The first time Steve Rogers saw a dame with a tattoo on her wrist, he’d been startled--and not that tattoos bothered him, seeing they had always been popular in the army. Even the Howling Commandos had been harassing him (not too long ago, in his mind) about coming up with something they could all share. But the flowers and lace wrapped around the woman’s forearm stunned him with its beauty.
The artist in him studied the lines and shading with appreciation. The owner of the tattoo was happy to share her story, of how she turned hated childhood scarring from a dog bite into something she loved seeing everyday--so much that her artist was working up a second piece to wrap around the bicep of her other, perfectly unmarked arm.
After that, he noticed ink everywhere. A few--just like in the army--were regrettably awful, and Steve was hard-pressed not to flinch. Most of the tattoos held symbols and rich memories for the owner. A few, like the flowers on the woman’s arm, were nothing less than works of art.
He wouldn’t dare do a Howling Commandos tattoo now. The idea of being the lone survivor was--too much. He still couldn’t bring himself to look at the old sketches from the boxes Ms. Potts had sent to him from storage. He could see in his mind Dum Dum and Gabe arguing over the symbols he’d drawn, and Bucky leaning over to give his opinion with the inevitable smart-ass remark.
As always, the mere thought of Bucky brought a lump to his throat. At least now he could breathe through it, which is more than he could do four months ago. Four months ago, every waking moment was hell, like someone had dug his heart out with a dull spoon.
He knew exactly who was responsible for giving him a reason to live again. He wondered what sort of fairy ring he’d stumbled across to bring him here, to fall head-over-heels for the granddaughter of his friend.
It hadn’t taken him long to figure out that Darcy’s lineage included Howard Stark. There was something in way they talked and gestured that had been passed down through the generations. Not only that, Steve had been in Howard’s workspace so often that Darcy’s lab seemed familiar in its layout. They even kept their coffee in exactly the same spot on their worktable.
The fact that he’d drawn her twice before meeting her seemed an impossible coincidence.
Only Bucky had ever captured his attention like she had. From that first moment in the garage, they’d clicked. The place in his heart that he’d previously held only for James Barnes stepped aside to make room for Darcy Lewis. They had always known there would be one more. He couldn’t explain it; neither could Bucky, but they had talked about it dozens of times over the years. The first drawing he’d made that one fateful day only solidified their confidence.
She was the only reason he felt as if he belonged in this century, and there was no doubt in his mind that Bucky would have fallen for her just as fast and hard. Which is why he found himself standing in Nick Fury’s office, asking for a favor.
“You want the name of a tattoo artist?” Nick propped his feet up on his desk, crossing his arms over his chest.
“A good one. Discreet.”
“You do realize you’re still Captain America.”
“I understand that this is my business, and yet, I’m asking for someone who can keep their mouth shut.”
Nick pointed a finger at him. “Don’t do any naked girls, Rogers.”
“I can draw those myself.”
That make Fury chuckle in spite of himself. He jotted down a name and number on a small, colorful square of paper and handed it over. “He’s in Brooklyn. Did one for me a few years back.”
Nick shrugged. “We all have our reasons. Either to remember or forget, take your pick. Seems to me you’d have a lot of reasons for both.”
With a characteristic dip of his head, Steve acknowledged the truth in that. “Thank you.”
“Going to tell me about your girlfriend?”
“Is there anyone in Stark Tower you don’t have a dossier on?” Steve wasn’t sure what Nick knew about Darcy, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to discuss her parentage.
“Probably not,” Fury acknowledged.
“Then we don’t need to have that conversation,” Steve retorted.
“Peggy Carter called me last week.”
Steve slanted a curious look at Nick for the sudden change in topics, wondering what prompted it.
“Not many people intimidate me,” the director continued.
The fond memory of Peggy’s fist in an idiot’s face made Steve smile. “You know, she emptied a whole barrel of bullets at me once when she was irritated.”
“I heard you deserved it.”
“Depends on which side of the shield you were standing on.”
“Touche’. Need anything else, Rogers?”
“Get out of my office. And go visit Ms. Carter before she kicks my ass.”
Two days later, Steve had an appointment with a guy named Crypt at a tattoo parlour in Brooklyn. With every inch of wall space covered in symbols, artwork and photographs, it felt a little like home, and he relaxed as soon as he stepped inside.
"Grant Barnes. I have appointment at four," he told the young man at the front desk.
"Yes, sir." A hand waved toward the hallway. "Crypt is all the way at the end on the left. Feel free to take a look at our walls if you need any ideas."
"Thanks. I think I'm good."
Crypt, as it turned out, looked a lot like Dum Dum, if he was covered from neck to ankle in ink and happily wore a tank top to show it all off. His office was neat as a pin, though covered in more art.
"You Barnes?"he asked, in a pure Brooklyn accent that sounded like home.
"Good. I got a call from buddy of mine about you. Wears a patch. Told me not to fuck this one up."
Steve chuckled a little. "Sounds like we know the same guy."
"Come on in." Crypt motioned Steve into the work chair. "Know what we're doing today and where?"
He dug into his back pocket before he sat down and handed over small piece of paper. "This." He reached behind his head to pull his shirt off, leaving his dogtags hanging.
Crypt blinked. "Jesus fuck, you're ripped, dude."
"Yeah, okay. That wasn't professional. You a bodybuilder?" Crypt asked in passing as he glanced at the paper. "This is simple. It will take me an hour or so at most. You want this replicated?"
Steve nodded. It had taken him a while to come up with something that had Bucky's signature on it. Pepper helped once again, putting him in contact with a government records clerk who gave him a copy of Bucky's enlistment papers. "Yes. As closely as you can match it."
Crypt gave him a wide grin. "Fuck. I'm an artist. I can make anything look like anything." The man worked for a few minutes at his desk, making a test run at the lines and sizing. He held up the paper where Steve indicated, just under his pec across a rib. (Bucky used to rest his fingertips there, making sure Steve was still breathing.)
"Lean back and get comfortable. Don't mind you asking me to stop if it gets to be too much." Crypt pulled his tray around and got to work.
The needle was annoying, but tolerable. What Steve didn't expect were the tears that started to slide down his face as Bucky's name was inscribed on his skin.
Softly, the man offered, "You aren't the first. Let it out. Figure he must have been pretty damned special for you to want to keep him with you."
"Yeah, he is."
"I'm honored to help you do that."
The exchange unexpectedly settled Steve, and the hour passed easily as he found a voice to talk art and ink. Crypt didn't seem to mind his questions, and seemed genuinely pleased when Steve admitted to an affinity for drawing.
Crypt wiped off the last of the blood and frowned at the tattoo as he rubbed antibiotic cream across it. He blinked. Read the name again. Glanced at the dog tags resting on Steve’s chest. Looked between them again. "Steven G. Rogers. James Buchanan Barnes." He studied Steve's face. "You're for real." He handed Steve a mirror.
"That's what they tell me." Steve brushed his fingers across the perfect replica of Bucky's elegant signature. The red was already fading as he healed from the slight trauma of the needle. "This is good. Thank you. What do I owe you?" he asked, reaching for his wallet.
"Our friend already covered it. Paid to clear my books for as long as you needed and then a nice bonus to make it worth my time. You ever need more ink, just give me a call."
Steve passed over a couple of folded hundred dollar bills anyway. "From me then."