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trouble's looking for you

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"Captain, your six!"

Steve turns to see the Doombot behind him, and slashes it with his shield, sending it crumpling to the ground.

"Thank you, Captain," he says, looking up to find her in the sky, not sounding even a little out of breath. Carol flies by, swoops down so she's eye level with him, and points finger guns at him, makes a clicking sound.

Steve smiles at her like he's trying real hard not to. Carol resists the urge to wink at him.

"No problem, Captain."

-----

They're all business during the debrief, as usual -- neither Steve nor Carol is active military anymore, hasn't been for a while, but old habits die hard, even for two soldiers who never did quite manage the level of subordination their commanding officers would have preferred.

As they leave Fury's office, Steve turns to Carol. "How do you feel about burgers, Captain?"

"Sounds great, Captain." Food after fights is an Avengers tradition, but supersoldiers Steve and Carol need more than the rest (minus the Hulk and Thor), so they often end up going out for more food after the team has all gone together. ("Second breakfast," Carol calls it no matter what time of day, and she finally made Steve read the books so he'd get the joke. He loved them, no surprise.)

There was no team today, just the Captains (Carol kind of loves when they're called that, though she won't hesitate to pull rank and remind Steve and anyone who'll listen that she's really a colonel). Steve has a new favorite diner in Brooklyn, and Carol's always been a dive bar kind of girl, so she's happy to agree to it.

They're known there -- well, Steve is, "and any lady friend of Mr. Rogers' is a friend of ours," the bartender tells her, his grin displaying less than the traditional number of teeth.

"She's real pretty, son, you treat her right," he directs at Steve, pointing his dishrag at him.

Carol grins, and elbows Steve, hard. "Yeah, you hear that? Treat me right, son."

Steve groans. "I've made a huge mistake."

The burgers are delicious; Steve can generally be relied upon when it comes to food. They eat in companionable silence, neither feeling any need to rehash the battle (they covered it all in debrief and on the walk over) or fill up the silence, but right around the time they're finishing their third burgers, Steve says, all fake casual, "Fancy a game of pool?"

Carol shoves the last bite of burger in her mouth and gives him her best intimidating stare while chewing, knowing she looks completely ridiculous. "You're on, dude."

The thing about Steve is that she can't imagine so many aspects of his life -- growing up during the Depression, fighting in World War II (well, she's actually done that herself now, but it's hardly the same), asleep in the ice for seventy years and having to readjust to life in the future -- but in many other ways, they're a lot alike. Grew up with something to prove, joined the military to prove it. Both have a strong Dudley Do-Right streak, a mean sense of humor once you get to know them, an inability to see a hill and not prepare to die on it. A love of old jazz and bacon cheeseburgers.

She likes fighting with him, too -- she'd kind of thought that once you got to the big leagues, men wouldn't care about fighting alongside, or under, women, but woo boy, turns out they're the same all over. But Steve is never like that; he's scrupulously fair, and his dedication to the mission overrides any personal issues he might have (but he truly doesn't have any).

Plus, that ass. Come on.

That ass is in fine form as they shoot pool, even though pool isn't really a challenge for either of them. You do lose some things, with superpowers, and little joys are a lot of them. Basically all games that aren't contact sports played with another superpowered creature are cakewalks now. Carol would choose this all over again -- she has, recently, and she feels a measure of peace and strength in knowing that -- but she misses things, sometimes. Like playing pool and having to think about it. She likes to earn her wins.

They have an audience, though, because even if the game isn't hard to play, it is fun to watch. The regulars, a mix of oldtimers and the hipsters who are starting to gentrify the neighborhood, gather to see them go at it.

Steve normally doesn't like to show off, but Carol can see that he's feeling relaxed and comfortable. It was a great battle today -- no civilians with injuries more serious than a sprained ankle, no property damage beyond a light pole and a stop sign knocked down. They hadn't fought in weeks, and Carol knows that Steve was thrilled to get back out in the field, to hit a few bad guys, for the physical experience and for the mental clarity of having clearly delineated problems you can solve with punching. She knows because she feels it too.

Word is starting to go around -- Steve's identity is public knowledge, now, and though he works to keep a low profile, it's pretty hard. Carol's identity is technically public too, but she flies below the radar, mostly, though less than she used to.

At one point, Steve stands next to Carol, on the side of the table closest to the wall, farthest from their spectators.

"They're betting on us," he says. "Crowd's got me for twenty."

Carol is outraged. "The hell? I'm a million times better at this than you!"

Steve grins. That punk, he told her to make her mad. "I'm sure you are, Princess Sparklefists. Care to make our own wager? Ten bucks says I have this. I'll cut you a deal from what they'd give you."

Carol doesn't know where he heard "Princess Sparklefists" (though she has a few guesses), but she gives him her deadliest grin. "Make it fifty."

-----

Three days later, it's more Doombots. That son of a bitch just doesn't know when to quit.

This fight is nastier. Carol blows a hydrant with one of her blasts, on accident, and the spray it sends up makes everything worse; harder for Steve, slipping through it on the ground. A Doombot blows a chunk out of an office building, sending screaming, frightened bystanders spilling out into the street. It's just Carol and Steve on duty again, with everyone else unavailable, and they're hurting, bad.

At one point, a Doombot actually picks Steve up and makes to fly away with him. Carol catches up with them several hundred feet up and punches the daylights out of the Doombot (do Doombots have daylights? What are daylights, anyway?), who drops Steve and grabs her hand to keep her from flying after him, trying to crush her wrist.

"Joke's on you, I'm ambidextrous," she says, swinging her other fist around, enjoying the satisfying crunch it makes as it hits his stupid metal face.

As soon as he lets go, she's off, racing toward Steve. She swoops down below him, catching him in her arms like a bride. It might look silly, but it's the easiest way to catch someone falling through midair. And Steve doesn't mind, Carol's sure.

He grins up at her, not embarrassed or rueful at all, just happy to see her, and gives her a little salute. "Thank you, Captain."

-----

Steve's standing in her doorway a few hours later, after their debriefs, doctor visits, and showers. Carol's still getting used to living at Stark Mansion, at the proximity of people all the time. (Chewie loves it, because he's figured out that he can mewl pitifully and no one will guess he's pulled that scam on three suckers today already, so his tuna intake has gone through the roof.)

"I came to see how you are," he says, handing her a glass. It's a smoothie, the kind they usually make for breakfast. "JARVIS called the pizza place, they should be here in fifteen, but I figured you might need something right now."

Carol stares at the glass in his hand, and up at Steve's face, at how he's looking at her, with a small, hopeful smile, less confident of himself bringing her food than he was being carried through the air over the Upper West Side. She takes the smoothie, sets it on the table next to her door, and then turns back to him.

Carol kisses Steve. Of course she does. Captain America was never going to make the first move. So she leans in, puts one hand on his bicep, and kisses him. She's gentle, slow: not cautious but not full throttle. Steve hesitates for a fraction of a second, and then he's kissing her back, his hands fisting in her hair to pull her closer, his mouth hot on hers, and god bless America, the man can kiss. Carol's toes curl into the carpet, and she moans just a little.

That's when Steve pulls back, eyes searching her face. "Carol," he says, voice a little rougher than usual, which, mmm, yes. "I don't want you to think -- I mean -- I, I respect you."

Carol blinks. That was admittedly not what she expected him to say. "Thank you?"

"I mean," and Steve takes a step back. Carol forces herself not to step forward. He looks flustered in a way she's rarely seen, and this is the Steve Rogers Stark teases for him being, the aw shucks nerd who'll never stop being the little guy he was before.

"I value you as an Avenger and a teammate," he says. "And as, uh, a woman? I mean to say. I don't want you to feel pressured into anything, and I don't want you to think I would think less of you if we -- I mean, I like you very much, and if you --"

Carol takes that step forward. "Steve," she says gently, reaching out to hold his hand, "I wasn't worried about your opinion of me. I'm the best, and you know it. While I'm very touched you don't want me to feel pressured, rest assured, you couldn't pressure me into anything I didn't want if you tried. And I outrank you, soldier."

Steve smiles, just a bit. "You do love to mention that."

"Damn right I do. I like you very much too, you know."

He blushes, and if that's not the cutest Carol doesn't know what is.

"C'mere, Captain," she says, fisting his shirt in her hand and stepping backwards into her quarters, trying to bring Steve with her.

Steve takes a step forward so quickly he runs into her, and they get distracted from moving anywhere for several long minutes, caught up in kissing each other. Steve sets the pace, slow but sure, and Carol lets him, content to follow his lead, for now.

"Want to come inside?" she asks eventually, and her voice sounds mostly normal.

"Maybe," Steve says, grabbing her hand and swinging her arm just a bit, in a gesture so sweet Carol can hardly believe it, "we could go sit on the roof, look at the stars?"

Carol sees right through his (very obvious) ploy, can hear that he sounds nervous and unsure again, but she smiles up at him, charmed.

"I'll do you one better," Carol says. "Captain, have you ever been into space?"