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Permanent Shiver

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Rogers was very careful around her after the aphrodisiac incident. Courteous. Polite. Distant.

After ‘I’m all out of good ideas when it comes to you,’ Maria expected a little more than a one-night performance with an apology as encore. But she and disappointment were long-time companions, and she learned long-ago not to expect anything from anyone.

Even Steve Rogers.

It still ached. Just a little.

Voices floated over her head, distant through the numbing cold, talking about shock and body heat and missing medical equipment.

Someone was angry, and the medics were apologetic, but Maria was still cold.

“I’ve got her.” Warm hands on her shoulders, warm breath against her temple, a warm body settling her on his lap.

Maria shivered as she was enveloped in a cloud of sweat and male musk, raw earth and a hint of old-fashioned aftershave.

...hard shoulder in her belly, spicy scent in her nostrils, and the humiliation of tears in her eyes as he carried her out with her ass still stinging...

...closing the laptop with a click as he looked over at her from his sit-ups, the white shirt clinging to every inch of that magnificent body. “I’m going out.” Escaping the room with the pervasive scent of him...

...leaning over his bare shoulder in the meeting room and feeling him tense. Thinking about scraping her fingers through his hair – so soft – and thinking about scraping her teeth over bare skin that smelled of nothing more than soap...

...musk all through the room, all over the sheets, all over her skin. Maria sat down on the edge of the bed, her legs unwilling to support her, her mind unable to cast out the feel of him while the aroma of sex pervaded her nostrils...

Her core went damp as her mind cited all the reasons this was a Very Bad Idea – capitalisation included – but her body snuggled in, craving the warmth.

And he smelled so good.

Distantly, she heard Phil’s wry observation: “Or that works.”

Her first thought was I mistimed it. The second was The beard doesn’t suit him.

Maria wasn’t the only one staring, at least – after being missing for five weeks, the return of Captain America was big news, and everyone who could wrangle a reason to be on the bridge or in the control room had done so. She’d thought to keep away until after the fuss had died down.

Talk about bad timing.

Still, at least she got to see him.

What had been big and broad and muscular was now big and tightly wiry. His face was thinner, with gaunt shadows in his cheeks, and fine lines of pain etching around his mouth and eyes. And a dark blond beard smeared the sharp line of his chin and jaw.

Thor would probably have approved; Maria did not.

He’d turned as the doors opened behind him, and his gaze sharpened, warm beneath long, framing lashes. “Lieutenant.”

“Captain. I see you’re growing a rug on your face.”

Phil coughed. Fury twitched. Natasha arched an eyebrow, and Banner quivered.

“Rug?” Stark demanded. Maria ignored him.

Steve just rubbed his hand along the line of his jaw, a faint smile on his face. “I didn’t really have time to see to personal hygiene matters while in captivity, Lieutenant.”

“Well, now you do. Shave.” She looked him over. “And eat a goddamned sandwich. But definitely shave.”

He grinned then. “Standard issue Schick?”

Maria didn’t blush, didn’t waver. She couldn’t afford to – not with Fury and Phil looking on, not with the Avengers and their knowing gazes. But her fingers might have tightened around her tablet as she met his gaze – all she could risk in the face of open heat, unleashed hunger.

Her insides melted, but she kept her movements brisk as she strode past him on her way to her workstation. “There’ll be some in stores, Captain; help yourself. And welcome back.”

Voices rose above Maria’s head, drifting through the darkness in her mind, past the darkness behind her eyes. She didn’t know how long she’d been lying here, only that she wasn’t resting, wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t seeing anything except Agent Walt burning against the window glass.

“How is she?”

Am I—? Did I hurt—?”

No.” She didn’t change position; she just squeezed – and watched him arch in pleasure, thrusting deeper.

Oh, lord,” he breathed into her ear, ragged and rough and velvety. “You’re killing me, Maria.”

The sigh was Phil’s; tired and weary. He should be getting sleep not watching over her. “She avoided the worst of it – the shielding-glass did its job.”

“And her sight?”

You look good,” he said as they climbed out of the limousine. “The dress. On you. It’s pretty.”

Having said that, he looked embarrassed, so Maria supposed that was a compliment.

Thank you.”

“The doctors said it should come back eventually.”

But Maria could hear the doubt in Phil’s voice – the way she heard the doubt in the voices of the doctors who poked her and prodded her and took the bandages off and shone lights into her unseeing eyes.

“When did you last sleep?”

You won’t be good for the mission if you don’t rest,” he said and she heard the note of inflexibility in his voice.

She’d heard Clint complain that Mama Rogers was a bitch to fight. Facing Steve Rogers in the tiny apartment in La Paz, she understood exactly what he meant.

“You’re going to stay?”

“I brought a book.”

That exchange said things Maria would have to think over later, when she was actually awake. The door opened and closed behind Phil, and the cushion of the chair sighed as Rogers settled into it.

“I’m pretty sure you’re awake,” he said after a few moments had passed. “And I’m pretty sure you probably don’t want to talk to me or anyone else. But I’m going to read to you, and if you want me to shut up, all you have to do is tell me.”

After a moment, he opened the book and began reading.

Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, started on horseshoes...

He gave her images in her mind; things to see other than Agent Walt. He gave her someone else’s fate to follow instead of having to muse over her own fate. He gave her the distance of a story and the intimacy of companionship without requirement.

She fell asleep to the cadences of his voice telling a story of a boy and his dreams of glory.

Maria never paid much attention to what she eats. Food was fuel, sustenance, not pleasure. She expected a simple dinner – steak, perhaps, then sex. There was nothing wrong with simple, direct, and to the point.

She didn’t expect soup.

Creamy pumpkin, home-made. With garlic croutons – she presumed they were also home-made since they were far too irregularly sized and shaped to be bought.

“Am I supposed to be impressed?”

He watched her from across the table. No candles, thank God, but a nice tablecloth. “Are you?”

A crouton bobbed happily through the white swirl of cream in the centre of the bowl, dancing around teeny tiny green chopped things. Maria scooped it up. “Yes.”

Steve smiled. “Good.”

He ate a lot – his metabolism required more fuel than most humans – and keeping Steve Rogers fed would probably put a small country out of business. Luckily, between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Stark Industries, they managed to keep him from wasting away to nothing.

Maria had never realised that he ate well, too. Solid foods, yes – but not staid. Some kind wine beef thing that was a little bit hot but not so much she couldn’t take it. Buttery asparagus spears with a kind of lemon-ish flavour. Rice pilaf. At least, that was what he told her it was. It looked like fluffy-brown-rice-with-little-brown things in it to her, but it tasted...nice. Different. A little spicy in an almost Middle-Eastern way.

She probably drank too much wine. Actually, no, she definitely drank too much wine. But she was about to cross some lines here and she needed the fortification. Especially if they were going to discuss the fine lines between the use and abuse of power.

They took the dinner discussion to the couch and spent an hour disagreeing, counter-arguing, and playing the devil’s advocate. But when Steve began to rise from the couch to get the mousse he’d made, Maria laid one hand on his thigh, took his shirt front in the other, and drew his mouth to hers.

No room for doubt, no need for hesitation, no coercion or compulsion.

Just the taste of wine and warmth and tenderness and terror as he dove into her like he was a starving man.

“Dessert later?” He murmured against her mouth as he drew her into his lap.

“Chocolate mousse later.” Maria straddled his thighs and slid her hands around his neck. “Dessert now.”

Maria woke to the teasing stroke of fingers down her flanks and murmured in protest. When the fingers poked into her ribs, she caught her breath, only to have it stolen from her lips in a deep and laughing kiss that drowned her in exultation, in an overload of sensation.

His fingertips clutched at her ribs again – sharp sensation - and her squeak was buried under his mouth. She writhed under his body, pinned by the weight of him, and her hands tried to pull his off – but he was too strong and she was at the mercy of Captain America – of Steve.

She wasn’t afraid.

Panting and helpless and breathless under his hands and under his mouth, laughing and crying through her protests, and writhing against him in the throes of something that wasn’t desire and wasn’t sex – something entirely more delicate and dangerous than physicality and release and need.

It swamped her, drowned her like his kisses, like the scent of them all over her skin and his.

She wrapped her hands around his wrists, slid her fingers up his arms to his shoulders. He shuddered in her mouth as she sketched her fingertips down the hollow of his spine and when he lifted his mouth, his eyes were serious.

“This isn’t just friends with benefits.”

After a conversation with Phil – sharp words and sharper anger – Maria had a better understanding of why Steve ran that morning and didn’t look back. He was wrong – and stupid with it – but it wasn’t as though he knew how these things worked.

It wasn’t as though she did, either.

“I know,” she said.

“Are you okay with that?”

“If I wasn’t, do you think I’d be here?”

It was very nearly a smirk. “I might be just that good.”

“You might be just hanging around Stark too much.”

“He’s catching.” He spoke lightly, but his smile faded gently, growing careful. “So, this is a relationship, then?”

“It can’t be public.”

“I can live with that. Exclusive?”

“I don’t share.”

“And neither do I.”

“Because I have a line of guys just waiting outside my door,” she said.

“They can keep waiting.” Steve brushed his fingers past her cheek and smiled, triumphant. “I’ve got you.”