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With Ink Through His Veins

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It was not, like Chibita seemed to believe, a decision he'd made spur of the moment. Karamatsu knew that he was not particularly known for either pragmatism or caution, but it had been an important decision. He'd thought about it for a long time. He'd measured the pros and cons, he'd spent hours searching the internet. He'd spent long, quiet nights staring at his blank wrists while Chibita snored beside him.

A lot of work had gone into the choice that he had, without preamble, announced to his soulmate.

He'd been wondering how he was going to tell Chibita, even, when the opportunity presented itself. Chibita was curled up in his lap while they watched tv, relaxed and sweet in his arms, and Karamatsu could feel him playing with his wrists.

It still sent shivers down his spine, probably always would, when Chibita touched him there. He'd been tentative at first, running his fingers across Karamatsu's blank skin with a careful hesitance, like Karamatsu might be crazy enough to ask him to stop. But Chibita was casual with Karamatsu's wrists now, and that was its own kind of intimacy. He rarely hesitated before taking Karamatsu's hands in his, before knocking their wrists together and sighing, pleased at the way they looked together.

Karamatsu could feel him now, absently tracing designs against his skin. It felt so good, so peaceful, that it took him a second to place the movements. But once he did, Karamatsu felt his throat fill with cement.

Chibita was spelling out his own name against Karamatsu's skin, right where it should have been written. It wasn't — it wasn't the first time he'd done that. He'd done it before when they were having sex, when both of them were too out of their minds to question it, and Karamatsu had felt him do it, tentative, when Chibita had thought he was asleep.

Karamatsu didn't mind it. He thought that Chibita probably believed he was sparing his feelings by avoiding doing what only came naturally, but it didn't hurt Karamatsu to feel Chibita miming out that small intimacy. It wasn't fair, after all, that he should be able to trace his own name on Chibita's wrists with lips and tongue and trembling fingertips, but Chibita could only pretend.

He didn't resent Chibita taking what little he could. It wasn't as if him doing it was the painful reminder that Chibita seemed to worry it was; you couldn't remind someone of something they never forgot.

Tonight, though, tonight. Tonight there were words that had been resting on the tip of his tongue for days, and tonight Karamatsu was full of an idea that was getting increasingly difficult to keep to himself.

He stared straight ahead at the tv, unseeing, as he felt Chibita trace familiar characters against his skin. Hell, he wasn't even sure Chibita noticed he was doing it. It was second nature. It was instinct.

He wanted Chibita to be able to do it the right way.

"I want to get a tattoo," he blurted, and Chibita tensed in his lap.

"Eh?" Chibita turned around a little awkwardly, and Karamatsu could see the confused crease in his brow. "The hell are you talking about, idjit?"

"A tattoo," Karamatsu repeated. "I want one."

"What the hell d'you want with a tattoo, dumbass? It won't make you look scary," Chibita said. "Just stupid."

Karamatsu felt his cheeks color a little. "No, not like that, I — I don't want one like that."

"What do you want, then?"

Chibita was still looking at Karamatsu like he thought he might've hit his head at some point, and Karamatsu groped around for words that explained quite what he meant. What he wanted. Needed. But all those pretty words, all the delicious phrases he'd practiced in his head in preparation for this moment, evaporated now that it was time to use them.

Instead he just took Chibita's hand, the hand that had just been tracing over his skin, and pressed its fingers to his wrist. "Here," he said, his voice gone thick and unwieldy in his throat. "Right here."

Chibita was still, still in his arms. He just looked down at their joined hands where they lay against Karamatsu's wrist, and Karamatsu could feel his breath going unsteady. "But..."

"I want your name on my body," Karamatsu said, and felt Chibita shudder in his arms.

"You can't—" Chibita swallowed, tried again. "No one will do that. It's..."

Wrong? Forbidden? Disgusting? Karamatsu didn't ask Chibita to finish that sentence. He knew exactly what most tattoo artists would say about a request like that. He'd researched it thoroughly. Even American tattoo artists wouldn't do that, not unless you really looked. In Japan, where the stigma against tattoos in general was already heightened, it was almost unthinkable.

But he'd found someone. Just one person who might do it. "They'll do it. I'll — we'll explain to them. What happened. They'll help us."

Karamatsu wasn't sure what he'd tell the tattoo artist he'd found, truthfully speaking. He'd heard rumors that she was willing to do things, outlandish things, for the right price. But a false Name...

It wasn't false. It wasn't. Whatever he and Chibita were, they were meant to be.

Chibita, though, Chibita was easing himself out of Karamatsu's lap so he could sit at his side, and as much as Karamatsu understood his desire to speak face-to-face, it still felt a little bit like rejection. "Karamatsu," Chibita said, and Karamatsu could see him trying to hold himself together. "That's permanent."

"I know," he said. He'd considered it before, just taking a pen to skin and writing what should have always been there. But that felt so childish, in a way. So silly. Chibita deserved more than hastily-scrawled magic marker.

Chibita made a short little sound, something rough in the back of his throat. "But we aren't even married yet!"

And that, that was... They hadn't discussed marriage yet. Karamatsu stared back at him with wide eyes and swallowed hard. It was — it was the next logical step, of course, and most soulmates got married in the end, but...

The lines around Chibita's eyes grew deeper, and Karamatsu could see something like regret in his eyes. That probably hadn't been how he'd meant to propose. Still, though. Still. He didn't break his gaze with Karamatsu, kept staring him down like he was trying to will Karamatsu to understand how important this was.

He knew that, though. He knew all that. This was probably more important than even Chibita knew. Karamatsu needed this in a way he couldn't quite express. He needed that visual reminder that he was owned, that he had another half whom he owned as well. That the two of them were linked, inextricably. He wanted to be able to look down at their hands, lazily linked after an evening of making love, and see their wrists match in the moonlight.

It was important.

"If—" Karamatsu felt his voice catch in his throat, and he reached down so he could tangle Chibita's fingers in his own. "When we get married," he said, bringing Chibita's marked wrist up to his lips for a kiss, "I want it to be with your name on my wrist."

Chibita whimpered, and the sound was so soft that Karamatsu would never have heard it if they weren't so goddamn close. Karamatsu could see his throat working, swallowing down words or emotion or maybe even tears. It was hard to know what was going on in Chibita's head sometimes.

When Chibita finally found his voice again, it was still so small that it made Karamatsu's heart twist. "You don't— You know you don't have to—" He broke off, took a deep breath. "You know I don't need you to do this, right?"

"I know," Karamatsu said, again. And he did know. He knew that from the day they'd come together, since the day Chibita had found him and gathered him up and kissed the tears from his cheeks, Chibita had never once questioned whether the two of them were soulmates. He'd get this look in his eyes sometimes, a longing like he was dreaming of an old possession he'd never really had, but he never made Karamatsu feel like he was anything less for being unmarked. If anything, Karamatsu had a nasty suspicion that Chibita had taken the responsibility fully onto his own head.

Chibita wanted to see his name on Karamatsu's wrist, he knew, but he also knew that Chibita had never once believed that their link wasn't as strong as that of other mated couples. He'd never questioned whether they were soulmates. To Chibita, they weren't broken — they were a miracle.

Karamatsu, though, Karamatsu wasn't sure if he believed in things like fated matches anymore. Love could sprout up in the most unlikely of places, he'd seen, and not all soulmates ended happily. He didn't know if one was better than the other, not really. All he knew was that he was with the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He believed that. He'd chosen to believe that. And he wanted to choose to take fate into his own hands and put Chibita's name on his wrist.

Chibita may not have needed Karamatsu to be marked, but Karamatsu was different. "I need it," Karamatsu said, hushed. He needed it so badly that he could almost feel himself shaking from the lack.

Chibita looked at him, then, really looked at him, and Karamatsu didn't know what he saw. But it must have been something, because he just shut his eyes and sighed, long and low and shaking. "Okay," he said, as quietly as Karamatsu had. "Okay."

* * *

The night before his appointment, the atmosphere in their apartment felt strange. The two of them lay there together in their futon, sweat-slicked and aching in the best possible way, and Chibita held his wrists face-up in his hands. They looked down at them together, nothing but pale, blank skin, and Chibita looked... Sad, somehow. Karamatsu never expected him to look so sad.

"You're not going to get anything weird, are you?" Chibita asked, holding his wrists tight. "Not like — no weird fonts, right? Nothing sparkly?" He paused. "Fuck, you are getting it on your wrist, right?"

"Of course," Karamatsu said. He wanted to feel offended, but frankly, it was a fair question. His taste differed from Chibita's in many ways. "I want it to look right."

"You already look right," Chibita said, the words immediate, and Karamatsu gave him a crooked little smile. He didn't, and they both knew it. It was sweet that Chibita believed it, though. Chibita was still hesitating over something, though, and Karamatsu let the silence stretch on between them while he found the words. "You could... You could even put it on your left wrist, if you wanted. It would be easier."

Karamatsu frowned at him. It would be easier, probably. Straight couples were lucky in that their names were on opposite wrists. All they had to do was reach out and hold hands for their Names to brush against each other. It was harder to find that small intimacy in a same-sex relationship. Just a little bit more awkward. At home, Chibita could just sit in his lap when he wanted their wrists to touch as they sat, and Karamatsu could hold him from behind while they slept. But out in the outside world, it was — it was just kind of awkward.

Karamatsu didn't mind awkward, though. What did he care if the best thing in his world was a little awkward? "No," he just said, leaning forward a little so he could brush a kiss against Chibita's mouth. "I want it to look exactly like it would've if... Y'know."

If Chibita hadn't been an outlier.

Chibita swallowed. "Are you sure?" he asked, and Karamatsu wondered what he was really asking. Did he expect Karamatsu to want something better than that? What on earth could possibly be better?

Except... "There is one thing," Karamatsu said.

"Yeah?"

Karamatsu smiled at him, then. He knew exactly what he wanted. "I want you to write it," he said. "On my wrist, I mean. Then she can trace over it."

No one else got to have their soulmate's handwriting on their wrist. No one else got to have that small, private intimacy. And wouldn't that be so much better than having some stranger's writing there?

Having Chibita's untidy scrawl marked onto his skin for eternity sounded just about perfect.

Chibita just snickered a little, soft. "Painful," he said, a familiar refrain now that had no real bite to it. That was what he said when he really meant "romantic".

"But you'll do it?"

Chibita bent his head so he could kiss Karamatsu's left wrist, then his right. "Yeah. Of course I'll do it, idjit. Whatever you want."

Karamatsu let out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding. Perfect. That was perfect.

"I just—"

Karamatsu looked at him. "You just?"

Chibita looked uncharacteristically pensive as he looked down at Karamatsu's wrists. "I just want to make sure you know you don't have to do this. It won't... It won't change what we are, y'know?"

"I do, though," Karamatsu said. And Chibita just didn't get it. How could he? He didn't know what it was like to live without that part of him. When things were hard, he had concrete proof that he wasn't alone in the world. That he never would be, not ever again. That he was worthy of being a soulmate.

How could he explain a thing like that? "Chibita..." he started, and the words came to him haltingly. "You know how — how you always wanted a home growing up? A family?"

Chibita had whispered that to him before, when the night was still and quiet. When it felt like it was only the two of them in the whole, wide world. They'd whispered a lot of things.

Chibita nodded slowly. "Yeah."

"For me, I — I never knew that I had someone waiting for me. I always believed that I would have to work hard to make whatever happiness I'd get. I just had to hope that I'd make something as good as what everyone else had. A beautiful romance for the ages. A kindred heart that matched mine in tenor. A sweet dove, laden with promises and—"

"I get it, Karamatsu."

Karamatsu blew out a breath, pleased to see the corners of Chibita's lips tipping upward. "I knew that whatever I could get, it would only be what I could carve out for myself. And that... It was scary, Chibita. I'm not... I'm not good at things. I couldn't even move out of my parents' house; how was I going to find someone to love without having a soul mark?"

Everyone had always looked at him with such disdain all the time, and he hadn't been sure if they'd hated him because he had no soul mark, or if he'd had no soul mark because he was just innately hateable. Maybe he didn't have a soulmate because he didn't deserve one. Maybe he didn't have a soulmate because he would never be able to build a real life with someone else. Who was he to try and find true love when even fate hadn't been able to manage it?

"You did, though," Chibita said. "Didn't you?"

"Of course, darling. But I..." He paused for a minute, sifting through his thoughts for the right words. "I still feel like I have to make my own destiny. I might be the Matsuno on your wrist. I might not. We can't know."

"I—"

Karamatsu shook his head. "We can't know. But I know that I love you. And I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And I know that if I have to make my own romance, I want to make it with you."

Chibita's eyes had gone shiny in the moonlight, and Karamatsu could hear his uneven breaths. Shit, he hoped Chibita wasn't going to cry. If Chibita cried, Karamatsu definitely would.

"I just—" Karamatsu said quickly, before his throat closed up around the words. "I've always known that when I found someone it would have to be a choice. I didn't have a Name to guide me, so anyone I fell in love with, I would have to choose. And I choose you. I want to choose to have you on my skin, too. It's something — something that no one can ever take away from me."

"Idjit," Chibita whispered, but the insult sounded unbearably fond, his voice breaking at the end. He curled in closer, letting go of Karamatsu's wrists so he could lean into his chest. "Just a goddamn... Stupid..."

He could feel the tears dripping onto his skin, and he let Chibita cry. The words still didn't feel perfect, didn't quite match the tenor of his soul, but they must have been good enough.

What they had here together, fated or chosen or otherwise, it was good enough.

* * *

She'd told them to come to her studio after hours, which Karamatsu supposed made sense, but it also made him feel like he was doing something shady. Hell. Maybe he was.

He and Chibita walked into the small shop when it was well past dark, and she was waiting for them in an old chair in the front. Before Karamatsu could even open his mouth, though, she was holding up a hand. "Not here," she said. "In the back."

She was small and wiry and utterly intimidating, with more tattoos on her skin than Karamatsu had ever seen on anyone outside of a crime drama. He and Chibita exchanged slightly stunned looks before following her back to a private room.

"Now," she said, closing the door behind her. "Talk. Considering you wouldn't tell me what you wanted on the phone — and I thought you were gonna cry — I'm thinking you don't want to pick something off the usual menu."

Chibita shot Karamatsu an unimpressed look, but fuck it, it had been scary calling in and making an appointment. It'd made everything feel so much more real. "I want..."

She raised her eyebrows, her expression very clearly reminding him that she was here after hours for him.

"I need you to tattoo my Name," he forced out, far too quickly, and he could see her take a second to separate the words in her head.

Then she frowned. "You just want me to tattoo your name on you? Pretty fucking arrogant, but I wouldn't think—" Then she stopped. Looked at him, looked at them both. Took in the way Chibita was standing ramrod straight and Karamatsu was picking at his cufflets. "Holy shit. You want me to tattoo your Name."

He nodded jerkily. Even just saying it out loud felt illicit.

She shook her head and sighed, running her fingers through close-cropped hair. "What is this, some kind of joke? No way two clean-cut kids like you want a wrist tattoo."

Karamatsu opened his mouth to respond, but Chibita was already scowling. "The fuck do you mean, idjit?" he demanded. "Of course we're fucking serious, d'you think we'd be sneaking in here like goddamn thieves if we weren't serious?"

"Sure, sure," she said, flopping down into an old folding chair by the table. "What do you want done, huh? A cover-up? Neon highlights? Hit me."

She still wasn't taking them seriously, and Karamatsu exchanged a long look with Chibita before setting his shoulders and grounding himself as best he could.

This had to happen. No matter how weird and embarrassing and awful it felt. Karamatsu reminded himself of that even as he slowly moved to pull off the cufflets that Chibita had so lovingly sewn for him.

He didn't drop them. Just put them back into his jacket pocket where they'd be safe. And then he held out his wrists for inspection.

She looked at his bare wrists for almost a solid minute, and Karamatsu could see her expression shifting from faintly amused to very, very grave. "You are serious, aren't you?" she asked, quiet.

He nodded. "We think there was — there was some kind of mistake. My name's on his wrist, but he's not on mine," he said. No need for specifics. That was the cut and dry of it, wasn't it? That's what everything here, everything in their whole lives had boiled down to. Chibita's wrist said Matsuno, and Karamatsu's wrist didn't say anything.

She looked over at Chibita, then, and her gaze was quietly assessing. "So you want your boyfriend's name on you, huh? How do you even know he's the right one?" she asked, and her voice was too pragmatic to be kind. "You could just be a baby widower."

Karamatsu flinched. That was an... unkind name for it. Chibita was drawing himself up again, was about to launch into something that was probably laced through with profanity, but this time Karamatsu was faster. "I don't. I don't know. How the fuck could I know for sure?"

Chibita was tense at his side, but Karamatsu didn't stop talking. "I spent my whole life thinking I was going to be alone, and now I'm not. I thought I was a baby widower, or that I was just fucked up somehow. I felt broken. But I don't feel that way anymore. Now I feel like even if I'm not supposed to be with Chibita, nothing's going to stop me from doing it anyway. He wants me to be his soulmate, and I want to be his. Even if I have to do it myself."

He paused, suddenly unsure, and all that steel seemed to seep from his spine. "Or um. With your help," he finished lamely.

She was looking at him now with something like surprise in her eyes, something almost like respect. But still, her mouth was a flat, flat line. She looked over at Chibita. "And what do you think about all this, shorty?"

Karamatsu winced. Well, if that wasn't a quick way to get a five-alarm fire. Chibita opened his mouth, and Karamatsu braced himself. But when Chibita finally talked, he didn't yell. Didn't scream. His voice was terribly, unknowably quiet. "I didn't want him to do it at first," he admitted, and her eyebrows went up. "I was afraid he was doing it for the wrong reasons. Like — like he was afraid I would stop loving him or he thought he was..." Chibita's eyes flicked over to Karamatsu and he swallowed, like the word was hard to get out. "Broken."

She crossed her arms and looked at him, as if unwillingly intrigued. "But?"

"Karamatsu knows what he wants. And he knows what he needs, better than I did. And I want — I want to be better at knowing what he needs. And giving it to him." Chibita stopped, and Karamatsu could see his hands balling up into tiny little fists. "Besides, it's my fault, anyway."

No.

"Chibita..." Karamatsu started. They'd had this conversation before. They'd had it so many times.

But Chibita was just shaking his head. "Shut up, Karamatsu, I know what you're going to say. But she has to know what's going on here. His Name's fucked up because I was—" He swallowed again, breathing hard. "I was the broken one. I was alone as a kid. Didn't have a name to give him. So now this idjit's over here crying on the phone, he's begging you to understand where he's coming from, and it's all my fault. If I'd been a normal kid, he would've been one, too."

There was a heartbeat of silence in the room, and then there he was, fucking bowing his head like this was his job, like any of this was his responsibility at all. "Please give Karamatsu the damn tattoo! Don't make him suffer just because I was an outlier," he said, and Karamatsu could hear the tears sneaking into his voice. "I—"

"Stop it," she said, breaking into whatever he was going to say next. "Just stop it. Get up. This is just..." She made a vague motion with her hand, like that could communicate whatever the hell all this really was. A clusterfuck, probably.

Chibita straightened up slowly, and looked her dead in the eye. "So?"

"So sit down," she said irritably. "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it quick. And don't fucking tell anybody."

Chibita breathed out short, fast, and it was almost a sob. Karamatsu was on him before he could even think, pulling him into his arms and kissing his scalp. "It's not your fault," he whispered fiercely. "You didn't do any of it on purpose. I love you."

Chibita just shook his head, and that, they were going to have to talk about that. Later. "And you're not broken, you goddamn idjit," he said. And then, proving that Chibita had heard what had gone unsaid, he stood up quick on his tiptoes so he could press a kiss to Karamatsu's lips. "And you are not unloveable."

"I know," Karamatsu said, and wasn't that why he was doing this in the first place? He knew that now.

The tattoo artist cleared her throat, not unkindly, and Karamatsu forced himself to pull away. To walk over to the table beside her and roll up his sleeve.

She sighed as he approached. "Don't even want to know how you found me," she said. "How're we doing this? Do you have a pattern?"

Karamatsu shook his head. "I want Chibita to write it."

She just looked at him, and for a moment, he saw something like softness in her eyes. "Of course you do. Of fucking course you do." She sighed. "Get over here, then."

Chibita came over quick, almost tripping over his own feet to do it, and she just shook her head. "You're both adults, right? You've got ID?"

And there it was, the annoyance that Karamatsu had expected earlier. "Of course we are," Chibita snapped. "So you can stop treating us like we're stupid kids." He paused, then, at Karamatsu's side. "What should I write on him with, anyway? We weren't sure."

"Here," she said tartly, handing him a red marker. "Don't fuck up."

"I'll try not to," Chibita shot back acerbically, and Karamatsu might have laughed if Chibita weren't grabbing his wrist. "Don't move, idjit."

"I won't," he promised, even as Chibita uncapped the marker.

Chibita hesitated for a moment, as if unsure how to best do it. As if he'd never written his damn name before. Still, Karamatsu could understand why he'd want it to be perfect. He, on the other hand... "Don't worry if it's messy," he said. "I know what you write like."

"Shut up, idjit," Chibita grumbled, but some of the tension went out of his shoulders.

Slowly, carefully, Chibita started writing the characters onto Karamatsu's wrist. It was just three characters, but it was taking forever; Karamatsu had seen him write his name with kanji a hell of a lot faster than he was managing this katakana. But they looked good. They looked right. They looked like the scrawled notes Chibita left on their fridge and the semi-legible ledgers that he kept at the cart. They looked like Chibita and they looked like forever and Karamatsu suddenly found himself blinking back tears.

"Haven't even gotten the needle out and they're both already crying," she mumbled. "Listen, kid—" she said, ignoring Chibita's frustrated huff, "you're sure about this, right? It's gonna be permanent. Like, this is gonna go past 'til death do we part'."

Chibita stilled beside him, but Karamatsu had thought about that, too. When one of them died, Chibita's Name would disappear from his wrist. Nameless wrists, after all, were for corpses and widowers. But Karamatsu's tattoo would stay on him until the day he died, even if Chibita went before him. He might live for years and years with his deceased soulmate's name on his wrist. And if he went first, he would go to his grave marked. "I know," he said, even as Chibita squeezed his hand. "I'm sure."

"All right," she said. Then she shook her head again, as if clearing it. "All right." She cocked her head to the side, clearly dismissing Chibita. "Go 'round to the other side if you've gotta hold onto him. I can't get near him."

Chibita glowered at her again, but he did as he was told, circling around to the other side of the table so he could clutch Karamatsu's left hand in his own. "Don't worry, sweetheart," he said, the endearment oddly tender on his lips. "It won't hurt that much."

"Actually," she said, firing up the gun. "Wrist tattoos hurt like a bitch. Should be fast, though."

Chibita's lips twisted, but he just laughed, a little darkly. "See? All that bitching and she's done it before."

"Shut up," she said pleasantly, and then she went to work.

It did hurt. Fuck, it hurt. But worse than that, it felt... wrong. Very few people in Karamatsu's life had ever even touched his wrists; even parents and doctors were careful not to do too much. She was the first person other than Chibita who'd held onto him like this, who'd stared at his skin like a canvas. It was weird, and it made his stomach roll uncomfortably. That, he felt, was worse than the pain.

Chibita held his hand through the worst of it, though, holding so tight that Karamatsu wondered what color his hand would be when he got it back. That pain, however, he welcomed. It was grounding and it was familiar, and he focused on that so he wouldn't have to think about a stranger pressing ink into his wrist.

It felt like forever, but Karamatsu knew objectively that it couldn't have taken long. It probably wasn't more than a half hour before she was wiping his wrist clean and reaching for the gel. Karamatsu just looked up at the ceiling for a few minutes, not quite ready to see Chibita's face, or the sight of his name on his wrist.

"You know, you're going to have to look at it eventually," she finally said, and Karamatsu managed a weak little laugh.

"Yeah," he said. Because he was going to be looking at it forever.

He took a deep breath and counted to ten, then pulled his wrist up to his face so he could take a good look. And there it was, right there in black ink. Just three little characters, but he felt like his entire world had been upended.

"Holy shit," Chibita said faintly beside him. "I — fuck."

"Yeah," he said again, stupidly, and he could feel the tears welling up in the back of his throat again. Fuck.

"I need to wrap it," she said, and for once, her voice was kind. She had to know what this meant to them. She had to.

He gave his arm back to her and tried to watch her work through the tears clouding his eyes.

"Don't take this off for a few hours, okay? And make sure you wash it when you do. You know how to take care of this thing, don't you?" she asked.

"Yeah," Chibita said, surprising him.

Karamatsu blinked. "You do?"

Chibita raised his eyebrows at him, and Karamatsu was gratified to see that his eyes were red, too. "What, you think you're the only one who can Google?" And then, more quietly. "Don't worry about it, idjit. I'll take care of you."

Karamatsu breathed in, in, in, until he was almost dizzy with it. With the love filling up his heart and making it pound painfully against his chest. "Thank you," he whispered. He looked over at the tattoo artist, who had just finished bandaging up his arm, discreetly so it would all be hidden by his cufflets. "And thank you, too."

"Don't mention it," she said, and looked at him levelly. "Seriously. Don't."

He nodded. It wasn't technically illegal, what they had just done, but it certainly wouldn't look good for her. Hell, she might even get her license taken away, if anyone found out. "We won't tell."

"And it's not like anyone else will be seeing it," Chibita said. "Not if I have anything to say about it."

It felt strange, walking back to the front of the shop. His arm hurt and his bandage itched hidden as it was beneath Chibita's handmade cufflets, and he felt wholly and completely changed.

The two of them stopped by the front desk. "How much do I...?" Karamatsu started, not even quite sure how to ask for a quote on what he'd just received. He was working now, they both were, but his odd jobs stacked on top of the income of an "oden master" still wasn't all that much. Still. It was worth it. Anything she said was worth it.

She sighed and rubbed at her nose. "Don't worry about it."

He frowned. "But..."

She looked at him, and he could see it there now for sure, that softness. "I said don't worry about it. What, you think I want a cash trail leading to what I just did? Just take care of it so I won't have to do too many touch-ups."

He looked sideways at Chibita, who just shrugged and took Karamatsu's hand in his. "I can come back for touch-ups?" he asked, tentative.

"Of course," she said, and he could see just the slightest hint of redness at her cheeks. "I am a professional, after all." She paused. "And... I mean. Good luck. To both of you."

Karamatsu's fingers tightened around Chibita's. "Thank you," he stammered out, again. "Thank you so much."

What she'd done for them... It meant everything. Everything. And they'd have it for the rest of their lives.

* * *

It was a solid month before it'd healed all the way. Chibita had carefully washed and moisturized it, just as he was supposed to, and Karamatsu had manfully resisted scratching the damn thing, but it had still taken a little while longer to heal what with the way he had to keep it covered every time they went out. It hadn't had much chance to breathe, and neither had Karamatsu as long as the evidence of what he'd done was clearly visible.

It was all worth it, though, to be able to look at it now, nice and neat and perfect. To see the way Chibita's eyes still widened every time when he pushed up Karamatsu's cuffs to actually reveal something underneath. To feel whole. Complete. Like there had been a part of him missing, denied to him by fate, and he'd filled it up with his own two hands.

Chibita saw this as just marking down the characters that should have always been there. Using modern technology to correct for fate's oversight. Karamatsu, though, Karamatsu knew what he'd done. He'd looked fate dead in the eye and made his own choice. He hadn't had some magic birthmark to ignore, but he'd had a lack of one to reckon with. He'd been given a choice between love and loneliness, fate and his own free will, and he'd chosen by far the more dangerous of the two.

He didn't know if Chibita had another soulmate out there somewhere, some other Matsuno who really did have "Chibita" written on his skin. Hopefully, the two of them would never have to find out. And hopefully, that mysterious man, if he existed, would manage to find happiness on his own terms. Not everyone found their soulmate, after all. Not everyone wanted to.

The idea of it seemed desperately romantic right now with Chibita pressing maddening little kisses to his brand-new Name, but it also seemed utterly immaterial to their happiness. Soulmate or not, destined or not, Chibita was right here right now, kissing him like he was perfect, and right here right now, Karamatsu had decided that Chibita's name was the only one that mattered.

Karamatsu pulled him in, pulled him closer, tangled as they were on the floor. They'd found themselves in that position a lot lately, not too different from how they'd been when they'd first gotten together. A second honeymoon, Karamatsu called it, which made Chibita snort because, technically speaking, they still hadn't even had their first.

Karamatsu kissed him once, twice, a dozen times, breathed sweet nothings between his lips that never seemed to get old. He might not have been good at many things, and he may not have been very smart, but he knew this: this was what he wanted. Every goddamn day, this was what he wanted.

He wanted to wake up with Chibita's nose mashed against his chest and he wanted to kiss the back of Chibita's neck, mischievous, as he made breakfast. He wanted to read notes tucked into his pocket and know, against all odds, that that handwriting was hidden beneath his cufflets as well. He wanted to make love with Chibita anywhere, everywhere, all the time, and he wanted Chibita to be able to bury his lips against Karamatsu's Name as he came. He wanted to curl up close behind him as they slept, wanted to hook his arm around Chibita's waist and lay their wrists together, beautiful and matching and theirs in the moonlight.

Soulmates might have been destined, but love was a choice. It was a choice that Karamatsu was going to have to make every day for the rest of his life — and he looked forward to doing so. He looked forward to choosing Chibita every goddamn day.

If that was his destiny, more the better. And if it wasn't, that meant nothing in the face of all this, right here, all this love and happiness and devotion.

Life was full of choices. He'd chosen to leave his parents' house. He'd chosen to scrape together a life and a living with Chibita, and he'd chosen to be with him always. He'd chosen to tattoo Chibita's name on his wrist as a statement to himself and to Chibita and to destiny itself.

This is mine. These are my choices. This is my love. This is my life.

And, fated or not, it was happy.