Work Header

In the Eye of the Beholder

Work Text:

Tony was the one who put the idea in Steve's head in the first place, anyway.

They were sitting in Tony's lab, chatting about something inane that Steve can't recall the topic of anymore, when Tony paused to yawn widely. He cracked one eye open as he leaned his cheek against his head.

“Take a picture, Cap, it'll last longer.”

Steve startled. “Uh, yeah,” he stammered, for lack of anything better to say, his usual dry comebacks coming up short as warmth crept up his cheeks.

He hadn't thought his staring had been so blatant. They had been engaged in conversation, which mostly entailed of Tony rambling, words punctuated by emphatic hand gestures with no apparent concern for the coffee sloshing around in his mug, up until Steve had deftly taken it from him and set it aside.

“I'm very photogenic,” Tony grinned, and Steve knew he agreed with that bit. Tony smiled harder, like he could peer into Steve's mind and read all of his private thoughts. But if he could do that, then he would know that Steve didn't need the prompting, and, more than that, would be teasing him mercilessly.

“I'm not as much into photography,” Steve blurted out, unable to handle the scrutiny. “I grew up with sketching and painting, mostly.”

“Oh?” Tony raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “I didn't know you painted,” he added carefully. “I mean, I've seen your sketches, but I didn't know about the painting bit.” He smiled easily. “What other artistic talents are you hiding from me, Steve Rogers? Don't tell me you sculpt, too?”

“Not nearly enough to call myself a sculptor,” Steve said. “But yes, I paint.”

Tony perked up immediately, the drowsiness from before vanished. “Oil? Acrylic? Watercolors?”

“Oil,” Steve replied automatically, and then, upon seeing the glint in Tony's eyes, “there's no need to get me any painting materials, I already have them. It just takes a lot of effort, and time, which isn't easy to come by.”

“Oh.” Unsaid offer shot down, Tony deflated. “If Hulk can have a glass animal collection, you should have enough time to paint. Methinks you're pulling too much weight around here.” He reached out with his foot and kicked Steve's leg lightly. “Too responsible. Take some time for yourself sometime.”

I do have free time. Don't give me that look,” Steve frowned, and Tony grinned widely like he'd already won. “I work out. I read. I train.”

You said that last one already.” Tony balanced his face between his hands, peering at him. “Oh, does this count as training?”

I like spending time with my teammates,” Steve retorted evenly. I like spending time with you.

“Whatever floats your boat.” After a brief pause, “I'd like to see them sometime, though. Your paintings,” Tony added, which must have been in response to Steve's dumbstruck expression. “I don't mind waiting.”

“Sure.” Steve had no idea what he was saying. “I'll do that.” What? No he won't.

Tony brightened, the smile shining from his eyes. Then Steve found it hard to feel anything other than speechless, a brief, sudden warmth welling up in his chest.

The next morning, Steve straightened, stepped back, and examined the set-up before him.

The first thing he felt was akin to disappointment. For once in Steve's life, his ingrained frugality had been forgotten as he splurged on the highest quality painting tools he had once only dreamed of. But it had been to no avail. He'd cut, stretched, and primed this canvas – what was it, months ago? The carefully selected paints in a wider variety of colors than he'd ever been able to afford were still tightly packaged in their tubes. The sable brushes were all lined up in the container as he'd bought them, never having been touched, let alone moved. And it was only now that everything saw the light of day.

What had Steve been thinking? He hadn't properly painted in years on his own time, and decades by the world's. Besides, putting the painting aside, it'd take weeks for it to properly dry. Tony would probably have forgotten all about Steve's offer by the time Steve finished the portrait.

Steve chewed on his lip. It was the best, or worst, kind of irony. He'd spend hours poring over Tony, and Tony wouldn't even know. But was that so different from usual?

Steve squared his shoulders and shook his head, reorienting himself. For someone who could go toe-to-toe with the Cabal on his most off days, he was handling simple rustiness of his skills less than admirably. That wouldn't do. Steve knew more than anything that the practice of doing, training and effort and hard work, was the only way he could have his body accomplish anything. The principle applied just as much to fine motor skills as it did to gross ones.

First things first. Steve closed his eyes, calling on his memory. It drifted to the surface, of them in the workshop, of Tony: eyes and mouth half-open, eyebrows raised in an almost comedic exaggerated arch, face leaned into one hand, mug hung lightly, held up loosely by long, thin fingers, while the dazzling blue arc reactor shined brightly through his black shirt.

When Steve opened his eyes, the image remained, imprinted on the canvas propped up in front of him.

It hadn't been like this before the serum. He'd always had an artist's eye, able to flatten the shape of the world around him into lines and light, curves and shadows. But before, he couldn't have memorized the angle at each line's meeting, envision the precise tone of shading without close study.

Not that his newfound photographic memory had always served him well. The Avengers have had their fair share of run-ins with villains.

Steve didn't always need to be reminded of the exact way the planes of Tony's long, toned torso ran down, angled into his shockingly bright-red underwear, or how the fabric clung close to his hips and thighs, every time he saw Tony.

And he didn't need to mull over it when Tony wasn't even here. Steve furrowed his eyebrows. They were inappropriate thoughts to have about a fellow friend and teammate. Even if Tony would never know, but in a way, that made it even worse. Steve sighed heavily, just to let it out.

He rolled the charcoal between his fingers and set it to the canvas.

Back then, Steve told Tony that he enjoyed painting because he could see the painting come to life before him. What Steve had nearly forgotten was how painting and the entire mindset behind it could make his entire world come to life before him, in a way even his sketchbook never got him to think about his surroundings.

The world of colors became a world of gradients and tones. Steve would find himself getting caught up pondering how to mix certain shades, or how to portray depth with colors rather than with the pressure of a pencil.

“Quit smelling the flowers and get your head in the game, Cap!” Clint shouted at him during one of their raids on an A.I.M. base. Steve ducked under a blast from some minion, momentarily distracted with wondering how to best imitate the glint of the bare lighting in the underground complex.

Steve flushed a bit, not even wanting to admit to himself that he had been thinking of it as a reference for portraying the arc reactor. Staring openly at someone's chest wasn't something that only women easily noticed, something Steve had learned early on in his and Tony's friendship, when Tony had caught him looking at it.

“Weird, huh?”

“No, not at all.” Steve had glanced up to Tony's searching gaze. “It keeps you alive, doesn't it? That's amazing.”

Tony had frowned at him, before offering a crooked smile. “If you say so, Cap.”

But it was true. It reminded Steve of the future, and all its wonders. Tony tended to do that, in general.

Steve needed to transfer that feeling onto canvas. That was the frustrating part, capturing all the bits and pieces of Tony's personality he took for granted: his movements, easy and effortless and exact all at once, the expressions that would be comically exaggerated for anyone else but perfect just on him.

The one saving grace was painting itself, which came to Steve naturally. The steps were methodical in a way that was surprisingly forgiving of Steve's mistakes, as long as he was armed with a palette knife and a rag. That was an area the rest of his life rarely afforded him. It couldn't be too forgiving, though; it was so much easier for Steve to start over entirely when he was unhappy with his sketches. There was no such thing here – the moment Steve had begun this endeavor there was no turning back.

It was romantic in a way, and maybe Steve was only thinking that because it had to do with Tony, his new favorite subject.

Steve stepped back, put his hands on his hips, and evaluated the half-finished painting. He smiled self-deprecatingly.

It was a good thing he still had his day job; when he got like this, Steve didn't want to realize just how far in the clouds his head would end up if he didn't have the Avengers to ground him.

Steve set down his brush and examined his handiwork. He'd have to switch to a round next, for the detailing on the goatee.

“So this is what's been taking up all your attention.”

Steve started. He hadn't even noticed the door slide open or someone entering. He wasn't sure how much of that was on him, or if it was all explained by this particular team member's specialty.

“I did just knock, and you told me to come in, for what it's worth,” Natasha said, examining the painting. Steve tried not to fidget. So it was on him, then.

“It's nice.” Natasha glanced sidelong at him, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She cocked her head. “And...loud.”

Steve willed himself not to flush. It didn't work.

“Thank you,” Steve muttered, carefully avoiding her gaze. “Did you need something?”

“Not particularly,” she said with a quirk of her lips. “I noticed you weren't entirely there last mission, so I wanted to check up on you. No need for the kicked dog look – even when you're distracted you get the job done more than well enough.” She shrugged. “But now that my answers have been found – ” What? Nothing of the sort had happened – “maybe we can do something together.” Her smile widened. “I can hang out with my teammates just for fun, too. It's not just something reserved for the team's resident bromance.” Her emphasis on the last word made Steve splutter.

“Hawkeye's not even the most perceptive person on the team,” Natasha added with a wicked grin, and it dawned on Steve that this was just the beginning of an entirely new twist on their dynamic.

“You said do something?” Steve blurted. “Want to head over to the training room with me?”

Natasha made a show of considering it. “Sure, if you treat me to ice cream afterwards.” She shifted, and her expression softened. “I'm sure he'll like it,” she said, her voice gone quiet as she rested a hand on Steve's shoulder.

“Hey, it's not for – ” Steve caught himself before he said something he might regret. “Never mind. Let me finish up here, then I'll join you.”

“Okay,” Natasha said, taking a step back. “See you soon, super soldier.” She made herself scarce just as quickly as she appeared.

Steve stared at the painting, cheeks burning as he looked at the Tony there, who was yawning widely back at him.

Natasha was right. Not only did he have to show this to Tony, but of course he had to give it to him too. After all, what else was the point of painting a portrait to show Tony, of Tony? Steve wouldn't have any use for it after he was finished. Steve hadn't really considered what came after being done until just now, too intent on everything leading up to the finished product.

That couldn't be it. Part of him must have already known this would happen. But now things were all decided, yet Steve's face was still hot.

Probably that was just Natasha. She could make anyone think they had done something wrong just by looking at them for longer than five seconds.

Steve rolled his shoulders, turned on his heel, and left the room, not sparing another glance for what lay right before him.

So Natasha knew about his crush on Tony. So what? Not that it was that big a deal, or that it was really a secret, Steve told himself adamantly as he made a point of not letting anyone into the room when he was working on the painting.

That part was easy enough. Steve was almost always the one to reach out, the one to seek out the others and drop in on them occasionally. Mother-henning, Clint would call it; being Captain America, Sam would offer. Both, the rest of the Avengers agreed on.

Anyway, people rarely visited him in his quarters, and if they needed him, they would usually call him via his communicator. About him being distracted and needing a check-up – that was a rare enough occurrence, and Natasha was exactly the type of person to notice something like that. But, more importantly, not letting his personal life affect his work on the field was something he had to remember for the team's sake.

He chided himself; no one else's hobbies caused so much grief, other than maybe that memorable day with the Hulk, and even that was a stretch. Though when you got down to it, this had long gone far beyond an activity to pass the time.

At times, Steve didn't like to think of just exactly what, and who, he was painting. That had been easier to forget, at the beginning, when the layers of paint had been just that – streaks of color to fill in a background, a rough outline and suggestions of light. But eventually there came the point, the one he had told Tony about. The one after hours of work, like a passage through some event horizon, when the painting came to life. When synergy occurred, and the collection of strokes and lines and curves formed into a subject, and you wondered how you had ever seen it otherwise.

There had been people in his life who had thrown around the sayings, free and plentiful in a time where little else was. You couldn't get around characters like them in the career he'd chosen. No one will take your art seriously if there's no life in it! And life is full of love. Or you're telling a story with a moral, and that moral is to have your viewer love as much as you did. Steve hadn't internalized too much of it at the time, too preoccupied with how to make ends meet for his sake and be better for the world's.

But all of those cliched platitudes came back now, in full force, and maybe they broke Steve a little. Made Steve finally admit it was more than just a crush, more than discreet glances when Tony wasn't looking or a warm contentment whenever Tony paid attention to him.

Artists should love their subject – Steve had remembered that much, and now he knew it more keenly than he'd ever imagined possible.

Steve hung his head and licked his lips. He'd applied the final layer of varnish a few days ago. He rubbed his fingers together before reaching out to the canvas. It was cool and dry to the touch.

It was done.

Tony rocked back on his heels, whistling a tune intentionally off-key as Steve keyed in his code.

“You're not going to annoy me into blurting out what's on the other side. You'll see it soon enough, you know,” Steve said, turning around as he stepped back in the doorway to block Tony's path.

“You,” Tony pointed out with a sharp grin, “just gave away that it's something I can see. So it's visual. Which probably means it's physical.”

“Like that narrows things down. Unless you were seriously debating if I brought you here to serenade you?” Steve tried not to think about how Tony had completely forgotten about their agreement. Just because he'd expected it didn't mean it stung any less.

“Oh Steve, you have no idea. I'll teach you guitar.” Of course Tony knew how to play guitar. “We'll record you, put it up on Youtube. I don't care if your high note reach causes a Hulk-out. One hundred million views, easy. You'll break my record. You might even break Spider-Man's record.”

Steve scoffed handily, stepping aside to let Tony through. Tony peered into the corners of the room with his hands behind his back before he whirled around.

“So, where's the painting?”

Steve stared blankly. It took a moment to recover. “You knew?”

Tony grinned at him, bright. “Figured it out the moment you invited me to your quarters. I mean, it's the Cap zone.” Tony waved his hands around, showing the room off. “Your private space. Invite required for entry.”

Steve considered the words. I wouldn't mind so much if people visited more often, he wanted to say. Everyone who lives here is on the permanent guest list. But if that was the impression Tony had, then it was on Steve. Which meant this was certainly something to communicate to the team later.

If you knew, why the twenty questions?” Steve asked instead.

Because I like messing with you.” After a short pause, Tony gave a loud laugh. “I can't believe you just made me admit that out loud.”

Trust me, it wasn't exactly a secret,” Steve said, smiling in turn. It was hard to be nervous about how Tony would take it when the man was standing right there, eyes bright and full of mirth. “It's not out yet,” Steve added, making his way toward the closet. “Give me a second.”

When he opened the door, he pawed around for a clean cloth to drape over the painting. He lifted up the easel and walked back out, trying not to focus too much on Tony's curious gaze.

Tony raised an eyebrow. “You hid it? Are you my parents?”


“No, it's just that, during the holidays, if the presents were under the tree, I usually found out what they were within the day. They picked up on it – no six year old is that great an actor. Even me.” Tony winked. “Your expression is priceless. I'm letting you know, now that I can freely admit how much it amuses me. Did you want to ask me how I made it happen? Because a master never reveals his secrets.”

“Sorry, I learned the art of patience growing up. You shouldn't ruin the surprise for yourself,” Steve said, unable to hide his smile.

“That wasn't the important part,” Tony scoffed. “They presented me a challenge and I took it. It was great, especially after they kept upping the difficulty. Like a game. Mom thought it was hilarious. Dad – ” Tony trailed off, a look of contemplation on his face before he perked up. “Anyway, that was the real fun part of Christmas.”

It wasn't hard to believe what mattered more to Tony than the actual presents themselves. Steve shook his head fondly and chuckled.

“Stop stalling, Captain,” Tony said. “I want to see your masterpiece.”

Steve raised an eyebrow at Tony. Tony widened his eyes and craned his head down, jutting his lower lip out. Steve resisted the urge to roll his eyes – if he reacted it'd only set Tony off more.

With a sudden rush of courage, Steve pulled off the cloth with a flourish.

It took far longer than Steve would have expected for the one of the three smartest people in the world to react. Tony opened his mouth and closed it uselessly, his eyes wide. It made him look like a goldfish. It would have been funny if Steve hadn't felt like someone had dumped ice water over his head.

“I,” Tony laughed nervously. “Wow.”

“It's not much, I know,” Steve said quickly, heart sinking. “Sorry.”

“It's just,” Tony smiled wide, but not in his usual way. Fake, Steve realized. “When I said you should show me a painting, I was expecting like – one of the team. Or a landscape, or a cityscape, I don't think there's too much natural scenery outside the tower. This, this is – wow.”

Steve turned, his feet like stone, to look at the painting alongside Tony, forcing himself to take it in.

The moment he wanted to capture had come to Steve easily, and he'd spent no time overthinking it. It was of Tony, the night he had put this idea into Steve's head in the first place. One of the in-between moments, a quiet one where Tony had looked at him wholly unimpressed, his exhaustion on full display. But looking at it now, it was clear as day. Because here, Tony's attention was entirely directed toward Steve in a way it rarely was, and moreover, it was very, very obvious from seeing it that Steve wanted it to be that way, all the time. It was too much, too open and honest, and he could feel every single nerve in his body, every single pinprick of sensation that told him the same thing, made him feel hot and cold and awful all the same way. Tony's reaction wasn't an expression of speechlessness. No, Tony had awkward written all over him.

He could have done what Tony said. He could have gone with something safe, something displayable in the common room. But the moment he'd told Tony yes, he'd already been composing his own, personal love letter in paints. Tony was just being polite. He hadn't been asking him to confess his love, to open up his heart and be painfully honest, and Steve hadn't meant to do it like this but maybe he had a little, deep down.

He shouldn't have done it. Steve felt sick to his stomach.

“Hey, can I commission you?” Tony asked abruptly.

Steve had to gather himself, keep himself composed. “It's a gift, Tony.” His voice came out normal. Unaffected.

Tony nodded, pacing back and forth in front of the painting. “Right, and it's an awesome gift, which I like so much I'd be willing to pay for more of them. ”

Steve's brain jumped on the the like so much part of the statement but that couldn't be true. “You need more than one?” Of course Tony did, he didn't want just this reminder of Steve's feelings, what had he even been thinking

Tony tilted his head. “Are you being like this because I don't value just this one? Because I swear I value it. Which is why I want more of them. More valuing potential.” He grinned, like it was the height of genius, and that just made Steve's stomach churn.

“I don't want you to commission me,” Steve said, hearing the misery in his voice.

Tony frowned. “I don't mean it like a charity case or anything, Steve. Honest.” His voice was soft and gentle, but it only made Steve feel worse.

“I said I'm not interested in doing commissions.”

“Okay, okay. I'm sorry.” Tony held up his hands. Steve knew that he was upsetting Tony with his behavior, that this was the time to act like the better person he always wanted to be. But he couldn't think past the sick, roiling feeling in his gut and the crushing weight on his shoulders.

“ is still for me, isn't it?” Tony smiled, and Steve vaguely registered it as genuine. “Thank you. It must have taken a long time.”

“You're welcome,” Steve said, and finally he gathered himself enough to smile back, but he couldn't be sure of how steady it looked.

Tony's face fell. “You're okay, Steve?” He took a step toward him. “Hey, you're really talented. This is great, and it's...for me. Thank you.”

Steve tried to smile again. “I'm glad you like it. Sorry, I realized I forgot to do something.” The expression on his face must have told Tony what he didn't want to say aloud.

Okay. I'll get out of your hair for now, then. Maybe we can play some video games later? Or...” eyeing Steve, “I'll go rustle up Thor for now. Playing him's always good for my ego.” Tony grinned, like he was expecting Steve to respond to that, like he was wide open and just waiting for Steve's dry remark. It didn't come.

Tony's face twisted up a bit. “Well...I'll see you later, then.”

When the door closed, Steve stared blankly at the wall, like he could lose himself in it. White, white, and white, and when he walked up and traced the bumps of his stucco, he felt like he'd fall right into it.

He didn't play video games with Tony later. In fact, Steve didn't see Tony for the rest of the day, which became increasingly more the norm than the exception.

Oh, Tony still greeted him with the same enthusiasm whenever they happened upon each other in the tower. It was just that those became the only times he saw Tony: when they passed by each other in the hallway, or the kitchen, or when the Avengers were called to assemble. There were no training sessions, no going out for hot dogs or burgers, no impromptu mass take-out order sessions that Tony would place when he'd stumble upon Steve rummaging around in the fridge.

When Steve thought about it, where it all came down to: that was what he had wanted from Tony, and that was what he already had.

What he didn't have hadn't bothered him. Sure, he'd let himself daydream about it: being able to slide a hand around Tony, just to feel him, being able to bury his face in the crook of Tony's neck and shoulder and smile into his skin. That was what had been important – the casual intimacy, reaching out in the little, inconsequential moments and being allowed to. But his fantasies had made him feel more warm than wistful, made him smile more than it made him long for what he didn't have. He would have lived without it. He would have been happy without it.

The only thing that had truly nagged at him was that Tony didn't know. Tony was his best friend, and why shouldn't he know about such an important part of their relationship? Steve wanted Tony to know. Steve wanted to share so much of his life with Tony, and still he had found himself stopping and holding back. And sometimes he'd also wondered why, and that was what had driven him throughout the painting process.

And...Tony flirted with so many people, and got along with even more. He was an attractive man who appreciated other people in turn just as easily. Steve hadn't stopped to consider how it would have turned out, when someone appreciated him and he didn't return those feelings for once.

Well, now Steve knew. But what he couldn't know was what this had in store for them, and could only resign himself to however it'd turn out.

It couldn't be too bad, he tried to reassure himself. It was Tony, who wasn't fazed by change or frightened by possibilities. He just had to give Tony time to adjust too, and eventually something would settle back down for them. Even if it was some echo of what they had before, Steve thought with a pang in his chest, they would be okay.

At the very least, he was certain both of them would refuse to let this affect their working relationship.

That was up until two weeks later, when Tony barged into the training room. Steve turned around from his spot at the punching bag and saw Tony, grinning widely at him with an excitement in his eyes that Steve would recognize anywhere.

Steve smiled back.

“Okay.” Tony's hands were on his shoulders, but Steve was trying not to concentrate too hard on that bit. “Don't move.”

Steve stayed put as Tony took a few steps back and reached behind him toward his desk.

“Is not moving as important as needing to get to your workshop ASAP?”

“Yes, it is. I am so glad we've established that level of trust.” Tony flashed him a smile as he grabbed something off the desk and brandished it before him.

It was a pentagon-shaped disc, no thicker than half an inch or so, with a translucent red sphere in the middle. Steve held his hands up.

“Did I do something wrong?” Steve said lightly, raising an eyebrow.

“No, you're perfect,” Tony said offhandedly, which made Steve swallow. Tony placed the disc on the floor, squinting at Steve as he backed up.

“Now, before you ask, I needed to do this before I decided I was an idiot and that it wasn't worth the trouble, Album, on.”

With a click, Tony appeared before Steve. Steve startled, but didn't move from his spot. There was a Tony in the Iron Man armor smiling at him, next to the Tony peering at him, gauging his reaction.

“Tony, what's going on?” Steve said.

The Tony on the right, the real one, smiled, looking uncertain for once. “Album, flip.” The Tony next to blurred out for a split second. When it refocused, Natasha was smiling up at him, sitting cross-legged on a couch and dressed in comfy, casual clothing.

Steve recognized this pose, actually. He remembered the impromptu party they had thrown, most of them in their pajamas, and watching as Tony called out to Natasha to say cheese. But the holographic Natasha before him was blinking, shifting a bit, like she was breathing and real and actually there.

“Album, slideshow mode, one-point-five times speed,” Tony said, and the Natasha switched to Clint, goggles askew and clothes a bit battered, aiming a sheepish smile at him. This one had been taken after a run-in with M.O.D.O.K.

The image changed again, this time to Hulk holding out his hands, a donut fitted like a ring around each finger. Then to Thor holding Mjolnir up with his pinky finger, expression torn between coy for the camera and focused on maintaining Mjolnir's balance. Sam held out a tray of cookies to Steve, and it cycled back around to Tony. A different one, in a tank top that had once been white and was now greased over with oil, goggles shoved up his head and mussing his hair, baring a screwdriver in one hand, and squinting up at the sudden distraction.

Steve had taken that photograph.

“You can move to the side if it's creeping you out,” Tony – his Tony – said with a nervous laugh. When Steve leaned his head over, the image went a bit staticky, and Steve confirmed what he had already known: that the figures were just holograms. He kept that in mind as the image settled back into place, looking just as convincing as it did a few seconds ago.

Tony, this is – ”

“It's a bit Harry Potter-esque, huh?” Tony wasn't looking at him. “But they don't really do anything other than stand there. Or sit there. I mean, I just based them off of the photos kept in the database. Not all of them are Avengers, though. Uh, here, I'll show you.” Tony finally looked at him now with a shy smile that left Steve unable to react.

He was faintly aware of the holographic Tony blurring out. It was only when Tony cleared his throat that he turned to look at it, and then Steve's breath caught.

His Ma smiled out at him, proud and beautiful and strong and – Steve balled his fingers in a fist to resist reaching out to touch her and ruin the illusion.

“I mean, the one photo you had was a portrait,” Tony said hastily, “so I couldn't get it perfect. I could only approximate the expected proportions.

Steve nodded, his throat welling up and eyes growing hot.

“I'm sorry,” Tony said abruptly. “I – maybe I shouldn't have. I mean, I knew I couldn't get it perfect, but maybe it's too off, and then it gets too uncanny valley, and, geez, you told me straight up you're not into photography – ”

“Tony,” Steve said. “It''s perfect.” He finally tore himself from his Ma to face Tony. “You did this for me?”

“Well, yeah.” Tony fidgeted. “I figured you put so much time and effort into that painting for me. Truth be told, no one's ever done anything like that for me before. I just thought that, well, now I wanted to make you something too. Because,” Tony's gaze skittered away, “it meant a lot that you cared so much.”

Steve nodded again. “Album, off,” he heard himself say, and his Ma blinked out, leaving him looking at Tony, and Tony looking at his feet.

“I tried to build you something you could use at first, but the jet boots didn't go over so well the last time. It's not my forte to try to do something artistic like your painting. But I couldn't think of anything good that didn't have to do with tech.” Tony shrugged a bit. “So, any photograph in the Avengers database can now be converted back into their original properties, thanks to A.L.B.U.M. It's an ambient light b – and I didn't even properly name it ye – .”

Thank you, Tony.”

Tony looked at him, taken aback. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I considered actual 3-D modeling for the holograms. Not that it's entirely out of the question, but I figured it might turn out too creepy if I wasn't thinking too hard. But if you still want, it can definitely be done. It might be easier to use them as a reference, then?” Tony gave a short bark of laughter. “So you don't have to waste all your time staring at me?”


“That's why you've kept looking at me, right? Because you needed to remember the details for your painting.” Tony shrugged with a grin. “You could have asked me to pose, you know. It must have been awkward, following me around so intently all the time.”

“Tony.” How had it come to this? Steve already felt his face burning. “That's not why I was looking at you so much. I've been doing that for a while now.”

“Because you sketch too!” Tony flung his arms out. “I mean, I'm a great subject, but honestly, I'm easier on people's eyes than on their patience.”

Steve didn't even know how to begin to formulate a response to that. “Tony. I like looking at you. I like being with you. I like both, at the same time.”

Tony stared at him, and Steve sorely wished he wasn't visibly trembling as much as he felt he was. When Tony took a few steps closer, peering at him, Steve lowered his head, maintaining eye contact. He'd taken the dive; there was no turning back now.

If I'm reading this wrong, you have every right to stop me,” Tony said, leaning up. Tony wasn't, and Steve didn't. He had the urge to tell him so before their lips met, and then Steve realized after the shock and into the haze that it would be easier to just show him, and parted his lips.

When they broke apart, Tony was flushed, eyes half-lidded as he looked at him through his lashes. Steve's breath hitched, and he was struck by an urge to reach for his brush.

The smile came over Tony's face slowly, and Steve had to resist the urge to shudder. “Are you really not up for commissions? I could think of some subject matter that'd pique your interest.”

Steve tried to look disapproving, but he was sure his smile was betraying him somehow.

Tony winked at him. “That's how it works, right? Rich guy with nothing better to do hires the artist to paint some selfies to boost their inflated ego?”

“They're not called selfies when they're oil paintings, Tony,” Steve said, but he could feel his cheeks starting to ache from how wide his grin grew.