Disclaimer: I don't own any of it. Just having some fun.
"So, how have you been spending your time lately?"
He was supposed to have another week to figure out how to answer this question.
Unfortunately, after spending most of Sunday debriefing with the brass about the mission, they decided to just move up his monthly therapy session because he was already at headquarters. And Steve knows he should be grateful that everyone made it through the weekend safely, and that he's in a place where they can cut his sessions to monthly and he's mostly okay, but now…
It's just that he spent most of the last hour talking about the mission, and how he's doing with the team, and there are only a few minutes left. He doesn't want to rip off the bandage yet, he doesn't want to use a different part of his brain, he doesn't want to think at all. He wants to go home.
"I, uh, I've been getting into the city a lot more. Midtown."
"Oh?" Dr. Berdino does this a lot. Asks questions that aren't questions to get him to talk more. (She's also asked him to call her Claire—and he does, in person—but, y'know. One step at a time.)
"Yeah. You know. Broadway."
"What shows have you seen?"
He swallows. "Babes in Arms, a bunch of times."
"No, just…" He sighs. He walked right into that one. "Just Babes in Arms. A bunch of times."
Dr. Berdino looks at him curiously. "Why is that?"
"It… I saw it before. Back when… when it first came out, I guess."
"In the forties?"
"The thirties, but yeah."
"Can I ask how much is 'a bunch?'"
He reaches up to rub the back of his neck. "I've seen it… just about every night for the past two weeks. Not counting the past few days."
"That's a lot."
"I know," he says, staring at his reflection in the finish of her dark wood desk. He doesn't want to see the look on her face.
"Why do you think you keep going back?"
Rachel's face pops into his head; he pushes the thought away immediately. "It reminds me of the guy I used to be. Or maybe… I dunno. That there used to be a guy I used to be."
"That makes sense."
"That doesn't make it any less obsessive. I know that kind of behavior is—that I'm—" he swallows an apology before he can make it, because they've had that conversation already. About how he doesn't have to be sorry for what happened to him. "I just feel like I shouldn't need crutches like that anymore. I shouldn't be clinging."
"It's natural to want reminders of your past, Steve. They're hard to come by, and it's easy to disassociate when there's so little that seems familiar. Do you feel the same way every time, watching the show?"
"How do you mean?"
"Like… well, let's look at it from another angle. Last March, we talked a lot about Langston Hughes and his poetry. You seemed to find great comfort in it—not because it was beautiful, but because it was a voice that felt familiar to you."
He nods; it's all he can do. Harlem felt about as far away from Brooklyn as the moon when he was a kid, but it seems much closer in hindsight.
"You told me that when you read something like 'Democracy,' or 'Let America Be America Again,' that it didn't matter how many times you read it, it always stirred something in you. That it helped you to feel. Is that the same sensation you get when you attend performances of Babes in Arms?"
He opens his mouth to say yes, but the words stop in his throat. Because that's not true. At least, not anymore.
The truth is, every night he goes it reminds him a little less of the one time he saw it with Bucky, and a little more of every time he's seen it since—Rachel's voice slowly but surely drowning out Mitzi Green's. He thinks back to the night before he left, when her understudy went on in her stead; how he spent his evening distracted and unimpressed, desensitized to the music.
He thinks about how the more time he spends with Rachel, the less he feels like he needs to see the show at all. Because somewhere along the way, talking to her became a lot more special to him than watching her.
"Steve?" Dr. Berdino prompts. He wonders how long he's been silent.
"The way I feel about the show changed, because I started seeing the lead actress outside of it."
"Seeing her as in…?"
"We talk. We went for coffee one time; I'm supposed to meet her again tomorrow."
"Do you like her?"
His head snaps up. "I don't—I'm not—"
She smiles at him. "This isn't the playground, Steve, and I'm not in the business of starting rumors. I mean, do you enjoy spending time with her? It doesn't feel like an obligation, or give you anxiety?"
"No, she's…" wonderful, he wants to say, but he feels silly, like a schoolboy with a crush. "No anxiety at all. She loves to talk, and I can just… listen. It's nice."
He winces internally. He should have gone with wonderful.
"It's good that you're forging bonds outside of SHIELD; you don't have to feel bad about that. You deserve friends."
"I guess," he hedges.
She glances at the clock. "We're just about out of time, but let me wrap this up: I know you're dubious about the healthiness of seeing the show so many times, but you're aware of it. And it seems to me that you're already moving on from the compulsion. Does that sound right?"
"It does, but doesn't that just mean I'm displacing all of those feelings onto Rachel instead?" he asks, and it only occurs to him as he says it that it's the first time he's said her name out loud.
Dr. Berdino only looks at him. "I don't know. Does it?"
As always, Natasha is sitting in the waiting room as he exits, legs crossed while she flips idly through a magazine. (He sometimes amuses himself with the idea that it's the same one every time—a prop she carries with her to complete the character she's created.) He supposes she must have the session after his, though she's never talked about it.
"Everything okay?" she asks as he passes her to get to the door.
He stops, because this is what he likes about Natasha. How she'll ask these terse, superficial questions—seemingly vacant chitchat—but she'll look at you when she does. Eye contact and full attention. Like she would listen if the answer were no.
He's never said no, but he's sure of this anyway.
"No complaints," she says, lifting a single shoulder.
"Did you get your hip looked at yet? That fall you took was pretty—"
"I will after this," she assures, cutting him off. He knows she won't, but he appreciates the courtesy of the lie. It's better than the empty I'm fine he's sure most people would get.
"I should get going. Stay safe out there," he says, as he always does when he talks to anyone on active duty.
Her lips turn up for a fraction of a second. "You too."
He spends the rest of his evening staring at the Playbill that's been sitting on his kitchen table for days; he thinks about Dr. Berdino's last question, and reads and re-reads the inscription.
I grew up listening to stories about you; you were my hero. You still are. It was an honor to be able to tell you a story in return.
Signed Rachel Berry, with a star.
There's just something about her that makes him… want to try harder. He remembers how he talked down to Fury, about trying to get me back into the world, and how somehow Rachel's doing just that without even knowing it. Forcing him to participate in his life, to talk, to explain himself.
He thinks about Langston Hughes. I sat there singing her songs in the dark. She said; 'I do not understand the words.' I said; 'There are no words.'
("I don't know. Does it?")
He wants so much to know what they'll be to each other, because he has no idea how to describe what they are.
She doesn't know what to wear.
Rachel is not this girl anymore. Or at least, she tries very hard not to be this girl… as much as she used to, anyway. But as long as everything goes right—and she's putting a lot of faith in the fact that it will—tonight will be the first time she's seen Steve in days. And she just…
She'd just feel a lot better about the whole thing if she had a bit of control.
Five times she picks up her cell phone to call Kurt for fashion advice, and five times she puts it down again because she's a grown woman and more than capable of making her own decisions. (Once, and only once, she considers asking her twitter followers, but she gets as far as opening the app on her phone before she realizes what a horrible idea that is.) She had all weekend to think about it, though, and all it did was give her lots of room to second-guess herself.
And the weather is doing nothing for her hair.
"You're being silly," she tells herself in the mirror, because not even years of being on stage have curbed her of the need to narrate her life. "Steve doesn't care about how you look, and he doesn't know the difference between checker and gingham. Just chill."
She doesn't think she's chilled since she dated Finn Hudson—heck, chillhasn't even been in her vocabulary since she dated Finn Hudson—but it's all she's got, at the moment.
That, and a pile of clothing on her bed the size of her first car.
She sighs and tries again.
It's raining when he emerges from the subway on Monday night, and Rachel is ethereal.
It's the only word he has for it. She's waiting for him under the marquis, keeping dry—only the neon lights shining through the haze of perpetual damp in the air make her raincoat iridescent, casting halos around her skin and shooting gold through her hair. All she's doing is standing next to a larger-than-life promotional photograph of herself plastered onto the doors of the theater, yet somehow… she's glowing.
His fingers itch for charcoal.
"You could have called me," she says as he draws up next to her and closes his umbrella, but he can tell by the way her eyes light up that she isn't mad.
"I was kind of busy," he mumbles anyway, with a lift of his shoulders.
She bites at her lip. "I saw on the news. Giant killer robots often on your to-do list?"
"Ultron, and I sure hope not." He gives her a quick once-over. "So, you feel better?"
"You had a cold. You feel better?"
She purses her lips before her mouth pulls into a smile. "Yes, I feel better. Thank you for remembering. And what about you? You took some tough blows out there."
"Good as new," he reassures her, spreading his arms out to let her see. "And, um. You look good, too. I mean. You look great."
"Thanks," she says, blushing. "I love wearing this coat—it's so Casablanca."
He blinks at her, because the design doesn't look particularly Moroccan to him, so he must've missed something. "How?"
"I—Casablanca? Come on. As Time Goes By? 'Here's looking at you, kid?' Ringing any bells?"
"But it was right when you were—wait. Where were you in 1943?"
"Oh my god, you missed Casablanca!"
"What is Casabl—?"
"It's a movie. It's the movie. It defined your generation. I can't—I don't even know what to do with this information."
"I guess I'll have to see it."
"You guess?" she repeats, voice getting shrill. "You have to! Tonight! Right now!"
"Right now?" he asks her teasingly, and she pauses before chuckling lightly, shaking her head.
"Or… any other time that isn't now, because we made dinner plans. Sorry, I get carried away sometimes."
"Don't apologize for being passionate about things. It's—I like it."
She smiles, and leans to the side to glance behind him at the street. "Look at that; the rain's stopped. I guess the universe is on our side tonight."
"Guess so," Steve agrees as he tucks his umbrella under his arm, though the tiniest part of him can't help but wonder if it was Thor trying to help a buddy out. He doesn't know how any of it works—the different dimensions, the powers, the weather, any of it—but Steve wouldn't put it past Thor anyway. He casts around for something to talk about as they set off into the night. "Did you have a good week?"
She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "Um, not too bad."
"Show went okay?"
"Yeah. Smaller crowds at the stage door the past few days, because of the weather, but that's to be expected. What about you? Anything interesting happen?" She laughs at herself. "Aside from saving the world, I mean."
"Uneventful, really. Not much to tell. I hated missing you," he blurts, and her hair fans out at the force of her head whipping around.
"You missed me?"
"No—I mean, yes—I mean. We kept missing each other. Which was… annoying," he finally settles on, though he doesn't think it's the word he means. "Sorry. I could have phrased that better."
Rachel's walking two steps of him and backwards to keep eye contact. "Don't apologize; I liked the way you phrased it just fine. Feel free to elaborate as much as you w—"
There is a honk and a screech of tires, and Steve's moving before he can even process the stimuli his body is reacting to—reaching forward, pulling Rachel out of the way of the taxi that's only just come into his peripheral vision. His eyes sweep to the license plate automatically, and he commits it to memory as best he can with the insane pounding of his ears. (Rachel's upper arms fit perfectly in his hands; for a second, he forgets how to let her go.)
"Hey! We had the light!" he shouts uselessly, raising a fist in frustration before sighing and muttering, "Maniac." He looks to Rachel, returning his right hand to its resting place on her arm. "You okay?"
"Yeah, fine—should've looked both ways." He releases her to pick up his dropped umbrella, and she immediately replaces his grip with her own hands, hugging herself. "Wow, you're fast. And… strong…" she trails off, realizing what she's saying.
His brow scrunches. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No, not at all, just caught me off guard." To his surprise, she seems to be repressing giggles despite her evident shock.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing. It's just—I didn't think you were allowed to yell at cab drivers. That was the most like a New Yorker I've seen you act."
Steve shrugs uncomfortably, readjusting the way his jacket falls on his shoulders. "I never said I was a boy scout. Besides, it's like Bucky always said—you've got to stand up to those guys, or they'll run right over you. Literally."
"Good to know the drivers haven't improved in the better part of a century."
"Nope, it's pretty much the same. Fewer horses, now." Rachel's face darkens to a degree he's never seen before. "What?"
"I… the fact that there are still carriage horses in this city is something of a personal vendetta of mine. It's—well, it's not that long of a story, but I'll explain on the way. Shall we?"
She takes him to a place downtown called Tea and Sympathy—a storefront on a small block she refers to as "Little Britain." It stands next to a fish and chip place called A Salt and Battery, and there's a sweet shop and grocer, too.
"I had no idea this was here," he breathes.
"Best city in the world," Rachel says proudly, as if she built it herself.
"Even with the crazy cabbies?"
"Especially with the crazy cabbies," she assures him, leading him inside.
They're seated almost immediately, hunkered into little wooden chairs in a cozy corner. The lighting is dark and intimate, and he appreciates the feeling of privacy.
"How did you find out about this place?" he asks, opening up his menu.
"Oh, it's funny, actually—my sophomore year suitemate was a huge Harry Potter fan, and she'd been coming here for ages with her anglophile friends. We couldn't afford to come often, with our schedules and general lack of cash, but whenever her parents would visit she'd make them take us here."
"That sounds nice. And sorry, but, um—who's Harry Potter? Is he a singer or something?"
He cannot read the expression on Rachel's face beyond the fact that it's not good. "Steve, how much do you…? I mean. That is to say. When you came back—I know it's a lot, but did they even try to…" She frowns, tries again. "Do you even know what you've missed?"
"I've been thinking about it ever since we left the theater. Casablanca. You were gone for so long, and the world is such a different place than when you left it. How much did they fill you in about… everything?"
He stares at the menu for a long moment, because picking from among their dozens of varieties of tea is a much less daunting task than answering her. So much of his life is still classified information, despite his open identity, and even if he could tell her… "I was brought up to date on history. Political history, anyway. Berlin Wall went up and down; World Trade Center went up and down. Presidents, assassinations, major international events… wars. Apparently we won mine, so that was nice."
It wasn't nice. He hadn't known about the bomb, hadn't believed in an America that would use it. But they made him the man he is today; he should have known they were developing other weapons. Made to be unleashed, just like him. Bitterness dries his mouth; leaves him swallowing.
Earl Grey sounds good.
"But what about pop culture? What about—have you even heard of the Beatles?"
Despite the rotten feeling in the pit of his stomach, a smile tugs at his lips. "Yes, I've been introduced to the Beatles. Amazing stuff."
That had been a good day. It all started with one of Tony's early morning (for Tony, late night) tech tutorials—he'd patched some glitches in their communicators, and had had to show them all immediately, because that's how he works. Somewhere in the middle of his speech, however, he'd started talking about Led Zeppelin—a confusing enough tangent for the well-informed, but impossible for Steve, who was hung up on the idea of a lead balloon aircraft.
It must have showed on his face, because two hours later, Clint tracked him down in the gym. I saw the way you looked in there, Clint had said, and the idea of you having to ask somebody why they were talking about beetles was just… He'd trailed off, then dug a CD out of his cargo pocket. Listen to this; if you like it, come find me.
He'd loved it. The rest of the day was spent in Clint's quarters, sitting silently while the music played. He'd sketched little scenes that came into his head to go with the songs while Clint whittled; they'd made their way through the entire Beatles discography.
Steve cherishes days like those; half the time his teammates still feel like strangers, and every moment spent getting closer with them is etched indelibly into his memory.
"Steve?" Rachel asks softly, and he startles.
"Sorry. I was just… well. Thinking about the Beatles. To answer your question, though, I guess I'm still pretty behind. I keep telling myself that I'll take a few days and really dig into what I missed, but…" He trails off.
"Well, if you ever want a guide, I'd be more than happy to help or give suggestions. Actually, musical theater is a fantastic place to start; Broadway's always been a sort of cultural barometer."
"And Harry Potter?"
"Is a children's book series about a boy wizard."
Steve blinks. "Really?"
"Hey, don't knock it! They were massively important—got kids to start reading again. And they're wonderful. There are seven books in the series, released over a decade, so people in the right generation got to just… grow up with them. They're about the power of love over evil."
"I'll have to give them a look," he says, and he means it—he could do with that kind of a story.
Before they can talk any more, their waitress interrupts him. Along with his tea he orders mashed potatoes and a Cornish pasty, because even with his warped sense of time, it feels like much too long since he's had one.
"No, I'm serious, I must have seen it about thirty times. Worth every nickel."
Steve's not sure how they landed on the Wizard of Oz, of all things, but he's happy to have found a topic on which they're both equally knowledgeable.
"What was it like?" Rachel asks, leaning forward. "Seeing Oz burst into color for the first time?"
"It was… really something," Steve says, because it's pretty much the extent of his eloquence on the subject. He immediately feels bad that he can't give her more than that. "There isn't really a way to explain it. It surprised me every time, except… even the first time, you felt like you should have expected it. In hindsight it seemed so obvious."
"Fun fact—Wizard of Oz wasn't a very large financial success in its first release, and it didn't really get popular until they started broadcasting it on television in 1956. But at that time, only NBC was regularly broadcasting in color, and most people in the US didn't own color televisions until the mid-sixties. So there were ten whole years where an entire generation didn't know Oz was in color at all. The movie never changed, there was no switch. Which makes it a completely different film, don't you think?" She smiles apologetically, realizing she's been rambling. "Things you learn in a Classic Hollywood Cinema elective."
"That's… huh." He hates how inarticulate he's being, but he doesn't have words to describe how evocative he finds that factoid. People missing out on experience because of time. He decides to try a different tack: "You know, you'd make a great Dorothy."
She blushes and looks away. "You don't have to say things like that."
"I'm just being honest. You've got the look, and you've certainly got the voice…"
"Thank you," she says quietly. "You know, it's funny—I actually dreamed for years of playing Elphaba. Um, that's the Wicked Witch in—"
"I know. I saw Wicked a few weeks ago with the team. It's how I found you. Or—that is, it's what lead me back to Broadway, which is how I found Babes in Arms."
"What did you think of it?"
"It was… interesting. The music was beautiful, and it was very… thought provoking."
"You sound like you didn't like it that much," she points out, catching on to his reluctance.
"No, I did. It's just… maybe I'm just old fashioned, or maybe I'm too sentimental, I don't know. I had a hard time with it. I just think there's some merit in having a villain that you know is… truly a villain. Wicked took that certainty away."
"You're a man of your time," Rachel says casually, but something on her face makes him think that what he said really made that click for her.
"I guess so."
"But really, that just links back with what I was talking about earlier. How musical theater is a barometer for the social climate of an era. Part of why Wicked was so successful was because it spoke to the themes and concerns of the early Bush administration, when it first came out. It resonated with people."
Before he can ask her more about that, the waitress comes with their food.
"That's all you're getting?" he asks, when he compares Rachel's bowl of soup to his side of the table, laden with full plates.
She shrugs. "There isn't too much I can eat here; I'm vegan." At his questioning look, she asks, "You've heard of vegetarians?"
"Um. People who don't eat meat."
"Right. Well, vegan is like a more intense version of that—I don't eat or use any animal byproducts whatsoever. No milk, no cheese, no eggs, no leather clothing. Um, many vegans don't eat honey, either, but that's more of a personal choice. I still do because it's good for my voice, which is part of the reason I stopped eating dairy in the first place. Less, ah. Phlegm." She wrinkles her nose at the thought, then adds, "It's also one way to know I'm always kosher, which is nice."
Just about half of what she said went over his head—and boy can she talk when she wants to—but kosheris a word he grew up with. "I didn't realize you were Jewish."
"Is that… a problem?" she asks slowly, making a face he can't decipher.
He can't help but laugh. "Rachel, I'm from Brooklyn."
"I know, but—"
"I picked a heck of a side to fight on if I had a problem with people being Jewish, don't you think?"
She frowns. "I—you're right. I'm sorry."
"No, it was a fair question," he concedes. "Not all of the guys I knew were in it for the right reasons. A lot of 'em walked all over me, for a while. I, uh… did a lot of hard work in Basic to show that it didn't always make you look weak to defend the little guy."
"I can't imagine you in Basic," Rachel says, looking him up and down; her eyes focus on the way his hand dwarfs his teaspoon with amusement. "I mean, were you always… like this?"
"All…" she waves her fork around, indicating his body, "this?"
"I can't talk about that," he says, tone apologetic but firm.
"What; you could tell me, but then you'd have to kill me?"
His eyes go wide. "What? I mean, yeah, it's classified, but I'd never—"
She's giggling. "Steve, it's okay. I was joking. It's a line, an old quotation… I don't even know what it's from originally. James Bond, maybe? I guess it must have been after your time." She smiles. "I know I'm safe with you."
Hearing her say that relieves him more than it should. "Good." As keeps happening with her, he finds himself mentally going back and replaying their conversation, trying to find the last branching off subject; she moves so quickly. "I'm sorry there's not much you can eat here; I hope you didn't put yourself out for my sake."
"I wouldn't have invited you here if I didn't love it," she insists, before sipping her tea.
"So… did you always want to be an actress?" he asks, finally taking a bite of his food. It's heavenly, and the taste of it snaps him back to a life long ago and far removed. He tries to focus hard on Rachel's words.
"I always wanted to be on Broadway, yes, but the singing was a far bigger draw for me than the acting was, as a child. I always resented things that didn't come easily to me. Singing is the most natural feeling in the world; acting took work. But I went to a performing arts school in the city for college, and it really changed my perspective on my dreams. In a good way, I think. Did you always want to be a soldier?"
"No, actually. I mean, once the war started, yes—I just couldn't stand the idea of not… I dunno. Doing my part. Didn't seem right to let other guys risk their necks and not stick out my own. But before that…"
"Yes?" she goads, when it looks like he won't finish on his own.
"You're going to laugh."
"No, I won't."
"I… wanted to be an artist. Sketch comic books."
She smiles. "You're talking to the little girl who swore she'd have an EGOT by the age of twenty-five; it would be extremely hypocritical of me to laugh."
"Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony. It's sort of the holy grail of musical performers, to get each of those awards."
"What are they for?" he asks, feeling foolish. "Oscars are for films, right? They used to print the winners in the paper every year."
"Yes, Oscars are for films. Emmys are for television, Grammys are for music, and Tonys are for work on the Broadway stage. I never considered it before, but now that I'm thinking about it, yes, they all began after the second world war."
She's starting to get that melancholy look on her face, like she's beginning to realize how much he's missed, and he doesn't want to have that conversation right now. "How many have you got so far?" he asks, leaning in on his elbows with interest.
"None, unfortunately. I was nominated for a Tony when I played Eponine a few years ago, but I was beaten out by Patti LuPone. There are few people to whom I will lose graciously, but she's one of them."
He doesn't know who Eponine or Patti LuPone are, but he can look it up later. "What about Babes In Arms?"
"Portal Day made a mess out of everything; the whole season got thrown off. We missed our chance."
"That's a shame; it's an amazing show."
"Thank you," she murmurs, brushing her bangs from her eyes. Her lips twitch a little. "Do you still draw?"
"Sometimes," he says, tips of his ears going red. "Not as much as I used to."
Not since Dr. Berdino asked him to turn in his sketchbook a few months ago and found the lines of Bucky and Peggy's faces rendered over and over and over again, interrupted only by the doodles he'd drawn listening to the Beatles with Clint. She hadn't confiscated it or anything, but she had advised him to find a new muse; told him she suspected he was using his talent as a reason not to move forward.
Inspiration has been thin on the ground, of late.
"Can I see them sometime?"
"What, my drawings? I… they're nothing special."
"You're something special," she counters, and he doesn't really know what to do with that.
"Being strong doesn't make me any good at art," he finally mumbles.
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?" she asks gently.
"Maybe. I mean, I don't have my sketchbook on me, or anything, so…"
"I look forward to seeing whatever you want to show me, whenever you're ready. And why do you think your strength is the only thing that makes you special?"
His brow wrinkles. "I figured that was kind of obvious."
"Your physical abilities are extraordinary, no one's denying that. But you were an artist long before you were a soldier. So why should your rank define you?"
"It's—" He frowns, unsure of how to argue with her, but feeling like she's giving him too much credit. He changes tactics. "I dunno if I'd say artist. I like to draw, that's all. Doesn't make me any good."
"Talent has nothing to do with it. It's about how you see yourself, and what you want. My parents had to soundproof my room when I was thirteen because the neighbors complained that I sang too loud. I wasn't going to stop singing, so we found a way around it."
He can just imagine her. His lips tug upwards at the thought, and suddenly nostalgia's pulling him back, making comparisons. All the stubby broken pencils he hoarded in the orphanage; the loose paper he hid under his mattress so it wouldn't get crumpled. "I get that. I once got the tar beaten out of me for drawing on a bridge."
Every detail is crystal clear to him. How the water staining and mineral deposits on the old concrete had created a vivid picture only he could see, and how desperate he'd been to bring it out. He thought he'd get in trouble for stealing the chalk from the Catholic school, because even though the sisters had a soft spot for him, they sure wouldn't anymore if he got caught. As it turned out, nuns were the least of his problems. The bridge was gang territory.
He and Bucky'd been outnumbered about two dozen to two—he couldn't open his right eye for about a week afterwards.
It feels personal, but… try as he might, he can't think of a single reason not to tell Rachel this story.
So he does.
The meal is wonderful, and Steve completely loses track of how much time they spend just eating and talking. When the check finally arrives, he snatches it up before she gets a chance to even glance at it. She gives him a look, but… even if it weren't a gentleman's duty, it would be ridiculous for him to do anything less considering the amount of money SHIELD pays him.
"Next time we do this, we're going somewhere where you have more options, okay?" he says as he tucks a handful of bills into the checkbook. "You can teach me all about vegan food."
He looks up. "Next dark day, I mean. If you want to."
"You know… the theater doesn't have to be dark for us to hang out," Rachel points out, a slow smile making her features glow.
He swallows. "It, uh, it doesn't?"
She reaches across the table to touch his hand. "Steve, in case it's escaped your notice: I like spending time with you."
"Good," he says, because it's the first thing that comes to mind. "I mean. I like spending time with you, too."
"Well that settles it," she says, standing up and reaching for her coat. "It's a date. Hypothetically."
"I can't wait," he says honestly, standing as well. "Um. Can I walk you home?"
She tucks her hair behind her ear. "I'd like that."
He doesn't stop smiling for fifteen blocks.
Later that night, his phone lights up. He doesn't recognize the number, but when he fishes through his pockets to find the napkin Rachel gave him, it matches what she wrote down. The text only says two words: Top Gun.
He doesn't know what that means, but then, he's not really sure how to respond, either. It occurs to him that there's probably a way to save her number so that he doesn't have to check back with the napkin every time he wants to talk to her. He's got other numbers programmed in, after all, and just because the ones he has so far are work-related doesn't mean they all have to be.
"Jarvis?" he asks aloud, not wanting to break anything. "Can you save a number to my phone?"
"Apologies, Captain, but I cannot."
He frowns. He could have sworn… "Phones don't save numbers?" he ventures meekly.
(He hates this. He has no problem with the tech they use at SHIELD; it's all hands-on and intuitive. But these little domestic things—cell phones and DVRs—he just can't wrap his mind around them. It's infuriating.)
"Of course they do," Jarvis says, and Steve has no idea how Tony figured out how to code the sound and inflection of a robot rolling its non-existent eyes, but he clearly managed it. "But one of Mr. Stark's stipulations in installing me here was that a protocol be put in place to stop me from doing anything he deemed you should be able to do for yourself. I believe he referred to you as a 'grown ass man.'"
Steve sighs. "Is there a protocol override?"
"I'm afraid not, sir. I can advise you to start by clicking the phone icon at the bottom of your screen."
"Some help you are," Steve mutters, but obediently swipes his thumb over the appropriate place.
It's a struggle, but he manages to save her to his Contacts under her name, and text back a question mark. (He'd tried to ask "What?" but it kept coming out WJAT, and eventually he'd given up. He got the distinct impression that JARVIS was laughing at him, despite the conspicuous silence from the walls.)
After an embarrassingly short few seconds, considering how long it took him to reply, her response comes through: You know, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." It's from the movie Top Gun, originally. 1986. We should watch it sometime. It's about the air force or something. You'd like it.
He wants to say: Sure, we'll make it a double feature with Casablanca.
He manages to say: OK.
And maybe it's dumb, but… he's kind of proud of himself, anyway.
A/N I wanted to thank you all again for reading, and for being so enthusiastic and accepting of this story. I can't promise when the next chapter will be up, though, because a) I still have no internet at home from the hurricane, I'm posting this at my grandmother's house, and b) because from here on out the story gets... much more vague.
The bright side is that that's where you can come in! I absolutely have an arc planned for these two, but their relationship becomes much more open-ended at this point; I don't have a lot written. So if you have any suggestions or requests, now is absolutely the time. Come at me!