It's Not Fondue

December 24, 2016:

Surrounded by SHIELD eyes and eyes, Jane Foster attempts a clandestine way to reach out to Steve Rogers about his not-so-dead brother-in-arms.

New York City - the Triskelion

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter, Thor

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"So, this is what they call a… Selfie stick."

"That's right, Captain. An extendable one."

A short awkward pause lingers.

"So I use it to scratch my back, I preusme. We just called it a backscratcher. But I guess people like putting new names on old things to make them sell better."

"No, you use it for taking pictures."

"But I thought you people used cell phones to do that now, despite that fact that you have really nice cameras."

"Yes, but you use the stick, so you get the right angle for when you take a picture."

"But can't you ask the person with you or someone else to take the photo for you? Or does that defeat the purpose of the selfie?"

"Been a great talk, sir, but our lunch ends in a few and you know how SHIELD is about not taking more than an hour."

While Captain America almost lets it slip he can take as long for lunch as he wants, he decides to just give a nod to the two agents at his table who swiftly get up and make their way out, muttering something about never having him at the next year's White Elephant exchange to each other as they do.

Now that he's alone, Captain America sighs as he looks toward the gift in front of him. "I should have stolen the stainless steel mug," the Man Out of Time says to himself as he props his chin on his hand as he rests his elbow on the table. His mask/helmet/cowl/whatever is currently removed, resting on the table beside him. He looks slightly dirty and grimy, but well, when you have a mission in a tropical jungle you just came back from, it tends to happen.

Jane Foster is no fan of SHIELD. Sure, she works for them in a purely technical sense — contracted scientist — and obliges her professional relationship with as few trips to headquarters as possible. The only reason she ever comes by is for her cursory, check-in meetings, where they pick apart progress with her work, and ask with big smiley faces what they could do to help, what equipment she needs, what resources they can connect her with. Even holding the door for her on the way out.

Animals, the lot of them! She can see through that act!

She was already a visitor at SHIELD four days ago to beg them an advance of her next paycheque, as Jane already spent last month's on her Christmas cheer — obscenely expensive telescopic equipment that she ferociously dismantled the very first day. The last went to food, and all that food went to the surprise stray that's been lurking on-and-off around her apartment the last couple weeks.

It's not money troubles that bring her back, but Jane pretends it to be. That's her official reason, and the hour-long ramble fest she gives to a very, very TIRED accounting agent who is forced to put up with Dr. Foster's motor-chattered diatribe about how her being denied a laser spetroscope is literally dooming the world to the dark ages, THE DARK AGES, PEOPLE — before denying the request.

Jane has a very demonstrative fit to crown her great subtefuge.

Meeting ended, and elevatoring herself down to other levels, overlooked by throngs of agents, she attends to the real reason why she's here. She only hopes she has some luck finding it. Not that it might be very hard —

Those agents leave Captain America behind after that strange selfie stick discussion, but he's not quite alone, not with a woman lingering several steps away, transparently gawping at the stars-and-stripes uniform he wears. That's him. That's him! Jane fidgets. She actually found him. She honestly didn't think she'd be this successful. This is intimidating. This is great! Time for step two. Here goes.

Suddenly, that woman sweeps in, helping herself to his table, sliding into the emptied seat opposite of the man. She's a tiny thing compared to the usual agents milling about, wearing jeans and a flannel button-down while they wear suits, her ID not designating her SHIELD personal but rather a SPECIAL VISITOR.

Jane Foster breaks out a hundred watt grin. "Steve Rogers!" she blurts. "Um, Mr. Rogers! Captain Rogers! Captain Rogers? I am, seriously, seriously. Seriously. A huge fan."

The uniform is meant to three things. First, it's a symbol of the American Dream, so it sticks out. Second, it's meant to be functional, which it is. And third, it's meant to be recognizable easily, so again, it sticks out. It's more a blessing than a curse for sure, as it allows Steve to do what he needs to effectively, walking up with the commanding voice and the suit gets him much farther than much more talented people than himself when attempting to garner authority. When paired with his personality, it also makes him a walking PR machine.

"Hello there!" Cap exclaims, pushing the stick of shame to the side of the table before looking toward the woman coming in front of him. While oblivious to the modern world, he is far from a fool. He glances toward the badge, his mind whirling as he puts the name to another name and conversations had in the past. "You're Dr. Foster, the woman that helped Thor, right?" He offers his hand out for a second, but seeing as it's dirty from SPREADING FREEDOM, he pulls it back long enough to remove the glove so she can shake his bare hand. "The honor is mine, without your help and expertise, a lot of people would have been hurt." Was it Thor himself that told Cap or merely just a file read about his fellow heroes? Who knows, the important thing is that Jane seems to have her 'in' without any effort at all.

Hearing her own name spoken back to her — he knows her name?! — Jane pauses, effectively stalled for the count. Her eyebrows reach lift off. "Yes, yes, I… am," she stammers back, obviously one not used to attention. Or being noticed. Or really being acknowledged as a human being on most Manhattan sidewalks. She gets shoved a lot.

Her dark eyes avert, and honest-to-goodness, the woman goes briefly red in the cheeks. She is being congratulated by an American hero. People are looking at her. This is so embarrassing.

Biting down shyly on her bottom lip, her whole great plan knocked on its ass for a beat, Jane glances back, directed by politeness and decorum to shake Steve's outstretched hand. Hers is really tiny in his. He calls it an honour. "You are the first person… who has ever said this to me," she replies awkwardly, with a healthy dose of self-deprecation. Not many people believe in the greatness of Dr. Foster.

"But, yeah, I suppose that was me. You really know your stuff. And, please, call me Jane." When her hand is released, she just lowers it back to her lap, where it can fidget with the other. Jane glances away briefly, eyeing up all the agents milling around, moving in a hundred different directions. A hundred ears everywhere.

So, Captain America, I have met your dead best friend. You know the one, right? He held a gun on me once, and cleaned me entirely out of a week's pot of turkey chili in ten minutes. He also mentioned you! Right when he was having a nervous breakdown.

These are the things Jane wants to say. Would say, in a better world. A better room. Something far more private. Something far more safe. She just needs to get the Captain there.

"But enough about me! I can't believe I'm meeting you in the flesh." Jane looks back, her grin ticked back up, her fidgeting hands graduating to playing with the ends of her dark hair. "My grandfather had newspaper clippings of you. And now I'm talking to you! And my heart right now is like…. woah!" She claps a hand over her chest emphatically. "You like coffee, right? I think we should get coffee. Unless you like other things. We could get an… other thing too."

"Then it's sad that they don't see what I do," Cap begins as his eyes lock on to Foster's. "Project Rebirth gave the strength, speed, and skills to be a hero. You did that with only the skills granted to you at birth and with your hard work. I find there are lot more heroes out there that deserve as much, if not more, praise than myself. While I might be the first, I sincerely hope that I am not the last, Jane."

In that moment, Jane might see why people like Cap. If those words were on a Facebook post or given by a soap opera actor, they would seem cheesy or insincere, but it's clear from the tone of his voice and the gratitude in his eyes that he means every single word. And when her cheeks redden, he smiles as he takes back his hand and places the glove upon it once more.

Then Jane speaks about coffee. SUDDENLY THERE ARE MEMORIES FLASHING OF A TIME LONG PAST

"The woman of America, they owe you their thanks," the beautiful blonde stated as she dragged Cap by the tie. "And seeing as they are not here?"

"Peggy, it wasn't what you thought it was."

BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM

"Yes, I think it works."

BACK TO THE PRESENT

Steve clears his throat, trying to figure out how to navigate this. It's likely just coffee. But other woman was telling him she was just going to give some thanks! Is coffee just coffee? Captain America pulls out a bottle of water, considering the options. Dealing with the drug lords in Columbia was far more cut and dry than this, that's for sure. "Um," he begins after taking a long drink of water. "We can do coffee. But if we are hanging out, is it okay if I bring my friend Pe-pe-peggy? She's a lady who really is like you; a smar-smart woman who enjoys helping people." The man that seemed so confident, so inspiring before now is fumbling for words. "…We can do other things too if you wanted. The three of us. No fondue. Deeeefinately no fondue."

Jane Foster stares blankly through that impassioned speech. The one where Captain America, hero of second World War who single-handedly saved basically everyone from certain doom, basically says, 'but YOU are all the real heroes!'

She certainly has her fair share of arrogance, and on her best days keeps a professional sort of impatience that maybe a handful of special people on this planet may be able to understand her work, but to consider herself a hero? It should be such a cheesy line. The sort of thing to make her sputter into awkward, cringy laughter. And yet Jane just gazes guilelessly forward, taken aback. He totally means it.

He and James Barnes were best friends and fought a war together. The staggering reality is, for a moment, so fard for Jane to even wrap her mind around. But she knows she made the right choice. He's exactly what she hoped he'd be. She has faith that… no, first, she needs to get him alone.

And he isn't making this easy.

She stares all the way through Steve's very, very careful response. He wants to invite someone named Peggy. Peggy. Why is that name familiar. Why would — does he honestly mean Agent Carter? Of course he does. Jane did her fair share of reading, from the moment she linked that errant name of the Winter Soldier's lips and tied it to the True American Hero, and realized most of his known record came from the reports of Agent Carter. THE Agent Carter.

Jane freezes at that, looking considerable askance. She can't bring SHIELD into this. She doesn't trust them, and certainly doesn't want their presence within a ten thousand yards' reach of what she wants to say to Steve. She just finished convincing herself just to approach him, out of the simple, honest faith he may still want to help a friend who died seventy years ago.

"Agent Carter?" she blurts. "Agent Peggy Carter?! I'd love to meet her, but, ah, I was sort've thinking… more a you-and-me thing." Jane rubs uneasily at the back of her neck. He's not getting it. Maybe she needs to step it up a notch. She's never stepped it up a notch in her life. What do girls even say? "Like, I don't know, we get some coffee, we go back to my place…"

With a Winter Soldier possibly waiting, BAD IDEA BAD IDEA

"Actually, no!" Jane almost yelps. "No, no, we go a — hotel room!"

She yells this a little too loud. Loud enough that some SHIELD agents are glancing her way. Glancing his way. Glancing their way. She clears her throat. "Maybe even tonight. I've always wanted to meet you, and I have so many… questions I want to ask. And it would be… quiet… for us to talk…"

In Steve's mind, klaxons flare. Little Steves run around the command deck. Red light flashes ominous within the mind's eye. If She finds out, it could mean nasty words. It could mean the cold shoulder. Or… the worst thing of all: "I'm not mad at you, Steve. I'm just disappointed."

The words of Peggy Carter ring in his mind and they seem to horrify him just as much as if the woman had stated them right here and now.

"That's a really nice idea," Steve begins, drumming his fingers as he tries to avoid what feels like impending doom. "But first, I'm getting a few tacos from the line, really hungry. You want anything? My treat." And without waiting for a response, Cap just gets up and moves toward that line, getting a tray, some silverware, and all that stuff. People are saying he can cut the line because of who he, but he insists that he takes his time. He even lets women who come behind him get in front.

This is not yet another delaying tactic. Not at all. It certainly wouldn't come across that as Cap orders almost entirely items that aren't already made and he has to wait for the kitchen to make. It certain isn't displayed by him making as much small talk with every server he encounters at the illustrious SHIELD lunch line.

Roughly five minutes later, the First Avenger arrives with a near mountain of various foods, including seven tacos of varying kinds. At least he'll be true to his work and get Jane anything she wants from the line. But it's okay, he has a game plan. "Well, if you want, maybe we could get Thor to come along," he whispers proudly, sure that this will work. "You guys still hang out right? We could hang out, ask questions, talk… It would be great."

Cap would be tempted to invite Jane's fellow scientist, but well, last he heard he didn't have any pants. That might make talking in a hotel rather awkward.

And then Captain America starts talking about tacos.

Jane forgets whatever next word she was going to say. It's gone, long gone, past the stars and travelling through deep space forever, as she just sits there, mouth left slightly opened, her dark eyes tracking the way he just STANDS UP AND LEAVES.

She follows, somewhat incredulously, how he just ends up standing in SHIELD's taco Tuesday lunch line.

Her lips draw together. She looks down at herself, her shirt, her jeans, and touches a little self-consciously at her dark hair. The last Jane remembers, she wasn't entirely hideous! She even thought herself halfway attractive, at least enough that it made her upper-year, all-male physics classes a little creepily unbearable.

She isn't TRYING to get some sort of booty call going on, because, seriously, this is her, she's a SCIENTIST, but — seriously!

Jane, left to her lonesome, resorts to extreme measures. She pulls out her phone. "Siri? How do I flirt?"

A SHIELD agent one table over covers her face to hide the cringe. She can't look.

Siri answers: OK, I FOUND THIS ON THE WEB FOR HOW DO I FLIRT.

Jane frowns and taps a wikiHow guide, complete with pictures.

She's halfway through reading step 6: use body language to communicate your intentions, when Captain America duly returns, bearing as promised: a crap load of tacos. Seven of them.

And he starts talking. Quickly hiding her phone, she stares through it all. "Well, I," Jane shifts. Leans one way. She's tiny, and she can barely even see the good Captain over this ENORMOUS PILE OF FOOD. "I think — I mean first off —" Oh for Christ's sake.

She reaches, physically PUSHES the tray aside, and leans in closer. Close enough he'd be able to make out that there's veins of amber in her soft brown eyes. Jane wets her lips, affecting on a slow, deliberate smile, even though her left eye is already twitching with thinly-disguised impatience. "First, Thor's in Asgard, so no. Second, I really think it's best… just staying between you and me. Do you get what I mean? I want you to come /with me/. I want to get to know you /really badly./ I think we have a /lot of things/ we can /talk about./ Just us. Alone."

There is another long moment that becomes an awkward pause. As Jane goes from blushing and propositioning to angry and insistent, Steve Rogers processes as the food is pushed away. For most, this would be rather simple, but this is the man who only met women because his best friend tricked them into double dates. But as stated before, he's not dumb and is eventually able to put something remotely close to the truth together.

"Oooooh, a secret briefing," Steve states with newfound understanding, leaning forward to whisper into Jane's ear with an eager smile. "You should have just stated that you had a private matter to discuss. But yeah, if that's the case, we can do that. Just let me know when and where."

Of course, now random SHIELD agents, who have been drawn in unknowingly by Jane's display, see Captain America is whispering gently into the scholar's ear after she asked him to come to a hotel room.

For the record, Cap tried. He really really tried.

Jane Foster stares into Steve. She STARES into Steve.

Into his soul, the nearby, side-eye-staring SHIELD agents would attest, because it seems by all evidence that Dr. Jane Foster is esteemed astrophyscist, expert on Asgard, mortal 'friend' to Thor, and…. super-powers groupie.

She stares intensely, hungrily, longingly, wistfully — FIERCELY, VERY VERY FIERCELY, without blinking, with twitching, and with her lips pressing slowly into a very very thin line of PLEASE GET WHAT I'M MEANING. HINT HINT. NUDGE NUDGE. ELBOW ELBOW. DOES SHE NEED TO STOMP HIS FOOT UNDER THE TABLE AND —

He leans closer. Her eyes widen, for a moment shellshocked by her own devices, nervously hoping that she didn't do that good of a job, and hopefully wikiHow didn't unlock some hidden femme fatale that even Captain American cannot resist and —

He whispers into her ear. He gets it. Oh thank god. Jane sighs both internally and out. Thank GOD.

Her lips part, if only to begin anxiously chattering away everything she knows… only, sobered by the still-too-close bodies of SHIELD agents — some outwardly WATCHING now, staring incredulously at how this pixie-tiny, probably-socially-awkward scientist somehow wrangled the interest of Steve Rogers —

Jane tries to keep up the act. "I'll pick the hotel room," she replies conversationally, fixing up a hopeful smile, while her dark eyes just shine with outward relief. That is until he tells her she should have just told him she had a private matter.

She gives him the driest look in all of existence. Her lips twist, but she soldiers through, forcing out a soft laugh. "Somewhere nice, and fun. Maybe tonight, if you want? I'll make the time for you."

Jane gets an idea. She can have her clever moments too. "Maybe even that evening… we can go do something on the way. Though I don't know the sort of interests boys like you have. I'd suggest a shooting range, but I can't hit the broad sides of Barnes."

When it seems as if this hotel meeting is about something SHIELD-related, it's easy to play the game. After all, there is a part of Captain America that loves playing hero, that likes the 'secret stuff' and feeling important. However, when Jane decides to drop a hint as to what it will all be about, she can see the shift in Cap's attention. The mirth is turned into concern at the drop of the hat, the pain and shock visable to Jane.

The silence seems like it takes awhile, Cap turning his face toward Jane so others cannot see the suffering that temporarily colors his features. "Tonight works. I'll make sure to we'll have a good time without shooting. Wouldn't want anyone getting hurt, even a board side of a barn. Here's something I owe Thor by the by, make sure it gets to him. Til then."

That said, the warrior just gets up abruptly, leaving a few dollars on the table that he fishes out from his wallet. When she takes the money, there is also contact information, proof that Cap /can/ be discrete when he needs to… He just has to understand the need. There isn't any awkwardness about his departure this time, a merely deliberate motion to show that the conversation is over.

Without another word and with his usual jovial self presented toward everyone in the room, the Man Out of Time moves toward the line again after putting on his headpiece, merely getting a box to put his untouched food in. Even while trying to hold in his upset nature, he still feels morally wrong wasting a meal. After all, he came from a time when the bounty in front of him was precious and could feed a small family. Unless stopped somewhere along the way, Cap will just make his way out with his take out in a bag along side him. For the time being, his thoughts on if Peggy will hear about this and how she will react is the last thing on his mind.

The not-that-convincing act falters off Jane's face, and even drops for a sincere beat. Tonight works, agrees Captain America, and for an instant, the woman just looks so… relieved.

Like all one hundred pounds of her has been bearing, for weeks, a burden already gone far beyond her power to take. That only the wilful conviction in her eyes has brought Jane this far in her plan to bring about a solution to it all. "Thank you," she says, and she means it.

He leaves some change meant for Thor.

"I don't rea—" Jane begins to say, only stopping herself in time. She notices something among the bill folds. She really needs to watch the automatic honesty. Oh, right, she's a spy now, playing spy games. "Got it. Straight to him."

Retrieving the strange transaction and pocketing it quickly, she watches after Steve's immediate exeunt. His shift in body language is palpable to her. It's all true, she thinks, everything she read. Every museum history article, every interview, every website hit describing the close and tragic relationship of Steve Rogers and James Barnes. And yet — he didn't falter, she thinks, under her double-meaning mention of his dead friend's name. Maybe there is more he knows than is letting on?

She has questions. So many questions. They will have to wait for tonight. In the meantime, Jane needs to hunt for somewhere safe, secluded, and sturdy from outside ears. Because the conversation is going to be… something else.

Shortly after Steve departs, his walk away watched by Jane's pensive brown eyes, the woman duly stands. She feels the weight of something boring against her turned back. She glances, and a good half-dozen of too-curious SHIELD agents immediately look away. She frowns. And with that, she takes her own departure. She doesn't want to linger in this building any longer than she needs to.

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