Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Naruto Characters and I couldn't make money off of them if I tried. Please don't sue me

Art and Artifice

chapter 1

"So now you're suddenly worried?" Haku was using his therapist voice again. "You were all psyched up about this before." He stopped working altogether and leaned back to take in the rapid transformation of his blond friend's canvas. Naruto's face was drawn into an unconscious scowl, and his brush strokes were rather harsh, erratic sweeps. This however did nothing to detract from the strange beauty of the painting taking shape. Haku was almost envious. He himself was talented in his own right but his style was quite different from Naruto's and he was certain that had he tried to work that way it would have just come out a big mess.

"Well now I've 'done' it," Naruto finally replied. "Before I was still just imagining. Thinking and 'doing' are two different things. I could have imagined forever and never felt the consequences. Now I'm going to actually get a response. What will I do if I don't get in?"

"I really don't think you have anything to worry about. I'm sure we'll both get in." Haku soothed his friend. Then he chuckled at the adorable look of half hope, half desperation that Naruto shot him. "And since we 'are' both going to be accepted," he continued, "we are both going to be taking the guided tour of the facilities one week from today." Naruto brightened instantly.

"Really?!"

"That's right. I've already informed the office that we will be missing classes that day." Haku looked supremely self satisfied. Naruto's mood having lifted considerably, they chattered away for a bit as they began to put away all the supplies and move their paintings back out of the way.

As the two walked together out of their advanced art class, Naruto pulled up his over-sized hood and became quiet once more. He didn't speak much outside of the settings where he felt most comfortable. Moreover he was feeling particularly introspective at the moment.

He had recently submitted his portfolio to the Konoha University of Fine Arts (Yay KUFA!) and with each passing day, he had grown more and more nervous about it. Haku may have passed it off as no big deal but the school was known to be very selective. Naruto had heard of more than one person that had applied two or three times and been rejected. It quite nerve wracking. Naruto had no other aspirations in life. He been saving up for this and working towards it for his entire high school career. He'd been living in the cheapest possible little hole-in-the-wall and avoiding any and every extra expenditure. He was already the definition of a starving artist. He...he..had just walked into something.

Naruto snapped out of his pondering and looked up...into the dreaded face of Uchiha Sasuke. The dark haired boy had a very familiar smirk on his face. The blond immediately dropped his gaze back down to the hand on his chest that had stopped him. Giving a resigned sigh, he waited for whatever was coming 'this time'. The hand on his chest suddenly curled into a fist, gathering the excessive fabric of his hoody and Naruto felt himself being dragged the last few steps out the door into the sunlight. He heard the snickers and giggles of the Uchiha's friends and some other bystanders as his bag was jerked from his shoulder and upended in front of him. With a few shakes to make sure that all of the contents were on the ground, the smug bastard threw the empty bag up into the branches of the nearest tree.

Naruto made no protest and the taller boy just smirked and left him standing there. The group of popular kid walked off, surrounding the Uchiha, laughing and praising him like he'd made some great achievement. Naruto just sighed once more before setting to the task of retrieving his bag. The damn bastard had to go and throw it into the willow. That tree was freakin' hard to climb! Twenty minutes later he shoved the last of his things into the bag and with a quick glance at his watch, took off at a run away from the grounds and down the street. He mentally cursed the Uchiha for probably the 'billionth' time. Now he was going to be late for work again.

Raidou looked up from his place behind the counter as the chime of the opening door, rang out through the room. Ah there was his AWOL employee.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry I'm late!" Naruto puffed. He leaned over, panting hard, one hand braced on his knee, the other still clutching the door for support. Raidou shook his head and waited for the boy to catch his breath. A moment later, Naruto stood up straight with one last deep breath and finally stepped all the way in, allowing the door to swing closed behind him.

"Naruto, did you have some trouble with that Uchiha brat again?" The boy pulled back his hood and looked up sheepishly at him.

"Ah yeah, but don't worry. Only my bag got roughed up this time," he joked with a cheerful grin. "He must have been in a pretty good mood today actually. He didn't even say a word and he made it quick and relatively painless."

"Awww Kyuubi! Why don't you just give in and let us beat the ever-livin' crap out of the guy?" came the familiar voice of Kotetsu, just as Naruto felt a heavy arm fall across his shoulder. Izumo, who had also just come up from the back, crossed his arms and nodded in agreement.

"Yes I've been itching to get my hands on that little punk for a long time now," he put in. Genma had come to lean against the counter by now. He faced away from the rest, a needle held precariously between his teeth as usual and one might have thought he wasn't paying attention to the conversation at all but he too nodded and gave a small hum of approval. Naruto sighed and looked around at his co-workers. They had become like family to him and he appreciated them caring for his well-being (in their own way). He hated to disappoint them.

"I'm sorry guys. I know you want to help and I know the bastard probably deserves it, but I won't have to deal with him much longer anyway. Graduation is right around the corner and I'd rather not be involved in any unnecessary drama, if I can manage it." Naruto gave them all a warning look as he spoke. " And I'm sure that somehow it would just come around and bite me in the ass" he muttered under his breath before looking up and giving one of his trademark breathtaking smiles. "Besides, it'll be good to be able to look back on this whole chapter of my life and know that I got through it all on my own right?"

"Whatever you say Kyuubi chan." Kotetsu grinned back at him. It was simply impossible not to. The boy was like a force of nature that way. He couldn't be denied. "But you know...if you ever change your mind..." The rest of the group sighed and left it at that. Naruto happily moved behind the counter and made himself comfortable, removing his sweater. The tight tank underneath showed off his trim form as well as a little teasing hint of the huge tattoo that had spawned his nickname among his co-workers. When he had heard the legend of the nine tailed demon fox, Kyuubi, in one of his classes it had sparked a powerful mental image in him. He could just see this amazing tattoo in his head and he knew that it was the image he had to have.

His friends at work were ecstatic that he was finally getting his own tattoo. They had been teasing and coaxing him to do it for an entire year. They had even tried guilting him by saying he was making them look bad, working in a tattoo parlour and not having any tattoos. However, a tattoo was a commitment and Naruto refused to get one until he found the perfect design. Every last one of their jaws had dropped when Naruto's perfect design turned out to be Freakin' Huge. In fact Naruto would have to be completely naked to show someone the full effect. There were nine red tails, outlined and shaded with black and deep brown. They swirled out from the small of his back and divided off to the lower left and upper right of his body, following the natural curves of muscle and bone structure. Two curled around to his chest above and below the nipple. Another came over the shoulder and dipped along the collar bone. A fourth ran up his neck, the tip just brushing the hairline and a fifth curved beside the spine and followed the left shoulder blade to the outer curve of the shoulder. The next curled low on his left flank and flowed down along the inner dip of his hip bone while the last three went down over his left ass cheek and wrapped around his leg, two in one direction and one in the other. Needless to say it had been quite the undertaking. Kotetsu and Izumo had been ready to flip for the privilege (Genma, as a piercer was out of the running) but Naruto had wanted Raidou to do the job. For one thing, there would be less perverted jokes to endure that way and the young blond somewhat idolized his boss. He was extremely grateful to the man for the chance he'd given him and everything he'd done for him.

When Naruto had first moved to this town, he had been completely alone and had a difficult time trusting anybody. He had spent the past several years going through a string of less-than-ideal foster homes. His last guardian had been a drunk with violent tendencies. Naruto usually took care to avoid him by being in his room, pretending to sleep when whenever he came home late at night. One night though, he had come home early and caught Naruto in the kitchen, making a snack. In an irrational rage, he had grabbed the boy and thrown him down. Pinning him to the ground he had snatched the paring knife Naruto had been using from the floor where it had fallen and carved three parallel lines in each of his cheeks. Of course with permanent and terribly obvious evidence like that, it was easy enough to have the man put behind bars. The state even ended up granting Naruto's petition for emancipation, after which he had decided to move to a new town all together. He had started his first year of high school shortly after, determined to do well but he had been extremely self-conscious of his fresh scars at the time and had taken to hiding his face away in the shadows of an over-sized hood.

The government helped out with his living expenses but Naruto knew he would need to make more money in order to save up for further education. He had sought employment with his one skill and had wound up here in at Shuriken Tattoo and Body Piercing Studios. These people had seen his talent and nurtured his potential. They had taken him in and made him feel welcome and eventually, comfortable and secure enough to truly be himself around them. They taught him everything he knew about the trade. Naruto had become a damn good tattoo artist and he owed it all to them. Stashing the hoody in a drawer just as the door chimes rang out again, he turned around to greet the incoming client with a friendly smile.

A/N Just to warn you: There will be a certain amount of Sasuke bashing in this story. Not because I don't like him but every once in a while I like to see him punished. (giggle)Don't worry, I won't keep him all one dimensional. Seriously though, tell me you get tired of stories where he does all this horrible shit and Naruto instantly forgives him like a total push-over. Sometimes people have to actually live with their consequences damn it! I don't think I'll be 'too' harsh on him though.