Tattoo

Inspired by own venture into the world of tattoos. Thanks as always to Ruby. Um, the boy's aren't mine. Original boys are. Entered in Spinelli_GH LJ comm contest. I'm sleepy - so forgive anything I missed while spellchecking. Enjoy!


Spinelli steps tentatively into the small office at the end of the row of shops in the large center. Tattoo Studio, the sign out front proudly proclaims. AC/DC music is emanating from the speakers, to the tune of 'Let There Be Rock'. A spiky haired man sits behind the glass counter – filled with displays of various piercings available, he has green hair and a ring through his nose. The wall opposite him is covered with tattoo exemplars, ranging from simple kanji characters and lettering all the way to complex looking animals and faces.

"Can I help you?" The man behind the counter asks, glancing up from the magazine he'd been absorbed in.

"As it were, yes. You see, the Jackal is quite interested in obtaining a tattoo." Spinelli says, bouncing nervously in place.

The guy raises an eyebrow, realizing that yet another drunken college student has wandered into their establishment. "The Jackal?"

Spinelli stutters for a moment before the words cooperate. "I am the Jackal. The Ace of Cyberspace." He explains.

"Uh huh. We're not inking you if you're drunk." The employee tells him cautiously, sounding quite skeptical of this customer's sobriety. "It's against the law."

"He's not drunk." Maxie interrupts, having just entered the shop herself. "He always talks like that." She takes in the décor of the place, from the leather seats to the side of the door to the array of tattoos, and seems to accept the place. "Not bad." She hums, and stands beside her friend at the counter. Compared to some of the sleazy tattoo parlors downtown, this one is remarkably clean and sterile.

Another man steps out from the back, having heard the voices. "What's going on?" The new one asks, thoroughly covered in tattoos himself.

The guy behind the counter sighs. "Kid wants a tattoo." He says, gesturing to Spinelli.

"We can do that." He nods, holding out a hand to his new customer. "I'm James. Do you have any idea what you want?"

Spinelli opens his mouth to answer, but then recalls he has a sketch of what he would like tucked into his pocket, and that the picture is far easier than trying to explain. He retrieves the sheet of paper, offering it to James. "Is that at all possible?"

"What is it?"

"Binary coding." Spinelli answers, with a slightly disappointed look. Does no one know computer code these days?

James sighs. "Hey, your call." He says. "Where do you want it?"

Spinelli has put a lot of thought into that one. "Perhaps on the back of my shoulder?" He inquires hopefully, and explains further. He wants the tattoo on his right shoulder, and just as it is printed on the page.

The artist nods. "That would work. No color?" His customer shakes his head in the negative. "It'll take me about an hour to do. Mike'll ring you up while I go set up." He points Spinelli to the other man and then excuses himself to an offset room.

"You're really sure about this, Spinelli?" Maxie asks him, not for the first time, as Mike passes Spinelli a release for him to sign.

He swallows hard, audibly so, and reads over the paper. Not pregnant. Check. Not drunk. Check. Not on drugs. Check. No blood-borne diseases. Check. Acknowledge that Tattoo Studios are not liable… Check. He signs his name at the bottom, and passes the paper as well as his license and back to Mike. "I'm sure." He finally says, hoping he sounds more convincing than he feels.

Ten minutes later, he and Maxie are discussing whether or not she'll get anything while they're there, and she's leaning toward yes when James appears again, calling Spinelli back to the room he'd been in.

A reclined chair, not unlike an exam table one might find in a doctor's office, is in the middle of the room, with a regular chair beside it. "Take off your shirt and get comfortable." James instructs, and slips out of the room once more.

Reluctantly, feeling more nervous than he has through this whole thing, he shrugs out of his jacket, setting it on yet another chair in the corner. His t-shirt comes off next and he lies down on his stomach just as James returns with a paper in hand.

"You want your friend back here?" He asks, and Spinelli nods. James ducks out once more and motions the blonde in the waiting area back, and she claims the seat Spinelli's clothes are in.

James takes his own seat and finishes up with his preparations, and pulls on fresh gloves. "I'm disinfecting the area first, and then I'll shave it." He tells his customer, very clearly a first timer at this. "Sound good?"

Spinelli nods, his arms resting at his sides and his eyes on Maxie.

The disinfecting gel is cold and sends a shiver down Spinelli's spine. Then he feels the touch of a razor on his skin and just a moment later that is gone. Another swipe with disinfectant and then James is pressing a purple colored outline of the series of numbers onto Spinelli's back. "The placement okay?" He asks, urging Spinelli to check it in the mirror.

The hacker sits up, and uses the secondary mirror James provides him to look over his shoulder and into the larger mirror behind him, where the positioning of the guideline tattoo is perfect. "Affirmative." He assesses, and lies back down.

"How much does it hurt?" Maxie asks James.

"It does hurt. It's different for everyone, but the important part is to hold still. Focus on something else." He advises, and hooks the power cable up to the prepared tattoo gun, dipping the fresh needle into the ink. "You ready?"

Spinelli bites his lip, but nods. His green eyes plead with Maxie. "Would you please be of assistance in distracting the Jackal from the certainly imminent pain?"

Maxie obliges his request. "Are you going to tell Jason about this?"

"Decidedly not." Spinelli answers, and that line of questioning is not helping in the distracting from pain department. He changes topic quickly to avoid any further interrogation on the topic of Stone Cold. "Is the fair Maximista thinking of getting a tattoo, as well?" The words are barely out of his mouth when the vibrating needles first break through his skin, and he cringes in pain, his finger's curling and uncurling as he tries hard not to move.

Maxie spots the discomfort on his face and reaches out for his hand, squeezing it reassuringly. "Maybe." She answers his question. "Maybe something small."

"Like what?" Spinelli asks. "Perhaps something to honor BJ or Georgie?"

"Something like that, yeah." She agrees, and the two of them go on to debate what to choose to do so. Their conversation lasts quite a while, and James is quite a ways into the design when silence falls between Spinelli and Maxie.

"So, does all this code mean something?" He asks. It's by far not even close to the strangest thing anyone's ever asked him to tattoo, but that doesn't mean he's not curious.

Spinelli exhales, it hurts more now that the needles are jabbing into skin right above his shoulder blade. "Indeed it does. Binary code can be translated from its hexagonal format of zeroes and ones into the simple alphabet we all know and love if one knows how to decipher it correctly." He explains, though he does avoid mentioning what the code on his back will represent.

Maxie interrupts again before James can ask what the numbers he's permanently etching on Spinelli's back specifically mean. "I'm thinking that I'll get a heart with BJ written inside of it, and then come back soon and get something for Georgie." She decides, and a frown crosses her face upon thinking of her cousin and sister, and Spinelli squeezes her hand lightly in response.

The whole procedure ends up taking a little more than an hour to accomplish, and when James finally declares him finished and explains the aftercare procedures, seconded by a sheet of paper that states them, he applies a bandage over the freshly inked skin. "You're free to go." He says, and Spinelli climbs out of the chair quickly.

"You okay?" Maxie asks, as they are led back out to the waiting area.

"The Jackal will be." He answers, nudging Maxie toward the counter herself.

Three hours later, Spinelli is trying to stealthily sneak into the penthouse. The lights are all off, so he can only assume Jason is either sleeping or out. "Stone Cold?" He calls out quietly, just in case the older man is up and about, lurking in the shadows as he occasionally has a tendency to do. No answer comes, and he breathes a sigh of relief and walks a little less cautiously through the living room in the direction of the stairs.

He'd spent about forty minutes with Maxie at Tattoo Studios and then they'd gone to Jake's to relax for a while. Spinelli had allowed Coleman to talk him into a few beers in place of his normal beverage of choice and had taken the usual 'man-up, Spinelli' comments with a grain of salt. He'd gotten a tattoo that he had no intention of telling Coleman about.

He smiles as he slips into his room. "I did it." He says with an incredulous sigh. He peels off his t-shirt and flops down on his bed with his shoes and jeans still on.

***

"Spinelli!" Jason calls the next morning, unsure as to whether or not his roommate came home last night.

The door to Spinelli's room isn't shut all the way, which is a change from last night, so Jason nudges it open enough to peer into the room and he finds Spinelli face down on his bed, with his arms curled around a pillow and a stark white bandage on his shoulder. Alarm flares immediately in Jason's chest, followed promptly by both panic and rage. Who had dared to harm Spinelli this time? When would his enemies learn that the quirky computer hacker was strictly off limits if they wanted to continue breathing?

"Spinelli." He repeats, with a panicked edge to his voice that gives away his concern. Jason moves to sit on the edge of the bed, one hand lingering precariously over the slightly stained bandage.

Soft snoring is all he gets by way of response from Spinelli, which, at the very least proves the unconscious man is only sleeping. It is then that the easily identifiable smell of alcohol hits Jason's senses.

"Spinelli!" He says, quite loudly this time, most of his sympathy lost of Spinelli was indeed out drinking. "Come on, it's time to wake up."

"Mrrrrngh, Stone Cold… would you care to lessen the volume, please?" Spinelli requests, with a sleepy groan. He turns his back to Jason, rolling onto his side, still quite curled around his pillow.

Jason is not so easily avoided, though. He tugs insistently at the pillow and Spinelli follows it as Jason pulls it free and the younger man ends up with his head almost on Jason's lap. "Where were you last night?"

A yawn and Spinelli blinks sleepy green eyes up at him. "Out with Maximista." He answers. "Why? Were you in need of the Jackal's cyber skills?"

The elder shakes his head in response. "No, and you already knew that because you're not supposed to be hacking anyway." Jason reminds him, not for the first time. Not when Raynor is still very much seething over being one-upped by his own employees.

"Affirmative. May I reclaim my pillow then, as it were?"

Jason holds the pillow out of reach. "No. Not until you tell me why there is a bandage on your back."

"Oh, that." Spinelli bites his lip. "That's nothing." He says, just a little too quickly – not that Jason is not already suspicious at this point – and the younger man is now very much awake.

He looks hardly convinced, and he knows Spinelli can tell.

"It is merely the result of yet another of your humble protégé's many attempts to man-up and impress the one he loves." Spinelli finally answers, and he can't help but flinch when he rolls onto his back to stare intently at the ceiling.

Jason does not miss the flash of pain. "God, Spinelli." The elder sighs. "Stop trying to change yourself for other people. Maxie likes you for who you are. I like you for who you are." He has no idea of whom or what was the cause of the injury marring Spinelli's back, so he guesses. And it's not like it's the first time he's given Spinelli the 'we like you for you' speech, either. "Who is getting in a bar fight supposed to impress, exactly?"

"What?" Spinelli asks, and Jason has evidently guessed incorrectly, because Spinelli is staring at him in utter confusion. "If Coleman told you of a bar fight between the Jackal and anyone, you have been sorely misinformed. Maxie and I merely had a drink or two at Jake's, is all."

"Still haven't heard an explanation for the bandage, though." Jason prompts again.

"It's a tattoo." He says finally, after a long moment of awkward and intent staring. "No one injured your Jackal in any unprompted attempt at violence." He assures his friend, and is even prepared to remove the bandage if Jason doesn't believe his claim.

Jason only blinks down at him. "You… got a tattoo."

Spinelli nods. "Indeed I d-"

The shrill ringing of the phone in Jason's pocket cuts off Spinelli's answer as well as the array of questions his answer would have undoubtedly sparked. Their conversation efficiently derailed, Jason fishes the insistent device from his pocket and sighs heavily when he sees the display on the caller ID. "Yeah?" He says into the receiver. "Sonny, calm down. I'll be right there." Jason assures his once-again boss. About now he's missing running things on his own. It all went so much smoother without Sonny there to stir up non-existent drama. By the time he hangs up, he's already at the door. "I'll be a while."

"Very well. Call if you require the Jackal's cyber skills."

And just like that Jason is out of the room.

Spinelli rolls over, his newly reclaimed pillow safely in his grip again. He allows his eyes to drift closed once more while he attempts to think of a way to keep Jason from further questioning the reasoning behind his new tattoo.

***

After two hours of listening to Sonny wax nostalgic about the old days, – the days before Spinelli, Jason knows – Spinelli has become the sole focus of his thoughts in his all in vain hopes of tuning out Sonny.

First, it's just a not-so-startling realization that he'd very much prefer Spinelli's insane vocabulary, third person references, and obscure nicknames galore to this monotonous and grating torture. That leads him back to his encounter with the younger man this morning. There'd been something Spinelli hadn't wanted him to know. Which would be less –

"You listening to me?" Sonny interrupts his tirade to ask.

Jason just stares back in response and a moment later Sonny nods and continues on as if he'd never stopped.

Which would be less of a dilemma if it followed the usual pattern. Usually when Spinelli – anyone, really – doesn't want him to know something, Jason already knows about it and is merely waiting patiently for that person to come clean with him on their own.

Perhaps Spinelli doesn't think he approves of the idea of getting a tattoo, for some reason. Granted, Jason doesn't have on himself, but that's mostly because of how often his job gets him shot. Chances are if he did get a tattoo it would be ruined by some sort of wound inside of a year.

"So what do you think?" Sonny asks.

"If you want me to stay, Spinelli stays." He says finally. Because that had been what sent Sonny off on such a tangent, reflecting on days past when it was just the two of them overseeing the operation. Without annoying cyber-nerds in the picture. That was all Jason needed to know, it was why he'd been able to tune out all of Sonny's illogical reasoning's against Spinelli. "Both of us, or neither of us. Your choice."

He's already accepted that Spinelli is too deep in mob-life now to just walk away without a permanent bull's-eye on his back. And, if he's going to be in, then he's going to be where Jason can keep him safe, because he doesn't trust anyone else to do it.

Without another word, Jason stands. "Think about it if you want. Call me when you've made your decision." And then he walks out.

***

The penthouse is still quiet when he returns and he finds his roommate in the regrettably pink room – which Jason really should get around to painting sometime this century.

"You need some help there?"Jason asks, and Spinelli jumps in surprise. The younger man has his back turned on a mirror, and had been looking over his shoulder at the unbandaged tattoo.

"Oh, Stone Cold." Spinelli half-laughs as the shock of being snuck up on wears off. "You're home."

Jason steps further into the room and spins Spinelli around to take a closer look at the tattoo. It looks sore, which Jason assumes makes sense anyway. The skin around the black inked numbers is raised and red. And specs of residual ink and what looks like dried blood are also present. "Is it supposed to look like that?"

"No, the Jackal was just about to clean it." Spinelli answers. "Would Stone Cold mind assisting?"

"Sure." He agrees, and follows Spinelli to the bathroom. "What am I doing?"

Spinelli instructs him as to what to do to help, and leans over the edge of the sink. Jason allows warm water to flow over the fresh tattoo and uses his fingers to help loosen up some of the stray ink and blood. He then adds anti-bacterial soap and repeats the process and by that point most of the unnecessary gunk is gone, leaving Spinelli with just the complex series of numbers he'd apparently intended upon.

"What is this supposed to be?" He asks, curiously, as he carefully dries the area with a soft towel.

Spinelli smiles his thanks for Jason's help and takes the towel for himself. "It's simple binary coding, one of many of the Jackal's skills in the realm of cyberspace."

Computer stuff. Jason should have known. "You got a computer tattoo to impress Maxie?"

"No, Maximista was merely there to support the Jackal while he underwent the painful proceedings. Then I did the same for her." He is still very much at a loss on how to keep Jason from finding out just who the tattoo is actually meant for. He shifts awkwardly, his hands shoved into his pockets, and decides to just avoid Jason for now. "If you will excuse the Jackal, I think I left a computer program running."

Jason watches him suspiciously as the younger man makes his escape.

Then he sees the paper. It must have fallen from Spinelli's pocket. Not usually one to be nosy, he pauses before he opens the folded sheet of paper. Perhaps it has something to do with whatever Spinelli is hiding from him, and that is enough to make Jason unfold it.

It's only the design he'd seen on Spinelli's back. The array of zeroes and ones is neatly printed, even more defined in black ink on the stark white paper than on Spinelli's skin. He tucks the paper into his own pocket and contemplates how this can help him figure out what's bugging Spinelli about all of this.

***

Spinelli backtracks the second he realizes that he's lost the paper he'd been fiddling with in his pocket. He peeks around the corner of the bathroom just in time to see Jason tuck it into his own.

He swallows. This is a most problematic development.

***

Jason shoots pool downstairs until he hears the water start upstairs. Spinelli's taking a shower, he figures, and he quickly sneaks back into the younger man's room to commandeer the use of his computer.

A little immoral, maybe, but in all fairness, Jason is the one who paid for the computer, and he's not hacking into Spinelli's files or anything, he just needs an internet search engine.

He types 'binary' into the search bar and Google helpfully suggests lengthier terms. 'Converter' and 'Translation' are the first things that pop up, and he clicks on the latter quickly. The first link Google gives him looks promising enough and it gives him a variety of boxes wherein one can enter text, binary coding, or several other types of computer coding that Jason doesn't recognize at all.

The second box is what he needs, and he types in the first sequence of numbers quickly. Its eight digits long. 01010011. He hits the decode function. S.

There are nine rows of numbers, each one eight numbers long. If the pattern continues, then he's looking at a nine letter word.

He erases the first set of number and types in the second. 01010100. T. 01001111. O. 01001110. N. 01000101. E. At that point, he gets it. Just to be sure, he types the four remaining sets of numbers in. 01000011 01001111 01001100 01000100. COLD. Stone Cold.

He stares at the screen of the laptop. Why would Spinelli get his nickname permanently engraved in his back? It's… it doesn't make any sense at all. Jason figured, if it meant anything at all, it would be related to Maxie.

But, this…

Jason hears the water shut off down the hall and quickly closes the window. Leaving the paper on Spinelli's desk, he's out of the room before Spinelli emerges from the bathroom.

***

Spinelli knows Jason's already figured him out when he sees the paper sitting beside his laptop. Jason knows what the tattoo means. And it's only a matter of time before Jason figures out why he chose it. It's only a matter of time before Jason kicks him out of the penthouse, and it's very likely only a matter of time before Jason stops protecting him.

He grabs up his cell phone and calls Maxie, explaining his plight to her, and her words to not soothe his panic.

"Just tell him the truth, Spinelli." She insists, as she has been for weeks now.

And this time he just might have to listen, but when he goes downstairs – walking as if he is headed toward the Hangman's noose – he realizes Jason isn't there.

***

Jason is torn between elated and furious that Sonny chose then to call him back concerning this morning's conversation.

"Yeah?" He barks, quite impatiently, as he walks into Sonny's living room.

"Fine. Whatever. Keep your freak boy, if that's what you want." Sonny acquiesces, waving a dismissive hand. "We need this to work. So, do what you want with Spinelli. I just don't want to have to deal with all his cyber-speak."

Jason levels him with a glare. "You have to respect him, too, Sonny. I'm not letting him take any crap from you." He insists, and he's still prepared to walk away from all of this if Sonny can't agree to his terms.

The elder man grits his teeth and almost protests but inevitably ends up spitting out a terse, "fine," in reply. "I'll try."

"Okay." Jason agrees. "Anything else?"

Sonny's still fuming, though, Jason can see, and answers quickly. "No. Go."

Jason complies and heads back outside to his waiting motorcycle. He doesn't go how, though. He needs to think. And nothing clears his mind like driving does.

So. Spinelli got a tattoo. That tattoo happens to be of his nickname for Jason in binary code. Spinelli told him that he'd done it to impress the one he…

Jason pulls the bike to the side of the road.

The one he loved.

Spinelli can't… This doesn't… There's no way.

But nothing else makes any sense. He hadn't done it to impress Maxie, he'd even told Jason as much. Jason had thought Spinelli was in love with her, but evidently not enough to have the code for 'MAXIMISTA' tattooed on himself.

He's near the park, he realizes. And he parks his bike and decides that walking is a safer alternative of he happens to have any more equally shocking epiphanies.

"Jason!" A familiar voice calls, and he spots Maxie sitting on a nearby bench with baby Emma, no doubt on babysitting detail for Patrick and Robin. "Have you talked to Spinelli?" She asks, when he approaches her. "He called me in a panic because…"

"Because I found out about the tattoo?"

She nods. "Yeah."

He sits down beside her. "You knew about it."

Another nod. "He thinks you're going to kick him out or have him killed or something. I'm not actually sure which one he thinks is worse, at the moment."

"How… how long has he been hiding this?"

"From you… I don't even know how long, a while, I guess? I figured it out when he left for California on his own. It took me forever to actually get him to admit it to me." Maxie tells him.

Jason sighs. Spinelli is way deeper into this than he thought. "Admit what, exactly?"

Maxie shakes her head. "Oh, no. He'll tell you that one himself." Emma starts to cry then, and Maxie mumbles something about getting the baby back to Patrick soon.

"Thanks." Jason says, as she walks away from him. And he's not sure of he means for talking to him about this or for looking out for Spinelli when he hadn't even known something was wrong.

So, he needs to decide. Can he ever return these feelings for Spinelli? Or should he ignore it? Tell his roommate that he needs to get over whatever he may feel for Jason because it's not safe for Jason to be in any sort of relationship with anyone with what he does.

With a sigh, he finally decides to head home.

***

Spinelli is sitting on the couch when he walks through the door, looking several kinds of broken and tortured. "Stone Cold." The younger man says in surprise when he hears the door open and close. His knees are pulled up to his chest, looking for all the world like someone half his size.

The look on Spinelli's face is what ultimately cements Jason's decision.

He sits down beside the younger man, balancing on the arm of the sofa. "That's what it says, right? You got a tattoo meant for me?"

Spinelli is silent, but nods in answer.

For the first time since this morning, Spinelli is actually wearing a shirt, and Jason finds himself wanting to see the tattoo again. It's weird, he knows, but for some reason he doesn't like not seeing it. His fingers gently trace over where he knows the tattoo is located and he can feel the raised skin through the thin fabric of Spinelli's t-shirt.

"There… there is something else the Jackal needs to inform you of…" Spinelli starts, very clearly nervous. "I, ugh… that is, my reasoning for choosing such a distinctly personalized tattoo lies in my up until now secretly hidden feelings for…" A pause and Jason realizes that Spinelli is actually shaking.

"Hey. Calm down." Jason insists, the fingers that had been previously searching out the tattoo now move to squeeze lightly and reassuringly on Spinelli's shoulder. "I think I know the basic idea here, okay?"

Spinelli bites his lip, wrings his hands and he won't look at Jason, but he's not vibrating in his seat anymore. "The Jackal is in love with you, Stone Cold."

Jason smiles.

***

AC/DC music is still playing when Spinelli steps into the back room of the tattoo shop for the second time three months later. This time 'You Shook Me All Night Long' is emanating from the speaker system. But, this time, Spinelli has spent no time sitting in the tattoo chair.

"You sure about this, Stone Cold?" Spinelli asks, sitting beside Jason, the older man's black t-shirt and leather jacket in his arms.

James is once again present, though somewhat surprised by the change in his clientele. Last time, this kid brought in the blonde girl, this time, he has the one and only Jason Morgan with him. And said famous mobster is getting virtually the same tattoo as his computer obsessed friend already has. It does not take a genius to figure out what's going on there. And James wisely keeps his mouth shut on the issue.

James has also done a bit of research on binary coding since he'd done the last one.

01010011 translates to S. 01010000 to P. 01001001 is I. 01001110 – N. 01000101 – E. 01001100 – L. 01001100 – L, again. 01001001 – I. Spinelli. Which is the name of the kid who had 'Stone Cold' tattooed onto his own back. And Stone Cold is evidently his nickname for Jason Morgan. Interesting, indeed.

"I'm sure." Jason says, and Spinelli grins in response, just as James begins his work, etching the tattoo onto the mobster's chest, which is riddled with scars from what look like gunshot wounds.

James sighs. No one is ever going to believe him on this.