“What do they do?” Bruce asked, pawing through the bottles and charms.
Clint shrugged. “All different things, apparently. Hold on, there was a cheat sheet here somewhere.”
Tony watched Clint and Bruce dig through the box from Dr. Strange over the edge of his tablet. He didn’t like magic; it made him twitchy. Nat picked up one of the charms and held it up to the light, twisting it back and forth. It was nice of Strange to help, but really, couldn’t they just stick to science?
The door to the common room opened, and Steve walked in, a mug of what was probably tea in one hand and one of his thin, matte black sketchbooks in the other. He’d probably just come down from the roof. He seemed to spend most of his free time up there now, drawing the modern New York skyline with 1940s fascination or something.
Steve’s eyes went straight to the box. “Oh, did you guys finally get that stuff from Strange?”
“Sure did,” Clint replied without looking up. “Here, check this one out.” Clint turned, and as he turned, he tossed a glass vial towards Steve, his face morphing from excitement into horror when he saw Steve’s arms were full. “Shit.”
“Ah, Clint!” Steve chucked the sketchbook on the table, trying to keep it out of the path of the vial, then tried to catch it one-handed, but even his super-soldier reflexes couldn’t keep the top from flying off. The vial landed upside down in Steve’s hand, sloshing pink liquid over his palm. Steve blanched. “What is this?!”
Tony’s heart clenched with fear, eyes fixed on Steve’s hand, waiting for it to burst into flames or fall off or something equally horrible.
“Shit, shit, shit.” Clint finally managed to pull the note out of the bottom of the box while Steve set his mug down and re-capped the vial. Half of it was gone and the skin of his hand was stained pink. It didn’t seem to have had any other effect, however. Clint’s eyes scanned the page. “Oh. Uh oh.”
“What does ‘uh oh’ mean, Barton?” Tony asked, setting his tablet down and walking around the couch to join the group. He reached for the list, but Clint clutched it to his chest.
“It’s uh, well…”
“Spit it out.” Tony tried to grab the note again.
“Steve are you alright?” Bruce asked.
“I’m scared,” Steve replied immediately. Then he frowned, eyes going wide. They all turned to look at him. “That’s not… what I meant to say.”
“What did you mean to say?” Nat eyed him suspiciously.
“I meant to lie and say I was fine.” The words fell easily from Steve’s mouth, but he looked increasingly appalled as they did. “Clint.”
“It’s a truth spell,” Clint admitted. “It forces you to answer any question asked with the truth, until it wears off.”
Steve’s hands clenched into fists, knuckles turning white. “And how long will that be?”
“I, uh, I don’t know, it doesn’t say. Also, you only got hit with half of it, so maybe not too long?”
“Don’t you normally have to drink that kind of thing?” Nat asked.
Clint shrugged. “These are supposed to be useful for us in interrogations. I guess, Strange figured it was easier to chuck a vial at someone rather than get them to drink something.”
“He was right,” Steve ground out.
“So, you can’t lie?” Bruce asked, eyeing Steve with scientific curiosity. “What’s your name?”
“No, I can’t.” Steve tensed. “S-Steven Grant Rogers.” The words came out with a sharp huff of breath. “I tried not to, but I have to say it.”
“Do you know who ate my leftover chicken last week?” Tony asked.
Steve shot him a look, then sighed. “Yes.”
“Who was it?”
“Oooh.” Everyone turned to look at Nat, but she just shrugged, unrepentant.
“Can you please stop asking me questions?” Steve begged.
And Tony could see how agitated he was now, right on the edge of full-blown panic. I’m scared, he’d admitted, and hot guilt wound through Tony’s stomach. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair.”
Steve’s eyes stayed on the carpet. “I don’t like this. It feels like something else is driving my tongue.”
“Maybe you can lie if you write it down,” Nat suggested. She reached out towards Steve’s sketchbook where it lay on the table, her other hand going for a pen.
Steve lurched forward. “No!”
Nat pulled her hand back again, but Clint casually asked, “Why not?” He immediately slapped his hand over his mouth, realizing what he’d done, but it was too late. Bruce dove around the table, reaching for Steve, trying to do something - anything - to stop Steve from saying whatever had made the tips of his ears ignite. It wasn’t any of their business. But Bruce couldn’t get there in time, and Tony was too far away to even make a move towards Steve.
“Because it’s full of naked drawings of Tony,” Steve burst out, utterly appalled.
There was a full beat of silence, then Steve picked up his sketchbook, turned on his heel, and marched out of the kitchen without another word.
Slowly, like they were on connected clockwork mechanisms, Clint, Nat, and Bruce spun to stare at Tony, agape.
“Well, that happened,” Tony said, willing his head not to explode. “JARVIS, if Clint opens his mouth again before this is fixed, play astonishingly loud music until he shuts it.”
“With pleasure, Sir.”
Clint glared at the ceiling. “Hey!” The room exploded with AC/DC until he pressed his lips together again.
Tony smiled at him. “Perfect.” He stood and walked out, following Steve’s path to the elevators. From there, he had to assume that Steve had retreated to the safety of his tower apartment. It seemed best to leave him alone until they’d found a way to reverse this, but at the same time, he didn’t want Steve up there stewing in his feelings any longer than necessary. Besides… it was probably time Tony admitted to a few things himself.
The door to Steve’s apartment was shut and locked. Tony tried the handle, then knocked, but there was no answer. He leaned his back against the door and slid down to the floor, wondering if he should wait Steve out or leave him be. Maybe he should stay and guard his room so no one could take advantage of Steve in this state.
His eye fell on a patch of dancing light coming from the crack under the door. He pressed his ear against it, and he could just make out shuffling on the other side. “Steve are you sitting against the door?”
There was a beat then, “Yes.” A small sigh.
Tony shook his head, realizing he’d just done the thing he’s promised himself he wouldn’t do. “Shit, I’m sorry. I’m going to try my best not to ask you any questions. Not even rhetorical ones.” He resisted the urge to tack, Okay? On to the end. The floor vibrated with loud thumping for a moment then stopped, and Tony realized that the music had been set off again. He smiled to himself; served Clint right.
“Thanks.” Steve sounded horrible, like his puppy had been stomped on by the Grinch on his way out the door with all the presents and roast beast.
“Steve, I’m really sorry. Clint didn’t mean to ask that, it just slipped out. If it helps I’ve come up with an ingenious plan to stop him from doing it again. Might leave it on after the spell’s warn off, even.”
“Thanks.” Tony heard more shuffling. “I don’t really want to talk about this while I’m under the influence of the spell,” Steve said carefully.
“Totally. That’s totally fair. I actually, uh, didn’t come up to talk to you, more to talk at you, really. Cause, I know you didn’t mean to say that, but now I know, and uh…”
There was a small thump on the other side of the door, and he imagined Steve was banging the back of his head against it. “You don’t have to say anything. Can we forget it, please?”
Tony picked at a stray thread on his jeans. “Look, maybe you have a sketchbook in there for each of us and that just happened to be your Tony one. Maybe you really like anatomy studies or maybe you really, really suck at drawing clothes. But either way that was embarrassing for you, so I have one in return. As, you know, balancing the scales or something. Because I really, really, don’t want you to be afraid to look me in the eye tomorrow.”
“Nope. Don’t say anything. I’m going to talk.” Tony arched his back until it cracked and settled with his legs stretched out in front of him. “Okay, do you remem-” Tony cut the question off before it formed. Not asking questions was harder that he thought it would be. “You might remember,” he tried instead, “that time we all got invited to the massive gala event in Milan for that kid’s charity, and Pepper had the SI jet so we had to fly Loser Air.”
There was a noise from the other side of the door that sounded like a combination of an exasperated sigh and a laugh. “You mean fly with a regular airline? Like most people do? Yes, I remember.” There was a smile in Steve’s voice. “There was that mix-up with the tickets, wasn’t there?”
“Yeah… about that. So we’d all planned to fly over together, and I’d made sure you and I had seats booked beside each other, because, well, obviously. And then it turned out Hill needed to go to this thing too, but the flight was booked so you gave her your ticket, like the saint you are, and offered to take the redeye instead.”
Tony took a breath then plowed on. “So now I’m looking at an eight-hour flight next to Hill instead of you, and Hill’s fine, I like her, but she’s no you. And you’re looking at an eight-hour flight by yourself. So, obviously, the solution is to change my ticket for your flight so you and I can fly together.”
“You told me you got bumped,” Steve said, a hint of accusation wound through his words.
“Yeah, I lied. And I didn’t even realize why at the time. But yeah I’m not even at the worst of it. They wouldn’t change my ticket. The other flight was booked solid and unless someone would swap with me, I was stuck. So, I tried to buy the airline.”
“But it wasn’t for sale, owner wouldn’t budge. So I hacked into their computer ticketing system.”
“Wait for it. So I found out about the other passengers on your flight and I had JARVIS run an algorithm to see which ones were likely to want to switch with me. It took three days, but I finally found someone who would switch for a small, uh, incentive. So he got to put his kids through college, which is always great. Oh, and then when we got the airport, I found the lady who had the seat next to yours and paid her to swap that with me as well. And, yeah, that’s why we sat beside each other on the way to Milan.”
“Oh my god.”
“That’s not even the embarrassing part.” Tony rubbed his palms over his thighs. “The day after we got back, I was walking downtown with Rhodey, and I told him about the whole thing as this, I don’t know, funny story, and he said, ‘Wow, you’ve really got it bad for Steve.’ Totally straight up, totally honest.”
There was a stretch of silence while he let that sink in. Then Steve asked, “Is that the embarrassing part?” somewhat breathlessly.
“Nope. But this is. So, I was so struck by what he said - because honestly I’d never thought about it before, but shit he was right - that I walked into a post. Like a lamp post. Straight into it like a cartoon character. There were paps everywhere and it ended up on pretty much every tabloid website on the internet. ‘Tony Stark Walks Into Post.’”
“Oh my god, I saw those,” Steve said.
“Well, thankfully they didn’t know why I walked into a post, but, uh, now you do, I guess.”
“Tony… that was like five months ago.”
“Yeah. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you or not. It was kind of a mind blowing thing for me to realize since I don’t really… do that often. Or at all, really. So it took some time to adjust to it, and then that also kind of gave me time to talk myself out of saying something. So yeah…”
It was quiet inside the room for a long, long time, and Tony started to wonder if he’d gone too far, if he should leave. But then there was a small thump and something pressed against Tony’s leg. He looked down and saw the corner of Steve’s sketchbook pushing under the crack under the door. He hesitated, not sure if it was really being offered to him, but then it moved again, pushed firmly until half of it was sticking into the hallway. “Really?”
Tony lifted the sketchbook reverently and opened the cover. A page had been torn lose and was sticking out at the front. It had “Steven Grant Rogers” written across it over and over and then “I can’t lie on paper either” with a frowny face drawn next to it. Apparently, Steve had been trying to convince the sketchbook his name wasn’t Steve Rogers. Tony smiled at the page, wondering which name he had been trying to write instead. He set the page aside and starting flipping through the drawings inside.
The first drawing was of Central Park, and as much as Tony liked it, he couldn’t help but rush past it, heart pounding, wondering what he was going to find. After a few more landscapes, he hit a section of Avengers, Nat, Clint, Bruce, and Thor laughing together, Fury and Hill giving a speech at the end of a long table.
Then they started to change. There was a hand that looked familiar, drawn over and over all across a page. Then Tony, for the first time, and right away he could tell that it had been drawn with a different eye than his teammates. It was the back of Tony’s head, his shoulders, disappearing in a mess of lines around his waist, one of his arms hanging off the edge of the page, the other on his hip. There was something about the way his head was tilted that made Tony think that Steve had caught him in a moment of deep thought, maybe in the workshop.
Tony couldn’t exactly put his finger on what it was about the sketch that was different than the others - maybe it was the care that had gone into each line of his hair, maybe it was the reverent way the curve of his back had been traced out, maybe it was confident, solid lines of his hands, as if Steve had drawn them so often he could do them in his sleep. And there were enough of them on previous pages that he probably could.
Tony flipped the page. The drawings went on, and as they did, they got more and more… risqué. One of Tony’s shoulders and neck, the bottom of his chin - no shirt. Then another, his chest, the arc reactor included in surprising detail. And then…
Steve must have used his imagination for everything below the non-existent belt, since Tony was pretty sure Steve had never seen him naked. But it was a pretty flattering imagination. The Tony in the drawing was stretched out on the couch, a pose Steve had surely caught him in many times, but not in this state of undress. He was completely naked, save for a knitted blanket that had slipped over one leg and pooled on the floor. One arm was hooked backwards over the arm of the couch, the other hung off the side, knuckles grazing the carpet. Tony’s eyes were softly closed, his mouth slightly open, and it was… gorgeous. There wasn’t another word for it. As odd as it was to see himself laid out like that, he couldn’t deny the depth of affection and appreciation that had gone into the drawing.
He flipped the page and there were more, some clothed, some not, but every one with the same intensity, the same reverence. The sketches of pond ducks and other teammates dwindled then died until page after page was nothing but Tony. Tony’s eyes, hands, legs, back. Tony face down, asleep at his workshop desk. Tony gazing out of the page on a stool at breakfast. Tony, Tony, Tony.
Tony smiling up at the artist, stretched out on a sea of rumpled sheets with a happy, adoring look across his face. Did Steve want to see Tony that way for real? Wake up in the morning to that face?
But Tony couldn’t ask. He’d made a promise, and he was going to keep it.
“These are incredible, Steve, really. You’re an amazing artist. I always forget how good you are when I’m too busy walking into posts.”
“Thank you.” Steve’s voice was quiet, hesitant.
“I’d like to ask you, well, about a thousand questions, but I won’t. I will, however, offer that if you ever need a life model, I’d be more than happy to help you with that. Cause, fuck, these are incredible. But I have this little scar on the inside of my hip. And right here on my thigh, there’s a birthmark. You missed those things.” Tony gazed down at the page, imagining the pencil tip curving around the edge of his hip. What it would feel like to watch Steve put that to paper.
There was a sharp intake of breath on the other side of the door.
Tony folded the sketchbook around so the image of him on the sheets, smiling, happy, sated, was on top and slid it carefully back under the door. “Steve, I’d love to get the chance to look at you like that. If you want.”
There was another small thump, then Tony heard the door lock click open. He scrambled to his feet, grabbed the handle and flung it open. But Steve must have been able to reach the lock from the floor, because he was still sitting with his back against the door, and when it opened, he fell backwards with a startled look and ended up sprawled on the carpet, staring up at Tony, wide-eyed.
“Oh shit, are you okay?” Tony asked, crouching down by Steve’s head.
Steve frowned. “My head hurts,” he said, then rolled his eyes at himself. Tony was sure he’d tried desperately to say, “Fine,” instead.
“Oops, sorry. Guess I was too eager to see you.”
Steve raised an eyebrow, then brought a hand to the back of his head and rubbed it, his expression twisting for a moment. He stayed on the carpet, though. “I’m afraid to say anything,” he admitted, letting his arms fall to his sides with a sigh. He looked utterly defeated, but there was tension, anticipation, wound through his body. He wouldn’t meet Tony’s eyes.
“I get it,” Tony said softly. He reached out and brushed the hair out of Steve’s eyes. Steve blinked heavily, a gentle smile drifting across his face. “Can I - I’d just like to ask you one question. If that’s okay.”
Steve nodded slowly. The tension ratcheted up.
“Would it make you happy - would you like it - if I kissed you right now? Cause I’d very much like to.”
The tension evaporated. Steve broke into a brilliant smile. “Yes.”
There was no hesitation on Tony’s part, because he knew without a doubt that Steve was telling the truth. And it was the first truth of the day that hadn’t looked like it needed to be wrenched out of him by force. Tony bent over and pressed his lips to Steve’s, right there on the hallway carpet. Steve’s hands came up and wrapped around either side of Tony’s face, soft fingers stroking through his hair. Tony hummed with pleasure. It was weird and silly to be kissing Steve upside down, but it was also making Tony’s heart feel too big for his chest, and something warm and glowing had settled into his stomach, as if the arc reactor had dropped down and was happily sizzling and popping in Tony’s tummy.
When Tony pulled away, Steve rolled up to his feet, then hauled Tony in again, bringing him into another searing kiss. A thumping bass rocked the floor beneath them, and Steve pulled back to raise a questioning eyebrow at Tony, but he just shook his head and urged Steve back in to kiss him again. It was everything Tony had imagined, hoped, it would be, and more. Steve was solid, unyielding warmth against Tony’s chest. His arms held Tony tightly, wrapped around his waist, one hand spread over his lower back. Steve deepened the kiss, drawing Tony impossibly closer, and Tony realized he was the one making the little noises of pleasure leaking out between them.
They were interrupted again, this time by Tony’s pocket vibrating insistently. He broke the kiss to read the message, keeping one arm locked firmly around Steve’s neck.
“Clint says they got a hold of Strange, and he says it’ll be another hour or two but then it’ll wear off on its own.”
“Thank god.” Steve sagged with relief, burying his face in Tony’s neck.
“Do you wa-” Tony cut off the question yet again. “Uh - I could leave you be until it’s over. Or we could hide up here and cuddle, and I’ll promise not to ask you any questions. Or at least to try very, very hard.”
Steve ran his thumb along the bottom of Tony’s jaw, then cupped his cheek gently. “Second one, please. I trust you.” Tony was flooded with happy warmth again.
“You know, you still have the right to ask me some embarrassing personal questions. How about - you get two for every one time I slipped up and asked you something. Make ‘em good, I’ve got a lot of really humiliating stories.”
Steve pulled Tony backwards into his apartment, not lessening the hold around his waist. “There’s really only one I want to ask.”
Tony brushed his lips over Steve’s chin, one hand exploring the edge of Steve’s waistband. “Ask away.”
“Do you really have it bad for me?” Steve shuffled, nervous now, his fingers clenching and releasing handfuls of Tony’s shirt.
Tony took a breath. “If I’m honest, I’m already completely in love with you,” he said, slowly, carefully, testing the new words out. He found he liked the way they sounded.
Steve smiled, bright enough to light the room. He bent down and pressed a soft kiss to the end of Tony’s nose. “I’m in love with you too,” he whispered. “And I’m always honest.”