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Men And Mailboxes

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Steve Rogers first meets Maria Hill when he licks her mailbox.

There’s a perfectly good explanation for this. It’s February and Thor’s just back from seeing his girlfriend in Tromso, and brought some really good alcohol on the way out of Norway. The small welcome-back hangout turns a little wild once the alcohol is brought out – specifically, whatever mead it was that Thor brought back from his trip, and which goes to Steve’s head like no beer or spirits he ever drank before did.

“Shit, Steve,” says Bucky as Steve grabs at the porch post because the snowy twilight world is spinning gently. “Haven’t seen you this done since before we joined up. He used to be lightweight,” he tells the others who are already shuffling out and about in the crunchy, icy snow and complaining about the cold. “And I mean a pocket money drunk.”

“We were underage, Buck,” Steve reminds him, taking a moment to breathe deep and clear his head. He’ll be okay – he just wasn’t expecting the rush. Whatever was in that drink was potent. “And it was just once.”

“Sure it was.” Sam snorts as he sweeps chunks of ice to either side of the path with his feet, his hands tucked deep in the pockets of his jacket. “Do you have something against clearing your paths, Steve?”

“Haven’t gotten around to it.” It’s been deadline city lately – well, it’s always deadline city at the design house – but this is the first weekend he’s had off, and he hasn’t had the chance to get out. He was going to do it this afternoong - before Bucky and Sam turned up one after the other, with Thor arriving a mere thirty minutes later.

Thor peers over the fence and the dead winter bushes at the neighbour’s yard. “Perhaps you should pay your neighbour to do it for you? His yard is quite scrupulously neat, and he’s done your footpath as well.”

Her yard,” Steve says. “And no, I’m not going to ask her to do my paths for me. Or anything else,” he tells Bucky with a hard glare, because his best buddy has got that grin. The one that Steve got used to seeing when Bucky turned up with a date…and a spare for Steve to tag along with.

“She’s a babe,” Bucky says, with absolutely no volume control.

“And armed,” Steve reminds him.

“Doesn’t preclude her being a babe.” Sam holds up both hands when Steve glares at him. “I’m just saying.”

“Oh for God’s sake, don’t say anything.” Steve’s head has stopped spinning, so he makes his way down the porch stairs to check his mailbox, the chilled metal burning his fingers as he pulls out the letters and flips the lid shut.

“She’s not even home.” Sam joins Thor at the fence, looking over at the darkened house with the porch light on. “Lights are off, car’s out—”

“Perhaps she walks,” Thor remarked. “Or cycles.”

“In this weather?”

Bucky snorts. “She’s got a Ford F-250. Drives it like she’s on the run from the law.”

“Perhaps she is a criminal, hiding in your suburbia,” says Thor, expansively. “The fugitive next door. Beautiful and dangerous.”

"Like I said; a babe."

"With a gun." Steve flips through his mail - nothing much important. Paperwork, bills, the IRS, more advertising than he knows what to do with...

“You’ve been watching too many movies on the plane back,” Sam is saying, but his voice chatters a little. “So now that we’ve collected Steve’s mail, maybe we can go back inside? There’s a fight on – Lilley vs. Routh.”

“Ah, ah, ah! Not before Steve’s licked the neighbor's mailbox.” Bucky leans one tattooed arm on the porch and smirks.

Steve gives Bucky his best ‘not impressed by your shit’ look, which runs off Bucky like water off a duck’s back. They’ve known each other way too long for disapproval to deter either of them. “We’re not eight anymore, Buck.”

“Which is why you’re gonna lick her mailbox.”

Thor laughs. “Is this a thing in your culture? Lick the neighbor’s mailbox? Or,” he twinkles, “is it a symbolism for something else?”

“It’s an old dare.” Bucky plants his feet on the porch and crosses his arm. “And he’s not allowed inside until he’s licked that mailbox or cried ‘uncle’. Or else he’s a sticky!”

“A sticky?”

“A stick in the mud.” Steve has no recollection of where they acquired such an old-fashioned term as kids – possibly Miz Carter down the street, who’d been lovely and gracious at having two rambuctious boys decide that her backyard was the best place to play in with the large expanse of wilderness out the back, and over whom Steve had fought Bucky for the right to marry when they were just seven.

The look on Bucky’s face is downright wicked – Steve isn’t going to get back in the house without a fight, and, after all, it’s just a mailbox. If he does it right, he won't stick.

“You’re more trouble than you’re worth,” he tells Bucky as he steps out the gate and glances up and down the street. It’s night and dark, but there’s no sign of anyone in the street, although the bus has just roared down the road towards its next stop.

Steve stands there for a few seconds more, allowing saliva to pool in his mouth. The trick is to have a tongue wet enough not to instantly freeze against the metal, and since he’d like to be able to taste the rest of what they’re drinking tonight, he waits a good few seconds before walking around to the gate grown over with a climbing rose – right now nothing more than a dry and woody vine – and bending down, his tongue ready—

“What are you doing?”

Startlement opens his mouth a second too soon, and all his precious saliva drips too early. Dry tongue touches cold metal, and Steve sticks.

Shit.

The whoops and howls of laughter from Steve’s friends are not an unexpected backdrop to the snowy night and the woman whose voice eloquently communicates her disbelief, but they are an extremely unwelcome one.

“Oh, my God,” says Steve’s neighbor, her voice rich with exasperation. “Why are all guys eight years old inside?”

Steve would answer, but his tongue is stuck to her mailbox lid. He could rip it off, but—

She sighs, and there’s a pop of something plastic.

Then liquid. Cold water pouring down over the mailbox lid and around his tongue, freeing it. But the liquid doesn’t stop there – she keeps pouring it – over his face, over his head, chilly and biting in the brisk breeze that’s eddied up in frosty currents.

Steve jerks back, thawing his tongue in his mouth long enough that he can get it around some fairly urgent syllables. “Um,” he says as she puts her water bottle back in her bag. “Thanks for that. It was a dare and I shouldn’t have—I’m sorry.”

She looks up at him, dark wisps framing her face under her jacket hood, and her expression is unamused, chilly disdain overlaying features that could be carved from ice. “You,” she says flatly as she retrieves her mail by touch alone, “are an idiot.” The slam of the mailbox lid punctuates her statement, and without waiting for his reply, she strides up to her front door, unlocks it, and goes inside, closing it firmly behind her.

And Steve stands there, looking up at her house, his cheeks burning, his nape and spine rapidly chilling from the cold water and the cold night.

“Well,” says Sam drolly, “I think that went well.”