The vocalist's throaty, angry screams mixed in seamlessly with the constant buzz of his machine as he listened to an album on replay. It was well past closing time, but the fluorescent overhead lights were still burning bright.
She had come into his parlor earlier in the week asking for Flynn Rider and had left in a huff when they told her he was working on another client. He was one of the best in business, but that wasn't why she wanted him. It was a simple design, a butterfly, one of his apprentices could've easily done it, but she had insisted that he be the one to give it to her. He'd developed quite a following with the ladies and if they kept this up, he'd make his mark on all the women of Corona.
He smirked as she trembled under his touch.
"Relax, Blondie. It's just rubbing alcohol. I haven't even started yet."
Blondie, Baby, Goldie, Sweetheart. He always called them some term of endearment. There was no real meaning behind it except that he'd learned it put them at ease and it was easier than remembering their names. They sure'd get pissed if he called them by the wrong one. It wasn't his fault, none of them really stood out in his head. They were all the same.
"I guess I'm just nervous. It's my first time." She bit her plump lower lip and batted her eyelashes at him. Flynn shook his head, his smirk widening.
These girls really were all cut from the same high-thread-count cloth. Young, sheltered, from wealthy families, all looking to him for their first act of rebellion. They were always of age, of course. He insisted upon it, he always checked ID. Just like he insisted they sign a consent form. He didn't need to lose his license because some punk or princess really wanted to get back at mommy and daddy.
There was nothing unique or original about the girl that sat in his chair tonight. She was pretty enough, if you were into the look she was sporting. She was tall and thin with legs that went on for miles, but never quite met. Her hair was long, stick straight, just begging to be pulled. Her eyes were the deepest set of blue he'd ever seen. They were probably contacts to go along with her fake lashes and collagen enhanced lips. And he was pretty certain from the way the thin straps on her low cut tank top were about to snap under the hefty weight of their cargo that while it was her first time under a tattoo machine she'd already been under the knife. She'd worn a similarly skimpy outfit the first night she'd walked into his parlor. This was a girl on a mission, on a manhunt.
She wanted the butterfly on the inside of her thigh. Of course she did. This too was a familiar request, any excuse to hike up their skirts or drop their drawers in front of him. It was great for business to have girls lined up around the block, but it scared the collectors and enthusiasts and didn't give Flynn much of an opportunity to flex his creative muscle.
He preferred working freestyle on large swaths of skin. What he mostly worked off of was line art. It was so simple a scratcher could do it. That wasn't who he was. He was an artist. A tattoo artist. He'd spent years training under the very best, the only person he allowed to ink his own skin. This stencil tracing reminded him of when he'd first started out.
Summer was always the busiest time of year for him and lately he'd been working nonstop, working his fingers to the bone. It was when the fancy cruise ships pulled into the Bay of Corona bringing a flood of tourists with them, in with the tide like fishes. They'd barge into his parlor wanting a holiday tattoo on their sunburnt flesh to commemorate their vacation. He never bothered explaining to them that the term "holiday" referred to blotches in a tattoo where the ink failed to stick to the skin. At first he showed them the books with his artwork, original designs he'd taken years to develop, but they all wanted the same thing, a tattoo of Corona's sun emblem. So he stopped bringing out the books and inked stylized sun symbols until his hand was numb.
"Still doing okay there, Sunshine?" She'd picked a tough spot; the skin was thin and really sensitive there. It would hurt, a lot. He had told her as much but like everything else, she was persistent.
He always monitored his clients while he was working on them. When he looked up at her he noticed, with a small tinge of satisfaction, that this time her lip biting was in earnest. It's not that he wanted it to hurt, he always went to great lengths to make sure his clients were comfortable. It was just that he appreciated the first genuine expression she'd given him all night.
If she wanted a date from him, she was barking up the wrong tree. He was a professional. He didn't date clients. There was no need to. He had no trouble meeting women outside of work and he tried to keep his bedroom drama out of his workplace as much as possible. He'd learned that early lesson the hard way.
Inevitably his more inquisitive dates would find out where he worked. He hated when that happened. They would storm into his parlor looking to chew him out or looking for more, for third or fourth helpings of what he had already dished out.
He eventually wised up and stopped bringing them over to his place. Living above his parlor made his daily commute a breeze, but wreaked havoc on his love life. It was one of the many, many reasons he no longer brought dates home with him. He would insist they go to her place or to a neutral location, some seedy motel where they could both get their kicks without the clingy, squelchy mess of morning after sex or worse the awkwardness of the morning after breakfast.
"Is everything alright?" She asked.
Flynn realized he'd gotten so caught up in his thoughts he was wincing. The worried crease in her brow told him it wasn't exactly the look she wanted to see on the guy holding a round of needles so close to her nether regions.
While he bandaged her up he went over the aftercare instructions. He always took his time with those; the last thing he wanted was for his work to be ruined by a careless client and dissatisfied customers would tank any respectable artist's reputation.
He could tell she wasn't listening. She was staring at his lips like she hadn't eaten in days and from the looks of her that very well may have been true.
She was thin enough that he didn't have to worry about her thighs rubbing together and irritating her newly inked skin when she walked. Still, her ears perked up when he told her she'd need to get creative if she was planning on having any boyfriends over in the next two weeks. She looked positively decimated and he could tell she had planned on inviting him over that night.
When he finished he snapped the black latex gloves off his hands and threw them out in the nearby step trashcan. He removed the baseball cap he wore backwards to keep the fringe out of his eyes while he worked and placed it on a hook near the door as he escorted her out.
She was dragging her feet, reluctant to go. Asking him all sorts of questions just to bide her time, prolong the encounter.
"Just keep the bandage on for a couple of hours, Babydoll. You'll be alright."
He practically had to pry her hand away when she grabbed the front of his t-shirt and it took some quick maneuvering on his part to avoid a parting kiss on the lips. It landed on his goatee instead.
These girls always got clingy afterwards, especially the first time. It's like they felt they had shared an experience with him or something, like they wanted to take him home and make more of them. This one seemed determined, he was sure she'd be back for more.
He plastered on a fake smile, returned a goodbye wave through the glass door while his other hand eagerly turned the lock and flipped the sign over so that it now read "Closed."
When she finally crossed the street, he sighed contentedly, "Alone at last." He was glad to finally be done with his day, eager to pack up and go.
"Wait! You can't be closing."
He squeaked like a little girl when he heard a soft voice behind him. Damn it.
He cleared his throat, tried to regain some of his usual roguish, swagger. "You, um, you shouldn't sneak up on a guy like that, Babe."
She muttered an apology as she slowly got up from the black leather sofa in the waiting area. He noticed she was wobbling as she put a hand down on the armrest.
She was cute, but he knew the type well. She was a princess; perfect posture, short manicured nails. The choppy, homemade haircut and ill-fitting thrift store clothing threw him for a loop, but only momentarily. He figured it must've been a new trend among the youngsters or something. Maybe she was wearing it ironically.
For some reason, he felt bad that he was letting her down. "Sorry, Babe. I've got a date tonight and I'm already running late," he said by way of explanation.
This wasn't a lie exactly. He was supposed to meet an old acquaintance, a fellow tattoo artist, at a bar across town. They had done their apprenticeship together in the same parlor before parting ways. From time to time they'd get together, but neither one of them was interested in a relationship. She'd told him she'd gotten a tongue ring since he last saw her and was dying to try it out on him.
"You can come back tomorrow. Call my receptionist. Tell her I said to squeeze you in."
The girl in front of him started to cry and well, he couldn't turn her away now. Not like that. Not when she looked so lost and so vulnerable.
"Well, alright. I guess I have time for one more. A quick one," he emphasized. He glanced up at the clock on the wall and silently prayed his date was running late too.
She still seemed a bit shaky so he grabbed her by the shoulders and directed her to his room in the back, as he did he got a whiff of the alcohol coming off of her in waves.
He made sure to create a loud snapping noise when he put on a fresh pair of latex gloves. He wasn't going to go through with it and actually ink her. He didn't even make her fill out any paperwork. He was just going through the motions. She looked suspiciously underage and she'd had at least one drink, most likely several. It was a little known fact to the uninitiated that alcohol and tattoo machines didn't mix well. She'd bleed all over the place. Operating next door to a pub guaranteed that there was at least one drunk jackass a night he had to turn away for that very reason.
He was just going to humor her, to scare her a bit so she'd run back to her little friends or her concerned, overprotective parents. She'd hear his machine buzzing and she'd fly out of his chair, run straight for the door. Voila! Problem solved. They'd part ways and he would be halfway across town and on his way to a game of tonsil hockey in no time.
He did a double take when he noticed the skin that wasn't covered up by her jeans or her purple Corona U t-shirt. It was flawless, really flawless. There wasn't so much as a scratch, or a scar, or a blemish on it. There wasn't even a single bug bite which was remarkable given the season. It was . . . pure, as if no one had ever touched it, no one had ever lived in it. For the first time he found himself wishing there wasn't a layer of latex separating them, it looked so soft, so warm, so kissable. Whoa. Where'd that come from? Flynn shook his head to clear his thoughts, his very inappropriate thoughts. He didn't know what was wrong with him. He was a professional. He'd been fine until she snuck up on him.
If she had looked woozy when she was in his front room, she looked downright tipsy reclining in his chair. He kept glancing back at her, make sure she didn't slide off.
"Hey Sunshine. How much have you had to drink?" He asked casually as he started sorting through the needles, looking for the biggest and most menacing looking ones he could find. Hell, he even threw in a screw he found in a drawer. He planned on laying them out on a tray and showing them to her so she'd freak out and run out of his parlor.
"I'm not sure," she hiccupped, "a guy at the pub kept giving them to me. The way he was hovering over me was making me uncomfortable, so I ran in here as soon as he got up to go to the bathroom."
It turned out she wasn't there for a tattoo at all. She was just looking for a place to hide and panicked when Flynn tried to kick her out.
Something in Flynn snapped. The metal tray he was holding was starting to rattle. Date or no date, he really needed to kick someone's ass.
"Come on," he told her as grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the chair.
"Where are we going?"
"To the pub, I have to bash someone's head against the wall a few times."
As expected, the place was at capacity on a Friday night. He tightened his grip on the girl's hand. He didn't want to lose her in this crowd.
He'd asked her to point out the guy that had been feeding her drinks all night, but he'd apparently split. Damn it!
Shorty was tending bar that night and Flynn was determined to have a few choice words with him.
He plopped her down on a bar-stool next to him, he wasn't letting her out of his sight. He leaned over the bar and called out to get Shorty's attention.
He turned to the short, brown haired girl beside him. She had started to lean to one side in her barstool and Flynn sat her back up.
Her odd behavior had gotten the attention of a white-haired, pale man with large teeth, large nostrils and a long face, it gave him a distinctly horsy appearance.
Great, Flynn thought sarcastically. The last thing he needed was this guy sniffing around. Officer Max had been the bane of Flynn's existence in his younger years. He had relentlessly pursued him like a blood hound when he'd started cutting classes, and later when he graduated to petty theft. He was the reason Flynn ended up in juvy. But those years of youthful indiscretion were behind him now. He'd served his time and cleaned up his act. It didn't matter. Max still treated him like the trouble-making punk he used to be.
"What's the story, Rider?"
"Everything's fine, Officer. Nothing to see here. Hey, shouldn't you be outside handing out traffic tickets or something?"
The guy really got under Flynn's skin. The last thing he wanted was for him to catch wind of the underage, drunk girl teetering next to him. He'd shut the whole place down.
Mercifully, the girl didn't utter a peep. She was using all her energy to try and sit up straight. Max gave him a glare that said, I've got my eye on you, and moseyed on over to the piano to break up a brawl that had suddenly erupted.
The Snuggly Duckling was a dive bar. It smelled horrible and the beer was piss-poor, but the patrons kept coming. Flynn got along well enough with the thugs who ran the place. He'd gotten to know them somewhat and had done most of their ink, but sometimes they did something stupid and he had to set them straight. Tonight was one of those times.
When the cherub attired barfly finally stumbled over Flynn let him have it. "Hey Shorty! What's the big idea serving drinks to an underaged kid? I mean just look at her, she -"
Flynn turned just in time to notice some punk offering to buy her another drink. He practically growled at the guy, "Beat it or I'll break both your arms."
The man didn't even wait for Flynn to finish the sentence. He turned his attention back to Shorty. "Well?! What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Honestly, Flynn. I had no idea. The girl had ID," he drawled.
"Of course she did." Flynn rolled his eyes. He held out his hand to the girl, not taking his eyes off the drunk barman."Sunshine, give me your ID."
The girl reached into her back pocket and pulled out a laminated, rectangular card. He looked at it for a minute and scoffed at Shorty.
"Rah-Pun-Zel. It says her name is Rapunzel! That's completely made up. Not even a real name -"
"Hey!" Rapunzel protested but Flynn wasn't done chewing Shorty out.
"It doesn't even have a last name listed here. Ever seen an ID with only a first name? And another thing, it says she won't even be 21 for weeks."
"You got me!" Shorty exclaimed thrusting his hands forward as if Flynn was going to cuff him.
It was pointless talking to the old tosspot. Flynn rolled his eyes again and noticed a guy cowering behind a post across the bar.
"I'll be right back, don't move." he told her. He returned five minutes later. "Here's your 40 crowns back, Sunshine. Don't bother buying any more fake IDs from that guy."
Flynn groaned. He wasn't going to make his date and she was in no condition to be left alone here. She'd almost gotten picked up right under his nose.
"Come on," he said resignedly.
"Where are we going?"
"We're going to my place. You can sober up there and call your folks in the morning."
AN1: This is my first time writing a modern AU and I'm really excited about this story. I don't know a lot about tattoos, so all the lingo used here is from Google. Hopefully I didn't mess it up too badly. Please let me know what you think of it so far. A special, extra huge "thank you" to Wolfram-and-Hart-Sauron for betaing the story!
AN2: I'm going to need to raise the rating for chapter 3, so if you want to find out what happens next follow the story or look for it in the "M" section. I promise it's going to be tasteful and integral to the plot.
AN3: PSA - don't go drinking in bars alone and don't go home with guys you just met, they're not all going to be nice like Flynn. :-)