“Shit!” Steve jumps and his pen hand goes wild, scratching a jagged line through the entire drawing. “Jesus fuck, Nat, warn a guy.”
“Not my fault you’re not on your guard.” When he looks up at her, she looks distinctly pleased with herself, mouth quirking up and hip at a cocky angle. He feels like he doesn’t get to see her relaxed like this enough anymore, so he lets it go, looking back down at the ruined figure study. “That looks familiar,” Nat says, fingers tracing a bicep.
“I was just going from memory,” he says, curling in over his notebook a little. He only just started drawing again recently, because Bucky looks at him with those sad eyes and the expression that says, I know you, but I don’t know you. Steve wants to give him something familiar, and if a sketchbook lying around the Tower is that thing, Steve will do it.
Natasha looks at him again, eyes narrowed, and then she slaps his shoulder, hand smacking loudly in the quiet of his apartment. “Come on. You’ve been cooped up in here all day. Team’s having a board game night.”
“I don’t know,” Steve says, raising a hand to the back of his neck. He’s still not comfortable with their new members; every time he looks at Wanda, he hears a phantom gunshot, smells Peggy’s perfume. And while Jim seems like a very nice person, watching him have the easy repartee with Tony that Steve can never seem to manage…well, it grates a little. Steve wants them to be a united front and it seems like he never quite manages it with Tony.
“You don’t get a choice in this,” Natasha says, fingers digging into the meat of his shoulder. “Either come on your own power, or I will get James to carry you.”
“Yes, I would,” Bucky calls from his bedroom, the gleam of his arm just barely visible in the fading daylight.
Steve sighs and sets his notebook aside, rising to follow Natasha. He can work on his shoulder and arm studies another day.
“That’s nice,” Sam says, nudging gently at Steve’s notebook with his fork. Steve looks up and fights the immediate urge to duck his head and hide his work. He’s getting better about it; being open with them, showing them who he is when he’s not in the suit, it seems important somehow.
“It’s nothing special,” he says, staring down at the arching sole, the wrinkled plains of a foot, and carefully cross-hatching the dark space just behind the toes. “I was never very good.”
“The Smithsonian says differently,” Sam says, leaning forward in his chair and carefully pushing his cereal off to the right so it doesn’t spill onto Steve’s paper. “They’ve got your old notebooks from the war. It’s pretty cool, seeing all those battle plans alongside sketches of Swiss chateaus.”
“Yeah,” Steve says, pencil flagging in his fingers. “I…I wish I could go back. Just to see it again. Without a war going on, you know?”
Sam’s eyes soften and grow distant. He glances to the newspaper at the edge of the table, announcing in grim black print that Palmyra’s been destroyed in the fighting. “Yeah,” he says after a moment, and Steve watches his fingers clench in and back out again. “Yeah, I do.” They sit in silence for a moment before Sam visibly shakes himself off. “So who’d you get to model for you? Pretty nice foot, if I do say so myself.”
Steve glances down at the drawing and then away, looking out at the morning sky. “No one, really. It’s just…muscle memory. I don’t think about it.”
He’s working on hands the first time Bucky sits down next to him, close enough that their hips touch. Steve nearly stops, nearly turns to try and start a conversation, but something in him warns him off. He lays charcoal on the page, layer after layer of dusty black, darker than the darkest night, swallowing as the sea. There’s something visceral about the hands, and he shades them thick and raw, like unhealed wounds.
“That’s not me,” Bucky says finally, and his metal forefinger touches the forefinger on the page.
“No,” Steve says slowly, hand frozen over the jut of the radial bone.
“You used to draw me.”
“It…it didn’t seem right. I don’t have your permission.”
Bucky frowns at him, brow wrinkled in that expression of confusion that still makes Steve’s heart twist in his chest. He shifts so his hair hides his eyes, but his hand doesn’t move. “Who is it, then?”
Steve glances down and then back up, swallows, and catches a glance of Tony as he walks by, coffee in one hand and phone in the other. He pauses and looks in at them, one eyebrow quirked as if to say, Need help? Steve looks down at the hands, over to Bucky, and then meets Tony’s eye again. He nods once, a sharp decisive dip of his chin, and that seems enough. Tony continues on, face illuminated by the blue of the screen, and something in Steve’s shoulders coils even tighter.
“No one,” he murmurs, and flips to a blank page.
He’s working on eyes and eyebrows when Natasha flips over the back of the couch and flops into his lap, her hair spreading in a sunset wave over his paper. “Draw me like one of your French girls.”
“Are you kidding me with the references?” he says, poking her gently and giving her a considering look. After a moment, he takes the ink brush he’d been working with and runs it the length of her nose, finishing with an expressive swoop at the tip. Her eyes widen and then sharpen.
“You realize, of course, this means war.”
Her fingers are in his ink pot before he knows it, and she smears three chilly lines across his cheek. He laughs and manages a swirl on her chin before she turns and slaps her hand to his white shirt, leaving a blurry set of black dots.
Ages later, sofa and carpet spattered with permanent India ink, clothes and faces in a state of disarray, Natasha flops on him again, the warm, comforting weight of her head squarely on his stomach. “Where’d you get the brushes,” she asks, a glimmer of laughter still in her voice. “They’re new, right?”
“Tony brought them back from Japan. Said he saw them in the airport.”
Natasha twists so that she’s on her stomach, chin propped in her hands. “Are you still not connecting the dots, Rogers?”
She snatches his miraculously unstained notebook from him and holds up the page he was just working on. The dark eyebrows, quirked in incredulity and the wide, shining eyes, guileless and vulnerable in turns. “Who’s eyes are these?”
Steve studies them, and he knows the sinking feeling in his gut. He’s felt it enough times in the past few months, awkwardly skirting the edges of both old team and new. “It doesn’t matter, Natasha. It’s not…it’s not in the cards.”
“Steve,” she says, pulling herself forward until she can put a cool, sharp hand to his chest. “We can all see this rift in the team. We’re worried about you. About both of you.”
He shakes his head and pushes up, dislodging her so he can climb to his feet. “There’s no apologizing for what I did. It’s…let it go, Nat. We’ll make it work.”
Pride chews at his insides as he rushes from the room, and he hates that he still hasn’t apologized for his lack of trust. He hates that he can’t find the words, that they flutter from his brain like frightened birds the moment Tony enters a room. And he hates that Natasha is right.
Steve steps off the elevator, sweat soaking his shirt, making it stick uncomfortably to every inch of him. He’s already reaching to strip it off when he catches sight of Tony in the kitchen, hair flopping every which way and skin sallow with exhaustion.
Tony’s staring down at something, brows drawn in a tight crease, but he looks up when Steve draws near. His expression gives Steve pause. There’s something wounded and shocked in his eyes, like he’s just seen JARVIS die all over again. After a moment, he holds up the sketchbook, open to studies of a male torso, heavily scarred across the center of the chest.
The words catch in Steve’s throat, like an ice cube accidentally swallowed, neither rising nor falling. Cold trickles into his gut, and he inhales without exhaling. “T…” he begins, but can’t even shape his lips into an “o”.
“Were you ever going to tell me?” Tony asks, brandishing the sketchbook as he steps closer. He’s barefoot, Steve notices incongruously, and it makes him seem strangely vulnerable as he gets into Steve’s face, confusion and hurt and mistrust hot in the air between them.
“What’s there to tell?” Steve finally manages to croak, fingers clenching in his hemline; he never let it go. “It’s not…it was never…I…” All his platitudes feel like a weak breeze in the face of a hurricane.
“Yeah, well,” Tony says, pressing the sketchbook into Steve’s chest, “maybe you should’ve said something.”
Tony leans up into Steve’s space and kisses him, insistent and angry, the bite of his teeth a sharp line of reprimand. The sketchbook is still between them and the scent of charcoal and black ink wafts up, earthy and strangely grounding. “You should’ve,” Tony says again when he pulls away, and he’s still glowering, but there’s something else there too, that same open wound that Steve’s glimpsed day after day since Ultron first came knocking.
“I should’ve,” he says again, and quietly bows his head until it rests on Tony’s shoulder, heavy and constant as the weight of a star.