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Inks and Tallies

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He was back again.

Roman would have been lying if he'd denied remembering the certain customer, especially since said customer had entered the tattoo parlor more times than anyone ever did. He was a regular.

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The first time he had entered the tattoo parlor wasn't very memorable, but Roman found the tattoo the young man with the dark eyeliner requested strange. In clear words laced with nervousness, the customer had told Roman to tattoo a simple line on his wrist, instructing him to write "Patton" in cursive on top of the horizontal line with a heart next to the name.

It was a strangely simple request, but seeing as Roman had gotten more surreal instructions before, he'd etched the tattoo on the strangers pale wrist with nothing more than questioning looks.

The stranger caught Roman's eye immediately after Roman had raised an eyebrow at the oddity of the request while sticking the needles on his skin.

"You've never had someone ask you to make a tally mark before?" The stranger asked playfully, a small hint of shyness joining his words.

Roman blinked and shrugged, smiling sheepishly. "I had one granny probably about sixty ask me to tattoo knitting needles on her skin once."

"Must've been one badass sixty year old to be getting a tattoo," the stranger commented with a light smile.

Roman chuckled under his breath. "Yeah," he agreed. "She wore really dark granny motorcycle clothes and rocked that sixty year old badassery look." With a glance at the stranger again, Roman added, "You kinda remind me of her."

The stranger repressed a laugh. "You gonna realize your mistake or am I going to have to point it out?" The stranger asked with an amused expression adorning his pale face.

Roman arched an eyebrow. Realization struck him square in the chest, and a horrified expression crossed his features. "Oh my god, no! I didn't mean to call you a sixty year old granny! I meant you looked really badass, holy shit!"

"Pfft- thanks."

The stranger laughed, his body shaking in a pathetic attempt to keep the laughter in. Roman finished up the tattoo and buried his face in his hands in embarrassment, his face heating up.

Roman groaned, bandaging the new tattoo on the strangers skin as the stranger lightly pat his back in joking comfort.

 After that, the stranger thanked Roman, unrolled his black sleeves, paid, and walked out of the parlor, leaving a tattoo artist to his own embarrassment.

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It was two weeks until Roman saw the stranger enter the small parlor again, with unruly bangs and warm, distant eyes. He sat in the chair he sat in two weeks earlier and rolled his sleeves up.

The customer, once again, gave Roman very simple instructions. Another tally line, right under the one he'd gotten two weeks ago, this time with a different name. "Logan," written in a simple, narrow font. Next to the name, the man told Roman to tattoo a cartoonic brain, and once again, Roman complied without question, doing his job obediently, but the question of what the names and tallies meant pulled at Roman's mind.

"Moved on from your past boyfriend that fast?" Roman joked carelessly.

The stranger arched an eyebrow. "Patton's my friend, not a boyfriend."

"Oh, so Logan's the boyfriend!"

"Incorrect yet again," the stranger said. "In fact, Patton and Logan are dating, and he's not really my type."

"Ooh, a third wheel, huh? I hate that. When your friend brings their boyfriend home and you meet them and they're both so cute eith each other, and you're like 'wow, can I have one of those?' "

The stranger gave Roman a lopsided grin. "That was strangely specific."

Roman winked as if he'd just shared a secret. A silence followed.

Suddenly, the stranger smirked wickedly, smirk followed by the question, "Do you always stick your tongue out when working?"

Roman hummed in confusion before realizing that a tiny bit of his tongue stuck out in concentration. He sheepishly grinned. The stranger rolled his eyes in annoyance upon seeing the lopsided smile.

"Ew,  stop smiling it's too bright, Colgate."

Roman snorted. "Colgate? More like Col-great."

The stranger grinned. "Col-great? More like Col-get-away-from-me."

Roman put a hand over his heart in offense as the stranger laughed at his antics, Roman's eyes widening in feigned hurt. "You know what, granny? Do your own tattoo!"

The stranger gave Roman a puppy pout, and Roman's heartstrings broke. Oh dear Lord, that pout was indescribably cute!! Roman suppressed the giggle and squeal threatening to spill from his throat and instead covered it up as an awkward cough. Roman sighed. "You're so lucky you have a good tattoo artist."

The stranger chuckled. "Way to blow your own ego horn."

"Ah, but if I don't blow it, then who will?"

Smol, dark, and handsome smiled fondly at that answer.

Roman quickly finished the tattoo up and the stranger left with a simple thanks and a payment in cash, looking back at Roman with what seemed to be a playful wink. Roman blushed, reasons why he did unthinkable.

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About three weeks later, the stranger came back, entering the tattoo parlor silently, the only thing announcing his presence being the small bell ringing as he opened the glass door with a push. He looked noticeably... better. Pale skin becoming a bit less transparent and eyes not shining with the intense exhaustion they had the past two encounters.

From his past two enterings, Roman immediately recognized the gaunt face, the pale skin, and the eyebags covered with dark eyeliner. Once again, the man sat in the chair he had sat in twice already, rolled up his black hoodie sleeves, and gave Roman simple instructions.

This time, the stranger instructed Roman to make a tally line, identical to the other two decorating his wrist, the name "Thomas" being written top of the tally in italic font with a star next to the name. Roman was more than willing to take the curious approach and just blurt out the question on what he was counting.

At this point, what he wanted couldn’t even be called a simple word of “curiousity.” A strong aching to know what the stranger was counting with the lines willed Roman. Trying to ask the stranger subtly, Roman settled with a long since overdue proper introduction first.

As he was poking needles in the pale arms of the customer, Roman introduced himself with a smile, still focusing on the tattoo. "I noticed we've been talking a lot, but we always seem to skip the introduction," he started. "My name's Roman."

Roman paused, letting the man he was tattooing introduce himself. After a strong silence, Roman was halfway done with the tattoo, the tally line already done, mirroring the other two lines. 

With a bite of his lips, the stranger responded: "Virgil."

Roman raised an eyebrow in confusion before realizing the stranger had entrusted Roman with his name. "Virgil," Roman repeated, enjoying the way the name rolled off his tongue smoothly. "I like it."

"Thanks," Virgil responded, voice soft and quiet. "I appreciate knowing you like my name."

Roman couldn't decipher if what Virgil had said was comedic, a jab, or a snarky reply, so he ignored the words and finished the tattoo. He'd been hoping the keep Virgil in the parlor to ask what he'd been counting, but just as he wrapped Virgil's arm in protective wrap to cover the newly inked line, Virgil hurriedly thanked Roman, handed him cash, and walked out the store.

The tattoo artist would be lying if he said he wasn't the slightest bit hurt, but Roman did convince himself that the stranger -- Virgil -- just had trust issues and the whole let's share our names thing freaked him out.

Considering the past conversations and playful banter with Virgil and how well they went, Roman decided he was  more than willing to be patient with the customer he'd decided was well worth the conversations with, even if it meant his questions on the meaning of the tattoo lay unanswered.

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After three weeks without hearing from Virgil, Roman was afraid he'd scared the customer away, and a small shred of guilt dropped on him, turning into a thousand drops the more he dwelled on it.

However, on the fourth week, Virgil returned in his usual dark fashion and emo makeup. Virgil casually sat on the chair he'd soon grown accustomed to. He waited as Roman sat next to him and rolled his sleeves up.

This time, Virgil gave Roman new instructions. Not only did he ask for one tally line, but Virgil had asked for two tally lines to be added to the steadily growing lines. The name "Talyn" was added in a bold font with a black cat next to the letters while the name "Joan" was added in comic sans with a matching white cat, drawn in a playing pose.

Unable to hold himself back, Roman blurted, "What are you counting?"

Virgil raised an eyebrow, permitting Roman to continue and clarify what question he was asking. Taking the eyebrow as a gesture to continue, Roman did.

"You come in the parlor randomly and ask me to tattoo tally lines with names on top of them," Roman explained. "I was curious. What are the lines counting?"

Virgil stared at Roman with a deadpanned expression, emotionless but a minuscule tug of his lips indicating a barely visible smirk. "The amount of people I've killed," Virgil joked, although the unemotional tone of his voice making Roman freeze.

Romans eyes met Virgils, and for a minute, they just stared at each other. They blinked. Virgil began to laugh, his shoulders raising in amusement as his body shook while he cackled. Roman watched in fearful confusion, waiting for Virgil to calm down. 

It took a moment for Virgil to compose himself once more, although he did burst into random giggles. "Don't worry, Romano, I don't actually kill people," Virgil assured the tattoo artist, his free hand hugging his stomach in an attempt to stop laughing. 

Roman playfully slapped Virgil's shoulder, glaring at the emo man lightly. "You jerk!" Roman accused. "You had me believing you were tallying the names of your victims in permanent ink!"

At the end of that statement, Virgil burst into another fit of giggles, the sides of his pale lips quirking up in a half smirk/half smile sort of thing he had going.

"Aw, I'm sorry I scared you, you big baby," Virgil apologized in mock tone as Roman finished the tattoo up and wrapped his arm. 

That apology, although obviously joking, made Roman's cheeks heat up. He pushed the blush away, insisting it was from embarrassment, and faced Virgil with a pout. "You're such a bully," he accused, his full lips pulled in a sad pout.

Virgil snorted, thanked Roman for the tattoo, and walked out of the parlor with a smirk plastered on his face. Even though Roman didn't get his answers regarding the purpose of the tattoos Virgil asked to be out on his skin, Roman finished up satisfied for the brief moment of humour he and the male had shared.

And so Roman didn't chase after the man in the black hoodie who called himself Virgil, but he sure wished he did.

||||| |

When a month passed without Virgil's familiar face entering the tattoo parlor, Roman was panicking. Maybe he'd overstepped his boundaries with the barely met stranger. Maybe he'd been talking to much when he was doing the tattoo and he'd messed up. With some shock, Roman gulped. Maybe Virgil really had been a murderer and he hasn't killed in a while.

Roman sighed, hitting his head on the counter repeatedly and groaning dramatically. The bell over the glass door rung, announcing the presence of a customer, but Roman continued to hit his head, a part of him hoping for a concussion and the other part longing for the sweet release of death.

"You'll mess up your pretty boy face up if you keep going."

A chill ran down Roman's spine. That voice.

Slowly, Roman let his head lift up, his caramel eyes meeting melted chocolate ones. The eyes of the person who had spoken belonged to Virgil. Biting back the urge to demand where Virgil had been, Roman tried for a snarky reply.

"You think I'm pretty!" Roman exclaimed, his eyelashes batting dorkily. 

Virgil rolled his eyes, somewhat infuriating Roman while equally amusing him. "Pretty annoying."

Roman pouted as Virgil's lips quirked up to a smile ever so slightly. After a comfortable silence, Roman began to talk business again. "So, what's our tally for today?" Roman asked, walking to the chair Virgil had always sat. 

Virgil shrugged, pulling his sleeves up to his elbows, his pale wrist showing off the gallery of ink lines and intricately inked names in different fonts. "Remy," Virgil answered. "In a stupidly dramatic font, with like a Starbucks coffee next to it."

Roman nodded and began the tattooing process, but once the silence between customer and artist leaned towards the more uncomfortable side of the spectrum, Roman decided to break the silence.

"What's with your weird tattoo schedules anyhow?" Roman asked, his eyes still focused on the arm he was poking needles in.

Virgil hummed, confused. "Care to elaborate on that?"

Roman shrugged, glancing at Virgil briefly. "I mean, you walk into the shop this one morning to get a line tattooed on you. Nothing weird there, but like two weeks later, you reappear, so I'm just going 'well okay.' Nothing's out of the ordinary and it takes some more weeks for you to come back. That's a pretty messed up tattoo schedule."

Virgil pulled a face which Roman took as a face used to think about what to say before saying it. After a moment, Virgil shrugged. "I don't really make friends every day."

What a cryptic answer.

Roman arched an eyebrow, his eyes staring at Virgil intently. "That makes absolutely no sense to me," Roman admitted.

Virgil smirked. "If you dwell on it more, it'll start making more sense," he assured, just as Roman finished up the straw for the Starbucks cup he was currently inking.

Roman shrugged, wrapping Virgil's arm in protective wrap. Virgil stood up, paid Roman, and walked out of the parlor, ever so mysteriously, leaving Roman bamboozled. 

It was that night when Roman realized that Virgil had just entrusted him to what the names meant.

||||| ||

Later that month, Virgil came back with an entirely new plaid purple and black jacket and even darker eyeliner to cover up his eyebags. Roman swooned silently, choking the moment he saw the transformation.

The prince-like tattoo artist with the swept to the side hair leaned forward on the counter, meeting Virgil's eyes. "That's a neat outfit you got there, friendo."

Virgil's cheeks coloured ever so slightly, but he just scoffed. "This the part where the princess suddenly realizes that she had a special connection with the prince all along?" He teased.

Roman narrowed his eyes, a soft smile playing at his pink lips. "Excuse you, I am so not the princess! I am a man! A manly man!"

Virgil gave Roman elevator eyes, smirking. "Did I say you were the princess? Let me answer for you: No I did not."

A silence. Was... was Virgil flirting? Oh gosh, that was so adorable, even if the flirting itself was quite... a unique way of flirting to put it lightly.

Roman snorted and led the way to the chair. Once Virgil was comfortably sat on the chair, Roman rolled up Virgil's jacket sleeves, eyes not leaving Virgil's angelic but equally intimidating face. Virgil noticed Roman's stare.

"What?" Virgil asked.

Roman shook his head. "Nothing. Just... you tattoo the names of your new friends on yourself?"

Virgil averted his gaze softly. "Is that weird?" Insecurity laced his words.

"No, no!" Roman blurted. "It's actually pretty cute."

A soft, pink tint showed on the tips of Virgil's ears as he cleared his throat awkwardly. Struggling to find words of thanks, Virgil muttered a shaky, "Um, that's good then."

Roman smiled, wanting to keep the conversation going. "What gave you the idea?" 

Virgil sat up straighter on the chair he was sitting on, rolling his sleeves up to the elbow on his arm. He took a deep breath and began his tale, fingers grazing the light skin of his arms.

"This is going to be a weird story," Virgil cautioned, his eyes slowly meeting Roman's in a warning.

Roman smiled, gesturing to his tattoo set. "You're telling this to the guy who works with people who want the entire All Star song lyrics inked on their skin permanently. With the words Shrek Forever."

That made a smile go on Virgil's face. "Well, okay." Another intake of breath. "On the morning I decided to get a tattoo, I was... considering on marking my skin with a line on a different way."

Roman froze. Oh. Oh. "Oh my god, are you comfortable telling me this story, I don't want you to--"

"It's... it's fine, Roman."

Roman nodded.

Virgil continued. "Well, uh, I couldn't do it. It just seemed so stupid. Dumb 3 am thoughts, ya know? So then I thought: There are people in this world who'd hate me to harm myself. So why should I?"

Roman let himself let out a breath he didn't even know he was holding-- a breath of relief that Virgil found reassuring.

"So I didn't. I didn't want marks of battles I've fought without reason-- I wanted marks of the people I fought with. I wanted marks of things which gave me reasons to fight for. And I figured-- if marks of battles of sorrow were permanent, marks of people worth going into battle for should be, too."

Everything was quiet for a moment, the air still and a blanket of warmth enveloping the two. Roman's eyes met Virgil's, and for a while, they just... stared. 

Roman gave Virgil a smile. "Anyone ever told you you're amazing, Virge?" 

Virgil scoffed. "A few." Though he'd never admit it, Virgil did feel his cheeks heating up at the compliment.

Roman silently took Virgil's hand, gently holding it as he let the surprisingly warm hands rest on the armchair. "Friend of the day today?"

"Nate," Virgil answered, resting his head on the back of the chair. "With sunglasses."

Roman worked in a comfortable silence, occasionally giving Virgil's hand a squeeze. After some minutes or so, Roman had finished up and Virgil had paid.

Before Virgil's leaving, Roman took the pale hands into his own again, leaving a piece of paper in Virgil's palm. It would be later on when Virgil read the note on the extravagant red sticky note.

Scrawled at the very top of the page were numbers, loopy and cutesy. With a blush, Virgil found them out to be part of a phone number. He read the rest of the paper:

As much as I love seeing you every few weeks, hows about let's see each other outside of the parlor and not only talk once every year :)

Call me, Virgil ;)

Your prince,

Roman