Maria Hill doesn't much care for conventional, has always made her own rules. The last person she'd expected to submit to them was Captain fucking America.
When they met, he was still a relic from another time, closed off, grieving, trying to adjust to a brave new world in the middle of a battle for its survival. She's seen videos of him from the Forties, calling women dames and shyly grinning at his dancing girls in a shot between the curtains of his propaganda tour.
As per usual, history has turned out to be a dirty liar.
Because unlike the legendary Captain America, Steve Rogers knows how to talk to women in a way that makes them feel wanted, needed, craved; Maria learned this barely a month after they dug him out of the ice. He'll meet your eyes when he kneels in front of you and peels your panties down your legs. He won't claim ownership after one hookup, three, five.
And damnit, but the more he doesn't push, the more she wants to do it instead.
Steve has never exactly been a creature of habit. These days the world sees him as this pinnacle of virtues he never himself subscribed to, and sometimes, it amuses him greatly to think about just how wrong they've all got him.
Sometimes. Not lately.
He's been out of the hospital for less than a week and doesn't feel so much as a twinge anymore. He moved out of his apartment; Sam helped him do that. The new place is a little more upscale than he'd have preferred, but not everyone rents out to Captain America, not without SHIELD to smooth out the process.
And what he needs most of all, now, after the world he's just started getting used to is in pieces yet again, is routine. Every day, he gets up early, and goes for a run. The same route every day, and the same partner. Sam agreed to that without explanation or elaboration, merely nodded; he'd understood.
Maria's waiting for him by the door, casually leaning against the wall, isn't part of any routine. Her eyes rake his body when he walks down the hallway, the gaze of someone who's seen the naked skin beneath the sportswear, the uniform, the armor.
“I was beginning to think you burned all your bridges,” he says.
Her eyebrows lift. “You still don't know me very well, Captain Rogers.”
At that, he smiles. “I'm sure I know you exactly as well as you want me to know you.”
The corners of her mouth twitch a little, too. “Can you say that ten times in a row, without tripping up?”
He flips her the bird, producing a chiding “tsk” from her, and unlocks the door to his apartment.
There isn't much more talking after that.
Maria Hill keeps her private life a secret. It's more an occupational habit than personal desire; women in her field are still judged by their public image as much as by their skill, and being seen as an impenetrable ice queen – pun intended – has so far served her well. So, no, it's not like being with Steve is revolutionary for her in any way. She's playing it slow, keeping him at arm's length, but that's not fear; it's caution. She's always been cautious with the people who meant the most to her.
And there's another angle: she's had relationships. Good ones, bad ones, shallow ones, deep ones. None of them ever made office gossip, let alone the evening news. Going steady and public with Steve... well, that'd be the end of the secrecy. She would risk of shrinking to the woman by his side, known and respected for whose girlfriend she is rather than her position. There are more downsides to this than benefits. And yet...
A tiny, fatuous voice in the back of her head keeps insisting that not telling anyone about them is just another facet of the game. She's not hiding for her sake; she's hiding for everyone else. Certainly not for Steve: he's always wanted to scream them from the rooftops, if only she'd give him permission.
The best way to overthrow expectations is to prove people wrong. She's always excelled at that.
Steve has never been a party person. This wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, he supposes. Even in the war, with the Commandos, he's mostly chosen to sit away from the fray, by himself or with Bucky, maybe Peggy.
Neither of them is still around for Stark's famous Avengers parties, so Steve has to substitute. No – that's a terrible way to put it. He won't rank friends, won't diminish the importance of the people he's got now in comparison with the people he used to have around. Sam isn't Bucky, and he doesn't have to be. Maria isn't... Well, he's got no real idea what Maria is to him anyway.
Pool isn't really Steve's game; he's decent at it, but not good. Sam doesn't let him win, and that, right there, is precisely why they got along so well. Thor feeds him Asgardian booze that actually manages to give him a tingle, but he keeps drinking the whiskey Sam gets for them anyway.
Sam's on another trip to the bar when Maria strolls to the pool tables, looking a little misplaced with her tight, red dress, a little too good for this world. That's pretty standard, though; Maria Hill tends to be too big for any room she steps into.
“Walk with me,” she asks, and he puts away his cue and follows her to one of the terraces. She maneuvers them in front of a pillar between the windows, out of sight of anyone inside, and kisses him. Steve yields to her willingly. He always will; little as he might understand about what exactly it is they've got going on, he's long since understood that.
Afterward, she smiles at him wickedly, another rare expression for him to file away and keep save. She's also shivering, goosebumps spreading all over her bare shoulders.
He shrugs out of his jacket and holds it out to here without a second thought. She takes it and puts it on, and it's not until they walk back inside together, until Natasha catches his eyes, nodding after Maria and winking, that he realizes the significance of both his gesture and her acceptance.
When he joins Sam at the pool tables again, he's grinning hard enough that Sam asks him what the fuck's going on. Steve doesn't answer. He does win the next round.
Maria has a tendency to over-think the really simple things in life. She knows this. She likes to blame the job – examining every angle and every possible catalyst of a problem is part what makes her so good at it.
What complicates matters, sometimes, is the fact that not every obstacle is also a problem. She knows that too.
Sokovia is a game changer in any number of ways. There's the big picture, of course, the public getting a little more critical over the exact amount of power their super-powered protectors have. And then there's the smaller scale, the personal effects on the people involved. Maria rather understands Wanda Maximoff's decision to join up; she's not so sympathetic to Barton and Stark taking time off, but then again, that's never been her solution to anything and everyone's allowed their own coping methods.
For her, personally, it's not so much the flying city as it is a single, quiet moment mid-battle, a few whispered words from Romanoff on the helicarrier. He'll be okay is all she says, under her breath so only Maria can hear, with a brief reassuring smile.
Part of her wants to revolt against the assumption that one single life will matter to her above all the others, so much so that she needs the Black Widow, of all people, to offer comfort. Another part of her knows that life is short, especially when you put yours on the line every other day, and that she doesn't want to keep toeing a line in the sand that restricts her as much as it protects her.
Steve has never seen himself as a leader, much less a commander. It happened out of necessity in the war. Somehow, since then, everyone has come to assume that's who he is.
“Stark made me your liaison,” Maria says without looking up from a file on her table, with a slight frown on her face – barely concealed distaste for the fact that Stark left to take an extended vacation. A lesser man might assume the frown was about him; Steve has issues, but self-consciousness was never one of them. Besides, Maria is see-what-you-get. If she'd grown tired of him, he'd have been made aware.
“I'm glad,” he replies, and it's the truth, but that's when she finally does look up.
She inclines her head, and he expects a quip, a nudge to stay on topic, Rogers, this is work. “Me too.”
“Oh,” he says, and his expression must be hilarious, because she smiles, the kind that's fond and a little soft, but also melancholic. It doesn't take a genius to piece together the reason for the latter: they've been working together, one way or another, since the day they met. They're not the kind of people with plenty of free time. If they weren't working together, they'd barely see each other.
“I just so happen to enjoy your company, Rogers,” she says, apparently having decided he needs to hear it. She doesn't add anything about how she'd come by that company if they'd ever been pulled in different directions. And he can acknowledge that that's the way their lives work, that people like them exist through and for their jobs, but he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't at least try to ground them in something else, something more.
Following a sudden idea, very well knowing he might get shot down, he asks, “If you don't have any plans tonight, I can cook. Sort of. Basic stuff, not French cuisine or the like. But I – “
“Yes,” Maria says, surprising him again. “I'd like that. I'll meet you at your place once I'm done here?”
He nods, and she picks up her tablet again, swipes once, and gives him a pointed glance. Back to work; more of each other's company later.
Maria Hill hates traveling. A quick flight in a helicarrier or helicopter, over and done with in a matter of hours, that she can deal with. The whole business with suitcases and planes and fancy hotels, that she finds unpleasant.
There's trouble brewing in the intelligence community – or, more to the point, surrounding the not-so-hidden sidearm of it that the Avengers have become. She and Steve have been made the ambassadors for their cause, for obvious reasons, and the sole upside of that are tumbles in fine linen that come with staying in said fancy hotels. This one's in Brussels. They're attending a conference on world peace, pretentious as it is useless. Stealing news headlines away from it won't hurt anyone. It's time for another step forward.
When they walk through the lobby, Steve respectfully keeps his distance. She knows what he's doing: keeping up the pretense. They're colleagues who met outside their rooms, for the cameras, nothing more.
Maria moves closer and reaches for his hand, drinking in his stunned expression when he turns and stares at her. She nods ever so slightly, for him, for confirmation, and then smiles at the flashing cameras.