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A Delight of Discoveries

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It was supposed to be routine paperwork, though how could anything be routine after half the planet came back into existence five years later? But Maria supposed it was, with a wry grin as she opened up another folder. It was just that the routine had gotten a little stranger and more complicated.

The door to her makeshift office opened and Maria looked up from the report she was reading to see Steve enter. That was another thing that had fast become routine in her corner of the world; Steve Rogers was working behind the scenes instead of being on the front lines. She asked him once about that. He only responded with a smile, shrug, and "Why not?" Her life was full of secrets, but also equally, finding answers to those secrets, and the exchange only left Maria more intrigued by Steve's answer.

"Fury says he's been gone for five years and I've done nothing but make a mess out of things," Steve said as he sat down in the chair across from Maria's desk. "This is the hundredth time he's said that."

Maria chuckled as she leaned on her arms. "He's not wrong. What is he referring to this time?"

"Another multiverse portal opened up. He wants me to set up the team who'll go to meet any individuals who come out of that portal, if anyone at all."

"Come on, knowing our luck, a giant dinosaur monster will come out of it."

Steve flashed a grin at her. "Yeah, maybe. Gotta be prepared for anything these days. Speaking of being prepared, please tell me you're hiding some of those Belgium chocolates that you keep for emergencies."

Maria gave him a quick look before reaching into a drawer in her desk and pulling out a black bag. "You know, it's not an emergency if it keeps happening all the time." She tossed him a Belgium chocolate bar before keeping one for herself to unwrap. "I don't get to fly out to Belgium that often, what with Fury trying to make up for lost time."

"I'd go fly out there myself if you actually told me the name and location of the chocolate shop you get these from." Maria watched Steve unwrap his chocolate and take a big bite of the bar. The real reason why she didn't hesitate in giving up her chocolate stash was because every time Steve asked for it, she was reminded of a more relaxed Steve that she hadn't seen in years. Maria liked seeing that side of Steve lately and she'd do whatever it'd take to continue seeing it.

"Yeah well, a girl's got to have some secrets." She felt a boost of mischief and winked at him.

Steve laughed at that. "Well, you're not the only one with secrets. So do you think I should plan for a giant dinosaur monster or no?"

"Definitely."

Maria was surprised when Steve didn't leave her office. Instead he opened up his laptop, the one Fury gave him to use, and began typing away. Technically Steve had his own office, but more often than not he found his way to her office and did his work here. She didn't mind it, but she was curious why he was doing it. Maria focused on the report in front of her. She was a spy. She'd learn Steve's secrets in due time.

*

It wasn't a giant dinosaur monster, but it was close. Maria grabbed a clean towel and began wiping off the gunk from her face. Out of everything Steve prepared for, exploding gunk was not one of them.

She heard Steve chuckle behind her and she turned around to face him. "That's a new look for you."

"Thanks. You should try it." Maria grabbed a handful of gunk and threw it at Steve.

He didn't even try to dodge it and the gunk landed on his face. "What do you think? Do I look good?"

Steve always looked good, though she wasn't about to tell him that. "So good. Here's a towel."

"Thanks." Steve took the towel to wipe off the gunk. "There's no way to prepare for everything and anything."

"No, but I think we're both used to flying by the seats of our pants at this point." Maria handed her used towel to another agent before turning towards Steve. "If we're done here, I'm going to grab a bite to eat before we have to buckle down and write up our reports. Want to come with?"

"Sure. I'm famished. There's a Thai place a couple of blocks away that's really good. Want to eat there?"

"I'd like that."

They arrived at the Thai restaurant thirty minutes later as they sat across a table from each other with menus in their hands. If Maria didn't know any better, this felt like a date. But she knew better than to get her hopes up. She was too realistic to assume otherwise. However, as they waited for their food, Steve kept brushing his leg against hers and she couldn't deny that if it was anyone else doing that, it'd be a flirtatious thing.

Then Steve's hand brushed against her own and Maria felt like she had to rethink her entire premise. Or did she? She ate intrigue and espionage for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with ease. Understanding Steve's motives, if he had any, should be child's play. Yet Maria couldn't figure him out. Perhaps the five years she had spent dusted, along with his time traveling adventures, held the answers to her questions.

Their food arrived and Maria dug into her meal to distract herself from the mystery that was Steve.

Steve reached for the hot sauce bottle and their arms brushed each other.

*

Steve was definitely up to something, but Maria couldn't sniff out what it was exactly. Who taught Steve how to be a spy because Maria was impressed. And frustrated. What was he up to?

"I'm not up to anything," Steve said and she knew he was lying.

"You're lying."

Steve just smiled at her as he opened a folder to read another report. "If that's what you think. I'm just being a good worker bee over here. Who knew there was this much paperwork whenever there was a mission? I sometimes wonder if the real heroes are the people who stay back to fill out the paperwork."

"Uh huh, sure." Maria stretched out her arms as she yawned. "I'm done for today. Knock yourself out with your love of paperwork." Maria grabbed her purse and her coat. "Lock up my office when you're done, okay?"

"Got it. I hope you enjoy the rest of your night!" There was something in Steve's voice as he waved goodbye, but Maria couldn't quite place it. She waved as she mentally shrugged it off. There was no point in trying to figure out Steve at this moment when she could be heading home to take a nice hot shower, then curl up with a good book and a glass of wine.

Except, as Maria stood in the doorway of her apartment, all her plans flew out the window. Someone had been inside. Maria pulled out her gun instinctively and began searching for the perpetrator. She didn't find anyone in her apartment, but whoever was there had left something. Maria holstered her gun before moving towards the items left on her kitchen counter.

A bag of chocolates, a bottle of wine, a lit candle that smelled vaguely of roses, and a folded piece of paper. As she reached for the piece of paper, Maria realized that the bag of chocolates was the same brand of Belgium chocolates that she kept in her office. As far as she knew, no one knew where to get them, as they were only found in a tiny shop in a small village. That was her little secret.

Her heart began to beat even faster as she unfolded the paper. Maria had a feeling she knew who did this, but her mind was rebelling against that thought. It couldn't be true. This wasn't real.

And yet, it was.

I hope I didn't cause too much of a ruckus when you found this, but I wanted to surprise you in more ways than one.

Well, Maria was certainly surprised. She didn't realize Steve knew where she lived or how he discovered where she purchased her Belgium chocolates.

Enjoy tonight on me. We can talk tomorrow and I'll explain everything. -Steve

Maria set down the paper as she took a deep breath. When did Steve start liking her as more than a friend and colleague? Why didn't she notice that? Maria felt like she was left with more questions than answers, but knowing she'd find out the truth tomorrow helped ease some of that sting.

"You're great at what you do, Hill. Don't doubt yourself, not even when it comes to your crush," she said to herself as she picked up the bottle of wine. Considering Steve figured out where she purchased her Belgium chocolates, she wasn't surprised he figured out her favorite, but rather expensive wine that she rarely indulged in.

As Maria went to grab a bottle opener for the wine, she allowed herself a moment of giddiness. There was no mistaking that Steve Rogers liked her, not now. She had always been attracted to Steve, but she never really thought he'd look her way. Well, Maria wasn't going to do something ridiculous and turn down Steve. She wanted to see this through.

Maria met up with Steve at a nearby breakfast cafe the next day. She arrived first, sat in a booth furthest from the door, and ordered a coffee from the waitress. Steve arrived five minutes later and sat across from her.

"Morning," she said with a smile. "I enjoyed last night, by the way. Very relaxing."

"Good. I was hoping you'd say that. I assume you have questions?"

"Always. But I want to hear what you're willing to tell me."

Steve nodded. "Tony always told me to get a life, but the last five years, even though I was counseling people to move on after what Thanos did, I couldn't. Then everyone came back, you came back, but Tony and Natasha paid the ultimate price for that to happen, and I felt set adrift." Steve leaned back in his chair and let out a long sigh. "Did you know Bucky and Sam invited me on their adventures after Tony's funeral?"

Maria shook her head, but she wasn't surprised. Those two were pretty close to Steve. "I didn't."

"For some reason, it didn't feel right. Even after I time traveled to return all the Infinity Stones, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something. Was it the life Tony told me to go get? I wasn't sure. But then I saw you and something clicked."

Maria reached for her cup of coffee to take a sip. Really, she just wanted to partially hide her face from Steve. His path was leading to her and she had never been that great listening to people talk about her. She knew her worth and didn't need to brag about her many accomplishments. She was a spy and she knew how to function in the shadows well.

"Tony was gone. Natasha was gone. I wasn't ready to join Bucky and Sam. But you were still here. You'd always been here, working tirelessly to keep everyone safe, including myself. Maria, you're so beautiful and you put the world ahead of you without hesitation. I bet if you'd been in my place decades ago, you'd have crashed the plane into the icy water, too."

Maria's mouth dried as she immediately nodded. There had been plenty of missions in her career that she threw herself head first without care for her safety. It was what she did.

"I want a life like Tony managed to grab tight onto before he died. I'm not completely out of saving the world, but I want to do it behind the scenes now. I want someone who understands who I am, but who also knows when to take the time to just be, even after her entire life had changed. Sound like anyone I know?"

Maria reached across the table to squeeze Steve's hand. "You're not the only person out of time, not any more, so it's high time you learn to live in the now. Heaven knows I'm trying. So let's have breakfast, of which during this time you're going to tell me how you found out where I get my Belgium chocolates, and then we can discover a life together. Deal?"

"Almost." Steve got out of his chair to lean in and kiss Maria. It was a soft kiss that held the promise of more. "Deal."

Maria couldn't wait for that more.