Niall was pretty sure his heart was going to pound out of his chest. The thing is Niall doesn’t like pain. Well, most people don’t like pain. But Niall’s pretty bad with pain. And also he’s not so good with needles. So maybe this was actually a shit idea.
No, he nods to himself, outside the little shop on the main street. He’s wanted this for years. He’s planned this for longer than he’s planned anything. And his parents think it’s a terrible idea, so, y’know, bonus points. He’s definitely doing this. Y’er just being a wimp, he chastises himself and with that he finally pushes the glass door open, hand holding on to handle so tight he might not be able to let go, and walks in.
It’s not very big, this tattoo place. At least this front room isn’t. The walls are covered, covered in pictures of tattoos and piercings. Posters, drawings, polaroids... all sorts. Niall thinks briefly that it’s a good thing he’s got his all planned because otherwise he could be walking out of here with a dragon on his face. Fuck, no one told him it would be this stressful. The guy at the desk hasn’t even noticed he walked in, so Niall takes the chance to sneak a glance. He’s wearing a band t-shirt, Nirvana, but looks likes he’d barely been born when they were around. He’s got black hair which has been forced up into this quiff that should look ridiculous, but this guy looks like he wouldn’t give a shit anyway so there’s no point mocking him about it.
Niall’s standing right in front of the desk now and the boy, from this close he can see the stubble on his cheeks and the partial tattoo peeking out from the collar of his t-shirt, still hasn’t noticed him. His attention is drawn to something in his hands that he’s looking at under the desk, his phone probably. Niall stands there awkwardly for a moment before clearing his throat.
“Uh, hey?” He tries. The boy doesn’t even look up; instead he reaches with one hand to drag a folder to the middle of the desk, shoving his phone into his pocket with his other.
“Hey. Tattoo or piercing?” He asks in low drawl.
“Uh, tattoo,” Niall answers and finally, finally he looks up at him, offering a small smile and for the first time Niall feels self-conscious about his accent. His eyes meet the boy’s brown one and they feel kinda like quicksand, he can’t escape the gaze and the more he tries to the deeper he falls.
He nods, and flicks to particular section of the folder to pull out a few sheets of paper, holding them out to Niall along with a pen. “I’m Zayn, I’ll be your tattoo artist today. I need ya to fill out this form, y’know health stuff, emergency contact, whatever.”
Niall nods and takes them, quickly scribbling in answers to the questions, when he’s near the end he glances up and sees the boy, Zayn, watching him with this smile on his face. Not friendly exactly, just... there. He drops his head quickly and writes his brother’s phone number in the last line and signs the bottom and hands the papers back over, hoping, praying, that he doesn’t look as panicked as he feels.
“So, uh, you... are you the only guy working here?” Niall asks tentatively.
“Right now, yeah,” Zayn answers, looking a little miffed at the thought that Niall would be looking for someone else. “You want someone else?”
Good job, Niall, make the guy who’s gonna bring a needle to your skin angry.
“Nah, I just... You don’t seem like you have that many tattoos, is all. Don’t you tattoo artists always have sleeves and stuff?” he rambles.
Zayn stares at him, looking half like he wants to burst out laughing, and half like he wants to kick him out. But after a moment the looks softens into this amused smile. “I’ve got a few. Most of them are covered up though, because I like to, you know, wear clothes,” he grins at little after he speaks and Niall tries to be subtle when he breathes out in relief. “Besides, I didn’t do my own, so it’s not like you’d be seeing any of my stuff. I can show you though,” Zayn continues, pulling out another folder, this one with a “Z” and loads of doodles drawn in sharpie on the cover.
Niall nods and flips open the folder. Shit this guy’s good, he thinks from the very first page. The pages are full of incredible tattoos, stuff that Niall thought would be impossible to draw on paper, let alone on skin. Song verses and quotes in all the fonts he’d ever seen.
“Do you know what you wanna get?” Zayn interrupts his awe.
“Uh, yeah,” Niall nods, pulling out the folded piece of paper from his pocket, feeling a bit ashamed that his is all straight lines, when he’s looking at a tattoo of a rose that looks so real he could almost pick it up.
Zayn slowly peels open the paper, almost being overly gentle, and looks over Niall’s picture.
“This is really cool,” he says, offering Niall another one of those smiles, “Your name, right?”
“Yeah... I saw the idea somewhere when I was like 14 and wanted it ever since.”
Zayn leads Niall into the back room which is white and spotless as Zayn starts preparing the inks and the design. They talk placement, which Niall knew always was his wrist. Left wrist. His mate “Josh has a sick wrist tattoo!” Zayn smiles and listens and shows off his own wrist tattoo which is a kinda huge and Niall stares at it in awe because he heard that colouring in tattoos hurts and that thing is black.
“So how come no one came with you?” Zayn asks when Niall finally sits down on the chair. Zayn’s sitting on a stool directly opposite him, and their knees are almost touching.
Niall shrugs, and bites his lip, “No one knows, exactly.”
Zayn smirks at him with an almost pleased glint in his eyes, “Big surprise, huh?”
“My folks’ll probly kill me,” Niall grins.
Zayn chuckles and gestures to his hand, Niall sticks out his wrist automatically. Zayn takes his hand, gently, just like how he was handling the piece of paper. “I was just thinking, the wrist usually hurts quite a big... people usually like to hold someone’s hand,” Zayn says, glancing up at him as he’s wiping the inside of his wrist with a antiseptic wipe.
Niall’s heart drops a little, he had kind of forgotten about the pain and needles thing. He lets out a breath, “I can handle it.” He hopes he looks more certain than he feels.
Zayn’s still looking at him, and Niall finds he can’t stop staring at his eyelashes when he blinks. Like... wow.
“If it gets too much, you can just grab onto my leg, yeah?” Zayn says, his eyes worried and his tone serious. Then his lips slip into a smile, “Just let me know so I don’t ruin your piece.” He dips his head again before Niall can even say anything.
Niall’s arm is resting on the padded rest, and he’s pretty sure his whole body is shaking right now. Zayn stretches away from him to pull over the machine, which is on wheels, and turns it on. Oh God, it’s so loud. Niall bites his lip and scans the room until his eyes finally fall onto Zayn’s face. Again. It’s more close to the whole wrist-needle situation than he’d like, but he can’t seem to drag his eyes away. Zayn cocks his head a little, like he can sense Niall’s gaze, but he doesn’t say anything.
Oh God, it stings and it hurts and it burns and Niall’s never really felt anything like it.
“Fuck, that feels... weird,” he breathes, eyes wide and still focused on Zayn and his cheekbones and his eyelashes.
It’s getting better and worse at the same time. His wrist feels half numb, but also more painful than he can remember it ever being. His eyes sneak a glance down and he see Zayn’s barely a quarter way through. He fists his free hand so tight he can feel his short nails digging into his palm. Oh shit. Suddenly the pressure eases up and he feels nothing, his eyes search out Zayn’s who’s looking up at him. Shit, he must’ve said that out loud.
“I meant it, you can do it,” he says, tone warm, eyes warm, everything warm and nods down to his leg, the one closest to Niall.
He stares at Zayn’s leg for a bit, it’s just... there, clad in jeans. He wants to say he’s fine, that he doesn’t need it, but the machine is still buzzing and it’s so loud. Finally he just reaches out his hand, places it just above Zayn’s knee; feels his muscles tense at the touch then relax. He knows the needle’s getting closer to his wrist again, and he squeezes, first lightly then harder.
Faintly, though it starts to get louder, he begins to hear a melody that’s definitely not coming from the machine. He’s humming, Niall realises, and he can’t recognise it but it doesn’t matter. He searches it out under the buzzing and lets it fill his ears and his head and Jesus it sounds pretty.
Eventually it’s over, not soon enough, but sooner than he thought at least. The machine stops and Zayn presses the needle back into its slot at the side and moves to get the bandage. He lets Niall stare at it, slightly bloody, but unbelievably straight and jet black and oh God it’s on him and it’s beautiful, before Zayn brings a cloth to it. It’s not until Niall’s wrists is all wiped and bandaged up and Zayn’s looking at him kinda funny with nothing to say that he realises he’s still holding onto his leg. His eyes widen and he pulls his hand back as fast as he can. He’s pretty sure he’s bright red, but Zayn isn’t saying anything, except after a moment that they’re done and they can go back to the front.
His wrist feels weird, all bandaged and still stinging but more like a memory than actual pain. Zayn sits back down behind the desk and points to the stool on the other side. Niall hadn’t noticed it before and he wonders whether it was even there or if Zayn pulled it out for him without him noticing.
“Kay...” Zayn starts, pulling out a little booklet and big bottle of cream from the shelves behind the desk. “So keep it bandaged till you get home, or at least somewhere kind of clean. It might be a little bloody, but you should just be able to wipe it off. You need to put this cream on and around it twice a day, but be gentle. Really gentle, okay?” He says handing them to him, emphasising the last part with a gaze so strong Niall feels like he’s actually worried about his rubbing too hard. He reached out to take the bottle and their fingers touch in the most clichéd way but Zayn’s still gazing at him and he’s pretty sure his breath hitches.
“Yeah, I will,” he promises.
“And uh, if there’s anything wrong: if it bleeds for longer than a day or stays red for longer than a couple. Or if it, like, gets itchy or whatever, you can just call the shop and anyone working can help you,” he says, handing him a small business card with shop logo on it, “Or, uh, you can just call me, all hours and all that. It’s on the back...” He fades off.
Niall turns the card over and sure enough, Zayn’s name and number are scribbled on there. With such terrible hand-writing, he’s not sure how he ever trusted the guy to tattoo him, but still. Niall smiles widely and slips the card into his pocket, next to the tattoo-care booklet.
“Thanks, mate,” Niall says, looking at him intently, hoping that his real meaning comes across in less words: thanks for not making me feel like an idiot, thanks for making it okay.
“Anytime,” Zayn replies, his lips turning up into a please smile.
“Might see you around then,” Niall says with a quick wave and turns to walk out, back into the unusually warm sunlight of that London afternoon. He feels a bit like he’s been marked for life, not just on his wrist but, like, everywhere.
The next day he gets a text from Zayn, whose number he’s saved into his phone just because.
Hows the tattoo doing? Its Zayn btw got ur number off ur form. Hope thats okay :)
Thought I was supposed to call u? :P Its cool, tattoos good. Looks amazing! Niall replies, sending it before he can worry about how it looks.
All he gets is :) But then it’s followed by It wud be nice to see u again. When Im not holding a needle to ur wrist. Yeah?
And Niall grins at the screen for probably too long before skipping the reply button and going directly to Call Contact. Yeah, this mark’s definitely not coming off.