Chapter 1: Barriers (part 2)
Carol got out of the taxi and walked down the street to one of her all-time favorite restaurants. It was an older place, in reality and in style. Decorated like it would have been 30 years before, the American Dream was one of the few places that combined good food, good service, and the retro look perfectly. When she walked in the door, Carol was greeted by a server who led her to a booth table with a smile and a knowing nod. The staff at the American Dream knew what day it was, and did what they did every year. The other diner’s didn’t know exactly what was going on, just that the young woman who had just been seated looked a lot like the picture of the owner that hung on the back wall.
The respectful silence from the staff continued as her waitress brought Carol a drink and then continued about her other tables with an air of joy that was contagious. Carol smiled despite herself as she watched the laughter and joy flow around the room. The only indication that 30 years had passed was the fashion of the American Dream’s customers. However, that did little to prevent the feeling of time going back on itself that Carol felt.
“May I?” a familiar voice asked from Carol’s left. Looking up, Carol found herself looking into the face of Captain America. He indicated the seat across from her and, feeling a bit surprised, Carol just nodded.
“Do you often join random people for dinner?” Carol found herself asking teasingly after a few minutes of talking about the weather.
“This would be the first time. Do you often dine alone?” Steve responded, matching her teasing tone.
“Only when my friends are to busy to join me.” Carol answered, watching his face for a reaction. Steve smiled at that and then ordered his drink.
“So, what brings you here?” Carol inquired after they had talked small talk for a few minutes.
“It is one of the only places that remind me of what it used to be like. You?” Steve replied, instinctively scanning the room for trouble.
“Same here. My brother loved this place.” Carol responded, resisting the urge to scan the room herself.
“See anything?” Carol added as he returned his gaze to her.
“Nothing we can’t handle.” Steve said with a smile, looking right into her eyes. From that moment on, they chatted like old friends, and for the first time since her brother’s death Carol felt like she didn’t want the meal to end.
A week later. . .
“Cap, watch out!” Falcon called just in time. Steve ducked just in time as the training bot’s sword passed through the place where his head had been a moment before.
“Thanks, Falcon.” Captain America said as he refocused on the fight. A split second later his opponent froze.
“What is going on, Cap?” Falcon asked, turning to face his friend.
“I’m fine, Sam.” Steve responded doing his best not to wince.
“What is it?” Sam probed, deciding not to back off this time.
“Really, Sam?” Steve replied with a little more sarcasm than he had intended.
Falcon crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “It’s been a week, Steve. You have trouble focusing during training or during team meetings, your always missing in the evening and sometimes in the morning, and whenever someone asks about it you change the subject. Everyone has noticed it, even Tony. Your worrying us, Cap.” Sam retorted, following Steve through the door of the training room. He had a little trouble keeping up, and Steve wasn’t about to slow down.
“Nothing is wrong, Sam. I just. . .” Steve started, stopping when he realized he didn’t know how to explain how he was feeling. It had been ages since he had been this distracted, literally. Sam just stood there, waiting expectantly.
“I can’t explain it, Sam.” Captain America told him, resuming his walk to his apartment.
Before Sam could push any further, Tony Stark’s voice came over their comm-links: “Avengers assemble!”
At that moment, Carol was sitting in her apartment looking out the floor to ceiling window and the view of the buildings across the street. The apartment was quiet and she was its only occupant, for the moment. It was Saturday, so Audrey was at Cardinal Fitness watching over the open gym hours and Tanya was working extra shifts at Troy’s Diner. Carol was the only one of them who didn’t absolutely have to work on Saturdays, and though she normally did anyway. However, today was anything other than normal. Carol sighed inwardly, wondering for what felt like the hundredth time what had gone wrong all those years before. As the memories of her last week as a S.H.I.E.L.D agent came back in a rush, her eyes moved down to the picture in her hand. It was of her and her younger brother on his graduation day. Daniel had been so proud and more than a little excited to start his carrier as a field agent.
“Why?” Carol asked no one in particular, tears rising to her eyes as she placed her fingers over the image of her younger brother.
Two days later. . .
Carol walked around the empty tables prepping them for the first customers of the day. Troy had called the night before telling her that Savanah had taken leave last minute and that he needed someone to help Tanya cover the morning shift. After discussing it with Audrey, Carol had decided help out if for no other reason than for a change of pace. Double checking the tables to make sure they where all ready, Carol walked the short distance to the reception desk.
Just as Carol arrived behind the desk, the door to the diner opened to reveal a young man wearing running gear. After scanning the empty tables, his eyes met hers and for a moment she just stood there. Gathering herself, Carol did her best to keep her face in check.
“Welcome to Troy’s Diner.” Carol said, smiling a bit more than she had meant to.
“Thank you, Ma’am. Table for 1 please.” Steve answered, returning her smile with a grin of his own.
“Right this way, Sir.” Carol replied, indicating the right (side a) side of the diner and picking up a menu from the stack behind the desk. The young man followed her to the booth she had indicated and sat down.
“My name is Carol and I will be your server today. Would you like anything to drink?” Carol inquired an amused smile on her face. Handing him the menu, Carol pulling out her waitress pad and stood waiting.
“Water, please.” He responded as the door to the diner opened again.
“Of course, I’ll get that for you right away. Anything else, Sir?” Carol responded doing he best to sound professional.
“Not right now, thank you.” Steve replied opening the menu to the breakfast section to hide his smile.
Nodding, Carol turned to walk to the kitchen to get his drink.
“He’s cute.” Tanya remarked as she moved to get Mr. Peterson’s drink as Carol finished getting the water.
“Not helping, Tanya.” Carol responded without thinking.
“Wait a second, don’t tell me. . .” Tanya started, but Carol was already moving in the direction of the young man’s table with his drink in hand.
“Thank you.” Steve said, looking up from his menu when she placed his cup on the table.
“Your welcome.” Carol said with another smile. After ordering and eating his breakfast, the young man left, leaving behind a generous tip and a signed receipt. Steve Rodgers. As Carol read the name, her heart skipped a beat. Looking out the window she saw her mysterious friend flagging a taxi. The unexplainable cheerfulness Carol felt at that moment stayed with her for the rest of the day.
“So, did you find out what has been bothering him?” Black Widow inquired, staring pointedly in Sam’s direction.
The other occupants in the room also starred looking at Falcon expectantly, each of them having their own reasons for being concerned.
“I couldn’t get him to talk about it. I got him to admit it’s existence though, and might have been able to find out more if the Masters of Evil hadn’t decided to show up right then.” Sam replied, giving Tony an annoyed look.
“What can I say? Their timing is always inconvenient.” Tony commented casually, pretending not to have seen Sam’s look.
“Ok. What did you learn?” Black Widow asked, studying Sam’s face.
“Not much, other than he is unsure of how exactly to explain it.” Sam explained levelly, trying to shake off the feeling that she didn’t really believe him.
“Oh, great. Cap could be in danger and all we know about it is that it’s complicated!” Hawkeye exclaimed exasperatedly, throwing his hands in the air and then falling into the coach behind him.
“Danger? Are thou certain?” Thor gave him a confused look.
“Thor’s right. It wouldn’t be like Cap to hide info about something dangerous, that’s my forte.” Tony added somewhat cockily.
“Yeah, it didn’t sound like that kind of complicated.” Sam agreed reservedly. Sure, he had agreed to share what info he found out about it, but if his suspicions where correct it wasn’t something the team needed to be in on. Not unless Cap wanted them to know, which given his guardedness about it seemed unlikely.
“Okay then, until we find out anything else, you’re dismissed.” Tony stated with a wave of his hand. As he turned back to his workbench, the other team members went about their business.
To be continued
Want to read more about Carol and Steve’s adventures? Check out the Beyond S.H.I.E.L.D chronological page!