Title: Inch by Inch [AO3]
Fandoms: Avengers (2012)
Summary: Clint’s skin hasn’t felt quite like his own since the day Loki first got inside. (Possession/marking kink.) Alternate summary: TEAM TEAM TEAM TEAM TEAM
Notes/Disclaimers: Kink Bingo 2012, “possession/marking”. (Click here for card.) Betad, as always, by the lovely sophia_sol. Marvel owns all the characters etc, and I’m making no money from this.
A tattoo is a risk, in his line of business. Whenever he and Nat meet an agent or a merc covered in ink, they share a little private eye-roll. Who cares how good you are at blending into the crowd, how well you slip into your role - if you’re stupid enough to give yourself a big flashy identifying mark, you can bat your eyelashes as long as you want, you’re still dead.
Clint likes being alive a whole lot more than he likes being dead, which is why he doesn’t have any tattoos. So why the hell is he standing outside a tattoo parlour, again?
Shaking his head in disgust, he turns away. Third time this week he’s fetched up outside one of these places. He can’t even imagine the look of scorn Nat would give him if she knew.
He tried pain, at first. There’s release in a certain type of pain; the stab of muscles worked long past endurance, the bite of a bowstring into unguarded fingers. The pleasant ache left by good, hard sex. But nothing seems as good as he imagines the bite of needles would feel, working ink into his skin.
His skin is the problem, he thinks. It’s the source of the fizzing in his flesh, the tightly wound knot in his chest. It’s not his skin anymore.
Not since Loki got inside.
* * *
Which is how he finds himself sitting in his room with a pack of magic markers, feeling like an idiot. But he’s out of ideas, and he’s afraid that if the knot inside him twists any tighter, something might break.
He selects the red marker, and uncaps it. For a long moment he is still. He feels silly. Slowly, tentatively, he drags the marker across his forearm, leaving a thick red line behind.
He intends to draw something - some silly little cartoon, maybe, just some little symbolic gesture of reclaiming - but a surge of energy rushes through him and he jabs the marker into his skin, hard enough to hurt, scrawling without purpose. He makes a noise, of pain or maybe fear, and does it again. He’s scribbling on his left arm, wild slashes and swirls of colour, when the door opens and Natasha is there, staring at him with an unreadable expression on her face.
They stand there in silence for a long, awkward moment.
“Look,” he says finally, reaching for the marker cap, “if you’re willing to pretend this never happened, then I’m...”
He trails off as her hand reaches out to pluck the marker gently from his fingers. She turns his arm, exposing the soft underside, and he doesn’t resist. Just watches her, confused.
The feeling of the marker against his flesh is different, somehow, when someone else is wielding it. Softer, almost ticklish. It makes him want to shiver, not unpleasantly.
It takes him a moment to realise the letters she is tracing are in Cyrillic. Глаза́ боя́тся, а ру́ки де́лают.
“It means, eyes are afraid,” she says, “but hands are doing the job.” She turns his arm a little further, and writes again: До сва́дьбы заживёт. “This one says, it will heal before your wedding.” A ghost of a smile traces across her lips. “In English, you might say: you’ll live.”
“Are you scrawling Russian folk wisdom all over me, Nat?” he asks, trying to make it a joke. His hands don’t tremble. He’s a marksman, after all.
“Yes,” she says simply. She holds out her hand for his other arm - he gives it to her, wordless. “If we will be alive,” she says, “we will not die.” The marker moves in slow, even strokes, the ink cool against his skin. “You cannot break a wall with your forehead.”
“Maybe you’re just not trying hard enough.”
“Hush,” she says, the marker still moving. “It's better to stumble than to fall. Don't wake up trouble while it sleeps quietly.” She moves back to the first arm, working around his wild scribbles and filling in the empty places. “Don't swing fists when the fight is over. It will either rain or snow; it either will or will not.”
“I’m going to run out of skin at this rate,” says Clint. The words come out sounding almost hopeful, and he grinds his teeth, wishing they hadn’t.
“One more,” she says, eyes narrowing. Reaching forward, she tugs up his shirt. He catches his breath, willing himself not to move as she traces the letters across the muscles of his stomach. “A single man in a field,” she reads, head tilted as if to admire her work, “is not a warrior.” She purses her lips. “We’re all in the red to each other now. Maybe that’s what being a team means. Clint... you don’t have to do this alone.”
Then she caps the marker with a tidy little click, and she’s gone.
* * *
She doesn’t tell anyone, at least not explicitly. Clint is fairly sure of that. But she must spread the word somehow, because a week later Thor uncaps a blue marker decisively at the breakfast table.
Silence falls as Thor stands and leans across the table. Steve is frozen, a spoonful of eggs halfway to his mouth. Natasha watches with blank face and thoughtful eyes. Bruce looks wary; but then, he often does. Even Tony pauses, looking up from his tablet, brow furrowing in slight confusion.
Clint holds himself in perfect stillness as Thor traces a symbol first on one bare shoulder, then on his other, and then settles back into his chair, looking satisfied.
Clint twists his head. The one on his left shoulder is like a fancied-up capital ‘M’; the one on his right shoulder looks a little like bit an angular lowercase ‘n’. “Are these... runes?” he asks, curious.
“Mannaz,” Thor booms cheerfully. “For the self and the individual. And Uruz, the ox, for freedom and courage.”
There’s only one possible way to react. “Thanks, buddy,” says Clint, and calmly returns to eating his cornflakes.
* * *
It’s Steve next, which kind of surprises him. Steve is so old fashioned, all golly-gee shucks and sheepish forties morals, and this thing with the markers is - weird. Liable to be outside anyone’s comfort zone. But Steve holds up an orange marker over pizza late one night, after sparring, and hesitantly asks, “May I?”
Clint shrugs and then nods his assent.
The orange doesn’t contrast very well with Clint’s skin, but somehow that makes the patterns Steve is tracing look even better. It’s like lacework overlaying Clint’s hand, swirls and knots weaving in and out. He thinks he recognises shapes in the abstract pattern - a bow and quiver here, the curve of the Avengers “A” logo - but it all blends into a soothing sort of whole.
“Jesus, Steve,” he says admiringly, when the other man is done. “You should do this professionally. Open up a tattoo parlour or something.”
Steve blushes. Of course he does; the man can decapitate a killer robot from fifty paces using nothing but his shield, but give him a compliment and that blonde-hair-blue-eyes complexion does the rest. “It’s nothing,” he mutters, averting his eyes. “Just something I’ve been wanting to try.” He hesitates, then says, “I had some more ideas, if you wanted...?”
Wordlessly, Clint holds out his other hand.
* * *
After Steve and Thor, it’s kind of a thing. He expects Tony to be next - flashy, mouthy Tony, who never met a boundary he didn’t care to push. It’s a pleasant sort of surprise, in the end, when it turns out to be Bruce.
They’re sitting on the roof - best view of the city, and it’s a beautiful night, not uncomfortably hot, but warm enough that Clint’s in sweatpants and not much else. The sun feels good on his chest. Bruce is reading something sciency, and Clint makes the mistake of asking what it’s about and, well, Clint’s not stupid but they also don’t pay him to science, that’s what Tony and Bruce are for, so when Bruce starts talking it takes him about ten seconds to get completely lost. And Bruce keeps trying to explain but, you know, the man doesn’t talk enough as it is so Clint’s hardly going to tell him to shut up. Instead he just nods along.
“Less of our brains are actually ours than we think,” Bruce is saying, waving his rolled-up pages for emphasis. “It’s all chemicals and instincts and neural pathways. The key is understanding how it works so that you can operate within the system, claim as much freedom from biological constraints as you can. It’s like - look.” He pulls a marker out of his pocket, and before Clint registers what’s happening he grabs Clint’s bare foot and begins to draw. “This molecule, that’s serotonin. Responsible for happiness.” And then, on Clint’s other foot, “And this is dopamine. Linked to trust, and empathy.”
Clint stares at the sketches on his feet, momentarily wordless. He doesn’t know if he can ever remember Bruce touching him before.
“Of course,” says Bruce, sounding suddenly uncertain, “that’s a dramatic oversimplification. Brain chemistry is a complicated science, you can’t just go throwing chemicals around and hope that-”
“Hey,” Clint interrupts. He flashes Bruce a smile. “No worries, I get it now.”
Bruce gives him a lopsided smile. “Oh, good.” Then he clears his throat, and turns pointedly back to his journals.
Clint wriggles his toes, thoughtfully.
* * *
It keeps happening. Thor scrawls runes on his neck, his shoulders, his chest, cheerful and unrepentant. Steve whiles away the time late at night, when dreams and insomnia keep them both awake, tracing ever more intricate patterns on Clint’s flesh. Bruce is hesitant, not always sure of his welcome, but it’s never long before he’s using Clint’s hands and feet as scratch paper, diagrams and equations scribbled out to explain some point. If Clint finds himself playing dumb just a little more often, to see if he can provoke Bruce’s cautious hands into reaching for the marker, well, no one calls him on it.
Some mornings he wakes up with bright red Cyrillic scrawled across his inner thighs, his lower back, his upper arms, and he knows that Natasha has been and gone while he slept. The red ink swirls away in the waters of his morning shower, and he watches it go with something like regret.
* * *
Tony is the last. Clint had half-thought Tony was opting out of this little team-building exercise, until he walks into movie night with a black sharpie in hand and a wicked sort of gleam in his eyes. “Hold still,” he says.
“Am I going to regret this?” Clint asks mildly, wondering whether now would be a good time to run while he still can. Instead, he stays where he is. He has the best seat in the house, right in front of the screen. Natasha’s thigh is pressed against his own, there’s a bowl of popcorn in his lap, and if he stands up Thor is definitely going to steal his spot. He’s used to being written on, by now. No way he’s moving.
“Probably,” says Tony cheerfully, bending forward. “I just thought it was high time we stopped dancing around this and said what we mean.”
Clint has a hard time not flinching when Tony uncaps the marker and reaches for his face; but training prevails, and he holds himself immobile. The marker traces its cold path across his forehead, his cheeks, his chin; the sharpie fumes sting his nostrils, slightly intoxicating. It occurs to him that whatever Tony’s writing is going to be a lot harder to scrub from his skin than magic marker.
Bruce sucks in a gasp. Steve coughs lightly, then says, “Oh, dear.”
“There,” says Tony after a moment. He sounds a little less confident now. “Um. Here.” He hands Clint a mirror.
It takes him a minute to puzzle out the words, reflected backwards into the little hand mirror Tony passes him, but when he realises what he’s reading his heart skips a beat. Scrawled across his face in Tony’s bold, messy script, reads:
[i]PROPERTY OF THE AVENGERS. MEDDLE AT YOUR OWN RISK.[/i]
Clint opens his mouth, then closes it, then opens it again.
Beside him, the faint click of a marker uncapping breaks the silence.
He turns to Natasha. She reaches out, and at the base of his neck, right across his jugular vein, the red marker flicks across his skin. He can’t see what she’s writing, but: “It says ‘mine’,” she tells him.
She tugs up the hem of his shirt, and he raises his arms to help her; when the shirt clears his face, his team is already rising from their seats, pulling out their markers and crowding in around him.
Bruce writes it carefully in purple - then again, in huge scrawling block letters, in green. “From both of us,” he says wryly. “The other guy - you’re his too.” He pauses for a moment, then writes it again, and again. Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.
Thor has already covered half his back in bold blue writing, and Steve crouches beside him, working upward from Clint’s tailbone. They meet in the middle, and switch; Clint doesn’t need the mirror to know that Steve is filling in the gaps between Thor’s work with his careful orange script; Thor, on the other hand, is almost certainly scrawling his blocky script unrepentantly over top of what Steve has already written.
Bruce slides down his sweatpants, seeking more skin, and Clint lets him. Deep in his chest, he feels something unknot for the first time in months. If it can’t be his skin, better theirs than Loki’s.
Natasha and Tony are working together now, writing “mineminemine” in careful letters over every inch of his stomach, his thighs, his cock. He thinks he should be hard, the teasing tickle of so many markers on his skin, his own nakedness and the intense focus of his not-unattractive teammates, but he hangs limp and unresponsive under their hands, every marker-stroke relaxing his body until he’s not sure how much longer his knees will hold him up.
And then they don’t, anymore, they buckle and bend - and Steve catches him when he falls. They lower him naked onto the couch, his team, love and worry and smug satisfaction written on their faces. Every inch of his skin is covered in marker.
“Well?” says Tony, after a minute.
“Yours,” he says, and closes his eyes.
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