It’s Natasha that comes to him first. She lays there, shirt rucked up, calm as can be. Her state of calm doesn’t change even as Peter opens a new razor and drags the blades carefully across the peach fuzz on her ribs. As the needles first touch her skin there is still no outward change.
Her voice is similarly unaffected as she asks if Peter dances. He tells her that he used to and then asks how she knew, not at all surprised that she somehow does. There’s a smirk on her red lips as she asks if he really doesn’t realize that he tends to land on pointe any time he doesn’t land in his little spidery crouch. That makes him laugh a little because no he hadn’t noticed but that does sound like something he would do.
She asks why he learned to dance on pointe. They both know that it’s usually only the female dancers that do so. Peter explains that he had only been able to take ballet classes for two years because the money just wasn’t there; he had a friend that danced from elementary school all the way through high school, though, that took the time to show and teach Peter everything she was learning.
He anticipates her next question and answers before she can even ask. No, he did not wear a tutu. That response, and possibly the little pout on Peter’s face, parts those red lips in a genuine smile. As he wipes at the extra ink on her ribcage, he glances up at her pretty face and asks his own question.
The smile falls from her face as Peter learns about a program called the Red Room. Natasha doesn’t go into very much detail but it’s enough. She tells him about the dozens of young girls who learned to dance so pretty because of men and women that knew just how dangerous grace and elegance could be. She is still calm as she remembers but he can tell it hurts her far more than his needles ever could.
Still, Peter only focuses on his art and lets her talk. Natasha Romanov does nothing without purpose and he knows this is why she asked about his dancing. She needed to ease herself into talking about her own. He doesn’t worry that she’ll think he’s not listening; he and Natasha both know he hears every word she says. He may not ever truly understand but he can listen and that’s all she needs.
Her timing is impeccable. The buzz of the tattoo machine stops at the same time as her voice. As he reaches for the wrap to place over her new tattoo, Natasha stands and walks in front of the full-length mirror that takes up a portion of the shop’s back wall. She turns and looks at the ink etched into her ribcage.
In black and white, an elegant ballerina stands on the very tips of her toes. She has one arm extended above her and the other extended out in perfect position. The only splash of color is her hair. It’s not contained in a perfect ballerina’s bun but instead falls in wild red curls down to her shoulders.
The smile returns to those equally red lips as she turns back to Peter. He wraps her tattoo and tells her how to properly care for it as it heals. As they go to the front desk so he can hand her a written copy of aftercare instructions he has to stop her from paying. You’re not paying me for your first tattoo, he insists, call it a friends and family discount.
The narrowed green eyes tell him that she’ll find some way to pay him but for now, she just accepts her instructions and turns to leave the shop. Halfway to the door she turns back around and says something in her mother tongue. Peter doesn’t speak Russian, but he recognizes those words anyway.
“You’re welcome,” he says with a smile.
As Natasha leaves his shop the smile falls. Peter thinks about what he’s heard today. He thinks about dozens of little girls standing in front of a ballet bar, learning to dance and so much more. He thinks about dozens of little girls sleeping in cold cots with their wrists handcuffed to the headboards. He thinks about a little Russian girl left standing on pointe alone, hands as red as her hair, given the title of Black Widow.
He thinks about that little girl all grown up. He thinks about what she used to be, and he thinks about who she is now. The smile comes back as Peter returns to his station.
(The next week, after a long night spent patrolling the city, Peter climbs through the window of his tiny apartment. He spends a moment struggling to close it back and after a few creative swears aimed at the half-broken latch turns and peels off his mask, tossing it in the general direction of his beaten down couch. He starts in the direction of his tiny bathroom, hoping for an at least lukewarm shower, only to freeze as he passes the crates that semi-function as a coffee table.
On top of the crates sits a black box that he knows was not there when he left for patrol. The lack of a buzz in the back of his skull tells him that there’s probably no threat so he walks in that direction. He gets close enough to see the red hourglass shape on the lid of the box and relaxes completely. There’s a note next to it and he rolls his eyes as he reads what it says.
I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Stark, but you should move into the tower with the rest of us. You deserve better than this, little spider.
P.S. You have a rat.
Peter scoffs lightly as he opens the box. He knows his apartment is a bit run down, but there was no need to bring Mickey into this. He’s a perfectly courteous roommate.
He sets the lid aside and slowly reaches in to pull out a new pair of ballet shoes, obviously custom made in familiar shades of red and blue. He can only laugh as he reaches in again and pulls out the similarly colored tutu that the shoes had been resting on.)
2./3. Steve and Bucky:
The two super soldiers don’t say a word while the needles are on their skin. Steve goes first. In the time it takes Peter to get everything together, run a new razor over the light blond hair, and clean the area he’s working with, he and Bucky chat with him about Sophia, Loki’s new cat. Peter and Bucky have just started making plans to sneak a cat into the tower, despite Tony’s objections and Steve’s protests, when Peter tells him he’s going to start.
Immediately, the buzz of the needles is the only noise in the shop. Peter notices out of the corner of his eye that the two of them have joined hands. He knows it’s not because of the pain or any type of fear or even nervousness. Steve never seems to change the relaxed but somehow still firm way he holds Bucky’s hand. As Peter finishes the relatively quick lettering and wipes the fresh ink clean for the last time, he glances up and sees that the two of them have locked eyes. He figures they haven’t looked away from each other since he started his machine and, if he looks close enough, thinks he’d nearly be able to see the years together flashing through their minds.
As Peter goes to cover Steve’s new tattoo, the conversation strikes up again. This time, they’re discussing Peter’s lame landlord and how he doesn’t allow pets in the apartment. He’s not even surprised when Steve and Bucky immediately take the opportunity to suggest that he move into the tower. He pointedly ignores the blush on his cheeks, along with the grins that said blush causes, as they mention that they’re sure Tony wouldn’t mind allowing a pet in the tower if it meant Peter moving in.
The pattern repeats as Peter runs a different razor over the fine hairs on Bucky’s chest. They tease him about his not-relationship with Tony until the needles touch skin. That’s when they fall silent. Peter notices again that their hands are clasped and, as he wipes away excess ink, he glances up and sees that their eyes are locked.
The look in their eyes is different this time, darker and a little shattered. This time, he thinks if he looks closely enough he might be able to see the years apart flashing through their minds. He notices the way that Bucky tenses slightly as his needles get closer to the scarred skin around his shoulder. That’s okay, though. Peter has made sure, between the size and the spacing of the letters, that he won’t have to actually touch the scars.
Like with Steve, he finishes relatively quickly and sets down his machine, wiping at the ink one last time. The two soldiers break their shared thousand-yard stare as Steve looks at the dark blue letters on the left side of Bucky’s chest. Bucky looks at the gauze taped over the left side of Steve’s that he knows hides the same letters in dark red.
They share a smile this time as Peter silently tapes gauze over Bucky’s fresh ink. They don’t need to speak. They know where they stand and that’s together.
‘Til the end of the line.
On their way to the front counter, Peter tells them how to take care of their new tattoos while they heal. As he reaches to grab a written copy of their aftercare instructions Steve asks if he’ll even let them pay for their tattoos. Pleased that Natasha has apparently shared his policy on family and friends getting their firsts, he tells them it’s not happening.
Steve shakes his head in resignation as Bucky just smirks and promises they’ll find some way to pay him. Before they leave, instructions clutched in Bucky’s metal hand, Steve makes sure to shake Peter’s.
“Thank you,” he tells him.
“You’re welcome,” Peter returns.
Steve walks out first as Bucky opens and closes his mouth a few times. Finally, he claps his flesh hand down on Peter’s shoulder.
“Thank you,” he says, and Peter can almost feel his face soften as he sees the way that Bucky rolls his metal shoulder uncomfortably, like he’s nervous.
“You’re welcome,” he says.
As Bucky leaves, Peter wonders at the idea of two people so connected that they could spend most of the century they’ve been alive apart and still be every bit of together as they had been when they were little kids. He marvels at the connection that he had just been lucky enough to witness even a hint of. Peter smiles, shakes his head, thanks whatever higher power there may be that two of the most deserving people in the world have that connection, and returns to his station.
(Two days later, Peter walks through the door of his apartment, kicks it a few times to get it to close again, and throws his bag down on his crates/coffee table. He’s not even really surprised to see that there’s a box sitting there with a picture frame leaned against it, the back of the frame facing Peter.
He grabs the frame first and turns it around to see an uncolored pencil drawing of Spiderman, upside down with his feet together, hanging from a web with his hand out in a well-known pose. He grins as he sees the scribbled Steve Rogers in the bottom right corner.
Peter carefully sets the drawing aside and grabs for the box. He sees a sticky note stuck to the top and rolls his eyes as he notices that it’s another request for him to move into the tower, this time in Bucky’s familiar scrawled handwriting.
He sets the lid aside and smiles wide as he pulls out a pair of black floral Doc Martens.)
At first, only the buzz of his tattoo machine fills the air around them as he touches the needles to her skin. Wanda doesn’t flinch or wince; she doesn’t even seem to notice the physical pain, more focused on the emotional. With no prompting from Peter she begins to speak.
Her voice is quiet, just audible over his machine, but it’s strong. It doesn’t waver once as she tells him about a dark-haired boy with a bright smile who loved to remind his little sister that she was, in fact, his little sister. She tells him about an impatient boy who always loved to go fast. She tells him how the only thing faster than his feet seemed to be his mouth and how that never changed even after they gained their powers.
As he wipes a bit of excess ink from her calf he glances up at her face. Wanda’s eyes are wet and sad. She lets the tears stream freely down her cheeks, making no attempts to hide them or wipe them away. Still, her voice is strong, and her lips are turned up just slightly at the corners as she remembers her brother.
“He was always there, you know. We were born together. I guess I never really thought about us dying apart. I guess,” here she barks out something that could only in the loosest terms be considered a laugh, “I guess I didn’t see it coming.”
Peter doesn’t say anything. He just gives her a small smile with the dark eyes of a man who understands loss. There’s no pity in his gaze which Wanda appreciates as he refocuses on her leg.
When he’s finished the tattoo and is grabbing the wrap to put around it, she reaches down and softly brushes her fingers over the red tinted and tender skin. Her eyes, still sad but no longer filled with tears, trace the stark black lettering. The writing isn’t messy exactly, but Peter has managed to make it look as if it were written in a hurry despite the time and care he took to apply it.
“подивіться малюнок,” she whispers.
Peter doesn’t ask what it means. He simply wraps her new tattoo and tells her how to take care of it while it heals. They cross over to the front desk of the shop so that he can give her a written copy of her aftercare instructions and he glares lightly at her when it looks as if she might try and pay him despite knowing his rule.
Wanda just rolls her eyes and asks if he’ll be at the tower on Friday night because it’s her turn to cook. When he tries to tell her that he might not be able to make it she just talks over him and says they’ll see him at seven-thirty. This time it’s Peter who rolls his eyes as he agrees.
As she turns to leave the shop Wanda pauses with one black nailed hand on the door. She gives him an oddly shy glance over her shoulder and speaks with all the sincerity she can possibly muster.
Peter just smiles. “You’re welcome,” he says with equal sincerity.
Over the soft chime of the door’s bell he can hear a gunshot echo through the years. He simply runs his fingers over one of the tattoos on his arm, a pair of glasses he had seen all through his childhood that fits in nicely with the rest of the ink in his sleeve. Peter pushes away the memories of bloodstained pavement and returns to his station.
(That Friday, Peter does turn up at the tower. He’s a little late, but honestly, they expected no different and had planned accordingly. As he takes his usual seat beside Tony at the table, trying his best to ignore Clint making oh-so-mature kissy faces at the two of them, Wanda comes in from the kitchen with two trays of her homemade lasagna floating on red tendrils of power. Vision comes behind her holding another.
Peter has a surprised little smile as he sees his favorite dish. Wanda just winks at him as the trays are set down. She ignores the glare she receives from Tony and casually mentions that there’s blueberry cheesecake for dessert, also Peter’s favorite.
Wanda brushes her fingers against her calf as she sits down and Peter’s happy to see that this time her eyes are much fonder than they are sad.)
Thor is happy to talk the minute he sits down. Peter appreciates this because he’s got questions. He doesn’t like to brag but he also doesn’t like to lie. The truth is, Peter’s a good artist and he’s done a lot of tattoo styles. He can do portraits, watercolors, black and whites, Japanese style, tribal style, and more. Thor’s asked for something he never really gets to do; he wants Norse symbolism. How often do you get to do something like that while talking to a Norse symbol himself?
The thunder god seems to be a natural storyteller. He gestures often with his free hand as he talks about the history of his people and how the truth translates into the myths and legends of the Midgardians. More than once, Peter reminds him to hold still as he presses his specially made needles to the strong forearm in front of him.
Each time he does, Thor gives him a sheepish smile and his sincerest apologies. Peter can’t get annoyed at him because it’s hard to be irritated with someone who seems to personify a puppy you just reminded to stay off the couch. He tells Thor as much and gets a laugh in response along with a remark about the pot and the kettle. Peter asks him if he sees many puppies covered in ink and metal and the god only raises a blond eyebrow. He asks if Peter sees many with only one eye.
They both go quiet for a moment as Peter wipes away excess ink and glances up at the metal patch over Thor’s right eye socket. He quietly asks him what happened, making it clear that he doesn’t have to tell him if he doesn’t want to. Thor only runs the fingers of his free hand through his hair which is back to laying over his shoulders. The story that follows, unsurprisingly, sounds like something straight from the myths. Thor tells him how he lost everything, from his father to his very planet.
As Peter puts down his machine and wipes at the tattoo for the last time, he hears a roll of thunder and glances towards the front of the shop. He reaches for the wrap as Thor studies the new ink on his arm. Clean dark lines and beautiful shading form a stylized weapon on a strong forearm, the familiar shape of a war hammer. Peter tells Thor how to take care of his healing tattoo and wraps it gently.
As they go to collect his written instructions, Thor laments the loss of his famed hammer. He explains how he doesn’t actually need Mjolnir; he understands that now. He knows his own worth, knows what he is capable of, and, thanks to Peter, will now always carry it with him in spirit. Still, he muses, he does miss having a weapon that is solely his own. Peter comes around the counter and hands Thor his papers before mentioning that he could always get a new weapon.
“Maybe not another hammer,” Peter says. “Maybe an axe or something.”
The thunder god turns oddly thoughtful at that. He agrees and then glances curiously at the cash register behind Peter. Said artist just gives him a look that warns him to not even try it. Thor just laughs before he reaches out with his ink free arm and clasps Peter’s forearm in a strong grip. Peter has no choice but to respond in kind as Thor looks him right in the eye.
“You have my thanks, shield brother,” he says seriously.
“You’re welcome,” Peter responds.
In the moment that the door is open, Peter can see that there is a light rain falling. He can still hear the occasional roll of thunder, but he also notices the beams of sunlight breaking through the clouds and hitting the pavement.
As the door is pulled shut, Peter thinks about a planet he can only imagine. He tries to picture it: a great golden city, a bright rainbow bridge, thousands of Aesir living happily with no idea of what lies ahead. His very heart and soul seem to ache for something he’s never known. He takes a deep breath, remembers warm sunlight breaking through soft rain, and returns to his station.
(When Peter comes in the next morning to open the shop, he sees a thick book resting on the front counter. It looks to be made of real leather, though from what animal he can’t be sure. Peter grimaces slightly at the idea of skinning any animal just to make a book but goes to check it out anyway. He has a pretty good idea where, or rather who, it came from.
There’s a bright pink sticky note on top. In a prince’s, no, a king’s, fine penmanship it explains that it’s a copy of the Norse myths, the true myths. It also says that he need only ask if he has any questions or requires any further reading.
The note is signed with a little scribble of a three-dimensional lightning bolt. Peter laughs lightly and pins the note to the corkboard behind the counter. He crosses his legs on the stool behind the counter and cracks open his new book.
He’s got some time before his first appointment and he wants to know if there’s any truth behind that whole eight-legged horse thing.)
Peter is sitting at the table that has become his in Tony’s personal lab. It’s metal, like all the others, but everything on top of it sets it apart. To one side of the table he’s got a fresh batch of web fluid, just finished. There’s an obvious barrier to the other side, a clear area straight down the middle. That side is where he’s got a few different sketchbooks and a collection of pencils and pens.
He looks up from the tree he’s been absentmindedly drawing, a gnarled thing with twisted branches and visible roots, and over at Tony. The genius, billionaire, (used to be) playboy, philanthropist is working on the wiring in one of his gauntlets. He’d shed his suit hours ago and stands there in a ribbed black tank top and a grease stained pair of jeans. Peter takes the opportunity while no one else is around to admire the strong line of Tony’s shoulders and the concentrated furrow of his brow.
When Tony crosses around the table so that his back is to Peter, his eyes are immediately drawn to the ink he can see peeking around the lines of his shirt. Only edges of the tattoo are visible, but Peter knows exactly what lies underneath that black cloth. After all, he was the one to design it; he was the one to put it there. He can clearly picture the rising phoenix, in familiar shades of red and gold, marked across the expanse of Tony’s back.
Peter remembers. He remembers how his friend had come back so different after that ill-fated trip to Afghanistan. He remembers walking into his lab and finding Tony working on his armor and how he’d explained that he felt like he was meant to do this. He remembers the silence that had fallen when Tony finished speaking and how, looking more and more nervous, the billionaire had opened his mouth to try and break it when Peter blurted out that he was Spiderman.
After that, everything seemed to happen so quickly. So much happened that it’s all a bit of a blur really, but Peter clearly remembers meeting Tony at his house immediately following the ‘I am Iron Man’ speech. He remembers handing Tony a carton of greasy Chinese takeout and setting his sketchbook on the coffee table, a neon yellow scrap of paper clearly marking a specific page. They spent a few minutes eating dumplings and noodles with Peter teasing Tony about how predictable he was and how he knew there was no way he was gonna follow his cue cards.
Eventually, Tony gave into his curiosity about the sketchbook and opened it up to the marked page. He stared silently at the red and gold phoenix that Peter had drawn in loving detail. When he finally looked at Peter, jaw hanging slack, the spider just quietly explained the legend of the phoenix and how it is reborn from the ashes.
It’s not often that Tony Stark is rendered speechless, but it is worth noting that Peter Parker has been the leading cause of such a phenomenon for the last several years. He simply shoved a dumpling in Tony’s open mouth, gently tapped his jaw closed, and scheduled his appointment for the next Friday.
Peter remembers all of this as he stares at those strong shoulders. He especially remembers how honored he felt to be allowed to permanently mark Tony’s body after everything he had faced in Afghanistan. Tony, apparently feeling Peter’s eyes on him, turns around with one eyebrow raised.
“What is it?” he asks, crooked grin shining bright. “Did I get grease on me again?”
As a matter of fact, he does have grease on him, but Peter doesn’t say that. Instead, he just looks at this man who trusted him and still does even after facing betrayal. He looks at this man who lets him use his labs and keeps inviting him into his home. He looks at this man who he knows would give him anything if he would only ask. He looks at this man who has been his closest friend for years and who just cares so, so much.
He looks at him and says something that is so deceptively simple but means everything.
Tony’s other eyebrow joins the first. “You’re welcome?” he says, a question that Peter doesn’t answer. He just smiles at him and returns to his drawing.
(It is, of course, Clint that asks. They’re all gathered in the tower for a movie night, featuring as many Rocky movies as they can manage before they all fall asleep, and Thor is happily showing Peter his fully healed tattoo, proud to announce that he followed his aftercare instructions carefully. That’s when Clint speaks up.
“Hey, Tony,” he gets the billionaire’s attention. Tony looks over from the loveseat that he and Peter always share. “How come Peter hasn’t given you any ink?” That gets everybody else’s attention as they wonder the same.
Tony grins. “Who says he hasn’t? Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean other people haven’t.” His grin turns into a smirk as he winks at Peter, who only laughs and hides his face in Tony’s shoulder, knowing exactly what he’s trying to do.
The others don’t disappoint as most of them let out little disgusted sounds, though Natasha and Bruce just give him knowing looks.
“You know what,” Sam says, one hand raised in warning. “I don’t want to hear anymore. I don’t need to know where you’ve got a tattoo that none of us have ever seen.”
The conversation is mostly forgotten as Vision and Wanda come into the living room with bowls of popcorn and someone tells FRIDAY to start the first movie.
If one of Peter’s hands moves to rest lightly over Tony’s shoulder blade, right where he knows the tip of a proud wing starts, well, that’s nobody’s business but theirs.)