"You look a little pale."

What a speculation, Monica's thoughts quipped, eyes rising to meet her coworker's. "Don't I always?"

"Yeah, but if it's all still a little, you know, too much..."

"Joe, I'm fine, really."

"You sure? It's slow today and..."

"Joe!" The name flew from her lips like a bullet shot askew, making her tattooed companion flinch involuntarily. Damn her temper. It was a beast that could never be contained. "I'm fine, seriously. I was close to the woman but I need the money."

A sigh was her only response. This young woman spoke the truth. Living in a rat hole of an apartment all of her life was not what she had in mind, not with the water always smelling funny or the carpet practically threadbare. No sir'ee. She was going places. Yeah, that was it. She'd spent the whole night up once, telling Joe exactly what all of her exploits would be, what places she'd visit, just how many roles of film she'd spend when she got to Paris... Then, reality checked in. A job. She needed to keep this job. You can't make the scene if you don't have the green.

So she got her license in tattooing and was working at this... whatever you'd call it... Shop, until her bank account bulged enough to be unleashed across the entire planet.

A few moments of silence passed. A few more. Then, finally, breaking the ice like a barge, the words: "You want some coffee?" dripped from Joe's lips in kind consideration. His brown eyes were greeted with her own - warm, sad, determined - and his breath nearly caught in his throat. He didn't love her like that. No. Not in a romantic sense. But he'd pay the first man who could hold back that reaction a million dollars. How could this woman, this gorgeous, full of potential woman, end up in a scum pit like Skin Deep? Where the ink seeps passed the skin and right to the heart. Monica always said they needed a new slogan. She was right.

"Yeah, sure."

He placed a mug of the brown ambrosia before her, the scent wafting up her nostrils and through her system, but not being nearly as refreshing as she'd expected. Maybe it had to do with the white powder stuck to the inside of the mug...

"... What'd you put in here?"

Joe didn't look back. Those eyes. Those large, depressing eyes. He couldn't bare to look into them again any more than he'd have a staring contest with Medusa. "Just splenda, Monica. Drink up."

She didn't ask any further questions as she poured the liquid down her throat.

The girl wriggled so much that Monica had to stop three times. A bleached blonde cheerleader kind of chick, getting her boyfriend's name tattooed on her lower back. Smart move, Monica thought, the sound of the sharp instrument humming in her ears, just as familiar and comforting as birds were to the morning. I'll see you in a few months, sweetie, when he dumps you for your kid sister.

After a few more moments, the words: "All done," sprang from her mouth, her hands now helping the femme stand up off the chair. She whirled around in front of the mirror, examining the curves of her newly formed body modification.

"It's great! You did a really great job! How much will that be again?"

"Fifty bucks."

She shuffled in her bag, one of those canteen-like contraptions that had gold sequins jingling from the edges like teats. "Don't tell daddy."

"Don't worry, I won't." The black-haired one replied, resisting the urge to roll her eyes as the bombshell waltzed out on to the street, climbed into the car that her parents obviously bought for her, and roared down the street. She turned to Joe. "I'm figuring her for a butterfly cover-up kind of girl, how about you?"

He chuckled, wiping down the counter and closing up the shop. "Remember that face, you'll be seeing her again. Give it a few months."

"Less," his employee concluded, slipping on her jean jacket, the one with all the signatures and doodles on the sleeve. Tonight had been kind of slow. Not as many patrons as the usual Saturday night had, they must have been off at some rich kid's party, keg standing their way into a coma. That was probably for the best, anyway, because her mind hadn't been concentrating on her work very well. Break an archer's finger and enter him into a match with Robin Hood. Think he'll win?

She sighed as she slipped a single button through it's loop. "Well, I'm off."

"Take it easy."

Yeah, right. Not an easy task when you ram needles under someone's skin for a living, and are still dealing with post-mortem grievances. She climbed into her car - a black, dented contraption that had seen better days - and started the engine, taking a moment to run her fingers through her hair and wipe her eyes.

Something felt wrong.

Ignore those feelings. They're common, they're human. The young woman tried her best to fight them back into the winding corridors of her subconscious, but they emerged like giant, hovering bats with razor sharp teeth, filling the air with the pollutants of screams. Push them aside, Monica reminded herself. Ignore them.

Ignore them.