Steve took a class in shorthand in high school, but he wasn't any good at it. He could take good notes, though; he found his own way of putting things together, usually with symbols, because they were easier than words and good practice. He never had problems remembering things -- sometimes the past came too clearly -- but putting it all together in notes made it easier to keep things where they belonged, easy to mentally access.
At Avengers briefings, everyone had a symbol: Fury an eye patch, Natasha an hourglass, an arrowhead for Clint and a hammer for Thor. He'd had to think about Bruce's but had settled on a quick version of a double helix (the symbol had fascinated him when he'd learned about its discovery). Tony's symbol was his arc reactor; Steve had seen it glowing through his shirt (usually black, often with a logo or band name Steve didn't recognize) enough times to get the basic idea.
Natasha glanced over his shoulder at one of the meetings and grinned at him, like she'd found one of his secrets. "No spider?" she asked later, as he was putting his pencil away. She'd been on an away mission somewhere and was still dressed like she was at a cocktail party in Europe, though she was wearing sneakers over her expensive-looking stockings. He could smell her perfume. It was nice.
"Too many legs," he said. "Hourglass is faster."
She nodded in understanding.
Tony had been talking with Bruce, both of them already halfway out the door. "What's faster?"
"Symbols," Natasha said. "Turns out Captain America takes pretty good notes."
"Huh," Tony said, and went back to talking about fractal reactors or recombinant DNA or...well, Steve hadn't really been paying attention.
He didn't think anything of it until five hours into the mission, when Tony asked him if he remembered how many pounds the bridge could hold.
He did. "Thanks," Tony said, through the comm, and flew off.
Tony gave him a tablet after that. "You can take your notes on it and upload them," he said. "So you can share them with us, have 'em if the tablet catches on fire, whatever."
At first, Steve had dismissed the thing as another useless gadget, but the tablet really was fun to draw on; not as tactile as pencil or charcoal, but using 'the cloud' made the work he did on it easy to access, even when he was many miles from his pencils. (The fact that he was pretty sure he knew what 'the cloud' meant scared him a little; just another way it seemed like he was losing who he used to be.)
It was nice to have the time to draw again, and to draw with good materials: the tablet, the charcoals he'd picked up at Artist & Craftsman Supply, nice paper.
For a while, he drew everything: his room, his breakfast (when it wouldn't get too cold), especially his teammates. Thor's smile was bright and his jaw strong, and he had a lot of hair, which was kind of fun; Bruce and Clint had complicated, animated faces. It was more challenging to catch Natasha's expressions. But no one proved more complicated than Tony Stark, Steve soon realized. Natasha kept her face a mask; Tony obfuscated, his eyes telling a different story than his mouth and tone. Nick Fury caught him sketching his eye patch once and cast him a dubious look.
"Getting my skills back, Sir," he said.
Fury thought about that for a second, and Steve thought he saw a flash of sympathy. "Carry on."
His flight from Minneapolis came in at ten pm, half an hour after the Avengers had stabilized the situation and gotten Tony to safety. He'd taken first shift watching Tony's room as the freshest of the team. Pepper came in at 12:35, straight off her red eye flight. "The nurse said nothing's changed since I last heard," she said, as she sat next to Steve.
"He's been stable for a couple hours now," Steve said. "He pulled through the surgery all right, and his leg should be fine with physical therapy." The attack had been directly on Tony, and his armor hadn't come online in time to block the first strike. SHIELD was looking into the possibility of an assassination attempt; apparently Bruce had his own set of suspicions, which he'd probably start researching when he regained consciousness. And pants.
They sat in silence, and Steve gradually became aware that Pepper was crying. He stared resolutely at Tony while she recovered her composure. "He's strong," she said finally, dabbing at her eyes. "He always has been."
"Stubborn," Steve said.
She laughed a little through her tears. "This is why," she said. "I can't do it. I can't … it's hard enough, being his friend." She had broken up with Tony a few months before. No one had told Steve, he'd just gotten it through context, which hopefully meant he was getting a little better at reading people in general and women in particular. Steve wondered if he should offer to hold her hand or something. She was always so independent, even when she cried.
"That's beautiful," she said, after she blew her nose.
It took Steve a moment to realize that she was talking about the drawing of Tony on his tablet. It certainly wasn't the most flattering portrait he'd ever drawn, and Tony was hardly at his best, but it wasn't bad work.
"You studied art, didn't you?" she asked. "Before."
Before everything. "Yeah," he said. "Been getting back into it."
She smiled. "Do you ever draw him when he's awake?"
"I draw just about everybody when they're awake."
"You should show him," she said.
"Maybe someday. And maybe not this picture."
"Don't pick too nice a picture, though," she said, taking his hand and squeezing it for a second. "It'll go to his head."
If you didn't consider that it was once the site of an alien invasion, the top of the tower could be very relaxing. Tony had put some deck chairs up so he could watch the city while he recovered from his injury, and he kept talking about adding a garden or hot tub. "You know," he said. "Bruce needs relaxation."
"Like you don't," Bruce shot back easily, turning another page of his book.
"All warriors should take time for relaxation," Thor said. "This spot is quite pleasant today, even without such amenities." He was wearing a pair of mirrored sunglasses and had an open bottle of "Midgardian mead." (They had explained that Midgard, er, Earth, actually had mead, but he'd tried it and found it wanting. He favored dark microbrews, which made Steve wonder what Asgardian mead was actually like.)
Steve was drawing; the light was too bright, even for Stark Industries' patented anti-glare screens, so he was using Arches paper, hoping to paint later. Tony Stark's feet were interesting, smooth for a superhero's but probably about right for a corporate superstar.
Feet were always interesting to draw; almost as challenging as hands, and just as individual. Steve shaded in the shapes of the buildings behind the deck chair Tony's feet were resting on; he could fill that in later, maybe with blue sky, maybe a sunset.
Days like this, it felt like he had all the time in the world for art.
It was a good feeling.
"Hey, hey, take it easy." Clint's hands were on his shoulders.
He'd been injured. Right. Some kind of ricochet. Lightning. Friendly fire. He'd have to tell Thor it wasn't his fault.
They still called it friendly fire, didn't they?
Something was knocking at his brain. Something important. Someone was still in danger, something targeted.
He hadn't had a chance to tell the others.
He couldn't talk. Why couldn't he talk?
He reached out; his hand made contact with Clint's chest. "Easy," Clint said. "It's okay. Lightning strikes do funny things to people--"
He shook his head and the room swam. It wasn't okay, and he couldn't talk, and --
He drew the circle on Clint's chest, or tried to, anyway; his hands couldn't stop shaking. Arc reactor, he thought urgently. Stark.
He heard Tony's voice: for once, he could hear past the attitude to the concern below. "What's up? Timmy trapped in the well?"
"It's--" Steve could almost hear Clint's realization. "Tony, get down--"
1. Like One of Your French Girls
It turned out the easiest way to get electrocuted by your teammate's lightning was to get hit by a steel beam just as Thor was trying to electrocute someone else. Fortunately, the electrocution itself didn't seem to have any long-term negative effects, no doubt another pleasant effect of the serum.
Unfortunately, even the serum couldn't stop your arm from breaking when an electrically-charged steel beam fell on it (and then Steve had almost wrenched it out of its socket trying to talk to Clint, though he didn't remember that very well). And it hadn't stopped his knee from dislocating when he went down.
So Steve was spending a lot of time in bed, sketching and trying not to go too stir-crazy. At least it wouldn't take him long to heal. Natasha kept bringing him intelligence reports to go through, he suspected mostly to keep him busy, and Thor had brought a huge jar of Asgardian mead (which was dark and sweet and not bad at all, though it still didn't get him as much as tipsy), in part as an apology for the electrocution.
"You don't need to apologize," Steve had said.
"Even if the injury was unintentional," Thor said, "the injury remains." He was wearing ordinary American clothes - a simple t-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts - which looked even odder on him than his Asgardian armor.
"Well, thanks, anyway. You want some?"
Thor grinned. "I would be delighted."
Asgardian mead could apparently get Thor tipsy, so they spent a pleasant afternoon telling very different war stories. Thor had as little context for the European theater as Steve had for Asgard, so they spent as much time explaining the stories as sharing them, but there was plenty of time and plenty of mead.
Thor was the only person in the world, as far as Steve knew, who was even more out of place on modern Earth than he was. It never seemed to bother Thor in the slightest. Steve admired that.
Jane stopped by to say hello and pick Thor up for their date - she'd found a Norse art exhibit at the Met she thought they'd both find interesting - and she tried the mead too. They were sitting happily by Steve's bed when Tony came in. "Hey," he said. "Thor, not-so-plain Jane."
"We were just leaving," Jane said, getting up and smoothing down her pretty summer dress. "Nice to see you, Steve. I hope you feel better soon." Tony's teasing always left her uncomfortable, not that Steve really blamed her. She wasn't around enough to get a feel for who he really was.
"Comrade," Thor said, taking Steve's good arm by the elbow for an Asgardian-style handshake. "Be well."
"Thanks for the mead," Steve said. "But you don't have to--"
Jane was already gone. Smart girl.
"Well," Tony said in their wake. "They're a cute couple. Too bad Jane never stops to chat."
"She might if you were nice to her."
Tony appeared to consider it for a second. "Nah. Not worth the trouble."
Steve rolled his eyes. "Why are you here?"
"What, I can't just wish you well?" Tony pulled a chair over, turned it backward, and straddled it. "I have to be here for a reason?"
"Wishing me well is still a reason."
Tony nodded. "I'm actually here to thank you. Don't look so skeptical, I am."
"For what?" Yeah, he'd been trying to protect Tony, but that was just what teammates did. No one thanked each other for that.
"Natasha--" Tony folded his arms over the back of the chair -- "just came in with some fascinating information about the organization that's been trying to assassinate me for the past eight months. Turns out they're called Hydra."
The back of Steve's neck suddenly felt very cold. "I thought they disbanded after the war."
"So did everyone else. Anyway, Natasha's been on this for a while now, but all she had was suspicion. Nothing clicked into place. But something she gave you--" Tony pointed over the top of the chair -- "clicked. We now have confirmation that we have a new, revived, whatever, Hydra on our hands. And they're trying to kill me. So. Thanks."
"I just thought she was having me push papers around to keep me busy," Steve admitted.
"You're about to get a lot busier. You're literally the only person still alive who remembers Hydra like it was yesterday. It's probably only the late hour that's stopped Natasha from coming in for a long, hard debriefing." He wiggled his thick eyebrows. "Is this --" he gestured at the jar of mead - "for sharing? Or drinkable?"
"Help yourself," Steve said wryly. "Thor brought it, it's real Asgardian mead. Pretty good, actually."
"You're a mensch, Cap." Tony grabbed the bottle and poured himself a full plastic cup. "How strong is it?"
"I can't really tell."
"We'll find out," Tony said cheerfully, and tipped up the glass. He seemed to be settling in. Steve realized that that was fine. Funny, a year ago he would've been itching for Tony to leave. Things changed, though. No one knew that better than Steve Rogers. "So have you been doing anything aside from Natasha's homework?"
"I didn't mind," Steve said. "My dance card's not exactly full."
"She says you've been drawing, too. How come you never draw me?"
"I've drawn you. You've just never noticed."
"Oh, really?" Tony quirked an eyebrow at him. "Let's see."
Steve rolled his eyes and grabbed his tablet, turned it on, found Tony's folder. "Here," he said, putting the display in Gallery mode and handing it to Tony, "Enjoy. I draw everybody," he added.
"It's okay," Tony said, flipping through the images and sipping at his mead. "I already know I'm special. Oooh, this one's good. You really can draw."
"Used to be the only thing I was good at."
Tony looked at him skeptically over the tablet. "Somehow, I doubt that. It's nice work, anyway. Want me to pose for you? It's not like either of us have anything better to do. I'm grounded until Natasha gets a bead on Hydra headquarters."
"Feels like we should be doing something."
Tony pointed at him. "You need to rest and recover. I--" He gestured at the bottle -- "have already had too much of this fine Asgardian mead to be trusted with superheroics or heavy machinery. Nothing to do but make art." He put his empty glass down and held up the tablet. "You want this back?"
Steve shook his head. His sketchpad was next to the bed, with his pencils.
"All right, Cap," Tony said, putting the tablet on the rolling tray table that was currently near the foot of Steve's bed. "Draw me like one of your French girls."
"I saw that movie, and you're not posing like that," Steve said, digging through the mess on his table for his eraser.
"I should have my shirt off, though." Tony sat back in the chair and started pulling his black t-shirt over his head. "Only way you get the real me." He tapped the arc reactor meaningfully.
"It takes a lot more than that to get to the real you, Mr. Stark," Steve said, his voice coming out softer than he'd meant it to.
"Yeah," Tony said, looking at the floor. "I've heard that one before."
"I used to be an open book," Steve said. "That's not all it's cracked up to be either."
Tony's mouth quirked at bit at that, and he looked back up. "How do you want me to sit?"
"Just pick something comfortable."
Tony's face shifts at that, like he doesn't know what comfortable is. "How long does it take?"
"Until it's done," Steve said. Just because he'd gotten used to Tony Stark didn't mean he was averse to making him squirm once in a while.
"Fine." He shifted the chair back to the right position and settled back down. "But I'll be watching. No screwing around."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Steve said, and got to work.