The whole thing started on the most ordinary, uneventful day imaginable. Steve would laugh, later, about just how normal it was, especially since days like that were increasing rare for him. Really for all of them, since SHIELD fell. Missions took up more and more time now. Attacks and catastrophes came without warning, keeping all of them on guard and ready to head out at a moment’s notice. There was a vacuum left in the organization’s wake, and the Avengers were scrambling to fill it.
Which was the main reason he’d finally given in and moved into the tower, and how he’d ended up at a tiny coffee shop a couple weeks later, on one of the very rare moments that he had nothing else to do. He had wanted to keep up his search for Bucky, certain that he’d seen some sparks of recognition in him, but there was only so long he could stubbornly refuse to shift his priorities before he was forced to admit he was needed elsewhere. It wasn’t like he’d been getting anywhere, and he definitely wasn’t going to abandon it just because he moved. He knew that Bucky was out there somewhere, he figured he’d probably just have to wait until he showed up somewhere traceable. In any case, Stark had been very generous, offering his help and resources finding the lost, broken man, though Steve suspected it was just a bribe to get him to move in. For all his brushing off and casual dismissal, Stark seemed eager to have everyone in the one place.
Sighing, he took one last sip of his coffee and left, still a little stunned at just how much the city had changed from the one he’d grown up in. He’d realized that it would be much different from the moment he’d woken up. With all the new technology and colorful billboards it was hard to miss. But back then it had just been a painful reminder of everything he’d lost. It had been hard for sure, but he wasn’t wallowing anymore. He’d accepted his situation and started finding things to appreciate. It was still a little surreal at times, and he still felt lost, but he was much better now that he’d gained friendship and acceptance with the rest of his team. He could now see the changes as a good thing. Hell, there were even more new things now, just seeming to have popped up since he’d last been here. Even the coffee shop itself was new…
And so was that store, actually.
Steve froze in place, staring at the colorful “grand opening sale” sign in the window and the rainbow of pens, pencils, paint and paintbrushes gathered around it. Art supplies. He’d just been thinking about this the day before. He’d finally gotten a moment to unpack some of his things and had found his sketchbook. His painfully empty sketchbook, which made him realize just how long it had been since he’d actually sat down and drawn anything. Sure, he still doodled on occasion. Often he’d done it on particularly boring SHIELD paperwork, something he’d been told off for on more than one occasion. But ever since that first big battle knocked him most of the way out of his low state, he’d been keeping himself busy, trying not to fall back into his wallowing by just not thinking too hard about it. He hadn’t given himself time to do much except work, really. So he’d promised himself he would stop that, start drawing again, and then a couple minutes later proceeded to knock over his coffee and spill it all over the paper.
He hesitated a moment, then went inside. He could use a replacement sketchbook, even if he could salvage any of the pages it wouldn’t be many, and he should probably replenish the rest of his supplies too, just in case. He’d just go in, grab a few basics, maybe take a look around…
However, he slightly underestimated the temptation an entire store would be. Especially when nearly everything was on sale. And he realized he could easily afford anything there. Between backpay, largely unused SHIELD pay, and the fact that Stark was paying for most of the teams expenses now, he had quite a large amount of money he could splurge with. He tried not to feel guilty about it. It had been ages since he’d been so enthusiastic about something, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to encourage that. And he could probably use the stress relief. Hell, it had been one of the only things that had kept him sane during the worst parts of the war and during every part of that idiotic USO show. Still, a 300 dollar trip to the art store, for things that would definitely fall under the category of non-essentials, made him slightly queasy. He couldn’t even do more than smile weakly at the probably uncaring cashier as he dumped armfuls of assorted supplies at the register, avoiding eye contact in embarrassment as he was rung up.
Which was probably the only reason he saw the ad next to the register. It was just a small card, featuring bright colors and a photo of a posing woman who, judging by her hat, was meant to resemble the mad hatter, but reminded Steve strongly of the old pin-ups he’d seen. Or maybe the skimpier Halloween costumes he saw these days. It was for some sort of life-drawing session in a nearby bar, apparently with an Alice in Wonderland theme for the next one. Well, that seemed interesting, and it called itself “alternative”, whatever that meant. Maybe he should go. It would get him drawing again, for one thing, and maybe even get him socializing. He did need to get more involved in this time period. He’d stopped feeling like a total outsider, learned to appreciate things, but he hadn’t really involved himself. He could manage to take a few hours once a month for that, couldn’t he?
He hesitated for a long moment, considering, before finally fishing out his phone and writing down the info. He thanked the cashier quickly, shooting her a brief smile, and left with his arms loaded down with bags, dashing back to the tower.
Steve didn’t actually get a chance to go to that session, unfortunately caught up in a last minute mission. He didn’t get to go to the one after that, either because of a, go figure, giant robot attack. Who came up with these things, Steve couldn’t begin to guess. He also didn’t make the one after that because he’d lost track of time talking to Tony, which probably wouldn’t be considered a good reason by most people. He finally managed to get the chance to actually go to a session after three months, just barely finishing a meeting in time to make it. He didn’t know the particular theme of this one, or if it even had a theme, but the first one had seemed innocent enough and he’d just asked JARVIS to confirm the date and time as he scrambled to gather his supplies. Honestly, he was pretty excited for it. Rushing out of his room and down the stairs, he slowed his pace when he heard a voice.
“Yeah, I know new iPhone’s kicking our ass, but trust me, I’m on it. I’ll have something that’ll blow them out of the water if you just-”
Steve stopped in his tracks, heart stuttering his chest when he heard that it was Tony’s voice coming from the living room, apparently taking some kind of business call. He hadn’t expected to see him, he’d been busy in his workshop for ages. Steve’s attention was drawn to him before he could stop himself, staring at him as he sat on the couch. It wasn’t the first time, either. He couldn’t seem to help it, the man was ridiculously attractive.
“This wouldn’t be such a problem if the R&D department didn’t need me to hold their hand all the time…”
In more than one way, too. He’d gotten to know the man so much better since he’d moved into the tower. At first it had just been mandatory conversations about the team. Just general meetings between co-leaders. But at some point things had changed and they’d drifted into a real conversation. And Tony became Tony, and not just Stark. The conversations about the team got shorter and shorter, eclipsed more and more by Tony’s projects and Steve’s art. And complaining about Thor’s odd penchant for pop-tarts and how Tony never got any. And theories about where the hell Clint disappeared to all the time. And discussions about science that didn’t leave him feeling hopelessly lost, but didn’t make him feel like he was being talked down to either. Because Tony, with a little prompting whenever he drifted, was actually surprisingly good at that. Or about the movies and music and books and things Steve was catching up with and new things he should try. The more they interacted, the more Steve started really seeing him, not just the face he put on for the public. They were actually in a place that Steve thought he could consider them friends. Which was surprising, because he hadn’t ever pictured them in that place when they’d first met.
“I’m not being a perfectionist! …OK, maybe a little, but we have a reputation to maintain, I think-”
But the better he got to know the man, the more he saw that he liked, and the more his feelings for him grew, rocketing past friendship at a disturbingly fast pace. Of course, he’d gotten over whatever hangups he’d had about having a thing for a man ages ago. He hadn’t had nearly as many of them as people seemed to assume that he did in the first place. But he still hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell Tony. He probably should, but he didn’t want to screw up their friendship. Especially when there wasn’t a point anyway. He’d never seen Tony with a guy or heard him mention it, after all. And the man had Pepper already.
“I don’t need that much longer, though. A few days, a week tops. I’ve been working non-stop since…”
Tony cleared his throat, changing the subject quickly with whoever he was on the phone with, though Steve assumed it was Pepper, judging by the subject matter and the way he was speaking. He sent a glance Steve’s way in the process and waved him over with a tight, tense smile.
He edged over, frowning. Actually, now that he thought about it, everything about Tony was tense. The tone of his voice was terrible, strained in a way Steve rarely heard. He was sitting too stiffly, too straight, and as Steve got closer he was taken aback by his haggard appearance. He waited for a moment until Tony got off his phone.
“Yeah, I’ll be at the meeting, I won’t avoid it. See you tomorrow.” He hung up, then smiled at Steve again, still in that same tense way as before. “Hey Capsicle. Where you headed?”
Steve rolled his eyes. He knew Tony much better, and honestly felt like he was the best at reading the man, and he knew exactly what he was trying to do. This was the Tony that tried to brush things off and pretend it was all okay when it wasn’t. The Tony that broke his heart because he knew there was something wrong and he couldn’t just come out and say that he knew because that would be admitting that he paid way too much attention to the man. Sure, he’d been on an uninterrupted workshop binge for about a week, and Steve had only refrained from dragging him out because JARVIS had assured him that he was taking relatively good care of himself, but he knew work stress too and this was far worse than just work. “Talk, Stark. What’s up?”
Tony sighed and shook his head as he stood, stuffing his hands into his pockets to keep himself from fidgeting too badly. “Nothing. I was actually looking for you before the call interrupted me. Been working too much, need a break. Wanted to see if you, I don’t know, wanted to go for a drink or something…” Tony’s voice trailed off as he eyed Steve, frowning slightly like he was trying not to look disappointed. “But…you look busy. Where are you dashing off to with all that crap, anyway? Art supplies aren’t usually carried around on a jaunt outside.”
Steve laughed a bit at that. “If you’re sketching outside they are, but I’m actually headed to a little thing I found out about a few weeks ago. Life drawing session. It’s in a bar, though, so we could get that drink at the same time-” He stopped suddenly, forcing down the blush that was just dying to spread across his cheeks at his words. Dammit, he had not meant to say that. “I mean…if you want to come, that is. You don’t have to. I’ve missed three but I could skip it and go next time. We could do something else, that’s probably better anyway…”
Tony blinked, frowning at him and entirely ignoring his fumbling. “Really? You…actually want me to come?”
Steve’s heart sped up slightly. Tony didn’t seem opposed to the idea, even when he’d probably be bored out of his mind. “Yeah, I mean, like I said. Only if you want to,” Steve said with a faint, hopeful smile, swallowing hard. “It’s something to do, anyway, right? It’ll give you that break you were after.”
“You sure? I mean, I don’t want to intrude on your art…thing.”
“Absolutely. It’s not my art thing, anyway, it’s public.” He smiled a little wider, thrilled at the prospect of sharing this with the other man. “Come on. Let’s go.”
“I’ll drive,” Tony said quickly, making for the door. “It’ll be faster if we just go together. This’ll be interesting, I’ve never seen you draw before…”
“I’m nothing much, probably rusty, but I do my best,” Steve said as he followed, shrugging with a small chuckle. “I was planning on walking, though. It’s only a couple blocks away.”
“Why walk when you have a perfectly good Audi to drive?”
“Because we’re already going to be late?”
“All the more reason to take the car. Don’t know if you know this, Spangles, but cars go faster than people…”
Steve huffed, rolling his eyes. “New York. Traffic. Come on, let’s walk.”
“Oh come on, Cap…” Tony groaned pleadingly, sighing and relenting a few long moments later when he realized that Steve had a point. And that he was probably going to be stubborn about it. He made his unhappiness over the situation clear, though, grumbling all the way down to the street.
His moodiness passed quickly however, and the rest of the short walk to the bar was completely pleasant. They chatted amicably the whole way. Briefly about the team and how they needed new recruits soon, but they quickly drifted off into an aimless discussion about Tony’s projects and Steve’s catch-up list. He’d finally gotten a chance to see Star Wars, and apparently Tony was upset he hadn’t gotten to show him. Steve just laughed and promised he could show him Star Trek. It was easy, casual and friendly. Right up until Steve tried to ask him what was wrong again.
“It’s not really like you to stay in the workshop so long…” he said slowly after a long quiet moment, glancing over at Tony. “You usually surface on occasion…did something happen?”
Tony went completely still, stoping so suddenly Steve stumbled trying to stay beside him, and his eyes stared down at the pavement as if he’d suddenly realized the concrete held the secrets of the universe. Then he cleared his throat and, just as suddenly, started walking again. “I’m fine. Really. You don’t need to worry about me, Cap. I’m just busy.”
“You don’t look fine,” Steve replied, frowning more at Tony’s clipped tone. Brushing things off again, as usual. “You look like hell-”
“I’m fine. Just tired. Overworked. Aren’t we all? Seriously, stop fussing.”
“Tony, I’ve seen you tired and overworked, and this looks worse. What’s wrong?”
The man’s step faltered again as he fell silent for another long moment. So long Steve was almost sure he wasn’t going to answer before he replied, resolutely not looking at Steve as he spoke.
“It’s…I’m fine. It’s nothing. I’ll get over it eventually. I’m just…having a moment. Pepper and I broke up last week.”
Tony’s tone was casual, deceptively dismissive, but the news struck Steve straight to the core, like a punch to the gut he wasn’t expecting. It left him breathless and stunned, gaping at Tony like an idiot. They broke up? Really? But…that meant-
No. No, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t let himself think that way. He felt awful that was even his first reaction. Tony was clearly grieving even if he didn’t want to admit it. He needed support from his friend. He wasn’t going to swoop in and weird him out completely by flirting when he was just getting over a breakup, that would be awful. And probably pointless, considering how he’d never seen any indication Tony was into guys. And he did feel horrible for Tony, the man must be going through hell.
But he couldn’t help thinking that now he was available and maybe…maybe now there was hope. Just a little. At least more than there had been before. Maybe after Tony had some time to move past it, he could-
“So! We gonna do this art thing or what? Come on, you were the one complaining about how we’d be late…”
Steve jerked out of his thoughts when Tony spoke again, striding away down the sidewalk like nothing had happened.
“What? Oh, right. Right. This way,” he said, quickly setting off up the sidewalk again and pushing open the door to the bar. He was about to say something else to Tony as they walked in, something apologetic and comforting…but as soon as he stepped inside his thoughts seemed to screech to a sudden halt.
Steve really wasn’t sure what he expected from a place that touted itself as alternative life drawing, but it definitely wasn’t this. On a small stage at the back of the room, surrounded by artists, were a pair of models in costume. That was fine, he’d expected that part, but apparently the theme of the night was Avengers. Or, rather, him and Tony. One model, a man, was dressed in an extremely tight version of Steve’s uniform, somewhere between his old USO one and the one SHIELD had given to him for New York in style and so tight it looked like the seams were going to pop any second. It left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Then there was the other model, a woman with such perfect hair and makeup that she looked more like she was posing for a magazine than going into battle, dressed in a version of Tony’s armor that showed so much skin it couldn’t pass for realistic in any universe. And they were clinging to each other, too, a pose clearly inspired by what the team like to referred to as their “hug and fly” maneuver, but they were so close together the only way to tell where one ended and the other began was the difference between skin and fabric.
After a moment of shock, his mind started racing, a thousand thoughts running through it simultaneously. What if Tony thought he’d brought him here on purpose? What if he found out how Steve felt? What if he got pissed off? He closed his eyes for a moment, then glanced sideways at Tony, who was quickly recovering from whatever surprise he’d felt and…smirking. Oh, that little shit. He was actually amused?
“I’m…so sorry about this,” Steve blurted out anyway, just in case he wasn’t. “I just… I just asked JARVIS to confirm the date and time, I didn’t ask about the theme. Didn’t even know if all of them were themed or not, actually. We can go, if you want to do-”
“Nah, I’m good. I mean, sure, I was a bit ‘woah’ at first, but it doesn’t mean anything, right? Not like you’d pull anything like this on purpose, Captain Boy Scout.” Tony paused, then glanced over, grinning challengingly. “Unless you’re uncomfortable with it?”
Steve swallowed, but slowly smirked back. If Tony wasn’t bothered by it, he wasn’t going to be either. He could hide his crush for one night… “Not a chance. I’m an artist, I know how to look at things objectively. Just worried you would be.”
“Trust me, Cap, I know you don’t mean anything by it,” Tony said with a laugh as he made for the bar and ordering them drinks. Steve couldn’t help, for a moment, thinking about how nice his laugh was…
Probably not the best thing for him to do right now. It was going to be an extremely long night if he let himself drift like that… He shook his head with a sigh and quickly took a seat in the back, pulling out his stuff and trying to get to to work.
It was much harder to concentrate then he’d expected. He’d spent more time then usual setting up, debating over materials and trying to delay the inevitable before finally just going for his usual pencils. When he finally started, his first few sketches were much rougher than he’d have liked. He knew they would be, he knew he was out of practice, but he also couldn’t get himself to start thinking about the models objectively like always. His mind kept wandering into highly inappropriate territory, especially whenever he looked at the model dressed as Tony.
He shook his head with a frustrated grunt and flipped the page over to start on a fresh sheet. He was starting to really wish that he hadn’t asked Tony to come along. The last thing Tony needed was to find out that he had a thing for him, especially right after having broken it off with Pepper. He needed support and condolences and hugs, not suggestively posed models dressed as scantily clad versions of themselves. “Dammit…”
“What’s wrong, Capsicle? Stumped already?” Tony asked from beside him, sipping what looked like a Scotch.
“No. No, that’s not-” he started, shaking his head, “Honestly? I’m really embarrassed that you saw this. I mean, for me its one thing, but you just got out of a relationship. You don’t need to see people that obviously think we’re…you know….”
“One way of putting it, yeah,” he mumbled, desperately trying to focus on his sketch and not think about anything else.
Unfortunately the poses had changed again, the Iron Man substitute now sitting in her Captain’s lap, arms wrapped around his neck and her head tilted to one side, giving him very nice access to kiss the side of her throat. Steve shifted uncomfortably, trying not to show how much he was thinking about the scene unfolding in front of him. He had to stop, find something else to focus on, but everything he tried stopped working the second he looked at the woman portraying Tony. She was very pretty. Gorgeous, really. Dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin. She reminded him a lot of Peggy, actually, and didn’t that just get him thinking of how much Tony reminded him of her. The dark hair, the dark eyes, the lips that just begged to be kissed until they were swollen from the contact. And it wasn’t just the physical, but the attitude, the smarts, the way they carried themselves. That sort of defiant confidence, as if daring the world to tell them different. He inwardly groaned at himself. Great job Rogers, you have a type…
Tony moved beside him, catching his attention. He watched, curious and confused, as the man walked over and grabbed a spare sketchbook from the woman running the event then came back and made himself comfortable, promptly reaching over to snatch one of Steve’s pencils out of the box. “Stealing this.”
Steve hesitated for a long moment, staring, but then decided not to question it. He had been too focused on trying to get his thoughts under control to actually talk to Tony, the man was probably bored out of his mind… “Okay fine, but if you break it you’re getting a bill.”
Tony said nothing, but the ghost of one of his genuine smiles on his face told Steve that he was getting at least a little further in the ‘quest to make Tony feel better’ that he seemed to have inadvertently started.
Neither one said anything else for awhile, simply sitting and sketching their respective drawings, or in Tony’s case doodles, in silence. Steve was finally able to get his thoughts relatively under control, focusing more on his drawing then whatever the models were currently implying, though he couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. He’d suggested Tony come with him, and here he was ignoring the guy, not saying a word. Then again, focusing seemed to be the only thing keeping his mind from wandering into dangerous territory.
“I’m going for another,” Tony said some time later, tapping his empty glass with the end of his pencil. “You want anything?”
“Hm? Oh, yeah, sure…” Steve replied distractedly, too absorbed with his drawing now to really pay attention. He almost had it, and they only had a bit longer for this pose so he actually had a chance of finishing it.
“Any preferences, or should I just get whatever?”
Tony got up and wandered over to the bar, Steve only really registering his absence when they called for another break. Which meant he was left with absolutely nothing to keep his mind from wandering, which it promptly started to do. Right up until he spotted Tony’s closed sketchbook on the table beside him. That would be a distraction. Would Tony mind? He probably shouldn’t look without asking, but what the hell. Slowly, he set down his pencil and made sure Tony was definitely in line for the bar before he snatched it and peeked inside. He needed something. Even if Tony minded he’d forgive him, right?
The second his eyes fell on the paper, though, they widened in surprise. These definitely weren’t just doodles. There were a few aborted attempts at actually drawing the models in one corner… Well, mostly the female model, Tony seemed to have abandoned them all without really trying to do the man for some reason. They were decent enough, if clearly done by someone unused to drawing people, but the thing that drew his attention, that had him staring wide-eyed at the page, was the large armor design Tony had apparently decided to spend his time on instead.
It was incredible. Absolutely stunning. Delicate lines sprawling over the page, clean and precise, measurements and notes neatly printed beside them. It looked so much like every other armor that it took Steve awhile before he realized it was based on the woman’s costume. Somehow the genius had transformed the impractical, skimpy thing into a design that looked completely, amazingly real. “Oh my god…”
“You know, I’m not an artist, but I’m pretty sure it’s rude to open someone else’s closed sketchbook…”
Tony’s sudden reappearance made Steve jump, twisting in his chair to look at the man and apologize profusely. Except Tony had an amused little smile on his face, clearly not too bothered. Steve smiled sheepishly instead.
“Right, sorry. I was just curious…and…yeah. Sorry,” he stumbled, handing the book over and turning back to his own drawing. “I… didn’t even know that you could draw like that.”
“It’s not what you do, but yeah,” Tony said, looking slightly perplexed as he sat back down and handed Steve a beer. “Why would you think I couldn’t? I’ve got to design things somehow…”
“Well, I’ve never seen you use anything but the stuff in your workshop…”
“Well yeah, now,” Tony snorted, shaking his head, “But that’s mostly because I have it set up exactly how I like it. I don’t have to mess with it to get it to do what I want or anything. But I didn’t always have all that stuff, had to invent a lot of it myself… It’s not like I had that when I designed the first suit, either. Just paper and pencil.”
“Right. Cave…” Steve replied with a wince, a pang of guilt in his gut. “Sorry, didn’t think. I didn’t mean to suggest that you’re incompetent or anything…”
"Don’t worry about it,” Tony replied, waving his hand dismissively before turning back to his paper, starting to scribbling equations in an unoccupied corner. “Can’t expect you to magically know things I don’t talk about, can I? Hell, we’ve only been friends a couple months, neither one of us probably knows all that much that’s not in our files…”
Well, that wasn’t really true for Steve, but he couldn’t say so. That would mean admitting how much attention he paid to Tony, and that was not a road he wanted to try going down yet.
“I really hope I can get to know you a lot better, then,” he replied instead, flashing him a brief smile before hunkering down to work on his sketch again as the models came back onstage.
Though, now that they’d started talking, he kind of wanted to say something, anything else to keep it up. He couldn’t keep leaving Tony in complete silence, he was an awful friend for doing it this much. “I’m really sorry about you and Pepper,” he finally said after a few moments, just saying the first thing that came to mind. “You always seemed really good together…”
The scratch of Tony’s pencil stopped suddenly, and Steve cringed internally as he glanced over. God, why had he said that when Tony obviously didn’t want to talk about it? He was just doing everything wrong tonight. But the other man, after a long pause, just shook his head. “I should have seen it coming. She was always way too good for me.”
“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” he said softly, eyeing the man for a moment before plunging ahead. “What happened, anyway? Things seemed to be okay…”
Tony sighed, closing his eyes for a moment with a halfhearted smile that looked more like a grimace. “They were. Well, as much as they ever were. But with SHIELD gone…she’s always worried about me with the whole superhero gig, we fought about it all the time. ‘You’re just a normal man’ and 'You’re being reckless and not acknowledging the effect you have on the people who care about you’ kind of thing. But we made it work, you know? Except then SHIELD fell and I’ve had to go out more than ever…”
“She couldn’t handle it?”
“Not on top of everything else, I guess,” Tony answered, voice soft, as he stared resolutely down at the page and started idly scribbling again. “I was probably asking too much of her, honestly. And then one night I came home from a mission to her bags packed and sitting by the door.” He paused, then shrugged a little, still not looking up. “I don’t know, maybe a relationship just isn’t in the cards for me. I’ve never been super successful at keeping them to begin with, and if she couldn’t handle me doing this I doubt I’ll find anyone who will…”
He looked so sad, so resigned, that it broke Steve’s heart a little. Tony, as difficult as he was to deal with sometimes, deserved to be happy.
“You will,” Steve said firmly, forcing a smile. “You’re Tony Stark, you practically have to beat women off with a baseball bat. Eventually some girl will come along who can handle you and make you as happy as you deserve. Trust me.”
Tony finally looked up, staring at him for a moment before slowly breaking into a small, clearly touched smile. He looked oddly hesitant, too, but Steve just ignored it for the moment, giving him a slightly bigger and more genuine smile before picking up his beer and turning back to his drawing.
“It doesn’t have to be a girl. Could be a guy.”
Steve nearly choked on his drink at that, coughing and sputtering at the words that had just come out of Tony’s mouth. When he looked over, though, the other man was glaring, tensely crossing his arms and…oh. This didn’t look good, did it?
“You have a problem with what I said, Rogers? I know you’re supposed to be Mr. Apple Pie and Traditional Values, but-”
“What? No! Of course not!” he exclaimed the second he stopped coughing, shaking his head wildly. “I was just surprised, I didn’t- Wait, is that really how people see me?”
“A lot of the stories paint you that way, yeah,” Tony said, relaxing a little but still eyeing Steve suspiciously. “I never really bought it with the stories I got, but-”
“I was just surprised,” Steve cut him off quickly, shaking his head again. “That’s all, I swear. I’ve just…never seen you with a guy before. Or heard about it.”
“It’s okay, Cap. Calm down,” Tony chuckled, the defensive irritation almost visibly melting off of him. “I get that. I don’t get seen with guys all that often. Or ever, really. Preferences, availability, even worse luck with men then with women. I always seem to go for the completely unattainable ones…”
“Why not say something before, though?”
“Always thought dealing with the media circus over it would be kind of pointless when I was only dating women anyway. So I just don’t talk about it. Not unless…” He paused, then cleared his throat. “Not unless it’s with someone I really trust.”
Steve broke into a huge, hopeful smile at that, his heart giving a pleased little flutter at Tony’s words. Tony trusted him. Trusted him enough, regarded him highly enough, that he would freely talk about this. Maybe they really could have something. At least there was a better chance than before.
The night went by much easier after that. They fell back into working in silence several times, but it felt comfortable now, frequently broken by Tony’s quips and easy chats during breaks. Though Steve did find his mind wandering again, now to the all the implications of what he’d found out. Tony was interested in guys? He was so conflicted about what to do about it now that he knew. He wanted to tell Tony that he was interested, to see where that could lead, but now wasn’t the time. Unfortunately, he didn’t know when he should mention it, or even if he should. Just because Tony liked men didn’t mean he liked Steve. He could still screw up their friendship, and that was the last thing he wanted.
It didn’t help that he was getting more and more certain that the suggestive poses were because people had picked up on his crush. There had been a contest about halfway through, challenging the artists to make comics out of a series of short poses, and Steve had had to fight to keep himself from visibly reacting to the things people had come up with. They had to have picked up on it, and if they had then Tony certainly had, and he hadn’t even dropped hints he was interested. Unless discussing his sexuality had been his way of dropping a hint?
By the time they got to the last pose of the night, Steve was too caught up in trying to decide what to do to pay much attention to what he was doing, drawing without thinking. The only thing that shook him out of it was hearing someone shout “post battle sex” when asked for pose ideas. And the wave of embarrassment, among other things, when the models went for it. But even though the two posed like they were on the verge of ripping each other’s clothes off and having extremely aggressive sex, he quickly slipped back into thinking more about Tony and what to do than the paper in front of him.
Which is why it didn’t really register that he, on a whim he didn’t realize he had, started changing the drawing. His hand flew over the page, his eyes flicking back and forth between the models and the sketchbook, as he shifted the pose to something a little softer, less aggressive. Then changed the expressions to match. Then changed the costumes, the proportions, until he wasn’t drawing the models at all anymore…
“Oh hey, another contest,” Tony said idly after the woman running things announced they were down to the last minute of the pose.
“Contest. Models’ choice, winner gets a gift card or something, didn’t quite catch what she said.”
Steve nodded absently. “That’s cool. Maybe you’ll win…” he teased.
“Please, I’m not turning my crappy stuff in,” Tony snorted. “Bet you’d win if you did it…”
"Maybe…” Steve said slowly, adding just a bit more shading before he actually looked at what he’d done.
Those were not the models. He dimly remembered deciding to change them, but he had no clue why he’d thought drawing himself and Tony in their place was a good idea. He’d even put Tony in the old, oil-stained, too tight jeans he often wore while working instead of the suit. The ones that made his ass look fantastic. And he was shirtless, with completely accurate scars and everything. God it was an incredibly sexy image, but there was no doubt who it was, even though his face was only roughly sketched in (he had so many of Tony’s faces memorized, but none of them seemed to match the adoring smile he’d given himself… And wasn’t that revealing all on its own). And there was no doubt that it was drawn by someone who watched the man more than was probably healthy…
He instantly resolved that he was never showing that drawing to anyone. Ever. Especially Tony. There was just no way he could excuse this, not when the man had seen the decidedly more aggressive way the models had been posed. After all, just because Tony was into men didn’t mean he was into Steve, and even if Tony was interested this would probably come off as creepy.
Steve’s hands shook slightly as he snapped his sketchbook shut, right as the models stood and the rest of the artists surged forward to thank them and enter the final contest. Steve just quickly started gathering his art supplies. The faster he could get home and hide this thing, the better.
Tony’s voice jerked him out of his thoughts, his head snapping around to look at him. “Huh? What?”
“They’re asking for the drawings. You should go up, you haven’t done any of the contests-”
“Nope. Not happening. Not in a million years,” he blurted out just a little too loudly, his cheeks going red as he shoved his pencil box into his bag.
“Oh come on! If you’re worried your too rusty, don’t be, your stuff’s at least as good as anybody else’s here,” Tony insisted, making a grab for the sketchbook, which Steve quickly snatched up and clutched to his chest.
“No! Come on, Tony, drop it!”
Tony continued to protest, making a few more grabs, before finally backing off with a scowl. “Alright, alright, fine,” he grumbled, turning away to go return the sketchbook he’d borrowed. It was convincing, exactly like all the other times Tony had grudgingly given up, and Steve relaxed a little, setting the sketchbook down.
Which was apparently exactly what Tony was waiting for, spinning around while his guard was down and snatching the sketchbook from the table, flipping it open before Steve could stop him.
He gasped and made a grab for the book, but froze when he saw Tony’s wide, shocked eyes. He’d seen it. Oh God, he’d seen it, and he was staring, not saying anything. Steve’s heart was pounding. Tony was too quiet for too long, their friendship was definitely ruined now, but he didn’t know what to say or do. So he just stood there and gaped liked an idiot.
“Tony, I’m sorry,” He finally blurted out, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think…I mean…I didn’t mean to. I mean I did but I didn’t realize what I was doing, I wasn’t paying attention and- God, please don’t be freaked out. I can handle it, I swear…”
“You know… I’d be a pretty massive, hypocritical dick if I got mad at you for this,” Tony said slowly, “Seeing as I’ve been imagining you in that tight uniform all night. Well…in and out of it, actually. I may have imagined the seams popping.”
Steve just stared at him for several moments. Did he just say…?
“You… Did?” he said slowly when he’d finally managed to get his brain working again, though he was still gaping. “Because I…I was kind of thinking about you in that armor. Or, you know, a male version. But still with all the…skin…”
“That…probably wouldn’t be appropriate for battle. Or generally going out in public.”
“I didn’t mean for fighting,” Steve laughed, gently swatting Tony’s shoulder as he rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I mean…you know…in private.”
“Didn’t peg you as the sort to proposition a guy on a first date,” Tony laughed back, the sound fading away quickly as he looked back down to the page he held, fiddling with a corner. “Did you…want to? Go out?”
“Like…on a date?” Steve asked, his breath hitching. This was too good to be true. It had to be a dream or something, it couldn’t be real. Tony couldn’t really be asking him on a date. He’d just broken up with Pepper, for God’s sake! Even if he was interested Steve couldn’t imagine he was ready for someone new… And yet, here they were, and the question had been asked, and he was just standing there like an idiot.
“Yes, Capsicle. On a date,” Tony replied, carefully closing the sketchbook like it was something precious and handing it over. “A real date. Two people going out together to have fun. The drawing’s amazing, by the way. I should probably mention that.”
Steve swallowed hard. It seemed like every fiber of his being was screaming to say yes, like the words were burning his tongue, but… “What about Pepper? You’re just getting over a breakup…”
Tony winced, just barely enough to notice, but Steve catches the motion and is glad he asked. Even if it means nothing ends up happening between them. “Yeah, I know, but…it’s over. I can just get over it. I should just get over it. I don’t want to miss out on this because I’m still torn up over-”
“You won’t,” Steve said, impulsively leaning over and pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek, Tony’s voice promptly dying in his throat and his eyes going almost comically wide. “Promise. I’d love to go out with you whenever you’re ready for it. Well, and we actually have time again…”
Tony stared at him for a long time before, very slowly, breaking into a huge, beaming, slightly stunned and disbelieving grin. Like someone had just granted his biggest wish and he couldn’t understand why, but he was enjoying it immensely. Steve was pretty sure it was the happiest he’d ever seen the man.
And then the team alert went off on both their cell phones.
“Speaking of which…” he muttered, still grinning even as he snapped out of it and fished his phone out of his pocket. “Duty calls. Shall we?”
“Yeah. Yeah, let’s get out of here…”
“How much do you want to bet it’s another giant robot attack?”
“Oh come on, another one?”
Later that night, when they’d gotten home and the rest of the team had collapsed in exhaustion, Steve pulled out the sketchbook and studied the drawing. Then slowly, careful not to smudge the rest, he took his pencil and sketched in Tony’s face, giving him that beautifully bright smile from earlier. It matched his own smitten smile too perfectly not to. Besides, he was hoping that smile would be the start of something wonderful. He wanted to make sure he’d remember it forever.