He returned sooner than she'd expected and she had to dry off her hands on the dishtowel to let him in. She expected him to just hand her the plate and thank her politely for supper, but he took the dishtowel from her with a smile and tossed it over his shoulder, waiting expectantly for her to go back into the apartment. She blinked, confused, and went ahead of him. They walked down the short hall in silence and he followed her to the sink, where she took his plate and washed it while he cleared the remnants of the meal from the table and brought them over, then promptly started drying the cleaned dishes and putting them away in their proper places. She watched him with growing amusement.
"What?" he finally asked.
"Just you. Captain America, in my kitchen, washing my dishes."
"Technically, I'm only drying them."
"I'm so disappointed."
"So why are you still here?" she asked.
He frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
"I don't suppose I've given you much reason to trust me," she said.
"You were doing your job." He smiled. "Actually, it's rather nice to know that someone was looking out for me that whole time, even when I didn't realize it."
"You didn't seem happy about it when I saw you next."
He looked away. "Sorry about that. I was having a bad day. I thought I'd just watched Fury die. I didn't know who to trust anymore and you had added fuel to that fire."
She froze. I thought…? She filed that away for later, not sure that he'd meant to reveal what he had.
"I tried to keep my distance," she said. "I didn't want to lie to you any more than absolutely necessary."
"Thank you," he said, then gave a soft laugh. "I thought I made you uncomfortable."
"No," she said with a smile, running the last wine glass under the water to rinse it. "Quite the opposite." She glanced at him as she handed him the glass and then she started wiping down the sink. "If circumstances had been different, we probably would have tried something like this long before now."
"Why do you seem so willing to trust me now, though?" she asked, setting down the sponge and rinsing off her hands. He put away the last of the dishes and let her take the dishtowel from him when she gestured for it. She dried her hands with it and turned to face him.
"Because you apologized at the first opportunity," he said quietly. "And because you didn't take advantage of me when you could have."
She nodded and ran the dishtowel over a small puddle on the counter.
He chuckled. "I really had no idea you were S.H.I.E.L.D. You're very good at what you do. Speaking of which, what are you doing now?"
"CIA," she said. "Mid-level field agent."
"Do you like it?"
"It's okay," she said, laying the dishtowel aside. "I just feel like a small cog at the moment, but at least there are plenty of opportunities to practice at the range. It helps."
He nodded and looked away.
"What do you do to relax?" she asked.
"Read. Sketch," he said, then frowned. "But not so much lately."
"Why not?" She smiled at the thought of him drawing in his free time. He'd never just been brawn in her mind, but it hadn't occurred to her that there was art in his soul.
"They used to be a welcome retreat," he said, "but I don't need to escape from people as much these days."
She chuckled. "No, I should think what you need is the reverse."
"Hence why I'm standing in your kitchen." He smiled, then glanced down at himself. "Oh, I hope you don't mind this," he said, plucking at his clothing. "Dressing up didn't feel…right."
She laughed and glanced down at herself. "Not at all. I can hardly complain, can I? Besides," she let her eyes take him in, "I find this look very appealing."
He grinned and crossed his arms, glancing at her briefly but then fixing his eyes on her face. "I agree."
She smiled and wanted to kiss him again. She took a step closer and rested her palms on his forearms. He looked at her for a moment and then dropped his arms and bent his head to meet her mouth with his own. Her hands ended up resting on his pecs. The muscles felt like something out of an exaggerated fantasy, almost cartoonish in their size and hardness. Feeling self-conscious, she quickly dropped her hands to his waist, but accidentally brushed against his nipples as she moved, and he stiffened and drew in his breath with a short gasp, although he kept his lips against hers.
"Sorry," she murmured, and their lips met briefly in apology and acceptance and then parted. "I didn't mean to do that." She drew back, although he continued to hold her, and she gestured lamely with her hands. "I'm not used to this shape."
He chuckled. "Your husband didn't look like he belonged on the cover of a bodice-ripper?"
She looked up at him, smiling and then briefly frowning in question.
He shrugged. "Natasha enjoys teasing me," he said. "Her words."
Sharon chuckled and then tilted her head, trying not to be distracted by the firmness and warmth of his waist, either. "I'm just curious…was there something between you two?"
"No," he said. "We're just friends."
She nodded. "I like her. People thought she was arrogant and cold, but she had good reason to be reserved."
"How well do you know her?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Not really well. I'm just basing my assertion on what came out about her in the leak. We talked shop a few times and laughed at each other's jokes in the cafeteria on occasion. There aren't a lot of women in computer science."
He nodded, then frowned. "How is it that I never ran into you?"
"I made it my business to know when you were in the Triskelion and where. You never had reason to enter my silo and I never entered yours without checking on your location first. We had a near miss once."
He frowned. "You kept tabs on me?"
"I had to," she said. "Part of the job."
"Can you still do it?" he asked.
"Not without your permission," she said. "The servers that tracked everyone were shut down."
He nodded and then a distinctly playful look came into his eyes. "This is officially the longest I've ever held a woman in my arms…a conscious one, that is."
She laughed. "You like it?"
"Very much," he said, and kissed her again. He was learning quickly. He matched her movements, experimented with some of his own, and was gentle throughout. She had to resist the urge to press herself against him. He's going to make a very good lover. She sighed contentedly and straightened. If we ever get that far.
When they parted, she smiled up at him and drew away. "Do you want to continue the conversation in there?" She gestured at her living room.
"Sure," he said. "Could I trouble you for a glass of water?"
"Of course," she said.
He settled on one end of the couch as she brought two glasses in and set them down on the coffee table. She sat on the other end of the couch, tucking her legs under herself, and picked up her glass. He had drained his glass and sat back, but now he looked a little awkward with his long legs stuck between the couch and the coffee table and she smiled.
"Go ahead and put your feet up if it'll be more comfortable," she said. "I don't mind."
He looked relieved and quickly did it, then slouched down a bit and rested his head on the back cushions, closing his eyes with a sigh, and clasped his hands on his stomach. He was beautiful, and it wasn't just skin-deep. Looking at him made her happy. She smiled and took a sip of her water.
"So," she said, enjoying the opportunity to let her eyes take him in. "What sort of arrangement are you looking for?"
He opened one eye and looked at her, then closed his eye again with a slight frown.
She waited patiently.
After a long moment, he opened his eyes, looking straight ahead, and said, "Well, there's the fantasy and there's the reality."
She smiled into her glass as she took another sip. "What's the fantasy?"
He eyed her with a lopsided grin. "It's not nearly as interesting as you're imagining, I'm sure."
"Try me," she said.
He shrugged. "The same thing as most men, I suppose. A wife, kids, a home, and a satisfying job. Except in my head it's still the '40s, so the kids are listening to the radio, not playing with an Xbox."
She laughed. "I think most men probably fantasize about living your life, actually."
He chuckled and shook his head.
"So," she said. "Aside from it not being the 1940s, why are those things only a fantasy?"
He frowned at her for a second and then looked away. He held up his hand and started ticking off his fingers.
"Well, let's see," he said, his tone dry and self-mocking; it hurt to hear. "I'm a stranger in this time and place, never quite sure how to be here; I don't have a job; and I could be called upon at any time by our government to fight and to give my life and I would go without hesitation. I can't provide a woman with stability and I would probably require her help just to navigate the necessities of everyday life." He held up his other hand and continued ticking. "And I haven't even mentioned whether I could safely—" his voice caught for a moment and he glanced at her, then looked quickly away again, "—engage in sexual intercourse. Maybe I'm too strong and I'd lose control and hurt her. Or maybe the virus that's in me would infect her, but without the full procedure I went through, it would kill her instead of strengthen her. And even if that went off without a hitch—which is a big 'if'—would I be able to father children? And if I did, would they be freaks? Or would they be healthy, but strong enough that in a normal mother, they would harm her while she carried them?" He shivered at this. "I should never have gone to see Breaking Dawn," he muttered.
She laughed. "Why did you?"
"It seemed very popular. I wanted to understand why."
She shook her head, still chuckling. "Wow, you are a hot mess."
He laughed, then covered his eyes with one hand and sighed.
"Why haven't you run away screaming yet?" he asked. "I would have."
"No, you wouldn't. And that's why."
He looked across at her, then frowned and looked away again.
"What?" she asked.
He drew in a deep breath and then exhaled.
"I feel like I've known you forever," he said quietly. "But that can't be right. That's not my head talking."
"What does your gut tell you?"
He scowled. "I don't know if I can trust my gut anymore."
"Still, what is it telling you?" she asked.
He looked at her for a long while. It should have begun to feel uncomfortable, but somehow it didn't. If this wasn't going to work, it was best to figure that out now, at the beginning, before either of them invested too much.
"To trust you," he said finally. "To let you in." He smiled. "To pursue you."
She smiled and took another sip of her water. "You're opening up a lot more than I had expected."
"Does it make you uncomfortable?"
"Not at all," she said. "I'm honored."
He looked at her with that frank gaze. "I figure that if I want someone to let me know them, I need to allow myself to be known first. I'm tired of hiding this part of myself and playing it safe." He drew his feet off the coffee table and sat up. "I waited too long to tell Peggy how I felt," he said quietly, "and by the time I did, it was too late." He looked down at his hands. "I'm ready to try erring in the other direction, I guess."
"If you're serious about this," she said, "there are things we can do to try to get answers to all your concerns. You don't have to go it alone, ruled by your fears."
He looked at her sharply, then turned his face away and nodded. When he looked at her again, there were the beginnings of a smile on his face.
"I'm serious about this," he said. "But it's new for me, too." He frowned and squinted off to the side for a moment. "I don't know if I'm making a big mistake. I barely know you. This conversation might end tonight. Or it might not." He sighed and dropped his head with a bitter laugh, then lifted it and looked at her. "How did you know when you were ready to marry Phil? What did it take?"
She looked down at the glass in her hands and smiled, blinking back a slight sting in her eyes. Setting the glass down on the coffee table and standing up, she went across to her bookcase and lifted a box down from the top shelf.
"What's this?" he asked, as she brought it over to the coffee table and opened it, sitting down again.
She shrugged. "Just a box of memories, nothing valuable," she said. "Things that remind me of friends and family and important moments." She rifled through the box for a moment before lifting an envelope out and handing it to him. He frowned, but took it.
"Go ahead," she said.
He carefully opened the envelope—it was a little stiff with age—and started to pull out the two sheets inside.
"When I was in high school," she said, and he looked up at her, "I thought I was in love. I got really serious with a guy, gave him everything he asked for, thinking it would make him happy and that would make me happy." She shifted back and pulled her legs up underneath her again. "He cheated on me with another girl." She smoothed a wrinkle on her pants. "What we had, it didn't mean anything to him, not like it did to me. I was crushed. I didn't trust myself to make wise judgements about men ever again." She sighed. "When Aunt Peggy found out, she wrote me this. I call it 'the List'." She smiled. "It's kind of made the rounds in our family. I'll be honest: it has ended some relationships."
She watched his face as he read the two pages. His eyes grew wet but he didn't cry; he just smiled and blinked and kept reading.
"This is great," he said quietly. He pressed his lips together, letting his eyes rove over the letter, clearly not reading it now but just looking at it. "This is her to a tee." He drew in a deep breath. "I never thought I'd see her handwriting again. Even now, she's still changing my life—"
He suddenly dropped his hand with the sheets of paper into his lap and squeezed his eyes shut, his face pulling into a rictus of pain. Sharon could tell he was fighting tears, so she stood up and walked down the hall. She went into the bathroom and picked up the box of tissues. When she came back out, she could see that he had folded in on himself and although his shoulders were shaking slightly, he was silent.
She took a chance and came up behind him. She set down the tissues on the back of the couch and rested her palm on his shoulder. His frame shook and she heard a wracking sob. He covered her hand with his own, grasping her fingers tightly for a moment. She crouched down and shifted and was soon holding him from behind, one arm angled over his chest and held there by him. His frame continued to shake, but only for a short while; he soon brought himself under control. She handed him a tissue with her free hand, then another. He nodded his thanks and took them.
When he was able to relax and sit back against her, having cleaned himself up, he drew in a deep breath.
"Sorry about that," he said.
"No, no," she murmured, and pressed a kiss to the fabric on his shoulder before drawing back. He released her arm.
"I'm sorry," she said, inviting him to give her his tissues. "I didn't stop and think about the effect that letter might have on you."
He shook his head and waved her off. "I'm grateful to have seen this. You have no idea." He smiled up at her with slightly reddened eyes as she came around him and picked up the empty glasses.
"More water?" she asked, gesturing with them.
"Here, let me help you," he said, starting to rise.
"No, I'm fine," she said. "Take a moment. I'll be right back."
He chuckled bitterly and looked away. "That bad, huh?"
"No," she said gently, bending down. She pressed a kiss to his forehead. "You're beautiful."
He squeezed his eyes shut. "You need to stop doing that," he muttered, opening his eyes and giving her a small smile as she straightened up. "You're going to reduce me to a blubbering wreck again."
"Blubber away," she said, moving towards the kitchen. "It's good for the soul."
He laughed, nodded, and looked back down at the sheets of paper still in his hands.
She threw out the used tissues and set aside the glasses and washed her hands, taking a moment for herself. This evening had become emotionally intense and she hadn't been prepared for it. She looked up as she dried off her hands. She didn't regret it, though. Even if they didn't work out, she was going to treasure this evening for the rest of her life. She smiled and blinked and swallowed and breathed and waited until she felt her own emotions receding, and then she filled the two glasses and carried them back into the living room.
"Thanks," he said, taking his from her outstretched hand. He took a swallow and then set it down, gesturing with the letter. "So you and Phil went through all these questions together?"
"Over time," she said. "I never showed him the letter while we were dating, but I made sure we covered all the topics. Then I asked him to marry me."
She shrugged as she set her glass down on the coffee table. "Why wait? As it turned out, he'd started planning how to propose on my birthday, which was going to be a few weeks later, so we were already on the same page by then. To be honest," she admitted as she settled back down on her end of the couch again, "I hadn't planned to propose. But there was this moment when I was sitting beside him after supper one night—we'd just finished watching Schindler's List, not a romantic movie—"
"No," Steve said.
"—and I looked at him and thought of how much better a man he was than so many of the people in that story, and how all the things I loved most about him were character traits, things that he'd still have in 30 years, no matter how his appearance changed. And then…" she looked down at her hands, bit her lip, and gave a soft laugh, "…then I heard God telling me to ask Phil to marry me."
She was reluctant to raise her eyes, afraid that she'd gone too far this time. Steve was going to think her crazy, claiming to have heard the voice of God. But when she finally looked up at him, he was just sitting across from her with a quiet smile on his face.
"Does that happen often?" he asked.
"God telling me to propose to people?" she said. "No. Don't worry. You're not in any imminent danger."
He laughed. "No…you hearing Him talk to you."
She tilted her head and looked down at her hands. "It feels like it happens often," she said, "but He mostly just says, 'Trust Me' a lot. Not the big life-changing stuff."
"Trusting Him can be life-changing," Steve said.
She met his eyes. "In a quiet, everyday way, I suppose," she agreed.
"I'd wondered what you meant when you said you have strong convictions," he said. "Many people have strong convictions, but don't seem willing—or able—to explain why." He gave a wry sort of nod. "Of course, I don't generally go around pressing people on it," he said with a smile. "It doesn't tend to end well."
Then his smile faded and he looked away.
"What?" she asked.
"Just remembering a conversation with Fury," he said. "When he was still Pierce's mouthpiece. He'd just shown me Project Insight for the first time. I found it deeply disturbing." Steve looked at her. "Why didn't you ever question it?"
She frowned and looked away. "I thought we were just launching the next-gen helicarriers. Not mobile assassination platforms. I'd never been down to the construction bays; I didn't have clearance or any need to, really. I was just in charge of the software that made sure they got into the air without a problem and stayed there. It's called compartmentalization."
Steve scowled. "That's what Fury said."
"It has its benefits," she said carefully. "Although, as we saw, it lends itself far too easily to abuse."
"That's the hardest thing to face," he said, frowning. "Our government has never been a bastion of righteousness, not really, but to have welcomed HYDRA agents and then nurtured their way of thinking to the point where we had become indistinguishable from a fascist regime? It was a betrayal of all our most cherished values! It made our sacrifices worthless!"
She pressed her lips together and frowned.
"I keep asking myself: how could it ever have been allowed to get this far?" he said. "What if I'd never been found in the ice and re-awakened? Would anyone have stood up and refused to let it go on?"
"People would have tried," she said quietly, and left the implication unsaid. He looked at her and nodded.
"You're not here by accident, Steve," she said quietly. "I firmly believe that."
The look in his eyes was haunted. He frowned and glanced away with a shake of his head.
"I'm just a kid from Brooklyn," he murmured. "Why me?"
"No one can answer that," she said. "But you know what I think? I think it's because you believe in something deeper than what most people are content to believe in. You know there's a greater battle being fought here, and it's not between governments or political ideologies or who has the biggest guns."
He looked at her for a long moment.
"It's a battle between Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, the Holy and the Sinful, Love versus Fear. It's a battle for the human soul," she said.
He chuckled. "And you called me 'dramatic'."
"Tell me it's not true," she said, raising her eyebrows.
He sighed and looked away.
"Something that has been even more of a struggle than figuring out who I am now is figuring out…" he made a frustrated gesture with his hands, "…what I can stand on." He looked at her. "Things that everyone used to take for granted…they don't anymore. I don't just feel out-of-date because I don't understand pop-culture references. I feel old because I value things that no one seems to care about any longer. And I don't know if I'm right or they are. Or if there's something in between that's the truth." He frowned and sighed. "Some things just feel right, deep in my bones, and other things feel wrong. When no one around me seems to share those convictions, I start wondering what the point of my having convictions even is. Why am I fighting to defend an ever-shrinking island?" He shifted on the couch, turning to face her and pulling one of his legs up underneath himself. "I can't stop believing in 'something deeper', as you put it, but sometimes I doubt whether my beliefs are right."
"Everyone goes through that," she said. "But the ones that care don't stop there." She looked at him for a long moment. "I take it this isn't your first crisis of faith. You tried to enlist five times."
He looked down with a smile.
"What you need is to know you're not alone," she said.
He looked at her. "Are you with me?"
"Of course," she said with a grin. "But you need more than me. Come to church with me."
He frowned. "I tried that already." He squinted off to the side. "It didn't work."
"What do you mean?"
He sighed. "When my mother died…church attendance lost something for me. She had been the one who was really passionate about it. Although my beliefs didn't change, I thought I'd find my faith outside the church." He looked back at Sharon. "I thought I'd find something more concrete to believe in if I could fight for what I knew was right. That worked…for a while." He ran his palms over his thighs, then angled his hands out in a frustrated gesture. "When things had settled down after New York and S.H.I.E.L.D. had given me a place to be, I made a stab at finding a spiritual home." He gave a bitter laugh. "S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly couldn't provide it."
She snorted. "No."
"I went to the Basilica and St. Patrick's," he said. "A lot felt familiar, but the mass was in English, which just felt...off. The priest spent the whole time facing us. The music was different. And I felt overdressed." He frowned. "So I visited a few Protestant churches in the D.C. area. I'd never really bought into the whole idea that stepping into one would send me directly to hell. Some of the best men I served with were Protestants. In fact, one was an atheist. I went more out of curiosity than out of a genuine desire to join, though." He looked at her. "The people were friendly enough. But if the church wasn't sparsely filled with only older folks, it was filled with lights and loud music and giant screens and it felt more like a show than a service." He shrugged. "I tried a few places where the population wasn't mostly white people, places that had a younger population and still seemed to preserve something more reverential in their order of service, but…" he shook his head. "I just didn't fit there, either. I even visited a Buddhist temple." He smiled. "That was interesting, but not for me."
She nodded and looked down at her hands.
"So are you going to tell me that your church is a perfect fit for me?" he asked drily.
She looked up at him. "No, of course not. Some days, it's not even a perfect fit for me." She grinned. "A far wiser person once said that there's no perfect church. And if there was, it would cease to be perfect the moment I walked into it."
"What are you looking for?" she asked.
He frowned slightly. "I'm not sure. Maybe something that reminds me of my childhood?" He sighed. "It's impossible, I know. That's why I hold on to a few simple habits, like praying over my meals."
"It might not be impossible," she said. "What was your childhood like?"
"A lot of hard work," he said. "I remember being tired most of the time. We didn't have much."
"The Great Depression."
He nodded. "It wasn't so hard at the beginning, but when my father died, I had to help my mother make ends meet. Then when she died…" He frowned and looked down. Sharon waited. "I only had Bucky," he finished quietly.
Steve looked up again after a long moment, giving her a thin smile. "Maybe trying to relive my childhood isn't such a great idea."
She nodded and looked down, not sure what to say. There was something about what he had said that reminded her of...but she couldn't remember it. She frowned.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I told you that I didn't want to load you down with my baggage, but here I am, just…killing the mood."
She smiled and met his eyes. "No, not at all." She quirked an eyebrow at him. "You never really took advantage of the shrinks that S.H.I.E.L.D. had on staff, did you?"
He frowned in question. "Shrinks?"
"Oh. No." He shook his head. "I'd had enough of being stared at and interviewed and examined by the media."
"You didn't have to go through a psych eval to become an agent?"
He just gave her a look and she giggled.
"No, I don't suppose you would have," she said. "Fury would have been shi—ah, very eager—to have you on board."
He laughed. "You don't have to censor yourself on my account," he said. "I've heard it all—or some older variation on it—I'm sure."
"Right," she said. "I've got chocolate ice cream in the freezer. Want some?"
He grinned. "Definitely."
She stood up, picked up her glass, and went around the couch. He rose to his feet and stretched, then followed her into the kitchen, his own glass in hand.
"Thanks for listening," he said. "I had no idea how good it would feel."
She laughed. "Ditto."
He found bowls and spoons while she dug the container of Rocky Road out and got the ice cream scoop from the drawer. She served up two scoops to them both.
"Is that good?" she asked.
"Yep," he said, and dug in. He briefly closed his eyes in pleasure and hummed.
"Bet you didn't have that when you were a kid," she said with a grin.
"Not this flavor, specifically, no," he replied after swallowing. "What is this?"
"My favorite," she said.
He picked up the container and looked at it. "'Ben & Jerry's Rocky Road-ish'," he read out. "I'll have to make a note of that."
She giggled and took a bite, feeling happy.
He put down his bowl of half-finished ice cream and the Ben & Jerry's container and dug something out of his pocket. It was a small notebook with a pen bound to it. He flipped the notebook open and scribbled in it.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Just taking notes," he said. "Things to follow up on. Stuff people recommend." He closed it, secured the pen, and slipped it back into his pocket.
"You know," she said slowly, watching him pick up his bowl again. "There is something you might consider doing." He started to set the bowl down again as he reached for his pocket, but she put out a hand. "I don't mean something you need to make note of," she said.
He tilted his head with a slight frown. "What is it?"
"Have you thought about writing down your experiences?" she asked. "You're unique in human history, as far as I know. Your perspective on suddenly being dropped back into the flow of things after nearly 70 years of being out of it: I bet that's fascinating, and not just to historians."
He gave his ice cream a thoughtful look.
"You could probably write a newspaper column," she said.
He smirked at her. "I thought newspapers were as outdated as I am."
"Sure, most print papers are on the way out," she said. "But there are plenty of online publications. You could write a blog, create interest, turn it into a writing career if you wanted to."
He finished a spoonful of ice cream and looked uncomfortable. "I've never really been much of a writer," he said.
She shrugged. "Just a thought. I'm sure publishers would be clamoring for a memoir. You were special ops in World War II; most of that stuff has been declassified. And S.H.I.E.L.D.?" She smirked. "There's nothing left to classify at this point."
"Not everything worth knowing was written down," he said sourly.
"True," she admitted. "And not everything written down was stored on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s servers. There was a shadow network. We have the IP addresses, but that's about it. They disappeared within minutes of the leak."
"Which means they're still out there, somewhere," he said, his expression darkening as he lowered his hands.
"Eat your ice cream," she said with a smile. "We'll track them down later."
He laughed, then looked down and shook his head. He gave a long sigh and looked up at her. "Thank you," he said, and obediently took another bite.
She smiled and continued eating, then suddenly remembered what his earlier conversation had sparked.
"What?" he asked.
"Just a sec." She set down her bowl and went over to pull her phone out of her purse. She quickly did a search for 'latin mass dc area' and grinned when she browsed through the search results. She glanced through a page briefly and then walked back to him, holding up her phone. "Old St. Mary's."
He frowned and took the phone from her.
"I just remembered," she explained. "Pope Benedict brought back the Latin mass as an option. There aren't a lot churches that offer it, but here: Old St. Mary's does."
He read the screen. "That's not far from here."
He looked up at her with a small smile before glancing down again. Then he twisted and set down the phone.
"Thank you," he said, straightening, and she smiled and nodded.
They were both resting their hips against the breakfast bar, facing each other. He moved his hand with his bowl to the side and closed the distance between them, resting his other hand on her available hip. She smiled and set her bowl down as their lips met. He tasted like chocolate ice cream, his mouth a mix of cold and warm. This time, partly for the taste and partly because they were growing more comfortable with one another, she let herself explore his mouth a bit with her tongue. She heard his bowl land with a light clatter on the counter beside them and she giggled, and then he pulled her away from the breakfast bar and rested his newly-available hand on her other hip. He never pushed into her mouth with his own tongue, but he let her continue to play briefly before encouraging her to pull back.
"Sorry," she murmured, starting to feel ashamed, but his hands quickly came up to cup the sides of her face and he ran his thumbs over her ears.
"No, please, don't be," he said. He nudged her face up and she met his eyes. "Please. I'm not upset. I just need time to adjust."
She nodded and swallowed. "Of course. I'm in no rush."
He closed his eyes. "Everything in me is demanding that I be in one," he said, and she laughed and nodded and gave the sides of his waist a fond pat before dropping her hands. He drew back, opening his eyes again.
"We're okay?" she asked.
"More than okay," he answered, smiling now. "Better than I could have hoped."
She stepped back, unable to stop her own smile, and picked up her bowl. He followed suit and they grinned at one another while they quickly finished the last couple spoonfuls of ice cream.
"Just leave it," she said, when they put their empty bowls in the sink and he started to reach for the sponge. "I like washing dishes."
"Oh, good," he said. "I don't."
He drained his glass of water and put it in the sink, too. "Thanks for supper…and everything else."
"You're welcome. Anytime. Really."
He smiled. "Next time, my place. I make a mean Irish stew."
"It's a date," she said with a grin.
He paused and looked at her. "It is, isn't it?" He gave her such an adorable, boyish smile that she had to restrain herself from leaping on him again. She chuckled and shook her head. She had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be very different from how things had progressed with Phil.
"What?" Steve asked.
She shrugged and started to move towards the door. "Nothing, really. I've just had an unexpectedly nice evening."
They paused when they reached the door.
"Me too," he said.
They kissed briefly, and her rebellious body betrayed her by sinking against him for a heartbeat before she caught herself and straightened, her eyes still closed. God, I hope this works out.
He chuckled. "Me too."
Her eyes flew open and she covered her mouth with her hand. "Did I just say that out loud? Oh!" She covered her face with her hands and gave an embarrassed giggle.
He laughed and nudged her hands off her face, then kissed her forehead.
"Good night," he said when she looked up at him, and he pulled open her door.
"Good night," she answered, still trying to suppress a giggle. She finally succeeded. "Thank you."
"For what?" he asked, giving her a lopsided grin as he stepped out into the hallway. "Eating your food and dumping my emotional baggage on you?"
"For giving me a second chance," she said.
He swallowed and nodded and looked away briefly, then turned back and smiled at her. "When will I see you next?"
She paused and frowned. "Oh."
"What is it?"
"I leave tomorrow morning for my first assignment," she said. "I don't know when I'll be back."
His face fell, but then he looked up at her and smiled. "You know where to find me," he said.
She chuckled. "Not without your permission."
"I still have my phone," he said. "Call me when you next get the chance. I assume," he wiggled his eyebrows at her, "that you still have my number."
She laughed. "Okay. But you don't have mine."
"I will when you call me."
"Fine! Go! Go. I'll call you right now."
"I can't stay up to all hours talking," he said in an amused tone, giving her the odd impression that he was parroting his mother. He moved towards his apartment. "I have a busy day tomorrow."
She frowned. "Doing what?"
"I don't know," he said with a grin. "I'll think of something."
He unlocked his door and then paused and turned to her.
"Thank you," he said. "You've given me a lot to think about."
His answering smile left her warm, and she was slightly relieved when he was out of sight and she could close her own door. Then she smiled. She had a phone call to make.
Steve picked up his phone from the shelf by the door and smiled down at it as he moved further into his apartment.
He hoped this would work out and he was going to do everything in his power to make sure it did.
This story is dedicated to my friend Caitlin, who was the one who made me aware of Captain America as a moral hero, not just a lucky, old-fashioned nice guy. Without her, I never would have become a Cap fan. :)
Many thanks go to Scarlett Kingston for her excellent beta feedback! She caught several embarrassing mistakes and this story would not be what it is without her help. I also owe a huge debt to the Russo brothers, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Ed Brubaker, Stephen McFeely, and Christopher Markus, not to mention Chris Evans and Emily VanCamp, for bringing these characters to life onscreen. Finally, thanks go to my husband, for his encouragement and patience, and to God, who gave me the desire to write in the first place and the inspiration for this whole story, really.
Thanks so much for reading! If you have suggestions for improvement, please let me know! I don't mind if you leave them in the public comments and I also welcome private messages (PMs).
I do not own any properties in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nor do I make any money from the writing of this story.
Dialogue excerpts from Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014); characters and situations based on Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), The Avengers (2012), and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) © Marvel Entertainment.
This story released under the GPL/CC BY: verbatim copying and distribution of this entire work are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided attribution is preserved.