The first time Maria sees him on the bridge of the helicarrier, she has to pause and take a breath. She thought she was prepared for it— the armor, the presence, the sense of purpose— but no.
No one else even seems to be looking at the guy, which amazes her. She turns right back to her tablet, does her fucking job, because there are things to do here, people to manage, a whole world to save, and the fact that there are more people here than Cap, Stark, Thor, Barton, Romanoff and Banner means there are a whole lot of ducks that need to be lined up in a row.
This guy, though. Apart from a quick little butting-of-heads with Stark, one that ends in Stark saying, “I’ll look at that later, I promise," he stands still and listens, and she knows just by looking at him that he’s going to listen to orders and do his job, and he isn’t going to make more work for her.
So maybe it’s that, too. A lot of egos wind up on the helicarrier for things like this. The fact that his isn’t one of them makes her whole life a little easier.
When she finishes debriefing him, he nods to her, his brown eyes serious and steady on hers, and says, "Got it. Thank you, ma'am."
"Colonel Rhodes," she nods at him, and then he’s off in that gleaming silver armor, and she thinks to herself, I need to see this man again.