By CS WhiteWolf
“So,” Gwen drawled, latching herself to Ianto’s arm the following morning as he checked the appointments book for an idea of his workload that day. “How did it go?”
“Oh, you know,” Ianto replied, nonchalantly as he ran a finger down his list of clients, “The usual really… he promised to feed me but the only thing that ended up filling my mouth-,”
“Ianto!” Gwen screeched, pressing her hands to her eyes with a laugh, as if somehow this would stop the words from filtering through to her brain. “You know I was talking about Michael, not Jack!”
Ianto grinned wickedly at her. “You were?” He asked in mock innocence as she peeked at him through her fingers, “Well Michael didn’t put anything in my-,”
“Ianto!” Gwen yelled out again, smacking at him with a laugh. “You dirty bugger! I mean how did your work session go with Michael?”
“Oh, that!” Ianto said, dragging out the words as if finally understanding Gwen’s initial question.
“Yes, that!” Gwen agreed, rolling her eyes at him.
“It went well,” he looked thoughtful, “he’s definitely as mysterious as we’d all imagined him to be. There’s something funny about him too,” he drifted off.
“Funny ha-ha or funny strange?” Gwen pressed, her face rapt with interest. Ianto chuckled.
“Funny strange, but in a secretive way more than anything,” he explained. “You know how most people want to talk about their tattoos- why they’re getting it? What it means to them? What their dog had for breakfast that morning?” Gwen giggled, nodding her head in agreement. “Well Michael did none of that. He… was very closed-off when it came to questions.”
“Sounds like someone I know.” She shot him a pointed look, smiling.
“Hmmm,” Ianto shook his head, “hopefully he’s not hiding bodies in the basement or anything quite so sinister.”
“His tattoo is very Red Dragon though, isn’t it?” Gwen grinned and Ianto laughed again.
“Don’t worry, you’re not nearly podgy enough to be kidnapped,” he quipped, before ducking a well-aimed swipe at his head, Gwen’s Oi! ringing out across the room as she began to chase him around the reception desk.
“I kid! I kid!” Ianto laughed, letting Gwen catch up to him whereupon she proceeded to tickle him mercilessly.
“I’ll give you podgy, Ianto Jones!” She exclaimed, reducing him to a writhing, giggling mess behind the reception desk till Owen was forced to come through, distracted and irritated by the noise.
“Mercy!” Ianto yelled out, reaching pleadingly in Owen’s direction as Gwen continued to attack his stomach.
Owen rolled his eyes, his amusement evident however as he stooped, scooping Gwen up into his arms in one deft move and carrying her- kicking and screaming with laughter- through into the staffroom, giving Ianto ample time to recover and straighten himself out.
“I’m all rumpled now,” Ianto bemoaned, slightly breathless as he picked himself up off the floor.
Toshiko, stepping into the front room, shook her head at him.
“Hell hath no fury like a Welshwoman,” she said, smiling. Ianto just grinned at her, trying to straighten out the poet’s shirt and waistcoat combination he was sporting today.
“Hell hath no fury like Gwen,” he retorted and Toshiko smiled back.
“What did you say to her anyway?” She asked, moving to look over the appointments book herself.
“We’re not even going there,” Ianto said and Toshiko raised her eyebrows.
“Okay,” she agreed. “Why don’t you tell me how your session with Mr Schofield went yesterday, then?”
Ianto groaned inwardly and tried to keep his comments as strictly job-related as possible as he answered her questions on Michael.
For the record, Toshiko’s nails were far sharper than Gwen’s.
- - -
That evening saw Ianto setting out his equipment whilst Michael scrutinised the positioning of the ascending angel that followed on from the moaning man he’d started on the previous night.
In truth he was surprised, though not overly so, that Michael had in fact returned to Torchwood, willing to continue on with his tattoo. He could sense a new resolve in Michael, an even stronger determination to see his tattoo completed than he’d initially had. A determination that was more than a little intimidating in the face of its intensity.
Ianto finished his preparation, looking up at Michael and checking to see if the placement was to his liking.
“It is,” Michael agreed, smiling just slightly towards Ianto.
“How have you been finding the first section?” Ianto asked, nodding towards the upper part of his arm which they’d started on the previous day. He stepped forward, gloved hands touching fleetingly at the inked lines as he eyed them speculatively.
“It looks to be healing nicely,” he commented and Michael nodded.
“It’s felt fine. Started itching a little earlier on, but I just rubbed in some of the Retcon to ease that off.”
Ianto made a sound of agreement, “Good. Don’t use too much of it, though. And definitely no scratching.”
“Yes, sir!” Michael laughed and Ianto grinned back at him before stepping away and fetching his stool.
“You seemed surprised to see me tonight,” Michael said as Ianto began to ink the first lines of the new segment. “Did you think I wouldn’t come back?”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Ianto agreed, smiling fleetingly. “But you’re here now, and I have every faith that you will see this through to the end.”
Michael nodded his agreement, even though Ianto was too absorbed in his inking to notice it. A period of silence fell over them with Ianto moving the tattooing gun confidently over Michael’s skin and Michael gradually relaxing into the bed-chair, as the scratching sensation brought on by Ianto’s work eventually beginning to numb to a dull throb more than the initial sharp pain.
“So, what made you decide to get inked?” Ianto ventured, dipping his tattoo gun into an inkpot for a quick refill before resuming his work.
“I don’t suppose you’d take ‘a midlife crisis’ as an answer?” Michael asked, smiling at Ianto’s brief laugh.
“Not really, no,” Ianto agreed, flicking his gaze up momentarily but not pressing for answers.
“I’m doing it for my brother,” Michael said after a long moment. “He gave up everything and more for me, but I was too blinded to see. I turned my back on him when he needed me most, and now…” he sighed softly, staring up at the ceiling. “This is for him. I’m doing it all for him.”
Michael sounded saddened and Ianto frowned to himself, wondering at Michael’s desire to get the entire half of his upper body inked in remembrance of his brother- a brother that Ianto could only assume was dead by the way Michael spoke of him.
“A heart with his name through it wouldn’t have done the trick?” He asked, inflicting enough compassion and humour into the question to let Michael know the question wasn’t meant insensitively.
Michael huffed out a brief laugh, taking the comment in jest. “I don’t like to do things by halves.”
“That’s a good philosophy to live by,” Ianto agreed. Knowing that there was no point in doing something if weren’t going to give it your full attention.
“What made you decide to do this for a living?” Michael questioned, turning the topic from himself.
“Tattooing?” Ianto asked, frowning bemusedly. “Chance mostly,” he said when Michael nodded for him to answer.
“Chance?” Michael prompted.
“Well, jeez, it seems a lifetime ago now, but I originally moved to Chicago to study law,” Ianto said and Michael raised his eyebrows.
“Laughable, I know,” he grinned, “but at the time it seemed the thing to do. It was what my parents expected of me, you know?”
Michael nodded though he said nothing, waiting only for Ianto to continue.
“I just got to a point where… well,” he paused in his inking, “someone I loved very much managed to convince me that law wasn’t what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.”
He wiped the excess ink from Michael’s arm and continued on, “I could have ended up doing anything I suppose,” he pressed on, turning his thoughts away from Lisa and the memory of one of their last times together- even now it still made him ache to think of her in those last moments.
“I ended up coming here for my first tattoo, and once I found Torchwood, the rest as they say is history. I handed in my CV one day and was hired pretty much on the spot as an apprentice.”
“This person you loved…?” Michael drifted off as if not quite sure how to ask.
“She passed away, yes,” Ianto supplied.
“I’m sorry.” Michael apologised, wincing a little in apology for bringing it up.
Ianto smiled, “thank you.”
“So, Torchwood?” He asked, trying to steer the subject back to safer territory.
“My parents weren’t exactly thrilled,” Ianto said, shooting Michael a wry look, “but I’m happy. Happier than I would have been otherwise.”
“Only happy?” Michael asked, curious.
Ianto looked up. “What more can you ask for?”
The look Michael gave him was more open and honest than any look Ianto could ever have expected to see on him; he looked sad, and thoughtful, and more than a little bit depressed by the direction of their conversation.
Ianto bit at his lips and the piercings he had on his bottom lip, chewing at them as he turned back to Michael’s arm and continued on the design. Silence reigning between them for the remainder of their session.
- - -
The weeks following on from those first few sessions saw Ianto and Michael striking up an unexpected friendship, one that at times seemed to transcend the usual artist-client type relationship Ianto was used to having with his customers, and as such he began to anticipate his evening sessions with Michael despite his daily workload; looking forward to the small talk and the sometimes-banter they could share with one another.
Ianto was careful to keep the majority of his attention on Michael’s tattoo during their sessions, however, and as such he managed to finish up on the right sleeve of Michael’s design and make a significant start on the left with only a few small snags holding things up.
He knew how adamant Michael was about his tattoo being exactly as he’d envisioned, but as his tattoo artist, when Ianto spotted a few minor flaws with the exact sizing and placement of some of the images, he had no qualms about addressing the matter with his client. Not even when said client shot him a decidedly unimpressed look at the mere suggestion they change something in the design.
“Oh don’t look at me like that,” Ianto laughed, beckoning Michael over towards the workbench and the image he’d been looking over before Michael arrived for one of his semi-regular evening sessions.
“I was thinking we might change something to this part of the design,” Ianto suggested, pointing towards the image of a woman holding a vessel from which poured both water and the words ‘Cute Poison’.
“In my opinion, which you are of course free to disregard, I think it’s too large for the space we have left,” he reached for Michael’s arm and lifted the paper to hold it against the skin. “See how she overlaps the rest of the design? I know you’re looking for perfection here and I think we could probably downscale it a little bit to fit her in, but I’m not sure how much of the detail we could keep if we did so.”
Michael frowned deeply, his gaze intent upon his arm and the piece of design Ianto held up against it.
“I need all the lines to connect to one another,” Michael began slowly. He took the design from Ianto and lay it upon the workbench. “Have you got a pencil?” he asked. Ianto obliged him, passing him an eraser before Michael could think to ask for that too.
They stood in silence for a few moments as Michael ran his eyes over the piece, his gaze flickering between the paper and what was already inked into his skin before he reached for the sketchpad Ianto had left beside the design and began etching out a new filler for the space.
“I need all of the detail,” Michael began, the words almost a muttering to himself than to Ianto, “but she was just for decoration.” His hand moved confidently over the page, pencil scratching the lines of a new design, and Ianto was enraptured by Michael’s intensity- watching the crease of Michael’s brow, the narrowing of his eyes, the way his mouth thinned out in concentration and his head cocked just ever so slightly to the right as he worked, as if the weight of his creativity had too much of a hold on him in this moment.
When at last Michael’s hand stilled and he pulled away from the sketchpad, Ianto moved it over to admire his work. There was no denying that Michael was a skilled artist, or that he didn’t have an innate ability to deduce scale and size with merely a glance. He lifted the pad and eyed it critically, noting that Michael had scaled everything to fit into the space that remained on his arm to perfection. What they’d been left with instead of the woman was simply the image of the vessel pouring into a drain, the words ‘Cute Poison’ still following the flow of water.
He gestured to Michael for the pencil, which he handed over with only a little hesitancy, and began to define a few of Michael’s less prominent lines, ensuring that if Michael approved this as the final design, Ianto could work on making a carbon copy of it as swiftly as possible. He eventually passed the sketchbook back towards Michael, who scanned it with his usual intensity.
“Are you okay with this?” Ianto asked.
“Yes,” Michael agreed. “It still retains the purpose of the initial image. Nothing that was pivotal to this piece has been lost.”
“One day you’re going to have to tell me what everything means,” Ianto said, shooting Michael an almost coy look as he ripped the page from the pad and began working his own magic on it.
“One day,” Michael agreed; his voice low and sad sounding. Ianto caught Michael’s frown out of the corner of his eye, but by the time he’d turned back to face the other man, Michael was smiling softly at him once more.
Applying the transfer soon after and confirming the placement a few minutes later, Ianto shortly began work on the last segment of Michael’s right sleeve; the humm of the tattoo gun filling the contemplative silence between them.
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