NOTES: Started out for the LJ community avengers100 but got too long to be posted there. I had a longer version of this story, which I might still write someday, if the urge takes me...

Madness Of A Glorious Kind

Standing by the bridge windows, Lieutenant Hill gives the eulogy with dry eyes, while across the helicarrier, faces and fingers grow wet. She speaks of a man who believed in a better world – a world of heroes – who sought to be worthy of that better world, and was a hero in his own right.

There's no tremor in her voice, and her expression is calm, almost stony. It would be easy to believe this is just a case of 'man down, keep moving'.

But later, Steve passes her office to deliver some paperwork and hears the great, gulping sobs inside.

Stark calls her 'the Tin Woman', a joke Steve gets and wishes he didn't. The others are civil and courteous. Clint sometimes stops to ask low-voiced questions which she answers, equally quiet.

"They both worked under Coulson before she was assigned to Fury," Natasha says when Steve asks.


Natasha hesitates. "A woman in her position doesn't have anything easy. There's a lot to Maria – Lieutenant Hill – that few people see. Especially guys like Stark and those who think like him."

"She wears a mask." But Steve remembers her private grief.

"We all wear masks. Some are just more obvious."

He thinks the mask drops when she finds him waiting outside her office. Weariness gives way to frank astonishment. "Don't you have a party to be at, Captain?"

"Yes. But I thought I'd come help you with the paperwork."

Maybe it was the sigh she heaved as she looked at the mess, or the way she set her shoulders as she walked away and Stark announced, 'Party at the Tower. I need a drink – or a distillery. Yes, Ms Lewis, you are most certainly invited.'

Steve remembers being the one nobody wanted, too.

He had Bucky. Who does she have?

"Coulson used to help me with the paperwork," Hill offers sometime after midnight.

Steve imagines Coulson's wry smile, the seriousness in the man's face, the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. "Sounds like Coulson."

"He believed in heroes – in you." Her gaze is an accusation and Steve is without defence.

"I'll try not to betray that."

Her lips twitch. "Do or do not," she murmurs. "There is no 'try'."

The reference passes him by; he ignores it. "He believed in you, too, you know."

Brows rise. "What makes you think that?"

"He taught you how to be a SHIELD agent."

The others don't say it, but they think he's mad. So, apparently, does Maria.

"Why are you doing this?"

He looks at her from the container she's dumped in front of him – mee goreng, home-made. No masks now, just the pained bewilderment of a woman who doesn't get it – perhaps because no-one ever got her.

"Because you do what you think is right," Steve says. "Because you don't flinch from it. And because I think I love you."

She stares, blushing furiously. And he grins at her shock. Definitely no masks now.

Maybe it's madness, but it's a glorious kind.

"You always did like the bossy ones," Bucky remarks from the gurney.

Steve drags his gaze from where Maria is sorting out jurisdiction with impeccable cool and razor authority. "Am I that obvious?"

A chuckle turns into a wheeze. "No. Just predictable. She looks a classy dame."

Maria comes over as Bucky is wheeled off. "How is he?"

"Same old Bucky." Then, because she looks weary, he asks, "Paperwork at the usual place, Lieutenant?"

She looks at him, a smile haunting her mouth. "If you make dinner, it's a date, Captain."

Steve has the sudden urge to leap tall buildings.

- fin -