping at phantom vibrations from her cell phone. After the second week, she was disappointed and frustrated. The longer she waited, the more anxious she got and the more she wondered if she really did want that tattoo. She was in the middle of studying for her statistics exam when her phone buzzed too loudly against her desk and made her jump out of her skin.
"Hey, Katniss, this is Peeta, from Afternoon Tattoos. I just finished up your drawing and wanted to get you scheduled for your appointment. Is now a good time to figure that out?"
Her stomach churned, it was now or never. She opened her day planner on her desk, flipping to the current month. "Um, sure."
"Great! So it's going to be a relatively long sitting – maybe about six or seven hours so we'll need to find a day for you that is completely open."
She stared at her calendar as the thought of a needle breaking through her skin for six hours. She had class at some point every day of the week, and while normally it wouldn't be a huge deal to miss one, midterms were coming up and she really shouldn't. "Um...my schedule is…kind of full with school stuff."
"So a weekend, then." he answered. She could hear typing on his end of the line followed by a heavy sigh. "Well, shit. My Saturdays are booked up for the next couple months and I really don't want you to have to go through multiple sittings for this." He clicked his tongue and hummed some little tune that she couldn't recognize. "I'm usually closed on Sundays so I can have at least one day to myself, but I'd be willing to make that exception. For you."
There was something about the way he added that last 'for you' onto the end of his statement that made her skin tingle. Which was ridiculous, he was just trying to get her in before she backed out and he didn't make any money off of her. Which, granted, she realized was good strategy. It even made her wonder if he actually was closed on Sundays or just kept them open for flight-risks like her. "S-Sunday…"
"Would that work? I know it's only like three days away and is super short notice, I'm just..." he chuckled, "I'm kind of excited to tattoo you. As…creepy as that probably sounds."
She had to chew at the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Because this guy clearly knew how to work a client over. And he was definitely working her over because all of her anxiousness was fading. "No, Sunday would be good. What…what time?"
They set the time for 9am that next Sunday. He told her to wear a tanktop or loose fitting t-shirt that wouldn't press up against her shoulder blade too hard. "And no bra," he warned her. "You'll be chest down the whole time so I won't see anything and the straps could irritate your skin afterward. I'm sorry about that part."
For the rest of the week, all Katniss could think about was that upcoming day. Every night she had dreams about the blond haired, blue eyed tattoo artist with the charming smile who would get her half-naked quicker than any boyfriend she had ever had. She had never been one to fantasize over unobtainable men but there was something about this one that wiggled his way into her subconscious and refused to get out. It made her feel better about the tattoo, though, so she allowed him to stay.
But only for that reason.
She woke up extra early on Sunday, thanks her excitement and nerves. She puttered around her dorm room for as long as she could before she couldn't take it anymore. She quickly showered and slipped into her jeans and tank top, adding on a green sweater to help fight off the October morning chill. She made sure to grab the large wad of cash from her desk drawer and stuff it into her jeans pocket. She hadn't asked Peeta how much it was going to cost her for this tattoo and she hoped she had enough.
The walk from campus to Afternoon Tattoos didn't take nearly as long as she thought it had last time. It was a little before 8, according to the large clock tower a block over. "Great," she huffed, sliding down the front of the building to sit against the cold sidewalk.
"Katniss?" She looked up at saw the figure of Peeta Mellark walking toward her. With the rising sun blazing behind him, he looked like he had been bathed in light. He glanced over his shoulder at the clock tower. "Am I late?"
"No," she mumbled, "I'm just really early, apparently."
He smiled at her and held out a hand to help her up. "Not a problem. Are you hungry? I was just going to drop off my stuff and head to the little café down the street. The food isn't anything fantastic but they have the best chai teas and coffees in town."
They made their way back to the tattoo parlor, loaded up with French Toast Chai Teas and half a dozen pastries to share between them. He was clearly a regular at the place, making small chat with the cashier the entire time they were there. And she didn't even mind that he talked for the majority of their trek there and back.
"Anything you want to ask me?" He asked as he laid out their breakfast spread on the table in the back room.
She took a sip of her tea. "Tell me about another one of your tattoos."
He pursed his lips, trying to decide which one to tell her about. "Well, I've got a back piece, a few other arm ones, one on my shin, um…"
"You have a tattoo on your shin?" She asked in disbelief. "Didn't that hurt?"
"Like a bitch," he answered with a grimace. "The skin is already pretty thin and then you're going right into bone instead of muscles or fat which is always a bad thing. That's why ribs are so hard for people."
"What is it? Your shin tattoo?"
He rolled up the leg of his pant to his knee and held his leg out straight.
"When I was younger, they found a tumor in my leg and had to do a bunch of biopsies, so I had this gnarly scar that I hated. I wanted to get something to cover it up and one of my buddies was joking that I should get a lobster."
"Why a lobster?"
"Because it wasn't cancer." She crinkled her face at his response, making him laugh even harder. "Cancer…like the astrological sign? Cancer is a crab so I got a lobster because…"
"Because it wasn't cancer," she finished, finally understanding the reference. "Clever. Kinda morbid but clever. So there's a scar somewhere under there?"
He took her hand and ran her finger over the bony shell. "Right there. I stenciled it so that the scar would look like part of the detailing."
"You did this to yourself? Holy crap, I can't even put on my own makeup most mornings. How did you do it without passing out completely?" She couldn't stop rubbing the shell and feeling the heat radiating off his leg, completely in awe not only of how realistic the lobster looked but that he could make it look so good and did it essentially upside down while under what she imagined was intense pain.
He shrugged and finished off his tea. "Once you get over the initial pain of it, it…I don't know it feels good."
"Feels good how?"
It was Peeta's turn to blush slightly. "It's hard to explain but it's almost kind of pleasurable. I've heard of a lot of people who find it to be erotic."
Katniss choked on her tea. "What?"
"I know. I didn't believe it at first because my first one wasn't like that at all but sure enough." He tossed his cup into the trash can and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Now that we're on the topic, it's almost nine. Ready to go?"
He cleaned off the table and pulled out a clean, folded sheet to drape over the table. She stared at it, emotions running rampant through her, flittering from one to the next. "Yeah"
"Go ahead and…um…" he cleared his throat, "take…take off your shirt and uh…lay down on-on the table." He turned away from her keeping his eyes fixed on the desk in front of him.
Her fingers twitched at the edge of her tank top as she took a deep breath. Two deep breaths. Three and she pulled it over her head. Her eyes were clenched closed and it was another few breaths before she opened them and relaxed enough to walk over to the table and lay down on her chest. "O-okay."
She had her head turned toward him and watched as the muscles under his t-shirt clench as he breathed in and out, his fists clenching against the edge of the desk to calm down. When he finally turned back around to face her, she closed her eyes again to get her own breathing under control.
"Okay, so, I'm going to place the design on your back that'll transfer the design to your skin. Then I'll do the outline and fill in the colors."
"Okay," she exhaled.
He put his hand on the small of her back. "Try to relax, Katniss, and stay as still as you can. If you jump too much it can screw up the lines." She could hear the hesitation in this voice and she wasn't sure if that made her feel bad that he was nervous or slightly excited that she made him nervous. Peeta who had been heralded in his reviews as being 'exceedingly professional' ***
Peeta talked her through the beginning of the process, describing how his equipment and the sheets are cleaned after every client. He washed his hands in the sink near the desk and she heard the sound of him snapping his rubber gloves on. He opened up the new set of needles in front of her and then attached them to the machine.
She tensed when he turned on the machine and the buzzing filled her ears. "Take a deep breath, Katniss," he said gently, his free hand resting on her back once again. "Try to relax."
His chair was pulled next to her, near her face, and he gave her one last reassuring smile. "Here we go."
The pain was instantaneous and as hard as she tried, she couldn't help but jump slightly. "Sorry," she mumbled.
"No worries. The first contact is the hardest."
The pain didn't necessarily go away the longer she sat. She was almost certain her legs were bouncing behind her, but if it was distracting to Peeta, he didn't say anything. Nothing was helping to alleviate the burning sensation in her shoulder, not breathing, not singing in her head, nothing.
"Relax, Katniss," he reminded her softly.
She nodded, and tried to let the tension she was holding in go. She opened her eyes and caught him looking down at her. "Relax," she repeated. He smiled and continued his work but she was unable to keep her eyes off of him. He was totally in control of what he was doing but also had an impeccable sense of ease, like he was more alive with the tattoo machine in his hand than he had been all morning. She became fixated on his eyelashes, which were as blonde as the hairs along his forearm, and impossibly long. Katniss would wait for him to blink, wondering if they would get tangled up but they never did.
Her eyes drifted from his eyelashes to his lips. They were full and lush and the way his tongue rested between them as he worked totally made her forget the pain. Instead, she was filled with a different sensation, a warm tingling that started at her shoulder and rushed through the rest of her body. Warm and pleasant. Enjoyable even. She wondered if this was what Peeta meant when he said that once you get over the pain it feels good.
And this did. In a strange, twisted, possibly even sick way, getting the tattoo felt more than good. It made her feel like she was burning up from the inside and she never wanted it to stop. Her breathing became ragged and she had to chew on her bottom lip to keep quiet. But it wasn't enough. And as soon as the low moan escaped her lips, she clenched her eyes shut again and waited for Peeta to stop inking her or start laughing or something.
But he didn't. He kept going, as if he didn't hear anything.
The embarrassment did little to quell the building tension deep inside her, but she was able to keep relatively quiet for the next few hours. It was prolonged, torturous foreplay that she never wanted to end.
When the buzzing finally stopped for good, she let out a long, heavy, content sigh. He poured some lotion over her skin and wiped it off. "Want to take a look at it?"
"Huh?" She asked, still woozy from the feeling. "Oh, um, s-sure." She sat up from the table and found herself chest-to-face with him. She watched him lick the lips she had been staring at earlier and not even attempt to look away. When he finally did, he gazed straight up into her eyes and she saw his fat black pupils, making the blue of his eyes almost impossible to make out.
Katniss wouldn't admit it, but when he finally looked away, she was disappointed. "Here's a hand mirror…to…help see your shoulder…" he said, barely able to make eye contact with her as he handed her a smaller mirror and pointed to the wall mirror.
"Thanks. Oh…oh wow. Peeta, this is amazing!" She exclaimed when the ink was clearly in view. On her shoulder was a portrait of a huntress, aiming to shoot. Small, yes, but with detailing like she wouldn't have imagined. And as she shifted her arm, Katniss noticed that the arrow the huntress had notched shifted as well, as if lining up her shot with Katniss' arm.
She turned toward him with the biggest smile she may have ever worn. "Thank you so much!"
He grinned and ran his hand through his hair. "Yeah? I was hoping you'd like it. When you talked about hunting your face just kind of lit up and I knew…well…I mean, I hoped."
"Seriously, Peeta, this is…it's beautiful. You even gave her my braid."
He stepped closer to her, running his fingers over the braid that hung over her other shoulder. "Yeah well…I…uh…"
Katniss flushed and looked down at her feet, realizing that she was still half naked and still didn't care. "I really like it…" She whispered.
"I…I have to give you some post-tattoo rules," he said quickly, turning from her and moving over toward his desk. She felt herself deflate but knew whatever weird feelings she had for this relative stranger were just carryover from getting the tattoo. She slipped her tank top back on, making sure not to catch any of the fabric on her skin. He handed her a pamphlet with different after-care rules and guidelines. "If…it's not too much to ask…can I take a picture of your piece to add to my portfolio?"
She looked up from the pamphlet into those eyes still thick with desire and nodded. It was easy enough, since her tank top didn't cover any of her newly inked skin and once he was done, he covered it with gauze and tapped it to her skin. "Thank you, again. It's really great."
"No problem. I really, really enjoyed doing you. It. Doing it. The tattoo. It, uh, it was fun and I'm glad you liked it and…um…yeah but if you, uh, if you have any questions or concerns you're always free to call me and uh…sometimes the first few days can be rough-oof!"
Katniss stopped his mumbling, frantic train of thought consciousness the only way she knew how – by leaning forward and pressing her lips to his. It was unprofessional and stupid and not at all like her, but when he started to kiss her back, holding onto her face to keep her close she didn't care.
They broke apart breathless and rested their foreheads together. "No sex," he said in a rough voice.
He let out a breathy chuckle. "Um, no sex for a few days. Or any laying on your back until it's healed." They both laughed at the absurdity of what transpired. "But um…in a few days, I'd like to see you again."
"For a follow-up?"
He kissed her again with the same need and desire. "No. I'd like to see you again."