The idea had been playing on his mind like a broken record since the weekend before he turned eighteen. It was almost as if it was already on his skin, the way he obsessed about it. After all, it is a permanent reminder of his favourite things. He’s just turned twenty-three, and only now has he had the bravery to get it done.
And now, as he stands in the reception to the unfamiliar tattoo shop, it feels slightly intimidating that what was once a distant idea is about to be imprinted on his skin for the rest of his life.
With that clear in his mind, he really cannot wait to get it done.
As he stands there, he takes a second to look around. There are drawings hung up on the walls that Dan presumes the artists in the shop have done. Whilst most of them feature flowers, skulls, or images of Christ, Dan’s idea isn’t anything like that. His idea combines his two favourite things.
“Hey! You’re Dan, right?” One of the artists says as he comes out of the door behind the reception desk, which Dan guesses leads to the studio. Or maybe there is more than just one? He doesn’t know.
Every inch of the man’s skin from the neck down is covered in tattoos, and his face has multiple piercings, but the ones that stand out the most are the ones through his eyebrow, his lip, and the one through his nose, which Dan knows is a septum piercing. Dan thinks of getting them- he has done in the past, but he could never. They look far too painful for him to be able to get one.
“At least, that’s the guy who is supposed to be stood where you are.”
Dan smiles and nods, pulling his hand out of his pocket to shake the hand of the man stood in front of him. “Yeah, I’m Dan. I think I talked to you over the phone?” And talking to the man over the phone was, quite frankly, the worst experience of his life. He usually gets really awful anxiety talking to strangers usually anyway, but over the phone? that’s a whole different dragon he does not feel like fighting, thank you very much.
“Yeah, I remember. Anyway, long story short, the dude meant to be doing your tattoo isn’t actually in store today. His little one had decided to come several weeks early and wake his parents up in the middle of the night with a very large announcement that he’ll soon be arriving. It’s up to you if you want to wait and get it done when he’s back in the shop, but that could be quite some time yet, or you could go with our other artist- but he’s had several complains of tattooing cats on you rather than what you actually want. Don’t tell him I’ve said that.”
A look of surprise takes over the young man’s face, his eyebrows furrowing and his eyes widening. If he thinks about getting the tattoo some other time, he’ll never come back.
But fuck, he’s not having a cat tattooed on him. No way.
“Oh- I don’t know, man… I really, really don’t want a cat. Is ther-”
The man currently manning the reception smiles, laughter lines crinkling around his wise, grey eyes. “I’m kidding, man. He will do what you want, no issue.”
All Dan can do is force a laugh, but his heart is hammering in his chest at the thought that he might walk out of here with a kitten on his arm instead of what he has his heart set on.
“Then-then yeah, yeah I guess…” He mutters with a rather shaky voice. Thankfully, the man doesn’t pick up on it.
“Right, hold on then.”
The man pokes his head through the door, and, with a booming voice, “KYLE!”
And all Dan can do is hover there awkwardly, his hands shoved back in his pockets as he toys with his phone and his wallet. His foot bounces up and down on the ground, trying to hide his sudden nerves that are making him feel sick.
The receptionist puts down his pen, looks at Dan, and dramatically shakes his head like a disappointed father. “You know, Dan, I just don’t know why I expect people to come back into the room when I tell them they potentially have an appointment. It’s almost like people don’t need to make a living.”
They both share a smile and the man disappears back through the same door, muffled talking coming through the walls. On the front of the reception desk is a collage of photos of the artists, at least, that’s who Dan thinks they are. They all look like they’re having good times- smiling, laughing, and in some, very drunk. Dan cracks a smile, especially at one of the man he has been speaking to holding a child with pen ink all over his arms. There is a note next to it that reads copying dad! Which makes Dan smile even more.
Eventually, the door creaks open again and the original man comes out once more. “Right, well, Kyle said he’s fine to do it, so-”
“I’m right here,” a voice comes through the door, and honestly, Dan about pisses himself in fear. The man’s sudden appearance took him by surprise, and he visibly jumps as he turns around. Kyle stands there smirking. “Fuck, sorry for scaring you, man. It’s the face, isn’t it? Mother always told me my face scared the local wildlife.”
The man dramatically looks down as if he were reminiscing about bad memories, and Dan and the receptionist share a look, both asking what the fuck?
“Kyle, man, let’s not scare the customers. His mother has never said that.” He explains to him, disappointment on his face, mixed with a little shock. “Right, before Dan here changes his mind, will you please stop saying weird stuff?”
Kyle sighs. “Just like my mother, you are. Anyway, come on through, Danny-Boy, what you want permanently drawing on your skin?”
“Oh- no, just Dan, pleas-”
Danny-Boy is led through to the actual studio (there is in fact more than one, just in separate areas) where he is instructed to lie on the tattoo chair whilst Kyle looks at what was commissioned for him.
Dan notes there are photos of cats hanging on the walls, which reminds him of that bitchy professor from Harry Potter, the one with the pink office and cat photos. Fuck, what was her name? He thinks to himself as Kyle looks funnily at the art in his hands.
“So… So what actually is this?” He questions, cocking an eyebrow. He takes off his baseball-cap, running his hand through his hair before putting it back on.“Like, who is it?”
“Audrey- from Twin Peaks.” He mumbles, suddenly feeling rather embarrassed about it. Could he come across as any more of a nerd?
“And she has no face?”
“That’s supposed to be space- like, you know, NASA shit.” Dan nervously laughs and Kyle raises his eyebrows. “You can do it, right?”
“Hell yeah. It’s quite a good idea- wait what does wonderful and strange mean?” He rests his chin on his hand, somewhat representing the ‘Thinking Man’. “Like, is it a quote from the show?”
“Yeah- but I think it kind of represents, like, the world, humanity, stuff like that. Like, it’s great being alive and seeing the world and how amazing and beautiful it can be, but at the same time, it’s so strange that we are alive. I just really think it’s relatable,”
Kyle smiles, beginning to pour the inks. It’s quite a colourful tattoo, and it’ll cost Dan a pretty penny, but it’ll be worth it.
“In my book, it’s a bit early for a crisis, but whatever,” he jokes, laughing to himself. He really likes the tattoo- he think it’ll come out looking good.
Like the man running the reception, Kyle is also covered in tattoos, though not quite as many, and the only piercing he has is through his lip. It really suits him, though. The tattoo Dan has noticed the most is one of a video game character, one that Dan thinks might be from Zelda. It’s on his forearm- the same place Dan is going to get his.
“My life is a constant crisis,” he doesn’t intend for Kyle to hear the comment, but he does, and he laughs very loudly. He feels his cheeks redden is embarrassment.
“Babe, same,” Kyle laughs, glancing from his client to the ink. He loves his job, meeting new people and having these sort of conversations. By the end, he actually feels a little bit lost that he’ll probably never see that person again.
Dan watches him finish pouring the ink before he transfers the commission to Dan’s arm. It doesn’t look much at the moment, given the fact it’s all just curly lines so Kyle knows what to do.
“So… You do realise the writing will be upside down, right?” Kyle says, looking down at the template. Dan furrows his eyebrows.
“I can still read it?”
“Well, yeah, but nobody else will be able to,”
“It’s not for them, it’s for me. You didn’t get Zelda done for anyone else.” Dan comments, gesturing to the tattoo on Kyle’s forearm. Kyle glances down, suddenly looking quite agitated.
“You bastard,” he mutters, “You make a good point, but that’s not even Zelda. Zelda is the princess- that’s Link. The hero.”
Dan laughs, “Whatever, man. I don’t know this stuff. But either way, I don’t care what other people see.”
Kyle shrugs, and grabs the tattoo gun.
About an hour passes where they talk about just about everything any anything. Dan learns about how Kyle’s mother doesn’t actually insult Kyle’s face and makes the best damn cookies Kyle has ever eaten, apparently, and Kyle learns that Dan has three siblings and they have almost killed each other by accident multiple times.
“So, what number tattoo is this, then?” Kyle asks as he works on the colours of space inside Audrey’s head. Sometimes he glances up at Dan with these deep brown, mischievous eyes, a grin on his face that makes Dan have to check he is actually giving him the tattoo he wants and not something like the receptionist had warned him.
“Number one.” Dan replies, putting his head back and looking up at the ceiling. He is counting the lights on the ceiling. When he is met from a gasp from his artist, he looks down, his heart plummeting and his stomach churning at the thought he could’ve messed his tattoo up. “Why are you gasping?!”
“You’re a virgin, I’m taking your virginity!” And as soon as the words roll off of his tongue and out of his mouth, Kyle realises that saying those words perhaps wasn’t the best thing. Dan gets flustered and mumbles gibberish as he tries to think of what to say, his cheeks flushing bright red. “Holy fuck, I’m so sorry,”
“I-I’m… I’m no-”
“I really didn’t mean it like that,” Kyle stops tattooing Dan for a moment, staring at him with intensely embarrassed eyes. “I’m really sorry. I meant it’s your first time- fuck. You know what I mean...”
Dan nervously laughs, his heart thumping in embarrassment. “I’m not a virgin, for the record,” he mumbles, taking a deep breath. Kyle leans down and fetches a bottle of water, passing one to Dan and then grabbing one for himself.
“Oh yeah? Who was the lucky girl?” Kyle winks at him before taking a long drink of his water, watching Dan as he becomes even more flustered. “Dude, what is said in here, stays in here. I’m an open book- ask me anything.”
“Well, who says it’s a girl?” Dan smiles to himself, trying not to let himself be a recluse. He has to remind himself to be more open to people talking to him- he’s never had the confidence before. And Kyle looks very surprised, his eyebrows rising.
“Oh!” He says with a laugh, “I see, I see says the blind man.”
Dan’s cheeks go bright red, but he can’t help but grin. He’s never really felt comfortable enough to talk openly about his sexuality, but there’s something about the artist that makes him feel comfortable. “Yeah,” he says with a smile, “Never knew who I liked ‘till I met him.”
“You still with him?” Kyle asks, putting the water bottle down and picking the gun back up, and putting it down onto Dan’s arm.
“No, we broke up when we were, like, twenty. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. He decided to go to university in Gainsborough and I decided to stay here. He found a girl up there and we decided to break things off.”
“Shit man, I’m sorry. Well, at least I’m in for a chance.”
Dan frowns, but not in an irritated way. “With who?”
Kyle just rolls his eyes in a joking way, but he doesn’t say anything else about it as he looks down at Dan’s tattoo. “I’m really happy to be doing your first tattoo,” he says to Dan, glancing up to smile at him, a lovely warmth in his eyes.
“No! You can’t do that now!” Dan laughs, shaking his head. “Come on, you’ve gotta tell me.”
“Well, let’s think of it like this, yeah?” Kyle puts the gun down again and uses his hands to imitate a door, or even a gate. “This is sexuality, yeah? You’re kind of here, or here,” he moves his hand slightly, “I’m more-” and then he rapidly moves his hand, like a saloon door from the old west.
“So you’re bi?”
“Yeah, guess so,” Kyle shrugs. “I don’t really see the point of labels. All it does is exactly what I don’t want it to do, which is define me. Being bisexual isn’t all I am. I’m Kyle, I’m a tattoo artist, I’m a son, a brother, a friend- there is much more to me than who I like to fuck.”
And Dan bursts out laughing. “That’s one way to put it, I suppose.”
“It’s true, though!” The artist argues, “Like, what do you like?”
“Okay, so you’re Dan. A person. A son. A friend. A fan of Twin Peaks, Dan who likes space and NASA shit. Dan who is a brother and who has almost killed all of his siblings at various points. You’re not Dan The Gay.”
And in some way he would never really admit to anyone else, he knows Kyle is right. There is more to a person that their sexuality, and his wishes people (his family, that is) would understand that.
“Like, fuck what people think. At the end of the day, what you are is you, and people who cannot accept that, just fuck ‘em off, Babes. You’ve got no need for them.”
There’s something about the way that Kyle speaks that inspires him, encourages him to be himself. “You’re right,” he mumbles, “But the tough part is when the people who do see you as your sexuality is your family. And, you know, I need them to survive.”
“Nah you don’t. Come live with me, dude. Everyone is welcome at Kyle’s Fun House.” The artist laughs to himself, his eyes lighting up. “Sounds like a porn channel, that does.”
“Bit frontal, too,” Dan comments, glancing at the tattoo currently being printed onto his skin. He really likes it- it looks better on his skin than in his mind, and the artist just adds to it.
“That was video number one, staring yours truly,” he winks at him, pausing the gun again. “But yeah. If you ever need anyone to talk to, Man, I’m pretty much always here.”
And there is a moment where it feels like Kyle’s hand is resting against his arm for just a little while longer than he should, and for once, Dan doesn’t feel awkward about it. He even enjoys it, perhaps more than he should.
“But yeah, so anyway,” Kyle mutters quickly as he realises his awkwardness, grabbing the gun and returning to his work.
“Yeah, it’s looking really good.”
And there it is, the awkwardness that follows Dan wherever he goes. He just closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and tries again.
“For that. Offering to talk to me.” He explains, “I really appreciate it, even if you wasn’t serious.”
“I was serious!” Kyle sounds offended, but he plays it off. “What’s the point in offering someone help if you’re just going to turn them down in the end, anyway?”
And then, he starts becoming attached, ever so slightly. The same way he does to most people who show him kindness, a flaw he simply cannot control.. He really shouldn’t get attached so quickly, all it does it lead to him being hurt, something he doesn’t want, not again.
“Look, Danny-Boy, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a fair few moments where I could’ve really used someone saying that to me, and nobody did. Now, this might be one of your moments and it might not- nobody knows- but all I’m saying is, regardless of when these moments may or may not be, there’s always someone there to listen.”
“Right, there we go. Let me double check that is actually my number,” the artist hides Dan’s tattoo for just a moment whilst he pretends to check him phone, a stupid smile on his face. Over the time it has taken to complete Dan’s tattoo, which Kyle is incredibly proud of, the pair have spoken about everything and anything under the sun, from Dan’s grandma who prefers his brother to him, and Kyle’s sunflowers he’s trying to grow on the balcony of his flat, but they keep drooping down and it’s annoying him. In a strange way, they have become much closer.
Dan, for a split second, looks scared. “You better be joking,” his voice is laden with worry, which melts away like hot wax once Kyle laughs. Even though he has a nervous smile on his face, Kyle worries briefly that he has annoyed his client because of how serious his voice sounded.
For a moment, their eyes meet again, and even though he wants to say he isn’t, Kyle is almost trapped by Dan’s eyes, intense and curious. He tears them away, forcing a short life.
“Course I’m joking,” he says, his tone somehow different to how it was before, “But I could do it, if you really want me to?”
And fuck, for some stupid, stupid reason, Dan really wants to tell him to do it. To embrace that risk, to have the memory of the man imprinted on his body forever. But, that would be stupid. They’ve just met, and phone numbers are temporary and insignificant in the grand scheme of life. In years, if he even saw Kyle again, it would still be a random combination of numbers that Kyle may not even own any more.
“Do it,” Dan mutters as he raises his eyebrows in a challenge. He watches the surprised look on Kyle’s face, the way his eyes widen just a touch and the way a cheeky smile tugs at his lips and the light red dusting of the embarrassment of shameless flirting across his cheeks. “Don’t be a pussy. Do it.”
“Nah, I think I’ll actually get fired if I do,” he laughs, putting his head back and stretching out his arms. “Make you a deal, though?”
“Oh yeah,” Dan replies in the same tone, mischief radiating in their voices. It probably sounds like Fred and George Weasley making a plan. “What’s that then?”
“Well, I could write it down on a piece of paper and give it to you. Or, if you passed me your phone, I could perhaps write it in there. Or, of course, the option of you tattooing your number on me is always open.”
“Oh my God, can I?”
“Fuck no,” Kyle stutters his answer out and laughs loudly, not expecting Dan to actually answer that way. He reaches over and grabs the paper they use to transfer the trace on the skin to tattoo over. “Here, I’ll not tattoo it, promise,”
And soon enough, Kyle’s number is right there, in pen ink, below Dan’s actual tattoo (which he has fallen in love with and expressed as such), much to the amusement of both of them. Anyone else would think they’ve been mates for years if they saw them.
“Well, that’s that, then,” Kyle says as he stretches his fingers out, hearing them crack. His fingers always hurt when he’s finished a tattoo- it’s like when he had to sit exams at school, and how he always walked out with cramped fingers. Art was the worst. “I mean-”
“Thank you for doing that, Kyle. It’s really awesome- I never even imagined it being this amazing.”
And somehow, the compliment means more coming from Dan than it does coming from anyone else.
“Thank you,” Kyle grins and he can’t wipe it from his face. “Listen- if you wanna meet up some time, just call me, okay?”
“Okay. I might see you soon?”
Both of their hearts thump at the idea.
Dan feels sick when Kyle winks.
Kyle busies cleaning up the studio as Dan heads out the door, both of them feeling somewhat like their life-long friend is leaving.
“God, you and him got talking a bit, didn’t you?” Will jokes as Dan walks through to the reception, his tattoo covered by a sheet of cling film. He really wants to turn back and continue talking to Kyle about more than what they’ve already talked about- if that’s possible. “Come on, let’s see it.”
Dan smiles and presents his arm, full of colour and delicate detail. He can’t help but smile down at the tattoo with pride, as if he had done it all himself. It stands out, and it’s everything he wanted and more. He adores it.
“Christ, he did a good job on that one. And there’s no cats!” Will nods at the tattoo almost in approval, “And I’m not even surprised you have his number on your arm.”
His cheeks burn bright red and he laughs nervously. “Y-yeah...”
They share a laugh and Will quickly covers Kyle’s number before he takes a quick photo of it for their website, complimenting the ink once more before Dan sets off on his way home, to go back to his flat, wearing his heart on his sleeve- or rather, his forearm.
And he’s only just down the road when his phone pings.
So when are we doing your next tattoo? #NotAVirginAnymore