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Stories in the Skin

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He learned to read her face like a map.

A spy skill. Often the people he talked to didn't speak the truth, but it was harder for the face to lie than the tongue. A smile that looked wrong, a twitch of a muscle. There were maps on the skin, if you knew how to read them.

For Steve it was more instinct than trade craft: after four years he couldn't turn it off anymore. He watched, and he noticed, and when his friends' faces spoke again their words, he laughed and nodded and pretended not to see.

He'd never before met someone whose face and words spoke in perfect unison.

He found it amusing, at first. The way Diana's thoughts showed in her features a mere second before they came off her lips. Never out of tune. Never a contradiction. She'd have made a terrible spy, this woman who'd never learned to lie.

Then he noticed how easy it felt, talking when he didn't have to track two sets of messages. He hadn't realized how tiring it was, always searching people's faces for something that gave lie to their words.

He didn't need to read Diana's face.

He did it anyway.

He learned her map, in their short time together. The way emotions tweaked different muscles. Confusion. Disbelief. Amusement. Indignation. He learned they made different number of creases between her eyebrows. Learned the amused dimple from the joyful one. The tightening jaw when she was conflicted. Her smiles and her surprise and her frowns that flowed smoothly from each other like ripples from a gentle hand in a quiet lake.

Steve tried not to stare. Everyone else was doing enough of that, already.

But he could get lost in the stories of her face.

Even when she was sleeping, the corners of her mouth twitched occasionally, and her fingers strummed the cord of an invisible bow. Or maybe it was brushing away a loose curl on a loved one's shoulder. There was always tenderness surrounding the steel.

He committed the map of her skin to memory, every groove and tweak and laugh line.

When she was curious, her eyes widened just a fraction and her eyebrows rose and the corners of her lips twitched just in the beginning of a smile. Confusion meant three creases in her brow, and if she was mad the skin above her eyebrows would pucker. Anger stiffened her jaw and drew tight lines around her lips.

The worse he'd ever read in her face had been on that last evening, in a cloud of gas that had been a dancing village.

The sweetest was the night before, in the flickering light of the fireplace. Before anything happened – before he'd even closed the door. When her lids had lowered just a fraction and her forehead had smoothed out and she'd smiled in a way that said he could come in.

All in all, he figured, he was lucky. He got to know her, before anyone else in the world. This woman who had come to save the world, he got to see her face first.

He envied everyone who'd have more time to learn it.

Before he squeezed the trigger, he pictured her fluttering eyelashes in the falling snow.