Ink Deep by enchanted nightingale
Beta Reader: pussycatadamah
Disclaimer: The characters do not belong to me. I only use them in my plot for fun.
Pair: Harry Potter/ Neji Hyuga
1. The courting dance
Hyuga Neji had his little quirks. One of them was that he was not about to let just anyone brand the ANBU tattoo on his shoulder. His superior understood the need for perfection, especially for a very important milestone to a shinobi's career.
''Don't worry. We got an artist with a steady hand,'' Ibiki told the Byakugan prodigy.
That was how Neji met Harry.
The artist the ANBU employed was a man with a lithe body, not bony but not heavily muscled either. He had short, messy raven black hair and the most unique set of eyes. A pair of emerald green much like the gem eyes watched the proceedings of the ceremony. Those very eyes had made Neji's heart skip a beat.
The civilian was unaware which mask belonged to which Jōnin but he seemed not to be nosy. He did not dress like most civilians in Konoha either and for a while Neji almost dismissed him as yet another ranked officer who had a quirk for odd clothing. The man appeared to have a light touch, long and agile fingers and he was quite efficient. All five new recruits got their ANBU tattoo fast and almost painlessly, not giving the man a second glance from behind their porcelain masks.
All but Neji.
''Excuse me; I would like to get a tattoo.''
The Byakugan prodigy had no idea what had prompted him to concoct this plan and then what had come over him when he actually followed it. It was not unheard of for shinobi to have tattoos. He had heard that even Anko had one and she used it much like a storage scroll. Neji was trying to justify to himself that something similar would be beneficial. As long it was not some place obvious, shinobi were killers, they were not supposed to be noticed. Also, he had prepared a story, should he ever need one. Falcon, the ANBU had met the man briefly but there was no reason for Hyuga Neji the Jōnin to know the tattoo artist.
The green eyed man smiled. ''You've come to the right place.''
Neji did not get a tattoo that day. He happened to notice some of the sketches the man was working on and his admiration slipped out before he could sensor his mouth. But it was worth it just to see the blush on the artist's face. They spent two hours going through the man's collection, the designs for tattoos forgotten and they only stopped when an actual client came in and Neji had to leave. He noticed the man (''Just call me Harry.'') staring at him when he walked away and he managed not to turn around and stare back.
Between ANBU missions and training it took Neji a month before he was able to visit the tattoo parlour again. This time Harry had been in the middle of work but he invited Neji to stay and watch as he gave a well built civilian an impressive bear tattoo. The details on that design were so lifelike that Neji had the urge to touch.
''He's doing an amazing work, right?'' the civilian said from his spot face down on the table. ''It's the third he's done for me.''
Neji had nodded and stayed to watch the process an actual design had, only to later tell an exhausted Harry, ''You have a gift.''
The tired man had smiled at the compliment.
It was on his third visit to Harry's shop that he noticed the artist was not tattoo free. He asked after he apologized in advance for the intrusive question and the green eyed man waved him off before he replied it had been a gift of sorts for his eighteenth birthday from some family friends. Neji got the idea that those people were likely dead and changed the subject. He saw Harry's grateful look and he knew there was no slight from his questioning.
On his fourth visit to the parlour Neji actually got a tattoo. He had seen one of Harry's charcoal sketches and he had been taken by the bird of prey he saw before he asked Harry whether he could do that for a tattoo. Harry had been ecstatic to work on him.
''Birds of prey you say? Which one do you like?'' he had asked Neji.
The shinobi eyed one particularly artful sketch. He was not about to ask for a falcon, that was as unsubtle as a move Naruto would pull. The owl that had caught his eye was stuck in a pose, just about ready to dive after its prey. He told Harry so.
''Her prey,'' Harry had corrected him.
''This picture is styled after an owl I had. My first gift and my first friend. She was a huge mother hen too, and such a diva...'' Harry trailed off. He looked a bit sheepish. ''Sorry, I guess I still miss her.''
''Still, an owl?''
Harry shrugged. ''She was special.''
Neji could see there was something majestic about that bird; he had noticed it after all, so he simply gave a short nod at Harry's direction. ''Where do you think she would suit me best?''
Harry looked startled for a bit before delight took hold of him. ''Do you want her to be this size or smaller? I got plenty of sketches, even one of her destroying a mouse. Colour or just plain black and stop before I babble any more because we will never get started.''
Neji focused on answering the questions that had been shot at him at an alarming rate. ''Yes, I want her much smaller, perhaps the size of my palm?''
''Better make that a shoulder blade then, that's the best spot for this. Left or right shoulder blade?'' Harry asked. ''Let me get everything I need to make a pencil design on your skin first. You might change your mind and even if you don't I need a plan of the outline.''
Neji eyed the table. He fingered his ANBU tattoo while Harry's back was turned. His right side was out then. He started undressing and he carefully cast a genjutsu to hide the swirl tattoo that signalled he was a Konoha ANBU.
Harry returned shortly. ''Have you decided?''
''Good, let's get started. It might take a while. Now, I only do this for some people. Do you want it to be chakra receivable? Some shinobi want them that way. They use them as storage scrolls or to call forth their summons.''
Neji thought about it. ''Yes, do it.''
Harry nodded and got to work.
Neji felt sore still, two days after he got the tattoo. Yet he was back in the parlour; Harry had asked to check on his work. Harry had been giddy that day, admiring his own work and itching to touch the inked skin, only slightly red now around the design. He had kept from touching Neji with the excuse he might hurt him.
Neji had scoffed. The tattoo was merely a dull ache for him. The work Harry did had been careful and Neji had not been hurt much. He was more bothered by the soft touches the young civilian kept giving him and it disturbed Neji that this man could get to him so easily. Perhaps it was not just those eyes that were getting to him.
They had not seen each other for two days since Harry finished the tattoo after six hours of working on the Hyuga's back. Neji's back was better after the ninja applied all the creams the artist had given him.
Now Neji was back in the small, elegant parlour, laid out on the worktable/bed while Harry carefully inspected his work, muttering about the colour and the vibrancy of the black ink. His fingers and his breath were ghosting over Neji's skin, making the shinobi strive not to shiver at the contact.
"You know Neji," Harry murmured. "I was wondering how come you have not asked me out yet."
Neji stiffened. The green eyed man pretended not to notice, continuing his careful inspection.
"Was I that obvious?" Neji asked after the first shock worn off.
"You did take an awful lot of time to actually choose a tattoo," the green eyed man smiled. "But I have to admit that there was a bit of wistful thinking on my part." He patted Neji's shoulder blade. "I'm all done. You need to apply the cream a bit more. Usually it needs a month or so, but you shinobi heal so much faster than civilians."
"It's the chakra," Neji replied as he sat up. He watched as Harry put his gloves away. With careful movements he dressed again. "Harry, will you go out with me?"
Harry turned to him and smiled. "I thought you'd never ask."
Neji had never been on a date before. Sure, his clan head had arranged several meetings for him to find a wife as soon as he hit sixteen but his cousin Hinata had finally intervened after the fifth potential bride ran off in tears and told her father to leave Neji alone unless he wanted the nobles to think badly of them. She then proceeded to defend her cousin quite heatedly and Hiashi had merely nodded and agreed, too shocked at her outburst to really care that she opposed him so vocally.
Neji, of course, was not a virgin. The life of a shinobi introduced the ninja to a lot of things at an early age. The moment they graduated the Academy they were adults. They were allowed to kill, drink or gamble, the last two in moderation and for genin, their Jōnin teacher held the last word. Neji had been promoted to chunin shortly after Tsunade became Godaime and while his peers made chunin he made the next step and got his Jōnin rank. He had done a lot of things during that time, dating was not one. And now Neji was nervous.
The tea shop was crowded but they still found a table. Neji had forgone his Jōnin vest in favour of a simple white gi and dark blue pants. He was armed, wore his hitai-ate on his forehead. Harry was dressed in something similar, only he favoured black and green colours. Once the tea was served silence stretched between them.
"This is awkward," Harry commented.
"I've never been on a date," Neji admitted.
"Well, I have, but it was a disaster so let's just say I have not been on a date either and we go from there?"
Neji chuckled. "Fine with me."
On their second date they were much more relaxed. Harry had admitted he had never eaten ramen as he preferred healthier foods and Neji had proposed they went there for lunch. The two men met at Ichiraku's stand for ramen. The owner and his daughter were discreet, never once lingering while Neji and Harry talked about their day and anything that came to mind.
The ANBU mission office was bare of anything distinctive. Morino Ibiki was seated behind a desk, a single file opened before him.
"Team 3, the mission is simple," the head of T&I told them. He showed them five pictures. "You have three days. Falcon? I want you heading this one; you leave immediately."
The five men that made up Team 3 nodded. The ANBU with the Falcon, known socially as Hyuga Neji dipped his head to Ibiki. He would not screw this opportunity up.
They were having tea again and Neji could not keep his eyes off of Harry. The slim man was expressive as he talked about his newest pet project, a collection of oil based paintings for a civilian contest.
"… and the rules are simple," Harry told him. "Five topiary pictures, three portraits, one free to do whatever we want."
"Restrictive?" Harry asked.
"I've already decided to have a theme for it."
The Hyuga blinked. "Theme? Like what?"
"Imaginary world with emphasis on the supernatural. My first topiary is of a lake near a forest with a hut in the middle. The second is of a castle surrounded by forest and mountains. The third is of a town much like Konoha but with dragons flying above as seen from a distance. The fourth is a cottage built in the middle of a vast expanse of fields and the fifth is a tower on top of a strip of land in the middle of a stormy sea. As for portraits, I decided to do my mother's and one of an old acquaintance of mine and I was wondering whether you would let me do yours too."
Neji blinked. "I… I'd be honoured."
The smile Harry gave him was breathtaking.
Hinata had been surprised when Neji asked her to accompany him to an art event. While the Hyuga heiress liked drawing as an art she had no idea that her cousin was even a little artistically interested, and much less willing to mingle with civilians for any amount of time. Their clan was respected among the people of Konoha, but as any ninja clan, they were also feared by them. The looks they were giving the two clan members were a clear indication. The only one not fearful of them was Sai, from Team 7, a fellow ninja, and Harry, who noticed Neji and nodded in greeting only to have the Hyuga prodigy nod back.
"You know that green eyed man?" Hinata asked her cousin.
Neji gave a short nod. "We're dating," he replied, leaving the Hyuga heiress rendered speechless.
Harry's work gathered a lot of attention. He was the only one not to stick to the beaten path, choosing to paint places his fellow artists had never even imagined in their wildest dreams. The paintings were exactly like he described, only he had understated the contents.
The first painting, of the large lake, with dark, almost black water, expanding like a valley among the mountaintops, a forest starting from the shores, a small crudely made hut, from stone and wood, with a garden of growing pumpkins behind it and a plume of smoke coming from the chimney the only man made thing that stood out in the wild beauty of the landscape. It was very lifelike and if Neji squinted he could almost make out a bow and arrows near the hut's door. The title of it was 'Black Lake'.
The second painting was that of a majestic castle, standing tall above a lake, the same lake as the first picture if Neji's hunch was correct. It had towers and battlements and arches and statues. It was taken right out of a fairy tale really. Neji kept expecting the door to open and people to come out. The title for this painting was one word, 'Hogwarts'. It was an ugly name for such a beautiful castle.
The third picture was of a town with various houses sprouting around a square with an oddly shaped fountain. It did look a bit like Konoha this place but there was something so different about it he could not place. And true to Harry's word, there was a forest and a wall sprouting from behind the trees with three dragons rising above the wall and flying in the horizon, the label 'Dragon Reserve' given to this painting.
The next picture had the oddest building Neji had ever seen, floor upon floor were stacked together, creating an oddly shaped structure that looked ready to fall apart any second now. The colours were vibrant and warm and the whole building looked both rundown and homey with chickens strolling across the entrance. The ninja half expected someone to come tearing out from what seemed to be a kitchen entrance and chase the curious chickens away. The title for this one was 'The Burrow'.
The last topiary was something that made Neji actually take a step back. The whole painting was so dark and gloomy it seemed to suck the life out of him. It was of a small, rocky island in the middle of the sea, no other land in sight as the sea, all waves and furry battered all over the small piece of land. On the island a single, simple building rose, like a tower out of a nightmare. Numerous, tiny little windows, no doors, no ornaments, just a tower and the title 'Azkaban Prison' to define it. Neji barely shot a second look at the ominous picture. He instead went to find his cousin.
Hinata was rooted in her place. Growing up as a Hyuga, even though at some point her father had been not exactly paternal, she still got the best money could buy as an heiress of a prodigious and wealthy clan. She knew art, loved it even. She preferred flower arranging and poetry more, but she could appreciate painting just fine. Still, she had never before seen painting like those of the green eyed artist her cousin apparently knew. She had seen the topiaries that were so life like and held emotion and impressions, but got a real surprise after seeing the portraits. The first one held the face and upper body of the most beautiful auburn haired woman she had ever seen. From the faint background it was obvious she sat in a nursery for a baby boy. In one hand she held a small shoe, big enough for a baby and her free hand was touching her stretched belly. Auburn hair framed her face. Her skin was perfect. Her eyes green like the forests of Konoha. Her smile held that same wistful smile Hinata remembered her mother sporting whenever she laid eyes on her children. And her smile, that smile held so much happiness that had Hinata sighing wistfully. The title of this painting was 'Maternal'.
The second portrait actually had Hinata shivering. It was a man, a very attractive man, seated on a high backed chair. He had pale skin, wore expensive clothes (the detail in the threading made Hinata gasp for a second or two). He had dark blue, almost black eyes. His hair was dark and a bit wavy but nicely styled. He was very handsome, like a prince. Until you really noticed him. His face had a smirk that at first glance was arrogant but on second look it was cruel. And those eyes, they had a slightly red tinge; they held so much cruelty, so much hate. The man was like poison, handsome, beautiful even, but twisted and dark. The title of this painting was 'Riddle' and Hinata thought it quite fitting.
The last portrait, the one that she actually recognised, the one depicting her cousin was the last one of the portraits. Hinata could honestly say she had never seen Neji look so serene. The artist had Neji dressed in dark clothes that were a mixture of an ANBU uniform and wizard battle robes. The rich deep forest green and then even darker shades of green gave Neji an ethereal look, fey like; much like the tales they grew up with. His long, silky ink black hair was caught in a loose braid, thrown over a slim shoulder. His white, pupil less eyes with the Byakugan inactive had the same hardness they took when the prodigy was in battle, yet he looked much more regal, even more than usual. He looked like a king of old, Hinata realized.
The Hyuga heiress started. "Neji..."
Her cousin turned his eyes to the painting she had been staring at and he was left speechless.
Harry was quite satisfied with the response he had for his work. His idea to work with a theme had been sheer brilliance. The proctors/critics of the art exhibition contest kept trying to talk his ears off with their chatter. Other artists would follow him around and would either glare at him, angry that a tattoo artist was garnering much better response than they did, or they would try to hit on him, or worse they simpered and asked to see him in action. The third was not something he was willing to do.
Asking Neji for permission to paint him had been a whim. He had not known the shinobi long but the moment they had been face to face they had short of `clicked´ for lack of a better description. Harry usually got in a kind of trance whenever he would paint. His magic would weave together with the colours (he made those himself) and the result was marginally different and the painting belonged to an entirely different category.
His special paints were one of the reasons he was chosen by Konoha's ANBU to make the tattoos those shinobi earned the moment they made rank. A guy not unlike Mad Eye who was called Morino Ibiki had seen a chunin praise Harry of his work on his tattoo one day at the hot springs and that had been the start of a lengthy conversation. Harry had unwittingly admitted that his tattoos could also interact with chakra. A couple of shinobi had approached him upon hearing that. One guy, Yamato, asked if they worked like sealing scrolls. They other guy, Kakashi, had also perked up hearing that. Harry had replied he had no idea as he had not tried that. Two days later the wizard made a small leaf and vine tattoo on Yamato's wrist, working a chakra seal into it to hold senbon and scrolls. Kakashi was next. His was on the wrist too, only it was the kanji sign for dog. The tattoos, much like seal scrolls, only needing some blood to work. Ibiki had been hooked. One week later Harry was hired exclusively by the ANBU.
The art exhibition was a hit and Harry's name got a lot of recognition among the artistic circles in Fire country. A week later and his work was still in demand as an artist. Wealthy and influential people wanted him to paint their portraits, especially after they saw the portrait he had made for Hyuga Neji. Thankfully Harry had been called by Ibiki as a Jōnin had requested to link her summons with a tattoo on her skin instead of the usual scroll and thus he had the opportunity to turn down most of them. He could not really turn down the local Daimyo, but wealthy merchants were no trouble.
Mitarashi Anko, his latest client, had introduced Harry to the best dango shop in Konoha. The place was a usual ninja haunt but Neji had agreed they meet there after Harry closed shop for the day. Now, Harry had a sweet tooth, chocolate and treacle tart being on the top of his mental sweet list with dango a rising number three.
Neji knew they had gathered a lot of attention, especially Harry, at the dango shop. The green eyed man had come straight after an appointment with the local Daimyo; he was dressed in a fine kimono in black with patterns of leaves in hues of green on the hem of his sleeves and the bottom, a nice sash holding it together and a wooden case with his equipment in hand. Neji was dressed in a white kimono, plain of details but the fabric was of impeccable quality. The two men were quite the pair as they sat together in a booth with tea and dango sticks shared between them.
Neji, with his fine honed senses heard a lot of the muttered comments and caught a couple of fellow Jōnin's making small talk with hand signs.
All the twittering got to a peak when well respected shinobi went to them when they saw the pair and greeted the civilian by name. The fact that Anko was all smiles and spoke about booking him again left many of them confused. Neji was just happy that the man that had caught his eye was not skittish around trained killers like most non shinobi.
end of chapter