It’s not that Barry tried to anger Tony and his gang of goons, but it was hard not to correct people when they were saying something completely wrong. Just like he couldn’t not stick up for his dad. He couldn’t stop himself from telling guys to leave Iris alone, or to pick on someone their own size, which he wasn’t. But that’s how he tended to get himself into situations like this, where he was running as fast as he could down the street away from Tony Woodward.
He rounded another corner, gaining distance and hearing the pounding footsteps behind him falling behind. A door opened ahead, and Barry slipped through it as someone exited. If he was lucky, Tony would give up when he rounded the corner and didn’t see Barry. As the door closed, Barry leaned back against it, closed his eyes, and allowed himself a relieved sigh. He escaped. Probably.
“Your mom know you’re here?”
The voice startled Barry enough that he banged his head on the door when he jumped. Rubbing the back of his head, he turned. A man was standing behind a counter. He was older than Barry, but he was one of the most attractive men Barry had ever seen in person. Before he could get caught staring, Barry looked around at the rest of the room. Where did he end up anyway?
The place was clean, well lit, and there was artwork hanging on every wall. No, not artwork, sample tattoo drawings. He’d managed to stumble into a tattoo parlor.
“If you’re not old enough for ink, get out.”
“I’m eighteen,” Barry said because he really should have said something by now. The man only raised an eyebrow. Because he didn't believe him or because he was waiting for Barry to say more, Barry didn’t know, so he added, “But I don’t want a tattoo.”
“Then get out,” said a new voice. Another man came out of a backroom. He was bigger than the other man, with muscles wider than Barry’s head. There were scars on his arms, but tattoos weaved around them, turning them into works of art. He was handsome too, in a different, more rugged way than the first man. Clearly this shop knew what it was doing: put the alluring bad boys out front to talk customers into getting more tattoos.
“Uh,” Barry said very eloquently before catching a glimpse of Tony on the street outside the shop. He ducked out of view of the window, closing his eyes for a moment as though that might help him hide. When he opened them again, it was to see Tony running past the shop. Barry let out a relieved sigh. He was safe.
“How about this one?” the first man said, drawing Barry’s attention back to him.
“What?” he asked, walking closer to see what the man was pointing at.
“Reminds me of you.”
As Barry leaned in to see the drawing in the book on the counter, he heard the door open behind him, but a quick glance showed it was just the second man leaving, not Tony walking in. He was still safe.
The drawing was of bunny with big floppy ears and shining innocent eyes. It seemed out of place next to the man with his cool smirk and dangerous, blue eyes.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Barry said, giving the man an incredulous look only to receive a smirk in return. Then another drawing caught his eye. “This is more me,” he said, pointing to a realistic drawing of lighting sketched across the page.
“That the one you want?”
“Uh no,” Barry said, backtracking, taking a literal step back, remembering that he was just here to hide, not talk, not get a tattoo. “I’m not getting a tattoo.”
“We could do a temporary one. See if you like it,” The man said as he opened a door in the counter, removing the barrier between them.
This had Barry hesitating. Joe couldn't get mad over something temporary, and it might look cool. “You can do that?”
“Come on, kid,” the man said as he guided Barry into a back room with a hand on his shoulder. It all happened too fast, and before Barry knew it he was sitting in a chair in a room full of different colored inks and the man was introducing himself as Len.
“I’m Barry,” he said, wondering how trying to find a place to hide from Tony had turned into this.
“Nice to meet you,” Len said. “Where are you thinking?” he asked while holding up a copy of the lightning drawing.
Before Barry could answer, not that he knew what he was going to say, the other man walked into the backroom, and only looked at them for a moment before demanding Barry, “Strip.”
“Excuse me?” Barry squeaked. There was no other word for it. Every time his voice cracked seemed more embarrassing than the last, but Barry didn’t think any moment would ever top this. If there were ever a time that he did not need a reminder that his voice was still changing, it was now, in front of two of the coolest, most badass guys Barry had ever seen.
They didn't comment, even if they did look like they were trying not to laugh.
“Just your shirt, kid,” Len said, making Barry feel even more ridiculous.
“Unless you want to take off more,” the bigger man said.
“Mick.” Len’s voice was short and commanding, and it sent a shiver up Barry’s spine. At this point, Barry wasn’t sure if he could blush more. He tried to willthe color from his cheeks, but that never worked.
“We need to see the canvas, boss,” Mick said.
“Uh,” Barry decided to speak up because he didn't like the look in Len’s eyes that said he was consideringMick’s idea. “Where do you think it would look good?” He wasn't sure whohe was addressing really, so he looked back and forth between them.
Mick moved closer to Barry, seeming even taller and more intimidating now that Barry was reclined in a chair. He took over Barry’s field of vision, leaning over him, studying him, making Barry feel as if he really were naked even though he hadn’t so much as removed his shirt.
When he finally touched Barry—on his shoulder—his touch felt burning hot. “Here,” he said while igniting a fire across Barry’s skin as he dragged his finger from Barry’s shoulder, across his chest, and ending down by his navel.
Len leaned over him now from his other side. “The lightning can branch off like this,” he said as his finger traced smaller lines branching off of the one Mick drew.
“That big?” Barry asked. A bigger fake tattoo would be more difficult to hide, but the placement on his chest might guarantee that Joe never saw it.
“Yup,” Mick said, as if Barry didn't have a say in the matter. Maybe he didn't. “Now strip.”
This time, he followed Mick’s demand without complaint. His blush had grown from his face to his chest, turning their ‘canvas’ as Mick called it a light pink.
“So why lightning?” Len asked as he started to apply paper to Barry’s chest. He hadn’t seen him get the paper, but assumed it was in one of the cabinets along the wall. Did they have temporary tattoos of all of the models outside? Were they in different sizes, or had they encouraged Barry to get a large tattoo because that was the only size that they had?
Dragging his thought back to Len’s question, Barry considered his answer. Lightning had saved him once, but he couldn't say that. He couldn't explain that yellow lightning had once driven away red lightning, and had whisked him off to somewhere safe when he had been in danger. Len and Mick would think he was crazy, just like everyone else.
“Lightning is…” How could he word this? “It’s powerful and mesmerizing, but it's also really simple. It’s a simple reaction of two opposite charges that makes something breathtaking, something that seems otherworldly. It’s proof that anything can be explained once we know enough about it.” Just like he would prove that his dad was innocent once he’d learned enough.
Len looked into his eyes for a long minute after that. Barry wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he thought Len might have found it since he nodded before going back to work. “Good answer,” he said.
“Uh thanks,” Barry said, trying not to get distracted by Mick sitting on the edge of his chair, his side pressed against Barry’s leg.
“You sure you don't want a real tattoo?” Len asked, drawing Barry’s attention back to him.
“No,” Barry said with a nervous laugh that grew too high pitched as Len’s hands moved down his chest, wetting that tattoo paper just above his belly button.
Len smirked. “Let us know if you change your mind,” he said as he started peeling the paper off, revealing the picture beneath.
A large bolt of lightning stretched across Barry’s chest, smaller branches of light arching off the bolt to his sides. It looked…really cool actually.
“It’s amazing,” Barry breathed as he stared down at his chest.
“Looks good,” Len said, causing Barry to look up. The look in Len’s eyes made Barry feel as though he was checking out more than just the fake tattoo. Barry’s blush returned in full force.
Mick grunted in agreement before saying, “It’s a big one. It’d take a few sittings to finish.”
“What?” Barry asked before realizing Mick was suggesting he make the tattoo permanent again. “Oh no. This is enough for now.” He reached for his wallet, remembering with his words that they probably charged even for the fake tattoos. “How much do I owe you?”
“On the house,” Len said, shaking his head. “We’ll talk price if you decide you want some real ink.”
“Uh thanks,” Barry said, squeezing his way out from between them to stand. “I uh, I have to go.” He tugged his shirt back on, ignoring the disappointment he felt from covering the fake tattoo. He had to get out of there because between the sight of the lightning on his chest and the feeling of the two men surrounding him on the chair, Barry was more tempted to come back and get a tattoo than he’d even been, even if it would take multiple sessions. Especially if it would take multiple sessions.
“Thanks,” he called again as he rushed out of the backroom, not looking back for their reactions even as he rushed out of the shop itself.
With all of the excitement, he forgot why he’d come in in the first place, at least until he ran into Tony around the block. Before Barry could turn and run the other way, Tony took a step back from him. It was enough of a shock that Barry’s feet stayed rooted to the ground.
“I didn’t touch you, Allen,” Tony practically screamed, sounding desperate and looking terrified. “Make sure the big guy knows that.” What? What was Tony talking about? “Tell your scarred friend I didn’t touch you,” Tony said before turning and running away.
His scarred friend?
Barry turned and stared behind him, where the tattoo shop lay. The shop where he’d just possibly made a couple of friends, one of which had disappeared for a while after Barry entered.
Barry smiled to himself as he took his time walking home. Maybe one day he would go back. Maybe he’d go back a few times. It would take a few sittings to finish such a large tattoo after all.