Pairing: Agent Phil Coulson/Steve Rogers (Captain America)
Summary: Phil follows through and teaches Steve how to waltz.
Disclaimer: Fanfiction. Spoilers.
AN: Marvel Movieverse. First venture into the world of Marvel characters.
Agent Phil Coulson heads through the last security checkpoint inside S.H.I.E.L.D.'s midtown Manhattan office, arriving just in time to catch agent Romanoff. A minute later and she would have left for their special ops debriefing alone. Instead, she waits patiently, face impassive, holding a large cup of coffee. Black with two sugars. Stepping through the metal detector, Phil can feel her eyes scaling up his body, taking careful note of his rumpled clothes and tired eyes.
"Late night, agent Coulson?" Natasha asks, her flat tone casual. She cocks a knowing eyebrow as she hands over the coffee. Tugging on the bottom of his suit coat with one hand, Phil attempts to pull out the wrinkles, before buttoning it closed.
"I don't know what you are talking about."
Together, they turn and start navigating the maze of windowless halls. He takes a sip of the coffee and the muscles around his mouth relax ever so slightly.
"Of course." She gives him a knowing look, the ghost of a smile on her lips and he is reminded why it is good to have agent Natasha Romanoff as both a trusted colleague as well as a dear friend.
A soft weight slips into his suit pocket as Natasha presses closer to avoid colliding with another agent barreling down the narrowing corridor. She pulls away just as quickly. Immediately, he knows it is a small package of mini donuts from the tiny convenience store on west 41st.
Natasha knows him too well.
"So," agent Barton calls out the second he spots Phil and Natasha turn a corner, "will I have to consult with the Captain myself to get all the gory details?" They find him leaning against the wall with a predatory grin twisting his lips, arms crossed and waiting to eagerly drop in on their conversation. Undeterred by the leveling glare Natasha throws in his direction, the other agent easily falls in step alongside Coulson.
"That information was classified, agent Romanoff." Coulson's tone is clipped and underpinned with something almost as close to and as sentimental as disappointment. He knows Natasha would never have volunteered that particularly sensitive information, even to her longtime partner. Clint simply must have somehow managed to snatch her phone away when she received the late night text from Phil. After all, agent Barton is an extremely light sleeper.
Lips pressed into a thin line, Natasha meets his gaze with an unspoken apology.
"A drunk text is not a matter of national security," Clint scoffs.
"As of right now." Phil stops abruptly, rounding on the other man. With two quick steps, he has the agent backed against the wall. "The content of that text message is." The muscle in his jaw jumps with the effort to restrain himself, his only visible tell.
"Copy," Natasha replies straightaway with a curt nod. When Clint fails to respond in kind she jabs the sharp point of her elbow into his side.
Coulson does not take the rather unsubtle bait. Instead, he calmly walks away. Behind him the couple squabbles furiously before quickly falling silent. A minute later they catch up with him and the three arrive at the large conference room. They enter as a single unit.
"Good of you to join us." Fury folds his arms.
Unfortunately, a week passes before Coulson is granted another evening free.
During the time apart, Steve tries to phone him regularly. Usually, at the most unfortunate junctures, during an intense interrogation or a delicate field assignment and always under the weak guise of asking for some kind of technological help or a detailed explanation of things like 'Watergate' and 'deep throat' and 'disco fever' because he has not reached that section in his American history book and needs to know, right now, Phil, please. Despite the obvious inconvenience, though he would never admit it to Steve, the man's calls quickly become the highlight of Phil's hectic day.
On Saturday afternoon, he actually manages to slip away from the office for a half hour to grab a quick coffee with Steve. The whole operation requires one of the discarded Life Model Decoy prototypes, some quality finesse from Natasha and some quick thinking. Ultimately, though, the risky endeavor is worth it. At first, their conversation is stilted, both unsure where exactly they stand, but then Steve reaches across the table to touch the back of his hand. It becomes a little easier and Steve reminds him again of his promise to teach him how to dance properly. With a rather childish grin plastered on his face the whole time, Phil gives Steve a time and his home address. When he returns to the office, he is absolutely and terrifyingly sure that, even despite his best efforts, Fury knew exactly where he had been and only let it slide because, 'hell, agent Phil Coulson has earned at least thirty minutes of happiness.'
And now, after a long week, Captain Steve Rogers is knocking on his door.
"Evening, Phil." Dressed in a pair of sharp khakis and a neatly ironed, blue plaid button-down, Steve offers him a winning smile. It is one Phil has only seen in a handful of the surviving Captain America newsreels from the 40s. The whole thing is broad and unbelievably dazzling—familiar and yet unique; just for him. Genuine. Even more brilliant in person. He cannot help but smile back even with the full knowledge that his own expression pales in comparison.
Steve does not seem to mind.
"Come in," Phil ushers him inside his apartment, quietly struggling to reassemble himself into something hopefully resembling a mature adult. This is Steve, not the super hero in a spangled uniform he grew up idolizing—though they seem to share many of the traits and ideals that Phil most admired and wished to emulate. Regardless, Phil remains blindsided by the megawatt smile thrown his way right off the bat. As he closes his front door, he makes sure to take an extra few seconds with the locks in order to compose himself and wipe the deliriously happy grin off his face. Staring down at his bare feet, it takes every bit of Phil's training to staunch the overwhelming rush of adrenaline coursing through his body.
"You weren't kidding, were you?" Steve chuckles, surveying the practically empty apartment.
The place is all hardwood floors and clean white plaster, very open and seemingly spacious due to the distinct lack of clutter. At first glance, it looks almost as if Phil had just moved in, even though he has had the place for over ten years. There are even a few open moving boxes stacked up in the short hallway leading to the single bedroom. The only substantial furniture Phil ever bothered to purchase is his utilitarian metal bed frame; the rest consists of one flimsy card table and a couple of folding chairs he only brings out when he has company.
For the first time, Phil feels somewhat self-conscious about how profoundly impersonal and cold his place appears.
"I'm almost never here," he explains with a nonchalant shrug but the movement stiffens on the way down. Majority of his time is spent either on the road or in a S.H.E.I.L.D. facility with on-campus bunking for overcommitted agents. The Manhattan apartment is really for his own carefully constructed piece of mind, Phil Coulson's rather pricey last bastion of normalcy.
"I brought dinner." Steve turns back around to face Phil, holding up a nondescript paper bag of delicious smelling take away. A shy half smile pulls at the corners of Steve's lips.
"You didn't…" Phil motions to his own woefully under stocked kitchenette but trails off the instant the keen look on Steve's face begin to fade. An uncomfortable heat runs up the back of Phil's neck. Swallowing his flustered protests, Phil instead flashes him a reassuring smile. "Thank you." With a curt nod, Phil accepts the large bag, purposefully brushing his fingers over Steve's. They linger longer than necessary. Phil moves to set the food on the rarely used stovetop.
"I wasn't sure what you liked so I got one of everything that sounded good." Steve is close behind, looking over the shorter man's shoulder as the agent extracts one of the many boxes of food. A warm hand hovers over the nape of Phil's neck and for a moment he imagines that Steve might be about to card his fingers through his hair, or even wrap him up in a pair of strong arms. It's ridiculously sentimental and definitely something Phil finds himself open to indulging in. He hears the quiet, indecisive shuffling of shoes on hardwood. The heat disappears and Steve ends up leaning against the countertop, facing Phil. "Pepper recommended this place. She said you liked it." Phil opens the carton to discover a heaping serving of chicken Lo Mein hidden inside.
It is from his favorite Chinese restaurant in the city.
"It's perfect." Phil gives him a warm smile, one he rarely ever has an opportunity, or reason, to use.
"And don't worry about left overs." With a sheepish look, Steve runs his hand over the flat plane of his stomach.
"So," Phil begins, folding the carton closed while Steve takes another look around the sparsely decorated apartment, "dinner or danc—?"
"Oh!" Steve unintentionally cuts him off, his voice rising with excitement. Pushing off the counter, he crosses into the living room. "I always wanted one of these." His eyes are trained on the only notable item on display, a beautiful antique record player set up in the opposite corner.
"Dancing," Phil answers his own question while a purely mystified glaze spreads across Steve's face. He imagines it must be a more mild iteration of the expression he wore when he first saw Captain America, Steve, thawing out. If he is this excited about the turntable, Phil cannot wait to show him the collection of vintage records he has amassed over the decades, dating back to well before Steve when into the ice. Strategically placing the cartons of food near the microwave, Phil follows.
The man crouches in front of the old player, running his fingers delicately along the wood furnishing. His sharp eyes scan over every inch of the outdated machine, carefully examining all the intricacies of the old turntable. It's clear that the piece has been well loved and well kept throughout the years. Steve's eyes are full of far off memories that play with his features, aging him dramatically until Phil thinks he can see a hint of the man's true age ringed around his pupils.
"Though, even if I had one back then, it wouldn't have done me much good…" Steve glances up at Phil with a self-deprecating smile. And it is so wonderfully human and so endearing that it makes Phil's heart ache for the sickly boy Steve once was and the lonely super soldier he's grown into. A very foolish part of Phil Coulson wants, so badly, to be the one to show Steve something more than that dichotomy. At least, perhaps, this can be a start. "Where did you get it?"
"It was my grandmother's." Phil bends down to open the cabinet below. "So are some of the records." He reveals the rather impressive array of albums stashed neatly inside a plastic milk crate. They are all different sizes, depending on the era, crossing many diverse genres from decades old and familiar to newer and definitely stranger.
"Does it still work?" The cautious optimism on Steve's face causes Phil's stomach to clench.
"Well then," Steve says eagerly, drawing himself up to his full height. He wipes his palms on the back of his trousers and then steps a little closer to Phil. It takes a moment before he meets Phil's gaze. "Maybe we can start with something slow?" His brows knit together lightly, hopeful. Reaching out, he takes Phil's hand in his own, cradling it gently as if it were something delicate and rare.
"Now, Rogers," Phil begins quietly and there is an odd glint simmering just beneath the placid surface of his dry wit. Steve cocks his head and a little electric thrill runs up Phil's spine. "Keep in mind that I'm no Fred Astaire."
"Good one," Steve replies, equally deadpan as he drops Phil's hand—he's catching on quick. Not surprising. The only give away is the unchecked mirth brimming in his bright blue eyes. "Very topical," he adds with the same flat tenor, but fails to stifle the charming grin that pulls at his lips.
"I thought you would appreciate the references," Phil, with far more practice, keeps his detached tone even. After that first painfully uncomfortable exchange about Stephen Hawking during their first official meeting, Phil has made a conscious effort to readjust his pop culture references, regardless of his level of flustered awe in the presence of Captain America. And when he finds that there simply is no equivalent, he is always ready to explain in detail.
"Oh, I do." With a chuckle, Steve gabs Phil's black tie and reeling him in. For the first time, Phil hears an effortless laugh escape from the other man. The sound is soft and airy and sends a wild streak of heat coursing through Phil's nervous system. "As long as you don't call me Ginger," Steve requests with an unusually playful smirk before kissing the other man on the cheek.
"So, how about—" Phil clears his throat, pulling away to run a hand over his shirtfront, smoothing out both his disheveled tie and the white button-down beneath. He was caught completely unprepared. "How about I lead first," he continues, tightlipped as he tamps down his anticipation. Taking up Steve's hand, he shifts his fingers around so that it rests neatly in his own. "Then we'll see how quickly you pick it up."
Steve agrees straightaway, allowing Phil to demonstrate where each of their hands should rest depending on who is leading before even attempting to teach him a single dance step. As expected, he follows the man's instructions to the letter but pauses when he sees a flicker of discomfort on Phil's face.
"Is this okay?" Cautiously, Steve tries to lay his hand on Phil's shoulder once more, thumb resting lightly in the hollow curve of the man's collarbone. It is the agent's damaged shoulder. There was once a time, only a few weeks ago, when even the slightest pressure would be excruciating. He waits for Phil's express approval before relaxing into the new position and permitting the full weight of his hand to settle against his clavicle. "Can we try the Foxtrot?" Steve practically lights up the moment the thought strikes him, a whole new world opening up before him. "Always looked grand," and that wistful smile is back in full force.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Phil advises, giving Steve's hand a squeeze. "Waltz first, then Foxtrot."
That is when it really strikes Phil just how incredibly intoxicating it is being able to teach Steve Rogers something so timeless, something he wants to learn. It is so much more rewarding than showing him how the Internet works or all the painful ways the city has grown beyond his memory. It makes Steve seem human, tangible, someone who could even end up falling for a man like him, of all people, him, Phillip Coulson. He quickly brushes that particular thought away before it has the chance to become crippling.
"Okay, shoes off," Phil prompts, coming back to himself. Steve quickly toes off his leather Oxfords, placing them neatly out of the way. "Now watch." Phil holds up his hands, just like he taught Steve, and demonstrates a slow box step. "Forward, side, together. Then back, side, together." A dazed look draws Steve's brows together, teeth absentmindedly raking over his lips a few times. His eyes are glued to Phil's bare feet as they glide over the hardwood, attempting to memorize the deceptively simple pattern. "Think of it like a square," Phil tries, quickly running through the footwork again. "That moves." Steve blinks a few times and his confusion fades, slightly.
"Okay," he replies, stretching out each syllable, still processing everything.
"Ready?" It is clear that Steve is no where near ready but Phil knows they are, in the end, both men of action. He grabs Steve's hand once more, placing his other just beneath the hard curve of Steve's shoulder blade. Steve does not protest, instead placing his free hand on Phil's shoulder, his face the picture of determination. "One, step back with your right." Phil waits until Steve eventually moves the correct foot before stepping forward with his left. "Two, your left moves back and then out to the side." Gradually, Steve follows Phil's lead and completes the second, trickier portion of the box. He adds one extra beat, accidentally stomping his foot down beside his right instead of mirroring Phil's fluid movement to the side. "Three, both feet together."
The look of pure concentration on the other man's face is an unusual sight. Phil knows it has been a very long time since Steve has had to focus this hard on anything physical—most things are just a matter of well trained muscle memory for the man these days. They run through the steps again. Steve falters once, but a little smoother, though his eyes remain trained on Phil's feet.
"Now, with music."
For his part, Steve bravely accepts the rather daunting challenge with a characteristically determined nod. Always the solider.
They continue through two slowly paced songs, Steve steadily improving after trampling on Phil's feet the first couple times the agent tried to introduce the second half of the box step accompanied by the music. Apparently, the superior coordination of Captain America does not translate to Steve's bodily understanding of rhythm. He is all stiff muscles and out of step with the beat, full of nerves and apologies. Over-thinking everything. After all, the man has never danced—neither before nor after the serum. Unsurprisingly, Steve is patient and persistent and Phil is more than willing to sacrifice a couple of his toes just to see the look on the man's face the first time he successfully completes the full box step without any stutters or stubbed toes.
"How do you know all this?" Steve asks halfway into the third song, eyes flicking surreptitiously downwards to check his footwork when Phil starts to rotate the box in large, measured curves around the room. It's almost like a real waltz. The hand grasping Phil's tightens reflexively, apprehensive as the new element of movement is introduced without any fair warning. His mouth flattens into a straight line while he frantically tries to keep up with Phil despite the relaxed pace the man has established.
"You'd be surprised how often it comes in handy." A cool smile pulls at Phil's thin lips, just the slightest twist up at the corners. It earns him a soft laugh from Steve, who glances up just in time to catch a glimpse of his expression. The diversion helps and they manage to successfully complete a beautiful rotation.
"Who are you, John Bonds?" Steve attempts a joke just outside the peripheral of his understanding of modern popular culture. "John?" He repeats, testing the familiarity of the name and knowing that something sounds off.
"Bond. James Bond." The perfectly delivered line soars over Steve's head.
"Yes, him," he answers distractedly, now openly staring at their feet. Caught up in silently counting the beats, his head bobbing with the effort, he narrowly avoids stepping on Phil as they finish another large circle around the living room. With the added skill of rotating the box, his muscles become impossibly tense and heavy, derailing majority of the progress he managed to make. For some reason, he just cannot seem to maneuver his body the same way his partner does so effortlessly.
"Steve." Phil takes a risk and presses in closer, chest-to-chest, effectively blocking Steve's view of their moving feet. The heat of Steve's skin seeps through the layers of cotton between them, solid and real and anxious.
"I'm sorry," Steve starts politely, forced to blindly follow the signals of Phil's body leading him around the room. He manages to evade any immediate disasters, struggling to surrender to instinct and the subtle cues from Phil. It's only now, without the visual distraction of his own jostling feet, that Steve appears to understand that the gentle change of pressure from Phil's fingers along the bend of his shoulder blade helps telegraph each step before it comes. "I just don't want to st—"
"You're doing great," Phil states plainly, purposefully holding Steve's gaze. A reassuring smile crinkles the skin at the corners of his eyes as he slides his hand down to the small of Steve's back. He can feel the traditional cotton undershirt hidden beneath the button-down and somehow that small detail makes him smile wider. So quintessentially Captain Steve Rogers. The simple touch sparks between them and Steve's entire body unwinds against him, the taut string constricting his every movement snapping. Inviting further contact, Steve leans in so their hips align as Phil leads them into one more sweeping box.
"Only because I have a great partner," he ducks down to whisper into Phil's ear, the honest admiration evident in his voice. It practically makes Phil melt, and suddenly all he can focus on is making sure his knees do not instantly buckle.
Together, their steps grow smaller, reduced to nothing more than a gentle swaying back and forth, slowing until Steve curls a hand under Phil's chin. For a moment, he hesitates, almost as if he were asking permission. And then, softly at first, he presses his lips to Phil's. It's easy for Phil to tell that this is the first kiss Steve has ever initiated, tentative and endearing and so earnest. Steve tucks their clasped hands between their chests, caught just to the right of Phil's scar. A wonderfully satisfied hum from the taller man vibrates against Phil's mouth, one he answers with his own quiet moan of approval. Emboldened, the tip of Steve's tongue slides along his lower lip, a little too wet but sweetly gentle. And somehow, it has become the easiest thing in the world; opening himself to the warm, slick touch. Steve's nose bumps against his cheek as he tilts his head to deepen the kiss, jaw muscles jumping as he licks into Phil's mouth.
The needle bounces around in vain as the record ends, spinning to the trill of a static loop. It shatters the moment. Reluctantly, Phil pulls away from Steve when the obnoxious noise becomes unbearable.
"Your turn to lead." Still holding the man's hand, he leads them over to the player to switch out the old record.
"Only if you're willing to risk further injury," Steve replies with a lopsided smile, that same self-deprecating humor that Phil appreciates as something so deeply rooted within the man resurfacing—an old defense mechanism likely developed to counteract his once diminutive size. He glances pointedly at Phil's bare feet, taking in a couple patches of flesh sporting the beginnings of light bruising. Of course, they will be nothing compared to the myriad of other wounds Phil has accumulated in the line of duty—though they may become his favorite. When Steve looks back up at his dance partner the flesh of his lower lip is trapped between his teeth.
"It's nothing," Phil answers smoothly, squeezing Steve's hand before letting go. They both know he has been trained to withstand far worse than a few bruises from his hero's clumsy footwork. Picking up the empty sleeve, Phil carefully slips the record back in before returning it to the crate. "Want to take a look?" He offers, knowing there are a several records in his collection that Steve will recognize, more familiar names, faces and songs he must have sung with drunken pals during his time as an enlisted man. Many of which Phil remembers listening to with his grandmother on rainy days—captivated by stories of her years of service while posted in England.
"I don't know much about dancing music," Steve confesses, though his longing look at the records seems to counter his claims.
"Just pick something you like."
Kneeling on the hardwood floor, Steve peers into the crate of records. Delicately, he begins shuffling through the large stack that Phil has painstakingly organized by decade, and then alphabetically within that larger category. Phil watches as the man studies each of the various sleeves, some bright and colorful and wholly unknown to him, records from Phil's adolescence. A brilliant smile begins to spread across his lips when Steve discovers the older portion of the collection. He makes tiny sounds of recognition and pleasant surprise at each memorable name emblazed on the album covers. It sends Phil's heart catapulting into his throat. Pausing midway through the older section, Steve becomes utterly transfixed by one record in particular.
"Oh, Phil," Steve sighs as he stares at the song title. "May I?" He asks, twisting around to look up at Phil before touching the old sleeve. Phil places a hand on Steve's shoulder, bending down to see which record the man has stumbled up. It's very old, containing only one song and a thin layer of dust that obscures most of the image printed on the front. The edges are worn, foxed from years of being fished out and played repeatedly back when Phil was much, much younger. He recognizes it instantly, nodding with a sad, knowing smile. Steve brushes the dust away with a careful reverence and queues the record up.
It was his grandmother's, and subsequently his, favorite song.
Steve holds out his hand with a slow burning smile that Phil has never seen before as Vera Lynn's rich, smooth voice spills out from the old player. And they've stepped into a different era—familiar and foreign in the same broad stroke for each man. The sound crackles faintly and comes to life. It sends a series of rapid-fire shivers up Phil's spine, all coalescing in his ribcage. He can't even begin to imagine the affect it is having on Steve. Each note fills the entire apartment with the beautiful, golden and devastatingly iconic song from 1939, 'We'll Meet Again.'
Allowing himself to be pulled in close, Phil bites back a grin when two large hands wrap snuggly around his waist. His own palms lie flat against Steve's strong chest, one resting against the man's steady heartbeat. The pad of his thumbs rubs over the contours of the man's sternum. Steve leads them in a few gingerly executed box steps around the living room, as Vera croons on in the background. Clearly better suited to leading also when it comes to dancing. Eyes falling shut, he rests his chin gently against Phil's temple in a surprisingly intimate gesture. He tugs Phil closer. The gentle steps turn to shuffles as the first verse ends, the weight of the words becoming too heavy.
"Phil…" Steve stops, bowing his head into the crook of Phil's neck. His fingers twist the fabric of Phil's shirt, needing to eliminate all space between their bodies. Phil's hands slide up to tangle in the blond hair at the nape of Steve's neck. "Phil," he murmurs again, jostling around to press his forehead tight against Phil's. The delicate flesh rimming his eyes is flushed but dry. His breath starts hitching, every other one catching in his throat. "Everyone I—" And Phil begins to wonder if the soldier ever had the chance to properly mourn for his old life, for the friends he lost and the complete disappearance of the only world he knew. He is guessing the short answer is no. Not at all. Not when this new generation is constantly demanding his undivided attention, forcing him into the role of compliant super soldier, and steadfast leader. "They—then you—" Steve cuts himself off again, eyes screwed shut as he swallows thickly.
"I know," Phil whispers, soothing his hands through Steve's hair.
He was never trained for this—all that is left is instinct.
Steve reaches up, fingers digging into Phil's short-cropped hair, cradling his head in strong hands. His wide eyes desperately search the man's face, flicking back and forth over his features. They soften, ever so slightly. There must be something there; something Phil will never be able to see for himself.
The sound comes to a halt when those full lips collide with his mouth, thumbs rubbing over cheekbones, down to the frame his lips, fingers hooked around the hard lines of his jaw. It's completely different from anything he ever expected from Steve, full of unfathomable longing and a twinge of hope.
"Thank you." The words are so quiet that Phil feels the warm breath against his lips before he ever hears the syllables but he thinks he understands.
They let the song play out.