The coffee shop is quiet, and currently the perfect place for Hinata to start out her concept sketches.
It’s the perfect time between the rushes of after-work coffee and the late night pick-me-up for college students, and she has little to nothing to distract her. Kiba and Shino, her best friends, roommates, and also her co-workers at the quaint little shop, are currently working the bar and she has her favorite corner booth all to herself to work. Her art supplies are scattered across the table, a mess she’ll clean up herself — after all, they probably don’t know the best and most sanitary way to get charcoal off a wood surface.
The initial sketches for her storyboarding class are due tomorrow, and she’s been putting them all off, mostly because she has absolutely no idea what story to make.
In fact, she still doesn’t.
She sighs, and scribbles over the first panel of another sketch once more in frustration. All of her attempts have started and ended in the same manner — with only one badly composed panel, and angry scribbles all over it.
She looks up as Kiba sets another cup of green tea in front of her and slings himself onto the bench beside her. He eyes her unfinished sketches with a slight frown and a raised eyebrow.
“No luck?” he asks, sipping his own cup of coffee.
“I’m going to fail art school, Kiba,” she says with exasperation, resisting the urge to tear each half-finished attempt into small, tiny pieces. “I’m going to fail art school, and I’m going to end up working here until I die. Probably from high blood pressure.”
He wraps an arm around her shoulder and sighs. “You’re not gonna fail art school, ‘Nata.”
“Yes, I am."
“Look,” he says, taking a couple of her papers and flipping through them with mild interest, “what were they about?”
“That’s the thing, Kiba,” she says, slumping into her arms, which are crossed on the table in front of her. “I have no clue what they were supposed to be about. I thought maybe if I drew something it would come to me, like it usually does, but it didn’t.”
“Okay, well, why don’t you bounce ideas off on me?”
“I have no ideas.”
“Okay, I’ll go then,” he says, giving her a grin. “What about, ok, think of this, a man and his best friend — a dog!”
“Kiba, if I wanted to write your life story, I would’ve asked you.”
He harrumphs at her and gets up to leave, snatching his cup of coffee with him. “Alright, Miss Grouchy, I’ll go take my brilliant ideas somewhere else. Maybe I’ll go take them to Ino, at least she cares what I have to say!”
Hinata smiles at him and calls out a “Thank you!” for the tea as he walks away, even though she knows he probably can’t really hear her. She also doesn’t remind him that Ino is a fashion design major, and that she probably doesn’t take story boarding classes, mostly because she figures he already knows. And really, there’s no need to bruise his pride any further.
She loads up her favorite 8tracks mixes on her phone in an attempt to find some kind of zen; searches up prompt generators for some kind of an idea to latch onto; even just begins doodling random characters in an attempt to make a story for them.
It hits six-thirty, the time with customers with late-night cravings start to pile in, and she realizes she’s been here for a full two and a half hours already, with nothing to show for it. She slumps into the booth and takes a sip of her tea. It’s lost it’s heat, and she sips with a frown at the taste of the staleness, now that it’s in that awkward stage of not cool, yet not warm either. She continues drinking anyway, as she scans the people that begin to walk in, not yet wanting to pack up for the night.
Then, she sees him.
He’s bright and — well, positively gorgeous, but that’s not the point — covered in intricate tattoos, that even from her distance to the counter, she can see wind up his arms and most likely under his shirt.
Hinata is a shy person — it’s a fact. She doesn’t speak up in class, she blushes on the rare occasions when a professor chooses her work to display, and curls into herself when a professor chooses her work to critique. She tries her best not to draw attention to herself — though as an art student, that is sometimes difficult for her to accomplish. The only reason she is so open and carefree with Kiba and Shino are because she has known them since they were all kids, and they’re practically her brothers.
So she does not know what it is that possesses her to go up to this blond stranger after he has ordered and talk to him. She feels regret the moment that words leave her lips and watches as he looks her up and down in shock.
“Hi, um, okay, I know this sounds really weird, but um...” She takes a moment to purse her lips and tuck a strand of hair that had fallen out of her usual worktime updo behind her ear. “I’m an art student, and I— ah, I really like your tattoos, and um, I was wondering if I could look at them?
Her heart beats loudly and almost painfully in her chest just from the anxiety of that split second before he breaks out and into a grin. “Of course you can!”
Hinata’s taut muscles relax and she lets out a small smile, turning over her shoulder to tell Kiba to give him his order at her table. She is too wrapped up in the moment to notice the look he shoots her from behind the counter, or the look he shares with Shino afterward.
“My name’s Naruto,” he offers, holding out his hand for her to shake as she directs him to the booth she is currently occupying.
“O-Oh!” she mumbles with a start, not used to interacting with complete strangers that she initiated contact with. “My name is Hinata. It’s nice to meet you.”
She shakes his hand, and she doesn’t fail to notice that it’s warm and comforting in a way that shouldn’t be, for someone she barely knows. Their hands probably linger a little too long, before she jerks hers away and looks around awkwardly.
“I’m sorry for the mess,” she apologizes in a low voice, quickly swiping up the loose papers and pencils strewn about the booth, almost knocking over her tea in the process.
“The workspace of an art student, I get it. You’re cool.” Naruto laughs as he sits on the bench across from her. He picks up some of her failed sketches, tilting his head before glancing back up at her. “So are you interested in tattoo design, or...?”
“Ah, no,” she mumbles, embarrassed, wishing he wasn’t looking at her horrible sketches but too polite to snatch them right out of his hands. “I’m in 2D design — animation, comic kind of things.”
He nods before slowly setting down the pieces of paper. “So, why are you so interested in my tatts, then?”
Hinata is at a loss for a words for a moment, opening her mouth but closing it again before anything can come out. She smiles and lets out an awkward laugh. “Um, I’m not really sure, to be honest? Um, you see, I’m stuck on this storyboarding project. I—I can’t get a story going for the life of me.” She’s babbling now, she’s sure of it. And it wasn’t going to stop until she had thoroughly embarrassed herself. “But when you walked in, I saw your tattoos, and... I don’t know, they just look so intricate to me, like a — like there’s a story unfolding in all of them.”
His blue eyes twinkle at her in a dangerously infectious way, as if he grins with his entire face. He leans forward on his elbows, pulling up the sleeve of his T-shirt. “You’re right, actually. Do you wanna look?”
She glances up at him shyly for a moment, before running her fingers along the smooth lines of ink that cover his arm. She traces the bright splashes of orange and red and blue and green, all staining his skin in an intricate and beautiful patchwork of symbols. Some of them are familiar to her — she has studied object and placement symbolism well, and so she is able to piece together a good part of this story.
“This is amazing,” she murmurs absentmindedly, not realizing quite how long she has been touching him.
(Not that he minds. She’s warm and pretty cute and he loves the way her eyes light up as she traces along his skin.)
“I designed them,” he explains, an almost embarrassed smile stretching across his face. “My best friend — he’s also a tattoo artist — did them for me, though.”
“You’re a tattoo artist?” she asks.
“Oh, yeah! Forgot to mention that, I guess. Sometimes I feel like everyone should know, since I’m totally covered in tatts, y’know, but I guess it isn’t that obvious to everyone else. Heh, sorry about that.”
She nods and smiles at him, waving off his apology, and she feels genuinely comfortable in his company, a luxury that her social anxiety doesn’t usually allow her in a complete stranger. Well, she supposes that she was getting to know him better with each passing minute. That was something, right?
Hinata does, however, jumps and glue her arms back to her knees when Kiba comes by with Naruto’s drink. She didn’t even notice him approaching, something she should have seen because of their location in relation to the counter, and she blushes under the playful smirk that he gives her. He doesn’t say a word, however, except the courteous “Enjoy your drink” that they give to all the customers.
From the smell of it, he had ordered a pumpkin latte, and from the look of it, he had probably gotten an extra shot of expresso or two to go with it. He sets the drink aside to let it cool for a minute or so, which is a smart move considering the usual temperature of their hot drinks, and allows her to continue to piece together his tattoos. She begins tracing the lines along his other arm, before frowning as she scans quickly down from his bicep to his palm.
“There’s a piece of the story missing,” she tells him, blinking up at him with curious eyes, letting her fingers linger across his skin before withdrawing completely.
“Yeah, that’s right. I continued it in kind of a dumb way, alright. So it goes from my shoulder to wrist,” he says, pointing as he spoke, “then across the chest, and then back up again from wrist to shoulder. And, well, there’s more on my back, and that’s just kind of a weird winding thing. But it’s not quite done yet — the story isn’t over.”
“So what happens, between here,” she asks, turning each wrist over as she speaks, “and here?”
“I’ll tell you what,” he says, plucking a stray piece of paper off of the booth table and pulling out a pen from his pocket. He clicks it with a sharp press and scribbles something on it before pushing it towards her. “I have to go, my friend is waiting for me, and man, he’s an asshole when I take too long, but text me or call me and we can meet up somewhere where I can show you the rest of the story, yeah?”
“Uh — Um, yeah, that sounds, um, that sounds perfect.”
Hinata doesn’t know why her stomach feels with butterflies or why her heart suddenly beats a little faster in her chest, but she nods quickly and folds the paper to tuck it into her pocket. He stands up and flashes her the most electrifying grin she’s ever seen in her life, before picking up his drink and nodding to her.
“It was nice to meet you, Hinata.”
She has to take a moment not only to calm herself, but to devote a minute to watching him leave, bounding into the passenger seat of some slick black, and most likely expensive sedan. He catches her eye as he’s getting in and waves at her before he shuts the door, and the car drives off.
What just happened? she asks herself, staring at her own hands, which were just touching all over his arms and his hands and — oh god, she totally embarrassed herself. That number was probably like the rejection hotline or something, she was so stupid, oh my god.
“So who was that?” Kiba asks, and she jumps because she hadn’t heard him walking up to her again. She lays a hand on her chest as she breathes heavily for a moment, giving him a look. He only grins in response. “No, really, who was that? You were awfully touchy-feely with him.”
He wiggles his fingers in her face to accentuate his words, and she bats his hands away.
“He was guy with some beautiful tattoos,” is the only thing she can say.
“Are you kidding me, ‘Nata? You’re not even gonna try to go get some ass?” Kiba sighs, exasperated with her and her apparent cluelessness. “He was totally into yo—”
She shushes him, lighting smacking him on the stomach a few times. “I have my storyboard idea. Go away, I have to draw this out.”
He scoffs at her, sticking out his tongue, because he was four years old and she’s his no-fun sister, but leaves her to her own devices anyhow.
Hinata was often a victim of the creative process, because even though it was fifteen minutes until seven o’ clock at night, and she still had other homework and a class at eight a.m. tomorrow, she was going to draw this out until this wave of creativity passed. She doesn’t remember when her fingers became stained with graphite and when her jeans sported charcoal dust streaks, but as Kiba and Shino start cleaning up tables for the end of their shift at ten, she’s finally satisfied with her work.
It is ten pages of art that she had tried very hard to perfect, of things she hadn’t quite understood from what she had seen so she could only guess, only interpret, and of moments that she had seen so clearly. It was rough, but it was only a sketch and that’s all she had to turn in, anyhow. She would have time to clean it up later.
Speaking of cleaning up, she realizes, packing up her supplies with a start. She files everything into it’s appropriate place into her art bag, which had so many special pockets and dividers for all of her little artsy needs. She grabs a cloth from behind the counter — they don’t like for them to be called rags, because that somehow has the connotation of dirt that comes with it — and sprays a bit of their wood-safe hard cleaner onto the tabletop.
“You don’t have to do that,” Shino says as he wipes down the booth adjacent to hers. “It is our job.”
She smiles at him. “Oh, I don’t want you guys to clean up my mess when I can just do it myself.”
They clean in comfortable silence, and all the while she continues to think of her story. She wonders what she got wrong — what she’ll have to change as she continues on in her drafts. The piece of paper with his number written on it burns in her pocket, and the urge to text him immediately is so overwhelming that cleaning is the only way she can distract herself. She eventually helps the boys clean off the rest of the tables aside from just her own, and piles into Kiba’s Jeep with them after they clock out.
“So what’s the idea that you finally got for your storyboard?”
She smiles, and pulls out her phone in the dim cab of the car to punch in a new number. Her eyes have to squint to read the paper, but it’s alright, she thinks. She saves the contact as “tattoo artist naruto” and resists her utterly girly urge to put some stupid emoji next to it.
“It’s about a boy and a dream.”