Steve's done a lot of stupid things in his life, but breaking out of SHIELD custody with Natasha and Sam ranks right up there at the top, right behind allowing Dr. Erskine to use an experimental serum on him and right in front of going AWOL behind enemy lines to rescue Bucky.
Once they're tucked away out of sight, SHIELD agents nowhere to be seen, Natasha and Sam exchange glances.
Sam says, "It's safer if we split up." He gives Steve a long, appraising look. "Cap, you stay with Natasha. I'm going to try to find Hill. She'll know where Fury is and what he's up to."
"Sam--" Steve has so many questions tumbling around in his head, but he can't even get the first one out, because Natasha interrupts.
"No, he's right," she says, and waves a hand. "Look at you. You stand out."
"And Nat can make you invisible," Sam says.
Natasha makes a skeptical face. "Let's not get carried away." She cocks her head and considers him; he has to force himself not to squirm under her regard. "But I can make you blend."
They make arrangements to contact each other, and then Sam is in the wind.
"Maybe we should contact Coulson," Steve says. "I'm sure he's not compromised."
"Too dangerous. For him," she says when he opens his mouth to argue. "He's safer on the inside if we don't try to contact him, and this way he doesn't have to prove his loyalty to Pierce by turning us in if they intercept a message." She tugs at his hand, her fingers warm and dry, but urgent against his skin.
"Fine. Okay." He lets himself be moved, curls his fingers around hers and squeezes before letting go.
"Come on," she says, giving him an encouraging smile that makes her whole face light up, like they're not currently fugitives from the government. "I have a plan."
Thirty-five minutes and two train changes later, she leads him up out of the subway and into a shopping mall. Steve's been in the future for about a year now, and he's still baffled by shopping malls. He's visited the one in Brooklyn and the one by Columbus Circle, but he always gets overwhelmed by the crowds and the smells and the sheer amount of stuff after about fifteen minutes and leaves.
"This is your plan? Your plan is going to the mall?" He can't help the way his voice rises on the word "mall," querulous and louder than it should be. Most shoppers pass them by without a second glance, but one or two young men give Natasha a leering once-over.
She raises her chin and holds his gaze. "Do you trust me?"
"What? Yes, of course." He doesn't hesitate; he knows that Pierce--or whoever he's fronting for--is already spinning Natasha as a traitor, a double agent Fury should have never trusted. Steve knows better. Trusting Natasha isn't on the rapidly growing list of stupid things he's done.
"Then trust me."
She takes his hand again, leads him into Banana Republic and, after another one of those long, assessing looks, starts pulling clothes off the racks. After about five minutes of this, she shoves a bunch of hangers into his arms. "Go try these on."
The dungarees fit fine and the t-shirt, which has an already faded logo on it for something he's not familiar with, is larger and looser than the ones he usually wears. He steps out of the dressing room in his socks and Natasha shoves a sweatshirt into his hands.
"Put it on over the t-shirt."
He shrugs into it, but he must not be moving fast enough for her, because she starts fussing with the hood and the shoulders. It's kind of nice--he can't remember the last time someone fussed over him. (He doesn't want to remember: Bucky's grin sharp and impressed as he brushed imaginary lint off Steve's lapels and declared him fit to lead the troops; Peggy nodding in approval over the improvements he and Howard had made to his uniform.)
He straightens up, tugs the hem of the sweatshirt down. "Okay?"
"One more thing." She hands over a beat-up looking ball cap and nods when he hesitates before putting it on. When he does, she again reaches up and tugs it down low over his forehead, her hands curving over the bill, making sure it keeps its shape. "Okay," she says. "Get your shoes and jacket on. We'll wear the clothes out of the store."
That's when he notices she's already traded her black pants and top for dark jeans and a striped sweatshirt. He gathers his things and puts his shoes on and doesn't comment on her abilities as a quick change artist.
At the counter, she adds a pair of black plastic glasses to their stuff, and once she's paid for everything (in cash), she hands them to him.
"I don't--I can see fine," he says, batting her hand away gently. "Even before the serum, there was nothing wrong with my eyes."
She tilts her head. "Steve."
He sighs. "Okay. Wait, these are just clear plastic? Why?"
"Be grateful I'm not making you wear skinny jeans and a fedora," she answers, which doesn't make any sense.
"I'll have you know I look great in a fedora," he says.
"I bet you do." Something about the way her gaze moves over him, slowly this time, makes him flush. "Come on." She shoves their other clothes into a backpack she slings over one shoulder and starts pulling the price tags off the new stuff they're wearing. He lifts the baseball cap off his head and she says, "Put that back on." He heaves another, louder sigh that she ignores. "And keep your head down. There are cameras everywhere. Don't be afraid to slouch a little. We're not on parade."
He rolls his shoulders and folds in on himself a little--he remembers how to make himself smaller, how it had sometimes gotten him and Bucky out of trouble with the nuns, even if it doesn't work well with his body now. And then he starts to laugh.
Natasha turns to look at him. "What?"
"I just realized this disguise." He waves his hand at the glasses and the ball cap. "I'm Clark Kent and you're Lois Lane." He can't help but feel a little gleeful.
"Okay," she says, and he doesn't think he's imagining the affectionate indulgence in her voice.
They get on the escalator back down to the subway station attached to the mall and Natasha turns to look up at him. "I know you're terrible at taking orders--"
"I am not."
"You really are. But I want you to remember that everything I do has a good reason, so don't question me too much, okay?" She gazes up at him with what looks like complete sincerity, which makes him worry a little, because it's not an expression he's seen on her face before. She reaches up and cups his cheek, then slides her hand around the nape of his neck.
He shivers. "Okay," he answers warily.
They stare at each other for a really long moment, and it feels like time has slowed down, like it's stretching out endlessly somehow. Natasha goes up on her tiptoes and tugs his head down and she's kissing him. She's kissing him, and he doesn't know what to do with his hands; he's never known or they've been full--this is only the third time someone's kissed him and he still doesn't know where to put his hands. He settles one on the nape of her neck, fingers sliding up into her hair, which is soft and silky, and cups her face with the other, just trying to keep up with the way her tongue is curling over his and setting off little sparks of heat under his skin. He feels like he's falling into her, like the earth is shifting under his feet, and then he remembers they're on an escalator.
She pulls back just far enough to murmur, "Cops at four o'clock," against his cheek and he forces himself not to turn and look.
They make it to the lower level of the mall and she flashes him a wide smile before taking his hand and leading him back down into the subway. His mouth is tingling and he can still feel the soft warmth of her skin against his fingertips and his face is probably bright red. Maybe it's just the adrenaline of being on the lam, but his whole body is vibrating with desire. Natasha seems unaffected, though, so maybe this is a thing spies do. Maybe it's all part of their disguise.
They board a train heading for Union Station. "We'll get some more cash and get a car," she says, "and figure out where to go next." She plants her feet and wraps her fingers around a pole, steady and sure as the train sways down the track. When he doesn't answer, she says, "Steve? You okay?"
"Yeah," he says. "I'm okay."
"Good." She goes up on tiptoes again to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
He has an unwelcome epiphany then. He doesn't want it to be part of their disguise. He wants it to be real.
He is totally screwed.
She smiles reassuringly and nods, completely unaware of his sudden feelings. "We're going to be fine."
He can't match her easy smile. It feels tight and false on his face, but he can't let on, can't make such an amateur mistake, not when everything else is on the line. It's not the first time he's had to hide this sort of thing.
"Yeah," he echoes. "We're going to be fine."