His fingers are stained with ink when she walks in, the chiaroscuro of the cityscape before him soaked deep within his skin. She hands him a rag and looks over the piece with an approving eye, takes in the most minute of details and the broadest of strokes all at once. He wipes his hands, almost sad to see the colors go and she, as always, picks up on the undertone of emotion.
“Did you want to carry the piece with you for a while longer?” she teases. She drapes herself over his shoulders, gazes at the art and at what inspired it.
He could blow it off, could chuckle or smile or just move on to more important things. But there are no more important things, not today. It’s a quiet afternoon in the middle of a quiet week, and he had taken advantage of the fact to partake in his favorite hobby if not vice. It was a rare thing, and one that deserved his full appreciation, ties to history and all. Memories were only shadows of the past if not shared.
He sets the rag aside, carefully out of the way of the drying ink, and says, “Before, when I was... well, just before, I used to do it on purpose.” He chuckles, dry and maybe a little raw. She doesn’t stop him, never does when he talks about the days before the serum. “It was a waste of ink, waste of supplies in general, I know, but it’s not like I always had the paper to use anyway. Charcoal would wash off, but good ol’ Parker ink took days at the least, more if I reapplied.”
Hidden beneath cloth, secreted away, something only he would and could see. A part of him. A part of him that he created. A part of him that he could control when nothing else was within his grasp.
“You became your art,” she guesses, understands at some level.
He nods. “Nothing so radical as a tattoo, not that they’d give one to a runt like me,” he agrees. “But it was a form of self-expression, even if I was the only one who knew what I was expressing.”
She shifts, sits beside him on the arm of the chair. “Did you want one now? A tattoo that is.”
He shakes his head ruefully. “If bullets don’t scar me, a little needle and ink isn’t about to last.”
“I scar,” she says, apropos of nothing. She shrugs, graceful and flowing. “Not a lot and most of it fades from my own treatments. But the Red Room, KGB, SHIELD – they spared no expense at new and interesting techniques to erase all but the worst of it from my skin.”
It makes sense: You can’t have a spy who can become anyone and everyone at the drop of the hat if she has any identifiable marks. But it erases the past. Erases her past. Deletes who she was to focus on who she could be instead.
She rolls up her sleeve, reveals an expanse of porcelain pale. “You can use me,” she offers, smile in place. “I’d love to be part of your creations.”
She reaches for the bottle of ink, but he shakes his head. He could never do that to her. She may have no pending or pressing missions where disguise is the name of the game, but he couldn’t mark her, couldn’t mar her, not in that way.
She looks at him questioningly, and he makes a decision. He caps the ink and reaches for the oil crayons instead, soft and pliable and washable if you try. The permeability suits her better anyway.
She smiles, wide and true and removes her shirt in one go, tosses it aside safely out of range of his supplies. He spends the next hours drawing curling vines, intricate leaves and petals of the most delicate flowers. Never a web because that’s what she was forced to be, not what she could have become. Hues of deep greens and reds to rival her hair, blues as deep as the sky outside the window, and browns more cinnamon than gold to match the brickwork below. He trails his designs against her skin, expresses everything that lies inside, pours out his soul and knows she will accept it all.
Later, when his work is smeared across rumpled sheets, stained against his skin as well as her own, he thinks of the gift she granted him and hopes she recognizes the gratitude he feels because he knows words will never be enough to express it. He looks into her eyes, laughing and free, and thinks maybe, just maybe, she understands.
Two nights later, she shows up at his door with a new case of pastels, and he knows.