She traces them softly, the lines on his skin, silently one by one, trying to put the story together.
Barely touching him, ghosting over his skin, doing his best not to hurt him; it matters little, the pain is long gone after all and he wants to stop her, but he does not. She tries to follow it, the patterns, the map of his life; but to her it makes little sense. It never will, unless he tells her but for now, at the beginning, tracing the pattern is good enough for her.
(Sometimes he turns away, like he's ashamed, those nights she wonders about the shadows in his eyes.)
Later, many nights later, when they're closer and she thinks she might be falling in love – though she doesn't really want to – she asks but he doesn't tell, keeping his secrets (his pains, his horrors) to himself and there is nothing she can do.
(She's too late to help him, too late to change it; she supposes that they – the team – are always too late.)
But she tries, tries to find out the truth, to discover how the pattern works, tracing the lines on his skin. They matter, they all have stories, and she – the one who loves him – wants to hear them all. But he – the one hiding in the shadows – doesn't want to tell.
(He screams at night, sometimes, the nightmares tormenting him, she holds him, on those nights, pretending that she can't see the tears escaping his eyes. Every time it happens, every few nights, he holds her closer, allows her to help just a little bit more. She holds him, will hold him, until the night he can tell her everything.)
Eventually he talks – though he doesn't give her much – and she listens, storing every word in her memory for later use.
She traces over the scars, softly one by one, trying to figure it all out.
And he talks – moments, times, places – small anecdotes of his painful past, every night just a little more.
(Eventually, though it takes some times, she gathers up all the stories, brief though they are and she thinks she understands him just a little more.)
He traces the scars on her skin too sometimes, but she only has three and she – surprisingly – gives up the stories very easily.
She listens as he talks and she smiles as he devolves just a little more than yesterday – eventually, it might take her years, she'll gather up all the evidence. She'll know it all.
As she softly traces the evidence of his wounds he talks – a gunshot wound five years ago, a stabbing even longer ago, a fall of a roof – she wonders about the real pain, the things she doesn't see.
This is the evidence of his pain after all, but not all wounds become scars; and she wonders about all the hidden pain, the hidden wounds. Those moments that he screams about, but never tells, the ones that haunt him the most; these scars after all have healed, but the ones in his mind, in his heart, may never and there is nothing she can really do, except wait until he's ready to tell.
(She doesn't count the amount of times she's traced them but eventually he smiles at her as he tells some of the stories. That, she supposes, is her reward for being persistent; that and the love he so clearly feels for her.)
Once, only once, he turns away from her completely; leaving her behind and she understands and never asks again.
(Those scars are on his back and are older, much, much older; almost faded away compared to any of the others. He doesn't tell but she understands and later, as he talks of his father, she understands the pain in his eyes. Eventually, many, many years later – after they've broken up and gotten back together – he gives her a date and she knows, a nine year old after all doesn't go to war, but she still doesn't ask.)
They lie in bed, silently side by side as she traces over the scars on his skin, tracing the pattern, putting together the story of his life – of his pain.
She'll keep doing it until the day comes that his scars are real scars and his pain heals. Until the day he is whole again.
(He never will be.)
That, she supposes, is what love is.