Realistically, Paige always knew the odds of keeping this from the team were low.
She doesn't even make it through that first morning.
"What's wrong with your shoulder?" Toby calls out while Paige is sorting through the pile of paperwork from their latest case.
Paige doesn't jump, but she can feel herself stiffening up, just enough to give the game away to Toby and to anyone else paying attention--which is probably everyone. She tries to play it cool anyway, turning to Toby and saying, "My shoulder's fine, it's nothing to worry about."
"You've been subtly favoring it all day," Toby retorts, giving her a skeptical look. "Plus you keep making abortive movements like you're trying to roll your shoulder, work some kinks out. Did you pull a muscle or something?"
More like she's trying to relieve the awful itching without scratching, like the artist at the shop had warned her against doing.
"I'm fine, it's just a sunburn," Paige says quickly. It's not entirely inaccurate--it does feel like there's a bad sunburn on her left shoulder.
But now she's definitely got everyone's attention, as Walter says from where he's hunched over with Sylvester as they work on a laptop, "It was overcast yesterday, you wouldn't have gotten a sunburn."
“Rookie mistake,” Happy mutters from her bench, tinkering away with the car engine she’s been fiddling with all day.
"People can get sunburns even on cloudy days," Paige tries next.
"You wouldn't, your skin isn't sensitive enough for that," Walter says, with total confidence. “When we were on the Markham job last month and were in the field outside all day long, both Sylvester and Toby ended up with faint sunburns, you just tanned. And you’re quite conscientious about putting sunscreen on.” Sylvester nods enthusiastically in agreement at this, and Walter says next, folding his arms, “Paige, if you have an injury you're concealing from the team, you should tell us."
"There's no injury," Paige says, playing up the exasperation with a roll of her eyes. "It's a sunburn like I said. Nothing major, and it certainly doesn't mean I'm not fit to work. Now can we leave it, please?"
Walter makes a considering face and then says, "Fine."
"So glad to hear it," Paige says under her breath, turning away only to look straight into Toby's narrow-eyed, skeptical expression. Paige gives him a flat look before turning away, and for once, miraculously, Toby leaves it alone.
Her shoulder itches and aches for the rest of the day, but Paige knows better than to scratch it.
The next day, Walter shows up with a jar of homemade sunscreen, which he places on her desk. "It's all natural ingredients," Walter tells her as she stares at it.
"Walter--" Paige starts, then she looks up at his face. If it were anyone else, she'd assume he was messing with her and she would know what to say. But with Walter--
"It should help with avoiding sunburns, if you need it," Walter says. "If you don't, well--give it to Sylvester. He'll definitely use it."
Paige swallows. This is all just--so very Walter. He won't call her out for possibly lying, instead he'll spend his time making something to help her just on the off chance she wasn't. "Thank you," she says, putting the jar in her purse. "That's very thoughtful of you."
Walter's chin tilts up. "I'm merely addressing a potential inefficiency."
"Well, you have my thanks, whatever you'd like to call it," Paige tells him, and Walter just nods his head and walks away.
Later, she takes the jar of sunscreen out and opens it. The sunscreen smells like lavender, and she nearly drops the jar in her surprise.
Ralph knows, of course. He’s seen her in a tank top, and Paige sits him down and explains how this was something she’d decided to do as a form of self-expression, the same way she chose the clothes she wore each day. “But if you want to get a tattoo, you’ll have to wait until you’re an adult.”
Ralph accepts this, but then he asks, “Did the rest of the team get tattoos too?”
“Um, no,” Paige says. “This was just something I did, for myself. Privately.”
Ralph’s forehead creases. “Private like a secret?”
“Kind of, yes,” Paige says after a second, wishing--not for the first time--that she could understand how her son interpreted the things she said.
“But why do you need to keep it a secret?” Ralph wonders. “You got it for them, didn’t you?”
Paige breathed out. “Yes,” she says finally. “But it’s still private, do you understand what that means? I’m not trying to hide it from everyone because it’s bad, but because sometimes you want to keep things to yourself.”
Ralph thinks this over, then nods. “Okay.” He looks up at her and asks next, “Does it still hurt?”
“Not very much,” Paige reassures him with a smile. “And it’s healing up really well.”
And for a while, it stays private. Her tattoo heals, and Paige’s work wardrobe doesn’t really call for her exposing her shoulders, so nobody on the team sees it. Paige doesn’t even really show it off in public on her own, it’s just--it’s something that’s hers, and hers only.
But when she finally reveals it, it’s not by accident, and it’s not because Toby or one of the team deduces it either. She just tells them.
They’re on a job, called in on a case of corporate espionage, where some enterprising hacker has broken into the security system at Veridian Enterprises, stealing company files, shutting down their computer system, and generally wreaking havoc.
The team’s doing the best they can, trying to find the source of the trouble. Happy, Walter and Sylvester are working on the system, Toby’s profiling all the employees, current and former, with access and a possible grudge against the company, and Paige is attempting to talk down one of the employees who has been trapped in the elevators for over two hours now, caught between floors while the system malfunctions.
The woman’s name is Maya, she works in HR and has a pretty bad case of claustrophobia, and Paige is on an intercom, watching her through the camera feed while she looks up Maya’s Instagram and Facebook, searching for topics to distract the poor woman from her current situation.
Maya’s harsh breathing is ringing in Paige’s ears, and on an impulse, Paige tries next, “Looks like you have some really cool tattoos in this photo, Maya, mind telling me about them?”
“Uh, yeah,” Maya says after a moment, clearly trying to focus. “Got my first one when I was seventeen. Had a fake ID, got a cluster of roses on my hip. After that, I never looked back.”
“That’s really cool, I just got my first tattoo a month ago,” Paige says, and in the background, she hears Toby say, “Wait, what now?”
Paige ignores them, focuses on the sound of Maya’s breathing, which is finally starting to settle down. “Yeah?” Maya’s laughter is shaky, still tinged with an edge of hysteria, but it’s something. Paige can’t track hackers, she can’t profile the way that Toby can, but she can help this terrified woman right now, she can do something here. “Paige, I gotta tell you--if you tell me it’s some lame fake tribal tattoo or like, a butterfly or something, I’m gonna judge you a little bit.”
Paige laughs; she’s seen Maya’s Instagram photos and would believe it--Maya’s tattoos span her entire left arm, intricate, detailed work shaded in brilliant colors, vivid against her light brown skin. “No, it’s not a butterfly. It’s, um, it’s a scorpion, actually.”
It’s amazing how Paige can feel the entire team’s eyes on her right now, burning holes into her back. Or, to be more precise, her left shoulder. Paige takes a deep breath and keeps her focus on Maya, who’s asking, “A scorpion, huh?”
“Yeah. I’d always kind of wanted a tattoo growing up, but could never settle on something that I knew I’d always want. But a scorpion…” Paige falters before smiling and saying, “Let’s just say it fit. It hurt a lot though.”
“It’s a rush, though, isn’t it?” Maya asks, and she sounds easier now, almost like they’re having a normal conversation in a coffee shop or at a nail salon. “Think you’ll get any more?”
“I don’t know,” Paige says. “People say the first one always leaves you wanting more, but I think this one’s enough for me. What about you, I saw on your latest Facebook post you were thinking of getting another piece?”
“Yeah, I’ve still got some blank space on my right arm,” Maya says. “Got to be symmetrical, you know?”
Paige laughs and keeps gently pressing Maya for more, keeps her talking and keeps her calm. She does her job, and only looks back over her shoulder once. Toby’s watching her, eyebrows raised, and he gives her a significant look when he catches her eye.
That’s nothing, though, compared to Walter--Walter who’s looking at her now, his dark eyes wide in his face as he stares at Paige.
Paige looks at him, then turns away and keeps on doing her job.
They solve the case and save the day, a state of affairs Paige is far too used to. She knows it won’t always work out this way, that someday there will be a case that haunts them the way that Baghdad haunts Cabe and Walter, but today is a good ending, and Paige is nothing if not grateful.
Grateful, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
To her surprise though, Sylvester's the first to bring it up, asking Paige in the van, "Why didn't you tell us you got that tattoo?"
Paige opts for the flippant response, "I figured I'd hear a lecture about infections and the difficulties of laser removal."
"We wouldn't have done that," Sylvester says, but then undercuts himself by asking urgently, "Your tattoo is healed though, right?"
Paige smiles. "Yes, Sylvester. No infection, no damage, we're all good." Sylvester happily nods back in relief.
"I knew it wasn't a sunburn," Toby says, now that the ice has been broken, sounding smug.
"Congratulations," Paige says dryly.
"What shop did you go to?" Happy asks from the back, unexpected.
"Harper's," Paige says. "It's near my apartment, has great reviews."
"Good place," Happy says in approval, and Toby says, "Wait, Happy, do you also have a tattoo?"
"I'm not answering that," Happy says, then goes one step further in her obvious goal of tormenting Toby by asking Paige next, "Who did your tattoo, was it Javier?"
"No, it was Derrick," Paige says. "I liked him though."
"Yeah, Derrick does good work," Happy agrees, and Toby throws up his hands in exasperation.
"Okay, here is a suggestion," he says. "Everyone go around, share if they have any tattoos, and if they wish to, where those tattoos are. Here, I will start it off. I have--"
"How about we respect each other's privacy instead," Paige suggests.
"Please, where's the fun in that?" Toby asks.
"In tormenting you by not saying anything about stuff you desperately want to know?" Paige says, smiling at him. "A lot."
"Nice," Happy says, and Paige grins at her over her shoulder.
The only person who hasn't talked so far is Walter. Paige tries to tell herself it's just because he's driving the van and doesn't want to be distracted with frivolities, but she can't make herself believe that. Not when she keeps catching his eye in the rearview mirror.
In the end, Walter asks Paige about it after all.
It’s late, late enough that they’re the only two people left in the garage. Paige is wrapping up the last of the paperwork before she gets home, and Walter asks from behind her, "Why did you do it?"
Paige stops, but doesn't turn around. "Because I wanted to."
She expects him to come out with numbers, statistics, the lack of logic in her decision. Instead, Walter just says, sounding more hesitant than she normally hears him, "I understand, but--I'd like to hear your thinking behind that decision. Please."
It's the please that does it. Paige turns around, licking her dry lips. Walter's watching her, his hands shoved in his pockets. He looks unsure and young and--and he's looking at her like she's the most fascinating thing he's seen all day.
Paige doesn't know how to ignore that look from Walter, hasn't figured out how to handle how good it makes her feel, him looking at her like that. She's never known how to keep from responding to that look; if she's honest, she has never tried too hard not to.
So Paige answers with the truth. "Scorpion is...it's incredible. It'll be the most important thing I'll do with my life, other than Ralph, being part of this team. And I wanted--I want to carry it with me, everywhere I go. I can't give you the science behind it. It just felt right."
Paige is good with emotions. She instinctively gets people, it's the reason Walter hired her.
She has no idea how to read the look on Walter's face, how he's staring at her right now.
No. Paige can be honest with herself. She doesn't know what to do with the look on Walter's face, the clear emotion there. She's always been able to read Walter, she just doesn't always know what to do with the knowledge she has.
"How big is the tattoo?" Walter asks next, his voice abrupt, lips pressed together the way he gets when he's trying to control himself.
"It's not small," Paige says. "It covers most of my shoulder blade."
Walter nods. "Is--is it just black ink, or color--" Whatever he sees in Paige's face, it causes him to respond quickly, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, I just...I just wondered."
This is the moment when Paige loses her mind. "I can show you," she offers before she can think twice. Or think at all.
For a second, her heart pounding, she's sure that Walter will refuse. But then he nods, faintly.
Holy crap, she's actually going to do this. Her face flushing, Paige turns around, jerkily shrugging out of her sensible cardigan, sweeping her hair to the side, and then sliding down the strap of her camisole and bra so that her left shoulder is completely exposed.
There's total silence for a moment, and Paige can feel Walter's eyes on her, his gaze tracing the black, stylized lines of her tattoo. Finally Walter talks, his voice more hoarse than usual. "You didn't go for color."
"No," Paige says. "I didn't."
"It, uh," Walter lets out a little laugh, and Paige hears him step closer. "It looks good. It looks--"
"Like a scorpion?" Paige teases, turning to look at him over her shoulder. But the way Walter is looking at her chases all the laughter out of her throat.
She knows that look. She knows what it means, she's always known.
All this time she's known him, known in the back of her mind that Walter wanted her, and all this time of not being able to admit she wanted him back.
And now here they are, here she is, and she can't--Paige just can't make herself pretend anymore. She can't pretend not to see, can't pretend she doesn't care.
"Walter," Paige says, feeling as though her voice is coming from a great distance. "Walter, come here."
And he does, moving jerkily like he's not sure of his limbs. He steps up right behind her, and asks quietly, "Can--"
"It's okay," Paige promises him, and when his hand comes up to lightly touch her tattoo, his fingers cool on her bare skin, Paige closes her eyes and shivers.
Walter keeps going, his fingertips sweeping along her skin, back and forth, and Paige closes her eyes and leans into his touch, wanting both exactly this, and wanting so much more, all at the same time.
"Paige," Walter says, sounding breathless. "Paige, I am...incredibly out of my depth here."
"You're doing okay so far," she tells him, her breathing unsteady.
Walter exhales, his touch becoming a little firmer, his fingers tracing the curve of the scorpion's tail, over and over again.
When he finally speaks, it's in a voice so quiet, Paige almost doesn't know if he means for her to hear. "I never really know what I'm doing with you."
The confession gets at her, hits her with the same emotion that pushed her to get a permanent mark on her skin. "That's okay," Paige says, taking a breath before turning to face Walter straight on. "It's not like I'm shy about telling you when you're wrong."
That gets Walter to smile a little, like Paige was going for, but his eyes still have that apprehensive look to them, the look that Paige wants to wipe away. "Hey," Paige says, more seriously, stepping even closer to Walter now, past the point of plausible deniability. "It's okay. It'll be fine."
Walter's eyelashes dip low, as he looks down--down at her mouth. "Paige," he says, just her name. That's all.
That's all, and that's enough, as Paige leans in to close that last bit of distance, and kisses him softly. Soft, so soft, and his lips are warm against hers and God, she wants this, Paige can't believe how much she's wanted this.
And the best part is that Walter is there, right there with her, kissing her back so sweetly that it makes her ache.
Part of Paige wants to speed up, wants to let herself giddily imagine what happens next, where they go from here. But mostly, mostly she just wants to stay like this, having Walter's lips on hers, one of his hands holding hers, while the other one rests on her shoulder blade, permanent ink underneath his palm.