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a blooming of cosmos

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When Hinata got her first tattoo, she never expected that she would keep coming back until the entirety of her back, the slopes of her shoulders, and the landscape of her collarbones would be covered as well. She had never even planned to get even one tattoo.

 She was sixteen and in mourning when she walked in.

A boy sketching idly behind the front counter looked up at the sound of the door opening and her attention was immediately drawn to the two red fangs curving down over his cheeks. He was a rough composition of messy brown hair and layered torn t-shirts revealing intricate tattoo sleeves covering his arms. Black eyes reflecting the little light in the dimly lit room followed her halt in the middle of the doorway, a feral beast waiting in the dark. She wondered who was more surprised by the other here.

“You here for a tattoo?” he finally asked when it was apparent she wasn’t going to speak.

She wasn’t even supposed to be here at all, but she nodded instead, not trusting her voice. Her grip loosened on the doorknob before taking a step, then two into the darkness.

The room was warm, and she found the dark was not nearly as foreboding as she feared.

A noise from the back distracted them both, preceding the arrival of a woman with curly dark hair and sharp, red eyes that were more unnerving than the boy’s. She was much older, likely the woman who owned and ran the shop judging from the comfortable and easy set of her shoulders and the confidence in her gait.

She paused, considering Hinata. “I haven’t seen you before,” she finally remarked, her voice low and gentle.

Hinata took a deep breath but answering, softly, “No. I’m not from around here.”

She wouldn’t have been here at all if her father was not pursuing legal action against the man who murdered Hizashi, her uncle and his brother. Rage and bitterness was what fueled Hiashi. Quiet contemplation and wariness was what stole Hanabi’s voice in the chaos. Grief and shock was what froze Neji, what locked him up and made him inaccessible.

And Hinata…

Murdered or not, gone was gone and only emptiness remained. She felt terribly alone when her mother died long ago, and she felt terribly alone again now.

Softness was not something Hiashi came by easily, not something he believed made him an effective parent or successful businessman. Softness came from outside influences, but Hinata knew she had neither Hizashi’s strength nor her mother’s voice to be heard by him.

The woman seemed to consider her silence before gesturing gracefully with a hand.

“Come in, let’s talk.” She glanced to the side, taking her unnerving red eyes off of Hinata, before murmuring quietly, “Kiba, you and Shino mind things for a while. Kakashi’s going to be late for his appointment anyway.”

“He always is,” the boy rolled his pinprick bright eyes but he flashed a smile at Hinata, fangs curling over his lower lip in an echo of his tattoos. “Take your time, there’s no rush here.”

Hinata followed the older woman through the door, pausing as she watched her become swallowed up by the dark. But Hinata didn’t come all this way to see this only halfway through, so she pushed the door aside and stepped in.

Whatever she had been expecting, it hadn’t been this: a brightly lit, airy studio space with a partial second floor balcony, home to a tiny kitchenette and a bathroom. Drawings and plants decorated every space on the walls, surrounding two separate tattoo stations, and music played softly from some speakers. The place looked lived in, clean, and comfortable. The kind of place, Hinata realized, one could easily call home.

“So,” the older woman started as they both sat down at one of the tattoo stations. Her red eyes were just as unsettling in the light, but her expression was kind. “Are you sure you want to get a tattoo?”

“Yes,” Hinata replied firmly, without hesitation. She couldn’t explain the prickling emptiness that sat right under her skin, but she did know she had to let it bleed out before it ate through her. “I’m… I’m not sure of what, but I do know I want something.”

Stand tall , Hizashi’s voice murmured in her mind and Hinata didn’t flinch. She let his memory flow through, cool and soothing, as he had often been to her. Be brave .

“May I ask why you want it?” the woman asked, her voice only mildly curious despite the probing question. “It helps with deciding, usually.”

Hinata hesitated, but something in the woman’s demeanour nudged at her, made her relax and open up in a way she had only done with her mother, long ago.

“My uncle passed recently,” Hinata explained quietly, the words sitting heavy in her throat. “Home is… hard now, to find some measure of warmth. I suppose I wanted something to remind myself to be brave.” She could almost feel Hizashi’s hand clasp her on the shoulder warmly in support and encouragement. Her hand came up to absentmindedly rub the spot, her fingers folding into the black fabric of her sweater.

The woman’s red eyes caught the movement and she finally smiled, the movement softening the sharper lines on her face. “Well then, what does bravery look like to you?”

A deceivingly simple question with no easy answer. Bravery had never been loud and heroic acts for her. Bravery came in small, measured doses that always tasted startling in her mouth, with the bitter flavour of fear that she swallowed anyway. Bravery looked like shaky knees and a firm voice, a roar in her mind and a tremour in her hands. Bravery was that prickling prowl beneath her skin, always lying in wait until she was ready.

Bravery was a choice

“A lion,” Hinata chose with conviction, and the decision felt right.

The woman hummed as she tapped a finger against her knee in thought, her gaze considering.

“On your shoulder, you’re thinking?”

“Shoulder?” Hinata blinked at the question, before realizing her hand had come up again to grip her black sweater. She hesitated, thinking the option through thoroughly. She might have gone hoping to find something important at the tattoo shop, but she knew she was not about to go looking for trouble at home. Not with grief warping the place to be cold and lonely, when she once knew warm conversation and laughter tucked in the eyes and corners of mouths.

She never wore anything more revealing than a t-shirt, though more usually she preferred sweaters. Plenty loose enough to hide any bandages she may need for after care.

Hinata nodded decisively, and her hand fell away to rest in her lap. Her shoulder tingled in anticipation, the prickle beneath her skin crackling like static.

“Kurenai?” she asked after a moment, the name slipping out haltingly. The older woman paused in the middle of rifling through some loose sheets behind her, sharp red eyes glancing over to consider her unnervingly again. “Is there something subtle we could find?”

Kurenai didn’t answer her right away. She pulled a sketchbook from a drawer and took her time finding a pencil before settling back down to answer. “I didn’t think you knew who I was.”

An apologetic smile stole across Hinata’s lips, though she couldn’t deny a faint sense of amusement for having caught the older woman off guard.

“I looked you up,” Hinata explained simply. “I love your work.”

“Well,” Kurenai opened her sketchbook, clearly looking for a specific page. She glanced up at Hinata, a new shine of respect and curiosity in her gaze. “I think you’ve come to the right place. There’s more to you than meets the eye.”

She came to her desired page and flattened the book for easy viewing before handing it to Hinata, who took the sketchbook with care. Hinata sucked in a gasp at the exquisite drawings and the different styles that were sketched with great precision and talent over the pages.

“You’ve seen my work,” Kurenai spoke in the silence. “So you know designing something that isn’t what it first seems is something of a specialty of mine.”

“Illusions,” Hinata supplied, drinking in the drawings and pausing to consider what they would look like on her skin.

“Subtle, but not to those who know how to look for it,” Kurenai added, and something in her tone of voice had Hinata looking up. Kurenai smiled, and Hinata felt a warm weight from the perceptiveness in her gaze. “If I may suggest? Maybe something along the lines of-” Kurenai reached over, long, slender fingers circling around a star map drawn on one of the pages, “-this, for you?”

The constellation for Leo jumped out to her immediately, and Hinata smiled at the thought of a starry lion encircling her shoulder, always close by and always lying in wait. A reminder and a comfort.

“That's perfect,” she agreed. She handed the sketchbook back and waited for Kurenai to stow it away before the woman gestured to the comfortable chair in the middle of the workspace they were in. 

“Take your sweater off, and we’ll get started then,” Kurenai instructed, pulling drawers open to retrieve disinfect, latex gloves, and a marker. Hinata sat in the chair and tugged her sweater off, keeping it close to her self consciously despite the fact that she wore a black tank top underneath.

She breathed deeply and the scent of ink calmed her jumping nerves.

“Don’t you have another client at this time?” Hinata asked, settling back in the chair and offering her right shoulder as Kurenai cleaned and disinfected the area. A wry smile stole across Kurenai’s face as she wiped the shoulder thoroughly.

“Kakashi is always late,” Kurenai explained. “Always. By at least two hours, if I’m lucky. He tips well enough that I don’t mind; plus, it’s nice for me and my apprentices to have a break. We always have people coming in and out.”

“I didn’t think I’d be able to see you right away, let alone get a tattoo at once,” Hinata admitted as she watched Kurenai uncap the marker. The older woman leaned over and carefully marked small dots that matched the constellation of Leo.

As Kurenai meticulously and painstakingly drew a line of tiny dots connecting the larger dots together, she chuckled, “Today must be your lucky day then.”

She had no idea. The whole past month had felt like one endless black cloud; but sitting here, in the bright studio and surrounded by potted plants and pinned up drawings, breathing in the scent of ink and disinfect, was the most at peace Hinata felt in a long time.

“Besides, something like this won’t take more than ten minutes, give or take.”

Hinata hummed noncommittally in response, choosing to watch her work instead. After Kurenai marked the last line, completing the constellation, she drew a hand mirror from the counter behind her and reflected the work towards Hinata.

“Good?” Kurenai asked. The main body of the constellation encircled Hinata’s shoulder, with a slender thread-thin neck stretching out to point to her collarbone.

Hinata  resisted the urge to trace it lest she smudge the marks, but a smile grew across her face as she imagined that thread reaching up to nudge her, its body capping her shoulder in warmth. The black of the marker stood out starkly against her pale skin, and she hummed in thought.

“Could I get this inked in blue?” she asked after a moment.

“Of course,” Kurenai confirmed. She pointed to a few photos of previously done tattoos pinned on the walls around them. “I’ve got a few different shades you can choose from. Have something in mind?”

Hinata didn’t, not really. She hopped up from the chair to get a better look at some of the pictures Kurenai pointed out, marveling at intricate sleeves, landscapes spanning the entirety of backs and ribcages, and tiny exquisite tattoos that Kurenai had done previously. Many were touched up in sky blue or deep navy, both shades that she thought didn’t feel quite right. 

Her sharp eyes caught the edge of an older photo, half tucked under another. A glance over to Kurenai granted her permission and she tugged the photo free, flattening it out on the counter to examine properly. 

It showed a tanned stomach of a boy a few years younger than her, orange shirt thrust proudly up to showcase his tattoo. Patterns resembling flames surrounded a large spiral that encased his bellybutton, all done up in gleaming blue ink that reminded her of a clear night sky.

Her finger traced the spiral, stopping to tap at the center. The boy’s face was cut off in the picture, but the way he jutted his stomach proudly towards the camera painted a clear picture of a beaming, gleeful smile. The kind of happiness she wanted to know and keep.

“Something,” Hinata decided, “deeper than indigo.”

The process was less painful and much more fascinating than she anticipated. Cups of ink were laid out next to needles and tubes, which were still in their airtight sterilized packaging. The tattoo gun itself was a much smaller and simpler machine than she expected, but she eyed it cautiously and curiously nonetheless.

Hinata was no stranger to the creative process. She played cello, studied figure skating and martial arts, and practiced calligraphy, all alongside Hanabi at Hiashi’s wishes. She studied under the best tutors and teachers there were, but she thought none of them held a candle to the way Kurenai prepared herself and the tattoo gun before confidently settling herself next to Hinata to begin.

There was skill, and then there was art. Hinata didn't think there was a difference until she heard Kurenai hum along to the song on the radio as the needle slipped into her skin for the first time, until she watched Kurenai’s red eyes become utterly focused and devoted to the steady heartbeat of the gun in her hands.

The needle working against her skin stung, especially traveling over the bone, but watching the blue ink bleed out over her pale shoulder felt like a kind of release as well. Like that prickle beneath her skin was exhaling in relief. 

Dot by dot, the stars denoting a lion made its home on her body.

“Done!” Kurenai declared, wiping the area clean and stowing the tattoo gun to the side. She shed her latex gloves before asking, “Do you mind if I take a picture for posterity?”

Hinata hesitated, then remembered the excitement radiating from the boy with the spiral on stomach. Emboldened, she smiled and answered easily, “Sure.”

While Kurenai retrieved her camera, Hinata twisted until she saw the indigo stars dotting her pale skin: an inverse night sky.

Bravery was a choice, and now she had a lion by her side to remind her that she had courage with her, always.

“Alright.” Kurenai came back around, a small black camera held in her graceful hands. “Lower your shoulder for me. That's perfect.” Though she was sure Kurenai was only capturing her shoulder, Hinata couldn't help but let a proud smile grow on her face as the telltale shutter went off.

Choosing was so freeing. Exhilarating even. She could see why people came back for more tattoos after getting their first. There was a hunger she could feel churning beneath her skin now, a hunger to let the waiting stars burning in her body come to light. 

“Let me wrap this up and give you some cream,” Kurenai told her as she put the camera away and drew saran wrap from a drawer. “Keep this wrapped for twelve to twenty-four hours, apply cream whenever you feel the tattoo feel dry or itchy, and if it gives you any problems at all, feel free to call us ok?” 

Hinata made a noise of agreement as she lifted her arm for Kurenai to wrap around her shoulder thoroughly. The wrap slipped around her easily and snugly, highlighting the tattoo.

She slid out of the seat and followed Kurenai to the front, averting her gaze shyly from the boy with the pinprick bright eyes and another boy next to him wearing black, small, round sunglasses despite the dark of the room. The sweater wrinkled in her hands as she played nervously with it, waiting for Kurenai to bring her the ointment.

“Hey,” a familiar rough voice drew her attention, and she raised her eyes to meet the gaze of the feral boy- Kiba , Hinata remembered- behind the counter. His smile was hesitant but wide, canines peeking over his lips, and his eyes glittered at her in the dark. “The tattoo looks awesome. Kurenai always does a great job, eh Shino?”

He nudged the boy next to him. The other boy nudged his sunglasses up his nose before agreeing in a deep, soothing voice, “Kurenai indeed does excellent work; but I believe the strength of the image comes from its bearer.” 

Startled by the unexpected depth of support from the two of them, Hinata flushed; but she was undeniably touched.

“Thank you,” she replied softly.

Kiba grinned even wider and nudged Shino in the side again. “Hey, hey, you got the drinks right?”

“No Kiba,” Shino deadpanned. “I merely retrieved empty coffee cups from the cafe.”

“A riot you are, a riot ,” Kiba rolled his eyes but there was a good-natured tease in his voice. His attention swung from his coworker to Hinata. “So we didn't know what kind of drink you'd like. I thought maybe tea but then there's always coffee and hot chocolate and cider and whatnot- anyway, we picked something up for you to take away! Well, besides the tattoo I mean.”

Hinata was bewildered by his rambling. “Sorry?”

“Would you like green tea, coffee, chrysanthemum tea, or hot chocolate?” Shino clarified. He placed a cardboard tray of to-go cups on the counter for her to see. Steam escaped from their lids, curling gently in the air.

“Oh!” A flush rose hotly onto Hinata’s cheeks as she realized they had both gone out of their way to get a drink, just for her. She was both touched and panicked at the extra effort they expended for her. “You really didn't have to, I'm sorry!”

“What are you apologizing for?” The expression on Kiba’s face was genuinely curious, if not a bit confused. “Shino was already out getting us drinks.” 

“It was no trouble,” Shino assured her, and despite the fact that his expression didn't change and his voice intoned no differently, Hinata's mind soothed at his reassurance. He hesitated, then added, “We wanted to.”

“Oh,” was Hinata’s articulate reply. She flushed more, unable to tamp down her embarrassment, but she gave them both a grateful smile. “I'll take the green tea? Thank you both, so much.”

Shino nodded as he plucked the correct cup from the tray and passed it over to her.

Kiba only grinned, his smile more reminiscent of a cat who caught the canary than a wolf’s. “Hah! I totally guessed right. I'm awesome.”

“Kiba,” Kurenai chided as she came back with a small pot of ointment in her hands. As she passed it to Hinata, she continued, “While you were so busy texting Shino drink guesses, did you practice your line work?”

The only response Kiba gave was to thrust the sketchbook he'd been drawing in towards her. Kurenai raised a brow as she flipped through it quickly, plucking the cup of coffee from the tray for herself. 

“Better,” she approved, taking a sip. “Much better.” After a moment where Kiba smiled smugly, more pointedly to Shino than Hinata, she commented, “Still a long way to go though. This design is all over the place and- see here- your shading overlaps too much. Tattooing this will rip the skin apart.”

Without realizing, Hinata tensed, her heart already sinking for the boy who showed her so much kindness. Her fingers dug into the cardboard sleeve of her cup as she started to curl in on herself, expecting the light in his eyes to dim and his smile to fold down in disappointment.

“Gotta admit though, it’s better than before,” Kiba quipped instead, plucking the cup of hot chocolate and taking a hearty gulp. He was all loose and careless limbs with still that smile tugging at his lips.

Kurenai chuckled, acquiescing, “Definitely better. You’ve come a long way.”

There was a hum which Hinata only realized came from Shino when he reached over and picked the last cup out of the tray. Light slid along the dark lenses of his sunglasses as he nodded. “For all that your attention span can be deplorable, and your technique messy and uncontrolled… you have acquired a degree of refinement that should be commended.”

Kiba squinted at Shino suspiciously. “Thanks… I think.”

Laughter bubbled out of Hinata before she could swallow it back down and the three of them turned to look at her as she giggled, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment again behind the cup of tea she brought up in an attempt to hide her reaction. 

“I’m sorry,” she choked as she reigned in her laughter enough to attempt an explanation. “I- well, um, I guess you’re not really what I expected a business to be like.”

Business meant formal wear and practiced smiles; firm handshakes and a poised countenance; perfection and nothing less. Business meant hard work only to become a failure to expectations. She lived and breathed business and felt the sting of it always sitting heavy in her lungs.

Much to her relief, Kurenai began to laugh along with her. Kiba guffawed as he snorted on his hot chocolate and a slight smile stole across Shino’s face in pure amusement.

“Business doesn’t really seem to be the right word for us, does it?” Kurenai mused, her red eyes twinkling kindly at Hinata. “These two bicker too much to make this place anything serious.”

“Kurenai,” Kiba whined. “You know I wouldn’t argue if there wasn’t a good reason!”

“There is never a ‘good reason’,” Shino muttered, and Hinata could just imagine his eyes rolling behind his sunglasses. “Which begs the question why you bother excusing your inclination to argue in the first place.”

“If anything,” Kurenai placed her coffee cup firmly and loudly between the two boys, stepping in between them and defusing the impending squabble, “I often think we’re more a family. For better or for worse.”

Wistfulness stole across Hinata’s face before she could help it, and she held the cup of tea a little tighter. Warmth curled around her fingers and heated her hands, and she thought of the heartbeat of the tattoo gun resting in Kurenai’s palms; of the broad and confident strokes she glimpsed Kiba making with his pencil in his sketchbook; of the long, almost spindly fingers of Shino as he passed her the to-go cup.

“Could I come back?” Hinata blurted out. She couldn’t explain the way her heart picked up speed like it was trying to sprint to a destination she couldn’t see, only feel. Her shoulder prickled and a tingle coursed through her veins, like the claws of a lion writing on the underside of her skin.

Her abrupt query had Kurenai visibly startling at the raw emotion in her voice. Before Kurenai could even say anything, Kiba was already giving Hinata a thumbs up, and Shino was nodding emphatically next to her.

A smile rose naturally to Kurenai’s face, kind and bright. Hinata thought her a little like the North Star: a fixed point to guide others back to her. Back to home.

“Of course. We’ll even have some green tea waiting for you,” Kurenai promised. “Studio Eight will always be here if you need to find us again.”


When Hinata gave her first tattoo to a client, she thought it was a joke; but she was smiling and laughing the whole day through, and the memory lingered long after like a suspended note in a harmony she never knew she needed to hear.  

She was twenty and still settling into the new life she had chosen when he walked in.

The early morning was silver and silent when she came walking up the street towards Studio Eight, two steaming cups of tea in hand, her steps quick and practiced as they traced the path she had walked a hundred times over now. Even though Kiba lived closest of the four of them, Hinata knew he would be the last to come in, yawning and bleary-eyed. She lived the farthest, in the cheaper and more abandoned old student district, but she was always first to open up shop.

Early mornings she took to be her own. The days always filled up quickly with clients and chores, and though Hinata loved the familiar bustle and hum of talk and machines speaking in tandem, she made time to sink into the quiet for herself.

She juggled the two cups of tea as she fumbled in her pocket for her keys. The chill of the early spring air whispered around her loose braid and bare arms, cool and heavy, and Hinata thought if she sighed just right, she would be able to see her breath in the air.

There was something about being alone in silver, silent mornings like this that made her feel like the only person in the world. Just her and the shower of stars inked across her body being the first to step out into a new world, a new day.

She loved that: the promise of a new story waiting to unfurl.

Quiet mornings were perfect blank pages for her to put her first mark down and begin writing- quite literally, as she’d open up shop and practice tattooing the linework and shading of her calligraphy onto orange peels and pigskin. She’d tattooed directly on human skin before as well, marking her own body, as well as Kurenai’s, Shino’s, and Kiba’s, enough to leave clusters of stars threaded together with messages for them, done in miniscule but precise and graceful calligraphy. They were a family of constellations in their own galaxy.

Quiet mornings were silent, waiting for the first note of her tattoo gun to be sung.

Except the familiar percussion of opening the doors, starting the coffee, and settling at her station was loudly interrupted by the harsh squeak of bicycle brakes, loud and jarring in the silver air. 

Her lavender eyes lifted to zero in immediately on an orange bicycle so bright it bordered on fluorescent and completely laden with riotous bouquets of flowers. Hinata blinked, stunned speechless at the absolute explosion of colour and chaos that just arrived at her street. The blooms were so packed together and stacked so high on top of each other that she distantly thought it an architectural wonder in its own right.

Movement caught her eye and she dragged her gaze away from the cloud of flowers- of which she swore she could catch whiffs of their fragrance despite being all the way down the street- and her eyes lit upon a young man her age.

For a bewildering moment, she thought some of the flowers had detached themselves from the voluminous mass tied to the bicycle to become a sentient form- but no, it was simply because the man himself was as colourful as the flowers he carried. His hair shone gold and bright, a beacon in the silver of the early morning, complemented by the orange shirt that was just a few shades less outrageous than his bike. He carried a huge stack of flowers in his arms, each with a ribbon dangling from its stem.

Hinata watched in frozen curiosity as he strode from door to door of each shop down the street, fastening and leaving a flower at each mailbox or doorknob. He whistled as he worked his way down towards her, an upbeat and catchy tune that seemed to hold her in a trance. 

Her sharp eyes caught the individual cuts of dahlias, daisies, gerberas, crocuses, pansies and even- her interest piqued- were those bluebells-?  

“You get one too, don’t worry!” a voice broke through her concentration and Hinata stumbled back as she realized the flower man was suddenly right before her. She gaped at him for a moment before her mind caught up with his words. Like a catalyst, her face flared up brighter than the fireworks of flowers on his bike. 

“No-that wasn’t- I hadn’t meant to imply-” She completely tripped over her words in her haste to convince him that she hadn’t been expecting anything and blushed even darker, wishing nothing more than to bury her face in her hands.

“Hey, it’s alright! I’m just joking! Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that,” he smiled easily, cheerfully at her, and his bright blue eyes twinkled in fun. A dusting of red powdered his tanned, unmarked cheeks as sheepishness set in his features and he ducked his head a little like scolded schoolboy, the long fringe of his hair falling over like a shadow. 

Hinata took a deep breath and pieced together her composure. She recognized the contrite set of his broad shoulders and the honest embarrassment in his eyes and felt… well, still horribly flustered; but she knew when she was in like company and took some measure of comfort from that.  

“I’m sorry,” she offered, gathering up her courage and hooking up a shy smile for him. Her efforts were rewarded immediately as his eyes brightened and his posture relaxed. “I recognized some of the flowers you were giving out and was curious- oh, those are bluebells.” She bent closer to the flowers held in his hands to examine the exquisite, dangling blooms with their curled edges. “I’ve never seen them in such a vibrant colour before.”

The man shrugged and the movement prompted Hinata to hastily stand up straight again. She fretted for a moment that she had overstepped personal boundaries but he didn’t seem to notice. “My adoptive dad has a huge green thumb. He can make anything grow, and grow really well. Even after helping him my entire life, I still don’t know what his secret is; but whatever he does, it’s magic!”

“It really is,” Hinata agreed, her smile growing back as they found solid ground to talk on. “I haven’t seen you around before. Are you from here?” 

“I’m not actually, though I’ve been here before,” he grinned playfully at her, as if she discovered a secret. “We just moved in pretty recently and we’re hoping to set up shop sometime soon, but it’s been pretty crazy getting things settled down so… we went to our backup plan for now.” He gestured behind him to his bike.

The flowers swayed in his arms and their heady scent reminded her of her cups of tea and the locked studio door. She balanced the cups in an arm as she dug her key out and opened the door, hesitating before pushing it open all the way. “Would you like to come in for a bit? I just realized I should get around to setting the place up before people start coming in.”

“I would love to actually, thanks!” He practically bounced on his feet in curiosity and excitement as he followed her into the dark entrance.

Hinata glanced behind her, checking to see that he didn’t accidentally bump into the front desk and her breath caught in her throat as her gaze was drawn to how the flowers blurred into smudges of chaotic colour, almost luminescent in the dark. They were not bright like the stars she had come to call her own, but akin to the evening sky stars would rest upon, the dusk aglow with a subtle myriad of colours that made the dark sing.

And the flower man- he was just as bright in the dark, a muted, magnetic gold that she was always aware of, even when she wasn’t looking at him.

“That’s right, this is the tattoo place!” he exclaimed, his sky blue eyes squinting as he tried to make out shapes in the dark. He halted as Hinata stopped and regarded her curiously. “Something wrong?”

“I just realized,” Hinata laughed softly, “that I don’t even know your name.”

He chuckled with her and she found herself smiling wider at the sound; his cheer was infectious. “Naruto!” he introduced himself eagerly. “Uzumaki Naruto, at your service.”

“Hinata,” she offered in return, moving to turn the lights on. The lights flickered then held, dimly lighting the front room and providing enough visibility for her to notice how he watched her. “Hyuuga Hinata.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Naruto declared, his tone light but sincere. “I’d offer to shake your hand but we’ve both got our hands full so…”

He shuffled the flowers in his arms for a moment before plucking a variegated tulip from the mass. Quicker than Hinata could react, he reached over and tucked the red and white coloured bloom in the dark of her hair, his fingers brushing over her ear as he secured it firmly.

“I’m supposed to be promoting our business with these, but that one’s just for you!” Naruto explained, pleased with himself. Despite the innocence in his gesture, a hint of colour still rose up to tint his cheeks.

Hinata thought he was on a mission to see how red he could make her go. Despite the dim lighting, she was sure her cheeks were positively glowing . The heat her cheeks alone were generating would be enough to char the flower he just placed in her hair. He was disarmingly, guilelessly charming and though it caught her off guard, she found herself smiling shyly but brightly at him in thanks.

She turned from him and fought a valiant battle to quell the colour saturating her face. She took delight in his unabashed exclamation of wonder as she led him through the door and flicked the lights on to reveal the open studio room with the tattoo stations set up. Since she joined Studio Eight and became the sole apprentice, Kiba and Shino having moved up to become full-fledged professional tattoo artists, the studio had been rearranged and renovated. Three tattoo stations sat where two originally were with a space in the back for a fourth. The fourth space was still in the process of being set up, since it had worked out well enough with just three stations previously.

That was before people saw Hinata’s work though; her skill in calligraphy and her control in fine, precise, detailed linework made her highly sought after, a sensation she was unfamiliar with and unprepared for. After years of tutelage, she was ready to take on clients of her own and tattoo unsupervised; Kurenai told her so often.

Threads of her old fear of failure still lingered though, and Hinata was much more cautious with this. Failure in business had meant a falter in appearance, an unforgivable crack in perfection; but the shame was subtle, carried solely on her shoulders with no physical reminders of when she fell short.

Failure in tattooing was quite the opposite. She held the power to render something powerful, something remarkable, with a visual and permanent representation of her efforts. For better, or for worse.

Perhaps she was overcautious, but she remembered the surge of comfort and bravery and fulfillment her first tattoo gave her. Her drive for perfection stemmed from her wish to grant others the same experience. They came to her for help, and she committed herself fully in going above and beyond for them.

Hinata found a new beginning at Studio Eight. More importantly, she found a family. It never occurred to her to do anything less than to help others find what they were searching for as well.

Optimistically, Kurenai had begun assembling a fourth studio for her use anyway, despite Hinata’s hesitance, firmly insisting that at least, her work would be waiting for her when she was ready.

“You can set your flowers down over here if you want to give your arms a rest,” she called to Naruto as she dropped one of her cups of tea at Shino’s station and headed to her own. Naruto followed closely, almost bumping into her when he couldn’t take his eyes from the drawings and photographs pinned on her wall.

“These are amazing!” he murmured, closely studying a phrase rendered in her graceful calligraphy. He absentmindedly placed his armful of flowers in a chair by the corner, relinquishing them carefully despite his inattention.

Hinata smiled, charmed by his praise, and busied herself with setting her bag and her tea down. She drew her jacket out and hung it up properly, knowing she’d want it at the end of the day when it would be dark and cold out.

“Hey Hinata,” Naruto swung around to face her abruptly, his eyes glowing in excitement. “Could you give me a tattoo?”

“Here? Now?” She could only blink at him, caught unaware by him yet again. Instead of answering, he stepped closer towards her, his eyes tracing over her collarbones exposed by the wide scoop of her shirt.

“I recognize some of this,” Naruto murmured distractedly. His hand lifted slowly, as if to brush against her skin. Hinata froze, her heart thundering against her ribcage despite how still she was. She tried not to be too obvious in her relief as he seemed to catch himself, bringing his hand to rub the back of his neck instead. His initial intent had seemed too familiar, too intimate for how little she knew him. “These are constellations, right? Iruka and I used to stargaze a lot when I was younger.” He tilted his head this way and that before guessing, “Are those the stars for the Little and Big Dipper there?”

Hinata nodded, trying to dispel the rise in colour tinting her cheeks once more. “That’s only part of it. These ones,” she traced a path of stars across her skin, “make up Ursa Major, and these, Ursa Minor. Shino and Kiba did these for me, when I came to join Studio Eight.”

“They work here, right?” Naruto guessed again and his eyes followed the spiderweb of stars laced across her collarbones. “Saw their names on the front door.”

“Mmhm,” Hinata confirmed with a hum. She turned his words over in her mind before she caught the name that had interested her. “You and Iruka used to stargaze?”

“Iruka’s my adoptive dad. We moved around a lot when I was younger and Iruka would make it up to me by taking me camping. We’d spend all night guessing- ok, I guessed at the constellations, he would tell me if I got them right or not, and we’d make up all sorts of stories for them. We don’t go as much anymore. We try not to move much these days... just trying to find someplace to settle for good I guess.” Naruto shrugged, the gesture practiced and nonchalant. “Honestly, I don’t really know how long we’ll be here for, but we’re trying to make it work this time around.” 

“Is that why you want a tattoo?” Hinata asked curiously, carefully keeping her voice from encroaching on prying.

“I guess.” Naruto laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head once more. “Being on the move so much taught me to act on my instincts. And my instincts are telling me that I would like a tattoo. From you.”

Hinata hesitated. She understood, better than he knew, the compulsion born from a home that wasn’t there that would push him to be constantly restless, constantly seeking. Kurenai and Shino usually didn’t come in for at least another hour and Kiba was hours off, which meant she was alone in this opportunity that had come calling. 

Fear made her fingers curl into her palms, but as she looked up to meet his gaze, the clarity, depth, and trust in his expressive, blue eyes reminded her vividly of her first tattoo: her lion. Her courage.

She took a deep breath, gathered her wits, and then smiled at him bravely. “Alright then. What would you like to get?”

A mischievous grin promptly lit Naruto’s face up and Hinata had to laugh, relaxing in his excitement.

As she washed her hands and prepared her materials, gathering disinfect and a packaged set of needles and tubes to set beside her tattoo gun, Naruto let a steady stream of ideas flow between them, often interrupting himself in the process. Hinata smiled and shook her head over some of his more outlandish ideas and hummed in thought at his more feasible options.

“Do you have a marker or something I can use?” Naruto asked, rubbing his cheek in thought. Hinata drew out a water-based pen and passed it over. “Thanks! You’re the best.”

It was hard to not become caught up in just simply watching him as he paced the room and gestured with his hands. The more he moved, the more aware Hinata became of him and how he smelled like fresh earth and warm sunshine when he moved close to her; how he seemed to make the space brighter as his enthusiasm practically radiated from him; how his smile seemed to set her heart at ease and cause it to beat rapidfire in an explosive tempo at once.

Hinata was surprised at how effortlessly she had stepped out of her comfort zone- and yet, not at all at the same time. Even though she had only known Naruto for a very brief time, she could say with certainty that he was easy to trust.

“Ok! Got it!” Naruto exclaimed and Hinata drew her thoughts back into the present. His back was towards her as he hunched over a hand mirror on the counter, and before she could appreciate how his shirt rode up to reveal a smooth and muscular back, he whirled back around with the cheekiest grin yet on his face, framed by three thin lines drawn on each cheek.

“Whiskers?” Hinata asked, a little incredulously, a lot amused. “Are you positive? That will likely hurt quite a bit, since it goes over your cheekbones, and I’m not sure how I could wrap that up after. Maybe some sort of bandage instead?”

“Hey,” Naruto settled her fretting by resting a reassuring hand on top of hers, stilling her wringing fingers. Old habits died hard. “I trust you.”

Hinata blinked at him, astonished, and she couldn’t deny the way her heart surged up to her throat, making it hard for her to speak. He smiled gently at her, encouraging and supportive, and she didn’t know how to tell him that the faith and confidence she saw in his eyes meant more than she could say.

“Ok,” Hinata breathed. “Ok.”

And it was, surprisingly so; or perhaps unsurprisingly. She was finding contradiction to be a familiar friend the more time she spent with Naruto, but there was no frustration in realizing that was so. There was only a curious, if not puzzling kind of discovery.

Naruto settled into the tattoo chair comfortably right away, as if this was routine for him. Hinata flitted around her station, drawing a fresh pair of latex gloves out and snapping her hands in them to begin.

“Black ink ok?” She asked belatedly as she was cleaning and disinfecting his cheeks. His eyes opened and focused on her, a sight she resolutely refused to be distracted by.

“Sounds good,” Naruto agreed. He watched her lean over him as she redrew his whiskers, her wrist flicking out delicately as she marked each thin line. He gave a noise of approval when she held up the hand mirror and closed his eyes as she readied her tattoo gun.

Tattooing someone else was always an intimate experience, no matter where on the body it was done. Hinata had watched once as Shino tattooed a honeycomb pattern on someone’s lower back, far down enough that pants had to be removed. But aside from the physical act of baring skin and painstakingly transferring an image or words onto another person in the most permanent of ways, tattooing was an intimate experience more for the reasons and stories people had and shared.

Some people wanted a reminder, a memento of a treasured memory; others, a symbol for something that was important and powerful to them. Some wore their tattoos like armour, and some wore theirs like a secret, dark and visible for those who could find it. They’d tense and bear looks of intense concentration as they received their tattoo, fighting the urge to move and wriggle under the beat of the needle.

And then there were some who breezed in on a whim and chose a tattoo on impulse, as a joke; but who stayed completely still even as she carefully and painstakingly traced the needle directly over the bone in a perfect curve. Who would open his eyes when she was done and smile broadly at her, pleased and delighted even before he saw her work etched on his skin, and whose whiskers already sat right at home on his face, like rays bracketing his smile.

In the end, they were not all that different. They were all stories waiting to be told.

“Whoa,” Naruto breathed in wonder as she held up her hand mirror to him. His fingers came up to trace the thin, dark lines on his cheeks, his expression captivated. Hinata reacted instinctively and wrapped her own hand around his, halting his movement.

“Careful,” she instructed when he turned to look at her. “Look, don’t touch.”

“Only you’re allowed that, right?” Naruto joked, then coloured immediately. Hinata didn’t even need the mirror to know her own blush had flared up, hot and fierce up her neck and cheeks again. He awkwardly cleared his throat and backpedaled. “This looks amazing, Hinata. You were so steady the entire time. You must have magical hands!”

Hinata laughed shyly, just a shade short of embarrassed. “I’m not sure about magical hands, but I’m glad you’re pleased with how it came out.”

Reminded, she took her hand away from his when she saw he wasn’t going to touch his new tattoos, though the heat of his hand lingered at the pads of her fingers.

“It’s like they’ve always been there,” Naruto remarked, turning his head from side to side and examining her work in the mirror again. “You need to take a picture before bandaging this up right?”

“If that’s alright?”

“Yeah! I want a copy too, if that’s ok!” he declared excitedly, setting the mirror down and looking at her with wide, imploring eyes. Hinata giggled at his dramatics as she ducked out of the room briefly to retrieve the camera from Kurenai’s station. When she came back, Naruto was pulling the silliest faces he could manage, trying to see how he could get his whiskers to stretch and warp with his expressions.

Hinata laughed and snapped a few candids of him before he could protest, though the sound of the shutter only seemed to encourage him. She was surprised the fresh trails of ink didn’t hurt or bother him more; but she often encountered clients with remarkable pain tolerance and left it at that.

After a few more silly shots where they were both laughing so hard, Hinata could hardly hold the camera straight anymore, and she was sure at least the last two shots were just blurs with her fingers caught in the corners of the screen. Naruto sneakily stole the camera from her hands and only beckoned with a grin as she made to grab it back. 

“Selfie!” he announced and his fingers curled gently but insistently around her wrist, tugging her close to his side. “Smile!”

Hinata was caught still in the middle of a laugh as she couldn’t calm herself down soon enough for a more composed photo, but she almost felt Naruto’s cheeks brush against hers as his smile stretched widely across his face. She felt like an unravelled mess, with disheveled hair and a flush that crawled down her neck and across her chest. She was sure the indigo stars etched on her body sat comfortably against the sunset of her skin; but the smile on her face was huge and unrestrained in a manner that made her cheeks ache in the best way. Her heart was so light she felt like she could fly.

Naruto immediately flipped the camera over to review the selfie. Hinata hesitated but stayed tucked against his side, peering over to catch the sight of the two of them, caught mid-laugh and luminescent with happiness. The constellation of the lion poked out from where her shirt had shifted, the thread-slender neck pointing up towards their smiles and the thin sunrays arrayed on Naruto’s cheeks. 

“I love this,” Naruto admitted quietly, his voice soft and direct. Hinata felt him turn his head slightly to look at her, but she was too stunned by the photo displayed from camera to look back. She kept half-expecting the image to start moving, so alive in energy it was. “Could you send this to me?” 

“Or course,” Hinata agreed immediately, thinking to herself that she wanted a printout as well. Her attention shifted as a finger poked at her side, and her eyes lit upon a small card that Naruto held out towards her.

“I don’t have a phone yet but those are all the ways you can reach me,” he chuckled, the sound colouring in embarrassment as she saw the dolphin and spiral logo at the bottom. “I drew those things when I was really small and Iruka never let me forget it, so in case you were wondering why it’s so wonky…”

She had been staring at the image, but not in derisive amusement. The spiral looked familiar, from the number of loops to how it started and ended. The vague memory flirted with her but she tucked it away to remember later.

“It’s very sweet,” Hinata assured him quickly, slipping the card in her skirt pocket. She moved from Naruto’s side to collect her roll of saran wrap and a long roll of tape, settling in front of him once more to bandage his new tattoos up.

They exchanged lighthearted small talk, Hinata almost missing his whiskers entirely at one point as she laughed at a joke of his. She finished quickly and stowed her materials to the side to clean up later, and Naruto gathered the flowers from the side chair before following her to the front to pay.

“Hinata,” Naruto caught her attention as he made to leave. Hinata looked up from front desk, struck by a sense of déjà vu as he stood in front of the door, flowers blurring into swathes of colours in his arms again. “Thank you. For the tattoo, and, well, for inviting me in. I really needed that.”

The flowers in his muscled arms shifted until they separated into two bouquets. He offered one to her, his smile shy but earnest.

Her hands lifted to accept the fragrant, colourful blooms, though her mind was completely disconnected. She wanted to say something to him, that she knew where he was from from, and that he was welcome back, always.

She couldn’t get her voice to work, though she wondered if he could hear her heart instead, drumming so loudly in her chest she could hear its roar echoing in her ears.

Naruto seemed to understand though, and his expression was kind and perceptive, with a faint glimmer of hope sitting dark in his blue eyes. His hand reached out to tuck the tulip in her hair more securely behind her ear before he gave her a carefree smile.

“See you around, Hinata.”

And then he was gone and out the door into the morning sunshine that sparked the gold of his hair to glow. The last sight Hinata saw was of him raising a hand to greet someone coming down the street before turning and walking out of view, the vibrant faces of the flowers in his arms swaying in beat to the tune of his steps. 

The door opened and the sound jolted Hinata into reality, only to be greeted by Kiba’s enormous grin.

“K-Kiba? Where’s Shino and Kurenai?” Her confusion only increased when she saw it was still much too early for when Kiba usually came in.

“Shino’s sick, Kurenai’s running late but she knew you would want someone in here on time when people started coming in. They both sent texts, but I guess you were… preoccupied,” Kiba chuckled, setting down his cup of coffee on the front desk with a loud clack.

His eyes zeroed in on the flowers sitting innocently in her arms and Hinata wished for a moment she could meld into the bright blooms. She was sure her face was colourful enough to blend in flawlessly.

Kiba leaned forward over the desk, his eyes aglow with interest and mischief. “Spill.”

“You will if you’re not careful,” Hinata effortlessly deflected as she saved his mug of coffee from toppling over the table edge. Kiba grabbed it back from her, depriving her from distraction, his expression expectant.

“No one gives a girl a bouquet of flowers and looks at you the way that guy did without there being something else to the story,” he rolled his eyes, not deterred at all.  

“I only met him a few hours ago, Kiba,” Hinata informed him. She rubbed the lion encircling her shoulder absent-mindedly, taking comfort in the indigo stars seeped into her skin. “If there was more, I haven’t read that far yet then.”

“Maybe you gotta write it,” Kiba suggested, taking a gulp of coffee and nearly blowing steam out as he realized it was much too hot. “Put those fancy calligraphy skills of yours to use.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” she laughed, though she was warmed by Kiba’s support, however silly it was.

“Maybe it doesn’t,” and he shrugged this time, sitting back in his chair and regarding her with those pinprick bright eyes she remembered seeing when she first walked in years ago. “All I’m saying is, you should keep reading. Maybe write some of it yourself. Man, Shino’s better at these kinds of metaphors than I am; but, you get me?” He reached over and tapped a finger against the velvet-soft petals of the white and red tulip sitting behind her ear. “Your eyes are sharp. You should trust what you see.” 

Her fingers wove between the fragile stems of the flowers Naruto had given her until her hands were dipped into blooms of colour. However bright the bouquet of peonies and daffodils and tulips he had given her though, they paled in comparison to the open and endless summer sky blue of his eyes haloed by bright gold hair.   

Even his whiskers were like rays of a sun, and the lingering scent of earth and sunshine reminded her of endless summer days. Hinata thought it both strange and beautiful how they came to find each other, shining in the dark; but she had long since made the dark her home, catching pinpricks of light and pressing them onto her skin to keep.

She wondered if she’d see him again. Naruto had been so casual and dismissive of the constant change and shift of movement in his life, but Hinata recognized the wistfulness that sat dark and heavy in his eyes. she wondered if that was how she looked, the first time she had walked into Studio Eight.

Hinata had found a home, made a life for herself here. Sank roots in a place that made her happy, made her bloom and unfurl like a bud that had found the sun.

The tulip rested against the inkiness of her hair, and she felt his card rest heavy in her skirt pocket.

She’d like to help Naruto find what he was looking for. They were not so different, her and him, and she couldn’t deny how magnetic he’d been to her, pulling her into his orbit effortlessly. And maybe, she thought as the flowers he gave to her bloomed in mind, he was caught similarly by her.

Maybe she needn’t worry. Hinata had a feeling they would cross paths again, drawn by an undercurrent that felt familiar, like they had met before, long ago. She would find him again, this time around.