It had been a while since he had last done this. Applied pencil to paper, drawn a line.
Granted, the paper was one of those legal pads, with yellow pages and faint green lines. The pencil was one of those mechanical ones that people preferred nowadays. You didn't have to whittle the lead to get a point, but just pressed the button on its side, or depressed the eraser. Steve missed the older style of pencils with their softer leads, their points dulled from frequent usage. The modern mechanical pencils with their uniform and fine tipped led points were tricky, since they tended to break when pressed a shade too hard. You also could not sharpen this kind of pencil with a blade in order to get the profile you wanted.
It had been a while, as Steve tried to remember how to balance the weight of the pencil in his hand. Tried not to place his fingers too near to the nib because it forced you to shorten the lines, but not too far from the nib either, because it limited one's control. Once that was done, another ten minutes was devoted to shifting the paper, an agonising choice between portrait and landscape.
Not that it had been his fault, since that incident with Wanda. Realities tangled, their worlds ripped apart and thrown together the wrong way. Life happened, and extenuating circumstances dictated the best use of his time. Sidestepping the excuses, Steve decided to pick up pencil and paper again, because he did not want to lose the skill. In addition, he knew The Parable of the Talents, and had enough of a religious nature to hold its significance dear.
In addition to everything else, art had saved him.
When he came back to life, after floating in ice for all that time, it had been a relief to find out that he could still draw. The months after he had thawed, when he stopped being shocked by every little thing, his thoughts turned inward. Steve felt compelled to record this bold new world around him, his own version of drawings on cave walls. He remembered the fine tremor in his hand as he drifted pencil lead across paper, how his throat closed with emotion when he realised he still had the skill. The shapes were shaky at first, his grasp on the pencil awkward, but his talent had not atrophied. In addition, art was still a familiar -and welcome- presence here, all these years later. People continued to draw, comics were still sold although in stores now instead of news stands. Illustrations still had a point of place in ads and magazines. Pencils and papers of varying grades not only hung around, but mutated Darwinian style to accompany the ever-shaping dimensions of art.
Despite everything that happened, his talent was still here, shifting under skin and at tips of fingers, ready to be called to service.
Steve found himself in the kitchen of the new Avengers HQ on a Saturday morning, when the sun splashed its rays all over the room, bringing in light and strong shadows from the skies outside. Such light loaned itself to stunning compositions in still life, with stark forms and sharp shades. Steve sketched the elliptical shape of his empty glass, with the empty plate at its side. The trick was to capture the impression of brightness and transparency, by way of nuances of grey, from deepest charcoal to a pale pearl. Steve swore softly at how shaky his shapes were, but was pleasantly soothed that the principle of his craft still held true: everything could be broken down into lines or circles.
Pencil and paper, something so simple, so ... trivial, and yet if he wanted to, Steve had the materials to create a world. Perhaps if he had time, something small, like a comic with a superhero living in New York City, and - his thoughts were interrupted by the shuffle of feet at the kitchen door.
Tony stumbled in across the threshold, and Steve flipped over the pages of his legal pad. Not due to shyness, as much as he had done enough of inanimate objects. The craftsman in him appreciated still life, the technicalities that one had to master to bring them to 'life' but people were more interesting to sketch than dishes. Out of habit, Steve chose a page at random, and never near the front or the back. If any sort of liquid splashed on the pad, the middle pages were always safe, especially if the drawings were water soluble ink. Steve stayed there in his chair, the pad braced against his calf, his ankle resting on his knee. Steve quickly sketched the outline of the kitchen--L shaped, recessed cupboards, so that when they were closed, they disappeared into the walls. Sleek, shiny floor titles gleamed underfoot. The percolator stood there, its pride of place on the counter, the air rich with the roasted scent of coffee.
You couldn't draw a scent. Curled lines might hint of aroma, but they weren't enough to show its power. Luckily, Tony's reaction made for a picture. His hair finger combed, still ink black, but shorter now, cut in such a way that it curtailed its strong wave. Steve smiled, remembering how Tony's hair used to be prone to huge, loose curls when longer. With one hand, Tony rubbed his fingers along his stubble roughened chin, and yawned widely. Tony's entire being was on autopilot as he poured some of the coffee into one of the mugs . Held it in both hands as he lifted the mug to his nose. Yeah, his fingers, there. Long and nimble as they flexed around the mug, his thumb stroking along its edge as he did to the side of the Quinjet when he thought no one was looking. Tony always appreciated good design in all its forms, the ubiquitous mug being one of them.
"Morning," Steve greeted, not offended when Tony grunted something before lifting the mug of coffee to his lips. The steam from the heated liquid curled around his face, his eyes hooded from sleep. He took a sip and swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing, his face lax with contentment. The moment was a study in unadulterated pleasure. Tony's lips did that curve they normally did when a point in time was so perfect, so pure, before the rest of the world imploded, as it tended to do in their line of work. Steve tried to capture it, that breath inbetween autopilot and awareness, when Tony leaned against the counter, clad in T-shirt and low slung pajama bottoms. A basic outline there, just to show proportion and balance. Tony's legs crossed at the ankles, his shirt wrinkled from the night's wear shown by sharp diagonal lines, but that was just detail. These few seconds might have been Tony's pleasure as he took his first swallow from the mug, his eyelashes fluttering closed.
Suddenly embarrassed, as if he intruded on a moment that he shouldn't have- like a non-believer observing an intimate ritual of worship- Steve flipped his notepad face down. Sometime later, Tony opened his eyes, smiled and said in a sleep thickened voice, "Morning, Steve? What's the good word?"
Once Steve started drawing, he couldn't stop, nor did he want to.
He had forgotten the thrill of the blank page, how each new sketch reawakened muscle memory. He got reacquainted with the fact that even the minute flick of a pencil made a mark and changed the character of the art piece. Free hand drawing didn't have the quickness of a digital camera, true, but he could compose with just as much care as the camera did. Steve did not want the cold, mechanical means of various computer programmes with their run of layers or varying degrees of transparencies. He needed nothing but a soft lead pencil to sketch Jess' finger as it followed the curve of her daughter's cheek, making the mood intimate with light, neat cross-hatching strokes.
This time around, he had a Moleskine, one of those little oilcloth covered black books with blank pages and its snug elastic that held everything together. No, he wouldn't dream of placing himself in the same breath as Wilde, Van Gogh, or Hemingway, if he believed in the advert as touted by the makers of said sketchbook. He was not that well read, nor did he have the witty zingers like his old Avenger team mate, Hank McCoy. He might have been good enough to make money from his art, once upon a time, but did not have the cachet of Van Gogh or Picasso, no. However, like them, he might have had a — not a muse exactly, not as much as a - a subject.
Tony, his wrists narrow and shadowed with dark hair over the snowy white of his cuffs. Another day, another charm offensive by Tony Stark, dressed the part in the sleek lines of a dark suit this time around; his fingers tapped an absent tattoo at his waist as he stared out the window.
"Can you believe this?" Tony said, giving that little shake of the head he normally did when faced with something ridiculous. Steve turned his moleskine to landscape, and with faint lines, sketched the room, going for an impression of place rather than slavishly detailing the floor to ceiling windows, the brick inlay of the walls, with framed posters of the Avengers teams, both Mighty and New. He gave hints of the furniture with careless lines; with just enough delineation to 'scale' his subject.
"Vanity Fair called for an interview with Bob." Tony raised a hand to his mouth, his fingers ghosting along his lips, and Steve squinted his eyes as he took in Tony's face in three quarter profile. There were the textures of Tony's facial hair, along his mouth and chin. His lower lip was a shade fuller than Steve had realised, prone to being chapped, or worried by the tips of his teeth. "Ridiculous."
"And you told them..-?" Steve prompted, trying to keep the conversation going, admiring Tony in a suit. It was more than just how it fit, although it fit well, smoothed across shoulders, no padding or bunching. The cut of the suit was close enough to skim his frame, Tony's stomach flat and firm against his belt, and there were those fingers again. If they were tapping Morse code, the message would be gibberish. S stop, L-N-B-Z-Q stop. A lighter touch with the pencil to try and show the texture and drape of the fabric of his slacks. Flat front, if that was the term? No pleats, and the grain of the material so fine, it might have been silk. Cross-hatch ? Stippling? No, the suit wasn't important, not as much as who was wearing it. Tony, a man capable of entertaining abstract theories with the like minds of Hank and Reed, yet human enough in wanting to protect his team mate from the greedy maw of the press.
"No," Tony waved it away. "As much as Bob might be improving, there's no way he'd be ready enough for a cover story."
A pause at this, and Steve stopped drawing, as he shifted his gaze to Tony's and read the question there.
"No," Steve said.
"I thought so," Tony shrugged his shoulders. "Can't blame them for asking. I would."
"I'm not - " Steve closed his book and placed it on the sofa beside him. "The Daily Bugle was enough, thanks."
"I agree," Tony frowned, a vertical line forming between his eyebrows. Steve knew that he remembered the hatchet job Jonah Jameson did in the name of an 'exclusive profile'.
"I offered myself as willing subject, a raconteur of industry and my own brand," Tony's smile was wry. "If nothing else, they get their byline and leave us alone. We get enough good publicity to hand wave away the Sentinel's Watch Tower."
"I'm sorry," Steve sighed. Ever since they'd started their new team, there was always something. "When I had the idea for a new Avengers -"
"Forget about it," Tony waved Steve's concerns away. "If I didn't want to, I wouldn't have."
"You still weren't sure."
"But I am now," Tony nodded, and he seemed to come back into himself, his eyes warmer, now that he had settled on a course of action. "Don't worry about it. I won't. Night, Steve."
"Night," Steve murmured as he reached for his sketchbook, but kept it closed, because ... just because.
He had forgotten how much of a revelation doing art for himself could be.
When Steve had done art for money, he found it frustrating at turns. On many levels, that path was fine, even honourable because the customer was king. Sure, you fell a little in love with the prescribed assignment, because you had to, in order to commit and get it done, but that was a shade of nothing compared to following what your whims dictated. The freedom to just do what he wanted made him a bit heady at times. When he was out of his uniform, he had the liberty to really look at the world around him, his Moleskine and stub of pencil as indispensable in his civilian life, as his shield was to him on the battle field.
Peter, hanging upside down from the ceiling, presenting Logan with an omelette. The punchline captured in Logan's expression, half fond, mostly wary. MJ curled on the couch, dog-eared script in hand, chewing the end of her pen, oversized T-shirt slipping off the curve of her shoulder. Luke holding Dani by the window, and making faces that made her gurgle and howl with delight. At that age, Steve observed as he sketched, she was all big green eyes, chubby cheeks and pink gums. The background was unimportant, and if needed, Steve could do a wash of watercolours, with hints of squares and lights that hinted of 'place' -both literal and metaphorical. Perhaps cool tones of blues hinting of sky, a contrast to the raw umber and cedar tones of the figures in the foreground. What was important was the craggy face of Luke, stony jawed and all bad news in battle, now softened by the smiles he showered on his daughter, as he promised Dani the next time she slept, she'd float on a levy of stars. The drawing would tell the tale: Luke Cage's heart weighed twenty one pounds and came swaddled in a green onesie.
Compared to Tony though, no other subject came close to being as kinetic and intense, and now was no exception. Steve walked through the lab laden with dinner tray, his artist's eye now fixed firmly in place. In this light even the very utilitarian mechanics of elevators and sliding doors brought forth admiration at the harmony of the negative and positive spaces, and the patterns they formed. Squashing the temptation to stay and absorb the pattens for later, Steve walked on, his fingers moving restlessly along the edges of his dinner tray, his eyes taking everything in, recording the impressions for later, when he had a moment alone.
Tony's arsenal chamber was in one of the sub-levels of the Stark Tower. Ostensibly built for private weapons testing and storage; it also housed spare parts for his current Iron Man armour, as well as suits with specific uses, for undersea and stealth expeditions. No matter how often Steve had seen various incarnations of it, he always came back to the the fact that Tony Stark's lair was awe-inspiring: various Iron Man suits shielded behind plate glass, their features enhanced by recessed lighting, their surfaces as slick as oil.
In addition to those completed suits, there were the carcasses of other gear that didn't quite make the grade, waiting to be scrapped and absorbed into the other armours that did, currently strewn around available surfaces.
Tony stood some distance ahead of him, his back turned to Steve. In front of Tony, three incarnations of armour suspended from the roof by thick, metal cables like oversized Christmas decorations. The air cackled, sparked and smoked around Tony, all white hot with edges of blue. It wasn't anything to be worried about, just a thin, smaller looking welding torch set to blistering heat. The air had the taste of burned metal, with the edge of salt and smoky undercurrents of oil. Steve placed the tray down on the counter, taking care not to disturb the work space much, just swept a clutch of Phillips screwdrivers to one side for the tray to sit on a flat surface . After that little task got done to his satisfaction, Steve waited on Tony to acknowledge his presence, and accepted the fact that it could take as little as a few moments, or as much as half an hour.
Tony was stripped down to nothing but a thin undershirt, black jeans and goggles. If Jarvis were here, he would have pointed out the error of not wearing a heavy leather apron to protect himself from sparks. Steve told himself that he would have a word, but for now, he took the opportunity to to enjoy the view. It was its own pleasure to watch a master at work, where every moment was smooth and sure due to long hours of practice. Strong shoulders, with the flexing of muscles under skin, sheened by sweat as he cut along the metal in sure, sharp curves. Tony's undershirt might have been white once, but the thick grease stains hinted at distracted wipes of the fingers along the edges, and Steve suspected that Tony might have used it to wipe his armours clean. With an absent croon, Tony raised a hand and rested it along the casing of the armour he was working on. At least Tony had the presence of mind to protect his hand -encased in a heavy leather glove that seemed well used and looked after, if the suppleness of the leather was anything to go by- as well as the layers of stains.
Steve knew anatomy, he had to, because fighting was his most practised art. Where to strike to cause the minimum of damage for maximum effect. The forearm supported by the radius and ulna, those two long bones formed the radioulnar joint. All a part of the upper limb flowing into the biceps brachii and the triceps barchii, joined to the torso by way of the coracobrachialix and axilla, but Steve had never felt the urge to trace the progress from the sensitive bones at wrist to collarbone with his fingers until now. For the first time, he understood the idea of the sensual pleasure of the male aesthetic. The long, lean lines of Tony's body, the shapes it made when it moved. There were textures of skin, from thick daubs of slick grease along his arms, to the marked dusting of hair along his forearms, the veins that stood in sharp relief against the expanse of skin when exertion was needed.
Tony turned around, eyes covered by goggles, his gloved hand holding the oxy-fuel welding torch. His other hand opening and closing rhythmically, fine, silvery wires and cables snaking from the hot rod red of an armoured glove.
"Hey," Tony greeted, as he shut off the torch, placed it on the surface of the counter to the far left of him, simultaneously pulling down his rebreather with his free hand. Shortly after, he tugged off the glove, his face flushed and sweaty from the heat and effort, his eyes bright with the pleasure of seeing a friend. "What brings you here?"
"Food," Steve pointed in the direction of the tray with his thumb, and the corners of Tony's mouth twitched with good humour.
"Yes, mother," Tony pushed his goggles off his eyes and into his hair, and descended the stairs from the dais to where Steve stood.
"Eat," Steve retorted, "or else I'll... tell Jarvis."
Tony chuckled as he lifted the domed cover from the tray and put it to one side, the clang of metal on metal. Jarvis, being Jarvis, had prepared a pair of BLT sandwiches, complete with little toothpicks with red flags, two oversized oatmeal cookies and two bottles of water.
"You would," Tony agreed, as he broke a cookie in two. His hands and nails were grubby with grease, and he offered the other half to Steve. Steve took it, biting in, enjoying the flavours of cinnamon and vanilla as they exploded on his tongue. Tony never sat if he could lean, feet always connected to the ground, and right now was no exception, his hip resting against the counter.
"Hmm," Tony's eyes narrowed with pleasure as he chewed his cookie, his index finger and thumb tapping out codes that only made sense to Tony. For the first time since Steve started his drawing quest, he had a fleeting wish that he'd picked up photography instead. A means to freeze this moment, when he blinked and saw Tony for the first time. Not the Tony he had first met, with blue dress suit and floppy hair, his smile shellac bright, framed by pencil thin mouthstache. Nor the Tony who held his helmet against his chest plate, a weary warrior, his face set in grim lines as he told of his decision to disband the Avengers. Tony, older now, his looks distinctive, edging from matinee bland handsome towards something singularly distinguished. Tony, of an age where his heart and characteristics were reflected in his face: older, with his cheekbones whittled and mouth firmer, but not necessarily wiser, because he'd said yes to Steve and the idea of a new Avengers team.
It was unnatural, to want hold this moment still, and Steve knew it, so he committed Tony's features to memory. Laugh lines fanning from his eyes, and thick lashes. His mouth curved in that way Steve knew well, and this was the real Tony. Stripped down to a much worn grey ribbed undershirt, with grease marks and shadows under his eyes because he spent all that time burning the candle at both ends. Tony hadn't shaved for a couple of days, and in this light, Steve glimpsed bits of silver hairs flecked in Tony's stubble. A little greyer, but still unbowed, still with brimming with the attitude that he could shape the world into what it could be, with just a few tools and his heart.
It was such a new thing, to be blindsided by the fact that in front of him, he wondered what it would be like to have more than what they did.
Steve raised his hand, reaching for Tony's shoulder before he caught himself, and shifted direction towards the sandwiches instead.
"What are you thinking, Steve?" Tony raised an eyebrow, light lines creasing his forehead, and Steve took a bite of his sandwich to buy some time.
He and Tony had known each other long enough to -well, not read each other, but to be sensitive to the nuance of each other's moods.
"I'm thinking that we've known each other a long time," Steve said, and it was the truth, or near to it.
"This isn't about you thinking about me not being sold on this new Avengers team up, is it? That you still think that I'm unsure?" Tony's look was shrewd, and Steve met Tony's gaze, seeing nothing but the warmth of friendship there.
"No," Steve shook his head, "you offered Stark Tower. Your name, yourself. You could have said no, but you didn't. Thanks."
"Steve," and Steve stilled when Tony laid his hand on Steve's forearm with enough of a grip to draw Steve's attention to the point he was going to make. "Listen to me. I'm not used to feeling like I belong where I am. Or should be. But I - we belong here, like some sort of unit. Steering this ship, and you making notes in your Captain's Log."
"That black book you walk around with. I know that it isn't like my little black book, that's not your style."
"No, it isn't."
"We don't have to pinky swear, do we? Or do I need to make friendship bracelets out of spare armour parts?"
That did it. Steve laughed as he pushed himself away from the counter, and organised the dishes together to take them upstairs. He didn't mind doing so, because Jarvis did enough already.
"You just have to say the word," Tony wiped his hands on his trousers, his eyes flickering towards the armour with a longing that wasn't lost on Steve.
"I know," and Steve did. One last look at Tony, who was already suited up for round two. Work goggles over his eyes, tugging the glove on his hand with a snap, and Steve knew that Tony was all pistons go, back into the zone of metal and fire.
"Your leather apron?" Steve decided to change the subject.
"For you, Steve," Tony shot Steve a look over his shoulder, as he crossed to the fair corner of the room, and lifted the leather apron from its hook on the wall.
"Thanks," Steve said, and with one last, longing look at Tony, he stepped out of the room, wondering how he had ended up here, with a bundle of feelings that he'd have to pick at. After the elevator doors closed behind him, Steve rested his head against the cool, sleek surface of the elevator wall, and shut his eyes. Trying not to see Tony's face behind closed lids and failing, because he could see nothing but. This was the artist's dilemma; you needed to fall a little bit in love to bring your subject to justice, because if you didn't, the viewer just couldn't. That was it: he was just carried away by the rediscovery of drawing, and at finding such a vital subject. He was just lost in the grey-scale, where feelings got tangled in actual art endeavours.
It was nothing to worry about, nothing at all.