It began unassumingly enough. Tony was making a rare appearance in the kitchen for a well-needed cup of coffee and, because he was such a generous soul, he was now sharing said kitchen with five Avengers. Five other Avengers, and it still kind of felt strange to say for the Red-And-Gold-Crusader. The Lone-Iron-Man. Any number of things he'd called himself in his head over the past year and half still didn't exactly fit as well for him now that he was on a team.
But there they were, sitting around the table at whatever ungodly hour he'd been working until – a quick time-check told him it was seventeen minutes past eight o'clock in the morning, and who the hell got up and was ready for eight o'clock?
Bruce was the only one who looked vaguely like a real human at this hour – his hair was rumpled and he was staring blearily at a half-full cup of coffee. His shirt and trousers practically screamed 'pajamas' even though it didn't look like they'd started off that way. A faded tee that read “SCIENCE” in capital letters with a picture of an atom underneath, and a pair of old sweatpants, by the look of things, and they were as creased as his face, where pillow lines still crossed his cheek in long, slightly red lines.
Natasha, however, looked like she'd been up for a few hours already, Clint too, and Thor was...not there. Actually, Thor was probably still in bed with Jane. And Tony decided they were sleeping because thinking about Thor doing anything else was just too terrible a thought for this time of the morning.
“Have you actually been to bed?” Bruce mumbled, and Tony looked at him.
He knew full well that he was dressed in jeans, and another wife-beater that was probably going to have to be consigned to the trashcan due to numerous grease stains, and he could feel his goggles still on his head. It had been more effort than he'd wanted to contend with to take off his gloves before he came upstairs but he'd done it anyway, purely for their benefit.
“Nope,” he said with as much of a grin as he could muster. It was far too light in here.
Natasha raised one eyebrow but she didn't say anything, thank goodness, and that happened to be the moment Steve came in.“Has anybody seen- Oh, hey Tony. Anybody seen my sketchbook?”
Tony turned around and looked him up and down as a resounding chorus of 'no' briefly animated the rest of the present Avengers, and he noted the slight look of panic in Steve's eyes.
Steve was dressed in slacks and a shirt with a tee underneath – which meant that Steve had already been for his morning workout and changed since then. What said workout consisted of varied according to how Steve felt, obviously, but he was usually done with it by about six-thirty.
Well, six-thirty-four on average, but Tony had only asked J.A.R.V.I.S for an average because...it had been the middle of the night, he remembered that; he was drawing blank apart from that, really. It had been late enough that it had been early, J.A.R.V.I.S said Captain Rogers was out for a run, and Tony had asked for an average on his workout time. And he remembered it purely because he had a head for numbers, and not because he remembered most things about Steve.
He could do with remembering this later, actually, because he had access to the security cameras – why hadn't he thought of that before? - which would make it easier to watch Steve. Or check on Steve, which was what he really meant.
“Morning...” think of a nickname, think of a nickname, think of a nickname, “Michelangelo.” Nailed it.
Steve huffed a laugh. “I'd hardly call myself that, ” he grinned, which was nice – they were all finally at a point where insults and name-calling was just an everyday thing, more affection than irritation most of the time. But Tony could see that the slightly panicked look didn't leave Steve's eyes completely. “So...really, nobody?”
“I saw you writing in it two days ago,” Natasha said, taking the morning's newspaper from Clint when he offered it, great big headline about THE AVENGERS plastered across the front. “But since then? No, sorry.”
“You had it on your nightstand yesterday afternoon while you took a shower,” Clint offered helpfully, and Steve looked kind of pained for a moment.
“Right,” he said slowly. Tony didn't blame him – it was difficult to get over how much Clint and Natasha knew between them but they were all getting used to it, slowly. As long as nobody said anything, everybody would get to keep all their fingers, so Steve made a wise choice in not pursuing Clint's methods of retrieving information any further. “What about you guys?”
“Hmm?” Bruce said, and he yawned before he continued. “No, I think...Oh, I don't know, you had it with you when we were in the lab. Remember?”
This last was said to Tony and he nodded slowly. “Vaguely,” he said. “If we see it, we'll let you know, how about that?”
“Sure,” Steve said, “thanks.” But he wasn't looking at them any more and he was gone almost as soon as he'd finished speaking.
Tony just yawned and scrubbed his hand through his hair.
“Are you going to bed?” Natasha said, and Tony might have asked if she wanted to join him, if she'd been anyone else and it had been a year or two ago, and if he'd decided he'd like some kind of very painful amputation. As it was, he offered her a simple, “nope,” and went back to the workshop.
The next time Tony came up for air, as it were, it was still daytime, and he thought maybe he'd done better than usual until he noticed that the front page of the newspaper was harping on about the governor so no, it had been a whole day. Actually, more like a day and a bit because it was lunchtime, and everybody barring Steve was gathered for it.
Bruce was cooking, though, so it made sense – and it smelled amazing.
“Enough for me?” he said, sitting down in his usual chair – so weird that they all had usual chairs now – and Bruce smiled over his shoulder.
“Enough for everybody,” he answered, and Tony rubbed his hands together with a grin.
“Did you wash up?” Natasha said, without even looking at him, and Tony could have said something smart like you haven't even looked at me, but nobody really needed to in order to know he'd need to wash his hands after a day or two in the workshop. And actually, yes he had.
“Yes I have,” he said, and she just looked at him, one eyebrow raised. “Okay, I washed my hands, which is what I use to hold my knife and fork and what I use to interact and I know I could stand to shower but Bruce is cooking and I'm hungry.”
She turned her head away again and Bruce started to spoon out whatever it was – curry, something to do with curry and Tony wet his lips in anticipation, God, it smelled so good – when Steve came in.
“How's our resident artist?” Tony said, giving Bruce a nod of thanks when he set the first plate down right in front of him.
“Still looking for his sketchbook,” Steve answered, and something in Tony's chest twisted a little at the edge of sadness to Steve's expression. “I really want to find it but I...I have no idea where I left it.”
Tony held up a hand for silence, his mouth already full. “J.A.R.V.I.S?”
“Yes, Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S answered smoothly, “my sensors indicate that the last time Captain Rogers' sketchbook was in his possession was in the laboratory with yourself and Dr Banner. I'm not picking it up on any of the current security feeds, however Captain Rogers did not have his sketchbook with him when the laboratory was powered down for the night.”
“There you go,” Tony said, tucking into his meal again. “It's gotta be in there. We'll go after lunch.”
“What's that?” Steve said, a wry grin twisting his lips. “I couldn't hear you around the Thai yellow curry.”
Tony swallowed his mouthful and stuck out his tongue, and Clint snorted.
“I gotta tell you, Cap, I haven't seen it,” Bruce said quietly, still dishing up, and Steve took his plate with a similar nod of thanks. He looked out of breath, actually, but he seemed to settle a little more easily into his chair once there was food in front of him; now that there was a promise of some effort to find it.
“That's okay,” Steve said. “It's only small. If it fell off the table, you'd never notice it.”
Bruce nodded. “Okay. What color is it?”
“It's blue,” Steve said, “same blue as my suit.”
Tony cocked his head. “The moleskine I bought you?”
“Mmm, the little A5 one. It's gorgeous. I really want it back.”
Tony found himself smiling at the way Steve said 'gorgeous' – like he was talking about food instead of a notebook, and could actually taste the various different flavors. Still, Steve was an artist. All about the weight of a paper, the grade of a pencil. Maybe he liked the way the pages felt, or smelled, or the weight of the little book in his hand, the way Tony liked that new-car smell or the taste newly-synthesized vibranium left in his mouth.
“Can't I just get you another one?” he asked, and Steve got that pained expression again.
“It's just...I mean, I can get a new one. But the one I was using, it's...none of it's good, I'm not good, but it's mine. You know? It was three-quarters full and it had all my...my stuff in it.”
Tony nodded a little.
“Yeah, I get that,” he said. “Don't worry about it, though, okay? We'll find the little stinker.”
Steve smiled a little and nodded.
“I didn't think moleskine did Captain America blue,” Clint said, and Tony shrugged.
“They don't,” he said. “I commissioned it.”
Steve coughed, suddenly very red in the face, and Tony smirked at him as he reached for a glass of water.
“You didn't tell me that,” he said once he'd mostly recovered, and Tony shook his head as he went back to his curry.
“Nope,” he answered. “You wouldn't have taken it if I had. And, by the way, I have the other nine from the lot when you finish the one you've got now – if you want them. Hey, we can get you red and white ones, too, and you can line them up on your bookshelf.”
Steve chuckled. “We'll see,” he said, and then he looked serious except for where the smile still lingered in his eyes. “Thank you.”
“De nada,” he said, because it hadn't been a huge amount of effort to get them commissioned, and it had been more for Tony's benefit than Steve's. He'd figured at the time that Cap and Sketchbook should match, because it made sense in his head, without actually thinking first about how Steve would react. But he liked this reaction anyway – Steve thought the notebooks were gorgeous after all.
Steve did not accompany them to the laboratory after lunch – he was off into town to a soup kitchen or something, a prior engagement he wouldn't have blown off even if he'd wanted to. And Tony promised he'd keep an eye out for the Cap-Blue moleskine.
And he'd meant to, but he and Bruce got distracted pretty quickly just because Bruce wanted Tony to see a new salve he'd been developing. It had started life as a store-bought antiseptic and Bruce had gone from there until he was standing by the workbench with a scalpel. “I'm serious, I want you to see it first-hand.”
“Can't I see it on your first-hand?” Tony countered, and Bruce rolled his eyes.
“Fine,” he said. “But if the other guy shows up, it's your fault.”
“I think I can handle Big Green, and you can handle a cut,” Tony answered, folding his arms, and he watched as Bruce made a small nick on the back of his left hand. It wasn't much – barely more than a papercut – but Bruce set the scalpel down and smiled.
“Yeah,” Tony said, trying not to grin. Bruce always got excited running experiments.
“Okay. So watch this.” Bruce picked up a small Petri dish, of all things, with slightly pinkish salve in it, and got a little on his fingers. He then, far more theatrically than he needed to, swiped it over the little cut on the back of his hand.
Which promptly faded from view.
“Oh, hey, okay,” Tony said, leaning forward for a better look. Bruce held his hand out, turning it a little so Tony could see better, and Tony looked up at him. “What am I seeing?” he said.
“It's not an instant-healer,” Bruce said, “as much as I wish we could get one of those. It binds the edges, though, encourages blood-flow to the cells to accelerate healing, and disguises the damaged skin. On a microscopic level, you'd see the join, but it's enough to hold the cut closed while it heals, which further accelerates healing, and enough to hide the injury. It won't work if you get stabbed or shot or something, but it's good for the little things and I'm still working.”
“You could go into business with this,” Tony said. “New foundation. Maybe he's born with it, maybe it's micro-seams.”
“That was terrible.”
“I know but, in my defense, it's been a while since I had coffee.”
“There's some in the pot,” Bruce said, because there was a coffee machine on every floor – almost in every room – and, though Bruce drank tea except first thing in the morning, the coffee machines switched themselves on whenever Tony walked in, thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.
Tony went to retrieve a cup and glanced back over his shoulder. “Want one?”
Bruce smiled and shook his head. “I've got my passionflower stuff, but thanks.”
Tony wrinkled his nose, lifting one of the teaspoons from the small jar next to the machine – he felt like having sugar. “How you manage to actually ingest that stuff is a mystery to me- dammit.”
“Yeah, I dropped the spoon,” Tony said, having looked down in time to see it clatter away. He dropped onto his hands and knees and looked around for it – it hadn't gone far and he retrieved it without a problem – and then he saw it. The little blue moleskine was between the coffee-table and the next bench along, and Tony managed to get it out with the end of the spoon. “Ha! Gotcha!” he said, standing up with it clasped firmly in his hand, and Bruce beamed at him.
“Hey, great!” he said.
“This ought to untangle some star spangled panties,” Tony smirked, and Bruce just rolled his eyes.
“Give it to me,” he said. “If you keep it, you'll put it in your jeans and forget about it until the next time you sit in engine oil.”
“Once, that happened once, and I rewrote every page, Banner.”
Bruce snorted and Tony handed the little blue moleskine over.
What was weird was, as soon as it left his hand, he wanted it back. He watched Bruce set it down on the table next to the little Petri dish, and finished making his coffee, but the urge hadn't died away when he went to sit down again, and he eyes the small sketchbook subtly.
“Are you trying to set it on fire?”
Okay, maybe not so subtly then.
“I wanna look,” Tony said, because he did. Steve had said it wasn't good and Tony wanted to see how not good. Because Steve had a tendency to do that – be confident in everyone except himself - and Tony would bet Steve's idea of not-good was actually nowehere near it. Or maybe Captain America could only draw stick figures - either way, Tony wanted to see.
“I know,” Bruce answered. “So do I.”
“We found it,” he said. “Finder's fee, right?”
“Works for me,” Bruce said. “But we stop if it's personal?”
“I'm only in it for the pictures,” Tony nodded. “J.A.R.V.I.S, you do not tell Steve we peeked at his stuff. Okay?”
“I am the very model of discretion, Sir.”
“Great,” Tony said, and he picked up the little blue book, flipped back the elastic, and opened it.
Bruce walked around to stand behind him, and Tony felt something warm unfurl inside him when he saw the first page.
Steven G. Rogers, it read, in handwriting Tony thought was lovely and then realized he shouldn't have assumed would be anything else. If found, please return to Stark Industries. And Steve's cellphone number was written beneath it.
That made sense, and Tony smiled. He hadn't written I LIVE AT AVENGERS' TOWER in huge letters but he'd made sure it would find its way back to him if someone were kind enough to want to send it. And then Tony started flipping through pages.
“Oh, wow,” Bruce breathed behind him, and wow was right.
Page after page of images – not just drawings but actual images Tony could recognize and if Steve honestly thought these weren't any good then maybe Tony's next port of call should be someone who could get Steve some glasses.
They were all there – Bruce bent over a lab experiment, Natasha sparring with an unseen opponent, Clint and his bow, Thor and his hammer. And there were places, too – the tower, that café Steve liked to visit, pieces of jewelry, vehicles, fragments of faces and buildings and objects that Tony knew, that Tony could almost reach out and touch they were so well rendered.
And little words next to them, things like best coffee in New York or Spitfire Green and overlooking Brooklyn Bridge. Sometimes there were sentences, too. Can't get Natasha right, getting there with Natasha, I like this one of Natasha, or have to get a better look at Clint's bow, Clint's bow is complicated, Clint's face is more complicated than his bow or even Milk, Bread, Broccoli where he'd written a shopping list and then illustrated it with small pictures of the things he needed.
But neither of them missed the fact that there were more sketches of Tony than of anybody else, more sketches of Iron Man than any of the other things, more little bits and pieces of Tony's face, his body, his work, his life. I can never get his eyes right, one little cluster of words read, next to a beautiful drawing of Tony's left eye and the laughter lines that crinkled the corner. Working with hands, working with wires, said another, next to an intricately drawn picture of Tony's hands – he recognised a small scar on his right thumb – working on what looked like the right gauntlet of the Mk VIII suit.
And there were lots of wireframe-esque pieces of people, little barely-there sketches of movement and a couple of experiments with facial expressions.
There were creepy little things, too – faces distorted into grotesque-looking masks, a shadow of the Iron Man suit looking distinctly eerie in amongst shadows, a sticky liquid-like substance that clung to horrified faces and grasping hands.
“We shouldn't,” Bruce murmured.
“Finder's fee,” Tony said, more to convince himself.
Sometimes I dream, sometimes I have nightmares. My name is Steven Grant Rogers and I'm alive. I don't like blueberries in my pancakes.
Insects crawling out of holes in the wall, spidery veins on twisted limbs.
I can't go back. It's Friday. I can't ever go back.
“This isn't a sketchbook, Tony, it's a diary.”
It hurts so much sometimes.
Tony frowned at it, turning a page and finding New York in ruins.
I did this.
“Not in a 'today I had ice-cream kind of way but it's still private,” Bruce told him.
I miss her.
“Yeah, maybe you're right,” Tony whispered.
I miss her. I miss them all.
Drawings of people Tony didn't know.
“I thought it was a portfolio, but it's not, it's a history.”
“I should put it down,” Tony said, barely even aware that Bruce was there anymore.“I should put it down, this isn't just pretty pictures, this is his life.”
He couldn't put it down, it was so beautiful, there was so much of it to see. “I've got no right.” And then Tony turned the next page and- “Oh my God,” he whispered, just as a rush of breath from behind him Told him Bruce thought the same thing.
It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful, and Tony could barely believe he was looking at it.
Steve must have drawn it on one of his many visits to the workshop, and Tony should have known really. Steve turned up so often that he barely even noticed it any more – he'd shut the whole place down with Steve still in there once, and only the slightly-indignant but not-unamused “Tony!” had alerted him to that fact before he'd switched on the alarm system.
But this must have been what he'd been working towards.
It was a drawing of Tony working, rewiring a boot from the suit with the plates stripped away, so the thing had been a frame and a multitude of wires. He was wearing his usual wife-beater, the arc-reactor shining dully through the material, goggles at a funny angle in his mussed-up hair. Dummy, in the picture, was hovering over his shoulder, while Tony fiddled with a soldering gun, screwdriver held in one corner of his mouth like a cigarette. And he was looking right back at Tony, the smallest of smirks on his lips. There was even the hint of a holographic display behind him and how the hell had Steve rendered that, on A5, with a pencil?
Tony saw his face staring back at him from the internet and newspapers and newscasts daily, almost hourly, and he never liked what he saw, was always sick of his own face, but this...Even Tony couldn't find fault with it. He even remembered which day it had been – or, more accurately, he remembered the occasion he'd glanced at Steve like that when he'd been working on the stripped-down boot, Dummy waiting anxiously next to him, even if he couldn't remember if it had been a week ago or a month ago.
And underneath it ran small lines of Steve's handwriting.
'The Creator creates – Anthony Edward Stark and Dum-E at work.
I finally got you.
And he'd signed it, too. Under the gauntlet, what looked at first to be another stray wire was actually S. Rogers written specially to blend in and Tony just stared at it.
“That's amazing,” Bruce whispered.
“I want it,” Tony said, and Bruce laughed.
“Yeah, you would.”
Tony chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment or two. “No, I mean it, I need it. J.A.R.V.I.S, can you scan this?”
“Already done, Sir.”
“Put it on my server,” Tony said, snapping the little book closed, pulling the elastic back.
“If Steve finds out-”
“He won't,” Tony said. “I promise. And we never talk about it, okay? If he asks, we never looked.”
Bruce stood back, ran his hand through his hair and sighed heavily. “Yeah,” he said. “I think that's for the best.”
Steve didn't ask.
When Tony handed it to him, his face lit up, his smile reached all the way to his eyes and he looked like he was half considering hugging Tony for it. “Thank you,” he whispered, “thank you, so much, Tony, thank you.”
Tony shrugged, trying to smile, trying not to think of James and Margaret and Mom, of the twisted figures and the beautiful wireframes, of the eyes and mouths and movements of people he'd spent his life around. “All I did was find it,” he said, and Steve shook his head.
“Tony, you...you don't know what this means to me.”
Tony shrugged again. He wouldn't have known before but now? Now he could guess. “You lost it, and I wanted you to have it back,” he said. “So there it is – don't get emotional on me, okay?”
Steve smiled a little. “Okay,” he said. And then he did something Tony didn't expect at all, something so trusting that Tony felt sick with it, felt like he'd betrayed Steve without even having tried. “Do...you want to see?” But this was his out. This was his way out of it, this was how Tony Stark was going to get away with having messed around in Steve Rogers' private life, by taking the little blue book Steve was holding out to him.
“No,” Tony said and what, that was not what he'd meant to say!
Steve's hand fell back to his side and his expression changed, just a little. A year ago, Tony wouldn't have known why, or how, or what it meant. But now he knew. It was Tony's answer. It tightened his mouth, straightened his back, narrowed his eyes almost imperceptibly. Hurt.
It hurts so much sometimes.
“It's okay,” Steve said, and Tony hated how easily it rolled off Steve's tongue, how good he was at saying it and how much it looked like he meant it. “No problem. But thank you. For getting it back.”
“Yeah,” Tony said lamely, and Steve turned around and walked away.
In retrospect, Tony's plan to keep what he'd done secret from Steve would probably have gone better if he hadn't had the scan of 'The Creator creates' blown up to A1 and hung on the wall of the workshop.
As it was, he never remembered it was there until he turned around and saw himself staring back, a slight grin, sparkling eyes, in the middle of work but still sparing Steve a glance. And it always made him smile, every time, always caught him by surprise. The title was still visible past the thick, silver frame but the little message, that 'I finally got you' and Steve's initials were hidden, which was just as well.
Because Tony didn't know he'd missed Steve's presence until Steve walked in at...oh, two in the morning – what the hell was Steve doing up at two in the morning? - and waved.
“Hi,” he said. “Uh, I figured I haven't been down here in a while and I...”
Tony glanced back over his shoulder at the sound of Steve's voice and frowned at him as his sentence trailed off. Steve was staring at something in front of Tony, mouth open, eyes wide, skin absolutely crimson, and one hand was curling into a fist while the other held white-knuckled onto his Captain-America-Blue moleskine.
And it was only when Tony narrowed his eyes and turned back to see what had captured his attention that he remembered. “I-It's not what it looks like,” he said, and then he wanted to bite off his tongue.
“Then you should explain it,” Steve answered, his voice positively hollow and there was that sick feeling in Tony's stomach again.
He set down the small circuit board he'd been fixing – someone had broken the TV remote again, probably Thor, not that it mattered now – and turned around. “Okay, so it probably is what it looks like,” he said, as carefully as he could manage.
Steve's gaze shifted from the picture over Tony's shoulder to Tony's eyes, and Tony wanted to curl up in a ball and let the ground swallow him. “You...Tony, that's...”
“I'm sorry,” he said, taking a few hasty steps forward, hands held out, before he realized Steve probably wouldn't want that, and Steve turned away, head down. “Steve, I'm sorry,” he said. “Please, I didn't mean...I just...When I found it, I looked through it, you know how I am, I didn't mean to intrude and I didn't even know I was intruding until...”
Steve closed his eyes. “You saw all of it?” he said slowly, shoulders hunched, and Tony hated how Steve looked like he was trying to make himself small.
“I-I'm sorry,” he said, shaking his head because, if he could have taken it back, he would have.
“And yet you've hung a page on your wall for anyone who walks in here to see,” Steve said, and he didn't sound angry. He sounded disappointed. Humiliated.
“But it's beautiful,” Tony said, first thing to tumble out of his stupid mouth, and Steve chuckled bitterly.
“You should have asked.”
“I know,” Tony said instantly. “I know, I'm sorry, Steve, please believe me, okay? I wanted to know why you didn't like what you drew and instead I found...I mean, look at it.”
And Steve did. He lifted his head and looked at the picture over Tony's shoulder. Tony turned to look at it to, hit by its beauty all over again.
“Steve, I can't get over it,” he said. “Nobody's ever seen me that way.”
“What way?” Steve said, his voice about as disbelieving as Tony had ever heard it get.
“That way,” Tony answered, holding out his hands towards the picture. “Like that, nobody's ever drawn me as if they see me like I'm...as if they see me." Steve snorted and Tony shook his head, turning back to look at him. “I mean it, Steve, people take my photograph and roll cameras as soon as I get out of the building but I never...Do you know how long it's been since I saw a photo I liked? And that's...that's so much better than a photo.”
Steve looked down at his shoes, holding the moleskine with both hands now.
“I'm sorry I didn't ask you, Steve, and I'm sorry I looked through it without your permission-”
“Why didn't you look when I gave you permission?” Steve said. “I tried to give this to you the other day and you flat-out refused, why would you do that to me?”
And Tony shook his head. “Because I'd seen it,” he said. “And there was so much that I felt I shouldn't have looked at, Steve. So much I saw and I read-”
Steve flinched. “God, you read it, too.”
“-and I didn't think I should have seen it. I should not have looked at it, it's private and, knowing what was in it, I...I didn't want you to know that I knew. I didn't want you to know I'd seen it, I didn't want you to feel...embarrassed by it or something. I like that we're friends, I didn't want that to...to change.”
Steve sighed heavily and shifted his weight, turning the book over in his hands. And Tony expected him to leave or something, maybe to give him a speech about privacy and fairness first. But, when Steve looked up, there was the hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
“If you were trying to keep it secret, maybe framing a huge copy and putting it on your wall wasn't the best way to do it?” he said.
“Yeah,” Tony said. “Well, you know, hindsight is twenty-twenty and all of that. But I mean...” He turned around. “God, just look at that, would you, Steve? It's...I can't even think of how to...” But wait, yes he could – he knew exactly. “It's gorgeous, Steve. It's absolutely gorgeous.”
“Not creepy?” Steve answered, and Tony felt his eyebrows try to disappear into his hairline.
“What?” he said, somewhat ineloquently, and Steve huffed a laugh out through his nose.
“You don't think it's creepy that I spend all my time drawing you people? That I have a notebook full of...basically you?”
“I think it's amazing,” he said. “Steve, I think you're amazing, you should have a gallery to yourself-”
“Don't,” Steve answered, pointing at him, the smile on his face growing just a little, “don't give yourself ideas, I don't want to wake up one day and find out you've organized a whole show, okay?”
“Don't!” Steve laughed, and Tony laughed a little, too.
And they stood there for a little while, face to face, smiling at each other, until Tony dropped Steve's gaze.
“Look, I really am sorry,” he said. “I know I should have asked.”
“It's okay, I'm getting used to the size of your ego,” Steve answered, and Tony laughed.
“Okay, I deserved that one.”
Steve took a couple of steps closer and held out the little blue book again. “So you looked through it,” he said. “But it can get hard to follow. How about we look through it together, and I can explain it as we go?”
And Tony smiled. “I'd like that,” he said.
Once Steve had finished showing Tony the notebook, and they'd finished talking – which took hours more than Tony had expected, even though it barely felt like any time had passed at all – he went upstairs. It was Wednesday, so that made it Steve's day to make the meals, and he was going to start with breakfast once he'd been for a run.
Steve left the notebook with him, in case he wanted to look through it again, because it had been two weeks since Tony had found it and Steve was already a good chunk of the way through a new blue moleskine. And Tony shut the workshop down with one last look at the picture on the wall, because he was going to grab a cup of coffee, eat whatever Steve cooked (because Steve could really freaking cook,) and go to bed. He kept the notebook in his hand until he reached his bedroom, put it on the nightstand until he'd gotten ready for bed, and flicked through the last few pages again until he reached the back.
And there, on the inside of the back cover, was something he'd missed in the workshop. It was another sketch of Tony. Light and rough, it showed him smiling at something out of the picture, a mug of coffee halfway to his lips, his mouth open in speech and, below it, there was a small line of writing.
I still miss them, it read, but it doesn't hurt so much any more.