The first one is an accident.
Mary learns quickly that staying sane while traveling transcontinentally means she needs a smartphone and a good data plan -- and having a decent job means she can finally afford one. She's home, playing with her new phone, when she sort-of-inadvertently snaps a picture of her feet. The filters are kind of cool, and she's happily tapping away, her fingers that much faster than her brain before it registers that she's sent Steve a picture of her bare feet and nasty kitchen linoleum.
"Shit," she laughs, surprised, and thanks her stars that she didn't send it to her boss.
An hour later Steve sends her a text that makes her frown in confusion: That is a fetching shade of electric blue on your toenails, babe, I LOVE IT. ALSO, when was the last time anyone cleaned that floor?
Two minutes later she gets another one: that was frm Danny plz ignre but hes right about the flooor
She can't help the fit of giggles that overtakes her, the image of it rising in her imagination: Danny somehow getting hold of Steve's phone and taking his time with the text because of his goofy thumbs; Steve discovering what Danny's doing and wrestling the phone away, trying to get the last word while fending Danny off.
She imagines they're laughing, too.
The next one she poses for.
She ends up on a long layover in Denver, of all places, so she rents a car and drives into the mountains, just far enough so she can see out over the plains. She snaps a picture with her ass against a guardrail, grins against the sunlight and into the lens, doesn't think about it before she's sending it off to Steve.
Mary turns into a bit of a tourist, after that.
She volunteers to fill in on different routes, finds ways to squeeze in new destinations between her regular runs from LA to New York and Honolulu. Everywhere she goes, she sends Steve pictures -- her lunch in a weird little restaurant in DC, a skyward shot looking up the Statue of Liberty's nose, herself pretending to be eaten by a lion in Chicago. At a state park outside LA, wearing Emily's wildest sunglasses and shooting a victory sign at the camera.
Steve doesn't always respond; once he texted her to warn against trying poutine when she was in Vancouver (your arteries, Mar, he'd said), so she rolled her eyes and asked a few passengers for recommendations, sent Steve a picture of the giant plate she'd ordered. He maybe had a point about her arteries, but God, she'd die happy.
Late one night, when she's dragging into her apartment while thinking about booking some time at a dude ranch outside Austin and wondering if Steve would like a few pictures of her playing cowboy, it hits her, what she's really doing with the photos. She crumples a little and leans hard against the entryway wall for a long while, before she decides, Fuck it.
She's never forgotten her brother; she'll be damned if she lets him forget her.
It's months before she's back in Honolulu long enough for a real visit. Steve surprises her by meeting her at the airport, greeting her at the gate instead of in a holding room and wrapping her up in one of his hugs. She can't help but laugh at the way he tries to regain his cool when they separate, like he's hoping she hasn't noticed how very like an excited puppy he looks.
"So, ah." Steve rubs at his nose and twitches, like he wants to adjust the gun holster that's not on his hip and misses it immensely. He takes her bag instead and starts them toward the exit. "You got three days?"
"Yeah," she answers, "but I'm not trying to put you out or anything, I can entertain myself."
"No, you know, it's fine," he says, glancing sideways at her. "I was thinking we could, maybe. Do something."
"What, like, together?" Mary can't help needling him; she gets back home and it always feels like she's twelve again and he's infinitely older and wiser and way, way more cool. "Whatever could we do that doesn't involve conspiracies and diamond smuggling?"
Steve snorts, amused, and replies, "Well, we could always work on your taekwondo."
"Yeah, I'll take you on," she laughs. "My green belt says I'm gonna kick your ass."
They heckle each other all the way home. Mary feels half like a teenager again, except this time her brother seems to listen to her, and they've got tentative plans for spending the next day at the beach, although Mary's not sure if the snorkeling is going to happen.
She lets Steve feel gallant and useful by bringing her bags in from the car, and instead she heads straight for the kitchen -- she's always hungry for real food after flying multiple hops.
She stops short before she gets to the fridge, comes to a standstill in the middle of the kitchen, her eyes drawn to the wall by the doorway to the hall. She blinks a couple times before she can make herself move closer.
Steve has kept the same basic setup as when they were kids: the wall is a central hub for the house, with a key rack, a hanging notepad, a calendar, a corded phone that Mary's pretty sure has been hanging there since she was eight. And a big bulletin board, which she remembers being tacked full of drawings and reminders and receipts. Now, though, now there's nothing on the bulletin board but pictures.
All the pictures Mary's ever sent -- plus a few she sent to Kono -- even that first one, her bare feet and terrible linoleum, all of them are gathered together in a haphazard explosion, tucked around pushpins and each other at all angles. That Steve saved them all, that he went to the trouble of getting them printed, every week --
Mary covers her mouth with one hand and tucks the other one up under her elbow, holding herself tight against the way she's feeling squeezed from the inside out, against the way tears want to well up behind her eyelids. She can feel Steve come up behind her more than she can hear him.
"Kono found this little place around the corner from headquarters that prints the square pictures," he offers from over her shoulder.
Mary doesn't move, just blinks hard as the pictures go blurry in her vision.
"I figured you'd be pretty safe, with this job, you know?" Steve says softly. "Airport security, moving target. And then you started taking these unpredictable shifts, and I was -- it was tactically sound, and I was always glad to get your pictures, because I knew it meant you were okay." She can hear him swallow and feels a shock of warmth when his big hand comes to rest on her shoulder. "But you're more than okay, aren't you?"
He's smiling when she turns to look at him, a small, proud smile that she returns a little shakily. "I missed you for a long time," she says, not really trusting her voice beyond a half-whisper.
"Mary," Steve breathes before pulling her into another all-encompassing hug. "Don't stop, okay? With the pictures."
She squeezes the wall of muscle that's her brother as best she can, promises, "Okay," lets the moment stretch until she needs to breathe again, until her stomach reminds her why they're in the kitchen in the first place. "Okay," she says again, louder, and shoulders Steve back a step. "That was a moment, what have you got to eat around here?"
Steve laughs and lets himself be shoved, steers her around the kitchen, feeds her until she's fit to burst.
Two days after she leaves Hawaii, she turns her phone on when they land in D.C. to a picture of Steve's feet against the sand of the beach. She stops on the gangway, the rest of the crew parting easily around her as she texts him back.