Still in the middle of a SoMa world in Soul Eater, but I had GaaSaku bunny that wasn't letting itself go. The original idea started out much darker. This was the light and happy version, if you'll believe it. This was written sort of quickly, because I really need to free up my brain to end my other fic well and thoroughly. Cooperate, mind!
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto! If I did I would have made NaruSaku canon and peppered GaaSaku teasers all over the place…
She walked into the shop on a particularly slow day, the kind of bright and summery day when people were doing their own thing in parks or at home and maybe weren't thinking of climbing into the chair to get a tattoo but they sure were ready to browse the art books and leech off the air conditioning. People saw "tattoo" on the sign and they came in with infinite variations of the same stupid questions, which is why Gaara left the fine details of customer interaction to his brother. Kankuro could smile, quote prices, and look at badly drawn celebrations of human individualism without letting his mask slip. Sometimes Temari could be drawn out of her work space to interact with someone, and she did well enough, but under no circumstance was it left up to Gaara to talk to the customers.
Gaara had started this shop in the middle of fucking nowhere for a reason, and had been perfectly happy to practice his art in obscurity until Temari had done some modeling for a magazine or something and then a punishing convention schedule had resulted. How did he get that shading? Where did his inspiration come from? Who did he learn from? What kind of tools did he prefer? Had he always known he'd go into this line of business? Was he going to ever take apprentices?
If he'd had known the tattoos he'd done for Temari would have started this kind of cycle of attention, he's just as soon have peeled her skin from her body as apply ink to it.
The woman who came in with the confident stride looked like she wasn't comfortable with the tightness of the black dress she was wearing. The sweat that stood out on her skin made the beginnings of the sunburn on her pale shoulders gleam. Her hair was pink as if to mimic the burn she was sporting, but it was the furiously red eyes that surrounded irises as green as his own that kept Gaara from fully retreating back into his booth. She'd been crying and she was mad as hell about it.
As expected Kankuro intercepted her as she milled around between the giggling teens and a bored looking college kid who was displaying a retro rockabilly pin up girl on each arm. With slicked back dark hair, the college kid was probably one of Temari's clients but could just as easily been one of her ex-boyfriends. It was hard to keep up with her flavors of the week, so Gaara never bothered to remember them.
"So what are you drawn to?" Kankuro was standing closer than he needed to, ever the flirt when he thought a girl was pretty. Enough women had slept with him hoping to get cheap or free tattoos that he had the pseudo-deep conversation structure ready at the drop of a hat. Judging by the muscles the pink haired woman had that stood out on her bare arms, Kankuro better watch his ass.
Those ravaged eyes looked Kankuro up and down, calculating, then obviously decided him unworthy because she didn't even respond. Her complete lack of reaction struck Gaara as intensely amusing, partially because Kankuro had no clue how to proceed and partially because she followed it with absent popping of her knuckles which made his brother take a wary step back.
"I'll come back after you've had some time to browse…"
"Who did this one?" Her voice sounded pitched to be girlish, and the monotone statement didn't suit her. The woman pointed at an older piece of Gaara's, a raccoon fighting a snake with teeth bared. It was stylistic more than realistic, and nothing in it seemed friendly or feminine which in Gaara's experience was what women wanted. They wanted beauty and elegance, even if the subject matter was strange or gory sometimes. His work was the stuff of nightmares, and it had made him a lot of money, but he could count on his hands the number of female clients he had had in the past couple years. Temari said he'd have a lot more if he weren't so damn difficult to work with. There were plenty of women who wanted to throw their panties at his 'talent', or so she said.
"My little brother, if you'd believe it. He's a real genius, and we've got the magazine articles to prove it. This is a family owned and operated business."
The woman stared at the picture of the animals fighting, seemingly entranced. "I need a tattoo, and I want to start today. I want your little brother."
Gaara felt those words down his spine and the tingle spread through his limbs. He looked down at his hands to make sure no rogue tremble had entered them. The woman had spoken like this was life or death, and Gaara wondered where she had found a nerve left in his body to touch. He lived in his head and he liked it that way.
"Whoa whoa, there's a little more to the process than that. Gaara is booked out months in advance, and he works by appointment only. You can't rush art, lady."
"I don't hear anything happening now." Her voice was challenging, rising in volume. The teenagers pointed at her and continued to giggle as they made their way back onto the burning sidewalk, phones in hand. Temari came out to greet the college student and escorted him back to her booth, raising an eyebrow at Kankuro and their angry potential client.
"There's a lot of work that goes into tattoo. It isn't just drawing on people all day long. There's maintenance of equipment, and time to compose the art itself… Look, if you need something quick I might be able to call a friend and see if they can fit you in, but a good tattoo takes time and planning." He was trying to be reasonable. She must be really pretty up close, because Kankuro had usually turned on the sarcasm by this point. They made enough money that they didn't need to put up with rudeness from random people.
"You don't understand, I need this to start today, and I need him to do it." There was steel in her voice, immovable. "I've looked at every portfolio of every artist in a five mile radius and he's the only one that will understand how this has to be done."
Gaara heard Kankuro begin to argue with her some more, but his feet had already moved before his mind had caught up with what he intended to do.
"Come with me." Gaara's voice cut through their conversation, silencing Kankuro immediately out of shock. The girl met his eyes, their height the same while she was in her black patent leather heels, and she nodded tightly. "Kankuro, if my 3 o'clock shows up tell them to reschedule."
His brother was sputtering something about being un-businesslike but Gaara didn't give a shit. This woman was more interesting than working on another skin tear anatomy piece today. Why the hell had he started his own business if not to be his own boss? Being a temperamental artist worked in his favor, anyway, as he found a little rejection now and then made his clients clamor to pay ever higher prices for his services.
The woman followed him into his curtained sanctuary, where everything inside looked clean and cruel and surgical. There was a mirror, a chair for him, a chair for the client, his tools, and nothing else. The walls were painted a deep maroon that looked more like black as the evening wore on. It had a high gloss to it that always made Gaara think of fresh blood. For some reason he found it comforting, but many clients avoided looking at it for long periods of time. Stare too long into the abyss…
"You're Gaara, I take it." Her feet had to be killing her, she was shifting her weight back and forth in those spiked heels, but she didn't move to sit down or touch anything.
"Yeah." He sat down, looking at her but also at her reflection in the mirror. The whole package was lean and muscled but with a round girlish face. In her hand was a loosely carried black clutch and it didn't appear she had anything else on her. Not one tattoo was visible, but that didn't mean anything.
"Sorry to barge in like this, but I need…" She swallowed thickly and spent a moment gathering her thoughts. As with Kankuro, her eyes swept him up and down, but they lingered on his face tattoo a lot longer than necessary before finishing. "I need this."
Gaara gestured to the chair, and the woman sat down but remained so stiff that he could have used her back as a level. "You know how this works with me, right? You tell me what you want and I get to create whatever I envision."
"That's what the reviews said."
"Where do you want it?" He made no move, but his fingers already itched to get a needle in her skin. Something about the ink and the blood always excited him, and he had to remind himself to calm down even after all these years.
"My back. I need a demon crow, and a demon fox—with nine tails—and a tree in between them."
Sounded busy. "Where on your back?"
"The whole thing."
"You've never gotten a tattoo before." He didn't phrase it as a question, he just knew. The woman shook her head. "It's going to be expensive."
Gaara, who normally cared more about the wear and tear on his equipment than about any person he had worked on, still felt compelled to give the woman one more warning. "It will take a long time, and it's going to hurt."
"Then strip off as much as you need to show me your back and lay down." He had been coached many times by Temari who had told him, if either he or she was working on a female client he had to give them a chance to undress as if this were a doctor's appointment. Some women were all too eager to strip in front of him, either assuming him an artistic professional or because they liked the sexual attention, but the pink haired woman waited until the curtains were drawn before Gaara heard a zipper.
As he gave her a few moments and gathered some ink from their stash of pigments, Kankuro crept up behind him.
"What's up with you today? You never take walk-ins."
Gaara didn't respond. His older brother could think what he wanted to, it didn't change the fact that he was about to work on the pink haired woman.
"She's pretty, huh." Seeing as he wasn't going to talk shop, clearly his brother was going to try to goad him. "Athletic. Not a dimple of fat anywhere, I'll bet. No bra on with that dress, either."
His brother had tried to taunt him more than once over his stoic apparent asexuality. Back in the day, when Gaara had been watching porn or going to strip clubs to make sketches of the female form for requested tattoos his brother had come in to make fun of him for his lack of arousal. When he was in professional mode, there wasn't any room for sex. The demon inside of him that drove his art extinguished almost every other need—food and sleep included. Kankuro called him a monster behind his back, but Gaara would gladly be a monster than deal with the parade of men and women his siblings partook of as they tried to fill their own voids. Better a demon than slave to other vices.
"Cancel all my appointments for the day. Reschedule them if they still want to see me."
Gaara swept out while Kankuro sputtered, and a smile played on his lips at how exasperated he had managed to make his brother today. He had thought they had almost gotten to the point where the things Gaara did, no matter how atrocious, were simply par for the course. This woman was proving useful in lots of unforeseen ways.
As Gaara entered his space he saw that the girl was face down on the table with her dress peeled back so that it covered half of her very shapely bottom and revealed the edge of lacy black panties. Her hands were folded under her chin, giving him a lot of side boob from this vantage point and he observed with some curiosity that his blood seemed to be running faster through his veins. That would need to be revisited and analyzed later. Most importantly of all, he saw that there were scars all over her back of various sizes. He had seen something like this before.
"Yeah." She tilted her head to one side, acknowledging him before turning away and taking deep even breaths. It was the kind of meditative bullshit that other people did when they were nervous. Gaara couldn't remember the last time he had felt anything besides the anxiety that permeated his existence. Breathing exercises couldn't make a dent in his madness.
"Scars don't take ink well." He commented.
"You're the best there is. If you can't make this work, no one can." She spoke confidently, but he wondered where that conviction came from. It wasn't as if they had ever met before, he knew he'd remember her if they had.
"I can get all the outlines done today if you can take it. Tell me if you need to stop. This will take… hours."
"I'm no stranger to pain." Her voice contained that same confidence that her stride had held earlier and Gaara felt his pulse quicken yet again. His black jeans felt tighter than normal and he hoped this wasn't a sign of things to come, because he had work to do.
Gaara's knowledge of pop music was pretty anemic, but he would have to have lived under a rock for the past decade not to recognize the Lady GaGa ringtone that was looping from the black clutch the woman had tossed in the corner. Dinnertime was in full swing, and the shop closed for an hour, but his siblings knew better than to interrupt him and the woman hadn't cried uncle under his needle yet so here they were. But that ringtone was seriously interfering with his concentration.
"Hey," Gaara had to clear his throat, realizing that he was oddly thirsty. Maybe a break would be a good idea, anyway. "Hey. Get that. It's distracting."
Seemingly unthinking, the woman pulled herself up from the table with a groan and dug around for the cell phone inside her purse. Gaara got quite an eyeful of pert breasts before he made haste out of the booth, pulling off his latex gloves with a snap. He ran hands that felt suddenly clammy through his dark red hair and grabbed a mug off the back shelf before pulling the water filter out of the fridge. The kitchenette was small, but they kept a cheap table set there for breaks, and unfortunately for him Temari and Kankuro were both chowing down on some Thai takeout when he stormed in.
"You sick?" Temari said around a mouthful of noodles. "You look sick."
"He was acting weird today." Kankuro volunteered. "That lady still in there? You didn't have her sign a release or anything. You trying to get us shut down or something?"
"Worry about yourself." Gaara growled at them, but he wasn't angry at them so much as himself. Clients were not sexual beings. Clients were canvas. At the best of times he considered them bags of blood and bone, and the decorations he put on them were a mere distraction from the visions in his head. Every tattoo was another tiny piece of the demon exorcised from his brain. Sanity might come if he did enough tattoos, but who knew how horrible his world would get if clients reached back inside his head the way that woman was doing without knowing it.
There were plenty of times when the endorphins, the gratefulness, or even the pain had aroused his clients. He'd been hit on by men and women what felt like countless times, but they probably had loomed large in his mind because he found their attempts distasteful. If they didn't respond to his firm no and a reminder that he was there to do a job, then they left with unfinished tattoos and a hefty bill for their trouble. It was more than alarming that the thought of the pink haired woman coming onto him inspired not one drop of disgust but did leave him a bit breathless and dizzy.
"I think he's sick." Temari said as Gaara stormed out of the kitchen. The half full mug of water was left on the counter.
"Tell me something I don't know."
Rotten siblings, Gaara wondered why he even kept them around.
Outside of the curtain he could hear the woman talking on the phone, so he waited just outside as if that were respecting her privacy. If Gaara had been more honest with himself he would have realized his courtesy was the thinnest of smoke screens for his burning curiosity about her.
"Ino, I don't want to talk about this…
No, I won't tell you where I am, I don't need any dinner tonight…
I don't care if Hinata is having a panic attack you know how to dial emergency services if you don't think you can handle…
You're being a real bitch too, if that's what…
Don't you pull fucking rank on me…
Don't pretend like you get it, you weren't fucking there!"
Everything went silent and there was heavy breathing on the other side of the curtain that went ragged before it even out.
"I know you're there, I can see your boots under the curtain. You can come in, you know." Her voice had that same silk over steel edge that didn't betray a hint of the near hysteric tone she had ended on with this Ino person. "The longer I wait the more painful it's going to be when we start up again."
When Gaara entered she was face down on the chair once more.
"Their memorial was today, for my unit… for my friends. They buried them a while ago, we all came back together on the plane, but it took a while to get the whole crew together to celebrate them." When the buzzing of the needle began he saw her red flesh shift, anticipating the pain and yet bearing under it without complaint. The body couldn't lie, it dreaded continuing, but her mind was sterner stuff.
"Thank you for your service." Gaara didn't know what else to say, so he said what he thought was socially expected.
"Just do your job." Whatever he had said had made a moment that had been vulnerable and intimate turn as remote as if he'd been banished from her presence. He wasn't sure what he'd done wrong, but it made the stray thoughts of her chest fire up both his lust and his anxiety at the same time. Good thing they had been mostly done.
When she left her credit card info with him after he taped up the plastic on her back, she'd only had monosyllable answers for him. Could she come back in two weeks for the color and shading? Yes. Did she know how to do the aftercare for her newly done tattoo? Yes. Was the name on the card Sakura Haruno? Yes.
Gaara wouldn't sleep that night as he tried to figure out what the holy fuck he'd done to piss her off.
Gaara wanted to reach out and psychically strangle his older sibling. It was a good thing he didn't have magic force powers to do shit like that because his brother and sister would have been dead a thousands times over before they had finished puberty.
Kankuro had been teasing him about how he'd been on the warpath ever since he'd done the outline for 'his girlfriend' and Temari hadn't helped at all with her sly knowing smiles. You'd think they were goddam adolescents still the way they were carrying on. His semi-infrequent insomnia had become frequent and unavoidable the closer the day of Sakura's appointment got on the calendar.
There was no reason to be as nervous as he was. He had screwed himself over somehow the first time, and it wasn't like this was going to be any different. If she was mad enough she had looked like she'd be able to pop his head from his shoulders with her thighs. The heat that shot through him as soon as the words between her thighs had entered his brain made him wonder if puberty could possibly delay by a decade, and if so did this mean he'd finally shoot up a foot like he'd always wished. Being the pipsqueak in the locker room after gym had been bad enough until that one incident with the knife—get expelled from one school for violence and suddenly you were excused from contact sports. If he had known that he would have stabbed someone a lot sooner.
"You look like death warmed over." Temari, out of a rare show of sisterly concern, was keeping him company/monitoring his mental state. It was a muggy day, and normally Gaara would be calmly waiting in his booth but instead he was pacing in the kitchenette like a caged animal. His plain black t-shirt was pitted up, he could feel it, but you couldn't see the sweat so it was possible he had a chance to seem aloof.
"If you don't feel like you can do it today, you should just tell her. If you gave me a guide I could…" Temari winced as she found herself on the receiving end of a death glare. While she never playacted her intimidation when Gaara was in a mood, she wasn't a good enough actress to hide all of her nervousness. He had never hurt them, either of them, but Kankuro and Temari had never forgotten why they had been shipped off to the states together. No one had ever found one of Yashamaru's hands.
"She chose me. I'll finish what I started." Gaara tried to soften his words, but they came out as harsh as always. He rubbed at tired eyes and grabbed the now cold mug of coffee that was the dregs of the pot he had been working on all day. When had he last put a real night's sleep together?
The tinkling of the bell made Gaara want to haul ass into the waiting room, but he waited for Kankuro to get her to sign all the forms properly this time. The lack of protocol had eaten at him over the weeks, just waiting for the random hospital bill or attorney letter. Gaara sat at the table patiently, forcing himself to be still while Temari gave him a rogue smile and made her way back to her booth.
"Showtime, Romeo." Kankuro popped his head back long enough to wink, but not long enough to provide an easy target should Gaara use his face as mug target practice.
Sakura was waiting patiently, her back a ramrod, as she started into her memories. Whatever had inspired this tattoo for her had given her that thousand-yard stare that Gaara remembered having until he left high school and took up the tattoo needle. Years of dicking around in class drawing things that got him sent to counselor after counselor had paid off in a major way. Turns out the trick was to do it on people and not paper, and then everyone worshipped you instead of feared you.
"Let's see how your back healed." Gaara gestured and Sakura stood up gracefully. He noted her short black shorts and loose zippered top. She'd prepared a little better this time, comfort-wise.
The scars he'd worked around weren't going to be covered up entirely until he got the shading in place, but all the line work was solid and well healed. Obviously she hadn't picked and anything and did her after care impeccably. There would be no need to delay or worry that some scab would break.
"It looks good back here."
"I make it a point to follow medical advice to the letter." Her mouth quirked up. "And I put my phone on silent already, so no distractions. In the end I know it will be worth all the pain, but last week at the pool party it sure didn't feel worth it while I sweated into my blouse."
When their eyes met this time he saw a furious blush sweep across her cheeks, and she clutched at her chest more firmly. It seemed whatever fatalistic mood she had been in last time wasn't present, and in its place had come enough self-consciousness to realize she had fully flashed him two weeks before. That tiny admission of weakness was a chink in her armor, and at once Gaara felt more comfortable. This woman wasn't indestructible.
"Lay down and we'll get started."
"You really aren't one for bedside manner conversation, are you?" Her wry tone made Gaara wonder if he would long for the time they spent before when she was too traumatized to speak.
He prepped his colors in silence and Sakura sighed as she took her position in the chair. For the first hour there was nothing except the art, and Gaara sank into a world where a demon fox writhed, surrounded by flowering branches. It was all coming together, alive in his mind, when she spoke and he came out of his trance of blood and destruction.
"In basic training, everyone said Naruto was like a demon on the field. He was in every direction all at once and you never knew which way he was going to come at you. Pissed off a lot of people really fast and I had to put a couple stitches in his lip before I even knew his name. Killer smile though, when his face wasn't covered in dirt or bruises. He was running in to get Sasuke when the building blew up right in front of me…"
Gaara turned off the machine and let her talk. She was crying, he could see the drops fall to the ground, but it didn't seem to interfere with that strong voice of hers.
"Naruto was on top of Sasuke when I uncovered them. He was gone but I thought Sasuke might pull through. I was doing chest compressions on him for what felt like hours and I broke the wrist of the soldier that tried to pull me off of him." She was quiet so long Gaara felt like she might be done, but he was glad he waited the extra thirty seconds when she added. "I thought about swallowing my gun that night."
She was a survivor despite herself, just like him. Gaara felt like he was a character in a fucking cartoon and his heart had swollen up two sizes larger. Instead of burying everything inside she was literally going to carry her demons on her back. That took balls, and Gaara realized that he wanted her to keep talking because who knew what else was going through that mind of hers. Being around her, he felt as close to normal as he ever had.
"My only tattoo is the one I gave myself on my forehead." Gaara paused, thoughtfully, then resumed his work. It wasn't strictly true, either, there was a thin black line etched permanently around his eyes from when Temari was still practicing cosmetic tattoos before she got serious and did the work to get better at the traditional style she loved. A little liner barely counted, and it was starting to fade in any case.
"I saw it, it's pretty. Does it mean anything?"
"That's nice. Was it for a girlfriend? Or your kid maybe?" Her legs were twitching, perhaps her way of getting out some loose energy. Gaara paused until she held perfectly still again.
It occurred to him she had asked a question that might be in his interest to answer. The word slid past chapped lips. "No." Even though he never felt like explaining his first and possibly only tattoo, he wanted to offer Sakura more. "It's more about pain than love."
"Yeah," Sakura allowed herself a deep sigh before she resettled her head in a more comfortable position. "That sounds about right."
"You know what to do from here." Gaara examined his work and again wondered at how things had turned out as they did. The beasts were fearsome, no doubt about that, but they didn't have that quality that made skin crawl and stomachs turn which had been his hallmark. There was nobility here instead of horror. He wondered if he was losing his edge.
"It's amazing. It's perfect. I can't thank you enough." Sakura was using the hand mirror to examine her fresh tattoo and she only stopped to use the back of her hand to catch a stray tear before it escaped down her cheek. She swallowed thickly a few times before she regained control.
"Picture?" Gaara wasn't naturally covetous, but he secretly hoped the camera was somewhere hard to find so that he could have some extra minutes with Sakura before she most likely disappeared from his life forever. In this dark red room that stank of blood she was a beacon.
Sakura nodded, maybe unwilling to talk in case she hadn't clamped down hard enough on the need to cry. Her desire for control matched his own, and Gaara wondered if they'd even get along outside of this room.
Kankuro was practically right outside the curtain and he tried not to feel too aggravated when he handed him the camera immediately.
"Ask her out!" His brother hissed at him. "She doesn't live that far away from us, I took a look at the address on her invoice…"
Gaara yanked the camera from his brother's grasp with a dark scowl and turned around to find Sakura trying to look at her tattoo from every angle in the mirror while simultaneously trying to keep her chest from slipping out of her grasp. If volunteering to help her would have resulted in anything other than assault charges as she beat him into the ground for sexual harassment he might have seriously considered offering.
"Stand over there and hold still."
Sakura turned a shining smile his way before nodding and padding over in those short shorts of hers, smooth thighs twitching.
"It's amazing, you can't even see where the scars are." She craned her head back, trying to express her excitement to Gaara rather than the wall. "I start college this fall, you know, and I didn't think I was going to be ready for it until this moment. I have you to thank for that." Her lips parted slightly and that once over glance that had been so unimpressed by him before quickly met the ceiling as she gave an embarrassed laugh. Whatever she saw in him now brought a hot flush to her cheeks.
The picture he captured—head tilt, tattoo, side boob and all—did not go into Gaara's portfolio but it sure as hell ended up in the drawer of his bedside table at home. For the first time ever since buying his first kit, he wondered if maybe he needed to take a vacation from tattooing. Or better yet, he had plenty of money saved up, maybe he'd benefit from some real art classes from a real professor.
He had a school in mind.