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The Way You Look

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On a scrap of brown butcher paper: the outline of a woman, tall, blond, and fine-boned. The lines are shaky, but the column of her neck is right, the elegant curve of her hand where it rests against her collarbone.


Steve is nine years old, and has just succeeded in sketching the most beautiful lady (he’s too young yet to have picked up words like “dame” and “broad”) in the whole wide world.


Every boy’s first love should be his mother.




when I’m awfully low


On a picture postcard of the Hollywoodland sign: a cartoon of a dark-haired soldier in uniform, his cap slightly askew. He is looking on in slack-jawed envy as a bevy of beautiful chorus girls gathers admiringly around Captain America, a costumed strongman with a too-perfect smile. A neatly-lettered caption reads, “The last eligible man in New York takes his act on the road.”


Steve sends Bucky a postcard from every stop on his USO tour. He wants to write about the surreal pageant that is his life now, but he can’t seem to put words to paper, so instead he just sends wiseass doodles. He never actually works up the nerve to ask out any of the chorus girls.


Bucky doesn’t write back. It’s okay, though; Steve doesn’t have a fixed address. Besides, he’s got to be busy. It’s not exactly playtime over there.




when the world is cold


On the inside of a manilla folder: an inventor, standing in front of a complicated-looking machine, arms folded across his chest, shoulders like pickets in his crisp tailored shirt. Bold, confident strokes, all sharpness and angle and rakish grin, nothing to even suggest the most vulnerable parts of him.


Decades later, in the margin of a mission briefing note: another inventor, standing the exact same way.


(It has not escaped Steve’s notice that he is the only one of the Avengers who receives all his paperwork on actual paper.)


Tony catches him staring and says, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”


“That joke was old when I was a kid,” Steve retorts.


Improbably, they smile at each other.




I will feel a glow


On the notepad he keeps on the kitchen counter: a dancer in graceful arabesque, wielding a large hunting knife.


It turns out Natasha keeps a bottle of vodka in the back of the freezer. Everyone’s freezer. Steve wouldn’t have believed it was in there if he hadn’t seen her pull it out with her own terrifyingly competent hands.


The bottle is scaly with frost, which means it’s been there for a while.


Steve has never invited Natasha into his kitchen before.


“Vodka is very useful,” she tells him matter-of-factly, splashing the clear liquid onto a paper towel. “Even if you don’t drink it.” She blots the streaks of dried blood on the front of his body armour. The star comes up cleaner than he’s ever seen it, a sheen of silver against the blue.


“That’s a neat trick,” he muses. He winces a little as she uses a clean part of the towel to dab at the corner of his bruised mouth.


“It’s how they clean the costumes in the Russian ballet.”


“You were a dancer,” he says, remembering something he read in her file.


“No.” Her lips quirk in a small smile. “But I should have been.”


Every time Steve thinks he knows something about Natasha, it turns out he’s wrong.




(just thinking of you)


In an army-issue notebook: the rough, smudged outline of a woman in uniform, perched on a desk with her legs demurely crossed at the ankle. She has a cloud of dark hair, and long, clever fingers. Her face has been erased several times over.


“You moved again.”


“I didn’t.”


“You did.”


“Ridiculous. I did no such thing.”


“Peggy!” he exclaims, desperately.


She leans forward and peers down at the lines on the page. “Oh, dear,” she says. “That won’t do. You’ve drawn me without a face.”


“I know, it’s hopeless.”


“My face?” she asks dryly.




She laughs—it’s rare, and fleeting. “I’ll have to schedule another sitting.”


Steve wishes he were fast enough to capture the dimples that bracket her smile.


“How about a picture to work from?” he suggests, before his shyness can get the better of him. The fact that he had the nerve to offer to draw her in the first place is nothing short of remarkable.


Peggy reaches across her desk, picks up a sealed envelope, and slits it neatly with her fingernail. “I was going to send this to my sister.” She unfolds a recent Daily Telegraph article about women in the service, flattening it on her blotter to smooth out the tidy creases.


“You don’t have to…”


“It’s fine.” She waves away his objection; her fingertips are smudged with newsprint, fine ridges and whorls appearing as if by magic. “There must be another copy about.”


Steve doesn’t know how to explain that the photo won’t be helpful; her expression, rendered in stark black and white, is far too serious, bordering on forbidding. It isn’t Agent Carter he wants to draw.


Tucking the clipping securely into the pages of his notebook, he assures her, “I’ll give it back when I’m done, promise.”


“You might as well keep it,” she tells him. “I’m sure you can find some use for it.”


He does.