The humming of the tattoo machine echoed around the room, a consistent sound above the silence otherwise dominating the small cubical of Gwen’s workstation, as she finished inking the last and final part of his design. The intricate twenty-four specifically created pieces of the tattoo finally finding completeness as they covered the entire upper half of his body.
Michael watched her work, his belly cramping with a mixture of dread and anticipation as she finally pulled the needle away, dabbing at the horned image now decorating his left shoulder with a wad of wet tissue before she sat back, exhaling heavily.
“That’s it.” Gwen said, sounding slightly awed. “Can I… you know, look at it for a minute?”
Michael smiled softly. “You’re an artist,” he agreed, watching her as she admired the completed piece. It had taken many months, not just in time spent getting the tattoo inked into his skin, but in the planning and preparation behind it; every motif, every line and contour and area of shading had been calculated and methodically arranged to hide the image behind the image. And now it was finished. Everything was in place.
“You’re telling me you’re just going to walk out here and we’re never going to see you again?” Gwen asked after a long moment. She dragged her gaze from his chest, meeting his eyes with something akin to despair.
“There’s a good chance of that, yes.” Michael agreed, breathing deeply.
“Most guys, for the first time, start with something small. Mom, girlfriend’s initials-,” Michael raised an eyebrow. Gwen smiled mischievously at him, “-something like that,” she added with a shrug, “but not you. You get a full set of sleeves all in a couple of months.”
She looked at Michael, raising her eyebrows as if in the hopes that now- here at the end of all things- he’d finally explain the reasoning behind getting the tattoo. She’d spent many weeks trying to pry the information out of him- why this design? Why now? Why the rush?- all these questions and more besides left unanswered.
“It takes most guys a few years to get these done,” Gwen added after a moment. Michael gave her one of his looks.
“I don’t have a few years,” he said, reaching for his shirt. “Wish to hell I did.” He hoped that last part didn’t sound nearly as bitter as he thought it might have. Gwen’s eyes widened fractionally at the implication of his words but Michael didn’t elaborate.
“Is that why you didn’t want Ianto to finish this up?” Gwen tried, leaning away from Michael once more. She kept her eyes on him as she removed her gloves, easily lobbing them into the waste disposal bin beside her chair.
“He’s been your artist from the start,” she prompted. Michael said nothing. He pulled his shirt up over his shoulders, tugging it into place before fastening the buttons with quick and nimble fingers.
“You’ll thank him for me, won’t you?” Michael looked expectantly at her as he slipped off the bed.
She nodded with a frown, “of course.”
Michael smiled. “And thank you. And everyone else here too,” he hesitated for just a moment before reaching into his pants' pocket and pulling out a piece of paper.
It was intricately folded, Gwen noted, watching as Michael opened out two of the flaps before sitting it on the bed he’d just vacated.
“It’s a bird!” She exclaimed, vaguely recognising the shape of the origami piece.
“A crane,” Michael clarified. “Give it to Ianto?”
Gwen’s smile faded a little but she nodded, standing. In a moment of impulse she stepped forward and grabbed Michael into a quick hug, kissing his cheek softly as she pulled away.
“You take care of yourself, Michael Schofield.” She warned with a seriousness that made his throat close up. All he could do was nod and smile and leave without once looking back.