The Evening Marriage
She’s not Peggy.
Steve doesn’t want her to be.
There’s no hesitation in Hill’s kisses, no uncertainty in her touch, no expectations of a future, no need to be gentle. She presumes he wants her as fiercely as she seems to want him, and she’s right. Desire is a thrumming in his veins – the intoxicating edge of life and living when it feels like he’s been going through the motions for too long. And somewhere, deep inside, an earlier thought casts a delicate shadow.
If he doesn’t stop, he doesn’t have to think. If he doesn’t think, then the thought that this constitutes betrayal won’t find purchase in his mind. What is about to be done will be done, and once it’s done, it can’t be undone.
No way to the past; only the road ahead.
Her hands drag up the hem of his turtleneck, her head ducks to his pecs and her mouth sucks on his nipple, earthing lightning through his balls. He gets his hands in the collar of her shirt and yanks, and her buttons scatter for the corners of the room. Their mouths wage war, while he drags his hands over flesh sleek and scarred and wonders at the battle-history that’s inscribed on her skin.
He’ll ask about it later.
She strips without shame, without shyness. If there’s a dare in the midnight shadows of her eyes when their gazes lock, then it lasts no longer than the time it takes for his mouth to cover hers, for his hand to cup her breast, for her to shuck his trousers, for her hand to close about him...
Steve fucks her slowly. Slower than she wants, but now that he’s here, he’s going to make the betrayal worth it. Her fingers scrunch the papers on the desk, and whimpers occasionally escape her lips. Her breasts shake and her teeth dig into her lip as her body shudders about him, once...again...again...
He comes in her, a wave of hot release, and a euphoric satisfaction that can’t quite hide the grief in him. How long has it been? Months? Years? Decades? Bucky died, Steve froze in the ice, and Peggy mourned, moved on, and married another man. And Steve’s been cold, cold, cold ever since he woke.
But there’s no chill as he sprawls atop Maria on the desk of the safehouse office, his heart pounding, his ears ringing – nothing but the heat of him, of her, of them.
A hand skims its way up his nape, then cradles his head against her shoulder, holding him close in a gesture he’d never have expected of ‘Hardass Hill’ – like he’s hers to shelter and comfort.
“Are you okay?”
He likes the breathlessness in the usually cool and controlled voice. He wants to just lie here and never move again.
“I will be,” he says at last.
Steve isn’t sure how he feels about the news that Maria and Natasha have been lovers.
It’s not the acid feeling of betrayal that stabbed him when he first heard about Peggy’s marriage, but a twisting discomfort that doesn’t abate over that birthday weekend.
He has time to think about it in the weeks following. In fact, it’s difficult not to when Sam comes back, hears about Natasha’s flying visit, and reveals that he knew there’d been something between them.
“And you didn’t say?”
“Hey, Hill’s a private lady. So’s Natasha. Hell, I’m chasing the world’s foremost assassin with Captain America, so my lips are sealed.” He pauses with his hands over the keyboard. “It bothers you?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know why it should. What?”
Sam is giving him that look that says he doesn’t know if he should say anything. “Maria’s Evening, isn’t she?”
“Yes, but...” Steve stops and swallows, understanding. Three-quarters of a potential sedoretu, still missing the fourth. Only this time, it’s the Evening man who’s missing – Bucky.
When we’re older and find an Evening and a Morning wife.
It was eighty years ago. And now Steve has an Evening lover and a Morning sister and no Bucky. No wonder it aches.
Sam sees his understanding and, being Sam, doesn’t push it. And Steve puts it away. Even if he found Bucky, found him sane and in his right mind, with the memory of Steve and the promise they made as kids, there’s no guarantee that either Natasha or Maria would be interested in a sedoretu. They’re hardly the type to settle down.
On Labor weekend, he’s up at the Tower, roaming through the apartment Stark Industries gave him, and finding it vaguely dissatisfying. Various inquiries of JARVIS, and a call to Maria later, he lets himself into her apartment – and pauses to stare at the papers, at the clothing, at the dishes.
It’s her space, he has no right to go through and clean the place up.
He settles for picking up every dish lying about the place, throwing out the boxes of takeaway and anything that smells even slightly suspicious, and cleaning the kitchen. Then he starts on dinner and is halfway through when she comes home.
“I don’t suppose you’re looking for a job?” Maria sweeps into the apartment in a dress that makes a man thank God for summer. A polkadot sundress with a petticoated skirt that swirls about her knees. The scarlet-edged handbag matches the sunglasses that are tipped up on her head as she leans over his shoulder and absently accepts his kiss.
“Well, I thought about doing your laundry...” He pulls her in close and kisses her again, this time in a way calculated to make her pay attention.
“So domesticated,” she murmurs, but in spite of the teasing tone, there’s a wary edge in her eyes when her lashes lift.
Steve swallows down the sharp retort that hovers at his lips, wanting out. Instead, he sweeps her up in one arm, petticoats and a startled laugh, and turns off the stove behind him with his free hand. “And I’m good at the housework, too.”
She rolls her eyes. “That’s awful, Rogers.”
Working with the Avengers has its awkward moments. When Maria’s previously slept with one member and is still actively fucking another, there are going to be complications. It’s worse when two of the others are aware of this – one of them Tony Stark – and still worse when the member she’s slept with – past tense – is courting one of the remaining two.
Goddamit, Maria, Clint said when Nat started working with Banner. This is the Avengers, not fucking Melrose Place!
You realise that you’ve dated yourself with that reference? Not that she could deny it. Shades of awkward doesn’t even begin to cover it.
And her relationship with Steve is beginning to worry her. It’s the intensity of him – Morning moiety, bright and shining, with the same fervour that he brings to the hunt for the staff, to the hunt for Bucky, that he brought to the war against HYDRA, the Chitauri, the Red Skull. A woman could easily become addicted, and it’s the last thing Maria wants or needs.
He doesn’t make it easy to walk away, though.
She should. Oh, she should.
But what does she say when he comes off the Quinjet with the others and pulls her into one of the side rooms? What does she do when the brisk debrief she needed to give him about a recent sighting of Barnes and how it intersected with the most recent failed search for the staff turns into a very brisk “debriefing” of herself? How can she say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ for propriety’s sake when she’s finding it unspeakably hot to have Captain America finger-fucking her against a meeting room table, blue eyes laughing as he watches her orgasm to his touch in full uniform with the rim of the shield rising over his shoulders, a silver arc to the sunlit gold of his hair.
He seems a bit embarrassed about it later, although not so much he keeps from taking her in the showers as though driven by something he can’t express, and which she doesn’t think she’d want to hear anyway.
It’s not the sex that makes her cautious; sex is easy. It’s the other things: a sweet vermouth on the rocks placed by her hand while she’s discussing capital investment with Pepper, a bowl of chicken noodle soup on the coffee table while she’s reviewing the data the Avengers brought back from their latest foray, the invitation to come to bed – just sleep, he assures her with a wry smile, not sex.
“I’ll head up shortly.” It’s a distancing measure, and he knows it. He doesn’t try to kiss her, just brushes a hand over her wrist.
“Good night, Maria.”
She forces herself to focus on the work for the next hour before she turns in, putting away the desire to go up to his rooms and climb into his bed. He’s a wonderful hot water bottle in the New York chill, and as a bonus, she gets sex in the morning.
But Steve Rogers is not for her.
Better that she remembers it sooner than have to learn it later.
The text is brisk.
I’m 15mins away. Y/N?
Sure, he texts, and wonders if he should tidy up, then decides the apartment’s not that bad. And perhaps it’s a small rebellion – no tidying up when she comes over, no checking to see if she wants to stay for dinner, no pushing her for sex.
But when he closes her message, his eye lights on the text he received from JARVIS the other day.
A Sharon Carter, formerly of S.H.I.E.L.D, has attempted to contact you with the attached message. Her number is included, should you wish to respond.
The message is light and casual. An apology for deceiving him, the information that the stuff from his DC apartment is being held by the CIA, and the details of how he can reclaim it, although she supposes it’s been a while, so there’s no reason he would want it anymore.
Steve recognises it’s an attempt to reach out to him.
He doesn’t know if he wants to reach back or not. Is it okay to make friendly contact with a woman you were once attracted to, while in a sexual relationship with another woman, or is it technically cheating? He doesn’t really know how the rules work in this day and age – not that he knew them back in his day and age, either.
If she wanted exclusivity – she would have said from the start, Natasha claimed all those months ago. Steve isn’t so sure; Maria leaves a lot of things unsaid.
Such as her reason for coming around when he opens the door to let her in, and she holds up a paper bag stamped with a local Chinese takeaway. “Dinner?”
There are shadows beneath her eyes which he doesn’t comment on as he steps back to let her in. There are words in his mouth which he doesn’t speak as she dishes out the food. There is grief in her gaze which he doesn’t try to alleviate as she says only as much as is needed to maintain polite conversation.
But once he sets his plate down on the coffee table, finally finished, Maria slides across the couch and curls into his side, up against his shoulder. And Steve wraps an arm around her waist and leans into her, a warmth in his belly at the knowledge that she’s come to him for comfort.
“Did you want to tell me about it?”
It takes her a while to answer. He almost thinks she’s not going to reply when she shifts. “News of a friend’s death,” she murmurs. “I just... I didn’t want to be alone.”
Spooned together on the couch, Steve swallows down the contentment that bubbles up in him as she falls asleep against him.
The Avengers Facility is bright and shiny and new – so very Stark, even if Stark isn’t going to be an Avenger ‘full time’ anymore. But walking through its halls the afternoon before everything opens, Steve feels as empty as the building.
The war’s over, Steve – we can go home now...
But home is seven decades away, resting in a nursing home, somewhere out there on the run, and has been pulling away in slow but steady steps ever since the night she came over to rest her grief in his arms.
Peggy – young and bright-eyed, in love with him, ready to make a marriage out of what they had – is everything Steve already knows he can’t have. He’s glad it wasn’t Maria; the dishonesty of Maria wanting a home with him would have broken him more painfully than the understanding of the life of peace and prosperity he never got to have.
He pauses to watch her now, sitting in the office, working through another spreadsheet, probably checking everything is ready for 0800 hours tomorrow.
A knock on the doorjamb turns her head, and she almost smiles. “Steve? Is there a problem?”
“You’re still here.”
“So are you.” She taps through several fields and then switches to email, typing up a quick note. “I’ll be finished soon.”
“I thought we could go out, grab some dinner.” He makes the invitation light – no expectations, no demands.
Maria considers it, then shakes her head. “I can’t.” Her eyes lift to his, and the distance she’s been making between them these last few weeks is like a chasm. And Steve wants to ask why she’s pulling away, when she came to him and let him see her grief, when she didn’t shrug off his jacket when he put it around her shoulders at the party, when she didn’t question his presence in her quarters on the helicarrier – or even ask how he got in.
But Steve knows.
Ultron was right. He can’t live without a war. He doesn’t get ‘normal’ - not the way Barton does. There is no wife and children and house out in the hills. There is no double apartment, with him and Peggy living on one side, and Bucky and a Morning woman living in the other. And Maria won’t be waiting for him with the data review and dinner, coming home to him after a mission or a long day wrangling Stark, or sleeping in his bed with a trust that both humbles and terrifies him.
He has to live with what he is. He has to accept what he has. He has to be okay with it.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he says, and she nods and gives him an absent wave, not seeming to realise it’s goodbye.
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~