1. “Nice,” Tony said with an approving nod, staring down at the column of blue swirls on Natasha’s right hip.
“Eyes on your own junk in the locker room,” Clint said softly, “Or she might put your junk on her mantle.”
Natasha was unfazed. “It’s a line from the war poetry of an ancient pre-Cyrillic dialect. It means ‘A stab that spills blood is lovelier than a cool stream in the heat of summer.’”
Natasha smirked as Tony, looking a bit intimidated, went back to looking at his locker while he changed. Eventually, they would be friends, but at this point, the team was new, so Natasha gave him the same story as she gave her marks when they asked.
2. A couple of months after she joined SHIELD, she had to go to medical for a workup. Later, at one of the many paperwork meetings with Coulson, he asked if she would be willing to remove any identifying marks.
“It’s personal, then?”
She gave him nothing. She liked Coulson, and she understood why he wanted to take every chance he could to pry into her psyche, maybe even see what made her flinch when he poked it. But two could play that game, and usually one of them is better.
“Why? Should I expect that I’ll be naked in most of my missions? Is that why I’ve been hired?”
Coulson grimaced, and she could see that he knew exactly what she was doing. She wasn’t there only for her sex appeal, but any operative might need to use their sexuality at some point, and they both knew that Natasha had no problem with that.
But now she knew that Coulson didn’t want to say it.
“The tattoo gives me an air of mystery, so it stays,” she said with a smile.
Coulson raised an eyebrow. “Yes. How would you possibly cultivate an air of mystery without it?”
3. Steve noticed it one day after a sparring session, as they drank large bottles of water while leaning against the ring. Her sweats had slid down a bit and he didn’t look long, but he did notice.
“Nice ink,” he said, and she could tell he was a little bit proud of himself for sounding so 21st-century.
“Story behind it?”
“It’s my shopping list,” she said, deadpan.
Steve snorted a laugh and didn’t push the question. She didn’t tell him that the answer was closer to the truth than most people got.
4. “Those are lovely markings. Are those the names of all your ancestors?” Thor asked as they sat on parallel beds in medical bay.
Natasha sighed. She really wasn’t in the mood for questions.
“Yes. That’s what it is.”
5. Bruce was good to talk to after a bad day.
Because if anyone understood bad days….
This day was up there, for her at least. Bad mission, bad flashback, bad fight with Clint afterward.
It started as comfort. An embrace, a kiss. Then slow, slow motions as they peeled each other’s clothes off, staring each other in the eyes to make sure they both knew that this would be soft and gentle and lush and entirely a one-time thing.
He asked her about her tattoo.
Her voice went dry.
“It’s so I don’t forget.”
Most men would have asked what she meant. But Bruce had a box under his bed full of articles about the damage the other guy had done, so Bruce understood about not forgetting.
He didn’t ask anything else.
They separated slowly and got dressed again. They didn’t need anything else on their list of regrets.
6. “You don’t have to tell me,” Clint says, his hands gliding slowly up and down the sides of her waist. It’s the first time they were together, and the first time she gives a damn about the man who shares her bed.
She is almost positive that it’s as new to him as it is to her.
“I only got it a few days ago,” she said. A few days after she joined SHIELD.
“It’s beautiful,” Clint says, running his thumb near the tattoo but not touching it, waiting for permission.
“It’s not,” she says, and her hand comes up to cover her face.
It’s moved aside as Clint kisses her, as she kisses him back, rough and fast and warm, unafraid for once to show naked need.
They part to breathe, and she tells him.
“It’s a list. In code.”
He nods, waits.
She continues, waiting for the moment when he reacts, when his face gives something away that makes her hate him. “It’s the things that I’ve done. The things I want to make up for before I die.”
He stares at her and for the first time in her life, she can’t read the man in front of her.
Then he tells her, “It’s gorgeous.”
He leans over to it, his pink lips over electric blue ink, and he looks up, waiting for her signal.
She nods, and he kisses her, kisses the vein-blue tangle of lines and curves that spell out the worst things she’s ever done.
She knows in that moment that someday - many days and years from today - she’s going to teach him how to read this code; she's going to teach him how to read her sins and her body.
It terrifies her.
Somehow, she stays.