Asgardians could scar.
Natasha didn’t know that. She’d seen the kind of punishment Thor could take without a flinch, she’d heard his own account of how he’d gone up against the Hulk without getting much more than a bloody lip and believed it without a qualm. But despite his strength and alien toughness, there was a scar in the side of his otherwise flawless abdominal muscles, a thin stab wound from a fine blade.
Thor saw her eyes skimming over it as he surfaced from another lap in Tony’s enormous pool, water running off his skin and the modern swim trunks Jane had insisted he’d wear. At least she had better taste than Clint’s sense of humor; he’d been angling to get Thor in some of their merchandised swimware line, and the Internet really did not need a picture of Thor in Hulk shorts.
“Loki,” he said softly, lifting himself out of the water to sit on the edge. Natasha just continued to float in silence, all the scars of her profession hidden in the sleekly-cut one-piece she used when she came out to the pool. Given permission, she stared a little more freely, and looked up into his eyes, staring at some far distant memory. “In the Chitauri attack. I attempted to reason with him, give him a chance to surrender. He stabbed me.” He didn’t run a hand over the scar, just dropped back into the water. “My people don’t scar easily, but I survived. It is a reminder… of many things.”
“We’ve all got scars, Thor.”
“Indeed. We sing about them, in Asgard.” He turned to look at her, and she floated on her back in the water, the only scars visible very fine ones, nearly invisible unless you knew they were there. Those ones are the flesh wounds, the accidents, fine knife slips and small bullet grazes. The ones on her torso are the ones with intent to kill, each one made with murderous promise.
She didn’t say anything more, and Thor pushed off the edge to continue his swim.
Clint had a baker’s dozen of nasty ones visible when he swam. Knife and sword wounds when his old teacher got murderous, a couple ugly puncture wounds when Barney got the same. Bullet scars from missions gone sideways, shrapnel wounds from one that went damn near upside-down. Silvery when the water hit him, far more visible on his skin than Thor’s sculpted perfection, they were a sort of abstract glory. She knew the stories behind all of them.
He didn’t wear a t-shirt when he swam.
She couldn’t wear a bikini anymore, or at least that’s what she had told herself for several years. Marks remembered when their seductress had bullet scars visible over her panty line. But she hadn’t had to go that far in a long time. It was enough just to get them talking, to get them alone in the bedroom. She didn’t have to take her clothes off, just seem to promise to; it was enough for most men to get foolish enough to say what they shouldn’t.
Bruce also had scars, but they were old, decades old, put there by the strike of a belt buckle against his skin by his brute monster of a father. Every horrific wound since the Hulk healed up when the monster burst forth from his own body. The reason for the Hulk is visible. And Bruce had learned to care enough for the Avengers, trust them enough, to not care that they can see his past on his skin.
Tony had all sorts of scars, frightening ones that make her sick to contemplate around the edges of where the arc reactor had been sunk in his body. He wore a sleek shirt in the pool, the glow leaking through, to spare them his own stupidity from the ugly lines that poison had left in his skin.
And Bucky… His were as bad as Tony’s, ugly scaring across his deltoid where he was cyborged, peppered down his flank where unknowns have tried to take him out and nearly managed it. But he didn’t hide. Didn’t want to. He had been a ghost for so long that to be able to be out in the sun, arm shining, was a strange pleasure for him.
Steve didn’t have scars. He healed too fast, had reflexes too quick. But sometimes she thought he might want to keep one or two. And yet he was just vain enough, just human enough, to enjoy what he had, providing lovely scenery along with his friendship whenever Tony called for a pool party.
It was Pepper that showed her, or at least tipped her over the edge of her old habits of hiding what she needed to. Pepper showed up wearing a bikini that had Tony following her with laser intensity, subtly shimmering deep blue and really not terribly there, tight and smooth against her slim frame. And she had an appendix scar over her right flank, crawling up her side like a plaintive question mark, and clearly few fucks are given. Tony lifted her into the pool, hands cupping her hips, thumbs caressing the hollows underwater while she laughed and threw her arms around his neck.
Natasha had seduced her way through dozens of marks. She’d worn hundreds of gowns tailored to their liking. Rarely had she gotten that kind of spontaneous laughter. Professionally, she was a little jealous.
“That’s a nice suit, Pepper,” she said, leaning back against Clint in the shallow end as he took a rest from swimming.
Pepper smiled in her direction, and Clint’s arm around her clothed middle went stiff with surprise. “Since when are you a fan of belly-baring swimwear?” he asked quietly.
She looked over at him with a clear “don't kid a kidder” expression. “You know better than to bait me.”
“Far better,” he said. He relaxed a little as they lounged in the cool water, watching Thor and Steve get into some kind of swimming endurance match which Tony was shamelessly egging on (and being egged on in turn by Bruce). Natasha's eyes skipped over to Pepper, to her elegant suit, to Tony's smile, to everyone's scars.
It wasn't out of shame that she kept covered, but habit. Forgetting details like her scars could get her killed in her profession. Former profession. Natasha smiled to herself. She'd been told before by her teachers and handlers that certain habits would get her killed. For a lot of things, they'd been right, and that had kept her alive. Last year she'd tossed most of that of that back in the faces of her adopted country, and had been slowly learning to find who she was under those habits.
She knew what Clint would say if she told him that. Well no, she knew exactly what Clint would say. “Naked,” he'd said when she'd commented. She'd elbowed him precisely in the gut and made him take her out to his favorite restaurant.
Clint was grinning beside her, Natasha could hear it, the smile of someone with a secret they were bursting to be asked about. Her eyes flicked over to Pepper again, then back at Clint.
“I smell a conspiracy.”
“You have an accurate nose,” Clint said, unrepentant. “Not that we needed much of one. I ran into Pepper up here with Tony last week when you were in L.A.” His hand moved over to a towel folded nearby. She stopped him, a smile quirking her lips.
“I have my own.”
“Tell me it's the one from the Maldives,” Clint said, in a tone akin to reverence. Natasha laughed out loud; that had been before SHIELD, but Clint must have seen the pictures. Calling that “suit” a string and two Band-Aids would have been an overstatement. Calling that mission a success would have an understatement.
She didn't gratify that comment with a reply, but rose dripping from the pool without another word and went inside to her floor, and the vast closets therein. Natasha could live out of the contents of her pockets if she had to, but when she didn't, she could and would keep as many options as she could. Including some outfits she hadn't worn since she'd survived getting shot by the Winter Soldier.
That hadn't been his fault. He'd had it far worse than she did in the brain damage department. They'd already made their apologies for mutual murder attempts.
The only one holding herself back was her. Natasha ran her hands over a rack of items at the back of her closet, and pulled one off its hangar.
Clint did not smirk when Natasha emerged from the dressing room and back into the sunshine, the bronze bikini hugging her body and not hiding the rough reddish bullet scar through her side, or the long slice across her stomach from a katana-wielding operative in Osaka. She eased herself back into the water next to Clint, and the next time Thor powered by on his umpteenth lap, he lifted his head enough to give her his big golden smile before turning and churning through the water again, neck and neck with Steve. She saw the scar on his own flank as he flipped, and let Clint put his arm back around her, his fingers idly brushing her skin where it went from soft to rough.
The others hadn't seemed to notice yet, but she knew that was a pack of little white lies. They might not see as much as Clint, but they noticed plenty. Pepper smiled over at her as Tony amusingly berated both swimmers, Bruce floated serenely in the deep end, unmoved by the competition going on around him, and Natasha leaned back against Clint, most of her on full display.
The summer sun had never felt so good.