The Color Wheel
Arc I, Childhood: Maroon / Red
Synopsis: The red marks on Inuzuka Tsume's cheeks are more than just tattoos.
Every time she looks into a mirror, her eyes are immediately drawn to the marks streaking down her cheeks. They are a part of her, as much as her hands and her nose and her teeth, and when she traces the triangular shapes on her face she feels nothing but smooth skin. She cannot easily remember a day where they have not marked her face as a tangible reminder of what makes her Inuzuka Tsume.
They are not natural; they are traditional.
Tsume has always found it amusing when people ask her about her tattoos as if they are birthmarks, but it is less amusing when civilians treat them as if they are blemishes on her skin she is ashamed of. It is not amusing as much as it is insulting.
She is proud of the marks she wears on her cheeks, bearing them like badges of honor. In some ways, she is more proud of her tattoos than she is of her hitai-ate, as blasphemous as it may be. But the way she sees it, whereas that metal plate can be lost and replaced like a pair of worn out shoes, her tattoos will stay with her until her dying day. They cannot be shed or thrown away the way people can shed their loyalties and throw away their morals. They are vows of loyalty that are grafted beneath her skin and into her body, and therefore they cannot be loosely removed.
They are not just triangles; they are symbols of a partnership.
The Inuzuka have no clan symbol like the Uchiha fan or the Hyuuga flame to embroider on their clothes, but with their tattoos and ninken partners, there is no need for one.
Her tattoos, like every other Inuzuka, are inverted triangles for a reason. The bond between her clan and their ninken go back further than the founding of Konoha, but during a time where alliances were easily broken the Inuzuka clan made theirs permanent. There are many theories about the original form of the tattoos, the most common being the shapes of a dog's canine teeth or its snout, but Tsume believes they mimic dog claws. After all, the first Inuzuka's markings weren't tattoos, but scars - carved into the cheeks by a dog's own claws.
They are not done in ink; they are done in chakra and blood.
The markings on Tsume's cheeks are not like the tacky civilian tattoos she sees on aging men and promiscuous women, done without any true intent. Brush ink is so common it holds little meaning, but the combination of chakra and blood signify heavier things.
The first layer of her tattoos are made with her own blood, infused with her own chakra. They are laid into her cheeks as a display of self-awareness and humility, a brand that reminds her of her sworn oaths and her personal morals, her nindo. They are a reminder of her purpose of gaining power to protect instead of gaining power for the sake of power, and that arrogance and pride are only steps away from downfall. She knows she can be cocky, but one thought of her tattoos reminds her that she is not invincible; she bleeds the same red as everyone else, and it is there every time she stares into her reflection.
They are not only displays of clan and village loyalty; they are also examples of familial love and friendly affection.
On top of her primary tattoos are layers of clan blood seals; sensing seals from her Ma, strength seals from her Pa, and communication seals from Kuro. They are family and therefore closest to her; little runs deeper than bonds of blood.
But some things run equally deep, like strong friendships and even stronger bonds, bonds made through mutual pain and suffering. It is one of the highest honors to be asked to donate blood for Inuzuka tattoo seals, but Tsume does not tell this to Yoshino nor Tenten when she brings them with her to the Inuzuka seal master. When Yoshino grants her protection seals and Tenten gifts her with stealth seals, she doesn't tell them that they are now Inuzuka in all but blood. Instead, she refers to them as her sisters, and she knows that is enough for Yoshino and Tenten to understand.
They are not just symbolic; they are also a contract.
It is the only thing she loathes about her tattoos, because for all her pride and loyalty to her clan, they have taken away her privilege to choose. Along with her own blood, the blood of her parents, her partner, and her friends, her tattoos hold something else: the blood of her future mate.
Arranged marriages are common things for shinobi clans, but Tsume hadn't thought of being forced into such an arrangement because her Ma and her Pa had fallen in love on their own. She should have known better, but it is already too late. Her future is engraved on her face for the world to see, and she is bound to her future partner in a blood contract that cannot be broken for fear of death. She will not know his identity until she is sixteen, but she still cannot decide which is worse: death, or a future with someone she may very well end up hating. It is a constant point of contention between her and her parents, but she cannot do anything about it. Her future has been made for her.
The red marks on Tsume's cheeks are more than just mere tattoos. They are the most important elements of her life, engraved in her body as a reminder of who she is and what she will be. They are written reminders of her loyalties, her ancestry, her nindo, her family, and her future; and whenever she wanders too far from herself, the maroon triangles on her face bring her back, and she is Inuzuka Tsume again.
"Make the most of yourself for that is all there is of you." - Ralph Waldo Emerson