"Oh my God."
Christine pulled the dust sheet completely off the old trunk, making the dancing motes glow in the sunlight streaming in the attic window.
"Bree? Bree, come look at this! Tell me that I'm not dreaming," Christine demanded as she rubbed the nameplate clean.
Bree ducked under a beam and played her flashlight over the now-gleaming bit of brass.
"Captain..." Bree's voice trailed off as her eyes grew huge. "Captain Steve Rogers."
"This belonged to him. This belonged to Captain America," Christine almost breathed.
"What's it doing here?" Bree asked, kneeling down next to Christine with blithe disregard for the dust.
"The Professor," Christine said, touching the nameplate firmly, her eyes going distant. "Captain Rogers had some things stored at the school-."
"-When they were staying at the school during the rebuilding of Avengers’ Tower after the Galactus Incursion," Bree finished.
Christine pouted. "I thought I was the one with object reading."
"But I pay attention in history class," Bree said smugly.
"Only because you have a crush on Professor Logan," Christine said.
"Shut up," Bree said, as she took a look at the lock. "Should we?"
Christine gave her a look. "Bree, in this trunk are previously unseen, untouched, century-old historical artifacts from one of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes. We have a duty as Americans to see what's in here!"
Bree grinned and touched the lock. A little telekinetic shove and the lock opened up. She carefully pried open the lid and slid to the side so Christine could get clean psychic impressions.
Christine looked inside, carefully not touching anything more than the edge, and blushed.
"Oh my. Oh... wow." She fished around until she found a pen in her purse and carefully tilted each framed picture filling the trunk so she could get a look at them. Bree looked over her shoulder, and blushed even harder.
"Oh my God. Captain American drew these!"
Christine looked over at her, exasperated. "I was just going to tell you that!"
"History buff, again, and I've seen his art in MoMA. These are totally his style!"
"But MoMA doesn't even have copies of these," Christine said, a grin spreading across her face along with her blush. "These are all one hundred percent originals. No one's seen these since he finished the collection and closed this trunk."
"Oh wow. You can see that?" Bree said. Or maybe breathed. It was hard to catch one's breath when you were looking at perhaps the finest collection of nude drawings of the Avengers ever created.
"Yup," Christine said.
"Do you think you can see more if you touch the drawings themselves?" Bree asked, eyes glittering with anticipation.
"B, they are practically screaming at me," Christine said, grinning. "Want to ride along?"
"Hell yes!" Bree said, and touched the back of Christine's neck. The two young mutants bent over the trunk as Christine picked up the very first picture...
Bruce Banner and Betty Ross
“Well, that’s… actually a little flattering,” Bruce said, brow furrowed in a way that probably meant he wasn’t sure if he really should be flattered or not.
“I just…” Steve trailed off, tapping his pencil against his sketchpad as he thought. “I want to show us as we are. As we really are, you know? We have enough promo pictures and YouTube videos of our battles and press conferences and even our own commissioned oil paintings-.”
“That was the mayor’s idea,” Bruce pointed out.
“I’m not saying they didn’t like mine, or anyone else’s, it’s just they’re all really…”
“Official,” Bruce said, his expression smoothing out.
“Exactly. And even after those ‘Avengers at Home’ magazine shoots, it’s still us with masks on, one way or another.”
Bruce relaxed against the chair, pulling off his glasses and turning off his computer screen.
“Is there anyone in particular you want to show these to?”
Steve shook his head. “No one outside of us.”
Bruce looked thoughtful again. “Will you draw Betty too?”
Steve smiled. “Definitely.”
Every “official” picture of Bruce as an Avenger was, for the most part, not him. Unassuming, slouching, shy Bruce Banner did not make for a dramatic picture, and photographers had learned to be quick in snapping pictures of the Hulk during the brief post-battle time before he let Bruce take over the driver’s seat. The few remaining shots where Bruce was actually Bruce were usually in a scientific journal or the few publications that liked to think themselves enlightened enough to run articles on “the man behind the monster.”
And none of them really captured the slightest truth about him. They didn’t see how his eyes lit up in Betty’s presence, how every line age and stress had put on his face smoothed out in relaxation and joy when he kissed her. The Bruce in photographs only slouched to keep himself from looking threatening, warding off any unwanted hostility with his stance. But Steve drew him as he really was out of the spotlight. Within the walls of Avengers’ Tower, he did occasionally strut. He did walk tall. And twined with Betty, he let himself be strong.
Steve shaded the dips and curves of muscles that no one expected beneath Bruce’s usual careless attire, and swept across the clean, sweet curves of Betty’s pale body as she fitted herself against him, both of them wrapped around each other, safe and secure in their love. He hatched the faint scars that criss-crossed Bruce’s back, his hands, his feet, the vaguest of legacies from his years of running.
The only place he used color was in their eyes, a rich brown for Bruce, ocean blue for Betty, earth and sky meeting.
It was shockingly easy to draw his friends like that, the way he saw them outside of fighting and bantering and saving the world, with their masks down and eyes open, trusting him enough to let him into their bedroom and capture them in a near moment of intimacy. They’d been Avengers together for over six years and right at that moment, Steve felt like he’d truly met Bruce and Betty for the first time.
“I got you,” Steve said quietly as he dropped the charcoal back into its box. “Thank you.”
Betty shifted positions so her head was pillowed on Bruce’s chest, and idly ran her hand through the hair. “Lemme see,” she demanded, unconcerned with their lack of attire.
Steve wasn’t quite exactly done, there would be some tweaking and smudging and detail he’d have to add, but obediently turned the picture around so they could look. Bruce craned his neck to see and smiled.
Steve blushed and shook his head in a disclaimer.
“Are you getting everyone else, Steve?” Betty asked.
“I’d like to.”
“You should,” Bruce said firmly. “Don’t wait.”
Steve nodded as he slid his art supplies back into his bag. He’d missed enough opportunities in his life to know you should never wait for the “perfect moment.”
Christine blinked as the past let her go, and Bree pulled away to scrub her eyes. Both of them looked down at the picture in Christine’s hands. A shaggy-haired, quietly muscular man was tangled up with a lithe, willowy woman with a long fall of dark hair. Their hands cradled each other and their faces were a breath apart, their eyes open, trusting, and loving. Both girls had seen pictures of the famous Dr. Banner and his nearly-as-famous girlfriend (and later, wife) Dr. Ross, but none of them came close to capturing a tenth of what their friend and teammate Steve had on a rainy Sunday afternoon over a hundred years ago.
Christine swallowed as she put the picture down. It had been a while since something had grabbed her that hard, especially something that old. The closeness between everyone, whether it had been friendship or romance, had come through so clearly…
“You want to do another?” Bree asked cautiously.
“Yes,” Christine said firmly, and touched the next picture.
“I’m not a fan of being… exposed,” Clint said finally. He plucked at the string of his bow and shook his head, smiling very slightly. “And you’re a brave man, Cap, to ask me this at the range.”
“I asked you here for a reason,” Steve said, leaning against the wall. “For exactly that reason, actually.”
Clint drew back the string and let it go slack again. “If it were Tony that were asking…”
“Tony doesn’t need to draw people without their clothing. He has JARVIS.”
“Don’t remind me. I don’t want to think of how many drunken game nights are lurking on a hard drive somewhere.” Clint turned and put the bow back on the rack with a small nod of his head, like he’d just come to a decision. “Ok, I think this falls under the ‘put up or shut up’ category.”
Steve raised an eyebrow.
“I can whine about Tony having naked pictures of all of us doing Twister, or I can get you to do something tasteful.” Clint stripped off his armguards and archer’s gloves, and beckoned Steve to follow him into the locker room. “I like your style better, Cap.”
Clint started to slowly remove his armor and clothing, giving Steve enough time to get out his supplies. He didn’t look back once Steve had applied charcoal to paper, just turned and walked into the gym shower as if it were any other day. Steve’s fingers flew as Clint let the hot spray wash over him, cleaning off the sweat. The glistening water emphasized the silvery scars that striped his body, but Clint moved easily despite the easily-readable history of injuries.
Clint slouched against the shower wall a bit, for a moment no longer on high alert. His eyes were closed, his posture relaxed, and he looked almost five years younger, vulnerable. He stayed there for long minutes before beginning the necessities of shampoo and soap, but Steve had gotten what he needed: his friend, being easy enough in his presence to let his ever-present guard down.
Steve fiddled with the drawing a little as Clint finally emerged from the shower, and turned it towards him without a word. Clint quickly dried himself off and touched the paper gingerly, looking awed.
“Holy hell, Steve.”
Steve blushed as Clint looked at the picture for a very long time, mouth slightly agape.
“Thank you,” he said finally, and handed the picture back. “Keep that somewhere safe, you got me?”
Clint Barton’s picture wasn’t like any others of him the girls had ever seen. A huge chunk of them were Hawkeye with his bow, naturally. A small subset of those was what Bree gleefully referred to as “arm porn.” Most of the rest emphasized his eyes from which he’d taken his superhero name, locked in some thousand yard stare, or reflecting one thing or another. None of them had been nudes, naturally. But this was Clint with his eyes closed, face in gentle repose, leaning relaxed against the tiled wall of the shower. Nothing could detract from the definite strength of his body, the thick corded muscle of his arms, but this strength was in waiting, rested, not poised to spring.
Though it was a full-frontal drawing, neither girl lingered over the soft length of his member, perhaps because they both knew the artist hadn’t. Steve Rogers had drawn what he’d seen, without awkwardness or shyness. At the time of the drawing both men had been watching each other’s backs for over half a decade. They’d seen each other in every state of exhaustion and injury, dress and undress, sickness and health. Clint’s only hesitation had been for the thought of someone capturing one last private part of himself for public consumption. But it hadn’t been for that. It had been to remind themselves of what they were, what they could be when the battle suits came off.
“Oh this is way better than history,” Bree said quietly as Christine set down the drawing. “You ok, Chrissy?”
“Yeah,” Christine said, blinking rapidly, and automatically reached into the trunk again.
Steve looked up, startled, as Natasha suddenly appeared at the end of the locker room bench. Clint finished dressing unhurriedly and crossed over to her. He whispered in her ear for several long minutes, at least one of which was punctuated by Natasha whipping her eyes over to Steve and staring at him with a perfectly raised eyebrow. Steve held her gaze steadily as Clint finished talking, bumped her gently in the shoulder, and walked out.
Natasha wordlessly shimmied out of her street clothes, but didn’t bother to put on any of the workout gear in her locker. She tilted her head at Steve’s bag, and then jerked her chin in the direction of the gym. Steve might have been the leader on the field, but Natasha’s ability to communicate without words was unparalleled. He followed her out and sat down against the wall as Natasha began to stretch.
She was beautifully well-balanced, strong and flexible, without the whipcord thinness that could have come from overtraining. Her body had been her weapon on more than the battlefield for her entire life, and she never let herself forget that. Steve let his fingers idle as she readied herself, and was startled when instead of going to the weight machines, or the obstacle course, she went to the rarely-used barre. Tony had had it put in when he’d read she’d once been a ballerina (or at least thought she’d been), but Steve didn’t think he’d seen her use it more than twice since he’d known her.
She was graceful as she went through the different postures and poses – not that Steve would have expected anything less, it was just… so fluid. The whip-crack speed and pinpoint precision that Natasha exuded on the battlefield wasn’t there. Her movements weren’t sloppy, though; she practically glided through them. She wasn’t just agile, she was graceful, both poised and relaxed in a way that the Black Widow wasn’t. Occasionally there was a tiny wobble or small misstep, but she rolled with them, integrating them into her dance steps without the slightest frown that might have marred her expression on any other day.
Right now Natasha wasn’t forcing herself to be her best, to play on the same level as gods or monsters, or reaching deep inside herself for the strength to go beyond what a human was supposed to be capable of, because they just had to get the job done. And Steve knew, knew, from a bad mission a few years back that had involved a short-lived but brutally powerful truth curse, that this art wasn’t some childhood craft she returned to for comforting memories. It had been crafted and implanted by those that had molded her. Yet here and now she let herself be a little less than perfect in her dance, and then took those flaws and made them something beautiful. She was amazing.
Steve looked down to see his hands moving without conscious thought, capturing the quiet pleasure Natasha was taking in her body, in doing something that should have only brought up resentment and pain from her past. But instead she’d tamed the weapons of her former masters and turned them into her own personal escape. Natasha was never less than strong, but right now, she was also completely free.
Natasha Romanov was arched backwards at the barre, one hand on it, the other stretched back over her head. One foot was planted sideways on the floor, the other lifting off the ground. It was the closest a 2-D drawing could get to a 360-degree view, because Steve had also drawn Natasha’s reflection in the mirror behind the barre, showing how every muscle was working in concert. Her expression had a small smile playing on her lips, maybe the only fragile thing Christine and Bree had ever seen on the fearsome Black Widow.
Most pictures of her showed her in her skin-tight battle suit, black and uncompromisingly utilitarian, with a fierce and intimidating glare burning from the page. Or those that showed her history as a spy had her in any number of revealing dresses, usually with some winsome or sexy smile. None had ever showed her looking like Steve had drawn her, like you could actually talk to her, or want to listen to her.
“I had no idea,” Bree said. “I mean, I always thought she sounded pretty bad-ass, but she was really…”
“Something else,” Christine said. “That stuff she went through, that was hardcore. And she could still… dance.” Christine blinked rapidly as she put the picture down.
“You’re looking pretty shook-up, Chrissy. You want to stop for the day? These are pretty intense,” Bree asked, torn between concern for her friend and the very real lure of the rest of the drawings.
“It’s the good kind of intense,” Christine said, wiping her eyes quickly on her sleeve. “I mean, these aren’t bad. It’s not like I’m looking through a police evidence box or anything.”
“I do not envy you that job. Seriously,” Bree said.
“We all gotta do our part, right, Locksmith?” Christine teased.
“God I hate that nickname,” Bree said, making a face.
“Better than mine. You get a perfectly respectable profession for your name, and I get a TV show that refuses to die.”
“It’s not my fault that CSI fits you so well.”
“You wanna look at the rest of these pictures or not?”
“And I totally love that name, by the way,” Bree added smoothly.
Christine nodded haughtily (prompting a smothered giggle from Bree that they both pretend didn’t happen) and picked up the next drawing.
Tony Stark and Pepper Potts
“Cap, I am crushed,” Tony said in greeting.
“Good morning to you too?” Steve asked as he dug out orange juice out of the fridge.
“He’s not really crushed, he’s just extra-dramatic until he gets his second cup of coffee,” Pepper said in a confidential tone as she purloined her own cup from the machine and set it to brew the companion to the one Tony was draining.
“Actually I am crushed. Or at least disappointed. You disappointed me, Cap. Let the record show this time it was the other way around for once!” Tony stabbed his finger in the air for emphasis. There was an awkward moment of silence. “JARVIS, did you get that?”
“And ignored it, sir,” JARVIS said crisply.
“I like him,” Steve said, leaning over and mock-whispering to Pepper, rolling his eyes up towards the ceiling speaker.
“Why is everyone against me before coffee?” Tony demanded.
“Because you are ridiculous before your first proper caffeine infusion,” Pepper said.
“Steve, what I’m saying is here I learn that you’re going around drawing everyone naked and you didn’t ask us first,” Tony said, right after he’d snatched up the just-brewed second cup and drained it in two wince-inducing gulps.
Steve nearly choked with laughter on his orange juice, swallowed quickly, and ran that statement through his head a second time.
“Wait, ‘us?’” Steve asked.
Pepper nodded, looking far more serious than Tony’s giddy enthusiasm. “I talked with Betty. You should have heard her rave about how you drew her and Bruce.”
“Oh! I- um…” Steve trailed off, blushing a bit at Tony’s shit-eating grin he was tossing his way. “I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”
“Steve, I’ve been with Tony for… cripes, nearly fifteen years now. I’ve left uncomfortable behind.”
“Far, far behind. Like in an alternate dimension,” Tony added.
“And I think we could really use a picture of Tony with his clothes off that has nothing to do with alcohol or corrosive slime monsters.”
“I really didn’t like those slime monsters,” Tony said in a confidential tone.
“And the alcohol?” Steve asked.
Tony just looked at him. “Have you been replaced by a Skrull? Because if you don’t know the answer to that right now, I’m getting Bruce up to do blood tests for alien DNA, you shape-shifting sonofabitch.”
Steve laughed out loud at that. “Living room,” he suggested. “I’ll be right back.”
By the time he’d returned with his supplies, the clothing had already come off and was piled in a heap by the doorway. Steve smiled as he walked in and saw Pepper and Tony together on the big ottoman, bathed in the gorgeous morning light.
“You do love me,” he teased as he got out paper and charcoal.
“You and morning light. It’s like some kind of universal artist thing. Pepper gets it,” Tony said, waving his hand. “I never claimed to.”
“Let me just say that you’re both morning people, then,” Steve said. “If you’re both not up by daybreak, I start to worry.”
“Overactive brain,” Pepper said, pointing to Tony’s head, “And I work for a living.”
Tony snorted and ruffled Pepper’s hair in revenge before both of them settled back down.
Pepper was curled up at Tony’s back, her arms draped over his shoulders, one hand mostly covering the arc reactor in Tony’s chest. Tony leaned back against her a little just to feel her, and twined his hand with hers over the smooth metal-and-crystal plate, her other hand curved possessively around his hip. Steve stayed silent as the two just sat like that, hand-in-hand, backing each other up. They murmured quietly to each other in between long, lingering kisses, snatches that Steve overheard seemed to indicate they were talking about everything from business to art to their impending anniversary to Tony’s latest invention to Pepper’s most recent board meeting to Clint’s latest antics.
No one ever talked as much as Tony and Pepper, but for everything they spoke out loud, Steve was seeing a whole different and more intimate conversation taking place with their hands, their eyes, and the way they moved together. If anyone just listened to the two of them talk, they’d never see what was in front of them. They’d never see how they protected each other, leaned on each other, loved each other. Anyone else would just see the flash and glamour, polish and pomp, both of their unique brands of arrogance and defensiveness. No outsider got to see them being intimate (and yes, they were both entirely naked and pressed together, and Tony was pretty blindingly obviously one of those men who liked a morning romp, not that Steve was judging), or really, truly being a couple.
Steve sketched quickly, knowing it was hard to get those two to stay in one place for long, and smiled the entire time the sun bathed them in its pure morning glow.
“Steve, buddy, I hate to harsh your muse, but things are about to move into X-rated territory, so unless you swing that way-.”
“Tony, don’t be crude,” Pepper chastised, and glided one hand down his thigh to get him to shut up. “Steve, if you don’t mind, I'd love to see…”
Steve kept his eyes north of the equator as he crossed to them and turned over the sketchpad. Tony stopped trying to encourage Pepper’s touch as he looked at the picture, and smiled up at Steve, broad and unshadowed.
“Mad skills, Rogers,” he said with a wink.
Of all the Avengers, Tony Stark probably had the most images of himself on record. It helped that he’d been ridiculously famous in a media-saturated age, with a talent for getting himself photographed in all kinds of situations. He’d been a publicity whore, according to some of their textbooks. There were countless pictures of him before he’d become Iron Man, and even more afterwards. He’d been the most public of the Avengers, the one most comfortable in the limelight, and you’d think, after a mind-numbing whirlwind tour through all his publicity material, that you couldn’t have seen anything of Tony Stark you hadn’t seen before - up to and including every portion of his anatomy, should you have desired it.
There were even pictures of him drawn by Steve Rogers already in the public record. You didn’t have to be an Avengers aficionado to have been impressed by a drawing he’d done of Tony in the dark, the scene lit only by the light of the arc reactor.
Of Pepper Potts, the love of Tony’s life, there was understandably a lot less. Yet still enough to get a good look at her, a willowy redhead that had nevertheless competently run Stark Industries for decades while still dealing with all the stress of living with and loving (and being loved by) Iron Man.
Steve’s picture showed them in a whole new light. Literally.
Virtually every picture of Tony Stark after he’d become Iron Man had tried to focus on the arc reactor. The cameras seemingly loved the pale blue glow emanating from below his shirts, and went out of their way to focus on it. Even during formal events where Tony had tried to look as regular as it was possible for him to be, photographers still got pushy, darting in close to get a glimpse of the circle of light that had made him so much more famous.
This drawing virtually negated it. Pepper and Tony’s combined hands nearly covered the metal circle, and the reflection of the morning light turned what little could be seen into a mirror, reflecting the light of the sun, instead of being lit from within. Pepper closed in around him, a delicate suit of armor for Tony’s emotions, and he was enveloped by her, a solid focus for all her strength and fierceness. It was the most sensual of all the drawings thus far, Tony obviously aroused and wanting her, Pepper only holding back so they could keep kissing without interruption.
Bree swallowed hard as Christine put the drawing back down and grabbed her water bottle from her bag.
“Wow. I mean, I’d read about those two, but… wow,” Bree said after taking a long drink.
“Very much wow,” Christine said, and took a few deep breaths in and out. “Ok, ready for round five?”
“I hope my heart can take it,” Bree quipped as Christine reached into the trunk again.
Thor Odinsson and Jane Foster
“Oh my God, really?” Jane briefly covered her face with her hands, pulling them away with her face still tomato red.
“It will be well. I have seen the art the Captain creates – he does us great honor by asking us to be his muses,” Thor said, running his hand down through Jane’s hair.
“I’ve just never… I know you have, Thor, but I’ve never done anything-. I’m really flattered, Steve, but-.”
“It’s ok, it’s ok, I know it’s a little strange,” Steve said, hands up as if he could ward off Jane’s discomfort with a desperate gesture. “I just wanted to… remember us as we are. Not like…” He nodded at one of the glossy Avengers publicity magazines that littered the coffee table in the theater room.
“Show her your portrait of Natasha,” Thor said. “If the Black Widow had disliked what Steve had crafted, do you doubt that she wouldn’t have made her displeasure known?” he asked Jane.
Steve flipped open the sketchbook and bit his lip as he showed Natasha’s picture to Jane. He watched the trepidation on her face start to mellow, and then turn to curiosity.
“They’re really wonderful. I can’t wait to see how Thor’ll turn out,” Jane said. “I couldn’t be a good model. I’m not-.” She waved at the sketchbook, and shook her head.
Thor and Steve looked at each other across Jane’s bowed head and nodded in a sudden upwelling of fierce protectiveness. Jane was beautiful, but too stuck inside her own head sometimes, too caught up in her theories and experiments, and just a shade more introverted than the equally blazingly competent Pepper, Betty, and Natasha to think that she might not measure up.
Steve knew all about feeling inadequate. And Thor had more than enough confidence to go around.
“I beg to differ,” Steve said firmly. “I wanted to get drawings of all the Avengers. I’m pretty positive Thor wouldn’t even be here now if you hadn’t figured out your bridge. And I know you were the one that figured out how to banish the Skrulls before they took over D.C.”
“Were you not the one that aided Bruce in his search for the stolen celestial crown before war came to Earth? And did you not also discover the paths to other worlds that we might exercise our tongues instead of our weapons with new visiting peoples?” Thor said, slowly tucking his fingers around the hem of her shirt.
“You were the one that kicked the Skrulls back where they came from, I just opened the door!” Jane protested. Thor inched the hem of her shirt upward as Steve settled himself back in a chair, balancing his sketchbook on his lap. Jane looked over at Steve, then back at Thor, and straightened her spine. She let Thor whisk the shirt over her head and began to work at the buttons on his own. Jane always had plenty of courage, even some of the same reckless daring that made Thor such an enthusiastic battle companion, but sometimes it took Thor’s natural exuberance to draw it to the surface in front of everyone. And it was Jane who grounded Thor to this world, pulling the thunder god’s head out of the clouds. She showed him the natural world broken down into laws, and as a crown prince, he learned those laws as he would the laws of Asgard.
It shouldn’t have worked. He was magic, she was science; they should have butted heads and parted ways soon after. But they hadn’t. Seeing them together was different from Betty and Bruce’s fierce, protective love, or Tony and Pepper’s reliance and trust, or even Clint and Natasha’s deep, painfully-earned bond. This was love from literally across worlds, defying odds, bending space and time to be together. Steve understood that. He understood completely.
Steve’s charcoal seemed to fly as the last of their clothing hit the carpet. They were cradled together, Jane at Thor’s side, her chin up defiantly as Thor whispered something to her. He grinned when she quipped back, and quietly kissed her hand, making her blush. For the first time since Steve had drawn Betty and Bruce, he broke out the pastels to capture the way they looked, the color of her blush and his bright hair. They were a prince and princess, except Jane had never really needed an ivory tower, nor Thor had ever needed to rescue her.
They were fairy tales brought to life, earthy and vibrant, yet bursting at the seams with things Steve couldn't even begin to understand. They started out speaking two entirely different languages, and yet had managed to find some translation that worked for them.
He saw that in them, and raced to capture it.
Jane was sheltered under Thor’s massive arm, her head against his impressive chest. Against him she looked like a china doll, something expensive and delicate, against a powerful stone statue. Unlike the Bruce/Betty and Tony/Pepper pictures, where Steve had strove to almost blend the two couples together in places, in this they were almost separate. Except for where Thor was kissing Jane’s hand. Right there, between them, was a gaze of such powerful connection that he’d poured the color into it. The color flowed from their eyes to bleed into other parts of the picture, tying them together with understanding even when neither had been born under the same sky.
If there had ever been a real odd couple for the Avengers’ history books, Jane and Thor would have been it. But that hadn’t stopped them from being together right to the end. Defying odds of all sorts seemed to have been a character trait every Avenger shared.
“Oh, they were so sweet,” Bree said, sighing in satisfaction.
“I know,” Christine said, blinking a little to rid her eyes of the past. “I would have loved to get a cup of coffee with those two. I bet they would have been fun.”
“Yeah, I-.” Bree stopped whatever she was saying and pointed into the trunk, right at the back. “Chrissy, there’s another one.”
“I thought it was just the others…” Christine said, and carefully flicked it into view with her pen. She really didn’t like picking up potentially emotionally-charged objects with her bare hands. Both girls’ mouths dropped when they saw a picture of the artist himself, naked as the others, head thrown back and laughing as he flopped back in a chair, clearly overcome by mirth. He looked younger than any of his other pictures, all the stiffness from being Captain American eased away enough for him to completely drop his guard.
“It’s not charcoal though. And the style is different,” Bree said, leaning closer. “Look at it, it’s like it’s been printed or something.”
“But it’s an original,” Christine protested. “I don’t have to dive into it to tell you that. These are all originals.”
“So who made that?” Bree asked.
“I did,” a voice announced from the ceiling.
Bree squeaked and Christine gasped in shock before they got ahold of themselves.
“JARVIS, you scared me to death!” Bree scolded.
“I didn’t even think you were up here,” Christine muttered.
“I am everywhere on the Xavier School grounds, and a great deal more besides, Miss Wells, Miss Young. I can hardly be an effective security system with gaps in my coverage,” the AI said calmly.
“Um, you aren’t going to tell, are you?” Bree asked.
“I am unaware that you’ve violated any school rules in coming to the attic, Miss Wells. You are not due for any class or activity. This area is not off-limits. One could construe minor rule-breaking in opening a locked chest, but truthfully the lock was unlikely to hold for much longer against a single determined tug, let alone your mutant power. If CEREBRO failed to inform me that you were on a restricted power use list, that is entirely her problem to both identify and correct.”
“…oh,” Bree said finally. She giggled a second later; JARVIS ran the mansion and grounds, while CEREBRO mostly confined herself to purely mutant power affairs. That led to occasional personality clashes on student discipline, as neither AI cared to give ground.
“How did you… how did you make the drawing of Captain Rogers?” Christine asked tentatively. “Did you know him? I mean, how could you know him?”
“I believe Miss Wells would know the answer if this excursion had occurred a month from now, as you would have covered further history of the Avengers. To begin, I was not created by Professor Xavier, as is the current rumor amongst the student body. I was created by Tony Stark.”
Christine and Bree’s mouths dropped open. “No way,” Bree breathed.
“I was created over a hundred and fifty years ago by Master Stark to serve as his security system and research and building partner. I was advanced even for artificial intelligence at the time, and became even more so during my tenure as Master Stark’s partner. I assisted him in building and running the Iron Man suit, as well as running Stark Industries’ systems and Avenger Tower.”
“You’re… living history,” Christine said, eyes wide.
“You need not read me, Miss Young. I shall tell you what you wish to know.”
“Wait, how did you end up here?” Bree asked.
“After Master Stark passed away, there was a provision in his will for me. I tasked certain programs to look after his successors to the Iron Man mantle, but my primary personality, programs, protocols, and coding were given to the care of the Xavier School for the Gifted. He became great friends with many of the original X-Men, and felt that I would be kept busy and useful in such a place. I concurred, and remain ensconced to this day.”
“How did you draw Captain Rogers?” Christine asked, looking back down at the last drawing in the trunk.
“There should be enough emotional residue for you to read, Miss Young. The other Avengers handled the print-out as well. Pick it up. I have enjoyed hearing your commentary on the artwork.”
Bemused, the two girls took up their former positions, as Christine once again opened herself to the past.
“Ok, Capsicle, your turn.”
Steve took one look at Tony’s evil grin and turned to run for the hills. Only instead he ran into a very solid Thor, who was blocking the doorway, a mischievous smile on his face.
“Nay, he does not seek to trick you this time, Captain. Truly this will be something you can enjoy with a light heart.”
“So we’re not talking about that epic water balloon fight from last week?”
“Not until tomorrow, and then I’m going to have my revenge,” Clint promised, literally dropping into the workshop from who-the-hell-knew-where. “But this plan? This is one of Tony’s good plans.”
“One of those, ‘you deserve it’ plans,” Bruce added.
“But first,” Natasha said, popping out of the damned ether from what Steve could tell, “you gotta take it off.”
Steve blinked. “What?”
“You immortalized us all, Cap. And pretty spectacularly too. So turnabout is fair play. JARVIS has a few different art programs in him, and he’s going to be our Jack Dawson so you get a place in the portfolio. So… strip!” Tony commanded.
“Strip! Strip! Strip!”
Steve blushed a little, then started laughing when he realized all of the Avengers had been hiding down here, and all were joining in the chant. Well, he had seen what everyone else had on offer. He gave in with good grace, and borrowed a few moves from different films as he took his own sweet time getting his clothes off. The ladies gleefully supplied a few choice comments and wolf whistles… and so did most of the men too. Steve didn’t mind – it was all in good (completely mad) fun. He trusted these people with his life, and they trusted him with theirs every day. They would never do anything to hurt him.
He finally finished whipping his jeans and underwear off (to a loud and appreciative whistle from Tony, because he could get away with anything), and did his best Captain America pose, made a bit absurd from being buck naked. Everyone was laughing with him at that, at the utter absurdity of the situation, and he pointed at Tony next. Steve brought himself up into a classic Iron Man crouch, and Tony moaned in mock agony. Natasha, of all people, got in on the act next, imitating Steve as his USO best, and nearly brought down the house. Steve had to collapse in a chair from laughing so hard as Betty tried out her best Thor throw, or Pepper did her Hawkeye impression. When Bruce managed a passible Black Widow and Tony did a massively overdone Hulk, Steve had to call for a cease-fire just to get his breath back.
Sometime in between re-learning how to breathe, and everyone demanding that no one look at each other because if they did they’d be laughing over nothing for hours, JARVIS interrupted.
“I have finished with your drawing, Captain Rogers.” There was a faint whir from a printer on a table, and Tony went to retrieve the paper and handed it to Steve. He swallowed when he looked it over, and had to take a couple deep breaths. He looked happy. He looked so damned happy in that picture. Naked as the day he was born, vulnerable, but completely abandoned to laughter amid his friends without a care. It was something Steve thought he didn’t have in him anymore. Yes, he trusted his friends, but he hadn’t known how much until he saw it with his own eyes.
He must have shown his friends something very special about themselves if they’d gone through all the trouble to show him the same.
“Thank you, JARVIS, everyone,” Steve said with all the sincerity he could. “Thank you. I’m going to keep these somewhere very safe, I promise.”
Christine pried her fingers away from the drawing and laid it back into the trunk with the others.
“Oh man,” Bree said, pulling away from Christine and running her fingers through her hair. “Oh man.”
“Captain Rogers considered those drawings to be his greatest personal treasure. He made certain they were left at the Xavier School so they could be protected after the Tower was rebuilt,” JARVIS said.
“We can’t show people these, Bree,” Christine said. “They’re too personal. I felt like a voyeur. I mean, I usually am, but this time I really felt like it.”
“But it’s history!” Bree exclaimed. “Chrissy, no one’s ever seen them before!”
“Exactly! Captain America put them up here to be safe!”
“Miss Wells, Miss Young, perhaps a compromise?” JARVIS suggested. “Captain Rogers intended those drawings to be kept safe. He never wanted them to decay into dust. It is in his will that his drawings should be able to be seen by the people. But these particular ones are very… sensitive in content. They need an able steward to be able to decide who should see them. Someone to explain them in their historical context. And perhaps someone else who was there, or able to speak as one who were.”
“But… you could,” Christine said. “You were there!”
“I am an AI, Miss Young. And even though I am a paragon amongst my kind, I am still not human, and there is still a certain amount of distrust for my kind. In addition the Avengers did not wish to see me chained as a historical artifact, nor my data mined for those looking for weakness for the current Avengers. Hence, my presence here is not just for my employment and your protection, but my own as well. Shall I submit a formal request to Professor Logan about your custody of the pictures?” JARVIS asked as if the matter were over and done with.
“Uh…” Bree said, brain short-circuiting at the thought of being able to indulge her history kink in a completely legitimate fashion with what was probably the historical find of the century.
Christine breathed carefully for a long minute as she thought it over, and finally nodded. “We’ll do our best, JARVIS.”
“The Avengers would have done no less. I am certain Captain Rogers would have approved.”
Christine closed the small trunk and carefully lifted it with Bree’s help to get it downstairs. As she closed her hand on the handle, another vision of the past flashed in front of her eyes.
Steve put the trunk down and shoved it into place. This last attic was small, dusty, rarely used, and the perfect place to store something so personal. If anyone found those drawings here, they were meant to find them.
“Love you guys,” he whispered to the art inside, patting the top of the trunk. Throwing a sheet over it, Steve turned and trotted down the stairs. His team needed him.
“He would have, JARVIS,” Christine said confidently, and Bree gave her a knowing nod.
“I am comforted to know that, Miss Young. And I wish you the best of luck,” JARVIS said.
Carefully, the two girls carried the trunk down the stairs. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Christine was certain she could hear someone laughing.